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Monday, December 31, 2018

 

How to Make a Vision Board for 2019

My critique group is the best thing that's happened to me. I've been in some great ones (I've said this before: I'm a lucky girl!), but this is the first group that we make vision boards each year. When the idea first came up, I thought: What? How can a vision board really help me do anything? I will make this, stuff it somewhere, and find it in twenty years when I'm cleaning out the basement or moving. 

But I'm a good group member and someone provided the magazines, glue, craft supplies, and poster board, so why not? (insert winky emoji here) Now, of course, I look forward to making these vision boards, and so does my daughter (I'm already preparing her for life with an English major. Sorry, kid).

So here's my vision board for 2019:


You'll notice that it's not only about writing because this is how we choose to do it in our group. And let's be honest, writing is not the only part of your life, even if you're a full-time writer, unless you plan to go crazy like Jack in The Shining. On my board, I made a section for relationships, finances, spiritual, travel, parenting, health, and writing/editing with a few inspirational messages thrown in to catch my eye. Plus, even though I'm about to tell you how to do this board in a few easy steps, here's a secret: there's no right or wrong way to make a vision board. Also, there are countless articles about this on the Internet, too; but I'm not sure if any are as brilliant as this one (insert throwing-up emoji here). 

Steps to make a vision board:

1. The. Most. Important. Step. : Get in the right mindset. You don't want to hurry, and it's better done with friends. Dream about the new year! This is not the time to be a realist.

2. Gather your supplies--or if you're lucky, you'll have friends who do this for you! You need poster board, magazines, glue, markers, scissors, and stickers/craft supplies. However, a couple of our critique group members made their vision boards this year on Canva, and they're using their creations as the welcome screen on their laptops. Every time they log on to write (or check Facebook and pretend to write), the vision board is there, haunting reminding them of their goals and visions.

3. Start flipping and cutting.  The way we (the Lit Ladies) do our boards is to cut all photos and words out of magazines first. We have a general idea of what we're looking for (fitness, writing, travel, parenting), but we honestly just discover what calls to us and then cut it out. You may be thinking: this will never work. Trust me. It really does. As soon as you're with friends and dreaming of the new year, words and photos start speaking to you, and not in a Charles Dickens kind of way.

4. Glue. It doesn't get much simpler than that. Okay, really, you have to organize your cut-outs in some way that works for your brain. I do mine by sections, but some people organize their words and photos by how they fit together beautifully on the poster board. You can see up above in my 2019 board that I'm not worried about beauty. (insert whatever emoji here that you think fits that statement)

5. Add words, stickers, ribbons, etc.  If I couldn't find everything that I wanted, I'll add words with markers to the board, and this is not even considered cheating!  I love the excuse to use Sharpies! Who doesn't? The point is--this is your vision board. Make sure it defines your vision for 2019.

6. The. Second. Most. Important. Step.  Share your board with someone or thousands of people. At Lit Ladies, we talk about our boards after we're finished creating them. This year, I put mine on Facebook. Oh, and also on The Muffin. WOW! I am really holding myself accountable now.

7. Final step: Hang it somewhere you will see it. I hang mine where I get the dog food to feed that 4-legged creature who lives in my house, twice a day. One mama in our group hangs hers in the laundry room. One is lucky enough to have an office that is not also a room where minions go and destroy it. Don't, and I mean this, don't hang it where you never go and don't roll it up and never look at it. On American Housewife, Oliver hung his on the back of his closet door until his parents saw it and thought...well, you can catch up on Hulu if you've never seen it. (Funniest show, IMHO)

I'll share my daughter's below for one more example. She's 8! You'll notice a lot of toys and puppies on hers. She is clear on her vision for 2019, but we'll see how she does...Notice: my vision board has no puppies.


Here's to you and 2019. We'd love to see your vision boards on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Tag us! 

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, and teacher, living in St. Louis with her daughter and dog. Join her novel writing class by signing up here (starts January 4) or her marketing class (starts January 23, and is ON SALE for $99). You can read more about Margo on her website here


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Sunday, December 30, 2018

 

Interview with Sekai Ward, a Quarter 4 Creative Nonfiction Essay Runner-Up

Today we interview Sekai K. Ward, a runner-up in the Quarter 4 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest for her essay, "The Passing." You can read her beautiful essay about when her grandmother was dying here. Sekai was born in Nigeria and raised in-between Wisconsin and Zimbabwe. She holds a master's degree in clinical social work from the University of Michigan and an MFA from Antioch - Los Angeles. Sekai is in private practice and utilizes bibliotherapy and expressive writing to help clients struggling with depression, anxiety, PTSD and other mental health disorders. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with her husband Stephen and their son Che.

Margo: Congratulations, Sekai, on being a runner-up for your essay, "The Passing." What a heartfelt and beautiful essay about what I can only imagine was a very emotional time. Sometimes, writers have a difficult time polishing a piece so full of emotion, such as this one about your grandma's passing. How did you work through that to publish such a beautiful piece of work?

Sekai: Thank you! Yes, it was an incredibly emotional time when my grandmother died. I had to let some time elapse and allow myself to properly grieve before I could write this piece. I wasn’t ready to revisit that time in my life until recently. The feelings were too fresh. I’ve learned from experience that if I write when I am too emotional, the work tends to have a tone of self-pity, which I absolutely hate. I was also a bit afraid to put all of these feelings down on paper. Even though my feelings were honest, some of them felt really ugly, and I felt terribly guilty. I didn’t want to anger or hurt anyone. I just wanted to speak my truth. Being that close to death was humbling and frightening and horribly sad. It forced me to look at my relationship with my own mother, which hasn’t always been the strongest, and ponder what I might regret should she die. Was I satisfied with the current state of our relationship? What could I have said or done differently to make things better between us? All of these questions start running through your head. I think when someone close to you dies, it inevitably causes you to consider your own mortality and question whether you have lived your best life. It was sobering because it felt as if my grandmother’s death pushed all of the women in our family up one rung higher on the ladder leading toward death.

Margo: I have the same type of  issues when I try to write about something that happened during an emotional time. I always try to turn to humor somehow, if possible, when it has to do with parenting or divorce. But death does bring up so much for all of us, especially death of a loved one. Thank you for sharing with us. What universal themes were you exploring while you wrote about your grandmother's last days?

Sekai: Much of my writing involves common themes found in literature: identity, mortality, family conflict, sexism, racism, colorism, and the struggle to determine where and how one belongs in the world. Most people can apply some if not all of these themes to their own lives. I wrote "The Passing" because I needed to examine some of these themes in order to make sense of the opposing emotions I was experiencing towards the end of my grandmother’s life. I am a bi-racial woman, and it is my white, maternal grandmother that I was writing about. My grandmother was a smart, strong and generous woman but she also harbored some racist viewpoints. I loved my grandmother, but at the same time, I hated the part of her that was bigoted. Conflicting emotions such as these aren’t so easily reconciled.

Margo: I can only imagine how extremely difficult that was for you. Do you write a lot of memoir type pieces like this one? Why or why not?

Sekai: Yes, definitely. Writing about my life experiences helps me make order out of chaos. It’s a way for me to understand my place in the world and how I came to be who I am, for better and for worse. It’s therapeutic. It is a way to purge all of the feelings and thoughts that are constantly whirling around in my head and in my dreams.

Margo: Your bio is so interesting! You have lived in many different places and have a few degrees. How have these experiences and education shaped you as a writer?

