Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Keep the Fire Burning (Guest Post by Laura Lee Perkins)

NOTE: I'm starting the brand new year with a post that warmed my heart. Laura Lee Perkins sent this to me during her recent writing retreat that she won after finding it in FundsforWriters. We struck up a conversation, with me congratulating her big time, she commenced to telling me what  FundsforWriters has done for her. I was in awe of this woman. As a result, I asked her to pen her thoughts into a piece for my blog. THIS IS WHAT YOU CAN DO IF YOU PUT YOUR MIND TO IT!  Bless you all, and I hope this piece lights a fire under you for 2014. I know it made me awful thankful. ~HOPE

In Gratitude -
by Laura Lee Perkins

Keep the Fire Burning

I love to write. Whenever life gets really good or really bad, I have to write. Writing is how I deal with joy and with sorrow. I imagine that many of you are the same: the highs and lows of life are processed through written words.

Sometimes it is a long time between the burning desire to see my work in print and having that actually happen. Sometimes, with some pieces, it never happens. Some days I feel filled with hope and anticipation, maybe after entering a lucrative contest with what I think is one of my  very best pieces. And then I wait and wait and wait, while I continue writing. The silence can feel deafening as it smothers me with nothing „Ÿ much like a mistress waiting for the phone to ring to inform her that her lover's wife has died! It just isn't going to happen.

C. Hope Clark entered my life just when I had decided to make a 10-year commitment to improving my writing output by entering even more contests, applying for more grants and submitting more applications for artist-in-residencies. That was more than 10 years ago, but C. Hope Clark still sits on my desktop every single day. Whenever I need to remember that I am not alone in this writing struggle, when I feel like bursting into tears after another rejection, or when I simply cannot stand my office space and feel like I'm going to scream, I open the 25-30 page document that I have created titled "HOPE" and my world is transformed from despair into opportunity with one simple click. 

Here I find every snippet of fodder that I have carefully cut and pasted from C. Hope Clark's weekly Funds for Writers email to feed my hunger for publication. After doing this for several years, adding on each announcement that looked appealing, this document was pretty messy.

One day when I needed encouragement, I thought that I would divide the many opportunities into categories, which meant more cutting and pasting. Finally the document was organized into: Book Publishers, Magazines, Grants, Jobs, Artist-in-Residencies, Workshops/Classes and Wisdom perhaps the most important section because it included tips for remaining sane while striving for success. Within each category some items appealed to me more than others, so bold and italics  and underline entered the document. Deadlines passed and things had to be deleted or "un-prioritized" until the next year's deadline was announced. I started sending out more of my writings, so I added a Submissions category where everything had to be carefully documented: fee paid, date, title and word count for each entry. Then I quickly discovered that I needed a Rejected category which would include any comments offered in the rejection email or letter (if there even was a notification). 

And then a hallelujiah light went on in my "HOPE" file, and I added a YES/Accepted category. I made a list of  my successes, however small they might be. The list began to grow and I began to understand the aspect of practicing, practicing, practicing our craft...perhaps much longer than I wanted. Writing is not a goal„ writing is a process. It isn't like baking a loaf of bread which immediately rises, gets baked and brings joy through eating.

Every week I carefully cut and pasted anything that looked like it might be a chance for me to be published or to grow professionally. I began to ask for opinions, joined a writer's group and began to speak in public more and more often. But I always kept the "HOPE" file updated every week. I never  missed. I would sit at my computer late on Friday afternoon, waiting for the email to arrive. Anticipation was my middle name, and gradually I learned to keep that document open on other days besides just Friday. It added more kindling to my inner burning desire to write.

More than a decade has gone by and I have received ten grants. The first and second ones were $10,000 each and came just a year  apart. Those jump-started my grant applications! I came in 3rd in the Writers' Digest Inspirational category, and I missed the deadline for collecting my prize check because I was off traveling in Europe and thought the announcement email was an "ad" and deleted it several times. That made me feel really stupid. I've self-published five books (with sales of 5,000)  and had one published by Focus on Excellence. I've completed four Artist-in-Residencies for the U.S. National Parks and am just completing a fifth one for the Turkeyland Cove Foundation on Martha's Vineyard, where I am writing this. I have published 150+ articles in my areas of specialization (music/education/spiritual development) and last month my book Lighting Your Spiritual Passion was published by Maine Authors Publishing. When it appeared on Amazon in Kindle, then in paperback and finally on Smashwords sites, I cried for joy. Those 160 pages were edited and rewritten more times than I dare to admit, but I knew that the only way I could be sure of failure was if I stopped trying. The first newspaper article about the book's release ran yesterday in the Sun Journal based in Lewiston, Maine (pop. 30,000) and 423 people "liked" it on Facebook the first day!

