Write Your Way Back – Writing Through Grief

writing through grief

This essay was written by Judy Haughton-James.

“When life stops you in your tracks, write your way back!”

That has been my mantra since facing loss and grief over a period of 3 years, loss that included the death of an identical twin sister and a brother.

Writer’s block is an experience that many writers encounter, but you have to be determined to overcome it. Yes, you have been accustomed to seeing the words flow and long articles being written. That does not mean that writing has to stop.

Get any book that you can write in and consider it your journal and start writing. What you write will not be under the scrutiny of an editor, so your entries can take any shape or form – long, short, poems, essays, letters, you name it. In other words, there is no right or wrong way to journal. Furthermore you can write any time you wish to.

As a matter of fact, you could be in for a surprise when you find yourself accomplishing writing tasks you never dreamt of. I found myself in that situation as I started writing poetry.

A particular poem titled “You My twin, lives on through me” proved to be such a lift of my spirit. I was pleased that in turn some twinless twins told me how much it helped them in their grief. So you are going through a therapeutic process while keeping the writing juices flowing.

The confidence will come back and then all the material you have gathered will help you to write articles and blog posts. As a blogger, it is important to write posts regularly, and it is the material from this journal that will keep your blog up-to-date.

On this journey, you will not only focus on your negative experiences but explore the good times, hobbies and interests you shared with your departed loved ones. This will now widen your audience to people who have never walked your path. Right there, you are catering to a special niche yet gaining traffic from unexpected sources.

An additional bonus is that all the material in your journal and blog posts can come in handy in making you an author someday. Do you have any doubt about that?

Well, research will show many journals have become bestsellers. “The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank)” is one such example. For a period of 2 years, she recorded in a diary her experiences while hiding from Nazis during World War II. This was not only a bestseller, her story made its way into films, movies, theatrical productions and an opera.

So come out of your shell and fight back! Once a writer, always a writer. Use this special talent to overcome life’s hard knocks.

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Judy Haughton-James is a Jamaican freelance writer who holds an Honours Diploma from the London School of Journalism.  She has had articles published in local publications including The Daily Gleaner and international publications including Twins Magazine and Grief Digest. You can find her blog here.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Joel Montes.

The Caveats of Writing What You Know

write what you know

This essay written by Wayman Stewart.

Fiction writers are constantly searching for inspiration. There are times when, as a writer, your creative energy might feel dried up, elusive, inaccessible. In these times, many writers turn to a familiar old mantra for comfort: write what you know.

It basically means that your personal experiences are the richest sources of your creativity as a writer and that you should channel them into your stories.

Many writers follow this mantra with an almost religious fervor, while some writers might harbor a certain disdainful, detached attitude toward “autobiographical fiction”. The phrase sounds like an oxymoron. How can you experience the full breadth of your imagination if you remain focused on your own life and experiences?

To these writers, roman a clef writing (which is when a writer creates a fictional story that is based on their own life, with changed character names and some embellishments here and there) is self-absorbed and self-dramatizing.

Those on this side of the fence do have a point. Relying too much on your own personal experiences can limit, block, or even deaden the imagination. After all, everyone’s only lived so much, no matter how old they are or how dramatic their life may have been. Because of this, using yourself has the main focus of your creative process can also become extremely repetitive and downright dull, if taken too far.

Writers, like all other artists, should feed off of the human condition. Human nature should be your primary inspiration, which is something that you, as the writer, are a part of.

This means you can use yourself in the work. But no writer should use themselves as the absolute center of their creative process. This total self-involvement will stand in the way of the empathy and observation of other individuals that all great writers must possess.

When a writer’s ego (i.e., their self) is too involved in the work, it can also make it difficult to achieve the objectivity that a writer needs in order to mold their story to greatness.

When you are dissecting a character that you identify with too much, then you will feel as if you are dissecting and judging yourself. This clouds your judgment, making you see this character and his or her experiences in whatever light in which you see yourself (and none of us can ever see ourselves with true objectivity).

However, a writer should not avoid putting their life into their work, either. In many ways, they can’t. It happens on an unconscious level. While you might not have intentionally set out to write a story about yourself, if you really look closely, you can observe bits and pieces of your own self and experiences in the characters you create and the stories you tell.

As a fiction writer myself, this has happened to me on a regular basis. What I write is usually a reflection of something occurring in my life at the time and I often don’t even realize this.

Creativity does come from the unconscious and our imagination is anything but objective. It is completely subjective, containing all of our fears, insecurities, and traumas, as well as our greatest hopes, aspirations, and dreams.

Without meaning to, we infuse our characters with our own strengths and weaknesses.

We place them in situations that reflect our deepest fantasies as well as our worst nightmares. It is by doing this that we develop our empathy as writers. We then realize how universal these qualities are. These people we give life to on paper are us. Their pain is our pain and their joy is our joy.

I think this is probably the true meaning of “write what you know.” Not limiting ourselves by creating from our own selves or life experiences. We use these things to expand ourselves, creating characters and stories that may appear different from us and things we’ve been through but are anything but.

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Wayman Stewart is a freelance writer. He is a former contributor to the men’s lifestyle website The Global Playbook. Wayman is also a creative writer and actor. He writes screenplays and stage plays in his spare time and has plans to self-produce his latest one.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Karen – Vidalia_11

About Time

time to daydream for writing

This essay was written by Elizabeth Simons. 

