Reading, a Dying Pastime

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My friend Bill Kovacic on his My Very Own Writing Coach Blog posted this question to followers who are mostly if not all, writers:

Have you ever given thought as to how to relate your writing to the next generation considering movies, TV, video games, music, etc. seemed to have taken over their interest? Have we invested our time, our lives in a dying art form? 

I gave a lengthy, knee-jerk answer but am still gnawing on the question. If you boiled my initial reaction down to one word, it would be “NO.” I don’t think of future generations when I write. I just write what’s on my mind, whether fiction or non-fiction and hope that people who are interested in or need to understand the information embedded in my work will see it, enjoy it and learn something. I’m not sure if that’s right or wrong, but it’s how I am.

As to the dying art form comment, I think of reading as the dying art form (if you can call it an art form) more than writing. Young people are not interested in reading anything longer than a tweet. They want it to be short and sweet so they don’t have to think. They get bored easily because that is how we have trained them. And really, adults have become the same way. Off the cuff is the standard of the day for replies. We don’t think before we speak or write something. I don’t intend this to be a blanket statement but in general, I think it is true. I use the library a lot. And I am sad to say I see a lot fewer children in libraries looking for books than for computer time and looking through videos. Computer time, if they are using it to do schoolwork, research, and read material that is not empty or harmful is great. But most of the young people on the computer I notice are watching crap. They play video games or watch garbage containing humor or some other content that should not be seen as acceptable to children and teens.

I feel a thrill run through me when occasionally I see a Mom or Dad leaving the library with their children loaded down with books. I love to stand at the counter watching the titles of books a parent is checking out for the kids. Why do I love it? Because I read voraciously as a child. I was one of those kids loaded down with books. I remember the hours of entertainment reading Dr. Seuss, Curious George, the Boxcar kids, Little Women, and a million other classics. I also devoured biographies of historical figures, sports heroes, people who had achieved great things and was inspired. I read science books, history, and occasionally a “How-to” book. I remember the excitement of learning, developing an enchantment with words. I learned to write from reading. I learned to communicate in a way I could not articulate in the spoken word because I was painfully shy and insecure.

Reading is dying, thus writing books will wane. The way culture moves so quickly through trends, technology, and ideologies (the latter of which have turned to the bizarre becoming normal), to say that my youngest grandchildren will one day live in a world where books and reading will be discouraged or simply wane into obscurity may not be too far-fetched. I think for Christmas this year I will get them books or artistic things.

Next post will be more on the wonders of reading. Stay tuned.

Bogged, Bugged, and Blocked

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Aaarrggghhh!!!

Everyone has a recipe for writer’s block. Well, not everyone, but many writers have their own way of getting over or through it. I love to hear the professionals weigh in. So I did some research and found the answers among them run a wide spectrum.

I love the way Ana Claudia Antunes, author of A-Z of Happiness shares her thoughts on the matter with the cleverness of Dr. Seuss:

“To unlock the writer’s block is to keep writing until you can unknot the “not.” If you cannot, then put a “can” in the plot and unwrap it a lot.”

I love the word knot because I can think of a few times where my story was in terrible knots. Too many characters, a plot gnarled like a thousand-year-old tree. It was a mell of a hess, and everything came to a screeching halt. I thought about it for weeks and finally started again. Then I did it again and again. Oy vay, I was never so glad to end that story. It lies in wait for a second draft after I finish my current project. But I also like Antune’s use of “not” and “can.” I will hold on to that one for future reference.

How about this one:

All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged. If you imagine the world listening, you’ll never write a line. That’s why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone.” ~ Erica Jong, The New Writer’s Handbook 2007: A Practical Anthology of Best Advice for Your Craft and Career

My mistake on that knotted story I just told you about is that I put it on Hubpages in its first draft. My followers watched my madness and were too nice to say, “Good heaven’s Lori, what the heck is wrong with you.” They did, however, affirm the parts they enjoyed, and it spurred me on. Overall they seemed to like story and characters but I’m sure it was hard to follow. Jong’s words were spot on. A psychological issue indeed. Fear of being judged? You bet. All I could think of was what are people going to think? Are they going to like it? I learned my lesson. No more rough drafts in public. Keep it under wraps until it’s a work of art. I will also note that I had too many ideas running through my head on that story. In the beginning, I saw in my grandiose mind’s eye a sweeping, period-piece saga. It was like being clinically manic – a flight of ideas on steroids.

Toni Morrison, bestselling author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize (1988) had a different take. I guess I should listen to her the most since she’s in the Pulitzer league. However, I find it somewhat discouraging.

“I tell my students there is such a thing as ‘writer’s block,’ and they should respect it. You shouldn’t write through it. It’s blocked because it ought to be blocked because you haven’t got it right now.”

