A Unique Way To Practice Writing

Many people outside of the business think that all writers do is write novels. The most often asked question I get is “So, what book are you writing now?” Well, I also write short stories, essays, and a few poems that are probably so bad they’re labeled by editors as humorous. But there’s one other thing many writers are very good at: writing letters. And that’s what we should do to keep our minds and writing skills sharp.

Here’s one instance where it came in very handy:

My son’s laptop got a white screen of death. Nope, not the blue screen nor “fatal error” message. Nothing but glaring, in-your-face, white. I tried everything I knew to get it going. Even tried reformatting. His laptop is now in the recycling bin.

So son and I went to our local Best Buy store to purchase a new one. We already knew what he was getting: basic, but not skin-and-bones basic. We knew the price range. Let’s put it this way: we were armed with info and ready to purchase and leave within a half-hour of scanning the store.

When we found the perfect laptop, we searched for a salesperson, finally flagging one down while I stood on top of my son’s shoulders. That took about ten minutes. And the store was empty of customers. I braced myself when we told him what we wanted to buy. The salesperson took a deep breath and the litany began:

“We have a great two-year–”

“No, thanks.”

“You might want–”

“No, thanks.”

“There’s a wonderful–”

“Please, nothing else! Just the laptop.” I followed this with a smile.

He didn’t return the smile. He glared and said, “I guess you don’t want me to finish my sentences.”

“You’re right. I don’t.” Heck, in my book, rude begets rude. Though I still smiled!

When I told the manager about this salesperson, guess what: They were good buddies and he had every right to give me the spiel and act that way toward me.

This is where I put my writing to work. I follow up good service and bad service with an email and/or snail mail letter to the customer service department and the president of the company.

Rule One: Always begin the letter with a positive. “I like the quality of your products.” “I like the design of your logo.” (Only kidding on that one. 🙂 )

Rule Two: Then get to the heart of the matter. No excessive ranting if it’s negative, nor effusiveness if it’s positive.

Rule Three: End with a “thank you in advance.”

Rule Four: Keep it short and to the point.

Nine times out of ten I get a personalized response. And I feel so much better! And my writing gets better with every email and letter I send.

Finally…The Good News!

Earlier I wrote about winning a contest. I didn’t post it because the official announcement wasn’t made on their website. Now it is. It was an essay contest sponsored by Caswell-Massey, an “apothecary” founded in 1752 in Rhode Island. I won a grand prize for an essay I wrote about my sister. It’s called “Lavender Lucy” and it can be read here.

I’ll be receiving a $200 gift certificate towards their products. I can’t wait!

Working From Home

There was an article online about the hard economic times, people losing their jobs, then re-inventing themselves and…working from home.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? No commuting except to roll out of bed and into a chair in front of a computer. Hot coffee in a mug instead of lukewarm mud in a to-go cup. All the comforts of home because you are home. What more could you want?

Well for starters, a phone that rings for business only. That’s fine and good for a month or two, but wait until your number gets around and then it’s those few telemarketers whose antennae picks up every number known and unknown, or a significant other who knows you’ll pick up and it most likely won’t go to voice mail.

Then there’s the doorbell. Ignoring it won’t help.  They’ll either ring it again and again, or come back later. Or there’s a package you need and it’s FedEx or you have to sign a card for the postal carrier. So, doorbells are answered.

A kid sick? You’re elected as nurse, babysitter, janitor. Appliance broken? You’re there for them too.

I’ve been working from home for over nine years now, submitting my writings, getting published, all the time doing the above. Thankfully I’m the type who can multi-task, be interrupted, leave my writing for an hour on a moment’s notice, and then pick up where I was. Right now I’m listening to a workman taking out our old bathroom and saying “Whoa!” over and over again. Not a good thing.

The up side–my hours are whenever. I can work at 6am or 9pm. And when it’s a blizzard or a nor’easter–I’m dry and warm. BUT it took awhile to get to where I am now. I used to have to have a schedule to force me to work. I read everything in the library (800 section) on writing and submitting. I’ve belonged to a great writer’s website, Absolute Write, and its forums for years.

This goes for any new career path you wish to take. There are classes, too, at accredited online schools to help you on your way.

If you’re determined and willing to learn, you’ll do just fine, working from home.

The coffee’s waiting. 🙂

This Is How It Happened….

When retelling a story, we sometimes embellish it. Then when the next person tells it, it becomes more altered.

Yesterday I visited a restored mansion built in 1773. As someone who loves old homes with the unique architecture and fascinating history, I was in my element. The interpreter/tour guide, who was well-versed in that particular house, mentioned how unusual it was for the wealthy to have the kitchen attached to the main house in those days. I remembered–or thought I remembered—-a tour guide once telling me that kitchens weren’t attached to houses because of the threat of a kitchen fire, and they didn’t want it to spread to the main house.

Seems either that other tour guide was wrong, or my recollection of what she said was wrong.

Kitchens of the wealthy were normally not attached because in the summer, it would heat up the house too much, and when they did laundry or made candles, the smell wasn’t the most pleasant, therefore it would be contained in the kitchen, away from the house.

This particular house’s attached kitchen had heavy doors separating it from the dining room, to  keep the heat and odors at bay.

This was a very well-informed tour guide. Is she 100% correct? Maybe. And now I’m passing this information on in this post. Did I write exactly what she said or how she said it? No. Therefore, if this is ever passed down, it will be rewritten or retold in another way.

So when someone says, “This is how it happened,” or “This is the way it was,” remember, they are only human and that is their interpretation.

Finally…

…an acceptance.  I won a writing contest! For an hour I floated on cloud nine. When the phone call came, I listened to the person tell me the great news. I was so happy I started to cry.

Yep, cry. Here I am, a seasoned writer, someone who had an agent with a top literary agency (we parted amicably), someone with over nine years of writing and acceptances under my belt.

But for the past year, acceptances  of short stories and essays were slow to come in.  Of the rejections, many were “We’re closing the publicaton as of….” or “We’re holding off on accepting any more articles/short stories until 2010.” A good sign the economy is not doing well. Granted, I have revisited my writings and can see where improvements should and can be made. And I’m doing just that.

So the key to acceptances in this era of doom and gloom–polish your writing until it shines. But also, find that “hook,” that one thing that will make the editors want to read on, need to publish your work.

The essay that won–it was very, very true, but my take on the situation was conversational, like one would talk to a close friend. I knew that’s what they’d be looking for.

So–may you all have acceptances coming your way!

Could It Be April Fools?

Maybe I was tired this morning. Maybe it happened because I didn’t have my first cup of coffee. Or maybe it was my mind playing a joke on me, pretending not to function properly.

I loaded a bunch of freshly washed towels into the dryer. I set the dials. I pressed “Start.” It didn’t start. I pressed the button again. No dice. I checked the electrical outlet. No problem there. I checked the lint trap; maybe too much lint built up and the dryer had some sort of safety device I didn’t know about. Lint trap was clean. I stood there, puzzled, thinking only one thing: whom do I call? The electrician we used to get, passed away, and the appliance place closed.

Just as I was about to go upstairs to get the phone book, I looked down. The dryer door was open. I closed it, held my breath, and pressed the “Start” button once again. The dryer made that (at least to me this morning) most wonderful humming sound as it tumbled the towels dry.

So, was my mind playing an April Fools’ trick on me, or was it just plain not thinking–also called lack of coffee. I like to think it was just because it’s April 1st. Today I might refrain from submitting any queries or manuscripts. I think I’ll wait ’til it’s April 2nd. And I’ve had my morning coffee.