Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Word Fetcher: Let's Talk!

Word Fetcher: Let's Talk!: I have taken a break from writing this blog, which is obvious given the date of the last entry. After completing six years of schooli...

Let's Talk!

I have taken a break from writing this blog, which is obvious given the date of the last entry. After completing six years of schooling, I was a wee bit tired. That is not to say that I did not miss writing, in fact writing has been at the forefront of my thoughts during this brief hiatus. Some new ideas emerged, some old ideas rekindled, and I gathered new insights about my writing life.

Writing is a solitary process. That is good when a writer is given a task to research, draft, redraft, proof, and complete by a given date. Having the alone time to think and attack the keyboard is critical to all writers; however, it can be tough to discipline oneself without the looming deadline or the push from another to complete a project or story. Though the necessary nudge or poke or perhaps shove, can come from a good cheerleading section. A group of supporters that not only keeps a writer moving forward, but also collaborates and teaches along the way.

This holds true in many aspects of life. For example, I have been working on weight loss, not just recently – for my lifetime! Recently however, I was invited to join an online group, TD Nation. By joining this group, I was immediately given a personal coach and the opportunity to join smaller groups that participated in focused challenge such as maintaining calorie goals for 90 consecutive days or a boot camp for four weeks to intensify the journey. Like-minded people striving for the same goal interact, sharing ideas, encouraging each other through the struggles, and praising successes big and small. No gimmicks and no fees, instead motivation and knowledge. It works!

Weight loss can be a solitary process, just like writing, but what I have learned is the value of support. It may be a solitary process, but it does not have to be done alone. Thus, the power of writing groups, schooling, and other opportunities to interact with writers.

So how about it my fellow writers and readers – let’s talk! Give me ideas as to what you want to read in this blog or share a writers’ group you have joined, or simply say “hi!”

Until next time, happy writing all!

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Espresso Routine

There is something to be said about the importance of routine for a writer like me, just as there is something to be said for spontaneity for others.

I have a morning routine. Each morning upon waking I drink an espresso. My pleasure in a morning espresso began back in the early 1990s when I earned a Krups Espresso Machine in a sales contest. The moment I took the first sip of this tightly packed, fine grind, pressure cooked coffee, I was hooked. The flavor was strong and rich, quickly turning the average coffee drinker in me into a connoisseur of sorts.

As you can envision from this brief history, the morning espresso has been my regimen for several decades. It is a routine that I do not break. Consequently, I always have espresso on hand except . . . this current
mid-April week. The espresso ran out.

My husband and I thought that this wasn't a big a problem. All we needed to do was run into town and pick up some more. After all, espresso consumption has grown tremendously in the last few decades.

In most cities, one cannot walk more than a couple of blocks without seeing a cafe or espresso cart - they are in bookstores, grocery stores, and gas stations. There are many drive-through espresso shops in parking lots!

We soon found out how hard it was to find in the small farming communities make up the area in which we live. Every store we visited in our county and the next either ran out and stopped carrying it. We spent three days and put on enough miles to have visited our out-of-town children in search of the coveted espresso blend.

Perhaps the hardest part of this adventure was the break in routine. Instead of accomplishing our usual tasks in the set timeframes, we spent each day driving to a few towns, locating the stores, perusing the coffee aisles, questioning the clerks, and leaving forlorn.

We managed to fit in the most important daily chores, like preparing dinner and playing our nightly game of Bananagrams, but the rest was put off until the next day and then the next until we finally found and bought the espresso.

I didn't realize how important routine was to my writing. Although ideas for creative pieces and serious projects pop into my head at all times of the day and night, to actually sit down and put them on paper takes routine for me. I grab my water, go into my office, surround myself with words along with the quiet to hear to them, and commence typing onto the computer screen so I can see them, create a draft, edit, and re-draft. I spend the majority of my day writing, with breaks for meals and exercise and family.

It is a comfortable routine, but a routine. When it is broken for a few days, the word begin to hide and I must hunt for them a little a harder when I launch into my routine.

The moral of this story, at least for me, is make sure to have extra espresso hand!

How about you - is routine an important for you?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Writers' Retreat or Just a Break?

