What Makes Flash Fiction Sizzle or Fizzle?

by guest columnist, Avily Jerome

What Flash Fiction Markets Want

Avily Jerome is the Editor of Havok Magazine, the speculative fiction imprint at Splickety Publishing Group. When not editing flash fiction stories, she is a stay-at-home mom of six and is an aspiring speculative fiction author.

Interview by Farheen Gani

Flash fiction is one of the most enjoyable types of fiction to read because it’s quick and doesn’t require a great time commitment. You can read a flash story in a waiting room or in the bathroom or any time you have a few minutes to kill.

However, the very things that make flash fiction fun to read are what make it hard to write. An entire story world, developed characters, and a well-structured plot must be written in one thousand words or less. And, of course, as with all stories, it must engage your reader. Any story that is boring or has flat characters will be laid aside, regardless of how short it is.

Splickety Publishing Group looks for a few major elements when we’re deciding whether or not to acquire a story.

  1. Every word must count.

With flash stories, there’s no room for fluff. Excessive description or scene-setting pulls away from the story. With so much to accomplish in such a short amount of time, your writing needs to be concise and vivid. Use strong verbs and adjectives, and cut out anything that doesn’t directly add to the story.

  1. It must have a complete story arc.

Story structure in a flash piece is a more fluid concept than in a novel, but your story arc still has the same elements. It should start with some sort of inciting incident, include some major obstacle to overcome, and conclude with some sort of resolution at the end. It not only needs to engage the reader—it needs to satisfy him.

  1. It should have a twist of some sort.

This is not a hard-and-fast rule, but it is something that we at SPG like to see. Some of the best flash pieces have a twist that the reader doesn’t see coming. If you can incorporate an element of shock or humor or something thought provoking into your story, it’s more likely to hold our attention.

In short, we crave interesting stories that are tightly written. If we think your story has merit, we’ll work with you to make it the best it can be. Please visit our website at http://splicketypubgroup.com/submission-guidelines/ for upcoming themes and how to submit.

Get a FREE writing evaluation at http://www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and sign up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter (top right corner). Questions? Write to DeborahOwen@CWInst.com.

Not Child’s Play

by Farheen Gani

“Maybe I write for kids because I’m just a kid at heart.” says Pam Zollman when questioned about her love for writing children’s books. She wrote her first poem at the age of seven, but this award-winning author has travelled a long way. From reporting for a daily, to being a technical editor, she has dabbled in many forms of writing. It was only after the birth of her sons did she discover her true love and, around 40 books later, she is raring to go.

Make no mistake though, she warns. Children’s writing isn’t as easy. “If children don’t understand what you’re talking about, they will put your book down. Adults are more willing to give a writer a chance,” she explains.

In this interview, she shares many insights such as this and more …

  1. Which do you think is more difficult to write: a picture book, early reader, or chapter book?

I think that each type of book has its own inherent set of problems. But, probably the picture book is the hardest to write. So many people read one, see how “simple” it is, and decide that they can do it, too. In today’s market, editors are asking for picture books to be 500 words or less…and tell a whole story! Tough to do, but obviously not impossible. Early readers are also hard to write because you need to write them with a limited vocabulary and word count and still tell a story that will keep the young reader interested. 

  1. How do you select the age group you are writing for?

I have found that I write naturally at a 3rd grade reading level and my inner child is about 10 or 11, sometimes 12, so I love writing for that age group. Sometimes I decide ahead of time that I want to write a picture book or a middle-grade novel. Sometimes it isn’t until after I’m deep into the story that I realize that I need to rethink how I’m presenting the story and that I need to make it younger or older. 

  1. Are there any themes/ issues close to your heart?

I tend to write what I call “school stories.” These are small stories about kids dealing with problems at home and at school. Many of these have relationship issues at the heart of the story. The hurting child is always close to my heart – but that’s what we’re supposed to do to our characters. Make them loveable and then hurt them so that the reader cares what happens to them. 

  1. Do you try to incorporate a message in each of your books?

If I wrote a good story, then the message/lesson is already there, coming naturally from the character and conflicts he or she has to overcome to achieve his/her goal or solve the problem. No one likes to be lectured. If you want to learn something specifically, then you turn to nonfiction. 

Don’t misunderstand. While I think fiction is written for its escape elements and pure, simple enjoyment, I also know that kids are learning things from my stories. It might be how to cope with a bully or it might be different types of insects or dealing with younger brothers.

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What is “Voice” and How Do You Use it?

Using Voice Effectively
by Deborah Owen

What do writers mean by “voice”? The voice, or point of view (POV), is the angle from which a story is viewed; every story and article has one. There are three types of POV and, while some are more preferred, no particular one is right or wrong.

* First person POV pronouns are: I, me, my, mine, we, us, our, and ours. New authors usually write in first person because they feel focused and closer to the story. First person draws the reader in, but it’s a limiting POV and is not the editor’s favorite.

There are two problems with first person POV. First, the constant use of “I” becomes trite. Second, the story’s character only knows what the writer knows, and cannot see from a different POV.

For example, if John says, “Susan is going to meet me at seven o’clock,” and in the meantime, Susan falls, breaks a leg, and lies helplessly on the floor, John will not know what happened to her until someone tells him. First person POV is better reserved for memoirs, journal entries, and specific stories.

