Tuesday, July 18, 2017

THE ART OF EVALUATION


Blog # 20
By Sandy Bernstein

Have you ever had a bad critique? Or worse, a bad review? Unfortunately, if you’re a writer or author it comes with the territory. Better to receive the hard blows in a writers group or workshop first so you can fix problems before putting your work out there only to receive bad reviews.
The problem is, both are painful. Not everyone has tact when it comes to giving feedback. I believe in constructive criticism. It’s the only way to help another writer who may be struggling with a particular piece, improve. Speaking of which, here is how Dictionary.com defines both constructive and criticism:
Constructive: (adjective)
1: Helping to improve; promoting further development or advancement (opposed to destructive).
Criticism: (noun)
1. The act of passing severe judgment; censure; faultfinding.
2. The act or art of analyzing and evaluating or judging the quality of a literary or artistic work, musical performance, art exhibit, dramatic production, etc.
The above could pertain to either a critique you’d get from your peers or reviews from readers. When it comes to criticism both groups can be harsh. So how do you minimize your chances of getting damaging feedback?  And is there a difference between a critique and a review? Both are similar, but one may be more critical than the other. Let’s start with a critique you’d get from your peers.
The Critique:
It all starts with you. You are your own critic before anyone else can judge your work. In a writers group or workshop several people may hear or read your piece whether it’s a story, article, or poem. The constructive explanation in the dictionary says it all. Helping to improve. . .  In a group setting you should expect a mix of comments, some of which may not be welcoming. Some writers may feel they are under attack, but that depends on the work in question and experience level of the group.
It’s wise to put things into perspective. Listening to feedback from others with an open mind is key as you consider suggestions for improvement. Unfortunately, not everyone gets the concept of being constructive. Everyone has an opinion and some people are more opinionated than others. A good group is designed to give constructive and structural advice, hopefully congruous in nature. In the end you decide what works and what doesn’t. So, what are your expectations?  And do you plan to publish?
If so consider your options for revising. Reading aloud in a group shouldn’t be your only critique. Hearing a piece alone will not catch grammatical errors or typos. It’s best to cover all the bases and have as many eyes and ears on the work as possible. Remember, the longer the work, the more room for error. If you’re working on a novel, for example, keep in mind your group may not hear the work in its entirety. When you’re done revising have a professional editor or proofreader read over the final copy. Better to fix things beforehand, no matter how small.  
The Review:
After reading several unfavorable reviews recently, some on authors I like, I couldn’t help but think of readers’ expectations. One bad review stood out on a novel I had just finished. The reviewer wasn’t happy with the story for many reasons. Her comments were overblown, but the last statement was killer. She said she would never read anything by that author again. Ouch! Talk about harsh. I hesitated to add my comments. Although the story was fast paced and suspenseful, there were some flaws. I can overlook a few typos, but there were also issues with frequent shifting points of view and too many pronouns on several pages that left me confused. My review was positive overall, but it wasn’t a glowing one.
Why? It wouldn’t be honest. But honesty doesn’t have to be harsh or overly critical. If a reader has nothing good to say about a novel or its characters and only points out mistakes, or worse, rips the story apart then I have to wonder about the mentality of the person writing the review. They are critiquing the author, not the work. My mother used to say (as most did), If you have nothing good to say - don’t say anything at all. Good advice. Unfortunately, not for writers.
In this case both statements for Criticism apply, especially the second one. The act or art of analyzing and evaluating or judging the quality of a literary or artistic work, etc.
There are many reasons why a reader will pick apart a story. In general they may find fault with the plot or characters or both. Is the story believable? What about the ending? Did something go wrong or not make sense? Sometimes an ending doesn’t justify the means. We’ve all read stories that disappoint. Hopefully it doesn’t happen often, but when it does it can turn readers off from the author completely. So can glaring grammatical problems and typos. Most readers can forgive a few mistakes, but bigger issues with editing or structure and storyline are less forgiving. So, are readers expecting too much? 
Perhaps some are when it comes to new authors or certain genres. And that’s where things can get tricky. Some genres like science fiction or fantasy may require lengthy explanations or descriptions. Not all readers are on board for trudging through heavy text, but it is often the nature of the beast. And what about writing style? Is it the author’s individual voice or genre that drives the flow and rhythm of a story? I think both. When it comes to reviewing a novel, readers are mostly judging the overall work. The story itself. Mostly.
In short, it’s best to get an honest critique from your peers first. Don’t rush to submit your story or upload it before it is ready. A good story takes time. Be patient, be honest, and be fair when critiquing yourself and others. Getting good reviews start with getting good constructive feedback first.     
Remember writing is a craft. And craft takes time. And while you won’t please everyone, it’s important to know you’ve done your best. If you are happy with the end result then by all means put your story out there. After all that is the goal, to share and entertain. In the end the art of evaluation is in the writer’s hands. Hopefully you get more good reviews then bad.





