A Little Pick-Me-Up

Do you send short pieces to magazines, newspapers, online sites or contests?

Writing a novel can be a long, arduous process and taking a break once in a while is fun.  If I run across a request for an article or “name that caption” or other feature, I sometimes stop and write a short piece just to give myself a break from writing my novel.  It invigorates me and helps me change my mindset enough that new ideas spring forth for my novel.  It’s like taking a walk after sitting through a three-hour conference.

Today I saw a blurb in a magazine about “sharing your secrets to a happy marriage.”  I thought it would be fun to think about and jot some things down.  My husband and I are celebrating a milestone anniversary in June so it seemed like a timely subject to consider.

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Most of the time, the little articles or blurbs don’t bring any money in, but I am surprised by the number of people who see some of the things I have written.  It’s fun to hear their comments.  It reaffirms that maybe I do have something to write about and contribute to people’s enjoyment.

I once wrote a blurb for the city newspaper’s “Name the Caption” segment that they publish every Friday.  The picture was of several Canadian geese crossing the road at a stoplight.  Several geese (20-30) were stopped in the middle of the street.  Some looked as if they were watching for traffic.  Most of the geese were facing away from the camera with their backs to the reader.  My caption was “Your incessant honking is not going to make the light change any faster.”  I received so many positive comments from people on that one little sentence.

Another time I sent a short piece to a publication that was looking for “Hidden Gems.”  I had just visited a high school friend who lives in a small town.  I found it interesting that the little town of 2,200 people had some very unique features.

Its water tower had a baseball player painted on it.  I found out that a famous major league player grew up in the little town in the 1900’s. Because of that claim-to-fame, the town had a baseball museum. Image www.nebraskabaseballmuseum.com/home.html 

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My husband and I decided to tour the museum.  First, we had to call the telephone number of the gentleman who had the keys and wait for him to come unlock the doors.  His number was on the front door. By the time he arrived another couple had shown up to see the museum.  

I was very impressed with the little museum as well as an area near the municipal hall where buildings from the 1880’s had been preserved.

Gate to historic village

 We ate a restaurant that held over 3,000 cookie jars.  With the baseball museum, the historic village and the cookie jar restaurant, I decided this truly was a hidden gem.  I wrote the article and it was published.  People in the small town were thrilled.  My friend called me their goodwill ambassador.

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The Sweet Shop (the cookie jar restaurant)

As a writer, I constantly look for interesting things, places and people.  I “store” them away in my mind until I find a story to put them in.  Sometimes they end up in a short story or sentence that I submit for publication.

None of these pieces have taken much time or effort to write, yet I have received many accolades for their creation.

I enjoy writing short pieces as I write my novel.  It is like having a cool beer on a hot day–a little something to cool down the overloaded senses and pick up the spirit.

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

What prevents us from writing?  Why can’t we write at times?  We come up with all kinds of excuses.

Excuse #1  “I am too busy.”

Being too busy means you don’t want to do it.  If we really want to do something, we make the time; we prioritize.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=oYBzDst25Bo

Excuse #2  Children and other distractions.

I have a friend who has 11 children and has managed to write three novels in the past couple of years.  Her advice? Write when you can, even if for just a few minutes before bed or after getting the children off to school and the baby is sleeping.  Keep your workload expectations low, but be persistent in writing every day.  Some days writing is squeezed into 5 minute intervals.  Other days longer periods are possible.

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Excuse #3 Fear of failure.

Sometimes our expectations are too high so we don’t write because we are afraid we will “fail.” Maybe we think we aren’t good enough, that we don’t deserve to be a writer.  When we let the fear of failure stop us, we are focused on the end product, not the process of creativity.  We have forgotten how much fun it is just to write.  Overcome fear by doing.  Sit down and write just for fun and see what happens.

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Excuse #4 “I am not inspired.”

What are you waiting for?  A cloud to open up and the sun to shine down on you?  By thinking you are uninspired, you are missing the things that could be inspiration for you.  Clear your head of the negativity and look around.  There is inspiration everywhere.  Erma Bombeck used to write about mundane things like cookie sheets.  Use your imagination.  Try some writing prompts and see where they lead.  Image

Excuse #5 “This is not the right moment.”

