Tag Archives: writing tips

The World Is My Stage

17 Oct

As a kid I was an observer.  I was shy, so in group situations you could usually find me off in a corner, eating whatever was available, watching the festivities.

Even back then I was adding to my compilation of observations, to be used later when I began writing.  Of course I didn’t know it way back then; it wasn’t a conscious decision on my part; but today I can sure see how it all unfolded.

When my family would head off on a car trip/vacation, I would sit in the backseat, not reading a book but studying the passing landscapes, storing it all in my brain for future use.

I was reminded of that this past weekend when my wife and I went on a mini-vacation to see friends in Southern Oregon.  It was about an eight-hour trip one-way, and most of the way Bev spent that time listening to music and playing with the puppy, while I observed everything we passed along the way.

I think writers are just wired differently.  I was consciously thinking of certain sites and tucking them safely away until I need them in a new novel.  That’s basically what I do every single day I’m out and about running errands . . . I’m observing!  I even caught myself mentally writing some scenes for my latest novel while driving.  I saw this great old mansion in Ashland, Oregon, and that mansion deserves a spot in the next novel.

I love everything about the writing process.

One of the people we visited on the trip asked me to explain how I write a particular scene.  What process do I use as a scene unfolds, and I found it difficult to answer that question because it just happens, but it can only happen because of all the observations made over the span of my life.

Does that make sense?

If you’re a writer you are nodding your head right now.

We’re just wired a little bit differently.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

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Fiction or Not Fiction?

10 Oct

I was thinking some more about Vietnam this morning.

Four U.S. Presidents intentionally lied to the American public and to Congress, about the degree of military involvement in that war.  We, the voting public, were basically fed a pile of crap for sixteen years.

Unbelievable!  And probably more unbelievable is that we eagerly ate that pile of crap.

A couple months ago I read a book by Robert McNamara about his involvement and memories of the Vietnam War.  As you may recall, McNamara was the Secretary of Defense under two of those four Presidents. I came away from the reading of that book feeling like it was terribly self-serving, that he had somehow washed himself clean of any wrongdoing during that entire fiasco.  And I read a similar book by Henry Kissinger once, and it was amazing how lily-white he managed to paint himself.

Now those two books were labeled non-fiction, but in truth, parts of them were either a) fiction or b) bald-faced lies.

And that got me to thinking about many of the non-fiction books we read.  They are all written according to the truth as the author sees the truth, but is that actually the truth?

Just something to think about!

Which brings me to my genre of choice . . . fiction!

I love being a fiction writer.  I make a deal with my readers: I’m going to completely fabricate a story, alter reality, lie my ass off, but I promise to entertain the reader while I’m doing all that . . . and that is perfectly all right and expected.  I am expected to alter the truth with my writing, and people pay me to do so, and how great is that?

The point is this:  writers of fiction are entertainers and blowers of smoke.  It is our job to release the reader from the ugliness and vileness of reality; it is our job to give them a respite from the pressures of their lives; it is our job to suspend the known world and create an unknown world.

If we do our jobs well, readers will come away from the experience feeling satiated and fulfilled.

If we do not do our jobs well, readers will come away from the experience feeling like they voted for Richard Nixon.

Just something to think about!

Have a great day of creating!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Your Story, Your History

3 Oct

Vietnam!

It’s just one word, but if I say it out loud I instantly see flashbacks from fifty years ago; I am transported back instantly; I am raw.

I watched the Vietnam series by Ken Burns these last two weeks, and once again I was blown away by the storytelling ability of Burns.  The man is a master at his craft.

That’s what that series was, you know.  It was a story, told by a storyteller, and within his story were the stories of those who were touched personally by that war.

In a very real sense we were all touched by that war . . . and still are!

The Civil War and Vietnam . . . they haunt us still today. We still, as a nation, have not recovered from the effects of those two conflicts.  It appears we won’t recover in my lifetime, and I find that to be sad.

