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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

5 Reasons Writers Quit

Remember when you were filled with a passion to write? You carried a notepad, jotting down the plethora of ideas swirling around in your head. You couldn’t wait to sit down in front of your computer and start putting words on paper. You dreamed of finishing that first novel, getting published, reading rave reviews . . . and then, one day, you quit. Why?

Writing Is Harder Than I Thought It Would Be.

Gathering ideas is the fun part. The story is in your head. You’ve created characters that are so real you talk with them (Admit it. You do.) But when you start to write those characters misbehave and you can’t tame them. Your plot goes in an entirely different direction than you’d planned. Your outline, if you had one, is a mess. You write a thousand words, rearrange paragraphs and rearrange them again and they’re still not right. A little voice in your head whispers, “This is hard, maybe too hard. Maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe I should set it aside for a little while and come back to it.” And if you listen to all those maybes, maybe you’ll quit.

It Has to Be Perfect.

You’ve written a thousand words, but as you wrote you edited yourself, second guessing every word. Is this sentence grammatically correct? Should I have used a better word here? Should I use an em dash or maybe an ellipsis at the end of this sentence? Perfection never occurs on a first draft, or the second, or third and likely—never. If you strive to be perfect, you’ll give yourself the perfect reason to quit. Author Margaret Atwood said, “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”

I Should Be Published by Now.

You got through the hard part. Your novel is finished, and now you’re trying to find an agent and a publisher. You’ve done all the homework, targeted agents, written query letters, followed up, and still you haven’t connected with someone willing to get your book in front of publishers. This is where many writers give up. Self-doubt kicks in. That voice in your head speaks a little louder this time, “Maybe I’m not good enough.” Patience is key. It takes time to sell a book. Before you quit seek advice. Connect with a published author or someone who teaches writing. Get a critique. See if maybe you can improve your query letter and/or your manuscript to make your book more marketable.

What Is That Editor Doing to My Book!

You’ve connected with an editor. She/he is interested in publishing your book, but according to him/her it needs work. The editor makes suggestions, quite a few suggestions, and when you read them you’re offended. “What is that editor doing to my book!” You want your words exactly as you wrote them. In your opinion there’s little, if any, need for improvement. So, you decide to withdraw your manuscript. You’ll find an editor who’s willing to work with you. The truth is that probably won’t happen. An editor’s job is to make your writing even better and more marketable. That means providing you with criticism, even if the criticism seems harsh. New authors with big egos rarely place their work. Instead, they quit.

Marketing Takes Too Much Time.

Your book is published, either through a traditional publisher or you decided to publish it yourself. You’re not done. Now, you have to market your book and that often means marketing yourself. This means establishing a platform on social media and engaging with not only those who might buy your book but also with writers, editors and others in the publishing industry. Writers who engage successfully on social media ask for opinions, post cover reveals, and post updates on their writing progress. They sprinkle in fun things like showing off their writing space, their pets, even favorite recipes. They share good news, say thanks for good reviews, and they share posts from writers and readers. Some use Facebook Live and Instagram Live to engage. Others set up virtual events. . . Whew! That’s a lot of work isn’t it? It’s enough to make a writer want to quit. And some do. Older writers especially aren’t willing to tackle the ever-changing world of technology.

Should you quit? Yes, you should. If it’s not working you should quit your method or approach to writing. Have a serious conversation with yourself and decide if your passion is still there buried beneath all your reasons to quit. If you find it, then write. But if the passion is gone then it’s time to give up. Maybe you didn’t want to be a writer after all.

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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 Uncategorized, Why write?

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.

FBcover1 _____________________________

*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