Writing Tips

Writing Tips

Picture Writing

On a quest to go back in time, I barely made it out of Owensboro, Kentucky before Snowmageddon hit. I had travelled to my hometown with camera in hand, determined to link the past with the present. While one doesn’t define the other, it was still a worthwhile venture to connect the dots. In fact, it was downright fun!

DSC_5436I met a friend who has known me and my faults since I was six years old. Kudos to Lenny for still showing up. We arranged to meet under the river’s shell. I later learned the shell is really a bat wing, but thankfully, my friend saw a touristy person trying not to strangle herself with the zoom lens around her neck as she ran towards the river-as if that would make the passing barges hold still for a picture under the bridge. The crazy lady may have been yelling for them to slow down too. That’s how Lenny knew it was me.

We began our hometown adventure at the riverfront playground, puzzled by how to climb the concrete trees. Taking a photo from where I watched past Regattas, I wondered if I could see through the rails to where the hanging was. “What hanging?” Lenny asked.

“We weren’t born yet, but it was right over there by the Hampton Inn.”

On a happy note, Lenny said, “This spot is where I proposed to my wife.”

So many memories were made on the river, even ones from the Boogie Shack. I tunneled down the playground’s tornado slide for a not-so-graceful landing, static electrified hair and all. I’m still sore.

For our next scavenger hunt photo, we took my car. “I pictured you driving a mini-van,” Lenny said.

“Get out or take that back,” I said. Like spies, we parked on street corners and zoomed in on house trailers, mansions, even corn fields. We got a lot of stares in the small town, but I promise we only parked in the liquor store’s drive-thru in order to get the best shot of the old steel mill. You know, a picture shot. Even better was our side trip to a sewer ditch where we frequently picnicked. More than a few folks wondered what we were up to.

A memorable day was spent all for the sake of My Big O Journey: Growing up in Owensboro, Kentucky. The book’s upcoming print copy will have old Owensboro pictures as well as the recent ones Lenny and I risked our reputations for. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, several photographs will accompany each chapter. Heaven knows how long it takes to write that many words.

Just like Lenny and I retraced our past steps, writers should come out of their shells (or bat wings), and walk in the same shoes as their characters. It should be mandatory that a writer visits the place he writes about. With today’s temperatures dropping into the teens, I’m outlining my next book about Hawaii.

Check out some more encouragement and writing tips in WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It! Available at Amazon ($2.99)
Write Baby Write: You Can Do It

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National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

Shelly Van Meter Miller, Tornado Valley: Huntsville's Havoc

Author Bio Picture, Shelly Miller

I can feel it in the air. Something’s coming over me. It reminds me of a bout with the flu, but it’s not. The last time I thought I had the flu, I was really pregnant. But I’m not. I’ve had this bug several times before, and I know what it does. It’s serious business, but it’s only temporary.

I’m making preparations in advance, just in case I’m incapacitated for a while. I grocery shopped and bought carton after carton of that frozen macaroni my family loves. That way they won’t starve when I don’t make dinner. I also bought some extra socks and underwear, and that’s when I saw their panicked looks. You see, there’s a good chance I won’t be doing much laundry either.

November is just around the corner, and I’m gearing up for NaNoWriMo. It sounds like something from my favorite seventies sitcom, Mork & Mindy, where the late Robin Williams played an alien from the Planet Ork and greeted earthlings with a quirky handshake saying, “Na-Nu Na-Nu.” It has nothing to do with aliens, a little to do with hands shaking, and maybe just as farfetched. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month.

Writers around the world are fluffing up their favorite seat cushions, stocking up on K-cups, and warning everyone dear to them of what’s about to happen. The goal is to write an entire novel of 50,000 words during the month of November. It’s a goal, it’s a challenge, it’s a book!

In order to achieve this lofty aim, the daily word count must reach 1,667. I double-checked the math, and yes, that’s what it really is. Luckily, my type of novel needs only 30,000 words, so I get to cheat a little. This doesn’t disqualify me from participating in NaNoWriMo since the object is to complete a novel in a month.

