Category Archives: Writing

Creative Juice #337

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Creative Juice #337

Lots of great articles for writers this weekend.

But also other stuff.

Creative Juice #336

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Creative Juice #336

Quilts. Art. Books. Signs. Writing classes. And other interesting things to think about.

The Writing Date

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Pre-Covid, so like 2019 maybe, a writer friend of mine who was also a teacher came up with the idea that summer for a bunch of us writers to get together for a working lunch every couple of weeks. So she’d choose a restaurant and set a time toward the end of the lunch rush, and we’d meet, order our meals, visit while we ate, and then pull out our laptops and write for an hour and a half.

It surprised me how much I got done in that 90 minutes.

Conventional wisdom says it’s important to have a regular space to write. I do have my own private writing space. All my notes are on my desk somewhere. The books I need for reference are right there on the bookshelf. It’s very convenient to work in my study every day. I sit down and I’m immediately in my writing mindset.

But there’s something about being with people you love and doing something that you love together—even though each of you is working individually. Somehow, the sound of my friends’ typing makes me extra productive. (A friend of mine jokes about throwing introvert parties where everyone is instructed to bring a book to read. That’s totally my idea of a fun time!)

Another favorite writing activity of mine is going on a writing retreat and writing outside, usually on a porch or patio with handy tables. (We call our portable computers laptops, but we’re not really going to balance them on our laps, are we?) There are other writers nearby, but we set some time for visiting and joint activities and devote substantial time to working on our projects.

I often think I should try writing in my backyard, except I get out there and I’d rather sip a cold drink and read.

Anyway, my point is that writing rules are good, but breaking writing rules is also good, as counter-intuitive as that sounds. So I encourage you to mix things up a bit. Every once in a while, call up a writer friend or two, and invite them on a writing date. It’ll be fun. What do you think about that?

The Stool

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The Stool

When my father was young, all the boys at his school were required to take a class called Wood Shop, where they learned to make things out of wood. The project for eighth grade was to make a stool, for which Dad earned a coveted A+.

When I was growing up, that stool occupied a place of honor next to the hearth. Every night before bedtime, I sat on that stool while Dad relaxed in his armchair and asked me questions about my day. What was I learning in school? What was my happiest moment of the day? What’s one thing I did that I’d like to do better next time? The questions were often adapted to particular circumstances, but they usually involved expressing gratitude for blessings received, and acknowledgement of areas to focus on for personal growth.

When I left for college, the last item squeezed into the trunk of my vintage Buick was that three-legged stool, with the fatherly instruction to spend five minutes at the end of each day celebrating my accomplishments and thinking about the path toward becoming a man of character.

A few years after finishing my degree, I met the woman of my dreams, married her, and soon we started our family. The stool stood across from my armchair in the living room, and from the time they were very young, each of our three children took their turns sitting on the stool and answering my nightly questions about their day. I found their answers sweet, and at times troubling, but I strove to affirm their successes and their struggles without inspiring guilt, and they rewarded me with disarming honesty and sometimes hilarity.

As my children left for college, I kept the stool at home, and reminded them that it was always available if they wanted to come and talk. And that’s what they did when they had something to share—a disappointment, a milestone, a problem that needed another person’s perspective. I like to think they understood they would always be welcomed and safe.

After sixty years of marriage, my wife passed away. The house felt empty and cavernous. I knew it was time to downsize. I found a little condo in a retirement community, and I said goodbye to most of my possessions.

The final item to relinquish was the stool. My oldest son came to claim it. I walked him to the car, and he turned it upside down to place it on the back seat. “Wait—did you see this, Dad? There’s something written here.”

I squinted, trying to make out the faded, penciled letters written in a childish scrawl: “To my future son. I hope I listen to you like my father never did to me.”

Note to my readers: This is a piece of fiction. My other ideas for today’s post were just too daunting, so I searched a Writer’s Digest PDF called A Year of Writing Prompts for something I could finish quickly. The prompt for February 9 went like this: Your father made the chair when he was a boy, and it’s gotten rickety. Preparing to finally throw it away, you flip it over to carry it to the trash, and notice a message etched in with a knife. It reminded me of a stool my husband Greg made in Wood Shop, which eventually got thrown away when it was too rickety to use anymore. This is the story it inspired.

Building Your Writing Community

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Building Your Writing Community

If you’re a writer, you can choose to see other writers either as competitors or as colleagues.

I urge you to make at least some writers into colleagues. (Save competitors for your golf game.)

Why?

Firstly, because writing can be a lonely occupation. Unless you have an extraordinary ability to ignore distractions, you probably spend lots of time alone with your writing implements. You need to make some friends, build some relationships.

