Thursday, June 12, 2008

 

Fitting in Writing Time

We writers often discuss this, finding time to write. It's not so bad when you're single and childless, except when you give in to procrastination, which even the best writers do at times. If writing were as easy as sitting down and churning out an endless stream of words without pause, many more books would be written. Maybe. Once you add in family obligations, day jobs, children and outside stresses, finding this time becomes more difficult. Some find it impossible and give up altogether, watching the years pass as their dream of publishing a novel or book of poetry fades away.

There is something we can do, even in the midst of chaos, to complete our short stories, our book of essays or our novel. One page a day. That doesn't sound like much, but pages, like pennies, do add up. Even on your busiest day, instead of giving up on writing because you're too tired, too stressed or uninspired, just try for that one page. In a month, you'll have 30 pages. In a year, 365 pages.

On those days when you have more time, you can spend them going over what you've already written. You can edit and polish and try to make it perfect. Instead of viewing the task of completing a book as huge and insurmountable, you can break it up into single sheets of paper that aren't as intimidating. One page a day will yield something tangible and complete one day. When you break it down like that, it almost sounds easy, doesn't it?

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

 

A New Month

Do you live month to month, judging how well or how poorly your writing aspirations are going depending on how many acceptions or rejections you received that month? I do. I know this may not be the best method, especially because January started off not-so-great, but every time I face a new month, I also feel like I'm facing new possibilities.

It's June 1. You can either go into it with a positive attitude and expect good things, or you can face the day, and the month, with negativity. While I'm not so much a proponent of The Secret or anything like that, I do believe that maintaining a positive outlook is much better than constantly expecting the worst.

Have you made plans for the month? Are you outlining how many short stories you'd like to write or polish, chapter ideas for that novel that you still haven't finished, what major publications you're going to query? If not, today's an ideal day to do that. Since many of us will be off today, see if the weather is nice enough for you to sit outside with a pen and pad...okay, your laptop...and jot down what you'd like to accomplish this month. Then approach your tasks day-by-day instead of an entire month at a time. You might be surprised to find, at the end of June, what you've done. But you have to start. Today's a great day to do just that.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

 

Getting Ideas from Total Strangers

Writers often hear the question "Where do you get your ideas?" The more famous you are, the more often you probably hear it. We can get ideas and find inspiration from so many different places. Maybe you read the newspaper every day to spark a story idea or you tackle a tried-and-true storyline from a fresh angle. It doesn't matter where the ideas come from, it only matters that you use them wisely.

One of my favorite ways to get ideas is to people watch. For one thing, it gets me out of the house and out of what can be solitary confinement. You can go to the park, the bookstore, coffee shop, mall...anywhere that a large and varied number of people are likely to be. Then just sit and watch them (but don't be obvious!).

Although these people are total strangers and I don't know a thing about them, I make up stories based on what they're doing or eating or drinking. The woman playing with her baby? She can either be a stay-at-home-mom who loves to read and garden in her spare time or she can be incredibly unhappy and on the verge of divorcing her husband. Why is she ready to leave her husband? That's where it gets interesting...maybe she discovered he was unfaithful or maybe she's romantically involved with someone else. Perhaps his family has never accepted her and now that she's a mother, she can't stand to have her daughter grow up in such an environment. The point is to generate ideas and it doesn't matter how ludicrous they are; you're simply gathering them and hopefully, can use them to start a fresh piece of work.

Because I often sit in my house working, with little to no interaction with the outside world, I like it when I can get out and look at something new and interesting. People really are fascinating, whether they're walking their dogs or talking on their cell phones, listening to music or sipping coffee and reading. I'm still involved in a solitary activity, but I'm not holed up in my office, which is refreshing.

Ideas and inspiration are everywhere. It's just up to us to find them.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

 

Do They Get It?

If you live with people who aren't writers, but "get" your writer's lifestyle, consider yourself lucky. If, on the other hand, you're like many writers whose family and significant others don't really get it, you're in the majority.

