Cleaning out my desk, I found some numbered writing prompts. Not sure of the source, but some may be useful if you’re using prompts regularly to keep writing daily.
- The longest day
- Things that enter by way of silence
- In a courtyard
- Walls the colour of tears
- Someone cheated
- Passing of hours
- Sound of silence
- Shapes like stars
- Falling asleep
- When s/he looked up
- Light of lamps and candles
- Place where wings unfurl
- Immobile time
- Saying goodbye
- In a tent
- Hearing midnight
- Summer garden
- Word left unspoken
- Faulty specimens
- Free shampoo
- Won’t you come
- Perfectly imperfect
- Medical interactions
- Stop complaining
More info: firstname.lastname@example.org
Couldn’t help paraphrasing Bob Dylan here. Similar to his song, the answer to if and how soon a writer will become successful is not certain, but is ‘blowing in the wind’.
Chriss McCallum, in her book, The Beginner’s Guide to Getting Published, suggests that writers not give up, citing well-known authors and books once rejected by a number of editors and publishers.
There’s no fairy godmother waving the success wand over the heads of writers. Many will face disappointments. And success may be a long time coming, or never happen.
I’m not sure if these examples will inspire yet-to-be-published writers or leave them in despair. But I think it useful to be aware of the hard road to publication and the amount of fortitude needed to keep going.
- Famed children’s writer Enid Blyton received 500 rejections.
- Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, who wrote the mega-selling book, Chicken Soup for the Soul, received over 130 rejections.
- Crime writer John Creasy garnered 774 rejections before finally selling his first story. He followed that with an amazing record of having over 564 books published.
- Madeline L’Engle’s book, A Wrinkle in Time, was rejected 26 times. After it was finally published, it was awarded the Newberry Medal.
- Anne Frank’s diary was published in 1947 and remains a classic today, but it was rejected 15 times.
- Lord of the Flies, a classic novel by William Golding, was rejected 20 times. It later became famous, and a memorable film version was made.
- Zane Grey had dozens of rejections, and he ended up self-publishing his first book. Now he’s known as the most famous early writer of westerns.
- A Time to Kill, the first novel by John Grisham, was rejected by 15 publishers AND 30 agents.
- Twenty-one publishers nixed Richard Hooker’s novel, which was made into the major TV series hit, M*A*S*H.
- Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, a novel that has long been popular, was rejected 38 times. (Unbelieveable!)
- Laurence Peter’s internationally popular business psychology book, The Peter Principle, received 22 rejections.
- Robert Pirsig’s manuscript of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a 1970s classic, was rejected 121 times.
- Twelve publishing houses rejected J.K. Rowling’s manuscript about an orphan boy with special powers. Now Harry Potter is one of the most well-known character names in English literature.
- Before getting his first short story published, William Saroyan received 7,000 rejections.
- Twenty-seven publishers rejected the first book by famed children’s picture book author, Dr. Seuss.
- Isaac Bashevis Singer, had some of his work rejected, but later he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
- And perhaps the ‘don’t give up’ award should go to Gertrude Stein, who submitted poems for 22 years before one was accepted for publication.
Image from http://counnnnie.bloblo.pl/zdjecie/445995
Australians have recently embraced the USA Halloween tradition, partly due to multinational stores such as Woolworths carrying Halloween merchandise. This year, I had a different experience, joining neighbours for a Day of the Dead party, a Mexican tradition. We gathered at one home, decorated with colourful skeleton paper cutouts. A table/altar was set up, where we could place something related to a deceased friend or relative. I enjoyed finding out more about my neighbours in terms of whothey chose to talk about and why.
I chose my grandma, Maude Nelson, a shy woman who bore five children and followed a strong religious faith (Methodist).
She was always busy—sewed a quilt for each of her 13 grandchildren, tatted a lovely lace doily at age 90, and lived to almost 100. A Kansas farm woman, her days involved caring for chickens and geese, gathering eggs, managing a huge veggie garden, canning the produce for future winter meals, and feeding workers during the June wheat harvest. She rose early, getting breakfast ready while her husband, Clyde Alvin, milked the cows. I never saw her idle, except on humid, hot summer afternoons, when she was sitting upright in her chair, tatting or doing other work, and fell asleep for a short time.
As a kid, I practised on their old player piano, and looked at WWI 3D photo images on their stereoptiscope. I loved roaming the wheatfields with their dog Sport, eating rabbit for dinner—my favorite, and fishing for catfish in the muddy rivers and ponds.
