Monday, October 31, 2011

Joan Didion, Longfellow & Eric Clapton - Writing Through Grief

      After  I  read Twelve Reasons to Write , Jennifer Rova's blog post for October 26, 2011 on Writing North Idaho,  I  was motivated  to write, especially after she shared about one man's compelling desire to write poetry after the death of his son, and the grief he bared.

     The day before I read Jennifer’s post, I  had picked up a copy of Joan Didion’s  book, The Year of Magical Thinking.   In her  memoir Didion  details  step by step the  pain and anguish  she endured after the sudden death of her husband, collaborator,  best friend, and  fellow author, John Gregory Dunne; It  earned her the National Book Award (2005).  Didion, one of America’s most renowned authors, explains it was grief that motivated her to write this particular story about her own deep, and unrelenting loss.

  Because of the sheer sadness and ordeal the author takes us through, the book is not always easy to read, but it  does relate first hand , the  commonality and process of grieving .

     After the death of his beloved wife, Fanny ,  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  struggled with depression, and had to force himself to write again.  Though many years had passed, it was his continued  grief   that finally  moved  Longfellow to write,  The Cross of Snow which made  clear the lasting ache in his heart.

That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines
Displays a cross of snow upon its side.
Such is the cross I wear upon my breast
These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes
And seasons, changeless since the day she died.

     Famed guitarist and songwriter , Eric Clapton wrote the  poetic lyrics to the best selling song , Tears in Heaven after the death of his young son.

Would you know my name
If  I saw you in Heaven
Would it be the same
If I saw you in Heaven                               
Would you hold my hand                      
If I saw you in Heaven 
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in Heaven 

     The point I’m trying to make here is grief,  and the death of a loved one penetrates  the very depth of one’s soul,  and  can be  the primary reason for  a famous published author ,  poet, lyricist or someone unknown  to write his or her thoughts—to share their anguish, or memories of the departed  one held  close to the heart, ever so dear.

     For example, my mother  wrote the following on a scrap piece of paper several months after my brother died.   She’s not a professional writer, nor does she have a college education, but the words she wrote are from her heart, and shares precisely  what grief feels like. 

Saturday Afternoon
I just walked out to the mail box and back.  Sometimes I like getting mail, sometimes I don’t .
The very worse thing  arrived in my mail today; My son, my darling, my ever loved son, Walt’s death certificate. Nobody, nobody  should  ever have to look on, or read their sons death certificate.  Only 55 years  ago, I was reading his birth certificate.   I was 21 , he was  two days old. Life and love was new and wonderful.  My four year old daughter, Kathy was waiting at home to enfold him in her little arms.  Now, we will never hold him again.   You might think 55 years old is a long time  - it isn’t.  Remembering the little hands that stroked your face, the tiny feet you kissed  -  the sky blue eyes smiling up at you.  Oh, God !   I miss my son.
I sit at my kitchen table  looking out at the beautiful blue sky, but it doesn’t sparkle like Walt’s blue eyes did.
You were so loved,  Walt. You are so missed.

   Chronicling grief  through story and the written word -  whether memoir, poem, journal writing  or song is an often overlooked  type of writing, but one that  can bring acceptance and healing to both writer, and reader.

   For  helpful ideas about this subject visit

***  An informative and well written article about Joan Didion and her newest memoir  about the death of her daughter  (who died shortly after Didion's husband)  is featured in the Nov/Dec 2011  issue of Poet & Writers.  

Friday, October 28, 2011

Expressive Writing and Dignity Therapy

A few weeks ago a friend, who suffers from dehabilitating migraine headaches, had “the mother of all headaches” to paraphrase General Norman Swartzkopf . The pressure in her brain was so severe that her doctor diagnosed “a brain bleed.” She temporarily lost some speech and experienced fatigue. Another migraine of greater intensity struck a few days later. The treatment will surprise you.

