Midweek Writing Prompt: My Rights (12/3/14)

In my classrooms and workshops, I strive to create safe, welcoming writing communities where individuals feel free to explore ideas, stories, and concepts without judgment. After all, we need those spaces to get started. The judgment – of editors, professors, critical friends – will come later. But in the beginning, we need that soft, friendly embrace where anything is possible and everyone loves you. Let’s go there together.

When my schedule allows, I will post writing prompts for you to play with. I encourage you to write something and to share those initial efforts in the comment section, or even your response to the prompt – tell us what happened when you sat down to write. After all, some of these prompts will lead you down a path toward publication – I’ve seen that happen often enough to be confident in that statement.

Give it a try! 🙂


 

Writing Prompt: My Rights

We all know those “inalienable rights” listed in the American Declaration of Independence: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and we know about Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, and Disability Rights. But what about YOUR rights. Your personal rights?  Take a moment to think about what rights you claim for yourself. Now make a list. Write a list of your rights. For instance, I just wrote a piece where I claimed this for myself: “I have a right to protect myself.” What are YOUR rights? Write as long as you need and then review the list. You can use this list to create stories: One story per right. Because you have rights and there are stories behind all of them.

Knowing when to end the story

Knowing when to end a creative nonfiction story can be challenging. Most writers new to the form, especially those immersed for two decades in “academic essayist” writing, will end with a “moral to the story,” or some kind of explanation about the greater lessons learned.

Don’t do that. Nobody likes to read a story that ends this way. In fact, if you are trying to publish, you will never get accepted if you end on “the moral of the story” explanations.

Endings can be challenging because if you end too soon, you leave the reader unsatisfied with too many unanswered questions. And the other end of the spectrum is what I call the “Lord of the Rings” endings – the story ends neatly . . . and then ends again . . . and again . . .and again with additional insights, “what I learned” moments, and more reflections.

Learning how to see the natural end to the story does come from experience, but is also reliant on instinct. Most writers have good instincts, but then they promptly ignore them and add more, say more, explain more…just to be sure.

Trust your instincts and understand that the story you are telling does not rely on what actually happened. As the writer, you are constructing a story from the most relevant pieces surrounding an idea or situation or experience in order to tell a story that shows us something – about a greater societal problem, about you, about something compelling. Remember that there are many moments and conversations and truths that exist outside the frame of THIS story and you can feel free to ignore those and leave them out because they pull focus away from THIS story.

For instance, let’s say you want to tell the story of your recovery from cancer, but you want to focus on the moment that you realized you would live. Put a box around that moment. You can see all of the events and decisions leading up to that moment, and everything that came after that moment, but the tough question then becomes “which moments and decisions are relevant to your realization that you would live?” A lot of writers feel the need to add in tons of extraneous details and scenes to be “true” to the story, but what ends up happening is the finished draft is a confused and unfocused mess.

Trust. Your. Instincts.

Very often, I hear students ask if this scene needs to be there, or if a new scene showing this aspect should be added. And I will tell you what I tell them. The fact that you are asking about it means that you already know the answer. You instinctively understand that this scene is irrelevant to this story’s purpose and you just want me to validate your choice. Or you instinctively sense that your story needs one more layer to humanize a particular character, and you just want your peers to validate that thought. But these are YOUR thoughts and instincts in the first place.

So when you look at a story that you’ve written and it seems to ramble on and on at the end; when the ending is not crisp and strong; start reading backward into your story for the strongest concluding statement or scene. It’s there. Because you’ve already written the end. Now it’s just a matter of recognizing it and trusting your instincts.

Gift yourself a writing workshop instead of that new TV

Fellow writers! What better way to treat yourself this holiday season than the promise of time and space to work on your craft in uninterrupted and focused splendor? If you are working on a memoir-in-progress and want some feedback as well as some inspiration, please consider joining me for an Advanced Memoir Workshop this January in New Jersey.

