Seven Seven Seven… I Got Tagged.

I got tagged.  I guess I’m it.  Eve Gaal (on Facebook) tagged me to do a seven-seven-seven.  I have to post seven lines from the seventh page of a work in progress, and then tag seven more people to do the same.  Of course, I don’t just work on one thing at a time.  I am presently working on the next season of Avalon, a middle-grade book titled The Golden Door where I shredded the ending, and I am trying to finish Amazons, Book 3 so I can move on to the next story in the Elect series, Junior Year.  What to choose?  The Lady or the Tiger?  In this case, I think I will go with the tiger.

I am sure you know I write young adult (middle grade/new adult) science fiction/fantasy adventures.  The following passage is from Amazons, Book 3, the paragraph at the start of page seven is conveniently seven sentences long


The Tiger filled the computer screen before the tiger nose poked out from the screen and the tiger began to push its way into Steven’s bedroom.  Steven ran.  Millie and Archie screamed.  When enough of the tiger mouth squeezed into the room, the tiger roared.  Millie ran.  Archie added another scream before he followed.  By then, the tiger’s front paws were free of the computer and its mouth drooled on the keyboard in anticipation.


No snappy dialogue, but something to chew on.

Now to tag people.  I’m going to double up because I am not sure everyone I tag will continue this madness, and Mark Richard Hunter (already tagged) is a buzzkill (his word) and has opted out of putting people on the spot…  So here goes:

  1. Barry Parham (may be already tagged) and KB Cash because if he isn’t writing something, he should be.
  2. Paul Wonning and Gary Wonning, because Paul at least has Mossy Feet
  3. Timothy Hurley and Tom Kizzia, because after Paul and Gary, the left coast needs equal time. Besides, I am not sure what Brother Tom is working on after Pilgrim’s Wilderness so I am being nosey.
  4. Anthony Vicino and James Harrington, a couple of writers from WordPress so this thing can expand out of control.
  5. Rosanne Dingli and Lucy Pireel, because this thing needs to go international
  6. Rai Aren and Rodney Johnson, though I don’t know what either may be working on
  7. Cheryl B. Dale and Graeme Smith, a couple of friends from my former life on the Writer’s Digest forum.
  8. And because I can’t count, I want to add a couple of good friends from Writer’s Mayhem, though most of the Mayhemen have already been tagged. Lena Winfrey Hayat and Will Schaduw, because if William Kendall won’t do it, maybe his Schaduw will.

Honorable Mention:  Jeff Yeager, because maybe he can figure out how to do this for less…  No, I’m not sure how we can do less than free fun…

While you are at it, look these people up, read their works and enjoy.


a a happy read 6

Quotes From My Father: On Serious Writing for Serious Readers.

            My father landed on Normandy beach in about the twenty-third wave.  He was a secretary for the Colonel who took over running the railroads in France as they were captured.  Dad could type about a gazzilion words per minute on a manual typewriter.  That was important, because the Germans only had one that could type half-a-gazzilion wpm.

            After trying so hard to keep his trains and tracks from being blown up, and being shot at a few times, as well as being bombed, he came home and studied journalism at Northwestern on the G I Bill.  He went from there to work in Washington D C, a place known for having no sense of humor.  Then after a brief stint in serious gangster land (Chicago) he ended up in New York editing Railway Age Magazine. 

            The company my Dad worked for all of his career published mostly professional journals and magazines.  My dad ended his career many years later as Executive Editor of Banking Magazine, the journal of the American Bankers Association.  Bankers also have no sense of humor (so I have been told).

            All that serious, professional stuff.  I think that is why it made such a mark when every now and then he would say, “Life is too important to take seriously.”

            His heart was light.  His writing was easy to read, and even, and sometimes especially when the subject was utterly serious and professional.  People not only read his work, they enjoyed his work. 

            We who seek to write, fiction and non-fiction should consider this lesson.  We believe in our work, especially when it is non-fiction – that it is important and oh-so-serious.  But most of all, we want readers.  As my son says, “Lighten up.”  This is a good motto to remember when you are so deeply immersed in the serious importance of your work you can hardly come up for air: “Life is too important to take seriously.”  — J. W. Kizzia

One Writer’s Writing Secrets 12: Finish & Polish, don’t rub it raw.

