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Category Archives: Musings and Odd Thoughts

Creative Non-Fiction

The Help

 

 

 

 

When last we spoke I told you that the new goal was to get help. That goal was identified back in January. One of the best sources of help any writer can find is a really good writers group. Now I googled “writers groups” and Google provided me about 236 million potential hits. I cut that down to a manageable amount by picking a state to focus on and decided whether I wanted an online group. I have tried a few online groups and a couple were okay, but I was really looking for some face to face interaction with people I can get to know and trust. So, I waded through the groups based in Wisconsin and cut the number to five. All were within 35 miles from home and each listing advertised that the group members were trying to get published, a key factor in my decision. With high hopes, I sent out five emails requesting contact and additional information.

Group One Response: The reply email said that she was no longer with the group and that she thought they had folded but I could try to contact a different individual. I received no response from my attempts at the second individual.

Group Two Response: The reply stated that they had over 100 members! and that they were full for people submitting work, but I could come by and offer my opinions. In other words, I could critique other’s work but could not submit anything to get feedback. Reading other work and offering opinions is valuable and can help your own writing, but I was looking for feedback on my work.

Group Three Response:  We are a group of seniors who write for fun and get together and read our work to the group. Better, but not there yet.

Group Four Response: We are a group of writers who are trying to get published. We use writing prompts and then read our work to the group for feedback. Because this group met in very close proximity to me, I decided to attend a few sessions. There are some talented writers in this group with some interesting ideas. However, it was not the critique group I was looking for.

Group Five: On their website, the group indicated that they were a very serious group dedicated to getting everyone in the group published. They were, however, full on membership (10 people). If I was interested in joining, I could apply and if my qualifications were acceptable, they might make an exception, or place me on a waiting list in case a member left the group. I had nothing to lose so I put together a short bio of my writing experience, goals and involvement in other writers groups, and sent it in. I was actually shocked when I received an email requesting some additional information including a sample of my work. Two of their group would critique the sample and provide feedback so I could see what to expect and what was expected of me when I critiqued others. A few days later, I received their “crits” and a writing sample that I was asked to critique. I provided my feedback and was then told that they would present my request, writing sample, and crit to the group for acceptance. There was no guarantee that I would be asked to join at this point. Damn, I’ve been through job interviews that were not this intensive.

As it turned out, I was asked to join and honestly, it has been worth the effort. As advertised, the group is knowledgeable and motivated with eclectic backgrounds and styles which makes for a wide variety of comments on a submission. The crits can be hard at times, but the criticism is directed solely at the writing and not the writer. The result is that I can see a huge improvement in my writing and I have a much better idea as to what my “voice” sounds like. Many of my writing “ticks” (Bad habits) have been identified so I can catch them during revision and as I write future stories. The group”s comments have created a lot of revision work for me, but that is the point of a critique group. I always have the choice to act on their suggestions or not.

I know this is the type of group that I’ve been looking for, and needed to take me to the next level, and ultimately help me prepare my manuscript for submission to an agent. My advice is, If you decide you need a writers group, do whatever you must to find a GOOD one. One that fits your needs.

Goal: Get help. CHECK!

New goal: Finish this revision.

 

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An interesting life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What has made your life interesting?

Some people might say that they lead a boring life and nothing much happens to them. Yet, I have met very few people that after a few minutes of conversation, I would agree with them. Granted, some people’s lives are more “exciting” than others. But that doesn’t make one life less interesting. Everyone’s life is unique. Even identical twins grow up to be different people. So, what is it that is interesting?

Here’s a little exercise you might enjoy. Pick a famous person that you find interesting. Take some time and write down all of the things that you find interesting about them. Your list may include appearance, type of work, travels, political views, hobbies, events they participated in, etc.

Next, pick a family member, relative, friend, co-worker, or neighbor. Someone you know well and find interesting or admire. Make a list of interesting things about them. As before be as complete as you can.

Now the fun begins!

Write your name at the top of a piece of paper. Without judging whether you think it’s interesting or not, complete a list for yourself. Use the same criteria and categories you used for the other two lists. Include appearance, type of work, travels, political views, hobbies, events they participated in, etc. Don’t think about your answers, just write.

