Writing Resources

Writing Rules We Break!

Five debut novelists have fun:

Rules schmules! Call us rebellious, but when it comes to writing, we think some rules were made to be broken.

19 Websites and Magazines That Want to Publish Your Personal Essays

“Writing nonfiction is not about telling your story,” says Ashley C. Ford, an essayist and BuzzFeed staff writer who emphasized the importance of creating a clear connection between your personal experience and universal topics. “It’s about telling interesting and worthy stories about the human condition using examples from your life.”

But don’t worry if your life doesn’t seem exciting or heart-wrenching enough to expound upon; think of it as writing through yourself, instead of about yourself. “There are few heroes and even fewer villains in real life,” she said. “If you’re going to write about your human experience, write the truth. It’s worth it to write what’s real.”

What’s especially helpful about this list is the links to representative sample articles for each listed site to give you an idea of the kinds of submissions the publication is looking for.

10 tips to help writers stay focused

In this world where we can click away and change our minds instantly, be distracted by cellular devices, multitask and attend to a wide variety of our needs almost simultaneously, how do we stay on the path of quality writing and be proud of our accomplishments, our creations, and inspire others through our words?

These tips are in no particular order, except the first one, which is absolutely essential! And along the way, here are a few online tools that can aid in your process.

Memoir Review: “Little Heathens”

little-heathensKalish, Mildred Armstrong. Little Heathens: Hard Times and HighSpirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression
Bantam Books, 2007

Some time around 1930, when the author was “little more than five years old” (p. 6), she, her mother, her baby sister, and her two brothers went to live with her mother’s parents in the town of Garrison, Iowa. The children’s father had committed some unnamed infraction against their mother and was consequently banished from the family and never spoken of again.

When Millie and family arrived, their grandparents had retired from farming and were living in a house in town. But they still owned several outlying farms, and Millie’s family was given one to live on and work, across the road from another farm occupied by an aunt and uncle and their children. Millie’s family spent summers on the farm, then attended the rural school through December, when winter shut down the farm. They then moved into the grandparents’ house in town and attended the town school from January until school ended in May.

Grandma and Grandpa Urmy were “two very strict and stern individuals. For us children, building character, developing a sense of responsibility, and above all, improving one’s mind would become the essential focus of our lives” (p 6). In contrast to the regimented and regulated life in their grandparents’ house in town, life on the farm was much more easygoing. Their mother allowed them to roam freely as long as they did their chores—and they had lots of chores—and they spent much time exploring with their cousins.

In chapters about topics such as chores, school, cooking, and holidays, Kalish describes how she learned the lessons of pioneer thrift, proper work ethic, and acceptable behavior that allowed her family to thrive during the difficult times of the Great Depression.

In looking back, I realize that I have had the good fortune to have absorbed the events that transpired during my childhood years into my very being, as if no boundary exists between then and now, as if the past had not really passed… . I tell of a time, a place, and a way of life long gone, nearly forgotten by the world, but still indelible in my memory. It is my hope to resurrect them, to make them live again. (p. 7)

In this book Kalish has successfully resurrected her childhood experiences and made them live again. There are no surprises or revelations in this book, but it contributes much to future generations’ knowledge of what everyday life was like at one particular point in history.

© 2014 by Mary Daniels Brown

Writing Resources

The Writer: Advice and Inspiration for today’s writer

The Writer is not only the oldest continuously published magazine for authors in the country, it is also one of the oldest continuously published magazines in America, period. First established in April 1887, the periodical has seen the comings and goings of editors and staff, slogans and themes. It has won the Folio magazine Editorial Excellence Award nine times. Although full content is only available to subscribers, there is plenty on the web page for the rest of us. From the homepage, click on Articles. From there, browse by Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Freelance Writing, and half a dozen other freely accessible topics. There are also loads of Writing Resources and Writing Prompts that are free, open, and available to any writer.

From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994–2014. https://www.scout.wisc.edu

I’ve been researching writing prompts lately, so I checked out those on The Writer. My random look at three of the five pages given suggests that these prompts are geared toward fiction rather than nonfiction writers. But if you’re writing fiction, they look pretty good. There’s an emphasis on creating characters, imagining plot situations, and experimenting with different points of view.

