It was the third round of rewriting on a piece about the autumn harvest. It was all about kale, collards, squash, and Brussels sprouts. The problem was, I had it all wrong.
Instead of Brussels sprouts, I was writing brussel sprouts. No capital B at the beginning, no s on the end of Brussels.
I've cooked and eaten lots of Brussels sprouts, but clearly I'd never written about them.
Lesson #1: Proper names have proper spellings
When a red line appeared below the misspelled "brussel," I was surprised. So I checked the dictionary.
I found the correct spelling.
A bit more digging revealed the name comes from the city of Brussels, in Belgium.
Unless you're certain about the correct spelling of a product, a city, a town, someone's name, title, or product, look it up.
That was last year. This year, I have another editing tip courtesy of the Brussels sprout.
Last week I was watching a cooking show when the chef introduced a new segment by saying, "Today we're making Brussels sprouts."
Lesson #2: Ask yourself, "Is that what's really going on?"
Of course the chef wouldn't be "making" Brussels sprouts, as in constructing or creating them. He would be cooking them. Or, maybe he'd be roasting them.
In the context of the show, it didn't matter much. It was a live taping and viewers could watch and listen.
But his word choice caught my ear. I've been writing a lot and than means I'm rewriting and editing a lot.
I wanted to edit the script, to rewind the tape and have the chef say, "Today we're roasting Brussels sprouts."
Roasting is a more interesting and descriptive word. Making is vague and in this example, inaccurate.
Every word has a purpose.
Lesson #3: Just because you're familiar with something doesn't mean you know all you need to know.
It turns out eating Brussels sprouts didn't make me an expert. From misspellings to context and relevance, it's important to do some research.
That's how I learned those little cabbage were named after an area in Belgium ... because that's where they were cultivated in the 16th(!) century.
So dig around. What you find may not only surprise you, it could add a new dimension to your project.
Feeling the heat?
If you have a story to tell but aren't sure where to start or need help with the writing, drop me a line and get in touch.
I can help you write and/or edit your story ... and put it into book form.
After all, people love stories ... and you've got some good ones.
The Day Things Got Squirrelly
It was this time of year. I'd just returned from a walk and wanted to be outside for a few more minutes to enjoy the late-breaking, almost-setting sun at the end of of a moody, gray day.
Propping my elbow on the banister, I leaned to the right and faced the sun. Standing in a near meditative state, quiet and still, I took a deep breath.
Despite the cooler temperatures, the sun was warming and it was relaxing to breathe in the clearing air.
Until I felt something on my left leg.
It was down by my calf. There was a light touch to the movement, but there was definitely something clawing at my pant leg.
Alarm didn't register immediately because I thought it was the mini poodle across the way coming to visit ... reared up on his hind legs in greeting, clawing and pawing for attention the way he would.
But when the clawing gained traction, raced up my left side and caught my sleeve at the elbow, I knew it was not, could not, be Tippy. (The neighbor's dog wasn't named Tippy, but my grandmother had a miniature poodle named Tippy and even though I never met the dog, I imagined this dog was much like Tippy.)
As panic began to register, I knew. It was not Tippy running up the side of my body.
I let out a squeal, the squirrel squealed, and with a reflective ear-to-shoulder tuck and swift flick of the arm, I tossed it off.
Shivering against the chill of the crawl, my breath caught, and I watched the squirrel race up a tree.
Stopping and turning in defiance to face me, it delivered a triple-tail flick, a double bark, and another for good measure. Its heart pounding as fast as mine.
A full-body shiver took hold of me and in my own act of defiance, I barked back.
Now it's your turn.
If you've signed up for the Calendar of Days, each week you get a week's worth of writing prompts.
This week Squirrel Appreciation Month is the prompt that caught my attention.
Maybe you have a pasta story (Monday) that includes a family recipe, or something about that time your pet gecko, snake, or lizard got loose ( Friday).
Some of you, I know, participate in Inktober (Tuesday). What are you drawing? What have you learned from almost a month of drawing?
Share what you write .... because people love stories and you've got some good ones. One story leads to another and once you've got a few, well, you've got a Short Story Memoir!
And if you want, send your story to me. I'd love to read it.
Did we go too far? This is where we sat to catch our breath after hiking up a steep trail this morning. Where the two arrows meet is where the flat rock ends and the trail drops.
It's also the spot where I started to wonder if we'd gotten ourselves into a bad position. Well, that's not entirely true. I had wondered earlier if we might want to call it quits and turn back. We both did. Even asked one another, "Should we stop?"
No, let's keep going.
Despite the fact that each step meant we had to hoist ourselves up over rocks and bare roots, it was exhilarating to be out in the woods. When we reached the bare rock we wondered again about turning back.
We carried on.
With each step, albeit steep, we had solid footing.
And for both of us, there was something about the challenge that made it too compelling to turn around, to quit.
