The Royal Bank of Time

by Deborah Owen

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For once, I have a little extra time and I want to use it wisely. I feel like a kid with a penny going into the penny candy store, but I’m spending time instead of money.

There must be a time bank. I’m going to call it the Royal Bank of Time. Every person who lives a full day can withdraw minutes or seconds according to their discretion without even leaving their house. Of course, what they do with it is their business. They can drink it or drug it away, watch soaps or work. How about you? What do you do with your time?

Barring an unforeseen accident or tragedy, your 1,440 minutes are already in the Royal Bank of Time for tomorrow. You DO balance your checking account, but do you track your withdrawals from the Royal Bank of Time? This would be a grand opportunity to jot down how you spend those valuable seconds.

Tomorrow you must withdraw another 1,440 minutes – and that time will also come off your lifeline. You cannot choose to not withdraw it. You cannot choose to save it. You must spend it. All of it. And you cannot spend it early or late, so your choices can be earth-moving.

You MAY, however, budget your 1,440 minutes any way you like. You may visit a loved one, go on vacation, exercise, play games, argue, write, help someone else, sleep, eat, shop for clothes or food, clean your house, car or gun, worship, teach, learn, dispute politics, visit on social media, be with your family, or go hiking where no one can find you.

But then you must decide how much time you will schedule per item. Do you want to spend minutes? Hours? Or days on it? Look at your list again. If you were dying and you knew it, you would undoubtedly change your list – but that’s the crazy part. You ARE dying every minute of every day and you don’t realize it. I think the ones who know they have measured time left are the lucky ones. The hands on their clocks don’t run forward as do yours and mine. The hands on their clocks run backward, counting down to the zero hour and minute, but because you and I don’t know how much time is on deposit in the Royal Bank of Time, we fritter it away. It’s like playing Russian Roulette – only with time – hoping we can get everything worked into that unknown quantity of ticking seconds and hours.

If you really, truly, and honestly realized you are dying every minute of every day, you would make different choices. You would ask yourself if the time you invest in _________ is well spent. You would ask yourself if the time you spend with some people is a worthwhile investment.

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At some point, you will reason things out and change your values because we humans are fickle people. What attracts us today will not necessarily call as loudly tomorrow. Therefore, the value of everything we like, wait for, invite, seduce and request will fluctuate.

At which point is time most important? If you are smart enough to chart or journal your thoughts and achievements, whether they be minutes or dollars or experiences, you will learn from your mistakes and do better in the future. If there is a future. See? That’s the thing. You don’t know that. But one thing is sure – the longer your flame of life burns, the more secure you become secure in the artificial atmosphere that more remains. Surely there is more. Much more!

But maybe there isn’t. Sorry. No refunds. No do overs. No returns. All time withdrawals are final. All spent time is extremely final.

So here I am, preparing to withdraw one more day from my meager account in the Royal Bank of Time, and thinking how I will spend it. I have learned that time well-spent will come back to me in triplicate because what comes around goes around. That won’t give me any more time, but I will know I spent my time wisely. Giving back to my Creator is the most rewarding of all.

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When you meet someone – a prospective friend or love interest, let’s say – do they complete you? Or do they drain you dry? When you leave, are you pumped up? Or torn down? Do they make you feel worthwhile – or browbeat you until you can’t wait to escape? Are they worthy of the time they devour with cunning? Will the love you freely give them come back multiplied, satisfied, and worth your efforts?

I leave you with this thought. My mother is no longer among the living, but when she was, I knew what she would say before I went in her apartment. As soon as she opened the door, she would say something like, “That skirt makes your butt look too big and you should pull some bangs down on your forehead like this (tearing up hairdo). Your forehead’s too high. You look like a skinned onion.”

I thought I got used to her jabs and insults, but – not really. Every word was like a searing coal in an open eye. We took her out to eat every Friday and spent the entire day with her, getting her hair done, shopping for groceries, etc. On one such day, we sat in a restaurant. My sweet husband made a comment about my being a writer and Mom let out a belly-laugh that could be heard three tables away, and said: “Who? Her? She’s no writer!” The sarcasm was scathing, and I felt an inch tall.

Never mind that I had fantastic credentials, founded a writing school and taught writing for a living. To her, it was all a game. My husband almost went through the ceiling.

