The Secret to Successful Short Stories

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I spent much of my time in grad school trying to please a certain teacher and understand the secret formula for a short story.

Up until that time, I’d only written novels (or novellas), longer pieces of work in which I developed the characters and followed a plot. These felt full and complete.

Writing one small selection vexed me.

So I read and read and researched and attempted one time after another to create a successful short piece.

I suppose there is no formula and  no one right answer, which is what I was looking for – the correct answer.

Of the things written in grad school, the one instructor I attempted to satisfy deemed them mostly unworthy.

It wasn’t until near the end of graduation that an instructor said “half of that story was the best he’d ever read.”

He didn’t tell me which half.

However, almost all those stories have been pulled out, dusted off, and accepted with few edits. Hence – dear teachers – they were good! I had learned something; I had accomplished something.  (I must be doing something right, over 30 published in the last few years!)

There may not be one right answer, and there’s no secret, nor is there a hidden formula. Short stories need to get to a point, need to have conflict, need to show a budding of growth – perhaps.

 

 

Be Gentle

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There are times when you have to be hard on yourself.

Then there are other times when you have to offer yourself a break.

Be hard on yourself if you sit around watching television or playing on social media instead of writing.

Give yourself a break if you’re not feeling well.

Be hard on yourself if you allow yourself to be distracted or blocked.

Give yourself a break if you write something that you later have to delete because it doesn’t work.

You should have expectations of yourself, goals you want to attain, and you should attempt to reach those goals instead of sitting around giving yourself excuses not to try.

But things will go wrong; at times, you will fall short of your goals, you will make mistakes – this is the time to forgive yourself.

 

Approaching Authenticity – Creativity, Psychology, and Christian Faith by Bozena Zawisz

bozenaSomething I often hear as a counselor is clients speaking about the weight of expectations they feel they’re carrying on their shoulders; and the frustration, guilt, or resentment they feel in relation to them.

Many of these expectations are often tied to a particular role they “fall into,” that contains within it: unexamined assumptions relating to some action(s) they feel they should be doing, rules for communicating (what they feel they should be saying, and how), pressures to take on board “shared” viewpoints…

Often they express feeling as if they lost their center or connection with themselves.

Some roles are consciously/purposefully chosen. I choose to relate to clients within the boundaries of a counselors’ role. At other times, individuals can fall into an interaction where there is an expectation/pressure to engage in a “role-play”… mindlessly… pulled by some emotional pathway, deeply engraved by a lifetime’s worth of conditioning… For example, many adults continue to feel strongly affected by their parents’ perceived expectations of them…

Sometimes individuals’ roles within relationships include assumptions about hierarchy (in some cultures more than others), expectations relating to distributions of privileges, expectations relating to the division of weight that is placed on the inner experience of each individual. Often, the language which does not fit an expected role-script is unwelcome, discouraged…

One of my favorite historical examples of a figure who modeled the importance of rising beyond roles and cultural expectations, and embodied authenticity and inner strength, was Jesus. I admire the way he kept right away from describing himself via popular roles or politically loaded terms of the time, which he perceived as a poor fit with his life’s journey and purpose.

I love the way Jesus preferred to describe his inner experience and communion with God using creative metaphors-that beautifully made use of people’s familiar associations (e.g. used imagery such as harvests, laborers, etc.) yet transcended the language of the well established familiar social and political roles, traditions, expectations, and their underlying beliefs and perceptions.

Jesus had a hard time with the Pharisees. Perhaps they perceived his non-compliance with the established roles that reinforced their power and privileges-most unsettling. Jesus smacked too much of personal power, disregard for the authority of political/social pecking order…

Possibly to connect with a sense of inner peace, he was documented to withdraw into solitude oftentimes, perhaps in this way he restored his strength by nurturing his connection with God. Just as in his case, I believe that it is a helpful first step in our journey towards authenticity to find ways to connect with a loving place of self-care and strength within ourselves.

Given the powerful focus our society (and at times other people) have on trying to hijack strong within_frontour attention and encourage us to look to the outside of ourselves for fulfillment–creative expression of, and reflection on, our inner experience allows us to re-center and reconnect with our inner journey of transformation.

And, support us in reclaiming control over reconstructing our experience so that it resonates with our values, faith, the direction of our journey, and more closely aligns with our truth.

Bozena Zawisz

Website

Neither Innocent or Guilty

 

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Many Thanks for sharing!

noreen

Guest Author: Paul White and Love

41530671_446651229159319_7854224569849085952_n - CopyWhen Noreen asked me to write a guest post for this blog, I was happy to oblige. However, I had no idea what I should write, until she suggested I write about the love, my love, of writing.

