Thursday, December 18, 2008

Happy or sappy? Create a Chain of Thought....

Okay, so I admit it...I get sappy during the holidays. Then again, so do many others. On that note, I decided to post a chain of thought poem, and of course it would be about the holiday season. Then I thought it would be fun if I invited all to create their own little gems, add to the, ah, know...sappiness! Serious, funny, satirical, whatever you wish...have fun with it, and even if you are in a bah-humbugger mood, who knows, maybe it will bring you a little... you got cheer :)

So here's my contribution:

Happy Holidays and Best Wishes…
Wishes, let’s hope for health and happiness in the New Year.
Year, it flies by, so grab hold of each memory and hope.
Hope, we need it, we should cherish it, and want all to have some.
Some, if everyone could give even a little cheer to all…
All, all around us we would find a season to be merry.
Merry, here’s wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Yeah...I know....really, really, sappy! But I'm loving it!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Outlining...Preparing for Your Project

Thanks to a previous comment I began to think about outlining. When I've used it, has it been an effective tool? The answer, of course, is yes. But it still prompts the question....does it work for everyone? Is it a necessary stage of the writing process? Well....there are differing camps of thought on the subject. I myself use an outline when writing my novels. And it's interesting that in each of the three cases, so far, the process has been the same: stage one - starting out with a general idea of where the story should end; stage two - after writing the first couple of chapters and getting to know my characters, sketch out a basic outline (not too detailed); and stage three - when I get far enough into the story, make the outline more detailed, filling in the blanks so to speak..... and at that point, I'm off and running at breakneck speed. It's exhilarating, by the way. Of course, if a character somewhere along the way has the urge to "break off in another direction" rather than going by way of my plot outline....that's okay, too.

So, when I happened to be directed to a certain author's site and found his description of outlining to be similar, well, I felt....validated, I guess. Maybe that's odd, but it is how I felt. In any case, check out the blog postings he's written (there are several on the topic) and see what you think about outlining.

By the way, I recall watching a television program where a guest author (can't remember the name) confessed he has no clue as to how his book will end as he's writing. He claims that his writing is fresh and spontaneous that way. It seems to work for him, so... if I may quote a popular agent and blogger (Nathan Bransford)..."if it works, it works...."

Check out the site:

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Patience in you have any?

As of late, I'm discovering a lack of patience when I write, and I'm wondering....where did that come from? You see, I'm the kind of person who savors the writing process....slowly chewing on the words and phrases I create. Yet, recently, I notice how my mind wants to focus on the ending and not on the here and now. It's maddening. I hate it, but can't seem to stop it at times. It's a challenge in discipline to stay with the story, build it step by step, carefully choosing the details, but it is totally necessary. The quality of writing depends on it. I have previously written about impromtu writing. And that is a wonderful exercise to get your creative side flowing. In its place impromptu serves well. But for heaven's sake, that shouldn't mean for you to run a race all the time, ignoring the quality, producing a hodge podge of jumbled words and phrases where even revisions won't save you because it turns out such a mess! When you are creating your "masterpiece", savoring is key. Even if that annoying voice in the back of your mind keeps telling you to hurry up and get to the ending, you should slow down. Enjoy. Savor. In any case, I will continue to try and pace myself, get back to the rhythm I normally keep, and enjoy the process. My writing "sanity" depends on it.
So, what do you think? Do you have patience? Or does that annoying voice sometimes bug you, too? Share your thoughts.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Interesting Site....Do you cluster your ideas?

I came across a site that talks about clustering your thoughts, ideas, etc. It refers to the right brain/left brain concept. When you need to get your creative juices flowing -- there in your right brain -- try clustering the ideas that pop into your head. You can web them -- those words and thoughts -- and then see if that will help you to write about, well, whatever it is your creative side is trying to tell you to write about! Anyway, it's worth a look. So check it out and see what you think. And a Happy Turkey Day to all :-).

Here's the website:

Friday, November 21, 2008

Style and Genre...are you a match?

Many wonderful comments to the previous post gave me the idea for this one. So, thanks to all who blogged!

Descriptive writing and action. They combine in varying amounts to create what the author hopes will be engaging reading. But can we say each genre of reading requires it's own unique formula for writing? Does your particular style of writing, eg. heavy on the action, light on the descriptive, lend itself to a certain genre and therefore "push" you in that direction when writing? Often, mystery and suspense lean toward the action scenes and leave the flowery descriptions out of the picture. Literary works may find description of character, scene, etc. a heavy but necessary component to achieve success. This may sound too black and white, and I recognize that fact. Take a really talented author and no matter what the style, he or she can write whatever he or she may want. But it's an interesting topic. Can your style of writing influence the genre you choose? Share your thoughts.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Description... How much is too much?

