Monday, March 31, 2014

Writing Tips - Telling a Story or Giving a Report?

The difference between "story" and "report" is crucial to the reader's expectation and the writer's execution.

The word "story" has a special meaning, and stories have specific requirements that create predictable effects.

What are the differences between "report" and "story", and how can the writer use them to strategic advantage?

A scholar by the name of Louise Rosenblatt argued at one point that readers read for two reasons:

1. Information
2. Experience

That's the difference.

Reports convey information. Stories create experience.

Reports transfer knowledge. Stories transport the reader.

The tools required to create reports and stories differ as well.

Every writer should know about the famous "Five W's and H". They've helped writers gather and convey information with the reader's interest in mind.


They are the most common elements of information.

When used in reports, these pieces of information are fixed in time, fixed so readers can scan and understand.

This is how you "un-fix" them, when you can transform information into narrative:

Who becomes Character
What becomes Action (What happened.)
Where becomes Setting
When becomes Chronology
Why becomes Cause or Motive
How becomes Process (How it happened.)

As the writer, you must figure out whether your project requires the crafting of a report, a story, or some combination of both.

In can be said that stories require rising and falling action, complications, points of insight, and resolutions. As a novelist, you can invent these movements into a story. However, as a reporter or non-fiction writer you must report them.

A narrative requires a story and a storyteller.

An article in a newspaper requires a reporter.

By combining story and report, you, the writer can speak to both our hearts and our heads, creating sympathy and understanding.

Here are some things you can do:

1. Look at the newspaper with the distinction between reports and stories in mind. Look for narrative opportunities missed. Look for bits of stories embedded in reports.
2. Take the same approach to your own work. Look for stories, or at least passages in stories, where you transport the reader to the scene. Search for places in your reports where you might have included story elements.
3. Reread the conversion list for the Five W's and H. Keep it handy the next time you research and write. Use it to transform report elements into the building blocks of a story.
4. The next time you read a novel, look for the ways in which the author weaves information about politics or history or geography into the tapestry of narrative. How can you apply these techniques in your own work?

So, in your next project, are you going to tell a story or give a report?

Writing Resource: Writing Tools - 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark

Friday, March 28, 2014

Friday Five Minute Exercise - Event from your Childhood

1. Set your clocks/timers for Five (5) Minutes.

2. Write about an Event From Your Childhood. Try to recreate the smells, the textures, and the sounds as you describe the event.

Get into as much detail as you can for the next five minutes.

3. Ready?

4. Go.

5. Finished? Review and be amazed.

I hope you had fun. Come back next Friday for a new writing prompt.

Was this exercise helpful?

Did you succeed with this writing exercise? Was it helpful? Did you find an event from your childhood to write about? Did it bring back happy or sad memories? Was this exercise helpful? Did you enjoy it?

Why or Why Not?

Monday, March 24, 2014

29 Ways to Stay Creative

I found this great image that gives a list of the 29 ways to stay creative. 29 ways?!? You've got to be kidding, right? So, I figured I'd go through them with you and see if we can come up with any more to add to the list.

1. Make lists. Okay. Sounds easy enough. I make lists all the time. I think this one we can make a bit more specific. Make a list of topics you want to write about.

2. Carry a notebook everywhere. Definitely something I'd advocate. Even if it's just your smart phone. If you get a burst of genius, get it down. There are plenty of applications for your phone to help you keep track of topics you want to write about. Evernote is a great one. iPhone comes with two: Lists & Notes. I use both. 

3. Try free writing. This is a perfect way to start writing. You don't have a topic so just start writing about whatever is on your mind or just type the same word over and over again until you finally break free and a topic comes to mind. Works nearly every time.

4. Get away from the computer. This one my dog loves. When I need to take a break from the computer I take my dog for a walk. Win - win situation for everyone.

5. Quit beating yourself up. Please, stop berating yourself if things don't go right or if you can't think of a topic. Please, no violence against writers. Give yourself a break. oops, I think that's another tip later on. But, I'm serious. If you still can't think of something to write about, don't worry. An idea will come. If you beat yourself up about it, nothing good can come of it.

6. Take breaks. See, there you go. Take breaks. Flip through a magazine. Go for a walk. Watch a TV show. Call a friend. Stroll through Facebook. Google strange stuff. Your brain needs a rest. Why do you think some of your greatest ideas come to you when you're in the shower or driving? Murphy's Law at it again? Not necessarily. Your brain is constantly working. When you give yourself a break, your brain can finally concentrate on what it needs to do. Find you a topic to write about.