But here we were facing the downhill climb.
I'm no thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail, but have done enough hiking to know, it's always easier going up.
I was worried about going down.
But once again, we watched our footing, took our time, and looked ahead to find the right path on the trail.
Maybe that's the secret. Measured steps even when we're skittish. To keep pushing, even if it's hard.
Because even though it was worth it to push through our fear to reach the top and take in the big view, we also got to hear the high wind rustle just the tallest branches on the trees, the footfall of what we think was deer in the ravine, and the reward of knowing we did it.
Is there a time you pushed yourself to continue even though you were frightened or uncertain? Would you do it again?
Write about it ... and share it. With me or a friend, or both. I bet it's good.
Are you a collector? There are a few things I collect and a couple of things I've learned about collecting from the collections I have.
That's how many I collected before had to stop. When I started my typewriter collection it never occurred to me how much space they occupy.
Let's just say nine is enough ... and it's a rotating collection. Most are stored away and I display one at a time.
What's it worth?
My collection isn't worth a lot ... and that's the second thing I've learned. Most of us collect what we collect because we like whatever it is we collect.
Sure, some collections are an investment, but for most of us, our collections are valuable for different reasons. I've seen collections of torn ticket stubs from live concerts (proof they were there), heart-shaped rocks (memories of beach walks), baseball cards (childhood dreams), and cranberry glass (handed down through the family).
October is National Stamp Collecting Month
At first I wondered, "Do people still collect stamps?" Yes, they do. And it's a popular hobby.
And, no wonder.
Miniature works of art. From landmarks to monuments, animals, politicians, celebrities, sports, culture, and history, each stamp tells a story.
What do you collect?
And what's the story behind it? Share the story and your collection becomes more valuable because it provides provenance ... the history behind the collection. Who owned it before you? Where it was made? Receipt of ownership (yours and previous owners) and any other documentation you might have adds value.
When I first saw The Little Water Girl statue, she was tucked in a corner of a gated entry to the library, most often littered with leaves and bits of trash that spun around her on windy days.
She's now located inside, in a prominent position, fully restored to be the water fountain she was designed to be.
But what does she stand for?
I was curious.
This is one of a handful of statues I researched in Portland ... because I was curious. It became a hobby and with each statue, I created a poster and wrote a short essay.
This is what I found:
Barefoot with outstretched arms, The Little Water Girl is a fitting tribute to the legacy of Lillian Stevens, a dedicated advocate for women and children and third president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).
Founded in 1874, to “combat the destructive powers of alcohol and the problems it was causing their families and society,” the WCTU banded together in prayer, protest, and pledge—a pledge of total abstinence from alcohol.
Battling saloon owners and eager to curb temptation facing their husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers, the organization encouraged members to install public drinking fountains in their communities.
Drinking fountains where “men could get a drink of water without entering saloons and staying for stronger drinks.”
A committed and independent Stevens traveled by carriage (along with her horse Madge) some 50,000 miles lobbying for the WCTU and Prohibition.
Ratified five years after Stevens’s death Prohibition was not to last.
But still, 100 years after Prohibition was enacted, the WCTU continues to advocate for total abstinence of alcohol, illegal drugs, pornography, and gambling.
The Little Water Girl by British sculptor George E. Wade was commissioned by the WCTU for display at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893.
More than 70 fountains inspired by the WCTU initiative remain standing across the United States, Canada, England, and Australia.
Copies of The Little Water Girl can be found in Chicago, Detroit, and London.
People want to know.
Like The Little Water Girl, people are interested in your story.
But if you don't tell them, how will they know how you did it, why it matters, or how it happened?
Not sure where to start? I can help.
Write today or call (207-252-9757) and let's talk about your story.
After all, people love stories and you've got a good one.
Start writing your story with the Short Story Inventory.
Curiosity and the Hobby Memoir
How many times have you used a local statue as a meeting place or as a reference point when giving directions?
Statues are identifying landmarks and part of the fabric of our cities, towns, and villages. But what do they stand for?
I was curious.
Though I was familiar with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as a poet, and knew there was a USPS stamp issued in his honor, I admit to not knowing much beyond that.
My curiosity rendered a new hobby researching and recording what I found ... and with each statue, I created a poster and wrote a short essay.
The Longfellow statue sits at the intersection of State and Congress Streets and is positioned facing Longfellow’s boyhood home, mere blocks away.
Here's what I discovered:
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a linguist, professor, and poet. He corresponded with the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stow, Oscar Wilde, and Charles Dickens.
Born February 27, 1807, in Portland, Maine, and a graduate of Bowdoin College, Longfellow yearned for a life in literature. Forging an agreement with his alma mater, he set out across the Atlantic to study European language and literature. And though he would return to teach at Bowdoin and then at Harvard College, writing would prove to be his vocation.
