Category Archives: Writing

5 Stages of Publishing

Denial – I’m exhausted from writing my story, then editing and revising it.  Finding a publisher or self-publishing cannot be as hard as what I’ve already gone through.

Anger – Why do people keep saying, “Get your book published!”  Do they think I can just snap my fingers and it will magically happen?  Don’t people realize how hard it is??

Bargaining – Maybe I don’t ever need to publish.  I do not need to monetize my creativity.

Depression – No one is ever going to know the characters I created, or the world and story I constructed.  What a waste.

Acceptance – I will have to write a query letter.  And start a website/blog to connect with readers.  I will either query agents and publishers, or I will self-publish with Amazon and figure out where I want to go from there in terms of advertising.

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101 Job Applications Later and 5 Things I Have Learned

1. Force yourself to think of the positive side – It is easy to start an internal dialogue while looking through hundreds of job postings that will tell you things like, “I can’t do that job!”  Or, “No way, that workload sounds overwhelming!” 

For example, one job posting I came across said you need to write 3,000 words a day!  But maybe I could write 3,000 words a day…it would depend on the words.  If I have to think up the creative idea in the first place AND then do the research AND then do the writing?  In that case, maybe 3,000 words each day is too much to come up with all on my own all in a day!  But if you are provided with 6,000 words, and they just want you to edit them down to 3,000, rewording them to make it more translatable and relatable, then sure, I could do that, no problem. (In addition to being a novelist, I’m an essayist, after all). 

Maybe you can do anything.  You do not know unless you at least try and apply for the job.

2. Never assume – Do not let your internal dialogue tell you at the outset that they wouldn’t want you for the job.  Never assume you know exactly what they are looking for. 

Someone wrote that job posting, and then you interpret the language, the list of skills, and if you assume just because you only are a perfect match for some of the requirements, (but not all, the way they worded it), that somehow you are a square peg for that round hole, then you are missing out on the chance that the someone other than you would actually interpret you as a near perfect fit, and then want to send you an invitation to interview.

3. Be bold and tell them why your imperfect fit is perfect – Many job postings are seeking a future employee or prospective employee that has a lot of experience in whatever niche market the company is in. 

In my experience, I know my skill set as a writer has been honed to a fine point in the last 15 years, but maybe my resume does not reflect that.  My resume shows that I am at the top of my field in education credentials, but so far, I only have one year of actual professional writing experience.  So, where I fall short when looking at most job postings, is in being able to prove years of professional writing experience by having a previous job in the exact same position as what they are looking for.  And really, I think, not many applicants are going to be applying for a job where they have had the EXACT same job before.  Instead, they have something that instead gives them the exact same skills.

So, find an element of your qualifications that represent the skills that they are looking for.  For example, myself, as an office manager and accountant for 15 years for my previous company, I also made frequent advertising decisions, even writing the tagline that forms the basis for that company’s mission statement to this day.  As an office manager, I wore many hats.  I have to remember that just because writing ad copy wasn’t my only job for them, that does not mean I wasn’t participating regularly in all the things to do with advertising, (including coming up with SEO keywords).  And, I gained valuable experience in all kinds of writing and communications, on all kinds of subjects.  This included letters and responses to clients (customer facing communications), writing and updating the business plan (grant and proposal writing), and quotes (B2B and B2C = what we do and why you need us).  That is a lot more writing skills than simply the title “Office Manager” can say.

4. Apply a second time – If you see a job posting come up a second time, apply again.  Maybe they didn’t notice you the first time.  Never assume they read your resume and passed on you, because maybe they didn’t even see it.  Add something to your cover letter to get you noticed this time, because at this point, you have nothing to lose.  Or, maybe they did see you the first time, but somehow you look like a better fit this time because of your tenacity to try again.

5. Don’t sweat the tiny mistakes – No matter how hard you try, even if you look everything over 3 times (5 times), later you may notice one tiny mistake on the last-minute change you made to your resume to tweak your skills to suit this particular job, or on the cover letter, etc. There is nothing you can do about it, let it go, try not to lose sleep over it. Perfection, no matter how hard we long to achieve it, is nearly impossible to reach. Near perfect should still shine through to get you the job. We are only human after all.

