We love stories, and I would guess that most of the time we are reading stories, or watching them unfold visually in a movie.
But yesterday I experienced something new and surprisingly enjoyable, a storytelling performance!
Storytelling, according to one definition, is the social and cultural activity of sharing stories, sometimes with improvisation, theatrics or embellishment. Every culture has its own stories or narratives, which are shared as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation or instilling moral values.
I am travelling in the Southeast U.S. and am near Jonesborough, Tennessee, a community established in 1779, where storytelling enthusiasts gather at the International Storytelling Center.
Every October since 1973, thousands of travelers have visited Jonesboro, Tennessee’s oldest town, to hear stories and to tell them at the National Storytelling Festival.
Storytelling Live! also runs in the afternoons every May to October.
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the performance, because I generally don’t choose activities that focus on listening, as I tend to be a visual person and am easily distracted by images and movement.
But what made Sam Payne’s performance especially enjoyable was hearing simple stories of his life and family, the varying lilt and volume of his rich voice, his excellent guitar skills, and his intermittent songs (all of which he had written), which were folksy, winsome and comforting.
Sam also shared several stories of creating his art just before the deadline. That inspired me, because his “last-minute” creations were excellent!
I’m sure he has polished them as he presents them, but the fact that he finished them just before performing them, gives this last-minute-deadline writer hope that I, too, can continue to create and finish some worthy pieces!
Here is a photo of me near the Storytelling Center, at the Washington County Courthouse in Jonesboro.
I love the sign on the bench! It says, “Love one another and always be kind! In loving memory of Alfred Greenlee. Never forgotten.” (Alfred Greenlee was a Deacon at Bethel Christian Church in Jonesborough, TN.)
If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of listening to a storyteller, I recommend it!
As I was enjoying a short story by Louisa May Alcott, I found spirited conversations among the characters about reading and writing. I seriously doubt that it was the author’s intention to pass along writing tips in her story, but I got a kick out of the subtle wisdom and commentaries on the writing life included in the dialogue!
No doubt many fiction writers have received responses similar to the ones below, even from well-meaning non-authors. And maybe there’s some truth in them! You decide…
A little background to the story: Sophie’s aunt had invited her to visit for several weeks in “the wilds of Vermont”, and Sophie in turn invites some of her city friends to join her during the holiday. The friends arrive and meet Saul, who works on the farm. They invite him to share his war experiences with Randal, one of their friends from the city…
* * * *
It took you how long to write your novel?!
Saul responds politely to their request. “When I’ve foddered the cattle and done my chores I’d be pleased to. What regiment were you in?” asked Saul.
Randal replied, “In none. I was abroad at the time.”
“No, busy with a novel.”
“Took four years to write it?”
“I was obliged to travel and study before I could finish it. These things take more time to work up than outsiders would believe.”
“Seems to me our war was a finer story than any you could find in Europe, and the best way to study it would be to fight it out. If you want heroes and heroines you’d have found plenty of ’em there.”
A pleasant surprise, and appreciation for novels
“Tell us about your book, we have been reading it as it comes out in the magazine, and are much exercised about how it’s going to end,” began Saul.
“Do you really read my poor serial up here, and do me the honor to like it?” asked the novelist, both flattered and amused, for his work was of the aesthetic sort, microscopic studies of character, and careful pictures of modern life.
“Sakes alive, why shouldn’t we?” cried Aunt Plumy. [For Aunt Plumy I translate from the colloquial] “We have some education…a town library…magazines…Our winter is long and evenings would be kind of lonesome if we didn’t have novels and newspapers to cheer ’em up.”
Randal replies, “I am very glad I can help to beguile them for you. Now tell me what you honestly think of my work? Criticism is always valuable, and I should really like yours, Mrs. Basset,” said Randal, wondering what the good woman would make of the delicate analysis and worldly wisdom on which he prided himself.
“Criticism is always valuable to an author”… unless…
Aunt Plumy…rather enjoyed freeing her mind at all times, and decidedly resented the insinuation that country folk could not appreciate light literature as well as city people. “I’m not a great judge…but it really does seem as if some of your men and women are dreadfully uncomfortable creatures.
