Monday, April 28, 2014

Reads for Writers: Mary Oliver 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.

            Dogs are essential to my life. They are the best combination of company, security, and joy. Always there, wagging their tails, laying at my feet while I'm writing, watching for trouble from rogue squirrels to possible robbers, and yet ready to play, walk, run, or nap as my schedule allows, i.e., the perfect companions.

Poet Mary Oliver feels the same kinship. She celebrates her canine companions in her latest book, Dog Songs: Thirty-five Dog Songs and One Essay. As she describes them, dogs are bundles of longing, steadfast, romping, wolfish, roving, and, obedient or not, always beautiful. Every dog-owning reader will recognize the universal truths in these loving poems.

Accompanied by detailed sketches, Oliver's observations capture the delightful moments of living with dogs as they make themselves at home on couches, race along beaches, or crouch in long grass on daily walks.

Devoted to her dogs, Oliver makes sure her university teaching contracts allow them to attend her classes. (Don't we all wish our dogs were with us at work, too!)

As she describes in her poem, "The Poetry Teacher" on page 39 (paraphrased here): …"her dog with pals, and occasionally an unknown dog or two, arrive thirsty and happy to class. They drink from the bowl of water she keeps there and then fling themselves down among the students who are then inspired to write thirsty, happy poems."

Some poems are happy, others pensive and tragic. Sadly, as soon as the word dog appears in a title, readers know there will be an unhappy ending. Dogs' lives are simply too short—and yet longer lives would mean only more heartbreak for us. The overwhelming upside is the never ending joy dogs feel and share with us.

We live deeper, better lives with dogs around. We are outside every day, paying attention to sights and sounds we usually ignore, and imaging scents we cannot smell but are strong enough to beckon our dogs to walk faster and linger longer.

Dogs are alert and truly alive—a great lesson for writers everywhere!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

An Unofficial Guide to Goodreads For Readers and Writers

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

I've always been one of those people who believes everything (good or bad) happens for a reason.  Just ask any of my 8 kids, and they will tell you wholeheartedly that their mother rarely misses an opportunity to tout this mantra.  Just this morning, in fact, I didn't blink an eye when my car battery died while waiting for my daughter to finish softball practice.  It was my own fault--sitting in a rainy parking lot outside the gym and turning off my car but forgetting to turn off the lights--all while leaving the key turned on so I could charge my dead cell phone.  An hour later my daughter got in the car after practice and that was when I discovered we weren't going anywhere.

Sure I was a tad frustrated with myself for having forgotten to turn the lights off, but there wasn't much I could do about it then so I turned to my daughter and said "I'm sure there's a reason this happened.  Maybe we would've been in a car accident if we had left right when you finished practice."   She knew enough not to question my line of thinking because at age 18, she's grown up listening to these rationalizations of mine, so she smiled and said "You're probably right, Mom."  (Smart girl!).

Within 1/2 hour we were up and running again after my oldest son drove down to the school gym and jumped my car.  I used that time to do some reading and my daughter actually took a quick nap--so we were both no worse for the wear.

This past week I've had 6 sick children.  It also happened to be school vacation week here in Rhode Island so I suppose you could look at it two ways:  1.  Poor kids--what a lousy way to spend school vacation week.  2.  Poor kids--but at least they didn't miss a week of school and get behind in their work.

Believe me, they were thinking the first reason, and after I struggled with a stomach virus myself for a couple of days I was thinking we needed a third way to look at it--SEND HELP--because when mom is down and out it's never a pretty sight for anyone in the family.

Because of our bout with the flu this past week, my beloved Thursday post never happened.  These were circumstances beyond my control so I really don't feel guilty or badly--especially because I am sure that even sickness happens for a reason (not always easy to buy into that one, but I still try.)

As proof to myself, however, that even this past week with an entire sick family must have some rhyme or reason to it, I discovered a wonderful new e-book that was written by an intern that works with me at Macmillan Publisher's.  The author is Nicole Dionisio and the name of her e-book is An Unofficial Guide to Goodreads for Readers and Writers.