There, that was 900 words in 45 minutes, (and then 15 minutes of editing).  Maybe I could write 3,000 words a day after all.  Now, where was that job posting I saw that said that…

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Hardwired for Story

https://quotefancy.com/lisa-cron-quotes

“We think in story. It’s hardwired in our brain. It’s how we make strategic sense of the otherwise overwhelming world around us.” –Lisa Cron

I recently explored a writing opportunity as a web copywriter and storyteller.  I really appreciated that they called the work “Storytelling.” Humans are hardwired for story, and any piece of writing that puts people (characters) at the center of an action (plot) will be translated as a story.

Everything is a story. This is a story.

I can see that using characters and plot for advertising purposes is one of the best ways to engage an audience.  We are not only hardwired to listen to a story and take it in, but to relay the story to others.  There are many articles here and here where people much smarter than me have proved this hypothesis.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in grad school where I spent years studying writing, is that stories are made to be retold.  For example, even our favorite memes on social media are a hybrid of storytelling.  A meme advertises a concept in its storytelling form that is retellable, and advertising must capitalize on that.  The epidemiology of memes is exactly because they are a micro story, they are relatable, and therefore they ask to be retold.

If a piece of writing is not translatable as a story, we won’t have that feeling to retell it. Advertising that is storytelling at its heart will be the most effective.

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Skills Assessment: Good Cheap But Not Fast

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Recently, I have taken a few online skills assessments.  I have enjoyed them, even though I enjoy Pop Culture quizzes even more.  But I love challenging myself to find details other people may have missed, and the most recent assessment test was all about details. 

For me, what I love the most about looking for specific details is a throwback to wishing I could someday work for the FBI.  No, not as a field agent.  I wanted to be the guy in Clear and Present Danger that could hack a password based on combining other known details.  Not computer hacking where you have to be a code genius, but rather the unlocking of information based on combinations of other information.  I love it!

Of course, in Clear and Present Danger, the character that does this information gathering is Petey, played by Greg Germann, and he works for the CIA, not the FBI.  But it’s the closest reference I could come up with to how I wished I could feel in a job like that.  I like the feeling when I can solve problems for other people, based on information gathering, and Petey does that perfectly. 

Anyhow, back to the skills assessments.  The most recent one did have one thing that I wasn’t sure about; it was timed.  On one hand, just like Petey, there is a certain feeling that the faster I do this the more impressive I will seem.  On the other hand, what if I miss something or make a mistake because I am rushing the result.  And therein lies the rub.  I am not sure if it is more impressive to be fast and fairly accurate, or more impressive to be slower but have 100% accuracy. 

It is fairly difficult to have both, fast AND accurate.

Just like the sign above, good and cheap won’t be fast.  And similar to offering those 3 kinds of services above, you can have a variation of some of the services, but you can’t have it all.

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Reading for Creative Writing

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I sometimes find myself feeling apologetic for how much film and television I watch.  However, I am usually doing other things at the same time.  Years ago, when required to study and complete two semesters of French to satisfy the second language obligation for my undergraduate degree, I forced myself to study by bargaining that I was allowed to binge watch the entire series of Grey’s Anatomy at the same time, (12 seasons at the time).  I will admit now, however, I cannot concentrate on two things at once the way I used to.  I can have my latest binge-worthy series playing while I cook dinner, clean house, and do laundry, even while I do a little light office work, but when it comes to reading, studying, and my own creative writing, yeah, I have to shut off the TV.

Recently I came across a second-year university course called Reading for Creative Writing with the University of Toronto here.  “This course will help students to see connections between their reading and their work as creative writers. They will read texts in a variety of literary and non-literary genres and consider the way that writers learn their craft from other writers. Practical assignments will encourage students to find creative ways to critique, imitate, speak to, and borrow responsibly from the work they read.”  This was incredibly validating for me.  I have always believed time spent reading, or as in my case above, watching stories unfold in film or on television, informs my ability to tell my own stories.  I absorb technique from other writers who write for the big and small screen, by watching their stories, brought to vivid life by the imagination and technique of the director, cinematographers, set designers, costume designers, and so many more, the list is literally as massive as the credits at the end of any film.

