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“Give yourself an even greater challenge than the one you are trying to master and you will develop the powers necessary to overcome the original difficulty.”

–William J. Bennett – The Book of Virtues

Wishing you a great start to this new week… and new month!

Doing What You Love

coffee journal

Image by ci.mike on Flickr via Pinterest

Wow.

Time really does fly when you’re having fun.

While digging around in my Live to Write – Write to Live archives (searching for a post I remember writing, but still can’t find), I realized that this past June marked my four-year anniversary writing for this blog. Four years! How on Earth did that happen?!? I feel like it was only yesterday that Wendy graciously invited me to be part of this team, and now – suddenly – four years have flown by just like that. My daughter was six years old and in kindergarten when I started blogging here. Now she’s ten and about to enter the fifth grade. Again – wow.

It’s Labor Day weekend and I am, ironically, working. Don’t feel too badly for me. I took Wednesday and Thursday off for some back-to-school shopping and “road trip” fun with my daughter. We had a fabulous time both days, my favorite bit being an impromptu stop to watch (and play in!) the impressive surf at a beach up the coast. Watching her dancing on the rocks and laughing into the waves had me grinning so hard my face hurt.

So, now that the holiday is upon us, I have some catching up to do. A lot of it. I was explaining to my daughter about my deadlines and then mentioned that my first order of business was to write this blog post.

“Mom, why are you writing a blog post if you’re so busy,” she asked.

“Well, because writing the blog post is part of my job, too.”

“But, it’s not your real job. I mean, you don’t get paid for it.”

“No, I don’t. But, that doesn’t mean it’s not my real job.”

And after she’d scurried off up the street to meet her friend, I thought about it and realized that while she is right – I don’t get paid for the writing I do here – I consider it just as (if not more) important than the writing that pays the bills. I’m grateful for the paying work I have, but I never feel like that’s my “real” work. Though I am self-employed, I consider that work my day job. I do my real writing work here and in my journals and when I’m working on stories.

Would my day be less stressful if I passed on writing this post and worked instead on my copywriting deadlines? In theory, yes; but in reality, no. I’d miss being here. I would feel cheated. And, I would feel like I’d shirked my real responsibility. I love writing these posts. As grateful as I am for the paying gigs that keep a roof over our heads and food on our table, I’m just as grateful for the way this blog gives me a creative outlet, a platform on which to share my thoughts about writing, and – most importantly – a fun and supportive community.

I may not be getting paid for it (yet), but I still manage to do what I love. And that is what makes life worth living.

 

What I’m Writing:

Art by Bianca Green

Art by Bianca Green

Talk about time flying – I can’t believe that the two writing workshops I signed up for a couple weeks ago are coming up this week. Now that they are almost here, I have to admit that I’m a little nervous. It’s been a long while since I took any kind of formal writing class. Though I’ve always had wonderful experiences at Grub Street, I am still intimidated by the idea of heading into the city to sit in class with people who I assume are all “real” writers who know what they are doing.

I’m also battling the deadline demons who are trying to convince me that I should skip class in favor of putting in some extra time on my client projects. Oddly enough, I found myself fighting for my writing life in similar circumstances the last time I took a Grub Street class. Though I was a little discouraged to realize that I’m still dealing with the same obstacles, I was encouraged to note that I didn’t give up then, and I’m not going to give up now. I may only be making progress in baby steps, but at least I’m still moving forward.

So … next week, I will be spending two evening in Boston at Grub Street headquarters. On Wednesday evening, I’ll be learning about creative nonfiction in Calvin Hennick’s workshop, Writing and Selling the Money-Making Essay. And on Thursday, I’ll be testing my funny bone with Wendy Wunder’s class, Lighten Up: Cultivating a Sense of Humor in the Writing of Serious Fiction. (I think there are a few seats left in this one. Just saying.)

So – today’s writing (apart from this post) is all about keeping my B2B copywriting clients happy. But next week … next week, two evenings will be about keeping my “real” writer happy. I can’t wait.

