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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: LuAnn Schindler, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Why I Am Ready For A Writing Conference

Spring is almost here, and that sense of spring - rebirth, renewal - has me thinking about making new vows for my writing career. It seems like every time I establish a goal, something unexpected happens and I end up off track.

That's why my first - and perhaps my only - vow is to get thee to a writer's conference ASAP. My only problem: the writer's guild workshop I want to attend is the same weekend as my state's press association convention. Since I'm the managing editor of a weekly newspaper, I feel like that should be the choice I make. Yet, our state's writer's guild is hosting some big name freelance and fiction writers who I have read (translate: adored and devoured every word) for years.

What's a writer to do?

No matter which conference I end up attending, I have three reasons why I am ready:

  1. Expand my horizons. I'm a freelancer by design and enjoy the newspaper and magazine business. Still, I've written two plays and I am intrigued with flash fiction. Attending a conference, especially one with a variety of classes, will let me investigate other types of writing that I may not have considered. 
  2. Practical, hands-on experience. One conference I'm contemplating offers direct instruction instead of roundtable discussions. I like the idea of being given certain elements that I can twist and stretch to create a new piece. I'm considering it an experiment, of sorts, where I can try out the latest, greatest technology and decide if it will streamline my writing process.
  3. Opportunities to listen. One of the main reasons I'm excited about one of these conferences in particular is because several authors are reading their work. There's something intimate about an author sharing his or her creation, hearing the rhythm and intonation they give each word and sentence. It makes me think about phrasing and structure and how they cram so much information and power into a single word or section.
Sure I'm looking forward to networking, meeting new people, and ok, having a weekend getaway, but the selling point, for me, is the opportunity to get excited about writing once more and know that what I write makes a difference.

By LuAnn Schindler

0 Comments on Why I Am Ready For A Writing Conference as of 3/18/2014 8:01:00 AM
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2. Your Blog is Your New Resume

How often do you blog?

It's a valid question for writers and one worth thinking about. Honestly, I used to blog one main story a week - generally my newspaper column that's printed in several weeklies - and I would add a post or two to promote work in other publications.

I didn't have the time to blog daily because- here goes - I feel like I'm spread thin the way it is, so squeezing time to blog every day, plus promote it on social media sites, makes me even more tired.

It's not that I don't want to blog, but I manage a weekly newspaper (which means I write multiple articles a day), I teach journalism classes, and I have family responsibilities. Something has got to give; unfortunately, it looks like it's my blog. I haven't posted anything since the day after Christmas. Yikes!

But I've been thinking, and reading, that a writer's blog is a writer's new form of resume. It showcases your work and in some respects, shows how much time, thought and effort you put into a piece.

It's true. Your blog (or website) is your calling card, your introduction to the world, so you want to make a good first impression. Otherwise, why would you expect an editor or agent to take interest in you and your work?

Looks like my Saturday will be spent updating my resume. What about you?

by LuAnn Schindler

0 Comments on Your Blog is Your New Resume as of 3/8/2014 3:16:00 PM
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3. Why Do Writers Trash Their Efforts?

I'm not talking about tossing the latest page into the trash can in your office or on your desktop. I'm talking about trashing our own efforts to make it as a writer.

Stop it! Stop with the self-defeatist attitude. If you believe you're going to fail, more than likely you'll achieve that goal. If you believe you can and will succeed, then your self-fulfilling prophecy may come to fruition.

Nobody said freelancing was going to be easy. (Well, nobody said it to me.) But, how many times have you caught yourself in one of the following situations? And more importantly, what can you do to stop finding yourself in this type of predicament?

  • Prioritize. If you don't make writing a daily priority, how will you succeed as a writer? I know, some days I feel like I don't write anything. I'm too busy reading press releases or developing story ideas and leads, but let's be honest: not every day can fall into that pattern. If you're going to write, write. Even 15 minutes worth of writing can keep you focused and turn into a worthy project.
  • Plan. If you're serious about freelancing, you have to treat it like a business and know how this business operates. Not only do you need to understand the intricacies of the publishing world, you also need to understand the basics of running a business operation. Consider tax preparation, contemplate important purchases, and confer with fellow writers. 
  • Procrastinate. Whoa! No, I'm not encouraging you to put off until tomorrow. It's a bad habit (and unfortunately, I mastered in it while working on a master's). You have to look at the root of the problem. Not submitting queries? Why? Not able to schedule writing time? Why? Stop waiting for success to knock on the door. YOU have to make it happen.
  • Promise. If you accept an assignment or promise to submit three pages to your critique group or set dedicated office hours, then keep the promise! It's so important to follow through, whether with an editor, an agent, a trusted writing pal, and yes, yourself.
Why do we writers trash our efforts? We're human, yes, but until we learn that the journey requires hard work and dedication, we will continue to sabotage our efforts.

Do you trash your writing efforts? How do you overcome this problem?

by LuAnn Schindler 

3 Comments on Why Do Writers Trash Their Efforts?, last added: 3/12/2013
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4. Story Flaw Fixes

You write a book, you begin to market it to agents or publishers, and then, zero. Nada. Zilch. In other words, the story you poured your heart and soul into sits in the document file of your computer or is shoved to the back of a filing cabinet.

If you find this happening to a piece of your writing, take another look at what you've put on paper. More than likely, the story has a flaw that can be fixed, and in the long run, these edits will make it a stronger piece of writing.

  1. No action, no reaction. Without a catalyst for action, a story sits - and will more than likely never sell. It's a basic notion of physics, and in this case, literature: Something must happen that causes a reaction from characters. Now, the action doesn't have to be major, but a single event or non-event acts as a turning point for a story. 
  2. Whoa, Nellie! Have you ever started reading (or writing) a story that has too much exposition and by the time you reach what should be the beginning, you've lost interest? I find this a lot when I edit stories for a publishing company, and it always reminds me of lines from The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. "Begin at the beginning." "The beginning?" asked my  mother. "The beginning of the story." Readers don't want to get bogged down with information that does not impact the storyline.
  3. Repetition. I'll plead guilty to this common flaw. I find I overuse certain words or phrases. They are everywhere! A few weeks ago, I was reviewing several poems I have written to submit to a contest. That's when it struck me: I have a pet phrase that showed up in all five poems. It's the same principle when you write fiction or non-fiction: tell us what you want to tell us. Readers don't need to be constantly reminded of something that happened.
 If you have a manuscript stuck in a drawer, give it a second perusal and see if you can apply any of these fixes.

Have you committed any of these story flaws?

by LuAnn Schindler

3 Comments on Story Flaw Fixes, last added: 3/28/2013
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5. Meet Elizabeth Maggio, 3rd place winner in the Fall 2012 WOW Flash Fiction Contest

Good day, Muffin lovers! Today, we will be chatting with Elizabeth Maggio, 3rd place winner in the Fall 2012 WOW! Flash Fiction contest. If you haven't had the opportunity to read Elizabeth's story, Extant, Not Extinct, head over to the contest page. Then return to join us for a great interview!

Elizabeth Maggio parlayed a geology degree and her facility at explaining science to lay audiences into an award-wining science writing career. I twas an ideal fit, affording her a front-row seat at the cutting edge of research. Of all her experiences as a science writer, a few hold special memories: interviewing Carl Sagan about water on mars and hearing him say "torrents and torrents of rain" long before he became a science super star; snagging a one-on-one interview with Gene Roddenberry during the start-up days of Star Trek (after convincing hr newspaper editor that the assignment did fall within the bonds of the science beat.) Her career even led to adventures in Italy where she used both her science writing and Italian language skills working for an aerospace company and an astronomical observatory.