It was fun to go shopping with my grandparents in the nearby tiny town of Turon KS. There Grandma met up with her friends, and Grandad played cards in the pool hall. No respectable woman would enter the place, so when it was time to go,Grandma sent me in to tell him. I was fascinated how much she knew about kinship lines in that small community. I’d ask her, ‘Who’s that?’, and she’d explain that the person was my third cousin on my mother’s side, and someone ‘twice removed’ on my father’s side. Like I said, a very small town! She knew who lived on each farm or in each house, and their background. These ties were strong, and meant people knew they could count on each other whenever troubles struck.
When I was young and thought it important to be famous—to be SOMEONE—I asked if she too wished to be known beyond Turon, beyond Kansas, and even beyond the USA. She let me know that it was not much of an aim, compared to living a good life. Years down the track, I see her point.
Objects I still have that bring back memories of her:
- The metal knitting needles that she threaded her homemade doughnuts on, then spooned vanilla icing over them and let them drip dry.
- An early friendship quilt, with the embroidered names of her friends.
- Old postcard albums from traveling relatives. All the messages are written in pencil, probably because carrying ink and a quill pen would have been difficult.
- Her wedding dress, so tiny, and grander than anything I ever saw her wear, even on the Sundays when she dressed in her best to attend church. Clyde didn’t go to church but observed the Sabbath in his own way, adding a jacket over his clean shirt and overalls, and playing Solitaire rather than working.
- A couple of books, although I never saw her read anything except the farming newspaper, Capper’s Weekly.
- An old oak rocker that I’ve recently restored, plus a standing cabinet Victrola that I took home after she told me she was going to chop it up for firewood.
Maude Nelson Durham was quiet, supportive, kind, and she showed me in so many ways that she loved me. And I loved her.
PROMPT: Try writing a prose piece of a poem that captures something specific and telling about someone who has died, someone you feel moved to write about.
- What were their good and bad points, their strengths and weaknesses?
- In what way did they affect you at the time?
- Is there a particular incident you remember that showed their personality, character, beliefs?
- Has anything changed in terms of your view/assessment, then and now?
- If you could time travel back, what would a visit with them be like? What would you notice in terms of setting, conversation, actions?
IN FREEFALL. Source: 1417191 sports.desktopnexus.com.jps
After five years, I was freefalling again. No parachute, just my trusty laptop and some story ideas.
Freefall is a special type of writing, led by Canadian educator Barbara Turner-Vesselago, who teaches the technique internationally. The technique involves loosening up, letting ideas fall onto the page/screen without trying to manipulate or edit them. The aim is spontaneity, avoiding too much decision-making while getting a first draft down on paper.
It took time and intent before I could comfortably leave my normal writing routine and involve myself in a new approach. It helped that the residential week reduced the number of interruptions I usually contend with, and that the week had a set structure:
- Write in the mornings and give Barbara a draft before lunch. The no-talking rule in the morning helped keep the focus on writing.
- Meet briefly with the group before lunch. Each person commented on their morning’s writing experience, and others listened but were not expected to respond.
- Enjoy free afternoons. I tended to write, walk, take photos, or go to one of the nearby villages for coffee and a wi-fi connection.
- Regroup before dinner for readings and discussions. Barbara read out some of the material submitted that morning, without identifying the authors. Listeners could respond, mainly in terms of the effect the material had on them.
The workshop took place in a spacious, secluded house on a property in Yarck, Victoria. My bedroom/study had a view out to spring-green pastures and a small pond—a tranquil setting to write, dream, and ponder.
Freefall differs from some writing programs in that writers are invited to pursue to engage with their ideas before worrying about structure, logic, and storyline. The aim is to get ideas down on paper/screen, no matter how odd they seem, without correcting, rewriting, or planning. Let a word or phrase carry your imagination somewhere. Stay engaged in the flow, without trying to control what comes to mind. As I did not finish the week with a tidy collection of polished pieces. But I discovered that I could come up with surprising and powerful material, which I could then work on later.
In Freefall, participants do not criticise someone’s work, delve into technical issues, or suggest how the material could be improved. Instead, feedback focuses on where listeners sense power, authenticity, and connection in the work.
An important aspect of Freefall is to forget about playing it safe, and ‘go fearward’. The fearward approach can lead to material that is original and strong. And that’s exciting. The result may be rough draft that captures something honest and powerful, and when polished later, it seems likely to find appreciative readers.
