Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Para el amor de palabras (For the Love of Words)

"An Itty Bitty Column on Writing" by Mindy Phillips Lawrence
From Sharing with Writers (Carolyn Howard-Johnson)
March 25, 2009

When I was in college (the first time), I swore what I considered an everlasting oath to study American literature and authors only. My upbringing had a hand in this decision along with the fact that my English professor who was so instrumental in my development taught American lit at that time. What I didn’t realize was that decision locked me into study of a certain range of thought, excluding other ideas from a more expansive world. I had narrowed myself. It has taken me decades to see where reading from a greater world of literature, writing and philosophy can expand what I know in a beautiful way.

I began to study languages in 1995, taking two years of Spanish, a year of Italian and began Portuguese when, unfortunately, my professor died mid-semester with no replacement (neither as an instructor nor as a person). I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude, in Spanish. I picked up Lorca, Paz and others and begin to learn about their work.

Now I have branched out to other countries. I am reading Salman Rushdie, V.I. Naipaul. Doris Lessing, J.M. Coetzee, and Arundhati Roy. I plan to expand even more.

What has this done for my writing? It has enhanced my ability with words immeasurably. The beautiful phrasing and description in Naipaul’s work has seized my soul. It SAYS something. Everything connects to some larger truth. It’s where I want to go with my work. Plain and simple, I want to write with a purpose. Reading current world literature has expanded my ability to write about that purpose as well as defining the purpose itself.

I want to encourage you to step outside your reading and writing box and EXPAND what you know. Grasp ideas from other cultures, faiths and philosophies. You don’t have to agree with them. Not at all. What you have to do is learn from them in order to deepen your base of ideas and, therefore, your writing.

I have mentioned only a few writers from a limited number of countries in the links below. Go to the Internet, your local library or a good bookstore and expand this list of authors to begin your adventure. Drink deeply and often. Your writing will deepen as your thoughts do.


World Literature

V.I. Naipaul

Salman Rushdie

Arundhati Roy

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Doris Lessing

J.M. Coetzee

Amy Tan

Umberto Eco


"An Itty Bitty Column on Writing" by Mindy Phillips Lawrence
From Sharing with Writers (Carolyn Howard-Johnson)
March 25, 2009

Many of us work on articles, novels and other forms of writing for which we much do research. Thanks to the Internet, the job is much simpler than it used to be. However, sometimes it is still daunting.

Recently, my goal was to make a connection between Ireland and Germany in the years leading up to World War II, particularly in 1938. I didn’t know if there was an association but, thanks to Google, I found what I wanted.

If you do non-fiction writing or have a business helping others do research, you know how indispensible it is to know how to do good literary detective work. Google is not the only source.

I am fortunate to have a large public library system where I live and very good personnel there who will help me find what I need. They also allow me to interlibrary loan resources that they don’t have in house. Because of this, I have books from several far-flung college libraries in my stack at home.

Also, if there are colleges and universities in your city, or nearby, you can usually join them for a small amount annually and have access to their works. I am a member of the Missouri State Library System, Mineral Area College Library in Park Hills, MO and the Magale Library at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, Arkansas where I graduated. I will soon add the Missouri State University Library System here in Springfield.

University Faculty
Your local college or university often has faculty personnel willing to help you with research questions. Even if you are trying to figure out a computer problem, you can often call a community college or university and get someone to help you. If you are doing research in a particular field, you might call that department and find a faculty member who will answer your questions.

Experienced Individuals
By use of the Internet and through referrals, you can often find those who have direct experience in the topic you are researching. For instance, if you need to figure out a police procedure, you could call the non-emergency number of your local police department, or make a trip there in person, and find someone willing to speak with you about what you want to know.
The Internet has many lists of those who are professionals who are willing to answer your questions so get out there and find your answers.


University of Wisconsin Expert Database

California State University Expert Database

Monmouth University Expert Database

Washington University (St. Louis) Expert Database

University of Virginia Expert Database

University of Arkansas Expert Database

Louisiana Tech University Expert Database

Penn State Expert Database – Criminal Justice and Race

Friday, March 13, 2009

Character Development

"An Itty Bitty Column on Writing" by Mindy Phillips Lawrence
From Sharing with Writers (Carolyn Howard-Johnson)
March 13, 2009

When you are trying to make your characters real, start with a list of their attributes (like where did they come from? What is their background? What do they look like? What faith did they grow up believing?). Get as detailed as possible. Although you might not use all the information, it’s good to have everything down about that “person.” Do this for each of your main characters and any others that might be beneficial to your writing plan.

