Tag: writing about writing

Z is for Zero-Sum #atozchallenge

Day Z of the 2013 Blogging from A to Z April challenge. Today’s topic: zero-sum.

When I was a teacher, I tried to hammer into my kids’ minds that my classroom, and life in general, was not a zero-sum game.  If you’re not familiar with that concept, it means that for every winner there must be a loser. For every A there must be an F. For every millionaire there must be a homeless person.

Unfortunately, that attitude seems to be prevalent with writing. If you buy my book, you can’t buy someone else’s. And while there may be some truth in that – your disposable income probably isn’t unlimited – you can at least read my book as well as someone else’s. Being a fan of one person doesn’t preclude being a fan of another.

I’m fortunate in that I know a lot of writers who are super supportive of me, and of most writers they come across. While we’re all working towards that end goal of an agent, or a publisher, or sales of our self-published book, we can help other writers at the same time: sharing resources. Writing critiques and beta reading. Talking about what’s worked for us, and what hasn’t, and why.

Writers are all in this together. My classroom wasn’t a zero-sum game, and neither is gaining readers.

W is for Writing Resources #atozchallenge

Day W of the 2013 Blogging from A to Z April challenge. Today’s topic: writing resources.


  • Duotrope: subscription-based listing of 4000+ places to submit short stories and poems; gives stats on each publication such as time until response, pay rate, acceptance rate, etc. Definitely worth the price.

General Writing Tips

  • Daily Writing Tips: exactly what it says; a mini lesson on grammar, vocab, punctuation, style, voice, etc, delivered to your inbox six days a week.
  • BubbleCow: tutorials and advice on self-publishing and marketing



  • Scribophile: karma-based critique site where points earned by critting others are spent on posting your own work for crits. Plus a vibrant community of forums and focused writing groups.

If you’re a writer, what resources do you find helpful?

U is for Ubiquity vs Uniquity #atozchallenge

Day U of the 2013 Blogging from A to Z April challenge. Today’s topic: ubiquity vs uniquity.

From Merriam-Webster:

  • Ubiquity: presence everywhere or in many places especially simultaneously
  • Uniquity: being the only one [perhaps not actually a real word]

As writers, we often have to strike a balance between the two. We want our stories to be original, yet at the same time we want them to have a broad-enough appeal to be widely read. Stay true to what you want to write and have a small audience, or write what sells and (possibly) enjoy commercial success?

For me, I’d much rather go with uniquity than ubiquity.

And saying those words (ubiquity, uniquity, ubiquity, uniquity – try it; it’s fun!) reminds me of a poem by French poet Jean Cocteau (not to be confused with French oceanographer Jacque Cousteau).

Le Toison d’or (The Golden Fleece)

Bouclée, bouclée, l’antiquité. Plate et roulée, l’éternité. Plate, bouclée et cannelée, j’imagine l’antiquité. Haute du nez, bouclée du pied. Plissée de la tête aux pieds.

Plate et roulée, l’éternité. Plate, bouclée, l’antiquité. Plate, bouclée et annelée ; annelée et cannelée. Ailée, moulée, moutonnée. La rose mouillée, festonnée ; boutonnée et déboutonnée. La mer sculptée et contournée. La colonne aux cheveux frisés. Antiquité bouclée, bouclée : Jeunesse de l’éternité !

(And in English – well, it doesn’t sound nearly as fun in English.)

Here’s the poet reading it in 1929:

Which word fits you better – ubiquity or uniquity – and why?

P is for Pride #atozchallenge

Day P of the 2013 Blogging from A to Z April challenge. Today’s topic: pride.

When I taught high school English a few years ago, I found the kids learned best if the units revolved around a theme rather than just form or length, like non-fiction, poetry, short stories, etc.  And to that end, my whole sophomore world lit class focused on pride.

We started out our poetry unit with excerpts from The Inferno, talking about the layers of Hell in the context of the Seven Deadly Sins (yeah, I talked about religion in a public school; that’s actually okay as long as you don’t endorse one religion over another). And the kids came to the conclusion that pride was left out because Dante didn’t want to burn in hell too.

Next was a poem by Pierre de Ronsard:

The original Ladies’ Man

When you are truly old, beside the evening candle,
Sitting by the fire, winding wool and spinning,
Murmuring my verses, you’ll marvel then, in saying,
‘Long ago, Ronsard sang me, when I was beautiful.’