My best ideas come through daydreams.

They come when I’m doing something else, and seldom appear when I’m sitting in front of my computer.

Don’t get me wrong. I write things down. Usually at sporting events. Or concerts. Or honky-tonk bars. But when I haul out the scraps of paper the words seem stale, as if the thoughts had run out of air. “Cute blond chick with fetching dimple sips margarita and flirts with handsome cowboy” becomes a puzzle. Where was that going? A tale about the young lady? The cowboy? The Margarita?

Great ideas come when I’m driving, washing dishes, or doing laundry. They float around in thought balloons as I do my daily tasks. I have every intention of writing them down. I even have a daydream about that: I’m in front of the computer as brilliant ideas bloom on the screen. I’m confident and productive, and my concentration is never broken by telemarketers.

Unfortunately, the daydreams and ideas dissolve the minute I sit down to write. The great idea that came while brushing my teeth turned out to be a very ordinary thought with no redeeming value.

So how does an organizationally challenged person like me bring these daydreams into existence?

In her book “Making a Literary Life,” Carolyn See exhorts me to write a thousand words daily—roughly three double-spaced pages five days a week, every week—without fail.  Implying, I suppose, that the act of writing brings ideas to birth.

That’s all well and good, but what about if you’re a perfectionist?  I shape every word in every sentence, fitting each syllable into a finely tuned matrix of prose that will reflect the brilliant thought I had several hours ago at the grocery store.

A thousand words? Impossible! A more facile writer could knock those out in less than two hours and still have time left over to play tennis with her agent. Me? I’d be slurping coffee at 4:00, eyes glazed, staring at four bedraggled paragraphs and wondering where the time went. A glance at the clock tells me I need to make dinner. Afterward, while loading the dishwasher, I’m flooded with creative ideas.

Ah, the burden of chores!  How do successful authors write such vast quantities and still have a life? They have to eat and sleep and brush their teeth, too, but do they have to clean the house? Do laundry? Go to the grocery store?

As I dig through the freezer for pork chops I wonder if J. K. Rowling ever had to tear herself away from the computer to fix dinner.

Would I be more organized and productive if I had a cook and a maid and a laundry service? Or would I just spend more time walking around the house sharpening pencils and daydreaming about the novel I’m about to write featuring the dissolute cowboy who seduced the blond girl with frozen margaritas, no salt?

I see hours in the day as markers for things I need to accomplish. I’m unable to sort out the things I love to do from the things I don’t love to do, so I end up categorizing writing as another tick on my to-do list. When I finally do get around to it, I treat writing as if it was just another chore, hurrying through it so I can get to the next item on the list. The joy of creation dissolves like a daydream.

Why do I engage in this kind of literary self-sabotage? Some of it comes from an ingrained sense of duty that tells me I’m not worthy to breathe if I don’t finish the dishes. But most of it comes from fear. Fear of completion, because an unformed idea has potential. It can be anything. A finished work is . . . finished. It sits there, inviting criticism.

So there it is. I see I’ve now written myself into a corner. In the words of Lady Macbeth, it’s time to “screw my courage to the sticking place.” Prioritize that to-do list with “write 1,000 words” at the top. Take the risk of turning possibility into reality, then introduce that reality to a wider readership. If I don’t do anything I won’t fail. But I won’t succeed, either.

So I have to produce more work.

Which means I need to stop beating time to death and relax. There is time for everything.

It’s about time to invite the daydreams to stay.

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 Elizabeth Simons is a writer who lives in the heart of the Missouri Ozarks. She is the author of “Dancing With Words,” a creative writing course she wrote for the University of Missouri’s online curriculum for advanced middle school students. She also edits manuscripts for publication at Prosecraft. You can see samples of her writing at Words By Heart. Elizabeth is currently making peace with her muse and is working on her novel “To Die For.”

Photo: Some rights reserved by epSos.de

Andropause for Thought: Writing to Relieve a Mid-Life Crisis

andropause mid-life crisis writing

This essay was written by Christian Green.

Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith.

You see, I’m trying to be a successful writer, but keeping the news to myself during this precarious early phase, so I won’t look too foolish should I fall flat on my face.  Sure, there have been plenty of acceptances. In fact, for two months now I’ve been making a living as a full time freelance writer, having been laid off from my manufacturing job last March.

The Beginning of a Crisis

I’m bursting with pride and an almost overwhelming need to tell the world all about it, but this urge is currently offset by a superstitious dread that such a display of hubris could make the whole delicate structure collapse.

There I was, five years ago, easing into a comfortable middle-age, yet feeling restless and vaguely dissatisfied. There was a nagging suspicion that I was not doing what I should be doing.

The disconcerting realization gradually dawned that what I was experiencing was the legendary male mid-life crisis. The phenomenon for which some wag coined the term, ‘the andropause’.

I proceeded with caution. I’d heard of men reaching this difficult age. Suddenly realizing that the clock is ticking, many panic and start to indulge in reckless or simply embarrassing behavior as they vainly try to recapture a long-lost youth to prove they are still virile and dynamic. Such attempts often seem to consist of chasing after girls young enough to be their daughters, or dressing in wildly inappropriate teen fashions, or acquiring a Honda Fireblade and hurtling off to become another road traffic accident statistic.

