Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: On Characters

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Describe your characters in such a way that the reader has a composite sketch of them but not a photograph. Give your reader enough room to fill in the blanks. However, describing a character as “Marilyn Monroe-esque” helps paint the picture immediately with a familiar reference and without bogging them down with too many details.

I already know what I think of myself and can only imagine what other people think of me. A great quote from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead is when Mr. Toohey asks the idealistic architect, Howard Roark, “Mr. Roark, we’re alone here. Why don’t you tell me what you think of me? In any words you wish. No one will hear us,” to which Roark replies, “But I don’t think of you.” For this exercise, you must dig deep—remove yourself from your writing and step into the mind (if not the shoes) of someone who knows you fairly well. You are not looking in the mirror, but at yourself looking in the mirror. https://sarahleastories.com/2018/04/26/poem-a-day-april-2018-writers-digest-challenge-26-theme-relationship/

What people choose to display in their office can tell you a lot about them. The same goes for their Facebook page.

Will your story be one of redemption or contamination? I try to live the story I want to tell or the story I want someone to tell about me. https://ideas.ted.com/the-two-kinds-of-stories-we-tell-about-ourselves/

Describe a character’s bedroom in such a way your reader will feel they know that character without having met them yet.

There is the good, the bad, and the mediocre, but the films that keep me thinking about them, long after I’ve seen them, are the ones in which I see myself in one of the characters. https://sarahleastories.com/2018/08/09/writers-digest-wednesday-poetry-prompt-448-chore/

Strunk and White are right but, if it is out of character for your character to say “simultaneously,” rather than “at the same time,” go for authenticity.

Every family has one of these. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/04/29/poem-a-day-2016-writers-digest-challenge-29-theme-haphazard/

You can turn your life (or someone else’s) into a fairy tale, a horror story, a dramedy, et cetera. It all depends on the perception you choose.

Humans often contradict themselves. We don’t always make sense or understand why we do the things we do. The interesting part is when the character (or reader) tries to figure out the “why.” https://sarahleastories.com/2015/11/24/poem-a-day-writers-digest-challenge-21-theme-strange/

Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: Writing Truths

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Too many characters will spoil a plot.

Writing well is a skill; writing an engaging story is a talent.

You will never have enough time to write. You just have to make the most of the time you have.

A compelling plot will keep readers reading, but compelling characters will keep them rereading.

Know what to show, and know what to tell.

Reading, writing, and editing your own work is the cake but professional development, such as attending (and participating in) workshops, seminars, and conferences is the icing.

Creativity sometimes has to be managed, but it must never be stifled.

The writer’s life should consist of reading, writing, reading about writing, and writing about reading.

If you reveal everything about a character, they’re like a solved crossword puzzle.

Imitation is a form of admiration; plagiarism is not.

Sweet Little Nothings

Dare to cross the line

He walked the line,
she crossed the line.
He was the goody-2-loafers
(sans the penny),
she, the rebel in hot pink espadrilles.
She smoked (chicken & every other kind of flesh)
& drank (root beer & ginger ale)
& stayed out late at the Internet cafe,
writing the stories that got her into trouble
but only because they got others into trouble.
She was a reporter first,
a writer second,
so that when they met at a poetry reading
at The End of the Line cafe,
she taught him to tell his truth
through the style he preferred—
a truth he first had to live.

Sweet Little Nothings

We're all stories in the end just make it a good one! chocolate

Her life began as a brief birth announcement,
followed by a series of Owen Mills poses,
blurry candids,
& unfocused, jittery videos.
Then there was the grainy color newsprint photo in The Patriot Press
of her holding up a certificate
& wearing a medallion
for placing first
in a Constitution calligraphy contest.
For many years,
that was akin to her 4 touchdowns in 1 game.
She never got a write-up in the arrest records,
for that was a legacy she didn’t want to leave;
rather, she lived up as a subject
for several human-interest stories—
as the girl who sold 6701 Girl Scout cookies
because of a YouTube video
that turned those processed disks
into decadent desserts;
as a college graduate who crowdfunded her way
into creating an endowed scholarship
for creative writers in memory of her sister,
whose memoir, Lessons from Mother Goose,
gained notoriety posthumously;
in her silver-haired, golden years,
as a woman who made old tee shirts
into rag rugs for the homeless,
in memory of the brother she’d lost to addiction,
whose inward riches had turned to outward rags.
And then she finally told her own story
by writing her obituary,
for she always had to have
the last word.

