Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: Writing Prompts

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Hybrid writing is great because it takes a form that is typically boring and reimagines it. I have written a Christmas letter, an obituary, and even a prescription. These exercises are not only fun, but they will also help you remember and get a feel for the forms.

A type of newspaper feature, when spoofed, can be as fake news as you want. https://sarahleastories.com/2018/07/18/writers-digest-wednesday-poetry-prompt-445-special-day/

Take a well-known list and expand upon it in such a way that it becomes yours. https://sarahleastories.com/2018/08/05/book-review-all-i-really-need-to-know-i-learned-in-kindergarten/

If you’re stuck, use a prefab format. It will take you places you would never otherwise go. https://sarahleastories.com/2015/05/01/poem-a-day-writers-digest-challenge-30-theme-bury-the-blank/

Neil Pasricha of “1000 Awesome Things” made a career out of a listicle. Make a list, check it twice, and you might surprise yourself. For example, each entry could lead to a poem or chapter headings of a personal essay anthology. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/06/09/writers-digest-wednesday-poetry-prompt-353-theme-nothing-important/

A hybrid form of found poetry is to create something out of what most consider trash. https://sarahleastories.com/2017/12/18/sweet-little-nothings/

Prequels, sequels, and retellings are a great way to get the creative juices flowing, but check out copyright restrictions before publishing (even on your blog). These restrictions just might lead you to reacquaint yourself with some of the classics. https://sarahleastories.com/2014/03/28/prequels-and-sequels-vs-retellings-and-the-wizard-of-oz

Mash works are popular. This is a great freewriting exercise to do with your writing group or a group of friends. For example, give yourself five minutes, three words Shakespeare coined, and write. https://sarahleastories.com/2015/04/27/poem-a-day-writers-digest-challenge-26-theme-coined-by-shakespeare/

Who doesn’t love a shaggy God story? After all, was not Christ Himself, “out of this world?” https://sarahleastories.com/2015/04/14/poem-a-day-writers-digest-challenge-14-theme-honest-andor-dishonest/

If you suffer from brain drain writing in one way, try a hybrid form, such as a resume, syllabus, or a humorous “How-To” (or even a “How-To-Not”) article.

Sweet Little Nothings

Always make your past self jealous chocolate

When Sarah went back in time,
she faced herself at age 17,
but the young Sarah
didn’t recognize the older Sarah.
The older Sarah,
now Sarah R.,
wanted to tell the young Sarah
that it would be 20 years
before she figured it all out.
She wanted to tell her not to wait—
to do what she’d missed out on the first time
all those years ago,
until she realized that to change a minute
might change everything.
Had her child not been born,
she could’ve done just that,
but she had to let then Sarah B.
find her own way—
just as she had.
This old Sarah who was the young Sarah
looked her way once more,
& the newer but older Sarah saw
a gleam of admiration in that brown-eyed girl
she once was.
And it was then
that the 37-year-old Sarah
suddenly remembered
seeing a woman who looked like her
all those years ago.

 

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry Based on the Book

mormoni

Our souls had not been created
but simply given earthly vessels
for these diaphanous substances to be poured into.
We had existed before this life.
Because I had not joined the ranks of Lucifer
but of God during the great war in heaven
in the pre-mortal life,
I had been given a body—
only to have to prove myself a second time
that I was worthy enough to be reunited with it
in the afterlife.
It was alleged that memories of this premortal life
were forgotten when we passed through the veil,
with that first breath of life,
& it seemed like the Mormons were the recoverers
of repressed memories,
for how could I deny something
that I was told
I would not remember anyway?

Sister Kyle was floating on a cloud in Kolob,
she was so joy-filled.
When had the Baptists or the Pentecostals
or any of the other churches in town
ever reached out to me like this,
much less cared about me?
My eyes fell on many of the members,
all of whom were smiling & encouraging—
all except Sister Wiley,
whose expression was dark & cunning.
I believed then that it was because
she saw through me,
but only a faker could recognize another one.
She knew that I knew what she was,
even as I knew that she knew what I wasn’t.

A look of realization,
of incredible awe,
came over Elder Roberts.
“I—I think I love—,” he said,
but just then,
the double doors before us opened,
& the rest of his sentiment went unspoken.
I could only guess what he had meant to say then,
wondering had he finished it,
if things would’ve turned out differently between us.

