Winning or Wounding and “Smithing” Well

Geyser spray

Niagara falls. Earthquakes. Stars. Old Faithful. Rainbows. A pen.

Power.

Writer, maybe you’ve never really thought about it before, but do you realize the power you have at your fingertips? The impact your words can have? There may be no other profession that can persuade, convince, motivate or edify like writing. Writers have the ability to create, enhance, improve, challenge, enlighten, embrace, entertain, or educate like few others. We can also destroy, defeat, discourage, dampen, denigrate, divide and dispirit.

If you’re a word smith, smith well. And carefully, because the “power of the pen” is immense.

Oops

Example: Awhile back I received a Dear John letter from a friend. Let’s call her Sally.

Okay, it wasn’t really a “letter.” It was more like a one-way ticket for an under-the-bus reservation. Seems I inadvertently “hurt her deeply” by not immediately returning an “I’m dying, please call me” message she left on my machine. While we were on vacation. Out of town. Tent-camping for a week in Incommunicado Land.

Her first message came in an hour after our departure for terra incognita. The second arrived the next day, and with increased voltage: “I can’t believe you haven’t called me back yet. I told you I was dying.” (This isn’t the first “I’m dying” call I’ve received from Sally.) I called her back when we got home. No answer. Left a message explaining we’d been out of town for a week, hoped she was feeling better, please give me a call and let me know how you are.

No response.

Several months later I received a four-sentence note from Sally. “Please do not contact me again” she wrote, “I’m not interested in a one-way relationship.”

At Your Fingertips

Now, I could go several different directions here. But to stay on target, here’s the point: If you’re a writer, you have enormous power at your fingertips. You can wound or win with your words. You can splash canvasses with color, wonder and intrigue. Introduce readers to far-off lands, distant destinations, or, like Tolkien, create entire worlds and histories in your head and transfer them to the page. You can inspire, amuse and make merry. You can also delve into the depths of despair, cut others off at the knees. Alienate, isolate, separate and depress.

A good example of the latter: 1984 by George Orwell and Night, by Elie Wiesel. If you’re really interested, here’s a list of the Top 10 Most Depressing Books. (I do not agree with this list entirely, but they got 1984 right.)

I scoured the internet in search of a reasonable, sane listing of the Top 10 Most Inspiring or Uplifting Books ever written. By “inspiring” I mean uplifting, engaging, poignant, powerful or laugh-out-loud. A beautifully crafted, thoughtfully written work that ignites an “Aha!” moment(s), drawing readers into something bigger than themselves.

‘Most Inspirational?’

I must’ve read through like nine zillion lists, usually punctuated with, “You have got to be kidding!” So, after I picked myself up off the floor, I decided to create my own. Here in no particular order are my purely subjective choices for Most Inspirational:

The Bible

The Velveteen Rabbit – Margery Williams

Where the Red Fern Grows – Wilson Rawls

The Notebook, Three Weeks With My Brother – Nicholas Sparks

The Christmas Box, Road to Grace series – Richard Paul Evans

The Gift of the Magi, The Ransom of Red Chief – O. Henry

The Hiding Place – Corrie ten Boom

These Strange Ashes – Elisabeth Elliot

The Applause of Heaven, When God Whispers Your Name – Max Lucado

A Tale of Two Cities, A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

Cold Tangerines – Shauna Niequist

The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis

Secrets of the Vine, The Prayer of Jabez – Bruce Wilkinson

The Last Lecture – Randy Pausch

The Wizard of Oz – Frank Baum

For Those Who Hurt – Charles Swindoll

Woods Runner, Winter Dance – Gary Paulsen

The Mitford Series – Jan Karon

Inkheart – Cornelia Funke

Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Out of Africa – Isak Dinesen

Walking With God, Waking the Dead – John Eldredge

Sunrise to Paradise – Ruth Kirk

That’s the short, short list of champion wordsmiths who’ve “smithed” well. If you want the full list, check out my Book Shelf.

Kristine Lowder - close up

What’s on your list? Cite an example of someone who “smiths” well.

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Chair-Falling 101: Nine Tips for Building Your Blog

Fall trees and sky

I about fell out of my chair.  Good thing my tumble was cushioned by a wide swath of bare linoleum, or I might have hurt myself.

