Category Archives: writing

Challenge – Inspired by Dorothy Parker

As I mentioned in a recent post, Dorothy Parker has a number of pieces which I call “monologue stories”.  These tend to be just the inner thoughts of the MC or the MC’s one-side of a conversation.  I’ve always enjoyed reading these as they allow the reader to become fully immersed in the personality of the MC.  You are literally experiencing the events of the story through the MC.  

I have written one of these styled stories before, but it wasn’t that great.  However, I am challenging myself, and anyone else who is interested, to give it a try.  Can you tell an entire story through only the thoughts of your MC?  It’s a lot more challenging than it sounds.  If you need inspiration, you can turn to Parker – Lady With a Lamp, or her more humorous examples, The Waltz or A Telephone Call.  I will see if I can keep mine down to flash fiction length (a constant challenge for me), and post a final here when I’m done.

Happy writing!

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Space Controversy

I read an article today about double-spacing behind a period and, I have to say, I didn’t know how prevalent the new rule had become. As I considered the reason for it – stemming from the change in technology from the monospaced characters of typewriters to the proportional spacing of computers – I realize it makes complete sense. The vast fonts and styles of the computer age lessens the need for hard and fast rules for affecting readability. I read newspaper articles and word processor submissions and see how unnecessary a second space is. Sure, I’ll give you that.

But change is hard! I, myself, have never been especially good at it, and certainly not when the change involves something that I’ve only ever learned one way of doing.

Usually, I’m resistant to change. For instance, while I am happy to read the occasional article online, I am in no hurry to give up printed newspapers, books, and magazines in favor of a handheld device for all my reading. I also will not bow down to popular word usage and grammar exceptions simply because enough people use their first language incorrectly. (It doesn’t matter how many dictionaries include it, “irregardless” is almost always noted as “nonstandard” or “incorrect” usage. It’s definition tells you it’s wrong. Stop it!)

But in the case of the double-space (hee hee, rhyming is fun), I claim the old but true adage, “Old habits die hard”. Even now, as I type, I am making a very conscious effort tot only tap the SPACEBAR once. And it feels wrong.

After typing for so many years, and increasing my QWERTY speed such that I don’t even recognize what keys I’m hitting, I struggle to stop long enough to actually realize that, not only did I just tap the SPACEBAR twice in quick succession, but I also used TAB to indent this paragraph, which is also unnecessary. This changing of the times, while understandable, is going to require a lot of BACKSPACE.

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Filed under literacy education, publishing, writing, writing rules

Everybody Has A Story

Recently, I’ve read several articles about personal essay writing.  They’ve ranged from writing tips to how to get your personal essay published.  Now I don’t know if any of my readers are this way, but when I repeatedly run into the same theme across several different mediums over at least a few days I will usually succumb to the inspiration.  In this case, I did, and I am inviting you to share in the inspiration with me.

My theory is that a personal essay is the best practice you can do as a writer.  While it is important to exercise your imagination by coming up with new stories, that creative measure can be distracting.  If your intent is to practice your wordsmithing, what better place to begin than in your memory.  We know our own stories, certainly better than someone else’s and even better than those we could make up since we haven’t actually made them up yet. It seems to me an ideal way to play with narrative – description, dialog, and character – since you know the whole story so intimately.

So, I challenge you to pick an event – big or small – from your life and write it.  The only recommendation I would put forth is to make sure the event you choose is one that was transforming in some way.  Like any good story, your main character should be dynamic, and, in this case, that main character is you.  Feel free to come back and share your experience in the comments.  Let us know if you seek publication!

Enjoy!

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A Writer’s Journey: Freelancing – How To Get Started?

I got it into my head quite a while ago that I might like to try freelancing, but figuring out how to get started has been a challenge.  Of course, there is the usual advice, “If you want to be a writer, write”, but just sitting and writing hasn’t been very financially lucrative.  Apparently, having a client to pay you is important to creating an income.  That’s where I struggled; figuring out a way to build a portfolio that was professional, accessible, and substantial.

Then, I got the idea to begin volunteering.  Granted, the motivation for this was altruistic and career-oriented, but most organizations will allow volunteers to dictate (to some extent) their roles based on their interests.  Let’s face it, they know you’re there for free and they want you to enjoy it, so why not have you doing something you enjoy.

Once I told the volunteer coordinator about my interest in writing and proofreading, I started getting more projects based on that interest.  I’m still volunteering, but in the process I’m building a body of work to reference to potential clients, and building relationships with professionals who can refer me to others.

Volunteering is a great way to improve skills, learn new skills, explore career paths, and of course give back to the community.  So volunteer with an organization you believe in.  You never know where an opportunity can lead.

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Practice, Practice, Practice

“Write Write more. Write even more than that. Write when you don’t want to. Write when you do. Write when you have something to say. Write when you don’t. Write every day. Keep writing.” -Brian Clark, playwright

In the case of any activity – be it playing an instrument to performing surgery – practice makes perfect. We, as writers, know that writing is no different. Many of you may have a schedule or goal – a number of words per day, pages per week, or simply sitting down to write every day for a certain amount of time. You may choose to spend that time working on your novel, your dissertation, or journaling, but once you’ve finished one project, and you’re searching for your next one, it can be easy to let the daily habit slide. But why do you have to have a specific project? There are so many reasons to write and so many different types of writing, it should be easy to find a good practice format that can also be productive for building your skills.

Description – write an email or letter to a friend or relative describing in detail an interesting event that happened recently. Focus on using imagery to create a clear picture for someone who has never been in that setting or seen the people involved. Help your reader experience the event as you did.

Research – Write a letter to the editor of a local newspaper or magazine. Reading is another important part of being a good writer, and reading about the news of the day helps inform you as a good citizen. So why not take citizenship and writing to their next step. Say something about an article you read. Whether you find a mistake or want to expand, or point out another way of looking at the issue being discussed, newspapers are more likely to publish well researched letters to the editor as opposed to purely opinion pieces with no evidence to back claims.

Persuasion – How do you feel about the abortion debate? healthcare? defense spending? campaign finance? or any number of other hot button political issues? What do you know about your local and federal representatives? If you’d like to see changes in local, state, or federal government you have to let the policymakers know it. Letters to your representatives are a great way to tell them what you think. Your position is to convince them that you have a stake in the issue, know something of what you say, and would like to see the vote or policy development that you are arguing or proposing.

There are any number of other ways to practice writing in various styles and formats.  How do you step outside your usual writing box?

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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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