Caitlin was holding her rosary,
the last vestige of our former faith,
as Mother had taken down all the crucifixes in our house,
for Mormons preferred to focus on the resurrection
rather than the crucifixion.
Mother didn’t seem to see me,
but David—
David looked at me as he always did—
with a love that changed not.

My eye was single to the glory of Elder Roberts—
to the promise of celestial glory.
Just as Elder Johnson had said our husbands
would call up their wives from the grave
to ascend into the celestial kingdom alongside them,
so would Elder Roberts,
in the name of Jesus,
call my name
& raise me up from my watery grave,
to prepare me for life as a future Mormon wife.

An Irish-Catholic girl coming of age in the Deep South during the New Millennium finds her family splintered when two Mormon missionaries come to her door, their presence and promise unearthing long-buried family secrets, which lead to her excommunication and exile.

Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: On Blogging

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If you want time to write, you must prioritize your time. I only respond in-kind to the bloggers who comment on my blog, rather than those who simply like a post.

Backlinking to previous blog posts can garner new attention for older ones. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/10/04/15-blogging-prompts/

Poets read poetry, but most everyone will read a story. My personal essays tend to get the most views, despite their length. https://sarahleastories.com/2015/02/14/our-time/

Every author should have a blog, and here are 15 reasons why. https://sarahleastories.com/2017/07/06/my-500th-blog-post-why-blogging-rocks/

Food writing is popular. There are entire blogs dedicated to chocolate. If you’re including a recipe, don’t post pictures of every step, which can be frustrating when someone just wants the recipe and has to scroll a long way down to get to it. https://sarahleastories.com/2015/06/23/seven-reasons-why-brownies-beat-cake-and-even-cookies/

We’ve gone from cupcakes to cake pops. People like their information bite-sized. Top 10 (or 20) Lists will often capture your readers. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/12/29/15-life-lessons-learned-from-classic-movies/

Keep your author page updated. You can’t be 30-something forever. https://sarahleastories.com/about-the-author/

Not being a photographer or illustrator, I must get creative with my images. Never publish a blog post without an image. Avoiding stock photography has forced me to become more creative with visuals. https://sarahleastories.com/2018/12/24/sweet-little-nothings-now-comes-the-lent/

When all else fails, write about writing (review a book, a short story, etc.). At least you will be writing (not rewriting what they wrote).

Don’t publish more than 10% of what you write on your blog (unless your blog makes money). Don’t give it all away for free. I publish a fair amount of poetry and non-fiction on mine but absolutely no short stories.

 

She Is

Girls

Raised on God & with the 2-parent privilege,
she recognized that she was who she was,
not just because of the choices she had made
but because of the choices those before her had made—
a birthright she sought to pass down to her children:
a stable home in an unstable world.
She had been given a set of rules,
of precious metals,
that became more polished with every use.
She was limited not by her integuments,
varying in color & texture,
nor had she profited from them,
for the grades she had gotten,
the stories she had written,
& the job she had been offered,
she had earned.
In a world that was surviving a natural disaster,
only to be thrust into a man-made one,
where order & change could not coexist,
living in 1984 36 years hence,
& in a world that sought to gaslight her
into hating how God had made her,
demanding that she atone for other people’s sins,
she looked inside herself & saw it was possible
to be neither the oppressed
nor the oppressor.

New Kindle title for sale: $2.99 (free with Kindle Unlimited). Also known as “The Mormon Missionary’s Mistress.”

From the glacial terrain of Bear Creek, Idaho, to the lush landscape of Deep South, Florida, Elder Cather, a Mormon missionary, meets Sister Wiley, a three-time divorcee, current temple wife, and mother of a teenage daughter. At the risk of being caught with their temple garments down, facing excommunication by the Church and shunned from the only life they know, they fight against the rules imposed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints by living life on their terms. However, Elder Cather will learn a heartbreaking, coming-of-age lesson from the fickle one who accepted his greatest gift. The Book of Jeff: Another Testament of Mindy Wiley is a hypnogogic trip with a heavy hit of magical realism and a dose of spiritual occultism. It is a Southern Gothic horror with shades of Shirley Jackson, laced with the absurdity of extreme religiosity prevalent in the American Deep South. It is the story of the sexual fever that grips young men who must think only of God, the sexual frozenness that grips middle-aged women who must think only of their husbands and the dire consequences that can result when these two forces meet.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry Based on the Book

mormoni

Elder Roberts would be baptizing me,
for I had chosen him.
His face brightened when I looked at him
as the other elders turned away to help fill the font,
straighten chairs,
& pass out hymnbooks.
When I looked at this elder,
I didn’t realize that I was looking at my past,
not my future.