If you saw the series then you saw the haunted looks on the faces of those who were involved in Vietnam.  You heard the pain in their voices.  Their words, and I’m sure their memories, were visceral.

I could not hate a soldier in 1967 and I can’t hate one today, no matter my viewpoint on war.  They have seen things no sane, compassionate, empathetic human being should ever see, and because of that they deserve, at the very least, understanding.

Taking a life should be costly.  It should have a profound effect on those who survive. It is horrible, and it is a shame our leaders cannot experience the anguish when a steel-jacketed round, from their weapon, tears out the wiring of an enemy soldier.  Perhaps some of them would not be in such a hurry to declare war on North Korea, or Iran, or a handful of other nations who dare to disagree with our economic policies and philosophical beliefs.

My father was not the same after World War 2, or so I’m told.  My uncle suffered from “shell-shock,” PTSD as we know it today, and drank his way through the next twenty years of his life.  A cousin of mine never recovered after being sent home from a prison camp in Hanoi in 1970, and eventually he hung himself on a cold February evening in 1980.

We are writers, but we are also storytellers, and to a larger degree we are the chroniclers of history.

Tell your history!  Will it please everyone? Probably not, but that’s not the point.

Be a storyteller!  Will your stories please everyone?  Probably not but again, that’s not the point.

Make your readers feel it.

That is the point!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Guest Blog by Sharilee Today

26 Sep

I have a treat for all of you today, a guest blog posting by my friend Sharilee Swaity. I’ve known Sharilee for a number of years now and I greatly admire her as a quality human being, my highest praise of anyone.

Without further delay, here is Sharilee!

Pursuing Impossible Dreams

Have you ever had a big goal? So big it seemed like an impossible dream? Maybe writing a book or changing careers? Or moving to a big farm in the middle of nowhere and living off the land?

I have friends with impossible dreams, too. One of them has an absolutely amazing voice that touches people every time she sings. She writes passionate, intense songs with perfect cadence and depth but she thinks the goal of becoming a professional singer is unrealistic.

One of my teacher friends is incredibly talented as an artist. Her bulletin boards are outstanding and she once had a small business drawing unique cards that no one else was making. She thinks that making money from her art is completely unreachable. I understand these friends because for many years, I thought my dream was impossible, too.

I have always loved books and the thought of having my name on a book was the coolest thing I could imagine. It also seemed like the silly fantasy of a young girl. Authors were another breed of individuals. Like C.S. Lewis and Shakespeare, they were disciplined, talented, prolific, even wise. I was just a girl who wrote in her journal, sharing stuff about my depressing life that no one would ever see.

Eddie the Eagle’s Big Goal

One guy who had an seeming unreasonable target was Eddie the Eagle. He wanted to be an Olympic athlete. The only problem was that he was short-sighted and poor, without the elite background that most athletes in his position enjoyed.

During the 1988 Calgary Olympics, he gained both popularity and notoriety for showing up to compete when he really wasn’t that good at it. In fact, he placed last, far behind the other athletes in his events. As an Albertan who lived close to Calgary at that time, I remember seeing his story in the local papers. Some of the writers criticized him for making a mockery of the sport while others applauded him for showing up and trying.

Eddie first tried to get to the Olympics through the sport of ski racing, and managed to place well enough to get on the team. He wasn’t part of the elites, however, and the authorities found a loophole to disqualify him from competing.

Discouraged but undaunted, Eddie switched gears and decided he would learn ski jumping. Yes, that sport! Where crazy daredevils jump off ramps as high as skyscrapers. The sport where athletes have to train from the age of three to have a hope of even placing.

Eddie traipsed all over Europe looking for places where he could get some jumping time in. He slept in his vehicle in -25 C weather and even lived in a mental institution for a while because it the only housing he could afford.

When the tryouts for the event came along, his time was just on the cusp of not qualifying. He made it to the Olympics and no one from his team wanted him there. He was an embarrassment to the dignified British sports establishment. Yet, in spite of all these obstacles, he still managed to add “Olympic athlete” to his resume.

