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Thursday, November 20, 2014

What Can I Add? It's Already Been Written

“The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.”  ~ Ana├»s Nin

Original content can prove difficult, after all; people have been writing for about 5000 years. However, that only lets us know that although someone already wrote about a topic, no one has written from your unique perspective. Writers choose subjects for a number of reasons:

•    We have an interest in the subject
•    We are curious about the topic
•    We want to research or learn more
•    We are emotionally attached

We read and write about something because there is still an attraction and curiosity about the subject; we still want to learn or teach more. 

I have always been curious.  If a subject or topic interested me, I wanted to learn more about it.  We are fortunate today that we can Google or Bing our way to enlightenment on any subject. In fact, we now can alert our phones to notify us if there are articles on topics we are curious about, without having to search ourselves. 

Flipboard, with over 34,000 subjects, is a gold mine for writers. These articles give writers an opportunity to learn more about a topic, but just as importantly, see which perspectives coincide with ours, or if a particular aspect of the subject is under-reported and perhaps we could write an article to fill the void for readers. When we read articles by others, we should pay attention to:
  • What are others writing about the topic? 
  • Are all perspectives adequately explored?  
  • Was the article well written? 
  • Did the article have good images, videos or other visuals? 
  • Do you think you could write a better article? 
Curious, Researching or Avoiding Writing? 

Studies on curiosity conclude that there is both good and bad curiosity.  Bad curiosity for a writer is spending too much time reading or researching and not enough time writing.  Another aspect is comparing.  While all of us would like to present our information in the best possible manner, comparing ourselves to other writers can create one of the main reasons for writer's block - perfectionism and the fear of inadequacy.


I get emails and comments from other writers asking how I find a fresh approach to the same topic.  Some days, I do get stuck, or think I've said it all.  When I feel stuck, I remember that writing is my job, then I look to my Muse Board for inspiration or just a reminder. One of my favorites; prominently displayed and done in 36-point calligraphy, might inspire you to write through the blocks.




When you think a subject has been written about well, look to see if there are other aspects of the subject that are overlooked or under developed. That may just be a niche or category that needs your writing.  Readers and writers are curious for several reasons.  A reader may need information more from necessity than curiosity; however, curiosity and need drive people to find information online. What are people curious about; what do they need to know, and what is a relevant topic for you to explore? People are curious about:
  • Other people 
  • Famous people 
  • Good food, good books, or good movies 
  • What is the market doing? 
  • Why does the economy suck? 
  • Why is the moon in Jupiter and how am I on the cusp? 
  • Why do we pollute the earth? 
  • Why does my faucet leak? 
  • What is love? 
  • What is my purpose?  
  • How can I write better? 
This list could be an entire article.  However, as a writer, you know what you are passionate about and that passion, interest and curiosity will come through to your readers, and they will start following your writing. 


Satisfying Curiosity:  The Health Benefits

When we are curious and researching for our articles, our brains are active.  The brain releases Dopamine and Serotonin during this type of  activity.  These brain chemicals then register as a pleasurable and satisfying feelings. In addition, curious individuals lived longer than those who were content with their current awareness and labeled themselves as non-curious in a study of older Americans.  

When we are curious about the topic, we view it differently.  We take the time to look for the who, why, when, where and how of the topic.  As writers, we can then capture the subject from multiple perspectives and add just the right element of new to any topic. 

Still Stuck?
 
Then think about what grabbed your attention today, or what you were curious about - politics, news, weather, fashion, children or writing better articles.  Any question that bubbles up in your brain will be interesting to someone else. These questions and topics are percolating in the readers mind right now; so give them the information  they want to read from your authentic and unique perspective. For a writer, moving from curious to writing the article, ask yourself the following:

  • Would even my friends put the article down as boring?
  • Is it a fresh and unique perspective on the subject?
  • Is it readable, enjoyable and informative?
  • Do I have enough enthusiasm about the subject to write a good article? 
You are a writer.  Therefore, pick your topic, research the subject, create a draft, revise it, edit and proof it.  Then publish it.  After all, we have so much more available today to showcase our writing than the chisel and stone.
 




Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Voices from the Heart: A collection of short stories and poems - Kindle edition by William Power. Religion & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Amazon Kindle special countdown deal $.99: Voices from the Heart: A collection of short stories and poems - Kindle edition by William Power. Religion & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Alliteration: Attracting and Appealing to the Audience


“Writers write well-written words of wisdom, wit and wonder. Who knew it would be this wearisome waiting on wages?”  ~Marilyn Davis


Does it Articulate, Animate or Just Plan Annoy Your Audience?

Titles are the first chance you have to entice your audience to read. "Alliteration is a device that many writers employ to create a treasure trove of tried-and-true, bread-and-butter, bigger-and-better, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, do-or-die, footloose-and-fancy-free, larger-than-life, cream-of-the-crop titles."  Edwin Newman quoted by Jim Fisher in The Writer's Quote Book: 500 Authors on Creativity, Craft, and the Writing Life. Rutgers University Press, 2006)

Alliteration, when used sparingly  is one of the many effective ways to draw your readers to your article and give them an opportunity to read the rest of your content.  After all, it doesn't matter if you have a killer sentence at the end if no one reaches that point.


Some authors and writers have a general idea of what they want to write and use a working title before finalizing it when the article is finished.

Others create their article around a few well-chosen words because they know the title is good. Still, titles pose a challenge. Toby Fulwiler and Alan R. Hayakawa, writing in The Blair Handbook,  list the following as ways to hone in on your title.

•    Use one strong short phrase from your paper
•    Present a question that your paper answers
•    State the answer to the question or issue your paper will explore
•    Use a clear or catchy image from your paper
•    Use a famous quotation
•    Write a one-word title (or a two-word title, a three-word-title, and so on)
•    Begin your title with the word On
•    Begin your title with a gerund (-ing word)

Alliteration in the Body

No, I'm not going to reduce this to some 8th-grade locker room discussion or turn into a 30s sportscaster.  However, alliteration is rampant in each; Texas Tornados, Pittsburgh Penguins, or "the frenzied fans flocked to the player's locker room for authentic autographs." While these limited examples prove the point, let's talk about the body of the article, not sports.

Domey Malasarn, a writer of prose has said, “I have used it on occasion myself in places where I thought it was helpful. For example, if I had a sentence like ‘Alfred was furious.’ I might revise it to “Alfred was angry.” because to me it pairs the subject of the sentence with his emotion a little more powerfully.”

Remember that alliteration is as much about the feel of the words as it is the repetition of a specific letter.  JK Rowling uses alliteration in character names as well as anyone.  Who can forget?

·         Helga Hufflepuff
·         Rowena Ravenclaw
·         Godric Gryffindor
·         Salazar Slytherin

Think it's only for kids?  Hemingway, Capote and Fitzgerald used alliteration in passages:

·         "Women and kids were in the carts crouched with mattresses, mirrors, sewing machines, bundles."

·         "Then, starting home, he walked toward the trees and under them, leaving behind him the big sky, the whisper of wind voices in the wind-bent wheat."

·         "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Don't be Gawky, Glib or Gimmicky:  Rouse Your Readers

When used effectively, alliteration conveys images and emotional appeal for the reader.  When used as a gimmick, it distracts. Words produce sounds, and those sounds help your reader stay engaged.


So, while I'm waiting on wages, I'd welcome worthwhile comments, critiques and counsel. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Small Towns: Big Inspirations

“Living in a small town...is like living in a large family of rather uncongenial relations. Sometimes it’s fun, and sometimes it’s perfectly awful, but it’s always good for you. People in large towns are like only-children.” ― Joyce Dennys, Henrietta Sees It Through: More News from the Home Front 1942-1945


Irritated or Inspired? 

