Friday Fun – What is your piece’s purpose?

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:  

Success is having a flair for the thing that you are doing; knowing that is not enough,

you have got to have hard work and a certain sense of purpose.

Margaret Thatcher

When I teach my writing classes I always devote a few good discussions on identifying a piece’s purpose. Without knowing what the purpose or reason is behind what it is you write, I tell my students, you are simply stumbling blindly in the dark.

Having a consistent purpose is the lifeblood of all writing. When the purpose switches the piece loses its footing. Doubt me?  – take a look at many editorial letters that start off talking about one thing and then they switch purpose by adding “and another thing” or “yeah, but..” The writer may begin explaining what is wrong about a new town ordinance, but then he switches to being angry about some unrelated, unfair event. What’s going on? The purpose has switched from informing others to venting about a perceived injustice. The purpose of those types of letters changes mid-stride resulting in the piece losing all credibility.

The purpose (along with the audience, tone, and topic) are so important, that I advise students to write it (them) out on a sticky note and post in on the corner of their monitor when writing so that they don’t forget. If they get lost in their writing (writer’s block) they need to do a check to see if they are still on message. (And sometimes as a piece evolves, the purpose might change.)

Let’s talk about your writing purpose today, think of your latest work or project, – what is its purpose?

And is this purpose consistent throughout your entire piece?


Wendy E.N. Thomaswendy-shot: My latest project is an account of the border-to-border walk I took this summer with my son. My purpose is a few-fold, to teach, entertain, and to inspire. It’s a long piece, so yes, I have found myself inadvertently switching purpose a few times. Most notably I see this when I start getting angry about how my son with chronic Lyme was misdiagnosed for so long.

When I catch myself doing this, I remove the passages and save them in a file for later. The time will come for a piece on chronic Lyme where the purpose will be to show my anger. It’s just not now in this piece.

Lee Laughlin CU 7-13

Lee Laughlin: My WIP is a novel, first and foremost, it is a romance, so it’s purpose is to get the hero and heroine to happily-ever-after. The secondary purpose is to introduce readers to the concepts of food deserts and multiple chemical sensitivities.

I don’t want to be preachy, but many people don’t know anything about either, so I view the story as a brief introduction to both topics.

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: I think there are two aspects to this question. One has to do with your “why” – the thing that drives you to write, the truth you’re trying to illuminate, the change you want to see in the world. The other is about how to build a piece of writing around that why, how to keep it focused so that your words and stories can have the greatest impact.

These are both topics that I’ve written about before, so I’ll offer up a few past posts as possible fodder for ongoing exploration of these ideas:

  • What Your Writing Is Missing and How to Get It – in which we talk about finding the “why” behind your urge to write based on Simon Sinek’s TED Talk.
  • Why We Write – A Novel Answer – in which we look at Mario Vargas Llosa’s book Letters to a Young Novelist and explore the idea of writing as rebellion.
  • Writing About Issues – in which the team from the excellent Writing Excuses podcast is joined by guest author Desiree Burch for an insightful conversation about how to write about issues without screwing it up.
  • Get Mad. Marketing from Your Dark Side – in which we take a trip to my marketing blog to learn about the importance of villains.
  • Embrace Your Dark Side – in which I expand on the idea in the previous post with the help of some other creative folks.

Writers’ Freedoms and Freedom.to for Writers

Today, I’d like to share a couple of things that are, in a way, at opposite ends of the “engagement” spectrum:

On the #writersresist front, PEN America’s Daily Alert on Rights and Expression (aka: DARE):

pen-americaPen America is the largest of more than 100 centers of PEN International, a group that has been supporting the freedom of writers for more than 90 years. On their website, they state their mission as, “PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world.  Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.”

While most of their freedom-fighting work has been needed abroad, recent shifts in the U.S. government – perhaps, in particular, the new administration’s contentious relationship with the media – have shone the spotlight on instances of concern here in America. In response to this, PEN America has refocused its newsletter and begun publishing a daily (yes, daily) update on rights and expression at home and globally.  You can find all the editions of this on the PEN America blog. You can also subscribe to the PEN America newsletters and then manage your preferences to focus on just the DARE one if you like.

On the #savemysanity front, the Freedom app that allows you to cut off your access to specific websites:

app-freedomI missed the window to share my two cents in last week’s Friday Fun post. We were asked to provide tips for writing during times of turmoil.  As I mentioned in my recent weekend edition post, I’m definitely feeling some tension between my writing and my life.  As someone who hasn’t been previously engaged in politics or legislative activism, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by everything I have to learn and all the news I feel I need to consume. I’m working on finding a saner, healthier balance, but – in the meantime – I’ve also armed myself with a handy little tool for shutting myself out of, say, Facebook for an hour or so at a time.