Whenever I start to think of narrative techniques used in television and film, I get excited about how stories told in pictures on the screen offer techniques a writer of mere words cannot use, for example, silence.  Sometimes television and film will use narrative voice-over to fill in the silence.  As a writer of words, of course, I understand this technique very well.  But television and film are visual mediums where the tools available transcend words and dialogue, and I love it when this is used to great effect.  A scene that comes to mind was in 1992’s The Bodyguard, where the character of Tony, (played expertly by Mike Starr), and Frank, (played just as expertly by Kevin Costner), get into a battle of wills over how to protect their client.  After a lengthy and intense scene of fierce hand to hand combat in the kitchen, where no words were spoken at all, Tony surrenders to Frank in action, by holding up his hands in submission and laying down the knife.  Frank says, “I don’t want to talk about this again.”

That was some seriously brilliant storytelling in the space between, using no words.

Anyhow, I learn from reading and watching stories told, either on the page or on the screen, therefore, I will not feel too guilty if the research for my next story comes in the form of watching the latest and greatest small screen offerings from one of the many screening services available to me today.

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The Barnum Effect

I recently had a student write two versions of the same story.  The second version delved a little deeper into the character and explained little more about what was motivating the character, and this is a technique that certainly serves a story in many instances.  And some readers will absolutely respond to that extra depth and say without a doubt they like the second version better.  Myself, if a writer explains too much, I accept the story is entirely theirs, and I am entertained and enlightened.  But I felt closer to my student’s first version on a personal level because I was filling in some of the blanks on my own, which personalized the story for me.

The story was a character study of disparate individuals whose lives intersect at the park.  What I got in particular from the writing in the first version was the opportunity as a reader to fill in what I needed to about the story, based on my own life experiences, biases, and ideas.  In my opinion, leaving room for a little bit of interpretation when it comes to the character’s motivations will better position your reader in the story.  It’s a balancing act between telling the reader just enough to create an understanding, but then leaving out just enough so that the reader can fill in the rest of the blanks, thus creating a feeling of their own participation in the story.  Sort of like the Barnum Effect, the reader can fill in any blanks from their own personal script of experience, allowing them to feel personally connected to the story, in a way, like you were writing it just for them.  

I do not compare fiction writing to the Barnum Effect to impugn fiction writing in any way, only to point out every reader will connect with a story in their own way, if given the chance.

No matter what, I love stories, I love studying stories, and I truly appreciated the opportunity to read two versions of the same story, and then share my thoughts.   Ultimately, the student will decide for themselves which version resonates in its truest form to the story they wanted to tell. 

My final thoughts are just because you’re telling a story doesn’t mean you have to explain your story, even if you encounter readers who say, “Please explain what you mean here.”  I’m more along the lines of, “Wait!  Don’t tell me.  I want to figure it out for myself.”  Of course, there’s nothing wrong with stories that explain, especially when we are dealing with subject matters where we are craving an explanation in a world that confuses us at times.  But then at other times, we are watching events simply unfold, and I think it is better if you do not explain too much.

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The Many Faces of Dementia

As a storyteller, I did not want to tell this story, but I had to tell it.  I had to put words to this tragedy because words are all I know.  Maybe it is upsetting to make public what is so private, but dementia has many faces.  And this is one of them.

Two years ago in 2020, I got a vehicle ride back from a job site with a lady whose husband had dementia.  She told me he had Frontotemporal Dementia.  He was a musician who loved music, but with his particular type of dementia, his personality changed so that he didn’t even want to play anymore, even though he still remembered how. 
 
Although Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia are words I hear every day, with so many people’s lives being touched by this disease, I had never heard of this particular type of dementia. 
 
After I got home, I called my mom.  What kind of dementia did dad have?  She wasn’t sure.
 
With some quick research, I learned there were five types, but it is not always easy to discern which type a loved one may have.  The symptoms can be so varied, and the people who are in charge of primary care, like my mom was for my dad, may be too close to the day-to-day behaviors, which can change slowly over time, to be able to categorize those changes into a diagnosis.  And a medical professional only has a few minutes with the patient at an appointment.  They can do an assessment questionnaire, they can ask the people who live with the patient about symptoms, but not everyone will be able to get a definitive diagnosis of one of these five type of dementia.
 
There are many different resources on the internet, but I found one here with a list:
 
1.      Alzheimer’s Disease
Probably the most known and the most common dementia type, Alzheimer is a consequence of an abnormal shrinkage of the brain. This affects every brain functions and causes significant changes, in particular regarding the behavior and interpersonal relationships. The first signs of this disease include difficulty to remember. For example, the day, the place or recent events, or even a depressive behavior.
 
