Book Review: Writing Down the Bones

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Though I like the narrative of Stephen King’s On Writing better (i.e. more concrete, less abstract), this book had many more plusses than minuses. The title fits because Goldberg takes a page from Strunk and White’s advice to “omit needless words,” not burdening hers with excessive description or detail (just a handful of unnecessary quotes). Though I checked this out from the library, I will end up purchasing it, so I can go through it with my highlighter, as I cannot possibly remember all the wonderful little tidbits.

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Goldberg wrote in a non-academic way, which I appreciated, as well as the fact that the creatively-titled chapters were short. I don’t often get a chance to read till the end of the day in bed because I spend the day working on my own writing, so short chapters make it easy to find a stopping place.

*

Though I realize all writers have different experiences when it comes to their craft, I’ve never heard an imaginary voice telling me that I shouldn’t be a writer. Writing has always been the one thing I’m sure of. In fact, I am more likely to think something is good when it isn’t (which I figure it out a year later when I go back and reread some of my old blog posts).

If I had to choose my favorite takeaway from this book, it was making “verb columns” (page 95-97). It was such a fresh and innovative idea to make verbs pop.

Conversely, I found the excessive references to Katagiri Roshi distracting (and somewhat annoying, as it felt like proselytizing), especially since most of the quotes didn’t seem to flow into the narrative.

*

Being a huge fan of humor, I appreciated the hilarious list about why one writes (page 122). This is what Goldberg is good at—writing short. Maybe because Goldberg is a poet and not a storyteller. I consider myself the opposite. (Even my poetry tells a story.)

Through reading books from authors who fictional works I don’t particularly enjoy, I’ve discovered that we can learn not only from experimenting with all kinds of writing but how to write from all kinds of writers.

2016, A Year in Review (and a few resolutions, too)

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Twenty-sixteen was my best year yet when it came to writing (not so much the number of words, but the number of finished projects, publications, and contest wins).  I’ve decided my minimum is 300 words (Stephen King’s is 2000, but unfortunately, I’m unable to write for a living yet).  If I want to go over that, that’s wonderful, but the overage won’t count towards the next day.  I have to keep myself accountable.

I have several New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. Get more organized.  This will waste less of my precious time.  I have spent part of the last day of the year clearing out my favorites, deleting e-mails, organizing my USB drive, transcribing my notes that are scattered from pillar to post, polishing the drafts in my blog account so I can either “plush or slush” them (this I’ve done over the last week, explaining my prolific posting).
  2. Do more, and by that, I mean trying different things (especially physical ones, liking biking, climbing, etc).
  3. Plan meals so that I never have to wake up needing to cook.  (I hate cooking in the morning; I’d rather have fish for breakfast…and I have.)
  4. Write something using dictionary.com’s “word of the day”.  This will help me remember it far more than simply memorizing it.
  5. Don’t start writing any more books until I’ve finished (and edited) the ones I’ve written.  (This will take all year.)
  6. Keep coupons in the car or purse.  I am just too forgetful.
  7. Don’t respond to outlandish status updates on Facebook or you will be expected to post one.  I’m sorry, but these really piss me off.  Just like the ones that say “If you love Jesus, you’ll share this”, and others of its ilk.
  8. Include, in my daily to-do list, all the activities I want to do with my daughter.  This includes not just reading stories at bedtime, but other books during the daytime.
  9. Make at least one video of my daughter a week.  I’ve slacked on this as it’s harder to edit videos (or take good ones) than it is a photograph.
  10. Wear less black and gray (yes, it’s slimming).
  11. Do different things with my hair (it’s one of our greatest accessories).  I dug out my old crimper (I’m an eighties girl) and got many compliments on my new look; got a snood for Christmas and if you don’t know what that is, look it up.
  12. Work on Christmas gifts all year long (which would include trying a new recipe weekly).

And that’s just the beginning, but it’s a start.

~

One of my proudest moments this year was winning first place (in the same contest I placed in second twice last year) for my story, “The Punch Drunk Potluck”, about what happens when a saucy girl brings pot brownies to a Mormon Church party and spikes the punch.  Let’s just say everyone’s spirits were lifted.  (I will post the link when the online newspaper editor has it up.)