Goodreads is like a personal assistant for all book lovers.  You simply sign up for free, and then submit what titles or genres you’ve enjoyed in the past, and they'll give you surprisingly insightful recommendations.  

Nicole's book shares the ins and outs of all that Goodreads has to offer.  I found so many wonderful tips from this e-book, and I think you will find it extremely helpful as well. If we hadn't been home sick, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to stumble upon this great resource so I'm considering this find one of my "silver linings" of the difficulties we faced last week with so many ill people in our house. I encourage you to click on the link above and maybe you'll realize that your reading my belated post happened for a good reason to you.

If you already know about Goodreads, do you feel this is a helpful tool with your reading and writing? 

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Tale of Two Assignments on Deadline

From Kate's Writer's Crate…

The reality of writing and editing professionally means never missing a deadline. Never—unless you are unconscious or dead or a there is a family emergency. Since I am neither, happily, and there is no emergency, I find myself having to write a post and an essay on the same day.

Usually, I write my posts a few days to a few weeks in advance. However, this has been a busy month: A delightful five-day visit with my favorite person; a beyond-my-control magazine deadline that also included eight extra pages to fill and edit at the last minute; reading a book for an author event on top of my regular reading for this blog and just for fun, a scarcity of ideas for my post as it is not a book review week, and regular life activities.

Luckily, I write pretty well under pressure. The tricky part is catching the extra errors I make while rushing to finish.

        To meet both deadlines, I will write the post until I run out of thoughts. Then I will switch to the essay. I will go back and forth until I am done taking only necessary breaks. This is my punishment for procrastinating even with good, fun, and work-related reasons.

        Writers must take their books, articles, and projects seriously. Make time for them. Meet the deadlines even if it means working long days or losing sleep.

        Editors count on writers meeting deadlines. Remember every writer's piece has to be edited for errors, sometimes for length, and sometimes for content which takes time to complete before placement in a magazine layout or book folio, and then the proofing begins.

        If writers are late, it's the editors who feel the time crunch. Advertisers are guaranteed a published date online or in print. Printers have tight schedules not easily rearranged. Editors cannot be late so they lose sleep, breaks and lunch hours…whatever it takes. That's why they appreciate reliable writers who meet deadlines or acknowledge any delays as far in advance as possible.

        Magazine editors can rearrange the order they edit pieces so an extra day or two could be squeezed out for writers who need more time, but editors will be less likely to rely on those writers in future issues unless they already have strong relationships or they are famous.

Dependable writers get more assignments which is why I am completing both my assignments on time. True, my post is for fun, but a deadline is a deadline. It is just that simple.

WRITER'S NOTE: My post last week was completed three days early. However, I scheduled it for the wrong Monday as I was in a hurry to finish preparing for my guest so it was published hours late. Rushing leads to errors!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Why Writers Need Editors

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

When I first began writing, I didn't really know much about editors and what they would mean to me.  I knew an editor's job was to make corrections to improve a writer's piece, but I honestly didn't think much about it until I had been writing for a magazine for a good six months to a year.

It was then I gradually began to see how how each of my articles went from good to very good or great to outstanding.  My editor was a fresh set of eyes and was always able to make my finished writing pieces look even better.

If you're a writer who hasn't been published yet or  has not had the experience of working with a professional editor, let me share some information with you on this wonderful profession in the world of writing--the editor:

An editor polishes and refines, he/she directs the focus of the story or article or movie along a particular course. He/she cuts out what doesn’t fit, what is nonessential to the purpose of the story. He/she enhances the major points, drawing attention to places where the audience should focus.
Many fields make use of editors—film, video, magazine, newspaper, blog, and book, both fiction and non-fiction. A task common to all is to ensure that the product they produce is the best it can be in the time available and with the resources available.
Newspapers/MagazinesThere are several levels of editors at newspapers and magazines.
Editor in chief or editor at-large—Responsible for the type of content produced by their newspapers or magazines, the look of the product, and the nature and number of stories/articles to be written.
Managing editor—Works under the most senior editor. Directs writers to particular stories. May write some of the stories. May be responsible for one section of a newspaper (business or style or local news) or magazine. May write headlines or may delegate that task to others.
Copy editor—Responsible for checking article facts and ensuring that an article matches in-house style guides. Also checks spelling, grammar, and punctuation. May also suggest word changes to keep the newspaper or magazine from being sued. May arrange layout of articles and sidebars. Copy editors might write headlines.
Depending on the size and scope of the publication, a newspaper or magazine editor may perform a combination of the tasks mentioned above. Their job is to see that interesting and/or informative articles are produced in a timely and accurate manner, with no factual errors and few writing errors.

A competent editor finds these elusive gaps and goofs.  The editor does not rewrite an author’s work, does not interfere with an author’s unique voice or style. The editor is simply another tool in the writer’s quiver; a tool that helps the author move information seamlessly from inside the brain to the page.

Editors want your story to be successful. Editors read. They write. They love words and the millions of stories that can be crafted from them. They assemble parts of a manuscript as if they were puzzle pieces, putting them together to make a fascinating and appealing picture, a picture that readers will want to explore in depth.
They are typically picky, sticklers for what they believe is right, opinionated, and determined. They often have a great eye for detail, a strong vocabulary, and knowledge of odd grammar rules.
 They enjoy working with—and playing with—words.
Editors are enhancers. They work to make what is good better, what is great, outstanding. They challenge writers. They challenge themselves.
Now that you have a better understanding of what an editor does, you can probably see what a valuable asset they are to writers.  I know I would  never want to be a professional writer without an excellent editor by my side--what about you?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Writers and Their Notebooks

From Kate's Writer's Crate…


        If you are a writer or really want to be one, writing in notebooks is, I believe, essential. Not sure what to write about or need inspiration, read Writers and Their Notebooks edited by Diana M. Raab where 24 writers, including Sue Grafton and John DuFresne, expound upon and/or share excerpts from their notebooks.

        This thought-provoking book is divided into five parts:


Part 1—The Journal as Tool

James Brown (page 8): Writers…need to hang on to our experiences, both the crushing and the joyous, and through reflection, either by keeping a journal before we begin a project or during its writing, we hope to come to a better understanding of who we are, what we've become, and where we are going. That's where you'll find your best stories, the ones that makes sense of the chaos we call our lives.

Sue Grafton (page 9): The most valuable tool I employ in the writing of a private eye novel is the working journal…from "C" Is for Corpse on, I've kept a daily log of work in progress. This notebook (usually four times longer than the novel itself) is like a letter to myself, detailing every idea that occurs to me as I proceed.


Part 2—The Journal for Survival

Kathleen Gerard (page 63): [After the unexpected death of her father when she was 14]…My early efforts at keeping a journal were sporadic, and what I conveyed was rather repetitive. But that was the beauty of it—there were no rules…My journal became a safe place where my voice and my feelings could finally be heard, and my perceptions counted.


Part 3—The Journal for Travel

Wendy Call (page 87): My journal is like a nest, a tangle of shiny trinkets and bits of string: words, sentence fragments, disconnected paragraphs, pages torn from magazines, photographs, even small objects glued into holes I've carved into pages…Dorothy Allison calls her writer's journal "a witness, a repository, and a playground.

Bonnie Morris (page 98): A date with my journal is the most pleasant of outings. Off we go to the movies, where so many strange childhood memories float to the surface in the twenty minutes before the lights go down. Everyone wonders if I'm a film critic. But no…I'm using that comfy, faux-velvet chair time, Junior Mints melting on my tongue, to write about last week's insult or this year's romance or any number of thoughts.


