Thursday, September 24, 2009

Children, Guilt, and Writing Centers

Do you give much thought to the things that influence your writing? The list of possible influences is long, but we'll look at just three today: children, guilt, and resources. The presence (or absence) of children can play an important role in writing; they can be inspiring and interrupting, sometimes all at the same time. Some writers feel guilty when they write about other people and may even avoid certain topics because they don't want to violate anyone's privacy. And while technically all you need is a piece of paper and a pencil to write, unanswered questions can stymie a writer. Writing centers for students are common--why not for adults?

Children and Writing

Have children—whether they are your own kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, or students—affected and/or influenced your writing? Do you find children inspiring (or, conversely, uninspiring)? Do you think of future generations when you write? I thought about these questions when I read the article, “Writer finds children inspire fresh take on life and language” from the Grand Rapids Free Press. Here’s an excerpt:

Liesel Litzenburger looks at the world in a whole new way these days, and she thanks her 2-year-old twins for the change.

"The process of having kids and being a mother radically changed my thinking on a lot of things," she said.

"I used to tell my students that cliches are cliches because they're so true they get worn out with use. So the cliche about a mother's love as absolute is absolutely true for me. My children are my center, my heart."

The Guilt of Observation

Do you ever feel guilty about writing about other people? Here’s an excerpt from “Writer’s Guilt” by Calen Crain at Atlantic Online:

The Depression-era writer who thought most—and felt guiltiest—about what it meant to make art out of suffering was probably James Agee. In “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” (1941), his book-length essay about three families of tenant farmers in Alabama, illustrated with photographs taken by the F.S.A.’s Walker Evans, Agee seems sickened by his freedom to write about the unhappiness of others. When, for example, in the course of his reporting, Agee inadvertently startles a young black couple by walking up behind them, he writes that “the least I could have done was to throw myself flat on my face and embrace and kiss their feet.” A sort of trespassing is involved in writing about other people, even when the writing is as gentle as one can manage, just as it’s a violation, however mild, to photograph a person, even though it’s in an artist’s nature to want to capture experience.

(The complete text of Crain’s article is on his blog, “Steamboats Are Ruining Everything,” along with several links to the digitized versions of pictures by Walker Evans, the photographer who accompanied Agree.)

Why not an adult writing center?

Since I get Google alerts on all sorts of writing topics, I recently came across an article about the opening of a new student writing center at a university—a place where students could get help not only with research papers, but also with resumes, letters, and other writing projects. What a terrific resource! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if adults who are out of school had a writing center, a place to get help with their writing projects? The simplest things can stall a writer’s progress. One of the most frequent dilemmas I encounter from writers in the senior age group, for instance, is how they can get a manuscript typed, particularly in a computer format. I’ve facilitated an adult writing group for eight years, and some of the questions I frequently get are: What’s the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing? How can I get a book published traditionally? How do I get an article published? If I’m not interested in publishing, what’s the heck do I do with all this stuff I’ve written? How do I deal with the negative emotions/memories I encounter when I write? How do I learn how to use a computer and/or word processor? Clearly, school-age students aren’t the only ones with questions about writing. What would an adult writing center look like to you? Do you think it would encourage people to keep writing, or to start writing?
Picture courtesy of Pablo Medina at

The Deserted Beach & Other Writing Prompts

Pick a writing prompt that intrigues you and freewrite for ten minutes--that means writing without stopping or second-guessing yourself. Don't think about how the story will turn out--just write!

--The deserted beach was a beautiful place, and Linda enjoyed her daily walks alone until the day she….

--What form of writing would you most like to master? Poetry? Essay? Short story? Why?

--Kevin smelled it before he saw it. It was an unmistakable odor. Before he walked into the yard, he knew he would find….

--“I’ve lived alone for a long time,” Gertrude told her grandson. “So if you want to move in with me, even temporarily, I must insist….”

--How do you feel about junk mail? Do you read it, or do you toss it in the trash without opening it?

Picture courtesy of John Byer at

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Technology, History, and Keeping Your Audience in Mind

What do you think about technology’s role in writing, writing about notable historic moments, and making your allusions understandable to your audience? You might want to check out the following articles and posts to explore some of these questions.


How has technology changed your writing? Modern technology has given writers the Internet and self-publishing—and allowed us to ditch the carbon paper and Wite-Out. But if you’ve read a text message written by your kids or grandkids, you may be worried about technology’s effect on writing. Read this article, “Technology changing way students view writing,” for a different take on why modern inventions may be G8 for today’s kids.

Watershed Moments

If you’ve visited Sharon Lippincott’s blog, The Heart and Craft of Life Writing, you may have read her post about September 11, “Watershed Memories.” Do you write about the defining moments of our day? Whether you are journaling, writing memoir, or composing fiction, the events we experience collectively can give important structure to our work. In my writing group, this topic expanded to include not just single momentous events, like 9/11, but also eras or long-term occurrences like the Depression, the Holocaust, and the Vietnam War. In former times, passing down stories between generations was common. Do you remember sitting on the porch and listening to older relatives talk, or attending a family reunion? Sadly, these are memories that fewer and fewer people have. Our scattered families also scatter our stories. Are you taking the time to write about the important events in your life?