I know, the Jersey Shore in JANUARY?! Yes. The Stockton Seaview Inn is beautiful, spacious, and warm with terrific service and good food. When I taught at this workshop weekend last year, I was so impressed with the congeniality of fellow staff and all of the writer-participants. Everyone was fully engaged in the writing process and brought a high level of enthusiasm and insight to every session.

If you want to be around like-minded writers and focus 100% on your memoir-in-progress (no matter where you are in that process), join us in New Jersey in January! It may be just the jolt you need to keep going. So don’t buy a new TV today – buy yourself a productive writing weekend! 🙂 Hope to see you there!

 

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Web site to register: http://wintergetaway.com/workshops-and-tutorials/writing-workshops/advanced-memoir-workshop/

(Note: My workshop is limited to ten participants so that we can really dig in to everyone’s works and have super productive discussions.)

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Specific workshop details:

What Matters is Not What Happened: Advanced Memoir Workshop

Writing workshop in New Jersey
January 16-19, 2015
Led by Amanda Morris

Advanced Memoir Workshop NJ

Using Vivian Gornick’s famous line about “what matters,” we’ll investigate the best way to tell your story in this advanced memoir workshop. With your own memoir-in-progress as a springboard, you will explore the importance of seeing your first-person narrator as a character in your story, experiment with writing exercises and discuss your new work. Be ready to submit 2-3 pages on which you need feedback by Dec. 15 (or if registering after that date, submit within a week of registering). The workshop leader and participants will read each submission before the Getaway.

*Limited to just 10 participants.*

 

“As a first-time attendee, I was very impressed. The hotel was beautiful and everything was so well organized. My workshop leader, Amanda Morris, was full of energy, interesting, encouraging and inspiring. I would come back just for her, but I very much enjoyed the whole experience!”
~ Susan, Newtown, PA

 

Midweek Writing Prompt: Thanksgiving Dinner (11/26/14)

In my classrooms and workshops, I strive to create safe, welcoming writing communities where individuals feel free to explore ideas, stories, and concepts without judgment. After all, we need those spaces to get started. The judgment – of editors, professors, critical friends – will come later. But in the beginning, we need that soft, friendly embrace where anything is possible and everyone loves you. Let’s go there together.

When my schedule allows, I will post writing prompts for you to play with. I encourage you to write something and to share those initial efforts in the comment section, or even your response to the prompt – tell us what happened when you sat down to write. After all, some of these prompts will lead you down a path toward publication – I’ve seen that happen often enough to be confident in that statement.

Give it a try! 🙂


 

Writing Prompt: Thanksgiving Dinner

Write a detailed scene showing one moment of the dinner that won’t happen this year. (This can obviously be taken many ways.) Be sure to include all five senses, dialogue, and moments of reflection.

See what happens. You might be surprised.

Write better emails at work

No matter where you work, if sending emails is a regular part of your job, then this post is for you. Especially if you respond to work emails from your smartphone. Professional written communication is essential to the hiring and promotion process. Send sloppy emails and your boss, clients, and co-workers won’t think as highly of you.

Before I get into the meaty specifics, it is worthy to mention the danger of mass emails. Too often, when people feel overly comfortable in the workplace, they may be inclined to send an email to everyone. Perhaps it is announcing their kid’s cookie sale, or sharing an article about the state of the field, or maybe something even worse, like showing their emotional cards by saying borderline inappropriate statements about a situation at work.

These emails are dangerous and I suggest you stay away from them. Those who take the bait and jump in the “reply-all” battle of words are putting themselves at risk, too, simply for participating. Better to let those mass emails and battle threads pass by unacknowledged. If you value your reputation in the workplace, you will refrain from sending or participating in such threads. Trust me, everyone is watching. The last thing you need is to be considered a workplace troublemaker. Challenge the rules and conventions in more formal settings, using the structure of your organization, but don’t delve into these often petty and childish mass email threads.

On to some specifics about composing professional email correspondence:

1. Digital precision. When crafting or responding to an email on your smartphone, iPhone, tablet or other digital device, be extra vigilant about spelling, punctuation, word choice, and other sentence-level errors that lead to those mocking memes where auto-correct mangled someone’s message. In personal correspondence, this can be funny. In professional scenarios, mistakes like these may not be as well-received and your professionalism and attention to detail will be questioned.

