Thursday, February 27, 2014

YouTube for Writers

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

As much as I love getting lost in a great read and just allowing myself  the abstract delight of drifting off into another world entirely, there are also many things in my life that lump me into the category of a "visual" learner.

For instance, there is no way I could've ever learned to tie a man's necktie if it weren't for the patient and endless repeated visual directions my father gave me years ago.  Now that I think about it, I can't possibly remember why at the age of 17 I was so desperate to learn such a thing, but I did and after a few very trying days of visual direction and explanation, my father successfully helped me achieve this very lofty goal.

Speaking of learning to tie a necktie--did you know that the most popular video on You tube is that exact thing--learning to tie a necktie?!  That's right!  According to a You Tube poll at the end of 2013, the most viewed YouTube was "How to Tie a Tie for Beginners" with over 16 million views!  So, why on earth would I bring up such a thing in a writing blog?  Because not only can you learn the double windsor tie knot on You Tube, but as a writer, you can view hundreds of wonderful you tubes on all things writing.

So while I consider myself an abstract Goddess overall, there are plenty of times I just love sitting back and watching as well as listening to some great advice--especially when it comes to my passion of writing.

If you haven't checked out You Tube lately, I suggest you take some time to visit and surf the thousands of titles available on everything from how to manicure the perfect lawn to sitting in on some very creative writer's workshops.

Here's one of my favorites--J.K. Rowling--Writing for Grown ups 2012

Just one warning--don't head over to YouTube to check out the hundreds of writing videos unless you have some extra time on your hands--it can be very addicting.

Have you ever visited YouTube for advice on writing--if so, what are some of your recommendations?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Reads for Writers: Helene Hanff Provides a Masterclass


From Kate's Writing Crate…       


As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.

        Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don't generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice, and/or creativity.


        You can have a wonderful literary life if you are determined to be a writer. Helene Hanff is proof of that.


Hanff wrote several charming memoirs—the most famous being 84, Charing Cross Road, which has a sequel, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, both set in London. She also celebrated her life in the big city in Apple of My Eye, Letter from New York, and her first book, and my favorite, the delightfully funny Underfoot in Show Business. However, Q's Legacy reveals how hard she worked to become a writer, that showing up really is half the battle, and that synchronicity has a role to play.

Before she became a successful author, Hanff dreamed of becoming a writer. She won a scholarship to college. After one year, she lost it due to the Depression.
Disappointed she had learned little about writing in college, she went to the library to find herself a teacher. The librarian sent her to the 800 section where she discovered On the Art of Writing by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, MA, King Edward VII Professor of English Literature in the University of Cambridge. It was one of several volumes of lectures delivered to his students at Jesus College, Cambridge. Delighted with his teachings, Hanff referred to him as Q.
Hanff studied Q's lectures for two hours a day, studied books he referred to and recommended for four hours a day, and wrote. However, her parents expected her to work so she was sent to a secretarial school.
After two years of office work while still studying with Q, Hanff became stage struck and started writing plays. She then entered and won a writing competition. She moved to New York City as the prize included working at the Theatre Guild. Her secretarial skills were put to good use taking notes during interviews with stars like Katharine Hepburn in the Theatre Guild's productions for press releases distributed to newspapers. At the same time, she wrote a lot of unsuccessful plays.
Also back to studying Q's lectures, Hanff was looking to buy cheaply-priced, but good quality books he recommended. A small ad in The Times led her to contact a bookstore in London located at 84, Charing Cross Road. Through a shared passion for books and years of trading letters, Hanff became friends with the staff.
Hanff moved on from the theater to write successful scripts for live TV shows shot in New York until the industry moved to Hollywood. Desperate for a job, she hoped she would not have to work in an office.
Luckily, an agent called Hanff looking for old plays or scripts she might be able to sell. Hanff went to her closet and pulled out a couple of failed plays. Then she remembered a producer once told her one of them would be better as a magazine article. It took her a month to turn the plays into articles, one for Harper's and the other for The New Yorker. After publication, Hanff received a call from an editor who asked if she had written any books. She had not, but they decided to meet for lunch anyway.
The editor suggested she spend the next six months writing a funny book about coming to New York to crash the theater scene. Hanff decided she could do that and Underfoot in Show Business was published.
Hanff then got steady work writing history books for children, but that series was discontinued. Again looking for work, she received the news that her friend, the manager of the London bookstore, had died. Hanff remembered all the letters they had shared and went looking for them.
Synchronicity led to her letters to and from the London bookstore becoming her most successful book and led to a movie deal as well. Hanff followed up with several more books of letters along with her memoirs.
        Helene Hanff's dedication to writing is inspirational considering she never stopped whether she was a celebrated bestselling author or homeless between successes. She believed in herself and her calling. She lived a true writer's life. We should all be so dedicated.
Have you followed through with any of your writing dreams?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

