Three Steps to Become A Better Writer by Lani Longshore

Every January offers a chance to reinvent yourself, including your writing self. If you aren’t satisfied with where you are and what you are doing as a writer, now is the time to try something new.

1. Create your own writing prompts. As you go through your day, jot down the odd questions that pop in your head or the casual misreadings of books and signs that make you laugh or the “aha” moments you think could make a good story. Keep this list. At the end of each month, evaluate which prompts inspired you to write, which propelled you toward a different understanding of your characters, and which kept circling back in your mind even if you couldn’t write your way through them. Chances are these are the themes you really want to explore, whether you understand why or not.

2. Write two new author biographies: one that fits who you are now and one that fits who you want to be. You can’t make progress until you know precisely what it is you want to change.

3. Tell a writing buddy your secret dream of success. Nothing helps motivate a person to work hard like being held accountable for a specific outcome. Say out loud what you want from your writing, and allow your friends to apply those gentle jabs to keep you on track.

With a little luck and a lot of work, you will find your own writing groove. As the months pass, you may even find some writing success. At the very least, you won’t be stuck in the same rut as this year.

Video for Writers by Lani Longshore

Shameless self-promotion alert, I’ll have a new book coming out in the next couple of months. I’m evaluating ways to promote it, and Julaina Kleist-Corwin gave me a suggestion: try video.

Julaina leads the Tri-Valley Writers Social Media Group. Each month she presents great tips about building your platform. Her research indicates that more and more people click on videos for information, instruction, and entertainment. She encouraged us all to start making videos, perhaps something like her Feature Friday interviews on a Facebook group she runs.

Julaina recently interviewed me. When she asked for background information, I considered what I would say about my book if we were having a casual conversation. Starting with my elevator pitch, I expanded each talking point, keeping in mind that Julaina would be asking questions as well as listening to me. Once I had an idea of what I wanted to say in the interview, I realized I could do my own videos without creating a horrible infomercial.

The technical aspects of making videos can be simple. Julaina uses the free version of Zoom to record a meeting, which she then saves on Vimeo (you could also save the clip on YouTube). Post the clip on social media with a link the same way you would use a link to send people to your blog or website.

I’ve created my own Zoom account. I found a place in the house that is relatively quiet, well lighted and has an uncluttered wall to use as a backdrop. Once the hustle of the holidays eases, I’ll start recording my message and see if it works for me. The future is video. Time for me to adapt.

Similes, Metaphors and Phrases by Lani Longshore

Jordan Rosenfeld, who presented a workshop for Tri-Valley Writers on character and point of view, gave a brief writing exercise on creating new metaphors and similes. She presented a list of phrases that had become cliches and challenged us to create something fresh. I thought a different way of saying right as rain could be perfect as a pear. My personal quest has become finding a replacement for dead as a doornail, but that’s another story. Jordan encouraged us to read more poetry to give ourselves the tools to invent new expressions.

I like that idea, but it occurred to me we could also resurrect old phrases. My grandfather said, “Well, bite my neck and call me Susie,” whenever he was surprised. I have no idea where that came from, and I’m not sure I want to know.

My father used a few words that probably came from his father. Slaunchygoggle for crooked or angled worked its way into my vocabulary, as did the phrase a couple three to indicate a quantity between two and five.

I imagine most of us have people in our families whose speech patterns and word choices would open our minds to inventive descriptions. Some of them might even be suitable for family-oriented publications. My challenge to you is to find those phrases and make them fit.

The Perfect Writing Surface by Lani Longshore

I have a pad of paper on a magnet on the refrigerator for the grocery list. There are stacks of scrap paper by the telephone, and a legal pad on my nightstand for ideas that wake me from a sound sleep. One could believe I am a die-hard devotee of paper as the perfect writing surface, except that I also keep a white board to jot down menu ideas, and my novels have been composed and edited on my computer. Still, when I need to write something quickly, I grab a piece of paper.

Most of the time I think more about what I want to write than what I have to write on, but two books on the history of paper have me thinking about how what I write on shapes what I write. The first, The Paper Trail by Alexander Monro, describes how writing in China developed from divination on turtle shells to court histories on bamboo to massive bureaucratic files on paper. The second, Paper by Mark Kurlansky, explores how Europeans ignored paper for centuries after it was available. Then came an explosion of quarrels about politics, religion, science, and just about everything else. Suddenly paper was king, because it was cheaper than parchment and better suited to the printing press, which was better suited to spreading ideas quickly than an army of scribes.

The notes I make on scrap paper are usually short commands – remember this, buy that, return this call. If I want to keep information, I’ll grab a pad of paper or even a bound notebook. With those formats, I generally write in complete sentences, sometimes complete paragraphs. I’m not sure what this says about my character, but I might explore that in a short story someday.

