Sometimes inhabiting a fictional world makes me cranky and impatient. Other times, as I am building a fantastical world to share, it makes me joyful and hopeful. Excuse me, but lately I've been in the cranky and impatient stage. When I write fiction, I don't pull out the index cards and start plotting until AFTER my characters have started inhabiting the pages. I don't write the complete draft without some outline, but I like to start taking notes and writing to get to know my characters. Sometimes my characters make me a little cranky because I can't quite figure out how the scenes are to play out. I have an idea in my head and characters to inhabit a storyline, but we haven't all quite figured it out yet. For months, on this particular story, I have been taking notes, mind mapping, doodling and clutching a pad of paper to catch all my character and plot notes. In the other hand, I am clutching kids forms for school, my 2-year old and other real world reminders. Some days, it gets a little messy. So yesterday, I took a small break from my family (both real and fictional). I went to the bookstore. I walked amidst the aisles of the books I hope mine will someday inhabit. It felt good to get away and remind myself that reading lives on (even for those without a Kindle) and to remember what it is I hope to accomplish. My crankiness subsided as I returned to my notebook, my research books and my family. Even when in the throes of creating, sometimes it is restorative to to get out and away from all the projects demanding your attention and just have a quiet experience. Hopefully, it will chase the crankiness away and put you in a good mindset to plop into your writing seat, which is where I am now and feeling joyful again.
Elizabeth King Humphrey is a certified Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coach and freelance writer. She also blogs at www.CoastalCarolinaMoms.com and www.TheWriteElizabeth.com, delving into creativity in everyday places. She appreciates your patience with her cranky start to the week.
Now, I know why I do not write my blog entries in advance...for days like this. I just stumbled across a fun reading on Huffington Post. While I haven't checked out the "dissertation haiku" website yet, I found some amusing examples in this article. I knew I wanted to write about academic writing today, as that's all I have on my mind right now, between all the rounds of final edits I have on articles and a book review at the moment. It's a tad hard to think outside of that proverbial box.
That's the thing with those of us who write in academic circles. We take forever with our work (for example, this book review was submitted late last year and is only now going to print soon). When exhaustion or ennui with a given topic sets in, we get really silly. I remember in graduate school, doing something similar when I just felt I couldn't get anywhere with a particular assignment. I would write short poems or rhymes about topics ranging from primates/monkeys (when studying biological anthropology) to quips about an exchange that day in class. These did what they needed to (make me laugh a minute and unwind), but did little to get the term paper to a more advanced level of intellectual inquiry. All the while, those files stored away on random USB/flash drives still make me chuckle all these years later. While this "dissertation haiku" shows how academic writers can pare down an entire dissertation/conclusion of a dissertation project in a form of few syllables/words, it got me thinking of how much "non-academic" writing comes into existence in graduate school and while writing dissertations that goes unread if it were not for a project such as this.
Therefore, while I never wrote a dissertation, I have had those moments where summing up an academic thought or worry in a haiku made the most sense and best use of my time. Having received yet another email incorrectly addressing me as a Dr. just yesterday from an academic publisher, I can only hope someday, after starting a doctoral program and birthing a behemoth dissertation (as the analogy of writing a dissertation is often giving birth to a child), I could make a nice contribution to this dissertation haiku project. It would only be an apropos way to celebrate the rite of passage.
Now, the question begs to be asked. Are there similar sites where you all go to write out some silly lines to stave off frustrations and writer's block moments outside of academia/university circles in a public environ (not for competition or financial gains, but rather, just to show your humor)? If so, feel free to leave the URLs/website addresses for others who may need that same type of laughing moment currently. After all, all of us probably have some random "haiku" written in a miscellaneous folder on our computers or on scrap paper by our desks. That or it's something we should all start to do.
by LuAnn Schindler You're conducting research for a piece about World War I. Along the way, you scour through books, look through microfilmed newspapers, but you want more. You want to glimpse at objects that document the journey of a soldier. Where can you find these objects? Begin at the National Archives.
The National Archives and Record Administration is the nation's record keeper, documenting the business conducted by the U.S. Federal government. According to the Archive's website, only 1 - 3 percent of the documents and materials created in the course of business are kept for legal and historical reasons.
But here, at the archives, you can discover a world of knowledge about a variety of historical topics about ordinary citizens. Established in 1934, the National Archives contain holdings dating as far back as 1775. And in the Internet age, the Archives also maintains electronic records. Imagine the possibilities!
The Archives aren't all housed in Washington, D.C. The nation is divided into nine regions, and these regional facilities house valuable records from the territory it represents. Additionally, each regional facility contains holdings for certain Federal agencies. Documents are stored in temperature-controlled storage areas. Preserving these precious documents is a primary objective. Visitors can observe records, and strict handling regulations are enforced.
Last October, I visited the Southeast Region Archive, located in Morrow, Georgia. Here, records from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee are stored.
While touring the immense facility, I made a personal discovery: all 24 million original WWI draft cards remain in existence at this Archives location. My grandfather served in this war, and I knew I wanted a copy to share with my family.
The process of retrieving the record was simple: I filled out an online form, paid the $5 fee, and within 48 hours, I received a digital copy, complete with my grandfather's signature. It's such a powerful feeling to hold that piece of family history!
In the lobby of the Southeast Archives, learn firsthand about our nation's history. Over 500 quality facsimiles of regional holdings show the paths of the famous and infamous. It's a breathtaking look of the history that defines us as a nation.
The Southeast facility offers these original records:
Draft cards. All Word War I draft registration cards are here. Word War II , Korea, and Vietnam-era draft cards for the states covered by the Southeast region can be found here.
Microfilm resources. Census records, passenger arrival, Freedmen's Bureau, Native American records and documents exist on microfilm and can be viewed on site.
Military Service and Pension Records. A great source for genealogical information, pension applications and payment records are available on microfilm.
Naturalization Records. Find the records of immigrants who applied for American citizenship. The earliest records date from 1790.
Slave Manifests. Any ship transporting slaves were required to present a manifest listing the names of slaves on board. Records include a slave's name, sex, age, and height. The person who shipped the slaves and the party purchasing the slaves are also listed on the records. Unfortunately, the last names of the slaves are not included on the manifests.
Tennessee Valley Authority. Relocation files for families and cemeteries reside here. Want to look at photographs of the agricultural and natural resource practices? You'll find them here.
The possibilities for story ideas from information housed at the Archives is endless. Check out this untapped resource and watch history come to life.
The Muffin was nominated twice for the Kreativ Blogger Award. We first received the award from Joyce Mason of Hot Flashbacks, Cool Insights, who had this to say about us: "Another grand women’s cooperative blog (who bakes muffins one at time?) that boasts never being stale. From the bakers of WOW—Women on Writing—this place is breakfast for writers and three squares a day in inspiration. Since all bloggers are writers, if you blog, take break. Have a muffin." Aw...thank you Joyce! Your blog is a favorite of ours too!
Then, on Wednesday, C. Hope Clark (http://www.hopeclark.blogspot.com/) nominated us for the Kreativ award as well! And this time the award is wearing a new outfit. The rules state to nominate 7 other blogs and, when I asked some of our ladies to choose their favorite blog, it wasn't too surprising that Hope's blog came up on the list...twice. I said, "You can't nominate her blog, she nominated us!"
Honestly, there are so many wonderful blogs out there it's hard to just choose seven, but we managed somehow. If you've been nominated in this post and want to pay it forward (optional, of course), here are the guidelines:
- Thank the person who gave you the award - Place the logo on your blog - Link to the person who nominated you - Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting - Nominate 7 bloggers for this award and post links to their blogs - Send a message to let them know they've been nominated
Things About Some of Our Bloggers You May Find Interesting:
LuAnn: "I've won awards in several cooking contests, and once, in a couple of them, I hadn't even tried the recipe before I submitted it! I just knew it would work."