When released from the hospital, her doctor told her to go home and write! He said that exercising the brain was the best cure for the injury caused by the bleeding. As the days progressed and her strength built up, she wrote up to eight hours a day. It worked. She recovered all her brain function quickly and was back to leading a group of writers. For this woman, like Larry L. Laws, of our October 26, 2011 post, writing was the avenue to healing.

James Pennebaker, Ph.D. conducted a study to determine if there were benefits of writing about traumatic experiences in life, preferably something the participants had not talked about to others. It is called "expressive writing." He was looking to see if the translation of emotion into language would benefit people. His conclusion was that indeed it did. In his book Opening Up:The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions, Pennebaker found that most participants in the study found themselves to have reduced anxiety and decreased grieving about the incident. (He warns this type of writing can have a rebound effect if one is sad, depressed or suicidal.)

A decade ago a psychiatrist in Canada, Harvey Chochinov, developed "dignity therapy" for those patients involved in the act of dying through illness or the result of trauma. It is growing in favor because the method produces wonderful results. "Patients reported a higher quality of life and will to live after participating in dignity therapy when asked such questions as 'What are the most important roles you had in your life?' 'What have you learned about life that you would want to pass along to others?'" In an article by Jonathan Sherman in USA Today on July 7, 2011, he quoted from Lancet Oncology that 68% of patients also reported an increased sense of purpose and 67% said they felt an increased sense of meaning after participating in the exercise. They wanted their thoughts written down not kept via audio technology because they felt the messages written would have more impact if they would not sound so sick. They were comforted by knowing they had created something lasting beyond themselves.

There are numerous sites on writing expressively and healing, not just dignity therapy. Expressive writing used by cancer patients, traumatized people, and those facing chronic health problems benefit from writing. The writing doesn't have to be about you and your illness. Any writing is helpful. Peggy Tabor Millin on her web site, CharityWorks, says that "Writing moves us toward understanding and resolution." In When Words Heal:Writing Through Cancer, Sharon Baker states that the writing cannot be just venting. The greatest benefit comes when we write a story with structure, causal explanation, repetition of themes, a balanced narrative, and awareness of a listener's perspective."

Larry Laws, Drs. Pennebaker and Chochinov, my friend and bloggers on many websites about writing, tell us that writing, in any form, can be cathartic, helpful, enlightening, sobering, funny, good for healing our bodies and minds, transitive to the next generation, hard work and fun. Why do you write?

Miguel de Cervantes: "The pen is the tongue of my mind."
Joan Didion: "I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Twelve Reasons To Write

Larry L. Laws, Dalton Gardens, ID, is an author of books, many poems and several articles for a Idaho Writers League, Coeur d'Alene chapter's newsletter. He operated heavy equipment in the timber industry "keeping the wolf away from the door" until retirement. He’s been writing for decades. What drove him to write is not an experience any of us would wish to have . . . the accidental death of one of his children involving a baseball. In dealing with the overwhelming grief, Mr. Laws turned to writing. He wrote dozens of poems and writing eventually helped assuage the pain. Much later, his wife discovered his collection of poems and remarked on their high quality and suggested he write more. Larry took up writing again, joined Idaho Writers League and recently published two books: Poetic Expressions (Xlibris, 2010) and Back Then:Memoirs Of A Country Boy ( Xlibris, 2011.) Mr. Laws had a compelling reason to write. Others of us write:

1. To record our thoughts.
2. To set down permanently ideas brewing in our minds. Those thoughts may come in handy at any time, like a deadline looming.
3. To make better use of our time than checking emails, text messaging, random perusing of YouTube videos or FaceBook.
4. Because it enhances our communication skills by focusing on words and the composition of those words.
5.Writing gives us the ability to persuade others of our opinions or share our education or expertise.
6. Putting down words and thoughts creates order in our mind and world.
7. It builds self esteem.
8. To provide money or fame.
9. It helps to bring a sense of peace and accomplishment
10. It engages our senses and makes us better people.
11. Doing so allows us to record history.
12 Helps us tell a story we feel others would enjoy.