Now semi-retired, Elizabeth is transitioning into a second career as a fiction writer. She started writing flash fiction about two years ago and discovered it has helped her write her first novel, an archaeological mystery set in the Alban Hills outside of Rome.

Elizabeth lives with her husband in northern Virginia.

WOW:  Elizabeth, congratulations and welcome to The Muffin. After reading your story, I felt such a sense of wonder. The science tie-in hooked me! How did your science writing background lead to the story, Extant, Not Extinct?

Elizabeth: What led to Extant, Not Extinct, indeed, to my entire approach to fiction, came about when I was pursing my geology degree. While doing geological mapping in the limestone mountains of southern Arizona,  I sat down on an outcrop of rock to eat lunch, but it soon became terribly uncomfortable. I got up to see what I was sitting on and was amazed to find a fossilized coral reef…exposed on the top of a mountain... in the desert. For the rest of the day I couldn’t get out of my head that I had been sitting on something that once lived on the ocean floor, and the only dimension separating me from the live coral reef was time. My character Mona felt this too when she ran her finger over the 300 million year old fossil that Professor Millington had handed her, saying “Imagine what it could tell us if it were alive.”

WOW: I like the personal connection you included in the story. It added so much to the overall effect. To me, there's a double layer of meaning in this story: the scientific background/research element and then the application of science to real life. When you write fiction, do you try to combine these elements or was this a "first" of science principles and fiction? 

Elizabeth: I definitely try to combine both science and fiction. The boundary between the two is often blurred, and I want my writing to take science one step beyond what is perceived as the limits to reality. My first introduction to this genre was reading Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain. Crichton included so much convincing scientific documentation, including a bibliography of scientific reports, that I often had to look at the book cover to make sure it said “novel”.

WOW: I've read The Andromeda Strain and can relate! I like reading stories like this that include scientific research yet they are fiction. A line from your bio piqued my interest. You mention that confronting the challenges of flash fiction is helping with your novel writing process. Can you give an example and how it's made your fiction writing stronger? 

Elizabeth: For my science non-fiction writing, I do a lot of research on a topic. When I write fiction, I still do a lot of research but I have a hard time restraining myself from including all the fascinating facts I find into my story. What I really need to do is zero in on only those elements that move my story forward. Flash fiction forces me to do this; to write sparingly, to choose only enough background information to move the action along, and to slip background facts into dialogue or scene setting.

WOW: Great example! I've found that writing flash requires the writer to fine tune and tighten every element in a story. Naturally, that should carry over into fiction! Elizabeth, you have a varied writing background. You've written science non-fiction, flash fiction and fiction. Which do you find most challenging to write and why? 

Elizabeth: Both flash fiction and fiction are challenges because I’m still uncomfortable making up the facts after decades of building a reputation on the factual accuracy of my science stories. Flash fiction, though, is the hardest because of its format restraints. I really have to focus on scene, characters, and plot as well as on the word count. But surmounting that is so rewarding.

WOW: As a journalist who also dabbles in fiction writing, I understand being uncomfortable making up facts when your primary job is to relay only facts. Sometimes, I find it difficult to transition from writing non-fiction into fiction. Still, I never seem to have trouble finding ideas. I'm wondering what you need to feel inspired to write? 

Elizabeth: Inspiration hits me at the most unexpected times: reading the newspaper, day dreaming on the Metro, and of course in the shower. I wish I could control it to a certain degree, but I’ve learned to be ready. I carry lots of notepaper, and if need be, I’ll sit at my computer dripping wet in a towel to write down inspiration that hit during my shower!

WOW: Yes, you never know when an idea will emerge. My kids used to make fun of me for the "hopping out of the shower to take notes" routine, too. I'm fascinated with the breadth of your science writing career. You met a lot of famous and influential individuals. Writing fiction must have presented a new set of challenges. What has been the greatest challenge in your professional (writing) life? 

Elizabeth:Discipline, definitively. I’m still new to this second-life fiction career. Unlike my science writing career, I haven’t yet been able to set up a daily routine for fiction writing. It’s still pretty much hit or miss. I’m working on that.

WOW: A routine is extremely important for a writer! You'll nail it down and then, watch out! :) One last question, Elizabeth. What would you want to hear from readers after they have finished reading one of your stories? 

Elizabeth: “I want more!” I aim to end a piece with not-quite-closure, that is, to write a satisfactory ending but one that leaves a bit of room for the reader to imagine “what if…”, or for a book club to debate if something really happened or if it was a dream.

WOW: That's the perfect way to end a story...such a great discussion starter! Once again, congratulations, Elizabeth and thank you for spending time with our readers.

Interview by LuAnn Schindler

2 Comments on Meet Elizabeth Maggio, 3rd place winner in the Fall 2012 WOW Flash Fiction Contest, last added: 4/9/2013
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6. Handling the To-Do List Part 1: Calendars

Just one of my multiple calendars
Last week, I shared my dilemma with my summer to-do list and the fact that barely anything got X'd off the list.

I was discussing my concerns with a fellow teacher. She asked if I suffered from chronic disorganization. Naturally, I was taken aback. I prefer to call it organized chaos.

All kidding aside, I began researching the term and discovered it involves clutter and time management issues. Now, clutter can be a problem because we live in a small house, but time management should not be an issue because I schedule my day and know what needs to be accomplished. The part that worries me when I read this explanation is that chronic disorganization can result from ADD/ADHD, dementia, or another health condition. My maternal grandfather started suffering from dementia shortly before he passed away, so that's a MAJOR concern for me. As I've aged, I've wondered if I have adult onset ADD. We'll save that conversation for another day!

Back to the "I schedule my day" line. That's when I started thinking about calendars. Using multiple (or no) calendars signals possible chronic disorganization.


I have a week-at-a-glance calendar that is broken down by days and then by hours. Next to the hours, I list school, interviews, and grandson duty. On the other side, I make a list of what writing responsibilities I have to get done that day. At the bottom of each day, I track the articles I submit.

Hanging next to my desk, a calendar from the Nebraska High School Rodeo Association is posted. Nope! You won't catch this girl barrel racing or goat ropin'. :) I use this calendar for billing purposes to track which papers run my weekly newspaper column.

When I swipe my smart phone to life, my synced Google calendar is displayed. It includes events from several area Chambers of Commerce, school events, University of Nebraska activities, and all my WOW! responsibilities. I can also access the calendar when I'm on my computer or tablet.

And finally, a monthly grid-style calendar hangs on our refrigerator so my husband can figure out what writing assignment I am working on which explains why I'm bringing home a pie from the local pizzeria for the third night in a week. Plus, he has a not-so-smart phone, so I can't share my Google calendar with him.

That's four calendars. Do I really need that many?


So, my first step in getting organized and handling my to-do list is reducing the number of calendars I use. Since my smart phone is always with me, I'm adding everything writing related to my online calendar and tracking my newspaper column printings, too.

It may seem like a baby step, but so far, so good.

How many calendars do you use?

LuAnn Schindler is an award-winning Nebraska-based freelance writer. She's a member of the Nebraska Writer's Guild. 

4 Comments on Handling the To-Do List Part 1: Calendars, last added: 9/8/2013
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7. The 'Write' Mindset for the New Year

For the past month, I've been kicking around ideas to bump up productivity and reorganize my office, ideas, and goals. This last year has been a roller coaster - professionally and personally - and just when I thought I got my groove back last May, life interrupted once more and sent me down a bumpy road.