When is the “right moment?”  Waiting for the bus, sitting in the airport, taking a coffee break at work–consider all the times you are doing nothing.  I tend to “write” in the shower.  Some of my best ideas come to me in the morning as I get ready for work.  I mull them over in my mind during the day, then come home and put them down on paper.  Sometimes I make little notes throughout the day so I don’t forget a particular scene or dialogue that I have thought of in the course of my work.

Woody Allen said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”  Show up in your moment and write.  Worry about the rewrite later.  Get it down on paper.

Tropical Island

Excuse #6  Writers’ Block

I may be an exception, but I haven’t experienced writers’ block, unless I don’t have a clear idea of what it is.  I have had times when I didn’t know what to write next, but it soon passed as I relaxed or distracted myself momentarily.  I have written scenes where suddenly I don’t know what happens next, but I keep writing through it, producing many poor images and sentences until finally, my writing breaks through.  I think the answer to writers’ block is to relax and don’t put expectations on your writing at that point.  Your story will come back.  Don’t give up.  Keep writing.  “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” (Thomas Edison) Instead, dress your writers’ block in a frilly pink princess dress and top it off with a sparkly tiara.  Relax and enjoy the ride.

Princess with Flower

Excuse #7 “My idea isn’t original enough.”

“There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) Yet, everything is new when seen through different eyes.

One day I told a friend that I felt like I was regurgitating ideas that others had before me.  I didn’t feel like my material was “fresh.”  Other people had written about the same topic. (I was writing a non-fiction piece at the time.)  My friend, a photographer, listened and put it in perspective for me. “I can take a photo of the Grand Canyon that hundreds of other photographers have taken, but mine will be unique.” She explained that we all have a “different eye” or take on things.

Our ideas may seem similar, but unless you plagiarize another’s works, your writing is original.  So what if we both write about a big red barn in the middle of Kansas?  The words we use, the images we create, will be slightly different.

Excuse #8  “I need to do more research.”

Whether you think you need to do marketing research or content research, don’t let it stop your writing.

I love to do content research and it shows in some of my non-fiction pieces.  When I write non-fiction, research is my favorite part.  There are times I find so much material for a story, I get lost in the research and forget about writing the story.  I enjoy learning new things or finding more depth in a subject I am familiar with.  I have to force myself to stop and write the article or story.

As for marketing research, I don’t care for it.  About the extent of my marketing research is looking at a Writers Market now and then.  I have friends who frequent the book stores and look up books in their genre, study the book, checking who published it, reading the first line of each chapter, then going home and googling the author(s).  I feel guilty for not doing the same, but I find it tedious and uninteresting.  It may hinder my “success” to a certain extent, but not enough for me to change my behavior.

It seems the best thing to do is to set aside time for both writing and research.  One author I know spends one day a week doing marketing research and the rest of the week she writes.

I attended a writers’ workshop once in my early years where the speaker said, “Getting published is 40% writing and 60% marketing.”  Unsure where he got his statistics, I preferred not to pay attention to those numbers.

Maybe I’m like my writer-friend in Chicago who believed her writing was “channeled” to her and therefore couldn’t be edited. Maybe I am living in Lala-land, not accepting that I need to do more marketing research.  For now, I will stick to writing and let the chips fall where they may.

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Excuse #9 “Paying the bills is more important than writing.”

“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.”  ―     Nassim Nicholas Taleb

We all need an income in order to live.  Many of us have regular jobs.  I, for one, am fortunate at this stage of my life that I have the freedom to work a flexible schedule, only working a couple days a week, allowing time to write on my days off.  (Of course, I also have errands to run and household chores to do like everyone else.)  The trap is–“How much money do I need?”  I can work more often if I choose, but that cuts into my writing time.  It’s a double-edged sword.  Nursing pays much better than writing, but I am more passionate about writing.  I am blessed to have these options.  I enjoy being a nurse, especially in the NICU with the tiny babies, but writing is my addiction.  There have been times when it has been busy at work and I have been asked to come in.  Rather than turning them down, I have thought about the paycheck and it has trumped writing that day.

The key here is priority.  If you have a healthy attitude towards money and don’t think you need all the gadgets with the bells and whistles, then your writing will not suffer.  People who have full-time jobs still manage to find time to write.  It is important to them, so they find the time.

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Excuse #10 _____________ (Fill in the blank)

What is your excuse for not writing?

writing procrasination

Life Interrupted

John Lennon wrote that “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  What happens when life gets in the way of writing?