7. Sing in the shower. Well, okay, I think that's a bit personal. I'd prefer not to, but to each their own. But, like I said before, sometimes the best ideas come when you're in the shower.

8. Drink coffee. Fire up those synapses. Give yourself a bit of a jolt. Just don't go overboard and get all jittery and end up walking circles in your living room mumbling to yourself. I don't think this idea wants you to get addicted to caffeine. 

9. Listen to new music. That's always a great one. And, really listen to the lyrics. You can get some great writing topic ideas.

10. Be open. I'm not exactly sure what this one means. I'm an open person, to a point, but I think it mean be open to new ideas. Be open to new options of finding topic ideas. Sometimes an idea comes from the strangest places or person.

11. Surround yourself with creative people. Join a writer's group. There's nothing like being in a room full of creative people. The room literally buzzes with creativity.

12. Get feedback. Everyone needs this. Even those of us who think we've got it all together. Another person's opinion helps to alter our perspective. You never know when someone else's opinion might send you on another path to another great idea.

13. Collaborate. This only works if you work well with others. Think back to kindergarten? Did you work well with others or did you spend a lot of time in the corner? eh?

14. Don't give up. Biggie. Never give up. I've been writing for twenty-five years. I still consider myself a child of the trade. I'm always learning. 

15. Practice. Practice. Practice. Practice makes perfect, right? Well, not always, but the more you practice something, the better you get at it. That includes writing.

16. Allow yourself to make mistakes. We all do. Heck, just the other day, I created something for our next writer's conference and I went over it and over it. Proofread the heck out of it. Created an e-mail, sent it in, and wham. Looked back at the piece and saw a blazing error. Argh! I had to correct it and send it again. But, all is okay. Allow yourself to make mistakes.

17. Go somewhere new. A new environment can fill you with new ideas.

18. Count your blessings. Definitely. You are truly blessed. You're a writer, doing what you love, how blessed is that? Keep counting, I'm sure you can come up with more.

19. Get lots of rest. A must for anyone, especially writers. If your brain doesn't have time to shut down and restore itself, how is it ever going to continue working?

20. Take risks. Not literally. I don't mean walk in the middle of traffic or anything. But, consider a topic you haven't before and put your special twist on it.

21. Break the rules. Rules were made to be broken, right? Well, not all of them. Some of them can land you in jail. But, when it comes to writing, definitely break some rules. See what it does to your writing.

22. Don't force it. The ideas will come in their own time. A watched pot never boils. Oh, wait, it will eventually. Same with your ideas. They'll come. Eventually. Just give them time. In the mean time, go back to number 6.

23. Read a page of the dictionary. Now that's definitely an extreme way to find a topic idea. Try the Thesaurus as well. I remember back in the day, we had a set of Encyclopedias on our bookshelf. I loved reading them. What do we have now? Wikipedia. Try it.

24. Create a framework. Hmmm, well, let's see. Framework? Outline? I think that's what this means. Try an outline. Try a flowchart. Start with a word, then move on to the first thing you think of, then move on to what that makes you think of and so on until you've come up with an idea to write about.

25. Stop trying to be someone else's perfect. I'll do you one better. Just stop trying to be perfect. Period. See number 16.

26. Got an idea? Write it down. Don't trust your memory. Especially at my age. I write everything down. If I don't, I know I'll forget. Your brain can only hold so much information before it dumps a few things to hold more. Don't let one of your great ideas be that something that gets dumped.

27. Clean your workspace. A bit of procrastination, but it works. A messy desk is the sign of a genius, right? Einstein never had a clean desk. But, every once in a while, organizing your desk can help you organize your thoughts.

28. Have fun. That's what this is all about. Writing is fun. You get to have fun doing what you love. If it starts to feel like work, it's not fun anymore. Keep some fun in your life. I have a helium-filled balloon in my office. It always makes me smile when it drifts around into my vision.

29. Finish something. Yes, it ultimately comes down to this. You must come up with a topic, write about it and then finish your piece. Just as we've done here. We're at the end. 

Now that we've seen the 29 ways to stay creative, do you have something to add?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Friday Five Minute Exercise - Truth

1. Set your clocks/timers for Five (5) Minutes.

2. Write about Truth. The actuality of one's life is formed by one's perceptions and views. Write about what you know to be true in your life.

Get into as much detail as you can for the next five minutes.

3. Ready?

4. Go.

5. Finished? Review and be amazed.

I hope you had fun. Come back next Friday for a new writing prompt.

Was this exercise helpful?