God's Greatness by Larry L. Laws

The easterly slopes shadows yielding
To a pale promise of a newborn sun,
Fading the false light of moonbeams
Which conceal the advance of dawn,

Sunup suggests shortening shadows
Offering assurance of warmth and nuture to a
Shivering land. A guardian to nature's
Creations, a symbol of strength greater than man.

As eternal rainbows of optimism
Has spanned the years of my life.
Giving me strength to endure the strife.

When all else drained my faith
I weathered the storm called living
And looked upon God for forgiving.

As I flogged the steed of progress
Always the remembrance of eternal past
Served guidance to slow dreams yet uncast.

Some dreams are so far fetched
They can't possibly be for real,
Yet from reality, we realize they steal.

[Go to Writer Showcase page to view some more of Mr. Laws' work.]

Monday, October 24, 2011

There are genres and many subgenres

There are dozens of subgenres. Before you market your story or book to an agent or editor, you may want to do some research so you can say, “My book is an Arthurian fantasy story” or “an anti-hero mystery.” Readers expect certain things to happen in books and if your story line doesn’t follow the format of a recognized subgenre, you may be in trouble. For instance, we all know a cozy mystery will be set in a small town where an amateur, usually a female, will solve a murder. We know what to expect in a bodice ripper romance where the female is gorgeous and is ravished by the handsome pirate. The more you know about genres the better able you are to identify your audience and sell your story to a publisher.

Genre is from the French meaning “kind” or “type.” In the writing world, genre can mean fiction, nonfiction, prose, or poetry for the basic categories. The list of subgenres is long. Reading through various materials Google sends me on “writing,” I came across a subgenre I had never heard of---steampunk. It is a subgenre of science fiction and there is a whole movement regarding the term. There are steampunk clothing items, posters and stories. Steampunk is a growth out of dieselpunk which involved stories from the 1920’s to 1950 where diesel fuel played a major part of the story be it science fiction, fiction or other subgenres. Steampunk came into popularity when steam replaced diesel as power. A logical following, cyberpunk, involves a high tech, bleak, mechanistic, futuristic universe where computers battle humans and computer humans drive the plot. Biopunk is a blend of film noir, Japanese aneme (whatever that is) and postmodern elements used to describe an underground, nihilistic, biotech society. Splatter (punk) is a new extreme style of horror stories that cut right to the gore.

Those new terms led me on search for other unfamiliar subgenres. There is one called HEA usually attached to romance and romance fantasy where the plot ends with “happily ever after.” Another is called space opera where it is the good guys against the aliens/robots/other humans all taking place in space or on another planet. Think Star Wars. Cowboy opera, set in the West, gave us the fantasy TV show Wild Wild West.

Wuxia genre goes back centuries in China and it reached its golden age in the 1960’s-1980’s. Today’s wuxia stories are adventures where the main character is from a poor background. He learns various forms of martial arts to aid another underdog or she rights a wrong ala Robin Hood. Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is wuxia as is DreamWorks’s Kung Fu Panda. These stories frequently have an “HEA” ending like yet another subgenre, histiographical metafiction. These history-based stories are a melding of historical events with made up characters interacting with people we may recognize. Often a female is the protagonist of these plots because there is scant history written about women’s roles in history until recently. Sometimes there is a component of rewriting history in histiographic metafiction. Examples of this type of story telling are An English Patient written by Michael Ondaatje, Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles, Slaughterhouse Five written by Kurt Vonnegut and some of Margaret Atwood’s works.

Dystopian literature like H.G.Wells’ The First Man on The Moon, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and P.D. James’ The Children of Man tell stories of a seemingly utopian state of existence but it is actually about a society under a dictator. The tales revolve around a utopian society but these societies have a flaw that drives the tension of the plot.

Bangerian fantasy may be familiar to some of you but not to me. It is a subgenre speculating on the afterlife of famous people. Kurt Vonnegut (he writes in several subgenres) wrote God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian while Janet Morris wrote Heroes in Hell in this mode.