I got an email the other day from a friend who, after years of rejections for his novel, got an offer. We made plans to celebrate at our favorite coffee shop on the square. We do not do Starbucks for our serious writer moments.  Not that we are opposed to Starbucks, it’s just that our little Inman Perk with its plank floors and piano in the back of the shop feels, smells, and oozes creativity whether writing or art.   


My friend was running late, so rather than be irritated, I looked to see what was happening at the shop. 

On any given day, the Perk serves students researching a paper, reporters grabbing a quick cup before interviewing a city employee or Ulli Chamberlain, who started painting in earnest after retiring. 

I like her approach to art, inspiration and imagination.  Brandee A. Thomas interviewed Ulli, who believes that coloring books, with their pre-designed images, stifle creativity in children.  

“They destroy confidence to create by oneself.  We’re basically saying you’re too stupid to create something on your own”, said Chamberlain.  Now she is an advocate for personal inspiration and creativity. 

Hometown Creativity

Around 1952, I had my first spend-the-week with my Grandmother.  While we were picking tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden, she told me that we had a big night ahead of us. When we got inside, she started making fried chicken and let me select the special tomatoes and cucumbers for a salad. I was so excited that I could help with this decision. After we fixed our meal, she let me help her pack the picnic basket.  

I couldn't imagine where we would go for a picnic as it was getting dark outside.  She just smiled and said, "Let's go have an adventure and watch Jack and the Beanstalk." If I had thought about it, I might have questioned her as there was no movie theater in Mellott, Indiana in 1952. 

However, we got the basket, some blankets and started walking down the main street.  As we neared an open field, I saw cousins, aunts and uncles, and what I thought must be the whole town, sitting on blankets gazing at sheets strung from trees - Mellott's answer to a movie theater. Finding the perfect spot wasn't a problem; Mellott only had a population of 197 in 2010.  


It isn't hard to socialize with that many people, either.  Just check your Facebook friends; I'm sure it is at least an equal number. However, people did more than socialize in that small town; they had conversations.  We asked about people's health, the crops and what was going on in their lives.  We also listened. 

Although my hometown of Gainesville, Georgia is 176% larger than Mellott, it still has that same feel on First Fridays.  From 6 PM to 10 PM, people sit on blankets, lawn chairs, drink tea and have conversations while waiting on the entertainment.   Certainly, there are those that focus intently on their phones playing mindless games of Match 3, but for the most part, people talk to one another. 

Conversations: Pick up a Thread and Go with It

The coffee shop is also a place where conversations take place.  We all mingle, move tables and chairs to create larger groups, share dictionaries, or sometimes just yell, “What’s a word for…” and wait for the various responses.  

A love of words is reinforced with all the dog-eared novels of another age stuck between the cushions of an old velvet sofa or the magazines with pages ripped out for later reading.  I'm often reminded of the Friends TV set without the canned laughter and drama. 

With a cup of coffee and time to kill before my friend arrived, I watched people writing, laughing and talking.   I took the opportunity to conduct one of my random Davis Polls.  People are not hesitant to share information in small towns, so thinking of my friend’s insecurities before publication, I asked, “Who is insecure in their writing?”

Susan, a student at Brenau University, looked relieved to stop writing and said, "I'm scared this paper will not get me the grade I need.  I like my subject and I've done in-depth research, but my professor is such a Grammar Nazi that I end up with a poorer grade for mistakes." 

Seven women sharing one laptop started laughing.  One decided to respond saying, “Creating a newsletter may not seem like real writing to some, but we take pride in creating informative pieces.”   

The reporter asked me if I was eyeing his job or just gathering material for myself.  Although I did not know him, we joined tables and started talking about how we are inspired to write. We decided that  inspiration comes from observation and perspective and a willingness to put those thoughts and feelings on paper. Beyond those, we have to find the courage to show it to someone or override our insecurities and publish it. 

Shrink the Size and Expand Your Inspiration 

I lived in Washington, DC for fifteen years; not a city known for its small town feel, yet there were shops, friendly markets and quaint retail establishments where people were willing to have conversations.  