Sunday, March 12, 2017

THAT MAGIC MOMENT

Blog Post # 19
By Sandy Bernstein
Have you ever had an epiphany while writing? I’m talking about that “Magic Moment” when something that was previously eluding you is finally revealed. It strikes you over the head like a flying baseball. Dah. Instead of knocking you senseless, the imaginary ball, knocks sense into you. It’s the exact moment in time when it all comes together logically. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, you can’t help but feel elated.
    
It happened to me today and I found myself jumping out of my seat with joy. I did a little victory dance before I sat back down to write. That “Ah Ha” moment came after a story I was struggling with, a novel I’ve been working on for well over a year, finally came together at the end. One little plot point had been missed. I think it was the result of working on this long project in fits and starts due to a life - changing event that had disrupted my daily writing routine for months. 
    
Sometimes real life gets in the way of the ongoing imaginary one taking place in your head. I knew when I put the story aside that it was changing, evolving, and growing into something I had not planned on, but I had set it up as a series so right from the start I had lots of sub plots and storylines to work out for a growing list of characters. Leave it to me to make things more complicated. Suffice it to say, the short story, turned novella, turned novel, needed my full attention.
    
Finally, after putting it on hold and working on it sporadically, I am now able to work on it daily. This allows me to see the bigger picture. I am beginning to feel like a writer again, in the throes of whatever challenges my characters face. And it feels good. Also, if I’m not being challenged as a writer I become too complacent. And that’s not good for any writer. 
    
So because I set it up as a series I had extra plot points and little things I was only alluding to, not certain I’d use them for the current story. I made lots of notes, but kept coming back to something in the very beginning, a necklace. A simple piece of jewelry, well not so simple - it’s haunted. This piece set things off for a ghostly tale and gets the heart rate pumping from the very beginning. It got my main character off to a running start as well. However, the haunted object got left behind, where the character, or rather, where the writer left it, in the opening scene. I had other things to worry about, another haunted object that moved the story forward. In essence, I wasn’t sure what to do with the necklace, until I started revising the end of the story, where everything has to tie together and make sense.
    
I kept thinking about it and finally one morning while lying in bed, it came to me. I knew I had to use it. But how? It’s one of those things that hits you while doing some mundane task or when you’re relaxed. Often that lightbulb moment does not happen during the writing process. Strange. Rather it comes after you’ve had a chance to rest your weary writer’s overtaxed brain from long writing sessions. Recharged, I set back to work and started going over my copious notes. I streamlined things and inserted the object back into the story and into the hands of my main character, Brooke.
    
This wasn’t easy; I had to place it at pivotal points in the story, knowing I would have to bring it home in the end. I’m still not one – hundred percent on board with the earlier insertions, but I know the end works. And that was my defining Magic Moment. Knowing I had finally made a touchdown after a long arduous game.
    
Funny how the finer details escape you while writing. They just fly right out the window if you’re not paying attention. So much goes into a story whether it’s short or long. The plotting, structure, story arc, characterization, etc. The building blocks the average reader does not see. And take that basic plot or premise and fill it with people and places. Add plants, sub plots and twists then turn it around and upside down, add varying levels of depth, strength and complex characters. Make it real. Better yet, make it unreal, depending on the genre. But make it. Or rather, build it. You are the architect. And your plans always need revising.
    
