Something Wonderful

Night

Stars over snow,

And in the west a planet

Swinging below a star—

Look for a lovely thing and you will

Find it,

It is not far—

It never will be far.

Sara Teasdale

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Conjuring Characters

How do you create characters whose experiences have nothing to do with your own? Imagination? Intuition? Research? A big question! An intrepid group of writers tackled it in a recent freewheeling Craft Chat hosted by the Write Group. A few highlights:

Elle: “I have to listen and be responsive to my imagination—open that creative vein. I don’t know the characters till I write. Words come as I write the characters: What are their vulnerabilities? What’s the field—what’s happening around them?”

Reg: “Embellish—take an actual incident and add onto the story….As a writer, you have to be confident about what you’re writing. The easy way to develop confidence is to add true incidents into the story.”

Elle: “You can weave truth into a story so it’s relatable and real.”

Storyteller: Wrote about Jean and her dog, Boots: “Words were streaming through my head like I was just transcribing, surfing a wave of energy.”

Elaine: “The characters present themselves. Which part of the brain is producing them and giving them life? I have no idea.”

Reg: “Reality and fiction—those walls have long ago collapsed. The world we live in is fake. Getting as close to the truth as possible—that’s what we do as artists.”

Martha: “When I think of characters, listening leads to them. One way to make a character interesting is to give them a little tic.”

Jill: “Art is something you’ve never seen before.”

Tiavanna: “Is it passed down? I don’t know where this creativity comes from.”

Elle: “People who become artists are chosen. We’re all each other.”

Reg: “The world is a mess and our job is to create beauty and truth. Whatever character or story you’re creating has to be more beautiful than real life.”

Wonderful, inspiring words! Conjuring characters, real or imagined, is tons of fun. Let’s enjoy the ride as we all write on!

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Coaxing Creativity

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Albert Einstein

We’ve all had those moments when we feel like our muse is on vacation and our creative juices just aren’t flowing. As my friend and mentor Rob Gilbert often says, “You’re not lacking creativity, you’re blocking it.”

What to do, what to do? A few creativity-boosting strategies can help you break out of your rut and think differently:

Make unlikely connections: A hallmark of creativity is the ability to make surprising links between ideas and things. Just think of some of the wonderful similes you’ve read. As this suggests, one of the best ways to stretch your mind and shake out the cobwebs is to find connections between seemingly unrelated concepts. Just think about the different ways kids use a cardboard box — as a spaceship, a lemonade stand, a log cabin, a clubhouse. One simple way to challenge yourself to creatively connect the dots is to pick three words randomly from a newspaper or a dictionary and spend 15 minutes writing a story about them. You’ll be amazed at what you come up with.

Come up with a new angle: Changing your perspective can be a fruitful way to jog yourself out of the creative doldrums. If you’re writing a novel, for example, you might rewrite a scene from your antagonist’s point of view instead of your hero or heroines. Or you might play devil’s advocate and try to talk one of you characters out of taking an action and see how he or she responds. You might also find inspiration by having an inanimate object or a creature without a voice share its view of what’s unfolding.

Switch gears: Sometimes all we need to get our creative juices flowing is a mental coffee break — a pause that refreshes. Since we work with words all day, grabbing some crayons or colored pencils and drawing free hand or in one of those new adult coloring books can be relaxing and reenergizing. If you’re a logical left-brainer, try daydreaming and see where it takes you; if you’re a right-brain intuitive, solving a complex puzzle can help your creative juices start flowing.

Creativity is a bottomless well, just waiting to be tapped: The more we draw from it, the more there is to draw from. Are there any creativity boosting techniques you’ve found especially helpful during a dry patch? Feel free to share them as we all write on!

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Linda Uplifts

“My friends are my estate.” Emily Dickinson

I was going to write about something else today, but my friend Linda had other plans for me. You see, today, August 10th, is her birthday. She passed away earlier this year after a treacherous bout of cancer and I miss her every day. Last year on her birthday, I gave her among other little gifts, a pink journal emblazoned with the word “Starting” on it. This year, well, this year is different—I’m writing this in her honor.

Linda was one of the smartest, strongest, wisest and wittiest people I was ever lucky enough to meet. We first found each other when our kids, my son Alex and her daughter Natalie, were in the second grade. In fact we met on a school trip to a play somewhere. Linda was one of the designated drivers for the parents on the trip and I had the good fortune to grab a spot in her backseat. She kept us all laughing the entire trip and from that day forward, we were friends. Over time, we truly became sisters in spirit.