Remain determined, committed, and willing to grow in ways that might feel horribly uncomfortable at times. Learn to be able to look at yourself with humor and understand that writers have to be passionate folks who are willing to make big sacrifices in order to keep on writing. The words flow in our veins and arteries...and the heart beats the "drum of life" to keep us dancing, moving forward. We always hear, "Don't take things personally." Writers have to take things personally if we are going to improve. Learn to take a deep breath and leap. It is worse to remain frozen in fear. Writing forces growth.

I take Hope's email very seriously, every week. When it has been late arriving (a few times), dinner is delayed. It is that important.  I reduce the font size down to 9 so that I can get more opportunities on one page and create a page view with the widest margins my computer will allow. And I have developed my own style of shorthand so that each opportunity can be reduced down to just two lines if at all possible. Why? Because I learned that once the document is over 25 pages long,  it felt too cumbersome to peruse for the next opportunity. Some weeks I only do one category for the week, but about once a month I save an afternoon (usually Friday while I'm waiting for her newest email to arrive) and I read through the entire document, slowly and carefully. I use text colors to make things pop visually, and then, for the best opportunities, I add highlighting. Now I have bold, italics, bold-italics, colored text, underlines, a variety of font styles and highlighting. Then I am ready to choose what's next in my writer's "wish list".

Every time I travel, I take along a double sided one page document that has the most appealing and/or impending deadlines. I carry it in my purse and I read and reread those little two-liner opportunities. On airplanes I have noticed seat mates glancing at my multi-colored two-sided page.  These are times to dream, when I am on public transportation, out of my office and "in motion." I memorize the opportunities, wait until I am internally prompted and then I sketch out my thoughts about how to apply. I allow those thoughts to ferment in my mind and soul while I am out of my familiar office, and by the time I return home I am ready to begin the next application. Writers are never alone because we are always accompanied by the sacred feeling of choosing words to offer to the world. Writing takes courage and imagination, but marketing takes guts and stamina. Happy Writing!

Laura Lee Perkins

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Why Writers Write - an end of the year message (Podcast #10)

Or listen at: https://soundcloud.com/hopeclark/why-writers-write-podcast-10 

After watching my daily dose of Godvine and Upworthy, uplifting quick videos of the good things about mankind, I suddenly felt the need to be expressive about the meaning of life . . . from the eyes of a writer. Especially at this time of year when we're all reflective and contemplative about our purpose on this earth.

Voracious readers appreciate writers. Occasionally a writer publishes such a phenomenal tome that most people appreciate him, or at least his work. But I dare say that most readers do not understand writers.

I have friends who love to read, and thank goodness they read my books, but they marvel at my putting that many words together in the right order to tell a good story.

"How do you do it?"
"I can't imagine thinking that hard."
"The effort boggles my mind."
"Where do you get your ideas?"

I have no idea how I do it. I just do, because I want to. I love the satisfaction of thinking hard.  The effort boggles my mind, too. And I have no idea where my ideas come from.

I tell them it is NOT easy, and they nod, saying they completely understand, bless their hearts. But they don't.

Because understanding why a writer writes is to get inside his head and set up camp, feed off his mind, drink from his heart, and thrive off his energy. Nobody can do that.

I'm not here to bash people for being ignorant of the writer's plight. The world is full of plights. Every human being has plights, some of which I'll never grasp. Writing is one of mine, and frankly, it helps me weather the other plights on my list. If I didn't write, I would not cope as well with family, politics, crime, religion, friendship, or health. There's something about slowing down to dissect words on a page that makes me also slow down and dissect life.

Writing gives me permission to appreciate myself.To understand myself.

Writing gives me the means to become part of humanity, in a manner that nourishes me best.

Writing is about connecting with the human condition, so that I better appreciate people.

My favorite writing is mystery. Others write scifi, romance, plays, poetry, each and every one of them stories about the human condition (even if they are aliens). Writers want to be an intrinsic part of life, but they feel best empowered to step into the fray through written words. They communicate more deeply by analyzing which word comes first, then second, then last.