The last subgenre I am writing about today is one of fiction books called nouveau roman or neuronovel. This type of plot features protagonists with mental disorders whose causes are not societal but from mental illness. Mark Haddon wrote Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time about autism. Paranoia was John Way’s Lowboy theme. Enduring Love by Ian McEwen has an underlying theme in which the protagonist struggles with thinking that another person is in love with him (de Clerambault’s syndrome.)

The bottom line: I have a lot to learn about this writing gig!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Brilliant Beginnings Contest: We have a winner!

Thank you to everyone who entered our Brilliant Beginnings First Line Contest, and to our five hardworking judges, who had some tough choices to make. It was a very close contest. Each judge individually ranked the entries according to his or her preference, and then the points were tallied to declare the winners, which are:

First Place ($30): "Her long journey through pain was almost over." (Robert Norwicke)

Second Place (Starbucks gift card): "So much for life and liberty." (Jessie Gunderson)

Third Place (Starbucks gift card): "I knew this man would change my life; I could see my future in his eyes." (Jane Bettany)

Congratulations, winners! You will each be contacted individually to arrange for receiving your prize.

Great job, everybody! We've got another fun contest in the works, so keep reading Writing North Idaho for the details.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Writer's Bookshelf: An inside look at reasons for rejection

Years ago I read about an author who wallpapered her entire bathroom with rejection slips from editors and agents. I don't remember now what this activity was supposed to accomplish, according to that author, but I do remember thinking that I, personally, would not feel encouraged by facing a rejection-wallpapered bathroom every morning, especially before I've even had my coffee.

What WOULD encourage me is some clear, no-holds-barred explanations of why stories remain unpublished. This is the kind of encouragement I found in Jessica Page Morrell's book, Thanks, But This Isn't For Us: A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing Is Being Rejected. Morrell, a developmental editor and writing teacher, takes the reader through fourteen chapters that cover everything from the first line to "The End," pointing out potential manuscript weaknesses that even the most careful writer might not be aware of, plus a helpful glossary of publishing terms.

Morrell's approach is not delicate--in fact, "blunt" might be putting it mildly--but she gets her point across. Think of it as tough love for the writer's soul ("soul" being something she's not crazy about, by the way, as in "she felt his passion in the depths of her soul"--phrasing she calls "cringe-worthy." I told you, this is not a book for the thinnest of skins!)

Even if you haven't yet finished your story (or haven't even started it; I'm looking at you, NaNoWriMo participants), you'll still find useful information that might help you swerve around some potholes in the first place. So the next time your manuscript receives a rejection letter, instead of posting it on the wall next to your toothbrush holder, try reading through it with a copy of Thanks, But This Isn't For Us at your side. It just might be a more effective brain stimulant than your morning coffee!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Writing While Distracted: What's your "Squirrel!"?

In the engaging Pixar movie Up, there's a dog character whose best intentions are constantly thwarted by a sudden flash of "Squirrel!" every time an enticing rodent zooms by. It doesn't matter what the dog is doing or thinking at the time; "Squirrel!" takes over his entire canine brain.

Sometimes I feel like that dog when I'm trying to write; I'm constantly bombarded with distractions, mostly of my own making. My personal version of "Squirrel!" could be anything from "New e-mail!" to "Sunny day outside!" to "Leftover pie in fridge!"

I'm most easily distractible when the writing is not going well, when I'm wrestling with an awkward phrase or seeking some fresh, non-hackneyed way to express an idea--or simply trying come up with an idea worth expressing in the first place. Suddenly I'll find myself magically transported to the kitchen to see what's in the fridge (nothing different from the last three times I checked) or compulsively checking e-mail and Facebook as an escape from the prison of my own thoughts.

Recently I posted a little sign on my office door that says "Where are you going?" It's purpose is to make me think twice about wandering away from the writing. Do I need to go to the kitchen? Do I need to get the newspaper? Probably not.

To curb electronic wandering, I temporarily disconnect from the Internet, which feels akin to cutting off my oxygen supply, but is sometimes necessary to get any writing done at all.