* Second person POV pronouns are: you, (singular), you (plural), your, and yours. Example: “You must come with me to the Christmas play. You and I will have popcorn and lots of fun. Did you know your hat is on backwards?” As you can see, this point of view is even more limiting and never used.

* Third person POV pronouns are: he, his, she, hers, it, its, they, their, and theirs. There are two kinds of third person writing, omniscient, and limited. In third person omniscient, the readers are like flies on the wall and they can see into characters’ minds. This POV limits the suspense since the reader is left with few unanswered questions – but it’s easy to write because authors don’t have to work at “showing” the scene.

* Third person limited doesn’t show internal dialogue (thoughts) so the characters can’t foreknow anything. Like first person, the readers can see through the character’s eyes, but unlike first person, they can also see through the eyes of others.

In third person limited, the suspense builds as the writer shows the scene instead of telling it. The reader lives the story as the character lives it. Here is an example from Deborah Owen’s The Perfect Crime:

“Harrison slumped against the car, collapsed, and rolled in agony as he clutched his chest. Vision blurred, and then his eyes rolled back until they relaxed in a wide, empty stare.”

The sample doesn’t say the man had a heart attack and died, but you know it, don’t you? As you can see, even showing may have a little ‘telling’ in it.

Editors buy more third person limited than first person. Let your readers feel your characters instead of seeing them. Play with the various points of view until you’re comfortable writing all of them.

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Journalism Changes

by Josephine Kihiu

Journalism is a practice dating back hundreds of years. Frankly, it stems from humans needing to be know-it-alls. When reading became a luxury no longer reserved for the rich, disseminating news to a broad public proved profitable and generally beneficial. You’ve all heard the horror stories of late: journalism, especially in the print media subset, is a dying industry, clinging hopelessly to its marginal profits. Sure, the industry saw some major cuts recently. However, the reality is this – journalism is not dying. It’s just changing.

People are embracing a digital lifestyle, and so is the media. Journalists still roam unexplored niches and probe prominent minds for columns to sell, but those columns may end up online or in the journalist’s personal blog, as well as in print.

Digital journalism is an immediate response to the ever-increasing presence of the Internet via smart devices. Want a run-down of the State of the Union’s main points? Need to check your movie listings? Want to know the weather? Answer all questions using the omnipotent Internet.

Cognizant of the new shift in how the modern person acquires information, journalistic publications respond by posting pieces online. They also create apps allowing those with smart phones to roam their websites more conveniently.

Online journalism also serves expansion of journalistic expression. Unlike Harry Potter, your newspaper probably doesn’t support moving pictures on the cover, but journalists who embrace the digital shift can post videos, tweet, and blog about their findings in addition to the traditional static article. This increases potential audiences and diversifies the demographic reach (more college students pick up their iPhones than a newspaper).

But fear not, traditional readers. If you’re anything like me, you enjoy flipping broad pages and the feel of paper in your fingers. It’s familiar, like catching up with an old friend by letter or receiving news from a loved one by snail mail. Large newspapers still understand the importance of retaining the traditional, usually older, market, so don’t panic. News giants such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times, remain consistent sources of accurate, interesting news, faithfully delivering to your door as a reminder that all things change… yet stay the same.

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Writing Duo – Father and Son

by Karen Johnson-Waugh

Father’s Day is a good time to reflect on the life of C.S. Lewis, one of the greatest writers in the past 50 years. More than two decades after his death, his writing continues to inspire millions with science fiction, allegorical children’s books, and philosophical books about the Christian faith.

Clive Staples Lewis was born in Ireland in 1898 to parents Albert J. Lewis and Florence “Flora” Augusta. When C.S. was four years old, his dog, Jackie, died in an accident. From that day forth, little C.S. demanded to be called Jack.

Lewis knew Latin and Greek by the age of ten. When his father wrote poems and read them to his sons, “Jack’s” hazel eyes lit up. The family moved to the outskirts of Belfast in 1905 and he was fascinated with the town. He and his brother David created a fantasy world they named Boxen. Fictional animals ruled their land, which helped them cope with their mother’s death in 1908.

C.S. attended boarding schools and colleges, studied mythology, and became a professor at Oxford University from 1925-1954 where he became lifelong friends with a fellow professor, the famous J.R.R. Tolkien.

In 1949, the New York Times published an article by Chad Walsh called C.S. Lewis: Apostle to the Skeptics. Mr. Walsh encouraged his poet friend, Helen Gresham, to become better acquainted with Lewis. They wrote to one another until Helen eventually divorced her husband, took her two sons to England, and married C. S. in 1956. Four years later, she died of cancer.

Lewis’ work was rejected over 800 times before he sold more than 100 million copies of The Screwtape Letters (1942), The Chronicles of Narnia (1956), and The Space Trilogy (1938-1945). Lewis died of a heart attack a week before his 66th birthday on November 23, 1963.

His stepson, Douglas Gresham, wrote an autobiography entitled Lenten Lands. Douglas and his wife, Merri, adopted five Korean children. They live in Ireland where Douglas handles the C.S. Lewis literacy estate. His brother, David, lives in India with his son.