Words are more than connecting the stereotypical puzzle pieces.

Words are cells. Each one, no matter how tiny, is key in creating the whole. They are alive, and if one is not useful, it weakens the others.Writers are healers.

Words are stars. If one goes missing from the bright night sky, we may not immediately notice. But if a corner of the Big Dipper disappears, we lose a constellation. Writers are stargazers. Writers are universe builders.

Words are pixels. Omitting a pixel from a portrait may not matter. Omit several, or insert the wrong ones, and you have mars on a masterpiece. Writers are artists. Writers are painters of life.

Words are leaves. Well tended flora soothes the eye. It's lush, green, the epitome of health and a connection with God and Mother Nature. A leaf falls, or never grows at all. That's fine. But a bare limb jutting from amidst a luxurious cloud of green begs for pruning. Writers are gardeners. Writers are nurturers.

Words are children. Their manners, their appearance, their attitude, their happiness are contingent upon their upbringing and surroundings. Parents fight to offer their offspring all the options to feed their growth for a more successful life. Writers are parents. Writers are caregivers.

Words are more important to writers than readers can imagine. Millions of Scrabble pieces for the choosing, to make the right word, to earn the most points, to best use the opportunity at our grasp. To turn those plain letters into beautiful phrases.

I like to think writers take the time to think before they leap, in order to get the leap right. I know how long and hard I struggle over a sentence. Then my critique groups tell me I don't quite get it right, so I struggle again. But it's not the hours invested that matter. It's the perfect click of the best words to make a sentence appear simple and easy that makes all the difference. That gives me satisfaction.

Writing takes time. In this world of lightning fast communication, texting, no caps and no punctuation on messages abbreviated without vowels, the human condition never appears. The abbreviation of communication abbreviates the message and abbreviates the depth of the story. Quick, easy and brief removes humanity from the equation.

 What about short stories, flash fiction, poetry? They are short. They are brief. Oh my, if only I could write those. The intensity of short storytelling is even more  profound, with writers painstakingly selecting each word for its true worth.  Short isn't simpler. Tight isn't easier. It's only more precise, like driving a car down an alley instead of on the Interstate in the middle of the night with no traffic. You still get there, just with more attention to the method.

I'm wandering all over the place, using the hell out of metaphors, still searching for the best compilation of words to tell you that words are my life. I still don't feel I'm showing you what drives me as a writer. What drives most writers.

Why do I write?

1) Writing makes me whole.
2) I communicate better with ink than my voice (I wrote this before vocalizing it).
3) Writing gets all the confusion, the characters, the scenes, and the dialogue out of my head.
4) Good writing makes me feel smart. Bad writing makes me feel like an idiot.

Writing puts me on the map of creation, if that makes sense. It allows me to dip into my soul and extract a piece of it for posterity unlike my thoughts or my speech. My thoughts are mine, confined in my head. My speech is fleeting, however profound it may be. But my written word has the potential to live on, and like my children, leave a piece of my life behind when I move on to the next world.

Writing is not what I do for a dollar. It isn't what I do for fame. It's what makes me feel worthy as a human being as I try to share with the world how I think I fit in.

I still haven’t given the craft its due purpose. But throughout the world, millions of people are happy that writers do what they do, for whatever reasons they do it. And writers are glad to write.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

What You Deserve (Podcast #9)

Or go to https://soundcloud.com/hopeclark/what-you-deserve-podcast-9

What do you deserve? What are your rights? What is your guaranteed return on your investment when you write a book . . . when you read a book . . . when you live?

Absolutely nothing . . . nilch . . . zero.

And the ones who embrace life understanding this fact, are usually the ones who succeed.

As a child, I decided that the harder I worked, the more likely I would succeed. Most of my life that concept worked well for me. But there came a time when I thought I did right, gave it my all, made proper decisions based upon ample research, and followed through as instructed . . . yet still fell short of success. A few events could be interpreted as abject failure.

Any writer knows that characters not getting what they deserved is a rich well for storytelling.

I see undeserved repercussions happening to people everywhere, in all professions, in family situations, in personal choices, in the smallest of issues, in the most major of decisions.