You Know You're A Writer When

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

School vacation week is upon us once more!  I've never really agreed with the February school break because it comes so quickly after my kid's 2-week holiday vacation, and with all the snow days we've had this winter, they've barely had any real traction to their school schedule since 2014 arrived.

However, since the state of RI hasn't taken my suggestion of combining the February and April school vacations to one week in March instead, it is indeed a week my kids have been home therefore challenging me (in a good way!) to spend more time with them, and less time on my writing.

You'd think I'd have this down by now, seeing that my oldest of 8 is  now 20, but no matter how many school and summer vacations come my way, I still haven't quite gotten my writing and kid groove to mesh in harmony.  

Yesterday we spent the day at The Providence Place Mall where we had lunch, shopped and then spent countless hours at a game place called Dave & Busters.  While we were having lunch one of my son's asked me if I had any writing deadlines during vacation week.  Astonished but thrilled that he took the time to ask, I opened the door for some Q & A about a writer's life.  The conversation only lasted about 5 minutes, but I took that as a good sign that they are starting to understand the different components of a writer's life as compared to some of their friends' parents that work a 9 - 5 job and can then come home and turn off their work world and tune into their family zone.

Since I do work a 9 - 5 job, but also work just as many hours (if not more) as a writer, I thought I'd share one of my favorite posts 12 Signs That You are a Writer at Heart (and 3 signs you are not) posted on        You can read the full article by clicking on this link, but today I'm going to share my favorite five!

A Childhood Passion

Did you enjoy writing when you were young? If you enjoyed writing when you were a child, it could be a sign that you were meant to write. Children know what they like and tend to know what they will do with their life even if they cannot express it.
Take the child who is always concerned with the well being of others becoming a doctor or nurse, or the child who loved to sing being active in the church choir all her life. There are numerous examples.

Reading Is (Forever) A Hobby

Do you absolutely love to read? Writers read. It is just a fact of life for us. That is not to say that everyone who reads can write, but the writer is drawn to books like ants to a picnic. If you love to write and were always an avid reader, well… need I say more?

No Glory? No Problem

Have you ever considered living like a pauper, and still want to write? Have you ever considered the prospect that if you committed yourself to writing full time, you might live in poverty and yet, you still want to write? If the writing is more appealing to you than living poorly is unappealing, you have the bug. Do you have the talent?

"Tell Us A Story"

Do children prefer you tell them a story of your own making rather than from a book? Kids can spot a writer a mile away. The very first time you tell a story, you may as well hang a storyteller sign that only children can read, around your neck.

What’s That Word?

