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Friday, December 26, 2014

The Horror of the Blank Page, Blank Mind

Have you ever stared at a blank page and wondered what the heck you were going to write? That's what I faced today when I realized I had not written a blog entry in a while, so it was time to reconnect with my fellow writers.

Many writers face the dreaded blank page with a blank mind, especially those who want to write a book and do not know where to start. I teach writers a terrific technique for never having to face a blank page with a blank mind. Here's my secret: Before you begin writing a book, make a list of all the major points you want to make. You may add to, subtract from, change, revise, reorganize, or even ignore the list later, if you want, but if you have a book in mind, start with a list of main points.

The best memoirs feature events and vignettes, rather than a litany of highlights. If writing a memoir, rather than listing a birth date, important dates, names of schools attended, or awards received, your memoir list might go like this:

Mother nearly dies giving birth to me in 1945

First day at grammar school in 1951, got lost in hallway

What I was doing when I heard I won the Lictersphincter Award

The day I met my spouse

The time I broke my leg

The events that led to my being fired from Jonston Company

Each event can then be written as a scene with action, dialogue, setting, setup, story, and resolution, which makes for much more exciting memoirs.

If you plan to write a how-to book, your list might go like this:

Skills needed to make a wingding

Tools needed

How to prepare to make a wingding

Problems to avoid

Possible solutions to issues that might arise

How to help the community with your new wingding

The same formula works for fiction. You could write a list of scenes or plot twists you plan to cover. Here's an example:

John meets Dorothy

Dorothy ends her relationship with Alfred

Alfred lies in wait for John

John hires a bodyguard who turns out to have his own agenda

Many people hate to outline projects before starting, but a list is not an outline. It is simply a bendable, moldable, changeable list to help writers avoid facing a blank page with a blank mind. After you have made such a list, whenever you sit down to write, you simply have to peruse the list and decide which of the subjects speaks to you that day. As a result, you are off and writing with ease.

No one ever said your book has to be written in the order that it appears. With today's technology you can start anywhere and later move things around to your liking.
I faced a blank page this morning when I wanted to write my blog, but I think I'll now make a list of subjects I want to cover in future blogs. Wouldn't that be a clever idea? Why didn't I think of it?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Giving Thanks for Open Minds and Happiness

As I write this, I am still swooning with love for my family and thankful for all my blessings. After a huge family wedding a few days before, when our cousin Bryan married Michael, his partner of eighteen years, some of us gathered again to celebrate Thanksgiving. There is a Yiddish word, kvell, which means to swell with pride and happiness. It's the only word that describes how I felt, looking from face to face over the table at our Thanksgiving dinner.  

Our family is, as my brother describes it, a modern family. My sister and her husband have shared forty years of the happiest marriage anyone can ever hope to imagine. They found each other, however, while they both were married to others, and it took them a long time to admit their love for each other and disentangle from their first marriages. It took them very little time after that, however, to marry each other.  

My niece and her husband are happily living in separate homes and still the best of friends, so both came up from Florida for Thanksgiving. The husband, stepfather to her son, is helping his stepson, my great nephew, repair and upgrade the new house that the twenty-three-year-old just bought in our area. My great nephew and his girlfriend plan to live together in that house as soon as she finishes nursing school. Remember when people used to gasp when told a couple was living together without benefit of marriage? I certainly heard it in my generation, but thankfully all that prejudice and condemnation never ruled our family.  

My great niece could not make it for Thanksgiving. She and her domestic partner live in California. Our family never blinked when my great niece admitted to being gay. So what? She was still the lovely, sweet woman we all loved, and now she has a partner we all love, as well. 

Another niece and her husband hosted the dinner, to which we all contributed. She is an artist and jeweler and he is a woodworker and a chiropractor. Their home is a gallery of artwork, with even more artistic and architectural touches everywhere. The couple, happily married for many years, met after the end of their bad first marriages. 

I brought my new boyfriend to the event, the first time I've introduced him to family, because he and I have been dating only two months. We met over the Internet and connected through his beautiful letters long before we met in person. By the time we met in person, we already liked each other, and after only a few months of dating, we are in a happy, committed monogamous relationship. We truly enjoy each other, even though (or maybe because) we're both in our seventies. It's never too late! My boyfriend is black, and not an eyelash was batted when I introduced him to my family members. Instead of prejudice, all my family cares about is happiness, and when I looked around the room, I saw happiness everywhere.   

Our family situation, however, is rare. I know families with rifts, estrangements, prejudices, and conditional love, rather than unconditional. What a shame! What a waste of time, when love is all that matters in this world. I am truly thankful for my family. Whenever we gather, I feel love swirling around the room in an almost tangible fashion.  

Obviously I have a great deal to be thankful for. I hope all my fellow writers feel the same way. Here's to happiness, health, and lots of love for all my readers, no matter what the season.