Writing Exercises

Writing books are replete with exercises meant to jumpstart your creativity. Even authors who write their memoirs can’t seem to resist mentioning the exercise that helped them. Whether the exercise is meant to focus your concentration or crowbar you out of a slump, I find writing exercises to be, well . . . tedious and annoying.

I remember a daily exercise where for one minute I wrote down the first ten things that came to mind. Then, no matter what the third thing was (or maybe it was the seventh), I spent another ten minutes writing about it.

I don’t know about you, but first thing in the morning my mind is creating a to-do list for the rest of the day, sometimes the week. My list often included thoughts such as take something out of the freezer for dinner, clean the litter box, and wash a load of jeans. Not exactly ideas worthy of ten minutes elucidation.

Needless to say, and yet I’m going to, I quickly tired of the exercise and abandoned it faster than a Spanx bodysuit in the women’s dressing room.

Now this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t try an exercise or two, and maybe they really have worked for someone, in which case I’d love to hear from you about the exercise and who suggested it. Don’t forget to include your results.

I have chosen a different approach to keep myself writing while larger works, like my novels and blog posts, swirl about my mind waiting to crystalize into something I can put on the page. For example, yesterday I left the laptop, pencils, and notebooks behind to spend the day with my grandbaby, Jacob. My writing flourished from the exercise.

I started by creating memories that don’t have to be edited because they’re already perfect, and now I can accurately describe a four-year-old’s laughter. It is pure sunshine. Then there are his little hands, more delicate than a bird’s wing and softer than a baby rabbit. Don’t forget his rubber band arms that he throws around my neck and noodle legs that he uses to run like a frisky colt.

And then there are his eyes, the color of melted chocolate; his eyebrows, pencil-thin and able to move independently of each other to express an array of emotions; or his knees, dappled blue and purple with a plethora of bruises.

His voice babbles like a little stream and makes about as much sense, his toes look like pink corn niblets, and his sweet head smells like warm grass.

So you see, I did write yesterday. I worked on description because there was way too much dialog to capture and most of it was delivered between fits of giggles and squealing. We do love a good game of tickle. Maybe I’ll recall this and use it in a story someday, maybe not. It really doesn’t matter as long as I keep at my writing.

Today, when Jacob is en route to his home in another state, I’ll return to the laptop, pencils, and notebooks. If I’m lucky, what I write then will be as perfect as what I wrote when I was with him.

Collecting the Masses

As I was typing a blog post last week, a tiny red flag flew up the mast in the back of my mind. I ignored it and pressed on toward my writing goal for the day. Fortunately, that small warning kept popping up as I went about business. I don’t know why my mind settled on the word hoard (or was it horde), but I knew I had used it recently only I couldn’t remember where. Making matters worse, after double checking definitions, I realized I had chosen the wrong one.

For two days, I skimmed my memory for how I meant to use it, and that helped me track down the scheduled blog post. Much to my relief, it hadn’t posted yet.

I had chosen hoard when what I meant was horde. Word had completely failed me when it produced neither red, blue, or green squiggles beneath the offending version to prevent my error. The next time I receive a survey from Microsoft during an update, I’m going to request purple squiggles for homonyms, homophones, and homographs. But I digress.

Hoard, the noun, means:

*a stock or store of money or valued objects, typically one that is secret or carefully guarded

“Smaug stood guard over his hoard of treasure.”

*an ancient store of coins or other valuable artifacts

“The search for a hammer resulted in the discovery of the largest hoard of Roman gold coins.”

*an amassed store of useful information or facts, retained for future use

“The NSA has a hoard of stored information about my activities.”

Hoard, the verb, means:

*amass (money or valued objects) and hide or store away

“She hoarded shoes worse than Imelda Marcos.”

*reserve in the mind for future use

“She hoarded every insult against her and plotted her revenge.”

And then there is horde, only a noun and the version I meant to use.

*a large group of people (derogatory)

“The Mongol horde invaded China.”