After that, I re-evaluated my friends and family, how I spent my time and how they affected my mental health, and I made the hardest decision of my life. I limited my time with Mother. I limited our phone calls. I limited our time alone. She was not at all neglected since my husband was in on the plan and filled in the gaps, but I felt relief for the first time in my life. No – I didn’t tell her. I didn’t fuss at her or stress her. I just lived my life a little differently. I wondered if I would regret it when she was gone. She died four years later at age 97.  And no, I didn’t regret a minute of it. She was lovingly cared for… and so was I. I only regret that I had to do it.

Mom once said, “Do you know why we hurt the ones we love the most? Because they are the only ones who will forgive us.”

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No one can slice you and dice you and utterly destroy you like a loved one, and you may have to cut that person out of your life (or at least limit them) for your own good. Evaluate the situation clearly. Discuss it with those you can trust and do what you must – because your account at the Royal Bank of Time is less now than it was before you started reading this article.

Spend your time wisely. When you spend it on others – be sure they are worthy of it – and save some of that most precious commodity of time for what you love most – writing.

Do loved ones make your time hell on earth? Comment below. Thanks for stopping by.

 

Secret Writing Techniques #3 Polysyndeton

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Last week we talked about asyndeton – a method of listing items without using a conjunction for the purpose of showing more by saying less – and the week before was onomotoepia.

Today we will study polysyndeton, which is diametrically opposed to asyndeton. Polysyndeton is the repeated use of conjunctions for the purpose of intensifying the scene, building the excitement and indicating (like asyndeton) an endless and innumerable list.

Our thanks to Word Magic for Writers by Cindy Rogers for this example. This quote comes from Charlotte’s Web where a rat is telling Wilbur the pig, in no uncertain terms, what he expects.

“Struggle if you must,” said Templeton, “but kindly remember that I’m hiding down here in this crate and I don’t want to be stepped on, or kicked in the face, or pummeled, or crushed in any way, or squashed, or buffeted about, or bruised, or lacerated or scarred, or biffed.”

Do you think Templeton made himself clear? And how did he do that? He drove the point home by using the repetitious ‘or.’ You will find a lot of this in children’s books. If you will listen to children talk, they use a lot of polysndeton when they talk:

“Mommy, I want ice cream, and chocolate, and nuts, and whipped cream.”

Do you see how these examples build the scene by intensifying repetition? This is a simple technique, but don’t discount its importance.

P.S. Did you notice this example uses antiquated language? Writing styles are always morphing and wise is the writer who morphs with them. Today’s writer would have written “Templeton said” instead of “said Templeton.”

Assignment:

Write three sentences using ASYNDETON and three more sentences using POLYSYNDETON. Send them to DeborahOwen@CWinst.com. Memorize these words and know what they mean.

See http://www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com for all your writing needs. Sign up for our newsletter, The Writer’s Choice, on the front page, top right corner.

Four Sure-fire ways to Reach your Social Media Prospects

Four Sure-fire ways to Reach Social Media Prospects

Art work and Article by Sola Johnson

Are you using the right techniques to convert “likes” to solid leads? Effective social media can be downright frustrating for beginners. Try these key strategies to give you an edge in marketing.

Good Communication: Most brands fail to define the purpose of social media. Don’t be too professional or too novice. Avoid flowery statements. Be brief AND persuasive in every post. Tell your Twitter prospects why they will enjoy your product in 100 characters or less. Give faithful fans the leftover 40 characters to engage and promote your tweets. Quality sells faster than quantity.

Post Frequently: What is your peak time to display engaging posts? Study Linda Ikeji’s blog to see how important it is to post frequently. Notice the placement of pictures and ads. Placing your brand in the public eye shows dependability. Top artists like Davido, Ariana Grande and other entertainers use Instagram to show what they do on their days off. If you are an up and coming entertainer, posting frequently will spur growth, especially when your contact details are open. All social media is good. Young Bieber uses YouTube. What do you use?

Regular posting will keep you on your customer’s mind, but posting too often can backfire and brand you an aggressive marketer. Some years back, studies showed weekly branding failed to engage prospects, but marketing twice a day overstretched their limits. So… how often should you post updates? Experiment to find the answer. Constant changes in social algorithms demand research, tests, and repeated tests until you really know your market.

Be Human: If you are going to use platforms like Buffer and Hootesuite to auto-post daily, do so carefully. Buffer lets you connect social accounts on its platform, but don’t ignore user experiences and customer interactions. According to an in-depth research by Convince & Convert, 42% of Twitter’s customers expect answers to a support request within 60 minutes.

Here’s a tip: Be prepared to hit the pause button. Automated troubleshooting is a bad idea. No one, not even the writer, can stomach conversing with bots and if a prospect sees carelessness in your marketing, you will be saying goodbye to them.