Do you hand your husband or wife your latest short story to review, a story which took you two months to write, edit and polish to perfection? Do they read it and then say, "That's nice, dear" before going back to the TV/newspaper/garden? Does that make you want to scream, "But reread that fourth paragraph! Look at how skillfully I've used flashback there! And what about how I described the old man? Just look at that!"? Instead of screaming, many of us quietly take our stories, our carefully crafted babies if you will, and look at them with a pride only a parent can feel.

They don't get POV, foreshadowing, a turn of phrase that gives us goosebumps. They don't understand why we huddle over a keyboard that doesn't dole out rewards or praise, or why we'll jump out of bed at 3 o' clock in the morning to jot down sudden inspiration. They can't quite see all of the nuances that separate a mediocre story from a masterpiece. They just don't get it.

But if they're still willing to put up with some of the more well-known writers' idiosyncrasies, if they love you anyway, they can't be all bad.

After all, I don't get why my husband has to visit Home Depot every.single.Saturday.morning either.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

 

Interview with WOW! Flash Fiction Winner, Cynthia Boiter

WOW!'s Winter 2008 Flash Fiction First Place Prize goes to Cynthia Boiter, an award-winning freelance writer whose work has appeared in Southern Living, Woman's Day, and Family Circle, among other national, regional and local publications. When she is not writing, she is a member of the adjunct faculty in the Women's Studies Program at the University of South Carolina. She is currently working on a book with her husband on beer and travel, tentatively titled, Bob, Beer and Me.

If you haven’t already read Cynthia's story about a brief conversation between a husband and wife that says more without words than with them, please do so: Dobie. And don’t forget to come back and read our interview with this talented woman, whose well-deserved first place win should come as no surprise.

* * * * * *

WOW!: Cynthia, you have an impressive, award-winning writing background. Did you have any idea you might win first place in our contest?

Cynthia: I actually happened upon this contest the evening that it was due and decided to give it a shot – so I banged this piece out, sent it via email to one of my daughters to see if it made any sense, and decided to give it a shot. I had no idea what to expect – I hadn’t even read any of the previous winners at that point because I was pressed for time.

WOW!: Your decision to give the contest a shot definitely paid off! Your story contains excellent descriptive passages, especially the use of color. Do you have any of the creative interests in your personal life that Timbro is trying to steer Dobie away from?

Cynthia: I like to think that I live my life with an eye toward creativity. I think we all have that capacity within us – to create, to make our environment pleasing and interesting. I love color and texture and whimsy and I’m a huge patron of the arts – but other than the little bit I can do with words; I wouldn’t call myself “talented.”

WOW!: Our readers may beg to differ on that, Cynthia, as you have a talent for creating such believable characters. How did the characters of Timbro and Dobie come about?

Cynthia: When I was a young woman I read Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, and that was, I believe, the single most influential book of my life. Being from the South and a descendent of families who worked the land for little pay, I realized when reading Alice, that the women in my own background may have been talented artists who had no canvasses for their artistic abilities. They couldn’t have afforded the tools and provisions to pursue creativity, nor would they have had the time or the encouragement, given that they were mere “women”—so in all likelihood, like Alice’s mother, they captured their canvasses wherever they could – in the garden, in the clothes they sewed for their families, in their pantries. This realization both thrills me and breaks my heart. So, maybe with stories like Dobie’s, I can channel a little of the creative energy of my own ancestors onto the page.

WOW!: I like how the story ends, with Dobie humming, as if she knows something her husband doesn't. She's already so creative, perhaps without realizing it. What would you tell Dobie if you could tell her anything?

Cynthia: First of all, I would talk to Timbro! I’d give him a little lesson in how lucky he is to live the life that Dobie has made for him. I’d ask him where he thought his meals and his clean clothes and happy home would come from if Dobie weren’t there doing the equally important work she does – and how would he be able to do his work if Dobie didn’t do hers. Being a woman, Dobie, of course, is already aware of this. I would tell her 3 things: To keep the faith; to teach her daughters well; and to put back secret money of her own whenever and wherever she could!