When you come across a word you do not recognize, Do You NEED To find Its meaning? Writers are wordsmiths. We love to come across words we do not understand and more often than not, we can fathom the meaning by simply reading it in a sentence or formulating the point of the paragraph.
Still, we have to know for sure. We had several dictionaries and a thesaurus or two lying around the house. Does this sound like you?
How did you know that you were born to write?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Inspiring Writing Quotes 2

From Kate's Writing Crate…


        Here are some writing quotes that inspire me:


It's difficult to beat making your living thinking and writing about subjects that matter to you.  
--Eleanor Holmes Norton                                                                                                                                              
We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection.      –Anais Nin
Writing is a good example of self-abandonment. I never completely forget myself except when I am writing and I am never more completely myself than when I am writing.                             --Flannery O'Connor
Be surprised by the crazy, wonderful events that will come dancing out of your past when you stir up the pot of your memory.  
–William Zinsser
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.         
 –Joan Didion
Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.   –Anton Chekhov
I write. The longer I live, the more convinced I've become that I cultivate my truest self in this one way.   –Tom Chiarella
If a writer is constantly concerned with truth, grace, order, and other verities, his inner life just naturally enriches, in proportion to his working.   –William Saroyen
Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth without pity, and destroy most of it.   –Colette
Nothing you write, if you hope to be any good, will ever come out as you first hope.   –William Hellman
Talent isn't enough. You need motivation—and persistence too; what Steinbeck called a blend of faith and arrogance.   –Leon Uris
A great deal of talent is lost to the world for want of a little courage.   –Sydney Smith
As for style of writing, if one has anything to say, it drops from him simply and directly, as a stone falls to the ground.  
–Henry David Thoreau
Writing is always a voyage of discovery.   –Nadine Gordimer
Don't be afraid of giving yourself away for if you write you must. And if you can't face that, better not write.   –Katherine Anne Porter
It is easy to lose sight of the fact that writers do not write to impart knowledge to others, rather, they write to inform themselves.   –Judith Guest
Writing a book is an endurance contest and a war fought against yourself, because writing is beastly hard work which one would just as soon not do. It's also a job, however, and if you want to get paid, you have to work. Life is cruel that way.   –Tom Clancy
Writing is thinking. It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living.   –Anne Morrow Lindbergh
You have to remember why you began to write in the first place: for the fun of it. You have to remember the fun of writing.                 –Jack Myers
What quotes inspire you? Keep them in your Common Book.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

In Love With Valentine's Day

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

Valentine's Day is nearly here, and though for most it symbolizes a day for sweethearts to celebrate their love to one another, I say it's a day of celebrating who and what we love most--regardless of whether it's our spouse, partner, best friend, pet, child or muse!

Personally, I think Valentine's Day gets a bum rap!  People who are tired of running out to spend money on yet another "Hallmark" occasion are frustrated with the spin that gets thrown at us by the world of consumer marketing so that we might take note and shell out a few hard-earned bucks on cards, candy and other sweet trinkets to make this day a memorable one.

If you love what Valentine's Day stands for (or could stand for)--celebrating the people and things you love in life--why not mark the occasion by dedicating your time and energy to just 5 ways you can enjoy this day without spending big bucks or ridiculous oodles of time making it special and memorable?

Here are the five ways that this here writer, mother and baking enthusiast plan on celebrating heart day this year:

  • Write a "love letter" to myself!  OK, stop rolling your eyes!  I know, I know--sounds corny, right?  Well, maybe so, but as I approach my 50th birthday this spring, I'm going to kick off Valentine's Day by writing a letter from me to me in my journal about all the things I admire about myself, have enjoyed doing this past year, and perhaps a few special things I hope to accomplish (both personally and professionally) in the upcoming year.  If we can't validate our own best qualities and attributes on Valentine's Day--then when?

  • I love buying children's Valentine's cards (the ones you can pick up at Wal-mart or a drugstore for $3.99) and passing them out to neighbors, friends and co-workers.  It reminds me and them of those carefree days when we filled a brown paper lunch bag with dozens of Valentine cards from our classmates.   I even leave them for the mailman and drive-thru bank attendants.

  • Baking and cooking are definite passions of mine, so each year on Valentine's Day I find a new cookie recipe and surprise my kids with it for an after school treat.  Last year I did a chocolate fondue with lots of fruits, pretzels, and even cereal mixes.  This year I am making caramel dipped apples with all the fixings like peanut butter cups, M & Ms and cinnamon chips.