Not this year. I have a lot to accomplish.

Here's how I plan to get in the 'write' mindset for 2013. Trust me, it's not rocket science!

  • Goals. Generally, I'm a planner, but in the past, I think one of my motivation problems stemmed from my goals. Most of them were long-term, and sometimes, those far-off hopefuls don't come to fruition, squelching motivation. What have I changed for 2013? I'm setting weekly, monthly, and long-term goals for my writing career. A couple publications have been on my "must be published in" list for over a year. I intend to crack those markets this year. 
  • Mindset. Now, I know I have my groove back. I know what I want to accomplish. I know what it will take to get from point A to point B. It's called determination.
  • Query. For years, I tried to send out six new queries a month. But, somewhere along the way, I stopped submitting ideas to new markets (but kept writing for the markets I write for consistently). I'm going back to the six a month query theory.
  • Read. Good writers are good readers. Lately, I haven't read as much as usual, but I intend to change that. In fact, I did today. :)
  • Write. You can call yourself a writer, but unless you actually put words on paper (or computer screen) and generate material - whether for a publication or just for yourself - you're spinning your wheels. Get out of that rut and start writing!
Even though yesterday was a holiday, I wrote over 1000 words, mostly for a long-term project. But it feels good to get back in my writing groove, thanks to my write mindset.

How do you plan to meet your 2013 goals? Share your ideas with us.

by LuAnn Schindler

5 Comments on The 'Write' Mindset for the New Year, last added: 1/5/2013
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8. Interview with Mary E. Michna, Spring 2012 Flash Fiction Contest

Good morning, Muffin readers! Today, we welcome Mary E. Michna to the blog. Her story - "A Different Season" - earned runner-up honors in the WOW! Spring 2012 Flash Fiction contest. You'll want to read Mary's story (which generated a great deal of empathy with this reader) and then come back to get to know her.

Mary E. Michna is a wife, mother and grandmother. Always an avid reader and aspiring writer, she wrote poems, stories and plays in grade school. She put those dreams aside with family; her career as a journalist, feature writer and editor; and later as a public relations and fundraising professional. During those years, she kept the dream alive with journaling and writing, making an occasional attempt to market her work.

Three years ago, Mary worked with a friend to form a women writers' group. Since then, she has retired and is focused on what she "really" wants to write. Last year, she received second place honors for a poem and is excited to have placed in the WOW competition. She feels that she has learned from every writing job and looks forward to growing as a writer.

WOW: Welcome to The Muffin, Mary. I must tell you, this story hit home. Nearly a decade ago, my spouse passed away suddenly, and like Lynn, evening was the worst. I'm of the mindset that the best stories come from life experiences. I'm wondering how this storyline came to life?

Mary:  This was not my experience, but one of a former neighbor and friend. I called and wrote her frequently after her husband's death. Her difficulty with "eating alone - a seemingly small thing" really struck me and stayed with me for some time. In different conversations, the subject of "meal time being the loneliest time of the day" came up several times. I felt it would make a good story and that I wanted to tell it.

WOW: It's powerful and true to life. Thank you for sharing it. With flash fiction, character development is so important, especially since some type of growth should occur in a short amount of words. Do you have a formula for developing characters?

Mary: Lynn's development in this story had to happen in a certain time frame. I think I showed her personal growth through the pain of her loss.

WOW: That development comes through clearly. Mary, I'd like to talk about writing experiences. Your writing background is varied: journalist, editor, fundraising and PR, and fiction. What are some similarities in all writing experiences and how have those earlier experiences shaped your fiction writing?

Mary: There is great satisfaction in know that you have taken words and crafted a piece of writing that will entertain, inform, inspire and/or arouse feelings. Sometimes you can become too attached to your words. Here are "all these pretty babies" that I created! You have to be willing to step back and trim it down for the greater good: to have a piece that tells the story, fairly sings and does not distract the reader. Like journalism,  flash fiction is a great discipline.

WOW: One of these days, perhaps I will be disciplined enough to complete a flash piece. I have several stories that are close to word count, and I agree; it takes discipline! Maybe my critique partner will hold me accountable. (smiles) Your bio mentions a women's writing group founded by you and a friend. Why is it beneficial for writers to work together and support each other?

Mary: My good friend and fellow journalist Colette Wisnewski and I shared our poetry and fiction with one another and attended a fiction class together. We wanted to expand our small circle. We both had a connection to a local retreat house. The two of us presented an afternoon program for women writers three years ago. Our group averages seven to 10 women and meets one Sunday a month. We have hosted several readings, a Poets for Peace event and will hose a retreat for women writers in June. As much as your family loves you and supports your creative endeavors, their "that's nice" just doesn't cut it. It's great to share your work with people who have a similar passion for the written word. It makes all the difference.

WOW: Agreed! Meaningful support of the written word makes a huge difference. With that in mind, I'm wondering what type of support, in the form of advice, would you offer writers considering entering a writing contest. You've experienced a fair bit of success!

Mary: This was the second time I entered a WOW Flash Fiction contest. Having a cut off for entries is inviting and gives one a better chance. I especially liked having the option for a critique. It was quite exciting to find out I made the first cut with the first contest I entered. And it was even more exciting to place in the top 10 stories in the last contest.

WOW: I imagine it is quite exciting! Congratulations again, Mary, and thank you for talking about your story and writing.

Interview by LuAnn Schindler

3 Comments on Interview with Mary E. Michna, Spring 2012 Flash Fiction Contest, last added: 1/15/2013
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9. What Color is Your Writing World?

Earlier this week, while I proofread a few chapters from my current WIP, a scary thought raced through my mind.

'It's so....white.'

Translated, it's completely vanilla and filled with cream-colored references. Even the main female character is decked out in white in almost every scene. (And no, she is not a doctor, and trust me, she's no angel.)

Now, I'm not saying the writing is bad, it's just lacking color in these chapters.

Kind of disappointing coming from a writer with "Mango Crush" on her office walls.

But the revelation reminded me of an exercise I would use with freshman English students who struggled to bring color to their writing.

Perhaps I'd asked them to describe the sun, bring it to life through color. What would I get? Yellow. Plain ol' yellow.

I would ask them to describe the shade of yellow. Is it the color of butter? Of a buttercup along a country road? The yellow of a middle-of-July sunflower? Post-it note yellow?

"Just yellow," students would reply.

The next day, they would be in for a surprise. Paint samples littered a tabletop. (Thank you, locally-owned hardware store.)

"Show me what kind of yellow."

Once they saw the connection between a concrete example and word choice, their writing improved.

I don't want my writing to be 'just yellow' - or just plain ol' white - for that matter. I want vibrant words to run down the pages.

After a trip to the lumber yard, Eros Pink, Adriatic Sea, and Jargon Jade complete the scenes, along with a tinge of Crescent Moon White.

by LuAnn Schindler. Read more of LuAnn's work at her website

6 Comments on What Color is Your Writing World?, last added: 2/23/2013
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10. Interview with Flash Fiction Runner Up Cathy Turney

Today, Muffin fans, we welcome Cathy Turney, a runner up in the Summer 2012 Flash Fiction contest. If you haven't had the opportunity to read her humorous story, What I Do For Love, be sure to check it out. Then come back and get to know this author!

Cathy Turney has been a lifelong resident of the San Francisco Bay Area. She was in the first graduating class of the University of California at Santa Cruz where she majored in psychology because she thought she wanted to be a social worker. Her husband (referred to in her humorous stories as MyHusbandTheEngineer) says she is a social worker—that’s what being a real estate broker is all about!

