Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Mom's Story, With Love

"The world is a book. Those who do not travel read only a page." --St. Augustine

We've just returned from a trip to California, a trip with special meaning. Please forgive me for having a nostalgic moment here, but the following are thoughts I came home with. You'll see the purpose of this latest trip as you read along. All of this has little to do with the subject of writing except to say, run with your imagination where ever you go. You'll see what I mean...

Once upon a time there was a little boy who loved to fish, wander the creeks, and chase butterflies. He wasn't Christopher Robin, but like the boy in A.A. Milne's The House at Pooh Corner, he had his array of childhood friends, including Bert, Ernie, and a black cat named Tootsie-Too. He entertained himself for hours by building cars--on his bed. A bowl served as a steering wheel, various toys as engine parts, and a box covered in brown paper was decorated to look like a battery. The best of the best was when someone dragged in a real radiator for him. This child spent countless preschool-aged hours driving hundreds of imaginary miles to all kinds of imaginary places.

He was a little boy who loved to take items from the pantry and stock his own playtime store on the screened-in porch, pretending to sell his stock back to mommy for a penny here and a penny there. Once he even sold groceries to the neighbor lady, who played along with his game so convincingly that mommy didn't know the box of baking soda had sold until she went looking for it.

The little boy grew to enjoy basketball, the electric guitar, and a family tradition of Friday night international meals. On those nights, recipes from a different country were prepared, facts about the featured country were shared, and a well-worn globe was pulled out in order to locate the country's position in the world.

The boy grew up to become, not a builder of cars, but an engineer in his own right. He accepted a job offer and moved to California right after college. He married a lovely young lady and, as time went on, opened his heart to his own little boy, Nicholas. And then...the day came when imagination became reality. He no longer chased butterflies, but he chased, caught, and ran with a dream he had dreamed for a long time--a dream to live in another country.

The day has arrived. He is about to embark on a journey that will take, not a car built on a bed, but a whole range of modern day marvels to make his dream a realilty. He has sold, not groceries from mom's pantry, but personal belongings like cars, furniture and appliances. This time next week all the preparations will have been completed, and he and his family will fly to...Spain. There they will begin their new lives.

And so, where proud parents (that's us by the way!) once stood back and marveled at a child's imagination, they now step back and wave to a grown-up son who is living out the dreams of that imagination. Birds once sang their songs outside his bedroom window. They've sung their songs outside of nine month-old Nicholas' room in California as well. The mural that Nicholas' mommy painted on his bedroom wall stands as a testimony of songs waiting to be sung in their new home far away.

We wish them smooth travels, bright-eyed wonders, and all kinds of good things ahead. And who knows what adventures will open up for those of us who cheer them on. The fun has only begun.

Keith, Suzan and Nicholas--we love you. Let your imaginations soar. We'll anticipate all the many stories that will only be yours to tell.

And don't forget to skype!

"People travel because it teaches them things they could learn no other way." --Lance Morrow

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Keep the Words Flowing

"If you're going to be a writer, the first essential is just to write. Do not wait for an idea. Start writing something and the ideas will come. You have to turn the faucet on before the water starts to flow." --Louis L'Amour

Just checking in...did you write all that you hoped for this past week? What are your writing plans for the upcoming week?

I won't be at the desk much myself in the next few days because of different things here and there, but I plan to keep the words flowing anyway--through journaling, entries in my "targets" notebook, freewriting some character sketches. Gotta' keep the faucet open so the words don't dry up!

What plans do you have to keep your words flowing in the new week ahead?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Writer's Block: True or False?

(photo courtesy of

I recently came across this quote, and I'd like your opinion on it:

"All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don't get plumber's block, and doctors don't get doctor's block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy from it?" --Philip Pullman

So is writer's block for real? Or is it simply a term that's used to mask something else? What would that something else be --fear, doubt, insecurity? Procrastination? Trouble with BIC (Jane Yolen's famous term, butt in chair)? Ahhhh, I really want to know!

Plumbers don't get blocked. Doctors don't get blocked. Writers? What do you think?

Friday, February 11, 2011

A is for Amateur, B for Bathtub

"Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of 15." --Willa Cather

I feel like I'm learning more and more about writing every day. Even, I have to admit, all the way back to the basics, like in a child's ABC's. This week I learned the letters A and B...

A is for As and Amateur. Rule #37 In The Writer's Book of Wisdom, 101 Rules for Mastering Your Craft, by Steven Taylor Goldsberry, states: "The 'As' Clause is for Amateurs." Goldsberry explains, "When 'as' works as a conjunction, meaning 'happening at the same time,' it tends to weaken the power of the two clauses it conjoins. In other words, when 'as' begins a sentence, it accelerates the reader past the information he just read and hurtles him toward what's to come, all without allowing him to savor the first...(and vice versa)...Either way, the power of the two bits of information deflates. E.g. As the monkey jumped from the ceiling, the rat scampered away.

