…not. Don’t you love it when people give you advice?
I don’t. Unsolicited advice, I mean. There are times when looking for a good doctor or dentist, you might ask who your friends are happy with. But I hope you also check out medical websites for the practice’s reputation and the hallmarks of a good professional.
I was a professional, and a darned good one, too. I can say that because (1) I devoted my life (and my income) to it, and (2) I no longer live where I practiced my profession, so there’s no one to contradict me. :>) An elementary grade specialist with three university degrees, I served as master teacher to student teachers, and participated in a university program exploring creative approaches to teaching.
So, several years ago, when my husband was referred to a specialist, I kept abreast of the latest information in the field. At one appointment, we went in with my research on his medication, what seemed to be side effects he was exhibiting, and possible alternatives. This doctor was, I soon learned, accustomed to giving unquestioned advice. When I finished explaining what I’d learned, he swiveled from attending my husband, glared at me and demanded, “And, so you’re a doctor?”
“No,” I replied, “but I’m educated, observant, open-minded, and I’m proactive when it comes to health issues. Or any other issues, for that matter.” (You may use that line. in fact, you should. It’s a very good piece of unsolicited advice.)
So, back to the title. Most writing advice must be taken with a grain of…aspirin. Or a glass of wine. Why? Because what works best for them, might not necessarily work for you.
TIMING: Writers often tell you that you must write first thing in the morning, “preferably when you’re not quite awake” one recently said. Really? Wake me before 8 a.m., and we have the beginning of a Stephen King novel. Murder (or at least attempted) by any available means.
I am a night owl. My muse is rarely ready to work before 7 p.m. What writer doesn’t have a job, family needs to see to, or medical issues to deal with? Or houses and cars and appliances falling apart? Ants in the sugar? Mice scratching in the walls at night? Who? Oh, right. The twenty-five-year-old guy still writing in his mom’s basement apartment.
PLACE: Often we’re told to go out to a coffee shop or a fast food place and write because a change of location sparks the gray matter. Doesn’t work for me. Oh, I do have favorite places where I make notes on mannerisms, and eavesdrop on conversations, especially the loud-enough-for-everyone-to-hear cell phone calls. I have fun figuring out what the caller’s side of the conversation is like. But write with all the distraction? Not for me. I write best when only my muse is talking.
WHAT: Writing what you know is great. Sometimes a brief glimpse, phrase or anecdote from your youth turns out to be perfectly suited to your character. Or you can fictionalize the creep who bullied you on the playground. Great revenge. Just change his/her name.
Writing what you don’t know requires research, or travel to the area you intend to use for the setting. A short story or novella might do well with research alone; a novel or series would do better with in-depth exposure travel affords.
With a shorter piece I’m writing now, I spent a couple hours reading about the Dead Sea and looking for the closest town to it. There’s only one. Madaba. This information will appear in only one paragraph of my story, but will lend authenticity to it.
In a sentence, keep the aspirin or wine handy when you read articles on how to write.
Better yet, spend more time writing.
… Or go anything else you choose, for that matter! See, I was sitting here thinking that with all the s—- (stuff) that life has dumped on me for weeks on end, my mind is frozen for something to write about except the stuff that’s been dumped on me, and you don’t want to hear that. Not with all the dumping going on in the world. Not even if it would make you feel better. Sorry.
Frozen? Yes. Mentally and physically. I woke up to 34 degrees in unsunny, overcast Florida, with a wisp of a hope of the temperature here rising to a Vermont summer heat wave of 60 degrees! I had slept to the white noise of the combination AC/heat pump barely taking a breath in its huffing and puffing to keep the house at a somewhat comfortable 72 degrees. And in my slightly wacky way, I imagined the AC part of the schizophrenic unit laughing at the heat pump, and saying, “Man up, Hot Stuff! Now you know what I go through the other 360 days of the year!”
Still, Hot Stuff’s efforts had no effect at floor level. Have you any idea what my tile floor feels like? Yes. Like walking barefoot with the polar bears—in their neighborhood! My feet hastily hustled me to the closet where I hauled down and dusted off a box with a fading label: Blue Slippers. I hauled out what I call my early-spring-morning-sky-blue suede slippers and caressed their lambs-wool lining. I was thinking that in a way, it was nice to be reacquainted since we’ve met socially perhaps three times in fifteen years since they came to live in my closet.
My feet, however, were unimpressed with my reminiscing to the point of the envy and crankiness I feel on a sugar-detox diet. To paraphrase a wise old philosopher, “If my feet aint happy, aint no part of me happy!” Once my feet and slippers were reunited, I got thinking how wonderful COLD really was. It had so aggravated me, I swung right into another of my Andy Rooney gripes—er—essays.