My Impossible Dream

Eddie was criticized and stonewalled from all sides. Sometimes we can feel like this with our dreams, too. We may hear, “Why are you wasting your time?”  Sometimes the criticism comes more from our own heads.

Whether it’s writing a book, a blog or copy for businesses, the publishing field is not easy to explain or justify but we dream anyway.  We may write a blog but dream of writing a book. Or write books on the side and dream of living off the royalties. Perhaps like me, we write in a journal but dream of impacting thousands with our words.

Four years ago, I took a small article I had written and thought about expanding it into a book. I kept going until it reached 12,000 words. Seeing that many words altogether on one topic made me hungry to finish it. The impossible had become a possibility and the journey from that first little article to a printed book in my hand taught me some valuable lessons.

Life Lesson One: Big goals are possible

The most important thing I learned was that the impossible was actually possible. Growing up, I struggled with confidence. I was the timid kid on the playground reading a book in the corner. I had many ideas but almost zero confidence to pursue them. The most common comment on my report card was “not working up to potential.”

 

When I decided to write a book, years later, it was difficult to tell anyone what I was doing. I was sure that people would scoff at me for pursuing something so lofty. Somehow, though, in spite of my fears, I kept to it and in April of 2017, my first book went live on Amazon.

 

Three months later, I held the print book in my hand. I put author on my resume and the most impossible dream I could imagine – becoming an author – had come true. So-called impossible dreams become possible for people every day.

 

Life Lesson Two: Big Goals Take Patience

If I had $10 for every person who told me, “everyone always tells me I should write a book,” I would be able to afford a very nice dinner. When I tell people I have written a book some of them indicate that they, too, would have written a book if only they wanted to. The point is, though, is that they haven’t written a book – because writing a book takes a long time, months, sometimes even years. Like any big goal, it requires sticking to it through the obstacles, both external and internal.
The lesson I learned in writing my first book was that a big goal takes patience. Just when you think you are almost done, you realize there is something else to do. Another chapter is needed to complete your ideas. Your editor sees a load of mistakes after you think a piece is almost perfect. You search for research details that you can’t find anywhere. It seems endless but you grow in patience.  If your dream is big, it is guaranteed to require patience to complete.

 

Life Lesson Three: Big Goals Require Learning

For years, one of the things that stopped me from writing and publishing my own book was formatting. I had read articles about how technical and complicated formatting was to learn.

Gradually, though, through talking to other self-publishers and joining author Facebook groups, I started to see through the veil. Formatting took some time to learn but others were doing it.

So, I learned how to format an eBook. And then a paperback for Createspace, all without buying any programs or paying any experts.

If you have abandoned your big goal because it seems like too much to learn, know that almost everything is learnable. In today’s age, especially, with YouTube videos and websites, you can learn almost anything. Whether it’s life skills, marketing or better grammar, you can develop expertise in the areas where you struggle. The old saying that a teacher appears when the student is ready is even more true in today’s Internet age.

 

So, what about you? Do you have a supposed impossible dream? Are you willing to revisit it? Or are you busy making one come true right now? What lessons have you learned along the way? Tell me below!

 

 

 

Sharilee Swaity met Bill Holland through Hubpages (where she was known as prairieprincess) and has admired him ever since as a person and a writer. She blogs at Second Chance Love, and has recently finished her book, Second Marriage: An Insider’s Guide to Hope, Healing & Love. She has an audiobook version of her book coming out soon. To get her free mini eBook on connecting with your spouse when you have no time, sign up here.

 

 

Everything We Do Matters!