Do you want to pass writing skills down to your heirs? Today is the day to begin. Believe in yourself. Invest in yourself. Take a writing course at Creative Writing Institute. Sign up today and start tonight with your own personal tutor.

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Volunteer your Writing Skills

by Brent Middleton

          Have you ever found yourself with free time that you could donate? Or feel an urge to give back in some small way? Volunteer writing is a fun and flexible way to pass the time and help a charity spread a message.

Volunteer writing can be for and about any number of causes or events. It could simply be social media writing (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), article writing, or even personal blogs. From a technical standpoint, the rules are few, other than the ones specified by your employer. To determine their writing style, read previously published pieces and analyze them. For instance, Creative Writing Institute likes a more relaxed, personable writing style.

Volunteer writing can present a satisfying challenge and, at the same time, expand your style. Besides gradually making you more versatile, it will offer personal satisfaction in diversifying your skillset. The more different and challenging the topic, the greater satisfaction you’ll feel in the end.

If you’re looking for a place to volunteer your writing skills, Creative Writing Institute has room for two article writers, experienced or amateur. If you’re interested, write to DeborahOwen@cwinst.com.

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Microsoft Word Tips

By Brent Middleton

Microsoft Word is massive. These are some of the lesser-known Word functions. Since computers vary to a large degree, these instructions are basic.

Page Breaks

Microsoft Word automatically inserts a page break at the end of the page, but you can also insert manual page breaks. A page break is the point in the document where the text goes onto the next page. To insert a break manually, click where you want the page to be broken, then go to the Insert tab (at the top), and look under Pages. There you’ll see the Page Break button. If you’d prefer a shortcut to perform a hard page break (one that immediately starts the next page of the document), it’s CTRL+ENTER.

Section Breaks

You can configure automatic page breaks where you want. To do this, highlight the paragraph(s) that you want to work with. Go to the Page Layout tab, click the little icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the Paragraph subcategory, and a dialogue box should pop up. Click on the Line and Page Breaks tab, and from there you can manage your automatic page break settings.

For more in-depth instructions on page breaks, check out the official Microsoft site: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/word-help/insert-a-page-break-HA010368779.aspx

There are other kinds of breaks, too, such as Next Page, Continuous, Even Page, and Odd Page. If you want to learn more about them, there’s a handy description of each right next to each one in Word.

The Ruler

One of the most underutilized features of Word is undoubtedly the ruler. Word includes both horizontal and vertical rulers, and they can be useful for aligning different elements of your document, such as text, tables, graphics, etc.

To view both rulers, click the little button in the top right-hand corner above the “move-the-page-up” arrow. If for some reason your vertical ruler doesn’t appear (in which case it’s turned off), you can turn it back on by going to File, then Options, which is just before Exit. Once in the Options menu, click Advanced, and then scroll down to the Display section. There you’ll find a series of check boxes, and one will say “Show vertical ruler in Print Layout view.” Select that one and you’re good to go.

Were these Microsoft Word tips helpful? Please let us know and feel free to suggest other topics that you might want us to cover.

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Time Management in Seven Easy Tips

by Zena Shapter

Time management is easy when you know these tips and tricks to find focus, and stay there!

1. Time management begins with thinking about what you’re going to write before you actually start.  Thinking is free and you can do it anywhere. I’m always thinking about what I’m going to say/write in my next story, work project, emails or blogs. When I sit down to write, it just pours out.

2. When standing at the bus stop, waiting for water to boil, during advertisement breaks on the TV… hop onto your iPhone (or similar) and quickly check your social media, emails, and any blog posts you bookmarked for ‘later.’ Making use of extra pockets of time will help keep you updated. When you sit down to write, you won’t be lured by Facebook or Twitter. In fact, when writing, try to write far away from the internet and its dark distractions.

3. Find hidden opportunities to write. For example, while you’re in transit. I don’t drive (yes, yes – I know – there’s no need to roll your eyes!), so I catch a lot of buses, trains and ferries. That’s where my iPhone really comes in handy. I also take my laptop with me if I’m going to be on the bus for more than an hour (highly likely in Sydney). I’ve even been known to edit while cooking the kids dinner!

4. Take notes. It will help keep your mind clear. What’s the point in having a brilliant idea if you forget it later? I make notes on my iPhone. That way, when I start writing, I don’t spend valuable time working up ideas.

5. Pick your favorite social media forums for promoting your writing and stay most up-to-date on those, ie., daily checking. On the rest, stay generally up-to-date, ie., check every 2-3 days. For the rest of your social media, just check in weekly. My absolute favorites are my blog and Facebook page (www.facebook.com/ZenaShapter). Close behind is Twitter & Google+. I’m also on StumbleUpon, LinkedIn, Goodreads and more. Did I mention that I’m part-cyber?

6. Plan ahead. If you want to write a story by December, you need to send that story to beta readers by October. Set goals and meet them each day.

7. Approach all of your writing as if it’s work (even though most of being a writer is unpaid). It will help you stay professional and not slack off.

Follow these tips and you can master time management, too! Thanks for having me, Deb… it’s been fun!!

