Archive for the ‘How YOU can write BEST!’ Category

Memoir Author Tamim Ansary Discusses Writer’s Block

Monday, March 28th, 2016

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Tamim Ansary will present “Why Do We Write?” at the next meeting of the Mt. Diablo Branch of the California Writers Club (CWC) on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant, 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill.

He will explain why writing is hard, why we do it anyway, what to do when the piece refuses to be written, and what’s the best that can happen?

Tamim Ansary is the author of the celebrated memoir, West of Kabul, East of New York, and writes fiction, non-fiction, history, and essays on politics, and a wide range of other subjects. He teaches through the Osher Institute, and runs a workshop on memoir writing.

Sign-in is from 11:15 am to 12:00 pm, luncheon 12:00 pm to 12:45, including a short business meeting, and speaker from 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm. Registration is $25 for CWC members, $30 for guests.

Reservations are required, and must be received no later than noon on Wednesday, April 6. To reserve, contact Robin at ragig@aol.com, leave a message at 925-933-9670, or sign up via PayPal: click “buy now” on the Mt. Diablo website, http://cwcmtdiablowriters.wordpress.com/next-program/. Add $2 transaction fee. Expect confirmation only if you e-mail your reservation.

The California Writers Club Mt. Diablo Branch web address is: http://cwcmtdiablowriters.wordpress.com/

Middle Grade Students – Win $$ for your Writing AND Poetry Tips & Techniques

Monday, February 8th, 2016

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Poetry Tips by Poets David Alpaugh and Aline Soules

Getting Started

Start by brainstorming—just as you would for any other project.  What’s on your mind?  What’s in your heart?  What moves you?  What do you care about?  Do your best to come up with your own idea.  This isn’t supposed to be a class assignment, but a chance to share a piece of yourself and practice your love of writing.

Start writing, even if you haven’t come up with your final idea yet.  This is called “free writing.”  It’s been said that if you write for seven to ten minutes, your brain will come up with an idea.

Once you’ve created your “raw material,” it’s time to begin writing your poem.  Now, we’ve moved from inspiration to perspiration, from free writing to craft.

Crafting Your Poem

 Poems are crafted—every word is chosen and placed in its position in the poem for a purpose.  You should never submit a rough or first draft because judges look for your ability to craft your poem and that can take many drafts.

 General craft ideas

  • Show, don’t tell
  • Be concrete and specific
  • Create original images—no clichés
  • Choose the right title (which may come any time in your process)

 Grammar, Usage, Word Play

  • Choose active verbs, e.g., “sit”, not “is seated” or “is sitting”; see if you can think up “punchier” verbs that make your point stronger.
  • Verbs and nouns are strong, while adjectives and adverbs are weak. Concentrate on verbs and nouns and use adjectives and adverbs sparingly.
  • Play around with your poem to make sure every word and its place in the poem are exactly right.  You can play “switcheroo”—move around words, phrases, clauses, whole stanzas to see what works best.

•    Must poems rhyme? No. Many of today’s best poets don’t use rhyme. If you want to write in rhyme, remember that it’s difficult to write well in rhyme. Make sure that your rhyming words make sense and move the poem forward. Rhyme for its own sake doesn’t work. (In most cases, rhyme is more effective for humorous rather than serious subjects.).

  • Highlight the best phrase or couple of phrases in your poem and see if you can bring the rest of your poem up to the same level.
  • Use repetition with care.  Make sure there’s a reason for using repetition.
  • When you think you’re done, see if you can cut out some words from your poem.  It’s easy to let too many “little” words slip in, like “the” and “a” and prepositions and conjunctions, when you don’t need them.  Poems should be “dense,” saying much in as few words as possible.
  • The best way to learn to write poetry well is to read poems by successful poets and pay attention to the way they use language. Poetry employs the same words as prose but is usually richer in imagery and figures of speech, particularly metaphor and simile.
  • After you’ve read a poem you love go back and re-read the first and last lines and ask yourself how the poet gets in and out of the poem? It’s usually most effective to rocket your reader into the heart of the poem instantly, without any introduction or wind-up. Last lines are most effective when they leave readers with something dramatic or memorable to think about.