Pictures: A good picture is worth a thousand words, but use some text, too. Inserting a picture in a post is an awesome trick that will exceed the word limits of some social platforms. Imagine a Coca Cola text advertisement on a billboard that doesn’t showcase a picture of the product. Odd, right?  Billboard advertisements hinge on appealing to on-the-move clients, so share this emphasis when dealing with online prospects. Insert pictures to whet your customer’s appetite.

A photo of your employees relaxing, laughing, or doing some community work is a sure-fire way to humanize your brand by piquing interest and engaging minds. Eye-catching quotes and tips are excellent ways to boost online presence. What’s more, you don’t have to be a Photoshop guru to create good graphics. Digital marketers and social media experts use quick, fun tools like Picmonkey, Quotescover and Canva to achieve this task.

Follow @Epjohnson01 on Twitter for more tips.

Learn more about marketing your work at http://www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com where every student receives a private tutor. Sign up for our newsletter!

How to Win a Writing Contest

Secrets to Winning a Creative Writing Contest

by Deborah Owen, CEO of Creative Writing Institute

Contests are like cars. There are a lot of them and no two are the same, but this is an overview of how Creative Writing Institute judges their annual writing contest. This year, it runs from July 15 – September 1, 2015.

First, the judges do a quick sorting. They place stories that might have a chance to win in one pile and stories that have no chance of winning in another. Needless to say, those in the latter pile hit file 13. Your first question should be, on that first sorting, what are the judges looking for? Among other things:

a. Very poor grammar
b. Very poor punctuation
c. Long, drawn out discourses that make no point
d. DEAD and DULL FIRST PARAGRAPHS
e. NOT FOLLOWING the STATED RULES
f. Not using the theme line, word for word!

The judges’ first scanning is not an in-depth reading. It simply sorts the big pile into a smaller one. There will be at least four full readings of each story by each judge.

You will win or lose a judge’s interest in the first paragraph, so be sure that first paragraph begins in the middle of an ACTION scene. Don’t lead up to the action. You don’t have time for that in a short story. Jump in with both feet. Next, develop that action until it reaches the climax about 2/3 of the way through and use the last 1/3 to form a conclusion and tie up loose ends.

Do all judges look for the same things? No. Each judge is as different as a snowflake. They may look alike on the writerly surface, but their thoughts and interests are as different as night and day, and that is what makes a good judging panel.

Here’s a clue. Our judges are not into romance. Does that mean you can’t enter a tactful romance story? No. Does it mean a romance story can’t or won’t win? NO. It was just a hint.  🙂

Another clue: the head judge would like to see some mystery stories this year. Does that mean the winning entry will BE a mystery story? No, but clever writers will certainly think twice before submitting to another genre (For newbies, genre means division – such as drama, fantasy, crime, etc.). But then again, some judges would prefer fantasy! In the end, the best, most captivating story will win, no matter what the genre.

Creative Writing Institute likes to run “themed contests” where the story centers around a certain phrase. This year’s theme sentence is, “I got more than I bargained for!” (You may choose your own punctuation, but those exact words must be in the story, in that order.) This is a fun theme!

The number one reason for disqualification is NOT FOLLOWING the RULES. Last year we had a winning entry that used one swear word. The judges were so into the story that none of them caught it, but I did and the instructions clearly said, “no swear words.” We even published a brief list of what we considered swear words (much to my chagrin) AND the address of the head judge in case anyone had a question.

Why do we have a “list” of swear words? Because we are an international organization that is based in the USA and even Americans hold heated debates on which words are or are not considered swearing. Why don’t we include swear words from other nations? Because it would be impossible to make a list of every country’s swearing slang.

The next question might be, “Why don’t you allow swear words?” One reason is… swear words are a form of telling instead of showing. (Note to beginners: a technique called Show, Don’t Tell means you should always show an emotion with action instead of description. For example, instead of saying, “Jarod was angry at the little boy and pushed him into a bush,” you could show his anger by saying, “Jarod drop-kicked the little runt into the shrub.”)

Another reason we don’t want swearing is because our anthologies are suitable family material. Believe it or not, not everyone swears!

We have already mentioned following the rules, which you would think would be a no-brainer, but to be sure you have conformed to the guidelines, read every single rule one more time before you submit. If we call for a limit of 2,000 words and you send 2,005, guess what? No matter what the quality of the story, it will hit file 13.