Really.  Last time I checked my follower stats – which I do about every time Hailey’s Comet appears – I had a couple hundred followers.  As in, bigger than a bread box but not by much.

Well, another comet just passed, so I checked the stats and found I’m well into 4 digits. And counting.  Hence the chair-falling thing.

What did I do to increase my followers?   Did I buy or import any lists?  Offer new subscribers some smoke and mirrors, a fancy floor show or round-trip tickets to Hawaii?  Did I bribe friends, relatives, Romans or fellow country men to sign up?

Naw.

Truthfully, I didn’t “do” anything.  I just tried to post content that might be interesting, useful, helpful, entertaining, or otherwise brilliant. So no one’s more surprised at the follower “bump” than I am.

My point: If I can do it, so can you.  Here a few suggestions for building your blog:

Continue reading

Dead Writing Days and Newton

on a clear day..What does a “dead day” look like to you?  The days that feel flannel gray “dead” to me are usually those I haven’t done what I was born to do: write.

Sometimes my creative juices flow into an editorial, blog post, short story or feature article.  Sometimes I write the lead column or bang out a newsletter for a couple non-profits.  Or I rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.  I’m working on a couple projects right now, including a children’s fantasy, a memoir and a travelogue.  I have several irons in the fire.

It’s okay to have a bunch of irons in the fire, the ones I’ve prioritized and am making actual progress on.  It’s also okay to enjoy that great review.  To bask in some hard-won recognition and rewards.  Just don’t stay there and set up camp permanently.  Or spend the rest of your writing career looking back over your shoulder.

Do what you were born to do: keep writing.

Look ahead.  Move forward.  Take the next step.  Knock on another door.  Look for another opening or opportunity.  Grab it.  Keep those creative juices flowing rather than flannel-gray.

1961 -with bookThis may mean stepping outside your comfort zone.  Doing something that’s a bit hair-raising for some artsy-introverted types.  But you’ll never get anywhere as a writer unless you’re willing to grow, reach out, and stretch a bit.

“What?” you say.  “I can’t do that!  I don’t even know where to start.”  That’s okay.  Assess your situation.  Think through some of your writing goals.  You may find it helpful to sit down and jot out a flow chart of where you are today as a writer, where you want to be next year at this time and some possible routes from Point A to Point B.

The best way to miss a target is to have nothing to aim at.

So aim at something specific and take it one step at a time, like:

    • Finding a reputable agent to represent your work
    • Becoming an indie author/self-publishing
    • Attending writer’s conferences, seminars, classes and finding other opportunities to polish your craft.
    • Getting a professional graphic artist to design your book cover
    • Joining a writer’s group and allowing others to critique your work
    • Opening up a Facebook page to showcase your talent
    • Enter a writing contest
    • Hosting a blog tour
    • Writing a review or sharing a link to another writer’s work

Newton Was Right

Newton was right, write?  A body at rest tends to stay at rest, whereas a body in motion tends to stay in motion.  So writer, don’t just sit there.  Move.  Create.  Write.  You can do it!

Looking upWriter, where do you want to be this time next year?  How do you plan to get from here to there?  Do you have a writer friend who could use some help along the way? Share this post with them.

Grab a  FREE copy of  my ebook, Skipping the Tiramisu: Becoming the Writer You Were Born to Be, when you subscribe to my monthly-ish newsletter!

How To Avoid Sneezing By Email

By Anna Cervova

By Anna Cervova

The other day I got an out-of-the-blue request from someone I don’t know, have never heard of, and haven’t a clue how they found me.  It was a request to review their 330 page “you too, can get rich overnight with my proven 120-step technique for overnight wealth” type book.

Guess how long it took to zap that sucker into the big round file in the sky?

That request was followed by a 1,500 world email from someone else I don’t know and have never met asking for my take on the pros and cons of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing.

Later, gator!

 Warp Speed Delete

Another sure-fire way for an unsolicited email to wend its way into my Delete box at warp speed and a one-way ticket to my Block List: those that pretend to be a personal friend or associate when the message is obviously a bulk email sent to a list that’s probably the size of Alaska.