I agree that books shouldn’t be born prematurely, no matter how many words. However, the words will be there, ready for the polishing and purging which must happen as part of the writing process. But that’s for my editor to worry about. My goal is to get the words out of my head and onto the page-all 30,000 of them.

If you ever wanted to author a book, NaNoWriMo is a great opportunity. While writing is a solo and sometimes lonely process, participating in a group of thousands of writers in the same boat is very motivating-just the boost you need. Google the term for more inspiration, and while you’re there, join some positive writer’s groups and add to the comradery. Ready, set, Write!

Check out some more encouragement and writing tips in my latest book WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It! Available at Amazon

Finding Time When There’s No Time to Find

How do you find time when there is no time to find? Surely this was one of those questions the Ancients asked their oracles. Today, we’re still wondering the same thing. Time management tools and plans abound, yet we still find ourselves muttering, “I don’t have time.” Of course we do. If we have the breath to utter that we don’t have time, obviously the present time is something we do have.

What we really mean to say is that we don’t have time to do what we want to do or what we know needs doing. It’s this ‘me’ time that gets lost in the shuffle, the time that matters to us. For me, my ‘me’ time is the ‘write’ time or finding time to write. This is what I want more of-not the ‘I need more time to do chores’ kind of time.

Outside of paying for a chore boy, a cheaper way of finding more time is to milk the time we do have. Milk it for all it’s worth. Thankfully, multi-tasking was last millennium’s trend which I’m relieved went out of style. If anything, multi-tasking created more attention deficit disorders or made current ones worse. I’m suggesting that instead, we eek out all 60 seconds of every minute. The Urban Dictionary defines eeking out as “letting your leg hairs grow long enough so it doesn’t hurt as much when you eventually shave them.” How’s that for a word picture?

Even I could think of a better definition. To clarify, we all have what could be called wasted time. Whether it’s the car line, the grocery line, driving time, waiting for the bus time, kids at karate time, daughter’s dance lessons, or what have you. I’m proposing that we find more ‘me’ time from our wasted time. Most of us can claim to have plenty of wasted time, so why not sneak some ‘me’ time out of it? In fact, our wasted time could be the only place to find it.

I waste a lot of time in the car, so this is when I use the time to write. No, not while driving-that would be considered multi-tasking. When the gear is in PARK, I am safe to write. Sure, I battle wasps with the windows rolled down, but a wasp sting is nothing compared to socializing with other soccer moms. During oodles of practices, which are wonderful physical and social time for my children, but wasted time for me, I write. I can write and still watch my children compete from my vehicle while keeping two things in mind: never park behind the soccer goal if auto insurance has already replaced the windshield, and secondly, sometimes the only thing separating a pit bull from a soccer mom really is lipstick.

Think about planning some ‘me’ time during your wasted time. Eek out those seconds. Who knows? They could even be found while shaving or putting on lipstick.

Check out some more encouragement and writing tips in my latest book WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It! Available at Amazon

Creativity and Relativity

“Creativity is seeing what everyone else has seen, and thinking what no one else has thought.” –Albert Einstein

This makes it sound as if anyone can be creative. Isn’t it funny how it took a genius like Einstein to tell us that you don’t have to be a genius to be creative? Instead, creative genius depends on the ability to combine random, unrelated ideas in new and useful ways.

Einstein believed the air was full of ideas. It’s up to the writer to yank those floating ideas out of the stratosphere and into a manuscript. Sometimes we expect good ideas to parachute down to our page. These are the days when pigs will fly faster than ideas will fly. The more we chase creativity, the more it eludes us.

There are some surprise ways to “find” creativity though. Studies show that ideas come after you stop straining for them. Keep in mind this is AFTER your hard work of research, not instead of. Einstein developed the Theory of Relativity, so he knew a little something about creativity. Just look at his hair-do. You’ll see that he studied so hard that he wanted to pull his hair out. But that’s not when his theories were developed. His theories came to him whenever he played the piano. In the middle of a song, he would run upstairs and lock himself in a room…for two weeks.

After you’ve studied your limit, which will most likely be less than two weeks, it’s time for a nap or something mindless to occupy your time. This is when the good ideas become buoyant and begin to float around. Your job is to be ready-ready to record these brain flashes. And that’s what they are, just flashes. Grab them while you can and expand on them later. Don’t judge them, just accept them.