I’ll have to mull that one over. But here are two authors whose advice I was given that helped me in other projects.

New York Times bestselling author of the Life’s Little Instruction book series, H. Jackson Brown Jr. said:

“Don’t waste time waiting for inspiration. Begin, and inspiration will find you.”

This is good if I feel dry but really want to get back in the game. Or if I have one tiny spark, like the name of a character (which pop up in my mind at random quite often), or maybe a vague theme like writing about having cancer. It’s a good tool. Just start writing. Once I find my hook I find the story, poem, or article takes on a life of its own. I didn’t know where I was going when I started and I didn’t know where it was going to end, but the ride is delicious and exciting.

Most of all, I love Mary Lee Settle’s very simple and uncomplicated advice:

“I start with a question. Then try to answer it.” 

I was given this advice from a Hubpages writing friend and also heard this from David Morrell, the author of First Blood, in his book Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing: A Novelist Looks At His Craft  (which is the best writing advice book I’ve read so far). I don’t have the book with me to make a direct quote, but one idea he proposed when writing a novel is to ask yourself  “What if this were to happen? Then what? What if this happens? What if he did that?” I found this a good tool when stuck a bit. Not a full-on block but just trying to get some momentum, or to flesh out a story.

I’ll leave you with a few more to chew on without comment.

“There is no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.” ~ Terry Blanchard

“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to ­music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.” ~ Hilary Mantel

If you have some tricks of the trade on writer’s block, do share. I need to build up an arsenal, just in case.

Author Quote of the Week – Stephen King

Stephen King, Bestselling Author
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Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates…or making friends. It’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work and enriches your own life as well.” ~ Stephen King, Writing; A Memoir of the Craft

This is a very important message for all writers. You might look at King’s quote and say to yourself, ‘Easy for him to say. He’s a rich and famous bestselling author.’ But Stephen King has been through the trenches. He has worked hard at his craft and deserves every benefit. He’s had great failures and struggles in his personal life and in his career (as do we all in different ways), so I find his words particularly wise and valuable.

Writing has enriched my life more than I can put into words. When I started writing seriously in my forties, I had no desire to be a bestselling author. I wasn’t, and still am not, looking for fame and fortune. Prolific bestselling authors have contracts to write a certain amount of books in a certain amount of time, always running against the clock to meet deadlines, and have many other hoops to jump through. This is not wrong or bad. I’m sure the most seasoned, well-known writers are used to this by now and it doesn’t seem to be a big deal. Maybe they get a thrill out of meeting those deadlines and writing books that sell. The important thing is that they are being true to who they are and not writing what publishers demand.

I’m speaking of non-fiction writers as well as novelists. There are so many amazing authors I have enjoyed and benefited from over my lifetime. Quality authors who choose topics that reach the soul or who teach me about important issues. Certainly,  they should enjoy the money and prestige because they worked very hard and deserve it.  They are blessed and more power to them. But for me (and I’m just saying me), that all feels like medication side effects – I mean deadlines and contracts and such. I don’t like deadlines and demands when it comes to writing. Fortunately, I’ve rarely had any formal ones. Usually they are self-imposed. I consider that a flaw to some degree. Deadlines stress me out. On the other hand, if they are reasonable deadlines, they can be very motivating. I value good writing advice but am not happy to have editors messing with my content. Make suggestions, share your experience and knowledge, but don’t jump in and carve up my work.

It would be nice to have a little more money and move out of my trailer and have a little extra to meet emergencies and other needs and be able to enjoy the occasional extras, but I don’t spend my life pining away for cars and houses, and things. I have my most important needs met and quite frankly, I think it’s easy to take the simple things for granted. I love when I can pay my rent, utilities, and other basic bills, and have enough food and gas. I have running water, heat, etc.  And at 62, I am in relatively good health. I have absolutely amazing friends and family, and my faith in a gracious Savior, and they mean more to me than anything.  That’s my true wealth.

I don’t mind hearing someone tell me something I’ve done blessed them in some way, but I don’t care to be famous for famous’ sake.  Too many negatives and temptations. I want privacy and I don’t want to develop a swelled head. Fame and accolades can be a great lure into egotism, although I have friends who would let me know if I was headed in that direction.

I’ll never forget a joke I heard one time about a nameless celebrity who was waiting in a very long line at an airline ticket counter t. It was taking forever and he was very impatient. Finally, he stormed up to the counter to speak to the airline attendant, cutting in front of the person being waited on.

“This is taking forever,” he said. “I don’t want to miss my flight, I have very important business to attend to. I want to board now so do what you need to do and do it quickly”

“I’m sorry, sir. You will have to wait your turn like everyone else. They’ve been waiting just as long as you. We’re doing the best we can.”