The quickest way to win is to write an original story totally based around I got more than I bargained for. The quickest way to lose (and embarrass yourself) is to pull a pre-written story out of mothballs, insert the theme line where it fits best and submit it.

I speak from experience. I tried this little number on a writing teacher years ago when she told me to write a story and insert a certain theme line. It seemed like a silly exercise to me and I was pushed for time, so I pulled an old story out, dropped the line in and submitted it. (*blushes… in my defense, this was the only time I ever did anything deliberately dishonest.)  I thought I was so slick and so smart, until I got her comment which read, “It almost looks like you used an old story and just dropped that line in. Rewrite it and make it blend.” Well… *duh, our judges are smart enough to figure that out, too!

On rounds 2 and 3, our judges usually grade each story from 1-10 and then they total the points for each story. It takes a terrific story to make it to 8, 9, and 10. By the time the judges get to round 4, bloodshot eyes are crossing, every person answers to any name, none are sure which way is up and the coffee has long ago run out so sometimes the head judge changes the method of tallying to, “This time we will deduct points for ________.”

All entries will be judged on originality, creativity, style and technique.

Originality

Plain and simple – how original your ideas are. There are no new stories, but there are always new angles. Day dream a little bit to find something spicy. Keep asking yourself, “What if… ?” That will open dozens of unique ideas.

Creativity

Creativity is how you express yourself. You might use similes, metaphors, emotives, or all of the above plus a whole lot more.

Style

Your writing style will reveal who you are, how you think, how you express yourself and what voice you use. (Hint: stories written in past tense, third person [using he, she and it] sell the quickest… and win the most contests.)

Technique

Writing technique includes the point of view, visualization of scenes and people, style of dialogue, how you write flashbacks (or if you use them at all), red herrings, foreshadowing, etc. It can also refer to the more technical aspects of rhythm, harmony, assonance, alliteration, personification and the like. All of these things equal your technique and the voice that is peculiar to you.

Seldom do we have a clear winner. We have ties more often than rabbits nibble carrots and when that happens, we pass the smelling salts and deodorant around and see how it goes. Under the careful scrutiny of our head judge, Ms. Jo Popek, judges may politely “argue” why “their pick” should win. By the time they emerge with a list of winners, it’s a wonder they are still friends, and an even greater wonder that they will return to the judging panel again next year!

Once you get contesting in your blood, you will have to enter at least two a year. Writing for a contest is one of the greatest, quickest ways to learn from your own writing.

Above all, enjoy the writing experience… and support our nonprofit charity by purchasing our anthology in December.

May the best author win!

SEE CONTEST RULES AT http://www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com.

I Haven’t Been Writing Because ________

You’re probably wondering what happened to my blog since we posted regularly for years and then suddenly vanished for months. I’s been one very sick puppy.  😦    After four surgeries and two bouts with bronchitis, I’m rearing to go, so this blog is aimed at the procrastinator in all of us.

I Haven’t Been Writing Because ________

by Deborah Owen

CEO, Creative Writing Institute

Do you feel unfulfilled? Like you’re barely surviving life, and not really living it? Like things “are getting done,” but you aren’t enjoying the journey of life? When a writer doesn’t let the words out, life gets very sour.

Are you ready to face the truth? Seriously. Are you ready? No lie? I can’t tell which way your head is bobbing. You’re really sure? Okay. If you insist. You haven’t been writing because you don’t make writing a priority. You don’t look impressed.

If you want to state it in kick-butt style, you might say: “Writing was less important to me in the past _____ weeks than everything else.”  *ouch 

Life is too short to coast from one week’s heart attack to the next, to the next, to the… before long, your kids will be gone and you’ll be studying dandelion roots from the south end. For however long your body stays in the grave, you’ll stare at the tombstone that should have read, “Here lies the greatest wannabe writer ever born,” but your loved ones will be too kind to write that.

Writing is a learned skill. No one is born knowing how to write, but there are varying grades of writing aptitude. If you don’t commit to at least three writing courses to learn the basics, how will you know if you could have succeeded?

It’s time to quit playing games and get serious.

Where to Begin

  1. Organize your life. For instance, my list might look like this:

Worship, family, job, WRITING, clean underwear, food, sleep… see? Put the unnecessary things last.  🙂

  1. Establish the best time of day to write. Maybe you can only write 15 minutes on your lunch hour. Fine! Do what you can. At least you’re trying.

