Monthly Archives: May 2014

A Picture And A Thousand Words

They say, “a picture is worth a thousand words”.  Care to see how many you can get?  Try this exercise:

Go through an old photo album, and look for a picture with people, whether or not you are in the picture doesn’t matter.  If you prefer, find a photography book, or check out an artist’s show, or look some up online.  The important thing is that there be at least one person in the picture.  Once you’ve found a picture right a short “story” or explanation of what is going on in that picture.  Focus on describing the moment captured in film, not what happened before or what may happen after.  Just describe what’s happening in that picture.  But do so in detail.  What is the activity and why is it happening?  What are the relationships among the people pictured?  What do they think of one another?  (If the picture you choose is of a memorable moment in your own life, try to stretch your creativity, and come up with a different story than what actually happened.)  Hopefully, you can find a good story somewhere in there.

 

 

 

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On Research: Google Alerts

I don’t think I’ve said it enough. Research is intimidating. Unless you have a day job that allows you to (a) research your subject matter as a part of your daily responsibilities, or (b) makes you an expert in that particular area or subject matter, undertaking the kind of research to write an accurate novel which story has even one element of something you have no experience with, or to write an accurate nonfiction piece at all really is a lot of work. It can be time consuming and frustrating. You may have difficulty even knowing where to begin.

For me, one of the best tools I have found that has been very helpful to me recently is Google Alerts. Yes, of course it comes from Google. Since the company’s primary purpose started out as a search engine, it may come as no surprise that Google Alerts is essentially just another type of “search engine”. You set up an alert based on a keyword term or phrase, and Google will email you links to news articles, blogs, or other online resources that match your search. It is a quick and easy way to start your research as you look for other sources to rely on.

A few pointers from my experience:

1) Be specific – This is a search, plain and simple, and if you are too vague your search is going to turn up a lot. Make sure you know exactly what it is you want to learn about. Try to direct your search term or phrase as narrowly as you possibly can so that your alerts will be applicable to you. Of course, even if you narrow it down well, there are still going to be links that don’t quite hit the nail. For this, Google gives you an option to give feedback in every alert email, allowing you to flag an article as “irrelevant”. That can also help you narrow your criteria.

2) The more recent, the better – What Google Alerts is designed to do is find articles that provide the most recent new information on a subject. Unfortunately for those looking to write historical fiction, this resource is not likely to do you a whole lot of good. Sure, once in a while you may hit on some new diaries of someone or other that have just been discovered or released by the family estate, but for the most part Google Alerts is going to help those of us looking for new information on things that are happening now, or have happened in the very recent past. (Sorry historical fiction writer. I’m still looking for research tips for you guys.)

3) Don’t be afraid to discard – Some of the information you get through these alerts is not going to be useful. That’s just how it goes. Don’t be afraid to toss aside an article or post that isn’t relevant to you. Let’s face it, another intimidating thing about research is that there is so much information out there that we have trouble weeding through it. That’s what Google Alerts is designed to do – help you weed through the masses. Check out the headline, skim through the article, but if it’s not something you can really use, get rid of it.

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Get The Creative Juices Flowing

It’s amazing where our story ideas come from, isn’t it? The slightest litte thing can spark a new idea. Of course, our own experiences play a big part, but it’s the details of those experiences that will often slide in out of nowhere and prompt a great idea. For instance, I once wrote a short story based on an amazing weather phenomenon that had me absolutely stunned. As a line of showers was rolling in the sky overhead, my house happened to be straddling the line, causing it to start raining in the backyard at least a full minute or two before it started raining in the front yard. I was so shocked I stood in my kitchen bouncing my eyes back and forth as though I were watching table tennis, between the sliding glass door that led to the back porch, and the grand windows in the dining room that viewed the front. That happened years ago – I may have still been in high school – but it made a lasting enough impression on me to write about it over ten years later.

I’ve gotten ideas from a large variety of sources. A song or book title has led me in a direction – usually something different than what the song means. I’ve gotten ideas from quotes I’ve heard. For inspiration on a good crime fiction, maybe looking in the newspaper if you’re stuck for a good crime to have been perpetrated. Even reading the encyclopedia can be a great source; you learn about an historical event, and perhaps try to place your characters in that time period imagining how they would react to it. The source for inspiration can come from anywhere; so when I hear people say, “But what would I write about?” I say, “Look around. You literally have a world of source material at your fingertips. Scoop it up!”

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A Writer’s Journey: Submissions – Part 2

So there you are, sitting in front of your computer (because whether you write by hand, or typewriter, or computer, you should at least have everything backed up) looking through the files of all the work you have. It’s probably a lot, right? A bunch of poems out of that blank book you always have in the bag you carry everywhere. Unfinished works that you just can’t seem to pick back up, no matter how hard you try, and are considering starting over entirely. Stories that you’ve spent so much time with, writing, editing, revising, rewriting, reading, and rewriting again, that you almost hate them now. Maybe, you’re like me, and have kept all the college work you did including English papers, research abstracts, and essays based on other thinkers’ ideas. If you are like me, then you probably have upwards of 100 to 200 works all set up for submission.

And now you’re laughing.

