Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Writing Prompts

Write for ten minutes on one of these....

--Elizabeth thought the trick-or-treaters were done for the night. She was surprised to hear a knock at the door after she turned out the porch light. When she opened the door, she saw….
--What’s your opinion of horror movies?
--Jeffrey cried when he saw the smashed pumpkin….
--Doug lost control of the car….
--My favorite candy….

Remember, no stopping for the full ten minutes!
Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Vegas Valley Book Festival

Vegas book lovers and writers will want to check out the Vegas Valley Book Festival, held in conjunction with November's First Friday. Free sessions on Friday include:

"Down and Out in Las Vegas: The Struggle to Survive in Sin City” Mathew O’Brien and Kurt Borchard; Moderator Geoff Schumacher.

“Traveling Through the Americas” -- Tom Miller One of America’s most accomplished travel authors will share his experiences traveling the hemisphere.

“Old Vegas, New Vegas: Everything Old is New Again,” -- Norm Clarke and Heidi Knapp Rinella; Moderator, Mike Weatherford.


Photo information: my photo of a mural at the Fremont Street Experience.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Truly Unique Writer

I remember hearing the NPR interview with Robert Shields, a man committed to writing down the details of his life – at five minute intervals. During good years, he penned some three million words; a “bad” year saw only a million. The New York Times reports that Mr. Shields passed away on October 15. He was 89. Here’s a link to his NYT obituary:

Robert Shields, Wordy Diarist, Dies at 89

The obituary author, Douglas Martin, wrote, "What seems certain is that Mr. Shields believed that nothing truly happened to him unless he wrote it down." I think we can all relate to that.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Mushroom Bomb

Ever notice that writers tend to favor walking as an exercise? Perhaps this is because of the solitary nature of walking. You’re not responsible for anything additional, like a bicycle. You have the advantage of quiet if you’re observing something. And you can sit down and contemplate the landscape, the people, and the weather.

I do my best to take daily walks on the Greenbelt, as the walking path in back of my house is known. Just a few days ago, I was striding along, jamming to my iPod, when I saw something jutting out of the grass. At first, I kept walking, but then I thought I should check to make sure it wasn’t something with a fuse. It looked strange enough to be a bomb. Upon closer inspection, the mass of armored-looking stuff turned out to be mushrooms. In the desert, a mound of mushrooms was growing under a skinny ash tree.

“Start with the day that’s different,” writers are told. Observation gives us clues on what that day might contain.
Picture: The mushroom bomb on day two, when there was enough light for a picture.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Taking It Personally

On the Writer’s Advice List, “Don’t take things personally” appears right under “Write every day.” Like every item on the Writer’s Advice List, which is what I call that nebulous collection of guidelines and wisdom that writers try to follow, detachment is a deeper idea than you realize at first. My initial inability to take comments without personalizing them almost derailed me as a writer. After I discovered how freeing it is to refuse to apply critiques and rejections to my worth as a person, life got a lot better for me, and not just as a writer.

Although I’d been a writer for virtually my entire life, I was still mired in what could be described as “The Swamp of Me-ism” when I decided to write full time. Intellectually, I understood that I should avoid taking things personally, but at that point I still saw everything that went wrong in my story, from its yucky first draft to its rejection slip, as the result of my personal failings. It was all about Me, just not in a good way. Enter Client A.

Client A needed a brochure written. He wanted to appear smooth, suave, and sophisticated. Unfortunately, he failed to communicate that to me. I thought he wanted homespun, honest, and hardworking. When I got his corrections on the first draft, I was stunned – not because I’d misread the image he wanted, but because he’d given the brochure to his secretary to “correct.” I was incensed. How dare he delegate my work to a secretary?! And one so obviously language-challenged, at that. Every one of her corrections inserted a grammatical error. I had many options at this point, and today I can think of several I would choose, but at the time I was just angry. Really, really angry. And insulted. I didn’t even realize I was taking things personally. I thought my rage was justified.

I grimace every time I think about the phone conversation I had with Client A. It was ugly. “You made me sound like I was picking hayseeds out of my teeth,” he finally said, after doing his best to dodge my flaming questions about what on earth I was supposed to do with his secretary’s grammatically-challenged corrections. I don’t know what happened to the final copy I did for him, but I do know that Client A entirely changed his business direction soon afterwards. As you might imagine, he didn’t hire me again. It took me another couple of years to overcome my defensiveness and to realize what a huge mistake I’d made.