Description and Details... I often need to tell my students before, during, and after a writing assignment to include details... supporting details, sensory details, vivid, colorful, meaningful DETAILS! Of course, you need to understand that writing is like a tooth extraction for my wonderful kids. They want to know exactly how many words they need...right down to the last letter. No more, no less. Yet, for those of us who enjoy the written word, we create our beautiful masterpieces with those many, many words and phrases...maybe too many. I was reading in Stephen King's On Writing -- one of my favorite references on the subject -- where he states, "good description usually consists of a few well-chosen details that will stand for everything else" and "that it's as easy to overdescribe as to underdescribe. Probably easier." He continues to explain that what comes into your mind first, what you see first... those details are the most genuine and best to use. He's not big on physical description of characters, but rather description of time and place, i.e. the setting. I agree for the most part. Who cares what kind of handbag and shoes someone is wearing? Unless the shoes are going to be an important clue to a murder, for instance, it's unnecessary. I'd much rather hear about the character's character than the color of his or her hair. And as King puts it, "get on with your main job, which is telling the story" and don't bog down your writing with weighty details that bore your readers.

So, what do you think? Do you agree? What "details" do you tend to include in your writing?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

To Prepare or Not to Prepare....How do you write?

Inspiration versus preparation... It's a quandary for some... If you wait and write after preparing notes, an outline, etc., does it take away that creative spontaneity and leave the writing sterile and cold? Or does preparation keep you organized in thought, preventing your writing from taking a haphazard, frenzied path?

I personally find spontaneity great, but if I am working on a longer project such as a novel, then sooner or later -- and it's probably better to be sooner -- I will feel the need to organize my ideas, make that decision on where I'm going. Of course, then I always change a few details here and there along the way. Heck, I even do that with a simple email, come to think of it.

But let me know what you think... What works for you? Bottom line for me is... I'm at the wheel and that's great no matter what road I drive on!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Writing as Therapy?

I kept a diary when I was young. From age nine to twenty-one I wrote in those cherished journals most everyday. Sometimes the entries were mechanical and boring, other times quite insightful and interesting. The most fun has been digging them out of the cedar chest and reminiscing. What is most curious to me -- and it's not exactly possible to go back and ask myself -- is why? What gave me incentive to keep a diary? Was it trendy? Was it because of loneliness? (I was an only child.) Was it my way of thinking and talking about my feelings... what bothered me, what excited me, made me sad, angry, happy? And then later in life, as my writing expanded to short stories, song lyrics, and eventually novels, has that writing been for the same reasons? All I know is that writing became a part of my life, a very important part. A way of expressing myself. But is it or could this practice be labeled therapeutic? I think so. I've given it much thought. And that's my conclusion. Maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe it shouldn't matter, as long as it makes me happy. However, it's interesting to consider the "healing" power of writing. What do you think? Is writing more than the creative, informative, entertaining art form we enjoy? Is it therapeutic?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Reading & Writing...the Connection

How many of you agree that readers make better writers? I find with my students there appears to be a connection. And it's frustrating in that so few of them are readers. Oh, of course they may dedicate themselves to their studies and class texts, but reading as a choice? Seldom happens. To find words of encouragement that work?...equally as frustrating. I tell them to think about what interests them. There are hundreds, thousands of books out there that could be about that interest. Reading feeds and expands the imagination, I tell them. It opens up a world of information, experiences. We all learn by example. To learn about styles of writing, we read. And we learn. We imitate. A little from this author, a little from that one, and then eventually we create a style we call our own. At least that's how I see it. What do you think? Share your thoughts.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Setting the Mood & a Writing Prompt

What sets the mood? Descriptive words, for one, help to create mood. Your setting, your characters, your plot, all these are dependent on such words. You appeal to your reader's senses, help him/her become an active participant. I often tell my students when they are about to work on a writing assignment to be aware of this. Or when they read a story, look for descriptive phrases and what senses they address. I tell them that when they write a narrative piece, for instance, if they haven't grabbed the reader's attention this way, then they haven't done their job. If I read a scary tale, I want to sweat, to feel my heart hammer with fear. If it's about romance, I want to melt inside and recall my own first love or kiss. You want the reader to feel this is personal, written just for him/her, to exist inside that story and its characters. Not an easy task for the writer, is it?

Now, I'd like to know what you do with mood. How do you create it? Also, how do you make your reader become involved through the senses? Give me your opinions. For those of you who want to tell by showing an example, here's a prompt to play with:

The clock chimed eight. She sat waiting with little patience when finally.....