Your characters are REAL to YOU. Take time to visit with them and figure out how they express themselves. Take a mental walk with them and get to know them better.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Writing Hot

"An Itty Bitty Column on Writing" by Mindy Phillips Lawrence
From Sharing with Writers (Carolyn Howard-Johnson)
March 13, 2009

There’s an old song called “It’s Too Darned Hot.” I think writers can get that way at times when they write. When we are so “in the zone” working on a story that we forget where we are headed – or gallop out into la-la land – it might be time to draw back a little and view the landscape.

I was writing on my book last night and was hot as can be writing the story. When I drew back a little, I realized I’d lost my bearings. Today I took some time to read what I had down and figure out where the story was headed (no this is NOT over-editing what you’ve written and stopping dead in your tracks. It’s just a caesura – a pregnant pause).

Now, I know many writers write to a hard and fast outline. I write with a sentence-based, what-if concept that probably won’t work for anyone but me. Feel free to give it a try and jettison the whole idea if it doesn’t work for you.

By all means have fun with your story. If you prefer to gallop ahead and jump over that cliff at the end, go right ahead. There might be some cool ideas at the bottom.

I think I’ll stop short of that cliff and see if I can build a bridge.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


"An Itty Bitty Column on Writing" by Mindy Phillips Lawrence
From Sharing with Writers (Carolyn Howard-Johnson)
March 8, 2009

Let’s learn a little about essays today. No, not those staid old things we read in Eighteenth Century anthologies in college or that some English teacher assigned us. Let’s think about the modern essay.

Several well-known modern writers have excelled at essay writing. Among them are Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, E. B. White, James Baldwin, Joan Didion, James McConkey, Cynthia Ozick, Alice Walker, Philip Levine and John Updike. They used the form to say something poignant and to get a point across.

In school we learned essay writing as a strict five-part form that I advocate you learn and then bend as you wish. I’ve given you links to the basics at the end of this article. I’ve also given you links to present-day essayists so you can see what they have to say and how they went about saying it.

So what can you say with an essay? Almost anything. Here are some examples:

· A significant experience in your life
· An epiphany you had
· What you want to do in the last ten years of your life

· The influence of the Internet, good or bad?
· National health care: for or against?
· Does the war on terrorism have an end?

· Neil Sedaka, “The Immigrant” and how things have changed
· The influence of Irish music on Bluegrass
· The real history of the Suffragettes

So see? You can go fancy-schmancy with your topics or write an essay about why you like tulips instead of roses on Valentine’s Day. It’s all up to you.


ESSAYS – Wikipedia




John Updike, “On Not Being a Dove”

Alice Walker, “Alice Walker Reflects on Working Toward Peace”

Joan Didion, “Why I Write” (excerpt)

Presenting with the Best

"An Itty Bitty Column on Writing" by Mindy Phillips Lawrence
From Sharing with Writers (Carolyn Howard-Johnson)
March 8, 2009

I went to a writers’ workshop conducted by western author Dusty Richards, a guy with his 82nd book on its way. I learned something valuable. It doesn’t matter what genre you choose as a writer, there are means and methods of producing your work that will make it have a greater chance of success. I also learned how Dusty went over these writing methods using a PowerPoint presentation.

If you intend to speak about your work, why not learn to do a simple PowerPoint presentation on your topic and figure out how to hook up a computer projector to display it on a wall or screen for your audience? Now buying a projector might not be frugal, as Carolyn might point out, but renting one or seeing if the venue where you are speaking has one available IS very frugal.

I suggest you find a person who knows how to do this, take them out to lunch or dinner and take a notepad with you. Pump their minds for information and techniques. Then, after you’ve sucked out the proper stuff from their heads, offer some of YOUR knowledge back to them in exchange.

Maybe, as Rick said in Casablanca, it could be the “beginning of a beautiful [collaborative] friendship.”

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Novels as Classrooms

"An Itty Bitty Column on Writing" by Mindy Phillips Lawrence
From Sharing with Writers (Carolyn Howard-Johnson)
March 7, 2009

It’s Saturday morning and you’re staring at a blank page on your computer wishing it would miraculously turn into the Great American Novel. Unfortunately, it stays blank. You idea bin is dry and you aren’t sure how to express the one thought circulating through your head. Here’s an idea for you. READ.