It seems to me it isn’t wise to be always picking ourselves to pieces and prying into things that ought to come gradually by way of experience and the visitations of Providence. Flowers won’t bloom…if you pull them open. It’s better to wait and see what they can do alone.”
Aunt Plumy continued. “I do feel as if books would be more sustaining if they were full of every-day people and things, like good bread and butter. The books that go to the heart and aren’t soon forgotten are the kind I like. Miss Terry’s books*, now, and Miss Stowe’s, and Dickens’s Christmas pieces, they are real sweet and cheering, to my mind.”
Randal… was quite composed and laughed good-naturedly, though secretly feeling as if a pail of cold water had been poured over him.
[* Just a short note, Miss [Harriet Beecher] Stowe and Dickens we’ve heard of, but I was curious about who “Miss Terry” could be. I believe she could have been the author Rose Terry Cook (1827-1892) who lived in Connecticut, the next-door state to where Alcott lived. And Cook was related to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who Alcott’s parents knew.]
Differing opinions about making a living
Randal responds, “Many thanks, madam; you have discovered my weak point with surprising accuracy. But you see I cannot help ‘picking folks to pieces,’ as you have expressed it; that is my gift, and it has its attractions, as the sale of my books will testify. People like the ‘spice-bread,’ and as that is the only sort my oven will bake, I must keep on in order to make my living.”
Aunt Plumy adds, “So rum-sellers say, but it ain’t a good trade to follow, and I’d chop wood before I’d earn my living harming my fellow man.
I’d let my oven cool a spell, and hunt up some homely, happy folks to write about; folks that don’t borrow trouble and go looking for holes in their neighbors’ coats, but take their lives brave and cheerful; and remembering we are all human, have pity on the weak, and try to be as full of mercy, patience and loving kindness as Him who made us.
That sort of a book would do a heap of good; be real warming and strengthening and make them that read it love the man that wrote it, and remember him when he was dead and gone.”
A frustrated author, realizes he’s not writing what he wants to write
“I wish I could!” and Randal meant what he said, for he was as tired of his own style as a watch-maker might be of the magnifying glass through which he strains his eyes all day. He knew that the heart was left out of his work, and that both mind and soul were growing morbid with dwelling on the faulty, absurd and metaphysical phases of life and character.
He often threw down his pen and vowed he would write no more; but he loved ease and the books brought money readily; he was accustomed to the stimulant of praise and missed it as the toper [drinker] misses his wine, so that which had once been a pleasure to himself and others was fast becoming a burden and a disappointment.
The joy of unexpected support
The brief pause which followed his involuntary betrayal of discontent was broken by Ruth, who exclaimed, with a girlish enthusiasm that overpowered girlish bashfulness, “I think all the novels are splendid! I hope you will write hundreds more, and I shall live to read ’em.”
“Bravo, my gentle champion! I promise that I will write one more at least, and have a heroine in it whom your mother will both admire and love,” answered Randal, surprised to find how grateful he was for the girl’s approval, and how rapidly his trained fancy began to paint the background on which he hoped to copy this fresh, human daisy.
Saul brought the conversation back to its starting point by saying in a tone of the most sincere interest, “Speaking of the serial, I am very anxious to know how your hero comes out. He is a fine fellow, and I can’t decide whether he is going to spoil his life marrying that silly woman, or do something grand and generous, and not be made a fool of.”
How does an author know how to end the story?
“Upon my soul,” Randal said, “I don’t know myself. It is very hard to find new finales. Can’t you suggest something, Major? Then I shall not be obliged to leave my story without an end, as people complain I am rather fond of doing.”
“Well, no, I don’t think I’ve anything to offer. Seems to me it isn’t the sensational exploits that show the hero best, but some great sacrifice quietly made by a common sort of man who is noble without knowing it. I saw a good many such during the war, and often wish I could write them down, for it is surprising how much courage, goodness and real piety is stowed away in common folks ready to show when the right time comes.”
“Tell us one of them, and I’ll bless you for a hint. No one knows the anguish of an author’s spirit when he can’t ring down the curtain on an effective tableau,” said Randal.