So, yeah, COLD is a great story starter. All you need to work it into satire or an essay is a bit of creativity—which every “very stable genius” has. And you’ll find some warm comfort in using your genius for something that makes the audience laugh with joy (or at least snicker) rather than cry in misery.
I challenge you to take a word, any word—honor, hippopotamus, truth, tricycle, courage, watermelon, love—and write something that will bring a smile or a belly laugh to someone in need of it! The world needs your talent.
An elderly lady at a recent dinner meeting I attended, spoke of Christmas traditions in her family, and her voice wavered with still-fresh sadness when she recalled, as a nine-year-old girl, experiencing the death of her dear mother on Christmas day.
Around this time of year, no matter what you celebrate, the end of a year is a time for reflection on how we have spent a precious portion of our lives. We look back on events and holidays past, some happy, some sad.
And then we look ahead to a new year, a new beginning, a chance to set things on the right track again. We’ll work on better eating habits, exercising as we should, spending more quality time with the kids instead of binge-watching TV; reading and learning something from that great book we saw advertised, and we’ll resolve to cut back on giving our opinion on every media forum. (I’m working on that, but blogs don’t count—like calorie-free broken crackers and potato chips.)
Oh, the list goes on and on, doesn’t it? How’s my spiritual self? Do I sit in my place of worship one day a week and forget what those values command of me the rest of the week? Am I mending relationships or building walls—bigger, higher, uglier walls. It’s a struggle, this life, and we’re all in it together.
So, let’s try to make life a little brighter and sweeter—like the new silver dollar beneath the juicy, bright Florida orange and the chocolate-covered cherries in the toe of my Christmas stockings year after year, even when Mr. and Mrs. Santa had little to exchange with each other.
So, a very merry wish that you may experience the real meaning of Christmas, and perhaps write up a memoir or two from your childhood.
Well, this is a bit awkward. If you’re looking for my September post, there isn’t one. It’s not my fault. Irma did it.
When we heard the cranky old crone was heading our way, we did what normal Floridians do—we panicked! Well, not exactly, but we were very, very worried. Tremendously worried. Trust me. Hugely worried. And we prepared earlier and more sensibly because Irma was aiming at us with a Cat-5 left hook that would flatten everything.
I thought last November brought the worst disaster that could hit our country. I was spot on target then, but as we watched Texas get flattened and flooded by Hurricane Harvey we humbly bumped November down a notch. We had a minute to breathe, then Irma bullied and bruised her way through Florida. This crazy Cousin of Harvey’s was predicted to pulverize what we might loosely call the normal way of life in Florida. Fortunately, she danced her way out of the state leaving less wreckage than Harvey. But she left us with hearts hurting for the suffering of others, and an urgent need to offer aid and comfort.
What happened next was like some nutty weatherman saying, “But wait! That’s not all! Along with Harvey and Irma, we’ll send Maria free of charge to Puerto Rico!” And since Satan apparently thought we weren’t getting to his place fast enough in a handbasket, he took matters in his own hands. Literal Insanity blasted its way through Las Vegas, and Hell came to the U.S.A. with the sight of California going up in flames like a wickedly bad horror movie.
And still good people give—even their lives—to help others. And I say a big heartfelt thanks, and blessing in abundance to all of those good people. Now, despite whatever continued cyberstalking could strip from us—besides what’s left of our dignity—for now, manmade disasters lie stuck in the sludge at the swampy bottom of the Pool of Tragic Events. But sooner or later, perpetrators will get their comeuppances! As of this writing, hope springs eternal that common decency will prevail.
Okay. If you got this far, you’ve made it through satire, sarcasm, a trenchant view of current conditions, and perhaps dramatic (tragic) irony. Merriam-Webster defines this form of irony as “…what happens when the audience realizes that Romeo and Juliet’s plans will go awry.” And, early on, many of us were alert to signs that plans were about to go drastically awry!
I use this form of writing when my first response is anger about conditions that bring horrible situations piling up one behind the other like a debacle on I-95. That’s when, like today, the spirit of Andy Rooney drifts into the room, puts a hand on my shoulder, and says, “Steady, girl. No nastiness. Teach, don’t tweet the first thing that comes into your mind. Leave that to those who know no better. Smooth and subtle…no matter what ruffles.”
(So, Andy, how did I do?)
1.) I had to enter that sales-pitch drawing; you know, the one that says I’m about to win $15,000,000?
2.) My eyes hurt. I’ve been staring at Facebook for two hours straight. But that’s important. It’s today’s link to the outside world, right? When it works.
3.) I was filling out marketing postcards for my next book, which will come out…soon…I hope.
4.) I checked into Dictionary.com and got distracted. I love etymology! It’s like word DNA.
5.) I had to file reports for my writers’ organization and that took too much time.