Longfellow’s well-known works include Evangeline, "The Wreck of the Hesperus," and "Paul Revere's Ride." He was a best-selling author and enjoyed considerable success with is work.
But he suffered tremendous loss in his personal life.
His first wife and childhood friend, Mary Storer Potter, died following a miscarriage. And his second wife, Fanny Appleton, with whom he had six children, died after setting her dressing gown afire with candle wax. Forever saddened, Longfellow did little writing after Fanny's death.
Sculptor Franklin Simmons's bearded Longfellow sits at the intersection of State and Congress. Like Longfellow, Simmons was born in Maine and became a well-known artist in his day. A second sculpture by Simmons, Our Lady of Victories, stands just a blocks in Monument Square.
Monday is World Tourism Day. If you're curious, or looking for a new adventure, why not start close to home and see what you discover.
A Memoir in Letters
It started with a simple request by mail. Helene Hanff of New York City writes to Marks & Co. in London requesting a book and Frank Doel writes back. It was the beginning of a correspondence that would last 20 years.
Though the letters were never written to be used as memoir, it's a fine example of how letter writing can, and often does, serve as memoir.
Through a shared love of books, the letters reveal quirky personalities, the hardship of war, and the transformative power of friendship. Hanff's humorous, brusque style and bookseller Frank Doel's polite manner combine to make this a thoroughly charming book ... and quick read.
If you're interested in writing letters but need some encouragement and guidance, check out A Snail Mail Guide to Cursive Writing Practice. I wrote the book after hearing so many people shy away from writing because they were worried about their handwriting, didn't know what to write about, and often, not even sure who to write to.
What if I told you to think about letter writing as a conversation. Imagine you're sitting across the kitchen table from the person you're writing to. What would you say? Write that.
That may sound too simple, but really, that's it.
Inside the book you'll find ideas for who to write to and what to write about, along with a primer on learning or improving your cursive handwriting. Because be it loopy and large or compact and not so large, your handwriting is what people so enjoy seeing. Really.
And if you 're still not convinced, request a real postcard welcome. I'll write to you and you'll see, getting mail feels good.
A road map to better writing
Fran Lebowitz is an acclaimed author and speaker. In the Netflix documentary, Pretend It's a City, by Martin Scorsese, Scorsese talks to Lebowitz about her life.
When Scorsese asks, "What's the worst thing you could say about a book?" Lebowitz says, "I forgot I was reading it."
Let's not let that happen.
A lot of people talk about how writing is hard. And it is. But writing is also an orderly business:
- Start with an opening that catches your reader's attention.
- Watch your timeline ... when, where, and how things happened.
- And pay attention to detail.
Map it out
Think of your writing as a road trip. Start with the action, experience, or lesson you want to tell your reader about, then back up and tell them how it came to be. Write about where you started, why you took that left instead of a right, highlight a few attractions along the way, and talk about the traffic jam that caused a delay.
If it starts well, follows a logical thread, and offers insight, they'll be with you to the end. If not, they'll disembark before you turn the next corner.
What story are you writing?
If you need help getting started or help with editing your work, let's talk.
Some still hang
bright and red
Others make like
polka dots, red on
The ones that
fill the gutter
line up like bowling
balls in the automated
Is it the imperfections,
or is it because they're not
already picked, in a bag,
or in a store?
I wish it was my apple tree.
Poetry in memoir is a great way to tell a short story in as few words as possible.
There's no need to rhyme, or overthink the structure of verse of your poem. True some poems are set with strict rules and form, but there's also free verse and narrative poetry.
Writing in a different style or form may be liberating. Why not try it?
Because I didn't know what to write about, I stalled as long as I could and focused instead on gathering my thoughts, finding some scratch paper, stationery, a pen, getting a sip of water, and figuring out where to sit.
It wasn't the first time I'd been stumped trying to figure out what to write. That day it was a letter.
It was the day I heard the neighbor's chickens squawking. And it was the day that changed everything.
The squawking was so loud I couldn't ignore it.
I stopped procrastinating (well, not so much) to look out the window to be sure they weren't under attack.
And that's when I knew what to write about ... the chickens.
I wrote about how the neighbor's chicken coop sits at the low end of the backyard. How we like to sit on the back porch and watch them ... as if we're watching a documentary ... chicken TV, I scribbled.
How when one chicken goes in the coop, they all go in. When one comes out, they all come out. And how they peck, peck peck. All day long ... peck, peck, pecking.
No more ruffled feathers
Those chickens changed everything for me. That day I figured out not only what to write about, but what makes better writing.
Stories. Your stories and my stories. One at a time.
It's impossible to cover everything in one story, so you have to choose one thing to write about.
And then make it relevant.
What's the story behind:
- How you learned ________.
- When you figured out _______.
- What happens when you _______.
Can I help you write, edit, or develop a story? Let's talk.
And in the meantime, download your free copy of the Story Inventory and start writing.
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