* * * *
Thank you, Miss Alcott, for sharing your wisdom in such an entertaining way!
Was that helpful or inspiring? I hope if nothing else, you got a chuckle!
My favorite lines:
Now tell me honestly what you think of my work.
…Flowers won’t bloom if you pull them open.
…That sort of a book would do a heap of good; be real warming and strengthening.
People like the ‘spice-bread,’ and …that is the only sort my oven will bake…
He often threw down his pen and vowed he would write no more.
Louisa May Alcott’s characters
If you care to read the whole short story, you can find the pdf online by going here to find Alcott’s short stories, then search for “A Country Christmas”.
I was also interested to find a letter that Louisa May Alcott wrote to a fan who asked for her advice on achieving success.
And here, a blogger gleans writing lessons from Louisa May Alcott’s journal, along with secrets to her success.
I revelled in the summer heat
When others fried
And went inside.
Trusting, I smiled
When hot became warm,
The return of summer's norm,
Simply a mild forewarn
Of climate's transform.
Too soon it seemed
Leaves turned to gold.
Yet still no cold!
Larch and aspen--behold!
Facing autumn serene and bold.
Fun while it lasted,
No keeping frost at bay,
Friendly warmth gives way,
How I shiver today.
Lord help! I pray.
I grieved, pleaded, implored:
Perfumed rose, spotted fawn,
Warbler song, emerald lawn,
All gone, all gone!
But...was that a trumpeter swan?
I'd missed the mist,
The glitter of snow,
The hush, and the slow,
The late sunrise glow--
All my friend Winter will bestow.
I have to admit, I am probably the biggest baby in the world when it comes to winter, inwardly grieving, mourning, whining and complaining. But this scene today reminded me of its blessings, because without the cold, the mist wouldn’t rise up in the first rays of sunlight!
And the frosting on the cake, a few minutes after snapping this photo with frozen hands, was watching a flock of Trumpeter Swans fly overhead as they return to Calgary for the winter.
This also reminds me of one of my favorite Biblical poems:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord… sent…to bind up the brokenhearted… to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve… to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. [from Isaiah 61:1-3]
Even though most schools are closing for the summer, learning doesn’t stop. In fact, learning outside of school can be one of the most valuable ways to increase our–and our kids’ and grandkids’–knowledge and understanding in various fields of interest.
From what I understand from working in the education field, and from personal experience, learning comes easier when we are enjoying ourselves and taking part in activities we are keenly interested in.
What are you looking forward to learning about this summer? Or, should I say, what fun things are you planning to DO this summer? (I’d seriously love to know–leave me a note below.) I believe that these concepts–learning, fun, doing–all go together.
If you are interested, Practical Homeschooling magazine just published my article on the subject, in their issue #146. I wrote it about a conversation with my young children, who thought I was insane when I told them I loved to learn. I think I convinced them that “learning” and “school” were two different things, by keeping track of all of our summer activities and showing them how much they’d “accidentally” learned.
The lines between school learning, learning at home, and home schooling have definitely blurred over the past year. If you find that learning at home has been a positive experience for you and your children, and you are planning to continue that in the future, you might want to have a look at homeschooling resources like this one. At $4.95 U.S./Canadian, you can’t go wrong!
What am I looking forward to learning this summer? I want to learn how to use all–or most–of the features of my new (to me) camera.
I have been struggling to learn how to use the manual settings. It’s partly re-learning, since my photography-teacher dad taught me how to use them in the 70s, before I got lazy with point-and-shoot cameras.
Yes, I have watched many videos and read lots of the manuals, but the most effective way I have learned about it is, you guessed, using it. Trial and error, and making mistakes, only nowadays without wasting expensive film and the cost of developing it!
I am fortunate that I enjoy walking and exercise, am a morning person (as are many animals), it is summer time right now, and that I enjoy the quiet and solitude of the forest. All of those give me inspiration to power on through the frustration, to try and try again to get good shots.
The hundreds, even thousands, of out-of-focus animals and flowers, and borrrring landscapes, have taught me valuable lessons. I still haven’t figured out how to take clear videos, unfortunately. Sigh.