3. Commit to a writing education so you’ll know what you’re doing.

I Confess…

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, yours truly had the attitude that she didn’t need writing courses so she wasted ten years writing a heart-wrenching novel. There I was with a finished manuscript in my hand, thinking, “Where do I sell it? How do I pitch it? Where do I even find an address to send it? Well, maybe I should take just one course.” [You would think these things would have crossed my mind earlier, but no one can teach a know-it-all anything.]

So I plunged into advanced marketing on my first course! No lie. And by the end of that course, I learned I didn’t know diddly-squat about marketing, writing or even how to break into the writing industry. Today I have a copy of that unprinted novel in every room of my house to remind me how a beginning writer thinks.

Are you ready to get serious about this craft? If not, I promise, you will regret every day you procrastinate.

Choosing the Right Course

Begin with nonfiction writing, even if you hate the very thought of it. Next, take Creative Writing 101, followed by Short Story. At Creative Writing Institute, real people will really care about you. Our courses are written by published professionals and you will have your own private tutor.

Sign up today and start tomorrow. Make your writing dreams come true at Creative Writing Institute, a nonprofit charity that sponsors cancer patients in writing courses.

Resolutions for the New Year

Re-ignite your writing passion

by Fahreen Gani

New Year means resolutions for most of us. Finishing a novel might be yours, but how many will achieve that goal? Take this survey to find out.

Do you leave stories unfinished?

Does every story have to be perfect before you submit it?

Do you shred your work (and confidence) every time you edit?

Do you fail to write two or more days per week?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are suffering from Bad Writer’s Habits Syndrome (BWHS). Studies show it can develop into a serious case of writer’s block, which  if left untreated, can culminate in psychological writer’s death, evidenced by lack of ideas.

If that triggered a little panic, great. It means the writer within is still alive and your story can be salvaged.

To see how advanced your BWHS is, you need to do a passion scan. Ask yourself this: has your passion for writing cooled due to frustration, rejections, and plot paralysis? After assessing the why and what is causing the lack of excitement, take a deep breath. Here’s how you can reignite your passion.

Delve into your mind, heart and soul. Ask yourself why you want to be a writer. Focus on those answers to stir your passion.

To keep your Bad Writer’s Habits Syndrome in check, take the following steps when necessary.

Keep a bottle of ideas handy. Although they are everywhere, keep your notes updated.

  1. Don’t wait too long to use them and don’t churn them out too quickly. Be patient,      and allow them to take on a life and grow.
  1. Do regular writing checkups. Do you use repetitive words? Do your grammar skills need work? Find your weaknesses and strengthen them.
  1.  Borrow a cup of encouragement from a friend.
  1. Supplement with doses of Self-Motivation.
  1. Take a shot of Constructive Criticism from a peer.
  1. For a speedy recovery and booster, take a writing course.
  1. Participate in a contest.
  1. Research your setting.
  1. Conduct interviews with your characters.
  1. Figure out what’s wrong with an old story.
  1. Use active voice instead of passive.
  1. Do writing exercises. Flex those writing muscles every day.
  1. Working on novels and stories gets exhausting. Take frequent breaks to preserve your sanity and keep your piece fresh.
  1. Distractions can be injurious. Avoid them. When the perfect word eludes you, don’t give in. Highlight the area and go back to it later.
  1. Read! It produces antibodies (new ideas) to fight writer’s block.
  1. Discipline will bring success. Enjoy your writing.

Make these your new year’s resolutions. Flaunt your writing masterpieces. Enter contests this year and we will applaud you for overcoming bad habits.

Go to www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com to find out about our creative writing courses

How to Target a Market

by Ariel Pakizer

Pick your audience before you start writing.   or even plan, an article. Waving in western culture is a friendly gesture, but an open palm is the equivalent to “flipping the bird” in some Hispanic cultures. Writing without knowing your market is like waving in Spain, you’re saying hello, they’re seeing a curse word, and everyone is confused.

Selecting a market is tricky. “High Fantasy fans” is too large, but “twenty-year-old white men” is too small, so target a market in between the two. Choose an age range and a topic. Focusing on one interest is wise, since art students and sports scholarships typically aren’t interested in same type of article.

You have the idea, now where does it fit best? Decide what focus (if it’s a story, or angle if it’s an article) your piece should take and target your particular market from there. If you don’t know what your audience wants, you need to do more than targeting a market.

If you’re a thirty-year-old woman targeting men going through a midlife crisis, you’ve got some research to do. If you’re willing to plan, research, and edit your article, you can spare a few hours for researching your market.

Once you understand your market, tailor your story to it. Write what your chosen audience wants to read. Every market has a tone and length they enjoy, so try keeping your article to the appropriate word count. If you’re writing a short story, write the characters with strengths they’ll admire and not quirks they will find annoying.