And while you’re at it don’t forget the details. Ah yes, the devil is in the details. Cliché I know, but this is where a good story can become great. So play it out and don’t ignore or forget the little things. They are key. And they might just be your shining moment, the one in which you emerge victorious once the magic happens. 



    

Thursday, December 1, 2016

WHAT DOES YOUR WRITING APP DO FOR YOU?


 By
Sandy Bernstein

In trying to come up with a blog idea, many thoughts crossed my mind, some of which I’d already written about, but nothing new or significant dawned in this old writer’s brain until I started looking at books for writers. With the holidays fast approaching, I wanted to add a few titles to my wish list. Not only did I find books, but tons of software as well. In widening my search, you can imagine how many writing/publishing titles popped up with everything from advice on how to write for beginning writers to marketing strategies for the seasoned professional.

While I found a few items of interest, it’s what was contained within those taglines and descriptions that got me. That’s when I had my “lightbulb” moment.

Many books or programs are designed as helpful tools to aid a writer at any level. But when you narrow it down to say, fiction or novel writing, you come up with a slew of mind - boggling options that pretty much claim to do it all.

I found books and software with everything from developing plot ideas to characterization, character traits, character facial expressions, tips for romance writing, career choices for characters etc. And one, the Master Writer List, had a regular thesaurus as well as thesaurus of character emotions built in. Cool! I actually have the emotion thesaurus handbook and a book on character traits. They are handy reference tools to help you sort through a range of complicated personality traits. A psychologist would have a field day with this laundry list, and in fact, there are some technical terms and phrases for anyone who needs to dig deeper into the psyche of a character.

While some books are general in nature, others focus on particular aspects of writing, like how to write a hot love scene or dialogue. Software programs, well they do more than assist or teach. Some scream, “this program does it all for you - even the writing.”

Really? Sign me up. While some programs appear to do it all, they do not. However, they can make life easier. Case in point: A few years ago, I downloaded a free trial beta version of Scrivener. It has many advantages like organizing files and story ideas. It is designed for multiple projects and is a great tool for long works such as drafting a novel. It is ideal for scriptwriters. This app has templates for outlines, plotting, and keeps track of scenes and characters.  It also has auto formatting, storyboards, organizational tools for material and research. You name it, it has it!

Scrivener is available for Windows and Mac users, but still has some bugs to work out. Like anything else, you need to consider the pros and cons first. The biggest con for most writers is the time it takes to learn it. Remember, the more complex the program the longer the learning curve. Would I try it again? Probably. I might even remember some of it. But in considering any app, you might ask yourself, what is the difference between this and a word processing program like Word?

Granted, you can do a lot with Word. I’ve been using it for years. However, it is not designed for writers. That is the claim to fame for writing applications. And, I have to admit, while deep in the muck and mire of a novel I do struggle with big stuff like structure and organizing scenes or plot points. I also want to concentrate on the finer details of character development and storylines. It can be overwhelming to keep it all straight and try to do a story justice. And that’s why these programs are so powerful.  But they are not for everyone.

Over the years, I’ve developed my own system for organizing things in Word. Like any word processing program, it has a spell/grammar checker and a thesaurus. Newer versions allow you to edit and track your revisions better by using balloon comments on the side. However, what Word doesn’t do is outline your chapters or track scenes in a separate side panel for storyboarding, or combine your documents into a single text. You’ll need to make copious notes within the document to do this.  

Writing programs are great for organization, but keep in mind most apps these days are only available by licensing the software a year at a time. You might see offers for a great deal the first year, but the price goes up every year after that and you don’t own it. The popular Master Writer is one of them and while it has many great features like Scrivener, I don’t think it’s worth the $100 a year in licensing fees. I believe Scrivener is the better deal. It is available for a free 30 - day trial, after which you can download the full version. However, I’m not sure of the cost or if you can buy it outright. It may be worth looking into if you are in need of such a program. It’s always good to try before you buy.

So if you are looking at books or writing programs this season, you may be overwhelmed by all the choices. I certainly don’t need all the bells and whistles of a popular app that claims to do it all. And books, well I’ve got tons. Instead, ask yourself which app best suits your needs. It would be too easy if anything or anyone did all your thinking or writing for you, wouldn’t it? Trust me, it’s not as easy as you think. You still have work to do - hard work.