If you want to see some of the shots that did work, have a look below. At any rate….
I wish you and yours many happy learning experiences over the summer!
For those of you who are writers out there, I am curious, do you actually have a routine that helps you be productive with your writing?
If not, is it because you don’t feel the need for a routine since you are consistently productive without one? Or did you try to establish some kind of regular schedule or goal-setting and it just didn’t work?
Personally, I have rebelled against routines all my life. I’m not sure why. Maybe they seem to remove the creativity and novelty from life. Or maybe they make life too predictable, and I’ve always loved surprises, unique experiences and new possibilities.
But now that I’m older, I appreciate how routines simplify life and make room for what is most important to me, things like family, friends, and writing. I’m even trying to establish a routine for meal planning! Unbelievable.
I’ve finally realized that I need a writing routine because it’s still not working to “get everything done on my To Do List and then write.” (I know people say it’s impossible to get everything done on your To Do List, but I don’t understand why, so I’m still trying to.)
A To Do List seems to act just like Facebook’s news feed: when you get to the bottom, it magically adds a whole ton more, so you can never, EVER finish reading your news feed. And it feels like for every item I cross off my List, five or ten items magically appear at the bottom.
The one minute a day challenge
In my last post I mentioned writing courses, and how helpful the Reedsy courses were. In one of the lessons of “Stop Procrastinating! Build a Solid Writing Routine,” they go through some ways of setting goals that will make it easy to establish a habit of writing regularly. One tip mentions having a tiny goal.
Oh sure, I thought. I can’t wait to see what they consider a “tiny” goal. With my schedule, I doubt if I can find the time to write even 100 words that are intelligent and meaningful EVERY SINGLE DAY.
But what they suggest is considering starting with one minute of writing, or three words. Every day. Until the habit is established, then adding more.
Well, I had to laugh. That just sounded funny, and fun. So I had to try it and see what happened.
(If you are interested, at the end of this post you can see 3 days’ worth of what I came up with, using various writing prompts)
So? Any thoughts? And by the way, if you do have a routine that works for you, will you share it?
“A friend came to visit James Joyce one day and found the great man sprawled across his writing desk in a posture of utter despair. ‘James, what’s wrong?’ the friend asked. ‘Is it the work?’
Joyce indicated assent without even raising his head to look at his friend. Of course it was the work; isn’t it always? ‘How many words did you get today?’ the friend pursued. Joyce (still in despair, still sprawled facedown on his desk): ‘Seven.’
‘Seven? But James… that’s good, at least for you.’ ‘Yes,’ Joyce said, finally looking up. ‘I suppose it is… but I don’t know what order they go in!”
A 3-Day Sample of me attempting to establish a writing routine by writing one minute each day [Unedited!]
Day 1 Writing Prompt from the website Writing Fix: “Create a title for a story using unique alliterative words that begin with A, and write the story”
Adorable Avery arranged the alpacas
The chill of the morning turned little Avery’s short breaths into steam, and, as it bent down to nuzzle the clay bowl of breakfast scraps, Blondie’s breath puffed into Avery’s face. His face only coming up to the llama’s belly, Avery nevertheless barked out his annoyance. “Back! Back! You greedy girl! You’ll be last with such bad manners!” He turned away from the tan animal and squeezed his small body between two black llama’s even larger than Blondie. Setting down the bowl, Avery ducked under the necks of the hungry animals, then climbed between the round posts of the fence.
Giselda, Avery’s mother, watched from the window of their family’s small shack. She smiled, then closed her eyes and raised her face to the sun. “Gracias,” she sighed. She was watching a promise come true.
* * * * *
Day 2 Writing Prompt from the website Writing fix: “tiny pig dashing over the North Pole”
Dear tpdotnp: For crying out loud. It’s been three months. Surely you trust me enough to reveal the mysterious meaning of your username. Greg75
Dear Greg75: Okay. You’re right. I do trust you. Even though you chickened out. Tpdotnp
Dear tpdotnp: You know very well I got stuck in traffic. The four-car pile up? Remember?
Dear Greg75: Just joshin’. What are you doing right now? We could attempt another meeting.
