Tuesday, July 31, 2012


So I am on Twitter, I have this blog up and running, however I haven't been able to bring myself to open a new Facebook page for the purpose of writing. And I'm not sure want to overwhelm my private Facebook page.

Why load my schedule with more things to keep up with? Because we're talking platform. Advice from a recent book I read by an agent says that you need to build a platform while writing your book. Put yourself out there, join the community, talk to people, gain followers, interest people in what you're doing.

The author suggests writing out a schedule...doing certain activities on certain days to keep it up-to-date and not overwhelm yourself. Any other suggestions for platform building? Is this kind of premature or is it worth doing now, at the very beginning?

Friday, July 27, 2012

What I want from you is - your Voice.

Voice. It's really that important and yet it seems the most elusive part of writing. You can point it out if you see it, but it's hard to define exactly. And it's not something you can imitate easily, I don't think...well, if you imitate it, then it's not YOUR voice, is it?

Having just read a section on "voice" by agent Paula Balzer, I find myself wanting input from more experienced writers on this topic. Balzer says that if she is drawn by [the voice, among other things] in a query letter, she'll read the first paragraph of the manuscript. If it's as good, she'll read more. So voice is crucial.

I follow quite a few blogs of experienced writers. Their posts and comments are always so lyrical and well thought out. It sounds like they are writing poems and prose right on their blogs and comments of others' blogs! My writing, on the other hand, is very straight forward. Clangs in my ear when I read it next to theirs.

I took a number of classes with the same teacher for my grad degree in English. It was a smaller college and I went part time for two years becaue I was teaching too. My first class with her was about Memoirs. In my third class with this professor (Children's Lit), she had us write a memoir type piece and she said the beauty of my writing is that it is simple. She said not that it's simplistic, but that it's not a bunch of hootin' and hollerin'. That particular writing made points about my faith and events where it has played out in my life, as I was writing a piece of my story in correlation with the newest Newbery Medal winner (at the time - 2007), The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron. (But overall, it was the fourth or fifth memoir piece she'd read from me, not to mention my research work.) This professor, not really a "faith" person, was impressed with the way I presented my view.

The funny thing is that I had a co-worker reading my writings for classes as well and he made the exact same comment about it being "simple," and gave the same explanation.

So if it touched her so much, and more than one person has made the same statement, then is "simple" my voice? And will it happen naturally as I write and re-write? Is this just my inexperience talking here?

Any advice/opinions on Voice out there? Let me hear it!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Memoir Music to My Ears

Took a chance on a book about memoir writing and ends up it's a gem too. Writing & Selling Your Memoir, by agent Paula Balzer, was a whim. Honestly, picked it up because of the title and bought it because it was written by an agent.

I haven't finished the "selling" part, but I really bought it for the "writing" part. She breaks down the best selling NY Times memoirs so the reader can see structure, dialogue, and voice at work. She also gives realistic places to start with your memoir ideas. After feeling like I wasn't sure how I wanted to work my writing, I now feel like I have some ways to work that pesky point of view.

AND, my favorite part, she agrees with Stephen King's advice - you have to be reading as much as possible. She says if you're not, don't bother with the writing. Music to my ears! I bought 16 memoirs this week from recommendations of two friends and this book. I will have a happy month of August before the new school year starts :)

If you're interested, the memoirs I purchased for the rest of my summer are (minus subtitles, because some are quite long):

Traveling Mercies - Ann Lamott
Blackbird - Jennifer Lauck
Still Waters - Jennifer Lauck
Autobiography of a Face - Lucy Grealy
Girls of Tender Age - Mary-Ann Tirone Smith
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight - Alexandra Fuller

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress - Rhoda Janzen
A Stolen Life - Jaycee Dugard
Fairy Tale Interrupted - Rose Marie Terenzio
Monkey Mind - Daniel Smith
When Did I Get Like This? - Amy Wilson
A Three Dog Life - Abigail Thomas

What Remains - Carole Radziwell
Tender Bar - J.R. Moehringer
We Thought You Would Be Prettier - Laurie Notaro 
Escape - Carolyn Jessop

I am really a reader at heart and my love for reading is what causes me to write. I love words.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


I've noticed that a good way to keep my goal in mind is to read books of a similar genre. I am having trouble settling on point of view for my story. So, I want to keep reading as much as I can to help settle this.

So I am looking for recommendations in the Narrative Nonfiction/Memoir genre. (Narrative nonfiction being a story that is factual, but reads like a fiction novel rather than presentation of facts in the newspaper.)

Another kind of recommendation I am looking for are books set in the 1950s and 60s. This will help me with setting and time frame.

Thanks Everyone!