Did you succeed with this writing exercise? Was it helpful? Did you find the truth in your life? Was it what you expected? Were you able to write about what you know to be true in your life?Was this exercise helpful? Did you enjoy it?

Why or Why Not?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Blessed are the Weird People

You know you're weird, right?

Oh, no one told you that before? Well, let me be the first.

You're weird.

You write.

You're weird.

I'm weird, well, for other reasons besides writing, but I'll admit it, I'm weird.

We all have to be a little bit weird to come up with the kinds of things we do when we write. I like to write from my dreams, and boy-howdy can I come up with some doozies. And, those are just the ones I write down.

Let's not even discuss the dreams I don't write down. Some are just way too off the weird chart for even me.

I'm going to open up this blog post for anyone and everyone who wants to see if they can "out weird" the other.

Let's have it. What's you're weirdest thing you've ever written? It doesn't have to be something that was published. Just what you've written.

Bring them out of the closet and shake off the dust. Polish them a bit and let's see them - in all their lovely weirdness.

Do you want weird? How about this? I wrote about aliens coming to our world in a giant lobster shaped space ship to hunt the famous lobster hunter down in the Florida Keys. What'd they do with this famous hunter when they found him? Why boiled him and had him with a side of butter!

Now it's your turn.

What weirdness have you written?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Friday Five Minute Exercise - Getting Older and Becoming Wiser

1. Set your clocks/timers for Five (5) Minutes.

2. Write about Getting Older and Becoming Wiser. Write about your feelings and issues' concerning age. Focus on the insights you have gained through your experiences. Write about self-reliance and self-confidence as they relate to getting older and becoming wiser.

Get into as much detail as you can for the next five minutes.

3. Ready?

4. Go.

5. Finished? Review and be amazed.

I hope you had fun. Come back next Friday for a new writing prompt.

Was this exercise helpful?

Did you succeed with this writing exercise? Was it helpful? How helpful was it to look inside yourself and see the insights you've gained as you've gotten older and become wiser? Have you become self-reliant? Have you gained self-confidence? Were you able to relate them to getting older and becoming wiser? Was this exercise helpful? Did you enjoy it?

Why or Why Not?

Monday, March 10, 2014

I Love Writing This Much!

I saw this image and it made me smile. There isn’t anything that makes my heart sing more than when I’m writing. Sometimes, the topic matters. Sometimes, not.  I can be dispensing writing advice. I can be writing about writing, or I can be writing about my faith.

Writing about writing is what I like to do best.

  1. It is fun to do.
  2. It helps other writers.
  3. It is fun to do. Oh, I said that already. Well it is! 

How much do you love writing?

Is it fun to sit down to a blank screen or sheet of paper and just start writing and let the words flow?

Or, do you struggle and strain to get out a topic sentence and see where you can go from there?

Do you dispense garbage on your page and then clean it up afterward? Or is every word carefully placed so that there is no need to edit?

What is your editing style?

Are you an outliner or a punster? Do you write from an outline, knowing that each word is going to be followed by another that you’ve already pre-destined to happen? Or , do you just start typing and see where it takes you?

Which way makes you love writing more?

I know of writers who would say that without an outline they’d be lost. I also know of writers who say that they just start typing and wherever it leads them, that’s where they’re meant to go.

I’d like you to tell me what makes you love or hate writing?

Start the list …. Here:

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Friday Five Minute Exercise - Feminism

1. Set your clocks/timers for Five (5) Minutes.

2. Write about Feminism. Webster's dictionary defines "feminism" as the doctrine that declares that social, political and economical rights for women be the same as those for men. Does your definition of feminism match that of Webster's? Do you use your writing as a voice for you frustrations regarding the rights of women? Is feminist a subject you avoid at all costs  because of the negativity that can be associated with it? Historically, do you think women used writing to declare their rights to others?

Get into as much detail as you can for the next five minutes.

3. Ready?

4. Go.

5. Finished? Review and be amazed.

I hope you had fun. Come back next Friday for a new writing prompt.

Was this exercise helpful?

Did you succeed with this writing exercise? Was it helpful? Did you identify any limits you've placed on yourself or others? Did your definition of feminism agree with Webster's? Did you know that you had a definition of feminism? Was this something you've written about before? Was this something you avoided? Why? Historically, do you think writing was a way women used to declare their rights to others? Was this exercise helpful? Did you enjoy it?

Why or Why Not?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Which Came First, the Reader or the Writer?

What does this mean to you? To be a writer you must first be a reader?

What were you thinking, Michael Chabon, when you spoke or wrote this little missive?