I can't wait to read what you have to contribute. I hope you enjoy!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

And the Beat Goes On....Writing With Rhythm

Well, now that school (and work) have started, I can see that posting will probably be cut down to once a week! Oh, those lazy days of I miss you :( Okay, now that my little bit of whining is over, I will go on to the intended subject of this post: writing with beats (and no, this isn't music class) Beats are the bits of action you want to break up your dialog with to vary the pace of your writing. Think of it like driving a car. There are times you may travel at a faster speed, such as on the expressway, but then you slow down or stop at the intersections, when traffic is heavy, etc. If you have a fast action scene in your story where the tension is elevated, you don't want to break it up or slow it down with a lot of beats. However, when the pace slows down or needs to take a breath so to speak, or to just vary the pace, you want to insert a beat or two. Take a look at any page of dialog in a story. For example, if it goes on with "he said", "she said", line after line with no breaks to describe action for a whole page or more, it will become too mechanical and boring. Consider this:

"I hope you'll find the time to come to the party," she said.
"I might, if it's not too late," he said.
"I just know it's going to be boring if you don't. Did you invite Ted?" she asked.
"I thought you wouldn't want him to come," he said.
"Of course he can come. I want to know your friends better."

Now just imagine this going on for a whole page or two. Then see how it changes by inserting just a couple beats of action:

"I hope you'll find the time to come to the party," she said.
"I might, if it's not too late," Sean answered.
"I just know it's going to be boring if you don't." Kristin stacked the napkins next to the plates, before asking, "Did you invite Ted?"
Sean stared out the window for a second or two. "I thought you wouldn't want him to come."
"Of course he can come. I want to know your friends better."

Minor changes such as adding beats can create a better rhythm in your dialog, give balance and reality to the scene. And one final tip - read your dialog aloud, maybe have another person to read one character's lines and you the other's. This will help you find out how well placed your beats are and any changes you may need to make.

Now, why don't you try it? Take a half a dozen lines or so of dialog from a story you've written and insert a couple beats. Or maybe you already have a sample of dialog with beats added that you would like to share? Post them here so we can see your creativity! Or leave a comment about using beats. What do you think?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Another Day, Another Post, Another Prompt

The past few days have gone by in a blur. Getting ready for the new school year and editing my current manuscript for a fifth and final time has kept me too busy. So, when I noticed that I hadn't posted since last Wednesday, well, it took me by surprise. Time not only flies when you are having fun, it obviously does that when you're really, really busy, too! Okay, now that I am done making excuses, let's get down to serious business....writing.

Today I thought I'd write about use of verb tense and POV. What works best and in what situation? In my opinion -- and it's often been stated -- that if you use the first person POV and the present tense, the reader has a more intimate connection with what the narrator is feeling, experiencing. Compare for yourself:

I enter the room and see the crowd. I want to run away, the nervousness I feel overwhelms me. I notice him standing apart from the others. He smiles at me; I blush, but manage a quiet response.
"Hello," I say, and then in sudden panic turn to find the nearest door.

Or, how about...

I entered the room and saw the crowd. I wanted to run away, the nervousness I felt overwhelmed me. I noticed him standing apart from the others. He smiled at me; I blushed, but managed a quiet response.
"Hello," I said, and then in sudden panic turned to find the nearest door.

Granted, it is a slight difference, maybe not noticeable to some. I feel the present tense gives the reader the sense of living that character's experience, right at that moment, rather like virtual reality.

Or we can play with this and change it to the third person POV and past tense.

She entered the room and saw the crowd. She wanted to run away, the nervousness she felt overwhelmed her. She noticed him standing apart from the others. He smiled at her; she blushed but managed a quiet response.
"Hello," she said, and then in sudden panic turned to find the nearest door.

So, what do you think? Do you notice or feel any difference? Which do you like better? When you write, which POV and verb tense do you prefer or find easiest to write in? Give me your opinion.

And now I'd like to experiment around a bit with the next writing prompt. I will write it in the first person POV, present tense, but when you write your story, you can decide which POV and tense to use. And if several respond, it should be interesting to see the results!

Okay, here goes....

I walk into the darkened room, my heart pounding. The fear overcomes me; I think I am drowning. Reluctant to move, my steps are cautious. I want this to be over, to find what I came for and go home....

