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

 

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My 500th Blog Post: Why Blogging Rocks

When I look back at my earliest blog posts, I found myself editing some, deleting others (including reblogs–don’t waste your time on those, unless your blog or name is mentioned).  I wanted my 500th to be my true 500th.  It was quite a task going through all the old stuff.  I’ve learned so much about copy editing since then, and my writing has improved tremendously.

My blog used to be something I only posted on when inspired.  Now, it’s Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, without fail–the other days, when I feel like it.  This self-imposed discipline has helped me become better at meeting deadlines.

I had written this piece about blogging, and why blogging is awesome, for a scholarship contest. I’ve won hundreds of dollars writing scholarship essays, and even when I don’t win, I have a nice piece to post on here or LinkedIn, or submit elsewhere.  Who doesn’t love recycling?

Blogging, for me, hasn’t just been about the product, but the process.  It’s given me great writing practice, and given me an additional creative outlet, because sharing what I write is part of the fun of writing.

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Virtually Living the Good Life,
in the Blogosphere

A blog, unlike a painting, is a multi-layered work of art
that cannot be seen all at once.
A blog, unlike a book, is ever-evolving and has no end.

With the advent of the Internet, words have more power today than they ever have before, for they can transmit in a matter of seconds to billions of people simultaneously. The Internet is a virtual pond, where the thoughts of anyone with an Internet connection can ripple forever. Like blood scrubbed with bleach, even when something has been deleted by the administrator, there are still traces of it. Once you’ve spilled your guts into a computer, it is never completely gone.

So be careful with your words—they might come back to haunt you someday.

Since I was a third-grader in Ms. Yvonne Cahoon’s class, I’ve been a writer. “I just love reading your journals,” she would say, and the spark was ignited. Those journals weren’t just logbooks, but how I felt about what I saw and heard. (I didn’t learn how important it was to include sensory details, like touch, taste, and smell, until much later). Those journals were my first taste of writing creative nonfiction. I started with what I knew, and then, as Mark Twain would say, “distorted the facts as I pleased.”

My blog, besides my child(ren) and the few whose lives I hope I touch, are part of the legacy I will leave when I depart from this world. I like to think that my descendants, a hundred years from now, will know so much more about me than I know about mine. Many of my words I will take with me, but the ones I’ve written and will write for the enjoyment, and, hopefully, the enlightenment of others, are the ones I will leave for my great-great-great granddaughter to read. I like to think even if my words don’t become famous in this life, perhaps they will posthumously (à la Emily Dickinson). I suppose that’s why I chose creative writing over journalism, for how many newspaper articles about local politics or blog posts about parenting endure like a poem or a piece of literature?

That said, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stand out, for with the ease of sharing, there is oversharing, as there are over 74 million blogs on WordPress alone. Though I cannot control how many people choose to follow, share, reblog (also known as the Holy Grail of blogging), or comment on my posts, I do have control over the quality of the content. I’ve found that the shorter the post (400-600 words is recommended), the more likely it is that someone will read the whole thing. (I suspect that’s why haikus are so popular.) We like our information bite-sized now. Think about it: We’ve gone from the cake slice, to the cupcake, and now the cake pop.

You will (usually) get more mileage out of a tercet (a 3-line poem) than a 500-word blog post; in short (pardon the pun), you will be able to make more with less (i.e. generate more readership).

Wednesdays are the only days in which I have to create new content, which frees up time for me to spend on writing pieces that may get published for pay. (Every April and November, I post my Writer’s Digest PAD, or Poem-a-Day, Prompt. This is when I get a bulk of my followers, but you will stretch yourself too thin if you try to post 365 days a year. Once a week is the minimum you should post.

My blogging journey started in October 2014, after I picked up a copy of The Writer’s Market.  I read that blogging should be a part of every author’s platform, and Sarah Lea Stories: A Flurry of Creativity, was born (which I’ve since renamed). I blogged about everyday life: marriage, motherhood, food, and many other things (none of which I am an expert, but rather just have an interest in), though a part of me felt why should I give it all away for free? Did followers really translate into sales, even though I had nothing tangible to sell, but would someday? (The only time I’ve ever bought a book from someone I knew was if they were a member of my local writers’ group. Other than that, my way of book shopping was browsing the bookshelves at one of the local bookstores, reading Amazon.com reviews, or listening to my friends about the books they’ve read, simply because anyone can publish a book now.)

So no, not for me, at least not right now.