Call me old fashioned. Call my crazy. I’ll answer to both. While I may not subscribe to some of the anachronistic methods anymore, yes I did start out on a manual typewriter, I do believe in using modern tools to help me achieve my goals. I just don’t need software to do it all for me. They can’t anyway. Well. . . maybe someday. In the meantime, I’m confident I’ll be plotting my own stories for years to come and trying them out on my writers group first before letting others read them.

Oh, come to think of it, is there an app that takes the place of an actual audience? Perhaps an app for reviewing books instead of human feedback? I’ll bet there is.

Friday, July 8, 2016

WHOSE HEAD ARE YOU IN?

By Sandy Bernstein
Ah the age old question of POV. When telling a story do you think about which point of view to use or let the character(s) tell you? And, do you tell your story in first person or third? Which way is best?
    
Many writers would argue this point. There are good reasons for doing both, but in fiction, a lot depends on the genre and of course the characters. Some stories work best in first person, others are better in third. The main reason for writing in first person is obvious; the reader gets a firsthand look at what’s going on inside a character’s head. You know immediately what the character is thinking and feeling. It’s a lot like being in your own head without the stress.
    
First person can be very effective in any genre, and you can still hold back information to spring on readers later. Personally, I find dangling that carrot a lot of fun. You reveal just enough to intrigue your readers and string them along. Holding back for plot points is a good technique whether you’re writing in first or third person. So what are the advantages of one vs the other? And whose head are you in anyway? I mean is your protagonist male or female, monster, superhero, vampire, what?
    
Let’s start with first person. I read a lot of mysteries in this voice. Currently, I’m reading a vampire detective series. I thought I had gotten away from vampire stories after reading Anne Rice years ago, but somehow I got hooked on J.R. Rain’s Samantha Moon series. Not sure what drew me in exactly, but the novels are all written in first person. They are fast paced and the plot evolves nicely with a mix of human and supernatural characters. Rain is a guy writing in a woman’s head. He’s got it right as far as female emotionality goes, even though Moon is a vampire. She is trying to hold onto her human side for the sake of her kids. Moon is a freak and often thinks of herself as one with all her supernatural powers. It’s not just about human emotions. Here the author is portraying traits and characteristics of some other kind of being, something we can only imagine. Not an easy task.
    
Some writers make a multi - dimensional character look easy, but it’s a balancing act if you are writing about “other worldly” beings. I wonder if the story was told in third person if Moon would be as believable. And that is the million-dollar question.
    
Third person comes easy to many writers. I tend to write mostly in this voice, with the exception of flash fiction. For some reason I prefer using first when penning short prose and third for longer stories. Maybe I developed the habit over time, I don’t know. I don’t think about it. I just write. However, there are times I experiment with both to see what works best.
    
For example, I’m working on a series about a medium, a reluctant one. Hence my working title, The Reluctant Medium. Initially I wrote several paragraphs in first person before the story evolved. Those who have heard this story, mainly my writers group, have only heard it in third person. I’ve been experimenting by doing a little of both. I am trying to show as much of Brooke’s, my protagonist, thought process as possible. By putting her direct thoughts and feelings in italics, it feels more like a first person reaction, which allows the reader a full sensory experience. Brooke’s traits and special talents are coming into fruition the deeper we get into the story, whether she likes it or not. And that brings me to my next point.
    
How do I know what it’s like to see dead people? I don’t. I am not a medium. Real mediums are surrounded by spirits. Talk about freaky. Like any writer, I did my homework. Short of actually interviewing a medium, not a bad idea, I did a lot of reading and research. Imagination can only take you so far. But first, you have to put yourself inside your character’s head and run with it.  
    
D
on’t be afraid to experiment with viewpoints, but please don’t shift from one to another in the same scene without clearly showing the difference. I’ve read novels where this happens and wondered whose head I was supposed to be in. Not a good question for a reader to ask. You need a break in text to pull this off successfully or your readers will be confused. And if the author isn’t sure then the reader won’t be either. Admittedly, most of us have done this. We know who is speaking and what’s going on, or we think we do. But our readers are not mind readers. Hopefully we catch those mistakes before going to print. 
    