WOW!: Excellent advice for both of them, especially for women who aren’t allowed to have much control in a relationship. You are a talented writer in all fields, but which is more challenging for you to write: fiction, non-fiction or poetry?

Cynthia: Well, I’m not a good poet – I’m totally unschooled in it and, while I had some success when I was young, I think that was when the bar wasn’t very high because I haven’t been very successful as an adult. That said, sometimes poems just hit me in the face and I have to write them down. I suspect they’re very amateur. In terms of fiction or non-fiction – I have to want to write something to do it well. Non-fiction isn’t difficult, but I’m my own worst enemy and I’ll procrastinate until the last minute just like in college. With fiction though, I sometimes feel like the words just come from somewhere else and my fingers just type them out. I love that, but I can’t always count on it happening. So, I’m probably equally challenged by all three.

WOW!: Very interesting and something that other writers can relate to. What themes do you like to explore in your writing?

Cynthia: Well, obviously I love giving voice to women whose voices may have gone unheard, and I really like looking at the interaction of individuals both with their social environment and with the earth itself. So I often write about people who live off the land in one way or another – I almost always write about Southerners – real, working-class Southerners – not those media created Belles, but real women with dirt under their fingernails. And the other thing that I really enjoy doing is looking at a moment in time – one moment or decision or intention that illuminates a step forward for the character—an emotional or intellectual or spiritual moment of growth.

WOW!: You definitely captured such a moment in Dobie. Is there any type of character you haven't yet written about that you'd like to create?

Cynthia: Well, I rarely write about men, although I’m working on a short story about a boy now and I finished one about a man who had totally repressed his feminine side due to an incident from childhood, not long ago. What I want to do is to take a look at a typical man—in many ways, one like Timbro – and explore why they are the way they are. I want to look at all those repressive, stressful messages that living in a patriarchal society piles on them – and I want to find the authentic self in his character – I want to help him be free.

WOW!: It’s always wonderful when authors try to capture a character from a different perspective like that. Now, what type of writing inspires you?

Cynthia: I don’t want to sound flip, but “good” writing is what inspires me. You know, the orchestration of words – the flow and construction of a beautiful sentence and the use of the most absolutely precise word. That floors me. So, sometimes it Anna Quinlan in the back of Newsweek, and other times its Barbara Kingsolver or Zora Neal Hurston. I like it when words make me feel them.

WOW!: What advice do you have for aspiring women writers?

Cynthia: Be patient with yourself. Try to not beat yourself up but let the muse take you where she wants you to go – not where you think you should go. I, just 5 months ago, came off of a period when I could hardly write. Five years ago my family experienced what I call the “year of death” – my Dad and my Brother and our Golden Retriever all died within a few months of one another and I think I went sort of numb. I wrote very little during that time and I got to the point that I didn’t identify myself as a writer. Combined with that is that I also have what I think may be a real fear of both failure and success, which takes constant rationalization on my part. Then suddenly, I was entering my 49th year of life and I guess the ice cracked. I started writing and I promised my daughters that I would put a collection of my short stories out there and see if anyone thought they were worth reading – and that I would do that before my 50th birthday – which is just about 6 months away. A year ago I wouldn’t have agreed to that kind of timeline – but now, I think I’ll follow through.

WOW!: I really hope you do follow through and I think a lot of readers out there hope the same thing. It’s good that you were able to return from a difficult period in your life back to pursuing your talent. Also, I know you're working on a book with your husband. Are there any plans for a novel in your future?

Cynthia: Oh, I’ve started a couple but then put them aside. But, your site and this contest have encouraged me – maybe it’s time to pick them back up again!