Fortunately, my crisis didn’t seem to be advising me unwisely. To my great relief I concluded that I was being nudged in a more responsible and creative direction. The direction that led to my unfulfilled ambition to be a writer. Since childhood I’ve enjoyed writing. Over the years my efforts had appeared in various amateur publications but, held back by a lack of confidence, I’d never tried to climb higher. As the years passed my vague longings had been placed firmly in the background by life and all its attendant responsibilities and distractions.

The Beginning of a New Career

Then, a few years ago, I wrote and submitted an article to a semi-pro journal devoted to my favorite writer. The piece was published and I was paid. It felt good, and something long dormant awoke, yawned and stretched in the dusty recesses of my mind.

I realized I wanted to build upon this unexpected success but didn’t know how. I felt gauche and naïve, lacking any clear idea of how to develop and present my work. With impeccable timing it was then that I happened across a flyer listing a new course at a local college: Professional Writing. It seemed that a benevolent fate was giving me a little shove in the right direction. The prospectus intrigued me and I signed up.

I’d realized that my restlessness wasn’t necessarily about a yearning to write. I was doing that already for my own amusement. No, it was about wanting to be a writer.

To produce work good enough to be accepted and published and to get paid for it. I didn’t want to write for the trunk, hoping for posthumous recognition as a genius. I wished to succeed while still breathing. I wanted the satisfaction of learning a skill, to enjoy applying that skill, and to make money out of it; a secondary income which might, if I was sufficiently hard-working and fortunate, become a primary income. A heady prospect indeed.

I plunged right in, and found to my delight that the course suited me well. It was completely practical, offering an unpretentious nuts-and-bolts approach to getting published. The aspiring writer was given the tools to do the job; how he chose to apply those tools was then solely up to him. Before the course ended I began to place my work.

I found that writing for publication rather than for myself reinforced some general life lessons; patience, reliability, self-discipline, organization, analytical thinking, objectivity.

I learned that, although effective communication is obviously important, the second most vital aspect of writing is marketing; presenting a professional plumage, and displaying to attract an editor. I also discovered, the painful way, why it’s not good practice to pester editors, even when I’m haunted by visions of my submissions yellowing in some dusty in-tray.

I learned to sever any emotional ties to a piece of work after submitting it. After all, you may have carefully raised and tended your flock, but once they’ve been packed off to the butcher their fate is out of your hands and all you can do is get on with raising the next litter.

I toughened up and gained the nerve to offer my work in the marketplace. The results were encouraging. Of the first sixteen unsolicited articles submitted, fifteen were accepted. On the back of these efforts I began to receive commissions. Often the wait for a response is long and frustrating, but I have the satisfaction of knowing that I’m capable of producing work to the required standard. That’s a real confidence booster.

Each acceptance is like an injection of rocket fuel; I can’t wait to get to the next project. It’s addictive.

Looking back over the last few years, I can see that I’ve developed in both capability and outlook. I find that I’m seeing the world in a different way, paying more attention, noting details I might once have overlooked.

The Beginning of a New Future

So I’m forging something useful out of my mid-life crisis. It’s pushed me into attempting something fresh and challenging which can actually earn me a living. Fulfilling and profitable, it’s a useful crisis, a handy andropause. It’s given me a second wind at a time when it’s all too easy to flag.

Soon, when my still shaky business is on firmer ground, when I’ve picked up a few more clients, I’ll feel able to blow my trumpet about what I’m doing, heedless of any superstitious fears about jinxing the outcome. I’m too thrilled to keep it to myself much longer. It’s the excitement of possibilities. The broadening of horizons. The feeling that I’m only just beginning to see what I’m capable of.

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Christian Green is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in a number of U.K. magazines and online.  He lives with his wife in picturesque Lincolnshire, England. Check out his website.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Isaac Torrontera

 

Resources for Writers

writing resources read learn write

This is an essay by Chris Ciolli.

Being a writer is tough. For most of us, it’s a solitary profession or calling, and while we need time alone to write, we also sometimes need guidance. Starting a writer’s group or even exchanging writing for comments and critiques with fellow writer friends can be helpful, but some of the best resources out there are published in paper and digital formats.

Of course, not all references are created equal, and not all resources are equally useful for all types of writers. While some general references about grammar, composition and publishing can be beneficial to pretty much every kind of writer, others focus on a specific type of writing. For example, Carolyn See’s “Making a Literary Life” focuses on novels and nonfiction books, whereas Linda Formichelli’s “The Renegade Writer” focuses on writing for companies and magazines.

Here are some of my favorite books for writers, organized by type of writing, plus a couple of books about getting what you write published and out into the world.

For Long Format Prose Writers

  • Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers by Carolyn See

Ms. See gives common sense advice about writing daily (1,000 words) and improving your karma in the literary world by sending out charming notes, short missives to authors and writers you admire. She’s also pretty funny, which makes for a better read.

  • Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life by Natalie Goldberg

This book is full to overflowing with writing exercises and sound advice about the creative process—keep your hand moving, lose control, be specific, and don’t think. That said, it’s also packed with the author’s ramblings on religion, philosophy and life, and if you’re not interested in zen, can become tedious at times.

  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Many writers consider this book therapy and it does a good job of encouraging insecure writers with anecdotes and writing tips. Anne Lamott is pretty hilarious but some readers may not appreciate her particular sense of humor, or use of swear words.

  • The Writer’s Adventure Guide by Beth Barany

Beth Barany takes would-be writers in a step-by-step journey through a long-format writing project, from brainstorming to final edits. This is an ideal reference for someone just starting a book.