When you're writing, what makes you yell "Squirrel!"? And what do you do to stay focused?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Brilliant Beginnings contest draws to a close

Our "Brilliant Beginnings" First-Line Contest is now closed, and the judges are busy scoring and tallying the many excellent entries we received. Thank you to everyone who participated! We'll post the winner as soon as all the votes are in.

In the meantime, do you have any suggestions you'd like to see for future contests?

Fiction writers, it's time! Gearing up for NaNoWriMo

Q: Can you name a well-known book (also made into a feature film) that got its start as a NaNoWriMo project?

I'll tell you the answer in a minute, but first, a little background for those who aren't familiar with this fabulous "jump-start" program for fiction writers.

Now in its thirteenth year, NaNoWriMo (which stands for National Novel Writing Month) encourages and inspires writers to complete an entire novel during the month of November. From November 1 through 30, writers can be found scribbling furiously. November is chosen because it tends to be one of the quieter months, with dreary weather to keep you indoors and not a lot going on except Thanksgiving which--if you work it right--might give you a four-day weekend of writing time, interrupted only for a call to a turkey feast that someone else has prepared. At the end of the month, if you can submit a manuscript of at least 50,000 words to NaNoWriMo, you are declared a winner.(Word count is verified, but the manuscript is neither read nor evaluated--it might be pure drivel, but the point as to get something down on paper that you can now work with).

What you end up with: a first draft and the self-satisfaction that you can beat procrastination and writers block and get a LOT of writing done with a little discipline, dedication, desire, and a deadline.

So why am I telling you this now, when November 1 is still a good two weeks away? So that you can prepare! While it's "out of bounds" to begin writing your novel before November 1, there are things you can do NOW to hit the ground running on that day.

Decide if you really want to participate. NaNoWriMo comes every year, so if you know up front that it will add too much stress to your life, hold off until next year. Or choose a different month to do it. While the "official" month is November, and there's something energizing, about doing it at the same time as writers all over the world, if you want to declare, say, January your personal novel-writing month, go for it.

That said, if you still want to proceed:

Think about your novel. Decide on a genre or general direction for your story. Brainstorm character names and backstories. Research settings and time periods. Plan, plan, plan . . . just don't do any actual writing of the manuscript.

Clear your schedule. Look at your November calendar and note all the pockets of time you have to write. Make writing appointments with yourself now, so that you aren't thrown off track by all the spontaneous invitations and distractions that are bound to come your way.

Do any of you have advice or anecdotes about NaNoWriMo that you'd like to share?

And now here's the answer to the question: According to NaNoWriMo, the most well-known published novel (so far) that got its start as a NaNoWriMo project is Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, which was a New York Times bestseller and was made into a feature film.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Writing Contests For Fun & Profit

WNI Believe it or Not*
Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet as an entry for a Romance Contest.

Like Shakespeare, if you want to be a writer, you have to write; and entering a contest every now and then stimulates your mind and improves your writing skills. Just today I learned fellow blogger Jennifer Rova won a short story contest sponsored by Idaho Writer’s League. Far out, JR!

In fact most of us (WNI bloggers) enter a contest every now and then. Last year Jennifer and I entered a Folgers Coffee Commercial Contest. We were bummed when we learned we didn’t win, but we both spent a few creative hours thinking of a scenario, writing dialogue, and fine-tuning our entries; which was much more productive than watching another "Law & Order" rerun.  No contest for Folgers this year, but you might check out the Fish Publishing International Short Memoir Contest.

Fellow blogger Nancy Owens Barnes won the Zola Award from the Pacific Northwest Writer's Association a couple of years ago. She entered three poems and won, like $100,000. Hmm, on second thought, it might have been a little bit less than that (more like $700), but she did win First Place and I’m sure probably took a trip to the ocean on her winnings. (At least that’s what I would have done.)  If you write poetry, check out their 2012 contest!