* * * * * *

If you haven't done so already, please read Cynthia's story, Dobie. And remember, every Tuesday we'll be featuring an interview with one of the top 10 winners from the Winter 2008 Flash Fiction contest. So, be sure to check back and see who's up next!For more details on WOW! Women On Writing's current contest, please visit: http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/contest.php.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

 

Journal Insights

Many writers keep a diary or journal, even if they don't write in it consistently. I try to update my journal at least once a week, but sometimes, I only write in it when I'm having a horrible day and I need something to vent to that's not going to judge me or gasp at my choice of bad language. When I have time, I read my old journals and am often surprised by things I had forgotten about or by how much I've changed over the years.

Recently, a friend of mine said she was feeling unmotivated and uninspired to write, so I encouraged her to journal. What she wrote wasn't important, just the fact that she wrote. She could ramble and go off on tangents and not make any sense at all--it's her journal and no one has to see it.

I've found notes for story or novel ideas in mine; life goals I set for myself; resolutions; and a whole lot of rambling nonsense that must have made sense at the time. I love being able to express myself with no reservations in my journals. I write a lot of things in them I wouldn't say out loud. Just writing it down really helps. It's like having a personal therapist, except you don't have to pay by the hour and your appointment is anytime you feel like it. Instead of a therapist offering insights into your personality, however, you have to discover those insights yourself.

If you've kept journals for a long time, go back and read your early ones. You might not only find some ideas and inspiration, you might also find out some things about yourself you didn't know.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

 

A Good and Fair Critique

Recently, I decided to overcome some old fears and submit some work for critique to a writers group. I had to finally admit to myself that this was necessary. As writers, it's a good idea to show our work to fresh eyes because being so close to your work sometimes makes it hard to see what it's missing.

I gained some useful advice, but also some that I had to take with a grain of salt. Anytime you submit a piece for criticism, you'll have to have a thick skin for some of the remarks, but it's also vital to remain open to what others have to say. While it's always nice to receive glowing feedback from our friends and peers, it's wise to give your work to unbiased readers. This won't include your mom, sister, brother, favorite uncle. The critics need to have a basic understanding and appreciation of writing as a craft. They can be prolific readers, but it's almost always better to show your work to other writers.

I think that people who critique others need to keep in mind these points:
  • The author is probably very proud of her work, so don't trash it. Is there anything good you can find in the piece? Anything? If so, say something positive about it.
  • Do nitpick on spelling. We're writers after all; our spelling should be excellent.
  • Really read it, not skim over it. You can't do an honest and fair critique if you don't fully consider the work.
Likewise, the person who submits a piece for criticism needs to keep in mind:
  • This is only someone else's opinion. You don't have to agree with it, but see if there's anything you can take from it to make your work better.
  • You can't be ultra sensitive to criticism. Everyone isn't going to love everything you write. Tom Clancy is a best-selling author and just about any book he writes is going to do well, but there are people in the world who don't love Tom Clancy. I doubt he's really bothered by that.
  • You're brave for submitting. Because writing tends to be so personal, it's not merely pieces of paper we send out to be reviewed; it can sometimes feel like pieces of ourselves, our "babies." If you can overcome the fear of allowing others to look at and judge your baby, you've taken a step that many others haven't.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

 

New Classics

Remember all the serious literature we had to read in English Lit classes--books about whales, starcrossed lovers, law cases whose outcomes were a matter of life and death? I enjoyed some of the assigned reading, but in other cases, it took a lot of fortitude to make it through five pages (it seemed that long anyway) of a description of the sky over the sea at twilight. The books we had to read were classics and I sometimes got the feeling that my teachers didn't really care if we liked the books or not. That didn't seem to be the point. The point was, we read the classics and tried to make some sense of the symbolism, the themes and what the author was trying to say.

If the teacher did a good job, most of us could grasp why the book was considered a classic, but to this day, I just don't get Billy Budd.

