Category Archives: Encouragement

The Best Stories You Never Told

WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and WHY: five essential questions writers ask to get the full scope of a story. Like most kids, I learned about the 5W’s in elementary school. I wish I had the wisdom back then to apply them, because I missed out on some really great stories.

I was an only child surrounded by old people—grandparents, great-aunts and great-uncles, neighbors, family friends. They loved to gossip, and I was good at eavesdropping on their adult conversations.

I found out WHO in the neighborhood had come home drunk and WHAT happened when his wife caught him with another woman, WHEN she caught him and WHERE. And I wondered along with the gossipers WHY she stayed with that drunken man after he cheated on her. Those were the stories that my little ears shouldn’t have heard. The best stories, though, might have been those the old people held tightly locked in their hearts.

This season, summer, is the season of patriotic holidays, and I might have some good stories to tell had I thought to apply the 5W’s.

On a Decoration Day (Memorial Day) I went with my grandma to the cemetery to plant geraniums on the graves. We planted red geraniums in front of the big Dumke family stone, and then we planted a white geranium on each of the six graves where the Dumke children were buried. “Grandma,” I asked, “why do we put white geraniums on these?” Her answer was brief, almost harsh. “Because, it’s what we do.” Today, I look at that same headstone and the six smaller stones marking the graves of grandma’s young siblings and I have questions. So many questions.

On Independence Day, Grandma always hung a huge American flag between the front window of her upper flat and the big, old oak tree at the curb. Her husband, my grandfather, had died when Grandma was just thirty-nine. But someone (Grandpa?) had fixed a rope and pulley to make it easy to hang the flag. It was a 48-star flag, the flag soldiers and sailors fought for in WWII. It was a 48-star flag that the Marines raised over Iwo Jima. I remember that flag in front of her house every Fourth of July and how reverent and respectful grandma was when she fixed it onto the rope and sent it flying. Today, I have questions.

I remember my Great-Uncle Walter, too. He was an always-in-charge, short, bald little man who walked with a distinct limp. I laugh when I think of a Veteran’s Day when he sat in an old, 1950’s upholstered swivel rocking chair in his living room telling a battle story about the Spanish American War. As if re-enacting the experience he raised his arms, covered his head with his hands and ducked. “Bullets were flying to the right of me! Bullets to the left . . .” And then, just as the story was getting really good, the bottom of the swivel rocker gave way sending Walter’s backside to the floor. That, in itself, is a story. But still, I wonder. WHO was shooting those bullets? WHAT happened next? WHEN did it happen and WHERE? And WHY did Walter walk with a limp.

Five little questions I wish I had asked.

My advice to young writers, all writers, is to listen. Listen to that little voice inside that’s telling you, “There’s a story hidden here.” Then apply the 5W’s. Ask and keep asking until you get the full scope of the story.

If you don’t ask, you might miss writing the best stories you could have told.

___________________________

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Filed under Encouragement, Independence Day, motivation, Uncategorized, Writing Tips

I Don’t Know What to Write!

“I don’t feel like writing anymore.”
“I’m not motivated.”
“I don’t know what to write!”

I’ve heard from so many writers lately that they’re in a slump. There’s not much to do. They’re stuck at home most of the time. You would think it’s the perfect time to write, but the lack of stimulation results in fewer ideas.

Here’s an idea! Use conversations with others as your motivator. Whether in person, a video call, a phone conversation or even messaging, this short list of people and conversation starters can add to your idea bank:

The Storytellers
We all know people who love talking about their own experiences. Encourage them. Be a good listener. Something they share just might spark an idea.

“What was your greatest adventure?”
“Have you met anyone famous?”
“Do you have a favorite memory about . . . (your childhood, your wedding, your first days on the job)?”
“Do you remember much about your grandparents?”

The “Professors”
These people study interesting topics and pay attention to the smallest details. Professors are great at supplying little-known facts, and one of them may just give you an idea for the theme of your next short story or novel.

“You know so much about ___________. What’s the most interesting thing you have learned?”
“What got you so interested in _______________?”
“Which sources provide the best informations about ___________?”
“What else do you hope to find out about_________?”

The movie buffs
Plots, genres, interesting characters—movie buffs can provide a wealth of information.

“What is your most favorite film? Why is it your favorite?”
“Which film genre do you prefer? Why do you like that genre more than others?”
“Who is the most interesting character you’ve seen in a movie? Why do you think so?”
“Movies are set in so many different places. Which film had the most interesting setting?”

You could ask similar questions to voracious readers.

The “Historians”
Talk with this group and you’re sure to unearth little known facts about the history of the world. Ask,”What period in history do you most enjoy studying?” Then encourage historians to talk with you about topics from that era:

Philosophy, Politics, Economics
Daily Life
Traditions and Customs
Science and Health
Arts, Entertainment, Sports
Religion

Another lead-in to talking with historians is to ask about the historic accuracy, or inaccuracy, of period films they have seen.

The news junkies
If you’re looking for an interesting angle or plot twists, the news junkie might be your go-to person. News junkies follow the winding paths of current events. Talk with them not only about stories in world and national news, but also about local news. Some of the best story ideas come from local newspapers.

“What’s the most intriguing human interest story you’ve recently read?”
“Are you following any unsolved mysteries in the news?”
“Have there been any funny, strange or odd stories lately?”
“Who’s been in the news?”

Children!
If you are looking for a fresh perspective on any topic, kids are the best resource. Ask a question, and then just sit back and listen. Most kids will tell you exactly what they think, unfiltered. No list of conversation starters is needed for this group. You’ve been there. You know how it works!

When talking with family and friends, weave some of these questions into your conversations. You just might find the motivation you need to start writing. If nothing else, it will make for interesting conversation.

___________________________

If you are on Facebook, Check out my page
where I post articles and inspiration for writers.

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*NOTE: Any ads appearing in this post were not put there by me nor do I endorse them. WordPress sometimes posts ads in exchange for hosting this free blog.

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Filed under Encouragement, Inspiration, motivation, Uncategorized

Just Take It Bird by Bird

Mentally-Exhausted-Writer-2

How do you view the world right now? For some, the world seems smaller as we weather this pandemic together. Others feel overwhelmed by a world filled with pain, suffering and conflicting information. Maybe everything that’s going on in the world right now is affecting your ability to write. If so, you are not alone.

When you quarantined at home, you celebrated having plenty of time to write. You set goals: I’m going to start writing my novel. I’m finally going to finish my novel. I’ll write a thousand words a day. Two thousand. Three. Four. Five! Chances are those lofty goals fell by the wayside leaving you in a slump.

American novelist, Ann Lamott, keeps a tiny, one-inch picture frame on her desk as a reminder to give herself short writing assignments. Viewing the world through a frame the size of a postage stamp helps her to zero in and focus on one thing at a time.

In her book Bird by Bird, Lamott shares this autobiographical story:

usps_1_0“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table, close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”

Maybe today you are sitting at your kitchen table staring at your computer screen or an empty sheet of paper. Maybe you feel immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead.

Stop. Breathe.

Peer through that one-inch frame. It can only hold the image of one bird. So sit down and write “bird by bird”. Just take it bird by bird by bird . . .

___________________________

If you are on Facebook, Check out my page where I post articles
and inspiration for writers.

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*NOTE: Any ads appearing in this post were not put there by me nor do I endorse them. WordPress sometimes posts ads in exchange for hosting this free blog.

 

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Filed under Encouragement, Inspiration, motivation, Uncategorized, Writer's Block, Writing Tips