The Freedom app offers a multi-session trial so you can try it out. A couple of tips:

  • If you’re running a social media app on your smartphone, Freedom will not be able to block access to the app. (It works only on web browser protocols and cannot override app permissions.) If you find yourself reaching for your phone too often, may I suggest putting it in another room, or maybe locking it in your car.
  • I also found that on my MacBook Pro, if I have an instance of Facebook open in a browser tab, I can still interact with it a little once my Freedom session starts. Solution: I click to refresh the Facebook tab, and then I get a little message telling me that the website is unavailable. (At which point, I breathe a deep sigh of relief.)

I hope you find both of these resources helpful. While it’s important to keep our eyes open and stay aware of what’s happening in the broader writing community (including novelists, journalists, poets, nonfiction writers, etc.), it’s also important to carve out time for our own work free from distractions and all the “noise” that’s jamming the Internet.

Good luck in your battles on both fronts, and – no matter what happens – keep writing!

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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Coordination and Subordination

Coordination and Subordination

In graduate school, I had a professor who said, “The hardest word in the English language to use properly is the conjunction ‘and’,” and “The key to success is subordination.”

Coordination

I just used the coordinating conjunction ‘and’ in the sentence above to join the two quotations, which are independent clauses.

coordination

Balanced scales illustrate the concept of coordination in grammar.

A good way to think about coordination is to visualize a scale in balance, or kids balancing on a see-saw.

There are seven coordinating conjunctions: and, but, yet, for, or, nor, so. Used properly, they join equal parts: two or more words, phrases, clauses or sentences of equal rank. Each of the seven coordinating conjunctions has a different meaning.

  1. And: in addition, also, moreover, besides

2&3. But or yet: nevertheless, however, still

4. For: because, seeing that, since

5. Or: as an alternative, otherwise

6. Nor: and not, or not, not either [nor is used after a negative]

7. So: therefore, as a result

Using the accurate conjunction betters a writer’s chance of being correctly understood.

Subordination

Since ideas are neither all equal nor merit equal emphasis, it’s important to subordinate the lesser elements to make the primary idea paramount. This is called subordination.

subordination

Subordination allows for emphasis of the main point – the subject’s face.

A good way to visualize subordination is to think of a painting where the compositional elements are toned down in order to bring attention to the focal point, as in Rembrant’s self- portrait. Everything in this painting is secondary to the artist’s face.

Things that are subordinate are secondary; they have lower rank than the main idea, and their placement in a sentence, paragraph or essay should reflect that.

Subordination allows a writer to emphasize the main idea, to combine lesser ideas in the service of the main idea, and to combine supporting evidence with clarity and elegance.

You can read more about subordination here.

Deborah headshotDeborah Lee Luskin is an author, speaker and educator who loves winter.

 

 

Writer’s Weekend Edition – This Is Who I Am

Writers live and work at the intersection of life and ideas. Whether we write fiction or non-fiction, poetry or op eds, our life experiences and the words we share are connected. Sometimes, the connection is obvious. Sometimes, it’s more subtle. But, it’s always there – a thread or a “through line” that stitches life and work together into a whole.

I was reminded of this truth the other day when I came across Elle Luna’s 2014 Medium post, The Crossroads of Should and Must. In this piece (which eventually became a book), Luna uses Picasso as an example of someone who embodies this blended approach to being:

“Picasso’s life blended seamlessly with his work. It was all one huge swirling mix of bullfights and beaches and booze. And we could tell. Because to look at one of Picasso’s canvases is quite literally to look into his soul. And this is exactly what happens when our life, our essence, is one and the same with our work. It’s when job descriptions and titles no longer make sense because we don’t go to work— we are the work.”

She even offers a visual to illustrate the idea:

Credit: Elle Luna

Credit: Elle Luna

This concept of the artist (or writer) being the work has been on my mind more and more since I stumbled across Luna’s post, and it’s helping me to understand the transition I’m going through in my own work.

··• )o( •··

I haven’t exactly made a secret of the fact that I was deeply affected by the outcome of last year’s U.S. election. I might even go so far as to say that I have been transformed in some ways, both as a person and as a writer.

This transformation is taxing, and is at least partly to blame for my being absent from these weekend posts for the past three weeks. I have had an unexpectedly heavy work load for January; but more than that, I have been at a loss for words. I have been unsure of what I want to or should say. I have been questioning my purpose and my role here on the blog and as a writer in general. I have been reassessing my priorities.

Before I came to my desk to write this post, I took a moment to look back at some of the pieces I’ve published since the election. I wanted to see if they held any clues about my trajectory. In running through the post titles, I saw that I have been careening all over the place in terms of “who I am” as a writer.