Part 4—The Journal as Muse

John DuFresne (page 119): You're a writer now, and a writer writes. Any time, any place. That's his or her job. So take your tools with you wherever you go. The Muse is as likely to sit across the bar from you as to come by your office for a chat, and you want to be prepared when she taps you on the shoulder…


Part 5—The Journal for Life

Kyoko Mori (page 160): I allow my thoughts to roam and meander rather than come to the point of order too soon. In the process, I usually discover that my mind is not as empty as I feared. There are a lot of ideas I've been tossing around, and they even have an overall pattern and direction…In my notebook, I can look for the story I would tell…

(Kyoko Mori also loves writing with a blue Pilot Vball pen—although extra fine instead of fine point.)


At the end, Editor Diana M. Raab wrote: Appendix I: Use Journaling to Spark Your Writing listing tips and Appendix II: A Journaling Workout listing writing prompts.

        A long list of sources and further readings at the end of the book provides even more inspiration.

        Since most writers work alone, it is comforting to find others who keep notebooks and are willing to open them up to fellow scribes.

How do you feel about writing in n

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Marketing Techniques for Writers

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

With each passing day, I, as a writer, strive to improve my craft as well as to start earning a regular income from something I love to do immensely.

Many writers consider themselves introverts and would rather be holed up in a small space, alone, writing to their hearts content rather than think about "putting their stuff" or "themselves" out there for the public to scrutinize.

I happen to be just the opposite.  (And please forgive me if I sound a bit full of myself! When you're the mother of 8 kids, 5 of them teenagers, there's not too much one can be afraid of!) I guess you'd call me the stereotypical "social butterfly".  I don't mind sharing my written words with the world, in fact, I rather enjoy it.

So where am I going with all this you ask?  I'll get right to the point.  As an author of one book, a columnist and writing enthusiast of freelance articles, and more, I have a dream of being able to earn a living from my writing.  Though I consider myself quite lucky that I've achieved many paid and unpaid writing gigs at this point in my career, I truthfully believe I could do a heck of a lot better---if----if I became a bit more savvy with my marketing skills.

Yes, some writing assignments have easily fallen in my lap, but there are plenty of opportunities that still await and if I don't do something to acquire them then who will?

The past few weeks I've been researching all kinds of ways to rev up my writing opportunities and stumbled upon a great article written by Carol Tice entitled 5 Quick Ways Busy Freelancers Can Keep Marketing.

You can visit the link above to read the entire article, but I'll share with you the one tip from these five that I intend to begin working on:  Submitting more queries.  One of my writing inspirations for 2014 is to do at least one freelance article for a national woman's magazine.  To date, I've done nothing to make that happen but I am inspired by the tip below and intend to get cracking on some queries this weekend.  Here's the author's Tip # 4:

Short bursts
If you want to send letters of introduction or query letters and feel like you never have time for a multi-hour writing project, you can get it done by splitting up the task into 10- or 15-minute tasks.
Today, just write the introductory paragraph, or maybe do a quick pre-interview with a source so your query has a quote. Tomorrow, write your bio line that’ll go at the bottom. And so on, until your query is ready to send.
Time management is one of my biggest challenges, so this quick marketing tip will hopefully guide me in the "write" direction so I can attain some more assignments and keep doing something I absolutely love to do--write!
How do you fit in some quick and necessary marketing strategies with your busy schedule?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Freeing Your Life with Words

From Kate's Writing Crate…

            In honor of Poetry Month and to hone writing skills, I recommend reading Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge. Her 60 essays reveal ways to notice more details and ask more questions about everyday things—even names, colors, words—that we take for granted. She also suggests creative projects.

        Among my favorite essays is On a Night Picnic on page 44 where the author, her daughter, Elizabeth, and a family friend who "loves to create small occasions" pack a picnic, get into a canoe, and row out from shore to enjoy a meteor shower.

        "…we saw very few shooting stars. But Elizabeth noticed that whenever we moved a paddle or hand in the water it lit up as if Tinker Bell had sprinkled magic light into the sound. The starry show turned out to be beneath, not above us—from phosphorescent plankton…(page 45)

        Wooldridge notes this "ordinary magic" that takes place in our regular lives is as worthy of poetry (or whatever writing form we like) as life-altering moments.