2.      Dementia with Lewy Bodies
Similar to Alzheimer, this kind of dementia also presents features near Parkinson, such as tremors and stiffness. It comes with sleeping disorders and visual hallucinations.
 
3.      Vascular Dementia
Every stroke or vascular accident causes damages to the brain as well as tissue loss. Thus, after some little crisis, Alzheimer-like symptoms can appear, in particular, memory disorders, bad decision making, and difficulty in planning.
 
4.      Frontotemporal Dementia
In this case, the neurodegeneration affects more the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, which causes important changes in behaviour and personality. The affected person can also show language troubles, difficulty to move and memory losses. The first symptoms appear sooner than for Alzheimer, that is to say around 60 years old.
 
5.      Mixed Dementia
This one is a situation where someone is affected by two types of dementia. The most common combination is Alzheimer’s disease with vascular dementia.
 
My dad first showed an obvious sign that there was something wrong with his cognitive function in 2016.  He came to visit me and my sister and could not stop talking about when he was a teenager.  At first, it just seemed like reminiscence, however, he really did not want to talk about anything else.  Every time we changed the subject, he would change it back to talking about his teenage years, who he knew back then, the things he did, and the girls he dated.  He also started talking about his sex life with our mother, and the sex he had as a teenager.  It got very uncomfortable, and he couldn’t be convinced to stop talking about these subjects.  He did not think there was anything wrong with talking about sex with us, and he wouldn’t stop even when we asked him to.  He really was unaware of anyone else’s feelings, ignored direct requests, and continued to change the subject back to the world of memory in his own mind to which he was obsessed.
 
When dad went back home to our mom, we tried to talk to her about it.  She was embarrassed that he had talked about his sex life, their sex life, embarrassed by his behavior, and because she had an upcoming trip of her own, she said she would deal with it “later.”
 
After her trip, she followed up with a doctor, but my dad appeared reasonably fine during his appointment. It seemed that he had only been in his obsessive agitated state when visiting his daughters, so it was left at that for the time being.
 
About two years later, mom admitted dad was having some significant short term memory issues, but she did not really talk to us about his agitated states.  My uncle mentioned that he had observed my dad would get obsessed with an idea, that he had repaired the water pump which he had not, and he could not be convinced otherwise, but it just sounded like mild confusion.  Nothing out of the ordinary for someone who was developing dementia.  He was assessed again, yes, he had early dementia.
 
In 2019 he did not pass a driving test and lost his license.
 
Finally, I traveled to visit my parents in December of 2021.  I did not try to talk to my dad about any specifics, like hey dad, do you know who I am?  Do you know my name?  Do you remember my husband of 30 years?  I didn’t ask him questions for fear he would struggle to find the answers.  I did not start any sentences with, “Dad, do you remember when…?”  Instead, I spoke of our immediate surroundings.  He seemed entirely in the present moment and could not remember anything outside of a 5-to-10-minute window of time.  But he seemed content and harmless.  He was calm and pleasant, and never seemed overly concerned that I was there visiting.  He just took in his surroundings, which included me for the five days of my visit, and went about his routine.  When he woke up in the morning, he dressed himself, and came out to the kitchen for some cereal.  He napped a lot.  He looked out the window at the lake and we talked about the weather.  He listened to the radio.  He watched television. 
 
My mom admitted she was exhausted as his caregiver.  Sure, she could put food in front of him and he would eat, but she had to hide the bananas because he would forget he ate one and keep going back for another.  One time he ate five bananas in an hour, but he did not remember eating even one of them and could not understand why his stomach hurt.  She had to tell him to shower, and if he didn’t do it right away, he would forget she told him.  It had gotten to the point she also had to watch him shower to remind him to use soap, and to then rinse the soap out of his hair.  He would get out of breath from his emphysema and COPD, and would stand there breathless and struggling, until he was told to use the inhaler that he could not remember he had.  Sometimes she had to go get the inhaler for him, because he did not remember where it was kept.
 
While I visited, I slept in the spare room downstairs, and I could hear him wandering the house in the middle of the night.  At lunchtime, an alarm went off on their digital weather station.  Somehow my dad had pressed some buttons and set an alarm to go off.  Of course, he did not remember doing it, and denied he did it. Why would I have done that? He asked.
 