6.) Then I needed a break to read the comics. Everybody needs to laugh, right? Don’t bug me.
7.) I get aggravated and can’t write when I’m under pressure.
8.) I need to follow the news so I can scribble a bunch of snarky slogans.
9.) I had to clean out my desk, and that filled up the trash can, so…
10.) I had to empty the trash. I can’t concentrate with a full trash can staring me in the face.
11.) The mail came. A catalog had 20% off a blouse I really want. And shoes. Maybe I’d better look a little closer. I may have missed something.
12.) I don’t write well in the morning. Just slogans. After I watch the news. I need coffee. And half a bagel.
13.) It’s too noisy outside. What are my neighbors doing now?
14.) It’s too quiet inside. I wonder what the dog’s doing now?
15.) I can’t forget to use my Dunkin’ Donuts coupon. It expires today.
16.) I need to drop stuff off at Goodwill. And maybe I’ll check out Publix for BOGOs.
17.) I must check the newspaper before I recycle it. Maybe there’s another BOGO I missed.
18.) Found a list of upcoming events at Sunrise Theater. Oh, I need to sign up for some of these! Where’s the phone? Where are my credit cards? In my purse. Where’s my purse?
19.) Emptied the coffee pot. Ran the clean cycle.
20.) Reheated last cup of coffee. Decided “What the heck,” and had the last half-bagel.
21.) I can’t write while eating and drinking.
22.) I can’t stand having a dirty cup and plate on my desk.
23.) Had to empty clean dishes from the washer so I could put the dirty ones in.
24.) Can’t stand clutter. Had to put the clean tableware where it belonged.
25.) Now I’ve had too much caffeine. I can’t sit still at the computer.
And, dear Muse, if that’s not enough reasons, TRUST ME…. Oh, now there’s a good one for a snarky slogan. BELIEVE ME… that’s another. Boy, I’m on a roll now. Hey, Six-, ten-, twelve-word slogans–that counts as writing, no? How about that? I was writing all the time!
If you have written a novel that you intend to pitch to a traditional publisher, then you are experienced enough to know that in your approach, you must include a synopsis. One of the best of the How-To articles on writing a synopsis is “How to Write a Novel Synopsis” by Jane Friedman. Her 20+ years of experience in the publishing world has produced impressive credits: co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet newsletter, columnist for Publisher’s Weekly, professor with The Great Courses, and…well…you can google her info and articles.
So, what you are about to read here is NOT a synopsis, rather a semi-synopsis of the kind you read on Amazon – a summary, a detailed book review if you will. The purpose of writing for Amazon differs from a true synopsis which requires you reveal the ending, but don’t ask rhetorical or unanswered questions. Amazon wants to sell your book as much as you do. The purpose is to entice the reader. A traditional publisher wants to know everything about the story to decide if it will sell as is, with changes, or not at all.
HEADS UP! This is the description you will find when my novella MISSING goes up on Amazon.
MISSING a novella by Virginia Nygard
Five-year-old Teddy Hanson runs to his parents’ bedroom because of a nightmare, only to find a real-life nightmare: his mother and father are missing. He runs next door to his Aunt Melanie, who calls the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office.
At the DeBary, Florida home of Mayor Zachary Hanson and his wife, Detective Carmella Callenda senses that the scene doesn’t yet add up to abduction. The sparkle of a barely noticeable substance catches her eye. She rebukes the technician and sends him packing. Carmella feels guided by intuition she calls “Angelo, my guardian angel,” to avoid the possible contamination or loss of the glittery material. She ignores normal evidence procedures and takes the material to Will Mears, her trusted friend and recently-retired top forensic expert.
Unbeknownst to Carmella, Will is working on an environmental issue that brought federal agent Michael Paradiso to Volusia County. Assisting the Sheriff’s Department with their confidential investigation, Michael is working undercover at DeBary Chemicals as Tony DeCarlo.
Carmella’s life hasn’t been an easy one. A survivor of childhood abuse, she is determined to right wrongs, give a voice to the voiceless, and help turn lives around. Several years ago, overwhelmed by the ambush killing of her fiancé, a fellow Pittsburgh police officer, she moved to this small Florida town where she sees her efforts bear fruit.
Michael’s path has been quite different from Carmella’s, but just as challenging. Not until the end of the case do they see how intertwined their lives are.
In addition to the missing Mayor and his wife the characters in this story share the undercurrent of something missing in their lives. Other than Carmella and Michael, the plot connects many of the characters, including Will’s friend Jane, and his errant son, Casey, in ways that eventually help them release their issues and have the confidence to forge ahead with positive changes in their lives.
The mysterious substance? Follow along with the characters as divergent paths merge and lead to that missing link.
So now you know how NOT to write a synopsis if you are going the traditional route. Good luck!