  • Pay it Forward.  I'll never forget the time I went to pay a toll on our local Newport bridge and much to my delight was told that the car in front of me had paid my toll!  It was only a $2 payment but the gesture felt like $200!  I love surprising people with a little "pick me up", especially during the drab days of winter, so on Valentine's Day, or thereabouts, I like to pay a few dollars ahead at the coffee shop or other places in town so that it will hopefully make someone feel special like I did all those years ago on the bridge.

  • Smile!  This is the simplest gesture of all during the Valentine's season--and quite frankly, it should be something that is done year round, no matter what!  People are in such a rush these days that they keep their heads buried towards the ground as they run from one activity to the next.  I can't think of a nicer way to "show the love" than to simply share my smile with those I come in contact with at the milk store, dropping off the carpool at school, standing in line at the grocery store and especially when my kids come home from school and I haven't seen them all day long!  A smile is the greatest gift we can give one another, but sadly, it's something we are hesitant to do these days.

How do you "show the love" on Valentine's Day?  It might make a great topic for you to write about!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Reads for Writers: Jennifer Crusie Writes Witty Chick Lit

From Kate's Writing Crate…

        Author Jennifer Crusie was researching women writers and romance novels for her dissertation. After reading about 100 romances, she thought she could write a good one—and she was right. Then she went on to write many bestsellers.

        Her leads are all smart, hard-working women with great friends dealing with the messes in their lives mostly caused by dating Mr. Wrongs. (Although loving, but aggravating family members certainly contribute to these messes). Since, as the saying goes, you have to kiss a lot of frogs before finding your prince, they learn from their mistakes and move on. Their Mr. Rights show up in unexpected places, under unusual conditions, or are unrecognized at first. That's when the fun begins.

        From a writer's perspective, Crusie's descriptions of settings are fantastic. She makes you want to live in some of the homes (Lucy's in Getting Rid of Bradley), visit some of the businesses (the detective agency in Fast Women), and make reservations at the restaurants (especially Emilio's in Bet Me). Also, Crusie's love of food comes across in the detailed descriptions of every dish and the ambiance of the settings where characters enjoy eating these meals.

As she includes in all her books, getting together with your best friends is what keeps women sane. Girl talk, laughter, tears, and unconditional support are as essential as breathing.

        Her takes on men and relationships are funny and truthful. In the end, there are good guys and not-good-for-you guys in this world. Pain is inevitable in either case, but love, commitment, and trust make things bearable until things are resolved. And when you are truly and mutually in love with the right man, there's no better feeling.

Along with all this love, longing, and laughter, Crusie likes to include dogs and the occasional cat in her novels as women can always count on their pets for support and comfort. Some pets are there from the beginning while others make their debuts as part of storylines. However they get into the books, the dogs and cats are all delightful characters, too.

So if you enjoy reading witty Chick Lit—and based on sales, many of us do—I recommend these Jennifer Crusie novels:

Fast Women
Nell Dysart's best friend and sister-in-law, Suze, thinks working as the secretary for a detective agency would be a good way for Nell to start recovering from her over-a-year-ago divorce. Gabe McKenna is not so sure, but since his biggest client is married to Suze and his current secretary has disappeared, he reluctantly agrees. Ever-efficient, Nell starts organizing appointment books, records, past files, and, much to Gabe's dismay, updating the office d├ęcor. She discovers that the previous secretary was embezzling and dealing in secrets and blackmail. Trouble follows once Nell forces the secretary to repay the money and then shares all the bad news with Gabe and his associate, Riley. Nell is also in the doghouse for dognapping a dachshund, along with Suze, for a 'client' on a case Gabe refused to take on. The 'client' then refuses to keep the dog so Nell now has a constant companion. Gabe has never been so angry or so intrigued with a woman, but his life doesn't need any more complications. Too bad because Nell is part of Gabe's destiny as is a long ago murderer who thought certain secrets were buried forever, but now has to kill again.
Bet Me
Actuary Minerva Dobbs, wearer of gray suits but great shoes, gets dumped by her boyfriend, David, who she has not slept with yet, at The Long Shot club a few weeks before her younger sister's perfect wedding. Knowing her mother will be disappointed in her yet again, Min needs a new boyfriend stat. As she puts a plan of action into place with her two best friends, she overhears her now ex-boyfriend betting Cal Morrison that he cannot sleep with Min within one month, but she mishears the response. Min moves away calculating that the handsome Cal can be her wedding escort before she breaks up with him so he loses the bet—or maybe she will sleep with Cal so David will lose the bet. Details to be decided later. For now, dating Cal would solve her biggest problem. After asking her out that same night (a bet he did make), Cal introduces her to Emilio's, an Italian family-run restaurant for 80 years and home of the world's best bread and Chicken Marsala. However, despite the great food, Min cannot see herself dating Cal. Wishing each other well, they go back to their own lives until chance meetings bring them together again and again to discover their mutual love of classic movies like Big Trouble in Little China, Krispy Kreme donuts, and Elvis music although it turns out to be Costello for him and Presley for her. Their families are dysfunctional. Their best friends are dating each other. And their relationship is based on a bad bet everyone thinks Cal made. Are the odds for true love—and a home with Elvis the cat and a dog to be named later—in their favor?
Getting Rid of Bradley
Detective Zack Warren depends on his instincts as well as his training to track down white collar criminals which is why he and his partner, Detective Anthony Taylor, are waiting over an hour in a diner for embezzler John Bradley to show up. Bradley doesn't arrive, but watching two attractive women at another table has made the wait more interesting. The sisters, Lucy and Tina, are celebrating Lucy's divorce from Bradley Porter. As they leave, Lucy [promises her sister], "…As soon as I get home, I will get rid of Bradley." She meant his belongings still in the house, but Zack doesn't know that. He thinks she is involved with his embezzler so he follows her out the door and down an alley where someone takes a shot at her. Lucy thinks Zack is a mugger and fights to get away hitting him in the face with her bag full of textbooks and runs flagging down two cops to arrest Zack. Exhausted, she is too tired to wait for the cops to come back so she leaves her name and address under their windshield wiper and heads home. Frustrated, and tired of being teased about a high school teacher beating him up, Zack goes to Lucy's house for an interview where he meets her three canine housemates. Turns out, Zack's instincts were right. The two Bradleys are connected and someone is out to scare off or hurt Lucy. Since she will not abandon her cozy Victorian dream home, Zack moves in and falls for Lucy and her dogs while learning to cook and keeping them safe from a determined criminal. Luckily for Zack, Lucy is fearless enough to keep him safe, too. Phoebe the cat, living with her owner next door, provides wonderful comic relief in this novel.

Charlie All Night
Radio Producer and untitled-station-manager-everyone-turns-to-in-a-crisis Allie McGuffey has just lost her morning drive show. She thinks it's because her ex-lover and the host of the show wants her out, but, unbeknownst to her, the station owner has hired Charlie Tenniel to investigate a threatening letter sent to the station. Since Allie is the best producer, he needs her to make Charlie's show succeed so no one guesses he is not a real DJ. Allie is angry about the demotion, but not enough not to notice Charlie's good points. Who wouldn't fall for a guy with a smooth voice, sense of humor, love for Mrs. McCarthy's Chinese food, and great hands—especially when he is helping to keep Sampson, an abandoned tiny black Lab puppy, alive by taking his turn bottle feeding him every hour while hosting the Charlie All Night show from 10pm-2am. Pulling out all the stops, Allie is determined to make Charlie a star while he wants to keep a low profile, solve the letter mystery, and move on to his next adventure. Their polar opposite goals lead to a whole lot of friction and a crazy bet. While the investigation comes to a painfully touching conclusion, Charlie debates his wanderlust versus love and lust for Allie. When it comes right down to it, there's only one place Charlie wants to be all night—now he just has to convince the love of his life it's simply wherever she is.
What do you think of Jennifer Crusie's writing style?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Snowy Days and Writing