Secondly, because writers have a commonality of experiences. They get you. They’ll be your allies. They won’t report you to the FBI when they see your browser history because they will understand that your how to make a bomb search was just research for the thriller you’re writing.

Thirdly (and most importantly), because writers have a wealth of information and insight to share with you, and you with them. This won’t happen if you treat them like rivals, so become their colleague.

In your day job, you have coworkers, who are your built-in colleagues. But unless you work for a publication or you have a collaborator, you might have to scout out some writer colleagues. Fortunately, the internet has made it very easy to connect with other writers. But how?

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com
  • Twitter. Yes, I know, Elon Musk took over and it changed. Lots of people dropped out. But writers are working very hard to keep Twitter a place where writers can interact with one another. Searching the hashtag #WritingCommunity is a great way to find interesting writers to follow. Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Pinterest, and other social media platforms also enable authors to find each other.
  • Blogs. So many authors have blogs. They post articles about writing topics, and their publication experiences, and even about their personal lives. A few of my favorites are Ryan Lanz’s, K.M. Weiland’s, and C.S. Lakin’s.
  • Writer’s groups. The internet is wonderful, but face to face interaction is even better. In 1990, when I didn’t yet have a computer, I found my first writer’s group by reading the community calendar in the local newspaper. Now it’s as easy as googling writers groups near me.
  • Writer’s conferences. Conferences are great for learning about the industry. Not only can you meet other writers there, but you can also make connections with agents and editors (and pitch stories).
  • Book festivals. Whenever people gather to celebrate the written word, you will find other literary people. There’s probably a festival near you, or in a place you’d love to travel to. Again, your search engine can hook you up. Here’s a list of book festivals to get you started. Some have already passed, but they’ll probably come around again next year!
  • Readings and book signings. Check the blogs and websites of authors you admire to see if they’ll be appearing at a book store near you. Better yet, sign up for your local bookstore’s newsletter and support your local writers by attending their events.

Every writer needs a community of diverse partners who help each other with advice, information, and ideas. Most writers I know are generous about sharing their expertise and are willing to make recommendations and introductions, especially if you reciprocate. Whether you are a novice or a seasoned professional, you can benefit from cultivating a community of writing colleagues.

Preserving Family History and Lore for my Grandchildren

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Grandma book

I have a project I’m looking forward to. This past Christmas, my pregnant middle daughter gave me a book, Tell Me Your Life Story, Grandma: A Grandmother’s Guided Journal and Memory Keepsake Book.

She said, “I feel a little guilty for giving you homework.”

I said, “Do I have to finish it by the time the babies are born?” (The twins were born February 14, 2023.)

She said, “How about by the time they’re five.”

Yes! That I can do. I haven’t started it yet, but now that I’ve seen my granddaughters, I can’t wait to begin.

I love family stories, and I think it is important to share family stories across generations. I’ve posted some of our family stories on ARHtistic License and elsewhere: stories about my kids when they were little (and about me, too); about my mother’s family; about when our pet snake escaped; about my dad; about my first job; and others.

The book is divided into sections: Early Years; Childhood; Interests & Pursuits; Family Tree; Family, Friends, & Relationships; Motherhood; Beliefs &Values; Reflections; Short Questions; and Notes to Loved Ones. In each section are prompts and ample space to address each one. They can be completed in any order.

Here are some sample prompts:

  • What were your favorite subjects in school?
  • Which traits do you share with your siblings? In what ways do your traits differ?
  • In what ways do you consider today’s world a better place to raise children compared to your childhood days?
  • Has anything happened in your lifetime that you hope future generations never go through?
  • Who are your top five most-listened-to singers, bands or musicians?

Some of the questions are straightforward; others require some pondering. I think I will make a rough draft before I write my answers into the book. And I suspect I will remember a few more stories to share on ARHtistic License, some which are true, and some which are merely told and handed down and may not have happened exactly as I heard them.

Of course, I could have done a project like this without a book to lead me through it, but up until now I haven’t, even though I’ve thought about it many times.

Now it’s your turn. Have you written your family’s story to hand down to your children’s children? Would you? Did you or would you wing it, or find a book to help you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Monday Morning Wisdom #399

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Monday Morning Wisdom #399

“Writing is thinking on paper.” ~ William Zinsser

Creative Juice #329

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Creative Juice #329

Pretty things to look at. Informative articles to study.

Monday Morning Wisdom #397

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Monday Morning Wisdom #397

“I tell writers to keep reading, reading, reading. Read widely and deeply. And I tell them not to give up even after getting rejection letters. And only write what you love.”
~Anita Diamant

Creative Juice #327

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Creative Juice #327

Interesting stuff to discover this weekend.