Sekai: Growing up in between the United States and Africa was a wonderful opportunity, but it was also lonely and isolating and confusing. Because my mother was a white American and my father was a Black Zimbabwean, I never felt I truly belonged in either country or culture. This constant search for belonging - geographical, racial and cultural – led me to move multiple times throughout my twenties and early thirties in order to search for a place to call home. The concepts of home and identity are woven through most of my writing. I am very grateful for the access I have had to travel and education because I was exposed to people, places, and ideas I never could have experienced otherwise. It was also a way to figure out who I was and to feel okay about that.

Margo: I have heard the same type of statement from young people who have had to move a lot in their lives, especially great distances. It's hard enough to be a child or teen and fit in and make friends! But I have also heard the same as you stated that the opportunities moving presented were cherished; and some people, like me who grew up and lived in the Midwest my whole life, have never had. What are you currently working on in your writing life?

Sekai: I always seem to have a couple of projects going on at the same time. I’m working on another creative non-fiction piece about the premature birth of my son and the trauma surrounding the whole birthing experience. I’ve also just started an essay about living with a chronic illness. I was recently diagnosed with a rare vocal chord disorder called spasmodic dysphonia. Basically what happens is the muscles that generate my voice go into periods of spasms that strangle my voice, causing it to strain and making it difficult for voice to come out. Until my diagnosis, I didn’t realize how important my voice was to my sense of identity. And then finally, I have been slogging my way through a memoir growing up in between the United States and Zimbabwe. It’s served as a type of life review, which I seem to be engaging in quite a bit these days as I grow older. The memoir starts off with my family’s move to Zimbabwe shortly after the country’s independence from white minority rule in 1980. My two siblings and I were the first non-white children to be integrated into the formerly whites-only school and our multi-racial family bought a home in a neighborhood that had a whites-only designation. As you can imagine, we faced a great deal of racism during those early days of Zimbabwe. It was also challenging because in the United States my siblings and I had been racially classified as Black; but as soon as we crossed the Atlantic, we were re-classified as “Colored” which is a racial and cultural category in Southern Africa about which we knew nothing.

Margo: The memoir sounds fascinating and I'm sure brings up many emotions to work through. I'm also sorry to hear about your vocal chord disorder. It sounds like you have a lot on your plate, and we are grateful for you taking the time to speak with us today. Thank you very much for your time and your thoughtful answers!


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Saturday, December 29, 2018

 

Death in the afternoon (or whatever time you read this)

In his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, Steve Jobs said everyone wants to go to Heaven, but no one wants to die to get there. Unfortunately, we all die, and so do many of our characters. Death in literature is a common theme because it's a part of life, but the way we write these deaths can add layers of insight to the character, theme, and plot.

Death is not only about the dying. Death can catapult a story into overdrive as characters scramble to figure out how their lives will change. Experiencing the drama and pain for those around the dying can drive an entire plot.

Pay careful attention to the words used to describe the event. What is the mood or tone? Is it more effective to keep it simple, or do long, quiet conversations fit the characters and the mood? I've seen both done well, and each depends on the type of story you create.

I've chosen a few examples of death portrayals to help you write your next scene. The first one comes from my unpublished novel, but will give readers a little insight into the killer's frame of mind. The set-up is that the woman he drugged and tied to a sinking boat is facing the wrong way, and the only thing he is upset about is that he can't see her face.

“I’ll plan more carefully next time,” he said, as he picked a small blue flower to place in the lapel of his jacket folded neatly in his car.

In A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway also leaves out the emotional aspect of death, but for a completely different reason. "After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain."

In Dead Poets Society, the sound of the gun firing leaves no room for doubt. Neil's father, the man we loved to hate, suddenly becomes vulnerable as the death of his son fills his house, destroying both of their lives.

Describing a death using figurative language can also be effective. In The Outsiders, S. E. Hinton used the sentence “Like a candle with the flame gone,” to describe the body of Johnny Cade, who died a heroic death saving children from a fire.

Is death quiet, loud, or lonely? Does it take place on a battlefield, or in an empty hospital room? Is the dying subject surrounded by a spouse and large family, or a former lover no one knew about? Perhaps a childhood friend, or the son or daughter who hasn't been heard from for decades shows up for reasons not quite clear until making a shocking confession.

Showing who cares about an impending death, and who is there only to be seen by the others can explain character motives. A frail figure in a deathbed may work as another character reveals how the dying character hurt her, and share how much she enjoys watching him suffer. Or a seemingly devoted wife watches helplessly as her husband grows weaker by the day, until the writer reveals that she prepares his favorite meals with a little bit of salt, pepper, and poison.

Edgar Allan Poe said, "The death, then, of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world." Poe's life was full of death, and often the topic of his work. A symbol of death may be small, as when a drop of blood appeared on the lip of his beloved wife as she sang. Death had announced itself through that tiny red dot, but the implication was huge, for he knew in that moment she had tuberculosis.

If your character dies at the hands of someone else, what does it say about both of them? Choosing the right weapon can be instrumental in determining the type of betrayal or pain felt by the attacker. Strangling or stabbing is intimate, while shooting from across the room isn't as personal. The death may also explain a code of honor the victim or attacker lived by, or whose love was unrequited.

Death is simple for the dying, but complicated for everyone else. The next time you write a death scene, determine how the death affects the entire story, and not just the victim.


Mary Horner earned The Writing Certificate from the University of Missouri, and teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges.

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Friday, December 28, 2018

 

Friday Speak Out!: New Year's Resolution: Reading with a Busy Life

by Karen Wiesner

If you're a lifelong reader the way I am, you remember lazy days as a child, too young to have worldly cares let alone responsibilities, opening a book and getting lost in the story. Flash-forward to Adult Life, and those moments of bliss curling up with a book are few and far between.

With a full-time career as an author of fiction as well as writing reference titles, I recall trying to juggle numerous book contracts, promotion, signings and speaking engagements and a monthly writing column with a family and a house, a social life with my husband when I could manage, and daily caretaking of my young son. Reading was something I did with him every single day. On his third birthday, he sneaked away from his own party to read the stack of books he'd received as gifts. When I found him curled up looking at them, he wanted nothing more than to have me read them to him.

Beyond all the health benefits (brain fitness, relaxation, and--who knew?--life longevity: 30 minutes a day=2 extra years*), reading expands the mind, heart, horizons, fun factor and imagination all at once. That precious moment with my son taught me reading is too important to dismiss even with a packed life. Here's how:

Whatever's going on in your life, take a book along when you're traveling, cleaning, eating, waiting, shopping or in the loo (audio and ebooks count!).

Finally, read for love. If you're bored or struggling to get into a book, find something else that captures your attention. The world is filled with wonderful variety and there's no reason to force yourself to read anything but what you love.

These two simple strategies can ensure that you get your dose of enriching minutes reading every single day.

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In addition to being a popular writing reference instructor and writer, professional blurbologist and freelance editor, Karen Wiesner is the award-winning author of 130 titles in nearly every genre. Her newest writing reference is Writing Blurbs That Sizzle--And Sell!. Karen runs a blurb service for authors at www.angelfire.com/stars4/kswiesner/BlurbService.html, where you can find information about signing up for her workshops. When she isn't writing, she can be found reading, playing videogames or piano, and visiting her son--also a writer and copyeditor--where he attends college. In 2018, Karen read about 400 books (of all sizes).

http://www.karenwiesner.com
http://www.facebook.com/KarenWiesnerAuthor

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Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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Thursday, December 27, 2018

 

Make Someone Happy

Remember that old song, “Make Someone Happy” by Jimmy Durante?