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I was also published in Bella Grace magazine, for which I wrote a narrative poem about the magic of childhood.  The magazine seemed tailored just for me, with its almost “Pollyannish” take on life (Pollyanna being one of my favorite movies).

I also got published in the anthology below.  This site, http://writingcareer.com/, has been a great help to me in finding places to submit.

I wrote for the student newspaper this fall semester, am writing still for a parenting blog (https://getconnectdad.com/?s=sarah+richards&lang=en), and help write and design the newsletter for a local veteran’s organization.

As far as my personal writing goals, I got on a blogging schedule, where I only have to create new content once a week (the Writer’s Digest Wednesday Prompt); for the months of April and November, I successfully produced a poem a day.  My Monday and Friday posts come from what I’ve tweeted out, which I artfully compile.  I’ve started a Facebook page with writing tips and truths (https://www.facebook.com/sarahleastories/), also of which will someday end up on this blog (waste absolutely nothing you write).  All of these things have helped me become a better, and more confident and prolific writer (and it all counts towards my daily 300).

Though I’ve enjoyed this year immensely, I am never sorry to see it go, because every year just gets better and better:  I learn more, I become more.

Cheers!

Sarah Lea

15 Blogging Prompts

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Bloggers, have “theme days” or regular “feature articles”.  It will help you stay on track, as it’s easier to write a continuing series than a stand-alone piece every single time; this will also help you blog purposefully, rather than simply posting whenever inspiration sparks (as inspiration doesn’t always happen on a regular basis).  Serious bloggers should blog at least twice a week, or no less than once, and preferably on the same days.  Make your own deadlines, and meet them.

If you’re not on a regular blog schedule yet (which I highly recommend) with “themes” filling in the slots on certain days, here are some blogging prompts to get you started:

1.Query letters:  I believe these are an art form in & of themselves, and should serve as an appetizer to the main work.  https://sarahleastories.com/2014/01/17/query-letter-to-missouri-life-magazine/

2.Rejection letters:  The good, the bad, and the funny.  https://sarahleastories.com/2014/05/08/an-interesting-rejection-letter/

3.Book reviews:  Analyzing a book and articulating why you liked (or didn’t like) it strengthens your critical thinking skills, which helps you become a better writer.  A well-written book review can often be as entertaining as the book.  If you’re praising the book, try to “sell it”; if you’re not, then state exactly why you didn’t like it. “It sucked”, or “it was stupid”, will never suffice.  Beware of spoilers—think of a book review as a movie trailer.  Whet the appetite, but don’t satisfy it.  https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/30181323-sarah-lea-stories.

4.”Blog your book”.  That said, don’t post 1000-word chapters at a time.  300 (or less) is perfect.  For a 60K word book, at 300 words per post, you will generate more than 260 posts, which you could stretch out over two years time.  However, read this (http://www.rachellegardner.com/should-you-blog-your-novel/) before doing that.

5.Author tribute.  This is different than a book review in that it “reviews” an author’s entire body of work.  As great as it is to find a good book, it’s even greater to find a good author and read everything they’ve read (as many authors are hit-and-miss).

6.Take something cute (or not) & turn it into something dark & sometimes inappropriately funny:  https://sarahleastories.com/2014/02/12/linsey-gordon-had-a-hatchet/

7.Haiku, limerick, or even a 6-word story with a stunning photograph; posts don’t have to be long, just good.  (A great suggestion I once read is that the first two lines of a 3-line poem should be opposites, and the last line should be a surprise that ties the two opposites together in a surprising or unexpected way.)  I often like to do short pieces in series of 3:  https://sarahleastories.com/2014/03/02/nonet-poems-my-geography/

8.Short, personal essay (300 words):  Myslexia (https://mslexia.co.uk/nonfiction/) does this using the ABC’s, which I thought a cute idea.  It’s easier to mine your life for material when it doesn’t have to be a full-length piece.

