5 Ways I’ve Used Minimalism to Improve my Writing

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My Instagram posts

Instagram: Poetry Unfiltered

Every Saturday and Sunday, I publish a “Post-It-sized” poem on Instagram. I used to feel that I had to make each poem “pop” with the use of filters until I realized that such was unnecessary. I could feel the seconds being wasted, trying to come up with just the right filter, so I started screenshotting my poem with my phone via Google Docs and publishing it as is with the hashtag #nofilter. I realized there is a certain beauty in stark white and bold black. Coming up with appropriate hashtags take enough of my time.

Images are (Almost) Everything

Because I blog a minimum of twice weekly, it helps to recycle images, especially with my recurring features: Micropoetry Mondays and Fiction Fridays. For Monday, if my theme is “The Lighter Side” or “Opposites,” I use the same graphic; eventually, I will design my own logo for Micropoetry Monday, so I can ditch the stock photography all together (I’ve already scrubbed my blog of most of it). Because Fiction Fridays are all excerpts from my book or poetry based on it, I use the same graphic. Even when it comes to LinkedIn, rather than using a stock photo, I use my business card in basic black and plain white (without my personal address or telephone number) and an eye-grabbing headline. However, since I’ve discovered the Medium Daily Digest’s publishing platform (https://medium.com/), which is lot more attractive than LinkedIn’s (and not about boring corporate culture), I use an abstract photo—usually a close-up of something loosely related to the quotation I paste over it.  (And my quotes are always original.  There is enough recycled content out there.)

Strunk and White + Stephen King = Needful words

Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is one grammar book that changed my writing (and maybe my life). It is what I call a hornbook for all writers. I applied its principles to my writing when I worked for my community college newspaper for several semesters, which helped me with conciseness (though I would still try to sneak in the Oxford comma). In On Writing by Stephen King, King says to “Kill your darlings”; I say you have to kill your characters (meaning the alphabet kind). Writing also helped me chuck 99% of my adverbs; nothing beats “he said” or “she said.” You want those dialogue tags to be invisible. I credit these two books and my experience as a student reporter in helping me get the job as a clarity editor for Grammarly.

Social media < Writing, Editing, Submitting

When I started my blog in October 2013, I thought I had to be as omnipresent as possible when it came to social media, but, after an incredible amount of spam I received on Twitter and people following just to get a follow, I ditched it and Pinterest, too. Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, and LinkedIn is enough for me. (Often, what I post in one place gets posted in another). What time I used to spend trying to brand myself on all those social media accounts I could be spending building my vocabulary, submitting to actual publications, etc. I don’t have time to engage with all my followers — I need readers who aren’t writers. After more than three years of posting my Wednesday and Poem-a-Day prompts (in April and November) for Writer’s Digest on their blog and mine, I realized it was time for me to move on, which simplified my writing life even more. I needed content I could write ahead of time, so I could schedule it to publish on my blog at a later date. 

Submissions: Kitchen-Sink Theory Does Not Apply

I used to think I had to flood the market with submissions rather than focus on a handful of publishers. Targeting your publications gives you time to read and study them; submission guidelines alone will not provide intuition into what the editors are looking for. I have since discovered that my work would not be considered literary, so most small presses would not be a good fit; I have a better shot at larger publishers because of their more mainstream content. If I pick up a journal and don’t “get” any of the poems, then it’s the wrong publication for me; if I pick up a magazine and don’t enjoy any of the stories, then it’s not a good fit for my writing. This keeps me from being overwhelmed with reading material.

#Micropoetry Monday: Adult Children

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She’d imagined future memories
of taking care of them someday,
for they had taken care of her.
Though her child had made her
want to better herself,
Mom & Dad had made her
into a person who could.

Dad gave me strength,
but Mom gave me resilience
so that I was unbreakable.