I don't know if today's young students are required to read the same books, if the long-ago classics have truly endured for them. Have school systems chosen some new classics, I wonder? While a book like Sense and Sensibility may soar right over the typical 15 year-old's head, perhaps a book like Andre Dubus III's House of Sand and Fog would be more understandable, more concrete. Is Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale required reading in a large number of schools? If I taught English Lit, it would be on my list. What about Richard Russo's numerous odes to small town Americana?

Times change and while I hope that Great Expectations is still being taught somewhere, I also hope a more contemporary book is being taught alongside it. I have a short list of what I'd like my students to read, if I were a teacher or professor, books written in the 20th or 21st century and are new classics to me. What are some of your new classics?

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Friday, March 14, 2008

 

Your Writing Space

Where do you write most often? At a fancy mahogany desk with carved feet? On your couch while the television provides background noise (and sometimes distraction)? In your favorite coffee shop, where other patrons provide company and inspiration?

People who don't write think that writers have it easy because we can perform our jobs and our craft just about anywhere. Even if you're camping in the woods with no electricity, there's always the option of writing on a legal pad with pencil or pen. We can work in our pajamas if we want. We can take the whole day off and work into the night if that's when we do our best work.

As writers, we know it's not always that easy. Sometimes ideas are hard to come by; the perfect turn of phrase is just out of reach. And then there's the dreaded Writer's Block.

We all have our favorite places to write. Some people find it easier to sit at a desk, while others would feel too confined and prefer writing at a sidewalk cafe. The space is not what matters most. What does is the fact that you're there more often than you're not. Many of you may remember this writers' riddle: What is the most important part of a writer's body?

My first guess was the hands. How else can you write without hands? But that's not the answer. The answer is: the butt.

If your butt isn't sitting in your writing space, no writing is being done.

So take a look at where you like to write the most, the area that makes you comfortable and provides you with all kinds of ideas. Where is this place? And are you in it right now?

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

 

Good Ole Pen and Paper

I think many of us not only like to write, but we also appreciate the tactile qualities of sitting down with pen and paper at times. I know, pen and paper? How antiquated and quaint in this age of computers, e-mails, blogs, websites, etc. While I love the speed and convenience of typing on a computer (as well as never having to use White-out again), for personal journaling, I still use a book full of blank pages.

The pages can take on a somewhat mystical quality. They become more than paper; they turn into possibilities. Each blank sheet is ready to become filled with the best, or worst, ideas. There's something deeply satisfying about writing down my thoughts, venting about bad days, recording something nice that happened, all in my own hand. Some days, my writing is pretty neat. Other times, when I'm in a hurry or upset, it's almost illegible. But I always feel a connection to the past when I write like this.

Before e-mails, people wrote letters. I used to write a lot of letters when I was younger. Maybe you did, too. I even have some letters from high school friends and penpals and it seems each one contains more emotion and sentiments than the many e-mails I read every day, which can be deleted with one mouse click.

Tell me I'm not alone in my love of this almost outdated mode of communication. Will there come a day when we don't pick up a pen anymore, for anything? I certainly hope not.

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

 

Bucking the Trends

It never fails. Once a Harry Potter-like phenomenon hits, dozens of YA books about wizards and magic follow. Some are successful, while others fall into literary oblivion. A huge chick lit book is made into a major motion picture with Hollywood's hottest stars slated to star in it? Expect chick lit to fill the bookshelves in the next year. This is what happens when trends hit the publishing industry. A lot of new writers will get excited and want to jump on the latest bandwagon, prompting scores of them to blindly send out queries and/or manuscripts, explaining why their book is better than the current bestseller.

This is not always the best approach and here's why:

1. Publishing is a slow business: By the time a writer gets a final draft of a manuscript finished, it could be at least six months to a year after the hot new trend debuts. (If it only takes one month to churn out a "polished" manuscript, there's small chance it's really polished.) Once you start on the querying road, it could be another six months to a year before you get a "yes" from an agent or publisher and then another year or two until the book is actually published. Guess what? The trend is probably dead by then.