9.Writing tips:  I share these on my Facebook page Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday:  https://www.facebook.com/sarahleastories/?fref=ts

10.Writing prompts:  I appreciate these, as they are ideal for freewriting practice.  https://sarahleastories.com/2016/03/06/writing-prompt-the-memoirs-of-others/

11.Writing products you like (software, pens, free Kindle books, etc.): https://sarahleastories.com/2016/02/06/5-really-cool-things-about-kindle/

12.Favorite writing blogs (or Twitter accounts).  Mine are (so far):  https://twitter.com/WriterlyTweets, https://twitter.com/GHowellWhite1,  https://twitter.com/tablopublishing, https://twitter.com/writerswrite, https://twitter.com/Grammarly, https://twitter.com/AgathaChocolats, https://twitter.com/WritersDigest

13.Life Lessons:  A list of 10 life lessons (serious or silly) you have learned.  I consider this a “column piece”.  These are so “notebookable”.

14.How-To Article:  Did you know Microsoft Word can “grade your work”?:  https://sarahleastories.com/2015/03/20/writing-tips/

15.One Book, Many Forms.  Every Friday, I post a set of #novelines or #micropoetry from my book  (https://twitter.com/KatrynNolan).  Not every noveline is a true noveline because of Twitter’s character limitations, and the micropoetry is brand new–all of which I am going to repurpose into a pocket book called “Mormons on the Beach”, as part of my book promotion package.  Though you should always keep at least half of what you write under lock and key (until you become Stephen King and can charge for it all), make sure everything you put out there is your best work.

And here is 40 more from an author who has great content and isn’t just all about selling her books:  http://writerswrite.co.za/40-types-of-content-that-will-make-your-life-easier

 

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.

Writing Tips

There is not a single writer’s group meeting I attend that I do not learn something, or at least get inspired or motivated.  I even got a blog post (this one) out of it, plus a possible regional short story idea.  I like to write regional, because as Allison Mackenzie stated (at least in the movie) in “Peyton Place”, there is nothing like opening up a newspaper where the names mean something to you.  There is a peculiar sort of delight when I open up a book and see Pensacola (my hometown) or Poplar Bluff (my birthplace) mentioned.

One of the neatest things I learned was that it is possible to “age appropriate” your writing.  Just as there aren’t any recommended ages listed on children’s books (which I think is done on purpose, to sell more books; I’m such a cynic, I know), I wasn’t aware there was a way to figure out how to determine at what age level my writing was.

For my second collection of children’s nursery rhymes, “Golden Forks and Silver Spoons” (“Golden Stars and Silver Linings” being the first), in the “Just-so Stories” section (a la Rudyard Kipling), I “graded” my poem, “How the Colon Became a Semicolon” (who doesn’t love semi-colons, the noncommittal things they are), and have realized that perhaps I wrote a book of children’s poetry rather than simplistic nursery rhymes.

Because I am a “For Dummies” kind of person (I am consulting the “Dummies” books, rather than my textbook, to help me slog through the college course known as Computer Concepts), I want to share how grading our work is accomplished, screenshot by screenshot (as I am a visual learner).

Basically, just follow the cursor.  In the fourth screenshot, just make sure “show readability statistics” is checked.

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That is how I wish all computer programing books were laid out, because I would so get it.

Now, onto my list of writing tips (which have helped me).  The 5-minute freewriting challenge that was posed to us at the meeting was on what makes one a successful writer, and this is what I came up with.

  1. Write everyday.  (Stephen King writes at least 2000 words a day.)
  2. Don’t edit as you go.  (For a perfectionist like me, this is extremely hard, but I’ve gotten better, because I’ve found that once I get it on paper, it’s a snap to go back and clean it up.)
  3. Submit at least twice a month.  (I would say once a week, but I haven’t even reached this goal myself yet.  I try to count my blog posts as submitting/publishing).
  4. Become a proponent of lifelong learning.  No matter what your major is, there is inspiration for writing everywhere.  My Anatomy and Physiology class inspired a series of medical poetry.  My ethics (philosophy) class has just plain inspired me.
  5. Nurture your spiritual side.  Just one verse in the Bible can (and has, for me) inspired an entire poem, short story or novel.
  6. Become proficient in Microsoft Word.
  7. Stretch your writing muscles by writing in different lengths and genres.  (I’ve also written the same story in poem and short story form.  However, I have found that before writing a novel, decide whether to write in first-or third-person.)
  8. Share your writing, but also be willing to listen to others share theirs, and give sincere compliments and constructive criticism.
  9. Have another creative outlet, such as photography, crafting, etc.  Anything that gives you a break from the screen, but keeps you away from the television.
  10. Don’t watch too much TV, or at least be purposeful in what you watch.  Don’t just turn it on for the sake of turning it on.  I don’t channel surf.  When I turn the TV on, there is something specific I want to watch.
  11. Be persistent.  What one publisher may not take a shine to, another one might.  Just look at the rejection as another opportunity to make it better.
  12. Once you believe a piece is as good as you can make it, put it away for at least six weeks (Stephen King may say six months, I can’t remember), so you will look at it with fresh eyes.  However, if there is a deadline, give it your best and send it in.  This is where being a perfectionist can be a hindrance.
  13. Read!!!