The Last Generation to Remember the World Before Photocopiers by Lani Longshore

The last of the Baby Boomers and the first of the Gen Xers will be the last generation to remember the world before the internet, or so I heard at a lecture by Scott Thomas Anderson at CWC Tri-Valley Writers September meeting. That’s a bit of a shock, but there’s a bigger demarcation line in my opinion. I remember the world before the photocopier.

My high-school business classes included learning how to type with carbons, both single and multiple. I struggled to master the intricacies of mimeograph machines and thermofaxes. Research for term papers meant spending hours copying out texts I wished to cite, and tracing diagrams or drawings from reference books. Sharing my work with friends meant reading it out loud to them, or letting them borrow my one typed copy.

The photocopier became standard office equipment when I was in college, but even then there were only a few machines available regardless of the size of the institution. I remember trudging across the campus to the business center to make copies of tests for my professors, and counted myself lucky because at least I didn’t have to deal with smelly chemicals and persnickety mimeographs. “Cut and paste” meant literally cutting out paragraphs and taping them together when someone wanted a change in a report, then covering the edge of the tape with a thin line of White-Out or Liquid Paper, copying the new page and assembling the report again. I was thrilled, because at least I didn’t have to retype entire pages to make the edits.

I knew we had achieved a higher level of civilization when small, affordable machines became available for home use. The internet is useful in its way, but the tool that changed my life was the photocopier.

When Disaster Strikes by Lani Longshore

The most recent natural disaster, Hurricane Harvey, reminded me to review my earthquake preparedness file. It contains lists of what to do before, during, and after an earthquake. Most important, there are lists of things to keep packed and ready. I suggest that a writer needs to add a notebook and supply of pens to the list. When disaster strikes, we need to record it.

Without meaning to sound morbid, bad times come to everyone. When we’re caught in the middle of a crisis, our attention quite naturally should be on survival. Nevertheless, we should also keep recovery strategies in mind. One part of that process is to recognize the magnitude of loss, honor the conflicting swirl of emotions, and remind ourselves that we still have value.

Being of service is sometimes a recovery strategy, and as writers we can help others articulate their feelings. We can listen, and put in simple, concrete terms what we hear. We can publish our personal essays on blogs, on Twitter, wherever there is a venue. We can incorporate those experiences into stories and novels so that readers far away in time and space from the disaster we endured can benefit from the lessons we learned.

Living through the worst of times takes courage. We as writers can document the acts of courage, kindness, and humanity we witness. It may be a small thing, but it is one thing we can do. Perhaps those words penned during a crisis will bring a glimmer of hope for the future.

Trust and Perseverance by Lani Longshore

Every time one of my writing buddies gets a nibble from an agent, I wonder if I shouldn’t trust the universe to provide and send out another round of queries myself. I’m happy enough self-publishing. No, my sales aren’t good, but the chances of them being better with a traditional publisher aren’t guaranteed, and at least my writing is out there now. Still, the validation of having someone you don’t know say, “Hey, I like your book well enough to help you” is priceless. Then I do a search and maybe—maybe—find one agent whose interests could possibly be a good match for my book. I’ve been through this dance long enough that I am not always willing to persevere with the queries.

Then the annual agent issue of Writer’s Digest arrived in my mailbox. I almost didn’t read the issue, figuring what’s the point? Still, I had just enough trust that somewhere out there’s an agent for me that I opened the magazine. This time, there were half a dozen agents that I thought might be interested in my work. Those are good enough odds for me.

I hope you, too, will trust yourself and your writing. Querying agents, finishing that rewrite, entering contests—all this takes energy and confidence. Persevere, and let me know when your efforts are rewarded.

Titles: A Collection by Lani Longshore

There are days when I can write stories, and there are days when I can write titles. Alas, the titles don’t always match the stories. Still, writing is writing, so I keep a file of all the titles that manage to stick to a memory cell long enough for me to record them. Whether I’ll ever write stories to go with all of them is doubtful. That used to make me sad, but then I thought, Self, share. Maybe someone else will write the story and you can enjoy it without all the work. So here they are, some with explanation, some without.


Accidental Mythology

An Altar of Crockery

Soren and The Flying Dachshund (My friend had a dachshund puppy that liked to play chase with her older pit-bull mix, Soren, by leaping off the furniture and soaring past Soren’s head)

The Worms Don’t Read

The Method of Exhaustion (a form of geometrical proof)

Volatile Sugar Dust (apparently it’s a thing, and can cause explosions)

Last, but not least, here is a title and cover art for Thread Brain: A Story

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