After my visit, my dad’s nocturnal wanderings increased.  He wandered the house and unplugged the cablevision.  My mom was concerned he would unplug something critical, like their back-up generator, so I told her she should take him to the doctor for sleeping pills.  But the more he wandered at night, the more he slept during the day, and it was giving her a bit of a rest when he slept most of the day.
 
Saturday, April 9, came as a shock.  My dad loved dogs, took naps with their dog lying on the bed beside him, and was generally not violent.  But that morning, he somehow thought he was in danger and stabbed the dog to death.  Had my mom ran into the bedroom when she first heard the dog cry out, she may have been stabbed herself.  By the time she got there, the dog was on the floor in a pool of blood and my dad was grabbing a hammer to finish him off.  My mom wrestled the hammer out of his hand, and in the struggle he gave her a black eye and split her lip.  She called the police.
 
At first, the police treated it as a domestic dispute, recommending she get an order of protection against him to ensure he could not come home when he was released from the hospital.  They had arrived and put him in the back of the police car, but by then he was calm and did not remember he had done anything to the dog or my mom.  They did not realize he had severe dementia and did not even know his own address.  I guess until that morning none of us realized his dementia was severe, or that he would have psychosis.
 
The doctor at the psychiatric ward of the hospital where they took him told my dad what he had done, but my dad could not believe it.  He would never have done such a thing.  10 minutes later he had forgotten what the doctor had told him.
 
I googled dementia with psychosis and found this:
 
“Psychotic features of dementia include hallucinations (usually visual), delusions, and delusional misidentifications. Hallucinations are false sensory perceptions that are not simply distortions or misinterpretations. They usually are not frightening and therefore may not require treatment.”
 
Instead of feeling better, this only added to my grief.  This horrific event was not even considered “normal.”  It should have made me feel better knowing there was nothing we could have done differently to prevent this tragedy, but nothing made me feel better.  I couldn’t help feeling that it would have been better if he had just died.  An overburdened and overwhelmed medical system is the only place for him now.  He can never go home, and my dad has no capacity to understand why.  And he is not even really my dad anymore.  My dad would never have stabbed a dog to death. 
 
As a storyteller, I did not want to tell this story, but I had to tell it.  I had to put words to this tragedy because words are all I know.  Maybe it is upsetting to make public what is so private, but dementia has many faces.  And this is one of them.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Forms of Creative Writing: Letters

I’ve been thinking a lot about all the different forms of creative writing, and just came across one I had not thought of: letter writing.  Personal correspondence, or letter writing, has formed the basis for epistolary novels and stories, for example, Stephen King’s Jerusalem’s Lot and Jane Austen’s Lady Susan.

Letter writing was (I say was, because it is a dying art form) incredibly widespread and diverse, and is a wonderful example of creative non-fiction storytelling, done by everyone from famous writers, like John Steinbeck above, to the average literate citizen, young and old.

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Diversity in Stories

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I had a student make an interesting observation about the initial desire to leave the character open to interpretation, so that it could be anyone, entirely relatable.  However, she was also correct when she realized that actually made the character flat, uninteresting, not relatable at all. 

Generally, a reader already pretty much knows whatever the story situation it is that you are writing.  It could happen to anyone, but we do not want just anyone.  What readers want (usually) is how a specific character reacts to that situation, with all that is unique to them.  Same story but different because this character is different. 

And that is why diversity in publishing is important and will be even more so moving forward now that we have figured out the publishing industry was not giving us as much diversity as it could have.  Readers are drawn to diverse characters, and we want to know all of them, from all places, all walks of life.  And sometimes the most relatable characters, the most human, are not even that, (Spock, Frodo Baggins).  Omg, I just got goose bumps thinking of that scene at the end of Wrath of Khan…

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Anyhow, there is an incredible amount of diversity on this planet too, so I hope we can see and read as much diversity as we can moving forward.

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Why Does my Plot Need to Happen?

I think it’s one of those questions to reconnect us to why we started our story in the first place, to get us to keep telling the story if we reached a place where we weren’t sure.  Writing can be hard work, and if we ever feel blocked and frustrated, sometimes we just need to articulate to ourselves something like, I may not know why, but this story now exists only as a shadow, and it must be brought into the light.

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