Category Archives: Creativity

Winter Isolation & Writing

By Terry C. Misfeldt

What do you do when a blizzard hits and you are isolated from the rest of the world?

When a recent snowstorm dumped more than one foot of snow on our community, I could not get my front door open. Sure, I had other means of egress but the first thing that came of mind–after removing the snow, of course–was that it was a perfect time to do more writing.

Winter in Wisconsin has a tendency to isolate us. It’s either too cold to go out or the snow and ice makes driving hazardous. And there’s only so much television you can watch before going stir crazy!

Whether you grab a pen and spiral notebook to make notes or plop yourself at the keyboard and type away at breakneck speed, winter is a great time to write. Personally, I have set a goal of once again writing 1,000 words a day during 2024. Just keeping a daily journal piles up that many words on average.

Working on a draft of a novel or jotting down memories for a memoir, writing can give you a sense of purpose during the long winter months. It’s also a time to organize files, go through your library and get your affairs in order. Once warmer weather comes back, your mind and body will tell you it’s time to get outside again.

Weather, while seclusion can be productive for writing, should not keep you from getting outdoors and enjoying the cleansing nature of snow or the briskness of chill winds. Exercise is good for writers despite the adage about seats in seats.

Wrapping this up, I just noticed something about the first word in each of these paragraphs. What word works with winter weather? Did you get the clue?

Frog Wisdom #3

Playing With Words

Frog Wisdom

By Dorothy Seehausen

“The horse raced past the barn fell.” Sound familiar? This is a classic example of what’s known as a garden path sentence, in which the initial interpretation of the sentence’s meaning is wrong because it contains syntactic ambiguity in the first half of the sentence, creating syntactic inconsistency with the rest of the sentence. Thus, multiple possible interpretations. “The horse that raced past the barn fell.” Better?

          Garden path sentences often pop up in our first drafts. Not very many writers can coordinate the right brain’s creativity with the left brain’s editing tasks at the same time. Wouldn’t that be sweet – your first draft would come out completely edited, putting thousands of professional editors out of work!

          In the real world, our goal as writers is to get the story from inside our head to inside the reader’s head. Being able to recognize your own garden path sentences is an excellent editing tool when you’re down into the weeds of line editing.

          Here are some more examples from Effectiviology, which is actually a website about psychology and philosophy:

          The old man the boat.

          The girl told the story cried.

          The complex houses married and single soldiers and their families.

          We painted the wall with cracks.

Happy Writing from the Frog!

Check out my latest short story “Trace” in the October issue of The Mantelpiece Magazine at themantelpiece.org.

Frog Wisdom #2

The ABC’s of Editing

Frog Wisdom

By Dorothy Seehausen

        Remember the saying, “Those who can write, write; those who can’t, edit.”? As an English teacher and long time wielder of the dreaded red editing pen, I have found both with characteristic challenges. I would hope, however, that whoever is critiquing my work knows a little something about what makes a good story.

            Why, then, does editing one’s work seem so daunting? I believe it is because the creative aspect that we enjoy so much with our first drafts is missing when we start to edit, and we are faced with the application of a plethora of rules, directions, best practices, and….worst of all….the impending death of passages of some of our best work. These are the unkindest cuts of all.

To ease the task, I am finding critiques and feedback from writer friends an immense aid. To have objective eyes of a beta reader or colleague or even a supportive family member reading your final draft creates objective responses your first draft eye often misses.

Keep in mind the three kinds of editing: developmental (story structure); line editing (I call this wordsmything, finding the right word for the right job); and the final proofreading edit even your spell checker misses. They are all different tasks with different goals.      

The most important consideration I have found is to develop a system you can adhere to. Read editing blogs. Find out how the pros edit. Use checklists. And take those feedback notes seriously, clicking off what you the author agree with, and what you don’t. There is no greater feeling than having a polished piece all your own ready to submit to the world eagerly awaiting your prose!

Happy Writing from the Frog!

Check out my latest short story “Trace” in the October issue of The Mantelpiece Magazine at themantelpiece.org.

Character Enhancement

By Terry C. Misfeldt

Far too often writers forget about giving readers a better vision of their characters. What I mean is that we humans touch our faces — sources say — roughly 1,000 times each day. Do writers share any information about how their characters do that?

For instance, imagine a grizzly old man with a scraggly beard. What kind of impression does he make when he tugs on that beard or picks some scrap of food out of it? Is it gnarled and matted or neatly groomed? Gray or brown with streaks of white? Does he stroke the beard when he’s contemplating some advice he’s given or is planning some devious activity? Could you shock your reader by having him shave the beard and appear as a much younger, more vibrant member of society?

Think about the various ways people touch their faces and how you can envelop those touches into your character profiles.

What does it say if your protagonist tugs on his or her ear lobe?

Can you describe how a younger woman applies her make-up versus an older woman?