You see, Noreen picked upon a paragraph from a post from my own blog ‘Ramblings from a Writers Mind’, this is it…

In my heart of hearts, I believe the soul of the writer, the artist that lays within, is the greatest asset of all. No one can learn to write unwillingly; the writer must have love and passion above teaching and education.

A writer must want to write, above all else.

So, with the introduction over, I’ll wander through my thoughts about this subject as they come to mind.

***

Personally, I believe the passion for writing starts early in life when a child begins to compose stories, poems or simple essays.

My own first ‘published‘ work was a poem called ‘The Angel of Death’, which may seem a rather disturbing title for an eight-year-old boy to use, until you relate it to the Bible. Now, I am not a religious person, but back then, in 1966, the world was a very different place and religious studies in schools here in England were almost exclusively Christian.

At the tender age of eight, I was just beginning to understand the descriptive power of words and, even though I could not yet meld and mould them as a wordsmith, I still found their basic meanings influential.

The following is that poem, written by an eight-year-old me in 1966.

It is as basic and childish as one would expect but, looking back with the knowledge and understanding I now have, I can see what my teacher saw in the writing and why she insisted it is printed in the school’s annual magazine.

The Angle of Death

In Egypt, there was a quiet night.

But when the velvet sky turned grey,

A sword, gleaming, white,

And blood dripping.

A cry, a scream from every Egyptian house.

The sky turns back into starry velvet.

Sobs come from the Egyptian houses.

***

I think once the passion for writing gets a hold of you, once it is deeply buried under your skin, it is an affliction which stays with you for the rest of your life.

Is it an addiction?

Is it some sort of a hormone imbalance?

All types of weird answers can be found on the Internet.

Some claim the motivation is all about money. Others insist on fame and popularity. Still, others mention egotism.

All of us are different and, in all honesty, there are probably just as many reasons for writing as there are people on earth.

Some of us hope to win awards. Others want to influence people’s thinking, maybe by teaching, or to inspire or motivate.

But they all miss the point.

The passion, the love for writing in the first instance is something, I am certain, you are born with.

I do not think the individual reasons matter. The important thing is to discover the root for your own reasons, discover where your love began so you can use that strength, utilize it.

Never be frightened of revealing your passion through your writings.

***

The pursuit of the writing life through the love of the pen is nothing new.

Many people rise at the crack of dawn to write before going to their day job. Some burn the midnight oil and beyond, often watching the sunrise on a new day.

Anthony Trollope, the prolific and well-known Victorian novelist was, in the daytime, a post office clerk. As was Charles Bukowski and Franz Kafka worked for an insurance company.

These are a few authors we know of because they became famous, but there were, and still are, a thousand more writers who we will probably never know about, ones who wrote just as passionately and with just as much love for the written word.

In years to come, in the future, I may be one of those forgotten souls. But even that thought will not stop me writing because I have my own reasons, a reason I voiced once before in an old blog I used to have.

 

 

These are the words I posted on that blog.

But it’s just a dream, I guess.

I write to leave a trace of my being, however faint that may be.

I hope, or dream, at some point in the future, someone somewhere will dust off the cover of one of my books and open it. Turning the yellowing, fragile pages for the first time in a millennium.

As they read my words, they shall hear my voice echo through the centuries, be touched by my narrative. I wish them to become one with my story, lost in the world of fantasy and fiction which inhabited my mind generations before… Then, I would not have lived for nothing.

But it’s is just a dream, I guess.

***

I know I am not alone in the love of writing from the heart, from the soul, from the very epicentre of my being. Here are what some other writers express.

“My writing tools were my most precious belongings. My best quill pen was made from a raven’s feather . . . I was often so poor that I could not pay my mantua-maker, but I always invested in the best ink and parchment. I smoothed it with pumice stone till it was as white and fine as my own skin, ready to absorb the rapid scratching of my quill”

Kate Forsyth

 

“Writing is making love under a crescent moon: I see shadows of what’s to come, and it’s enough; I have faith in what I can’t see and it’s substantiated by a beginning, a climax, an ending. And if it’s an epic novel in hand, I watch the sunrise amid the twigs and dewing grass; the wordplay is what matters.

Simply put, I’m in love, and any inconvenience is merely an afterthought.

The sun tips the horizon; the manuscript is complete. The author, full of profound exhaustion, lays his stylus aside. His labour of love stretches before him, beautiful, content, sleeping until the next crescent moon stars the evening sky.”