*a loosely-knit, small social group typically consisting of about five families (Anthropology)

A horde of peasants had lived about five miles outside of the village.

Don’t Have a Heart Attack

You know how it is. You’re typing away in Word, and maybe you truly aren’t aware of the difference or maybe you just made a typo, but in either case the blue squiggles have shown up under one or two words. I don’t often experience the blue squiggles. I’m familiar with the red (misspelled word) and the green (fragment). But when I see the blue squiggles, I know something is wrong.

It happened recently when I typed the word anymore. Making anymore into two words solved the problem, but I couldn’t let this correction go without re-familiarizing myself with the why behind it. Never hurts to brush up on my grammar, not to mention it makes a great blog post for The Weight of Words.

Any more and anymore have related meanings, but they are not interchangeable. How you use it will determine whether you type or write it as one word or two. Any more deals with quantities such as:

Would you like any more cookies?

Anymore is an adverb and has to do with time:

I don’t like cookies anymore.

A quick check to see if you need the single-word version is if you can switch it for the word nowadays. One source claimed this usage to be unacceptable in formal writing and quite rare, however, I believe it would add flair to one’s writing whether in the prose or as dialog. I also am a great proponent for keeping alive interesting words deemed archaic.

Another interesting fact regarding anymore vs. any more is that the traditional though less common spelling was as two separate words: any more. Apparently, in the last fifty years, anymore has increased in use giving rise to the one-word and two-word spellings, distinct definitions, and usage.

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 26

It’s time to take a deep breath and mentally prepare myself for one of my least favorite challenges in my writing life: querying. I remember the first time I queried my novel. I labored over my letter, presenting it to members of my writing groups and submitting it for a paid critique, as if I was writing the Declaration of Independence. Every word had to be perfect. Nothing less than exceptional would do as I crafted this key to unlock the doors to the world of publishing. But never mind the doors; I must first get past the gatekeepers.

Researching agents is a full-time job unto itself. I found literary agencies that represented my genre, and then I located specific agents within the agency. After choosing an agent, I looked to see which authors they had worked with and which titles they represented, hoping to find a title comparable with my novel. Using tips I’d picked up from webinars, I hunted for any connection between myself and the agent. (Did we have similar hobbies and interests, did we grow up in the same state, do they have pets?) All this was before I even sent the letter. Crazy, isn’t it?

Just today my husband wished for me the kind of writing life where I didn’t have to worry about publishing. And what is the concern, really? Can I not create art for the sake of art? Trying to have my work published was my idea. No one forced me to do it. But then I struggle with the question of why write if I’m not going to try to publish, and I start thinking maybe I should find a job. I hate the way money always pops up in my thoughts.

The truth is, I have a supportive husband who isn’t insisting that I find work or publish to bring in a paycheck. When combined with the abundant amount of free time I have, you may wonder what my complaint actually is. Sometimes, I do, too.

There are days I wish I’d never sought publication because I remember how it felt to write freely without that pressure hanging over my head. Don’t think for one minute, though, that I don’t want to be published. Because I do. I’ve invested in my blog and I maintain social media toward the endeavor of publication. My problem is that my two desires are at war in my mind and my heart.

There are also days when I wonder if I’m creating this drama for myself, and I laugh thinking at least I’ll get a good blog post out of it. Because really, it’s better to let this stuff out than it is to hold it in. So again, deep breath.

I am aware of the emotional toll querying can take on a writer, but I’m not ready to abandon my dream. I’ll balance it by realizing how good I have it in that while I’m waiting for replies, I can write freely to my heart’s content. I’ll fill notebook after notebook with words the world will never see. Writing just for me. And once again I’ll…

…Write Happy!

The Extra Space

My mother insisted I learn how to type when I was in high school. Since I didn’t plan on becoming a secretary, I failed to see the necessity of the class. She assured me that no matter what field of study I ended up pursuing, I would never regret learning how to type. When I think about all the reports and papers I typed in high school, the subpoenas, notices, and letters I typed as an office manager of a court reporting firm, and the short stories, flash fiction, novels, and blog posts I type as a writer, well, I’m glad I listened to Mom.