19 Sep

 

“Sometimes, in the night I feel it
Near as my next breath
and yet, untouchable
Silently the past comes stealing
Like the taste of some forbidden sweet

“Along the walls; in shadowed rafters
Moving like a thought through haunted atmospheres
Muted cries and echoed laughter
Banished dreams that never sank in sleep”

Lyrics by Dan Fogelberg from his song “Ghosts”

THE HEART AND SOUL OF A WRITER

That song is not about writers, but it has always spoken to me.  I think of my muse when I listen to it, how she speaks to me constantly, demanding of me that I record memories from my past, insisting that I create new stories, stories which will capture sixty-eight years of experience, pleading with me to choose just the right words so that my story becomes a story every reader can relate to.

We’ve all heard it said that there is a bestselling novel inside each of us.  That may be so, but not everyone can tell it properly.  A writer can.  A writer has the ability to take seemingly mundane occurrences and turn them into a captivating story.  A writer understands the common threads which weave through all human beings, and a writer uses those threads as connective tissue, bringing us all together, cementing our bonds, and adding to our common history.

It is magical when it happens, as you all know, and I feel blessed that it has happened to me, as you all surely understand.

SOMETHING REMARKABLE HAPPENED RECENTLY

I know a young man who recently took care of his father-in-law in a hospice situation.  He sat by the dying man’s side for two days, seeing to his needs, taking care of some really disgusting bodily discharges, and generally provided invaluable comfort to the man.  It was a remarkable display of humanness, an example of empathy we all could learn from.

I mention that because I believe the really good writers have such empathy. They understand the raw emotions inherent in our species, and they find a way, through words, to awaken those emotions.  This is the connective tissue I mentioned earlier.  We all have, and understand, emotions.  We all have, and understand, the five senses.  These are the things we, as writers, must use in order for our stories to be truly memorable to the reading public.  Without empathy, without an intense understanding of emotions, our words will fall short of our goal.

Remember that the next time you sit down to write.  Your words are not meant for a vacuum.  They are meant to be injected into the subconscious of the reader, and the only way you can accomplish that is to find the common thread we all share.

A FINAL NOTE

I’ll leave you with something my dad told me once which has stayed with me for fifty years.

My dad and his parents

“Everything you do matters, Bill,” he told me.

I try to remember that when I sit down to write.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

 

 

Vision-Hopping

12 Sep

Eerie!

That’s what a sky filled with smoke from nearby forest fires is like.  Eerie!  The sun, when visible, is red.  The air hard to breathe . . . ash falls from the sky, coating everything with a fine sludge . . . the sky seems to be falling, closing in on you from above . . . there is an ominous feeling of the supernatural at work that is hard to ignore.  People move slowly, unable to cast off the unseen chains of concern.

Observations from last week in Olympia, Washington.

For whatever reason, most likely some imprinted animal memory, I am taken back to my twelfth year, in Tacoma, Washington, ten at night, a cold night, and the Jackson home burning to the ground, a chimney fire consuming the house of five, all residents safe, the flames towering, the neighborhood aglow, and that ever-present stench of charred memories which seemed to hover above our block for months afterwards, reminding us all of dust to dust and the fragile nature of life.

Two weeks later my older sister gave birth to her third child, a girl, healthy, hopeful, radiant with happiness not yet stained by the struggles of life.

That same year a young girl by the name of Ann Marie Burr went missing, disappeared from her bedroom, eight she was, or perhaps nine, I don’t remember, round face, beautiful smile, here one moment, gone the next, a family shattered, never really to recover, her body never found.

Dust to dust!

Our paper boy that year, one Ted Bundy, who would go on to fame as a serial killer of young women.

Dust to dust!

The mind of a writer is a fertile ground.  Was my childhood all that remarkable? I don’t believe so.  I think most people, if they really concentrate on the past, will find inspiration awaiting them.  All they need to do is become receptive.

Writer’s block?  You’ve got to be kidding me!

A line from a song keeps playing in my mind today:

“Death is there to keep us honest,

And constantly remind us we are free.”

 

Maybe you’ll find some inspiration from that line.  Maybe not!