My first batch of posts following November 9th included a craft piece on how to write effectively about issues, a quick rant about why art matters, a more direct post about discovering my civic voice, and a hopeful ramble about finding the silver lining when you’re lost in the dark. In all these pieces, I was reacting (without much editing) to what I was experiencing in my life as I witnessed the world changing. I was trying to make sense of what was happening.

And then, I turned inward. I tried to bring myself back to a place where I could write pieces that were a little more uplifting and in the style of what I have written here in the past. I wrote a short piece offering reassurance that we’re all still ourselves. I wrote about illuminating the beautiful, and I wrote about grounding and connecting.

After that, I hit a bit of a wall. I didn’t have the energy to write anything of substance. I felt so overwhelmed and so confused by the avalanche of information that I was trying to take in. (There is so much to learn!) Though I was feeling so much and had so many thoughts and questions, I was not in a place where I could articulate them even to myself, never mind manage to put them down in words. So, for two weeks I posted pieces that made almost no mention of all the Big Ideas swirling around in my head. Instead of tackling the hard stuff, I wrote about  getting back in gear after the holidays and put together a  summary of your favorite top five weekend edition posts from 2016. I treated my writing here as an assignment to publish “something to do with writing” rather than a place to share my innermost thoughts with fellow writers.

Finally, I went silent for three weeks. I just didn’t know what to say.

··• )o( •··

I almost talked myself out of writing today. I almost let myself off the hook. But in the end I realized that – even if I didn’t feel ready … maybe especially if I didn’t feel ready – I needed to get myself back into the habit of doing it anyway.

I share these personal details not because I think anyone should care about the minutiae of my writing struggles (they shouldn’t), but in case I’m not the only one going through these stages of “evolution.” Crises (whether in Real Life or fiction) are necessary. They are the catalyst that moves a story forward, the thing that enables growth and change. Crises bring clarity by stripping away the superficial and leaving us with only the most critical elements of who we are. They help us define ourselves by revealing where our loyalties lie. They help us identify our true purpose by clearly demonstrating which beliefs matter to us most.

In the best scenarios, crises help us to grow by taking our attention off ourselves and expanding our perspective to include others. Caring about and understanding the world beyond our own doorstep is important for any human  being, but it’s absolutely essential for a writer. It’s our job as storytellers to do the hard work of stepping outside our own skins so that we can, through our writing, help others experience that same journey, see a story (and the world) from different perspectives, and learn to discover their own truth.

··• )o( •··

My identity as a writer is not yet fully baked. I’m still finding my way to more solid ground. But, I’m choosing to (as much as possible) find a way to create the blending of life and art that Luna talked about in her essay and her book.  Even while I’m on the journey to that place where I am “being” more than “doing” the work, I need to own my life experience and how that experience influences my writing. My life experience should be an asset to my work, not a hinderance. I don’t want to have to hide or downplay my beliefs or my personal feelings. I want to have the freedom to be myself. All the time – in my life and in my work.

This is who I am.

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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Friday Fun – How to keep writing during turmoil

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:  

It’s no secret that writers tend to be sensitive souls. Some of us have already written about how difficult it is to write during chaotic times. Recently, we’ve been hearing from other writers who tell us they are also having difficulty writing when there appears to be so much uncertainty and turmoil surrounding us.

It feels like a betrayal and selfish to isolate ourselves just to write and yet we need to continue writing.

What do you do to keep on writing when things seem to be overwhelming?

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wendy-shotWendy Thomas – I recently got an Alexa – that little Amazon hockey puck that sits on your desk and talks to you. She can tell me jokes, she plays music, and she can order any book I want from Amazon (for my wallet’s well being I quickly turned that feature off.) Perhaps her greatest asset is that she can be a timer.

“Alexa set timer for 30 minutes.”

She does what I tell her and during that time I focus only on my writing for the entire 30 minutes (or hour or whatever.) I know that Alexa will let me know when the time is up with a gentle, soothing chime.

If given the freedom to write, I will write. When the timer goes off I look up from my writing and see that although things haven’t changed (yet) in the world, I have been able to get some work done.

lisajjacksonLisa J. Jackson:  I’ve been using the timer method for a while now. It’s amazing how productive I can be knowing I don’t have to watch the clock. And with the time, too, ‘shiny object syndrome’ is kept at bay because I’m only focused on one thing until I hear the bell. (I’ve taken to setting the timer for surfing FB and reading news lately, too.) Amazing what a little alarm clock can do for productivity and focus!

Deborah headshotDeborah Lee Luskin: How to keep going in the face of anxiety and outrage has been the theme of my post this week, Chop Wood, Carry Water, thanks to a comment from a reader on my last post for NHWN, Axes to Grind. I’m taking this Buddhist saying two steps further: Chop Wood, Carry Water, Make Phone Calls, Tell Stories.

