Tag Archives: blog

College Essay Writing Tips Series

Since so many students are stressing about their college essays, I’ve decided to write a series of College Essay Writing Tips. The links to each post can be found below:College Essay Writing Tips - the full list

Tip # 1 Helpful Revision Techniques

Tip # 2 We Are All Beginners at Some Point

Tip # 3 The Writing Process

I will update this page as new posts are published.

Best of luck with your essay and keep writing!

The my writing process blog tour

If you saw my last post, you know that I’m sharing my experiences at the writers workshops I’ve attended over the past year. One of the many, many reasons that I love attending workshops is that I meet amazing writers who are also terrific people.

Jane Ward is one such writer/friend. I’m proud to say she is a front-row-seat-convert thanks to me. She has invited me to participate in a blog tour called the My Writing Process Blog Tour. I’m honored that she considered me worthy. Smooches Jane! You can read her writing process story here.

Jane Ward

Jane Ward

First, I’ll tell you a little bit about my talented friend. Jane Ward is the author of Hunger and the New York Book Festival award-winning novel The Mosaic Artist.  Yes, she rocks. She is currently at work on her third novel, The Welcome Home. A former baker and caterer, Jane now cooks on video for allfood.com, a recipe database cited on several online newspapers, and also regularly contributes articles to them. Her blog, Food and Fiction, is equal parts food memoir, cooking and baking discussion, and collection of food industry profiles and trends. (Jane’s friend Carla Panciera invited her to join the blog tour and you can find her entry here.)

Below I have answered the few questions required by the blog tour. By reading on, you’ll get to know a little bit more about what I do (and sometimes what I don’t do.)

1. What are you working on?

I spent the “Summer of Ellen,” as I affectionately call it, attending several writing workshops and not doing a ton of actual writing, just learning about writing.

The pieces I workshopped were:

– A 100-page excerpt from my novel in progress called The Alligator Purse. It’s a family saga, with a political backdrop, lots of secrets, and a fabulous purse.

– “In the Dust of Elephants” is a short story about a Somali man whose daughter is gravely ill. He participates in a hunt to get ivory dust from the tusk of an elephant because he believes it will cure his daughter.

– “The Dust in His Pocket” is a short story focused on a pre-teen boy who can’t find his grandfather. His only clue is a broken hourglass that contains dirt from all the places his grandfather has travelled.

And, yes, I seem to have an affinity for all things dust right now. I considered calling my novel The Dust in the Alligator Purse, but somehow that seemed a tad too much.

2.  How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Uhm, it’s not finished or published. Oh, besides that. Ah.

I think the fact that a woman is writing about a presidential run is a little unusual. Also, that the book has a strong political backdrop but the story isn’t about politics. It’s about mother-daughter relationships and the cycles–good and bad–that are repeated in families. And it’s about holding other people to higher standards than we hold ourselves–and how that can absolutely ruin us.

Also, an American woman writing from the voice of a Somali man–probably not a current trend in most literary works.

3.  Why do you write what you do?

I’m writing this novel because I won a contest. The prize was a consultation of the first 10 pages of a novel with a literary agent named Rachelle Gardner. I kind-of, sort-of raced off a smart-arse haiku and, holy crap, I won. Which would have been so fabulous if I actually had 10 pages written. Ahem. (Please don’t ask me WHY I entered the contest–that is still a mystery to even me.)

Getting 10 pages written was my obsession but I had no idea what to write about. None.What.So.Ever. That is, until I heard a story on the radio about a woman who had her purse stolen. She chased the thief down to get her purse back. And I thought, “what the hell was in that purse?” Angels sang, glitter spewed, and The Alligator Purse was born.

“In the Dust of Elephants” was inspired by another contest about hunger in the natural world. I didn’t want to have my characters hunger for food, so I needed something else, something more dire. My family spent some time living in India. While there, two of my children got sick with unidentifiable illnesses. Thankfully they were both fine but it was a scary time and I knew I would do anything I could to help them get well. I wanted to write a story in a foreign setting and Somalia seemed to make perfect sense because I needed an elephant to wander through the story.