2. The trend is not really your style: Say the trend is romance with a quirky heroine; she swears like a sailor and chain smokes, but is really kind to puppies and elderly ladies. If this is right up your alley, it'll show with each enthusiastic word you put on paper. If you're more the crime scene analyst type who's trying to catch the latest serial killer and you force yourself to write about the quirky heroine, chances are she won't ring true and you'll hate every word you have to write about her.

3. Many agents aren't interested in the latest trends: While some agents leap onto the latest bandwagon, some are more concerned with writing that will last the test of time, writing that will become the next generation's classics. The last thing they want to see is the next Narnia chronicle; they want a hero who readers remember long after they close the book.

Instead of spending the next year or two of your life hoping to publish a book whose premise will be outdated and tired by the time readers get their hands on it, spend it crafting a book whose characters you love, whose story is true and whose trend is timelessness.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

 

Interview with WOW! Runner Up Sheryl Winters

If you believe that everything happens for a reason (whether we ever understand what that reason is or not), you’ll love Sheryl Winters’ short story about what happens when a thunderstorm reveals more about the main characters than they ever expected.

Bio:
Editor-in-chief of her high school's weekly newspaper, Sheryl dreamed of a career as a journalist. Fate had other plans. Her life's journey instead took her down paths as an employment counselor, legal assistant in her husband's law office, and innkeeper of their bed and breakfast.

Now retired and living in Florida, she writes poetry, song lyrics, children's stories, and enters fiction and non-fiction writing contests. Several of her poems have been published. She is currently seeking a recording contract for several of her song lyrics. Sheryl loves to travel, read, swim, and has recently become addicted to knitting. If you'd like to on-line chat with her, she can be contacted at sherylwinters@comcast.net.

We welcome Sheryl and offer a big congratulations on her runner-up story in WOW!’s 2007 Fall Flash Fiction contest. If you haven’t already read Sheryl’s intriguing story with an unexpected twist, please do so: A Flicker in Time. And don’t forget to come back and read our interview with this talented woman, who not only writes stories and songs, but extends her creativity into the crafty endeavor of knitting as well.

* * * * *

WOW: A theme of your story “A Flicker in Time” is that things happen for a reason. Do you feel there’s a reason Fate deferred your plans of being a journalist?

Sheryl: Yes. I never did become a journalist. Instead, I found my career niche as an employment counselor and later as a legal assistant. Also, I had problems with balancing my sleep disorder (narcolepsy) and college to the point that I never finished getting a degree.

WOW: I imagine that narcolepsy would be a serious impediment to your education, but you seem to have handled it well. You were able to find your niche in other areas and as a result, experience an event that landed you here. Because you express such honesty in your feelings toward the ex-convict in the story, do you also try to create fictional characters with such complex emotions?

Sheryl: Yes. I am an extremely sensitive and emotionally charged individual and it does translate to my fictional characters.

WOW: That’s wonderful and very important for writers to possess. Did you learn any lessons from the encounter described in your story?

Sheryl: Yes. We cannot let our own personal prejudices keep us from assisting others. Being judgmental and opinionated only creates roadblocks in our life's journey.

WOW: That’s a powerful lesson to learn. Because of this, do you wish your story could have had a different ending?

Sheryl: Yes. I would have loved to have found him a job not only to earn a fee, but to support his efforts to return to society and a successful career.

WOW: Your writing covers a broad range of genres. What kind of song lyrics do you write?

Sheryl: Country western is the type of lyrics I write. I have 3 of them currently on the Empire Music Company website. Here is one of them:

Forgivin’ Yourself

© 2007 Sheryl Winters

Verse I:
You’re doin’ the best you can and that’s no crime.
So what if you didn’t pay those darn taxes on time.
No one’s walked in your shoes or carried your load.
Someday you’ll reap all the good that you’ve sowed.