Dear tpdotnp: I’m at work. Supposed to be working, but there are no customers, and my shoulder is still too sore to stock.
Dear Greg75: Sigh.
Dear tpdotnp: Why don’t you come on over?
Dear Greg75: Are you kidding?
Dear tpdotnp: No.
Dear Greg75: Give me the address and instructions on how to get there.
Dear tpdotnp: Black’s Photo in Southcentre.
Dear Greg75: See you in about forty-five minutes.
Delsie knew that Southcentre Mall was only fifteen minutes away. But she wanted to spy.
* * * * *
Day 3 Writing Prompt from the book, Writer’s Book of Matches, p.32 “What time is the next train?”
A man dressed in a suit and groomed sharply stood behind the yellow band of the light rail station, awaiting the train. Motionless, he stared down at the concrete beneath the steel rails for a minute without seeming to breathe or blink. It was 6:45 and the sun shined benevolently on this tardy friend, who was expected at a restaurant near his home, an hour’s train ride away. He inhaled deeply, silently releasing the breath. His expression wasn’t angry or sad; just thoughtful. Or neutral, without any thoughts. Or overwhelmed, with a crisis or a whirlwind of ideas creating noise in his head. Certainly he was oblivious to the sounds and people that came and went around him.
He looked tired now. Had it been the outburst of tears from the little girl who tripped going up the stairs to the parking lot? Clenching his jaw, he’d only glanced backward at her for a second before returning his gaze to the tracks. Was he willing the tracks to hum with the approaching train? Or did he even care if the train came? Did he care if he made it to the restaurant? Did he care if he saw his friends?
* * * * *
Okay, now that you’ve read some of my attempts, care to share one of your short writing practices in the comments section? Aww, come on…
The amount of internet resources for writers is inspiring, but it can be hard to know which ones are the most helpful. Here are some discoveries I’ve made from my recent searches for writing classes.
First, as you probably already know, anyone looking for resources needs to have specific needs and goals in mind. “Unfortunately”, I can usually see the potential of almost any new information I come across as I bounce down rabbit trails, so I find it hard to keep my focus. (Which isn’t completely a bad thing, I guess, since the whole experience is educational, and then I can share it with you!)
I love to learn, take courses and challenge myself, so looking for learning opportunities for me is like a being a kid in a candy shop. And when I am in a candy shop, it’s pretty easy to choose what I want. All I have to do is look for brown. Brown means chocolate, and I have very little use for any candy that isn’t chocolate.
It was pretty simple to choose courses, too, in a process of elimination. I didn’t want to take any classes in person, or as part of a college curriculum. Nor did I want to be restricted by any online courses that had very specific attendance or completion times, especially since the ones I ran across were usually evening courses. I love getting instructor feedback, but at this particular time it wasn’t a priority.
I also avoided online courses that required socializing with classmates online. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love people and visiting with them! But when I’m focused on learning a new skill from an expert, I don’t find it helpful to spend significant amounts of time with my fellow learners. I prefer (what I’m calling) the traditional model of education–tell me what I need to know, give me examples, let me try my hand at it, tell me what I did wrong, let me try again. It seems more efficient to me.
I needed a short course to help me identify what skills I most needed to work on, rather than a course spread over several months or a year. So once I decided on self-guided courses, rather than reading documents, my first choice was video courses.
Then to further narrow down the search, I decided to start with recent recommendations by other bloggers to see which online platforms and websites kept coming up, and this website was one of the most helpful. I liked the way the author offered categories of writing classes, like “Best Course for Writing Creative Non-fiction”. So I concentrated my efforts on MasterClass, Udemy and Reedsy.
I started by visiting each of these to get more information on what courses they offered, and what they cost. I’d seen a MasterClass ad on YouTube with a writing class (Joyce Carol Oates!) that made me salivate, and was surprised to find that they are actually affordable! So I put MasterClass in my back pocket while I searched the others. (I need to pit them against each other before I make a decision.)
Since I haven’t had a lot of time to devote to writing until recently, I am looking to brush up on my plotting and editing skills, and to get help in motivating myself to re-establish a writing routine. (Aargh! “Routine” is not one of my favorite things!)