In my home office, I have a pile of books that I’ve decided to study. They include Dan Brown’s THE DAVINCI CODE, V.I. Naipaul’s A BEND IN THE RIVER, Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s THIS IS THE PLACE, Dan Skelton’s OUT OF INNOCENCE and Laila Lalami’s ARC of SECRET SON. Lalami’s book weaves together the threads of a young man searching for his identity, the definition of “family” and the factions seeking to take over the heart of Morocco. I began to think how the writer structured her novel, developed the characters and set them on the road to either catastrophe or freedom. It was a perfect vehicle to study.

Here are some ways to turn the novels you read into classrooms for your writing:

* Pick one or two books that you think are exceptionally well written and in the genre in which you want to write.

Read these books once or twice, paying attention to how they are structured.

Choose one of these books and dissect it in these ways:

* Define the setting of the novel.

* Write a paragraph synopsis of the novel chapter by chapter.

* Make a character sketch of each main character.

* Outline how these characters develop throughout the story and how they interrelate.

* Is the setting a character in and of itself? Think the Mississippi River in Tom Sawyer. If so, list its characteristics as if it were a person.

* Look at the literary conventions used in the book: Metaphor, allegory, etc.

* Does the novel make a political, religious or social statement? If so, make some notes about where and how it achieves this goal.

* If the novel is a fantasy, in what way does it relate to the World we live in? What does it say about that World?

* What do you think you could have done better if you had written the book? Even Nobel Prize winners aren’t perfect.

Yes, this will take time. Yes, you will not be actually writing your Great American Novel when you are doing this. The important part is that you are training yourself to write it.

If you want to cut to the chase, look at the links below for sites that have already dissected classic novels. Not only do Sparks, Cliff Notes and Pink Monkey tell you about a book, they also show its structure. However, DO NOT use these tools in place of reading each book that you choose. You might differ with what an academic has said about the piece. In fact, please put your own thoughts down about the book and use the professional notes as a guide only.

Copying the plot of any of the novels you read is not the intention of this lesson. The goal is for you to learn character development, plot structure and insight in order to write your unique work. Whether you realize it or not, you have the same potential that published writers have. The only difference is they lucked out and found a publisher. You may have to write several novels until this happens to you--and it might not--but the process is paramount. There is CreateSpace.Com and other places to publish if you are not willing to wait for a big break (or if you have waited and get too discouraged). REMEMBER to edit your work to a fine polish whether you publish traditionally or otherwise.
Study, write and bloom!


The Best Notes – Online Sparks and Cliffs Notes

Pink Monkey – A Web site that breaks down the plot, characters and meaning in famous novels. Use as a beginning, NOT a crutch.

Writing a synopsis

CreateSpace – Amazon’s arms for publishing on demand

Pulitzer Prize Winning Authors

Nobel Prize Winning Authors

New York Times Best Sellers

Literary Terms

Plot Development

Reviews for Riters © on the HowToDoItFrugally site

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Kids’ Stuff

"An Itty Bitty Column on Writing" by Mindy Phillips Lawrence
From Sharing with Writers (Carolyn Howard-Johnson)
July 21, 2009

Writing books for children is a special market, one that determines a child’s love of words early on. It’s also challenging. Do you write books for children to read on their own or to be read to them by an adult? What about vocabulary and length? What about content? What about art?

Kids’ stuff in writing combines the delight of art and the magic of words in combination in order to paint a word-image picture for children. It’s a hard balance.

One of my favorite books for children is Maurice Sendak’s WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. When it first came out in 1963, people questioned the drawings in it, a series of monsters. By 1964, it had won the Caldecott Medal for its original artwork.
Historically known children’s writer-artists such as Kate Greenaway (1846-1901), depicted an idyllic life for children in her books using words and soft watercolor artwork. Her famous drawings of little girls caused parents to dress their daughters in the high-waisted frocks and pantaloons of the characters.

Modern children’s writers write about problems that children face as they grow up–-like divorce and moral issues. Children’s writers have to know how far to go in these books and how to present the material to a young audience.

Below, you will find some links that will help you with writing kids’ stuff. Good luck in carrying the love of words to the next generation.



Kate Greenaway


Children’s Writing – Writer’s Write

Stone Soup – A magazine for children

Writing Multicultural Children’s Books

Writing for Children

Kathe Gogolewski – Writer/Book Illustrator