When we tell someone not to take things personally, we’re reducing a tremendous amount of wisdom and maturity into a single sentence. Since Client A, I’ve learned that taking comments and corrections as a personal attack is one of the quickest ways to kill your creativity. From a business standpoint it’s also pretty deadly, but that’s minimal compared to the muse-squashing effects of aiming criticism meant for your words at yourself instead. Writers who convince themselves that they’re idiots because of unflattering comments about their work are less likely to sit back down at the computer. Writing is all about perseverance, so ignore your ill-informed detractors and study the hell out of any useful comments you get.

I’ve found that it’s helpful to remember that non-writers are usually unable to offer anything beyond “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it,” and they come up with odd stuff when they try. When you hear weird comments on your work that make no sense to you, chances are that the person making those comments has no clue how to give you useful feedback. To avoid hurting your feelings, people will attempt all manner of strange verbal contortions. Do your best to read between the lines. Ask questions to elicit better information, if you’d really like to get a better understanding of what they mean. Keep an open mind and exercise your active listening skills.

And learn the art of ignoring. Those of you with children should be familiar with this tactic. If Aunt Ruth hates your personal essay on the Thanksgiving Turkey she burned because she enjoys her reputation as the family’s own Martha Stewart, well, learn to shrug it off. Not everyone will like your work. Consider the agenda of your critic before getting too caught up in what she’s saying.

I just worked with a lovely woman on a history project. We were on the phone after the first draft and I was asking her questions, dissecting what worked and what didn’t work, when she suddenly paused and said, “Gosh, I hope you’re not taking any of this personally.”

Actually, I was taking notes when she said that, mentally planning my attack on the next draft. She was a great collaborator, able to articulate what she wanted. I reassured her, “Oh no, don’t worry about that. I don’t take things personally. I can’t.” Years after Client A, I now understand what that really means.

If you’ve let yourself be angry, defensive, or bitter about criticism of your work, let it go. Keep writing and remember that YOU are more than your words. Let your words be what’s rejected, not you.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Writing Prompts

This week's other prompts, for your writing pleasure:
  • A cloud of Monarch butterflies….
  • The sound of thunder made Jack….
  • Have you been to a wedding at a Las Vegas wedding chapel? Tell us about it.
  • Thelma snatched the Valentino gown off the thrift store clothing rack….
Remember, the goal here is to write for ten to fifteen minutes without stopping or self-correcting. Ready, set, go!

The Flames of Creativity

This week’s warm-up prompt for my writing group was inspired by current events.

Have you ever had a fire in your home or vehicle?

At first, a collective moan went up. Sometimes a prompt falls flat, so I suggested, “Think of fire as a starting point for anything. Go with fiction. Or use one of the other prompts.” But being diligent and determined writers (I daresay some of us may even be stubborn), everyone plunged in. When we shared the results from the prompt, we found something interesting.

The more fire stories we shared, the more we remembered. Those people who initially said they had not experienced a fire in their home or vehicle suddenly remembered flaming pot roasts and tea kettles left unattended. To use an overworked but apt cliché, the fire stories spread like wildfire.

When I started thinking about fires, I initially remembered my friend Cindy. She set a package of light bulbs on a hot burner, accidentally causing a small fire that we squelched with baking soda. Cindy’s next fire was in her Firebird. (Yes, I know it’s a pun, but what can I say. That’s the car she had, complete with the bird on the hood.) She was driving down Maryland Parkway when the smoke began rolling out. I think she may have even spotted flames. Her brakes failed, and she careened through a vacant desert lot, smoke belching from her hood, her steering working only partially. When the fire department arrived, she had come to a stop. She had also wet herself. “Were you trying to help put out the fire?” joked the firemen. Cindy broke out bawling, if I remember correctly. Or maybe I just remember what I would have done if my car caught fire and took me on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

Then more fire memories emerged. I remembered my dad pulling a flaming broiler from my oven, shrugging, and shoving the fire-engulfed drawer back in. Baking soda again saved the day. My mind flew to the years one of my nephews developed a fascination with fire, as so many boys do, and managed to scare the bejesus out of everyone in the family. “Arsonist” is a frightening label to consider. Or the dim recollection of the childhood Christmas when a house down the street burned to the ground. The single lady living there fell asleep with a lit cigarette, and never woke up.