Sometimes it's as simple as reading a book blurb, laying down your hard-earned $15 or $20 for the book, then realizing the characters are two-dimensional, the protagonist curses too much for your liking, or the story never fulfills your desire for an entertaining read. Did you deserve to be entertained? 

Maybe you hired a turnkey press to self-publish your book for you, paying for the promotional plan, the top tier cover design, the broader distribution to a dozen ebook resources. But the book sells forty-seven copies in six months. Did you deserve to sell thousands of books?

You were lucky enough to acquire a traditional publisher. Congratulations. But they start deciding the cover, the release date, the places where it will be reviewed, and they do not listen to all your suggestions. Do you deserve to be heard?

depressed photo: Depressed depression1_zps10947200.jpeg
You married your high school sweetheart. You knew each other for a decade before tying the knot. A decade later, you realize the mistake and go your separate ways. Did you deserve to be happy?

You had two children. You financially, emotionally, physically and socially supported them. Yet one never calls, and another contacts you only for money. Or they move cross-country for you to see them only every two or three years. Or they drop out of school, not listening to your lessons learned, to your advice on how to avoid your mistakes. Did you deserve to have a better family?

Success is not a guarantee. Nor is happiness. To say you deserve something intangible is just not so. Of course if you pay for a tasty, well-served dinner in a nice restaurant, and the fork is dirty, the meat undercooked, or a fly lies belly-up in your salad, you deserve a refund. But if you expect the best dinner in the world, better than anything your palate has experienced, then no, you do not deserve it.

When it comes to the intangible, understand that there are no guarantees.

The most successful do NOT fuss about what they deserve. They do not fret on Facebook about what they didn't get out of something. The successful study what happened, why they did not win, did not get entertained, did not make a buck, or did not achieve number one, and they change their path accordingly. They learn from what they did or didn't do, they choose what not to do again, and they decide what else to try.

The successful do not waste their time discussing failure. 

Of course you want to identify why failure occurred. You need to understand failure to know how to change course. If you read a sci-fi book by Author Jane Doe and couldn't read past Chapter Five, what do you do?

1. Leave a  horrible one-star review on Amazon?
2. Rant on Facebook about that horrible author?
3. Decide not to read Jane Doe's work again?
4. Decide not to read sci-fi again?
5. Decide not to read again?
6. Hate books?

Jane Doe wrote the best book she could write. She doesn't know you, but she sincerely hoped you would enjoy her story. She did not publish a book to alienate anyone (sci-fi pun there). She did not point at you and say, "I'm writing and publishing this just to  irritate you. I want to suck your $15 away from your pocket, sell you a bad book, and walk away sneering at how I scammed you."

So, I suggest that to best capitalize on your time and energies, you choose to not read Jane Doe again, or decide to look harder at Jane's work before buying it next time. Why do anything more than that? Why waste your energy?

Many of my readers are struggling, mid-list and successful scribes themselves. They have the right to attempt to create and sell their work. It doesn't always happen. In fact, the odds are against them being successful. Those who try harder have a higher success rate. There's no doubting that. Those who study failure and construct new ways around it, have a higher success rate. Those who spend more time moving forward, and less time wallowing in anger and depression about not getting what they deserve, have a higher success rate.

You do not deserve a one hundred percent chance for happiness, entertainment and success. Don't you feel great knowing that? You should!

Going into any choice knowing that you have a likelihood of not being happy on the other end, removes the burden of achieving perfection, which nobody needs to bear anyway. Once you embrace that knowledge, you can fail with dignity . . . and waste less time feeling shortchanged!

For my writing friends, view these controversies from the angle of NOT deserving them.

1. You pitch an agent and don't receive a reply. That agent is swamped with keeping her current clients happy. Acquiring new clients is not a major part of her duties. She might have to choose between hiring someone to answering query letters or saving the cost of that employee and using it instead to aid her clients. It's just a quick answer, you may argue. Well, five hundred quick answers per week takes hours. Would you like to read and reply to five hundred emails when it helps you in no way achieve your goals?

2. You ask readers to read your story, and nobody seems to care. A fast reader covers a book a week. He has millions of books to choose from, thousands bombarding him daily. He has to balance his work and family as well as read books. So when your book is thrown into that maelstrom that is Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the indie revolution, he might not find it, might not like the cover, might not like the genre, might not like the blurb, might not like reading new authors. 