Someone I follow, another blogger, is contemplating giving it up and quitting writing.  Discouraged she is.  Can’t find a reason to continue, she says.  I find that sad.  What we do is important despite the lack of sales in this highly-competitive world.  Writers make a difference!

Have a great week of writing unless, of course, you’ve made other plans.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

No Need To Dream Up Characters

29 Aug

I was thinking the other day about a kid I grew up with; we’ll call him Bobby Mertins because it would serve no purpose in using his real name.

Bobby was one of those people who are perpetually in the background.  There was nothing particularly interesting about him.  He was not good at sports, and social interaction with Bobby was like interacting with a door knob.  I don’t say that to be cruel but rather to point out that Bobby just wasn’t someone you remember with any clarity.

He was always in our pickup baseball games, a warm body to help make up a team, but he was a very bad player.  He would be there to play hide-and-seek, he would take part in impromptu wrestling matches, or snowball fights, but he just wasn’t that much fun to play with.  I’m sure we all remember someone like that from our childhood, a kid always on the periphery of the action but never a key player in any activity.

Bobby committed suicide last year.  I just happened to see his obituary in the online newspaper from my hometown of Tacoma, saw that he had died, contacted an old friend from the neighborhood, and he confirmed that Bobby shot himself with a shotgun.  Sixty-four years old . . . sixty-four years on this planet and really a mystery for most of those sixty-four years.

Bobby will be in one of my upcoming novels.  I owe him that.

I hear all the time writers saying that they are struggling to develop characters, and I wonder how that is possible.  A writer who observes life is surrounded by future characters in their books.  All you have to do is pay attention and rely on recall from time to time.

I had an uncle who suffered from PTSD. He had been in World War 2, on a battleship which was attacked by the Japanese in the Pacific, and when he came home from that war he was a changed man.  He drank heavily, would never talk about the horrors he encountered, and spent years trying to piece his jigsaw of a life back together.

He will be in one of my books soon.

Human beings are fascinating.

Pay attention to them.

If you are accepting of them, they will gladly write your books for you.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

That’s Just the Way It Is

22 Aug

Got To Get You Into My Life” was a song on the album “Revolver” and was released by The Beatles in 1966.  For forty years it was one of my favorite Beatle tunes, so imagine my surprise when I learned last year that what I thought was an upbeat love song was actually a tribute to pot (some say cocaine).  LOL

The lesson learned: I’m not nearly as smart as I’d like to believe.

That was just a bonus story; now on to the real blog posting.

Again with the music….I was listening to “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen the other day.  What a haunting, brilliant tune…and then that night I watched a tribute to Led Zeppelin, with Heart singing “Stairway to Heaven”…..again, a brilliant song….and I found myself wondering what it must be like to write something that brilliant.

Would you even know it if you did?  Seriously, do you think Cohen knew he penned a classic when he wrote “Hallelujah?” Do you think Paige and Plant knew they had written quite possibly the greatest rock song of all-time?

And that all reminds me of a line from the Robert Redford movie “The Natural.”  In the movie, Redford is telling his childhood sweetheart, played by Glenn Close, that he could have been so much better if he hadn’t run into trouble at a young age, and Close asks them then what? Why is that so important?  And Redford says “then, when I walked down the street, people would look at me and say ‘there goes the greatest baseball player of all-time, and wouldn’t that be something?”

I don’t know if it would be or not, but I keep aiming for it.  It’s how I’m wired.  I’m not satisfied being a good writer, or even a very good writer.  I want to be the best!

But then a little voice in my head tells me that will never happen, so live with it . . . but still I try . . .

And that’s just the way it is!

 

 

 

The Art of Storytelling

15 Aug

“The best way we as storytellers can move an audience, is by being honest and genuine with ourselves. If it doesn’t move us or excite us personally, how can we expect an audience to feel anything?”

Ken Burns, Film Producer

So I was watching a show on PBS the other night about Burns.  I highly respect him, and the show was fascinating.  Rarely have I seen any producer/director of any documentary tell a story as well as Burns has done in the past with his films, from The Civil War to The Roosevelts to Our National Parks.

