Sunday, February 23, 2020

A WRITING EMERGENCY

By Sharon May

Don’t mean to be morbid, but, inevitably, I will die, and I worry I won’t attain my writing goals. Health and age are bummers. What can be done about that? Write as quick as hell, I figure.

Whenever I write with intensity, I have an emergency, often medical. I have been writing with constant pain in my right wrist for four years. After three surgeries, it may be gone. Success? Not so fast, my gremlins remind me.

Almost recovered from December’s surgery, I hurt my right hand. Don’t have a clue how, but I severely bruised the hand, which has a metal plate from knuckle to arm, so as to prevent the wrist from bending. Did it in my sleep by turning over on the hand or sleeping on it, the ER doctor thinks. Bruising is temporary, but I lost a week’s worth of writing.

I also ruptured a tendon in my right ring finger. Not a clue what I was doing in my sleep. Air typing maybe? The tendon can be fixed with surgery. Not doing that since I have the ability to push down on the keyboard. Can’t lift the finger up completely, but how necessary is that? The finger hurts when typing. Fortunately, not yet enough to stop me.

The injury has me thinking of a time to come when I could be incapable of typing. I considered that a possibility with the second surgery. I bought a version of Dragon Speak, which I used during my recovery. After that, I drifted away from it. Time to wake up the dragon.

If you have ever used this program, you know there is a learning curve for both user and program. I had to set up the program for my hillbilly accent. Note: that wasn’t a choice in the program, and I selected southern English. Not quite the same. Also, had to learn commands to punctuate, set up a page, format numbers, and so on. Had to speak slowly to match the computer’s speed, which is a bit of a problem as I apparently think and speak faster than it interprets. There was always a rather long lapse between my speaking and the words appearing on the screen.

The program has to learn as well. Recognizing accents and enunciations is important, and sometimes the program doesn’t get it. One time, I said “initiation,” but “consideration” appeared. Not even close. Then there is the lexicon of Appalachia with lots of archaic words and unique idioms rarely in the program’s dictionary. For example, I had to add “quare.” I understand all of this will get quicker with experience but it does take time from writing. Remember, time is the big worry.

As you know, time flies by. Seems to move faster every year. In retrospect, I would have treated my writing with more urgency. Can’t change that. But I can devote my time to writing now, as well as find assistive technology to keep me on track.




Sunday, February 16, 2020

THE STRUGGLE IS FICTION

Enjoy this recycled post from 2017.

By Shaun McCoy

I wanted to take a brief time out to come clean here. Think of this as an intervention. You’ve invited all my close friends, family, and Aunt Sally (God knows why you invited her, but you did) to sit my lily butt down and have a talk with me. We’ve gotten past the introductions, the denials, the brief shouting matches,l and then I break down in tears and admit the truth:

I’ve been Writing While Happy.

I know, I know, I shouldn’t do it. Writing is supposed to be tough. The worse the pain, the better the writing. All you have to do is go to a typewriter and open up a vein, yadda yadda.

Well [expletive deleted] that, I say. I haven’t been miserable in nearly two years, and I’m not going back to fulfill some crappy Bohemian-writer stereotype.

I know, I know. I’ve betrayed the fundamental tenant of our craft. Let’s move on from this together.

PLOT TWIST: This is actually an intervention for you! Well, probably not you, you seem like a good reader. It’s for some other person reading this blog. Imagine them for a second. Try to make them vaguely unlikable.

Now, I get why people have this idea that wounds equal words. Just a couple years ago, my life was so utterly depressing I listened to the blues for a pick-me-up. If I got bad luck, I was happy I’d gotten any luck at all! When you’re hurting, you desperately need to reach out. You need to make meaningful connections in this world—even if those connections are only one way. Sometimes, especially when they’re one way. So yes, it was easy to write then. But guess what people? It’s easy to write now!

Communicating is something you should want to do even when you’re happy. Actually, you should want to do that especially when you’re happy. It’s passion that makes a writer write, whether they’re happy or sad, empty or fulfilled, lonely or awash in companionship (Quick aside here to the English language, can we please get a good antonym for lonely? That would be great, thanks. Sincerely, All of Us Writers). It’s those great extremes that make a work compelling. If a sad person can imagine being happy, then a happy person can imagine being sad. It does NOT mean you have to go there.
So this is to you, all you silly movies and stories with your suffering writers. You can shove it. I might write one of you, but I’m not living through you!