That said, it got to a point where I struggled to find things to write about—not that I was running out of ideas, but I liked to save the really good stuff for professional (i.e. paying) publication, as once something is published online, even on your own blog (and even if you have only 100 followers), it’s considered published and you will likely never be able to submit it anywhere else. So, never publish anything online that you may find an adopted home for someday. I’ve written volumes of work I will never publish on my blog.

My advice: Never blog your book—you’ve worked too hard to give it away, and I have found that a book I haven’t paid for, but downloaded for free, is actually less likely to get read because I have so many books I paid for competing for my attention. Professionally self-publish before you ever blog your book. At least that way, you might have a chance at making a little money off of it.

Notwithstanding, you should still always post your best (but not necessarily your most ambitious) on your blog, and it should never be a dump site. When I write something (whether specifically or not) for my blog, it represents me, and it’s going to be polished to a fine patina.

Moreover, writing short on a daily basis has helped me add richness to my longer works, for what is a Great American Novel without great lines? With a blog, you see the results immediately, mostly via likes and maybe a follower or two (comments, apparently, take a great deal of effort because it requires you to actually read the article). With a novel, it might be months or years before you get feedback (much less published), besides the form letter that says it was great, but just wasn’t for them (which are the most maddening kind.)

Nevertheless, don’t let blog writing take too much time away from the writing that might make you money someday, unless you plan on making money from your blog. (I prefer the term “online column”.) Give your audience just enough to get to know you and your work (don’t just sell, but tell), because your blog will be one of your greatest assets when you publish that breakout novel.

~

Don’t think of blogging as giving away your hard work for free, but as investing a little time in yourself and your brand. There are fifteen great reasons to start blogging now!

1. It helps people get to know you better. If you are at present unknown, people are more likely to take a chance on buying your book if they feel they have a personal connection with you. Blogging is also a great way to advertise your product, but make the ad entertaining. Everyone loves a story, so use a story; you’re a writer, after all. Even Jesus got people to “buy” what He said using parables.

2. It gives you a voice, an outlet. Blogging isn’t a diary, but a narrative. No one sees the world quite like you do. As Edmund Wilson says, “No two persons ever read the same book.”

3. It satisfies our temptation for instant gratification. That’s one of the many reasons why we write—to connect with others.

4. It gives you writing practice.

5. It instills discipline with self-imposed deadlines.

6. It enhances your creativity. I’m not sure I ever would’ve stuck with the Writer’s Digest prompts if it hadn’t been for needing regular content. (I always include the link to the prompt, as it helps with search engine optimization.)

7. It’s free. (You don’t even have to pay for images.)

8. It can make you money. Attract enough followers, and this can happen to you.

9. It can get you speaking engagements. This is where many writers make a lot of their money.

10. It sharpens your observation, makes you become more aware. Everything, and everyone, has a story.

11. It helps you learn. You can learn as much by researching as you would by being taught.

12. Depending on the job description, it looks great on a resume.

13. It leaves a legacy. Like any distant star, there is a chance someone might land on it.

14. It replaces the dreaded Christmas letter. (This is if you post personal stuff on your blog, and some do, for friends and family.)

15. You get to know yourself better. Though writers often live inside their heads, they don’t always self-reflect, especially if they’re used to making things up. I’ve learned how to capture the ordinary, and make it extraordinary.

I’m still learning everyday how to become a better blogger, website designer, photo editor, and someday photographer.

Blogging, if done right, will not take a great deal of your time. What’s great about it is that you have complete control over your content and can even write ahead for it if you know you’re going to be short on time. (I did this during my summer medical internship, with months’ worth of Monday and Friday blog posts “in the can.”)

Blogging is a great way to unload some pent-up creativity—a way of shedding the excess, so you can focus on writing down the bones.

Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #324, Theme: Spectacular

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This Spectacular Age

We are the Age of the New Millennium—
the New Age of Identity,
where you can be anything you want to be,
even if you aren’t and can never be.
We are the Age of Information Technology
that flows at the speed of sound,
depending upon the connection.
We are at the Spectacular Age,
for never before has mankind
seen such leaps and bounds.

The spectacular camera
captures images
that would have been lost in the haze of memory.

The spectacular camcorder
captures a shot of a birthday,
a child’s particular laugh,
a political gaffe.
The camera holder is the apostle
who records the story from his or her perspective.

All is recorded for posterity,
for herstory,
for history.

The electric light drowns out the darkness,
keeping us awake,
aware,
so that we can have pizza
in a brightly lit parlor at four a.m.
Candles are now a novelty—
like a flame of the past.

Books can be downloaded,
uploaded,
and never go out of print—
the words of the authors living long
after they have gone.