In the end, I actually signed up for classes with Udemy and Reedsy, who have the specific courses I want, and some were an excellent price, FREE! (I usually start with free or low-cost anything, and then if that doesn’t get me what I need, I pay. And if the price isn’t right, I do without!)
I am quite happy with both Udemy and Reedsy, and recommend them. I love the variety they offer, so I can focus very specifically on what I want to learn.
Now, you need to know that Reedsy isn’t a course platform, it’s an author services organization based in the UK. And the courses are not on video. But they connected me to three courses I was interested in:
Then, I took my time researching Udemy courses, checking on:
the background of the instructors
how many hours of video content were included.
how much additional material was available for download
the content and ratings of students’ reviews
how many people had taken the courses (I shied away from the ones with less than several thousand students who had taken their course), and
how many ratings they had
how old the course was, and
watching some of the free lessons in the courses to see how the instructors deliver their lessons (immensely helpful!)
I love that they provide all the stats, ratings and comments on their courses up front! I find that Udemy has frequent sales where they discount courses by about 75%. Both of the times I searched for courses, they had amazing prices. Of the ones I purchased, the original prices were around $70-$100 for the courses, and after discounts I paid about $15-$18 (Canadian dollars). As a result, I signed up for more courses than I had time for, so I have only started one of them, which is going well.
These are the writing courses I have purchased (or signed up for, for free) from Udemy:
And today I am referring to literally WRITING, handwriting, using pen or paper–not typing. I have found handwriting or printing one of the best ways for me to create and record my thoughts.
But here I want to focus on sending snail-mail letters to people as a way to connect and keep in touch.
Coincidentally, today I received a thank you message from a dear friend who just received my card in the mail. I’d commented that I felt closer to her sending a physical card than emailing or texting, and she agreed wholeheartedly.
Also coincidentally, today I read an article by one of my favorite bloggers who writes about the joys and opportunities of handwriting and sending snail mail. Barb at ritewhileucan.com is full of creative ideas and has a heart for brightening up someone’s day with a card or letter. She just posted about an opportunity to be a pen pal with a senior in a care centre, who are especially lonely because of lockdowns. I am looking into to adding one of these dear ones to my snail mail pen pal list. Thanks, Barb!
Go to Rite While U Can and see more precious smiling faces of men and women with their written notes to potential pen pals!
There are also many other similar initiatives catching on around the world, in Canada, the U.K., Australia, to name a few. Check out these news stories!
Are you, like me, dusting off some stories or manuscripts that have been filed away for a few years? If so, you probably want to find homes for them.
Or, you might be looking for periodicals that are in need of exactly the kind of articles you write.
Let me tell you about a website I recent discovered, Freedom with Writing.
Most of the online resources I’ve found focus on either non-fiction or fiction, but Freedom with Writing focuses on both, which I like. It’s free and couldn’t be simpler: they send you emails with valuable links to writing opportunities. Apparently, they have been going since 1999!
I can never just “scan” their emails, like I can many others. They are full of meaty information all the time. On top of that, the format is an absolute joy: clean, clear, simple, to the point, giving you in a glance exactly the information you are looking for.
Take their home page, for example. It looks similar to many other websites offering to help you find success. But once you start clicking on their links, you can tell they put in a lot of time and energy into digging up valuable information and passing it on to you.
They also lend a helping hand to newbies like me with various straightforward, useful articles, such as how to send in your proposal, or helping you understand the realities of the freelance life.
Here is an example of two entries I found today while browsing the information under “95 Technology and Science Blogs, Magazines, and Websites that Pay Writers” on their home page.
The following is a list of 95 technology publishers that accept pitches directly from freelance writers, and pay for the writing they publish. Payment rates in this area tend to be higher than some other categories; blog posts for a programming site are often in the $200 to $500 range. If you’re not sure how to approach these publishers, then be sure to watch this free webinar.
And here are a couple from today’s “24 Free Writing Contests & Cash Grants (Up to $30,000)”, also on their home page.
Now, I tend to be overly trusting, so these days I scan reviews of EVERYTHING. I was happy to see that there are many others who agree with my positive reaction to Freedom with Writing. Here are a few: