Friday, August 23, 2013

I know Beans

I'm taking care of my neighbor’s garden while she’s traveling for the next couple of weeks.

Did you know that gardens actually boost your creativity? I, for one, cannot even look at my neighbor’s plot without wanting to test out my photography skills — I mean, that garden gnome of hers is just aching for a joy ride.

Meanwhile, my gnomeless garden is either all hopped up on organic coffee grounds or has found a way to get a hit of Miracle Grow on the sly.  Those green beans just don’t know when to quit.

Lately, I have eaten more green beans in more ways than I care to mention. I'm starting to think that the bean boys are in league with the zucchini brothers for world domination.

Don’t say you haven’t bean warned.

My garden keeps me humble — I’m being outnumbered and outsmarted by green beans, for peat’s sake. But it has a super bonus feature, as well. It's a great place for me to hone the writing skills I need in the off-season.

Those beans and zucchini? Clearly reminding me that my run-on sentences Must. Be. Stopped.

Flowers? The adjectives and adverbs of the world. A few sprinkled here and there are lovely and add to the pleasure. Too many, and the whole thing is one hot mess.

Corn is pretty persnickety about paragraphs. If you don’t plant it that way, it gets all huffy and refuses to pollinate.

And finally — woe to the lazy gardener/writer. Both kinds of plots require constant weeding/editing to get the good stuff.

And while I’m working the double garden shift this weekend — eyeing that gnome, editing and hacking away at run-on sentences — I’ll also be getting all of the great creative benefits of going green

uh, bean.

PROMPT: Get in a garden this weekend and get dirty. Then enjoy all of the wonders it is sure to do for your writing, painting, and gnome photography skills.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dorothy Day

Today, in honor of what would have been Dorothy Parker’s 120th birthday, I thought that it would be fun to explore quotes from the dead.

Just in case you aren't familiar with Dorothy — she was an American poet and writer known for her wit and wisecracks. Her secret?

“Every day I get up, brush my teeth, and sharpen my tongue.”

And even though she made her living as a writer, it was a love/hate relationship —

“I hate writing, I love having written.”

She was never one to mince words when asked her opinion —

“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. 
It should be thrown with great force.”

“This wasn't just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. 
This was terrible with raisins in it.”

And you could probably write a whole book of Parker Proverbs —

Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.

Take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves.

You can't teach an old dogma new tricks.

Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.
(Yeah, Dorothy said it first)

Before her death, Dorothy had this to say in an interview —

“That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, 
it was against her better judgment.”

Well, it turns out that this wasn't her epitaph after all.

After her death, Dorothy was cremated, but in a novel-worthy twist of fate, her ashes went unclaimed. So, they sat on a shelf at the crematorium for a few years. Somebody finally noticed and shipped them to her lawyer’s office. He obviously realized that there was no billable hour potential in dealing with some dead lady’s ashes, so he put them on a shelf, then on a desk, and finally in a filing cabinet (under P?) for another 17 years or so. Oh, I can only imagine the field day that Dorothy would have had with THAT.

Dorothy Parker’s ashes were finally placed in a memorial garden in 1988 where a plaque contains another of her suggested epitaphs — 

Excuse my dust.

Funny to the end — and then some.

PROMPT: Do not wait another day — begin writing your witticisms now. And don’t just do it for yourself — do it for your family, your friends, your country, and all those 22nd-century bloggers desperate for material.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Editing 101

What if you didn't take the time to edit?

Well, here’s a cautionary tale for you…

When super awesome astronaut and fellow Purdue alum Neil Armstrong died last year, NBC wanted to be the first to report the news. So, quick as lightning, they posted the following:

“Astronaut Neil Young, first man to walk on the moon, dies at 82.”

Seven minutes later, somebody at NBC noticed the error and took it down.
But seven minutes is a loooooooong time in web world. 
Remember that old game of “telephone” where one kid whispers a story to another, who in turn whispers it to another and so on?

Well, the game of “cyberphone” can be a lot like that — only it involves 6 billion kids, and half of them have ADD.
So within seven minutes of the NBC post, goodness knows how many folks were tweeting:

“Rocker Neil Young was so strung out in the 60’s; he thinks he walked on the moon.”

“Neil Young was strong-armed into joining the Moonies.”

“Neil Armstrong loses ‘First Man on the Moon’ credit due to his use of performance-enhancing drugs.”

“Lance, Louis, and Neil Armstrong were all arrested on Saturday for mooning Neil Young.”

So, here are some tips from Editing 101 —

Slow Down. Great writing is not a stir-fry, it is crock pot cuisine.
Also, read the stuff you have written…

out loud…

at least once.

And a little fact-checking never hurt anybody.
Just sayin’.

Happy heavenly travels, Neil.