Mother looked swallowed up in her baptismal costume,
while David, barefoot, looked so unlike himself,
the hems of the trousers rising above his ankles.
I couldn’t help but think he would’ve looked
more like himself in a toga—
like a conqueror & not the conquered,
for the white onesie the Church had them wear
was infantile & unflattering.
My gaze met his,
& I gave him a look that I told him I felt the same way.
Perhaps being seen like this by the other members
(the Seventh-Day Adventist church down the road from our house
still washed one another’s feet)
was their way of humbling us,
of stripping away our pride.
Mother never looked my way once,
seemingly oblivious that by doing this,
she was rejecting the faith of her fathers,
of her childhood,
& of her youngest child.

I wondered how David’s interview had gone.
I imagined him giving only yes or no answers,
causing them to wonder just a bit.
Our eyes met across the room,
& it was as if we were the only two people in it.
For that moment in time,
we understood each other as we never had before.
For love, we would bury ourselves in the waters of baptism,
drown ourselves in holy water,
only to be resurrected by a lifeguard in white pants.
We would arise from our watery tombs as changed people,
for our lives would never be the same.

I would pretend,
& he would pretend,
& one day,
we would realize the lie we had lived
had become the truth somewhere along the way;
the beautiful lie would have burrowed itself deep inside us,
until we could fight it no longer.
I felt the Church pulling at my heartstrings even now,
strumming a melody that was beautiful & painful—
beautiful because of Elder Roberts,
because of all these people here,
welcoming me into their Church family,
but painful because I’d want so much to believe in it all,
& yet faith complete would always elude me.

When I was a little girl,
I saw a peach & purple seashell in the ocean,
whole & perfectly formed.
I’d tried to get to it before the waves came & stirred up the sand,
but just as my fingers had grazed it,
the tide had come & reclaimed it.
I never thought about all the other little treasures I’d captured that day—
I’d thought only of the one that had gotten away.

An Irish-Catholic girl coming of age in the Deep South during the New Millennium finds her family splintered when two Mormon missionaries come to her door, their presence and promise unearthing long-buried family secrets, which lead to her excommunication and exile.

Baptism in Birmingham

Two magnolias

You enter the doors of the temple—the kingdom of God on Earth. You know you’re unworthy, for you just had a shot of espresso before you rode the bus to Birmingham, which is why your breath smells like peppermint. Don’t you know that your breath only smells like coffee and peppermint? You know they’ve heard of a peppermint mocha, right? Of course, none will claim to know what that even tastes like, and they will hurriedly let you know if you happen to catch them at a Starbucks (especially on a Sunday), they will say they’re getting a hot chocolate, even though Joseph Smith said no to hot drinks. What about soda that’s been left in the car too long?

You are with the group of other Mormon church members from the Fox Run and Pine Forest wards (whatever possessed them to call churches “wards” and youth groups “institutes”?) who are there to do baptisms for the dead. How aggrieved you became when you had to explain such a practice to the Gentiles (what the LDS call non-members) for the umpteenth time. “We do not dig up dead people and dunk them in water. We do it by proxy,” you would say, only to discover that most people don’t even know what the word proxy means.

You discovered that no one hardly knows anything about Mormons but polygamy, even though they stopped that practice over a hundred years ago, but it hangs on them like the wet white jumpsuit will hang on you after you’ve been dunked for the fifteenth time for people you don’t even know—names that may as well be out of a phone book. Even though you think you have possibly just saved fifteen people who didn’t get the chance to hear the Mormon gospel (“the plan of happiness”) in this life, you can’t help but think that you look like a fatty in this jumpsuit.

However, you know when you step into the warm water of the baptismal font after having been barefoot, watching the same thing happen over and over, your feet will feel like they’re on fire, for they are always like ice in this castle, which will lull you into a state of what feels like suspended animation. Something is hypnotizing about repetition.