Margo Dill has seen the musical Wicked three times (but would have seen it plenty more if she wasn't on restriction from her husband), has an Elvis Presley purse after a 6-hour trip to Graceland, and loves dogs almost as much as she loves people.
Elizabeth: "One thing people might find interesting about me is that I lived in Prague for four years in the early 1990s."
Chynna: "I make my own wine and beer!"
Carrie: "If I'm not writing I can be found with a paint brush in my hands, paints laying all about, and the tip of my tongue sticking out as I create."
Angela is a "biker babe" and rides a Moto Guzzi V500 dressed in full leather when she's not writing. She has leather gloves that say "love" on the knuckles of one hand and "hate" on the other and doesn't know exactly what that means but is cheezy enough to think it's cool. On her next visit to Canada she hopes to steal Chynna's secret recipes for making beer and wine!
It’s said that Monica Dickens, writer and great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens once declared, “Writing is a cop-out. An excuse to live perpetually in fantasyland, where you can create, direct and watch the products of your own head. Very selfish.”
A rather interesting view on a negative term. I recall once of those ‘selfish’ incidents in high school, where I majored in art and English. In one particular class, I was so bored as I stared out of a window, I pulled out my sketch book and began drawing.
My teacher’s exclamations roused me as she reached for my pad. After the encounter, I slumped in my seat, apprehensive about the after-school meeting. Peeping into the classroom, I found her engrossed in the drawing I created: a pair of daydreaming teenaged aliens staring out the window of their classroom.
Her comment? “You definitely don’t see the same things we see when you look out the window, do you!” My sketch book was returned and I escaped with a warning, along with a promise to keep her updated on the exploits of my teen aliens.
I admit to extended stays in the fantasyland Ms. Dickens mentioned earlier. I’ve delighted in directing the ‘products of my head’ as I’ve created radio drama scripts, articles, the (very) occasional poem, short stories, and the like.
Visits to this enchanted place will continue as I grow in my craft. I guess I could be considered a cop-out, and I think I’m okay with that.
What about you? Do you think writing is a cop-out? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
For the most part, I make my money writing non-fiction for newspapers, magazines, television, and blogs. But when my kids head back to school (and in between the paying jobs), I'm dusting off my fiction writing, sweeping away some cobwebs and getting back into creating fictional worlds. It's been too long, but in a way it feels natural to have let the stories germinate for a while. But Thursday morning, as the kids head out the door, I'll revel in the silence (for 5 minutes) and then hop, skip and jump for my pen and paper. Recently I read that to keep your writing fluid and fresh it helps to dive into a variety of writing styles, genres and projects. Always admired poetry? Dip into during a quiet lunchtime. Interested in short stories? Pull out a pen and pad while waiting for your laundry to dry or for a friend to come visit. For me, I've been dabbling in non-fiction writing by chance. I was writing fiction--short stories and a couple novels--when I started picking up non-fiction writing assignments. Because of my journalism background, it was a natural fit. But I've now strayed so far that I am aching to finish a novel I've started, a young adult novel my daughter is begging me for, and to stitch together the threads of a story I have been sketching since spring. With the kids returning to school in a couple days, I am anxious to start creating and crafting fiction again. Is there anything you've been wanting to get back into creating? What has been stopping you? What is one small step--or one small hop, skip or jump--you can take to start getting back on the path to your project?
Elizabeth King Humphrey is a certified Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coach and freelance writer. She also blogs at www.CoastalCarolinaMoms.com and www.TheWriteElizabeth.com, delving into creativity in everyday places. For different reasons, she--and her children--will be counting the hours until school starts.
Part Two: Will Your Blog Bring You Fortune and Fame?
My last blog post about blogging, Will Your Blog Bring You Fortune and Fame? (Part One), discussed my observations about successful blogging after reading Julie & Julia by Julie Powell and thinking about making changes to my own year-old blog. I said I had a few more observations to make and would continue it with Part Two, and so here is the much-anticipated list (LOL):
Blog every day or on a regular schedule: I have heard this advice over and over again; and now, I believe it is true! You have to make things easy for your reader. The Muffin (this blog you are reading now) is never stale. Every day, there is new material by a member of the WOW! team. There are also different types of posts that will attract different readers--inspiration, writing advice, contest announcements, interviews, and book give-aways. I am now also blogging on a regular schedule with my blog, Read These Books and Use Them.I actually got a Facebook friend request yesterday from someone who reads my blog. I've been blogging on a regular schedule for one week and hosted a blog tour on Friday for an author I met through another contact on Facebook. So, regular blogging with different, interesting content is a must. I am finally learning this lesson.
Promote yourself on social media: I know some of you are probably tired of hearing this; but in today's age, this is a must. You have to get out there and network. You have to let people know what you have to offer. There are blogs, blogs, and more blogs. Why is yours worth people's time? Why should people subscribe to yours or check back every few days to see what you have to offer? This is what you let people know on social media. This is where you rely on your real friends and your cyber friends. When I finish this blog post for WOW!, I will put a question on Twitter such as "Do you want to figure out ways to get your blog posts read? Check here for ideas." Then I will provide a link to WOW!'s blog. I also use Facebook a lot, and I am one of those annoying people who have friended everyone I have ever known--including former students who are now in their 20s (Egads!). But it works, and your friends will want to support you and leave comments on your blog and tell other people about you! I have recently seen people leave blog links on LinkedIn also. So, use social media.
Make your content worthy of people's time: I can't say I do this every day. I try; I do. But again, it's my opinion if people think the content is as worthy and interesting as I do. If you want to increase your views, find an expert to interview that fits with your blog's theme and find something to giveaway. People will leave questions and comments for the expert for a chance to win the free prize. It works. Try it, and get people to notice your blog.
If you have any more suggestions of things that have worked for you, please, please leave your comments. We'll even take warnings and nevers such as NEVER blog about blah, blah, blah. We're here to learn from each other and figure out our new cyber world!
Sometimes I feel like some of my questions about book marketing are too stupid to ask. Is Twitter a toy or a marketing tool? What exactly does 2.0 mean? How do I transform my in-person writing class into a telephone seminar? Finally, someone has peeked inside my head gathered all my stupid questions and answered them in a book!
I enjoyed Penny C. Sansevieri’s Red Hot Internet Publicityfrom the moment I opened it. The table of contents for this 279 page book is five pages long—each chapter is divided into multiple subsections making it easy to find the exact information you want. No more paging through chapters wondering what happened to that nugget of info you want to reread. And the information! Everything from avatars to autoresponders to ATL. Sansevieri manages to cover everything from the basics to complex marketing ideas without boring her reader or making them feel stupid. And because the book is divided into varying short sections: lists, quizzes, paragraphs, interviews, personal anecdotes you just seem to speed through it.
Not only do you get 200+ pages of information but the book is also peppered with web addresses for real-live examples of the subjects she’s talking about. Because isn’t the first rule of writing to show, not tell? She also isn’t selfish about giving lists of books, websites, blogs and online communties she thinks would help her readers. This book isn’t just for passive reading—you’ll be writing notes in the margins, highlighting, making lists.
So often I read books once and then pass them on to friends but not Red Hot Internet Publicity. It’s earned a spot on my permanent shelf right next to Strunk and White. I feel it can be useful to all types of writers: bloggers, wanna-be authors, and even those with several books under their belt. Sansevieri didn’t just answer my questions, she told me things I didn’t even realize I needed to know. It’s a book you’ll refer to again and again. I want all my friends to read it. But they need to get their own copy—I’m keeping mine!