And lest we forget, the short screenplay I wrote that was a LOSER, was later chosen for production by the sponsoring organization. Lesson learned: good things can happen when you enter a contest even when you aren’t the big WINNER.  2012 Short Screenplay Contest info can be found on the kNIFVES (Northwest Independent Film & Video Entertainment Society) website in November.   

So, if you’re not protesting at Zuccotti Park this weekend, jump online, Google “writing contests” and have some fun. The Internet is fairly bursting at the seams with contests of every size, shape and genre. 

Just to get you started, how about entering our FREE Brilliant Beginnings First Line Contest? It doesn’t get any easier than a one-line contest, and think of spending all that loot if you’re the BIG winner. You can party like a rockstar!

Writer’s Digest sponsors dozens of contests year-round. Check them out. I’m sure you’ll find one that sparks your creative

Are you a winning writer? Find out by entering one of the Writer’s Digest Writing Competitions! Writer’s Digest hosts fiction writing contests, poetry writing contests, short story contests, screenwriting competitions, self-publishing competitions and more. You could win up to $3,000, as well as the opportunity to see your name in Writer’s Digest Magazine, opportunities to meet with editors and agents and more! Prizes vary between writing competitions.

Your Story Competition
Every other month, Writer’s Digest will provide a short, open-ended prompt. Submit a short story of 750 words or fewer based on that prompt. The winner will receive publication in an upcoming issue of Writer’s Digest.

Writer’s Digest Crime Competition
We are now accepting entries for the Writer’s Digest Crime Competition.
Win over $1,000 in cash and prizes and be featured in Writer’s Digest Magazine.
Entry Deadline: October 22, 2011

Writer’s Digest Horror Competition
We are now accepting entries for the Writer’s Digest Horror Competition.
Win over $1,000 in cash and prizes and be featured in Writer’s Digest Magazine.
Entry Deadline: October 31, 2011

Short Short Story Writing Competition
We are now accepting entries for the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Writing Competition. Win over $3,000 in cash and prizes and a trip to the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City. The top 10 winners will also be featured the July/August 2012 issue of Writer’s Digest Magazine.
Entry Deadline: November. 15th, 2011

Writer’s Digest Poetry Awards Competition
We are now accepting entries in the 7th Annual WD Poetry Awards. Win over $500 in cash and prizes and a trip to the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City. The top 10 winners will also be featured in the July/August 2012 issue of Writer’s Digest Magazine.

Find more great contests online at Freelance Writing.

*WNI Believe It or Not Answer
Although it's possible Shakespeare did write Romeo & Juliet as an entry for a Romance Contest, it's not probable. I doubt he would have won anyway; who wants to read a romance that ends with death?  On second thought, he probably entered his R & J manuscript in the psychological thriller category.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Your Writer's Voice: Let Your Thoughts Shine

The first time I offered my writing for critique, noted author and speaker Mary Buckham surprised me by telling me I had a strong “voice.”  A year later during a meeting with two newspaper editors, they mentioned the same thing, saying, “You have a distinctive voice.”
"Voice" is the vehicle by which a writer expresses his aliveness, hooks his readers, and keeps them listening. - Author & Critic A. Alvarez 
I didn’t understand their comments, but was delighted to hear professionals say “I had it,” whatever “it” was.  Never one to ignore a mystery, I determined to find out exactly what it meant to write with a strong voice

I discovered a writer’s voice means that one has his/her own style.  They string words together in a unique way and create sentences that connect with readers.  But I still wondered what my writer’s voice sounded like.  Didn't I just sound like boring, old me – stay-at-home Mary Jane - as I used to call myself.  What could my authentic writer's voice possibly be?
The only "trick" to developing your writer's voice and style is to relax and let it flow... - Online Writer Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen
Then I remembered that many years ago (in the 80s) I realized I thought and wrote much like Erma Bombeck.  Sometimes I wouldn’t be able to remember whether a thought was my own or if I had read it in one of her columns.  (Raising three boys gave me lots of fodder.)  So, I quit reading her writing.  I truly enjoyed her columns and books, but never again allowed myself to share the world through her eyes. 