Another big no-no: emails from people asking me to do something for nothing.  By “nothing” I don’t necessarily mean $.  I mean people who aren’t willing to reciprocate.  They’re unwilling to do anything in return for my time and effort – no reciprocal link, a guest post, retweet.  Zip.  Zero.  Nada.

I have a response for that, too: Sayonara, baby! 

 Tortoises?

Another way to get my welcome mat whisked out from under your feet: flood my in box with a tsunami of unsolicited pitches hawking your latest product, book,  webinar, class or other self-serving commercial every time I sign on.

When I sign up for an email list, I do it at tortoise speed – and would appreciate it if the sender did likewise.  As in, Can you whittle that email tsunami down to once or twice a week, tops, instead of every single cotton pickin’ day???!!!

From In Box to Comment Section

Maybe you don’t get lots of dumb emails. But do you get dumb comments on your blog?  The kind that are obviously generated by an automaton in Outer Moldavia and read something like: “Great post!  I really love your site!”

Altogether, now: S-P-A-M.  Or S-N-E-E-Z-E.

Electronic Sneezing

Let’s face it.  Sneezing – whether in person or electronically – isn’t a great way to win friends or influence people.  Most people either turn away from or pretend to overlook a sneeze, even though it rattles their willies.  Sneezing interrupts the conversation, derails the train and makes you look less than healthy.

So think of dumb emails as “electronic sneezing.”

It’s amazing how much time dumb emails can gobble up.  Few of us have the time or want to expend the mental energy needed to wade through this stuff.  (Especially those of us with the attention span of a gnat.  You know who you are.)  So here’s my quick criterion for filtering out dumb email and dumb comments, aka: electronic sneezes:

RESPOND:

– Messages from someone I know or is a verifiable friend of a friend.

– Messages from an individual who expresses knowledge or interest in me as a person, not a two-legged product or potential profit.

– Messages from those who have something helpful and legit to offer that I can pass on to my readers.

– Messages from senders who are willing to give and take, rather than just take.

IGNORE:

– Messages that are focused solely on selling something or sniffing out potential customers.

– Idiot messages.  The kind that say something like, “Hey, I found this super cool resource at – Wherever Extraordinaire – and thought you would, too!” Not.

– Self-serving, mass-produced emails from someone trying to get me to buy their Latest and Greatest.

– Messages from entities that won’t process unsubscribe requests.  (My special *favorite.* Hmpf!)

The writers I know are busy.  Yep, staring out the window in search of inspiration is “working.”  Writers don’t have time to wipe hankies through In Boxes inundated with fluff or junk or sneezes.  How ’bout you?

50 - where's the partyDo you have a friend who’s prone to “sneezing” on line?  Share this post with them so they can avoid losing friends and subscribers and build their  e-list intelligently, too.

Laughing All the Way: 10 Tips for the Hilarity Highway

Being a freelance humorist has its benefits.  You can set your own schedule, show up for work in your jammies, or hammer down on raspberry white chocolate cheesecake whenever your feel like it.  One of the biggest perks of being your own boss – besides firing and rehiring yourself at will – is that you choose your own topics.  Today it’s humorous travel writing.

If you’re wondering how to connect travel and humor, you haven’t seen enough of Clark Griswold.  Let me illustrate with Easter on the O.P.  This delightful piece is an incredibly compelling narrative about a family hike on the Olympic Peninsula (excerpted from my soon-to-be bestseller, how I got to be 50 and other atrocities):

“The Heather Park-Lake Angeles Loop Trail is one of the premier day hikes on the Olympic Peninsula” gushes our handy-dandy trail guide.  “You’ll climb from deep forest to airy cliffs and pass a sapphire lake tucked in a snowy cirque.”

Doesn’t that sound delicious?  They left out the part about a trail so steep you have to be part mountain goat to navigate, sluicing down ice-clogged creeks, and traipsing through every type of debris, tangle foot and treacherous traipse known to humanity.

We strike out on this “premier day hike” and, Energizer-Bunny like, keep going and going and … Scrambling over downed logs.  Skittering over snow.  Crossing streams on foot bridges so narrow the chipmunks have to scamper sideways.