Okay, I said it was old.

The point is, I love that song. Not necessarily for all the romantic stuff. I love the last bit of the song, the part where Jimmy reminds us that if we make someone happy, we’ll be happy, too. And I’ve found that’s pretty much the truth. Especially when it comes to writers.

The year may be quickly winding down but it’s not too late to make someone—make just one writer someone—happy in 2018:

BOOK REVIEW

You can’t beat the book review for the author on your list. Look over your Books Read and choose a couple to review. And don’t worry about writing a long, literary treatise on the book. A simple paragraph (or two) is enough to make your point and help an author. Throw up the review on Amazon and/or Goodreads, maybe even your blog if you have one.

SPREAD THE WORD

But maybe the book review just isn’t your thing; takes too much time, too much effort. Or (yikes!) you just didn’t like the book and you don’t want to give someone a lousy review. You can still make an author happy when you spread the word in just a few lines. Use Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to post the cover of the book with a brief, “Do you see what I see?” And if you did like it, add a nice recommendation, an “I LOVED this one! Your kid (or sister or dad or dog…whatever) will, too!” Oh! Another thing…it doesn’t have to be a book, either. Do you have a writer friend who has an essay out there? A short story? A poem? Post a link to it, or leave a nice comment at the site. It’s so easy to spread the word and make someone happy!

BE A SHOULDER

And don’t forget to make someone happy when that someone is going through a tough time in the business. Be a shoulder to cry on, a sympathetic ear, a friend in need. The thing is, we all go through tough times in our jobs, but when you’re a writer, you work mostly alone. It’s such a solitary career, this writing business. So when an agent drops you or a contract falls through, when an editor passes on a pitch (after requesting the article!) or when that 47th rejection pings in the Inbox and throwing in the writing towel seems like a very good idea, then be there. Sometimes a few words of encouragement or a nice long lunch just to listen is enough to make someone happy.

And you know what? It may be an old song, but it still sounds good to me. Make someone happy and you’ll be happy, too. (Happy New Year’s, y’all!)

~ Cathy C. Hall

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

 

Writing Wishes For You (And a Farewell)

In five days we delve into 2019. This year has been filled with ups and downs for me, and I’m sure, dear readers, for you as well. The reality is that everyone has losses and wins in life. We’d be naive to think otherwise.

This is my last post for Women on Writing for a while. I’m taking a break to focus on other writing endeavors. I’ll be back - I enjoy blogging too much to leave forever. In the meantime, however, I leave you with writing wishes as you enter into the New Year.

I wish you creativity. May you be blessed with new ideas, with fresh characters, and with original settings. May your plot take exciting and unexpected turns. May your protagonist surprise you and make choices you never anticipated. May your villains be more cunning than you ever imagined.

I wish you tenacity. May you finish your first draft with a renewed sense of purpose. May you tackle your editing with a fresh mind. May you find every error. May you have the foresight to anticipate plot inconsistencies. May you find the perfect way to word your favorite scene, and may you be your own thesaurus, avoiding repetition with dexterity.

I wish you success. May your creativity and tenacity produce an amazing manuscript. May you find the right beta readers which lead to finding the right editor. May your pitch on Twitter be successful enough to land yourself the perfect agent. May HarperCollins fall in love with your book and may you make it on the New York Times Best Sellers List.

But most of all, I wish you joy. Joy in your ideas. Joy in your execution. Joy in your writing.

May 2019 be your best writing year yet. I'll miss sharing my ideas with you in the upcoming months, but I know this blog will continue to offer you wisdom, laughter, inspiration, and insight.


Bethany Masone Harar is an author, teacher, and blogger, who does her best to turn reluctant readers into voracious, book-reading nerds. Check out her blog here and her website here.


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Tuesday, December 25, 2018

 

Interview with Susan Moffson: Summer 2018 Flash Fiction Contest Third Place Winner

Bio: Susan Moffson has been working in the field of international development for twenty years, much of that time spent living and working in Africa. For the past eight years, she has worked for the non-governmental organization, Jhpiego, the leading partner in a consortium implementing the global health project, Maternal and Child Survival Program. She has written several work-related blogs about the positive impact this program has had on many women and children and has realized she is a journalist at heart. Susan loves to write fiction, pulling from her time abroad, to capture the incredibly rich and varied cultures she has been fortunate to experience.

If you haven’t done so already, check out Susan’s award-winning story “Canela” and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations on placing third in the Summer 2018 Flash Fiction Contest! What excited you most about writing this story?

Susan: I’ve written about a lot of places I’ve lived but never Cape Verde, so it was fun to revisit my time there, as dark as some of the elements of the story are.

WOW: Did you learn anything about yourself or your writing while crafting this piece?

Susan: I learned that things that were happening in Cape Verde when I lived there 15 years ago would not be okay in many contexts now, in the age of the “me too” movement. So I am grateful for the progress women have made but it is scary how woman are so often victimized and powerless in the world.

WOW: Can you tell us more about how your time abroad has fueled your writing?

Susan: It’s funny but right now I can’t write about anything other than stories related to Africa or life overseas, whether pulled from my time abroad or my work or both. There are just so many stories to tell and it’s what inspires me.

WOW: We hope to see more of your stories about life overseas soon! What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Susan: Sounds cliché but I’m reading Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime. It’s hilarious and fascinating and I chose it because my book club is reading it- and because I was curious to learn more about South Africa, which is really different in a lot of ways than other African countries I have lived. Plus I am a big fan of Trevor.

WOW: If you could give your younger self one piece of writing advice, what would it be and why?

Susan: I always enjoyed writing but in school and work I focused on report writing and a more journalistic style of writing. I came to creative writing late when I started writing work blogs. So I guess I would tell me younger self to explore creative writing because it has been a long, sometimes painful transition to learn to write fiction!

WOW: Good advice! It is a different kind of process. Anything else you’d like to add?

Susan: Just want to add that I think it’s important to have someone review your drafts – ideally seasoned writers/editors/readers. I learn so much from the workshop/editing process! My awesome husband nearly always reads everything I write to make sure it’s authentic and accurately captures the details about places we have worked and/or lived.

WOW: Thank you for that advice, and thank you again for sharing your stories and for your other thoughtful responses. Congratulations again, and happy writing!

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, and profiles of writers and competitive female athletes.

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Monday, December 24, 2018

 

A Wonderful Gift... of Writing Friends

Yes, it's Christmas Eve. The night before a day of last-minute cleaning to prepare for an evening of family fun. It's also close to the end of the year, which makes me reflect on the riches I have.



I'm rich because I have a wonderful family, I love my job, and I have scads of writing friends. Ask me, I'll share photos and stories about my kids and granddaughter. Come visit my classroom, and you'll see why I adore going to work every day. But my writing colleagues? What's that all about?

This is what it's all about.