You’re laughing because none of that is anywhere close to submission ready. Of the probably 100+ works I had (arguably) ready to go when I made my first forray into the submission process, I only felt confident in about seven. The rest were simply bad. I didn’t feel good about how they sounded, and I didn’t have the time, or more truthfully, the motivation to make them better. So, naturally, I had to give up when I exhausted my seven golden tickets, discovering that what is “golden” is subjective. It never occurred to me to write new work, because I was in one of my slumps with short work.

What kills me about that is, I’ve now gone back and looked at my old work – pieces I had then, and things I’ve written since – and it’s not all bad.  As a matter of fact, some of it is really quite good in my estimation, and that’s saying something since like any artist my own work is what I’m most critical of.  But with a couple of tweaks here and there I may have as many as ten or twelve decent poems and at least one short fiction.

But even better than that, I am writing consistently again.  Inspiration has been a fairly constant friend of late, and as long as I’m riding that wave I might as well write some new stuff.  Sure, there are ideas for stories (and novels) that are floating around in my mind, and periodically on the paper, but I forget that creative writing is not just fiction and poetry.  There is a whole world of creative nonfiction out there that I have only just begun to tap, thanks to wordpress and all of you who are so kind to visit here and read.

And so, with old work to edit and perfect, new ideas, new strengths, and new genres to explore, I am jumping in feet first to submitting.  My first attempt will be creative nonfiction, something I’ve never considered even trying to be good at.  But what is the point of all this writing that I do if no one ever sees it.

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A Writer’s Journey: Submissions

I have been describing myself as a writer ever since I started getting really lucky and fluid with the work on my MS. Something clicked for me when I joined the writing group that helped me put into perspective how to tell the story I wanted to tell, and from that point on writing became so much easier for me. As a result, I do not only have my MS to tout, but a few other short pieces and some poetry too.

At some point, after I’d finished my MS’s first draft, but before I decided to revise, I began looking at some of my short works, and trying to submit them to magazines and contests for publication. Members of my writing group had been published this way, and I thought, “Why wait for a novel to get published when I’ve got some perfectly good work sitting on my hard drive?”

I naturally became much more critical of the work that I had, but still found some pieces I felt were worthy of submission (that I wasn’t embarrassed by) and found places to send them. Unfortunately, I never did get anything published, but truth be told, I really didn’t try that hard either. I spent two or three months, sent maybe five pieces out, and then got wrapped up in living, or maybe that was when I went back to editing my MS. I can’t really remember. Regardless, I gave up on submitting without giving it (or myself for that matter) a decent fighting chance.

Well, now I’m starting the submission process over again, and this time I will not be giving up so easily. I’d like to say, “I won’t make all the same mistakes again”, but the reality is the only mistake that I made was giving up too quickly. I wasn’t inspired to write any new work, and I exhausted all the decent work (I thought) I had. I also didn’t feel comfortable without clear rules, and I didn’t want to break any so I didn’t take any chances. And then there was my complete lack of understanding of copyright and resulting paranoia.

Now, since it was this blog that got me writing everyday again, and has encouraged my efforts going forward, I’ve decided to share with my readers my journey of submission. My hope is that it is helpful to those of you who, like me, are unfamiliar and wary of the process. And for those that have ridden the submission/rejection superhighway, I hope it will give you a place to share in the experience. I look forward to your comments, thoughts, and stories, and as always, I thank you for taking the time to read.

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A to Z, And Beyond

April is over, and with it goes the A to Z blogging challenge in which I have been an enthusiastic participant since early March.  It was then that I learned about it, and then that I began compiling ideas for posts on writing that I could use for the month.  It was fun.  I spent a few days with a dictionary, searching on dictionary.com, and racking my brain trying to find anything that I could use to keep with my theme of writing and post once a day for a new letter.  By the 1st of April, I had all my posts ready to go.  I even had a few extra that I might save for another day, although they will definitely need some tweaking.

I was excited April 1st to have all of my month’s work finished because it would give me the whole month to put together what I was going to do afterward, but admittedly, I got a little lazy those first few weeks.  I reviewed some of the pieces I didn’t like enough to use, and reviewed some of the other ideas I had that didn’t get written, but for the most part I just sat back and watched the reactions to the posts I did use, and replied to readers when they commented.  And as I watched, I saw numbers of views, comments, and followers grow substantially.  I’d like to thank all of my readers for that.

I also spent the month deciding what I really wanted to do with my writing.  I thought about where I was with certain WsIP, and where I wanted them to go.  I read other bloggers’ content and got some ideas here and there, for which I’d like to thank this great community.  And as I read, and wrote, and thought, I realized I was coming up with more and more ideas.  I wrote lists of other things I wanted to write about, and started doing some research for certain pieces that would require it.  I picked up my pen and notebook again, and started new works, and I realized that I can write nonfiction, and that writing nonfiction can be fun.  This challenge has been a blast, but more than that, it has given me a much needed boost of confidence.

So I’d like to give all of you a thank you, from my followers to the brilliant people that came up with this challenge, and let you know that everything to come (and there will be more) is all because of you.  The April A to Z challenge was great fun, but even better, it’s shown me that I’m not done as a writer yet.  As a matter of fact, I’m only just beginning!

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