Bio: Penny C. Sansevieri is the CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc. and The Virtual Author Tour ( www.amarketingexpert.com ). She is an expert on book marketing and was featured in 20 Questions column in the August issue of WOW! Women on Writing.
Friday Speakout: To Be or Not To Be, Guest Post by Michelle Dwyer
To Be or Not To Be
by Michelle Dwyer
Like most college students, I had to take upper-level, intensive writing classes to graduate. And I dare say that most upper-level, intensive writing professors hate the dreaded “be” verbs. Those short words that provide the oxygen needed to breathe—the words that seem impossible to erase from our prose (am, I, are, was, were, be, being, been). So like many who have come before me, and who will come later, I worked hard to avoid such unwelcomed words in order to walk across the stage with a decent grade point average.
Abstaining from these words proved difficult enough. I didn’t need a professor who would take the term pet-peeve to a new level.
But that’s exactly what I got.
He docked an entire letter grade for every “be” verb he found in a student’s work. That’s right! Five “be” verbs on an assignment equaled a failing grade. He felt too many “be” verbs made papers too passive. (My guess is that some editors feel this way as well.) Needless to say I put in many hours of time and effort, many more of search and replace, and even more of total revisions.
I aced the class. I deserved to. And for the classes that followed, my papers carried a sharp, crisp, tight flow. My education definitely made me a better writer.
However something happened to me when I graduated. I got lazy and started writing extremely passive when delving into my fiction work. Fiction evokes passions, makes writing fun. Why cloud it with such a thing as attention to detail, right? I mean, c’mon. I have to work at creating stories? Are you serious?
I didn’t figure this out until my contest entries and articles failed to make the cut with everyone. For a while, instead of humbling myself enough to find out what I was lacking, I simply chalked it up to “the industry” and continued. I knew my writings had the merit to win contests and/or get published. But they weren’t great. It wasn’t until I took advantage of WOW!’s critique service did my articles and stories pop.
I began applying the advice (write with a more active voice) from the critiques to all of my work; hence, I have reverted back to catching those “bees”. I’ve since sold one nonfiction article, won my first writing contest, and placed as a runner-up in the most recent flash fiction contest with WOW!.
*And if anybody remembers from my last post, nonfiction doesn’t like me very much. So selling nonfiction is validation for sure.*
Now for the moral: I’m sure somebody can read this article and find some “be” verbs. I haven’t discovered perfection. I may never. Sometimes I’m too wordy, other times too fluffy. Sometimes I just need use “be” verbs. We all do, even accomplished authors. But every day I learn to respect the craft of writing a little more.
Embracing criticism doesn’t make a writer weak. It makes a writer write.
Michelle studied writing in high school and longed to become an author. But circumstances arose, causing her to join the military instead. However, she never gave up. She enrolled in writing school, finished her first crime novel, and will achieve her MBA this fall. She writes as Krymzen Hall at http://www.helium.com/users/421563/show_articles
Do you want to reach WOW’s audience? We welcome short posts (500 words or less) from writers just like you! You can include your bio, pic, and links to your website/blog for promotion. Our only requirement is that your post be about women and writing. Send your Friday “Speak Out!” post to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration.
As I wrote in a blog post last month, I decided to take on more writing. I have spent the last few years doing some research and plotting of ideas (what I like to dub my tinkering stage), but now, it is about time to get serious about trying my hand at a non-fiction book based on all of the aforementioned research, ideas, and interests. When I first started the tinkering stage a few years back, it was maybe I can do an article or two out of this idea, but once, I was finding so much more depth and dimension there to leave it as just an article. Besides, it might interest non-academics too, so why stick to a very focused audience as most journals have?
Who knows if I have enough good ideas or if I can be successful with queries let alone sales, but I will do my best. One does not know unless one tries, right? My thought has always been that if I learn something, I should share it with others, so it seems sort of selfish to keep all the ideas and thoughts I am having within the confines of my brain. Besides, I am faring pretty well writing in other realms, so it is something new to try and to challenge myself with. Besides, the only way I am going to ever learn how to do things like writing query letters, book proposals, book manuscripts, etc. is by trying. Even if I fail, in essence, I will not fail, because I would have at least learned something from the experience.
That said, I decided I needed to educate myself about the craft of query letters, the art of writing non-fiction books, as well as how to pitch books before writing them first. So far, I have read two books on the matter: one on how to sell your non-fiction book before you write it and one on how to be a prolific writer within academic circles. I still have two more I would like to get through: one on non-fiction book proposal writing and another one on how to be successful at pitching a book before writing.
From here, my plan is to compile the research and notebook sketches I have been doing all along with the contact information for my first round of targets and see what I need to add/change etc. based on what I have learned. Most of you probably have a lot more experience with this entire process, but you have to remember, I wasn't formally trained in English, communications, etc. nor am I anything more than a beginner with academic writing. I look to all of you in those regards for any suggestions and feedback you might want to email me too. All along, I have been archiving a lot of the WOW community's comments and newsletter articles which could help, but anything that you feel compelled to send my way would be excellent.
So, to come back to the title of this blog post, I feel really enthusiastic about taking on this endeavor and hope that I am doing the best to make this as educational and as thorough (and yes, as successful) of a project as is possible. As an academic-type, I have faith in the soundness of my research and ideas, and now, I have a roadmap, complete with milestones and tentative timelines. My progress will hopefully be aided both by a short break between summer and fall semesters (it might only be a couple of days, but still, it's extra time to my benefit!) and the list of tasks I compiled. One advantage I think I possess is that I do pretty well keeping myself on-task (and thereby, can impose my own deadlines and adhere to them).
The other advantage is that I have all of you along for the ride. Reading all the work you all do and watching other writers struggle, persevere, and doing what they love has inspired me to finally have a focus in my life as a writer for the time being...try to conquer the stages of writing a book. Thanks and do keep in mind how amazing progress can be in making your life feel more complete.
Finding something to focus on and putting the plans into motion are the keys to making it all come together. Challenges and new things keep all writers on their feet as well. In closing, I am glad you all lit the fire and the passion in me to try. The first steps will be the query and deciding where all I want to send it then starting the proposal...who knows where the steps will lead, but even just taking the first steps feels amazing!
Are you working on an article and need to find experts to quote? Or perhaps you're working on a nonfiction book and need sources to back up your facts?
Many of us have heard of HARO, and The Muffin readers may remember Annette's June '08 post HARO - A Great Resource, but it's not the only place for writers to find experts. Pam Baker, veteran freelance journalist, suggests alternative resources that may prove to be a better fit for your needs. In her article, Where to Find Best Sources for Your Article or Book, Pam reviews the pros and cons of other sites so you can "map your own path and thus stand out from the herd."
Pam's suggestions include:
The Eric Friedeim National Journalism Library She writes, "$89 annual fee for just library services; no extra charge for National Press Club members. Owned/operated by the prestigious National Press Club. Probably the BIGGEST best kept secret in the sourcing/research game."
Profnet She writes, "Free to journalists but not to sources. Owned/Operated by PR Newswire."
NewsWise She writes, "Free to journalists, sources pay a fee. Newswise is great for university and research institution sources (over 500 of them!) for knowledge-based news. It was created in 1991 by Roger Johnson, Ph.D., a biochemist who became a science writer and freelance reporter in the Washington, DC area in 1978."
Thank you, Pam, for the great suggestions!
Be sure to check out Pam's post for more info, including the pros and cons of using each resource.
August 31st is the last day to submit entries for the Family Circle Fiction Prize. Must be an amateur writer 21 years of age or older, and a legal resident of the U.S. and the District of Columbia.