“The Dust in His Pocket” is really a tribute my grandfather. The grandfather in the story is not at all who my grandfather was, but the special relationship he has with his grandson mimics our relationship.

4.  How does your writing process work?

Process. Hmmmmm, that sounds like a bad word. Can you tell I don’t really have a process? Ergh.

A lot of my story ideas/inspiration used to come from contests. The creative world is often too immense for me to come up with my own ideas. I’m a Pisces afterall and if I hold on too tightly to one idea, I fear losing all the others. Although, I am getting much better about it. Many of my earlier story ideas came from someone else saying “what about this” and me answering back, “Yea, but no, not that exactly. What about this instead?”

To keep the writing process blog chain going, here are some other writers you should know, and who will (I hope) let you know a bit more about themselves.

Virginia Pye – River of Dust
I met the talented Virginia Pye at a James Rivers Writers Workshop taught by Nancy Zafris. River of Dust is a fabulous story set in Northwest China in 1910 and chronicles the lives of a missionary couple whose young son, Wesley, is kidnapped by nomads right before their eyes.  During our workshop lunch, I squeezed myself in between them and soaked in every single word they said. I may have accidentally, on-purpose rubbed against them both in hopes of some of their tremendous talent falling off of them and onto me.

virginia pye2

M.M. Fink – Forget We Met
I also met M.M. at the James Rivers Writers Conference. (Yes, it’s a good conference. You should go. Find out about it here.) She is beautiful and asked a lot of smart questions and is super talented. At first, I didn’t think I could like her that much because, well, did you read the last sentence? But she is so talented and so kind that you can’t help but like her a lot. Her first novel  is Forget We Met is the story of a young woman who comes home to the Louisiana playhouse in which she was raised to claim her future in the theatre and the man she’s always loved, but ends up discovering lifelong betrayals, the father she never knew, and herself. She has an agent for it and the book should be coming out in the not so distant future. (Fun fact – she let her readers pick the title. For reals.) Her second novel is called Canary Falls and I think she just finished writing it.

 

And finally, I’d like you to meet

Tara Lindis-Corbell
She is an emerging writer (like me) who I met at the One Story Workshop in NYC. There are a couple of reasons I’d like you to meet her. She’s talented. She’s funny as hell. And it’s about time she updated her blog with a new post. (You’re welcome Tara.) She also inspired me. She has two young children and she still gets up  every.single.morning.before.they.do and writes. She said she does that because she’s grumpy if she doesn’t. Amen sister. Tara is working on a novel that deals with family dynamics, the trickle down effect of environmental shifts on our every day lives, and a missing cat. She also has a funny story about a voodoo doll on a bicycle. If she doesn’t tell that story, I will be forced to tell it for her. It’s hysterical. Fun fact – it’s a true story.

Tara reading at One Story

Tara reading at One Story

That’s it for now. Happy reading and writing!

Expat Blog Awards….

This is kind of exciting.

I’ve been nominated for the Expat Blog Awards for my writing about living in India.

If you have a second, please vote for me by leaving a comment here…
http://www.expatsblog.com/blogs/466/a-reason-to-write

Thanks!

There’s more to it than writing………

Platform, pictures, bios, blogging… jeez louise, writers are responsible for a lot.

Most of the time, we should be writing for sure. But there are some other things writers should be thinking about.

A mug shot is one of them. I should say – a mug shot we are happy with.

For a long time, this was the picture I was using for just about everything.

And it was fine. But it looked like I took a picture that I was happy enough with and cropped it way too small and said, “done.” Because – that is exactly what I did.

Well, it so happens that I was taking a photography class – from a real, live professional photographer. And we spent about 6 hours together.

So, I asked her to take a few “professionalish” pictures for me.

And this is what I got…

Uhmmm. Yes, that is a lot better.

So, if you think you might want to publish something, someday, take some time and have a good picture taken. I pinky swear you will be very glad you did!

Write/Blog what you know – or not……….

There is a ton of fabulous writing and blogging advice out there. One of the most familiar refrains is “write what you know”. I call BS on that  one. If you write fiction, you kinda sorta gotta write what you don’t know or it’s not really fiction. Hmmmm, right?