It’s wise to fully flesh out your characters whether they are human or not. Think of writing a scene in a play where your lead character is on stage with everyone in their places or waiting in the wings. Characters come and go as the scenes unfold and the plot is revealed. Each character has a role to play and while the audience may not know all the answers until the end, they should know who’s who.
    
You, the writer have worked it all out beforehand. You have done a number of revisions and should know your characters well enough before ever setting foot on stage. Know where you are going. Know whose head you are in. After all, you are the director. So when the lights go out and the curtain goes up your characters are ready. Your audience is waiting. And so are your critics.      

Thursday, April 7, 2016

HOW MANY TIMES MUST I REVISE?


By
Sandy Bernstein
How many times can you look at the same copy without going blind? And, can you still be objective? These are questions I ask myself almost daily, especially when writing long works of fiction. I recently finished a long story, actually a novella. I told a few friends from my writers group that I had finished the story, but that doesn’t mean it’s done.
    
They knew I meant I had written the end. The end of the first draft. Actually, the first half was revised several times and I even had an editor go over it. But that was when I thought I’d be writing a series of short stories under the same title. However, I was a bit premature in making that decision. Part one is over 15 K words. I had planned part two to be about the same, but it ballooned into a ginormous mess. A mess I hope to make sense out of in the coming months.
    
The second half of the story ended at just over 24 K words. Wow, now we’re talking closer to 40 grand all together. I will obviously pare it down and revise, maybe even restructure, but I know the story will not be the 30 grand or so I had originally planned. Why not? Well, I’ll give the standard answer most writers give: the story is as long as it needs to be. And that is the point. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Yes, it’s a bit verbose now, but that will change. With a lot of work, I will make every word count.
    
I will be doing lots of trimming and tweaking, not to mention primping and pruning. Writing is a lot like cultivating a garden. You plant seeds and water the shoots that become flowers. You feed and nourish them and watch them grow. But if you don’t maintain your garden, your plot, (pun intended) can become thick with weeds. An overgrown nasty tangled mess. Cultivating words is tedious work. You have to be patient and vigilant so in the end you can reap the benefits. Your story, like your garden will bloom and be beautiful.
    
That’s the hope anyway. First, you need to revise, revise, and revise again until you’re cross eyed. If you want to see your garden grow, you’ll need to put in those long laborious days, weeks, and months. No one said it was going to be easy. I know I’ve got my work cut out for me with my wayward story. I got off track somewhere or the story took a turn without my permission so I need to reel it back in while making sure my plot stays intact and the characters haven’t lost their dynamic edge.
    
Sometimes in making a story better, you first need to make it longer so you can sort out all the rubble and keep only what you need. It’s called a first draft, a second draft, and several others as well. And, by the way, I don’t consider rewriting a waste of time. What I’m doing in any revision is getting to know my characters better. I’m working the plot points, story arc, and tying up loose ends. I’m also working on all the little nuances to get it right while trimming the fat. When it’s done, assuming it ever is. . .I will polish it up for presentation. 
    
And if said story is published, that’s your reward. And if it isn’t, as long as you’ve done your best with it and learned something in the process then it’s worth the effort. You have cultivated your garden of words. You have pulled out all the weeds and watched them germinate from seed to sprout to blooming flowers. A true miracle.  It’s a beautiful thing to witness. And you can bet I will be reminding myself of this when I start earnestly revising my story ah. . . the short story series turned novella. It will still be a series as planned. I set it up that way, only there’s a hitch. The next installment could be a full - blown novel. Who knows? I certainly don’t and I’m the author. All I know is I’ve got enough of a storyline to keep going, not to mention some fun characters. Plus, I planted a few seeds in the reader’s mind to draw them back to the garden. At least I hope so. That’s where lots of revisions get you.
    
It can take you from a basic story plot to well beyond, to places you didn’t know existed. That’s a good thing. A writer is always evolving, always working on his or her craft. Always improving, always revising. And even if we are happy with the end result and the story is published, most of us would opt to revise again. Why?
    