My editor father was a great one for quotes of value.  Living in his non-fiction world, he once said, “Good writers know what to put into a story.  The best writers know what to leave out.” – J. W. Kizzia.  He was right, and as I have grown older, and now having lost him more than a year ago, it is remarkable to me to realize how often he was right.

To that end, whenever I finish a story or book, after running through spell check and whatever, I first return to see what I can cut out.  What is extraneous?  What does not advance the story?  What is repeated?  Because of the way I outline before I begin, I have never discarded whole chapters, but I know some who have.  (I actually added a chapter once when I needed a more direct confrontation to build the suspense).  But I have discarded many sections, paragraphs and innumerable lines and bits of dialogue where they do not contribute to the development of characters, or to the storyline.

Next, I look for the obvious storytelling flaws, the most obvious probably being where I explain rather than show.  If it is important for the reader to know (and often it is not) I determine when the reader needs to know it and then I try to design a way to show the information in an active scene, or dialogue, or (as a last resort) through introspection.  I always read the omnipotent author stopping to explain something as an interruption of the story and it turns me off.

Finally, I consider the words.  I admit that I am not good at worrying about whether “flying” or “soaring” would be a better choice for the passage.  Some people are, but it seems to me that would take forever (that may be why I am fairly prolific but consider myself a pedestrian writer).  I do consider the flow of the piece, however, and especially where I become repetitive, using the same word too many times or repeating the same phrase or descriptive bit.  I take Dickens as my lead on that.  

Dickens got paid by the word, of course, so he was inspired to draw things out, and yet he could take three pages to say it was snowing and get away with it.  The thing was, Dickens wrote those three pages brilliantly, using parallel constructions and without ever repeating himself, exactly, so his readers were captivated and never realized that all he was saying for three pages was it was snowing, and perhaps cold.  With that inspiration, I figure that surely I can find a different way to say essentially the same thing (like “flying” or “soaring”).

Once I have cut out what I can, resolved my storytelling flaws and assured myself that the story flows well, I type THE END and then the most important part, I don’t look at it again!  BAEN publishing, one of the few publishing houses that currently has a set-up to receive over the transom manuscripts via the internet has an automatic response that every writer should seriously consider.  “Your manuscript has been received.  It takes 9-12 months to review a manuscript so while you are waiting, go write your next book.”  Don’t look at it!  Go write the next one.

Remember Robet Heinlein’s rules of writing:
1. You must write
2. You must finish what you start
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order
4. You must put your story on the market
5. You must keep it on the market until it has sold

Writing Tip 12:

My wife likes things clean.  Normally, I don’t mind, but we have a table that got a stain on it from a wine glass.  She tried everything to get that stain up and finally rubbed the finish off, cleaning it right down to the wood.  The whole table had to be stripped and refinished.  Was it worth it?  Don’t do that to your writing.  You may see the wine stain, but an agent, publisher, reader may not, or they may feel it gives the work character.  Don’t second-guess,  Instead, take a deep breath, recognize that no story is ever going to be perfect and go write the next one.

One Writer’s Writing Secret 11: How to get to THE END.

            The one time I met Kurt Vonnegut, he was having a bad hair day.  To make matters worse, he just finished addressing an auditorium full of people and he confided to me that he thought he was invited to address a small class and if he had known he was going to have to give a lecture, he wouldn’t have come.  (I think I got that bit of confidence because I was Mount Everest to his Hillary:  I was there).  But it was a double-whammy.  A bad hair day and a bad mood!  Still, I was determined to mine this mind because I had a drawer full of started stories, started novels, started plays even, and nothing finished.  My great ideas always seemed to rise to the level of inefficiency and petered out (The Peter Principle)?

            I asked him.  “How do you finish?”  He stared at me with those droopy eyes and almost smiled while I frantically tried to rephrase the question so he would understand what I was really asking.  Fortunately, he smiled and spoke first.