Hugs from friends, yes; handshakes from strangers, no: Being an introvert in self-isolation

FlowersI have been in self-isolation since March 15th—the day before my seventh wedding anniversary. Except for picking up a 10-year-old webcam from a friend (which turned out to be incompatible with my 9-year-old PC), dropping Easter dinner off to my dad and grandmother, and a couple of other instances, I’ve been home, not being bored. My husband is the one who goes to the store to get supplies (doesn’t that phrase sound apocalyptic?). He always takes hand sanitizer with him and wears a bandana for a mask, the latter of which I had originally bought for my daughter’s Halloween hobo costume.

Homeschooling a 6-year-old, taking university-level classes that weren’t structured to be online classes, and working full-time (including trying to learn all the ins and outs of Zoom for my college writing tutoring job), on top of trying to ensure I get outside time (I’d go batty without a backyard), working on my “Great American Short Story” (for this year’s Saturday Evening Post’s “Great American Short Story contest”), and binge-watching The Mary Tyler Moore show on Hulu before our free trial runs out has been my life.

I enjoy not having to drive out to University twice a week, trying to find a place to park, lugging an umbrella around, spending money on lunch out, and being stuck there 5 hours (even though my classes are only 2 1/2 hours combined). My writing workshop class isn’t the same, but now that it’s almost over, I realize I could’ve been drinking during class (instant extroversion), but I’m not really a wine person at 11 in the a.m. (That’s what mimosas are for.)

Even though I’m an introvert, I like people—I just don’t like being around them all the time—but being on lockdown means I am in lockdown with my husband and daughter, who are home all the time. Such has been an adjustment, but we’ve adapted. I’m glad that I no longer feel overscheduled as that takes time away from just being (doing all the time gets tiresome).    

I do (not overdo) social media, so I keep in touch with friends and acquaintances. Though it’s not quite the same (and it never will be), it’s something to keep us connected and sharing stories (not just COVID ones), photos, funny memes, random thoughts, and Instagram poems. I thought staying home would be harder than it was, but I’ve realized I need more time in green or blue spaces—more natural therapy than the retail kind. I’ve also learned that when I order things online, it’s a more deliberate choice than when I’m filling up my cart at Target. As for the beach, I don’t love it like I used to. It’s a real drag having to lug an umbrella, chairs, and cooler a quarter-mile trudging through sand. However, if there were no people or waves (and I already lived on it), I would like it more.

Yes, I miss exercising in the pool at the Y, going out with friends (as rare as that is, considering my closest friends are students, have kids, jobs, etc.), browsing the big-box bookstores (where I can read the children’s books to see if they’re good before I buy them), walking around the craft store to get ideas, and even grocery shopping, but those things will be there when this pandemic ends.  

Knowing that makes all this easier.

Though I dig the social distancing (I dislike crowds, not people), I’m not making new connections, and I realized I wouldn’t have the friends I do had I not met them in person first. Though I miss making new friends (or trying to, anyway), I keep in mind this song:

Make new friends,
But keep the old.
One is silver,
And the other, gold.

Brownie points if you figure that one out.

7 Reasons Why I Won’t Be Going to Graduate School

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It’s extremely expensive and not necessarily a guarantee for the type of employment I would be suited for (writing, editing, and tutoring). I can’t afford it, so I would have to work a full-time job outside the home and study and conduct research on top of that. I’m ready to move on from the world of academia as a student. I’ve had a fine time of it—a great run.  

I want to take art classes instead. I want to learn how to illustrate my children’s nursery rhymes and create images (and take better photographs) for my blog posts. I also want to learn how to design my book covers; I’d rather spend $300 for an art class and DIY it than pay someone $300 to design a single cover.

I do not wish to pursue academic writing. I’m tired of writing papers I have to cite sources for, and I find the idea of writing a thesis or dissertation unappealing. The only type of nonfiction I want to write is creative nonfiction or journalism puff pieces (like humor columns, where I don’t have to transcribe any audio, which is a ginormous pain in the ass). I may be educated and a lifelong learner, but I am not an intellectual and never will be.