This past week my husband and I have been visiting our daughter and her best friend. Our daughter is the Program Director at Lutheran Lakeside Camp in Spirit Lake, Iowa and she lives onsite.

Onsite is 135 acres of beautiful waterfront and wooded property. There are deer galore and they are not afraid of people! Each evening we saw upwards of seven to eight yearlings and does. Also, turkeys are a common sight and Loons and birds of all varieties and squirrels and chipmunks and on and on. There are cabins, retreat houses, a lodge, a dining hall, and recreation buildings and activities all over the camp. It is a magnificent place!

While there, I though about writers' retreats. My daughter and I have discussed possible writers' retreats as a program she may offer in the future. The camp is completing the construction of two retreat houses that offer single and multi-occupancy rooms with lake views.

There is no typical definition of a writers' retreat. It is a gift a writer gives to herself - time and space to focus on writing and connect with her vision. Some are done in solitude, some are done with another writer to perhaps keep each other accountable, while others are done at places that writers can gather and connect. Writing demands solitude and focus, but it may need a boost of inspiration at times, thus the writers' retreat.

I pondered this quite a bit as I woke in the wee morning hours and took a solitary walk around camp. I heard the woodpecker and other exhilarating nature sounds. I saw God's creative hands all over the trees and brooks. It was inspiring and I thought about writing, but I didn't rush back to my laptop. Instead, I kept walking, listening, viewing and finally wondering if I had the discipline to go on a writers' retreat and accomplish the goal of writing there.

I am a disciplined writer. If I have a deadline or set a goal, I will undoubtedly accomplish it and many times early. Though I must confess, some times I do procrastinate and finish just in the nick of time.

I make a plan, sit down in the quiet solitude of my office, put my fingers to the keys, and let the words flow with strength and consistency like a mighty stream in the stillness of the woods. I don't stop there either, I draft, edit, collaborate, look up words in the dictionary and thesaurus, and redraft until my piece reaches near perfection. I work hard and I am disciplined.

Do I need a retreat to write . . . perhaps not. Do I want a retreat, maybe just to reboot, refresh, and think about writing . . . a resounding YES!

Let me hear from you!
Do you need or want a writers' retreat?

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Job of My Dreams

I am a believer in lifelong learning. I suppose if spring came by its definitive day in March and the green buds on the trees were money instead of leaves, I would be a professional student. What a fun job that would be!

I heard about a Saturday class at the library on fiction writing. Of course I got excited, even though I write nonfiction by trade. A local author, Chrystal Berche was going to teach how to write a short story. She had published 140 short stories just this year and her book was picked up by a publisher. She had the creative flair and it was burning hot at the moment. I signed up.

Chrystal began by focusing on the optimum word length publishers like for fiction stories, which was 3,500 words. Though flash fiction is popular today and that is only 500 words. Some reviews, she pointed out, simply stated that a story was good because it was a quick read. Speaking of quick reads, there is also Twitter fiction, which is only 140 characters. Ernest Hemingway would have been the master with his baby shoes story I wrote about last week!

Chrystal defined a short story as a "slice of life" with a beginning, middle, and end. Because the word count is limited, a short story needs to have one point view and no more than three characters - one or two is actually best. The writer must capture the readers attention immediately and hold it throughout. Focusing on one or two characters and giving them a strong voice is a good plan of action for the writer. Too many viewpoints and/or characters confuses the reader. Excellent points that hold true for both fiction and nonfiction genres.

She went on to discuss the three different points of view - first person, second person, and third person. First person (I, I, I) is difficult to write in a short story. Many readers do not enjoy hearing just one person's thoughts or point of view.

The second person point of view is not well liked by readers either. The reader tends to feel he is being told what to do with this you, you, you style of writing. Although, second person is common and acceptable in how-to articles and books.

Third person, Chrystal described, is like someone looking down and giving the reader a broad spectrum of what is happening. This point of view also gives the writer more space to grow the characters and story.

Chrystal taught us the elements of short story writing and let us launch our own writing pieces in the process. We began by brainstorming turning points or jumping off points. These are similar to writing prompts except they are ideas that we came up with and chose as pivotal points to write about, not a random idea given by an English teacher.