            “I never think about finishing.”  He said.  When I was clearly stunned, he explained:

            Whenever he got a good idea, he would climb up into the attic room in his brownstone and lock the door.  People knew enough to stay away from him at those times.  He would stay up in that room for a long time, working.  Once, it was almost six months.  He said he spent all that time working on the first sentence.  (I translated that as the opening of the story), but he said, once he got the first sentence right, the rest just poured out of him.

            I nodded.  “So while you are working on that first sentence, your subconscious in the back of your mind is busy plotting out the story, characters and all.” 

            He frowned before admitting, “Probably, but I try not to analyze it too much.”

            I thought this was great advice at the time, and I soon added page after page of great opening sentences to my drawer of the unfinished.  Then I read Camus’ “The Plague,” and recognized the character who spent his whole life trying to write the perfect opening sentence, and he died, the plague of course, without having written a thing.

            It was not long after that I read an article about how a writer should always have an ending in mind before they ever start.  I thought that made sense.  Years later, I understand J. K. Rowling had the gist of the end in mind before she penned the first “Harry Potter.”  It is not a bad way to go, and given my imagination, I came up with all kinds of great endings.  The trouble was for some, I couldn’t find the beginning.  For others, the trail veered off and no matter what I did, it was determined to go nowhere near the end.  For still others, I could see the end on the horizon, shining like the proverbial city on the hill, but I was stuck in the swamp (bogged down) and could not find the path at all.


            So someone told me I needed to outline the whole thing before I wrote a word.  We even worked with storyboards so the outline turned out to be 15 pages for a 10 page short story.  I finished it!  But it read like it was encased in a straight jacket.

            Grrr, again!

            After several variations on the theme, I finally ended up with what I call the skeleton.  One paragraph (no more) describing the whole piece – a good thing to have later for promotional purposes & book covers.  Characters are often noted with just names, sometimes age or other important characteristic is given and a word or too summarizing temperament or personality is jotted down, but that is it.  Then a sentence or two, perhaps just phrases but no more than a paragraph describing what needs to happen in each story scene or novel chapter.  Such an outline might be 6-8 pages maximum for a 300 page novel.  I have found that this works for me.  I keep on track, I look forward to the next scene or chapter rather than the blank page, and I can breathe and move freely right to THE END.

            This works for me.  What works for you?


Writing Tip 11:

I feel there may be as many ways to THE END as there are writers; but there are four things to consider here:  1)  Don’t let the unfinished works steal your time, attention or energy.  2)  Don’t worry about what so-and-so recommends because it might work for you, but it might not.          3)  Don’t assume that all roads lead to Rome.  Some will peter out, some may leave you in the swamp, and some may leave you so exhausted at the end you can hardly breathe.  4)  Don’t give up.  Keep looking until you find YOUR path and then head for home.


One Writer’s Writing Secret 10: Write what you know, sort of.

            My Dad used to tell this story about a frumpy, old woman that came into his office one day.  He was editor of “Railway Age Magazine” at the time and the woman apparently had some railroad questions.  Now, he was a kind soul, but he had work to do so he said he would be with her in a while if she cared to wait.  She did not mind. 

            Dad described the woman as five-foot nothing, rather round, not anything to look at, and she wore a crumpled dress and an apron that made her look like what he called a “Woolworth’s Lady.”  He watched her for a while.  She sat quietly, occasionally scribbling a note or two in a little notebook, but otherwise she appeared to be a happy wallflower.

            At last, he made the time and invited her into his office.  She was grateful and as she waddled in and sat, he noticed the small suitcase for the first time and wondered if she needed a few dollars.  The woman pulled out her notebook and began to ask her questions.  Dad answered as well as he could, pointing out one historical point where she was mistaken.  That was when she looked terribly frustrated and shook her head in despair.

            “What is it?’  Dad asked, kind soul that he was.

            “Well, I was wondering if you would read my manuscript.  I am afraid I may have made terrible mistakes and I really want to get it right.”

            Dad was an editor, you know.  He said later that he imagined the manuscript was some historical article on railroads, and while his magazine did not publish those sorts of things, he said, “Sure.”

            That was when the woman opened her suitcase and pulled out a massive number of pages which she plunked, ker-thump on Dad’s desk.  “Thank you.”  She said.  “I will be forever grateful.  Should I call back in a month?”  Dad could only nod, grimly while the woman left.