5 Writing Tips: Jane Smiley

Lots of writers and writing instructors offer advice on specific aspects of writing or editing. But I like this list from Jane Smiley precisely because it’s more general. Her advice—or encouragement, really—describes building a writing life, or a writer’s mindset.

30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge Begins Today!

Related Post:

I’m excited to begin the 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge today.

Since the essence of the challenge is on digital (rather than writing with pen on paper) journaling, much of the discussion on the web site and the Facebook page has been about what apps and programs people use.

30-day-challenge-682x1024One of the most frequent questions has been about the need for a separate journaling program. Many people say they’re planning to use a word processing (e.g., Microsoft Word) document for their digital journaling and divide the document into separate entries with headings. A lot of writers I know use another program, Scrivener, for their writing projects. Although I have not done this myself, I can see how Scrivener could be easily adapted for digital journaling. You could have a top-level folder for the year, with a subfolder for each month. Each monthly subfolder would then contain separate documents for each dated entry. Scrivener allows users to assign key words and to color code sections, which would make organization and retrieval of specific material fairly easy. (Scrivener was originally developed for Macs, but there is now a Windows version available.)

For my digital journaling, I have used a journaling program, MacJournal by Mariner Software, for several years. (This is a Mac-only program.) I like it for a lot of reasons:

  • You can protect your journal with a password
  • You can create different journals for different purposes
  • You can create new journals and new entries easily
  • You can format text with different fonts and colors
  • You can create categories of entries and color code them
  • You can assign key words to entries
  • You can add images, even videos, to entries

MacJournal undoubtedly has more features than these, but these are the ones I use consistently.

Some people like to keep separate journals for different purposes—a dream journal, a gratitude journal, a gardening journal, a wine journal. With MacJournal you can do that. But I like to throw everything into one journal, then pull out what I need when I need it. With MacJournal I can do this. I like, for example, that I can color code entries—purple for dreams, red for health—and then easily isolate only those entries when I want to look at them.

I will be using MacJournal for the 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge. I’m looking forward to hearing from other participants what program or approach they use and how they like it.

Disclaimer:

I have no financial interest in any of the programs mentioned here. I purchased my copies of Microsoft Word, Scrivener, and MacJournal.

30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge

I’m a dedicated journal writer. I do most of my journaling by hand, with a purple fountain pen and purple ink, in a paper journal, also usually purple. I have, however, sometimes used an electronic journal program on my desktop computer. (A lot of people write, including journalling, on their smartphones, but I’m no good at rapid one-finger or two-thumb typing. I need a full-size keyboard for anything longer than a tweet or short Facebook update.)

30-day-challenge-682x1024But I was intrigued when I saw the 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge. To supplement the web site, there’s also a Facebook group.

I don’t even remember where I first came across the 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge, but it didn’t take me long to decide to sign up. The purpose of the challenge is to get people to commit to writing in an electronic journal every day for the month of October. I haven’t used my computer journal in quite some time, and I thought this challenge would get me back into using it more regularly.

I’m hoping to approach this project with enough of an open mind to see how typing into a computer journal compares with writing by hand in a paper journal. I’m looking forward to the experiment and look forward to discovering how it will turn out.

Why not join me and sign up for the 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge yourself?

How I Learned to Trust My Intuition

I am a Virgo. The primary characteristic of Virgos is their love of logic, their reliance on reasoned, rational thought. Yet all my life I have had occasional flashes of insight or foreboding that come seemingly from nowhere. It took me a long time to learn to call these flashes intuition and to trust them for what they are—insight from outside the rational realm.

I have had several intuitive experiences during my lifetime, but by far the most salient one occurred during the summer when my daughter was 3½ years old. She was enrolled in a preschool day camp that summer that was going on a field trip to the city zoo. Several high school and college student volunteers, along with some parents, were going to accompany the children; the ratio of adults to children was 1:2. Since I was not required to go along to the zoo, I was looking forward to having a few free hours when I could go grocery shopping and run errands such as going to the bank and the post office unencumbered by a small child. The morning of the field trip, as I was packing my daughter’s lunch and getting ready to drive her to camp, I had a very strong feeling that I should forget about my errands and go to the zoo. The feeling even grew stronger as we drove toward camp. When we got there and I asked the teacher if she had enough adults going on the trip, she said that she did and that I did not have to go. So I acted against my intuition and went grocery shopping while my child went to the zoo. 

I should emphasize here that the feeling I had that morning was not guilt about shirking my maternal duty. It was definitely a warning, a persistent feeling of anxiety that I have come to know as “generalized dread,” the premonition of a premonition. I did not have any particular vision of something bad happening (i.e., this was not a specific foretelling of the future), but the feeling was very strong.

I arrived back to the camp just before the bus returned. As the bus pulled in and the door opened, I felt a sudden physical pain in my stomach. I watched everyone getting off the bus, but my daughter did not appear. When the bus was empty, I climbed on board and walked up the center aisle checking all the seats to see if she might have fallen asleep. When I still didn’t see her, I went to the front of the bus, got down on my hands and knees, and looked under the seats on both sides of the aisle. I had known, though, from the minute I climbed up the bus steps that I was not going to find her on or under the seats. With a sense of inevitability I acknowledged that my daughter had been left behind at the zoo.∗

The feeling that struck me the morning of the zoo field trip was intuition. When I was working on my doctorate in psychology I had the opportunity to study intuition in the context of critical thinking, part of the study of how we know what we know. Paul and Binker (1992, p. 8) define intuition as “[t]he direct knowing or learning of something without the conscious use of reasoning.” Levy (1997, p. 241) defines intuition as “1. Direct or immediate knowledge or insight, without intentional effort, rational thought, or conscious judgment. 2. Perception by means of the unconscious; a strong premonition or hunch in the absence of objective empirical evidence.” The distinguishing characteristic of intuition is that it arrives without conscious effort or thought on our part; it is non-rational.

Whatever the source of intuition, its non-rational nature means that some proponents of critical thinking disallow its validity. Halpern (1998, p. 450) implies this when she says, “when the results of a scientific study of day care are pitted against intuition or the observations of a single individual, the general public tends to find these two sources of information equally compelling.” With the phrase “observations of a single individual” Halpern is referring to the “person who” fallacy, an invalid form of argument that goes like this: “Who says smoking causes lung cancer? I knew a man who has smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for 40 years, and he doesn’t have lung cancer.” By linking intuition with this form of false reasoning, Halpern is dismissing intuition as equally false.

Other proponents of critical thinking are a bit less strident about the value of intuition. Paul and Binker (1992, p. 8), for example, caution that “[a] critical thinker does not blindly accept that what he or she thinks or believes but cannot account for is necessarily true…. Critical thinkers may follow their inner sense that something is so, but only with a healthy sense of intellectual humility.” Levy (1997, p. 110), in a footnote, offers a muddy distinction between intuition and critical thought: “When you have an intuitive hunch, remember that although the intuition is always real, it may or may not be right.” (His lack of clarity in defining the terms of this distinction may itself be seen as a flaw in critical thinking.)

These last two quotations point up the problem of considering intuition within the framework of critical thinking. Paul and Binker, and Levy all apparently want to allow intuition a place at the critical thinking table but cannot adequately overcome the obstacle posed by trying to incorporate a non-rational way of knowing into a concept defined by its adherence to reason. 

But although critical thinking focuses on the use of logic and reason to construct a valid argument, there is another part to the definition of this construct: metacognition. That is, critical thinking also involves metathinking, or thinking about thinking (Halpern, 1998; Levy, 1997; Paul, 1990). One component of critical thinking is the ability to analyze an issue and determine which critical thinking elements are most appropriate for it. (Deciding which brand of toothpaste to buy does not require the same expenditure of critical thinking energy as does the decision about whether to have an abortion.) In this sense, then, we can incorporate intuition into the critical thinking process by recognizing that intuition may be appropriate in some situations but not in others.