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

Today, my kids had their 80th snow day off from school this year.  OK, you got me--not really 80, but it sure does feel like it.  Winters in Rhode Island seem to alternate between mild and absolutely freezing including lots of snow, ice and gray, drab days.  This is one of those snowy years for us, although, I'm sure the folks who live in places like Minnesota and upstate New York would laugh out loud if they saw the actual snowfall we get in comparison to their average winters. But for folks here, particularly mothers like myself who have to change their well-laid plans on the turn of a stormy dime, this winter is really taking it's toll.

I had such wonderful intentions for my Wednesday before Mother Nature and Old Man Winter (probably Jack Frost too!) decided they would interrupt my plans and instead I ended up spending the day home with 7 of my 8 kids and their hungry appetites that always accompany  a snow storm.

After making 6 dozen sugar and chocolate chip cookies, serving up at least 8 mugs of hot cocoa, drying off the two dogs a handful of times after they frolicked in the newly built snow forts with my kids, I decided I would take an hour to myself and get inspired with one of my books on writing.

I randomly approached my overflowing bookcase (a nice problem to have!) and grabbed one of my favorite books that practically jumped off the shelf at me--Walking on Alligators, a book of meditations for writers written by Susan Shaughnessy.

This really was the perfect book for me to peruse today because it was completely in sync with my needs--finding a little quiet time to read about my never ending passion to write.

Written over 20 years ago, it's one of the classics--a book that acts as a coach, an old friend, a mentor and always delivers some wit and wisdom and certainly a bit of much needed inspiration when I need it most.

My ritual for reading a book such is this is always the same--I open it to a random page and just start reading.  Today, it was no different and as always, I got just the 'write' fix when I opened to page 35.  Here is the meditation and writing prompt I pondered today.

Talent isn't enough.  In fact, too much talent can stunt good work.  We all remember the classmate whose casual excellence at a sport, a subject--maybe at life itself--presaged a life of stumbling.  This too-talented person never got the hang of holding on.

Discipline is a solitary.  Only you know what you'd rather be doing today.  Perhaps you yearn for a long walk, or a cozy quilt and a good book.  Perhaps you succumb to the "unwanted" interruption to a friend calling with a juicy story.

These treats have their time.  But their time is not the writing time.

The writing time is when your discipline meets your talent.

What awaits you in the refining fire of discipline?

PROMPT.....I'll defer my temptations today.  Today, I am curious about where my discipline may lead me.

Am I ever grateful for this unexpected snow day today.  I got to spend extra time with my family, enjoy some warm chocolate chip cookies, and get refocused and embrace one of the most challenging words in my vocabulary--discipline.

Are you a disciplined writer or do you feel talent is simply enough? 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Out-of-Order Readers

From Kate's Writing Crate…
        As a writer and a reader, I appreciate how much hard work goes into writing one book let alone a series. Thinking through the plotlines, backstories, and over arcing themes takes a lot of effort. Building up characters, relationships, and tension, while keeping a page-turning pace, is not easy. The big payoff is in reading the books in order to reach the climax where everything makes sense.
So could someone please explain to me why there are out-of-order readers?
I loaned a four-book series to an avid reader I thought I knew well. I mentioned to her that each book picked up right where the last book left off. She read the last book first then told me that. Why? There were only four books, how hard is it to read them in order? And why bother reading the first three now?

I have met several people lately who have asked me if the books have to be read in order when I recommend a series. The question baffles me. Of course they should be read that way. The author put a lot of effort into writing his or her books in a certain order. You get to know the characters, see how they grow and develop so why not read them that way? What's the big deal?
Are these people rebels? Lazy? I don't understand why they bother reading series books. There are plenty of stand-alone books. Why not stick to those?
If you are an out-of-order reader, please explain why. Thank you.