            The woman was not known at that time.  She became very well known.  It was Ayn Rand, and the “little” manuscript was Atlas Shrugged.  I say she became very well known, but I doubt anyone would have picked this frumpy wallflower out of any lineup and say, “Surely this is the person who wrote that rich and powerful tome.”

            On the surface I might say don’t worry about what you look like.  Your readers don’t know and likely don’t care if your self-esteem is high or low.  I have never gotten with this author picture on the book jacket business.  I would rather not know what the author looks like because if it is a really good story, I am probably inclined to imagine the author as richer, more successful, more beautiful and wiser than they really are, and that is how I would like to be seen.

            But let’s not stop there.

            One layer under we come to the question of “Write what you know.”  (Surely you have heard that before).

            On a mico-level, “Write what you know” makes great sense.  By drawing on your own experiences and the information stored in your brain you can turn characters into people, make potentially stilted dialogue flow with realism, and transform your scene and scenery from cardboard to real, living trees.  Like Pinocchio, you can make real boys even as J. K. Rowling, welfare mom did when she wrote about a real boy in a special school fighting an evil wizard.  But wait, J. K. Rowling never experienced being a boy, and while she may have imagined all that other stuff in her head, she certainly did not “know” it.

            Well, you see, that is because on the macro-level, as far as the overall story itself goes, “Write what you know” takes on a whole different meaning.  The little frumpy old lady in my father’s office certainly never experienced the life of a rich and powerful industrial giant.  So can it be said that she wrote what she knew?


            Very simply, this level of knowing has nothing overtly to do with experience (that is micro-instructive), and it has nothing to do with what is in your head (you can always find some hapless magazine editor to check your facts) it has everything to do with what is in your heart.  In that sense, rather than saying “Write what you know,” we might say, instead, “Write what you believe.” Or as I have said many times, “Write what you know in your heart.”  Ayn Rand did, and I am sure J. K. Rowling did, too.

Writing Tip 10:

What do you believe?  What is important – vitally important?  What are you passionate about?  Write what your heart knows, because passion is the essence of a good story – the best stories.  When you write out of your passions, the reader will get it and you know, they just might become passionate about your story in return, and they might even believe you are richer, more successful, more beautiful and wiser than you really are.

One Writer’s Writing Secret 9: Deeper Characters

            What is your character’s worldview?  What is yours?  Do you know?  Do you know what a worldview is?  Basically, a worldview is the lens through which we see the world, and often, like fish in water, we are unaware that our perceptions of reality are being colored (rose colored glasses) or even distorted.  It is essentialy an unconscious thing having to do with the way we were raised, things we were taught when we were very young, and the pervasive view of the word as exemplified in the culture around us.

            Right now in America we are transitioning between two competing worldviews.  Most people over, say, 40 are moderns.  The key to understanding modern thinking is to think of the word “progress.”  Modernists see the world as progressing on all fronts, particularly in science and technology, but not exclusively so.  Religious thinkers of the past 400 or so years of modern thinking have talked of moral progress, for example.  Evolution is a very modern idea.  Karl Marx imagined society and politics as progressing in a certain order; but so did Thomas Jefferson.  I have always thought of the modern worldview in relation to Isaac Newton.  He discovered the laws of gravity and motion and invented calculus to prove his theories.  Thus the world advanced.  How very Newtonian of him.

            If you are under 30 though, you are likely to be what they are calling a post-modern thinker.  Here, I think of Einstein, because one of the key words of post-modernism is “Relative.”  Everything in the post-modern mind is at least potentially relative.  Cultures?  Relative.  Western Civilization is no “better” than any other.  For the modernists, a tribe of hunter-gatherers in the jungle were “primitives” (not progressed), but for a post-modernist they are simply different without regard to such terms as better or worse.  Cultures, civilization, morality, truth, it is all relative, opinion, preference, subjective.  Even science and the very laws of the universe are not spared.  Nothing is considered absolutely true.  According to Einstein, the very fabric of time and space are relative.