When plucking an idea from the sky, you might be able to relate it to another one that at first appeared to be miscellaneous. It’s this capacity to transform old ideas into new insights which makes you feel like a genius. The connectivity of existing ideas makes a person creative. The ideas were there all along. And so was your creativity, by the way.

Check out some more encouragement and writing tips in my latest book WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It! Available at Amazon ($2.99)

Can You Read Me Now?

“Hello? Are you still there?

Your best friend is strangely silent and not offering her usual “uh-huhs” in the middle of your ever-so-interesting drama. You only thought you were telling the world’s most interesting story. In reality, you’ve unknowingly spoken into a vacuum for the past five minutes when the cell signal dropped off. You lose your sing-songy voice and look around sheepishly, hoping no one noticed your talking to yourself.

Hang up and try again. This time, you’ll listen for it before you begin speaking. You’ll listen for that comforting background noise that assures you that your story is not falling on deaf ears. It’s that slight hiss as if air is flowing through duct work that we long to hear. White noise is no longer necessary for mobile phones, but has been added by the cell phone companies to keep us talking. How funny is that? Nowadays, even companies are installing white noise devices throughout the office so that employees feel comfortable talking aloud. No one likes an awkward silence.

It turns out that no one likes awkward strings of written words either. We’re done with multi-syllable words and never-ending daisy chains of flowery prepositional phrases. Eyes are more relaxed while reading material with more white space.

We’ve always been taught that a paragraph must contain three sentences and a sentence must have a subject and a verb. Not anymore. See what just happened?

Also, a paragraph doesn’t have to contain three sentences. You are free to indent a paragraph wherever you please to make something stand out, like I just did.

Blogs and ebooks especially make good use of white space for better readability. Bullet points, bold print, and highlighted words differentiate this white space and make the print stand out better as well.

We prefer the short and succinct to relay the message, but for some reason, don’t like all caps. Exclamation points are out of style too. They’re considered almost cheesy as if in a live studio audience with an “APPLAUSE” sign flashing.

We’re supposed to get our point across, but pretend that we’re not trying to do it. Readers recognize when you’re trying too hard. Subtlety works wonders and enhances the white space.

I’m not sure punctuation rules will ever change, but I am sure that the rules will be broken. If it increases readability, then so be it. The next time your written page looks like a word marathon, hang up and try again. Increase the white space.

Can you read me now?

Check out some more encouragement and writing tips in my latest book WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It! Available at Amazon ($2.99)

Characters: Love ‘Em or Hate ‘Em

Last weekend, my neighbor and I went to a garage sale in the pouring rain. To us, this meant prime time shopping with less competition. While we were browsing, I spied the former mayor of our town surrounded by a swarm of other shoppers. He talked up a storm in the middle of the thunderstorm. Then he said, “I’d better go. When I talk too much, I get in trouble.” For him, this was an understatement. I remember a big stink in the community about possible tape recorded conversations while he was mayor. It was a regular Watergate in our small town of make-believe Mayberry. Although he was the former mayor, he still caused a commotion and people still wanted to hear what he had to say.

People like him-you either love them, or you don’t. They’re memorable characters who cause things to happen around them. They light fires everywhere they go. Sometimes the sparks ignite something big, and sometimes, they just leave the scene and everyone around them smoldering. One thing is certain: they’ll be remembered.

When you write, this is what you want. You want characters to make an impression. It irks the reader to flip back pages and even chapters to hunt for the introduction of a character in order to recall who that person is and where he came from. Make your characters stand out by having them do something naughty or out of the norm. It’s better than being blasé, bland, boring, or just blah. And when you do, make sure they pay the consequences. In the ex-mayor’s case, his penalty was not being re-elected. He still had a grand following though, and was the center of the garage sale attention. For my neighbor and I, this meant even more prime time shopping.

Check out some more encouragement and writing tips in my latest book WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It! Available at Amazon ($2.99)

Chip on the Shoulder

When I was a teenager I stayed grounded–grounded as in punished and made to stay home on a Saturday night. One time I was even grounded for having no common sense. When I asked Dad how long I was to be marooned in my room, he said, “Until you get some sense.”