I can Skype someone across the globe,
and I don’t even have to wait for a plane,
for I’m already there—
the sights and sounds come through loud and clear.

The feel of newsprint between my fingers
has become a fleeting memory.

Like a Luddite, I go to the bookstore
to open a book the old-fashioned way.
I savor the feel of the slick, embossed cover,
admire the gilt-edged pages,
and delight in the crisp black-and-white.

The clatter of flatware at the dinner table
is drowned out by the clicking of buttons—
the furious sounds of texting.
Conversation is a casualty.

The information superhighway is becoming faster,
like a New York minute—
with so many stops along the way.

I log onto Facebook,
where I go to hang out with friends,
where only those I want can become part of my world.

Then I log on to Twitter—
sending and receiving open telegrams
in 140 characters or less.
I am blitzed by information
that would have taken hours to look up before.

LinkedIn is where my qualifications outshine my shyness.

YouTube is where I watch and listen—
where I can learn everything
and nothing at the same time.

But WordPress—
that is where I tell the world my story,
so that to my descendants,
I will not be a mystery.

I look up from my phone
to find you standing right in front of me,
only to see you looking down at yours.
You do not even know I am there.

 

Great Sources for Children’s Songs

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Singing has always been one of my favorite things to do in the car (when I’m not listening to talk radio) and in church; so naturally, when I had a child, I wanted to sing to her, but not always old country tunes or church hymns (though we do the latter on Sunday night after I read to her from the children’s Bible).  I loved “Wee Sing” as a kid, because kids sang the songs, and the lyrics and melodies were easy to remember.  Whenever my family watched the Olympics, I loved listening to the different anthems, and chorus was one of my favorite classes in high school (even though the teacher asked me to please lip sync during performances).  When I was a little girl, “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” were two of my favorite movies, and part of that was because of the music.  Some movies like “Pocahontas” and “Rent” were only good for their singles.  Music in movies is like poetry in motion (pardon the cliché), and I’ve found many greats in the motion pictures.  How different would “The Graduate” have been without that awesome soundtrack?

There is just something about music that stirs the soul, and though I am hardly musically inclined (a sheet of music is like an unreadable map to me), I love it, and I wanted to instill in my daughter a love for it, too (it might even help her in math later, so I’ve heard).

  1. “The Wee Cooper of Fife” (the song the children in the schoolhouse are singing in “The Birds”).
  2. “Tammy” (from “Tammy and the Bachelor”, with Debbie Reynolds; though I would say this song is more appropriate for a little girl).
  3. “Early One Morning” (the first couple of lines of this song were sung by Pollyanna and Nancy when they were delivering calves foot jelly to the poor, but those two lines stuck with me and I googled the song), finding this wonderful link so I could hear the entire melody (I had to go to a separate site to find the lyrics):  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OAyS8OK9J4
  4. “Que Sera Sera” (the classic Doris Day song, from “The Man Who Knew Too Much”).  This is a very sweet song.  The refrain of “Skedaddle Skidoo” (also sung by Doris Day in “The Tunnel of Love”) is cute, too.
  5. “Popcorn Popping” was a song I learned when I served a calling in the nursery when I was LDS.  It’s great because it has fingerplays to accompany the words.
  6. In the 1944 WWII film, “Since You Went Away”, two young lovebirds are walking through a farm, singing, “Oh, my darling Clementine”.  When I looked up the actual “campfire” song, I was surprised at some of the lyrics, but from Mother Goose (like the “Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe” who whipped her children, which is considered child abuse today) to Stephen Foster (whose songs are just all in fun and were written in a very different time), you’re going to run into some objectionable words and phrases.
  7. HooplaKidz on YouTube is great (and free).
  8. The soundtrack from “The Sound of Music”.  My parents bought my daughter a xylophone, and it’s great for demonstrating “Do Re Mi”.  I often love to incorporate many of Hannah’s “favorite things” (Oprah and Maria von Trapp aren’t the only ones!) into the song.
  9. Christmas songs!  “Away in a Manger” is like a lullaby.  I like both the secular and the religious, though I only sing the secular at Christmastime.  (Christmas is in December; Jesus is for all seasons.)
  10. http://www.theteachersguide.com/ChildrensSongs.htm.  Great site for lyrics, but I have to go to YouTube to get the melody.  Who ever knew there were so many verses to “London Bridge”?  I made up sign language for every verse, which has been terribly fun.  My daughter bounces and claps whenever I start a song with a dance of the arms and hands.