He suggests we search our manuscripts for the use of the word 'as' then revise those clauses into their own independent sentences. Or use the coordinating conjunction 'and.' The above sentence would then read: The monkey jumped from the ceiling. The rat scampered away.

"Think about it," Goldsberry writes. "How often do you use 'as' clauses in conversation? As we walked into the store, we saw the book. Would you talk like this? It sounds affected. No, you'd say, We walked into the store, and we saw the book."

B is for Bathtub. In The Pocket Muse, Ideas and Inspiration for Writing, author Monica Wood shares a story from Jerome Stern's Making Shapely Fiction, where he cautions against writing the 'bathtub story.' "A bathtub story opens with the protagonist taking a bath (or occupying a similar confined space). During this bath, the protagonist thinks of, ruminates upon, wonders about, and analyzes the past, present, and future, but he never gets out of the bathtub."

What's the memory trick that's supposed to help you remember people's names? Well, to help me remember writing rules, I think I'll hang them on alphabet letters. A is for the amateur use of 'as,' and B is for bathtub, as in get your character out there doing something! If two alphabet letters can do this for me, think what will come with the other 24!

What great writing tip did you come across this week that you want to remember?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Latest, Most Favorite Writing Tool

"At its most basic we are only discussing a learned skill, but do we not agree that sometimes the
most basic skills can create things far beyond our expectations? We are talking about tools
and carpentry, about words and style...but as we move along, you'd do well to remember that
we are also talking about magic." --Stephen King, On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft

Thanks, Girl Friday over at Reading, Writing and Ribaldry, for introducing me to my latest, most favorite tool--EditMinion. What a treasure for those of us up to our knees in revisions.

Quoting the page, "EditMinion is a robotic copy editor to help you refine your writing by finding common mistakes. To get started, paste a chapter of writing into the box and click Edit!"

What kind of editing help does EditMinion offer? The site scans the copy, and highlights such problem areas as adverbs, weak words, passive voice. It notes frequently occurring words, and gives a count of how often you use them. It notes misspelled words and--my weakness--sentences that end in prepositions. Appears it also points out cliches, but maybe I'm stronger in that category. After using the site to edit six chapters, not once was a cliche highlighted. Yea!

I just pass on this information in case you'd like to check it out. I'm guessing that you, too, are on a quest to dig deeper and make your writing better. We're always on the look out for tools that might help us master our craft.

And, with any luck and a lot of perseverance, we'll uncover some of the magic Stephen King talks about along the way.

What has been one of your latest, most favorite writing tools?

Friday, February 4, 2011

On the Power of Stories

Stories have power. They delight, enchant, touch, teach, recall, inspire, motivate, challenge. They help us understand. They imprint a picture on our minds. Want to make a point or raise an issue? Tell a story. Jesus did it. He called his stories 'parables.' --Janet Litherland

Have you heard the story of the penguins? No, not the movie--but this one, supposedly credited to the Audubon Society's magazine:

"Bored Royal Air Force pilots stationed on the Falkland Islands devised what they thought was a marvelous new game. Noting that the local penguins are fascinated by airplanes, the pilots searched out a beach where the greatest congregation of birds gathered. Then the pilots flew slowly along the water's edge as nearly ten thousand penguins turned their heads in unison watching the planes go by. When the pilots turned around to fly back, the birds turned their heads in the opposite direction, like spectators at a slow-motion tennis match. To give the penguins a little variety, the pilots flew out to sea, turned around and flew over the top of the penguin colony. Once again, in unison, heads went up, up, up, until all ten thousand penguins toppled softly onto their backs."

An amazing story! One that captured my imagination, and certainly left an impression.

The source from which I read this account seemed credible. She was an inspirational writer, and used the example in her book to motivate her readers toward a joyful attitude. And--to her credit--she did say she had not documented the facts. So for years I believed this to be a true story.'s not.

You can check it out over at Snopes. It is simply an urban legend, and the facts show how a figment of someone's imagination got picked up and spread around. The truth has, if you will, put the penguins back on their feet.

Still, it's a good story.

I'm reading Nancy Lamb's The Art and Craft of Storytelling. Just started it, but am already excited about what I will learn--and attempt to apply--as I dig deeper into my new WIP. The Table of Contents speaks for itself: Part I--Building Plans; Part II--Foundation and Structure;  Part III--Structural Supports; Part IV--Interior Designs; Part V--Finishing Touches.

In the first chapter, Lamb shares this thought:  "It is a privilege to write stories...You open new worlds, you introduce new ways of thinking, and you lift the reader closer to the light. This is the power and purpose of story. And this is the tradition you honor."

And so, although the penguin story is not based on fact, I use it to remind myself of the power of a good story--how such a story can delight, enchant, touch, teach, inspire, challenge. For sure writing is a privilege, a tradition to honor...

...AND sometimes a mind-toppling challenge.

But we're up to it, aren't we?

At least we aren't bored!