Because writers are truly crazy people with nothing but time on their hands. Or, because we are perfectionists. I suspect a little of both. My husband thinks I’m crazy for being so nit - picky. But he is not a writer. Last night I reaffirmed my position when I started reading Stephen King’s intro for The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. He says, and I quote: “Until a writer either retires or dies, the work is not finished; it can always use another polish and a few more revisions.”
    
I said to my husband, “I rest my case.”

Thursday, February 18, 2016

HOW TO RELAX, HAVE FUN, AND ROCK YOUR READINGS


It’s a given authors do book signings and readings to promote their work. But what about writers’ groups? How many groups do readings? I know of one, mine, the Stoneham Writers’ Group. One has to get his/her name out there somehow and personally, I find it easier with a group. There is not only safety in numbers, but strength and tranquility as well. If you suffer from performance anxiety this may be the ticket to getting over your fear. I would rather work with a group and mix things up than keep an audience engaged entirely on my own. That’s scary.

   
Stage fright, it’s real and for some people it’s down - right paralyzing. Luckily, for me it’s not, but I know the feeling.
 When I started doing readings with a local poetry society in the early 1990’s, I panicked and almost removed my name from the list of readers. I hadn’t spoken in public since high school. I was scared to death. My heart pounded, my face turned a deep shade of crimson, and my palms were sweaty. I sat in the audience dreading hearing my name called. I was sure to lose focus and knew my voice would crack.
But a funny thing happened when I stood at the podium gazing out at the crowd of perhaps twenty-five people. I took a deep breath and looked at the pages I held in my not so trembling hands. I knew this material. It was my own work and while, I have to admit, I couldn’t take my eyes from the page for fear of losing my place, I did fine. I knew what words needed to be emphasized. I knew where to pause and I knew the rhythm and cadence of each stanza. The more I read the better I did. No one else can read an author’s work better than the author can.  
I continued to do readings with this group and later with my own writers’ group. For the most part, I got nervous no matter the size of the audience. I wouldn’t call it stage fright, but I refused to let it get the best of me. And every time I had to work through it. And no, I didn’t picture the audience nude. Not sure that actually works. I’ll admit sometimes I did better than others. However, I was still afraid to avert my eyes. Only when I came to a break in the page did I look out into the audience. To my surprise, it felt good to make eye contact and connect. However, I did learn a few tricks to calm myself beforehand.
One time I was particularly stressed. I worried about a poem, my now famous (only locally) rock poem I was to read with a friend accompanying me on guitar. I didn’t know how it would come off as we had never rehearsed and I wasn’t sure about the timing. Before the show, I had had a shot of some berry liquor to quell my nerves. It helped, but the thing I realized later was that while I was sitting waiting for the event to start, I had my back turned to the audience. We were sitting up front near the door, but for some reason I wasn’t paying attention to the people piling into the rather large coffee house. My group was busy setting up and I went over the lines in the poem with my guitar guy so he could rock out as many riffs as possible.    
My heart was thumbing wildly when everything stilled and the reading started. I was the second one up and when I heard my name called, I thought my heart would jump right out of my chest and splat on the floor. But when I opened my mouth to speak, something magical happened. My frazzled nerves melted away and I never thought about it again the entire night. I was totally relaxed even when I saw my husband and a few friends in the audience. I even joked calling attention to my husband for being the inspiration behind one of my humorous poems. This was my best reading by far.
But it was years ago. Although I did learn to relax and go with the flow, I still got nervous, initially. I figured out some things along the way. For example, a couple of readings were done in a small cramped space. I don’t like the audience too close, but it could be my claustrophobia. Over the years, you build up a level of confidence, but it can take a nosedive if you don’t do readings for a number of years. And that happened to me.
For some reason my group stopped doing readings. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it just happened, until recently when we decided to promote our individual work and do readings again. In fact, I think it was my bright idea, so when we all agreed and started looking at venues and dates I wondered what I had gotten myself into. Suddenly, the seeds of self-doubt were setting in. Somehow, I rose to the challenge and killed off an old familiar friend known as Captain Dread. I decided he should die like a character in a story. And amazingly, it worked.
And once I started looking at material, old and new to throw at an unsuspecting audience I began to get excited. This time the butterflies fluttered with anticipation of having fun rather than fear.
Our event went well. We made some new friends, and we were invited back. We will do a return engagement and look at other venues as well. It was nice doing a reading especially after a long absence.

