Something Wonderful

Song of the Seashore

The soft waves lisp,

On the stone-spangled shore,

Shining and shimmering,

Murmuring ‘More …

More music, please …’

And the stones sigh and ride

And whisper their songs

To the incoming tide.

— Daphne Lister

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Emily Enlivens

Today, July 30, is the divine Emily Bronte’s birthday. What a gift she is to the world — her fire, her compassion, her poetry, and the sublime and stormy Wuthering Heights! Gems from Emily to enliven us all:

“Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”

“I has everything dreamed in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind.”

“I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading: it vexes me to choose another guide.”

Love is like the wild rose-briar; Friendship like the holly-tree. The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms, but which will bloom most constantly?”

“I see heaven’s glories shine and faith shines equal.”

“The tyrant grinds down his slaves and they don’t turn against him, they crush those beneath them.”

“I’m tired of being enclosed here. I’m wearying to escape into that glorious world, and to be always there: not seeing it dimly through tears, and yearning for it through the walls of an aching heart: but really with it, and in it.”

“If I could I would always work in silence and obscurity, and let my efforts be known by their results.”

“Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree.”

“Treachery and violence are spears pointed at both ends; they wound those who resort to them worse than their enemies.”

“She burned too bright for this world.”

And now, inspired and energized, let’s all write on!

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Sparking Ideas

As creatives, fresh ideas are our stock and trade. They are our fuel. They energize and enliven our stories and make writing more fun. Who doesn’t feel excited when a fabulous new idea floats into our head? Here are a few simple ways to spark innovation and creativity:

Make lists: When we’re stuck or in need of a new plot twist or a new character quirk or move, many of us take the tried-and-true approach of jotting down a list of ideas in a notebook or on our computer. But most of us stop after two or three possibilities. Turning to the “The Rule of Six” can help. Usually, your first three ideas tend to be the obvious ones that are top of mind. Why not dig deeper? Challenge yourself to come up with three more and often you’ll find your mind starts playing. You may just come up with some offbeat, odd idea that really sings.

Make believe: When you’re searching for a new idea, one of the simplest ways to pry one loose from your brain is to ask “What if?” Questions challenge your mind to come up with answers. “What if an elderly couple arrange to adopt an orphaned boy to help them, but end up with a girl instead?” This question simple question, jotted down in a notebook one day became the seed of the beloved classic, “Anne of Green Gables,” which went on to become a whole series of books. Why not play the “What if…” game and see what unexpected places it takes you?

Make tracks: There’s plenty of evidence to support the notion that straining after an idea creates a level of frustration and anxiety that isn’t really helpful. But allowing yourself to become just a tad frustrated and then backing off and doing something completely different—something that’s repetitive and seemingly “mindless” allows your brain the time and freedom to dips into its vast resources and help you. So next time you feel stuck, why not take a walk or do a bit of gardening? You might be surprised at what pops into your head when you least expect it! Your mind loves a challenge.

Make magic: Sometimes something fresh and new can spring from combining two unrelated ideas. When you put them together, you generate a concept or theme that’s unusual enough to be intriguing for readers and engage them. Taking a bu;nah of kids and putting them in a school for wizards—that unique combination gave J.K. Rowling a hit children’s series. Why not come up with a cocky combo of your own?

Fresh ideas—what fun they offer both us and our readers! Howe do your spark them in your own work? I’d love to hear any strategies that work well for you as we all write on!

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Rewarding Readers

When I tell aspiring writers that they should think of themselves as part entertainers, they don’t like to hear it — the word smacks of carnivals and jugglers and clowns. But to succeed you must make your piece jump out of a newspaper or a magazine by being more diverting than anyone else’s piece. You must find some way to elevate your act of writing into an entertainment.”
William Zinsser

This comment from William’s classic guide, On Writing Well, appears in the final chapter, called “Write as Well as You Can.” While the book focuses on writing nonfiction, it’s full of advice and ideas that we writers of fiction can benefit from. 

I love the notion that one aspect of writing as well as we can is to divert and entertain our readers. Here’s a concise and direct definition of the word “entertain:”: “to provide with amusement or enjoyment.” When I think of books that I’ve really cherished and returned to over time, the word “enjoyment” certainly springs to mind. These books have captivated me and given me pleasure in deeply satisfying ways. They’ve taken me into new worlds and given me a window into the minds and hearts of memorable characters — and made my life richer and fuller as a result.