To enter, submit an original fictional short story of no more than 2,500 words in length. Prizes include cash, publication in Family Circle Magazine, and certificates for mediabistro.com, an online resource for media industry professionals.
Those of you that entered the Spring '09 contest and purchased a critique will be receiving your critique via e-mail next week. It will be attached as an MS Word .doc so you can see the highlighted text. If you don't have MS Word, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know the title of your story so we can make sure we paste it in the body of an email. ;)
Winter '09 contest winners: some of you may have received your prize pack already and others will most likely receive them next week, depending on how fast FedEx gets them to you. Thank you for being patient. Enjoy!
Summer '09 Contest: this is your last month to enter! This contest has been a little slower than others, so take advantage! We're looking forward to reading your entries. Visit the contest page. Deadline:August 31, 2009 midnight (Pacific time). Good luck!
I recently had an article published on Friday's Speak Out. Naturally, I was thrilled, and promptly fired off the link to sundry friends and family. All of the reactions were positive (oh, I love those strokes!) with one notable exception.
When I didn't hear from him, I phoned and asked him what he thought of the article. After a brief pause he said in an unenthusiastic tone, "It was great."
That wasn't enough for me. "Did you like it?"
"Well, I learned something about you that I didn't know before."
Expecting some sort of positive remark, I asked, "What's that?"
"I didn't know you were unhappy all your life." He sounded angry, and I immediately felt terribly small. I know he said more, but I blanked out and can't remember his exact words. I tried to laugh it off and change the topic, but when I hung up the phone, a flood of anxiety washed over me.
You see, I worked for my dad all my life. He hired me first as an office assistant, and eventually I became the bookkeeper for our small retail business. In my article, I wrote that I was unfulfilled all those years, and that I felt trapped. Not because of work or any external factors; it was an internal battle I was fighting.
Does my dad think that I'm not grateful? Does he feel resentful or annoyed? Or is he merely surprised to learn that I wasn't happy? I don't know what my dad actually feels; I am afraid to ask. The worst part about this conversation was that it made me doubt myself. I reread the article, berating myself for writing it in the first place, and for not anticipating every possible scenario.
His reaction, then, was unexpected and rather upsetting. In an ideal world, everyone would love every word I wrote, but alas, there is no such world. I never stopped to wonder how he, or anyone else, would interpret this particular story - I thought it was obvious what I meant - and I thought wrong. As with all experiences, good and bad, I walked away the wiser for it. I know that other writers must have similar experiences, and I wonder how they react.
Several people have commented that my stories are too dark/sad/depressing and have advised me to write 'happy' stuff. I never know how to react, so I just bite my tongue, though I feel that their advice akin to telling Tim McGraw he should sing pop. My husband, to my chagrin, is from this camp. While he enjoys my (very few) humorous writings, he dislikes many of my stories because of their serious content. Tactful man that he is, and keenly aware of my sensitive nature, his reviews usually sound like this: "You're a fantastic writer, honey, but I didn't really like it. Why don't you write a funny piece, for a change?"
Regardless of others' opinions, I do encourage them to point out awkward or confusing sentences; I've often taken their advice and made corrections. I especially am grateful when some alert soul points out grammatical errors, especially if it's a story I'm about to submit to a contest or for publication.
Then there are the writers who bare it all in their memoirs. How do they do it? I wonder. Do they prepare their family and friends ahead of time, or do they just fling it out there, daring to face the wrath of one or many? How many rifts are formed, permanently or otherwise? It is one thing to reveal one's less than stellar thoughts and actions, quite another to reveal another's. I doubt that I shall cross that particular bridge in this lifetime, so my family may rest easy.
My family and friends have been hugely supportive of my writing endeavors, and I value their support. Else why would I offer up my few published stories and wait eagerly for their responses? I realize that I have to accept certain comments at face value, and know that they are usually well intended, and to realize that I can't please everyone. Sometimes, I just need to remind myself: this is who I am, this is what I'm writing, this is what makes me happy.
Kim lives in the country with one needy dog, three perfect cats, one long-suffering husband, and far too many chickens. She tries to write on a regular basis after a suffering a writer's block of thirty years.
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
Last Friday's "Speak Out" by Pat Wahler called "Got Blog?" discussed this phenomenon and why writers should blog. I blog, you blog, a-they blog; she blog, he blog, a-we blog! (Are you hearing a Cyndi Lauper song in your head like I am? I hope so, or you may think I've lost it a bit.)
I also just finished the remarkably funny and insightful book, Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell. Did you know that she started her writing career with a blog and a really cool cooking project where she decided to cook every one of Julia Child's 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year? Instead of just doing this insane cooking project, she blogged about it. And now she has book deals and movie deals and over 600 comments on some of her blog posts. Can you imagine?
I was thinking about her success and of course, wishing I could have some brilliant, life-changing idea to blog about, but I don't. But I can learn from her and her blogging experience, so here are some conclusions I came to:
You need your friends' and families' support and comments at the beginning of your blogging experience. I have a blog. I get comments every once in a while from a stranger,but not often. But no matter who it is, I love it when one of my friends or family members goes on my blog and leaves an encouraging comment. It does make me feel good--like someone is reading my work. Julie Powell did not start with getting hundreds of comments on her blog. She started with a few friends and family members offering encouragement for her Project. So, tell your loved ones about your blog, tell them to leave comments, and you should leave comments on other people's blogs and posts. It's as exciting as it used to be when you were a teenager and came running home to see your answering machine light blinking and hoping that it was that cute boy in your third hour class.
Your blog needs a focus, a unique slant, and sometimes new ideas. There are thousands of writers starting blogs every day, and a lot of them are about writing, about the struggles, about the characters in their books, about why they aren't writing, and so on. This is okay, but will it get you Amy Adams and Meryl Streep in the movie about your life? Probably not. I really want to some day be a Big. Children's. Author. I would also like to take my shtick around to schools to talk to kids and teachers about my Big Belief in using children's books to teach reading and writing skills. My blog should definitely have something to do with this, but hundreds of blogs review children's books. So, I tried to do something a little different by reviewing children's books AND always providing three activities that go with the book for parents, home schoolers, and educators. I have a lot of people tell me they love my site, and I have even made a few bucks from Amazon sales. But my site is a year old and not taking off like I want it to, so I plan to try something new, starting next week. Doesn't this just want to make you rush over to my blog and check it out--RIGHT NOW?? :) (Or at least make a note on your calendar to check out my blog on Monday, August 17??)
I have several more points, which I am inspired with this morning, but as all us bloggers know, bleaders (love this Julie-Powell-term for blog readers) don't like long posts, so I'll say, "To Be Continued. . ." when I blog next for The Muffin.
Interview with Katie Noah Gibson, Winter Contest Runner-Up
Interview by Jill Earl
Katie Noah Gibson is a lover of books, travel, knitting, mellow music, dark chocolate and colorful scarves. She grew up on the plains of West Texas, where she still lives with her husband, Jeremiah, whom she married last June. Katie holds two degrees in English, has been writing since she could hold a pen, and plans every day how to get back to Oxford, England, where she spent a year earning her master's degree. Her writing has been published in Radiant magazine's print and online editions, as well as the online editions of Everyday Woman and Relevant magazines. Visit her blog at http://katieleigh.wordpress.com/.
If you haven't checked out the delightful Book By Its Cover, please take a look at it here, then c'mon back and join us for WOW!'s interview with Katie!
WOW: First of all, thanks for joining us, Katie, and congratulations on your winning entry! How does it feel?
KATIE:I am so honored to be named a winner in this contest! I love knowing that people appreciate my work.