  • Bullet-Proof Book Proposals by Pam Brodowsky and Eric Neuhaus

Over 200 pages of user-friendly advice and examples of proposals that have gone on to be published. This book will help would-be-authors write a non-fiction book proposal with a real chance at publication.

For Magazine and Copywriters

  • You Are a Writer: So Start Acting Like One by Jeff Goins

This is a quick, no-nonsense read about why (and how) you should suck it up, internalize your identity as a writer, and get to work not only on the business of getting words on the page, but also on building a platform and growing an audience.

  • The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell

Linda and Diana focus on the business of writing more than writing itself, but give useful tips on how to get better-paid gigs writing for companies and magazines as well as helpful advice on query letters, time management and deadlines.

  • 102 Ways to Earn Money Writing 1,500 Words or Less by I.J. Schecter

The short-form writer’s guide to making money in 1,500 words or less, this book highlights traditional and nontraditional streams of income for writers. Among the more surprising suggestions are writing copy for fast-food tray liners and restaurant menus.

For Poetry Writers

  • The Discovery of Poetry: A Field Guide to Reading and Writing Poems by Frances Mayes

Who knew the author of Under the Tuscan Sun is also a published poet? Mayes explains the nuts and bolts of how poetry “works” and includes a selection of poems and writing exercises that help readers to write and comprehend their own poetry.

  • The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux

Two poetry teachers communicate the elements of poetry, technique and subjects for poetry as well as writing exercises, descriptions of the ups and downs of the writer’s life, publishing and marketing tips, and share a good selection of contemporary poetry in a series of well-written essays.

  • Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry by Kenneth Koch

Although Koch includes writing exercises, this is more a manual on types of poetry, and how to read them than how to write and publish poetry. Of course, the argument can be made that reading and understanding poetry is absolutely essential to writing your own.

  • In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop by Steve Kowit

Kowit uses excerpts from over 100 poems to illustrate what can seem like abstract or hard-to-understand concepts in poetry writing. If you complete the activities as suggested by the author, at the end of the book you’ll have drafts of 69 poems, more than enough for a chapbook.

  • The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets by Ted Kooser

This former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner shares his insights on the unique relationship between readers and poets, as well as writing and revising poetry, gained from decades of experience.

For Children’s Writers

  • The Encyclopedia of Writing and Illustrating for Children: From Creating Characters to Developing Stories, A Step-by-Step Guide to Making Magical Picture Books by Desdemona McCannon, Sue Thornton and Yadzia Williams

For all intents and purposes, this is a practical guide to creating loveable characters and telling a story in pictures that young readers will enjoy using examples from renowned children’s literature to inspire would-be writers and illustrators. Advice on tailoring to specific age groups and about a wide variety of genres, as well as promotional tips.

  • Writing Children’s Books for Dummies by Lisa Rojany Buccieri and Peter Economy

Two children’s publishing veterans share their expert advice on writing for children, and understanding the ins and outs of the publishing industry and promoting your book.

Getting Published

  • Writer’s Market

This phonebook-sized resource is published annually. While it usually includes some articles with advice on pitching agents, finding funding, and promoting and protecting your work, the main purpose of this book is found in the seemingly endless listings of book publishers, literary agents, consumer and trade magazines, contests and awards with submission and contact information. The deluxe edition usually includes a year-long membership to Writer’s Digest online where you can search for markets for writing projects and book ideas.

  • Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents 2013: Who They Are! What They Want! How to Win Them Over!

The title pretty much says it all. This is a very complete guide to navigating the publishing industry for all kinds of writers, but is directed at people who want to write books, as opposed to shorter pieces for anthologies or magazines.

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Chris Ciolli is a Barcelona-based writer and a translator. She’s an unashamed book and coffee addict that travels every chance she gets. She also spends a lot of time playing with kitchen tools and art supplies. Read about her travels at MidwesternerAbroad.com, and check out her art at TriflesandQuirks.com.

Photo: Some rights reserved by mpclemens.

Plausibility in Fiction: Is it a Sacred Requirement or an Oppressive Sacrilege?

This is an essay by T. Lloyd Reilly.

Pursuing a career at writing fiction has many obstacles and impediments.  There is the exhaustive grind of formatting for submission, the obligatory query where the writer must, for all intents and purposes, sell the idea to some secretary or intern at a publishing office.  The editor or whoever makes the decision to accept a story rarely reads anything that hasn’t been vetted by whoever is charged with the duty of culling the proverbial herd into chattel, maybes, and definitely pass on categories.

Having experienced the joy of acceptance and the misery of defeat as a writer, I have discovered that much of it is ruled not by reason, but by structure.  Most of what is shared (if shared at all) about a rejection concerns the mechanics of the piece as opposed to the actual story and what it might convey.

One reoccurring theme on the structure side of any attempt at a publishing endeavor is that the story is not plausible.  It does not translate into real life and the facts are not believable.  Certainly there are stories that should or could use a level of believability, but fiction is, in my opinion, must not to be restrained by structure.  Fiction, as the dictionary states is “something feigned, invented, or imagined; a made-up story, the class of literature comprising works of imaginative narration, especially in prose form, the act of feigning, inventing, or imagining.”

Given the parameters of this delineation, the question that begs to be asked is – what is wrong with just making it up?  Granted, there is a larger amount of people in the world that count themselves as writers today than in years past.  It is a noble profession and one of seeming prestige.  But what if the need to publish overshadows the wonder of an active imagination?  Does the story mean anything, or is it just an avenue to remuneration?