I persisted, “Can I have a timeframe? How long will that be?” This didn’t help plead my case. Mostly, I was grounded for having a ‘chip on my shoulder.’ That’s ‘70s slang for a rotten attitude. Urban dictionary describes it as “someone who has a self-righteous feeling of inferiority or a grudge.” Surely that wasn’t me. (The grammar police would say, “That wasn’t I.”) You see, I still hold some of those chips.

The last writer’s conference I attended hosted many talented writers. Interspersed within this group, were also many talented writers with chips on their shoulders. You could spot them from across the room. Some would say that it takes one to know one. When asked questions about their magnum opus, these writers responded rather smugly or defensively. It took deeper conversations before the shoulder chips could be chiseled away. Look out! You never knew where these chips were going to fall. They could fall on you if you weren’t comfortable in your own vocation or writing abilities.

It’s not attractive to have a chip on your shoulder. So how does a writer prevent this from happening? First, you have to have a mission-a book in the works or a daily word-count goal. In other words, you have to write if you want to call yourself a writer. Next, you have to stop looking at other writers as if they are your competition. No one can write your story except you. No one. Believe this and competition becomes a non-issue. But here’s the clincher: those inner nattering voices that tell you that you’re not good enough or cut out for this writing thing. Stare those fun suckers down, down to the floor next to your writing desk. The little demons need to be grounded. Teach them to think twice before trying to steal your joy.

The last time I had a chip on my shoulder was after making a decision to homeschool my children. A real voice, albeit well-meaning, said, “You wouldn’t do that to my grandbabies.” Another real voice said, “If Shelly Miller can homeschool, I know I can.” That voice belonged to a mother who moved forward to homeschool her own children successfully, so good for her. As for the first voice, I heard it again last week upon the college graduation of our daughter, the oldest of the grandbabies. This time, the loving voice said, “That’s our granddaughter, graduating summa cum laude with the highest honors. And she was homeschooled!”

Just when my peacock feathers puff up and the birth of a new chip begins, I have to consult spellcheck for how to spell ‘summa.’ And here lies the last trick in avoiding a chip on the shoulder: Maintain humbleness although nobody ever gets used to the taste of humble pie.

Check out some more encouragement and writing tips in my latest book WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It! Available at Amazon ($2.99)

Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?

“Take out a piece of paper and a pencil. Number from 1-10.” These are words every fourth grader dreads, and could only mean one thing: dictation. Just when you realized your cursive S looked funny because you accidentally turned it into a treble clef, the teacher would say, “Next sentence.”
Whenever quotes were involved, dictation was a double whammy. Do the quotation marks go before or after the period? Why couldn’t the punctuation police just make them go directly underneath? Mere millimeters to the right or left made the entire sentence wrong. Don’t get me started on the metric system.

If I could just get through fourth grade, I would never have to take dictation again. Too bad my name starts with the letter s, but surely I could get by in life without ever using quotation marks. But alas, my writing is flat without them. Conversations make characters tick and paragraphs talk. If you want your story to come alive for the reader, the people must speak, and yes, this means quotation marks.

Before hives break out from a flood of fourth grade memories, I do three things when letting my characters speak on the page. First, I put quotes around only what they say. Next, when in doubt, I always use a capital letter. Last, I indent whenever a new character speaks. For everything else, we must keep our editors in business.

Sometimes writers balk at quoting real live people in writing, and for good reason. Besides punctuation police, there are plagiarism police roaming planet Earth. Again, let the characters speak-especially because they are real. Rarely would you carry a tape recorder around (does anyone ever do this anymore?), so you wouldn’t write verbatim what the person actually said. Don’t let this stop you from quoting them.

In my first book Tornado Valley: Huntsville’s Havoc, I used a disclaimer: “Thank you to … for agreeing to be named as the real people they are, while allowing the author to fictionalize their conversations for the purpose of telling their true stories.” In each case, I received permission from the interviewees, but I wanted the reader to know too. I remembered actual conversations to the best of my ability, but the words were mine. Many words were cut with a lot of dot, dot, dots, because a tornado in your peripheral vision could spark some choice words you may not wish to see in writing.