I learned on different models of electric typewriters in high school. They were very high tech at the time. The college I attended also used electric typewriters, but it wasn’t long into my education that the school transitioned to computers. Imagine how thrilled we students were. From that day forward, technology has progressed to the point where I’m now typing on a laptop. Things sure do change rapidly.

But one thing did not. My brain and fingers were trained to hit the space bar two times after any punctuation ending a sentence and after a colon. I’ve done it for thirty years, and no one ever said boo about it. Until recently.

It was pointed out to me that I needed to stop this practice. I failed to see the urgency of retraining my brain and fingers, so I continued to let the memory ingrained in my ten digits go about business as usual. Another person pointed out that my long-practiced habit may be viewed as a problem when submitting my work for publication.

I’m going to forgo my thoughts on how this minor detail could cause a major upset in the lives of those who would publish my writing and go straight to helping anyone who may still be placing the extra space after their punctuation. And in case you were wondering, the reason this has changed is because every letter among the fonts one can employee these days receives an appropriate amount of space negating the need for two spaces at the end of a sentence that used to improve readability. Below is an example of what I’m talking about.

The monospaced font required the extra space. Proportional fonts do not.

Correcting the problem is easy. If I can learn to retrain my fingers to hit the space bar once after punctuation, so can you. As for the documents you already have saved on your computer, there’s a quick fix for that, too.

Open your document

On the Home tab, in the Editing group, choose Replace. Or press Ctrl + H on your keyboard.

In the Find what box, type a period and two spaces

In the Replace with box, type a period and one space

Choose Find Next and click Replace All

Every instance of two spaces after a period will be corrected to only one space. The same steps can be used to remove the extra space after question marks, colons, and exclamation points.

I hope this was helpful to anyone out there who may still be placing two spaces after a period. In closing, let me say one small thing: yes, using two spaces after punctuation may reveal a person’s age, but that does not give anyone the right to point out what has now become an error with anything but tact and grace.

May I Take Your Order, Please?

I’m not a big fan of blog posts that are nothing but links, but a few people have requested this of me, and I dare not disappoint my loyal followers.  What they wanted to know was which recipes I featured from my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, went together to create the meals.  I didn’t write the posts in order, and since my novel has yet to be published, I thought I’d do them this favor.

From Chapter One, I featured fried eggs and potatoes, ham and redeye gravy, buttermilk biscuits with butter and jelly, creamed peas, fried apples, and canned peaches for the breakfast celebrating my protagonist’s birth.

In Chapter Six, the first time Johnny Welles meets his Aunt Prudence, I had his stepmother, Collie, serve fried chicken, black eyed peas, fried okra, mashed potatoes, and gravy.

The menu for the meal I created for Chapter Seven, when Johnny leaves the farm with his Aunt Prudence, includes cold fried chicken (See recipe above), fresh peaches, apple pie, and lemonade.

The pork chops I served in Chapter Nine went with the buttermilk biscuits, fried eggs, and fried apples from Chapter One.  If the food item appeared twice in my novel, I only featured the recipe once.

The brisket from Chapter Twelve, when John and Claude celebrated Hanukkah with their friend, Sam Feldman, was enjoyed with latkes.

John and his girlfriend, Garland, were served roast chicken, buttermilk biscuits (See recipe above), and peach pie by Garland’s father, Hugh Griffin, in Chapter Fifteen.  Those buttermilk biscuits were obviously a favorite of mine!

But then I must have liked the latkes, too, because they reappeared in Chapter Twenty Eight when John dined with the Hannah and Reuben Wise and I featured salmon patties topped with carrot slices and horseradish, latkes (See recipe above) with applesauce and sour cream, and homemade grape juice.

The last little meal I have to mention is the brown beans and cornbread served in Chapter Twenty Nine.  I assumed most people would figure out they go together, but they’re just too delicious not to mention.