For me the magic is, and always has, been in the story.  My college educated mind rejects the idea of a human being raised as an ape, but that rejection never got in the way of my obsessive belief in the possibility of Edgar Rice Burroughs uncivilized hero.

The ideal of Might for Right certainly has little place in the modern world given the reality that mankind has never seen a time when there were no wars, or where violence wasn’t just business as usual.  Regardless, Camelot was a world I became an active participant in when I read of it.  It never stopped being another world for me as I discovered and read a different telling by T.H. White’s and his tome on the legend of Arthur.  It did not leave when, in college, it was presented to me that there most probably was never a knight named Lancelot.  Little did it matter when, at the same university that tried to dispel a belief in the might/right ideal, I rediscovered it in an English Lit Class where we read Sir Thomas Mallory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur.”

The list goes on from there.  Much of the great fiction in the world was, as I am wont to champion, just made up.  Is that a plausible modus in which to discern the meaning behind such wonders as Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” and its blatant message that mankind is the most adaptable species ever invented while being, at the same time, helpless prisoners to ignorance and bigotry?

Where is the value of Les Misérables? Is it in the forgiveness given Jean Valjean by the Bishop Myriel?  Could it be Javert’s fanatical and obsessive quest to bring Valjean to justice?  Or might it be the depiction of life in the form of a made up story?

Hugo did not have to go outside himself to make the story up having lived through the time period as a child growing into manhood.  All he had to do was make it up.  The fact that it paralleled actual events might be considered serendipitous, and proof that plausibility was vital does not negate the imagination of the writer telling the story.  He wrote the book to tell a story, certainly, but he also believed in the message that brought him to make up that story.  In his own words from the Preface:

“So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age—the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night—are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.”

Lofty words which ring true to this day.  For me, the story blatantly speaks of forgiveness, redemption, compassion, duty, honor, and unconditional love.  That he wrote it and made it seem so real is emphatically evident.  Fiction, in many cases, brings us values and principles that are not found in the New York Times or any college textbook which attempts to research the implications that near burst off the page if just read with a desire for the story without regard for the structure.

This is not to say that structure does not have its place.  Irritations such as typos and misused or dangling participles, split infinitives, or my most misspelled words recieve (!?!?!?!?.) can and do occur frequently. Most of those can be avoided and most word processors will automatically correct it (receive) and ignore whatever is artistic license used in dialogue or storyline.

Plausibility, while definitely important in many areas such as non-fiction commentary, historical fiction, and term papers for college, it should not get in the way of the story.  At least, that is, in my opinion….

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T. Lloyd Reilly is a writer with over twenty five years of writing experience. He has lived what some would consider more than one lifetime and has acquired a wide range of knowledge and life experience which he wishes to share through generous application of the written word. For more information about him go to: http://about.me/tlloydreilly.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Jan Tik.

Wishing Not to Write

This article was written by Noelle Sterne.

At my usual Friday table in the mall Starbucks, writing supplies spread out and tall cardboard ambrosia cooling at my elbow, I look around. In the atrium café, people sit, sipped, stare at passersby, look back at me. A grandmother corrals her kidlets, two stylish females exchange gossip, a young couple prop bulging shopping bags against their knees and whisper over their whipped toppings. A man alone, munching on mixed nuts, reads a foreign newspaper, and a very senior woman rummages in her oversized handbag.

Sighing and Wishing

I sigh, glanced down at my notes, up again, and around the atrium. Pull out my purse notebook and quiet the rattling in my head by adding to the perennial errand list. Put the notebook away and sweep the area again. The foreign man left his newspaper on the nearby table, but I resist reaching for it. Almost get up to go drool over the vampy shoes in the shop window behind me but stop myself. I sigh again and eye my clipboard with something close to resentment. And let myself be drawn back to the customers and mall shoppers.

I just don’t want to write.

What if the Phoenicians hadn’t invented the alphabet? What if the Sumerians hadn’t whittled their cuneiform writing sticks, ancestors of our Bics and Parkers? What if Gutenberg had kept his wine press pressing grapes rather than spewing printed pages? What if my parents hadn’t subscribed to The Saturday Review and The New Yorker?

Then, ah then, I wouldn’t have to write. Just think. I could be free to “enjoy” life, the American unworking dream: visit the mall daily, eat out incessantly, read magazines and romance novels, watch every primetime TV show every night of the week. I could take long walks, snooze in the sun, chuckle at children playing in the park, even stop and talk to their mothers. I could take in the latest movies, indulge in long, giggly dinners with friends, or sign up for a course in Greek culture. I could go everywhere without a notebook.

And more. I wouldn’t have to take incessant notes that interrupted every activity, or wake at 3:00 am with brain dictating brilliant dialogue that I knew would vanish at first light if I didn’t get it down. During social occasions, I wouldn’t have to excuse myself frequently to run to the bathroom, others staring at me like my bladder had quit, to surreptitiously capture the worst cliché I’d heard in two years. Watching movies or TV, I wouldn’t have to reflexively trumpet every plot flaw and, to my husband’s perpetual annoyance, announce the final outcome before the second commercial.

I’d use my computer only to email crosscountry friends pictures of the sunsets from my balcony. Or check out new acquaintances on Facebook and see what they were twitting. On the way to boot up, I wouldn’t have to trip over the huge stack of embryonic writing projects whose births alone will take me 250 years.

