WRITE BABY WRITE

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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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

Are you ready to Sing?

Are you ready to sing? Once this tune gets in your head, it’s there to stay. Imagine Julie Andrews and the von Trapp family singing “These are a Few of my Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. You’re almost there. Add a little more attitude and a phantom banjo. Now you’re ready to hum along to this little ditty about my hometown in the 1970s. My Big O Journey: Growing up in Owensboro, Kentucky is now available on Amazon’s Kindle! You can get the ebook at Amazon (click here!) Yes, I’m excited and yes, I’m nervous. Both make me want to sing. So, in the key of G sing with me:

The Sound of Bluegrass Music.

Big Dipper burgers and mutton with burgoo
Shiny Red Goose shoes and Farrah’s new hair-do
The Charley’s Chip truck, Harlem Globetrotters too
These were the things that we liked to do

Wax Works recordings with eight tracks and albums
Snow drifts and ice rinks and Lincoln Mall’s fountain
Lunch box with thermos, the OTS bus
These were the things that were special to us

Bluegrass and banjos, young boys with tall afros
Dancing with Maypoles and movies at Malco
Drive-ins and Sun-in and Miller’s Lake fun
These were the things that I would have done

Rash Stadium football, a fat Cabbage Patch doll
Dizzy Dave’s straight jeans, Camaros and mood rings
Regattas on river, and Dipper Dan’s cream
These were a few of my favorite things

Izod sweaters
Stick pin letters
And uniform plaids
I simply remember what Owensboro had
And then I just feel…so glad!

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

Coming soon in 2015!

The book draft is finished. My Big O Journey: Growing up in Owensboro, Kentucky is coming to Amazon in February 2015! Take a sneak preview of the cover. My Big O Journey: Growing up in Owensboro, Kentucky I’m even more proud that I didn’t gain my usual 15 pounds when writing, while losing 15 friends at the same time. At least, I don’t think I did. Most folks extended grace, knowing I was in a race to the finish before carpal tunnel syndrome set in. Laser-focused and self-absorbed, I escaped to my own world and didn’t recognize those around me, including family members. My own daughter claims that when she asked if I wanted something from Chick-fil-A, I told her to hush! I missed my chance for nuggets and great lemonade, but have a book to show for it.

My Big O Journey is about growing up as a Kentucky girl in the seventies. Feeling too young to write a memoir, I stuck to one decade of life and lost myself in the reminiscing and nostalgic stories of youth. I was neither a bad girl, nor a goody two-shoes, and was able to offer justice to both sides of the Big O. I didn’t sugar-coat the past, but turned up some surprises that even spooked myself while writing a certain chapter.

I loved the pouring out of ideas which somehow connected together. I usually get burned out ¾ of the way through the writing of a book. That’s an understatement-I hate my own book by then and threaten to abandon it in a bottom drawer. This usually means I’m about to have a break-through as opposed to a breakdown, and it’s most important to push through. During My Big O journey, I never reached that breaking point. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip down memory lane and all the side alleys.

I trained my mind to empty all onto the page-the good, the bad, and the ugly, knowing full well that I would review my thoughts-turned-words many times before sending the pages off to edit. My editor would scour those same words and purge those never meant to land in a book on Planet Earth. Entire chapters melt in a puddle on the floor like the wicked witch. Ouch.

I’m okay with that. The problem comes when I’m in public and open my mouth to speak. Because I’ve spent hours unleashing unfiltered thoughts onto paper, it’s difficult to filter those same thoughts before voicing them. You won’t believe the things I blurt out. My words become squirted toothpaste – no squeezing them back into the tube. Once they’re out, they’re out. Where, oh where did my filter go? If my editor were around, even she would run for cover. Maybe that’s why my husband neglected to inform me of his office Christmas party…hmmm.

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

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)