Chila Woychik, On Being a Rat and Other Observations

 

Since I was a child, the only time I was really happy was when I was lost in the pages of a really good book. I loved everything about it. The print, the paper, the intricately designed covers. And most importantly the stories held between the covers. Books were an act of love. Nothing more. Some beautiful soul had taken time and effort to pour out their thoughts. Someone had taken the time to cultivate an entirely new experience for you to immerse in. Get lost in. Feel a sense of wonder in.

Sakshi Samtani, the writing cooperative.

 

I hope you enjoyed reading this post and that it has given you something in return for your efforts.

This is the link to my blog, Ramblings from a Writers Mind, https://ramblingsfromawritersmind.wordpress.com/

This one is for my website, http://bit.ly/paulswebsite  please come and visit, take your time browsing and say hello.

In the meanwhile, Keep Happy.

Paul White

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Friday Feature: Timothy Savage on Going Places

time3When people ask where I’m from, I give my prepared answer. ‘Not really from anywhere. Seems like I’ve lived everywhere.’

And that’s true. Over my half-century of time, I’ve lived in Nebraska, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Kansas (Overland Park and Lawrence), Seattle, back to Minneapolis/St. Paul, Providence, San Luis Obispo, and the city where I currently reside, Fresno, the fifth-largest city in California (behind Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco, in that order) and the largest city in the United States disconnected from the Interstate Highway System.  I like to claim that at this point, I’ve made nearly one lap of the country. Map it out and my path becomes a curious zig-zag that seems to alight nowhere and puts down roots only in memory.

That current spot Fresno isn’t exactly scenic. We’re kind of flat and agricultural, and if it tim5weren’t for triple-digit summer heat, certain sections would be indistinguishable from the desolate wilds of North Dakota. It’s so non-scenic that literature has more or less left it out, too. Need proof? A Goodreads count of books set in California is nearly 600. But books set in Fresno? Three. One by William Saroyan, better remembered here as ‘That Famous Guy Who Used to Ride His Bike Through Fresno’s Tower District.’ The second is ‘The Abortion’ by Brautigan, destined thanks to the area’s politics to be a non-seller. The third is by a guy who teaches journalism at Fresno State.

But despite being a setting apparently unworthy of literature, Fresno does have one advantage: It’s a quick two-hour drive from legendary settings. Yosemite. King’s Canyon. The majestic Giant Sequoias. Beaches along the Pacific, including my favorite, Avila Beach.  If you’re feeling ambitious, you can invest an extra hour in that drive and — traffic willing — be in the Bay Area waiting for the ground to shake, or in Hollywood practicing sidewalk astronomy. So Fresno tends to be one of those places people pass through on their way to places far more interesting.

tim1But I suppose I’m grateful that living here encourages travel, even if it does so in a backhanded, better-off-getting-outta-here sort of way. That urge to hop in a car and see something else, that desire to book a plane ticket and go even farther, is not only great for the soul, it’s great for my writing.

I’ve lived here for more than 12 years, and aside from an occasional drive to Avila for some seclusion in a hot tub, full-time work-at-home Dad Duty kept me from traveling much for those first seven years. I’ve made up for that drought over the last few years, though. First a memorable trip to see the sights in Chicago with my son when he was only eight, where we braved the Willis Tower’s ‘Ledge’ and walked the Magnificent Mile together. Then a three-generation trip to Washington D.C.  — myself, my son, and my father, where we explored the sights of true democracy while plugging our ears to my father’s Faux News talking points. Next, two very memorable trips — one solo — to a place I find more inspiring than any other: the southeast of England, where people very dear to me make me feel more welcome than anywhere else, to the point where I call them ‘my English family’ most sincerely.

Being a shutterbug, my other travel trick is to photograph everything. You know that guy tim2with the DSLR strapped around his neck, taking shots of everything from the loo signs to the historical plaques set across monuments managed by the National Trust? Yep, me. Those photos come in handy during the writing process, too. Need the feeling of ‘being there’ recreated? Go visit the photo album. Need to check a historical detail? Dig out the plaque pics and read the answer. Need to remember exactly what order the Roman gods appeared on a bas-relief at the Adler Planetarium? It’s right there in the photo.

time4As a writer I carry those places with me, and whether I want them to or not, they find their ways into my writing. My Nebraska origins find a home in my writing as Kolej, a small town with a big dark secret in my coming book ‘Lillie Augustine.’ Minnesota and Providence figure prominently in my memoir about full-time fatherhood, titled ‘One Ugly Mother.’ That memorable Chicago trip finds itself in another draft titled ‘Fortunate Consolation,’ where a father leads his special-needs son on a journey to escape the trickster Goddess of Fate. Two very special places — West and East Hills in Hastings, East Sussex — will soon find themselves adapted as different worlds entirely in a collaborative science-fiction epic. That Pacific hamlet of Avila Beach was the setting for my published novel ‘Davey’s Savior,’ an intimate story set next to the pier on a very small stretch of an epic beach. And Fresno? While the city itself may make me want to be elsewhere, its agrarian nature still found its way into a draft my editor promises will be a moneymaker: the saga of ‘Lifeboat.’