It was Linda who told me about the “Land of Possibilities,” a phrase I love and often use in my posts. When I would be waiting to hear about writing I had sent out or for something sense, Linda would say, “Now, you’re in the Land of Possibilities.” Anything can happen was what she meant—the world was full of opportunities and wondrous events.

Linda taught me so much! Her last name was D’Amico and she would regale me with stories about growing up Italian in Brooklyn. She even taught me a few Italian words I absolutely loved. One was so great: “embroiliamente” (I have no idea how to spell this, but you get the picture!) An “embroiliamente” was just a big mess where everyone was all hot and bothered. What a handy word—how apt and all-encompassing!

My dear, dear friend was also a constant booster of my writing. She would sometimes say to me, “Karin, you know how to spin gold out of straw,” or in my freelancing heyday, “Karin, you’re the only person I know who can write for PriceWaterhouse in your flip-flops.” She loved my children’s fantasy and often read pages for me and gave me ideas. She also loved my play about Sojourner Truth, DUST OF EGYPT,” and I know she’s thrilled that it’s been accepted into a festival.

Multi-talented doesn’t begin to describe Linda. She was a wonderful editor, who helped others, including me, shape and sharpen our words. She was also a gifted writer. While a returning student at Montclair State, she wrote many stories about her life. They were so compelling that I encouraged her to put them in a book. We spent hours in her kitchen working on this. I even taped some interviews with her. But somehow, this project never panned out. As we all know, writing is hard work and you have to really stay with it. For Linda, life often got in the way of the gifts she had.

Linda loved life, but life didn’t always love her. She had many tough times, times I did my best to help her through. She did the same for me. Now, for me, she’s past all that. Her burdens have fallen away and she is pure love and light. May her angel’s wings brush my cheek, touch my heart, and make my pen mighty! Bravo, Linda! Write on!

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Award Alert

We don’t have any preferences topically or in terms of style. We’re simply looking for the best. We don’t define, nor are we interested in, stories identified by their genre. We do, however, consider ourselves a publication that focuses on literary fiction. Dazzle us, take chances, and be bold….Our mission from day one has been to support emerging writers. We want you to succeed. We want your words to be read. The Masters Review

An open invitation to be creative and plays with genres! Very inviting!The Masters Review’s Short Story Award for New Writers is a bi-annual contest for emerging writers. Deadline: August 28th.

This year’s winner will receive a $3,000 prize and agency review, and their story will be published online in late winter/early spring. Second and third place finalists will be awarded publication, agency review and $300/$200 prizes.

Literary agents reviewing submissions: Nat Sobel from Sobel Weber, Victoria Cappello from The Bent Agency, Andrea Morrison from Writers House, Sarah Fuentes from Fletcher & Company, and Heather Schroder from Compass Talent.

Guidelines:

  • Winner receives $3000, publication, and agency review
  • Stories under 6000 words
  • Previously unpublished stories only
  • Simultaneous and multiple submissions allowed
  • Emerging writers only; writers with book-length work published or under contract with a major press are ineligible. (We are interested in offering a larger platform to new writers. Authors with short story collections are free to submit unpublished work, as are writers with books published by indie presses.)
  • International English submissions allowed. No translations.
  • Double-spaced, 12 pt easy-to-read font (i.e., Times New Roman, Garamond, etc.) please!
  • $20 entry fee.
  • All stories are considered for publication
  • All submissions will receive a response by the end of November
  • Winners will be announced by the end of December.

If you’re an “emerging writer, “ why not polish your work and submit. All it takes is one winning story to launch you. Write on!

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Write Freely

Brenda Ueland was an independent, highly successful writer who authored a classic called, If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit. What a marvelous, magical title!

She was a true believer in the power of creativity and devoted much of her energy to helping people unleash that power within themselves. To inspire us all today, I’ve gathered some quotes from her book:

“Everybody is original, if he tells the truth, if he speaks from himself. But it must be from his ‘true’ self and not from the self he thinks he ‘should’ be.”

“I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten – happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another. ” 

“No writing is a waste of time – no creative work where the feelings, the imagination, the intelligence must work. With every sentence you write, you have learned something. It has done you good.” 

“Work freely and rollickingly as though you were talking to a friend who loves you. Mentally (at least three or four times a day) thumb your nose at all know-it-alls, jeerers, critics, doubters.” 

“Don’t always be appraising yourself, wondering if you are better or worse than other writers. ‘I will not Reason and Compare,’ said Blake; ‘my business is to Create.’ Besides, since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of Time, you are incomparable.”

“The only way to write well, so that people believe what we say and are interested or touched by it, is to slough off all pretentiousness and attitudinizing.” 