There’ll be no serving-girl of yours, who hears it all,
Even if, tired from toil, she’s already drowsing,
Fails to rouse at the sound of my name’s echoing,
And blesses your name, then, with praise immortal.

I’ll be under the earth, a boneless phantom,
At rest in the myrtle groves of the dark kingdom:
You’ll be an old woman hunched over the fire,

Regretting my love for you, your fierce disdain,
So live, believe me: don’t wait for another day,
Gather them now the roses of life, and desire.

The kids took it to mean, “Hey, I loved you when you were hot. And now you’re old and ugly and just wish you could’ve hooked up with me when I was around, but now I’m dead and you’re old and ugly.” Which is definitely pride, the kids were quick to point out, especially in light of his picture.

And then we moved onto excerpts of Machiavelli’s The Prince, which I spun as a dictator’s handbook. It takes a lot of pride to see yourself as a worthy ruler when you’re a complete d-bag. From there we did a nonfiction unit on genocide around the world – Cambodia, Srebrenica, and Rwanda in addition to the Holocaust – and looked at interviews and biographies to try to figure out why ordinary people were so willing to kill their fellow citizens.

Plays gave us Bizet’s Carmen (yes, the opera; we read the words as a script), Goethe’s Faust, and Molière’s The Misanthrope; three plays that all revolve around pride.

As our novel we read Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog, a wonderful story about forcing someone to become something they’re not and then punishing them when they don’t meet your expectations (read as satire of the Iraq War as well as the Bolshevik Revolution).

In all these works, we looked at not only what excessive pride moves people to do, but also what happens to them because of it.  And that’s something I bring into my own stories; how does excessive pride lead to a character’s downfall – or, more interestingly sometimes, the downfall of others?

What themes do you work into your stories? And which of the Seven Deadly Sins – Greed, Anger, Pride, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Sloth – are you most guilty/fond of?

I is for Inspiration #atozchallenge

Day I of the 2013 Blogging from A to Z April challenge. Today’s topic: Inspiration.

A big question writers seem to be asked is, “Where do you get your ideas?”  For me, there are several places I look to for inspiration:

  • Life experiences – Not just mine, but how I perceive the experiences of those around me. My students, for example, have been a goldmine, with all the drama in their lives.
  • What if’s – What if that hotel clerk has to bring his young daughter with him on the night shift? What if a distant relative really had died in Chile and not the small Midwestern town she’d been born in, as many (erroneous) Ancestry.com records seem to say?
  • What’s it like – to live in the dying small town I drove through? To be the band onstage, having aspirations of rockstardom while playing regional venues? To order a pizza for a woman at a bar who’s half your age?
  • Dreams – I rarely remember mine, but when I do they find their way into my stories.

And of course, all of those mix together, into something completely new.

If you’re a writer, what inspires you?

H is for handwritten #atozchallenge

Day H of the 2013 Blogging from A to Z April challenge. Today’s topic: handwritten.

Generally I type the first draft of all my stories. I’m most creative from about 10 pm to 2 am, and I’m home in front of a computer during that time, so it’s not an issue.

However, my second most-creative time is about 9-11 am (during which I’m at work). My job has some slow periods during which I can read, but I’m not sure how well it would go over if I started writing on the computer.

So for times like that, and when I’m hiding out at my favorite writing spot, I write everything out by hand.  I also jot down notes by hand if something comes to me and I want to get it down before it’s gone, because although I have a great app on my phone, GNotes, that syncs up with my gmail account, it’s a pain to have to tap out a story with a touchscreen keyboard.

Which method do you generally use when writing?

Finding the right place to write part 2

A couple weeks ago I posted about one of my favorite places to write.  Here’s another spot I like (although this one tends to be more for reading than writing, at least recently).

Although this spot tends to see more traffic than spot #1 (photographers and birders watching the bald eagles in nearby trees, joggers and bikers and dog walkers along the path), it’s right next to the river, providing a soothing backdrop of the water going over the dam. There are multiple places to sit: park benches on that overlook on the right, rocks on the river bank, and grassy spots perfect for a blanket.

Plus this is really close to where I live, so I can easily stop by when I need some time to read, write, or just sit and think.

Finding the right place to write

Like most people, I have the best intentions when I sit down in front of my computer to tackle a project, be it writing a story, researching a setting, applying for jobs, etc.

And like most people, I tend to get distracted. There are forums and instant messages and Cracked.com, a cat grooming herself on my feet wanting to be noticed and fed, snacks and drinks and late night burger runs, Spider Solitaire, and so on.

Fortunately, I’ve found a great place to write:

There’s no internet except what I can get with my phone. Very few people around. A clean bathroom. A great view (visible from my car too; I don’t sit outside if it’s cold or rainy).

Where do you go to write, read, or just get away from life for short bursts?

    Weekend Writing Warriors 3/10 #8sunday

    About a month ago I started a new temp job. Easy clerical stuff, six-month assignment, and freedom to read or write if there’s no new stuff to type or file.

    So every day I take with me something to read (physical book or something on my phone) and a notebook.  I have three notebooks I alternate between, so I can jot down stories whenever I want.  It’s convenient, except tonight I realized I couldn’t find my main notebook, the one I’ve been writing in for the past few weeks.  I specifically remember bringing it out of the office with me when I left Friday.

    Not in my writing bag. Green notebook, yes. Red notebook, yes. Blue notebook, no.

    It wasn’t in my car.

    Not by my computer.

    Not in my bedroom.

    I was beginning to get a bit concerned. While I could probably rewrite everything in this notebook, I didn’t want to. Partly because I probably liked it better the first time around, but mostly because I’m lazy.

    Finally, I remembered that I’d brought home a lot of paper to recycle. My office doesn’t really recycle paper, even though they use a lot, so I usually grab what I can at the end of the day and bring it home to put in our recycling box.

    My blue notebook was about 2 inches down.

    Crisis averted.

    So, short story long, here’s this week’s 8 sentences, from my blue notebook.  I wrote an essay (creative nonfiction?) about one of my students in my remedial reading class, then decided I needed to tell the story from his POV, in his own voice.  This chunk, from the first draft, is about testing the kids’ reading levels with a computerized test.

    After about five minutes Mitchell finishes first, makes a big production of it.

    “It’s not a race,” I tell the kids as one after another they yell out, “Finished.” “Take as much time as you need; we have the whole period.”

    Approximately five out of twenty kids listen. The librarian shoots us dirty looks as the kids talk loudly to each other for the rest of class, but at least I get them to stay in their seats instead of wandering around knocking over books or leaving the library entirely.

    Two weeks later, the text scores are back; my class of freshman, kids 13-16 years old, average a fourth grade reading level.

    I pass back the individual scores, and Mitchell is impressed with his.

    “I read like a kindergartner,” he says with an insolent grin; a smirk, actually, according to the word he uses in the story he writes for me later in class.

    Post a link to your eight sentences blog entry, or join the fun at the Weekend Writing Warriors website.

    Finding motivation in the arts

    My dad has always tried to instill in me a love of music.

    me at 3 or 4

    Since I’ve moved back to my hometown, I’ve become my dad’s concert buddy.  There’s a local place that hosts smaller rock and blues bands, plus a couple college towns within driving distance that have shows as well.

    We caught a show this past weekend.  While I enjoyed the music, I was far more interested in the musicians themselves, and the crowd watching them.

    The band leader is the guy on the left. A seasoned guitarist, he didn’t care about the audience; he was just there to play music.  He barely talked to the crowd of about 50 or so, barely smiled; just stood there and played.

    I took this picture with my phone, so the quality’s kinda bad, but you can kinda make out the scowl on the drummer’s face. He played pretty basic rhythm for the entire show, except when his bandmates ducked out for a smoke break and he got a solo.  He was great – animated, smiling, really showing off. He’s not happy about his (lack of a) role in the band.

    And then there’s the bassist on the right, striking a Jesus/God’s gift to women pose. He played the crowd all night, with lots of hip-thrusting posturing.

    And at least part of the crowd ate it up.  A group of middle-aged women in much younger clothes danced in front of the stage, and one woman in particular made eyes at the band the whole time.  After the show, before we left, I saw her chatting up the band, probably hoping to not go home alone.

    I’ve noticed at these shows that I get a lot of story ideas. I keep a little notebook in my purse, and I’ll jot down notes, character sketches, even whole scenes. Now, I just need to find the time to finish all these stories.

    If you’re a writer, what ordinary life activities inspire your stories?

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