And this is for you, you-imaginary-hipster-would-be-writer-sitting-in-your-coffee-shop-clutching-desperately-to-the-small-town-malaise-which-once-invaded-your-life-and-filled-you-with-the-need-to-write—you’re being dramatic. Let it go. Get your dank emotions on the page there, muffin fluff, not on your life.

It’s the need to communicate that helps a person write, not the pain.

And you’re probably wondering (I can tell cause I’m psychic) “Shaun, now that your life’s not a repository of abject suffering, does that mean we’ll finally get a happy ending in one of your stories?”

No.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

CLOSE TO YOU

By Bonnie Stanard

“Close To You,” a song made popular by the Carpenters in the '70s, could well describe a change in narrative voice that emerged in the 20th century. We writers maneuver to draw ourselves (and by extension our readers) as close to the story as possible. In a sense, we write ourselves into the plot. We engage in the action, ponder the mystery, feel the romance.

What we’re talking about is point of view (POV), a way to define the narrator’s relationship to the story, and in this case, first person POV. It’s more like being in a movie while we create the plot and dialogue. We perform as the starring player and experience, along with the audience, the action as it unfolds. (Third limited POV is a close approximation of first person and involves switching narrative pronouns from first to third person.)  

You might think it’s easy to tell a story as if you’re a character in the story. But the way is narrow and the distractions many. First off, it’s complicated to play two roles (actor and writer) at one time, something that can confuse you about who you are and whose motives are in play. While you’re a character in the story, you’re aware of the thoughts, opinions, and plans of only one person, yourself. While you’re the writer working on a plot, it’s easy to slip out of the actor’s role and into the thoughts of other characters.

Something else to think about. When you’re present in the story, there are restrictions on the way you divulge the plot. For instance, if you, as an actor, play a lover who doesn’t know about a betrayal, how do you, as author, let your readers know this? It becomes a challenge to remain in the persona of a single narrator throughout a novel. And a reason why writers may change POV from one chapter (or excerpt) to another.

OMNISCIENCE ON THE DECLINE
This intimacy between author and story allows us to avoid “just the facts,” as Joe Friday said. In today’s world, “facts” often contradict one another. Much of our information comes from the media, and if you’re like me, you see those “facts” as corrupted by perspectives, i.e., opinions. Some people are coming to believe there are as many “facts” as there are people in the Universe. It’s as if omniscience as a concept has been brought into question. And to sound omniscient is to sound didactic. (Who are you to tell me the facts?)

Today’s Joe Friday would know that “just the facts” actually means “just your opinion.” Truth has morphed into your truth vs. my truth; your fact vs. my fact. Given an uncertainty about reality, we hesitate to be decisive about the particulars of a story (omniscient POV) and choose to go with impressions we attribute to a narrator.



Sunday, February 2, 2020

EYES WIDE OPEN

By Raegan Teller
At book signings, people often tell me they aspire to do what I do: publish a book and see their name on the cover. That’s understandable. For many of us; writing is in our DNA. We journal, we write a few stories or poems here and there—all worthy efforts and good for our creative psyche. So it’s only natural to consider taking our writing to the next level and becoming a published author.

I always encourage people to pursue their dreams and to keep writing no matter what. But for the writers who aspire to publish and sell their work, I offer some humble advice: know what you’re getting into. As a former management consultant and executive coach, I worked across many industries and non-profit organizations, and publishing is one of the craziest fields I’ve ever seen. Just ask any professional author and they’ll likely agree.

You see, when you jump over that chasm from writer to published author, you have to be both an introverted person who can hole up for months, or even years, to write a project and be an extroverted person who reaches out and markets tirelessly. Additionally, you take on a whole set of responsibilities you might not have bargained for. You’re required to have a polar-opposite set of skills that cover the spectrum from tedious left-brain tasks to big-picture, right-brain planning.