Ah, I wouldn’t have to write.

Sitting at my mall table, frozen before my clipboard, I think of, and empathize with, the admission of a novelist in Jean Rosenbaum and Veryl Rosenbaum’s The Writer’s Survival Guide:

Occasionally I envy normal people. . . . They never have to disappear during a party. I lack the social graces to explain my actions as I rush away to capture a certain phrase on paper before it falls through my memory sieve.

His wife, he confided, “dreams out loud of a serene life married to an easygoing, regular guy, content to watch television without yelling at the announcer or blurting comical dialogue for the actors.”

Facing Up

But, maybe like you, I find I can’t just not write. I’m not talking about a block that locks your brain and fingers like a strait jacket. Or an illness or legitimate depression at losing someone dear, although writing about it can prove great catharsis and excellent work, as Joan Didion proved in The Year of Magical Thinking, her acclaimed book about surviving and coping with the sudden death of her husband of forty years.

I’m talking about stopping in the regular middle of life, with only the usual traumas to deal with—refrigerators too often emptying, laundry too often mounting, car too often failing, and unexpected astronomic bills too often shocking. At these times, have you ever almost dared yourself—and your life—not to write, rebelling like a tween at the insistent inner parent who shoots you that look decreeing you must write, if not daily at least regularly?

Once in a while, I’ve tried not writing. Sorry to say, it solves nothing. I’ve discovered and rediscovered, as that novelist said, I’m not one of those “normal” people who can be content with anything less than constant creativity, from attempted to actualized.

The Threat and the Promise

Facing my nature, despite fantasies of “normality,” probably comes from an admonition that has long haunted and spurred me. It’s Jesus’ words in the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, reproduced by scholar Elaine Pagels in Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (p. 257, Verse 70):

If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you. If you do not [bring forth] that within you, what you do not have within you [will] destroy you.

The lesson here is this: When we admit and accept who we really are, allow and discipline ourselves to write, the doing itself will “save” us. But when we deny and stifle our writing drive by convincing ourselves we shouldn’t have it, don’t need it, and don’t want it, and so deprive ourselves of even a little writing time, we suffer the unavoidable repercussions.

We feel guilty because we’re rejecting our gift, and we harm ourselves by slowly killing our creative drive. The drive, bottled-up, convolutes, grows ugly, and finds other outlets—we become depressed, get sick, overeat, overspend, oversleep, overTV, overWeb, and snap at everyone within mouthshot.

Most of us can probably tolerate a day to a week “off” from writing. We may even return refreshed. But I see, ruefully, that to turn our figurative backs and literal productions on writing won’t give us happiness, peace, or minimal contentment. And just as dire, our self-denial will probably sour other, more ordinary, pleasures.

Writing Our Music

The warning in Thomas isn’t the only one that reminds me of the crucial sacredness of surrendering to our gifts. In an NPR radio interview, the magnificent American conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein made an unwittingly sad and cautionary statement the summer before he died. He said, “There’s so much music I still have to write.”

Later, I read inspirational teacher Wayne Dyer’s words in Dr. Wayne Dyer’s 10 Secrets for Success and Inner Peace about our “music.” Directed to all of us, the second secret, an often-quoted dictum, is this:

Don’t die with your music still in you.

Have you felt the shaking truth of this advice? It’s at the source of my petulant rejections of writing and finally, again, returning.

Reconciling

What’s the solution to wishing not to write? For me, it’s heeding such counsel, accepting our need to produce, and recognizing we’re not like “normal” people. Corollary to Dyer, my sane self centers again with George Bernard Shaw’s words in Man and Superman:

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap . . . .

Yes, I want to be thoroughly written out by the end. The only way is to yield to the drive and desire and rejoice in it. Sure, go out occasionally with friends for lunch, or sit in a first-run movie or take a course. But come back, always come home to our calling.

Now, at my Friday table in the mall Starbucks, I turn from the outer scene and let my eyes go where they want to—my clipboard. No need for sighs, anger, or shopper-watching. I spread out my notes, take a sip of divine latté, and pick up my pen.

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Author, editor, ghostwriter, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne has published over 300 pieces of fiction and  nonfiction in print and online venues. Her column in Coffeehouse for Writers is titled “Bloom Where You’re Writing.” With a  Ph.D. from Columbia University, for over 28 years Noelle has assisted doctoral candidates to complete their dissertations.  Noelle’s book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books) uses examples from her practice,  writing, and other aspects of life to help readers let go of regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. 

With Trust Your Life, she has been invited to participate in the Unity Books “Summer of Self-Discovery,” a reading series on  Goodreads with two other Unity Books authors of positive messages. Goodreads members and others are invited to join the  Unity Books book discussion group on Goodreads and take part in free author webcasts. For more information, see the Unity page unitybooks.org/summer (as of May 1, 2013) and the Unity Books Goodreads discussion group: http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/100799-unity-books. Visit Noelle at www.trustyourlifenow.com.
Noelle was recently featured at Author Magazine. You can read her article here.

Adventures in Self-Publishing

This article was written by Amarie Fox.

A few years ago, I decided that self-publishing a book of short stories would be a good idea. I don’t know who originally put the seedling of this idea in my head, but in time it began to grow. In fact, it grew until I had a whole garden inside of my skull and I could think of nothing else that I’d rather do than give my stories to the world.