Outdated References

How much thought do you give to you references and allusions? Do you keep your audience in mind? The annual Beloit College Mindset List gives us insight into references that younger people may not understand. Here’s an excerpt from the AP article that covered the list this year: “For most teens starting college this fall, rap music has always been mainstream, Mike Tyson has always been a felon, and wars have always unfolded on TV in real time.”
Picture courtesy of Zsuzsanna Kilián at

The Boys & Other Writing Prompts

Today’s prompts start with a social question. What does Sam need to do to get along with the other boys? For a twist on this prompt, change the “he” to “she” and see how the story changes. (Yes, there are female Sams. I’ve known a few.) If Sam and his (or her) social dilemmas leave you cold, skip on down to another prompt. Pick one and freewrite for ten minutes. Let go of any expectations about how your work will turn out…just write!

--Sam was sure he would get along fine with the other boys, if only he….

--How did you learn how to type?

--“Of course I feel bad,” snarled Steve. “I just had surgery to remove my….”

--If only I could find the time, I would learn how to….

--Lucy was delighted. She had an entire day all to herself, and she was just getting ready to enjoy it when….
Photo courtesy of Valdas Zajanckauskas at

Friday, September 11, 2009

School & Other Writing Prompts

The smell of freshly sharpened pencils, the hint of crispness in the air, assigned seating, and the social minefield of the lunchroom... it must be the start of a new school year! Get some school spirit for prompt number one. Or scroll down and find something else that wakes up your muse. Take ten minutes to freewrite on any of these topics, or anything that they bring to mind. You won't be graded, so don't worry about what will become of your story/poem/essay--just write!

--The end of summer means the beginning of a new school year. When you were still in school, how did you feel about this time of year? Did you like school, or dread its arrival?

--Albert was puzzled about his lawn. It was dying, but he had no idea why until he discovered….

--Have you ever undertaken a do-it-yourself home renovation or repair?

--Mary planned Jack’s party for months. She sent almost a hundred invitations, but on the day of the party….

--The one thing that really makes me nervous is….
Photo courtesy of Tiffany Szerpick at

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Superior Scribbler Award

When I opened my e-mail on Monday, I found something wonderful in my in-box. Sharon Lippincott, blog author of The Heart and Craft of Life Writing, gave me the Superior Scribbler Award! Normally I’m overflowing with words, but in this instance, all I could say was “Wow!” To echo Sharon’s words, receiving this recognition was unexpected and much appreciated. It’s easy to wonder who’s reading your blog—or if anyone is reading your blog, on some days—and the Scribbler was a big dose of encouragement for me.

When I went searching for five fellow bloggers to nominate (a part of the Superior Scribbler recipient’s duties), I spent an entire afternoon reading through blogs, something I don’t take enough time to do these days. I also realized how many writers I’ve met through Twitter, and in fact two of the Scribblers are bloggers/writers I’ve met through this new social networking site.

You’ll notice a definite trend with the bloggers to whom I’ve awarded the Superior Scribbler. Since I’m a professional writer who writes not only as a career, but also as a passion, I’m drawn to people who combine inspiration and information. Visit these blogs, and you’ll learn about writing from true professionals, get some tips on bringing wellness into your life, feel like you’ve had a visit with a friend over a cyber cup of java, and learn about great places to see in South Florida.

The five new winners of the Superior Scribbler Award:

Inkthinker by Kristen King. I discovered Kristen several years ago, and I’ve never failed to find encouragement and practical advice on her blog. Kristen is witty and accessible, and always informative. She’s a successful working writer, a goal many have but few achieve.

Real Words from a Real Writer by Kathryn Vercillo. I met Kathryn on Twitter, that ubiquitous social network. She’s a business blogger and professional writer who gives her view into the writing world.

Wellness Journeys Stepping Stones by Ellen H. Brown. I also met Ellen on Twitter, and her blog gives wonderful information on the balance and wellness we all seek, especially if you’re an entrepreneur (as so many writers are).

Coffee With Merina by Merina. Yes, it’s just what it says—a blog that makes you feel like you sat down for a visit with a friend. You’ll find a little reminiscing, some reflections on life, and a few words about books she’s just read.

My Fabulous Florida by Christine Michaels. Christine and I both sent in videos for the well-publicized job in Australia on Hamilton Island. Neither of us got the job (the lucky winner was Ben Southall), but both of us are still blogging about what’s going on in our respective cities; I write about Las Vegas and Christine writes about Miami.

I’m happy to let all the winners know that no public appearances are required, and you don’t have to do anything embarrassing on television (like walking around in a swimsuit, a la Miss America). However, recipients are asked to abide by these rules:

1. Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.

2. Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author and the name of the blog from whom he/she has received the Award.

3. Each Superior Scribbler must display the Award on his/her blog, and link to this post, ( which explains the Award.

4. Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we’ll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!

5. Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

Thank you, Sharon, for awarding me the Superior Scribbler, and thank you to the authors to whom I've passed the award--I appreciate your words!