Writing for an audience isn’t easy and only practice will make you better. Learn to blend your writing with what others want to read. Write a few pieces for a specific audience, and then try selling them.

You can aim for a local magazine, newspaper, or reach out to an online journal. Why not find an internet magazine, learn about its target audience, and write a short story specifically for it?

Work on a piece for a few weeks, but set a deadline. It will turn a project into a goal, and the finished work into an accomplishment. So, go for it, write and sell a piece to a target audience by March 31st. Don’t sit and think, “I couldn’t do that!” because you can’t know that’s true until you try.

Sponsored by http://www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com, YOUR place to find writing fulfillment with a private tutor. No need to wait. Sign up today and start tonight!

Love’s Thy Genre

by Farheen Gani

An imaginary tale that amused classmates. A prize-winning essay. A funny poem. Isn’t this how we fall in love with writing? The love deepens over time. You start dreaming of publishing your own novel. Until you realize, it’s now or never. That’s how Lisa Carter published her first book.

Mrs. Carter is a Southern romance writer, which by her definition includes hospitality, extended family circles and barbeques. When not chasing her muse, she indulges in quilting, teaching and music. In this interview, she talks about the joys and challenges of writing romance…

  1. Why did you choose romance as the main theme of your writing?

I love the process of two people finding each other against the odds and daring to love each other. I fall in love a little bit with each of my characters as their romance unfolds in my story.

  1. While romance is perceived as an easy genre to write, which is the most difficult part about writing it?

The endings are often hard to craft so that the story will not be clichéd, but fresh and satisfying. There is no surprise in romance—readers understand that in the end these characters will be together. That is essential. But the joy and the surprising twists in the journey it takes the characters to reach, this place is the fun part.

  1. Is there anything you do to get in the mood of writing an intense scene?

Music can transport you to the theme or emotional tone of a scene. I always read the scene I wrote the previous day to get myself back in the moment. Taking a walk or doing something that doesn’t require a great deal of focus like housecleaning also helps the stream of my subconscious to flow.

  1. How do you differentiate your central character’s voice from your own?

There are pieces of me in every character I write—the good, the bad, the ugly. But the lead character has a voice of her own, her own back-story, and experiences that are different from me and how I would react to her current situation.

Sponsored by http://www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com, YOUR place to find writing fulfillment with a private tutor. No need to wait. Sign up today and start tonight!

Halloween Writing

by Angela Butler

Halloween writing is perfect when ghosts, goblins and witches abound. What an opportunity to soak in all the sensations of the season and create a haunting story. As you engage in festive activities with family and loved ones, take a few minutes to jot down what you see, hear, smell, and feel.

And, of course, Halloween writing must include the foods of the holiday! What candy do you snitch from your children’s trick or treat bags? How many times do their tummies cramp from too many caramel covered apples and chocolate chip cookies?

When you visit a pumpkin patch, be mindful of everything around you. Feel the autumn chill in the air as the sun goes down and remember how cozy it feels to wear long pants and a fleece jacket. Notice the aroma of fresh cut hay bales and corn stalks as you wind your way through a corn maze. As you stumble through the pumpkin patch, listen to the crackling of brittle vines, fallen leaves, or the yell of “help” when your little one needs help to carry the biggest pumpkin he’s ever seen. Which one has he picked? Is it bumpy, smooth, deformed, perfect, robust or lanky?

When you take the pumpkins home, carve them, and set them out, what feelings emanate? Do you remember how your mom posed you with your pumpkin on Halloween night? Can you still hear her voice insisting that you smile behind the leopard mask? And you said, “I am smiling.”

How does it feel to watch your children go through the same paces? Reflect on your past as you help with costume changes. Of course, you’ll be tired and the kids won’t want their dinner, but remember your giddiness at their age?

As you peek through the camera lens, the ghost of Halloween past may visit again. Mother saved your leopard suit for your children, and now the oldest is wearing it. “Smile,” you say to the masked face, and a muffled voice replies, “I am smiling.”

Taking good notes on Halloween’s aromas, pumpkin selection, trick or treating, tummy aches, costumes, and seasonal traditions will capture the detailed essence needed for Halloween writing.  Use it to write either fiction or nonfiction. Submit your entry to small online markets five to six months in advance and relive the experiences again when you see your byline in print. HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

*Angela Butler is a volunteer staff member. You can visit her blog at www.angela-wholehearted.blogspot.com. Get more great writing tips at http://www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com.