I've used some of those recollections in articles and my memoir. It's not the size of the city, but a willingness to interact with people that gives us inspiration.   

You may get some curious looks if you start engaging people in conversations, or feel uncomfortable the first few times you try it, but you may just get the inspiration you need for your next article. 

So rather than being irritated that your friend is late, checking your emails, or playing a game, engage people in a conversation. Try it, there may just be something said that inspires your next stellar piece.  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Organic Talent or Skilled at the Craft? by Marilyn Davis


“It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.” Ernest Hemingway

While I may be encouraged by Hemingway’s quote, I also know that by the time I hit the publish button on this article, 1,999,999 other writers will be doing the same thing.  That's 2 million articles or enough to fill Time Magazine for 77 years.  That is a lot of competition for readers. So how can I attract and keep readers?

I will attract readers with a catchy title, however, if I do not deliver on informative content, well-paced narratives and give the readers more, I will not keep the reader.  Many people confuse a well-paced narrative with what fiction writers have to do.  The reality is that pacing, creating emotional connections for our readers, and leaving them wanting more from us are the responsibility of non-fiction writers as well.

Writing Process

Developing our articles, going from point A to B, or a blank page to the finished article is a process. Even if you are unaware of your process, you have one.
  
Review your last few articles and determine what course of action you took to complete that article.  

For instance, some writers have an idea, verify their facts, expand on their thoughts and feelings  about the topic and start writing.  It's an organic form of processing.

Others take their topic and create an outline.  The Who, What, Why and Where of the piece. Then they begin to fill in the information allowing their talents to emerge.

However, all writers start out with the idea of creating an article that combines good craft with passion and heart; uniting the objective with the subjective. Gerard de Marigny distinguishes art and craft, “There’s a difference between the ‘art’ of writing and the ‘craft’ of writing. Art is subjective; its beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, but craft is objective. There is a right way and a wrong way to craft.”

Processing and Pre-writing Using a KWL Table

When I am researching a topic, I also have to consider if I will write about the topic from the perspective of breadth or depth. I often use a KWL table, developed by Dona Ogle. It simplifies:

• What I know
• What I Want to Know
• What I Learned
When I define the KWL information, I create a better-structured article.

Processing: Planned Pieces or a Prompt?

Some writers wait for inspiration to write, some of us follow a schedule and write a certain number of articles a week or month. I plan my articles and usually use an outline.
For each of these articles on Wikinut,  I created an outline, did pre-writing and research. A day's views reinforce that this process attracted readers.

Analyzing the Outcomes

If you are writing for a site that manages your viewing statistics, see which of your articles readers gravitate to; those are the ones that will help you determine your best efforts.  Was it the topic, the pacing of your piece, or the overall content that drove readers to this particular article?  Regardless of the topic, if there are heart and craft, copying the process can help you with the next article and the next and so forth.  

In analyzing your article, think about the piece from a number of perspectives.  Looking at your statistics, ask yourself:

1.    Why was this topic appealing?

Without a compelling reason to get your attention, it won't attract the reader, either.

2.    Were you knowledgeable about this subject? 

Being confident in our topics comes through to the reader; they want to hear the authority in the piece.

3.    Was the research about this topic interesting to you? 

If it isn't that will come through to the reader.  Simply linking to additional dry material loses the reader.

4.    Why was this article satisfying to write?

Good copywriters can produce words; however you cannot infuse emotion, heart and passion into the piece if you don't like it; neither will the reader.

5.    Which articles attracted more readers and comments?

Even knowing that I attracted readers due to a catchy title or a good summary, I know that is only the beginning.  When a reader finishes the article and leaves a comment, writers need to be mindful of their remarks and observations.  Reader comments force us to look at our content in constructive ways. 

Beginning to End

Solid writing craft means the art is well written. Therefore, improving at the craft of writing might mean defining your process, analyzing the results, trying something different, enhancing your strengths and finding your voice, tone and style.

In addition, I think improving craft might just set us apart from those other 1,999,999 other writers.