 Layout

  • Experiment with line breaks.  Do you want short lines or long lines?  Choose the end of your lines with purpose every time.
  • Experiment with your stanzas, too.  Long, short?  What’s best to convey the meaning and feeling of your poem?
  • Another thing to avoid is centering your poem.  If there’s no reason inside the content of the poem to center it, don’t.  It may look “pretty” to you, but if it’s not appropriate to the poem, it shouldn’t be centered, but lined up along the left-hand side of the page.

 Sound

  • Listen to the sounds in your poem.  Are they hard? soft? What do you need in your poem?  Change words or move them around to get the sounds you want.
  • Listen to the rhythm of your poem.  Is it too sing-songy?  If so, make more changes.
  • Read your poem out loud or ask a friend to read it to you.  Does it sound the way it should?
  • Read your poem with a pause at the end of every line.  That will help you to see if your line breaks are in the right place.

Time

You can’t write a poem in a hurry.  Don’t try to write a new poem when the deadline’s due.  Give yourself a few weeks.  After you’ve written several drafts, set your poem aside and come back to it again in a couple of weeks.  Read it aloud and try some of the tips again.  You’ll be surprised at how much you can improve.

Submitting

Only submit a poem when you’re confident it’s the best you can do and it’s ready to go.  Judges can tell when a poem’s not ready, but they love to read the poems that are your very best effort.

For more information visit https://cwcmtdiablowriters.wordpress.com/young-writers-contest/

 

Five Tips to Inspire Your Creativity!

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016


A few years ago after we purchased new carpet, the seller mentioned, “When you vacuum your carpet every day . . .”

I laughed.

“You don’t vacuum each day?”  She said with a voice that implied I regularly tortured babies and small animals.

“No!”  My intonation indicated she was crazier than I.

“It’s not good for your carpet,” she said, nearly shaking her finger at me.  “It won’t last very long.”

Since our old, worn carpeting was installed into our house for decades, I wasn’t about to tell her it had survived well without any obsessive cleaning.

In our busy lives it’s hard to discipline ourselves to begin a routine.  But if you feel deep in your soul it should be a priority, make it one.  Turn off your gadgets and devote twenty minutes a day for your creativity to develop and flow.

Tips:

1. Train your family or roommates by posting a sign on your door.  Mine says Writer at Work.  Don’t disturb means don’t disturb.  No room to call your own?  A friend set up a small desk inside a closet in which to work.  She wrote several books this way, early in the morning before her kids were up and she went to work as a teacher.

2.  Play instrumental or movie music (without words) to inspire your writing or art.  Amy Tan plays the same music every day for the book she is working on. It trains your brain to get into the relaxed state to create.

3.  While walking, exercising, showering, washing the dishes, wonder about your story, poem, or painting.  Solutions and inspiration comes in the wondering state more than facing an empty computer screen or blank piece of paper.

4.  Motivate yourself with a star on each day you’ve made your writing goal or

5.  Motivate yourself by finding a writing friend to join you.  You can chat online or in person once a week about your goals and projects.

As author Jane Yolen commands, “Butt in chair!”  It’s the way to get your writing done. You’ll feel great once you’ve built this creative routine!

laughing baby

 

25% less? You kidding?

Friday, April 10th, 2015

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25%    That’s how much we Californians must cut our water usage.  Since we’ve already been conserving, it isn’t going to be easy.  But we will do it.

How many words are in your latest manuscript?  Cut 25% of them.

It won’t be easy?  Yes, it’s difficult at first, but soon it becomes addictive.  Make it a game.

How concise can you write?

Writing Prompts:

  1.  Note how many words you’ve written.  Read your piece out loud.  Begin with the last sentence.   Check for clarity.  Are the tenses right?  Can you say that sentence any more succinctly?
  2. Put your writing away for a while.   Time is your friend.  When you read it again, you’ll see your words through fresh eyes.
  3. Share it with a writing friend or writers’ group.
  4. How many words is your piece now?  Have you shortened the word length by at least 25%?

Six Essential New Year Resolutions for Writers

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015

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How to be the Most Productive and Inspired!

  1. Create a haven for which to write.  It might be in the middle of a busy coffee shop.  It could be in a library or on the subway.  Where do you write best?  Try out various settings.  I know one author who wrote in a closet for fifteen minutes before work.  She wrote several books this way!
  2. Set aside fifteen minutes a day to calm your mind and write.  Tune out list-making procedures and tune in to your intuition.  The best moments to get creative are when you daydream, awake from sleep, or are so relaxed you reach your most inspired moments. Wonder about a character, story, or idea.  Play what if . . .
  3. Notice one new sensory detail each day.  You can be at your desk, in a classroom, on a bus, or lounging in your favorite chair.
  4. Play a simile/metaphor game often. What do you see which reminds you of something else?  Find similarities between two random things.
  5. Read good writing.  Read more than you ever have before.  Keep a reading journal.  Jot down a wonderful word, image, phrase, or character you love from what you’ve read.
  6. Finally, don’t forget to PLAY!  Play in the snow, the sand, and the leaves.  Build with blocks.  Create a puzzle.  Act out charades.  Let go and have fun!

Good Books I read in 2014

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

Here’s a list of terrific books I read this year.  All but one has been published earlier than 2014.  They are in no particular order.  Numbers 10, 13, & 14  I’ve read before, but longed to enjoy them again.

Einstein's Dreams Cover

  1. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared  Jonas Jonasson.
  2. Enslaved by Ducks  Bob Tarte
  3. Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in everyday Life   Jon Zabat-Zinn
  4. One Summer, America, 1927  Bill Bryson
  5. Me Talk Pretty One Day  David Sedaris
  6. David and Goliath  Malcom Gladwell
  7. Mudbound  Hillary Jordan
  8. Not to Be Missed: Fifty-four Favorites From a Lifetime of Film  Kenneth Turan
  9. This Boy’s Life: A Memoir   Tobias Wolf
  10. The Book Thief  Markus Zusak
  11. March   Geraldine Brooks
  12. The Story of Charlotte’s Web: E.B. White’s Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic   Michael Sims
  13. Charlotte’s Web  E.B. White
  14. Stuart Little   E.B. White
  15. Einstein’s Dreams  Alan Lightman

Writing Prompts: 

  1. Create a list of the books you’ve enjoyed this year.
  2. As you read, ask yourself what you like about each. Does a paragraph or sentence particularly strikes you? Book mark it and come back to it later.
  3. Model your own writing to a sentence or paragraph you’ve noted.
  4. Read, read, read! It will motivate your own writing, in subtle ways.
  5.  Keep a notebook of the books you read from now on.  You may even jot notes about them, which helps you rediscover good writing.

What impresses readers? Analyze your Squirrel!

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

Hawk Vs. SquirrelConflict in nature, as shown by this hawk and squirrel behind our house, keeps life dangerous, emotionally driven and exciting. The squirrel hid inside his hole, but used the element of surprise to his advantage.

The hawk waited . . . . waited . . . and . . .

Pop!

The squirrel’s head burst out of his hole!  The hawk jumped backwards.

Yes, if we had captured a video of this, people would laugh.

Isn’t this what we desire of a good book? Capture readers emotionally, add an element of danger and surprise to create an exciting and humorous story.

 Writing Prompts:

  1. Where in your current writing project or art can you add the element of surprise for humor or shock value . . . or both? Remember, it’s all in the timing. Wait, wait, and boom!
  2. How can you engage your readers emotionally? Build your character’s needs and desires so they are real. Empathy for your squirrel increases the impact.
  3. Develop your antagonist so we see more than a cardboard evil character. What are her needs and desires? Why does this character act the way she does? Add this depth for a well-rounded story.

 

Make a Scene with Jordan Rosenfeld

Monday, April 14th, 2014

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How can you write a scene with emotional impact, reader involvement, and suspense? 

Author Jordan Rosenfeld spoke to the California Writers Club, Mt. Diablo Branch and shared valuable tips for writers of all genres.  

 With every scene you create, ask yourself, what is the point of the scene?  Does it move your story forward, or is it just a block of setting description?  In showing setting, make your character interact with her surroundings

Great advice!  I critiqued manuscripts at one conference where a writer created a lovely Victorian Christmas which dominated the first chapter.  I suggested she weave in the setting elements as the character acted and reacted, foreshadowing the mystery ahead. 

She said, “Great idea!  But this house doesn’t play a role in the rest of my story at all.”  So why include it?  Once she began writing with her plot and character in mind, her character acted, reacted, and experienced the setting through sensory images.  It wasn’t overblown this time, and she created a reason for her scene to be there: she introduced characters and hinted at the mystery coming.

Rosenfeld advised writers create tension through emotional complexity.  Characters can experience more than one feeling at a time.  The uncertainty can be showed through their thoughts and dialogue, the writer’s word choice, how a word sounds, and imagery

For more information, read her book, Make Scenes, published through Writer’s Digest, and visit her website:  www.jordanrosenfeld.net  

Writing Prompts:

  1. It’s your turn!  Create a scene by involving your character in the setting shown through the elements above.  Make sure your scene moves the story’s plot forward.  Ask yourself:  Why must it be here?
  2. Tony Serra, attorney for Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Cow, at a federal court appearance said, “Law enforcement is supposed to investigate crime and criminal activity.  In this case, they created crime and criminal activity.”  (Source:  Heather Knight, San Francisco Chronicle.)  Use this quote to create a scene employing Rosenfeld’s advice. 
  3. Write an article, nonfiction piece, or essay with a scene focusing on the tips above.

 

Five Indispensible Things Writers Can’t Live Without

Monday, March 24th, 2014

Do you feel you’d like to write more often, but can’t squeeze in enough time? Yearn to write better?  Feel body pain due to the time you spend at the computer or other work?

Over the years of writing, I’ve discovered some tidbits.  They save time, help me write better, and one even helps my repetitive body pain.

    1. Dictionary.com/Thesaurus.com 

 Quick, easy and free! What’s not to love about this site? 

  1. The Synonym Finder by J. J. Rodale

Synonym Finder

The best thesaurus ever!  If you like one more, let me know. 

  1. Which Word When?  The Indispensable Dictionary of 1,500 Commonly Confused Words by Paul Heacock

Which Word When

Although the edition I own is from 1989, you may find one updated or different book you like in bookstores.  For those of you who shop online, a physical site is best for you really must peruse it.  Otherwise you’ll start collecting various books nearly like the one you crave, but none of them quite right.

  1. Fisher Space Pen.

 I confess.  I don’t write the rough drafts of my chapters on a machine. I handwrite my first draft on slanted knees. 

Not only do I benefit from this change of position, I climb more stairs to reach my comfy old lady’s chair or I get fresh air outside on my lounger. But the main reason I write by hand is I’m “freed” through the act of handwriting.   Ideas flow, where they might get bogged down when I face a screen.   

However, a regular pen won’t do it.  A Fischer Space Pen will write any way, any time, any where!  Its description: “A pen that can write in the air, under water, upside down, over grease, any angle.”  (You might find another brand that does the job, too.)  

Try various methods and places to write.  Which works best for you? 

  1. A writing group or writing partner.

Probably the most important item on this list.  It won’t break your pocketbook either.  My writing partner and I meet every two weeks to share our work, discuss craft, and support one another.  My writing group meets once a month to do the same.  I’m fortunate every member is a good writing with terrific critiquing skills. 

Writing Prompts:

  1. Switch your writing habits.  If you’ve been composing only on a computer, try writing by hand.  Give it some time and see if this allows your mind to wander and discover the right words, more depth of character, and fresh ideas.  If you’ve been writing by hand, give it a go on a computer or typewriter.  Discover what works for you!
  2. Switch places.  Do you write in a home office?  Try a park, café, or your backyard.  Maybe an airport, the library, or your car will spark your best work. 

Park

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Park3. Do you always start writing from the beginning?  Attempt your next project by starting in the middle, or towards the end.  Begin with the major conflict, an emotional scene, or a hidden secret.  Do any of these propel you forward more than starting at chapter one?

4. Write at different times of the day for a week.  Have you learned anything about yourself?