Chorus:
Forgivin’ and forgetting, once you get it down pat,
You’ll no longer hate the in-laws, or the neighbor’s cat.
You’ll wake up one morning realizing something else,
Hardest thing to do is forgivin’ yourself.

Verse II:
Let go of feelings of never being good enough,
Got wrenching memories of divorce court stuff.
Of cashin’ in bottles to get money for the bus.
Bill collectors, overdrafts. God, times were tough.

Repeat Chorus.

Bridge:
Don’t wait till golden years to watch pretty, pink sunsets.
Take trips to Rome to see churches with two hundred steps.
Cause you ain’t gonna enjoy all the fruits of your hard labor,
Feeling guilty ‘bout the tool you didn’t return to the neighbor.

Repeat Chorus.

Verse III:
Quit stewin’ ‘bout the money ya could’ve but didn’t make,
And fretting ‘bout mistakes ya made and risks you didn’t take.
Yesterdays are gone. Tomorrows are comin’ near.
What matters is today, and hey, you’re still here.

Repeat Chorus.

Demo available. Direct all inquiries to:

© 2007 Sheryl Winters
c/o Empire Music Co.
PO Box 2145
Newburgh, NY 12550
Email: jstone3216@yahoo.com

WOW: Great lyrics, Sheryl. They’re very traditionally country. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Sheryl: My earliest recollection of wanting to write was daydreaming stories as I soaked in the bathtub as a kid. Later, a brilliant high school English teacher further inspired me with his requirement for a theme a week. This, along with my experiences as editor of my high school weekly newspaper further reinforced my writing ambitions. However, it wasn't until I was seriously injured in a pedestrian/motor vehicle accident that I began writing in earnest. My husband said that the brain injury I sustained must have started the creative juices flowing. As a result, I wrote a poem on "courage" which was later purchased by The Courage Center, a rehabilitation center in Minnesota, as part of a contest.

WOW: That’s an interesting way to come back to being serious about writing. You mentioned in your author bio that you’ve recently become addicted to knitting! Do story ideas form while you’re engaged in your craft?

Sheryl: I am a beginner knitter and still need to concentrate on the stitches. I find the craft extremely relaxing and look forward to the time when story ideas will come from those tranquil moments.

WOW: Since you’re such a creative person--writer, songwriter, knitter--do you believe creative people have a natural desire to explore as many creative avenues as they possibly can?

Sheryl: Yes, I do believe creative people seek out multiple avenues of creative expression. Owning and operating a bed and breakfast gave me many opportunities for this as I orchestrated events including Victorian teas, quilting weekends, murder mystery dinners, chess tournaments, class reunion slumber parties, to mention a few. We "creativity creatures" are constantly searching for new ways to convey our ideas. It is our passion.

WOW: Can you explain how you set aside time to write?

Sheryl: I write when the moment moves me...no matter what time of day. Some of my best writing has been done in the middle of the night when it is quiet and there are no distractions. (Having a sleep disorder sometimes is not all bad). It also helps being retired and having a fluid schedule. I always carry a pen and paper in my purse in case a light bulb goes off in my head.

WOW: If you’d been able to become a journalist when you were younger, do you think your life would have been as rich as it’s turned out to be? Or do you believe it may have been richer?

Sheryl: I never regretted not becoming a journalist because my life has been filled with excitement and remarkable experiences. A friend once told me, "compared to yours, my life sucks." I took that as a compliment. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with the events of my life but then I stop and listen to the words of my own poem:

Relax, enjoy the day.
Without the worry of work or play.
Yesterday is gone.
Tomorrow is near.
But TODAY - TODAY is why we're here.

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If you haven't done so already, please read Sheryl's story, A Flicker in Time.

And remember, every Tuesday we'll be featuring an interview with one of the top 10 winners from the Fall 2007 Essay contest. So, be sure to check back and see who's up next!