Lee Laughlin CU 7-13

Lee Laughlin: I start by setting aside time. “Today I’ll write for x minutes.” Then when I sit down to write, I allow myself a warm up period where I just empty my brain of all the angst and drivel.  I have a small journal and my limit is 3 pages. However, if before 3 pages, I find myself trailing off and running out of words, I close the journal and move on to other writing.

Accomplishments as Motivation

For years now, I have been creating a list of accomplishments for the past year. I used to do it around my birthday, but in the last few years I’ve done it at the end of one calendar year before I set my goals for the next year.

I’ve already written about my goals for 2017, but I wanted to write a little more about my list of accomplishments because it’s been an incredibly useful tool.

I’m also facilitating a Goals Group for 2017, and the first assignment I gave the group was to make a list of 50 accomplishments from 2016. Yes, 50! It sounds daunting, but they did it. (You can, too.)

When you decide to write a list of 50 accomplishments, you start out with the obvious ones: “Posted x blog posts,” for example, or “won NaNo.”

But when you get down to #20 or #30, you have to dig a little deeper. At this point, even if I start out focused on writing accomplishments, I’ve started branching out into every other area of my life to find accomplishments. Stuff like, “hosted Christmas dinner for the whole extended family,” and “ran a half-marathon,” make the list.

Then it gets even harder—but, I believe, even more worthwhile.

The first time I made a list of #50 accomplishments, somewhere right around #49 or #50 was the accomplishment: “I became less defensive over this past year.”

Until I wrote that statement, I hadn’t been consciously aware that I was working on trying to become less defensive. Of all the accomplishments from that year, becoming less defensive was the one I was most proud of. And it was something I’ve continued to work on, consciously, in the years since.

I happen to believe, as Byron Katie does, that “defensiveness is the first act of war.” I’m still defensive at times, but much less so than I used to be. (I suppose I should check in with the people around me, to see if they agree!)

My defensiveness is just an example, but knowing that about myself—and that I had improved on it, motivated me to continue to work on it.

So try writing down 50 of your accomplishments from 2016. You may not believe you have 50, but I know you do.

 You may be surprised how much what you learn about yourself will motivate you in 2017!

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: I became a master life coach by way of being a family physician. These days, I coach, speak, write, and blog on life coaching topics. You can find my life coaching blog here and my website at www.dianemackinnon.com.

The power of hashtags (#) when you are a writer

 

We’ve talked about the power of tweeting before. Twitter, when harnessed, can provide important connections and fantastic advice from professionals and other writers. Twitter is often described as being like a stream of continuous information. But how does one navigate that which at times seems more like a tidal wave?

hashtag1The answer is to use hashtags (#). A hashtag is like an invitation to a party. If you use the hashtag and others are also using it, everyone can now join in the conversation.

A few caveats – you have to already know what the hashtags that are being used are. In circular logic that means that you have to know what to use before you can use it.

This is done by using searches. Try searching  in twitter on a general hashtag that is widely used by the writing community – something like #author or #writer is probably a good start. Then begin to pay attention to the hashtags that are used by others in addition to those in their tweets.

And then begin using those hashtags consistently in your tweets. (Warning it’s considered rude to use more than 3 hashtags in one tweet – it makes you look a little needy.)

It helps to keep a running list of available hashtags, here’s a start.

What to reach readers?
#Reader

#MustRead

#BookGiveaway

#GoodRead

#FridayReads

#AmReading

#RomanceWriter

#SciFiChat

#KidLitChat

#YAlit

#Novel

#Kindle

#Poem

#Poetry

How about reaching other authors?

#writer

#author

#Books

#Poet

#Poem

#Screenwriting

#Manuscript

# Nonfiction

#RWA (Romance Writers of America)

Want information on publishing and the business of books?

#IndiePub

#SelfPub

#SelfPublishing

#BookMarketing

#Ebooks

#Publishing

#GetPublished

#Digital

#AskEditor

#Writetip

Want to get an agent’s attention?

#Literaryagent

#AskAgent

Looking for writing assistance or motivation?

#AmWriting

#Iwrite

#WritersLife

#Grammar

# Critigue

#WritingTips

#WritingTip

#Writing

#1K1H (1000 words in one hour)

#WriteTip

#WritingPrompt

#WriteChat

#NaNoWriMo

I’m sure there are many more hashtags out there (and if you can’t find what you want then go ahead and create one, chances are someone else will join in.) It takes a little bit of time and practice to figure out how to use hashtags, but when you finally do crack that egg, it puts the the world literally at your fingertips.

Just for kicks, I’ve created a new hashtag for writer jokes #WriJo – go over to twitter and see if you can find my (most excellent) joke using that hashtag.  And then if you have another joke, add it.  Just don’t forget to add the hashtag so that others can join in on the conversation.

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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.