I hope this satisfies the request to group my recipes as they were featured in my novel.  I still laugh to myself when I think how I feed my characters as if entertaining good friends.  It’s probably because I grew up with parents who can cook and enjoy doing so, and a grandmother whose simple food prepared with love forms some of my best memories.

There are only a handful of chapters that do not include a single mention of food.  As for the ones that do, and aren’t included here, I hope you’ll enjoy a trip through the Edible Fiction portion of my blog discovering the recipes.

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 21

A little over a month ago, I started a new section on my blog called Quotation Station.  It began as a blog post of its own explaining the difference between a quote and a quotation.  The idea was that I’d schedule writing-related quotations for my followers to appear on Friday morning.  They were to be a friendly handshake as we parted ways for the weekend, a final communication before my family began our electronics and social media blackout for Shabbat.  Everyone seems to like them so far.

Last Friday’s post included a quotation from Charles Bukowski stating “Writers are desperate people, and when they stop being desperate, they stop being writers.”  This particular quote fit my writing life so well.  At any given moment of the day, I have felt desperate about my writing.  Desperate to complete it, desperate to come up with new things to write for my blog or a literary journal or a novel, desperate to be published, desperate, desperate, desperate.  All that desperation added up to a lot of miserable living.

What struck me as interesting was that I’m not alone in this practice and belief.  But it also made me question it especially since one of my repetitive prayers was for peace in my life.  Desperation and peace cannot cohabitate, so which did I really want?

Further adding to my desperation was something a wise friend said to me a little over a week ago.  She asked how I was, and I ended up unloading a lot of desperation on her!  Thankfully, she’s not the kind of person to regret having asked.  At the end of our conversation, she suggested that I write from my abundance.  What does that even mean?

About a week after her suggestion, another wise friend gave me a pamphlet of Weekday Morning Prayers and the Bedtime Shema.  I started reading them in the morning and evening, and what an amazing effect they’ve had on my life in just three days.  My peace increased and my desperation diminished.

But wait, my desperate writer’s mind yelled, if you’re not desperate, you’re not a writer!  Turned out desperation was a clingy companion.  However, I was really rather tired of being desperate, and I was not at all willing to surrender the peace I’ve been praying for.  Also, I could keep writing what I loved when I wanted to write it.

You’re just being lazy, my writer’s mind whispered which I instantly knew to be a lie because leading up to the conversation with both friends, things have been falling in place in my life in a wonderful way.  Not to mention that the two chapters I’m somewhat blocked on in my new novel no longer freak me out.  I’ll sit on them for a while and not add to the blockage by stressing my mind out with desperation.  I’ll trust that in good time, the right words will come to me.

What all this boils down to for me is change.  I’m not good with change especially when it’s sudden.  Not that what I was experiencing was sudden, but it could have been if I hadn’t been so resistant to changing for the better as well as admitting that it was better.  It’s better that I’m no longer running on the gerbil wheel of desperation for all the things I mentioned above.

So now I’ll explore the abundance in my life, and I’ll write from there.  I’ve discovered an abundance of talent given as a gift from God.  I’ve discovered an abundance of time which is another gift.  I have an abundance of great books by authors who I admire; I’ll follow their example.  I have an abundance of wise friends whose counsel I’ll seek when desperation desperately tries to re-enter my life/writing life.  I have an abundance of support from my husband, William, who has supplied me with great storylines, helped me work out problems in my plot, and won’t let me stop writing when I’m in the desperation dump.

I have no doubt that desperation will attempt to raise its ugly head in my life.  It’ll evolve and reappear as envy, writer’s block, or self-doubt.  Fortunately, my arsenal is well stocked with abundance.  And in case I forget that, please, dear friend, do not hesitate to remind me as you are part of the abundance in my life.

Write Happy!

Good Question

Last week I read an interesting post, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?, from fellow writer S of JSMawdsley. My initial reaction was one of surprise quickly followed by familiarity and finally relief. What S had written struck a chord with me because so many times I’ve wondered why I’m doing what I’m doing with my writing.