Cathy found that her favorite part of writing her real estate newsletter was reporting on the antics of her dogs. They became notorious; “What have Bubbles and Spot done lately?” was a frequent question as she met people in her neighborhood. Readers wanted more, so she self published Tales of a Codependent Pet Owner—My Life with the Poodle from Hell and a Deaf Dalmation through CreateSpace in November, 2011.

Cathy has won several humor awards and her stories have been published in theSan Francisco Chronicle and Bay Woof Magazine. Recently she was invited to write a humor column for The Martinez News-Gazette and the Digital Concordian. In her column, entitled “A Little Bit Off,” she captures the humor in coping with technology and social media, her left/brain right brain marriage and her codependency on dogs.

Cathy encourages anyone with a story to tell to jot down notes, organize them, start writing and publish! With the amazing technology available today, she says, any writer can share his/her stories with the world.

Cathy’s blog is www.AlittleBitOff.Net

WOW: Welcome to The Muffin, Cathy. Wow! What an adventurous story! Great stories always have some basis in real life. How did you come up with this list of ideas? It makes me curious: Did these things really happen? (smiles)

Cathy: Yes, all those things did happen! You may have sensed that I am NOT enamored of that car! Laughter is my defense. Fortunately, MyHusbandTheEngineer saw the humor in the story – especially when the national Austin Healey organization found it humorous, too, and ran it in their September “Healey Marque” magazine—which gave my writing relevance in my husband’s eyes J.

WOW: Isn’t that a great feeling! I know you write a real estate newsletter and it evolved into a book about your dogs. What was that process like?

Cathy: The deaf Dalmatian and monster poodle created such a funny dynamic, and I thought that including some humor in my real estate newsletter would make clients see me as more than a business person – kind of convey that I have a life, albeit in servitude to those two! Readers told me they really looked forward to getting the newsletter because they loved the dog stories! They encouraged me to compile them into a book, which became “Tales of a Codependent Pet Owner.”

WOW: Encouragement from fans is so important. It’s a testament to our writing. I also checkedyou’re your website; great content. What are some benefits you've discovered about blogging/writing daily?

Cathy: Oh, THANK YOU for your positive comment about my website!! I post regularly, and I post a “finished product” because I want my website/blog to be my “portfolio” of writing. I would love to be published in some major cities’ newspapers and/or national magazines, and feel that if I look consistent and as polished as possible, I’ll be building my odds. I’m not interested in the money – I’ll do it for free!! I just love creating laughter and sharing it (and getting feedback J).

WOW: I agree that it’s important to have a fantastic portfolio of polished work to pique the interest of potential customers. I’m wondering how you approach the writing process.

Cathy: Oooooh! Describe my writing process!!! I sure wish I could formulize it! Wouldn’t that make everything easier?! Here’s what I do, though: I take notes all the time. If something funny, absurd, annoying, anything that gets a reaction from me happens, I jot it down—especially the actual words that seem humorous. So often it’s not what actually happens, but how it’s related that’s funny. Eventually, I collect these notes from all over the house, my car, my purse, and categorize them. Then I try to create a story and keep going back to it to make it funnier and funnier. It’s really important, I’ve found, to leave the story alone at least overnight. And getting up from the desk and walking the dogs allows my mind to free associate. A double benefit! When I think it’s done (or done enough—does a writer ever feel his/her work is done?!), I send it to a wonderful lady who has a sense of humor and calls herself “The Grammar Guru!” She catches the boo-boos.

WOW: I need to learn to let the story sit overnight. I’m usually too eager to jump right in. Cathy, I’m wondering what advice you would offer writers who may be contemplating publishing.

     Cathy: Here’s my advice to anyone contemplating publishing (and writing):
a.    Start a blog. That makes you feel that you aren’t just writing into the ether. Actually, you are, but someone out there will read it which they won’t do if you just keep it on your desk. Remember, a book is just a sequence of stories strung together.
b.    Join the local writers’ club. I joined the Mount Diablo branch of California Writers’ Club, and it gets me out among people with similar goals and I learn from their experiences. I’ve gleaned marvelous tips from just being there. And they have great, inspiring guest speakers from whom I’ve learned lots.
c.    Try to write a little bit each day—preferably at least an hour. Make that commitment. It’s so easy to give priority to other things, but by writing every day you will see progress which will inspire and energize you to write more. And that’s also how you develop your skill. I can really see the difference between what I wrote two years ago and now. (And, unfortunately, I don’t get to write every day J)
d.    If there’s a particular genre in which you write, find the best authors in that area and read them. Aspire to be as great as they are – anything less will still be great!
e.    If you’ve never published a book before, self-publish! It opens doors. It tells the world that you organized your ideas, wrote them down and made it through the publishing process—that you have the drive and commitment to see a major project through to completion. You can build on that; you’re more likely to get magazines and newspapers to publish your articles which, in turn, will help open doors with traditional publishers. I think it’s important to have a hard copy book (Amazon’s CreateSpace is marvelous!) for your first effort. After that, I think e-books are fine. And anyone can self-publish a paperback book! The great thing about self-publishing is that you can be on Amazon and look as good as John Grisham – no one will know you self-published.
f.     Hire a professional proof reader. Your published book has to be perfect as far as grammar, punctuation, spelling and syntax go.

WOW: Great advice to contemplate, Cathy! Thanks for taking time to visit with our readers today, and once again, congratulations on earning runner up honors in the WOW! contest.

Cathy: Well, LuAnn, I thoroughly enjoyed sharing my ideas, here! Thank you so much for the opportunity! And I LOVE WOW!

Interview by LuAnn Schindler.

2 Comments on Interview with Flash Fiction Runner Up Cathy Turney, last added: 2/5/2013
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11. Masterful Writing: Nonfiction Pieces That Rock

I write nonfiction nearly every day. I'm a journalism teacher, after all, and I freelance for regional publications. When I grab a book, I usually read fiction because, well, I am not exactly sure why. Maybe I want a break from reality. Maybe I want to sink my teeth into a juicy mystery. Maybe I need a break from what I write.

But lately, I catch myself reading more and more nonfiction, studying stories and what does or does not make each article click.

My research (scientific it isn't) finds that the best nonfiction storytelling (no, that is not an oxymoron) weaves traditional storytelling devices with facts and figures, evidence and experts. It takes readers on a journey. It breaks boundaries.

It leaves readers thirsting for more.

I'm also partial to multiple pieces on this list featured on Byliner. It features rich examples of what's hot in nonfiction writing craft. I've been known to read one of these gems for pleasure and then reread it, dissect it, and find adaptable qualities to bring to my writing repertoire.

What elements of nonfiction capture your attention?

by LuAnn Schindler. Read more of her work at her website.