I want more time with family and friends. I want more tacos downtown and drinks uptown. I want more field trips with my daughter and quiet nights at home with my husband. I want to learn how to make sushi and macarons. I want to find an exercise routine I will stick with. I want to binge-watch Big Love.  I want to read every story that ever made it in The Saturday Evening Post. I want to decode the formula for writing a Harlequin Heartwarming novel. I want to teach my daughter how to read Green Eggs and Ham. I want date nights with my husband that includes more than just going out to dinner without the munchkin. 

I don’t need it to be a successful writer. If I spend another six or eight years in school, those are years I’m not focusing exclusively on my writing (or attending writers’ conferences or taking writing classes for fun). I want to get that novel published, sell my short stories, and explore other writing opportunities. If I’m working and studying all the time, I won’t have the time (or the cognitive energy) for anything else.

I am not grad school material. I am smart enough to admit that. I realized this while taking an American Literature class this spring (it’s midterm time, and I’m aiming for a B but praying for a C) because I don’t want to analyze texts that do not interest me. If I find a 4000 level class this hard, how much more demanding will a higher level class be? Besides, I just know that the whole time I’d be doing graduate school work, I’d be longing to write my words that were not based on anyone else’s. (I know there’s a lot of research involved in grad school.) 

I just don’t have the cognitive energy for the rigors of grad school. Also, by the time I get my bachelor’s, I will have been in school for seven or eight years (including a gap semester), what with working multiple jobs and being a wife and mom (and making the time to read and write in the midst of it all). I’m tired and ready to realize the fullness of my writing dreams. 

From Writer’s Digest to Harlequin Romance: Finding my online writing community

Damask rose

“If you want to make money as a writer, write romance novels,” my Creative Writing teacher said, even suggesting we could write under a pen name.  As for me, if I’m going through all the trouble of writing a novel, my name is going to be on the thing.

So, why doesn’t romance get any respect?  Is it because some of it can be labeled as purple prose, the genre is predominantly written by women, or both?  I’ll just pull a Nicholas Sparks and call mine love stories.

As much as I enjoy the poetic form, it is more something I publish on my blog for fun to build name recognition.  Though there is a huge market for poetry, I’ve found that the kind of poetry I like to write (and read) often isn’t the kind being published, which is far too abstract for my taste.  This is what I like:  Saturday Evening Post Limerick Contest.

In all the poetry I’ve submitted, I’ve sold one poem: (Seven Wonders in Every Wonder), and it was published in a magazine (Bella Grace) that I enjoy reading from cover to cover.  Too often, I’ve read poetry journals, wondering what the hell some of it even meant.  I have much better luck with short stories and creative nonfiction (which take me a lot more time to write). 

That’s not to say I’m eschewing writing poetry to submit for publication altogether—I’m just reassessing what I spend my time writing for publications other than my own.

~

Now, I’ve gone and joined the Harlequin Writing Community Facebook page.  What’s great about this group is how supportive they are (men are welcome, too!).  They have  flash-type (400-word) writing challenges every couple of weeks or so, with some pretty stiff stipulations (which only makes it more challenging); moreover, they only give you a couple of days to write them.  The only two I’ve written so far have been historical (maybe they’re looking for a historical fiction writer?), for which I set my scenes in Ancient Greece and in South Carolina during the Civil War.  The best thing is that you get feedback on what you wrote—and not just comments from other writers but actual feedback from editors—like the type I get from my Creative Writing teacher.  I never got this with Writer’s Digest, so if you’re interested in writing romance, check it out:  So You Think You Can Write.

As for the Facebook page, I feel that I’m a better fit for that community.  I’m not just writing for a hobby—I want to make it my career.  Many of us are in the process of writing a book to submit to Harlequin.  I’m not there yet because I don’t have time for a large project (70K words), though I am in the stages of outlining it. 

~

Though I miss writing book reviews, I don’t have time to write a full-length one anymore, especially with as much as I read; I also quit the university newspaper, as half the articles I wrote never got published.  Though I respect the editor’s decision not to print (or rather, post them), I spent too much time conducting interviews and transcribing audio for them not to get published.  I was graciously invited by the adviser to submit an opinion piece, so that is something I may consider after I finish this American Lit class that’s kicking my keister. 