He was saying during this show that he believes history should not be delivered as a set of facts in so much as it should be delivered as a narrative, because people make history, and it is through the words of the people who made history that we gain a real appreciation for history.  He went on to say that the really great storytellers never forget that we all share feelings, and tapping into those feelings is what makes a mediocre story a great story.

I believe that.  I’ve said it often in this blog.  The great authors I have read are the ones who have found a way to deliver the story in such a way that I actually care about the characters, and I feel what the characters are feeling.  This is a crucial point, so write it down, if you have to, and always refer to it.

Whether you write fiction or just a blog, it is all-important that you find a way to connect with your readers, and the best way to do that is on a personal level. A friend of mine, Linda, writes a blog about food.  She always includes a personal story in each blog posting, something which will reach her readers on a basic molecular level, and because she does that, her articles are always interesting, even to me and I’m strictly a mac-n-cheese sort of guy.

Who are you writing for?  If it’s just for yourself, good luck with that. I have nothing else to say to you.  But if you are writing for an audience, and it is important to you that you reach them, then I guaran-damn-tee it you will reach them if you remember that they are human beings who feel the same things you feel.  Your storytelling must always remember that.

Writers are storytellers.

Be the best storyteller you can be.  Don’t go through the motions and vomit mediocrity.  That’s an insult to all who came before you, and it’s a turn-off for all those who follow you.

THE OREGON TRAIL

I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating.  Growing up, our next-door neighbors were a lovely old couple. I have no idea how old they were, but I do know that, as children, they both came to Washington on the Oregon Trail by covered wagon.  I still remember many an afternoon when they would serve their six-year-old neighbor (me) chocolate chip cookies and tell him about crossing the country in a wagon.  It was absolutely fascinating, so fascinating that I still remember those stories sixty years later.

And I remember the stories of Alaska my Uncle Jim told me, about dredging in harbors with the temperatures so cold his breath would freeze upon exhaling, and grizzly bears walking down Main Street in Ketchikan, and I remember the stories my Uncle Mike told of being attacked on the USS Iwo Jima during World War 2, and stories of my mother working as a welder in the naval shipyards during that war . . . and stories . . . well, you get the point.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Personal Satisfaction in Writing

8 Aug

“Sometimes, in the night I feel it
Near as my next breath
and yet, untouchable
Silently the past comes stealing
Like the taste of some forbidden sweet”

From “Ghosts” by Dan Fogelberg

 

They do talk to me, you know, and if you’re being honest with yourself, they talk to you as well.

The ghosts of our past.

It’s impossible for me to not hear my father speaking to me.  I don’t remember the tone of his voice, but I definitely remember his words:

“Give an honest day of work for an honest wage, and always be grateful that you’re able to work, Bill.”

Or my Uncle Mike, once a car salesman in Torrance, California:

“Working retail is an exchange, Bill.  The customer gives you money, and in return you give them the best product possible.”

Or my Aunt Lois, who died of heart disease at the age of forty:

“Life is too precious to waste it on half-efforts.”

I remembered those words, and others, when I was a teacher, a warehouseman, a truck driver, and now as a writer.  At the end of the day, and under the final analysis, I must answer not only to my lofty standards but theirs as well.  They will not allow me to do half-assed work.  They expect the best from me.  They are watching over my shoulder as I do an article for a client, and they whisper in my ear as I work on a novel possibly no one will ever read.

The payment for it all . . . for all of those long hours . . . for all of those days when we felt unappreciated . . . the payment is in the personal satisfaction derived from knowing we did our best.

Remember that as you go about your day today.

“Down the ancient corridors
And through the gates of time
Run the ghosts of days that we’ve left behind
Down the ancient corridors
And through the gates of time
Run the ghosts of dreams that we left behind”

Pax Vobiscum!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”