3 Comments on Masterful Writing: Nonfiction Pieces That Rock, last added: 2/7/2013
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12. Celebrating Freelance Writer's Appreciation Week

“It’s Freelance Writer’s Appreciation Week, and I just want you to know you and your writing are appreciated,” a relative wrote.
Ah, the glamorous life of a freelance journalist! I smiled, but at the same time, I could see the expressions of other family members when they ask, “So are you still doing that writing thing?” Like it’s some kind of phase I’m going through. Like they don’t think I actually earn a living putting words on paper. (I do, trust me.)
The convo reminded me of the “What People Think I Do” meme that shows six viewpoints of the journalistic/writing life.
Frame one shows ‘What my friends think I do’ with a photo of a person writing at the neighborhood coffee shop. Sure, if I lived in Lincoln, I might be at The Mill, pouring my heart onto a Word document. But let’s be realistic. I live on a farm, I teach three hours a day, and my drive time totals at least two hours. Starbucks isn’t an option.
Frame two explains ‘What my Mom thinks I do’ and shares a picture of Diane Sawyer at the ABC news desk. My mom and dad know better. They’ve accompanied me on photo shoots and story assignments. They’ve watched me cover an event, review notes, and send an article to a publication within 15 minutes of the end of the event. They wouldn’t want me to be Diane, anyway. They’d prefer I emulate Meredith Vieira or Ann Curry.
Frame three elucidates society’s vision of the writing life: a blur of camera flashes as I chase down a subject. Yup, happens all the time, especially when I have to photograph a herd of cows or the newest wine bottled by a Nebraska winery.
Frame four illustrates ‘What editors and clients think.’ A girl holds a sign stating she will work for free. Ha! Maybe I’m lucky, maybe it’s because I am – and primarily work with - Midwestern publications and we are known for our strong sense of values, but I’ve never had that problem.
Frame five justifies ‘What I think I do.’ Sure I’d love to get wrapped up in some investigative piece, ala Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in “All The President’s Men.”  Wouldn’t it be challenging to delve into some scandal and report the facts and tell the truth?  This leads to frame six…
  ‘What I really do.’ I spend a lot of time writing about people and events in this area. I read a lot and see what correlations I can make in our region and then seek potential story candidates. These are the stories that interest me and are important to share with others. Every person has a story to tell, and I enjoy being able to relate those significant, heartbreaking, heartwarming, offbeat stories because ultimately, they are the fabric of what unites us, what creates empathy with others.
Some writers make you think; others make you wonder. As a writer, I appreciate capturing a reader’s imagination, letting the story unfold.
It’s what I hope I do.  

by LuAnn Schindler

2 Comments on Celebrating Freelance Writer's Appreciation Week, last added: 2/16/2013
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13. Use a Timeline to Develop Your Story

I've been reworking (okay, heavy editing and restructuring) of a book I've been working on for what seems like 10 years. (It's actually been that long. I'm a perfectionist. Sigh.) While reading, I noticed several elements seemed contradictory, especially when talking about time. A couple details seemed out of place, like the order was jumbled, causing confusion in the storyline.

It reminded me why, when I taught composition and even creative writing to high school students, I would use a timeline handout, like the one in the photo. In order for a story to be consistent, discrepancies in time (or setting or character growth) cannot be present.

Here's how it works:

  • Make a timeline of events from the time period. I'm not talking within the story, I'm talking about a timeline of what was happening in the world during the time period include in your piece. When I wrote a one-act play for my students to perform for competition this year, which was based on 9/11, I wanted to include the number one song in the U.S., and within each vignette, I planned to feature a bit of pop culture. I made a timeline for how the events of that day unfolded and researched pop culture tidbits. It added a great sense of place to the plot.
  • Make a timeline for a character. How does a specific character get from point A to point B? It doesn't matter if you're talking about specific movement, the timeline can show events that cause a change in personality or a moment that leads to character growth.
  • Start plotting. I like to mesh the two timelines together and create a scene. It's a handy tool that shows where pacing needs to increase, action needs a jolt of energy, and characters need a healthy dose of conflict to create a stronger story.
Once I made a timeline for the chapters that are causing trouble, I located the discrepancies and was able to make adjustments that strengthened the storytelling.

Have you used a timeline to help define your storyline?

by LuAnn Schindler. Read more of her work at her website.

3 Comments on Use a Timeline to Develop Your Story, last added: 2/25/2013
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14. Why word count matters

At the age of 16, a local editor asked me to share a sports story - a first-person account about a college sports figure I knew.

"Just write until you've told the story," he instructed.

So, I did as told and turned in a 1200-word article about a Nebraska Husker football walk-on.

The editor printed the entire story. Not a single cut, no changes.

Imagine my surprise when my college paper editor demanded I limit my stories to 500 - 700 words.

I would agonize over word choice and details, scrimping on what I wanted to say so my work would be published.

Years later, when a regional publication asked me to cover a 1:1 laptop bootcamp at a local high school, I turned in a 2300 word article. Sure, I knew it was too long, but the information was valuable, informative, and timely.  I didn't know what to cut and left it up to my editor. It turned into a two-day feature. Nothing fell victim to his editing pen.

From these examples I gained immeasurable insight about the power of words and how to make each one count.

A word count forces an author to be concise and precise. It makes a writer prioritize which info is vital and which can be cut. Word count makes writing tighter  and demands that each word put on paper makes a difference, a lasting impression of a particular subject.

Now, when my weekly newspaper column is due, I know the 500-word piece won't stray from the original intent, won't change the final outcome.

In other words, I turn in a comprehensive view of the subject in the prescribed word count range. I know it's focused. I know it gets to and makes a point.

Word count is critical in any kind of writing.  It makes a tighter, cleaner story and gives readers a chance to glean necessary details without wading through a wordy piece.

Word count is a useful tool that makes me a better writer. . . And it can improve your writing, too.

By LuAnn Schindler

5 Comments on Why word count matters, last added: 3/6/2013
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15. Interview with Lori Parker, 3rd Place Winner, Winter 2012 Flash Fiction contest

I don't care for the feel of sand against my feet. Or anywhere else for that matter. When I read the title of Lori Parker's story, Sand, I felt the grit against my toes, felt it cling to my body, like it does when you emerge from a lake or the ocean. Then I read her powerful words, and I realized, I have nothing to complain about.

You will find Lori's story here. You'll want to read it, dust the imaginary layer of sand from your keyboard, and return to join us for a discussion about writing, reading, and inspiration.

Lori Parker lives in Chicago with her beloved husband and his extensive music collection. She wrote her first poem at age eight, her first play at age 15 and finished her first novel last year. So far, these works have not been published, but Lori is an optimistic existentialist, which explains her work on a second novel, plays, poems, and short stories. Beyond publication, Lori's goal is to author a book worthy of Shared Inquiry discussion at the Great Books Foundation.

WOW: Welcome, Lori! And, congratulations on earning 3rd place honors with your story. I like to think that there's a story behind every story, and I'm wondering, what inspired this piece?

Lori: I listen to National Public Radio a lot and last November it seemed the airwaves were saturated with stories about Iraq and Afghanistan and the work our people are doing over there as well as stories about returning vets and the many challenges they face here. Then I heard a debate about the President's decision to leave a certain amount of soldiers behind even after the "draw-down." That started me thinking about what it must be like to know you're going home but . . . not yet. I also drew from an account I'd heard a couple of years ago, also on NPR, about what one soldier found particularly difficult to deal with: "Sand. All that sand. And it gets in everything, your clothes and even your mouth when you sleep." That started me on the path to the story.

WOW:  That's a great behind-the-words glimpse at story development! Thank you for sharing. As soon as I finished reading your piece (and brushed away the imaginary sand), I realized what an important role imagery plays in the story. The image of sand, the drabness of it all, provides an interesting contrast to the matter at hand. How did you develop the imagery and carry it through the piece?

Lori: I started with that image of getting sand in my mouth. I grind my teeth in my sleep, especially during times of severe stress or anxiety. Imagine what that must be like for a soldier. From there I explored the ways sand can annoy a person, can wear one down with its constant presence; in clothes, food, the cracks and crevices of the human body. The image continued to develop as I followed my train of thought from sand to flood which rhymes with blood which brought me back to the human body - a bag of mostly water, to bags of sand, to sandbags against a flood of blood, and so on. Blood, sand and a soldier who wants to go home - for me it was just a matter of following that train of thought.