Indignant, said celebrity shouted, “Do you know who I am?”

Without missing a beat the attendant got on the loudspeaker and made an announcement. “Good afternoon airline customers, we have a man here who doesn’t know who he is. If you know him, please come and claim him. Thank you for flying United.

That joke just cracks me up. I would so much prefer to be the attendant than the celebrity. She’s got it. I know fame brings such temptations. Should it happen to me I hope I would be humble and appreciative.

With all that in mind, I want my work to be seen. Not to be popular, but to make a difference in someone’s life in whatever small way that might be.  If I’m writing fiction or poetry, I want people to be entertained, their hearts touched, to have a character, story, or message resonate with them, and that they learn something. Sometimes I want to share a piece of my heart and bring hope to another broken person. The responses I’ve received from readers over the years have blessed me. It’s wonderful to know I’ve reached a soul. On Hubpages, which is my only public work at this point, many times people have said something I said helped them in some way. That’s my goal.

Should I ever, somehow, some way, become a well-known, bestselling, big money making writer, I hope I could focus on authenticity in my work and keep the reader, not a paycheck or interview, in the forefront. I just want to write what’s on my mind and in my heart and do it well.

I am glad for Stephen King’s reminder.

 

The Sacrifice of Praise

The other day my son’s dear friend Chris died. They went to high school together as close friends. Chris was in my son’s wedding. They kept in touch through the years. He was only 35 or 36 and left behind a wife and two children and I’m sure many other loved ones and friends. It was sudden and unexpected. Tomorrow I hope they will be able to offer the sacrifice of praise. We love to say God is good and faithful and worthy of all praise when all is right, but when tragedy strikes it is difficult to praise God. It is not our default position. From now on it is likely the holiday season will be very difficult for Chris’ family. It is true for so many. I can’t imagine what Chris’ family is going through. But my prayer is that they can reach through the darkness and cling to God, and offer the sacrifice of praise.

Praise is a sacrifice when we don’t feel it. We must go with what we know. We know God is good, we know His love endures forever, we know He is our strength and our comfort.

If you are in a dark place tonight, reach out through that darkness and take that strong hand, and offer up the sacrifice of praise. You won’t feel like it, but you will find strength amidst your sorrow and pain. God never changes. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  His love endures forever and that love can carry us through. While we weep, he stores our tears in His bottle, for they are sacred to His heart. Please pray for Chris’ family. For those who are blessed with health and good fortune, as you give thanks, pray for those you know who are going through loneliness or adversity. Pray for the strength, peace, and comfort of God.

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Are You Looking for an Online Writing Venue? Listen Up

I was ever so grateful when I discovered online writing. I hate the term “Content site” or some variation. I call them online magazines. The first site I found was Suite 101.com. There were no credentials, education, or tests to write for them. They may have asked for a writing sample. I received no compensation but I wasn’t looking for money. I was looking to write and having my work viewed by the public, like news writing or a magazine. I wrote on many topics and had the time of my life. There were lots of categories – travel, health, cooking, religion, etc. I tried several. After enjoying it for a few years they changed drastically and were offline revamping and it finally went under. I tried Ezine which was similar but nowhere near Suite 101s caliber. I wrote for a while for Examiner.com as the Tacoma Mental Health Examiner. I knew when I saw how ridiculously crazy they went with pop-ups they would soon be done for. It took 5 minutes to wade through them to read your article. They went under.

I finally hit on a good one. In between these I found Hubpages. They have made a lot of recent changes since I first began, many I do not like, however, I can do what I desire to do on it so I am happy. No credentials are needed, no tests, just sign up and begin writing. They have standards and guidelines and they do have editorial features. The editorial features can be annoying, but overall, it’s not difficult to write for them. They have a long menu of topics and subtopics to write about. One thing I like about it is that it is very user-friendly.

What is unique about Hubpages? Hubpages has one unique benefit I haven’t found anywhere else and that is a community of writers that have become family to me, we are family to one another. We have the ability to follow other writers and it has been a true joy over the years making friends. I have never personally met any of my regular followers (and I am theirs) but I feel I have made so many meaningful friendships and it has become what I love most about Hubpages (there are hundreds, maybe thousands of writers, so of course we are not close to everyone). You often find that many people follow the people you follow so we are always in touch. But the encouragement we give to one another is such a huge blessing. It’s about friendship, love, and respect.

What do I write about? I write about whatever I feel like writing. I have dozens of articles on a variety of topics, and in the last three years or so have written a lot of poetry and fiction. Unfortunately, Google pretty much ignores those two genres, but our community enjoys them and we encourage one another. I have learned more about writing on HP than all the classes I have ever taken. I learn how to write by reading others writing. I learn from those who write about writing – tips, advice, instruction, writing challenges and sharing their experiences of how they succeeded or failed. Many of them have published books. I learned about self-publishing through many of those authors. I hope to interview some of those writers in this blog from time to time.