We analyzed the turning points together, making sure each of our ideas were feasible to write in the 3,500 word limit for a short story. Some ideas were too involved requiring so many words that it could be a novella. A short story is a "slice of life" not an entire lifetime.

I could keep going as the class was five hours and quite a learning adventure, I must add. But, I will end this post after one more utterance. I will let you in on the first line or "the hook to pull the reader in" to my short story. Let me know if it works for you!

“Save the beer!” bellowed the unshaven, shirtless man on the dilapidated pontoon boat. He used his hand to deflect the sun so he could see the small boat sinking.

Do you want to read more?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Six Words and Your a Storyteller?

Hemingway started it back in the 1920s. His colleagues bet him he couldn't write a complete story in six words. They paid up. Hemingway wrote the following six word story and is said to have considered it his best work.

"For sale: baby shoes, never worn."  

It has taken on new life today especially as succinct writing is the rave. It was trending on Tumblr last month and Twitter before that!

In 2006, the Six Word Memoirs project became popular. (I taught a six week course in writing memoirs. We worked on a lot more than six words!) The six word memoirs became a global phenomenon, a bestselling book series; and even found it's way inside one million Honest Tea bottle caps.

A partnership between Smith Magazine and Twitter began the contest. It was a strategy designed to address the microblogging explosion. The simple online challenge asked:

"Can you tell your life story in six words?"

I find it an interesting concept. It can have the elements of a traditional story - a beginning, middle, and end. It can meet the definition of a story - an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment. Hemingway does this and I suppose many others did as well in the bestselling book series. It also helps develop the imagination and gives the reader a sense of ownership by allowing him to apply his own interpretation to the story. Hemingway's could be interpreted in several ways, for example:
  • It could be a sad story if focus is placed on the words "never worn." Perhaps the shoes were never worn because of a tragedy. Selling them could be an act of closure for the parents who could not throw them in the trash.
  • Or, it could be a happy story, if focus is placed on the words "for sale." Perhaps the family is beginning an exciting adventure, selling their home, and moving to a new place. A rummage sale is a typical activity before a move.
  • Or, it could be an exciting story, if focus is placed on the words "baby shoes." A new baby could be on the way and perhaps it will be a boy. Thus, pink shoes will not do.
The popularity derived from this short, short story parallels the culture today in both professional and personal pursuits. Friends like to keep in touch through short blurbs on the internet, business associates set up meetings on internet channels with short blurbs, celebrities and politicians microblog about concert dates, book releases, tour schedules and more. Our lives are getting quicker and we have no time to reach perfection in a task nor the time to even participate in such a task. So the trend is to do less in a sense, be short and succinct in our communication methods - like writing a six word story instead of a novel.

Though that may not be the case here. It is actually quite difficult to do - write a six word memoir. Especially if you are a writer by trade, who works so hard to make many words dance on a daily basis. It is for that reason that I will have to get back to you on my own six word memoir. It is not finished yet.

How about yours? Write one and share it!

Friday, March 6, 2015

New Beginnings

Onward is the direction - stepping back a bit from the educational arena after six years has made this a week of transition. The taste has been semi-sweet, which is not bad.

After all, we all enjoy Nestle's Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips baked in the original recipe Toll House cookies. The aroma fills the air and the taste is perfectly balanced between the bitter and sweet.

It's quite likely that if I did not feel a loss leaving school, I would be hard pressed to feel the glory of completing my degree!

With anticipation, I began my writing week. I had some projects in the works for clients that needed attention and I got a new client too! But I did keep hearing a consistent tapping. It sounded like knocking at my door.

Impossible I thought, as the dog lay quiet. 

Well then, it must be all the exciting new ideas for my writing bouncing around in my head!

Alas, it was actually the snow melting off the roof and hitting the awning. That does mean spring is on the way though and spring is the time for new beginnings!

Joking aside ~ mostly because it was not that humorous ~ my research this week uncovered a few prospects for continued development of my study on traumatic brain injuries. I also pinpointed some promotional opportunities for my marketing website and I talked to one of my classmates or I should refer to her as my writing colleague now.

Everything is moving forward and I need to get back to work.  Therefore, I will end this blog posting, leaving it in its quickly written, slightly baffling state. There will be more to come next week!

Don't forget, change your clocks Saturday. Spring ahead!