Another blogging mantra is “write what other people want to read”. That one frustrates the hell out of me. How are we supposed to know that, right?

The proverbial answer is to look at your stats and see what draws people to your blog. Then give them more of whatever that is.

Yikes. My most popular post ever is this one. It got nearly one thousand hits in one day. The key word that people used to find it was “writing”. Which would all be awesome if this post was anything more than an announcement of a writing contest being hosted somewhere else by someone else. Alas.

The post that consistently gets the most traffic on my blog is this one. It gets hundreds of hits every week and it is well over 3 years old.

Go ahead.

Ask me if it’s about writing….

Or the tremendous individual growth I experienced while living in India…..

Or about parenting….

Or anything else that I really care about….

Or even a tiny little book review…..

Ahem. The answer to any of those would not be yes.

It is simply a post of pictures of flowers I took while traveling throughout India. Most of the plants weren’t even really unique to India.

But.

This blog isn’t about flowers

or gardening

or writing contests

hosted by someone else.

And, you really don’t want my gardening advice. I pinky swear it!

In fact, this is what my very own plant looks like right now. 😎

There are delish but there are lots of brown spots. So I am really, really sorry if you came here for gardening advice.

But if you came here for pictures of flowers, I have been taking some pictures recently. I hope you will enjoy these.

So those are some of the flowers that I have seen along the way. I hope you enjoyed them! 😉

Distractions…..

Last week, I wrote a post about what I am learning as a fairly new writer – or at least as a (brand new) novelist. It was called Arse in Seat.

Over the next few weeks, I will write about my own writing journey – and I hope (very much) that those of you on similar journeys will share your experience as well. That way we all learn from each other.

My philosophy on distractions is simple:

Before you sit down, get a drink and a snack and go to the bathroom.

Then….

Turn off Facebook

Turn off Twitter

Shut down your email inbox

Turn off Instagram

Turn off Pinterest

Turn off the TV and the radio

Turn off the ringer on your phone (and no, putting it on vibrate is not actually turning it off)

Do not answer the door

Don’t look out the window

Don’t open the fridge (again)

Lock your children in the closet

Do put your arse in the seat and write. 😎

That was very helpful I am sure. You’re Welcome.

And if you are lacking a little confidence, read this by Jeff Goins – Stop Looking For Ways To Not Be Awesome.

Now, I am going to stop distracting myself with this blog and do me some novel writin’.

But before I go, please do tell. How do you keep yourself undistracted?

Monkee-ing Around with Momastery…..

Yesterday, I got a super duper treat! I attended a presentation
by Glennon of Momastery. And Sister was there. So fun! 

Just in case you’ve been living under your keyboard and haven’t heard of Glennon yet, she is a blogger, a tremendous writer, a parent and wife, a sister and daughter, and a recovering addict/bulimic.

She just signed a book deal with Scribner. The name of her blog is Momastery and she calls her readers Monkees (get it, monks, momastery – yes, it’s very, very clever!) The name of her book is Carry On, Warrior. It is due out in April 2013. Her essays frequently appear on Huffington Post.

And yesterday, she became a public speaker. I will never be able to capture her thoughts as well as she does. She writes like she is catching butterflies in a big brutiful net – poetically, gently, with the intent of doing no harm, and with plans to eventually let them go. Glitter falls off her words. I highly recommend you read her words for yourself. But I do want to share some of what she said yesterday.

The very first thing Glennon did after being introduced was kick off her adorable red shoes and sit cross-legged in a chair.

At that moment, the entire audience leaned back in their chairs and relaxed.

And this is (some of) what she told us….

Being Shameless and Truthier

As a recovering addict and bulimic, she has some stories that most people might not be so proud of. But Glennon proudly declares that she is shameless. She says she should be ashamed at how shameless she is. But she’s not. And it allows her a freedom probably few of us enjoy.

During the question and answer session, one of the monkees in the crowd asked about her parents and why they didn’t help her when she started throwing up in fourth grade. (Did that just stop your heart? Bulimic in 4th grade – yes, you read that right.)

The monkee wanted to know: How did they not know? Why didn’t they help?