For more details on WOW! Women On Writing's current contest, please visit:
http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/contest.php.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

 

Don't Cheat the Reader

I recently read a couple of books and one stuck with me, while the other annoyed me. Both used a disease-of-the-week plot device, but in the book I liked, it didn't feel like a device; it simply felt like something that could logically happen. Plus, what was more important is how the affected character reacted to having the disease.

Imagine a man who's spent his entire life not quite doing the right thing because he's incapable of it. He's not a bad person, just not the most caring, compassionate guy around. He gets cancer and instead of some miraculous change overcoming him, he deals with the disease the same way he's dealt with life. No pages-long soliloquies follow and I have to admit, it was refreshing to read this realistic portrayal of a dying man.

In the other book, the reader is given hints that one character is ill, but when it comes down to who gets sick, it's another character. This book was like a romantic comedy in book form, so when the main character becomes ill, you just know she's going to recover, right? Wrong. She dies and I felt incredibly cheated by the book as a whole. It was like watching While You Were Sleeping and in the last scene, having Michael Myers from the Halloween movies come in and butcher everyone. It was like death was added to the plot to make the book heavier than it was supposed to be.

One thing that's vital to creating believable fiction is having your characters behave in believable ways. I know, it's fiction, it's all made up, so what's to believe? But readers deserve better than writers acting like literary gods who create whole worlds full of characters who do only what the writers want. You have to listen to your characters and find out what they would do.

If you've created a woman who finds out her husband is cheating, how is she going to react to this news? If you've done a skillful job of outlining her character and adding relevant details, you won't have to wonder about this for long. If she's a fiery, action-oriented woman, readers won't be surprised if she tosses all of his belongings outside a bedroom window before driving to the other woman's house to confront her. But what if she's a quiet, introverted type? Would this behavior be as believable? It can be, but only if you've provided subtle clues beforehand that make the reader think, wow, I didn't see that coming, but I can see how that could happen. For instance, she may be quiet, but what if events shown in flashback reveal a lot of pent-up anger? What if this is only the latest in a string of affairs for the husband and she's finally had enough? However you create her, you're not creating her in a bubble. If you want her to be believable, she has to have prior life experiences that make her behave the way she does right now.

If you want your readers to think and ultimately be satisfied by what you've written, don't cheat them or yourself by making your characters do what they know they would never do.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

 

The Usefulness of Writers' Guides

By Del Sandeen

I was recently at a Writers forum and someone asked, "How useful are writers' guides?"

I think this is a common concern for writers, especially those new to the business end of the craft. And it can be confusing because there are so many guides out there, all trying to help you get published.

The thing is, there's conflicting information in them because they're written by people who advise you on what worked best for them. Method A may be perfect for Susie Author, but it might be terrible for Bill Writer. Just as each of us is an individual with different tastes and routines, each of us writes a different way.

I often read that a writer should write every single day, whether she feels like it or not. Then, I read a snippet that a bestselling author only writes when the muse strikes him. So who do you listen to?

When I responded to that forum question, I said that all guides have useful information in them, but it's up to the reader to go carefully through that information and then take what's useful and leave the rest. Otherwise, you'll always wonder if you're doing the right thing. The right thing is what works for you.

Still, writers' guides are extremely helpful sources about what it takes not only to get published, but also what it takes to not give up even after you've received your one hundredth rejection. Writing isn't just about sitting down and writing. It's also about sticking with it, waiting (lots of waiting!), and believing that you'll reach your ultimate goal.

Because there are so many different guides, getting a recommendation for one from someone whose opinion you trust is always a good idea. Many guides are geared toward a certain type of writing, so choose the ones which best suit your niche. For instance, books about writing for children will differ from books about writing romance novels. However, the part about getting published will probably be remarkably similar in both.

I've gotten some great advice from writers' guides, but I've also known what wouldn't work for me. Recognizing what's disposable information for you may take some practice, but trust your instincts and use what makes sense to you and your particular style. Guides can be wonderful sources of knowledge and advice for writers--it's all in how you use them.

Del Sandeen

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