Do you make your bed? I know my mother encouraged it when I was growing up, but it was my grandmother who found a way to make it happen ... and I still think of her when I change the sheets.
There was no pestering or pleading, she simply set the scene ... with new bedding. It was the best after-school treat I never imagined.
It was mid-afternoon when I arrived home from school and found the mismatched jumble of pillows, sheets, and blankets I'd left on the bed earlier in the day replaced with perfectly plump pillows and coordinated sheets tucked under a matching comforter.
I was spellbound.
Nothing but the bedding had changed, but there was new order to my small room, and I was all in.
The 11th of the month is Make Your Bed Day (get your calendar of days writing prompts here). Some do, some don't ... some only when company's coming. But there's evidence that suggests it might be a good idea. It was also a key point in Admiral William H. McRaven's popular commencement address delivered to the 2014 graduating class at the University of Texas.
"If you make your bed every morning," McRaven says, "you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another and another."
He goes on to say that even if you have a miserable day, when it's time for bed, you will be reminded that you did in fact accomplish something that day ... you made your bed.
I made mine. Did you?
Tucked or untucked?
p.s. The same could be said for your writing. I like to write first thing in the morning. That way it's done before there are so many other distractions. If you do, that will be at least two things you will have accomplished for the day. Try it and let me know how it goes.
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.
It was in a public speaking class where I learned the importance of the opening line and I think it applies whether you're speaking or writing.
Whatever it is, your opening line should make that person seated in the last row in the auditorium ignore whatever it is they're thinking about—or doing— and look up and listen. And it's the same with your writing.
Grab your reader's attention with your first sentence.
One that makes them want to read the next sentence and then the next, until there are no more to read.
Not sure how to get started? Let me know if I can help.
Is it any wonder?
I asked myself that this morning. Is it any wonder people so often talk and write about the weather?
I suppose it's because it's always there ... the forecast ... in some parenthetical way. We mostly go about our business, but if a storm is brewing, if there's a shift in the humidity, the heat, the cold, or the dew point, there's an underlying awareness. Even animals sense a shift in the barometer.
It's hard to ignore.
Hurricane Henri hit southern New England yesterday and continues to lash the area with gusty winds and plenty of rain.
Watching the news updates and warnings, I noticed a flag graphic ... a hurricane flag. So I looked it up and discovered:
If a hurricane is brewing, it's two flags:
- one red flag with a black square in the middle signals a tropical storm
- fly two together and there's a hurricane on the horizon
Using research and detail in your writing
It's the sort of detail that adds depth to your writing ... especially if you're writing about hurricanes.
The biggest weather event I can recall is the 1998 ice storm here in Maine. Overnight the landscape changed. It was as if we had been transported and put under glass, like in a snow globe. We woke to a world where everything was coated in ice. Everything. Tree boughs bowed under the weight of the inch-thick ice that encased them, power lines sagged, and the crack of trees branches snapping under the weight sounded like rifle shot. We lost power for a week and recorded a low temperature of 34°F ... in the kitchen.
There's no flag for that
It's a story I could write about, but it brings no joy, no overarching lesson I want to revisit, so I'll leave it be.
But I do want to write about snow.
And you? Is there a weather event so vivid in your mind's eye you might want to write about it? Grab the Story Inventory and see what comes of it.
"I don't know what to do."
That's what Barbie wrote when she contacted me about her book.
She'd been working on her memoir for years. The writing was done and she wanted to move forward, to publish the book, but she had so many questions.
Should she find someone to edit the book? Where could she get a cover design? And what about the inside?
She had no idea where to begin.
Writing a book is a huge accomplishment. Getting it into book form and publishing it is another.
Together we reviewed her manuscript, edited and organized what she'd written, talked about titles, cover designs ... and how and where to get it published.
As we worked through the project, Barbie often thanked me for my guidance and told me she was learning so much about the process.
I was learning, too. Learning about how hard it can be for writers to share their work, to hand it or and trust things will work out.
After Barbie's book was published, she sent me a note.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you. You have been a dream to work with. I am so happy with my book. I could NEVER have done it without you."