  • Long-distance writing peeps. I have writing friends in Michigan, Minnesota, Georgia, Florida--even India. They inspire me with their posts and their writing success. If a writer can take over the Korean publishing market with their books... if a writer can make even me finish reading one of their romance books... if a writer wows me every. single. time. with their poetry, it keeps me hopeful that maybe someday I too will enjoy a small nibble of success.
  • My writing critique group. These ladies keep me writing every week. They give me feedback. They make me laugh. Two of them even offered to read my manuscript and give me their honest opinion. (One of them actually read it in less than 24 hours. I might have suspected that they dozed through it, but no--there were notes written and changes suggested and mistakes caught.)
  • My Butt-Kickers group. This is my writing accountability group. We're actually called "Pencil-Pushing Butt-Kickers" and our first anniversary is coming around in late January. Eleven months ago, we all set big goals (to achieve by the end of the year) and now, week by week, we set new, smaller goals along with reporting on the goal from the previous week. My big goal: to get my manuscript published. Is it published? No, but I do have a finished draft (after scrapping it and starting from scratch) and I summoned up the courage to send it off to an editor (twice  now). I would not have finished this manuscript this quickly without the kicks-in-the-butt I got from these writers.
 How about you? How are you rich? Think about it as you shop and wrap and cook and clean today.

Sioux Roslawski is a teacher and freelance writer. All of her success is due to the fact that she receives a little--no, a lot of--help from her friends.

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Sunday, December 23, 2018

 

Interview with Sarah Cannon - Q4 Essay Contest Winner

Sarah’s Bio:

Sarah Cannon is the author of the memoir The Shame of Losing (November 2018, Red Hen Press). Her essays have appeared in the New York Times, Salon.com, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Bitch Magazine, and more. Sarah earned her MFA from Goddard College in 2014 where she later helped launch the inaugural Lighthouse Writers’ Alumni Conference & Retreat in Port Townsend, WA. She lives in Edmonds, WA, just north of Seattle, where she works as a technical editor, dog-sitter, book coach, and more. She lives by the sea with her family and many animals. Read more about Sarah and her work at www.cannonsarah.com or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @sarahmecannon.


If you haven't done so already, check out Sarah's award-winning story "Do Not Blame the Trees" and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Creative Nonfiction Q4 Contest! How did you begin writing this piece and how did it and your writing evolve as you wrote?

Sarah: I knew I wanted to figure out a way to reflect how obsessive my mind was working when it came to my husband’s near fatality. In fact, the piece was for a long time called “Obsession.” I really was the woman sleepless in her robe pacing around the creaky wood floors in the wee hours, so I simply started there. I kept thinking, OK, stay in the present, but go back to that place where you never were physically, but where you always went in your mind when it was quiet in the house in the middle of the night. The piece was a lot longer in the beginning, but as I picked it over, it became more and more spare. I always like essays that balance inner and outer conflicts. Sure, I had insomnia, but the story is why. In reading memoir and shorter essay pieces, I began to notice how writers were doubling up on what’s happening in the mind and the circumstances in the “real world.” Sometimes the trick with that is figuring out how to move between tenses though, and I think that’s what likely evolved over the edits.

WOW: Thank you for sharing that; it’s interesting to hear how you approached the balance between inner and outer conflicts within the piece. What did you learn about yourself or your writing by creating this essay?

Sarah: I learned that I had a lot to process about that time in my life, that I was angry and that I couldn’t simply “get over it.” I always knew I was a highly sensitive person, but stepping into the imagined scene of the accident itself using as-told pieces of detail from real witnesses, I realized that if I didn’t write this, I would be likely haunted forever. And I wanted to live free of insomnia and dread (still working on that). And I wanted to immortalize him – my husband – somehow, probably because I knew he wouldn’t remember what had happened to his body, either. Using all those delicious nouns to call out the specific tools in the arboriculture trade made me feel stronger, and closer to him. Writing it made me feel like maybe I could actually say the words to someone in real life someday. For a while, I could only choke on my own tears, you know. And I was very defensive when anyone wanted details. So this gave me an outlet for my confusion about the accident itself and also for my anger at the human condition – our tendency for Schadenfreude.

WOW: You've so poignantly described that healing, restoritive power that writing has, and I’m glad you found an outlet through this process and felt comfortable enough to share your story with us. Which creative nonfiction essays or writers have inspired you most, and in what ways did they inspire you?

Sarah: I know everyone reads Maggi Nelson in their MFA programs, but she truly is this trailblazing shero for me, for all the reasons everyone knows. Her play with form, her fierce intellect and curiosity, her poetry/prose that is molded into story. She also follows her fire, her obsessions, and when you see how it works, it inspires. Jane, a Murder rocked my world. I loved Eve Ensler’s The Body of the World for its sense of urgency and corporeal sensibility. I think as women we must write from the body, and Lidia Yuknavitch is a pure example of finding freedom in that. Joan Didion is, of course, the master of crafting the most beautiful sentences, and I would put Ta-Nehisi Coates in that category as well. The choices he makes and the way he strings words together is mesmerizing. His book, Between the World and Me, ought to be required reading in the high schools. Joan Fiset is a wonderful local (Seattle) writer who I was assigned in a post-grad school week-long workshop with Rebecca Brown, another great. I would recommend either of Joan’s books (Now the Day Is Over and Namesake) for any poet or memoirist who gravitates toward white space and prose poetry. Like Sandra Cisneros’ House on Mango Street, which I love, Joan’s fresh language gives off this deceptively easy-seeming style. I was lucky enough to have her endorse my book, for which I’ll be forever grateful.

WOW: Thanks for that great list of recommendations. Congratulations on the publication of your memoir The Shame of Losing! Can you tell us more about your book and what your process was like while writing it?

Sarah: This memoir is short in length (160 pages) but long in blood, sweat and tears. It is informed by my graduate thesis and evolved through revisions into a hybrid style with descriptive vignettes, diary entries, and love letters. I really thought going into the program that I would produce fiction – I was interested in writing film, actually. I began about three different screenplays and read a bunch of scripts, which was super fun, but in my annotations and side work I kept going back to this story – my story, which was telling. The time with mentors felt precious and also safe, so I switched my focus to memoir. Even so, I had a long way to go before the manuscript read unpitying or artful. Having survived something doesn’t alone give you the tools to write something people want to read. For me, I needed the support of a writing community, and the help of mentors, to begin the project. The finishing was all on me. I don’t have a regular writing time of day or a real process, only that I had come so far with the drafts of the book, and it was so important to me, that I knew I would do anything it took to “finish.” I’m both relieved and anxious that I no longer have that sense of urgency about a writing project.

WOW: That does sound like a relief, but it also sounds like you crafted a meaningful story—you’ve definitely caught my interest. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Sarah: I’d tell her to be less afraid of looking dumb, shallow, or less-than. I’d say don’t be so afraid of failing or looking foolish. A lot of people, including me, get really intimidated by “writers” because I guess to be a writer must mean you’re really smart, only I never felt that way. When you don’t feel like you belong in those AP/Honors classes, when you process at a slower pace than your whip-smart classmates or siblings, or you just aren’t that competitive academically, you start to maybe think you don’t be belong in that kind of circle. But it turns out I’m wildly creative! I just needed to let myself fail, to allow criticism and know that it comes with love – usually. I would have told her to understand that it’s not the long, “smart-sounding” sentences that are the most interesting. And that the loudest person in the room is usually the least talented. Simple is good. Simple is appealing, especially when it’s layered with heart and the commitment to tell a good story with feelings.

WOW: Wonderful advice! Thanks so much for your thoughtful responses and for sharing your writing with us.

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, and profiles of writers and competitive sportswomen.