Today I understand why I took this drastic step.  Without understanding why at the time, I intuitively recognized my writer’s voice closely resembled hers.  

We both loved to share our view of the world through a bit of an irreverent lens.  Every time others told me, “That sounds like something Erma Bombeck would write,” I questioned my own creativity, until I finally ended the dilemma by erasing her from my mind. 

That retrieved information helped me figure it out.  I’m kind of a humorist at heart, I guess; and I like to share my world with others.  I was always the first one up when we had “Show & Tell” at school, wouldn’t you know. 

I have a little bit of a wicked side to me (angel vs. devil…but the angel always wins) and I like to take the road less traveled.  My favorite things to do are to work in my garden, ride my shiny red Harley, Ruby Jane, and play with my grandkids.  I love organization and dependability, but also the chaos of creativity.   

Your writer's voice can't be learned.  It has to be freed. - Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen
And that’s who you get when I write: a baby boomer who loves the wind in her hair and lilacs; a seeker who believes there's truth behind the idea of astral travel and the power of crystals; a collector of ephemera, baby dolls and rocks; and a woman who would rather make turkey feather and pine cone collages with her grandkids than attend a cocktail party.  That’s my writer’s voice.

What is your writer's voice?  Have you had trouble finding your voice as a writer?

For more information on developing and understanding your writer's voice: 

Online Source: What is Writer's Voice?  The Key to Writing a Good Story

Online writer Laura Pawlik-Kienlen shares her refreshing outlook on developing your writer's voice.
Don't write to impress fellow scribes.  Write to connect with your readers.  Your writer's voice builds a better bridge to your readers.  It's your fingerprint, it's your individual writing style, and it gives your writing soul.
  • Learn the difference between good writing and voice.
  • Stop comparing yourself to other writers and their voices.
  • Make envy work for you.
  • Picture one specific reader and write to him or her.
The Writer’s Voice by A. Alvarez
Reflections on writing from a master
For a writer, voice is the problem that never lets you go. For a reader, voice is a profound mystery. What is it? How does it develop and why should it even matter? How does the reader hear and respond to an authentic voice, and what happens when the cult of personality threatens to subvert it? These are some of the slippery questions The Writer's Voice addresses with confidence and clarity.

Aspiring young writers often confuse voice with stylishness, but the voice that matters has the whole weight of a life, however young, behind it.

Finding Your Writer’s Voice: A Guide to Creative Fiction
by Thaisa Frank & Dorothy Wall
An illuminating guide to finding one's most powerful writing tool, Finding Your Writer's Voice helps writers learn to hear the voices that are uniquely their own. Their guide mixes creative inspiration with practical advice about craft.

The Sound on the Page: Style & Voice in Writing – Ben Yagoda
In writing, style matters. Our favorite writers often entertain, move, and inspire us less by what they say than by how they say it. In this book acclaimed author, teacher, and critic Ben Yagoda offers practical and incisive help for writers on developing and discovering their own style and voice. This wonderfully rich and readable book features interviews with more than 40 of our most important authors discussing their literary style,

Sunday, October 9, 2011

First Line Contest Deadline Looming!


Don’t forget the BRILLIANT BEGINNINGS deadline is  

October 15

$30 cash prize to First Place Winner.

No cost to enter.

Go to BRILLIANT BEGINNINGS for more details.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Banned Books and Brilliant Beginnings

Last week the Coeur d’Alene Public Library and several other public venues across the country celebrated Banned Books Week (September 24 – October 1) by conducting a Banned Books Readout with library volunteers and community leaders reading from challenged books.

The American Library Association (ALA) records the attempts by individuals and groups to have books removed from libraries shelves and classrooms and maintains a list of the most frequently challenged and banned books across the United States. They also provide information and links for people to research why particular books were banned.