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Edgar Allan Poe, the Man

A Short Biography

by Sodiq Yusuf

You probably know Edgar Allan Poe was a renowned American author, poet, short story writer and literary critic, but what else do you know about him?

Born the second of three children on January 19, 1809, to Elizabeth and David Poe, Jr., Poe was orphaned at the age of three, and adopted by John and Frances Allan of Richmond, Virginia.

Edgar showed interest in writing at an early age. When he attended the University of Virginia, John Allan refused to pay his fees because of Poe’s gambling habit. Edgar left the school, angry, and found his first love, Elmira Royster, in Richmond.

He enlisted in the Army in 1827 under the name of Edgar A. Perry. John Allan later helped him enroll in the U.S. Military Academy. There he published Tamerlane and Other Poems. Shuffling between Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia, he continued to write, winning literary prizes and becoming the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger. As the editor, Poe brought fame to the magazine and became a fearless critic of popular writers, including Rufus Griswold.

Although Poe was already famous after publishing The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838), The Fall of the House of Usher (1839), and “Raven” (1845), he was poor. After the death of his wife, Virginia Clemm, Poe returned to Richmond, devastated. He and his first love, Elmira Royster, (then widowed) were reunited.

At a later date, Poe disappeared for a few days, only to be found inside a bar house. At the end of a derelict life, he died in a Baltimore hospital on October 7, 1849. The cause of his death remains a mystery, but he was remembered as a gentle man with a great sense of humor.

After Poe’s death, his literary opponent, Rufus Griswold, wrote a libelous obituary and memoir, describing Poe as a lunatic, womanizer and lonely drunkard. Ironically, that writing would later be regarded as one of the best biographies ever written about Poe.

If there is a moral to be had, let it be this: one of the greatest gifted men of all time wasted his time, his talent, and his life. Don’t let the same be said of you.

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The Power of “3”

by Pam Zollman

When you write a short story or picture book, think in terms of “3.”  This makes planning and writing your story so much easier. Your story will be divided into three parts: beginning, middle and end. Your hero will need three obstacles to overcome. Your story will be approximately three pages long double-spaced, which equals about 750 words, just right for most children’s magazines and picture books.

Page one is the beginning. This is where you introduce the main character, set the scene, state the goal, and set up the conflict.

Page two (or more, depending on story length) is the middle. Your main character is presented with three obstacles he must overcome to reach his goal.

Page three (or so depending on story length) is the end. The climax of the story makes the hero choose a resolution, which may be hard and self-sacrificing, but will ultimately be the best one. The hero reaches his goal and all loose ends are tied up.

Be creative with how your character solves his problem. Make it something that will cause the reader to think, something that the reader might be able to apply to his own life. No obvious morals or lessons are allowed. Fiction is read for pleasure; all lessons should be implied. The reader can figure it out. The happy ending can also be implied, that if things stay on course all will work out okay.

This is a very simplified way of writing a fiction story for a magazine. Use it as a guide, a suggestion only, not as a rule. It’s not the only way to write a story, but it’s one that has worked for me.

Pam Zollman has published over 40 books for children, as well as numerous magazine stories. She has also been an editor and contest judge for Highlights for Children magazine.

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Finding Your Child Voice

by Diane Robinson

When writing children literature, finding your own child voice is the only way to create realistic characters, believable dialogue, and succinct narrative that will grab your reader’s attention and keep them involved in your story.

Students often ask, “How do writers find their child voice?”

My answer is, before you can find your child voice, you must think like a child. To think like a child, you must play like a child, even if it is only in your mind.

Seems like a relatively simple thing to do, right?  But as adults, we often let go of (or lose completely) our childlike attitudes and behaviors or tuck them away in a memory box.

So, open the box. Remember. Put on a costume and dance around the room, go to a park and cruise down the slide, visit a classroom, read children’s literature, or hang out with some kids and just observe. Soon enough, your own childhood memories will come flooding back about what it was like to be that age, what was important, what wasn’t important, how you acted and how you talked, what the world sounded like, felt like, and tasted like. 

Once your own inner child is awakened, you will be able to immerse yourself into your character’s head with more freedom, with more pizzazz.

Another good exercise to get into child-mode thinking is to look at things, people, situations and emotions and write various approaches to express them with originality. Then, break the sentences down again and again until the emotions and situations are expressed simply, with the innocence of a child’s heart.

 Here are some examples of my child voice that I’ve used in my own stories:

Excited:  He felt as if a herd of jumping bugs were doing cartwheels in his stomach.