How can we make our writing more entertaining — more enjoyable and fulfilling for our readers? Our boy William has a few helpful suggestions:

First, we can introduce the element of surprise into our stories and offer something unexpected and/or unusual. This can take the form of an anecdote, a paradox, an outlandish detail, or a plot twist that shakes up our characters, shifts the path they take, and creates anticipation.

Second, we can use humor — moments of levity and lightness that let the reader rest for a moment, even in the midst of a tragic story. Flaubert’s deft touch with details and his exuberant dialogue in Madame Bovary come to mind. Though his tale is anything but light, some of the moments and characters sketches Flaubert provides are fun and witty.

Third, a writer can entertain through style — through “his personality as he expresses it on paper.” “Given a choice between two traveling companions — and a writer is someone who asks us to travel with him — we usually choose the one who we think will make an effort to brighten the trip.” 

So, whether we’re laboring in the vineyards of fiction or nonfiction, let’s make sure that we give consideration to one of our fundamental jobs: offering our readers entertainment. And then, let’s write on!

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Engaged Readers

There’s an old Chinese proverb that says: ‘One demonstration is worth more than a thousand words.’ A good rule, I learned, is never to say anything you can dramatize. Better yet: never dramatize anything yourself that you can get the customer or prospect to do. Let the customer perform. Put him into action. In other words: Let the customer help you make the sale.” Frank Bettger

This gem of wisdom comes from Frank’s classic guide, How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling. When I read this nugget of advice, it jumped out at me: I realized that this principle applies to involving readers in our stories just as it does to customers in a sales pitch. Here’s what I mean: When we create active readers — when we make them “perform” and put them “into action” — they become more committed and engaged. 

Ever since I made this connection, I’ve been thinking about the different ways in which we can transform our readers from passive absorbers of our stories into active, fully engaged “performers.” Here are a few techniques I came up with:

Sketching details: In our earnest desire to help our readers see the worlds that we see in our own heads, we often overload our stories with so much color and description that we rob them of the joy and pleasure of imagining that world in their own unique way. I think this is one reason that books made from movies are so often disappointing — often, the graphic images in a film aren’t as emotionally satisfying as the pictures we create ourselves. So a deft, light touch in sketching details may prove more provocative.

Enliven the action: Action sequences and high drama offer rich opportunities for giving readers an adrenalin rush and hooking them emotionally. Combining “headlongedness” (love this word, I made it up!) — that breathless sense of forward momentum with just the right pacing can really put your reader into the thick of things.

Push the pause button: While action sequences can help hook your reader, if you pile them on too quickly or without giving the reader the time to process them, the result can be distancing rather than involving. So consider giving your reader moments to reflect and integrate what’s happened.

Sprinkle clues: The enormous and continuing popularity of mysteries is proof positive of a compelling tendency we can use to our advantage: Many readers love to solve puzzles. With this in mind, consider creating mysteries within your story and then peppering it with clues. I’ve done this in my children’s novel — it’s loads of fun and has added some extra zing and zip.

End chapters with cliffhangers: This is an old tried-and-true way of keeping your reader actively engaged in your story — but since its works, why not use it? Crafting these little verbal pushes from page to page is challenging, but very satisfying. Why not give it a go?

I’ve come up with five “active reader” techniques here, but I’m sure there are tons more. Any approach you’ve used that’s worked well for you? I’d love to hear about it. Write on

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Attitude Ahoy!

“It’s your attitude, not your aptitude that determines your altitude.” Zig Ziglar

Amazing but true: A Harvard Business School study identified four critical factors related to success: information, intelligence, skill, and attitude. When these factors were ranked in order of importance in terms of their impact on achieve in success, the study found that information, intelligence, and skill combined added up to 7% and attitude accounted for 93%!

Can it really be true? Can 93% of our success in work and in life be the result of attitude alone? When you think about it, it makes total sense, doesn’t it? Our attitude — how we approach the challenges we face and the circumstances that come our way has everything to do with the outcomes we achieve.