Here are a few tasks that are consistently on my to-do list: plan, outline, and write the next book, story or project; edit/rewrite work that’s already written to prepare for publication; explore and visit book signing locations; attend signings; maintain and track a personal inventory of books; create marketing plans; manage my online presence at Amazon, other sites, and on social media; update my blog and website; look for new story ideas; attend workshops for continuous learning; enter contests, network . . . I could go on and on. Oh, and did I mention things like spend time with friends and family, manage a household, plan meals, go to the gym, and carve out some quality “me” time? And just know that publishing more books doesn’t always make it easier (actually, it’s more challenging—more of everything). But you do learn a lot along the way, especially about how to protect your sanity. You must be organized, learn to say “no,” and set boundaries with people who ask for too much of your time. No college guidance counselor would ever recommend that someone pursue such a crazy career. Yet, as writers we do just that.

My purpose in saying all this is not to overwhelm aspiring writers or to wallow in self-pity—and certainly not to discourage anyone. On the contrary, I have fulfilled my dream of being an author and wouldn’t change that for anything. And for those you who want to do the same, I wish you well. But if you choose to take the next step of this fabulous journey, just do so with eyes wide open.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

AM I A WRITER?

By Ruth P. Saunders

Am I a writer or a person who sometimes writes?

According to Wikipedia, “writer is a person who uses written words in various styles and techniques to communicate ideas. Writers produce various forms of literary art and creative writing such as novels, short stories, poetry, plays, screenplays, and essays as well as various reports and news articles that may be of interest to the public.”

I have communicated ideas through written words for many years. Early on, it was a task, such as the reports or essays assigned at school, or the memos, letters, reports, and academic journal articles required for work. I did not consider myself as a writer because my compositions fulfilled job requirements.

After years of publishing academic articles, I authored a textbook. I enjoyed the challenge of expressing and organizing the content in my specialty area for students, practitioners, and researchers. It felt good to contribute to my professional field as an academic writer.

I retired from academia and now write creative nonfiction stories, essays, and poems. This has led me to wonder, “What is a real writer?”. Here are some reflections on this question.

Do writers need a certain type or amount of education? I can see some advantages of this, but beyond literacy and ability to express thoughts, educational credentials don’t seem necessary.

Does it require that one publish, earn a certain amount, or at least aspire to make money through writing? That describes being a professional writer rather than a writer per se. I write for motivations other than financial rewards, although some writers earn pay for their work.

Do the literary products have to be judged “good” for one to qualify as a writer? I hope not and don’t think so. We may agree the quality of written pieces varies, but they are all created by writers. Some are simply more skilled than others.

So, am I a writer? I don’t have a degree in writing, haven’t published my creative work, don’t aspire to earn money, and get mixed reviews on the quality of my products.

Yes, I believe I am.

There are two reasons for this. First, writing is what I do. I engage in the writing process, which involves a way of experiencing the world as well as the act of regularly putting words on a page.

Second, writing defines who I am. As part of my self-identity, it connects me to the larger world of past, present, and future human beings who strive to harness the power and ambiguities of words to express thoughts and ideas.

Embracing my writer identity removed a shadow from my worldview, allowing me to see and write with increased clarity.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

WRITE ABOUT AN 80-YEAR-OLD CHARACTER LIKE SHE WAS MAUDE

By El Ochiis

There was this little place in downtown Manhattan that showed art-house films or “little cult gems” as they called them. On the marquee was Harold and Maude. I plunked down my ticket price and meekly entered the ornate wooden doors, really an old New York brownstone turned movie theatre.  

The film had been described as a dead-pan disillusioned nineteen-year old, obsessed with suicide and a loveable, fun-loving, eighty-year old eccentric. Harold, an only child who dropped out of school, was obsessed with death. He spent his time around his house, a huge mansion in California, staging his own suicides – hangings, slit throats, drownings, guns, gun shots, fires.  

Harold’s odd behavior was engaging to the viewer, but extremely troublesome for his mother, who decided it was time for him to grow up and find a nice, young wife. She purchased him a new Jaguar and signed him up for a match-making service. Harold promptly retrofitted the Jaguar into a hearse and staged more suicides to scare away female suitors. 

There seemed to have been no cure for Harold, until, ironically, he finds new life at one of those funerals. Sitting in the pews of a church, at some, complete stranger’s demise, he befriends Maude, who visits funerals for her own amusement. The two strike up an instant friendship and Harold is fascinated by Maude’s free-wheeling approach to life. Maude would steal a car if she needed a ride or uproot a tree from a city street to be replanted in the forest.

When asked to explain her unorthodox actions, Maude replied: “I’m merely acting as a gentle reminder: here today, gone tomorrow.”