3. You query twenty magazines and receive five rejections, while fifteen do not respond. The magazine has one person who reviews queries. Yours comes in. It doesn't jump off the page to him or he knows another writer who  can write this same subject and be trusted to meet deadline. Or he just bought a similar subject. Or he knows the readership isn't fond of this subject. Or your credentials don't excite him. What's to get mad about on your end?

4. You start a blog to create a platform, and nobody comments. Do you know how many blogs are out there? I go through blogs like candy, and when I tire of one, I unsubscribe and seek new ones. I have no sense of loyalty to one that does not enlighten me. That's the blogging world. Its readers are fickle. Serious bloggers work darn hard at staying fresh. 

You can grump about what didn't work, fussing about what level of success you deserved because of the work you put into it. Or you can remain calm, even attempt to be happy, and realize whatever you chose did not work. That would mean that now you have a better idea of what will work. Right?

Quit worrying about what you deserve.

Instead, study what did NOT happen per your expectations, and take off in another direction, with a fresh, crisp plan in mind. All that energy wasted complaining, fighting depression, or debasing yourself, could be spent achieving the success you now know more about achieving.

Be happy. 

I want you to realize that life is trial and error, with a lot of that error not always avoidable. We don't deserve anything, except satisfaction in how we live our lives and achieve our goals. And even with dozens of failures in your past, you can be the happiest person on the block, because you love the journey of living.

Rather than holding back, regretting what you've done or what's been done to you, love moving forward, finding new ways to enjoy life. Spending your days trying to constantly improve is much more fun than hollering about what you deserve.

Thursday, December 05, 2013


Welcome Raazia S. Ali as guest poster to my blog. Only 19 years of age, she enticed me with her visual metaphor for writing. I thoroughly enjoyed her submissions for my children's newsletter WritingKid and asked permission to include it on my blog. She  sounds so wise, yet so cute, and her message on coming up with story ideas is a sound one that I never thought about before. Enjoy!


= = =


They say everyone has a story to tell. But not everyone suddenly discovers they’re related to a famous person. We live in the real world, where death by boredom is actually possible – especially halfway through that double-math period at school. (40 minutes left?!)

So let’s say you’re yearning to be the next J K Rowling or Sarah Dessen but you just don’t have anything to write about! Your life is dull, you’ve never been kidnapped forced to come up with an ingenious escape plan; and as far as travelling goes you’re not even sure your passport exists. What do you do?

You steal.

No, I’m not suggesting you write about a boy-wizard with a tricky destiny, then exclaim ‘but he has parents!’ and then get sued by the J K R fund. On the slim chance that you get away with this, you are still doomed to death by depression from mean forums by the fans you thought ‘would never notice’. What I’m suggesting is not only legal, but very effective.

First, you read - like a maniac. Hopefully you like to, because I’m afraid there is no criminal shortcut for this one. Finish an entire novel in a night, and then do it again. And again.

Once you’ve completed the pizza base, write down the plots (maximum half a page each) of three of your favorite books. Now, pretend you’re at a thrift store: Mix ‘n match. Take a separate sheet of paper and jot down the stuff that makes it through your ‘pizza filter’. You love how Holden’s little sister Phoebe (The Catcher in the Rye) is wise beyond her years? Write it on your sheet. The idea of a job that involves a lot of moving around sounds to you like an excellent enabler of denial? (What Happened to Goodbye) Put it down. A story told from a dog’s point of view spices up a book? (The Art of Racing in the Rain) Maybe you could use that.

See what I mean? Now keep going. Take writing styles, book structures, characters’ quirks, themes, dialogs and even names. Just make sure to take a balanced bit of everything, because a pizza with too many olives is just that – an olive pizza. Increase the number of books you were using as reference. Make it five. Fifteen. Twenty. Why not?

The final stage would be to put the pizza in the oven, because you do NOT want raw tomatoes and cold, brittle cheese. Once you have the building blocks, your passion for writing should kick in as you sprinkle enough on the book to call it your own. Bake it well. Ensure it is done. Experiment, and your cooking skills will surprise you!

BIO: I'm Raazia S Ali, a nineteen year old sophomore at Arab Open University (Muscat, Oman) getting a BA in English Literature (and Language). When I'm not typing away on my laptop finishing assignments for my diploma in Comprehensive Writing, I can be found painting acrylics or experimenting to see just how short a short story I can write. I've been published in Thursday and Dawn's Young World.