 

 

Mr. Wonderful Full of Himself, Wordsmith Stars, and Perfect Sense

I happened to catch an article (wish I had kept the link) that suggested a book doesn’t sell as well if it won an award.  My theory is that when people see a book won a prestigious award, they assume it’s boring (or overrated, like some classics).  Most people don’t like highbrow stuff.  They don’t want to think, they want to be entertained.  At least one out of every ten books I read is for pleasure, though I am challenging myself to read at least one nonfiction book a month (which I am 99% sure will be about writing, though the last nonfiction book I read was a biography of Marilyn Monroe, which read like creative nonfiction).  As you can see, I am not an egghead, nor will I ever pretend to be, but I am educated and do believe in lifelong learning, whether it be taking a class (I am hoping English composition will be one of the first classes I have to take when I go back to school) or teaching ourselves something new (I am getting ready to make my first batch of handmade soap).

Though an award would be an honor, I’d prefer to have the sales (unless the award came with a big payout).  I’m like Mr. Wonderful (Kevin O’Leary) from “Shark Tank” in that way, though only in that way.  I will forever care about the quality of the writing that will be published under my name, whether I write for Harlequin Romance or a scholarly journal.

I’ve been on a “Little Women” kick lately.  I tried watching the 1933 version, but I just can’t stand Katharine Hepburn, so after about fifteen minutes, I had to pass on it.  I’ve always liked the 1949 version, even though I’ve never been a fan of June Allyson, who plays Jo, and then I watched the 1994 version with Winona Ryder, who made a less annoying Jo.  Her spouting “Christopher Columbus” all the time in the earlier versions was annoying, and seemed put-on to make her more of a tomboy (though I realize this was probably how she was portrayed in the book which I read a VERY long time ago).  Though the cinematography was far more realistic in ’94 version, I still prefer the ’49 movie.  The ’94 version just didn’t have the charm its predecessor did.

I like “Little Women” because the protagonist is a writer, but I relate to her because she is a female writer.  However, one of my favorite films of all time is “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”.  I fell in love with it as a little girl; Francie Nolan was just like me.  She had what her teacher called imagination.  My third grade teacher, Ms. Cahoon, was the first person outside my family who recognized my talent, and will be one of the first people who will receive a copy of my book.  Every morning, we had to write in our journals, and I would always write about my summers up in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, when I stayed with my grandparents.  My aunt, uncle and cousins lived right next door to them.

I wrote about what I knew and loved.  I still do that today.  Oh, I’ve fancied myself writing some nonfiction piece about a subject I know nothing about (writing creative nonfiction is a great way to learn something new through research), but personal essays are one of my favorite mediums to write in because it is a story no one else can write.

That teacher scene with Francie after class still brings a tear to my eye.

Now though I am not a fan of Stephen King’s books (or even most of his movies), I did enjoy his novel, “On Writing”, and I like his personal story of how he got where he is today.  It is very inspirational.  I’ve noticed he likes to make authors his main characters, as in “Secret Window”, “Misery”, and “The Shining”.  (I liked those.)

Cuba Gooding Jr. played a struggling writer in “A Murder of Crows”.  I don’t think it was a hit, but it drew me in like a Lisa Jackson novel.

While I’m on the subject of movies, there is one that I believe everyone must see for the experience, if nothing else, and that is “Perfect Sense” with Eva Green and Ewan MacGregor.  It’s like poetry on celluloid.  I will say nothing more.