Friday, July 20, 2012


My parents' basement office, door shut

No phone, TV, or video games

Me, my seven-year-old laptop, a printer, a flashdrive, and a bag of M&Ms

1,000 words


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Not love at first sight...that's how I know it's true

Remember that one book I didn't feel bad about buying a couple posts ago? Nice to know my reader's intuition was dead on. Stephen King's On Writing  is a gem. I have never been a King fan, only because I do not read or watch anything remotely horror related. However, I thoroughly enjoy his ventures in other genres, although a couple are somewhat related to the horror genre I guess. Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and 11/22/63 to name a few. And as I read 11/22/63 I noticed that King really is an excellent writer (yes, I'm way behind on noticing this...better late than never.)
So, having finally picked up King's book On Writing, I have fallen in love. He reaffirms so many things I have found to be true, things I have questioned myself about, and things I didn't think of when it comes to writing and being a writer. Look at these quotes (in bold):

          If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot....I'm a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year, mostly fiction. Yea, okay, the story of my life (at the 50-60 count level)! Nice to know I've been doing something right the past 32 years!! 

          You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. It's hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they've written, but I know it's true....Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.  THANK YOU! Finally, someone who gives support for why teaching writing isn't working so well in schools these days. Students do not really read (at all), so it is very hard for them to grasp the craft of writing when they have to. (Not saying we shouldn't teaching writing, but it is an uphill and slowly losing battle.)

Reading is the creative center of a writer's life. I take a book with me everywhere I go, and find there are all sort of opportunities to dip in (he names a few that I agree with :)....Reading at meals is considered rude in polite society, but if you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway. AWESOME!!! I love my friends and family, but there are so many times I'd just rather be with my book...and it seems at this point it was all for a reason. Is that harsh? I don't know that I care that it is. It's the truth, it's how I've really felt at times. And while I am all for balance, once a dream has been birthed and is obviously meant to be (remember, I'm not claiming anything about publication, just the act of writing), that really is all there is to it, if the person is willing to put in the work! I cannot remember a time when I didn't want to read or write. God has programmed this into me!

King goes on to name a bunch of places you can squeeze reading in. I have to add this one in just for my husband and TV lovers everywhere. Yes, he's talking especially to writers, but still: You must be prepared to do some serious turning inward...and that means, I'm afraid, that Geraldo, Keith Obermann, and Jay Leno must go. Reading takes time, and the glass teat takes too much of it.  Here's the part I love: I'd like to suggest that turning off that endlessly quacking box is apt to improve the quality of your life as well as the quality of your writing. Sounds like advice to the world at large (my italics). 

Anyway, you get the picture. Finding King so long after he's been a big deal was perfect timing for my writing life.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Opened Eyes

A Discovery:

Pen to paper and fingers to the keyboard
The words aren't so easy
Taking on this foreboding task
Now feels weary.

Heart heavy
Mind far gone
Too far in
Feeling withdrawn.

More than bargained
This task taken
Previously presumptuous
Or currently being shaken?

More depends upon it
Than is really known
Feels overwhelming
And alone

Who am I
To do what is asked?
To have what it takes
To finish this task.

A Prayer:

"Can You take me by the hand?
Can You use me as I am?
Break me into who You want me to be

When the time is finally right
Will You open my eyes
And show me everything you want me to see?
This life is not my own.

Everything I say and do
Let it be all for You
The glory is Yours alone." Aaron Shust

Saturday, July 14, 2012

"Start at the beginning...and when you come to the end, stop."

Wise words for such a mad little man and silly rabbit. So why do writers, of all people, not heed them? Or is it just me? I'm only a month in and I've broken the rules I lay down for my students. "Just write what comes to mind and then you can go back and fix it. The important thing is to get your ideas down on paper."

Okay, so since I'm writing about a life, I took down some stories. I've got enough to start with, but what do I do instead? I go buy books on writing. Stephen King's On Writing is the only one for which I will allow an exception - I've heard such good things about it for so long, I had to finally get it. (Besides, I got the 10th anniversary edition and the cover is that soft paper, like the skin of a peach. Top that e-readers.)

The other one is a book on Memoir writing. The three that I told myself I'd hold off on while I was at Barnes and Noble, but then bought on Amazon cause I found them much cheaper, are on character, emotion, viewpoint; dialogue; plot and structure. Now, let's be realistic, I have no problem buying books, especially worthwhile books. What I do have a problem with is how I will now let them consume more time from my writing than I should.

Do you know what I really think this is? It's not love of books or wanting to do nothing but read (though those are both true), it's procrastination. But why? I have more time now than I ever will in the next 9 months and a solid idea to run with. (Screw prepositions - who cares where they go in the sentence anyway?) I read a quote recently, but cannot find it again for the life of me. It said something like "Writers think they are blocked, but they are really blocked by the idea of being blocked." I'm thinking about it too much - I'm trying to learn all the rules before I start.