Rather, I’m making the push to write more short stories (I’ve been reading everything Shirley Jackson has written and rewatching most of The Twilight Zone series—the legit one with Rod Serling; however, if the episode is about Nazis, boxing, or set in the Wild West, I skip it).  I got too hung up on writing novels (with short stories, you get paid once; with novels, you get royalties), but some stories just aren’t novel length.  This realization has opened up a whole world of possibilities for many of my ideas, which have remained dormant for years.  I’d been writing poetry and working on my novel (Because of Mindy Wiley) for so long that I’d forgotten how great short fiction (and creative nonfiction) can be. 

For now, I do expository writing for the Medium publishing platform: Medium/Sarah Richards, in addition to reposting my best blog posts.  I still have a couple of other accounts where I post short works that will eventually end up on my blog (I am planning an ebook on the writing craft, but I need to become more published to have credibility; I am also planning a book of short poetry for people who don’t like poetry), so it’s a two for the price of one deal.  I feel like I’ve finally found my writing niche, as well as future homes for my writing. 

Taking a college-level Creative Writing class, joining the Harlequin community, and letting go of some other things that were no longer paying off (but were, nevertheless, part of the process), has helped me reach this point. 

Interviews lead to useful information: What I learned from one semester of writing for the university newspaper

Boots

As a non-traditional student (meaning not “college age”), I am experiencing college life in a different way than most younger college students.  I don’t live on campus or with my parentsI am a married mom juggling three jobs, so I don’t have time for all the clubs, activities, and lecture series, and the notion of “Greek life” is, well, Greek to me.

Rather than hanging out in the library drinking three-dollar coffee on a laptop (my $99 ChromeBook knock-off has since eaten the dust), I sit in my home office and drink 15-cent coffee from my Keurig (using a reusable filter)—no styrofoam cups or plastic straws or disposable K-cups.  My classes are almost 100% online, as I had to keep my schedule clear so that I could work all the jobs I do.  As I will be working primarily from home in the spring, I will get to experience what it’s like sitting in a classroom next semester.

It’s a feeling I’ve missed.

For me, nothing will ever take the place of face-to-face interaction.  I like to say that one, in-person conversation equals 1000 texts.

When I was pursuing my Associate degrees, all my favorite classes (all of them writing-emphasis) were on campus; through them, I got to know my professors, and they got to know me even more; when you read someone’s creative work, you get a glimpse of their soul.

I look forward to developing my writing even more at UWF, for this university had something that Pensacola State College (PSC) did not, which was my degree program: English with a concentration in Creative Writing.

There are so many opportunities at UWF to write, whether it’s The Argonautica, The Troubadour, or The Voyager.

I’ve learned so much in the short time I’ve been with The Voyager.

From my Socratic Society interview, I learned that even though business majors get hired more, English majors get promoted more.  When you’re a writer (and not a STEM major), you need to hear these things.

From my Center for Entrepreneurship interview, I learned that you can start a business while in school; they will help you.

From my interview with a library intern, I learned that the Careers in Writing course teaches you about all the careers to be had in writing (not just teaching). 

Working for a college newspaper has connected me with people I wouldn’t have gotten to know otherwise, inspired me to attend events I might not have attended, and helped me write about things I never thought I’d be interested in; being a student reporter is also a great way to build your portfolio for future employers.

It was my love for college journalism that brought me to UWF.  A couple of years or so ago, when I was interviewing one of the writing contest winners at my alma mater, she told me she was coming here to pursue her degree in Creative Writingsomething I hadn’t known existed until then.  

Though I was only a reporter for The Voyager one semester, everything I learned was outside the newsroom because, as my adviser said, “The real news doesn’t happen here but out there.”

Sweet Little Nothings

Do YOU chocolate

She was as much Leave it to Beaver
as she was Married with Children.
She wrote children’s nursery rhymes by sunlight
& Southern Gothic horror by lamplight.
She loved her technology
but loved her childhood without it.
She loved the finer things,
enjoyed with the common people.
She was, as Maureen O’Hara would say,
“tis herself.”