When you have finished, compare all three lists. Are there any similarities? What from list number three would someone else think is interesting? Are there any “mundane” things that jump out as interesting on any of the lists.

If you are really brave, ask a close friend or someone else that you trust to be truthful what they find interesting about you. Be prepared for a few surprises.

Now, for those of you who write, think about your characters. Are they a bit flat? What can you add to their back story to make them more interesting? Did they have a job repairing organs while they went to college? Did they travel to the Yucatan during spring break and got lost in the jungle? Do they carve bear figurines out of soapstone to relieve stress?

A few lines of your story mentioning one of these points can add depth to your character that makes them more real.

So, I ask again, “What makes your life interesting?”

 

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Revision, Revision, Revision

 

 

 

 

There! I’ve added the scenes that needed to be added to complete character arcs. I’ve included “showing” details and cleaned up the timeline. I’ve given the characters depth and conflict. Strong action verbs replaced adverbs and weak phrases. I even think a spell check happened somewhere!

Is it ready to go to beta readers for review? I want to say yes. But, a nagging feeling is telling me to go through it again. I know I could add a scene or two to help explain a few things. However, I’m afraid it might slow the pacing to a crawl and wouldn’t really add to the story. So, I set the draft aside for a month and worked on a different project.

After I had worked on the new story with a different setting and cast of characters for a few weeks, I found myself thinking about my draft in the drawer. From a high level, I asked myself, “Does the story flow well? Are the characters interesting? Are there any holes?”

The next time I opened the laptop (“Drawer”), the draft came up and, starting at the beginning, I read the whole story in one sitting. There were a couple spots where I felt jarred by the dialogue. A couple more where characters seemed a bit flat. I placed comments in the margins and kept going. When I finished reading, I realized I stilled liked the story. Not sure if that is good or bad!

The result of the reading is that I am going to take one more pass at it before I send it out for a real critique. I’ll be hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

 

 

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Wanderlust

“Not all who wander are lost.”

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Something that has always intrigued me, is why wanderlust only strikes a group of individuals and not everyone. Some travel the world, never staying in one place. Like a river , they may slow down for a time but never come to a full stop unless forced to. Others remain where they were are, never venturing beyond their home county or state borders. Seemingly afraid they might explode if they crossed some invisible border on a map.

I seem to fall in between. I tend to stay in one place for long periods of time, but I’ve never been afraid to drop everything and move the family across the country. Perhaps not having children makes moving easier, I ‘m not sure.

Stranger still is the fact that siblings raised in the same household can show signs from either end of the wanderlust spectrum. One can’t wait to get out of their home town and explore the world while another wants nothing more than to find a job and a spouse, buy a little house and could care less what the rest of the world is doing.

Is it DNA? Choices of the parents? What makes two siblings who, though are only a year or two apart in age, see the world so differently?

I have seen this first hand within my own family and for the life of me, I cannot figure out why it happens. One choice is no more valid or real than the other. It’s just different. When I ask them to try to explain how they feel, the response is the same, “I don’t know. it’s just the way I feel.”

I do understand the ones who go out into the world and explore for a while and then return to their roots. That makes sense to me as they have made a choice based on experience. The ones that baffle me are the ones who never leave and are not interested in ever travelling. Yes, it’s their choice but really? You never want to see other places? It’s hard for me to grasp that.

So, how about you? Are you consumed with the wanderlust? Or, are you a die-hard homebody? I really am interested to hear.

 

 

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Story Plot Grist Mill

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As writers, we should see ideas everywhere. They can come out of the most surprising places or something mundane can trigger that creative spark.

Over the last 60 days, I have quit my job of 20 years, accepted the job of a lifetime, sold my house, bought a new house, started the new job and survived the first week of orientation. All without losing my mind or my temper. But, more important, there has been no fewer then eight ideas for story scenes pop into my head based on the situations I’ve been dealing with.

For example: I was sitting at a bar having a going away lunch with a dear friend. I ordered a glass of Macallan 12 year scotch with one cube. Except that instead of “cube” it came out of my mouth as “stone”. The young female bartender with the face of an angel smiled and asked, “Would ice be okay?” Realizing my poor choice of words, I apologized for confusing her.

Her eyes twinkled as she replied, “You’re going to make me cry.”

My friend quickly recommended, “You should go into the freezer to cry so that your tears make him some special ice cubes.”

At this point my overactive imagination took over and the next five minutes, I “think wrote” a scene for an upcoming short story involving a beautiful barkeep, a character ordering a drink with one stone and some ice made from the tear of a goddess. The scene will be the catalyst some unusual story lines.

My friend, who is also my alpha reader, laughed until she cried at the way the scene came together. She had never seen me do that before and has been wondering how I worked.

Every personal interaction can be tweaked a bit and used as the groundwork for your story. Maybe the arrogant moving company agent turns into the guild master who doesn’t realize he’s dealing with a master assassin. Perhaps the talkative real estate agent makes the perfect noble fop to obtain intelligence from on the royal court.

The bottom line is this: keep your eyes and other senses open because you never know where the next interesting idea will come from.

 

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Woodsman

The Magic Wand

The Magic Wand

He wielded the ax like a side-show magician waving his wand. Pieces of the dried oak log flew apart almost before the razor-sharp blade made contact. A single log, a foot in diameter, would be turned into thumb-sized kindling under the spell of the woodsman.

Gnarled hands gripped the hickory handle like a mother holding a baby. Whipcord arms worked effortlessly as they repeated the motion: left hand set the log, right hand dropped the ax, left hand set a piece, right hand dropped the ax. As the pieces became smaller, the left hand never left the wood. It would simply relax long enough for the ax to strike and then quickly catch both pieces before they fell to the ground.

How could anyone who looked so frail make cutting wood look so easy? Born before natural gas or fuel oil furnaces, he cut wood to heat his mother’s home and provide fuel the wood stove where she made biscuits and gravy. Thousands of strokes with that ax, made over a lifetime, honed timing and strength into the perfect harmony of tool and man.

Try as I might, duplication of his effortless precision is beyond my grasp. Perhaps, it was magic after all…

 
 

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Reality

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How do we respond when reality happens?

Most of our lives we go about chasing what we call our dreams. Professional athlete wannabes. Rock star wannabes. NYTBS wannabes.

We work to make money to afford the luxuries we call necessities. That pair of Jimmy Choo’s. That new computer or tablet. That 4,000 square foot house.

We try new things to keep our lives interesting. Take up gourmet cooking. Skydive. Run a marathon. We live vicariously though our children, hoping they will make it big where we failed, so they can support us in our old age.

John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens to you while you are making other plans.” He hit the nail on the head, I think. But there are times when Life decides to autocorrect. When we think our lives are stressful and actually we are on cruise-control. Suddenly, the phone rings or the police car pulls up in front of your house…

“I’m sorry sir, but there’s been an accident…” You can fill in the blank with your own worst nightmare.

Life is no longer a passive thing that we just experience. It has just slapped us across the face with a cold wet fish and said “WAKE-UP! It’s time for a dose of reality.” The switch has been thrown, our train is heading down a new track, and our lives will never be the same!

What we say and do in response, helps to define what we have learned in life up to that point and our character is carved out a little more. It might be only one test that we face. Or, it might come at you in waves that seem to never end. Almost before the last news has fully sunk in, the phone rings again… And, three days later, the phone rings again…

It has been said that “God will not give you more to bear than you can handle.” That leaves a lot of room for interpretation. In whose opinion is it too much to handle? I have seen first hand what can happen when someone breaks. It is a frightening thing to witness.

One factor that can make a huge difference in our response, is the size and form of support system that surrounds us. Don’t kid yourself, you still need to deal with reality individually. However, having others to talk to, ask advice from, and sometimes just sit quietly with, can be the difference between making it through your ordeal and not. Support can come from the strangest places so don’t be surprised when a near-stranger stops by and offers a hand up.

The truth is, we will each handle the news differently. There is no right or wrong. You will do the best you can and only you know when you’ve reached your limit. Expect to be stretched beyond where you thought possible. It will happen.

Best advice for this situation: “Take it one day at a time. Do what you have to do to get through today. Worry about tomorrow when it becomes today.”

“This to shall pass.”

 

 

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