        In her essay Stirring the Sky on page 132, the author notes how her young children inspire her.

        "Children naturally see and express things in a fresh way before we teach them the "right" way… [her children have asked] What would happen if the moon burned? Do bees pee? Are flowers afraid of scissors?..." (page 133)

        While I don't remember this, my mother told me that when I was three I was watching glowing embers fly up the chimney of our wood burning fireplace. I turned to her and asked, "Is this how stars are born?" How I wish I still asked questions like that today.

        We shouldn't be surprised most of us do not ask questions like that as, according to Carl Jung in Wooldridge's essay Listening to Our Shadows on page 76, "…that when we turn about seven we separate from and then bury or repress whatever parts of us don't seem to be acceptable in the world around us." Luckily, Wooldridge then suggests ways to reconnect with ourselves.

        In her essay The Image Angel on pages 149-150, Wooldridge shares: "Images often appear as messages from the unconscious, especially in dreams or daydreams. Sometimes important images appear in the real world…We need to pay attention…We can follow them to see where they lead in our writing and our lives…

        "The image angel, I think, is an aspect of the muse. She brings me images from the outside, while the muse helps me see and listen within myself." 

        Pay attention! Patterns and images often appear in our writing and our lives, but we have to notice them, think about them, and discover what they mean to us. Notebooks and journals come in handy for recording and delving into them whenever they occur.

        I admire poets. They live in the same world we do, but have different skill sets so they see and hear inspiration everywhere.

With conscious effort until it becomes ingrained habit, we can, too.

What images and/or questions inspire you?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Vision Boards Help Writers Keep on Writing!

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

One of the reasons I enjoy being a writer so much is because I love to visualize (don't most writers?).  No matter what I'm writing--a humorous family column, a chapter from my novel, even my grocery or to-do list--I usually have a pretty clear vision of what the outcome will be.  Well, let me clarify that a bit--I don't always have the piece written exactly as I'd like while I'm working on it, but I have always had the ability to picture the completed article as something I will be pleased with during the process of writing.

For example, last week I was working on a column I write each month for a local magazine that deals with different boutiques and shops.  After visiting this funky and very eclectic gift shop in town I couldn't wait to get started putting it all together on paper.  I rushed home to my Writer's Crate only to be deterred by my 7 kids who actually wanted me to serve them dinner!  Ah yes, my writing would have to wait until my family's needs were met.

Two days later, I finally sat down to work on my shopping column.  Frustrated just a bit that I hadn't been able to write when the details of this magical little shop were fresh in my mind I closed my eyes and imagined myself back in the store gleaning all the delightful items that were displayed so artfully throughout the shop.  I then envisioned myself capturing the essence of the store's personality from beginning to end on paper--with the final result being a completed article that I felt great about and that I hoped the store owner would enjoy.  When I get myself into this zone, I can usually create a final piece that I'm happy with.

One tool I've had fun using to help keep my writer's momentum going strong is a vision board.  If you're familiar at all with "The Law of Attraction" you may already know about vision boards. 

In the most literal sense, a vision board is a collection of images and notes attached to a board and placed somewhere that you can see it every day.  But truthfully, it's so much more!  For me, it's an inspired daily reminder of my deepest desires and is a very powerful writing tool.  When I look at the writer's vision board I created for myself it allows me to focus on my deepest writing desires--becoming a best-selling author, a syndicated columnist, author of a children's book and a regular contributor to a national woman's magazine to name a few items.  This visual reminder gets my juices flowing when I need a push to keep on writing.

Here's an example of a vision board that uses quotes for inspiration.

If you'd like some more information on how to create a powerful vision board of your own, you can download a free e-book written by Christine Kane called The Complete Guide to Vision Boards.  There are also many on-line articles available that can guide you as well.

Vision boards can be used for any area of your life that you'd like to focus on.  I  have two vision boards--one for family life and one for my writer's life.  Do you use visual tools to help feed your muse?