WOW: Word association can conjure so many mental images. The thought process is a never-ending cycle. In your author's bio, you mention that you showed an interest in writing at a young age. How has that interest changed through the years and how do you nurture your inner writer? 

Lori: It has changed in the sense that I have chang

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16. Need to Rekindle the Spark? Tips for Staying Creative

Yesterday, as I perused a few education sites for writing tips to implement in my classroom, I stumbled upon a great list offering ways to stay creative. (Unfortunately, I don't remember which site I was on and I forgot to bookmark it. Don't you dislike when that happens? But, I did print the PDF file offering the tips.)

At some point, we all need a creative boost. We slide into a routine, thinking the work we produce is good enough, and then BAM! The creative brain waves halt. Know the feeling? C'mon, raise your hands, because it's happened to you, too.

The good news is simple: rekindling the creativity spark can be as simple as taking a common object with you wherever you go or working with other creative types.

While these are geared to high school students, the ideas perfectly fit writers of all ages. Let's see how they apply to a writer's life.

  1.  Become a risk taker. Remember that routine I talked about earlier? Don't fall into that trap. Take a chance instead. Want to publish in a NYT? You won't ever see it in print UNLESS you submit. Have an idea for a breakout book series? Until you put the words on the page, it won't happen. So, take a risk. What are you waiting for?
  2. . Break rules. Sure, it's a bit of a conundrum - the whole "rules are meant to be broken/follow the rules" debate. When I started freelancing, I broke one publication's "don't call the editor" rule. Guess what. I landed five additional assignments.
  3. Do more of what makes you happy. For me, that's cooking and writing. I do a lot of both.
  4. Don't force it. So true! I worked on a chapter of a YA novel for a month, trying to get it to flow. I took a two -week break from it and when I returned to it, clarity. It's amazing how that happens.
  5. Read a page of the dictionary. I find this happens quite a bit...although not on purpose. I'll be checking out a word in Flip Dictionary and I'll realize I've been perusing page upon page. The best part, I'll find a word, key in on it, and begin word association. It's amazing how one word can spark an entire page of writing!
  6. Build a framework. Can you work without one?
  7. Stop trying to be someone else's perfect. Enough said.
  8. Write down ideas. You never know when - or where - inspiration will hit, but I've had brilliant ideas surface, only to forget all facets of the idea later.Take it from someone who learned the hard way: Write it down. Now.
  9. Clean your workspace. Agreed. If I would clean my office more often, I do think I'd be more productive. While the organized chaos theory works for me most of the time, sometimes, it becomes an obstruction to accomplishing a goal.
  10. Have fun. Laugh. Live. Enjoy yourself. Then, return to your writing. You'll sense a new attitude.
  11. Finish something. Nothing spurs creativity than finishing one project so you can begin brainstorming for another.
The next time you feel the spark burn out, try one of these surefire tips to rekindle the flame and renew your writer's spirit.


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17. Rekindling the Creative Spark, Part 2

Last Saturday on The Muffin, I talked about rekindling the spark when you think your creative flow has slowed...or even stopped. I shared eleven tips to rejuvenate your writing (and your mind).

Did you implement any of these ideas this past week? How successful were you at jumpstarting your creativity?

Today, I'll share another eleven tips to spark your imagination. Ready? Go.

  1. Rest. Some of us are early birds, others night owls; but, if you aren't rested, your creative levels dip. Take it from someone who thinks she can survive on five hours of sleep (and really can't), a good night's rest - even a power nap mid-afternoon - boosts my ability to think clearly and accomplish goals.
  2. Be appreciative. Sometimes, take a step back and be thankful for the blessings you have in life. That sense of calm that washes over you when you take stock of what you have provides even more incentive.
  3. Watch a movie. It works for me! Sure, viewing a movie for fun is, well, fun, but if I tune in to the intricacies of the movie - the plot, the relationships between characters, the pacing - I come up with ideas I can put into practice in my own writing. Try it!
  4. Travel to a new place. Now, don't use this as an excuse to hop on a plane and jet to some exotic locale. Or do use it! Just remember: Travel doesn't mean you have to go far from home. Is there a new coffee shop in town you've been wanting to visit? Go. Did a new art exhibit open at the hip gallery in the historic district? Check it out.
  5. Make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. Letting go of the perfectionist title is tough, I know, but you'll stress less if you relax and realize imperfection is a valuable teaching tool.
  6. Practice. I like this tip. If you give up, how will you reach your goal? Practice, practice, practice, then, practice more. 
  7. Don't give up. Write yourself into a corner? Happens to the best of us. Maybe that plot line you've outlined isn't headed where you expected. Maybe a character acts out of character. Maybe an interview subject won't take your lead and expand his or her responses for an article. Don't give up. Keep tweaking your work and you'll reach the finish line.
  8. Collaborate. This can be tough for writers since a lot of times, we tend to work independently. Forming a partnership offers multiple benefits. Maybe you've just found a sounding board for ideas. Maybe you've discovered a critique group. Maybe you've found an editing partner. Hearing and seeing new ideas implemented boost creativity and critical thought.
  9. Seek feedback. Feedback may be the single most important element in the writing/creative process. Without it, writing can become stale and one-dimensional.
  10. Find creative types. And I'm not talking about fonts, folks. Attend a conference. Go to a  re

    4 Comments on Rekindling the Creative Spark, Part 2, last added: 7/7/2012
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18. Time to Rekindle the Creative Spirit, Part 3

Tea boosts creativity! Drink up!
"Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity."~~T.S. Eliot

OK, admit it. Sometimes, you feel like you're not creating anything new, like you're recycling ideas but not giving them the tweak the ideas so desperately need. I know I feel that way sometimes. It's frustrating!

Over the past several weeks, I've given you 22 tips for maintaining creativity in two separate blog posts: Need to Rekindle the Spark? and Rekindling the Creative Spark, Part 2. Today, I'll add a final 11 ways to stay creative. You've heard a lot of these before (I know I have), so what are you waiting for?

  1. Listen to new music. I enjoy music playing in the background while I write. I like all genres of music. See my dilemma with this tip? When I'm not in the creative spirit, I'll punch a random number into our XM radio and voila! Music I may scan past. (OK, sometimes I dance around the living room, too, but it works!) Different music, different rhythm, different lyrics all combine for fresh ideas and vision.
  2. Know your roots. It's the basis for all my writing. Approach a topic by asking how it relates to you. How can you connect a piece of you to a storyline that's giving you trouble? 
  3. Imbibe tea or coffee. I'm not a coffee person, but a cup of tea refreshes my thought processes. One of the greatest gifts I received was a tea-of-the-week gift set. So many flavors to choose from, and each one inspired a different idea.
  4. Sing. This goes along with tip number one. I sing along all the time, even if I don't know the words. Something about the music stirs new inspiration.
  5. Take a break. Best advice that is difficult to initiate. When I began freelancing, I had a strict daily routine. Soon, writing became monotonous. I quickly redesigned my writing time to write for 90 minutes, take a 15 minute break. Then, it's back to writing. Getting away from the computer, getting up and moving, rejuvenates the thought process.
  6. Stop reprimanding yourself. The worst thing you can do when words aren't flowing: listen to your inner critic. Here's where she needs to be stifled and kicked to the curb.
  7. Be otherworldly. Let your imagination cut loose! Use 'what if' scenarios to pull you and your piece in a new direction.
  8. Ditch the computer. You need a break, not just to boost your creativity, but to get the blood flowing through your body! It took me a long time to compose at the keyboard, but once a week, I grab a notebook and pen and write. It's amazing how thoughts travel from brain to fingertip.
  9. Freewrite. When I taught English, if students couldn't come up with something during their journal time, I'd ask them to write, "I cannot think of anything to write" over and over until the ideas developed.  Trust me, it didn't take too long.
  10. Invest in a notebook. It's such a basic premise - a write

    5 Comments on Time to Rekindle the Creative Spirit, Part 3, last added: 7/18/2012
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19. Interview with Renee Troxler, Winter 2012 Flash Fiction Runner Up

When I read Renee Troxler's flash fiction piece, Sisters, I was reminded of a basic premise in dramatic tragedy: revenge takes many forms, can control you and your actions. And, I couldn't read quickly enough to reach the final line of this piece. Chilling!