About Zena Shapter:  Hi! I’m a British-Australian fiction writer and published author. I’ve won six national writing competitions, have written novels, am published in various anthologies and magazines, and am represented in Australia by literary agent Alex Adsett. I also run the widely attended Northern Beaches Writers’ Group (based in Sydney), and give regular talks/tutorials on creative writing and social media. Visit me at www.zenashapter.com.

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Rules for Creative Writers

by Terri Forehand

The rules for creative writing can be overwhelming. From grammar, formatting rules, and creating characters, plotting, and following guidelines a beginning writer can give up before a creative story every makes publication. Don’t give up. Here are some basic yet simple rules to include when writing from your heart and putting words on the page.

Characterization

Creative writers have many characters swirling around in their brains at any given time. To make those characters realistic and bring them alive on the page, the creative writer must identify those characteristics for the reader in words, actions, descriptions or dialog. To know the characters well enough to do this, the creative writer should make a character list for each of the characters in the story. Every character must bear their own baggage; have their own physical identities including hair color, freckles, and warts. Each character has personal emotional hoopla and psychological concoctions that make them unique to the story and to the plot.

Creative writers know the birthdates of each of their characters, what they wear, how they talk, who they like and who they don’t, and what they eat. They know their family history, any abuse they have suffered, their sexual preferences, their hopes and their dreams. All of what the writer knows about each character does not show up on the page. However, a character can not come alive on the page until the author has a full scope of understanding about each character they place in a story.

Pacing

Creative writers must learn the skill of pacing their stories. The action must be spread out over the beginning and middle to come to a satisfying end to the conflict within the story at the end. The ending for the most part is a very few pages. Learning the skill of pacing helps you to build tension in your story as it goes along to that final few pages at the end.

Arcing

Along with understanding pacing of a story, the creative writer will learn about arcing. Arcing is the gradual increase in momentum of your plot. The actions of your characters, the conflict in the story, and the pacing will follow an arc that builds interest in your story from the beginning. The middle reaches a fever pitch and then declines into the resolutions of the story conflicts for the main characters. The ending must them be constructed cleverly to satisfy the reader and tie all the loose ends of the plot into a believable resolution. The reader doesn’t have to like what happens, the main character may die, go to jail, etc. But the ending must be believable and the natural consequence of the actions of the character throughout the story.

Timeline

Creative writers must develop a timeline for the scenes in the story. Are the scenes in order? Does your flashback convey the reader back and forth in a way that is understandable and not frustrating for the reader? While some authors may dwell on the same scene for a whole chapter, others will skip years in a single sentence. Make timelines clear to your reader and to do that, they must be clear to you before you write.

This is a simple explanation for some of the basic rules for writing the creative story. Practice by taking notes on your story, building character descriptions, and trying different story arcs for the story you want to tell. Balancing your story arc with your timeline will make your story flow and keep your reader engaged.

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Develop your Priorities

by Brent Middleton

          Developing your priorities is one of the most important things you will ever do. At one time, Jeff Kinney was in your shoes. Who is Jeff Kinney? Ask any elementary-middle school kid what the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is, and they’ll look at you like you just asked them how to blink. Author Jeff Kinney didn’t always want to be a children’s author, but with over 60 million copies in print and over 80 million online hits, he isn’t doing too bad.

Like many students, Jeff didn’t know what he wanted to do until he discovered comic strips at the University of Maryland. As the campus newspaper grew, he knew that he wanted to become a cartoonist.

Unfortunately, Jeff couldn’t get his comic strips syndicated, so he turned to creating a book to house his creations. He worked on it excessively for six years before publishing it on Funbrain.com in 2004. The book, entitled Diary of a Wimpy Kid, became an instant hit with online viewers. Today, 70,000+ kids read it daily.

After the huge success with Funbrain, publisher Harry Abrams offered a multi-book deal and has since put nine Diary of a Wimpy Kid books into print, including the original. The books were an immediate sensation with kids worldwide, with the first two reaching  #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. Jess hasn’t looked back since, releasing three movies based on the books in 2010 (Diary of a Wimpy Kid), 2011 (Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Roderick Rules), and 2012 (Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days).

Jeff still works as the editorial director for Poptropica.com, a kid-friendly gaming website that he created in 2007. Today, he lives in Plainville, Massachusetts, with his wife, Julie, and their two sons, Will and Grant.

  • Where do you want to go in life?
  • What do you want to do?
  • How much are you willing to sacrifice to recognize your dream?
  • He who aims at nothing hits same.
  • Develop your priorities now.
  • Make a bucket list of ten things you’d like to do and then number them by rank.
  • Concentrate on the top three and leave the rest for another day.

Who knows… maybe you’ll become the next Jeff Kinney.

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Saving a Language, One Play at a Time: Shakespeare’s Influence on English

by Tori Pakizer

William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in England and lived from 1564 – 1616. The English language started as a mixture of Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, and Norse, but is now one of the most widely spoken and written languages in the world. Like all languages, it progressed over time.

Shakespeare’s plays and poems helped standardize English as he created as many as 2000 words and phrases we utter today. Before dictionaries, the English language held no firm spelling or grammar rules. Thanks to William Shakespeare and his influence, alumni and professors of Oxford and Cambridge Universities created the OxBridge System, using his syntax, syntax, grammar, spelling, and vocabulary.