            Why does this matter?  Well, because you don’t want your characters behaving in a way that doesn’t make sense.  An old person is not going to be a radical post-modernist unless they are trying to be young and cool.  A young person who believes in absolutes and the universal nature of things (generally) and in making appropriate and reasonable judgments between better and worse as opposed to simply having preferences, is probably going to need some explaining.  Behavior, and in particular dialogue is going to be determined to a large extent by the character’s worldview.  That is where they are coming from.  That is their point of view.

            You know, the last time there was this kind of clash of worldviews, one fellow took a long hard look at the medieval view (the medieval ideals) of chivalry, damsels in distress, love conquering all, nobility and the whole social structure.  He wrote a book called “Don Quixote” which made a mockery of that whole old way of seeing the universe!  It bores almost as many people today as Moby Dick, but in its time Don Quixote was a radical, mind boggling commentary of life, the universe and everything.

            This is important, now, in our place and time, but also if you write historical fact or fiction.  It is important. as far as possible. to see things through their eyes – through the eyes of history.  If you write science fiction, well, how will the human race view the universe and our place in it 400 years from now?  Then again, our whole worldview might change in only a hundred years given the way we are progressing.  (Oops!  I’m showing my age).

Writing Tip 9:

What is your character’s worldview?  It is the point of view that will motivate and drive behavior and color dialogue.  And I didn’t even mention the religious worldview – the joker in the deck – where millions of people (sincerely) try to view life, the universe and everything through God’s eyes.

One Writer’s Writing Secrets 8: Deep Characters

            I have read a lot about developing characters for stories and I consider most of what I have read junk:  Junk du jour.  (I’m practicing my Franglish). 

            Observation is about the best idea I have read and absolutely everyone suggests it.  (Tout le world).  Observation is great if you want to have your mailman on page 67 twirl her waxed moustache, but observation alone will never give you the kind of depth or richness of character necessary for the main persons you are writing about; and make no mistake, every story is ultimately about a person or persons.

            Instead of observing the world to develop your characters, my suggestion is to first observe yourself.  Know Thyself, the Philosopher said.  (I don’t think it was a French philosopher).

            I am no great fan of Meyers-Briggs or any of those personality-type surveys any more than I am a fan of astrological charts or palm reading; but then I am no fan of contemplating navels either.  Still, there are tools out there that can help a writer answer some basic character questions which ought to be asked first about themselves.  Am I introverted, extroverted, sensing, feeling, thoughtful, and what do these words really mean?  Why do I behave this way under these conditions or why do I act like that in those circumstances or what am I thinking when I respond to that question (what was I thinking!)?  Do you see?

            There are plenty of writers in this world, but few people who know themselves enough to say, like Madeline L’Engle “My characters are all smarter than I am.”  How did she know?  How did she imagine that?  Very simply, the better we know ourselves, the better we will be able to construct characters unlike ourselves.  What kind of person would I be if I was more extroverted, if this happened in my childhood instead of that, if I married that other person?  The better foundation you have, the better you will be able to construct variations on the theme.

            Objections?  No, you are not boring, and yes, you need to look in that dark corner where you don’t want to look.  You just might find it a life changing experience.    

            Ultimately, you will know your character like you know yourself.  When the monster slithers out of the dark, you might scream, but your character might have the fortitude to spit in the monster’s eye, or maybe the presence of mind to look for a way of escape, or they might shrivel up and be eaten.  I don’t know; but you should know your character that well to know without hesitation how they will respond; and you will see that most clearly by having some idea of how you would likely respond in the same circumstances.

            Now, your characters may be younger, stronger, prettier, more outgoing, and they might even be smarter than you, but if you are living an unexamined (relatively shallow) life it is hard to imagine how the person you are writing about will have any depth in their character.


Writing Tip 8:

The first key in developing deep characters is to know thyself and then moo-ve vous (take it) from there.

One Writer’s Writing Secret 7: What is a Story?

            Thus far I have tried to confine my tips to tips not readily available in the open market.  I have tried to write about writing in a way that can’t be read in every issue of Writer’s Digest or in every book on the subject at Barnes and Noble.  But here, I have to talk about something more concrete, and I blame my loving wife.  You see, she does not like conflict.  She won’t read or watch all of that science fiction and fantasy stuff because it is all full of monsters and blood and evil, awful things and, she says I have ruined the boys. 

