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.

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: The Writer’s Life

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From the fast-paced world of journalism
to the more dead than alive contributors
of the literary one,
she was constantly changing gears,
trying to balance these 2 different animals;
the latter she could put her whole self in,
the former, she had to learn to leave herself out.

Creative writing was in her blood,
journalism was in his bones.
When she donated a pint
& he donated some marrow,
they had gone beyond just
writing about life
to giving it back.

Her office was her day job’s breakroom,
her car,
her conference room.
Lunch hour was still an hour,
her lunch,
5 minutes.
With her portable phone & computer,
she freelanced her way to another byline
which,
for this junior reporter,
was a natural high.

#Micropoetry Monday: The Writer’s Life

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Subject & Verb had a disagreement,
for Dynamic Verb believed it was superior
to Static Subject,
until Verb realized that without a vessel,
his work could not be done,
& Subject realized that without some action,
no one would care.
It was then they decided that the real enemy
was the Adverb—
an extremely, incredibly, annoyingly extraneous
part of speech.

Through her typewriter,
the introvert known as Elizabeth von Baron
became known as Dear Libby,
so that as she became established in the spirit,
her shyness,
in the flesh,
disintegrated.

She scribbled on the walls,
a pre-literate graffiti,
a magenta crayon being her tool of choice.
She drew her stories on the carbon paper
her mother brought home,
each picture numbering 1000 words.
She wrote her stories in black-&-white
composition notebooks—
stories that rewrote her history—
so that she became the worst sort
of unreliable narrator,
for she plagiarized from no one’s life,
not even her own.

Writer’s Digest November Poem-a-Day 2017 Challenge #20. Theme: What I Learned

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What I’ve Learned (so far)

What I learned from Creative Writing is that you don’t take it with the notion of learning how to get published–you take it to learn how to become a better writer so that you will have a better chance of getting published.

What I learned from Computer Concepts… Well, that would be nothing. Nothing at all.

What I learned from Ethics was “The Silver Rule” (or what I call the passive rule, as it concerns not doing something), and that I can Kant.  (I also learned that I love philosophy.)

What I learned from Poetry was that rhyme is limiting (take that, Robert Frost–I play dangerously without a net!), and that a person who wears a “Make America Great Again” hat wants to discuss more than mere poetry. I also learned that with workshopping, it’s wise to abide by the admonition of Cinderella, which is “to have courage and be kind.”

What I learned from English Composition II was how to write a research paper on a subject I knew nothing about (i.e. horses) and that Shakespeare is more fun to discuss than read. (I also learned that ratemyprofessors.com is pretty accurate.)

What I learned from Intermediate College Algebra was that I was not necessarily brilliant, but persistent enough to not allow the fear of algebra keep me from finishing college a second time.

What I learned from Security Awareness (besides finding a cure for insomnia) was that I could go viral (if not bacterial) on YouTube and make lots of money producing cat videos.

What I learned from Contemporary Literature is that a playful syllabus is indicative of a chill professor. (And a chill professor won’t take it personally if you kill him off in one of your stories. He just might laugh!)

What I learned from College Publications, Reporting, and working on the student newspaper is that I can make 24-hour deadlines. I learned that being a humor columnist would be my dream job (as I will never have a passion for reporting “ticker-tape news,” but for what comes after).

What I learned from medical coding classes what that I hate medical coding, but in learning that, I also learned that no education is ever wasted, for it took a wrong turn to get to the right one.

And what’s more, I learned that with a career and a family, it will take me longer to finish my education, but that’s okay, for as my college newspaper adviser says, “No one has ever asked me how long it took to get my Ph.D.”

There is time.

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2017-november-pad-chapbook-challenge-day-20

 

Creative Writing Prompt: The Object of the Story (or the story behind the object)

One thing I wanted to do on this blog (at least for the month of January) was to share some of the creative writing prompts I participated in last semester’s creative writing course.

That said, the following prompt was inspired by a scholarship essay contest.  I had to write about scanners (of all things), and I thought, as I wrote, one could take any object and write a story about that object.  I could write about the remote control (and how my husband always manages to be in charge of it; I finally had to say something about him skipping over all the contestant interviews on “Wheel of Fortune”).  I could write about my car, and all the freedom it affords me .  I could write about my Michelle, the red-headed Cabbage Patch of my childhood, who I would drag around by the hair (my parents said I liked to “cuff around” all my dolls and stuffed animals, lining them up and yelling at them).  The possibilities are endless, for an object has little meaning, except for the meanings we attach to it.

So, when I had to write about scanners, I got creative, and ended up telling a true story about a childhood memory.

I would also like to hear from you–what objects (maybe in 140 characters or less) you would write a story about, and why.  (Looking at old photos can help with this.)