You take your rewards where you can get them, right? So, until I have a best seller, it seems my challenges come in recreating places dear to me in words, and rewards through memories made in unforgettable places. With a little luck, I’ll make them equally memorable for my readers. Because after all, what is a good book if not a zig-zag journey that takes root in your readers’ hearts?

 

Timothy Savage – Author of Davey’s Savior

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Thank you, Timothy. I wholeheartedly agree!

noreen

Writer Wednesday: Sharing is….?

climbing helping  team work , success conceptIn a writer’s group, I asked a specific person how one would use a certain program. They responded with, “I’d be glad to show you; my rates are very reasonable.”

I was shocked into silence. I asked a simple question, and they wanted to charge me for their answer?

But, then again, they have the right to earn a living by selling their knowledge.

How often have I given my knowledge for free? I could charge, I thought, for all the information and skills I’ve accumulated over the years.

But – wait a minute – writers really don’t make that much money, and we’re all strugglingshare3 in the same boat of trying to get our books, articles, short stories, or other out there to larger audiences.

Think of being on a life-raft and you are the one who has the clean water, or maybe the secret to cleaning the water, would you really sell it to another passenger? Some people would.

There’s a story from a Gladwell book about how post-its came about. (To simplify:) One worker in the paper department bumped into someone from their glue department, they both talked about what they were working on and the problems there were having. If only we could….   and boom – two collaborators came up with an idea worked together to bring that to fruition by sharing their expertise and invented something we all use (and made billions for 3M!).  Companies like 3M, Apple, Google, and others now use that theory to come up with new ideas, products, and solutions for every day problems!

shareWhen we all work together, we all become better humans. I want to share my ideas and experiences and share other writer’s with you, other ideas with everyone who desires to listen.

I have a job; I have many jobs. I’m not about to take advantage of others who are students in life or in writing and try to make a buck from them. I’d rather share my knowledge. I’d rather help my fellow passengers on this journey.

Thanks to all who have shared their knowledge with me. Thank you to those writers who give of themselves and their resources to make a better writing community.

When we work together, we can all benefit.

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Friday Feature: Waiting is NOT the hardest part….

I’d hate to disagree with our dearly departed master musician, Tom Petty, but the waiting is not the hardest part – That’s a myth.

waiting2Waiting is the easy part.

If I haven’t lost you yet, let me explain.

Some people spend their lives waiting. They dream of doing more, but they create excuses of why they can’t or why they haven’t yet. They’re waiting for…. fill in the blank…. the right time, the right place, until they finish this, until that happens.  It’s an excuse.

When you’ve moved forward and accomplished something, the waiting becomes the easy part.

 

The hardest part is jumping over every damn hurdle that life puts in front of you.

The hardest part is avoiding those people who want to limit you.

The hardest part is not buying into the self doubt that holds many people back.

The hardest part is doing the work. And then doing more work.

The hardest party is putting yourself out there and face the possible criticism.

The hardest part is never giving up.

Magnifying Glass - Action

 

Rejection is not the hardest part – it’s just part of the whole. The whole world is not going to love everything we do.

Waiting for the results is not the hardest part – that’s part of the whole.

Motivation or inspiration is not the hardest part – not even sure that’s part of the whole, but it helps.

 

Action is what is required to be successful.

Sometimes, action makes others around you uncomfortable. They’ll try to criticize your forward movement as wrong action. I can’t tell you how many times people have harped on something I’ve done as if I’ve ruined my chances at success, when in fact it was a step in the right direction.

I’m unclear if it’s a fear of rejection or the fear of success itself that keeps people stagnated in excuses. If they become successful, their lives will have to change. They’d have to continue to work, to duplicate their success.

waiting5I consider it is not a fear of failure – because, by not trying, aren’t they failures already? Or maybe that’s it – they can claim they never “got their chance,” when, in fact, they never actually took a chance. That’s the true failure.

Success follows action. Action takes work. As long as their is forward movement, there is no failure. As long as one doesn’t quit, doesn’t give up, there is no failure.

Don’t wait. Move forward. Slowly. Consistently. Misstep and get up again. Keep moving forward.