I think as a writer we must keep ourselves strong. We must work out all the muscles necessary to become a good writer. One way to help with working out those muscles its by reading.

When reading, we put on our editor's cap or proofreader's chapeau and work those muscles.

I know, sometimes as a writer, we'd like to read for pleasure.

Is that possible?

Let's think about that? Can you really turn off all your editing techniques and tricks and trades of proofreading and just become a R-E-A-D-E-R?

Belle Beth Cooper has a very unique approach to our dilemma. Five Unconventional Ways to Becoming a Better Writer. 

Belle Beth Cooper states that:  "Even if you’re not a ‘writer’ per se, writing can be highly beneficial. It can be helpful for a number of things:

Writing can Help you to Work Through your Feelings

Do writers have problems with their feelings? I'd say so, if you consider all the maladies that writers seems to have come up with and the drinking and the drugs and the mental health issues. Yes, I do believe that writing can definitely help with these feelings.

Writing can help a Writer Stay Positive

That's totally awesome and I truly believe it. There's nothing like writing to keep yourself positive. Writing brings out the good in people. Writing and positivity go hand in hand in my book. 

Writing can Help you Express your Thoughts More Clearly

Another benefit from Belle Beth Cooper. She nailed it. Who more than anyone else in the world can express their thoughts more clearly than a writer? 

Writing can Help you Market your Product

Yes, and I say this with much chagrin, because most writers do not like to market their own product. But, who knows their material better than anyone else? Who has the ability to create the marketing material better than anyone else? The writer.

But, where does this all lead back to my first question: Which came first, the reader or the writer?

To put it logically, there wasn't something to read until something was written. So, of course, the writer came before the reader.

So, then as Michael Chabon did say, "Being a Writer is about Being a Reader First."

So then, what are the benefits of being a Reader first?

In it she quotes the following:

Reading—the good and the bad—inspires you. It develops your palate for all the tricks that writers have invented over the years. You can learn from textbooks about the writing craft, but there’s no substitute for discovering for yourself how a writer pulls off a trick. Then that becomes part of your experience. – Roz Morris

Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window. – William Faulkner

Belle Beth Cooper came up with five unconventional ways to become better writers by the way we read.

1. Skip Sections
"According to Ms Cooper, I’ve actually realized recently that there is a kind of freedom in giving up that feeling of needing to see everything. Sometimes, it’s okay to skip parts. Especially if they’re not relevant to you. Readers on the web skim for a reason. In fact, it has almost become our default way of reading"

2. Quit Altogether

Ms. Cooper says, "Reading is meant to be a fun activity. Your brain doesn’t want to slog through something it finds boring. In How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, Pierre Bayard defends the habit of not reading as something we should all do more of:P
To speak without shame about books we haven’t read, we would thus do well to free ourselves of the oppressive image of cultural literacy without gaps, as transmitted and imposed by family and school, for we can strive toward this image for a lifetime without ever managing to coincide with it.

If we really respect our time, let’s spend it on things we enjoy and reading that has long-term benefits for us."
3. Read Things You Hadn't Thought About Reading

Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window. – William Faulkner

"If you’re stuck in a reading rut like me, try pushing yourself to try a new genre or writing style now and then." per Ms Cooper.

4. Walk Away and Take Notes
 To get more out of the books you are reading you should be taking breaks from them and taking notes about what you have read.

Believe it or not, it helps test your comprehension and your brain's ability to assimilate what it's read.  

"Mary Gordon wrote about how copying sections from books and taking notes on what she’s read helps inspire her own words
Before I take pen to paper, I read. I can’t begin my day reading fiction; I need the more intimate tone of letters and journals. From these journals and letters—the horse’s mouth—I copy something that has taken my fancy, some exemplum or casual observation I take as advice. These usually go into the Swedish journal, except for the occasional sentence that shimmers on its own, and then it goes into the handmade Vermonter.
I move to Proust; three pages read in English, the same three in French. In my Proust notebook I write down whatever it is I’ve made of those dense and demanding sentences. Then I turn to my journal, where I feel free to write whatever narcissistic nonsense comes into my head."

5. Fight Back

This is what Ms. Cooper says, "Finding something you care about is worth cherishing. If you want to rant against the author’s premise or post a rebuttal to their argument, go for it. This will make your brain work really hard, as you analyze their ideas and form your own in response."

What do you think? Did Ms. Cooper hit the nail on the head? I think so.

And as Paul Graham said, “writing doesn’t just communicate ideas; it generates them. So get reading, get writing, and watch the ideas start flowing!

So, what do you think of all this?