As a little girl,
she had looked back
to see her mom,
looking back at her.
As an adult,
it was not behind her,
but above her,
that she looked—
whenever she shared a memory of her
with her own child,
whenever she spoke to the stone
that bore her name like a commandment,
whenever she made Dad proud.
If you weren’t really an adult
till your parents were gone,
she would be happy to be
a child forever.

Stopping Something Old to Start Something New

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Sometimes you don’t know when the last time will be the last time, but as I was slogging through a group project for my Literacy for Emergent Learners class, inundated with texts and emails from group members, I realized that I needed to shift my focus.

When I saw the Writer’s Digest poetry prompt today, where I had to use 3 of 6 words in a list (one of my least favorite prompts, btw), I realized, after three years of participation, that it was time to retire “Writer’s Digest Wednesdays.”  November Poem-a-Day challenge will be coming soon; even though I feel I’ve mastered it, my focus needs to be on finishing school and building my (paying) writing career.  

I’ve always said that serious bloggers should blog at least twice a week, so #Micropoetry Mondays and #Fiction Fridays will be a mainstay, as those posts I can schedule in advance.  My work-school-life schedule has gotten too intense, and I’m ready for the shift to less timely writing projects. 

The time I’ve spent on my Wednesday blog installments has been well-spent—it’s instilled in me the power to meet 24-hour deadlines (which are a must in the incredibly shrinking newsroom), it’s helped me write a ton of poetry I wouldn’t have written otherwise, and it’s helped me cross over the 1000-post threshold—but I’m looking forward to working on longer form projects.  

I can finally work on editing my novel (for about the eighth time).

I will still post my short Instagram poems on weekends and writing tips on my Facebook page, but it’s time to do more “behind-the-scenes” writing on a regular basis.  I’ve already proven to myself that I can write something everyday; now, I want to work on projects that will take at least a week—projects I will actually take the time to edit.

I also want to learn how to illustrate my own work.

I enrolled in University, thinking I would be writing for the student newspaper regularly until I graduated, but I’m shifting focus to freelancing gigs.  I might still contribute an article if I happen to be attending an event that interests me, but creative writing will always be my first love (I don’t have to worry about transcribing audio or having to deal with flaky people whose information or interview I need to write my article).

I realize I’ve spent a lot of time writing for sure things—my blog, the college newspaper, etc.—instant gratification pieces. 

Now, it’s time to get serious and start writing those query letters.   

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Me, in one of my many offices, after a particularly trying day.

#Micropoetry Monday: Hymns of Motherhood

Mother and child

Like the shadow of the blind,
she was with me 90 days
without my knowing—
the closest thing to God some people would
ever know.
I was her second set of footprints,
for it was I
who carried her.

She didn’t know if her daughter understood all the words,
but she read them anyway.
She didn’t know if her daughter would remember
all those trips to the pool & the beach
& every other space that screamed barefoot fun,
but she took her anyway.
She didn’t know if her daughter always heard her say,
“I love you,” after she’d fallen asleep to a lullaby,
but she said it anyway,
for it was a mom’s instinct
to do good by & for their children,
not always knowing
the good it did.

“Breast is best,” they said,
but the best could not express itself.
She pumped herself sore,
for she feared for her child’s I.Q.,
her health,
& everything they said her magic milk
was supposed to do.

The Great Book Review Project

What I call “The Great Book Review Project of 2019” has been a grueling one.  I almost made it to the finish line before the official summer season ended, but I knew this would happen once I went back to school.  Though it’s been a fun challenge, I don’t think I’ll do it again, as the books I’ve chosen myself have a far better track record.  However, this process did expose me to books I wouldn’t have read otherwise. 

My biggest complaint?  When the message gets in the way of the story.  

Adults often want to teach⁠.  I had an early childhood education teacher who basically said if a book wasn’t nonfiction, it was a waste of time (for me, as a fiction writer, that was a sleight of hand across the face)⁠; she liked to “learn something from what she read.”  Reading fiction is a valuable way to spend one’s time; here is just a sample of what you get from doing so:  https://medium.com/@farrtom/the-real-world-benefits-of-reading-fiction-ccc7d8ab3f62

There were 7-10 books I didn’t end up reviewing, only because they were wordless picture books (I wasn’t quite sure what to do with those), they weren’t available at the library, or I didn’t feel I could give it a fair review because of the subject matter.  There was one that was so horrible (it promoted violence) that I didn’t even want to give it space on my blog. 