Consider the 10,000 trials that Thomas Edison went through to invent the lightbulb.When someone asked him how he handled failing 10,000 times before he finally found the right materials he responded that he didn’t fail 10,000 times, he learned 10,000 ways how not to create a lightbulb! How could he not succeed with a can-do attitude like that?

So let’s walk on the su;Nancy side of the street today.

When an obstacle crops up, let’s see it as an opportunity to grow, to be more creative, to tap our ingenuity in overcoming it.

When we face rejection, let’s remember Thomas and the 10,000 trials.

When we’re feeling low, let’s take action instead of sinking down. Actions change attitudes, motion changes emotion, movement changes moods, according to my good friend and mentor, Rob Gilbert.*

And when we feel ground down by something that’s happened, let’s gather our grit and tap into our gratitude. When we’re grateful, we release positive energy and this can shift our mood—and our strategy.

Attitude is a decision—let’s choose wisely as we all write on!

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Something Wonderful

The Dragonfly

When the heat of the summer

Made drowsy the land,

A dragonfly came

And sat on my hand,

With its blue jointed body,

And wings of spun glass

It lit on my fingers

As though they were grass.

—Eleanor Farjeon

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E-book Awards

If you’ve created one or more e-books in either fiction or nonfiction that you feel are primed to find a bigger audience, then you may want to consider submitting to the Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-book Awards. Deadline: August 31. The categories open for submission are:

FICTION

Contemporary

Romance

Fantasy

Science Fiction

Young Adult

Mystery/Thriller

NARRATIVE NONFICTION

  • History
  • Philosophy and insight
  • Politics and Social Science
  • True crime books

The Grand Prize Winner will receive:

$5,000 in cash
Feature article coverage in the May/June 2022 Writer’s Digest” issue
A paid trip to the Writer’s Digest Conference
A platform & marketing consultation with Chuck Sambuchino, author of Create Your Writer Platform

One First Prize winner in each category will receive:

$1,000 in cash
Promotion in the May/June 2017 issue of Writer’s Digest
All entrants will receive a brief commentary from one of the judges. 

For more information, visit writersdigest.com. Write on!

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Practice Perfectly

There’s a simple strategy for improving at anything you want — a secret that most people don’t really know about.

Consider this inescapable fact: Just because you are actively doing something, doesn’t mean that you are actually achieving anything.You know what I mean: You read several pages of a novel or a report you are supposed to be absorbing and then look up and realize that you haven’t really remembered any of it. Your eyes were actively scanning the pages, but your mind was on vacation somewhere — you weren’t paying attention.

So, here’s the secret that high performers in a range of fields, from sports to sciences have mastered in their drive to improve:

Practice does not make perfect.

Practice makes permanent.

Perfect practice makes perfect.

If you really want to improve your writing or research or anything, you have to practice perfectly — that is, deliberately, with attention and intention. Attention involves keeping your mind on what you’re doing while you’re doing it — actively learning. And intention is having a definite purpose that will give meaning and energy to all your efforts.

So, whether you want to improve your plotting or your dialogue or your mastery of word play, make it a point to practice perfectly—with attention and intention, and you’ll start seeing results. Write on!

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Keep Smiling!

“It cannot be considered success unless you are smiling.” Joe De Sena

A devoted fan once asked Bruce Springsteen how he kept his concerts so fresh time after time. Bruce thought about the question for a moment and then replied that he approached every show as if it were the last one he was giving, but he also remembered that when he went out on stage, in the end, it was just rock and roll.

What a great way to think about our own creative work — that it’s important, but that it’s also fun. It also great to remind ourselves not to take ourselves too seriously.

When we’re poised, yet relaxed, we’re signaling to the universe that we are ready to receive. And when we smile and tackle the day’s work with a light touch, magical things can happen! So let’s take a tip from Bruce:

Let’s remember that our work is important, that it matters.

Let’s also remember that it’s a gift to create and enjoy the ride!

Let’s not take ourselves too seriously, let’s not strain and stress.

Let’s find ways to take breaks throughout the day to refresh ourselves.

Let’s smile as we work—let’s bring joy and happiness to the page.

Let’s remember to be grateful that we can do work we love.

Let’s cherish each day and make it the best day ever!

Write on!

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