After all, the demand was there: I had a rather large and devoted following who regularly read the short fiction that I posted on my blog and genuinely seemed excited when I brought up the possibility of a book. In my naïveté, I just couldn’t see what could possibly stop me.

‘Wait, what am I doing again?’

There is something so positive and appealing about the DIY approach to self-publishing that I loved and still do love. It is authentic; it isn’t reliant on anyone or anything. It is freeing to do something on your own without a bigger force standing in the way.

Looking back, though, I think – or no, I absolutely know – that the way I approached the project was all wrong. Yes, I was doing it on my own and that was certainly freeing, but it was also haphazard and chaotic. I had no direction, no one to point out what I needed to eliminate or what I needed to add. There is not a single short story collection in the world that doesn’t share some common theme or unifying idea. Often times, there is a thread that runs through each story.

Alice Munro – who is my favorite short story writer – would have shook her head at what I put together. I wouldn’t call it a book of short stories, as much as a book of strange odds and ends that you’d keep stuffed in a cardboard box at the back of your closet. Or no, if I am really honest, it was worse than that… it was more like a monster with a million mismatching arms and legs.

Let’s be honest, writers have editors for a reason. Sometimes you get so deep into a project you cannot see the other side. You are lost in a maze of your own creation and only an outsider can help drag you out. It would’ve been easier on me to have someone look over my work. To point out what needed to go and what needed to be added. Just because you’re putting together a collection of stories doesn’t mean you need to include every story you’ve ever written. I had everything from the good, the bad, the ugly, to the outright hideous. Yes, it was a very horrible monster. I will be the first to admit it. Some of those flabby parts needed to be cut off. If I had been more critical of my work at the time, I could have done just that. However, I was an overly attached mother. I couldn’t imagine leaving anything out.

Finding a Publisher

The Internet is full of self-publishing sites. It is definitely overwhelming to choose. For my project, I ended up going with Lulu, because a few of my poet friends had previously used it to make their chapbooks available to a wider audience.

Lulu was a great site to use, easy to navigate and work with, that frequently distributed discounts and promo codes to offer on my book, but I think they cater to a certain audience that wasn’t necessarily my audience. They do a lot of personal photo book printing – memory type albums and calendars – and I wouldn’t say that many people who ended up purchasing my book would’ve ever ordered from them. The community they had was just so different.

Since I published, I have seen a lot of different options become available, such as Amazon or Google. Both I think are perhaps better options. Depending on what you want to put out there.

Still, the point remains: your audience is the most important element. Unless you’re personally printing and producing your book, you have to make sure a reputable website is going to be taking care of your buyers. Are they going to ship worldwide? Are they going to have a hardcopy version to sell? A digital PDF or ePUB version? Do they have any sort of partnership with Apple or Amazon for wider distribution? Are you going to get a free copy of your own book to check out before you choose to tell the world? For what I was doing, Lulu met all of these requirements.

Would I do it again?

The question remains: would I choose to self-publish again? For now, the answer is heck no.

As much as I would like to go back in time and be the same naïve and optimistic young woman, I cannot. I think we have to (or should) learn from our past experiences. Instead of wasting time making another book, I’d rather invest the little spare time that I do have more wisely – by writing and sending out all completed work to literary journals and websites. Plus, I am sure in my future attempts to professionally publish a collection of stories or novel, it would look much nicer on my resume if some of my pieces have a ‘originally published’ or ‘published in’ next to the title.

Although, I wouldn’t do it again, that doesn’t mean I don’t encourage my fellow bloggers or writing friends to take the leap and self publish. I have a lot of favorite writers on the Internet and I understand and have the same desire to read their work in a tangible format. Plus, I believe in the giving back, especially after so many years of reading ‘for free.’

And I would be lying if I didn’t say it wasn’t at least a little rewarding – even if it is just rewarding for my poor little writer’s ego. I mean, somewhere across the country, across the world, on the other side of the hemisphere, someone has a copy of my book on their bookshelf alongside James Joyce and Margaret Atwood. How cool is that?

So, would you ever consider it? Or if you’d rather not get yourself involved in such a crazy project: have you ever supported a self-published writer by buying a self-published book?

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Amarie Fox is a writer and artist. Her recent fiction work has been published by Little Fiction, NIB, and Literary Orphans. More information at amariefoxart.wordpress.com.

Photo: Some rights reserved by FeatheredTar.

What You Can Learn from the World’s Worst Writing

This article was written by Chris Ciolli.

We’ve all been there. That terrible free e-book you downloaded on a whim. Or worse still,  that awkwardly written paperback with a gripping blurb on the back that inspired you to take a $5 or $10 risk on an otherwise unknown author. There’s nothing quite so disappointing as a book that lets you down when you really need an armchair escape.

Because let’s face it. The onset of digital publishing aka, the “age of Amazon” has improved by leaps and bounds the variety and sheer quantity of reading materials easily available to us. Unfortunately, it hasn’t had the same positive effect on the quality of those reading materials. From blog posts, to e-books, there’s loads of nearly unreadable junk out there. The good news is that it may not be as worthless as we imagine: With a little creative thinking and a healthy dose of patience, a bad read doesn’t have to be a complete waste of time for writers.