 

What I’m Reading:

book little beeLast weekend, my beau gave me the most wonderful gift – an entire afternoon sitting in a lounge chair on my deck with a book. It may not sound like an extravagance, but we so rarely take the time to just sit that it felt like the most indulgent treat in the world. We spent some time staring out at the boater activity across the street at the town wharf, but then I slipped between the covers of my book and disappeared for a while. It was bliss.

I found my paperback copy of Chris Cleave’s novel, Little Bee, in a box outside a neighbors house. It was tucked in amongst an eclectic collection of kids books, self-help tomes, and some small household accessories. It had been out overnight and the morning dew had caused the pages to ripple slightly, but the bright orange cover with it’s bold silhouette illustration seemed mostly impervious to the ravages of a single night out under the stars.

The facts of Cleave’s story are simple, but your reaction will not be. From the back cover:

We don’t want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it, so we’ll just say this:

This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice, the kind of choice we hope you never have to dace. Two years later, they meet again – the story starts there …

Once you have read it, you’ll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds.

I agree, so I won’t tell you what happens. I will tell you, however, that the story is riveting, the narrative voices are both endearing and discomforting, and the writing is excellent. This is not a story that will give you a warm and fuzzy feeling, but it will make you think.

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin tell yourself the story

Thanks, as always, for sharing part of your weekend with me. Have a great one, and I’ll see you on the other side! 

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Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally –  trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: Whether you’re a student, a parent, or just a bookish geek who always looked forward to the first day of class, we bet you have some favorite things about the back-to-school season. Want to share?

 

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: Though, as you might expect of a writer, I have an inordinately intense appreciation for new notebooks, pens, and all the other writing accoutrements and office paraphernalia that bedeck the back-to-school season, my favorite part of this ritual is not anything you can buy at Staples. Since I was a little girl, and even now that I am a (mostly) grown writer and someone’s mom, I have loved this time of year for the feeling of nervous excitement it brings. The new school year always feels like a fresh start – a sort of counterpoint to the New Year. Even if you’re not returning to school yourself, or seeing a child off to a new classroom, you can’t help but be caught up in all the anticipation. There are new adventures on the near horizon. Anything might happen. The world is opening up to show you a different side of itself.  This is my favorite part of the back-to-school season – this air of possibility and potential.

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson: My favorite part is the special deals on notebooks! I love new notebooks of all kinds. It’s an addiction in August.

Growing up I always looked forward to going to school and loved the new clothes, particularly new school shoes. I always looked forward to wearing my new shoes. When I got to high school, it was quarterly, and we could attend summers if we wanted — if we took full class loads, we could even graduate a year early. I went all 3 summers, but made sure to not have enough of the required classes done until the final semester – I loved school that much. I still enjoy back-to-school season, even though I have no involvement with it, because of the fond memories I have.

M. Shafer, Photo

M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin: When my kids were little, I’d administer a spoonful of honey on the first day, to make learning sweet. The kids continued this tradition through college! But after a lifetime of being tethered to the academic calendar, I’ve cut loose, taking a vacation in September, when school’s back in session and the weather is usually quite fine. I’ll be biking Le Petit Train du Nord in Quebec Province this year – and taking a break from my regular posting schedule on Live to Write – Write to Live as well. Look for my next post on September 16th!

 

IMG_20140829_085346692

Wendy Thomas: I’m not one of those moms who is sad to see her kids go off to school. I know that they will be involved, will learn, and will have fun – what greater gifts could a mom give her kids? In September, I live for the cooler weather that ushers in the start of school-  the leaves starting to turn and the smell of apples – heaven. As Jamie pointed out, there’s such a sense of excitement, of new beginnings in September.

And not going to lie, like so many others, I love the notebooks that are available.

Personally, I look forward to getting back to my writer’s schedule. With all the kids home this summer, it’s been enjoyable, but it’s also meant a lot of driving and attending events. It’s time for all of us to get back into a routine.

Susie_1st_day_school
Susan Nye: My mother always took my sister and I shopping for a new first day of school dress. I became almost superstitious about it. If the year was to go well, I had to have a new outfit for the first day of school. I was down in Manchester earlier this week and even stopped on the way home for a little shopping. No dresses, just a pair of jeans but it just feels right to start the fall with a new look.