Most writers I know don’t have the luxury of lolling about,  sitting in their quiet private room, or like JD Salinger, hiding away in a secluded bungalow, writing for days without disturbances.  Many of us have children to raise, other jobs to commute to, groceries to buy, errands to run, and  interruptions to contend with.  We struggle to find time to sit down and put pen to paper or pound out prose on the computer.

So, here I am, at 3:15 a.m., at the computer, sorting out my thoughts.  I tell myself, “You can’t do this.  You have things that need to be done later.  You will be tired.  Go back to bed.”  But my brain won’t allow it.  I must write and get it out of my system.

Writing has a way of coming out whether I want it to or not.  It always wins.  If I try to suppress it or put it off, it festers and nags at me until I finally let it happen.  No matter if I spend the day dealing with a repairman or if I work a 12-hour shift at the hospital, the Muse must be reckoned with.  If not, I am miserable and discontented.  Like symptoms in an illness, the words must be expelled.  The gut must be quieted.  The fever must be cooled.  The headache must be massaged.  The thoughts must be regurgitated onto paper, no matter how poorly written or rough.  Once out, I can move on and take care of worldly matters.

It is hard to relent to the power of the Muse.  I struggle to break free from my thoughts, but until they are put into words, I cannot rest.  Sleepless, I write, not knowing if any gems will pour out from my brain, if I will hit the mother lode or if this is just another batch of fools’ gold.  It doesn’t really matter.  What matters is the act of writing it down, getting it out.

Writing is organic to me.  Since childhood, I have feasted on all that life has to offer.  I create characters based on my past relationships and encounters.  I imagine scenes and “what ifs” to create the background and stories.  I remember distinct voices from the past that lend dialogue to my characters,  I exaggerate characteristics I have seen, adding quirks and flaws in my heroes and heroines.  This magnificent feast of which I have been privileged to partake must be digested and used.  Energy must be released.  If not, my brain becomes too full.  So, I sit here now, clicking away at the keyboard, writing down my feelings and thoughts, trying to make sense of them.  If others share in the experience, so be it.  I am willing to share in my feast of thoughts.  But like going to a new restaurant, we never know for sure how the meal will turn out until we dig in.

Chicago at night _Tribune tower (I think)

Taking the Zero to Hero Challenge

Here I am, clueless, starting the “Zero to Hero” challenge, hoping to learn along the way.

Why am I here? Because I like to write and am looking for another outlet to explore and more audiences to enlighten with my prose (or more like, send out of the room, seeking escape.)

I have been a writer since birth, making my first mark with inky footprints that resembled quotation marks. I am currently working on a historical urban fantasy (How’s that for a genre?) My main character has flashbacks to his youth in the 1960’s-70’s, recalling the “simpler times” and historic events such as the race to the moon, Sputnik visible to the naked eye as it satellites across the dark summer sky, the days of unlocked doors and safety (but was it truly “safe?”). He remembers his college years of student demonstrations, women’s lib, Black Panther movement, civil rights, Vietnam. He remembers his college sweetheart whom he has not seen in over 20 years. All this while sitting in a car in a neatly organized garage.

I am experimenting with writing each chapter from a different point of view. So, my main male character is speaking in one chapter and my main female character is speaking in another. My main female character is reminiscing about her youth as well.

Both are in cars. The male character is in a locked car with the engine running and the female character is driving down the highway with the radio playing “Golden Oldies.” Will they meet?

It is an urban fantasy because there is a unearthly figure in the story and the story is set primarily in two cities.

This is my first novel and a very personal story. I haven’t devoted a lot of time to it in the last couple of years because it was getting to be “too close for comfort.” I believe I am ready to return to it.

I have written several non-fiction inspirational pieces and am published in several anthologies including a Chicken Soup for the Soul book. I have written magazine and newsletter articles as well.

As for topics, I love research and tend to write about things I am interested in. I may delve into Irish folklore, customs and possibly local Irish entertainment. I may explore the possibility of a “How To” blog for organizing high school and other reunions. I will likely add some inspirational stories as well. I am not sure if I should do all this on one blog or create a blog for each topic I come up with.

Who would I like to connect with via my blog? I would like other writers to read my blog, other nurses, publishers, and anyone interested in the topics I will cover. If I am successful with the “Zero to Hero” challenge, I would hope for an interesting blog that appeals to hundreds of people and inspires them to react in a positive way.