We all wanted to know. You want to know, right?

She raised her left hand, stretched out her fingers, and tilted her head just a little to slow things down. She shared that she felt as if we were getting into dangerous territory. She said that the facts were they didn’t do a lot. But then she said that it was their story, not hers. Only they could answer those questions. Wow.

And, on the way home, I wondered if Glennon’s own shamelessness sets her free from judging other people. If she is not holding herself up to what other people think she should be, why would she hold others up to what she thinks they should be?

I know, right now you are probably thinking you are so mad you missed the presentation. Keep reading, you’ll be really mad by the time you get to the end. Tee hee.

Sister

If you have read at least a little bit of Glennon’s blog, you know she has a lifeline sister. She seemed equally amazing and they do balance each other out wonderfully. It was a super duper bonus that Sister was there too. Sister is the one who gave Glennon her laptop and told her to get busy writing. I thanked her for that because ultimately it was a gift to all of us.

Finding Your Thing

A lot of the moms in the audience worry about their daughters and their body images. So, who better to solve the mystery of how to starve off eating disorders than a woman who has done it and is raising two daughers? No pressure Glennon. 😉

In what seems to be true Glennon fashion, she answered honestly, “I really don’t know.” But she did recommend helping kids and ourselves find their/our “thing”. She said that finding joy in our lives scares away a lot of demons (my words not hers – just paraphrasing here). And talking about the things that scare us is extremely important. The more real we are the more safe we become.

There were some moms in the audience who don’t have a “thing” and wanted to know how to find it. Glennon suggested asking our friends what we are good at because they see our strengths.

One woman said, “but we all want to be as good at our thing as you are at your thing.” Then Glennon shared that she spends about 8 hours a day writing and will choose words over sleep. That sounds very Outliersish, doesn’t it? It takes a lot of time to be really, really good.

 Heartbreak

Another monkee question focused on how Glennon manages to deal with the heart-breaking mail she receives. Glennon gets over 100 emails/letters a day from people asking for help. And a lot of them get it. But it is impossible to help everyone. So the monkee wanted to know – how does she do it?

We all want to know, right?

Glennon shared that there is often beauty in heart break. That wonderful things can happen when someone’s heart is shattered. People come together, prayers are formed, and miracles happen.

Mantras

Glennon and her monkees have three mantras…

1. Love wins.
She finds this one particularly helpful when she receives a negative comment on her blog. She chooses to respond with love and she said the effect of that is amazing. She hangs these two powerful words over her computer so that they serve as a constant reminder that love wins.

2. We can do hard things.
A teaching friend of Glennon’s had this posted in her classroom and Glennon loved it so much she had a sign made and hung it in her own home.  She reminds us that “Life is hard. Not because we aren’t doing it right but because it’s hard.” But she also knows we can do hard things together.

3. We belong to each other.
Glennon admits to borrowing these words from Mother Teresa. She said this reminds her that we are all in it together. It ties in nicely to my favorite thing ever that Glennon has written:  “I am confident because I believe that I am a child of God. I am humble because I believe that everyone else is, too.”

Facebook Lives

Glennon cautioned us from comparing our insides to other people’s outsides.

She outlined her outside/Facebook life. In that life she is…..
An author with a book deal
A wildly successful blogger
Talking to tv producers
Pretty and smart
Very funny
Married to a former professional athlete and model
Mother to 3 beautiful children

In her inside life, she is…..
A recovering alcoholic
A recovering bulimic
A recovering drug addict
Was pregnant before she got married
Was arrested 5 times
Overwhelmed by parenting
In marriage counseling
Snuggled in guilt over being a working mom again

She wants us to remember that on Facebook and in other facets of life, people are showing us their best. They might even brag a little lot. But it doesn’t mean it’s the whole story. In fact, we know it isn’t. Life is hard, for everyone. But we can do it.

If you ever get the chance to hear  Glennon speak, do it! Don’t hesitate!

What’s that? You’re surprised I don’t have a picture of me with her. Silly Monkee!

YESTERDAY AND THE EXPAT F0RUM………

Yesterday, I got to be a grown up and go into Washington, DC for a meeting. For those of you who do this every day – I am soooo, sooo sorry. Augh.