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Demand Your Writing Time!

by Deborah Owen

We live in a busy world. In spite of push-button washers and dryers, dishwashers, microwaves, convection ovens, and the latest in transportation and telecommunications, we are busier now than ever before.

Hobby writing gets pushed to the bottom of a very long list of priorities, but perhaps your desire is still there and that’s why you’re reading this article.

Tell your family and friends you won’t be answering the phone because this is your time to write. Tell your husband, wife, or children not to interrupt you unless there is a critical emergency. Tell them how important your writing is to you.

Go to a separate room with a pen and paper or a computer, and begin writing. You may not think of anything to say at first. You may even wonder where all the ideas went. Fear not, they will return.

To get started trywriting a biography, or write about your mate or friends, family, parents, childhood, pets, children or how pillows are madewrite about anything at all. It doesn’t matter what you write, just take the time and write. Try to do it at the same time every day and within a week or two your Muse will begin to visit you.

The Muse is what every writer lives for. It makes words fly to your head so fast that you can’t type fast enough to get it all on paper. The Muse will often visit at night, so keep a pen, paper, and small flashlight by your bed.

Inform your body that writing is a priority. Some people go to a special room to write. Some write in the basement or attic. Some find their Muse in a cabin or by the sea. It doesn’t matter where you go as long as you are comfortable.

Just as a child needs nurturing, so does your Muse. If you don’t feed it, it will die and you will be sure to regret it. Jump in with both feet. Be bold! Be brave!

Take charge of your life, and enjoy writing. It’s like any other gift– use it or lose it!

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For Better or For Worse: The Long-Haul Love of Writing

by David Ebenbach, teacher at Georgetown University

Writing has been a constant love in my life. What has changed over the years is the way I’ve loved writing.

When I was a kid, we had an old manual typewriter. When I banged away on that typewriter, I was pretending to be a grown-up. As I sat happily clacking my way into scripts and stories and even a novel (eight pages long), writing became something like the idea of a girlfriend. Kids my age talked about girlfriends and boyfriends, and supposedly some of them even had girlfriends and boyfriends, but of course nobody really knew what they were talking about or was really serious about it. Writing was like that for me; I loved it, but it was mostly a game of pretend.

By the time I hit adolescence, my love of writing had become similarly adolescent. I had very romantic ideas about being a passionate, misunderstood writer, and filled my journal with manic bursts of poetry and self-examination. Story ideas ran wild through me the way infatuations did.

This wildness remained into college and a few years beyond, but, as I gained experience and wisdom, I saw hints of the possibility of constancy, of calm. I began to love writing in a more committed way, finding myself increasingly willing to stay with a piece, to revise it, and see it through.

The real turning point was my decision to enroll in Vermont College’s MFA program. It would be a major investment of time and resources, and would take me down a different path from the one I’d been traveling (pursuing a degree in Psychology). Given the enormity of the move, I made the decision soberly, but also with much joy, as though entering a marriage. It was not impetuous, but rather driven by a powerful, abiding love. I had spent years in the relationship, and I knew how I felt.

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Creative Writers and New Year’s Resolutions

by Deborah Owen

Creative writers, have you already broken your new year’s resolution? Did you want to take a writing class this year? Did you intend to write more often? Finish that story? Try poetry? Whatever your resolution, breaking it is only natural.

Life is busy, and it waits for no one. Don’t be cross with yourself for “failing.” No one really fails. They just procrastinate, always thinking tomorrow will be different. It happens with diets. It happens with smoking. It happens with writing, too. The main thing is to pick yourself up now and start over again. And should you fail this effort, too, renew your vows over and over again. As long as you have new days, you have an opportunity for new beginnings.

Daily resolutions are the only kind that really accomplish anything, so now is the time to make them.  Here are a few ideas to help you refocus.

  • Break your writing time into small chunks that you can work into any day. Fifteen minutes is a good choice. That gives you five minutes to clear your mind and ten minutes to get into the groove. You’d be surprised what you can write in fifteen minutes. True story: An unpublished woman wrote and finished a book by writing fifteen minutes a day on her lunch hour. She sent it to an editor. He bought it, and she got it published. Writers, you make your own chances in life. Get going!
  • When you sit down to write, if you don’t find inspiration, don’t let that concern you. You can write about your work, your boss, a rude clerk in the store, a nice person you met, your mate, how you want to remodel the house, or about your dreams. What matters is that you string your words together in proper English, proper punctuation, and good thought patterns. Everything you write has meaning. It shows your attitude, your interest, your opinion, your intentions, your psychological status, and it develops your writing talents.
  • Write at the same time every day, if possible. That is the key to wanting to write. If you write at the same time every day for a week, you will begin to feel the “muse” – the urge to write. When you resist that urge because you choose to do something else, the muse will be less the next day. Place writing at the top of your priorities.

If you haven’t met the muse, you’ll know it when it hits. Inspiration will strike and you won’t be able to type as fast as your mind can think. You won’t want to stop. You won’t want to be disturbed. You won’t want to do anything but write. Love the muse. Cherish it. Obey it. Don’t interrupt it. The muse is to a writer what a car is to a driver. It is the vehicle that transports you from one place to another.

Don’t talk. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t stop to eat. Cancel restroom breaks. Cater to the muse. Writing at the same time every day will encourage it to come in a timely manner.