One list I found on their site was a list of banned and challenged classics. The ALA points out that, of the top 100 novels of the twentieth century compiled by the Radcliffe Publishing Course at the request of the Modern Library editorial board in 1998, at least 46 of the books on the list have been the targets of ban attempts. Following is that list:

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
Ulysses, by James Joyce
Beloved, by Toni Morrison
The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
1984, by George Orwell
Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Animal Farm, by George Orwell
The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
Native Son, by Richard Wright
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey
Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway
The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
Go Tell it on the Mountain, by James Baldwin
All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
Lady Chatterley's Lover, by D.H. Lawrence
A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie
Sophie's Choice, by William Styron
Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence
Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
A Separate Peace, by John Knowles
Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs
Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
Women in Love, by D.H. Lawrence
The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer
Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller
An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser
Rabbit, Run, by John Updike

Wow! I found some of my favorites on this list. How about you?

Have a great weekend! Also, check out our Events page for happenings in the North Idaho area this weekend and the coming week.


Don’t forget the BRILLIANT BEGINNINGS deadline is  
October 15!

$30 cash prize to First Place Winner.

No cost to enter.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Eating Frogs: A Guide to Overcoming Procrastination

Are you a procrastinator? Most of us occasionally put off tasks we don’t want to do. We know the task should be done, but we conveniently ignore it and tell ourselves we’ll get to it later. We ignore it for a variety of reasons: because it is a challenging task, because it is a large task and too time consuming, because we lack motivation to complete the project, because we have other tasks we would rather do first.

For writers this task may be completing an article you’ve promised your editor but you got bogged down in research, completing a difficult book proposal that you need to submit with a query, making yet another round of changes to a manuscript that you thought was finally done, or answering emails that have stagnated in your inbox. If you work from home, it might be a writing project you want to finish but your thoughts keep tracking toward the stack of dirty dishes on your kitchen counter.

We promise ourselves we will do the task…as soon as we get caught up.

Well, according to Brian Tracy, we will NEVER get caught up. We will always have a stack of books and magazines we intend to read, new writing projects we want to get started on, housework to do, aging projects that we need to complete, etc., etc.. Our slate will never, ever be completely clear.

Tracy, a professional speaker and consultant in the field of personal and professional development, is the author of Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time.

The book’s title is based on this quote from Mark Twain:

Eat a live frog in the morning and nothing worse 
will happen to you the rest of the day.

Tracy points out that our frog is our largest and sometimes most important task—the one we are most likely to procrastinate on if we fail to tackle it. Instead, we often focus on smaller, easier tasks that steal our time and don’t move us forward toward our goals. Tracy says that learning to eat our frogs will have a positive impact on our lives and our achievements. He writes:

You can get control of your time and your life only by changing the way you think, work, and deal with the never-ending river of responsibilities that flows over you each day.

And to do this, we must eat our frog. Here is Tracy’s first rule of frog eating:

If you have to eat two frogs, 
eat the ugliest one first.

If you have an important project or task that you keep working around and have avoided completing it to do other less important things, that is your frog.

To identify your frogs and begin to change your work habits in a positive way, Tracy defines 21 specific steps to help increase your overall level of productivity, from setting the table for success to approaching every task single handedly. He tells us how to think on paper by clarifying and writing down our goals, how to be selective of the tasks we do, how to focus on key areas, how to leverage our talents, identify our constraints, and several others tips. He writes:

By concentrating single-mindedly on your most important task, you can reduce the time required to complete it by 50 percent or more. It has been estimated that the tendency to start and stop a task—to pick it up, put it down, and come back to it—can increase the time necessary to complete the task by as much as 500 percent. Each time you return to the task, you have to familiarize yourself with where you were when you stopped and what you still have to do. You have to overcome inertia and get yourself going again. You have to develop momentum and get into a productive work rhythm.

Eat That Frog! Is a fun read with practical advice on how to structure your work to increase productivity while balancing it with your personal life and other activities.

Oh…by the way, here is Tracy’s second rule of frog eating:

If you have to eat a live frog at all, 
it doesn't pay to sit and look at it for very long.

Salt and pepper anyone?