We are still stuck, though, with trying to explain when intuition may be an appropriate critical thinking tool and when it may not be. This distinction is hard to make because of the nature of intuition: Although we may be able to define what intuition is, it is impossible to say where it comes from. One possible explanation for intuitive insight is that our unconscious mind picks up on and processes clues from the environment that we do not consciously register. A woman walking alone to her car in a deserted parking lot late at night will consciously look for potential danger. But even if she doesn’t notice anything specifically threatening, her senses may unconsciously pick up unnoticed stimuli and warn her to flee. This may also be what is happening when we come in contact with a person who “gives us the creeps,” though we cannot explicitly say why. But this explanation cannot account for my intuition on the morning of my daughter’s trip to the zoo, as there was no concrete person or situation present for my unconscious mind to react to.

Intuition itself often lets me know in which situations it is appropriate. I do not have intuitive insight about every decision—even every major decision—I must make on a daily basis. Moreover, I cannot summon intuition; it arrives on its own, unbidden (or at least not consciously bidden). Over the years I have noticed that my intuition only operates for very important matters, and because it appears only infrequently, I pay attention to it when it does arrive. In effect, then, I have learned not only to trust what my intuition tells me, but also to trust it to appear at appropriate times.

I have had a few other “gut feelings” in my life—though none as dramatic as the one related here. But every time I have let my head overrule my gut, I have regretted it. I have finally learned that I should trust my intuition—albeit with a healthy sense of intellectual humility. 

References

Halpern, D. F. (1998). Teaching critical thinking for transfer across domains: Dispositions, skills, structure training, and metacognitive monitoring. American Psychologist, 53, 449-455.

Levy, D. A. (1997). Tools of critical thinking: Metathoughts for psychology. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

Paul, R. W. (1990). Critical thinking: What every person needs to survive in a rapidly changing world. Center for Critical Thinking and Moral Critique. Rohnert Park, CA: Sonoma State University, pp. 44-67.

Paul, R. W., & Binker, A. J. A. . (1992). Glossary: An educator’s guide to critical thinking terms and concepts. Critical thinking handbook series. Center for Critical Thinking and Moral Critique. Rohnert Park, CA: Sonoma State University, pp. 1-14.

*This story does have a happy ending. The zoo police had found my daughter wandering around the enclosed children’s zoo. They took her to their office and entertained her until I could drive there to pick her up.

© 2012 by Mary Daniels Brown

 

“People Don’t See Older Women”

In the latest James Bond movie, Skyfall, the head of British intelligence, M (played by Judi Dench), comes under fire for losing the department’s list of undercover agents. But what is really on trial is the old-fashioned way of gathering intelligence—with human agents on the ground conducting surveillance. M and her methods have become obsolete, the investigating committee says. As a result, M herself has become irrelevant. She is too old to continue to run the department. She has to go.

About 20 years ago, our library book group had to negotiate its position with library staff after a change in the management hierarchy. We asked one of our older members, Mary C., if she would be our spokesperson and talk to the staff. She said she thought one of the younger members should do it instead. “People don’t take older women seriously,” she said. “They look right through us. They don’t even see us.”

I thought of Mary C. while M’s fate unfolded in Skyfall. It seems that M and Mary experienced the same fate: They are women, and they got old. Someone younger should take their place.

Over on my literature blog I’ve compiled a list of fiction and nonfiction books about older women.

© 2012 by Mary Daniels Brown

4:30 AM

I am not a morning person. But there seems to be something sacred about 4:30 AM. That’s when my best thoughts gently shake me awake.

This Thanksgiving morning greeted me with the realization of how much online existence has increased the quality of my life.  We talk and read a lot about how the electronic world invades our lives and erodes our privacy, and all of that is true. Yet Facebook has allowed me to reconnect with family members whom I haven’t seen for years and to develop relationships with people from the next generation and even with their children. I now keep up with the everyday lives of people with whom I used to communicate only once a year, with the annual holiday card and newsletter. I’ve even come to know some friends of friends, people whom I never would have known if not for Facebook. Blogs and Twitter have also introduced me to people who share my interests and increase my knowledge by adding their own. 

So on this holiday morning, I am thankful for all of you out there. You know who you are. Happy Thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving

© 2012 by Mary Daniels Brown