WOW: Well, we appreciated reading your beautiful entry! Can you tell us a little about your story and what inspired you to create it?
KATIE:My story was inspired by my own mantel, which does in fact have books arranged by color. I found myself thinking that would be a fun beginning to a story, and the characters and plot evolved from there.
WOW: Great idea of looking to your own experience as inspiration for a story, and you're right, it was a fun beginning. As I read your story, all of my senses were engaged. I found myself identifying with your main character as she recalled the memories tied with her books. Such vivid and lush descriptions were a pleasure to read! How were you able to successfully accomplish this?
KATIE:Some of my main character's memories are actually mine--and I just imagined myself back in Blackwells, or Oxfam, or wandering the streets of Europe. I believe fiction should transport you to another place, and I tried to make my story do that. For me, concrete details are such fun to include--they really take the reader to wherever the character is.
WOW: I think you identified an important point when it comes to writing good fiction. In addition to transporting readers to other places, adding concrete details truly makes stories come alive.
Your story's ending was sweet and clever, I thought. How did you come up with it?
KATIE:The main character's love interest just wandered into the story--and I wanted to see where their relationship would go. I was pleased that the books played a role in his marriage proposal--and of course I knew she would say yes.
WOW: Of course! Sometimes it's more natural when you allow a character to show up and let things develop in a scene. It certainly worked in your piece.
Katie, how long have you been writing, and what excites you most about it?
KATIE:I've loved to write since I was a child. I am fascinated by the power of words to evoke memories, spin stories and literally change lives. I love that stories offer endless possibilities, and that we can shape our own lives by the words we choose to describe them.
WOW: It's amazing what we can do with words--and what they do to us in return, isn't it? Let's turn to your writing habits. Do you have a particular writing schedule that you follow?
KATIE:I try to write three pages of longhand writing every morning--as prescribed by Julia Cameron in several of her writing books. I've found that this helps me clear my head--the writing comes more easily later if I've started the day off by writing. I also post on my blog two to four times a week and I work on various projects as I have time.
WOW: Those are great habits you've established for yourself, and it shows in your work.
Now, what about your reading tastes? Have you a favorite author and/or book?
KATIE:I have several favorite books--my childhood favorite is Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. I also love Madeleine L'Engle (I wrote my master's thesis on her memoirs), Eva Rice, Dodie Smith, Kathleen Norris and Joanne Harris. (I actually got to meet Joanne and have her sign my books at the 2008 Oxford Literary Festival. What a thrill that was!)
WOW: Alcott's Little Women is a favorite of mine too, along with Little Men and Jo's Boys. I also love Madeleine L'Engle and Kathleen Norris.
Your bio mentions that you have two degrees in English and that you received your master's from Oxford. Can you tell us more about that?
KATIE:I've always been a reader and a writer, so I knew I wanted to major in English in college. I had a great experience in the English department at Abilene Christian University--fantastic professors, engaging discussion, great books. I studied abroad in Oxford as a college sophomore and fell completely in love with Oxford and England--I knew I had to go back. After college I took a year off to work and save some money, then applied for a master's program in Oxford and spent a year completing my degree. It was heavenly; Oxford is, of course, a great city for books, and it's my favorite place in the whole world.
WOW: What a marvelous opportunity! Studying at Oxford is a literary dream for many, including me! Do you have any projects currently in the works?
KATIE:I'm always blogging over on my site, Cakes, Tea and Dreams (http://katieleigh.wordpress.com/). I'm also revising a novel I drafted last fall as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo - nanowrimo.org). It, too, is based on my experiences in Oxford. And I'm always writing short travel pieces and things like that.
WOW: Thanks for your blog address, we'll definitely check in for updates! To wrap things up, what final advice would you like to share with WOW! readers?
KATIE:Keep writing. The people who say "Write every day" are absolutely right. Madeleine L'Engle has a wonderful metaphor for it--"keeping the clock wound." That's so important--only if you're consistently working, consistently practicing, will you truly experience growth as a writer.
WOW: "Keeping the clock wound." That's a noteworthy quote and super advice to leave with our readers.
Katie, thank you, it was a great pleasure chatting with you today. Best of luck to you and continued success in your writing endeavors!
We've all been there, looking for the magic bullet of writing. Even though I've studied writing and been a reader my entire life, I think: If only I write with this pen on that notebook, I'll have a best-selling novel. My desk overflows with the fun notebooks I've picked up, in my quest for the "right" one that will inspire me to tell a story. I purchase pens that I've seen other writers use. Perhaps I've been using the wrong tools, I tell myself. I'm fascinated with how some of writers still take pen to paper, writing longhand until their thousand-page manuscript is finished. One successful novelist told me that he wrote while feeding his infant, legal pad and pen propped between baby and bottle. With three kids, I've never quite managed that, but I have dabbled. One writer told me of his use of index cards. Shortly thereafter, I am clearing out the office supply store of its stock of legal pads and index cards. Sketches and words flow over the notepads and stray pieces of paper. But the stories remain on the pages and my computer screen remains blank because, I think, the novelists haven't worked that way. They have sold his books while I have not. Finally, it dawns on me that instead of basing my end result on what anyone else does, I need to embrace that the notepads and scraps of paper are a part of my process. I collect the notes I've made on one project or another and create a notebook for each novel idea. When the pieces of paper overwhelm or take over my desk, I then turn to my trusty keyboard. But before I get to that point, I doodle, sketch or write plot overviews in a funky notebook picked up in a SoHo paper shop are part of my craft. The paper and notebooks I choose become a part of my storytelling process. The story of a small boy won't appear in my flowery notebook, which, instead contains the story skeleton about romance, love and longing. But neither of them seems to come alive with just a cursor blinking at me. They need the love and support of my taking the time to play in the beginning and embrace the organic nature of a story--including the notebook as a vehicle. Now, as a separate issue, I need to work on that success thing, which won't take the pens or notebooks of anyone else. Just me.
Elizabeth King Humphrey is a certified Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coach and freelance writer. She also blogs at CoastalCarolinaMoms.com and TheWriteElizabeth.com, where she contemplates finding creativity in everyday places She is getting ready to dive into another fun fiction project, notebook in hand.
Don't get me wrong. I used to pride myself on how many things I could juggle at once and love multitasking still to this day. That said, sometimes, it truly is the better life when you take a step back and say to yourself, focus on one thing right now.
I teach this to college students I tutor who are too stressed out that starting one paper (let alone the three due in the next week) is a stumbling point. The thing is, we all can do more than we give credit to ourselves for being able to, if we take it one step at a time. That holds true for all of us, whether as writers, as friends, as parents, as grandparents, you get the drift.
Think smaller tasks when it seems like it's all too much. Five articles due in five days? Well, focus on one outline for now, or one paragraph for the next half hour. Do not think of the deadline other than when you feel like you're straying off into a proverbial string of procrastination techniques (checks of email inboxes and social networking sites increasing? well, maybe it's time to focus on doing more - assign yourself a more intensive deadline!). Think of the shorter task at hand, the one you have picked to get you one step closer. One step closer to done, one step closer to accomplishment, one step closer to satisfaction.
In a sense, it still is multitasking. Writing words, writing sentences, writing paragraphs, and writing pages. The only difference is that done in spurts, it is more effective at achieving just one goal, and sometimes, deep down, that is all we need to do for a moment or for a day. Achieve something. Good luck!
For those of you who are Twitter junkies, and for those writers who think social networking distracts from your work, take note: you can learn and get your creative groove on at Twitter.