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Saturday, December 22, 2018

 

The Writing Lesson I Didn't Know I Needed to Learn

photo via Pixabay

I have always loved reading advice on writing. In fact, as early as 12 or 13 I was borrowing books on writing from the library. I got to know that section by heart.  For a long time, I was also a subscriber to Writer's Digest and Poets and Writers. Then I discovered blogs and really got to quench my thirst for writing advice. And with all of this reading about writing, I didn't learn one important lesson on writing until recently. I don't even blame the books, the magazines and the blogs for not teaching me this lesson I'm about to share with you. I blame myself. I thought I already learned it. But the truth is, I didn't.

What is that lesson?

Patience.

It takes patience to write. It takes patience to wait for feedback. Patience to find the right contest or literary magazine. Patience to wait on results of that contest. Patience to read that rejection letter and resubmit the story. Patience to rewrite the story in just the right way. Patience.

The last few weeks I've been chomping at the bit to submit a story I've been working on and I have no patience at all. I'm so eager to submit the story and put that cart before the horse.

It's as if I'm at a train station and it's been hours since the last train went by, and finally, when one shows up, it isn't even the train that I need. And then there's me, not having the patience to wait anymore. Do I give up and go home? Or do I wait for the train and be patient?

Despite my lack of patience, my story isn't ready to submit it yet. I know that. So, as a writer, how do I develop patience for writing? Is there a class I can take? A book I can read? A blog I can subscribe to? Anything that can teach me how to be patient? Maybe there is something out there for the impatient ones, but somehow I feel like this is a lesson learned the hard way. And I'm finally allowing myself to learn it.

One takeaway I can learn from this lesson is how while I wait on one story to finally be ready, I can work on another. And with that, I can be satisfied to wait and be patient.

Follow Nicole Pyles on her writing journey by following her on Twitter @BeingTheWriter and her blog The World of My Imagination.

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Friday, December 21, 2018

 

Friday Speak Out!: Sacred Rituals

by Kim Smyth

I’m writing this little story even though to do so may make y’all think I’m a bit of a freak, yet we all have our sacred rituals to get us going, right?

My writing space is not one most people would choose, it is just the area of the dining table that puts me in front of a plug for my computer, and in front of the dining room window so I can daydream and either watch the autumn leaves fall on the neighbors lawns, or the rain fall from the sky, filling up my empty plant beds. The reason is that my old writing space was a converted bedroom-turned-office with NO space for my writing. I had been using this old piece of furniture we inherited from my husband’s grandmother, yet it was crowded out by his desk and now I have no room. I needed my own space.

Anyway, my morning ritual has always included making my coffee which uses coconut oil and butter (those of you who know what bulletproof coffee is will understand) and rubbing said oil on my dry legs in the process. I also rub it on the surgery scar on my neck and it is hardly visible now after a year. Anyway, I discovered one morning that my little dog Whiskey loves coconut oil when I sat down on the couch and she literally attacked my hands trying to lick it off. So now, every morning it has been sort of a thing for me to sit down at the dining table, get ready to write, while both of my doggies lick the coconut oil off my legs.

You might think this is weird, but dogs benefit from coconut oil as well as humans, if this is a good delivery method, who am I to stop them? Besides, it is oddly soothing to me, even if that sounds a little weird, I don’t mind at all. In fact, I now sort of feel lost if for some reason they don’t come running right away the moment my butt hits the dining room chair, for that action is what now gets me in the mood to write. Me, my coffee, my JUUL, and my dogs, licking my legs while I pound out my next article, essay, blog post or whatever…now how is that for a visual? I can hear you laughing from here! Or are you cringing? Some people are put off by dogs licking their toes, and my Brandy is a toe-licker from way back. This is somehow…different. Like I said, it’s rather soothing and I’m killing two birds with one stone per say.

Never mind that they like the oil just as well on their food, or in the baked treats I sometimes make them, I like them licking it off my legs…there, I said it. It’s part of my ritual now, I don’t think I could get started in the mornings without it.

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Kim Smyth is a freelance writer interested in all forms of writing, articles, essays, poetry, and blogs. She writes on Medium and runs the blogs Keto For Beginners and Words On a Page. She lives in the DFW metroplex with her hubby Dave and two adorable Shorkies, Whiskey and Brandy Recently, Callie the cat joined the family.
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Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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Thursday, December 20, 2018

 

Tales from an Idea Hoarder

Canva.com

I read an article recently where a writer admitted she hoarded her ideas the way some people hoard old family keepsakes. I had to chuckle out loud a bit while I was reading, because if we’re all telling the truth here, I have a tendency to hoard ideas as well. You know people in the TV shows get overwhelmed when faced with the idea of tossing out their treasures?

A stack of old magazines with an inch worth of dust. Well, there were some recipes in there I was planning to try and make . . .


A bolt of faded floral fabric. I had a pattern around here somewhere and I was going to sew a dress for my best friend’s niece’s granddaughter . . .

As much as I hate to admit it, I have ideas filed away everywhere. You know how Nicole talked about tossing out old notebooks when she came to terms she would never use any of the stories she had stored in them? I’m pretty sure I have a few things in my files I could toss. Let’s open a drawer and find a random folder.

Item #1: A thick, manila folder labeled “iParenting.” It’s full of e-mail interviews, printed pages of research, and assignments from the editor I used to work with on the website. Back in 2005. During that time period I was writing articles about when a baby is most likely to start crawling and how to make your own baby food. I wrote for the website because I was just getting started freelancing and was the mother of an infant. I was writing about what I knew. Do I write about infancy and toddlers these days? With a 12 and 15-year-old, no. There are other topics top of mind now, but I’m happier to explore them through fictional stories. This folder should probably be tossed and no longer hoarded!

Item #2: A folder labeled “Active Queries.” This is interesting because there is nothing active about them. The folder is full of market research I did on various magazines—I had written down the most recent fiction stories in Highlights magazines and what category they fell under. I find the typed pages of a short story I submitted to Highlights called “Ice Cream Dreams.” There are notes from 2012 where I researched what stories ran in each section of Family Fun Magazine so I could get an idea of what types of queries they were looking for. 2012. I think maybe these notes are probably okay to recycle now.

Item #3: A folder labeled “Ashes, Ashes.” Ahhh. Now we’re getting somewhere. In this folder I find my syllabus from the class I took this past fall, along with four weeks of essays I produced with the critiques from my classmates. This is more in line with the types of writing projects I’m more interested in these days—creative nonfiction. These essays are raw material; a good place to start, and they just need some molding and shaping like a sculptor working with clay. I’m not going to recycle these notes, because with a little work, these essays could make for possible literary magazine or writing contest submissions.

I thought I had purged most of my unnecessary files last year when I moved into a new house, but I guess there are still some ideas I was grasping onto. Hoarder or not, it’s good to rifle through your folders (on and off the computer) every now and then and ask yourself if some ideas are worth letting go. You may also discover a piece you had forgotten about. That’s always a nice surprise.

Now if only I could do something about these ideas filed away in my brain . . .

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who is also the marketing director of a nonprofit theatre company. Learn more at www.FinishedPages.com.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

 

New Writing Moves in 2019

Reading through recent Muffin posts, I see I’m not the only one looking back over 2018 and contemplating what I could do differently in 2019. But I’m not talking about success and failure.

Every now and again I like to shake things up and try something new. As a nonfiction author that is fairly easy to do since I can write many different things for many different audiences.