You’re supposed to be thinking about God in here but instead, you’re thinking about what you want to eat when you leave and how praying over fast food never hurt anyone. You’re thinking about all your tithing money going into these buildings that not even all Mormons can enter because they’re usually breaking the law of chastity or tithing. You’re thinking that this seems like a boring way to spend eternity, but it’s still better than the alternative. You like that the Mormons have three heavens, but if you want to have sex in heaven, you have to do temple work. Of course, men can have more than one wife up there, and you find yourself admitting that that’s pretty clever—what is against the law here, the government can’t control up there.

What happens with widows who loved both husbands? You think this is why families can’t work in heaven. You just want to be an angel, like Cary Grant (except still a girl) in The Bishop’s Wife, but maybe human-turned-angels are gender-neutral. That’s what would happen if you went to the terrestrial or the telestial kingdom. Your sexuality is taken away.

But if you are honest with yourself, you know you don’t believe in this Church—you just ended up dating that boy who broke up with you because you wore a sleeveless blouse; by the time that happened, you were sucked in. They are nice to you, unlike the people who don’t care about your soul—who like you for you.

It is your turn now, and you are thinking about how you can’t wait till it’s all over and you can dry off, and then they put their hands on your head and confirm those same names as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

You want to believe in all this so much, but it’s not happening; however, you won’t leave it all for another seven years, because one day, you went to Utah, seeking a husband, where there is every cut of white meat imaginable—Scandinavian, British, German, and a blend of many others—only to find something else.

You found your way out.

All these people who are with you today, you won’t even know ten years from now. When they see you in town, some will be polite enough to smile and say hello, but others—those who you were closest to—will act like they don’t know you, except you won’t care, for your experience with it all will make a great book.

I could come down and tell you all this, but you won’t believe me. You will have to find all this out for yourself, and because of all this, you will never really go to church again, except on Christmas and Easter. You will be a Christian without a church, like a man without a country, but you will be just fine.

You will marry a man who will not expect more from you than even God Himself does. You will be free to just be.

You will have one child, not five—at least that’s how it is in the year 2020. You still have a few childbearing years left.

However, when you find out that your child has special needs, you will remember something that you learned from these people: that the devil cannot touch such children, for they are innocent forever.

You will remember many good things and will be grateful that you were once one but are now no longer—that you are better for having come into it, just as you are even better for having left it. 

 

Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: On Social Media (For Writers)

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Have several channels through which you share your writing, be it your blog (anything goes here), Facebook page (I share writing tips and links to articles I like, including mine), Goodreads (for book reviews), LinkedIn (for business-type articles), and Instagram (poetry), but don’t have more social media accounts than you need or can keep up with.

It’s okay to share other people’s posts on your social media accounts, but NEVER reblog; you’re only promoting their work by doing this (commenting on a Medium article, however, is another story). Don’t give someone free real estate in your virtual space.

Simplification is multiplication. More than five minutes on one social network promoting your writing is excess currency better spent working on a piece to submit to a paying publication.

If you try to create brand-new content for every social media outlet, you are already spending too much time on social media.

Streamline your writing life. Get rid of social media accounts you don’t use, and clear out virtual clutter.

If you haven’t started a blog, do so. Think of it as an online portfolio. On days you don’t post, share an old post on your other social media sites. 

Sometimes, a blog post can double as a LinkedIn article. (I call that getting two for the price of one.) However, post the entire article separately on your LinkedIn account. No one likes clicking on your article and then being redirected to your blog. However, you can add links to related articles at the bottom. https://sarahleastories.com/2015/07/23/networking-for-introverts/

Before applying for a writing job, ensure your LinkedIn profile is updated (with a current headshot—not “you” ten years younger and twenty pounds lighter) and that your portfolio is diverse (I included a flyer, newspaper article, and press release, among others, in mine). Never include personal blog posts in your portfolio—only professionally published pieces.

Use links to other sites to enhance search engine optimization, and always let other writers know when you have linked them. They will appreciate the credit. 

Social media is a free way to promote your book and yourself as a brand. Seek to soft sell by entertaining, but do not send private messages to people you don’t know, asking them to like your Facebook page, follow them on YouTube, etc.