I've been checking out the #amwriting hashtag lately. And I'm inspired. Writers talk about what they're working on and they encourage one another to set and reach goals. Twitterers from around the world discuss their work. You see people struggling to fine-tune an idea, phrase, or word. But you also see success stories. Just this morning, people were talking about the revision process, research, and inspiration.
Friday Speak Out: Got Blog?, Guest Post by Pat Wahler
by Pat Wahler
For a long time I resisted the idea of launching a blog. After all, I’d only started to dabble in creative writing a few years ago. How in the world could a beginner like me entertain others? Besides, I’m a tech-know-not. Setting up a blog certainly must require expertise that I did not possess.
But soon after a writer friend launched her blog, I decided to explore the concept by visiting Blogspot.com. The step by step instructions demonstrated that even I, the most inept of computer users, could publish a pretty darn professional looking blog. Best of all, the site didn’t charge a dime to participate, so why not? My favorite topic, animals, seemed the perfect platform for me, so on November 15, 2008, I launched Critter Alley into the seemingly infinite blogmosphere. Here are a few things I’ve learned since.
Blogging is a wonderful writing exercise. I don’t journal, but now practice the discipline of producing an interesting (I hope!) critter-related story each weekday. The thought of writing for others gives me incentive, and knowing that literally anyone in the world might read my words is an empowering feeling. And since daily stories require material aplenty, I’ve learned to observe life a new way, from a writer’s point of view.
When you report factual information, research is critical. People will be quick to let you know if something you’ve written isn’t quite right. For example, when I blogged about Jim the Wonder Dog, a reader emailed me. He claimed that Jim should have been described as a setter, not a spaniel. I verified his comment and made the correction. Although locating reliable sources and supporting material without violating copyright protection can be a challenge, it’s a habit worth acquiring for your next writing project.
Most of us don’t have publicists. Writers must market themselves. Getting your name out for others to see can only help when the time comes to sell that first novel. After posting a favorable review on a critter related book, I emailed the author to let him know. He not only mentioned my review on his blog, but posted a link to mine. Pretty cool stuff for a novice like me!
Perhaps one of the best things about regular blog posting is witnessing the evolution of your own work. Successful authors preach over and over that the best way to improve skills is to write consistently. My commitment to Critter Alley forces me to write daily. At best, my work turns out to be something noteworthy or thought provoking. On a not so great day, I’ve written coherent sentences with a beginning, middle, and end. Both help make me a better writer.
In short, anyone who expends the effort to blog will learn from it. If you’re a writer and haven’t taken the leap yet, don’t make more excuses. Get yourself to that keyboard and create your opus.
What have you got to lose?
Pat Wahler is a multi-published freelance writer. She lives with her husband, dog, and cat in Missouri where it is not unknown for them to entertain a guest critter…or two…or three. She writes about all things animal on her blog, Critter Alley. http://critteralley.blogspot.com/
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
I’m reading Lavinia Spalding’s ‘Writing Away,’ a wonderful entry into the world of travel journaling. Scattered throughout the book’s pages are random quotes about writing taken from well-known to barely-known artists and travelers. Here’s what poet Mary Oliver had to say about one aspect of writing, observation:
“I love the line of Flaubert about observing things very intensely. I think our duty as writers begins not with our own feelings, but with the powers of observing.”
I agree with Ms. Oliver. Along with other artists, I believe that writers serve as society’s messengers. We take what we’ve acquired from our surroundings and present it to the world through our words.
For this process to take place, however, close attention to your surroundings is called for. Keep a notepad and pen or your PDA handy the next time you’re out. Glance at the mechanic servicing your car as he peers under the hood. Scan the crowd gathered for the campus protest meeting. Watch others in line as the barista whips up your half-caff, hazelnut creation. Peep at the couple comparing apples and oranges at the farmer’s market. Grin at your dog being spellbound by a butterfly just out of reach. Note anything. And everything.
The reward? Writing with the power to elicit laughter or sadness, or raising awareness of a cause or situation. Engaging words capturing your audience’s attention.
Observation. As a writer, it’s your duty to sharpen this skill so your writing grows stronger.
Interview with Sarah Hina, Winter 2009 Contest Runner-Up
Sarah Hina hails from Athens, Ohio. A former medical student and lab rat, Sarah now writes in between mothering two kids, watching films with her husband, and escaping into the outdoors with her camera and dog. Her debut novel, Plum Blossoms in Paris, is forthcoming from Medallion Press in 2011, while her flash fiction won first prize at The Clarity of Night.
For more of her poetry, vignettes, and musings, check out Sarah’s blog, Murmurs.
If you haven't done so already, check out Sarah's award winning story, Jackpot, and then return here for a conversation with the author.
WOW: Congratulations on placing in the WOW! Winter 2009 Flash Fiction Contest! Could you please tell us more about your short story, Jackpot? What was your inspiration for this story?
Sarah: I enjoy using my photographs as prompts for my vignettes and poetry on Murmurs. However, winter is probably the hardest time to come up with cool photos, since most of the time I prefer outdoor settings. So one day, a little desperate, I decided to take along my camera to our local grocery store to see what I could capture. Well, as soon as I walked in, I saw this wall of gorgeous roses. It was a beautiful sight for my color-starved eyes, especially during those January doldrums. So I snapped a picture.
I think the jolt of finding something so beautiful in that somewhat monotonous, everyday place sparked the idea of Frank and his lovely gesture. We can brighten the world we live in, if we get outside our old routines and mindsets. Even on the coldest day of the year, we can create warmth for the people around us. As cliche as it sounds, giving creates its own reward. I have rarely felt as good after writing a story as I did after this one. Frank gave something back to me, too.
WOW: I felt good after reading your story. It refreshed me to read something so sweet and uplifting. What do you like about writing flash fiction?
Sarah: I love flash. There is nothing like it for stripping away the filler and digging deep into the essence of a character or emotion. It feels like an incredibly pure and potent communication between myself and the reader. The restrictions on length are actually a motivator for me. I had a tendency to overwrite before I started writing flash fiction. I think it's weaned that out of me to a large degree.
Flash does only carry you so far, though. The complete focus and immersion experience that a novel provides us writers is still what I enjoy, and fear, the most. Because there's so much room to fly, or to fall flat on your face.
WOW: That’s so true! Very well said. I see from your bio that you have written a soon-to-be-published book Plum Blossoms in Paris. Could you please tell us more about this novel? Does it feel like a relief to write flash fiction after completing a novel?
Sarah: Thanks for asking! Yes, Plum Blossoms in Paris will be released next summer by Medallion Press. It concerns a young American woman, Daisy, who falls in love with a Frenchman in Paris, with the strained relations between the U.S. and France during 2004 serving as an undercurrent. If you've seen Before Sunrise, with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, it is very much in the same spirit of discovery and connection, with some hard choices that follow.
And yes, it was a huge relief, and a great growing process, to exchange novel writing for flash fiction. The expectations are very different. But there's no doubt that flash fiction is less demanding overall. Since I'm thick in the brambles of a new novel now, I miss it quite a bit.
WOW: As a wife and mother of two children, do you find it difficult to find time to write? What are some of your strategies to find time to write?
Sarah: It's always difficult to find the time, and the quiet space, to write, but I'm much luckier than most. Both my husband and I work from home, and we're both writers. So we're very understanding of one another's need to escape and get some work done.
Lately, I've started going out of the house to do my writing. It's very hard to totally disconnect from the kids' voices and their many small crises (as I'm sure you all know!). And also, I'll admit to being a shameless internet junkie. If I come to a pause in the story with an internet connection around, I tend to hop on and waste too much time. So this new routine has provided the discipline I need for this new novel. I definitely like to write every day, if I can.