Interview conducted by LuAnn Schindler

If you haven't had the opportunity to read Sisters, check out Renee's story on the contest page, then come back and discover more about this talented writer.

Renee Troxler lives in Austin, Texas. She is currently pursuing her secondary teacher certification in English. She enjoys writing short fiction, stage, and screenplays. She recently placed in two international writing competitions, as well as made it to the Best of FronteraFest original play festival with a collaborative piece that she also acted in. She is currently writing a web series she’d like to produce in Austin within the year.

WOW: Renee, welcome to The Muffin! Congrats on receiving honorable mention for your story. When I read a piece, one of the first questions I consider is 'What's the story behind the story?'. How did you develop this idea for "Sisters"?

Renee: I read an article about a Mormon compound that had been raided, and the children had all been taken away and put into protective custody. I started thinking about what it would be like for a young person to be raised in a sort of vacuum with no idea of the outside world or present day values.

WOW: When the HBO series "Big Love" was running, I found it interesting, mainly due to the writing: multiple conflicting plot lines and depth of characters. Now, "Sister Wives" is popular. Why do you think readers and viewers find this type of programming intriguing and intricate?

Renee: I think these shows give us a different viewpoint on a subject that many people have already made up their mind about. I like storylines and characters that make you think about your own prejudices.

WOW: Excellent insight. Preconceived notions can be always be debunked. Your author bio mentions participation in a play festival. What draws you to playwriting? And, what was the subject of your award-winning play?

Renee: I like the immediacy of plays. Once one is written, it pretty much immediately needs to be performed, or at least read aloud. Plays can't just be read like a book. They are living things! The play I took part in was a collaboration piece between me, two magicians, and two musicians. It was funny, musical, and magical.

WOW: Sounds fun...and challenging! You're also involved in a web series. This makes me curious. What's the creative process?

Renee: I'm still in the writing stage of the series. Once I'm finished with the first season, me and my team of weekend filmmakers will start the filming and editing process. I got interesting in doing a web series after I watched "The Guild", a series created by and staring Felicia Day. I like how low-budget they can be, and the fact that each episode is usually 10 minutes or less makes the whole process seem less intimidating.

WOW: Agreed! I'm going to check out "The Guild" now. I

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20. Family vs. Blog: When Do We Overshare?

LuAnn with her muses: her family. "Yes, I'm oversharing. Again."

I wrote and sold the first story about daughter #3 when she was six years old. The piece relayed a humorous story involving Holy Communion, the bread dipped in grape juice, and the subsequent laughter when she forcefully proclaimed to our Pastor, “I am not eating or drinking blood.”

The anecdote was cute and it required only a quick write-up before I sent it off to a publisher.

When daughter #2 was not selected for a part in a local children’s theater production, I scribbled a poem on a receipt I dug out of my purse, watching her reaction when her name was not announced. The piece sold to a month later and I received $50 for 14 lines capturing a single moment of her life.

Now, I have four grandchildren and the story possibilities continue to grow.

Here’s where it gets awkward.

I’m a writer. I write. And, like many writers, the spotlight shines (sometimes) too brightly on my family and their experiences. After all, writers are told to “write what we know” and what or who do I know better than my family.

But as my brood grows older, they do not necessarily like their 15 minutes of fame in one of mom’s articles or poems or columns.

What’s a writer mama or grandma to do? How do you find balance between sharing a life lesson or a hearty laugh from one you love and oversharing, risking their embarrassment? Is it an invasion of their privacy?

A few months ago, I wrote an essay about a current and newsworthy item in my home state and mentioned daughter #1, who works in business development.

“Gee, Mom,” the conversation started. “Thanks for talking about me in your newspaper column. My phone has been ringing non-stop and so have the email comments.”

Great, I thought. I’m getting through to people.

But had I overstepped the imaginary line in the sand where personal eclipses into professional? Should I not share her successes, not offer examples for others to learn from?

Yeah, yeah, so I’m writing about one of my children. Again.

The argument extends beyond words on a page. Do we overshare about our children on Facebook or Twitter? It’s not like I’m posting on my Facebook page, “Oh, so proud of grandchild #2. He went on the big boy potty today!”

Sure, I post some a lot of pictures of the grandkids on my Facebook wall so far-away family and friends can watch them grow up. Should I?

Will my words or photos one day

8 Comments on Family vs. Blog: When Do We Overshare?, last added: 7/29/2012
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21. Weak Link? Or, Why Links Expand Our Navigational Path

Most mornings I begin my day perusing the headlines on the New York Times website. Then I head to MSNBC and catch up on even more headlines, like this one touting National S'mores Day.

I appreciate that the articles on these sites allow me to follow links, opening up other sources of information on a particular event or topic. And in today's news world, linking to original sources strengthens a story's credibility and offers additional insight.

That's why, when I stumbled upon Matthew Ingram's article on Gigaom.com, I found it interesting that some news outlets don't link back to the original source.

As a journalist, citing sources was drilled into my head during J school. Give credit where credit is due.

But in today's digital realm, I can see how easy it is to use someone else's news story and not credit the source.

Heck, if I Google my name and dig back a few pages in the search results, I'll find websites that have used my stories, blog posts and book reviews and link back to the original publication. That's great!

But for every site that does include that information, how many use my writing without giving proper credit?

So, I'm curious. How many of you writers/bloggers/journalists link to original material in your work? Do you click on links in articles? Or, do you think links disrupt the flow of reading?

Photo and blog post by LuAnn Schindler. Read more of her work at her website.

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22. What's Your Log Line?

"What's your book about?"

Ever heard that line, only to resort to a spread-out, strung-together diatribe about the contents of your novel? Thirty minutes later, the friend who uttered the question has dozed off and you're still explaining the intricacies of chapter one.

When my new critique partner asked that very question, I knew I couldn't make that mistake.

So, I grabbed an idea from a college writing class from 30 years ago and narrowed my response. Short. Sweet. To the point.

I used a log line, a scriptwriting technique used to entice agents and producers to pursue your script.

Consider it an elevator speech for your book.

A log line is a spot on, short explanation that includes information about the protagonist, the protagonist's goal, and the antagonist. Keep these additional questions in mind while writing a log line for your book:

  1. What genre is your novel?
  2. What makes your main character stand out?
  3. What kick-starts the conflict?
  4. What happens to the protagonist if she fails?

A log line can be particularly helpful when attending a writing conference or pitch session, when time is of the essence and a you need to give the agent or editor a clear vision.

So, I'll ask the question once again. What's your book about?

by LuAnn Schindler. Read more of her work at her website.

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23. The Writer's Portfolio

In the corner of our living room, a glass-topped end table topples with papers and magazines, waiting for me to find time or a rainy day to clip my clips and place them in a physical file (and no, I'm not talking file 13). And since the end of the year is approaching rapidly, I need to get said articles filed ASAP; otherwise, I'll be pulling double duty once 2013 begins.

But I'm also wondering if I need a physical file. I have links to my work on my website. Is an electronic version of my portfolio enough? Or do I need both types?

I don't mind keeping both a physical and online portfolio of my articles. Granted, I don't always have time to get the items cut out of the paper, placed in a sheet protector and stored in a jumbo-sized notebook. Plus, I don't always find time to update my online clip list. I'm six months behind as I write this blog post. Eventually I'll get caught up.

Experience tells me I need both. 

This week, an editor from a publication I've written for previously (read: once) requested clips. I was able to send links to some of my best work, and since the publication features agriculture, I was able to create PDF files of a 3-part series I wrote for the industry and submit these newly-created files.

It's a win-win for everyone involved.

Experience tells me I need to promote my online listing as much as possible. 

I can direct editors and other interested parties to my website to find my most recent newspaper columns, updated weekly, and additional vital information.

Experience tells me to post my best work online.

I am able to choose whether or not I will post a business profile, feature article, or sports story. I am able to streamline my clips to fit the profile of a potential publication.

For me, I use and feel the need for both styles. It's a compilation of hard work and dedication, a showcase of the strongest stories I've written.

Do you keep an electronic and print version of your writing portfolio?

4 Comments on The Writer's Portfolio, last added: 12/15/2012
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24. It's Who You Know

Writers, especially when beginning in the business, are told repeatedly to write "what you know." And while that adage has its perks, I've discovered that it's not always what I know, but WHO I know.

Think about it. More than likely, you have a lot of friends and those friends have friends. At work, you see colleagues daily. They undoubtedly have lives beyond the office, and I bet if you ponder for just a moment, you'll think about a work associate who would make a great feature subject. Plus, you have family, and somewhere in that cast of colorful characters, a story is waiting to take shape.

Think about the possible story ideas begging to be investigated!

I've made a fair amount of money penning feature stories for local, regional, and even national publications. And many of these stories featured people I know. For example,

  • Our neighbor's teenage son wrote a rap song and entered a contest. He won! His story made the front page of the local newspaper.
  • An 80-year old woman rounded up a group of friends, and together, they send care packages to our troops overseas. She just happened to be a friend of my in-laws. Story printed in a regional newspaper.
  • One day while eating lunch in a local cafe, the owner (friend of mine) let me know about a lady who designed and made the Homecoming crowns for the king and queen every year. The story ran in the local paper, a regional publication, and went out on the AP wire. 
  • Another friend's daughter conducted a major fundraiser to keep the town's swimming pool afloat. You guessed it! Another sale.
And don't forget to count yourself as an expert. Need an example or two?

  • A few years ago, I contracted a severe case of food poisoning - salmonella - that required a hospital stay (three days before my daughter's high school graduation). I told my story to a statewide magazine and received a hefty paycheck.
  • When a regional magazine solicited a Christmas story via Twitter, I jumped at the chance. They were looking for Christmas cooking traditions. I parlayed my family tradition into a double page spread that included multiple photos and three original recipes. 
Think about the people you know, their hobbies, offbeat travel destinations, volunteer experiences.

By writing WHO you know, you'll have a plethora of story ideas.

And that means money in the bank.

4 Comments on It's Who You Know, last added: 12/30/2012
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25. Interview with Emily McGee, 3rd place winner, Summer 2012 Flash Fiction contest

Happy New Year and welcome to 2013, Muffin readers! Today, we'll be chatting with Emily McGee, whose story "After Herman Died" placed third in the Summer 2012 Flash Fiction contest. If you haven't had the opportunity to read the piece, head over to WOW!'s contest page and partake. Then, grab a cup or glass of your favorite Holiday cheer and settle in for our chat with Emily.

Emily McGee has lived in Africa, the South Pacific, and three states in four years. She pays the bills by writing for various educational companies, but she’s happiest when writing fiction. Emily and her husband live life on the go, and they recently returned to the U.S. after living in Nairobi, Kenya. Emily writes about travel, and life as a trailing spouse at One Trailing Spouse. You can also connect with her on Facebook and twitter.

WOW: Emily, congratulations on placing third in the Summer 2012 flash contest. The story's premise struck a chord with me. My spouse passed away suddenly about a decade ago. I remember that need for peace and quiet - just for a moment - following his death. How did the idea for this story develop?

Emily: The story actually started with a first line prompt from another contest. After losing that contest, I cut the first line and spent some time pondering the story while on the elliptical machine at the gym. (This is where I do much of my best thinking.) I revised the story after my gym session and after thinking more deeply about how I would react if my own spouse had a long and painful death.

WOW: (Smiles) I do my best thinking when I'm pushing the lawn mower! It's a great time to think. A lot of times, I find myself working on a particular line or phrase and how to make sure it impacts the story. I'm a stickler for the last line leaving a lasting impression. How do you "know" when you've hit gold with the final line? Do you try to make an impact or do you strive for a touch of irony? What's your strategy?

Emily: I try not to think too hard about it, but I feel like I know when I have a good line. The first several drafts of this story just didn't have "it", whatever "it" is.

For all my stories, I revise until I have a line somewhere near the end of the story that can leave a lasting impression. With flash fiction, I think it's even more important the the very last line leave that impression. In longer stories, I'm OK if a sentence on the last page of the story has that special something.

WOW: Completely agree! In journalism, I call it the power quote. With that strategy in mind, not every genre falls into this category, like writing a test question for fifth grade science. You have experience writing for education companies. What types of writing is included under this umbrella?

Emily: I write blog posts, assessments, lesson plans and unit plans. When I write standardized test questions, I feel slightly evil. When I get to write short stories for kids, I have a blast.

I have a Master's degree in education and I used to teach (before my husband and I started moving so often). Between my background and the unrolling of the Common Core State Standards, I've been able to find a lot of work doing this type of writing.

WOW: That's great! As a teacher, I've penned my share of lesson plans and unit assessments. It takes a lot of work, but it's so worthwhile. You also have another unique writing assignment - your blog. When I was younger, I wanted a job where I could travel. Your blog seems like it's part travel guide, part survival guide. How do you decide what types of posts to include?

Emily: I've tried to narrow the scope of my blog to travel and trailing spouse issues. Those two categories still encompass a lot of things though! I write about my marriage, and moving, and life as an expat. My husband and I love to travel, so I also include travel posts.

My blog has been a great writing outlet for me. It's also been a great way to connect with people who have also made career adjustments for the sake of a relationship or family.

WOW: Well, I certainly enjoyed reading about places you've visited. You share a lot of great information. Since you entered and placed in this contest, I'm wondering what information or advice would you offer a writer contemplating entering a contest?

Emily: If you're going to enter one contest, enter many. Rejection happens to everyone, and in my experience, to every story. I have had two short stories place in contests after being passed over in other contests. Rejection stings a bit less if you know you have several stories being read in several different contests. And if you know your story is good, then stay confident and keep submitting. Eventually you'll find success.

WOW:  Excellent advice for all writers to remember. Thank you for sharing, and once again, congratulations Emily!

Interview by LuAnn Schindler

2 Comments on Interview with Emily McGee, 3rd place winner, Summer 2012 Flash Fiction contest, last added: 1/3/2013
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