            “Especially that Doctor Who with those Exterminate things.”

            I smile (friendly-like).  “But if all you have are fluffy bunnies bouncing around in the land of happy-happy, I would say you haven’t got a story.  Stories, even the weird ones I read, are about real life in the sense that a person’s character is not proved by how they behave in the good times, but rather by how they confront troubles and the difficulties that are common to us all.  People can relate to such things, even if it’s on other worlds.”

            “I thought you were talking about stories, not characters.”

            “Quite right.  Character belongs in another blog.  But what I mean is a story only happens when a person finds themselves or is taken out of their comfort zone.  The story is about how the person deals with that, whether they go home again, find a new comfortable place, or fail utterly along the way, it depends on how the storyteller tries to resolve things.”

            “So, story is about getting out of your comfort zone.  Do you mean like on Dancing with the Stars or the Apprentice or the Bachelor?”

            I keep smiling.  (And she thinks my shows are full of strange, alien creatures)!  “Not the examples I would have chosen, but fine.  I suppose there is some discomfort there, but I was thinking more like big troubles to which we can all relate, like the death of a parent or things that we dare not imagine, like the death of a child.  There are big things like wars or natural disasters or plagues, and middle things like murder or theft or little Timmy falling down a well.  “Go get help, Lassie!” and little things like the loss of a horseshoe nail.  What was it in Its a wonderful life?  Oh, yes, “Shame and bankruptcy and scandal!” My wife’s nose is beginning to turn up, so I have to think fast.  “Or Romance.  It doesn’t have to be a bad trouble, just something to shake the status quo.  Boy meets girl and they either fall into a relationship or at least first consider a relationship; but without some attraction when boy meets girl to shake the comfort zones, there isn’t a story.”

            “So a story has to be stressful?”

            “No, not exactly; though we do feel stress when our world is shaken, and so that could work.  Plenty of stories have been penned on stress, like going to a new school, starting a new job or moving to a new home.”

            “So, you moving us 12 times in 20 years was just grist for your writing?”


            “Forget it.  I don’t like stress any more than conflict.”  And there I was!  I was thinking how clever and proud I was not to have used the word conflict!

            “How about a story about a person winning the lottery?”  I suggest.  “Lots of Rich Uncle stories need to be recycled.  You know, the Count of Monte Christo digs again!”

            “You could have won the lottery once in those 20 years, you know.”

            I shake my head.  “No good.  They make you buy a ticket.”

            “What’s the matter, protecting your comfort zone?”  I nod.  “Me too.  I’m going to see if Wipeout is on.  Anything but those disgusting looking alien things you like.”

            Mud covered Daleks at the punching wall?  It was just a passing thought.


Writing Tip 7:

At the core of any (every) story, something has shaken things up and the people or, as the case may be, the fluffy bunnies have to figure out and decide what to do about it.  The story is in the deciding and doing which invariably leads to the resolve:  win or lose, right or wrong, live or die.

One Writer’s Writing Secrets 6: Blogging or Writing?

            Blogging is not the same as writing.  I am sorry.  I know what you have been told, but I don’t care about that.  Writing is writing.  Blogging is blogging and that is that.

            I remember an article in the New York Times.  It was so many years ago, I can’t remember who wrote it, but apparently he was thrilled that he had gotten his first word processor and would not have to painstakingly type his stories anymore (I said it was a long time ago). 

            So I don’t remember who wrote it (though it may come to me), but I remember the gist of the article to this day because it was about processing words rather than writing them, and the author discovered that with no great effort on his part, he could process words to his heart’s content and never have to come up for air again; which is to say, he could just write and write and never have to bother with all of those petty annoyances like punctuation or spelling, which were all taken care of automatically by this new marvel, and he was thrilled except that after a while it got to be a bit like the sorcerer’s apprentice where the sentence just went on and on with no end in sight; like the never ending song that went round and round in his head but never managed to get to the end, and so now he was stuck processing and processing and he no longer knew if it was day or night because he could not lift his head from the screen long enough to so much as look out the window since the words kept coming at a furious pace and he dared not stop but had to put them down while they were fresh and inspired because the last person who neglected his muse… You get the idea.