2. Open with a personalized greeting. Don’t write “Hey!” or “Dear editor” or “Attention webmaster.” Impersonal, vague greetings such as these will probably irritate the recipient. Spend a few extra minutes figuring out the NAME of your recipient, at the very least. And if you aren’t sure whether to use the first or last name? The safe default is always “Dear Dr. Smith,” “Good day, Ms. Beebonnet,” or “Hello Mr. Hedgehog.” You get the point. Professional email communication begins with a professional and personal greeting.

3. Introduce why you are writing. If this is someone you’ve dealt with before, you can always refresh their memory about who you are and why you are corresponding. “Good day, Joe. I’m writing to continue our discussion about implementing the “No More Meeting” policy in our Denver office.” Or, if this is a cold email to someone in your company, “Good morning, Rita. I’m a professor in the English department and I’m having trouble with the Adobe Acrobat that was installed on my office computer.” As you can see, getting right to the point and being specific about WHY you are writing and WHO you are is essential.

4. State your case, make your point, ask your question. Nobody has time anymore. The recipient of a long-winded, meandering email may become an enemy for life. Think of being concise and clear as one small way to gain allies, or at least a friendly face in the crowd who won’t mock you behind your back for constantly wasting their time and never getting to the point. Plus, bosses love when you are clear and concise. Want to impress? Be clear and concise in the body of your email.

5. Say thank you. Close your email with a polite closing statement that acknowledges the recipient’s time and effort. “Thank you for your time in considering this matter. I look forward to your response” is always a good generic closer; adapt as needed.

6. Proofread. Re-read #1 and realize that goofs in emails happen even when you are well-caffeinated and sitting at your office desk at full attention at ten in the morning. Don’t hit the SEND button until you proofread and fix any punctuation, spelling, word choice, or sentence structure errors. We like to talk a lot in the academy about “home language” versus “professional language” (to simplify), but what this means is that when you are at work, you do not write or speak the way you do at home. At work, you should elevate and formalize your language a bit if you want to be taken seriously. No LOL, SMH, or WTF in the work emails. No misspelled words. Add in the appropriate punctuation. Don’t use slang. Yes, people will judge you for not making the effort to code-switch in this manner. So do yourself a favor and proofread before hitting SEND.

 

 

 

 

Midweek Writing Prompt: Family Member as Character (11/19/14)

In my classrooms and workshops, I strive to create safe, welcoming writing communities where individuals feel free to explore ideas, stories, and concepts without judgment. After all, we need those spaces to get started. The judgment – of editors, professors, critical friends – will come later. But in the beginning, we need that soft, friendly embrace where anything is possible and everyone loves you. Let’s go there together.

When my schedule allows, I will post writing prompts for you to play with. I encourage you to write something and to share those initial efforts in the comment section, or even your response to the prompt – tell us what happened when you sat down to write. After all, some of these prompts will lead you down a path toward publication – I’ve seen that happen often enough to be confident in that statement.

Give it a try! 🙂


 

Writing Prompt: Family member as character

Imagine your family member in his or her favorite space. See him in that space. See her move through it, use it. Where is it? Which room or outdoor location is it? What does it look like, smell like, feel like? What’s the air temperature? What activity is she doing – how is she interacting with this space? Is she making something? Doing something? What does he look like – what is he wearing? What does her hair look like? (In Steel Magnolias, the mom is described as having hair like a brown football helmet – think in terms of similes (like, as) and create a simile for one of your family member’s physical features.) What are his physical imperfections? What does his breath smell like? What bad habit comes to life in this space?

