Friday, October 28, 2016

Writing Resources Made Easy

I have a collection of books on writing that takes up at least two shelves on my wall. I probably won't ever get rid of those books because I simply never get rid of books. I mean, they're books. Getting rid of books is like, the devil's work, or something, right?

When I first began to write, books were the only option to get writing advice and find somebody who might actually read something I wrote. Fifty years later, we writers have more options than ever before along that infinite road called the Internet.

(I'd like to thank Al Gore for that, but I've been told he actually didn't have a thing to do with it. That was just a myth started on the Internet.)

So I've gone hunting along that electronic path and have found a plethora (love that word) of excellent writers' sites. I'm sure all my writer friends know about these sites, but just in case, I've made a short list of some where I've found great advice, comprehensive resources, and general commiseration that becoming a writer is harder than becoming an astro-physicist.

Here are 6 of the best of those sites and what you can find there to help you write and sell your work.

This site offers advice from well-known authors, a listing of contests and competitions, and other opportunities for writers to submit their work.

You can find a world of great writing articles, and book listings and reviews here on this site. Great blog posts, and information about research, publishing, brainstorming, and even an online thesaurus.

Author blog, writing articles and tips.

I found this to be one of the best sites, with more than 1,000 articles, and a long list of online resources.

Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi offer great resources for writers, blog posts, articles, and thesaurus collections for character traits, character motivations, settings, etc.

Joanna Penn offers online resources on self-publishing and platform-building, writing articles and author interview podcasts.

These sites and many others like them are not only informative but validating. By taking advantage of these online writers' sites, I've found that I don't feel so alone in my profession. And I've found all kinds of advice that has helped me to write better and to have more faith in my work.

I still won't get rid of my writing books, because first, they're books, and second, there is still excellent, timeless advice to be found on the pages of those books, old and dusty as they are. Words on the page will never go out of vogue, but who knows how long this crazy Internet thing is going to last? Right?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Why I Read

So far in October:
The Forever Bridge, T. Greenwood  (Great)
Grace, T. Greenwood  (Very Good)
The Cellar, Minette Walters  (Good)
The Summer that Melted Everything, Tiffany McDaniel  (Excellent)
Forgive Me, Daniel Palmer  (OK)
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, Bryn Greenwood  (WOW)

Now for the sad news indeed:
14% of adults can't read.
50% of adults are unable to read on an 8th grade level.
28% of adults haven't read a book in the last year.
33% of high school grads will never read a book after high school.
42% of college students will never read another book after graduation.
80% of US families will not buy a book this year from a bookstore or as a download on an electronic device.
(Statistics are from various sources, 2013 - 2016.)

But . . . here's what else I learned while I researched those sad statistics.

Just six minutes of reading can reduce stress by 68%. That alone is worth the effort to learn to read. If that isn't enough encouragement, reading keeps the brain functioning effectively, and studies suggest that elderly people who read regularly are 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimers. Reading stimulates memory, analytical skills, focus, and concentration. Reading before bed has also been shown to improve sleep.

The list of benefits goes on. Mental stimulation, knowledge of . . . well, of anything. Other people, other places, other planets. Aliens. Expanding vocabulary. (I was so proud of myself when I learned the word naive.) Empathy, understanding, and relating to others. Writing skills -- a personal favorite benefit -- are improved, and you become more articulate.

The books listed above that I have read this month are all fiction. I read and do research for articles in non-fiction genres, also, of course, and I spend a lot of time reading health publications, children's magazines, general interest publications, and especially books about writing as a profession. But my passion is fiction. There are those who would argue that I can't learn anything reading stories. Really? The Forever Bridge explained much about the conditions of paranoia and agoraphobia. Grace told me things about living in Vermont that I didn't know, pretty much drawing me a map of that Green Mountain State and its people. The Cellar introduced me to the lifestyle of Somalian citizens living and working in the United States, an eye-opener. The Summer that Melted Everything gave me pinpoint insight into the racism and superstitions of small town society, and brought back memories of the music and culture of the eighties. From Forgive Me I learned a great deal about private investigators, human trafficking, The US Marshall Service, and the way the FBI investigates kidnapping. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things put me right in the middle of how meth is manufactured and its devastating effects on everyone, especially children. It also introduced me to some of the people who wear leather and ride motorcycles and how people are, in the end, simply people. And it was a hell of a love story.  

We've become a visual society, but I don't believe that a picture is always worth a thousand words. Sure, I can look at a picture of a gray sky and my mind acknowledges it as "a gray sky" and I assume it's going to rain. But I can read the words "a churning gray sea of a sky" and know for sure it's going to storm.

The worst problem, of course, for those folks who don't try to learn to read, or those who actually can't read, is that the world can be a confusing place. There are circumstances when a person must be able to read travel directions, how to take medications, understand insurance policies, contracts and other legal papers. And unfortunately, for those who don't think reading is important, their children suffer for it, in school and in life. There are very few high-paying jobs for people who think reading isn't important.

I can't imagine a day without reading. Not one day.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Story is Inevitable

It's the cliche question writers are most often asked by those who don't write: Where do you get your ideas? And the answer that always comes to my mind is Where doesn't a writer get ideas?

The Story is inevitable.

There is a story in the tiniest grain of sand, and there is a story in every stone in the Great Pyramid. There is a story in a light switch, and in a summer storm. There are countless stories in the lives of every living -- and dead -- human being since the beginning of time. In every sight, every sound, every smell, every thought, there is a story that can be told to carry us into fantastic other worlds and realities and possibilities.

A writer's imagination is fertile ground where the seeds of unique ideas grow to bloom.

The problem is not so much where to find ideas, but the choosing among the millions of bits of information that are planted in the course of even one twenty-four hour day.

That young bank teller who cashed a check for you today has a story. The old man in the park has his. Even that candy bar wrapper on the sidewalk has a potential story: Why is it yellow? Who wrote the standards for the ingredient labeling? How was the candy made in the candy factory, what kind of machine created it, how do the machines work, who invented them?

What is the reason behind the design of the parking meter where you left your car this afternoon? What were the mechanics of its production and the materials? Who decided the number of coins you dropped into the meter slot and did that person have a brother who might be a murderer?

Even beyond the plot of that entertaining novel you're reading, there are myriad stories that grow from the very production of the book itself. Who designed the book jacket, where did their own ideas come from? Where did the paper come from for the book's pages? How old was the tree from which the paper came, and did squirrels scamper among its branches?

If you write fiction, your story is in the faces of the people whose paths you cross in your daily routine, and definitely in the face in your mirror. Your story is in the lives of the people you love and the people you don't particularly like and the people you want to get to know. Your story is in the anger, the joy, the common experience in all humankind.

Life is fascinating. You need only to pay attention.

Look, listen, absorb. Create.

If you're a writer of research articles, how-to pieces, technical copy, advertising blurbs, a story is in the what, where, when, why, and the how. Everyone has some kind of experience or expertise in something. Ideas are endless for the magazine, newspaper article, and feature writer. Published materials and the great infinite web offers access to every fact or statistic you could possibly want to know. (And, of course, some you don't want to know.)

Ideas bloom from ideas. Writers read. We're guaranteed to find something to write about.

No matter what the format or genre, whether fiction or non-fiction, mystery or how-to, a writer's garden of ideas is lush.

In the garden there be dragons, alien beings, maybe even the fascinating story of a rock. All around, every day, every minute, there is a story in full bloom.

The story is inevitable.