WOW: I'm always roped in by the Internet, too, when I'm trying to write. That’s a good idea to find a space outside the home to work once in awhile. What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Sarah: Write what you're passionate about. Write what moves you. If it doesn't inflame you, then it's just work. My husband, Paul, has always been a fervent believer in writing as art. I really admire that about him. I never wrote, or even dreamed of writing, before I met him. He is a constant inspiration in my life.
WOW: Thank you, Sarah, for your great answers! Good luck with your writing, and we look forward to reading more of your work soon!
Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir By Sue William Silverman
Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir is a guidebook for people who want to take possession of their lives by putting their experiences down on paper. Enhanced with illustrative examples from many different writers as well as writing exercises, this guide helps writers navigate a range of issues from craft to ethics to marketing and will be useful to both beginners and more accomplished writers.
The rise of interest in memoir recognizes the power of the genre to move and affect not just individual readers, but society at large. Sue Silverman covers traditional writing topics such as metaphor, theme, plot, and voice, but also includes chapters on trusting memory and cultivating the courage to tell one's truth in the face of forces--from family members to the media--who would prefer that people with inconvenient pasts and views remain silent.
Silverman draws upon her own personal and professional experience to provide an essential resource for transforming life into words that matter. Fearless Confessions is an atlas that contains maps to the remarkable places in each person's life that have yet to be explored.
Published by University of Georgia Press Paperback: 272 pages ISBN# 082033166X
Check out the trailer for Fearless Confessions below!
Book Giveaway Comments Contest!
If you received our Events Newsletter, remember, we are holding a contest to win a copyof Sue's book, Fearless Confessions: A Writers Guide to Memoir, to those that comment. So, grab a cup of coffee, pull up a chair, and enjoy the chat, and share your thoughts, and comments, at the end.
We will randomly choose a winner from those who comment. Enjoy! Interview by Jodi Webb
WOW: Prior to Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir you wrote two memoirs. What made you decide to write a "how-to" book?
Sue: Initially, anger motivated me to write Fearless Confessions.
I got angry by how many in the media--such as book critics--misunderstood and belittled memoir, mainly those written by women or those considered "other." For example, we've been accused of navel gazing. The word "confessional" is used in a demeaning way, suggesting that we're whining or complaining, along those lines.
So even though most of my new book is devoted to the craft of writing, I also include a chapter about what it really means to be a confessional writer--and the importance of memoir. I wanted to show how the word "confessional" is actually very positive. I hope more and more of us write memoir, especially since it's such a popular form, one that many like to read!
WOW: Bring us all up to speed. So often when I go into a bookstore I see a section labeled Bio/Memoir but do they belong in the same section? How are autobiography and memoir different?
Sue: They really are different!
Biography and autobiography are usually written about or by celebrities--movie stars, politicians, sports stars--and cover the whole of that person's life in a fairly factual way.
For example, in his autobiography My Life, Bill Clinton writes about his entire life, a kind of chronology of "first this happened, then this happened, and then this next thing happened." There's little or no reflection. It's based on his life of action, so is told more historically than impressionistically.
Ms. Ordinary Woman, however, like me, writes a memoir that's usually a slice of a life, not a whole life, and is based on memory, metaphor, and reflection--as opposed to historical "facts" that can be checked in newspapers. Memoir tends to follow one narrowly defined theme and is a journey, of sorts, to gain understanding about events.
WOW: So how does a Ms. Ordinary Woman decide which slice of life to write about?
Sue: When sitting down to write, ask yourself: What subject seems urgent? What are my obsessions? Which event(s) in my life must be told? Which images or events won't let go of me?
Maybe you want to focus on a recent divorce. Maybe you're obsessed with what it felt like growing up on a farm in Kansas. Maybe you feel a real urgency about being raised in a military household, where you had to move to a new place every few years.
Whatever your life, you'll be able to discover a slice of it that would make an engaging memoir.
WOW: But what about the real people that populate our memoirs? Do many memoirs remain unwritten (or unpublished) out of concern for the characters portrayed in them?
Sue: The memoirist James McBride says, "Fear is a killer of good literature." So, yes, I think many memoirists are afraid of committing their stories to paper. And while I understand this fear--especially since it took me many years to overcome it myself--I would still urge potential memoirists to write anyway--regardless of the fear.
One way to overcome fear, at least initially, is to pretend to write just for yourself, ignoring (as much as possible) the fact that others might one day read your story. For me, while writing, I always pretend no one else will ever see my work. And, in any event, it's my choice whether I'll ultimately share it with anyone or not.
I tell myself I'm writing this book, first and foremost, because I must. Which is true. The act of writing, itself, is of primary importance. This is where the spirituality of artistic endeavor resides. Focus on the words, themselves, during the creation process. Worry about the outside world later.
In order to be creative and fully engage in the process, writers must give themselves permission to set aside the fear about what the outside world might think.
WOW: Do you think the primary purpose of writing a memoir isn't necessarily publication but a more personal purpose with publication just an added bonus?
Sue: Certainly one can write for oneself--to try to figure things out. The writing itself is crucial because it is only during the writing process that I fully understand any given event or experience. I hardly know what I think until I write it!
However, if you want to take it a step further, by publishing the work, you're then able to share your experiences with others--maybe those who aren't able to give voice to trauma--or to any experience for that matter. Memoirs can act as emotional guides, as it were, to help readers better understand the complicated maze of the psyche. Every memoirist I know receives letters from readers letting the author know how much their book helped them to understand their own lives. That's incredibly powerful.
WOW: I've never thought about how one person's memoir can help another person. You're right, it is powerful. So why do so many memoirs I read seem to be about negative experiences--abuse, imprisonment, mental illness?
Sue: Rather than use the word "negative," I would probably use the word "painful" experience.
The reason why we tend to write about dark events in our lives is to better understand them. Probably, "joy" is easier to understand--doesn't need as much soul searching--whereas painful experiences do require more work to sort out.
At its heart, writing memoir is a journey, an exploration.
WOW: You've included some excerpts from memoirs at the end of each of your chapters. Can you suggest some additional writers aspiring memoir writers can read?
Sue: Oh, that's always so difficult to choose a few. Instead, what I'd like to suggest, is that you review my reading list for contemporary creative nonfiction! You can find it as an appendix at the back of Fearless Confessions, but I also have a copy of it on my website, at www.suewilliamsilverman.com. This list is separated into categories, such as illness, childhood, coming-of-age, relationships, mental health issues, etc., so you can find a subject, as well as an author, that you might wish to read.
WOW: So what's coming up next for you?
Sue: Ongoing, I still teach writing at the low-residency Vermont College of Fine Arts. You can also find my blog tour schedule on my website's Blog Tour & Events page.
In terms of writing, I'm working on another creative nonfiction book called The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White, Anglo-Saxon Jew. It's not nearly as dark as my two memoirs!
WOW: Thanks for visiting with us Sue and we can't wait for a glimpse at your next slice of life!
Want to join Sue on her blog tour? Check out these dates and mark your calendar! You can also snag a copy of WOW's Events Calendar HERE.