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How Writing Can Improve Your Well-being

by Melissa Hathaway

“Round and round he walked, and so learned a very valuable thing: that no emotion is the final one.”

Jeanette Winterson

For almost 20 years Dr James W Pennebaker has been extolling the virtues of creative writing as a route to healing. A professor in the Department of Psychology at The University of Texas at Austin, Pennebaker has written several books on the subject, and encourages everyone to use creative writing to improve both their physical and mental health. His research has shown that ‘short-term focused writing’ can have profoundly beneficial effects on anyone suffering from episodes as simple as a house move, to those facing cancer, divorce, or financial problems. Here’s what Dr Pennebaker’s research can teach us.

Powerful Secrets

Keeping secrets may tend to cause physical health problems. Dr. Pennebaker conducted an experiment to see if writing them out would help. The results were astounding. Patients who wrote their secrets down felt better, even if the secrets were never read and destroyed immediately. The patients’ immune systems improved and they visited the doctor less often.

Organizing Our Thoughts

Pennebaker’s theory is that any kind of upheaval makes minds work overtime, trying to organize and process what is happening. Pennebaker explains, “When we translate an experience into language we essentially make the experience graspable. Individuals may see improvements in what is called “working memory,” essentially our ability to think about more than one thing at a time. They may also find they’re better able to sleep. Their social connections may improve, partly because they have a greater ability to focus on someone besides themselves.” So does this mean that as well as our creative writing, we should be keeping a daily diary of events? No, Pennebaker suggests that we should use the opportunity to stand back and evaluate our life’s course rather than document every day events. Rather, he asks patients to write for 20 minutes over four days about an emotionally troubling event in their lives, really exploring their issues and how they can be tied to past events in childhood, for example. He urges them to write for no one except themselves, in a quiet space, not worrying about punctuation or style.

Making A Narrative

Through linguistic analysis Pennebaker’s studies have shown that those people who are able to construct a narrative whilst writing about difficult topics seem to have the best outcomes. If they begin with an unstructured account of events initially, but manage to organize their ideas into a coherent narrative after a few days, they seem to benefit the most. Approaching analysis linguistically is a very powerful tool for researchers. They look for words that signify complex emotional processing, and for the increasing occurrence of such words as writing exercises progress. They observed that words such as the prepositional ‘except’, ‘exclude’ and ‘without’ increase in frequency, along with causal words such as  ‘rationale’ and ‘effect’. Pennebaker believes that these word frequency increases demonstrate that the traumatic events being written about are becoming more manageable for the patient to process.

Changing Viewpoints

Just as we find it useful to change the viewpoint in a piece of creative writing by changing the narrator, so changing the perspective in a piece of healing writing can change the writer’s feelings about an issue. Pennebaker analyzed shifts in pronoun use and found a correlation between this and improved outcomes. He explains, “…one day they may be talking about how they feel and how they see it, but the next day they may talk about what’s going on with others, whether it’s their family or a perpetrator or someone else. Being able to switch back and forth is a very powerful indicator of how they progress.” As creative writers, we know only too well the power of changing perspectives when exploring a storyline or demonstrating how others perceive a character. It is fascinating to hear that the same techniques can be used in therapeutic writing.

Looking Ahead

For some year, art therapy has been a central plank of the therapeutic tool kit. ‘Journaling’ is the new buzzword at present, pioneered by Elizabeth Warson, professor at George Washington University’s art therapy program. Many younger patients enjoy this form of therapy and have benefited from the meld of written and artistic self-expression. Those who are attending residential therapy to recover from substance addiction in Washington State have been particularly encouraged to use this technique, and results have been impressive. But perhaps it is time that focused writing came more to the fore as a therapeutic tool. Writers such as Sylvia Plath and Jeanette Winterson have used the ‘confessional’ style to create beautiful works, perhaps understanding instinctively the power of this technique to heal themselves. Winterson is emphatic in stating that her Whitbread prize-winning first book, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit was a ‘fictionalized’ account of her extraordinary early childhood. In her recently published Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, a parallel non-fictional account of the same period, she discusses this first important work, explicitly stating that fictionalizing her life in Oranges was the only way she managed to survive psychologically.

Pennebaker’s research over a number of years certainly shows the transformative power of writing, and not just for patients. Perhaps we can all make use of his exercises in our everyday life. As the description of Winterson’s book elegantly expresses, it shows “…how fiction and poetry can form a string of guiding lights, a life-raft which supports us when we are sinking.”

Leonid Pasternak writing

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Sylvia Plath

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‘Journaling’ (Tumblr) unattributed

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Pen and script

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Why Be Happy…

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Writing Rules

by Terri Forehand

Creative writing rules govern story writing. The message, content, characters, and storyline can differ,  but some key elements must be present in every story.

Theme

Trust writing rules to link every story properly into a common idea. You can weave a moral or underlying lesson into the mix, but the theme can be as simple as boy meets girl. Many times, there may be both a theme and an underlying moral or lesson. Gone with the Wind is an example of a complex theme with a moral thread woven throughout the story. On the surface, the theme is war and romance, but the underlying lesson theme illustrates control, manipulation, and the weak characteristics of humans.