So, hopefully this blog will let me rant and rave at myself and force me to drop these bad habits and I can just get on with it. Betsy Lerner said it well in The Forest for the Trees, "Writing demands that you keep at bay the demons insisting that you are not worthy or that your ideas or idiotic or that your command of language is insufficient" (26). So here's to starting at the beginning...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

It's the Thought that Counts...

I've waited ten years for an idea to "bite" me, as Ray Bradbury once said. A few months ago my mom was telling a story from her childhood and I said to her, "You could write a book on your life and Oprah would love it. It's her kinda thing." It was true, but I was joking when I said it.

But as the next month went by, I heard myself say it again at the end of another story and the thought stuck in my head as I began to think of ways in which to weave her story. One night in May I called her with a particular teaching triumph in my AP class and then blurted, "I hope you know I am serious about putting your life into a story. It would work. I have so many ideas." When I called, I had no intention of saying that! But, the thought of writing her life story had been repeating in my mind for two months at this point and it was as real to me as if it was already done.

My mom laughed and said, "Sounds good." And ideas always sound good at conception, but usually fade upon reflection. Then she offered the undebatable confirmation. She said about a year ago (spring 2011) she had gone to a local coffee shop with a church friend and they ended up meeting another friend as well. As they talked the second friend suddenly said to her, "You have a story in you." She just shook her head and laughed because the idea of her writing a story was preposterous! I laughed too, but grew awestruck when she solemnly said, "But he didn't say I was going to write the story, he simply said the story was in me. Looks like you are going to write it." I don't know if I believe in coincidences or not, but this was kind of too weird to be a coincidence.

The conversation turned into talk of meeting and telling stories. I told her ideas I already had forming. I told her my only intention was to write her story. I wasn't going to sit here and say, "This will be published!" Would I send it if I came up with something acceptable? Absolutely. But really, I just think her story needs to be written. It's a story of overcoming all odds, of not becoming a statistic. It's a story of God's glory working in and through people...I told her this. And that her story needs to be one that gives hope, written is such a way, "that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart" (Maya Angelou). I told her the difference between her happy ending and those of other similar stories is that "her story needs to glorify God, the reason for her hope."

She started to tell me the story of "how I came to be." I'd heard this story before - the struggle to have a baby and all. But this time, of all times, there was a piece I never heard or maybe never remembered before, as if it was saved special for this moment. She said she always wanted a baby just because she wanted one. But one day she finally said to God, "I want you to give me a baby that will glorify You." My exact same words (quoted above) 32 years later caught her ear and jogged this memory - giving us a second confirmation in one phone call that we needed to complete this writing project together.(And if you haven't gotten the picture yet, yes, God/Jesus plays a big part in this for me. No - no religious fanatic here, just someone who has learned through experience Who is leading the way in this life.)

Two confirmations not enough for you cynics out there? A couple weeks later my co-worker suggested a book for summer reading book club at our school. "The Color of Water" by James McBride. Ok, sounded cool. I ordered it off of my book swap site without question and was stunned by the subtitle when it came in the mail. The complete title reads: "The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother." What?! Of all books to come across my path, one where the author is writing about his mother's life!!! And it's a good read too. Want another confirmation? James McBride and his mother give the glory of her life turning out how it has to Jesus Christ. I'm telling you, the more I experience life, the more I don't believe in coincidence.

But, the irony of ME writing my mom's story? That's a post for another time.

The Purpose?

I've recently set out on a writing adventure. I've been a reader my whole life and in my teens and early 20s considered myself a writer. I gave up for about ten years and have just now jumped back into the game. Why? Because of an idea - a sudden, quick inspiration that was planted with a joking remark, but given enough thought to grow. Literally God-inspired, I'd say!

So, the purpose of having a blog? Not sure. I don't ever talk about the fact that I am writing something, let alone about the writing itself. I found a great blog by Editor/Agent Betsy Lerner after reading her book "The Forest for the Trees" (which I had bought just before my 10yr hiatus and didn't read until last month). I found people I can relate too! And while I read every comment made by everyone on Betsy's posts, I caught myself thinking I'd like a place to put my thoughts. Not a journal, but somewhere other writers can reply and hopefully we can all Keep Inspired.

So this is my attempt at stepping out and connecting with a community I've never known beyond myself and my beloved teachers. I am not blogging to glorify my talent or myself through my talent. All glory goes to the One who gave the talent, but writing is a lonely activity. It's a job where one person spends much time alone, trying to connect to others (Betsy! Nice). Even with a full life and people all around, writing takes a person to a place that no one can understand unless they too have had the experience. I have no one in my life who would understand this, so I open this blog to share the experience with others and have them share with me.

"Any man who keep working is not a failure." Ray Bradbury