Scanners:  Reality in Real Time

The sometimes staticky crackle of police scanners brings back memories.  When I was a little girl, I spent every summer with my Grandpa and Grandma Booker in Poplar Bluff, Missouri.  Every night, my grandfather, who slept downstairs in the basement, would have the police scanner on—
what I like to call “blue noise”.

Poplar Bluff was a relatively small town back then (it still has only one high school).  I would sometimes open the door at the top of the stairs and listen to the sounds that made me think of walkie-talkies.  Sometimes, his snoring that was loud enough to wake undead would drown out the dialogue, or the cuckoo clock would pop out like an angry bird, scrambling my ability to decipher what was going on in the wee hours in P.B.  Listening to the scanner was like trying to see past the snow that clouded the premium channels.  It was a small source of fascination for me.

Turning the scanner on before bedtime was Grandpa’s nighttime ritual, like boxing and St. Louis Cardinal games were his entertainment during the waking hours; like watching the lightning bugs with their greenish-yellow glow in the evening, and noting the goings-on at the Slinkard house across the street in the afternoons.

Scanners are like an inconspicuous way of snooping one one’s neighbors—a gift for the lazy Gladys Kravitzes of the world; for ambulance chasers, and for those who like true reality, rather than the manufactured fluff, the alternate realities, made up for television.  What we hear on scanners is gritty, raw—like listening to a 911 tape.

My dad still remembers some of the stuff he heard.  There was a woman in Poplar Bluff who always spoke in a monotone and said, “Won’t start”, whenever a car had to be towed.  She would recite the address and that would be the end of it.  Sometimes there would be a weather alert.  There was also woman named Miss Wiley who was known at the time for always contacting the police about a prowler, the cops saying sarcastically, “Someone’s out there.”

Dad and Grandpa would listen to the Missouri Highway Patrol give license tags, always saying “B-as-in-boy” (I guess B-as-in-badass wasn’t acceptable), and, once in awhile, they’d hear the paramedics in ambulances give blood pressure readings (which seems like an invasion of privacy now).  Most of the time, scanners were a comforting background noise that didn’t distract like a television, flickering red and green instead of black and white.

Sometimes Dad would be lying in bed and the scanner would be completely silent, and then suddenly a BOLO alert would jolt them, startling them out of sleep or hurtling them out of semi-consciousness.

I remember when I came upon my grandpa’s old scanner with the silver antennae, and how I could make it go quiet when I pinched it between my fingers—that eerie sound of silence, like a blackout.  Scanners were as much a part of my childhood as Nick-at-Nite block party summers and the Hits Countdown with Casey Kasem.  Maybe someday, in my advanced age, they will become my white noise, lulling me to sleep.

Me and Michelle

Me and Michelle

 

Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #329, Theme: You Should

For once, I was able to craft a poem the same day the prompt was issued.  This will be the last Wednesday prompt until December.  In November, there will be a Poem-A-Day (PAD) challenge that is dedicated to collecting material for a chapbook manuscript, and I am all in.  My goal will be to write shorter poems (which will definitely be a challenge for me).

The definition of the word “chapbook” has always eluded me, and so I looked it up and found this out:  Stephen King wrote a few parts of an early draft of The Plant and sent them out as chapbooks to his friends, instead of Christmas cards, in 1982, 1983, and 1985. Philtrum Press produced just three installments before the story was shelved, and the original editions have been hotly sought-after collector’s items.

I think that was a pretty neat idea, but since I’ve already planned all my holiday gifts this year, I am going to do this next year.  My family and I always do Christmas photo cards, so a poetry chapbook will simply be a fun addition to that.  I wrote a nursery rhyme (and framed it) for a friend of mine who’d had her sixth child, and her delighted response really gave me confidence that even friends who aren’t writers can appreciate your work.  Her reaction honestly meant more to me than winning a writing contest, because that is what writing is about to me–sharing and adding to one’s life in a positive way through words.

The PAD challenge is totally free (even though you win exposure, not cash), so that is HUGE when it comes to Writer’s Digest, who charges exorbitant fees to enter most of their contests.  Considering NaNoWriMo is also in November (and my Creative Writing prof wants us to participate), it’s going to be an even larger challenge, but if I have time to watch movies with my husband, I have time to do this.

Here’s the link if you’re interested in participating in the challenge:  http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2015-november-pad-chapbook-challenge-guidelines

And here is my poem that is not meant to be controversial in any way.

You Should…You Should Not

You should make the bacon,
not burn it.

You should bring home the bread,
not eat too much of it.

You should never put ketchup on a hot dog,
or a relish on a burger.

You should not put all your Easter eggs in one basket,
or eat a regifted fruitcake.

One should and should not do a lot of things,
and the wisdom is knowing the difference.