Plot

Every good story maintains an interesting plot throughout. The plot must fit the characters, just as the character’s actions must fit the plot. The plot encompasses the beginning and middle with a series of events that leads the climax to a satisfying ending. Plotlines must be concrete and believable. They must move the story forward and keep the reader interested in development. It behooves the creative writer to learn the craft of weaving meat into the story and delete every word that doesn’t directly pertain.

Hook

Construct a hook that grabs the reader and keeps him/her turning the pages. The hook may be a sentence, a few sentences, or even a page. In a technical world where people want instant gratification, they won’t stay engaged if the words don’t grab them at the onset.

Dialogue

Dialogue is another essential skill in creative writing. It must be natural and match the characters in the story, which can sometimes be tricky. Become a good eavesdropper and you’ll learn to write excellent dialogue. Mimic conversations you overhear. Notice how people finish one another’s sentences or and cut one another off mid-stream. Concentrate on contractions, sentence fragments, poor English, and bad sentence structure. All of it plays into reality.

To Conclude:

Practice the writing rules regarding plot, developing a proper hook, and creating dialogue that matches the speaker. Don’t just read other writers. Study them. Find the theme and plot of every story. Notice how characters and dialogue build the climax. Writing rules define the heart of every successful writer. Yes, you can break the rules, but not until you understand the structure that they give.

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The Writing Rut

by Deborah Owen

The only difference between a writing rut and a coffin is that the coffin has the ends filled in. Take a serious look at your position in life and judge yourself.

  • When was the last time you spent one hour writing?
  • When was the last time you completed a project?
  • When was the last time you submitted something?
  • When was the last time you sold something?

Don’t look now, but you’re probably in a writing rut. Answer these questions:

  • Do you procrastinate writing?
  • Do you procrastinate learning?
  • Do you select your market before you begin writing?
  • Do you analyze published articles in your prospective market?

If you don’t write, don’t study, don’t research markets, and don’t analyze what your markets print, how do you expect to make progress? You’re driving nails in your coffin and giving up everything you hold dear. Someday you’ll look back and realize life has passed you by and you didn’t do the thing you valued most.

Are you ready to say, “I want to bust out of my coffin/writing rut. How can I do that?” Now you’re at a point where you can be helped.

1. Do you want to write fiction or nonfiction?

2. Start reading the genre of magazines that print articles you want to imitate.

3. For the first week, write 15 minutes at the same time every day. If you can’t think of anything to write, write a letter to the girl/guy who jilted you years ago, or write to a loved one who is gone. Practice writings help your mind get in the groove.

4. On the second week, write 30 minutes at the same time every day.

5. If you’re writing a short story, make a rough outline that tells the main point of each scene. Answer 50 questions about your two main characters.

6. Join a writing club, either local or online, and become active in it. These are the people that will give you the most important feedback. Two good online writing clubs are www.writing.com and www.mywriterscircle.com. Writing.com is very large, and mywriterscircle.com is much smaller. Both are excellent.

At this point, you’ve done a self-analysis and taken some steps to correct your course. You’re carving time out of each day to get back on track. What comes next?

Knowledge. Where do you get knowledge? At a writing school. Did you know there are a lot of free writing courses on the internet? But be warned, there is no teacher to grade your work, so there’s no way to tell if you understood the lesson properly and made the proper applications.

Writing is an extremely competitive business. If you enter the selling arena without proper preparation, the chances are good that you’ll get lost in the stampede. Taking writing lessons is not an option. If you want to become a selling writer, it is an absolute necessity. The average person needs 3-5 courses to learn the basics.

Creative Writing Institute  is a nonprofit charity and for that reason, we can offer the best prices on the net. We don’t use terms because every student receives a private tutor, so you can sign up for your course at http://cwinst.com/registration_step1.php today and begin tonight.

What? No money? We’ve got you covered. Break it into four easy payments. We won’t charge you interest. No administration fee. No registration fee. How can you beat that?

Today is the day to kick the head and foot out of your coffin, arise from the writing rut, and take your place as a serious writer. Creative Writing Institute will help you every step of the way, but it’s up to you to take the first step.

The decisions you make today will determine your tomorrow.

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Motifs vs. Symbols. What are they and how do you use them?

by Denise A. Coleman

By the time you finish reading this article, motifs and symbols will be new tools in your toolbox.

The purpose of motifs. A motif can appear as an object, word, or sound. Repeat it in various ways to build on an underlying image. The key to a motif is that it reappears throughout the piece and strengthens the story line or theme.

Example #1: Let’s use the word “broken” as a motif in the story of a broken love affair. As Brad meets with Heather to break off their relationship, motifs could impose the image of broken things in the reader’s mind, thus fortifying the underlying theme. For example, as Brad avoids a broken step, maybe a child throws a ball through the neighbor’s window. A little later, Heather breaks a fingernail or Brad breaks a shoelace. Practice will help you learn how to weave motifs seamlessly.

Or, you could symbolize the break-up this way: “When Brad said, ‘I don’t love you any more,’ Heather dropped the tray of fine crystal.” Do you see the difference in these two examples? Motifs are repetitive, whereas a symbol might occur once with great emphasis.

Example #2: You could write a story about USA’s Independence Day repeating the words “American flag” as a motif and make that the underlying theme, or you could use a climactic scene where a wounded soldier crawls through mortar fire and plants the American Flag as he draws his last breath.