My day started out all loverly – hubby got the kids ready for school so I could leave on-time half an hour late. (I left late because I stink at waking up and overslept. Hubby really was very helpful.) I went into my closet to find something to wear – yes, I should have done that a month ago when I would have still had time to lose a little weight – only to discover that I actually do believe in magic. I tried on pants that had no chance of fitting and even tried to zip them and what I discovered was that  A) I need to stop wearing pants with elastic in the waist so that I can feel when my clothes are getting tighter and B) too tight dress pants don’t look any better than too tight jeans. Sigh.

But there were some pants that fit and looked decent. So on they went and I even had a top that didn’t have grape jelly or ketchup stains on it. Yeah for me.

Then I set out in to the big bad world of DC traffic. I did my homework and found out that there was an accident on the road I wanted to take, so I turned right instead of left. I also found out that the Transformers is filming part of their latest movie in DC – this week. Oh goody. So, basically, there was no great route to take. And, yes, I could have taken the metro – but I h.a.t.e. the metro. Hate it. HHHH.AAAAA.TTTTT.EEEEEE.   IIII.TTTT. So, that wasn’t really an option. I just can’t start my day with all of the following smells combined into one – smoker’s breath, coffee breath, perfume, sweat, hairspray, gas passing in one form or another, and inevitably someone has gas on their hands from filling up their car….augh. Metros really should be smell-free zones. Seriously, you should have to pass through an odor detector – if the smelldar goes off – you go directly to the showers or the deodorizing tank. Off with your smells. And, by the way, good smells in combination with bad smells in confined spaces still equal really bad smells.

Anysmell, o-n-e h-o-u-r and f-0-r-t-y-f-i-v-e minutes later, I was able to park and find the building. But I am not bitter at all about how long it took to get there and this is why – first of all – I was by myself  in the car for one hour and forty five minutes – no one asking me questions or asking me to do this or do that – but more importantly, the last two times I parked in DC parking garages, it took forever to find a spot – then the one I finally found was really too small – which is why no one (with pants that weren’t too tight thus reducing blood circulation to her brain) parked there. But not me, remember, I believe in magic – zippers that zip and cars that fit in too small parking spots. Both times – yes, both times – I side swiped the entire driver’s side of my van on a cement post. But yesterday, I quickly found myself a big wide open spot (right next to the exit, mind you) with no cement posts nearby. Yippee Skippee.

Are you wondering what the point of this post is – sorry. I finally sat down at the Expat F0rum, only to find out that Andrea Martins was one of the panelists. That’s pretty cool because she is one of the co-founders of the website Expat Women – which is listed on my blogroll – and I am listed on theirs (under the blogs about Asia section – and because my blog starts with an “A”, I am even near the top of the list). Expat Women is extremely helpful for any women who do not live in their own country – lots of info, lots of stories. Andrea is enthusiastic and knowledgeable and it was a treat to meet her.

Of course, I just had to introduce myself to her. Didn’t you see that coming? You must know by now that I did. I told her about my blog being listed on her site and she tilted her head a little and went ohh and then ummm. Okay, I was a little disappointed that she didn’t screech that she was so lucky to meet me and that she reads my blog religiously but at least she didn’t tell me my pants were too tight. Anyway, she did ask if I had plans to turn my blog into a book and she wants to give me the contact information for someone who might be able to help me. Yes, tres coolio!

Alan Paul was also there as a panelist. He wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal about being an expat in China and now he is turning that column into book. Do I see a growing trend? Turning a blog into a book – sounds like a great idea, right? Anybook, he was funny and just encouraged everyone to think about what you gain from an expat experience and not focus on what you are losing. It’s easy to get frustrated about how hard life can be away from your home country but if you look out your window, you just might see the Great Wall of China or the Taj Mahal. That can’t be all bad.

At the end of the panel discussion there was some time for questions. One of the themes throughout the f0rum was the difficulties spouses have with finding employment overseas. I was never someone interested in working (oh sure the paycheck part was appealing but not the working part so it never really worked out for me) – there were days I felt like I could barely tie my own shoes – much less be responsible to a boss – but lots of people do want to work and it ain’t easy finding a paying gig. Oddly enough, Susan Musich was there. She is the Managing Director for Passport Career.