Exposed to such a breath of fresh air, Harold would come to learn Maude’s perspective: that there is nothing but beauty in the birth, growth, death and rebirth of all living things. Maude was captivating and electrifying – the actress who played her, Ruth Gordon, was seventy-six. David Kamp and Lawrence Levi, the writers, became my heroes and I wanted to write about age, especially those years beyond fifty-five, better; we all should – coming of age wasn’t the problem; ageism was.

  
If we, as scribes, are going to take the authority to write about something that we all will, eventually, experience, we should have the responsibility to do so with greater creativity.  

I have a character in a story who I have described as having eaten blues for breakfast for thirty-five of his eighty-seven, melancholy years before he sat down at a restaurant where a young lady, who looked like a roadie for the Black Crows, stole his heart.


Yeah, I will always keep the script from Harold and Maude in the back of my brain when I pen stories with individuals who are heading towards the ninety-year milestone in life – you should too. If you don’t like the movie, then, think about yourself, how would you want to describe you when you are eighty-three?

Sunday, January 12, 2020

THE BRIDGE

By Kasie Whitener

Kasie Whitener author

After workshop last week, I spent 45 minutes digging through boxes of old CDs looking for the Haydn trumpet solo described in the pages I took for critique.

It’s a 90-second piece that opens a concerto and it’s on a low-budget compilation album I bought at Sam Goody in 1993. It’s achingly beautiful, moving, deep, rich, and soul-healing. I can close my eyes and hear it to this day. But I couldn’t find the CD anywhere.

In the follow-up to my recently-published novel After December, the protagonist and first-person narrator, Brian hears that trumpet solo and is moved to tears. The scene takes place in a church about a year after Tony’s suicide. Brian is looking to reconnect with faith, to heal his soul after the loss of his best friend. Music is the bridge to healing.

Workshop is great for so many things, but the best thing is the confusion, disorientation, and sometimes blatant irritation the readers express over something you’ve submitted. I don’t want a workshop where the readers tell me how wonderful the pages are. I don’t get any better if what I brought in satisfies you.

So, tell me you hate it. And tell me why.

Brian sounds feminine. Is that because a woman read it aloud?

The music connection seems forced. Is that because we don’t think 23 year-old men have an appreciation for classical music?

And more useful than any other feedback was, “I don’t remember that from the first book.”

This is the first time I’ve written a sequel and this point is an important one. The readers who pick up Before Pittsburgh will not know After December as well as I do. The connections from one book to the other have to be made explicitly clear.

It’s not enough to mention Brian listening to the Haydn trumpet solo with Tony. It’s not enough to describe the connection he feels to the piece or how it moves him, a year later, to tears in a public place. If I want the reader to believe the moment, I have to deliver the memory and the present action in equal detail.

On WriteOnSC Saturday morning, we talked about Chekov’s Gun, the literary 'rule' that including a detail in your story obligates you to make that detail matter. If After December’s classical music discussions are going to be relevant in Before Pittsburgh, I need to remind the reader what those discussions were.

I wouldn’t make any progress in my work without my workshop readers. They hold me accountable. They force me to be responsible. They remind me the reader is as much part of the story as the writer is.

I’ve written before about how important critique groups are. I rely on them in a million different ways. Now, if they could only help me find that old CD. I swear it’s here somewhere.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

ARE YOU a TORTOISE or a HARE?

By Kasie Whitener

I am probably not going to be one of those writers who makes a living on book sales.

In 2019, I was fortunate to publish my GenX novel After December with Chrysalis Press.

Just 20 years after the first version of the book was written. Just six years after the modern version of the book was dusted off and shared in a workshop. Five years after beta readers. Following a developmental edit and two line-level copy edits, we now have the ninth iteration of the text.

What I’ve learned is that the really good work takes three things: time, persistence, and professionalism.

The story needed to unfurl. I needed to mature as a writer, get some distance on the text, and become capable of recognizing what works and what just doesn’t. (Then cut the latter mercilessly.) Working out character arcs and tracking plot points, tightening scenes to get the most out of them, deepening characters past clich├ęs and into realistic people.

I really wanted to tell this story. I stuck with it. My workshop readers didn’t like the main character. My friends suggested the entire thing was nostalgia. My sister said it was too autobiographical to be public. But Brian’s voice is in my head and so I stayed with this story and I pursued publication knowing when the time was right, I’d know it.