So what do I see in 2019?

Cozying Up with My Cozy. Ironically, this nonfiction author will be continuing to work on fiction because, as much as I’ve gotten done, there is a long way to go before my mystery manuscript resembles a mystery novel. Among the issues, I need to fix names because I noticed about 20,000 words in that one of my characters mysteriously underwent a name change. Add to that all the notes (what would this look like) and problems (weave this in earlier in the story) that need to be addressed and I’ve got a lot of work to do. It feels odd as a nonfiction author to spend this much energy writing fiction but I’ll get over it.

Pitching a Series. Not that working on my cozy means that I’ll be giving up on nonfiction. I’ve written one or two titles for a wide variety of nonfiction series but I’ve never written all of the books in a series. Recently I saw that a publisher had put out a call for nonfiction series for elementary students. After examining the publisher’s backlist, I’ve come up with an idea. I’ve pitched single nonfiction books but never a series so this is going to be a learning experience. It’s a good thing I like learning to do new things!

Graphic Novels. As if one series idea wasn’t enough, I actually have an idea for a second nonfiction series. I don’t have a specific publisher in mind for this one so I’m going to have to explore publishers to find at least one that’s a good fit. But there’s a twist. This series idea involves graphic novels. How many graphic novels have I written? Zero. So I’ll be learning to script a graphic novel out as well.

Add to this my blogging, my work-for-hire and all the other things that I find myself doing and I’m sure 2019 will be a busy writing year. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m looking forward to developing some new skills. Cozies, nonfiction series, and graphic novels – oh my!

--SueBE

To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins January 14th, 2019.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

 

Interview with Ashley Memory, 1st Place Winner in Summer 2018 Flash Fiction Contest

Ashley Memory finds inspiration in the ancient Uwharrie mountains surrounding her home in rural Randolph, County, N.C. She enjoys preserving what she grows in the garden she tends with her husband Johnpaul. She’s learned the hard way about wearing gloves when making jalapeno pickles!

Ashley’s poetry and prose have recently appeared in The Birds We Piled Loosely, Gyroscope Review, The Ginger Collect’s 2018 Halloween Mini-Magazine and numerous other literary journals and anthologies. New work is forthcoming in Okay Donkey and Coffin Bell. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and a two-time recipient of the Doris Betts Fiction Prize sponsored by the N.C. Writers’ Network. A previous story, “Eula Dare Hampton Agrees to Edit the Quaker Ladies’ Cookbook,” earned honorable mention in the WOW! Winter 2018 Flash Fiction Contest.

Ashley loves sharing what she’s learned as a part-time instructor for Central Carolina Community College’s Creative Writing Program in Pittsboro, N.C. Follow Ashley on Twitter @memoryashley or visit her fruit-inspired blog at ashley-memory.com.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your first place win in our Summer 2018 Flash Fiction competition! What inspired you to enter the contest?

Ashley: I love entering writing contests! A deadline is an excellent incentive for finishing a story, and a little healthy competition is good for every writer. I’m also a big fan of the WOW contests and their community in particular, which I first learned about from a writing friend many years ago. The WOW prizes and support of their writers is outstanding, and unique of its kind. The entry fee is very reasonable and the judging is blind, two factors which equalize the playing field for everyone. This means that even someone like me (from the little town of Asheboro, N.C.) can earn a place along with the best writers across the world. Oh, and it’s also judged by a literary agent. How cool is that?

WOW:  Love your enthusiasm for our contests! Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, "Dear Derinda?"

Ashley: Years ago I heard about such a situation—a cell company offering big bucks to a rural community to install a tower and how it fractured the neighborhood. But I just tucked it away in my head as an anecdote because for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to turn it into a story. And then in May of this last year, I participated in Julie Duffy’s Story A Day project and one of her prompts was to write a story in the form of a letter. The two elements just clicked – one friend mad at another and so she writes a letter – and the story finally came to life. The “turn” in the story, how one friend forgave another, was a bit of a personal journey. Having to work that out, as I’m not sure how I would have personally handled that dilemma, meant I had to imagine that I could forgive such a betrayal, which turned out to be an exercise in humility and grace. Does writing make you a better person? In my case, I think it does. At least I hope so.

WOW What key elements do you think make a great piece of flash fiction?

Ashley: A flash fiction should have all the elements of a traditional story – a strong character or two, sense of place, imagery, conflict and some kind of resolution – but within an extremely tight space. Beyond this, the writer Vanessa Gebbie says it best. “What a good flash ought to do,” she says, is to “catch you as you turn away, hold you, and when you’re finished reading, it should echo and resonate.”

All of these things make flash fiction one of the more challenging pieces to write, but it’s a wonderful exercise for writers of any level, from professional to beginning because it hones your skills so sharply. It’s also just plain fun! I am fortunate enough to lead a couple of workshops a year on flash for Central Carolina Community College’s Creative Writing Program, and we have a blast. There are so many possible formats for flash, from emails to text messages to even overheard conversations. The sky is truly the limit!

WOW Are you working on any writing projects currently? What can we plan on seeing from you in the future?

Ashley: For the past year, I’ve focused on improving my writing, through close study of the masters and a disciplined writing of the short story in particular. Eventually, once a theme emerges, I may produce a collection of stories. I’m also exploring creative nonfiction, particularly the essay. I’m taking my second Chelsey Clammer workshop – one on humor and loving it.

Interestingly, I recently revised a flash story that placed in a WOW contest last year and gave it a holiday twist. “Holiday Party Etiquette for Insects Recently Transformed into People,” will be published by one of my favorite literary magazines, Okay Donkey, in December. I also have a long form narrative poem, “Orchard #9,” about a haunted cherry orchard that will be published by the evocative and eerie Coffin Bell in January.

WOW Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Ashley. Before you go, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?

Ashley: First, enter! Second, you, yes you, I’m talking to you! What are you waiting for?!! Seriously, I encourage all my writer friends to enter contests, especially ones like WOW offers because of the blind judging and great prizes. Look at it like this. The judge may very well be looking for a story just like yours, and it’s your responsibility to share it with her! :) But the best part of entering a competition is the opportunity to join a terrific community of fellow women writers and continue to grow, rewards that endure well beyond the contest itself.

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For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.


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Monday, December 17, 2018

 

5 Lessons in Writing I Learned This Year (My 2018 Reflection)

As we near the end of 2018, I think it's time for a reflection post. After reading Sue's and Renee's posts about writing goals and their accomplishments, I felt a call to contemplate my own.

I haven't exactly accomplished as much as I was hoping this year, but I have done a lot, in huge part due to the accountability group I joined with WOW (for which, I am so grateful). There have been some teaching moments along the way and I thought I would view my accomplishments through that lens and share five important lessons I have learned this year.

1) Let go of writing projects of the past.

This was a huge moment for me that I talked about in a blog post on my own personal blog. I threw away a bunch of old notebooks from over 10 years ago. It happened when I realized that none of these stories would be used at later point. And I knew it. This isn't a moment I will look back on with regret. In fact, it was one of the healthiest moment of my writing life this year. I needed to let go and I didn't need to hang onto old notebooks as some sort of symbol of my dedication to writing stories.

2) Writing is a daily practice.