What about trolls? Yes, they are there but HP is pretty good about responding when there are complaints. I rarely get one.

What about making money? Possible but it is very difficult. I don’t write for money. If you are looking to make money though, you have to work very hard and long to establish yourself, and also write on topics that are of most interest to people. Subjects such as travel, cooking, and health to name a few.

Why am I telling you about Hubpages? I must tell you that I am not here to plug Hubpages to help them out whatsoever. They’re not lacking for writers. I am sharing this information with you because you may desire to write and be published in a public venue. I remember how thrilled I was when I found Hubpages and if it went out of business, I would feel a huge loss, not only the loss of a writing venue, but I would be cut off from my writer friends – the greatest loss of all. Most of these types of writing websites go under pretty quickly. I don’t know what Hubpages is doing right, but they seem to still be going great guns since its inception twelve years ago.

If you’re looking for a place to become family with other writers, and of course to write, try Hubpages. It has its flaws, but then who’s perfect?  Hubpages.com .

God bless you and Happy Thanksgiving.

♥ Lori

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Warm-Up, Kick-Start With Writing Prompts

I got my start writing in the fourth grade (you’ll find this in my bio as well). My teacher, Mrs. Ball, gave us writing prompts to help us form a story, poem, or essay. I found it most useful. It was the spark my imagination needed. The next year my teacher, Mr. Crosby, gave us writing assignments weekly, usually to write a story on some sort of theme. I wrote a very graphic Halloween story and he called my mom in for a conference and told her I had a gift and to encourage me. In my elementary and jr. high days, I wrote mostly short stories, with the occasional essay. In high school, I delved into poetry, and more sophisticated essay writing, like book and music reviews, social commentary, and a wide variety of other topics. In college, I tried it all and found poetry especially enjoyable and challenging.

Then life got real and writing took a back seat for many years. I finally got back into the game in my forties, writing for my church, and a local small town newspaper. I rediscovered the thrill of writing once again. I found out I had a lot to say (that doesn’t necessarily mean it was worth listening too) about things that mattered to me and hopefully to other people. I also found that I needed the emotional and mental outlet as I was struggling with PTSD and bipolar disorder.

On that note, in 2013 I got my certification to be a Peer Counselor in the mental health field. For my internship, I started a writing workshop at a center for people with mental health disabilities. It was called Express Yourself. I designed the class to use writing prompts and it was very well attended and received. People with mental health issues (that would include me) often find writing, journaling, music, and art therapeutic, cathartic, and a fantastic venue for expressing feelings. The class was a good shot of adrenaline for me and the other participants.

Sometimes things get stagnant and stale. The imagination grows sluggish or you’re in a rut. Your creative juices have gone from flowing to a trickle. During those times I find writing prompts a valuable tool

 

Free Writing

Free writing is basically, just picking up a pen and writing whatever goes through your mind with no concerns for grammar, spelling, punctuation, or topic. You don’t stop for anything. Don’t erase, start over, go back and cross Ts and dot Is, or rewrite to make it sound more clear or sensible. Free writing usually is done within a certain time period – ten minutes is a good amount to start with. You can go twenty or thirty minutes if you like. It’s amazing what comes out with this exercise. You’ll find some pretty raw emotions or crazy thoughts. Sometimes the mind goes blank. In that case, you write that you have no ideas, your mind is sluggish, and continue to write how your feeling about the assignment.

Free writing is a good warm-up exercise, a kick-starter so to speak. It’s also a good exercise when you have writer’s block. It can jar you out of a slump. I find it invaluable sometimes.

Photo Prompts 

I will say this is my favorite type of writing prompt. When I’m writing articles, fiction, or poetry on my Hubpages website, I need images to keep it interesting. I get 90% of my images from Pixabay.com. While I’m scrolling through looking for a certain type of image I will run across something that sparks an idea to either include it into my current writing venture or for something new. I guess I am a visual person. I am always curious about the things I see.

In the workshop, I would sometimes only offer one photo, but usually gave three or more to choose from. Then I would pose a thought, idea or question. Let’s take a photo of a person alone in a crowd of people.

  • What feelings come to mind when you look at this image?
  • Tell about a time in your life when you felt alone.
  • Write a story about the person alone in the crowd.
Tell about a time in your life when you felt alone.

Next time I will have more writing prompts to show you. In the meantime, if you feel stuck, frustrated, or need a warm-up, these two types of prompts are an excellent start.

Who Wants to Become a Writer? And Why?

“Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. … It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.”
—Enid Bagnold