   
I think the key to doing any reading, whether on your own or with a group, is to just relax and have fun. I know it’s easier said than done, but after a bit of practice you too will be able to kill off those nasty nerves and rock the house.   


January 30th reading. Me holding artwork by Sheila Foley for my Guardians of the Keep poem.










   


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

TICKET TO WRITE


If you ask me why I write you’ll probably see a blank expression on my face. Dah! You might as well ask me why I breathe. To me writing is as natural as breathing. I don’t have to think about it, it just happens. Most writers I know feel the same way. It’s not so much what we do - it’s who we are.
    
I once had a childhood friend who never got the writing concept. She couldn’t figure out what was so exciting, especially when I wasn’t getting published or paid on a regular basis. Why work so hard at something for little pay and no recognition? Good question. Truthfully, I still wonder about that from time to time. She viewed writing as a very dull task. To her any form of writing was dry and boring. She didn’t see it as fun or adventurous.
    
Oh contraire! It is all of that and more. And the moment it stops being fun you’re in trouble. I should point out that my friend, rather former friend, was not a reader. And in my opinion, professional and personal, those who don’t like to read simply have a limited imagination. Or none at all. Note, I said don’t like to read. There are many, unfortunately, who fall into the category of don’t have time to read. And that’s a different story.
    
The key to being a lifelong writer, which I am, is perseverance. You have to be tough to hang in there year after year. No matter what you’re always writing. And in my experience the craft of writing, particularly fiction and poetry, pretty much breaks down into two main categories: inspiration and imagination. These two go hand in hand and a writer needs to let his or her mind wander through the grounds of some very fertile soil first.
    
This is your initial impression. Your muse. It allows you to soak up and absorb everything around you, within and without. Your active writer’s brain has begun to percolate those feelings and ideas that come from inspiration that is first sparked by emotion. Raw emotion you can only tap into once you allow everything in. In turn those feelings sort themselves out, taking shape, depth, and meaning. An idea is a concept and that concept becomes a premise for a storyline that can only evolve through your unique talent and skill set. Don’t be afraid to let it happen and your imagination will soar. You are wild and free. This is your ticket to write.
    
Our minds are always active even when we’re sleeping. As creative thinkers, in any form of art, we are always tuned in. Nothing gets by us consciously or subconsciously. We process it all and turn our impressions into something we can share with others.  Reading should be fun and adventurous. So should writing. But as any writer knows the act of writing is often challenging, not to mention hard work. We put in countless hours to make the words flow nicely and look pretty on the page. That’s the end result.
    
Readers don’t see you sweat out the details. No one can feel your frustration or know the endless revisions you face down. It’s a lot like slaying a dragon. And no one feels the sting of rejection better than you. It’s a lonely road we writers travel. This is the true writing life, the one behind the scenes. The one no one sees. 
    
Some writers make it look easy. The trick is taking a basic idea and turning it into something people will want to read. But first you must entertain yourself. Truthfully, this is why I write. It’s also why I love to read.
    
For me reading holds the same fascination as any game I played as a kid. You are using your imagination. You are on a journey with the characters in the story. You care about them. You may even hate them. You try to figure things out along the way. You need to see the story through to get to the resolution. Reading is an adventure. The same goes for writing if you’re constantly working at it. I’m always striving to improve. Working hard and having fun while doing it. It goes along with the ride; a roller coaster ride if you will. The one I purchased a ticket for years ago. The ride I’m still on.
     So the next time someone asks me why I write, I’ll try not to look so dumbfounded. People who know me know better than to ask that fool question. For those who don’t, well maybe I’ll turn the tables on them and ask what they do. Then ask why. Or maybe respond by saying; “I breathe therefore I write.”