I don't have a daily word count. If I'm being totally honest, I don't even write everyday (fiction, that is). However, in order for me to write creatively, I need to do that on a daily basis. This year has shown me that. I discovered that lesson when I looked back over some old freelance pieces from years prior.  When I was looking over old content pieces, I realized how much I've grown as a freelance writer. My writing has vastly improved and that has only happened because I've been doing that type of writing (i.e. blogging, web content, etc) almost daily for several years now. I'm certainly not perfect, but I'm better than I have been. That is the same philosophy I need to take with creative writing.

3) Editing and revising is a different beast.

One of the things I tackled this year was my resistance to editing and revising. I made it my personal mission to edit, revise and to look that beast in the eyes. I have remained true to my word and it's been a challenge this year, but I have come a long way. I am finishing off the year with at least two decently edited pieces and some others under my belt that I am ready to tackle.

4) Life happens. Write anyway.

A few months ago I was let go from my day job. It would be easy to not write, but I am remaining close to my fiction stories and keeping with them as much as I can. It would be easy to get distracted (for good reason too), but this year and the last few months have taught me that I need to write no matter what is going on.

5) Keep challenging yourself.

This was the first year I set writing goals for the year and I am already plotting what my goals are for next year. I'd like to think I'll set myself a daily word count, but in all honesty, I need to remain focused on my revising goal. I am hoping this time next year I will have done some submitting and can say a short story has been published.

So, as I bid adieu to 2018, I will be looking ahead with a renewed sense of accomplishment. One story at a time, one word at a time, I am pushing forward. Happy writing everyone!

Follow Nicole and her writing journey on Twitter via BeingTheWriter or visit her blog theworldofmyimagination.blogspot.com.

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Sunday, December 16, 2018

 

Interview with Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri, Q4 2018 Creative Nonfiction Runner Up

Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri is a Toronto-based translator and writer. In a previous life, she was a manager of EU projects in Tuscany. Before that, she was a sociologist in Norway. Back then she wrote poetry and erotica in Norwegian. She returned to writing in 2011, after a very, very long break. Her writing has since been longlisted for Prism International nonfiction prize and the Peter Hinchcliffe Fiction Award, nominated fro a Journey prize, and published (or forthcoming) in J Journal, Saint Katherine Review, Monarch Review, Citron Review, Sycamore Review, subTerrain Magazine, Broken Pencil, Agnes and True, Forge Literary Magazine, Fjords Review, Grain Magazine, Typehouse Literary Review, The New Quarterly and elsewhere.

She is working on a novel—and looking for an agent.

If you haven't had the chance already, be sure to read Hege's winning entry A Kind of Bargain and then return to learn more about this talented and thoughtful writer!

----------interview by Renee Roberson


WOW: “A Kind of Bargain” is a very unique piece in the way that it is structured—it almost reads like a poem. How did you first come up with the idea for this essay and what types of revisions did it go through?

Hege: Thank you for noticing that. This essay actually started out as a single sentence that I kept humming and repeating to myself, so it could easily have ended up as a poem. It was more rhythm and feeling than plot for a long time. I wanted to convey some of the longing and waiting and hoping that is a part of adolescence.

WOW: I love that! It's amazing how creative you can get with creative nonfiction. Gone are the days of just a straight essay! In “ A Kind of Bargain” you paint a vivid picture of what you remember from watching Princess Diana and Prince Charles’ royal wedding. Do you remember where you were or what you were doing when you found out about her untimely death in a car accident? (She died on my birthday in 1997, so it's a day I will never forget).

Hege: I do remember. It was a Sunday. It was the day before my birthday and I was 8 months pregnant with my youngest daughter. I'd been having some strange sensations and worried that something wasn't right. We were going out to an old-fashioned café for cake and coffee, my husband, my 4-year-old and I, as a kind of celebration in case my doctor decided to send me to hospital the next day. Right by that café in Trondheim, Norway, there was a newspaper stand and every newspaper had Princess Di in their headline. I can't remember if we ever ate cake. But I remember that feeling of being at loss for words and feeling a chapter of history ending.

WOW: It really was an unforgettable day. You are a prolific writer with a number of published essays and short stories in literary journals. Are there any particular topics in your writing you often find yourself revisiting?

Hege: Our relationship to nature is a recurring theme, as is climate change and human relationships connected to this. Somehow, there is almost always a great big tree making it into my stories. Plenty of mountains too, come to think of it. I guess growing up north of the Arctic Circle, I was always surrounded by nature, and I return to that in images and metaphors, even though I now live a very urban life in downtown Toronto.

WOW: We all have books we find ourselves revisiting over and over again as a source of comfort. Do you prefer reading fiction or nonfiction and who are some of your favorite writers?

Hege: I read both poetry, fiction and nonfiction, though probably 60 percent fiction and the rest split between nonfiction and poetry. A writer I return to time after time, is Per Petterson, whose body of work often is a cross-over between nonfiction and fiction. The simplicity of his language, and how he is able to use that to say very complicated things just blows my mind.

I'm also a great admirer of Alice Munro, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Linn Ullman (whose autobiographical novel, Unquiet, will be released in English the new year--I recommend it to everyone). As far as nonfiction/essays are concerned, I read everything from Roxanne Gay, Dinty W. Moore, Brenda Miller, Leslie Jamison, Katherine Haake, Zadie Smith, both to learn craft and to see the world from different perspectives.

WOW: You mention you are actively working on a novel and seeking an agent. Could you share with us the subject nature of your novel?

Hege: Yes, I'm on my second draft this novel that I think will be called "Siren Songs", which is a crime novel with a literary bent, set in the extreme north of Norway where I spent my childhood. It's thin on mass murderers, but rich in ethical dilemmas and doubts. As a joke I keep saying I'll use "Nordic Noir where nothing is lost in translation" as my tag line, but that may be overselling it a bit.

WOW: I love the term Nordic Noir! That novels sounds fascinating! Please keep us posted on your progress with it, and congratulations again on your award-winning essay!

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Saturday, December 15, 2018

 

Stop Feeling Down About 2018

I saw a great tweet yesterday while I was on WOW's Twitter feed, and it basically said that at the end of the year, everyone (not just authors, but authors especially) likes to list their accomplishments while looking back at the year. The tweeter went on to say that if we're reading these tweets and feeling down about our own year, stop. You will do great things in 2019.  I say: Yes! Yes! Yes! The Comparison Trap is the worst for women and maybe even more so for women who are artists. 

I've discussed on The Muffin before: what does success mean? Is it making six- or seven-figure salaries as a writer and getting on the bestseller lists? Is it publishing your novel after working on it for five years? Is it placing first in WOW!'s creative nonfiction contest? Or is it simply accomplishing at least one of those pesky goals you made for the year?

I don't have those answers for you. I know, I know--you're thinking: why am I wasting my time with what she has to say if she doesn't have the answer to this Most Important Question? I do know two things.  First, everyone's definition of success is different. And second, success and accomplishments matter very much to some people and not so much to others. I tend to fall in the second group of people, and I think it's very connected to the first statement about success.

My life tends to be a bit chaotic as a single mom in the sandwich generation (my daughter is 8, and my parents are 78 and 81) while working full time, freelancing, and desperately trying to finish a novel and start marketing my kids' books again. Plus dating and friends and all the stuff that goes with being the only adult in the home (bills, cleaning, trash day), I tend to think I'm successful if I manage to sell a book or two at a book signing or I continue to have Editor 911 clients or writers sign up for my WOW! classes.