“Creative power flourishes only when I am living in the present.” 

“…writing is not a performance but a generosity.” 

“Work freely and rollickingly” — what better advice is there? Write on!

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Something Wonderful

Viewing the Waterfall at Mount Lu

Sunlight streaming on Incense Stone kindles violet smoke;

far off I watch the waterfall plunge to the long river,

flying waters descending straight three thousand feet,

til I think the Milky Way has tumbled from the

ninth height of Heaven.

Li Po

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Worth Writing

How to Enjoy Writing: A Book of Aid and Comfort — love this title! This guide by Janet and Isaac Asimov has a passage that leaped out at me:

“To be a writer means to write when the weather is beautiful outside; it means to write when you could be resting or talking or visiting or doing all sorts of pleasant things; it means to write not because you are happy writing so much as that you are unhappy not writing.

“And most of all, to be a writer means to write whether there is any reward or not. That is why a writer finds it so difficult to overcome the feeling of annoyance at any interference with his writing whether from a friend, from an editor, or even a person whom he loves above all else.

“Of course the help is meant to improve his writing, and of course it may end up improving his writing and increasing his success. In his heart, however, he doesn’t want to improve or be successful; he wants to put the material that is swelling in him on paper and the process is so individual and so private that it cannot be interfered with without spoiling it somewhat. A professional writer will make alterations when demanded, but I have never known one to do so without grumbling….

“Write for the pleasure of writing only and never think of whether what you write is “good” or “bad.” Do you wonder whether the echo of your footsteps is good or bad, whether the blink of your eye is good or bad? Writing is a bodily function for a writer and it is what it is. It may be wise to give up the illusion of being a famous writer, a renowned writer — but it is never an illusion to think of being just a writer. That is a matter between you and yourself.”

Isaac Asimov surely ranks as one of the most prolific writers in the world.: Over his long career, he penned 350 books. He was staggeringly prolific, but freely admitted that he often sacrificed quality to speed.

Still, there’s something wonderful about writing his bold advice to “never think of whether what you write is ‘good’ or ‘bad.’” What a difference it can make if we write for “pleasure only” in the first blush of our drafts! Something to ponder and apply today as we write on!

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Pudgy Prose

“Despite its tireless narrative energy, despite its relentless inventiveness, the book is bloated…Repetition is the problem; the same stories are told several times, accruing more detail with each telling.”

This unsparing review of a novel by a popular writer is quoted in the pithy and valuable guide, “Self Editing for Fiction Writers,” by Renni Browne and Dave King. In da chapter called, “Once is Usually Enough,” the authors go on to say,

“The problem…is one we see regularly in the writing of both novices and professionals: unintentional repetition. Most writers already know how to edit out places where they have literally repeated a word or phrase. But the repetition of an effect can be just as problematic. Whether it’s two sentences that convey the same information, two paragraphs that establish the same trait, or two characters who fill the same role in the plot, repetition can rob your writing of its power.”

This is a problem I’ve certainly struggled with, both at the sentence level and in the larger arena of plot. I’m sure it’s familiar to you, too.What to do, what to do? Browne and King offer some help:

Putting your work away for a few weeks or even longer can help you see it with fresh eyes and helpfully spot repetitive story elements.

Be alert for “unintentional word repeats” and hit the delete button for some of them. Word repeats can jar or even annoy readers.

When you pinpoint repetition, try to spot the weakest version of a word or thought, eliminate it, and see if it’s stronger and more effective.

Check your chapters: Do you have more than one chapter that essentially accomplishes the same goal? What about characters?

Look for plot or stylistic devices that you are enamored with. If you decide they’re being overused, then consider jettisoning a few.

Helpful tips for pruning our prose. Let’s make it muscular, not pudgy, as we all write on!

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“Today, Well-lived”

Today, I was blessed to happen upon the wonderful Sanskrit “Salutation to the Dawn” by Kalidasa and wanted to share it with you:

Look to this day,

For it is life,

The very life of life.

In its brief course lie all

The realities and verities of existence,

The bliss of growth,

The splendor of action,

The glory of power–

For yesterday is but a dream,

And tomorrow is only a vision,

But today, well-lived,

Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness

And every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well, therefore, to this day.

What a wonderful reminder to us all to make the most of this fresh, beautiful day before us! Let’s take joy in our work! Let’s revel in the “bliss of growth.” Let’s take pride in our “splendor of action.” And let’s harvest the “glory of power,” as we create new worlds and improve our craft. Above all, let’s “look well” to this day as we all write on!

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