I hope this wasn’t just ‘a tale of fourth grade nothing,’ but that you, too, will strive for livelier stories with more conversations and quotes. Besides, I heard that in fifth grade, they diagram sentences. No wonder I don’t feel smarter than a fifth grader.

Check out some more encouragement and writing tips in my latest book WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It! Available at: Amazon ($0.99)

You may be a Writer if?

– You get out of bed in the middle of the night to correct a comma.
– You decline a social invitation because of a conflict…in your book.
– You get a Kindle for Christmas, a Kindle case for your birthday, and a Kindle charger for Mother’s Day.
– You gain ten pounds in one month while on the B.I.C. program-Bottom in chair.
– You own at least one cat-as if owning a cat is possible.
– You have a marital spat over something that happened in your book.
– You type on an imaginary keyboard when you’re talking to someone in person.
– You’ve had a great day if you’ve doubled your word count.
– You whip out a Thesaurus during conversations.
– In case of a fire, you grab your laptop first.
– You talk to yourself and have conversations with imaginary characters.

And the list goes on… Any of these apply to you? Guilty.

Just a little fun for today, we’ve gotta keep it real. Check out some more fun insights and writing tips in my latest book WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It!
Available at: Amazon ($0.99)

WRITE, BABY, WRITE – BLOG

Foreword: Just Between Us

     Welcome to Write, Baby, Write: You Can Do It! Together we will carve a trail and delve into one of the most rewarding pastimes of a lifetime, writing. The winding path transforms the traveler as well as those who share the journey.

     Many surprises await us once inside and we don’t want to miss them. We will encounter authentic and inspiring stories exposing our vulnerabilities as we stretch to the edge of perceived boundaries and push outside our comfort zones. No stone is left unturned.

     I’m betting you are past the point of grammar and spelling exercises or you would have chosen a Writing for Dummies book instead. While “conjunction junction” has its function, this book doesn’t linger on the parts of speech. You will not find dangling modifiers or onomatopoeia references here. However, you might find yourself humming along to the old Schoolhouse Rock song as we begin our journey.

     I love a heart-to-heart chat with kindred spirits and can’t resist discussing creativity, muses, and storytelling. Along with the wiles of wordsmiths and other writer’s candy that only we can get excited about, personal experiences are shared to move you towards your next step on the writing journey. I will share what has worked for me, the tried and true, but also what I am afraid to try. Fear, writer’s block, editing, and even the ‘m’ word (marketing) will be encountered on these side excursions. These are part of the overall writer’s passage too.

     The purpose of this blog is to ensure that you don’t miss a thing. Whatever writing means to you, Write, Baby, Write, is the perfect companion. The Write, Baby, Write chapters are meant to stand alone, so browse to absorb for your immediate needs and then come back for more inspiration when you reach a new point in your writing. In this Blog, I will pull out some helpful tips and words of encouragement from my book and share insights from some of our favorite authors, publishers and fellow writers!

     Reading is a luxury when we are called to write. A fellow writer can relate. Therefore, this book jumps to the meat and bones of writing with no fluff. There’s “no time to say hello, goodbye! I’m late, I’m late, I’m late.” –White Rabbit

     It’s time to write. The time is now. Stop being the deer in the headlights. Instead, stare down your fears and dare yourself to write. If you want to be a writer, declare and introduce yourself by saying, “I am a writer.” Do not clarify, justify, or downplay. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

     P.S. My hope is you will be inspired to blow the dust off the writing draft from the bottom dresser drawer, or have the courage to embark on a brand new journey to fulfill your call to write. Perhaps you need to connect with like-minded writers just to know the abnormal is actually normal. Our paths may never cross, but take comfort in knowing we are traveling the trail in one accord.

I’m always interested in other writers’ stories and journeys. I would love to hear yours! If you have an inspirational anecdote or clever quote to encourage fellow writers, please email me: shelly@tornadovalley.net

Be encouraged and challenged today! Here’s to your next book,

-Shelly