So when I hear writers who are feeling down because they only sold 10 books at a signing or have traditionally published a series of books, but it's not on the bestseller list yet, I have trouble relating to these writers. I think: are those things really important? And then I tell myself: yes, it's important to them, and you need to support what is important to the people you care about. We are all in a different place--not just in our writing lives but in life.  Even more important, we all come from different backgrounds and have all traveled many miles in our own shoes. You know that saying: "Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes." (Apparently, that wise saying comes from poet Mary T. Lathrap in 1895.  )

My point is this...as you look back at 2018, keep your eyes on your own paper. Don't look at what your critique partners did (celebrate with them, of course) or the debut novelist who climbed her way to the top of the Amazon sales rank or even someone who finished NaNo when you didn't. Listen to that tweeter I mentioned in the first paragraph. Stop feeling down. If you're not happy with where you are in your writing career, then create goals and routines to get there in 2019. Figure out what makes you feel positive and successful, and focus on that.

Here's to you in 2019!

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, teacher, and writing coach in St. Louis, Missouri. She has two WOW! classes coming up in January: Writing a Novel with a Writing Coach and Individualized Marketing for Writers. She is also finishing her women's fiction novel. To find out more, visit her websites to read her blog and to learn about Editor 911 services. 


Photo above "Do What Makes You Happy"  by Arya Ziai on Flickr.com 

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Friday, December 14, 2018

 

Video: What If My Nonfiction Flash Has Some Imaginative Truth?

What if your nonfiction flash has some imaginative truth?  Does that change the piece from nonfiction to fiction? WOW instructor Gila Green answers these questions in the video below.



[Email subscribers: If you can't see the video, you can view it on YouTube.]


Gila Green is the author of Passport Control (S&H Publishing), and a novel-in-stories, White Zion (Cervena Barva Press, April 2019). Her first novel is King of the Class. She is working on an eco-young adult series for release September 2019 with an independent eco press in Australia. Gila has published dozens of short stories in literary magazines, and teaches writing workshops for WOW! Women On Writing. Visit her website at www.gilagreenwrites.com.

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Join one of Gila's upcoming WOW! Women on Writing classes: Writing Fiction: Setting and Description or Flash Fiction Workshop.  Both start on Monday, January 7, 2019 and run for four weeks.  Early registration is recommended!



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Thursday, December 13, 2018

 

The Way Back

Dorothy Parker once said, “I hate writing, I love having written.”


Never has this quotation more resonated with me than right now. I’ve been on a bit of a writing hiatus lately, lacking motivation and wrestling with ambivalent feelings about the art of writing. So when I saw this quotation while scrolling through my Twitter feed, it gave me hope knowing I’m not alone. It also inspired me to think about why I’ve avoided writing and how to get back on track.

Dorothy Parker was spot-on in her observations. When I look back on what I’ve written, I’m usually very happy with it. I love that I've created characters and scenes which are poignant or happy or downright scary as hell. But first I have to find time - or make time. Then I have to get my head in the right place. Then I notice I haven’t done the dishes and I get up to clean so I can be ready to devote time to writing . . . and somehow never make it back to my laptop.

Other times, though, my avoidance is intentional. Writing is work. Writing takes time. Writing is hard. Until recently, I couldn’t come up with original ideas. I struggled to write even a paragraph. My creativity had stagnated.

But then, someone suggested I start writing in a journal to get my thoughts and feelings out. So I did. At first I had to force myself to do it, but as I journaled every day, I found a routine. There is less pressure. Sometimes I write a lot, and sometimes I don’t. I don’t concern myself with structure or grammar or quality, which is very freeing.

And in so doing, I’ve found my writing groove again. I may not be writing novels right now. It isn’t the type of writing I can publish, or share with anyone, really. But I am writing which, I believe, is the first step to falling in love with the writing process again.

So if you’ve lost your writing way, give journaling a try. It might help you find your way back.



Bethany Masone Harar is an author, teacher, and blogger, who does her best to turn reluctant readers into voracious, book-reading nerds. Check out her blog here and her website here.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

 

A Christmas (Publishing) Miracle

This story begins over ten years ago when I met Sonia. We sang together in the choir, sat on the same row, and we knew each other in a “singing together” sort of way. One year, I decided to sell some of my Chicken Soup for the Soul books at a fall festival at our church, and I suppose it stuck in Sonia’s mind, me being a writer.

So time passed. But this October, our pastor grabbed me after church and said, “Sonia has written a book and she wanted me to tell you that she’ll be back in a week or so and she hopes you can help her.”

Sonia grew up in the Philippines and she goes back there for a couple of months at a time now that she’s retired. And I vaguely recalled her saying something about writing months ago. But Sonia has written a book?

“Sure, sure,” I stammered. “I’m happy to help.” I was thinking I’d just skim her book and give her some feedback. That was not what Sonia was thinking.

The next week, Sonia handed me this sheaf of pages. It was her book, a single-spaced manuscript, and immediately I could see that it needed major formatting. She asked me to read it and edit the pages for her, to get it ready to be published. Her plan was to find a religious publishing company and get her book out into the world. “But don’t worry, Cathy. The church will help me with the publishing side of it. I just need you to fix it!”

I glanced down at the page in front of me and began to read. The book was going to need formatting and a serious line edit. But I love Sonia and the book is about her journey after the death of her beloved husband, which of course speaks to me as well, and so I did as Sonia asked. I fixed it.

It was mid-November now and I wanted Sonia to proofread my edits, to make sure I stayed true to her voice. But Sonia does not have a laptop and so in a moment of divine inspiration, I realized I could get her “book” printed at one of those big box office stores. Sonia could read her book and I could make any changes and turn over the file to the church. The church would take it from there.

Except when we met with our pastor and the church people, they really couldn’t get involved in this business venture. I had recommended earlier that Sonia should probably go the self-publishing route anyway, and everyone thought that was a swell idea. And by the way, could I oversee that?

Uh-oh. I have read a fair amount of self-published books; I’m not sure that actually qualified me for managing and getting someone’s book published. But Sonia was so impassioned about her book and the proceeds would go to help the seminarians in the Philippines and at this point she was adamant about paying me for all the work. I just couldn’t say no. I’d figure out Kindle Direct Publishing and get ‘er done.

Oh! And one other thing. Could I get the book finished in time for Advent?

Advent?

The first Sunday of Advent was December 2nd. It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Lots of stuff happened in between, but by November 30th, I had submitted the final version of the book. Late that Saturday night, December 1st, Sonia’s book was online and available for purchase.

But my part in this story is not the point of this Christmas publishing miracle. During one of our many, many conversations, I told Sonia that she was relentless. Relentless. She was determined to get her book out there and despite my efforts along the way to be done with the book, Sonia would not let go of me or her dream.

Maybe it’s because Sonia will soon be eighty. Or perhaps it’s because she’s so deeply committed to growing the church in the Philippines. Whatever the reason, she believed in herself and this book. She cried when I handed her the proof copy and we had to go straight to our pastor so she could show him her miracle. “Can you believe it, Father? I’m a writer!”

I can indeed, Sonia. And now my message for you: Believe in yourself, friends. Be relentless. And you’ll find your miracle publishing story, too.





Cathy C. Hall writes stories for children and adults and now, it looks like she publishes, too. If you want to find out more details about Sonia's book, check out Cathy's website here. And however you celebrate the season, may it bring moments of joy and peace (and  publishing)!

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