So even though I didn’t always enjoy the books (and neither did my daughter), I loved coming up with suggested activities to accompany the books.  This Christmas break (maybe), I will collect all of them and pick out my favorites, rechecking out the best books and completing the activities. This summer, we’ve just been grinding it out, trying to keep up with reading through them fast enough to get the next ones we have on hold. 

Interestingly, months after I completed this challenge, I would end up enrolling a “Literacy for Emergent Learners” class as an elective.  (Basically, I’m learning how to teach kindergartners and first-graders how to read; it’s worth it if I can just teach my own not only how to read but how to love books.)  I don’t have any desire to be a teacher (I’m way too shy for that); that is why tutoring is more my scene.  However, I do believe that taking this class will help me learn how to write for children, which is totally my scene.  

Reading is one of life’s greatest pleasures.  It is something we can do privately without any fancy electronics.  I’ve always liked to say that books are greater than TV because all stories on screen have to first be written.  With the advent of YouTube, not so much anymore, but the great plays, films, shows, speeches, and songs must have talented writers. 

Writers matter.

Writers Matter

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This fall, I will be working towards my B.A. in Creative Writing at the University of West Florida.  I basically took an extended spring break and summer vacation.  I’d been in school four years, earning an A.A. and an A.S.

For months, I’ve proven to myself that I can make a daily deadline when it comes to my writing, but now the time has come for me to focus a greater portion of my time on honing my craft rather posting on my blog, Facebook page, and Instagram.  I’ll still post thrice weekly on SarahLeaStories (it’s nice to have two years of posts “in the can”); when it comes to the rest, that’s what a few minutes on the weekend are for.   

I will always be a writer, editor, and content creator.  I even enjoyed being a writing tutor (I’m too shy to be a teacher) for those who wanted to learn and wanted to get better; I enjoy helping people that way because I am good at it.  I will never be a fundraiser, but someday, I hope to be in the position to either give back or pay it forward.  My last job inspired that in me, for I had no idea how much private money went to help students, even though I had been the recipient of some scholarships.

While at the Foundation, I also got the opportunity to do a write-up for the local newspaper about alumni who have “made good,” and by that, I mean that they “did good.”  (They were also genuinely friendly.)  
 https://www.pnj.com/story/news/2019/05/23/pensacola-state-college-honors-distinguished-alumni-awards-gala/3747764002/

I am proud of my work, of all the writing I do, and no one will ever take that from me or make me feel ashamed because it is “all I want to do.”  I am pursuing my passion, with passion, and every day that I show up and do my job to the very best of my ability, it isn’t just because I have pride in any work I do or because I have bills to pay, but it’s so that I can live another day to write what I want and share it with anyone who is interested enough to read it.  Maybe my writing won’t build buildings, but it has helped me build relationships.  And when my writing makes someone smile or laugh or be inspired in some small way, I feel that is one of my contributions to the world.  

Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #495: For (Blank)

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For the Love of Chocolate

Whenever she scored a 50-cent KitKat,
she’d tear & peel the wrapper back
as carefully as she would
undressing a burn wound
& ever so quietly, as she would
performing a secret surgery,
for the sound of candy being opened
was a sound her daughter knew⁠—
like a K-9 knew the smell of marijuana
or a bloodhound knew the stench of expired flesh,
because she couldn’t teach her child
that sharing was good
if she didn’t do so
when the opportunity arose.
Rather than share,
she did her one better⁠—
spending a whole buck-&-a-half
for that third KitKat,
so that that second KitKat
she kept hidden
in the deep bowels of her purse
in case of emergency
would be there.

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 495