Poem-a-Day Writer’s Digest Challenge #26. Theme: Coined by Shakespeare

For today’s prompt, take a word or two (I took it a step farther and used ALL of these:  http://www.shakespeare-online.com/biography/wordsinvented.htmlinvented by William Shakespeare, make it the title of your poem, and write your poem. 

What you are about to read is truly absurd (which is one of my favorite words, as it can be used to describe many things).  It’s sort of a riches-to-rags story involving a dizzy redhead and is a satire/spoof of reality TV.

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The Madcap Ginger

Lucinda Bahl catered and pandered to the one-percenters,

which was quite laughable,

as she thought they were greedy bastards

behind their majestic swagger.

~

She always greeted them quite obsequiously in disguise,

barefaced and blushing,

in a maid’s uniform concealing her tramp stamp—

a hint at her lower class from Flushing.

By dawn, she cleaned their houses;

by dusk, she cleaned their clocks.

~

In manic states of unrest and undress,

she was quite fashionable with body paint caked on as camouflage,

as she skulked through her employers’ McMansions,

replacing their Jackson Pollocks

with copies that mimicked the worthless works.

~

She was a zany, green-eyed bandit,

dauntless, equivocal and cold-blooded

a klepto with dual personalities,

who often hobnobbed with her alter ego.

~

She drugged (or roofied) her masters,

rolling the women for their jewels,

then noiselessly, in bare feet,

tipsy-toed to the other side of the bed

and reached under the bedroom blanket for the family jewels.

~

Dressed as Greg Brady,

her eyes would turn dark with excitement as she hurried,

finishing with a gust of breath.

Her right hand knew not what her left one did,

and her arms were like those of Olympians.

~

Every year, she would have a baby bump,

which always aroused a kerfuffle.

DNA was a woman’s best friend,

and a compromise would be reached without a scuffle.

~

Mr. and Mrs. would negotiate for the baby,

in exchange for the boodle,

and none was the wiser,

for they didn’t use their noodle.

It was a safe bet for Lucinda Bahl–

this belle of the balls.

~

Being a millionaire heiress herself,

her father being the inventor of the Spice Racketeer,

and collapsible luggage,

she was still lonely.

Prone she was to metamorphize into a generous, frugal soul,

donating plasma for free juice and cookies,

which became a strange attention addiction.

~

Nevertheless, she was remorseless

when she was in her right mind (or left brain),

for she blamed the haves for the have nots,

that littered her lawn like gnomes with their deafening cries,

making her gloomy and disheartened.

~

Then it became apparent there was an outbreak

of some disease which caused lots of bloodstained puking,

gnarled knees,

an epileptic elbow,

and an eyeball so lazy it wouldn’t bother to open.

The only cure was a glass of skim milk,

which would ease the discontent.

It was quite the source of gossip.

~

The men (all friends) began to realize they’d been had,

and when Lucinda came to work wearing an eyepatch,

they decided to fix her unwelcome wagon once and for all.

They had suffered character assassination from the media,

the academe,

and from countless anonymous online critics;

they had suffered savagery from their children,

torture from their wives,

who took delight in besmirching them to their mothers,

taking them to court and ruining their lives.

~

They wanted to charge Lucinda with unlawful seduction,

though they realized it was all circumstantial evidence,

for Yonkers was going bonkers with it.

~

Lucinda’s hair was no longer lustrous like sunshine,

her face radiant like moonbeams,

but lackluster and flawed.

She looked like the low-rent kind of broad

who lived rent-free in her head.

~

Lucinda the Accused,

became Lucinda the new star of TLC,

with lots of advertising from social media,

and with the backing of varied sponsors such as

Eastborough Baptist Church of the Quiverfulls.

~

“The Real Housemaid of NYC”, her label,

was obscene, but marketable,

and the gnomes had their hero.

Many assumed it had been a premeditated publicity stunt.

It was unreal, monumental,

this champion of the “working class”,

who was just a rehash of white trash.

~

She became a fixture on the cover of Starr–

a courtship that would last for 15 minutes.

 

However, it was never enough exposure,

and she got a show on MSNBC.

Hardly impartial,

but an open platform to rant about the dangers of breathing

and anything Bush,

pandering to their audience of 1000,

impeding her stardom.

She missed the ratings,

and so she filmed herself submerging in a bathtub of iced tea,

complete with a Dalmatian,

uploading it to YouTube,

becoming a cult sensation.

~

However, her girls, once fans, had become jaded,

even though she got an interview with the President,

who was quite a pedant,

much to Fox News’ amazement.