AUGUST 10, 2009 Monday Sue stops by Annette Fix's blog to chat about the process of memoir writing. That's something these two have in common and are passionate about, so it should be an exciting discussion! http://www.annettefix.com/
AUGUST 12, 2009 Wednesday Sue stops by Mary Jo Campbell's blog, Writer's Inspired, for an author interview. Stop by today to hear more about Fearless Confessions. http://writerinspired.wordpress.com/
AUGUST 21, 2009 Friday Today Sue stops by Rebecca Laffar-Smith's blog, Writer's Round-About, to answer questions submitted by the readers. If you would like to ask Sue a question, please visit Writer's Round-About and submit your question before August 17th. Sue will also tell us how to use all our senses to bring a memoir to life. And there will be a book giveaway! Comment today for a chance to win a copy of Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir. In addition, Rebecca will be posting her review of Fearless Confessions on August 10th. Be sure to check that out! http://www.writersroundabout.com/
AUGUST 24, 2009 Monday Sue stops by Shai Coggins' blog for an author interview. It should be a lively discussion! http://www.shaicoggins.com/
AUGUST 26, 2009 Wednesday Sue visits the Memory Writers Network blog for an author interview. Also, be sure to check out Jerry Waxler's post about the "gutsy-ness and horror of revealing yourself," which was inspired by Sue Silverman! http://memorywritersnetwork.com/blog/
SEPTEMBER 1, 2009 Tuesday Stop by So a Blonde Walks Into a Review to learn how Sue overcame her fear of telling (and writing) secrets. Also, enter to win Fearless Confessions! http://www.soablondewalksintoareview.com/
I have a problem. What the heck was I thinking that I, of all people, could write a book advising other parents with children who have sensory issues? I mean, sure, I have a lot of personal experience. And I guess I have some great educational experience too. Plus there’s also the hard work I’ve put into research, interviews and other things. But I’m starting to doubt myself.
For the first time since I began writing professionally, I’m actually nervous about an assignment—really nervous. I should be ecstatic about this project. I mean I built it from scratch, pitched it to a few publishers and it was grabbed up almost immediately. That’s never happened to me before so I took it as a great sign! Still…I’m scared and it’s preventing me from getting anything done.
Every time I sit down to write I freeze up. A million questions flood my brain: What made me think I could do this? Why didn’t I just pitch this idea to someone else to do…someone with more experience? What if I end competing with one of my SPD community colleagues and they do better? What if, what if, what if. It’s so frustrating. I had the confidence to come up with the idea, spent weeks creating the best possible book proposal and even unintentionally created a fairly solid platform. So, why the heck am I so nervous?
I think I know what it is. I’ve written many articles, a children’s picture book and a memoir and all have been in basically the same voice and same target audience. But this reference book is different. I’m…an “expert.” An expert giving advice to other people.
Yes! That’s it! I’m scared of the expert title—expert-phobia.
I’ve never been a person who likes being in the spotlight. I’d much rather help someone else get there. But now that I’m being shoved in those bright lights it just feels…well…strange. I guess a lot of us writers do that, don’t we? We work our fingers to the bone scratching to get those choice assignments, finally get our work noticed and out there then when we get that big job—the one where everyone wants our tips, advice and opinions because we’re “THE woman to turn to,”—we turn around saying, “Who, me?”
I wonder if people like Writer Mama expert Christina Katz or Wonder Writer/Editor Annette Fix or one of the main SPD gurus Carol Stock Kranowitz had momentary spells of self-doubt when creating their top-selling books. I wonder if they were in the beginning stages of the works that made them “experts” and were plagued by the same thoughts? I guess what I have to do is look at where they are now and realize that I can do it too!
Okay! I’ll do it! I’m still a bit nervous but you know what? Even with the nerves shooting adrenaline through my body, it still feels really good to have people who trust that I can do this big job. And no matter what, I know I’ll still be an expert in something: A mama to my four little beauties. That means more to me than anything.
Never let self-doubt stop you from doing what you love and are good at. The only person who can stop you from reaching for your dreams is you. And that would be a huge waste, wouldn’t it?
I woke up thinking about writing a letter and found myself torn. Do I write the letter via e-mail or do I pull out my nice stationary that I have had stored away for a long time?
But, then my thoughts grew deeper on the matter. I realized that the art of writing letters is practically gone.
Oh sure, we still get formal business letters from companies in the mail. But when was the last time we actually received a complete letter from someone in our lives? For me, it has been an extremely long time. This, of course, stemmed to another thought, a thought about our wonderful internet and how it has changed our lives. But, to what degree? In many cases, we tend to just forward some profound message that someone from somewhere else sent to us. It isn't our own words, it isn't something we've written. Have we grown so far away in the lines of communication that we don't actually write letters to the ones we love or to our friends?
Not many people realize it, but the art of letter writing is one of the many ways that our great authors got their start in the writing world. When you think back through history, how each writer would communicate to family and friends that were far away, it was through a letter. These letters are what kept the lines of communication open. Mind you, by the time many family members would receive the letter it would be several months old and left the family in anticipation for the next. This anticipation is the same our readers get when they are reading a book, a book that has drawn them in and holds their attention. They want more, they want to know what is going to happen in the end, so they read on and on.
Now laugh if you must, but I want to start a movement, a movement to bring back this dying art. This art of communication that so many of us have walked away from because of technology. We have lost the art of communication through words that we can write rather than speak, or in the case of our younger generation, text. That almighty shortened abbreviated work that has been created on cell phones. In my opinion YUCK!!!! Yes, I own a cell phone, but I don't text. I can't stand it. I would much rather hear the person on the other end of the telephone or actually receive a full letter from them letting me know how they are doing, what they have been up to, any changes in their lives.
Technology has given us many ways to get creative with our writing today, but alas, who actually uses it? With e-mail available to almost everyone, we could create some very pretty letters to send out, virtual stationary if you will. But the stationary alone is not enough, you must fill the pages with communication. This brings us back to our writing basics, the ones that all of us have learned in grade school. Who, what, where, why and how, the many questions we could give answers to through a nice lengthy letter that we could be sending to our loved ones.
If all of us as writers could help this movement, wow, think of how it could re-sculpt our lives. Communication that was once lost, found again. Think of our children, do yours truly know their grandparents? Do they communicate with them other than the occasional telephone call or summer visit? How about that long lost Aunt that you found? So many questions in our lives could be answered. How many marriages could be saved through the art of bringing back the art of letter writing? You may laugh, but to be honest, a friend of mine actually began leaving her husband letters on his pillow in the morning. She felt she couldn't express to him in actual words for a while and began putting pen to paper. She felt ashamed that this was one of the only ways she could open up to him, it was her safe zone. But this safe zone helped open her up to him, they found and understanding and it saved their marriage. Oh, sure, this won't work for all marriages, because of different situations etc. But think of the ones that are out there that many of us feel are worth saving.
As I rattle on I begin to think of a way I can actually help start the movement of letter writing. I have decided that each day, I am going to attempt to write at least one letter to someone I know. This letter will either be sent electronically or via regular post. I want people in my life to know that they mean more to me than just as a relation. So today, I am going to start my first letter.
How long has it been since we last talked? Probably longer than we both remember. I know that we don't stay in touch much, but I feel it is time that we change this. Everyday our lives change, we change, even if we don't see it, others around us do. I want to get to know you again, I want to know what brought us together as friends. So today, I am writing this letter to you to say how happy I am to have you in your life. Thank you for being my friend.
You probably don't know much about what is going on with me these days and I am sorry, but starting today, we can turn over a new leaf. A leaf that has turned brown, we can now bring it back to life into a lush beautiful green. From now on, my goal is to write a letter to you and others in my life. To let them know how I am doing, not one that simply states an answer to a question. I want you to know that you mean more to me than a simple e-mail forward. You are more important to me than that.
I hope this message finds you well. I know you have probably gone through a lot as well in your life and it would be nice to know if in some small way I have helped you through a bad time or if I have made you laugh today.
Maybe today, we can begin a new life together, a life in the art of writing once again. Something we did when we were in school, passing notes back and forth planning what we were going to do for lunch or how cute that boy was sitting next to us today in class. Do you remember those times? Help me bring those times back. I want to know how you are.