I have to write a fundraiser letter for an organization I work with. As I sit here thinking about what to put in the letter, I thought I’d share some of my personal guidelines when writing such a piece (after all, writing a fund raising letter is simply another writing assignment, right?)

This is from a fundraiser to which I gladly donated.

This is from a fundraiser to which I gladly donated.

Write to your audience

You need to write to your audience, not above or below, but to. Sure, you will more than likely have some readers who will fall outside of the “average reader”, but for the most part, you want to hit the critical mass and so you aim for them. The organization should have statistical information on their current supporters, that information was collected for a reason, use it.

Use “you” and not “I”

When someone reads a letter asking for money and support, they don’t want to hear about you. They want to know how this will impact them. Essentially they want to know why they should even be bothered with the organization. Rule of thumb here? It’s not about you (the writer) it’s about them (the readers.)

Tell a story that involves a real person or situation

Everyone loves a story. Try to include an example of how the organization is working or improving the lives of others. Once you include a story of another person’s journey you have made that very important human-to-human connection with your reader.

Clearly explain the benefits

Everyone needs money these days, so be sure to clearly explain what a donation would help accomplish (and just having extra money is *not* a benefit.) Will it help patients with medical costs? Supply people with clean water? The more specific you can be with the benefits, the more people can visualize how their money will be used and the more willing they are to donate.

Also, mention if people will receive something if they donate – people are often more willing to contribute if they know they will get something in return.

Be clear about what you are asking for and when

Are you asking for money? Then say so. Don’t beat around the bush, say “we are looking for a financial donation from our supporters by this DATE.” Be sure to include a date so that people don’t put your letter down with the intention that they’ll get to it someday. Those are the letters that get lost.

Likewise, if you are looking for volunteers or material donations, go ahead and ask. Don’t waste anyone’s time by being vague and hoping that they’ll understand what you are getting at. Trust me – it’s not rude to ask for what you need in a fundraising letter.

Make it short and simple

People don’t have much time. A fundraising letter that goes on for page after page is one that is likely not going to be read. Keep it short, get in there, introduce yourself, explain the benefits, identify what you are asking for, and then thank them for their continued support. In and out – it’s the way to go.

Additionally make it easy to read

Long, dense paragraphs are tough to read. Keep your paragraphs short, include white space, use headers and include a graphic or two. These days a lot of people skim documents, you can use this to your benefit by grouping your information and using techniques like bulleted lists.

Fundraising letters are just like any other writing assignment. You’ll do fine if you pre-plan, organize, and do your homework.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

 

Tools for Editing

Tools for Editing

I am days away from a deadline, and in editing mode. Lots and lots going on with this process–a future blog post, I promise. But as I am printing pages, making notes, using the editing techniques I have learned over the years, I keep thinking about what my friend Ray Daniel said at his book launch for Terminated  a few weeks ago. It was advice he got from Lee Child. Make the slow parts fast, and the fast parts slow.

Sounds simple, right? It isn’t, trust me on that. But it is really helpful to think about when pacing a mystery. Sketch a room for a reader, but don’t bog them down in details until you need them. When someone has a gun, slow it down. Make the reader think about every breath.

I am also checking myself in two other areas right now. First, am I info dumping on the reader? What are the boring parts? How can I take out the parts the reader skips?

And second, am I playing fair with the reader? Keeping secrets is fine. But once the secret is revealed, I want the reader to feel surprised. Not like they want to throw the book across the room. Mystery readers understand that fine line well.

All this on top of checking on overuse of particular words or descriptions, confusing chapters, and grammar disasters. Busy times, but very rewarding.

Writer friends, what do you look for while editing?

Reader friends, what takes you out of a novel?

Back at it–will update you in a couple of weeks!

 

J.A. Hennrikus/Julianne Holmes is a mystery writer.

diagramA sentence is a complete thought, containing both subject and verb. The subject is what the sentence is about, and the verb is what the subject is doing.

Here’s an example of a sentence: I write.

“I” is the subject, and “write” is what I do.