“Buck up, kids,” Snuggle Bunny chirps.  “It could be worse.  At least we have the trail all to ourselves.”

Of course we do.  Everyone with brains stayed home.

Temperatures are dropping by the minute.  Our breath exhales in frosty plumes.  The higher we climb, the colder it gets.

“I can’t feel my toes,” son Josiah whines.  “I can’t feel my nose,” complains Sam the other son.  We bribe them with Gatorade and enough Ho-Hos to buy stock in Hostess.

“Not to worry, kids.  Ya gotta love the great outdoors,” I huff and puff.  “Besides, it’s all part of the adventure.”

“Yeah, and it could be worse,” Snuggles chimes in cheerfully.  “Let’s be thankful it’s not snowing.”

Ten minutes later: it’s snowing.  And I don’t mean the light, feathery, wuss snow.  I’m talking the Real Deal.  Like someone just dumped a giant package of powdered sugar out of the sky. We slog on, punching through hip-deep drifts and floundering through terrain that’d give a Yetti cause for pause.

Is this place great, or what?

That’s just for starters.  With a little curmudgeonly creativity, you can turn any outdoor expedition into sheer misery, too.  Here are ten tips to take on the hilarity highway:

1.                  Start strong. Don’t expect your audience to stay with you into the backstretch if you haven’t corralled ‘em at the starting gate.  You get a nano-second to saddle an editor’s interest, spur them into the next paragraph and gallop to the finish like Secretariat.  Take that bit in your teeth and surge ahead strong.

2.                  Be unique. No one wants to read the millionth version of “It was a dark and stormy night.”  Even if it was.  Come up with something new.  Even if it kills you.  This is especially tricky if you’re writing about a well-worn tourist spot that hasn’t seen a drop in visitors since before the Ark landed.  So either make funeral arrangements now, or see Tip #3:

3.                  Keep it fresh. Readers gag on pre-chewed leftovers.  Angle for a unique angle.  Writing about the Grand Canyon?  Avoid words like “stunning,” “spectacular” and “gorgeous.”  They taste like milk that’s been left out since last Christmas.

4.                  Keep it original. Related to the brilliant tip above, don’t rehash the geology, geography, or donkey trails at the Grand Canyon.  Half the population of the Free World has beaten you to it.  Write about what happened when grandpa leaned over the railing for that chipmunk photo…

5.                  Select your target audience. Ask, “Who’s my main audience?  How do I want them to react to this piece?  What experience or expertise can I offer that will connect with my readers?”  Direct your writing toward a specific target rather than the entire world.

6.                  If you can’t or won’t target a specific audience for your next riotous romp, do what political pollsters do: shoot the stuffin’ out of everyone.  You’re bound to hit something.  (If you’re lucky, you might put a campaign commercial out of our misery.)

7.                  Write what you know or have experienced first-hand. If you’re a childless senior, writing trail tips for parents of toddlers may not be your best bet.  If you’ve never ventured south of the Mason-Dixon line, you may want to forego that piece on the best B&B in Cajun country or the tastiest hush puppies in Atlanta.

8.                  Know your potential publisher. Study their product.  What kind of tone, style, and topics find their way into print?  Make sure you pitch the right article to the right publisher.  Trotting out Hamlet and Ophelia for a droll stroll through Grit and Grunge magazine may not be a great idea.

9.                  Submission guidelines are road maps.  Follow them to the letter. If a 700 word maximum, double-spaced, sent in the body of an email is specified, DO NOT submit a 5,000 word, single-spaced magnum opus as an attachment and stalk off in a blue funk when it’s rejected.

10.              Finish well. When wrapping up your latest masterpiece, don’t just stop.  This leaves readers with concussions.  They feel like they’ve been dropped on their heads.  Close any loops and swoop onto the tarmac with a smooth landing, not one that requires a crash truck.

When it comes to travel writing, tired tedium is worse than crossing the English Channel without your Dramamine.  So ride that funny bone until it laughs out loud. Trust me, it’s a lot more fun than firing yourself.

A Little Lowder * Twitter * Facebook

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Up next:

A five-part mini-series: Write Away…