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

In Your Opinion

I read an article online today concerning corporal punishment in the public school system. The statistics give pause to seriously think about the disparity throughout the U.S. For instance, did you know that 29 of our states have banned this type of punishment in public schools? Read for yourself and then give me your opinion. Should we allow it at all? Does it work? What about in your area's schools?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dialog Tips & the Prompt for the Day

Dialog is a very effective way to bring life to a story; it helps you show what goes on rather than telling about it. Of course, it can go the other way if written poorly! So, what does make it work? First of all, you, the writer need to avoid those things called speaker attributions. They tend to distract from what the characters are trying to say. For example, "I told you I don't want to go!" she shouted. The word shouted... is it really necessary when you already see the exclamation point? "I told you I don't want to go!" she said. Here the focus is on the quote. And it works. If you don't believe me, check out those novels you have sitting on your bookshelves. I bet you don't see too many attributions other than -- he said, she said, or maybe he asked, etc. Another tip that goes hand in hand with speaker attributions deals with those dreadful "-ly" words. For example, "Susan asked quietly" "John spoke loudly". Avoid them, too. If you write your dialog effectively, you won't need fancy attributions. And if your dialog seems to be missing something without them, then rework your dialog. Bottom line? Dialog should "speak" for itself. (Okay, I know, I know, I shouldn't have... but it is funny. Corny, but funny.)

Now, enough of this instruction stuff. Let's have some fun. I think we should try another story. Let's add some interesting dialog. So, here goes....

"I'll tell you what you can do with it," she snapped....

Monday, August 18, 2008

Prescription for Writing: One-a-Day Prompts

Last week, I mentioned the idea of writing prompts. Like exercising your body to keep in shape, using writing prompts -- a 5 to 10 minute exercise done each day -- keeps your writing in shape. We all know how difficult it is -- not to mention the excuses we find -- to write on a regular basis. Work schedules, family, writer's block, that closet you keep promising to clean ... the list goes on. So, this is what you are going to do. You are going to come up with, say, 20 to 30 writing prompts (you will see my example below), put them in an envelope and, along with a writing pad, keep them in a place you go to in the morning ... your desk, a nightstand, whatever works. Each morning (okay, I'm trying to be optimistic here!) take a prompt from the envelope and grab your pen and paper. Write for at least 5 minutes. Don't stop to think, pause to contemplate, scratch out or erase to change and edit. The idea is almost aerobic; you keep writing impromptu. No exceptions. That is your warm-up for the day, because now you're supposed to continue with your serious writing projects. Right? Well, at least tackle the prompt, please. You will thank me for it later. Promise.

So, let's try one together. What I am hoping will result is a potpourri of responses, i.e. some pretty damn good creative writing. You be the author and create what comes next. Who know's? Maybe one of you will finish it into a story, sell it to a major magazine, or even a best-selling novel, and become famous! Hey, I told you I'm an optimist. Okay, now for the prompt:

He pointed a gun at me with a warning to stay quiet. I wasn't about to argue....

You take it from there, people. And have fun!

Monday, August 11, 2008

To Write or Not to Write

"To write or not to write"... Are you kidding? If someone told me not to write, it would be like asking me to cut off an arm. I couldn't do it. Oh, sure, writing can be like a painful tooth extraction. (come to think of it, all dental work is painful) However, that wouldn't, couldn't stop me from taking pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, voice to recorder. Whatever the mode of communication is, writing is essential in my world.

Now, how much? Well, I guess that depends on individual choice, which can be dictated by available time and energy. A very well-known author and someone who has put his advice on writing into a book on ... well, you guessed it ... on writing says that ten pages a day, everyday including weekends and holidays, is a reasonable and fair goal. I say that if you write twenty pages one day, and then none the next because your daughter needed to be rushed to the hospital for stitches after cartwheeling into a tiffany hanging lamp, gashing her toe while breaking several panels in said lamp (and yes, it happened...why would I make something like that up?), then your fingers aren't going to fall off and your creative brain to freeze if you skip that day and then write the next. As the saying goes, life happens and the poop that goes along with it. The important thing is to just keep writing. Sure, if you can manage a regular schedule of writing, do it. But keep it up. NO QUITTERS! If it's what you enjoy, as I do, then you can't quit.

My question is ... what is your writing habit? And do you write continually on one project? (Writing comes in all forms ... for instance, pick a writing prompt with a different topic each day, something that only needs 5 minutes of your time, and it will help get the creative juices flowing -- but I will save this topic for another blog post...) Please, share your thoughts.

Back to the 3 r' we go again!

Less than 5 weeks...4 weeks... now, make that 12 days and counting. The think mode has to change, reset the alarm clock, write your lesson plans, buy your materials...ready, set, go! And you are off to another great year. You hope. Great expectations and enthusiasm are abundant, and probably will last...oh, let's say....umm....maybe for the first month, maybe even until the winter holidays, or at least until that first unmanageable student, that first hard-to-please parent, or... what gets to you the most? What is your biggest challenge? And let's address the flipside... what do you look forward to the most? What helps you get through and really make it a great year? Afterall, it's been said often enough, you get what you expect. So, after looking at the problems we have--and we should recognize those--we should find ways to correct them, or at least make them better. ( I refer to all the unmanageables, the hard-to-please ones, etc. They aren't going away!) So, what do you think? All suggestions on the table.