Simple as that. (“Simple as that” is not a complete thought; it’s a sentence fragment, the sort of thing your English teacher would murder with red ink, but which creative writers can get away with when they know what they’re doing. “Simple as that” has neither a subject nor a verb. It’s a modifying phrase, and phrases aren’t sentences at all; they’re not even clauses.)

Sentences come in several varieties determined by the kind and number of the clauses it contains.

A clause is either independent, containing both a subject and verb of its own, or dependent, meaning it has to lean on an independent clause to make sense.

The Simple sentence is comprised of a single, independent clause, like “I write.

A Compound sentence contains two or more independence clauses: I write, and I walk the dog. (Two independent clauses joined by the coordinating conjunction “and.” The other coordinating conjunctions are but, or, for, nor, so yet.)

A Complex sentence is made from a dependent clause and an independent clause: When I can’t write, I walk the dog. (“When I can’t write” is a dependent clause; “I walk the dog” is the independent one.)

A Compound-Complex sentence uses one or more dependent clauses with one or more independent clauses: While I’m writing, my dog sleeps under my desk, but even when we’re out walking, I’m still sifting through words and sentences, thinking about the work I left on my desk. (This sentence has two independent clauses: “my dog sleeps under my desk” and “I’m still sifting through words and sentences,” and it has two dependent clauses: “While I’m writing” and “even when we’re out walking.” Additionally, it has the adverbial phrase, “thinking about the work I left on my desk,” which describes how the subject of the sentence is walking.)

“This is all very interesting,” you’re saying to yourself, “but what does it all mean?”

diagram#2I’m glad you asked.

When you know how a sentence works, you have a better chance of writing an effective sentence.

An effective sentence uses unity and logical thinking. “I write, therefore I am” is both unified and logical. “I write and tomorrow I have to return a book to the library” is neither unified nor logical – even though it’s true.

A good sentence uses subordination effectively. Put another way, a good sentence puts what’s important in the independent clause, and tucks all the other stuff elsewhere.

  • “After breakfast and before lunch, I started another revision of my novel.” Written this way, “I started another revision of my novel” is the important part of that sentence, and everything else is a prepositional phrase that embellishes the main thought.
  • “Even though I started another revision of my novel this morning, I didn’t miss either breakfast or lunch.” In this sentence, eating is more important than writing. Some days are like that.

Coherence is another quality you want in your sentence. A sentence, which is a thought with a subject and verb, should stick together in a way that makes sense. Coherence depends on word order, which you can learn about in my post, The English Language on Word Order Depends.

Parallel structure is another nifty tool, especially if you want to write sentences that are long, elegant and euphonious. The previous sentence demonstrates one type of parallel structure; there are others.

In fact, parallel structure deserves its own post, as do Emphasis and Variety. Stay tuned.

 

M. Shafer, Photo

M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin is a novelist, essayist and educator. She lives in southern Vermont.

 

It’s easy to get so involved with writing, that reading can become a luxury to push aside.

But, it’s so important to read about writing for the little nuggets of wisdom and pearls of inspiration we know, but somehow seem to forget.

Finding books that resonate with our writing lives and experiences might be rare, so when you find a great book, hang on to it!

A few years ago, Diane highly recommended I read a book on the craft of writing titled Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. I loved it. And it became the first book I ever re-read.

birdbybird2Since I noticed some leaves changing colors over the past week, fall has been on my mind. And with fall, for me, comes renewed inspiration. So, Bird by Bird is back on my desk for its annual reading.

I know how important it is to get words on a page, and more than likely those first words will be junk and tossed later on, but to get to the good stuff, I have to get a lot of words on the page/screen — Ann Lamott reminds me of that — she reminds me that I need to give myself permission to write junk.

We’ve talked about books about writing a few times here. And you can look back at a few posts if you’re in need of something new.

We had the Friday Fun discussion: Should Writers Read Books About Writing. Diane and I shared our Favorite Writing Books, and Deborah had a post specifically on Bird by Bird.

Don’t read to avoid writing, though! Read to improve writing!

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She’s still amazed to have a book she can re-read that gives her new insight into her writing every time she goes through it. You can connect with her on Twitter, FacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

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