Does it work? Late in my Yarck week, I wrote about a complex topic, related to a death in my family. I had tried writing about it several times, over some months, but I always became bogged down in a mess of details.
This time when I sat down to write, a phrase popped into my head. I wrote it down. Then another phrase appeared, and another. I jotted it all down, with no backtracking, checking, or rewriting. It felt like automatic writing, with me no longer calling the shots as the creator, but simply receiving. When it felt right to stop, I put the draft aside. Later, I reread it and was surprised that not only had the confusing details fallen away, the main element of my story was clear and powerful.
Rebecca Solnit recently presented 10 tips for writers. The ones I most appreciate are about shaping and protecting a sense of oneself as a writer. It’s not enough to have a vision of what you want to accomplish in terms of your writing project. You also need to find and maintain the passion and joy of writing. Otherwise, why keep at it?
Many swear they want to be a writer. But the ones more likely to succeed are clear about their writing goal. This focus keeps them on track, both in terms of what they write and how much time they engage in writing and writing-related activities, e.g. reading and research.
Solnit warns about revising prematurely or too often. It’s a common pitfall, enjoying the fun of lovingly recasting little bits of prose and ignoring the major task, developing a substantial draft.
Feedback may seem a great idea, getting a reality check about your material. But its benefit depends on when and what kinds of comments are given. Some writers don’t mind getting quite diverse views about their work. They take what seems useful and ignore the rest. But other writers can become confused and demoralised when they get conflicting opinions about their work to date. It’s worth remembering that if you incorporate everyone’s ideas, you’ve lost your way. What you’ll end up with is a dog’s breakfast.
SOURCE: Literary Hub, Sept 13, 2016 online issue. 10 tips for writers. Accessed 18 Sept, 2016.
Starting kindergarten opened a world of colours for me. New crayons, the playground’s garish orange and green merry-go-round, poster paint for art projects. And after learning to read, I discovered picture books. My home had few books and none for children. But what a treasure-trove of story and image at school and in the children’s section of the public library.
At school, I was immersed in the exploits of Dick and Jane, Tip and Mitten, my imagination spurred by each book’s illustrations. At the town’s library, I gorged on ghost stories, even though the ghoulish illustrations gave me nightmares.
But by the time I was in years 5-6 at school, I had to adjust to the fact that few books for older kids included illustrations.
Now, how great to see a return of visuals for readers. The graphic novels, but also more books include a visual motif.
The nonfiction hit, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating—about a bedridden woman who finds pleasure watching her tiny snail guest—is more charming because of the miniature drawings of snails in the page margins.
Another non-fiction book, Annie Proulx’s Bird Cloud, starts each chapter with an illustration. Below is her sketch of the Wyoming land where she intended to build her dream house. (Spoiler—things don’t go as planned.)
My latest visuals-in-lit find—on the ‘freebie’ cart in my local library—is a classic. Samuel Butler wrote The Way of All Flesh in the latter 1880s. It was based on his unhappy childhood, and he would not allow it to be published until after his death.
The 1903 novel is a bitter portrayal of small-minded, cruel adults, mainly his parents. For readers, the story’s emotional sense is deepened due to the unsettling illustrations.
Some are realistic, such as this one depicting the young protagonist, Earnest, being bullied by his father, a minister of religion.
Some are symbolic, e.g., Earnest’s enmired life:
The illustrations are so stunning that I had to find out more about the illustrator.
Donia Nachshen, illustrator
Donia Esther Nachshen (1903-1987) was two years old when her family fled a Jewish pogrom in Russia and eventually settled in London. She attended the Slade School of Fine Arts and by the 1920s was working as book designer. Her illustrations graced the works of famous writers—Enid Blyton, Samuel Butler, Feodor Dostoyevsky, Anatole France, Nikolai Gogol, and Oscar Wilde.
During World War II, the British government hired her to design posters to boost morale on the home front and participate in the war effort.
Another ‘booky’ visual
At the back of Butler’s novel, I discovered another visual artefact, now extinct due to technological advances—the library borrowing card! My copy had been in a school library, and a card at the back of the book identifies student borrowers, their form (class), and due date.
I love the convenience of having online access to my local library, reserving books via my computer. But I also feel a slight sense of loss. Remember the traditional library’s card index, which often revealed serendipitous finds? And does anyone browse non-electronic bookshelves anymore?