creativity

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

The Magic Eraser

Write Baby Write: You Can Do It It had been a long time since I looked under the kitchen sink. “I need to look under here,” I said to my husband, as he prepared a meal for supper club that evening. He just stared, not used to my being in the kitchen while he cooked. Gourmet chefs can be like that.

While deveining shrimp, he stepped over to avoid the cabinet door banging his shins while I searched the cabinet’s contents. Unlike Mother Hubbard, my cupboard was never bare, filled to the brim with stuff I intended to use ‘someday.’ I forgot what I was looking for in the clutter, but spied something else: Magic Erasers. I eased the unopened box toward me while bottles of cleaner toppled like bowling pins. I slammed the cabinet shut before rolling a strike.

The Magic Erasers were an impulse buy during my coupon binge in 2011. Besides twenty jars of free mustard, I often returned from grocery trips with household cleaners for pennies on the dollar after stacking coupons. The Magic Erasers were new-in-the-box, but I doubted they would work four years later. While my husband slaved away in the kitchen, I decided it would be an ideal time for me to try a new product. I wetted one end of the eraser and dabbed it on the wall. I couldn’t’ believe it; the mark disappeared, the mark that had been there since we last moved furniture-could it be seven years ago? The seven-year mark disappeared as did all the others when I erased my whole house. I only stopped when the Magic Eraser disappeared. Indeed it was magic.

Good writing needs a magic eraser too. On a keyboard, it’s called the backspace key. Before computers, we mostly used pencils. My pencil eraser always wore out well before the sharpened writing tip, and I thought that was bad. I was convinced that good writing needed lots of words, the more the better. I was rewarded for adding flab to research papers in order to increase the pages or word count, per a teacher’s requirements. Once I finally learned what an adjective was, I strung them together to make even longer sentences. My daughter did the same on her homemade cards, writing: I love you so, so, so, so, so…much-until her Crayola disappeared like the Magic Eraser. She did this to show me love when she was five years old, but you won’t be showing the reader love if you water down words with over-abundant adjectives to impress them-unless you’re five years old.

Mark Twain once said, “If you find an adjective, kill it.” He even suggested to “substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

I’m amazed at the end of every writing piece after performing a document word search for ‘very.’ I need to stock up on Magic Erasers for my ‘verys’ alone. But let’s back up to the pencil. With a pencil, you can’t write and erase at the same time. It’s the same with writing-you can’t erase until after you’ve written. Write first and erase later. And then be ruthless with the ‘verys.’ They are very annoying.

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

We Got Spirit in our Britches and it really, really Itches

“Watermelon, watermelon, watermelon, lime. Look at the scoreboard and see who’s behind. You, you, you , you-Yeah, you.”

I was used to this kind of cheer while growing up in Kentucky. We talked all kinds of smack around basketball, and intelligent words weren’t required. Nowadays, cheers are mellower and might even spell real words like d-e-f-e-n-s-e.

However, one place in our nation still chants intensely personal cheers. The Library of Congress notes the homecoming tradition of the University of Montevallo as the oldest in the country, with their distinctive mantras passed down from the late 1800s. The entire college body divides into sides-either purple or gold, and remains that way forever. I once interviewed a lady for my Montevallo book, and asked her whether she was purple or gold. She replied, “I AM a purple.” She graduated from the university in 1956.

Imagine programming your GPS by pulling up the state of Alabama, and drawing a giant X on it. The exact center of the X marks the spot where these age-old cheers take center stage, culminating on one special night of the year called College Night. By the end of the night, you’ll find yourself hypnotically mumbling along, not quite sure what you’re saying, but joining in the frenzy nevertheless.

When you step into the arena on College Night, the world as you know it is left behind. You’re transported to a place like ancient Rome, where costumed lions roam the floor, and an urgent crowd jostles you towards a mosh pit. Confident grins surround you, looking inquisitively at your poker face. The arena is charged with excitement, anticipation, and nonsensical cheers which make sense to the other thousand people ringing cowbells and waving banners. Listen to the beginning of this video clip and see what I mean: YOUTUBE TRAILER

You feel like you’re on a different planet, albeit a happy one. Suddenly, half of the crowd gives a ‘thumbs up,’ and you are keenly aware that the decision has been made to go for the kill. Panicked, you scan the crowd for real gladiators and lions in this other worldly place where anything could happen. You’re relieved when the band strikes up the familiar Star Spangled Banner, indicating you’re still in America after all. The crowd stands at attention with one hand over the heart and the other behind the back, but something is odd. The hands behind the backs are signaling with peace signs.

The purple motion is the peace sign while the gold motion is the thumbs up. At least country comes first during the National Anthem…right before the color war. The last battle of College Night takes place on stage as each side vies for the best original play. Viewing two separate plays in one evening, judges gauge the best performance and decide whether a purple victory or gold victory will prevail. What’s it going to be this February-a PV or GV? This still doesn’t explain what “Moo Psi Moo” means. Visit the University of Montevallo website for more information on College Night! (Click Here)

wsos-montevallofront-words-smallWith one PV daughter and another GV daughter, this event hits home for me! If you can’t make it to college night and want to experience this ‘Local Legacy’ at one of the top colleges in the South, check out my book (click here)

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)