~

Her daughters remained with their sperm donors,

in their birthplaces in the five boroughs of New York,

becoming Olympians in pole-vaulting.

~

Lucinda’s ill-gotten gains dwindled,

and she retired from her life of psychosis and crime,

feeling more secure in a place she belonged–

the last star of “Stars Behind Bars”.

~

She’d reached her summit,

like a great mountaineer,

but at the end,

had groveled for a sex change while on the mend.

~

The buzzer went off,

and Lucinda, now beached

and pumped full of meds,

awoke from her little trip back in time,

feeling tranquil without a dime.

~

Tis the end of my ode to those who dream of a life of reality stardom,

and to those who watch it.

Poem-a-Day Writer’s Digest Challenge #10. Theme: How (blank)…

I thought this was one of the more creative challenges, and could see writing a whole series of How-To poems.  I had lots of fun with this one (which also took the least amount of time to write).  Enjoy!

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How the Colon Came to Be a Period

Colon Howell lived in the land of Alfabet City,
where all the punctuation was quite witty,
though he was tired of floating over vowels
because of the nosebleeds that made him dizzy.

A fast-paced city it was,
all the marks running on and on,
never stopping–
so exhausting.

While strolling through the park one day,
in the merry month of June,
he was taken by surprise,
by a bunch of loons—
We’s who’d read Ayn Rand and
wanted to become I’s;
they took his blue eye,
but he got away before
they were able to get his brown,
and he was bounced out of town.

When he returned undercover,
dressed as a semicolon,
he leaked his story on YouTube and HuffPost,
with an eyepatch over the part that was swollen,
full of ripostes.
Through his ordeal,
he found a new purpose,
for run-on sentences stopped,
and he was hailed a hero.

Ten Study Habits for College Students

  1. Search for ways to make the studying fun (i.e. by turning it into a game.  Teach yourself the Montessori way).  I love crosswords.  Unlike word searches, you actually “learn by doing”.  This is great for building vocabulary (most subjects have a lingo of their own, be it computers, engineering, medicine, etc.), because you learn as you create the puzzle, and then learn a second time as you complete it.  It also helps to use the word in a sentence.
  2. Come up with catchy ways to remember things.  I like rhymes and acronyms.  They may seem silly, but no one else will have to know how you remember but you.  It does help to have a creative mind when it comes to studying, as you are essentially becoming your own teacher.  Learning P.E.M.D.A.S. (“Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally”) was extremely helpful to me with solving mathematical equations in high school.
  3. Repetition, repetition, repetition.  It takes me about five times of waiting on a customer before I can remember the name that goes with the face.  It also helps to write something down in a notebook, rather than just typing it into a computer.  Illustrative objects, like charts and graphs, are also helpful.
  4. Write!  Learn how to write creative nonfiction, and write on the subject you’re studying, even if you don’t plan on submitting it anywhere.  You will be able to think critically about the subject, rather than just memorize, which will (ironically) help you remember better.  Apply what you know, and study what you don’t.  I learned more (and retained more of what I learned) about Ayn Rand when writing a paper on her, rather than just reading a bio.
  5. Read!  Not just your textbook, but the “For Dummies” books are helping me pass my Computer Concepts class.  Sometimes just reading about the same subject (with the information presented in a different way) will help that light bulb go off.  We all process things differently.  That’s why good teachers are so important.  I took the same subject in high school with two different teachers, which yielded vastly different results.
  6. Be organized.  Keep notes of what exactly you’re having trouble with.  Do what you can, and what you can’t, make a date with your professor to help you.  The more organized you are, the more time they’ll be able to spend helping you, rather than going through things you already know.  Sometimes, all it takes is the answer to one question, as you can’t build a house without first building the foundation.  Also, seek to connect with some of your classmates.  I found a very cheap tutor through e-mailing my entire class.
  7. YouTube.  It’s a great resource for learning just about anything.  Best of all, it’s free.
  8. Ask questions.  Use social media.  I learned how to “age-grade” my work on a Microsoft Word program through a Facebook friend.  This friend, who teaches how to blog on WordPress, taught me how to calculate what age group I was writing for.
  9. Caffeine.  Sometimes, it just helps you focus more.  I was able to knock out several computer projects in one night with the help of one Starbucks espresso.
  10. When the weather is nice, take advantage of it.  We need nutrition (which means lots of water), sunshine, fresh air, adequate and good quality sleep, etc.  Exercise is a bonus.  There is nothing like the natural high after exercise that makes you feel like you can conquer the world.