There are a lot of things I’m capable of. Even when it comes to books – writing, designing, marketing, sales – there are a lot of things I know and even more things I could figure out if pressed. But there are professionals who already know those things. Who can be trusted and paid to do the things I am only “capable of.” I hired them.

I’m a tortoise. I take my time, understand the end goal, and move steadily toward it with purpose and intention.

The hares dash by, put their books up on Kindle Unlimited, reduce expenses on marketing by working without a distributor, and work the strategy that volume will cure low margins.

I may not make a lot of money for my publisher (sorry, Alexa!) and I may not build a career for myself that enables me to walk away from teaching. The goal has always been to tell the stories inside me. So I’ll keep writing them. And polishing them. And publishing them (hopefully) so that others can experience them.

Not by the hundreds. But there may be a dozen. And maybe I’ll be invited to speak at literary festivals. And maybe my work will be required reading in an American Lit class. Or maybe it’ll be someone’s favorite book.

Maybe it’ll make someone else want to write, too. Even if it takes 20 years to see the fruit of that labor dangling over the path as the tortoise inches by.



Sunday, December 29, 2019

WRITING POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS IN 2020

By Nick Rolon

We are nearly 48 hours away from welcoming in the new year.  The clock will strike midnight, family and friends will embrace each other, toasts will be made with confetti streaming down, noise horns blown, and the singing of the iconic song Auld Lang Syne, “times gone by.” And yes – writing goals, resolutions for the new year.

Over the years, I have learned the importance of writing positive affirmations to help achieve your goals. The practice of writing positive affirmations is even more important during challenging periods in life. Writing gives us an opportunity to share our thoughts, recognize others, reflect on what we did last year and what we want to do in 2020. Sometimes, consciously or unconsciously, we make excuses for not focusing on affirmations and goals to make us better.  

In 2020, you can write positive affirmations that you repeat to yourself. These written words can help you describe a specific outcome you seek or who you want to be. It is important to understand that at first these affirmations may not be true. But with repetition of the phrases the affirmations will soon motivate you to building and achieving your goals. The two most powerful written words are, “I Am.” followed by, “I Can.” and, “I Will.”   Examples include, “I Am  strong in mind, body, and spirit.” “ I Am grateful for what I can do.” “I Am happy to be me.” “I Will Succeed.” “I Am Thankful for the love of my life.v” “I Can write this story.”

During a visit to my parent’s house, I observed m.y Dad writing positive affirmations on post-it notes and sticking them to the mirror in their bathroom. The positive messages were intended to inspire him and my Mom who is battling brain cancer. An example - “I can beat this.” “I am strong.” These positive affirmations helped during chemotherapy treatments, doctor appointments, and therapy sessions by providing hope.   

Some helpful tips to writing and using positive affirmations in the new year:
· Think of the positive outcome you desire and write it using, " I am, I can, I will."
· Write a weekly positive affirmation.
· Write the message on a post-it notes and place it in a visible location that you frequently use, - a refrigerator door, the mirror, a book marker.
· Write your affirmation and save it to your computer or cell phone home screen.
· Write your affirmation on a wall or desk calendar at the beginning of the week.
· Use a Dry Eraser Board to write your weekly affirmation statement.
· Text yourself your positive affirmations.

A positive affirmation from author A.A. Milne: “You are Braver than you believe, Stronger than you seem, and Smarter than you think.”  A message my mother sees daily next to her coffee table.

I would like to dedicate my blog post to Ginny Padgett, Kasie Whitener, and the entire Columbia II Writers Workshop members. Ginny, you welcomed me into the Columbia II Writers Workshop at a time I was looking to rekindle my enthusiasm for writing. You have shown me all the great attributes of a team leader - a communicator, a listener, a teacher, a professional, a motivator, but most of all – a caring, thoughtful person. Kasie, you helped me with my first blog a year ago. Your constructive feedback and insight into the disciplines of writing have been invaluable. Your passion for writing and helping others in our workshops, coordinating our Columbia II “Business of Writing” Workshop in April, and the tremendous talent that you demonstrate is inspiring. El, Sharon, Bonnie, Ruth, Dan, Sandra, Raegan, Mike, and all members, thank you. I have learned a lot from your incredible writing. I will miss everyone as I return to family in New Jersey.

Thanks, Nick