How about you? What are your fire memories?
Photo Notes: Once again, as you can see, Blogger has decided that it doesn't want to fully display any pictures I upload. According to their truly auful "help" site, this has something to do with my column width. Personally, I'd think they might want to fix that, but instead you're on your own. To see the whole picture, visit

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Dollars Over Sense

Last week at my writing group, I caught some subtle comments (shall I say hints?) about the blog.

“Well, I had to call so-and-so because I didn’t have the prompts,” was one I heard, and I’m sure there was an unsaid second half, something along the lines of “because she hasn’t updated the !$%# blog!”

Both my blogs have been neglected over the past couple of months. It’s certainly not a case of me running out of things to say. Heavens no! The reason I was MIA is one common to writers striving to write for a living. Sometimes the projects that warm your heart leave your checkbook cold. I enjoy writing my blogs, especially since they give me the freedom to write about whatever I want. For some bizarre, Murphy’s Law reason, whatever I get paid to write about is usually diametrically opposed to my interests and passions. Which is one way a writer can get into trouble.

You’ve probably heard the old adage about not leaving your day job – a piece of advice given to all artists, musicians, and other creative types. After I tossed that pearl of wisdom onto the trash heap of my former job, I discovered that I had taken this advice all wrong. When I read “don’t quit your day job,” what I really thought they were saying was, “Of course you haven’t got enough talent to succeed in such a cut-throat, over-crowded, underpaid profession! And how will you get health insurance?! Stick to what you know or you’ll go broke and embarrass yourself.” In the six years since making the leap into full-time writing, I’ve found that one of the quickest way to smother your creativity is by using your talents solely for a paycheck. A day job allows you to pay the bills without spending all your writing time working on projects that leave you brain dead and frustrated.

Early this month, two-thirds of my writing business dried up. It’s a pretty common thing for businesses in Las Vegas to be struggling right now. “Slow” is only the tip of the economic iceberg here in the Foreclosure Capital of America. When I got the news that two of the magazines I was writing for were about to fail, my first thought was that I would finally get to finish my book proposal, one of those “unpaid” things that had fallen to the bottom of my project list. For this entire month, I’ve been working off-line, away from the temptations of the Internet. Bliss. Pure Bliss.

Then the e-mail arrived yesterday - an e-mail with an assignment. Shouldn’t we all be happy to see our editor’s name in our in-box? Shouldn’t we?

Now the challenge becomes how to balance the demands of dollars against my creative desires. Do you think it’s too late to get a day job?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A Plethora of Prompts

Okay, I admit it. I’ve neglected the blog over the past month. A whole host of writing projects and assignments landed on my desk at about the same time my husband went to a night shift… and the result has been barely controlled chaos. However, as so often happens with writing work, all that work left as quickly as it came. The stories and projects were researched and written, the deadlines were met, and now I’m back here to post a big old fat collection of prompts. So pour yourself a cup or glass of your favorite beverage, pick a prompt, and write for ten minutes without stopping. Don’t even think about picking up a dictionary.

Ahhh, it feels so good to be back!

--Holidays like Labor Day meant nothing to Carrie. She worked every day at the….
--Here’s the headline – you write the story: “Missile launcher given in trade for sneakers.”
--Do remember the route you walked (or biked, or were driven) to school?
--Giselle aimed the gun at Lewis. “I just want you to know that I’m not shooting you because of Lulu. I’m shooting you because….”
--When I really feel like living dangerously, I….
--Paul fell ten feet….
--Cathleen didn’t believe in ghosts, yet she could clearly see….
--Combine a paper weight, an angel statuette, and a clock in a story.
--Eddy had seen everything in his pawn shop from wedding rings to hand guns, but he had never seen anything like this before. The woman standing in front of him wanted to pawn….
--Martin knew he shouldn’t read Janie’s diary, but he couldn’t resist. The shock of the first sentence made his heart thud. He couldn’t believe she had written….
--Tell us a story about a piece of jewelry you lost.
--Have you ever visited an observatory?
--The red rose….
--The sleeping dog….
--He remembered her perfume….
--Being responsible means….
--The knife blade….

Happy writing!