In order to truly understand someone, you need to go beneath the surface. But sometimes exploring the surface will reveal truths about the person. The goal with this writing prompt is to write a deep description of your family member without using his or her name, and technical physical details (Lauren Small, 5 foot 7 inches, brown hair, slightly chubby). Instead, use the above questions (and others that they inspire) to write a description that is deeply settled in a specific space – help us to see, hear, smell, and feel this person in the way that YOU see, hear, smell, and feel this person. Allow your descriptions to speak about your deep love and care – without ever saying that you love and care for him or her. Write in third person. (No “I”.)

This prompt will be especially useful for anyone writing a memoir that involves their family.

 

So you want to be a freelance writer (part two): Be the go-to writer

One surefire way to be successful as a freelance writer is to be the go-to writer. So what is that?

Basically, you need to become indispensable to your editors. How? Easy. You’ll have to set pride aside and treat your freelancing as the job that it is. You don’t have a boss standing over your shoulder demanding that you perform, so you have to perform that role for yourself.

1. Don’t be an entitled, demanding primadonna who only takes the choicest and most exciting assignments with the greatest readership. Do you want to make a living or not? Then suck it up and take some assignments that just aren’t as thrilling. Stop acting as though you’re so much better than those lowly stories.

2. Pitch and accept the writing assignments that no one else wants (covering school board and township meetings and writing holiday features) to become your editor’s favorite go-to writer. In fact, if you can show your skills by taking those dull, lowly assignments that the staff writers dread and write them with some aplomb and flair, your editor will be impressed and likely ask you to continue taking on bigger and better stories.*

3. Build up goodwill by being willing to take the boring, dull, and pencil-in-the-eye back page stories, and better assignments will flow your way much faster. Be a diva demanding only the most exciting features at your peril – no one will want to work with you.

* Warning: When you transform articles that are usually dry, uninteresting sawdust into lively and stylish gems, don’t be surprised if your editor asks you to continue doing those pieces even after the bigger assignments role in. After all, she’s got a good thing going with you. However, please note that you may elect to continue doing these smaller, less interesting pieces because they are good, steady money. And what writer doesn’t enjoy being paid for their craft? 🙂

Writing Consultation involves what?

If you are the owner of a business, the manager of a department, or an executive in charge of a team, chances are your employees write quite a bit in the course of the work week, communicating internally and externally for a variety of purposes. According to the National Writing Project’s Writing: A Ticket to Work or a Ticket Out: A Survey of Business Leaders, “As advanced technology in the workplace plays a more significant role, good writing skills are increasingly valued” by businesses. In fact, according to the leaders of 120 American companies (that employee nearly 8 million people), “Writing is a ‘threshold skill’ for hiring and promotion among salaried (i.e., professional) employees. Survey results indicate that writing is a ticket to professional opportunity” (nwp.org). Consider that two-thirds of salaried employees in large American companies have some writing responsibility.

“Manufacturing documentation, operating procedures, reporting problems, lab safety, waste disposal operations—all have to be crystal clear,” said one human resource director. Even more sobering is one executive’s concise observation that “You can’t move up without writing skills.” (Writing Ticket to Work)

You know this to be true: An employee who writes well is a valuable asset to your business by presenting a professional image to clients, customers, and internal co-workers. Employees who write well make you and your business more credible and trustworthy. If you have silently struggled with great employees who just need to brush up on certain skills such as email etiquette, formal report memo writing, persuasive sales letter composition, or any other business communication required in your company, contact me today to start the conversation.

I offer a variety of writing consultation services for clients, but work with you to customize a plan to meet your needs. Such a plan may include time spent with staff (either in person or online) on a specific project to ensure that the writing is crystal clear, accessible to a varied audience, and to guarantee that the structure of the document is well-organized. Another plan might involve editing a document for clarity, sentence structure, and word choice, and then conducting a series of two-hour writing workshops to teach your team editing tips and proofreading techniques to improve their skills. Whether you want your team to understand the importance of audience, purpose, active voice, and appropriate tone in written documents, or you want select employees to become better skilled at communicating company messages in digital environments such as Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, I can tailor a plan to address your needs.

 

Email Amanda today to start the conversation: amandamorrisphd (at) gmail (dot) com  or complete the contact form below.

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