Because while reading substandard writing can be terribly frustrating, disappointing and just plain boring, there is a shiny silver lining to this darkest of literary clouds: it can help us identify those nasty writers’ bugs that infect our own writing—be they dangling prepositions, banal conversations between unsympathetic characters, or a confusing and ineffective plot line.

Of course it takes more than just reading subpar books to become a better writer.  Analysis and reflection are a required part of the process. You can’t just stop at, “well, that was crap.” Beyond an initial negative reaction you have to dedicate some time and effort to what didn’t work in the book/article/blog post in question, and why.

Identifying What Doesn’t Work and Why

Is the dialogue hard to stomach and even harder to believe? Is the text chock-full of typos and grammatical errors that you simply can’t ignore? Are there huge jumps in the storyline? Is the protagonist one-dimensional? What pushes a book into your personal slush pile?

Some of my personal pet peeves are the following:

  • Excess typos (I’ll pardon occasionals but multiples on every page….I just can’t deal with it).
  • Persistent grammatical errors
  • Plot inconsistencies.
  • Poorly researched story premises.
  • Unnatural dialogue
  • Cardboard cutout characters, especially in the case of females, and villains.

Once you’ve identified what makes a book unreadable for you, it’s time to think about why, because this will help you come to terms to what’s most important to you in your reading, and how to apply it to your writing (because unhappy readers are no fun!). Knowing exactly the effect that these writing errors have on your reading experience will encourage you to be a careful writer and not make excuses for the flaws you (and others) identify in your own writing.

Do typos curb your enthusiasm just when you’re getting excited about ideas in an otherwise inspiring blog post? Does awkward dialogue keep you from falling in love with the strapping hero in that romance novel you’re reading? Think long and hard about how you want your readers to experience your writing before you talk yourself into ignoring the warning flags that you wouldn’t excuse in other writers’ work. Because here’s the deal:

Want to successfully communicate with an audience? Don’t irritate them or distract them from the ideas or story you’re trying to get across. While not all readers will be annoyed by the same things, you better believe that if certain mistakes drive you up the wall, they bug a good chunk of the other readers out there,too.

Just like identifying what works in good writing teaches writers what they should be doing, identifying what doesn’t in bad writing teaches writers what they shouldn’t be doing. So when you read something that makes you gag or gaffe, stop to think about why. Write it down, commit it to memory, and do your best not to repeat other writer’s mistakes. Your readers will thank you.

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A writer and translator by trade, Chris Ciolli spends her spare minutes reading, traveling and playing with art supplies. Okay, so sometimes she sleeps, eats and slurps coffee, too. Learn more about her at ChrisCiolli.com, read about her travels at Midwesternerabroad.com, or follow her on twitter @ChrisCiolli.

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Photo:  Some rights reserved by gudmd.haralds.

On Writing

This article was written by Anjali Amit.

A lady walked into a milliner’s shop. “I have this party to attend,” she said. “I’m looking for a hat like no other.”

The milliner picked up a roll of ribbon and wrapped it around her head, shaping and fitting as he went along.

“Ah! beautiful,” the lady sighed. “How much do I owe you?”

The milliner named a sum that had his customer gasping in disbelief. “But it is just a roll of ribbon,” she exclaimed. The milliner unwrapped the ribbon and gave it to her. “The ribbon, madam, is free,” he said with a bow.

Writing is like that. Letters of the alphabet. Just letters, mere pencil strokes on paper. The letters, dear readers, are free; the masterpieces they create are paid for in blood — long nights and sweaty days, the unending search for the informing thought that brings them value.

Do we, then, cut a vein and let it bleed drops of blood onto the paper, as Hemingway is reputed to have said? No. Writing is not the spilling out, but the going within. A good writer, like a great actor, loses himself in the characters he creates, and finds himself with every character, every sentence and word chosen.

To find herself a writer has to first lose herself. To put his ‘I’ before the reader a writer has to find the ‘you’. Writing is best described in paired opposites, in binary terms almost, with the caveat that the opposites are not mutually exclusive but contained in each other. “The longest journey is the journey inwards,” wrote Dag Hammarskjold in his book Markings. So short a distance, so long the journey, and we may never reach the end.

Write anyway. The truths you have within you are yours, and yours alone. Unstated, they are lost forever. The prince and the pauper look at a bird on a distant tree. “Target practice,” thinks the prince. “Food,” hungers the pauper. The professor and the student see a thick notebook lying by the roadside. “Oh, oh, looks like someone’s thesis,” says the professor. “Kindling,” thinks the poor student shivering in the cold. Both voices need to be heard.

Shakespeare, master dramatist, paired the hero/heroine with the Fool, and gave him lines that state truths often invisible to the other characters. King Lear called the Fool “my philosopher”.  Feste, in Twelfth Night, points Olivia to her excessive mourning:

Feste: Good madonna, why mournest thou?

Olivia: Good fool, for my brother’s death.

Feste: I think his soul is in hell, madonna.

Olivia: I know his soul is in heaven, fool.

Feste: The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul being in heaven. Take away the fool, gentlemen.

Writing requires courage. Disguise your words as coming from a fool, if you so desire. Take a lesson from Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky:

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Be brave. If you hold onto your truths you may be mocked and scorned. You may be disbelieved. That goes with the territory. Tell your truth anyway.

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Anjali Amit does not subscribe to the ‘eat to live or live to eat’ debate. She reads to live. Occasionally she writes stories for children, and has been known to create a crossword or two.

Photo: Some rights reserved by erink_photography