If tragedy strikes, how does your character weep and wipe away the tears of anguish?

Does your professor contemplate a question by placing their chin in their palm?

Could you divulge a clue about a criminal by whether they use left or right hand?

Take a few minutes and review your manuscript for subtle nuances you could make that bring your character closer to readers. Do you wash your hands after sneezing?

Writing Resolutions

By Terry C. Misfeldt

As 2022 kicks into high gear, writers often think about and consider establishing resolutions regarding their writing for the year ahead. Here are a few worth taking a look at setting for yourself.

  1. I commit to writing 500 words a day.
  2. I sustain the ability to write 1,000 words every day.
  3. I complete my novel by August 1st.
  4. I compile my memoir and publish it by September 15th.
  5. I develop a character arc for my novel by April 10th.
  6. I edit my work within 60 days of “completing” whatever I write.
  7. I send 10 query letters to publishers every week.
  8. I set aside two hours to write every other day.

You will notice in each of these suggested goals for your writing that three are no “can” or “will” or “might” words. There are, however, action verbs since action is a major element of establishing any resolution.

The second element of resolutions is will power. If you set a goal and fail to act on it, or do not follow through on the commitment you made to yourself, learn from that and apply corrective behavior. You can do it!

Be realistic. Avoid resolutions you know in your heart you lack the fortitude to stick to. Yes, goals are a good thing but they require honesty and commitment. Saying you “want to” quit smoking does not commit you to quitting. Quitting does.

Think about what you need to accomplish as a writer. Be honest and then apply yourself to you. Write that goal down and post it where you can see it. After sticking to it for seven or more days, you have it made.

When my father told me how I could quit smoking, his advice was that if I could make it one day, I could make it two days. If I could make two days, I could make it four days. If I could make it four days, I could make it a week. If I could make one week, I could make two weeks…and so on. I followed his advice and more than 46 years later am still making it!

Do it!

Writing Time

By Terry C. Misfeldt

When is your best opportunity for writing time? Do you need peace and quiet to think and write? Can you squeeze in a few minutes during your lunch break? Do the kids all have to be in bed before you can sit down at the keyboard?

Knowing your best writing time is an essential element of becoming a professional writer. Let’s consider options. An important aspect of these options is determining how many words you intend to craft in one sitting and how long it takes you to generate that many words. When I gave myself the challenge of writing 1,000 words per day, I learned I could achieve that goal in 40 to 45 minutes…depending on whether my brain was functioning at 25 words per minute.

  1. Pouring and sipping that first cup of coffee in the early morning hours gets some writers started. If you work at 9:00 a.m. and need an hour and one half for feeding and grooming yourself before getting dressed and commuting, you should consider how much you are willing to forego sleep to get in writing time. Could you write 500 words in half an hour? If you can and want to rise with the sun to do that, go for it.
  2. Finding time during the day to write can be a challenge if you are working full-time or in an office environment. More than likely you already spend time in front of the computer screen, but could you sneak in 15 minutes to crank out 400 words? The challenge here is to avoid using the company cloud to save your work…unless you own the company and then it does not matter. Suggestion: Use a flash drive to store your work.
  3. After work, dinner time with the family, and relaxation time can be productive writing time. Many writers work late into the evening or early morning crafting their novel or writing their memoirs because that is when they are inspired to write. Just remember there are also times when your brain is fried by then and what you write may look like rubbish when you read it the next day.
  4. In short, the best time to write is when you are motivated, inspired, and can concentrate on your project. Writing time may also be best devoted to research and making notes. Writing time is your time!

Getting Noticed

By Jean Baxter

Someone asked the question on our writer’s Facebook page if anyone has tried donating their book to one of the neighborhood “Free Libraries”?

I hadn’t, but I have gone to several of those little libraries and put my bookmarks in the books already there. I also put my bookmark in every book I check out at the public library—I don’t know if they just throw them away, but it’s worth a try. And I have donated my book to two of the public libraries and also to two high school libraries.

Has any of this done any good? I don’t know.

So, today when I went on my daily walk, I brought along one of my books. I put a note on the inside cover stating I was a local author and would appreciate it if my book could be circulated around the neighborhood.

I mentioned this book and the others I have written are set in northeast Wisconsin. And, of course, the plea for a review if they read it.

As I approached my targeted neighborhood free library, I saw a man shoveling the driveway right near the box. As I went to add my book to the collection, he said, “It’s getting so full I’m going to have to sort through and throw some out.”

“Oh, please don’t throw this one out,” I pleaded, “I wrote it!” He came right over and took it from me. “My wife and I are always looking for something to read, I’ll bring it right in!” We chatted a little more and I left feeling really good.

Who knows, maybe I will get a review out of it yet!

Jean Baxter Author of: Salvageable & Unfathomable & That Forgiveness Thing

Writing Exercises and Prompts

By Lawrence Wilson

Whenever I experience a lack of motivation, ideas, or energy (which sometimes occurs daily), I look over my collection of exercises and prompts to help get started.

Going back to my high school typing class, I did manage to type 40 or so words a minute without looking at the keys. Using this tool as a writing exercise, I sit quietly for a few minutes and then begin to type. Eyes closed. Letting any and everything that fires through the neurons wind up on paper.

If I don’t lose my place on the keyboard, it usually ends with a jumble of words and phrases that may or may not resemble a theme. It really doesn’t matter. It’s spontaneous, gets the mind and fingers working in synch. Most of the time, it gets deleted afterward. 

Another exercise is the six-word memoir. One of the more famous of these, “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.” (Ernest Hemingway). My own: “Hearing the call, afraid to answer.” Or “I married up, she did not.”

Word prompts are much the same kind of mental exercise for writing. These can either be timed or have a defined word count. I try to make it to 500 words.

 I have just perused through some old prompts and found some that are rather good and could be developed.

‘Pitching a Frog’, for example. I don’t even remember what the prompt was, but it has the makings of an excellent short story. Another I found, ‘The Secrete Planet’. I called it “Orangetang”, a collection of all the citrus fruit drinks the astronauts couldn’t stomach and thus, jettisoned them so NASA wouldn’t find out. All prompts do not a story make.

Others have made it into the collection of my book, ‘Catching Chickens’. ‘The Door’, ‘Friends’ (the prompt was something about seeing a man on a ledge).

There are many sources of prompts and exercises available on the Web. Here are just a couple of them.

  • ‘The Author’s Publish Compendium of Writer’s Prompts’, http://www.authorspublish.com/writing-prompts-compendium/
  • Writer’s Digest Magazine has many links to prompts. In one contest, they provide the photo, and you write the first storyline.  The winners are published in the next issue.
  • As with anything else writing, all you must do is enter the keywords, “writer prompts,” and AI will find more than you ever wanted to know.

Cover Art

By Terry C. Misfeldt

In this day and age when naysayers believe print books are going the way of dinosaurs, it is ever more important that the cover art of your book grabs a potential reader’s attention.

Print on demand (POD) publishing today demands even more that your artwork is appealing since your book will most likely have a soft cover. That means paper instead of a stiffer, non-printable binding.

Now, if you are getting published in hard cover, there will be a wrap-around cover which will still require cover art. Even E-books have a need for cover art.

How do you create cover art that sells? I have long held the belief that copy sells while art enhances, but selling books with cover art requires both.

Romance writers know their cover art needs to show couples in a passionate embrace. Poets have more latitude in what graces their covers. Science fiction writers need “out of this world” artwork to entice potential readers.

Elements of strong cover art include: 1) Attractive color schemes; 2) Text (like your book title) that stands out from the background and uses an appropriate font; 3) Images that convey the essence of your book and entice people; 4) Catchy blurbs to garner attention; and, 5) a Professional image of you, the author.

Consider hiring a professional graphic artist to create your cover. Many publishing companies have cover artists on staff to assist you in that process…often at a steep cost. An option I employed with my first novel was contacting the local university’s graphic arts department to see if any students wanted to attack my cover. After several drafts and a few hundred dollars, I got an excellent (IMO) cover, thanks to Angela Collier. Can you guess what the novel is about?

Keeping a Journal

By Terry C. Misfeldt

When we were younger it was thought of as keeping a diary. As we have gotten older, that diary is now considered a journal. With age, keeping a journal is one of the best ways to keep track of the special occasions and life moments you experience.

Like my grandmother who started her journal when she was 10 years old and kept it up until 10 days before her passing, i have consciously kept a journal for most of my life. The exception was 2019 when I chose to intentionally skip keeping track of minutiae and just live my life!

The Corona virus pandemic of 2020 has proven to be an excellent reason for keeping a journal. The panic of being close to someone who might be infected. The anxiety of being quarantined. Waiting for test results. Listening to information and wondering whether it is accurate or manufactured. Doubt. Emotions provide insight to what you have gone through it you have shared them in a journal.

You are not obligated to share your journal with anyone. It is your personal property. It can also be a legacy to your loved ones when you leave this existence for the other side. I am fortunate to have some of my grandmother’s journals and the secrets they have divulged about growing up in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Being able to decode her symbols, I was able to determine when my father was conceived.

My fifth grandchild recently joined our family and, in my journal, I have shared my emotions and feelings about my third grandson. Being able to go back and review dates and events enables me to reminisce about his birth when I am older and grayer with a mind less likely to remember details that are fresh now.

If you travel, journal about it. A friend of mine who has been a professional photographer during his entire career has traveled extensively. When he shared images with me about his trips, i encouraged him to create journal entries and share them with his followers. It created a permanent memory of his exploits for himself, his family, and those of us who have always admired his work.

If you consider yourself a writer and wonder what to write, journal. Keeping a journal provides inspiration for that great American novel.