While the difference between motifs and symbolism may seem minor, understanding them and using them properly is of the utmost importance. Choose your device at the onset of your story and maintain it throughout.

Archetype motifs. There is another kind of motif called archetype. Archetype motifs have appeared in literature that dates back centuries. Archetype motifs can represent heroes, villains, and sidekicks, to name a few. For instance, the Lone Ranger’s mask does more than hide his identity. It strengthens the theme that goodness does not look for recognition. Notice how subtle that archetype motif is.

There are four definitive differences between motifs and symbolism:

1. A motif supports or develops a theme while a symbol represents something.

2. Motifs are repeated continually while symbols are mentioned once or twice.

3. Motifs help define an underlying theme while symbols identify an idea.

4. Motifs depend on usage within the story while symbols rely on history and purpose.

Now you understand motifs and symbols. Practice these two techniques to perfect them.

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WINNING WAYS

by Hugh Wilson

If you want to win a writing contest, the first thing you must do is study the rules. Many entries are disqualified because the story has not met every requirement, e.g. if the rules state a maximum of 1000 words, a 1200-word story, however brilliant, will go straight on the NO pile.

Assuming you’ve done that bit right, the judges will be looking at four elements:

• Originality

• Creativity

• Style

• Technique

Don’t let those official sounding words put you off. They are only words. Let’s look at each and see what they mean to us as writers.

Originality.

Think again. Winning stories come from second, third, tenth thoughts. Some contests give you a theme – “Wedding Day” for instance. What’s the first thought that comes to mind?

Forget it. You can bet your last dollar that everyone else will have thought it, too. A large percentage of submitted stories will be so similar that the judges will be tearing their hair out.

Make yours different, and they will love you.

Creativity

Don’t “wrack your brains” to get ideas. Relax, get your conscious, critical mind out of the way, and allow ideas to bubble up from your subconscious. In other words, daydream.

Ask yourself who, what, where, when, how, and “what if?” Let the trains of thought go where they will. Before long, you’ll have an idea for a story that is different.

What if that shy looking woman with people entering a church, where a wedding is about to take place, sits in the empty seats at the back?

At the reception, she avoids conversations, eats and drinks, then leaves.

Back in her lonely, one room apartment she scans the Forthcoming Marriages column in the local paper, to see where her next free food and wine is coming from.

Style

You won’t go far wrong if you remember three little words:

Keep it simple.

Don’t try to impress the judges with long, obscure words and “writerly” language. Like any other readers, they want a story that is easy to read.

Don’t stop to admire the view. Every sentence must move the story forward. The reader doesn’t want flowery descriptions of a rose garden in the moonlight. She wants to know what the girl is doing there at two in the morning, and what happens next.

Technique

A story has three distinct parts to think about: beginning, middle and end.

The beginning introduces the main character and what the story is about, so that the reader wants to know what happens.

The middle develops the theme, keeping the reader hooked.

The ending must be believable and leave the reader satisfied. Too many otherwise good contest entries simply stop when they reach the maximum word count, with no conclusion.

And finally…

Always write your story specifically for that contest. Don’t be tempted to re-cycle an old story in the hope it just might fit the contest’s requirements. It won’t.

Above all, enjoy writing it, and the chances are your readers will enjoy reading it.

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‘Must Have’ Tools for Every Writer

by Lily E. Wong

Every writer needs tools. These include pen, paper, a computer and, surprise – books. Reading is as essential as writing. Being well read will help you to write well.

For writers certain books catapult our work into the forefront. The following five books will help hone your craft. How can anyone claim to be a writer if his/her work is not easy to understand? The goal is for all writers to own, read and refer to these books multiple times throughout their career.

1. The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White

First published in 1979, this book covers use of the English language. There are many books on grammar but few have stood the test of time. In essence, the book is a great example of good writing. Clear and concise, it’s a quick reference on grammar.

2. On Writing Well by William Zinsser

The subtitle of this book is “The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction.” The book, divided into four parts, covers principles, methods, forms, and attitudes. Each section contains chapters that will enhance any writing. Zinsser provides examples from authors to teach and remind writers to keep their readers in mind.

3. On Writing by Stephen King

King calls it, “A Memoir of the Craft,” and delivers that and more. He tells a great story of a writer’s life, with himself as the focal point. Creativity and inspiration is his message.

4. A dictionary and thesaurus combination

This is invaluable to everyone because we all read and write. A dictionary enhances our vocabulary when we come across an unfamiliar word. On the other hand, a word repeatedly used can numb the reader. This is where the thesaurus comes in handy. The combination of both a dictionary and thesaurus is the ultimate necessity in a writer’s arsenal.

5. Your favorite book

This can be any book, fiction or nonfiction. Choose an anthology, a novel or any piece of literature. If you enjoyed reading this book, the writer did his job. Let this book be your inspiration, the goal you want to achieve.

As a writer, you want to do your best. You have talent but get some tools. Tools are a means to bring this talent forth for all to enjoy.

If these books aren’t yet in your library, borrow them, try them, buy them. But like all professional craftsmen, make sure any tool is worth its weight in gold before adding it to your collection.

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