Saturday, January 24, 2015

THE BLINDING GLARE OF THE EMPTY PAGE...or 10 Tips to Writing an Interesting Essay

Your teacher has just assigned you the one thing you dread, but know you will face several times during the school year in several of your classes.  Yes, that's right, kids, it's time to write


You let out a deep sigh as you feel the heavy weight of dread in your gut, and your entire attitude fades to black.  It's as if someone has pulled a dark veil over your formerly sunny outlook.

Okay, maybe that's a BIT dramatic.  But for many of us, writing the essay is a task that takes more gumption just to begin than to actually complete.

We have now been assigned Written Task 2, which is the formal essay.  If that isn't punishment enough, we also must include an outline with it to clarify for ourselves and our reader just what we are supposed to be focusing on in our paper (thus providing a possible highlight of where we have fallen short!)  

Now, now, now.  Writing the essay doesn't have to be such a downer.  In fact, it can become something you look forward to!  (Okay, maybe that's taking it a bit too far).  At the very least, it can be a challenge you are ready and able to meet.

Like anything else worth doing, writing takes what I like to refer to as the three P's:  perseverance, passion and patience.  You need to eliminate the idea of "trying my best" and substitute that notion with "I will DO my best."  Do not even entertain the notion of "this will be hard" or "I cannot do this well," or "my teacher will hate this."  Do not put it off until the last minute or it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom.

Instead, set aside a quiet space, do some relaxation breathing like we learned in class, and ELIMINATE DISTRACTIONS.  Silence your phone.  Do not allow yourself to text friends or scope out Facebook.  It's just you, some paper (or a screen) and words.  Take some time to go through your notes and quotes, and begin the process of writing.  Don't put the pressure of editing or grammar on yourself at this stage.  Writing is a process.  Allow your subconscious creativity to flow first, uninhibited.  You can fix it all later.
Be patient with yourself and your thoughts.  Wait for the right words or search them out until you find the one you truly feel is best.  Use a thesaurus for inspiration.  DON'T SURRENDER.

Write something YOU like.  Don't think about me (aka your teacher), or anyone else.  Take your topic, and write about it in an interesting way that appeals to you and reflects your writing style.
 Again, revision and editing will come later.  The first stage of the writing process is....wait for it....WRITING!  Find something fun in it...something that stirs your creative passion.

Writing the essay may never be your favorite thing to do, but at the very least it doesn't have to be a punishment.  Take some time to read this article about "Writing the Essay."  The tips are awesome, I think.  Drink them in, and come ready to attack Written Task 2....


Sunday, January 18, 2015

THE KILL ZONE: Why do (should) authors allow the good to die?

We have come to the end of The Book Thief.  As a reader, once again, I am traumatized.  Yes, it's true.  I am traumatized along with the rest of you, only this will be my 8th time reading through this book, and the eighth time I have been plagued by this trauma.

I am pretty sure that makes me a literary masochist.

I am pleased to say that time has healed me to the point that I won't feel the need to carry the book around with me like a security blanket for the next month, so I can periodically go to the middle or beginning section of the book to resurrect Rudy, Hans and Rosa, but still, I will, along with the narrator of this book (Death) be forever "Haunted by humans."  That is just the reader in me.

The writer in me smiles through the tears.  I nod in agreement with Markus Zusak, and while this story breaks my heart into hundreds of pieces, I get it.  I understand.  I would have done the same thing.

Now, please don't throw orange peels at me through your screens.  You are, as always, free to disagree, but I must return to a quote by James Scott Bell, mystery/thriller writer, who said this:  "Every story is a resurrection story.  Every single one."

The question is, how does this resurrection come about?  How is the mystery of great truth revealed and internalized?  How is it that our characters who seem, at times, doomed, find salvation?  Often, sadly, the answer is through sacrifice.

Novels are about redemption.  So is, if we are honest with ourselves, the story of life.  We all are broken by the world.  But within us is something pretty amazing:  the tenacity of the human spirit.  It keeps us gives us the faith that no matter what happens, no matter what the chaos of life throws at us, no matter how badly we might fail at handling these challenges, there will always be the chance of redemption.