            Blogging is a lot like that.  True, since those heady days, most of us have learned how to write on a word processor.  It may be that in the future, some may learn to write on a blog.  (Obviously, I am not referring to stories posted on the blog as I do myself, but actually blogging stories in the true sense of the word).  It isn’t writing.  It is transitory, once down and done, momentary feelings posted for all the world to see.  There is little effort involved (in some cases very little), and while some may be good at it, funny or entertaining or informative, it is like a breath of air – once breathed and it is gone forever.

            Now, I am not against blogging.  I blog myself.  (I blog, therefore I am)?  I am just saying that writing, at least good writing, is the result of effort, work, rewriting, honing, sweat, toil, blood and tears (thank you Winston).  It is craft, even art, and designed to have some permanence that blogging, by its very nature, cannot have.

            Writing is like the Mona Lisa.  (OK, my writing is at times more like dogs playing poker, but still)!  Blogging is more like photography.  Everyone has a camera.  Even phones have cameras.  And some photos are great, but eventually they are lost on some memory card and buried, perhaps forever.  Writing gets hung on the wall, maybe only the living room and not in the Louvre, but all the same, writing has a kind of permanence that can bring a reader back again and again.


Writing Tip 6:

So, are you a writer or a blogger or both?  I believe DaVinci would have loved a camera, and probably a blog, but we would all have to learn to read in a mirror.

One Writer’s Writing Secrets 5: Don’t just write what you know: reflect.

            My father was a very good New York writer and the editor of several magazines over his working life.  He first started seriously typing for a railroad brigade in the war, making the trip from England to Normandy in the twenty-first (or something) wave.  (And he could type a gazillion words per minute on his old Royal, a manual no less).

            After J-School at Northwestern, he was tapped to edit Railway Age.  He did a brief stint at American Builder before he ended up editing Banking Magazine (The Journal of the American Bankers Association) and he wrote the Bank Director’s Briefing (newsletter) for years.

            I am sorry to say, he passed away a year ago; but to be sure, he went pretty far for a po’ Arkansas boy.  To be honest, he never got the Arkansas completely out of his system.  (I even have some of it in me too, and I can’t he’p it).  I understand that when the family heard on the radio that the Martians were invading New Jersey, they did not know whether to be scared or cheer!  I think that was a bit of southern versus northern thinking, and yet I was raised in Jersey, and my dad commuted everyday on the Erie Lackawanna and PATH to New York City.  (No wonder I so often feel conflicted).

            For my Dad, those small town Arkansas roots were an advantage in his work.  He could speak to railroad workers and later to bankers all across the country in a language they could understand as opposed to the language of a brash, elitist New Yorker who wouldn’t know how to call a hog on a bet. 

            At his funeral, I thought briefly of his mother, my Gram.  I remembered when I was young, how she insisted that I put on my shoes to walk the two blocks to town because she was not going to have her neighbors think that she could not afford to buy shoes for her grandchild.  And a picture flashed briefly through my mind of:

            A young boy, barefoot under the hot Arkansas sun, climbing a tree to pick peaches at so many pennies per box, eating a few along the way before bringing his box in for his reward – a coke into which one of those pennies went to see if it would really dissolve.  He watched the shoes at the rail yard while he sat in the cool shade of the station house.  That was what they were to him.  The people attached were of no consequence.  They were shoes that shuffled along between the tracks and loaded the boxes of peaches for transport all over the nation.  They were shoes, immune to briars and prickles and hot pavement alike.  And after a while, he would go home, with his coke and half-eaten penny, and all of the other pennies he had carefully saved.  Gram and Grandad would need them.  The depression, you know.  It was hard on everyone back then, and I know the certainty of that because by the time I was born, my Dad could not have cared less if he never saw another peach in his life.

Writing Tip 5:

You have heard it said, write what you know.  I would rather say, write what you reflect.  I was convinced for years that my upbringing in a typical New York suburb was of no account and boring, like a million, billion other kids in my generation.  It was only when I got older and began to reflect on the people around me and the particular experiences I have had in my life that I began to discover gold.