My surprise came from the fact that so many writers play it close to the vest never revealing that the writing life isn’t going exactly as they had hoped. S put all her cards on the table by admitting that she wasn’t having fun and planned to rectify the situation by only writing what she wanted to write.

I am familiar with her desire to maintain a quality blog as well as working myself into a tizzy over what to write. When S said she’d give half an hour every two weeks to writing posts, I thought either she’s committing blogging suicide or I’m insane for overworking it. For me, the fear on this subject stems from being told I must have an author platform to market myself prior to publishing my book. This is such a distraction and takes away from my writing time.

By the end of S’s post, I felt encouragement knowing that I am not alone in my concerns. If she can refocus herself by only writing what she loves, so can I. I’d rather be ruled by my passion for writing than by my fear of falling social media stats.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you are a writer, you’re not alone. In fact, musicians, photographers, painters, dancers, and all those who create art, it’s time to wrest your craft back from the hands of those who are more concerned with profits than they are with the creation process. Take inspiration from each other and step back to reassess when things go askew. Rediscover your passion, and then go forth and create.

Easy Peasy

Kids today just don’t know how easy they have it. Even as I say this, I know I sound old and bitter. Still, I have to share this one in my Writing Toolbox because I am a huge proponent of giving back. I rarely need to create citations for my blog posts, but when I do, I’ll be heading directly to EasyBib.

What a brilliant website! No more spending hours in search of the correct way to cite websites, books, videos, etc. Several different formats are available, some with an upgrade, and you can create one citation or an entire page of them.

I love that you can search a book by the ISBN, and I’ve been playing with this feature all day. Also, you can edit your citation before copying and pasting it directly into your work or keep a running list for your bibliography page and choose later which to use or discard.

Somewhere there is a teenager who is probably laughing at me because he or she already knows this exists. That may be the case, but I like to think there’s a man or woman beginning or returning to a secondary education, and they will appreciate that I shared this information.

No Bad Apples

no-bad-applesToday’s post falls into the category of Research Road, however, the information I discovered didn’t make it into my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, or more correctly, it was removed. The reason for this underscores my admonition to always check your facts. Whether you’re writing historical fiction or fantasy with factual details familiar to the known world, it’s important to present the particulars accurately.

In an effort to entice potential readers once my novel is published, I have familiarized them with characters and situations through the food I featured in the story. Recipes for these meals can be found in Edible Fiction. Last week, I wrote a post for an apple pie eaten in a scene relaying Dr. Welles’s first trip into the town where he decided to spend his later years. For this particular pie, I chose to use Paula Red apples. They are among my favorite pie apples because they have an old fashioned flavor and become sauce-like when baked. I thought a little history on the heirloom apple would make for an interesting blog post, and that’s when I learned my mistake.

According to several websites devoted to antique apples, Paula Reds were discovered as a seedling in Sparta, Michigan in 1960 by Lewis Arrends. The apple, named for Arrends’s wife Pauline, was a happy accident that appears to have descended from the humble McIntosh. Why is this important you ask? Because the scene in which a Paula Red apple pie is eaten by Dr. Welles took place in 1958, two years before their discovery and ten years before they hit the market. Perhaps my favorite apple wasn’t as vintage as I first believed.

There are those, my mother among them, who will argue that this is a minor detail, one that wouldn’t be discovered by the casual reader. But as I’ve stated before, I’m not a casual reader or writer, and these details are important. How can I expect my readers to have faith in what I say if I don’t conduct thorough research? (Who is in Your Details?)

I know readers are expected to suspend some belief at times and trust their favorite writers, yet I can’t allow that one person who could nail me on the facts to be disappointed any more than I could tell blatant lies. Obsessed with the facts? I think so! In closing, I hope that another writer will benefit from the information presented about Paula Red apples. At the very least, I hope I’ve prompted writers to check their facts.

By the way, if you want a great recipe for an apple pie, check out the post All-American Goodbye.

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