As I am writing my second novel, I am having to make some hard choices about what to do with some of my beloved, messy, beautifully flawed characters.  What makes sense?  What rings true?  What needs to happen so that my reader can find that golden message that we must face the logical consequences of our choices and behaviors?  These logical consequences are tough.  They are cruel.  They are hard.  But through the tears and punctured hearts, (and often ONLY through them) we can discover that  there is ALWAYS (I repeat, ALWAYS) the hope and promise of restoration...of truth, of honor, of love, and of wisdom.

With the death of one, comes the renewed understanding and strengthening of another.
It is the angst that is writing.
It is the raw beauty and brutality of life.

It is what will continue to keep us...

haunted by humans.

Enjoy this article that explains the reasoning behind "killing the good characters."  Please read it with an open mind and understanding that it is relating to fiction writing.  Please comment and give me your thoughts.  What points did you find most true for YOU?

Sunday, January 11, 2015


Right now, one of the big trends on facebook is the gratitude posts.  People will post something for which they are grateful each day and then number the days.  I love the idea.  I think that in this world with all of its choices, daily stresses, and, well, just everything on the news everyday, it is a good way to refocus, reset, and empower ourselves with all the many positive things and blessings we have in this country and community.

A relative of the gratitude post is the list of "My Favorite Things."  Making such a list of the things you hold most dear can provide a springboard for a gratitude list.  It is the perfect time at the beginning of the year to direct your mind to those things that are positive in your life--those things that make your heart happy.  In one of my favorite musicals, The Sound of Music, the Von Trapp family governess, Maria, even sings about her favorite things to help the eight children in her charge refocus their fears on a stormy night to think of things that make them smile...

So, here are the rules for this week's post:  Make a list of your 25 most favorite THINGS.  The key word is THINGS.  No people allowed on your list.  That removes the pressure you may feel to name every family member and friend.  People and things should never be categorized together.  People come first.  This list is much more light-hearted.

It was REALLY tougher than I thought to narrow it down to 25 for me (initially, I was afraid I would draw a blank!) but here is what came to mind first for me.  If you get stuck, go back and listen to Maria's song again, or review my list for inspiration, but really try to just take pen to paper and write what comes to your mind first.  It will probably be the most honest answer.  :)

Let's start the New Year off with a list of all the things we love...those things for which we are most grateful.

Your soul will thank you.

MRS. CARAWAY'S FAVORITE THINGS...(in no particular order)

1.   Cathedral bells
 2.   Classical/Romantic piano music
3.  Fire places and how it feels to sit next to them on a cold day or evening
4.  Christmas Eve
5.  Mont Saint Michel
6.  Big Ben in London, and the view of it from Westminster Abbey
7.  The walk along the Seine from Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame in the autumn.
8.  Hanalei Bay & Secrets Beach (Kauai)
9.  WW2 History
10.  Handwritten letters with wax seals
11.  Romeo and Juliet  (and Shakespearean language)
12.  Books, movies and plays that make me cry, for joy and sadness (I can watch Phantom of the Opera over and over and over again)
13. Things that sparkle (candlelight, glitter, crystals, diamonds, etc.)
14.  Standing on a stage after a late night dress rehearsal...and it's dark, and there's anticipation everywhere....
15. The color red
16.  Reading or writing inside on a cold rainy day
17.  Pumpkin Spice Lattes with coconut milk
18.  The sound of my children laughing
19.  Watching my plays and my favorite plays come to life on the stage with my favorite people in them.
20.  Lacy, vintage dresses and button up boots (the combo of it)
21.  Flowers--especially poppies
22.  My faith (which gives me hope--my favorite virtue next to love)
23.  Perfume (I LOVE trying it all on!)
24.  The way it feels outside just before the snow falls (the sacred quiet of it--like nature holding its breath)
25.  Heroes - the real kind


Sunday, January 4, 2015


It's nothing personal.  

People say that to you when you are upset by something that was done or said to you...something that mattered.  Something you cared about.  Whether you lost an opportunity, or someone treated you unfairly, these are the three words that are often offered to us to "make it better:"

It's nothing personal.

Have you been told that before?  Does it work for you?
Let's hold that thought for a moment while we go on to something unrelated...The SAT's.

There's a section on the SAT's that I remember quite well.  It's the analogies.  It goes like this:  

Peanut Butter : Jelly  :: ??
Then you choose from four choices which analogy is equivalent.  It is, in a way, a sort of marriage between math and language.  

They start out easy, and then become gradually more impossible, but still, I LOVED practicing these questions and trying to reason them out.

Why am I talking about this?  Well, reading through The Book Thief and experiencing the beauty of Zusak's language, I realize how important writing is to me and to many others out there, I am sure.  We are, as humans, always seeking to express ourselves and connect to others, and writing offers both opportunities in one stroke of the pen or a few taps on a keyboard. better illustrate SAT style....

writing: Mrs. Caraway ::  running: track athlete :: dancing: dancer :: painting : artist


All of these are ways to express ourselves, and in many ways, connect with others.  They enable us to express and release emotions and frustrations, whether those emotions be positive (joy, peace) or negative (pain, anger) and give us a chance to tell the world "I am here.  I have a voice."

We got to identify words that spoke to us as we looked through a list of 51 Quotes last blog entry, so now let's speak out.  Take something that has made you feel strongly: an experience, the words of someone else, an event, a tragedy, a challenge, ANYTHING.  Then, express yourself in poetry, allegory, an image you find that speaks to you, an image you create and can somehow share here with us, a link to a short video or clip you find or created that speaks  for you (appropriate, please), etc.  Then share it with us.

I am sharing something I wrote several years ago when I was feeling pretty down on the world and people, in general.  People can be thoughtless and inconsiderate.  They can, quite frankly, be downright cruel.  I was already discouraged by some people in my life, and then I happen to hear the phrase, "You can't let it bother you.  It's nothing personal."  I think I had an inner snap, and it made me write this down...

I cannot watch the news too often because I take what happens in the world very personally.  I hurt when I see people's lives ripped apart by an act of nature or an evil regime.  I feel sick when I see what some young and innocent children have to go through in their lives because of the selfishness and cruelty of others.  I am offended that people don't take these things personally, quite frankly, and while I have come to realize that the individual who gave me the advice to "not take things personally" meant well, and was right about not letting things KEEP me down, I struggle to this day with the phrase "It's nothing personal."

Maybe it's because I am the so-called artsy type; too emotional or sensitive.  Maybe I feel too much and too deeply.  But you know what?  Good.  I'm grateful for that.  To have a big heart to me is definitely better than the cold alternative.  

Would love to hear your thoughts on my expression/frustration--this snapshot in time--and I am excited to read and offer feedback on yours, too! the spirit of those fun analogies, may your expressions be to you like sweet freedom is to the long-held captive....a great and joyful relief!

We hurt each other with words and plots of financial destruction
We discourage, betray and disregard one another.
What we call "love" is fleeting; disposable- temporary.
We use each other, feigning friendship until our goals are reached and treasures are made.
Then, we politely dismiss one another with the words, "It's nothing personal."

I find it sadly humorous that we convince ourselves these words are true:
"it's nothing personal."
After we break a heart, destroy a trust, ruin a valued relationship, and dismiss it all
with this blatant lie.
What is life if not personal?
Anytime we enter the world of another, it is personal.
When we acknowledge their existence, engage in discourse, exhange pleasantries or vows,
it becomes, above all else, personal.

It is always personal, first and foremost. If nothing else, life, itself is personal.
When we deny this, we lie to ourselves.
John Donne wrote, "No man is an island....any earth that is diminshed diminishes me."
When we destroy each other with a blow that is "nothing personal,"
we are getting very personal with our souls. 

Slowly, it cuts away at our own lives.
This is the great irony that has cut away the very fabric of our society.
It is a line that separates us and makes us enemies: fathers and daughters,
mothers and sons, friends and lovers....we can never get close.

Too many times we have heard the lie or spoken it to ourselves.
A bittersweet assurance that whatever did go wrong, wasn't our fault.
It was nothing personal. 

We protest wars, shake our fist at crime, and cry out at violence-
but what do we expect?
It is an existence of our own creation-
One where "nothing is personal" anymore....