Do you have a book tucked in a drawer ... waiting to be published?
I can help. Especially with things like:
- how to begin and develop your bok
- editing what you've writeen
- designing you book for publication
Call 207-252-9757 or write today to talk about your book.
I once spent the night at a house that had a cuckoo clock ... read more
My life's not that interesting.
That's what someone wrote in the comment section of the memoir survey I sent a while ago.
It's not what I expected, and I don't believe it's true.
After all, what makes an interesting life to one person may not be interesting to another. Is an interesting life one with lots of travel? A successful career? Life on a farm? Sailing around the world? Lots of dinner parties and dancing?
Any one of those things might fill your days, but I'm not sure that would guarantee a good memoir. What makes a good memoir is your take on the world ... how you see things, and why they matter.
Your perspective is what people want to read about.
I like to write about the unexpected, curious ways the commonplace can (and does) surprise me. When I write, it's often about things like acorns pinging off the neighbor's metal roof (how loud is that inside the house?), the cat with the green eyes hiding the tall grass, and the soft rain that put me to sleep. And those are the stories people comment on ... because they can relate to them. They've experienced something similar, or it reminds them of something.
Where you go is what you see.
So don't worry about whether or not you have an interesting life. Where you go with your writing and memoir is more about what you see and how something made you feel.
Whether you write about your business, family life, hobbies, or personal challenge, it's the lessons you learned, the experiences you had, and how they affected you that people want to read about.
When I re-read some of the stories I've written, they remind me of different times in my life; a life filled with curiosity and attention to detail. And that's what matters, no matter where or how you live your life. What do you see? How do you feel?
Write about that.
A lasting legacy for author and community
When Michael Gery offered to chronicle his church's story, it was with the understanding that he would work alone. Gery understood it would expand his "workload immensely," but that didn't matter. He was, he wrote, "always more interested in the quality of the project" and feared writing by committee would result in a book that was "disjointed, and written in different voices."
Though he died before he was able to publish his work, Michael Gery did complete an impressive amount of writing and research. Gery's wife, Lisa, states in the dedication that, "He spent years collecting and reading books and historical documents, visiting local historical societies, conducting interviews, and culling the church's voluminous files of sermons, logs, and annual reports. At the time of his death, he had more than three hundred files of partially written chapters and appendices."
Lisa Gery, with the support of church member and editor, Jo Ann Augeri Silva, pulled together the work her husband had done, created a manuscript, and contacted me to put it into book form.
Unitarian Universalist Church of Marblehead: Transformation Through Time is an impressive body of work. The book holds not only the history of the church, but the history of the "political and religious movements that led to its founding."
From a design perspective, it is a complex text with deep footnotes and few photographs. Understanding that it would be a hefty book (the spine is nearly an inch thick), it is designed in a larger format with a wide inside margin.
The result is a book that opens easily, has plenty of white space, and gives readers room to breathe.
Though I never met Michael Gery, his interest in creating a body of work he could be proud of will, I imagine, inspire his congregation and readers alike as it inspired me.
Wow, I'm so proud to be able to say my book, A Snail Mail Guide to Cursive Writing Practice, is done. What a great feeling.
It's part memoir, part how-to, and loaded with tips for improving your handwriting and spending more time with the people you love and like best by writing to them.
The idea for the book came about from seeing articles about the demise of cursive writing. Some say it doesn't matter now that we have computers and ask, "What's the point?"
Well, a new study from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology reveals how writing by hand can make kids smarter.
And in The New York Times article, "Snail Mail is Getting People Through This Time," Tove Danovich writes about creating meaningful connections through letter writing during the pandemic.
A Snail Mail Guide to Cursive Writing Practice combines the benefits of letter writing with the benefits of writing by hand in an uplifting, informative, and beautifully illustrated book. The book showcases the elements of a letter, cursive writing instruction for each letter of the alphabet, and the inspirational I Write Letters to Say series.
Do you know a teacher or students who would benefit from the book? Tell them about A Snail Mail guide to Cursive Writing Practice.
The Story Line blog is where we share short story memoirs, writing tips, and more.
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