Sad: My heart fell sideways and stayed lying down all day.

Descriptive dialogue: “I know grandma can fly. She has that flabby, flapping skin under her arms that turns into her after-dark wings.”

Descriptive narrative: The wind pricked him, jabbed at him, finally becoming so mean with all its yelling and howling that he decided the wind just wasn’t worth playing with any longer.

So if you find yourself dancing and twirling around the kitchen, doing cartwheels across the yard, or finger painting like a four-year-old and somebody says you’re acting immature, take it as a compliment and start writing.

*Diane Robinson is an award-winning children’s chapter book author and a writing tutor at Creative Writing Institute

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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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Five Ways to Succeed as a Middle Grade Writer

by Angela Gunn

More of a market than a genre, Middle Grade (MG) readers love a great book. As they struggle to figure out their place in the world, this age group (8–12) wants stories they can identify with, which also explain and open up a whole new way of seeing the world. If you want to write meaningful stories for voracious readers, here are five ways to succeed as an MG writer:

1. Read Middle Grade books

Familiarize yourself with published and successful MG books to help you figure out what is age appropriate for this market. A solid understanding of your intended reader is the key to your succesThey might be kids, but they aren’t stupid

2. While Middle Graders are not yet young adults, they’re no longer little children either. Forget writing in a complicated style. Keep your readers interested with age appropriate sentence structure and a smattering of new vocabulary to keep them learning.

3. No romance, sex or swear words.

Don’t forget that MG books tend to be purchased by parents, schools and libraries. This is not the ideal audience for your latest romantic novel. The same applies for stories with sex, swear words, graphic violence or hopeless endings.

4. Write for Middle Grade boys

While no editor will turn down a brilliant story for MG girls, there is currently a gap to fill with stories for MG boys. If you’ve got one, get writing!

5. Don’t rely on fads or gimmicks to sell your books

If you want to write the kind of MG book that adults still tell their friends about, stories that focus on universal truths will fare better over the years than books based on current fads or gimmicks. Do your homework well and you can find success with the Middle Grade market, and in the process, you might even find an audience that will never forget the day they picked up your book. Don’t forget to ‘like’ us before you leave. For more great tips, sign up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter (free) at http://cwinst.com/newslettersignup.php.

Defining the Young Adult Genre

by Victoria Pakizer

Young adult literature is named after its target audience: young adults. These stories have an adolescent protagonist, written with young adults as the primary audience. They focus on tangible story elements like character, plot, and setting rather than theme and style. Plots explore problems that adolescents face, such as young love gone wrong. These issues are never devalued and always treated seriously.

This genre is usually found outside the children and middle grade section and never included in them. Separating the genres places a barrier between them, stating that these are not books written for children, but for adults.

One reason for the separation is controversial content. Many young adult books contain swearing, drugs, sex, and violence. Some argue the content is inappropriate for books targeted at younger audiences, while others say young adult literature should explore such topics because it’s what adolescents struggle with.

Another controversy surrounding the genre is defining it. Some people claim it’s not a real category, but a marketing tool. Part of this stems from the wide variety offered. Current bestsellers include The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, a book about two cancer patients falling in love, and Divergent by Veronica Roth, a series about a dystopian universe. Some people argue that Rick Riordan’s bestselling series, Percy Jackson, is young adult, but others say it’s middle grade. People argue that classics like William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye count as young adult literature.

Despite all the controversy, young adult is a thriving genre. Currently, five of ten bestsellers on Amazon.com are young adult literature. This year alone, adaptations of young adult books, such as The Maze Runner, The Book Thief, The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent, and Mockingjay: Part 1 among others, are all coming to theatres near you. The genre is here to stay.

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Writing Tips

Author Unknown

1. If you don’t take your writing time seriously, don’t expect anyone else to.
2. Analyze other writings and learn to endorse them into your own style. Reading is an absolute must if you want your writing to grow.
3. Professional writers have the skin of a rhinoceros. There is no place for thin-skinned and timorous writers. Accept all constructive feedback and don’t it personally. Treat all critiques like gold. Put a big note near your computer – CRITICISM = OPPORTUNITY.
4. Educate yourself with writing courses, seminars, writer’s workshops, networking, and conferences. The actual writing is only a small part of the big picture.
5. Know today’s market, timing and submissions – that’s what it’s all about.
6. Submit something every week. When one item reaps a rejection slip, have the next market all picked out and submit it again the very next day. Remember one thing – persistence, persistence, persistence.

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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.