I will let their website description explain what they do: “Passport CareerTM is the first-ever, comprehensive, online global job search support system for international professionals moving to or living in unique and challenging destinations around the world. Whether they are moving to the U.S., Europe, Asia, Africa, or Latin America, Passport CareerTM provides detailed insight and knowledge on the business customs, strategies, and resources related to the job search for each country and destination covered.” Good to know, right?

The Department of State also has a similar program for embassy family members called the Global Employment Initiative.

The whole f0rum was hosted by Clements International, a company offers (okay sells) international insurance policies but also does a lot in support of the expat as a person – like this f0rum and writing contests for kids. They invited me, so I thought I would mention them. Thanks Clements. And, nope they did not pay me to say that. I also have never investigated international insurance policies, so, to be fair, this is not an endorsement – but they might be one place to look if you are searching for international insurance. There. Disclaimer said.

So, even though I did not want to get out from under the warm and cozy covers only to try on big girl clothes, I am glad I went. I even won a Starbucks gift card worth $10. 😉

What he said………..

It turns out I am in good company in the blogosphere. The U.S. Ambassador to India has a blog too – it’s called Roaming Roemer – yep his name is Timothy Roemer and he is certainly roaming all over India – to places that most of us would never know about or be able to find. He is rolling up his sleeves and getting his hands dirty – and sometimes getting them clean. Tim Roemer is advocating for better education, cleaner water, better opportunities for women and children, and so much more. Check out his blog and you can see the real work that is happening in India and how America is being allowed to participate in it. It’s interesting stuff for sure!

Seriously, feet and facebook………..

I try not to take myself too seriously. I see this blog as more therapeutic than a quick road to riches. And until a book publisher contacts me (anyone, anyone,  Bueller, Bueller), that is what I will continue to do. But, sometimes I do find myself wondering why I am doing this and who is really reading it anyway. I’ll admit my children sometimes try to read it over my shoulder (while I am writing of course), which, while endearing, ends up being mostly annoying  because it is hard to write and answer a million questions at the same time.  And “wait, go back” can kick a ingenious writing idea right out of your head faster than you can say blog post. Anyblog they are supposed to wait and read it when I am dead and gone so that they can marvel at how fantastic we were to drag them all over the world and how wonderfully I captured our memories. And number one hubby comes home every night and says, “I saw your blog today……” and comments on what he read. However, most of my readers remain nameless and faceless. There was even once a commenter whose name was “Can I please remain Unknown”. Pretty funny.

Luckily, I can answer some of those probing questions about why and where my readers come here by myself. (Hello Vietnam!) I get wonderful emails about my blog and lots of positive feedback from friends and readers. And, as the owner of this blog, I can see the key words that people use to find my blog on the great blogosphere. Some of those key word searches make me laugh and many of them make me wonder just what in the heck people are really looking for – and, more to the point,  w.h.y. they are looking for w.h.a.t. they are looking for. Some of you really should be embarrassed. 😉

Some bloggers will use these key words to their huge advantage to attract more hits on their blog. Throw in a couple of “trashy” words and your blog stats head up, up, up. That ticker ticks away higher and higher reader counts. (Of course, I am not talking about my blog friends – most of them write what they want and could give a rat’s arse about how many people read it.)

I try to be careful not to use too many “inappropriate words”. Remember my children sometimes read this over my shoulder. I try not to use words that will attract the attention of  Jerry Springer, ped*philes, terr*rists, or hubby’s old girlfriends. So, my stats roll slowly along. They are crawling at a good pace – we just hit over 70,000 together. Yippee!

Today, though, I am back to wondering if my blog has real appeal. As I travel the world and capture our experiences and impressions, my two most popular posts are about feet and facebook. Not poverty, not the Taj Mahal, not parenting (although it might be good that people are not seeking parenting advice here), not even living abroad, but feet and facebook. Wow. I may need to start trash talking. Seriously………..