And you really did ROCK —

even if your name was never Young.

PROMPT: I’m pretty sure that you've got lots of great material stashed away in a drawer somewhere. Spend some time giving it a little editorial polish today, and your future publishers are sure to be over the moon.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

My PC Apology

If you’re a post Gen X baby, you may not remember the days before political correctness. Back then, hurt feelings were not given high priority. In fact, the “sticks and stones” rhyme was pretty much the American kid motto. And if we weren't saying it to the neighborhood bully as we stuck out our tongues, well, our parents were preachin’ it like the Gospel.

Meanwhile, horrifyingly insensitive and socially incorrect jingles filled the airwaves. Like this fabulous favorite —

Hot dogs, Armour hot dogs
What kind of kids eat Armour Hot Dogs?
Fat kids, skinny kids, kids who climb on rocks
Tough kids, sissy kids, even kids with chicken pox
love hot dogs, Armour Hot Dogs
The dogs kids love to bite!
Okay, I’ll admit it — when I was seven years old, I thought that jingle ROCKED! I was a skinny sissy kid who climbed on rocks, after all.

But these days, I kinda, sorta, feel bad about it. I mean, I actually sang a song with the “F” word in it. NO! Not THAT “F” word! The other one, you know F-A-T.

And now that I’m a writer, I feel obligated to make up for it. So, I thought I could tweak the lyrics a little as a way to make amends. Something, I don’t know, more fitting for the times we live in, I suppose.

Well, here goes —

Hot dogs, Armour hot dogs
What kind of kids eat Armour Hot Dogs?
Kids suffering from the ravages of childhood obesity,
kids suffering from the ravages of anorexia nervosa 
(both needing our compassion and kind consideration), 
kids who climb on rocks carefully with parental supervision.
Kids with anger management issues,

kids with assertiveness issues, 
even kids whose parents have opted out of the Varicella vaccine but love their children anyway…
love hot dogs, Armour Hot Dogs
The dogs kids love to bite
unless PETA is demonstrating nearby!
Disclaimer: The American Dietetic Association would like to inform you that a hot dog is 81% fat, and not a recommended part of a child’s daily caloric intake. Don’t even THINK about serving it with a Big Gulp.

Wow. I feel so much better now.

Don’t you?

Sure, it’s probably the worst writing I’ve ever done, and it’s tough to sing,

but hey —

I will sleep well tonight!

PROMPT: Take a walk on the PC side today, just for a bit of satirical fun.
Author James Finn Garner has made an entire career out of inclusive, respectful, and bias-free sensitivity with his Politically Correct Bedtime StoriesOnce Upon a More Enlightened TimePolitically Correct Holiday Stories, and Legally Correct Fairy Tales
I’m sure he sleeps like a baby.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Write Now

Inaction breeds doubt and fear. 
Action breeds confidence and courage. 
If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. 
Go out and get busy.
 ~ Dale Carnegie

Today is a celebration day for me. By noon, I will finalize and submit another eight-pack of stories to an educational company. Yahoo!

You know, I've been doing this sort of writing for many of years. You’d think it would get easier. You’d think that I’d have a wee bit of confidence in my abilities by now…
But let me let you in on a little secret —

Whenever I get a request for a new batch of stories, I experience feelings of… well… we’ll call it PANIC. It’s like a great big Shop-Vac has come along and sucked every ounce of confidence from me. And it happens every single time.
What if I don’t have another eight stories inside of me? I say to myself.

Of course, to my editors I say, “Sure thing! No problem!” 
Then I take Dale’s advice. I get busy searching every corner of my world for those eight stories. Because dang it, they are out or in there somewhere!
And somehow, some way, by getting busy with the business of writing, I manage to find them.
I've talked to other writers, and many experience the same sort of thing.

Does this lack of confidence occur for professionals in other fields?
Take neurosurgeons, for example. Yeah, I’ll bet they have plenty of days when they find themselves leaning over a skull and muttering, “Hmmm, I just don’t know if I have what it takes today. I think the brain surgery Muse has left the building. I suppose I’ll try tomorrow.”

No way.
They show up.

Glove up.
And get the job done.

I wonder if there would be fewer cases of block in the world if writers did the same. 
But Barb, I hear you saying. That’s different. Neurosurgery is a matter of life and death.

Well so is writing, Cupcake. We’re talking about the life and death of a dream. And I’ll wager that a dead dream is one of the worst kind of brain disease out there.

And I, for one, have a dream of making my way in this world as a writer.
Maybe you do, too.

Show up.

Glove up.
Get the job done.

PROMPT: You can do it! Write NOW! Then write a whole bunch of other stuff, too. Trust me, there are MILLIONS of stories inside of you. It’s time to get busy busting them out.