Stranger suicide

I feel lostA lot of students like to write about the deepest, most difficult and gut-wrenching, aspects of human existence. Any time I assign short stories or poetry, I get several attempts at stories about rape, incest, domestic abuse, murder, or, the most common topic for teen fiction, suicide.  Themes I call Lifetime topics.

I cringe when I see Lifetime topics come up, because as compelling as they appear to be, they’re the most difficult to write about with any degree of verisimilitude. Most students don’t have enough experience to create a skeleton of a story about incest, much less to add muscle, blood, and skin to it.

And yet I hate to discourage young writers from whatever topic intrigues them. So one suggestion I make is finding inspiration from a news article, and then writing from a different perspective.

Take for example this real-life story from the Washington Post titled at some length, “A stranger e-mailed saying he planned to kill himself. What was I supposed to do?” I’m over stories about teenagers committing suicide, but I would like to read one about some who receives an email from a stranger saying he or she is going to commit suicide. I wouldn’t necessarily even encourage reading the article. It’s the idea that matters, not the details. And the details from the author’s story could easily corrupt a fresh story.

So I ask you: What would you do if a stranger sent you a suicide note?


(photo credit:


Brevity submissions

brevitylogoIf you like to write short (which is not as easy as you might think), consider submitting to Brevity, an online creative nonfiction journal that the editors call “a small magazine with large ambitions.” They accept nonfiction essays of 750 words or fewer, as well as pieces on craft (writing) and nonfiction books. You bloggers could even shoot for a gig guest-writing on their blog.

I suspect competition is fierce for acceptance at Brevity, because last spring they had to close submissions to give their editors a break. But submissions are open again, and you can find their guidelines here. If you want to submit, I’d get it in before they’re overwhelmed again.

As always, do your research before you submit. Check out their recent issues and other essays on their website.

Oh, and one more thing: Brevity pays $45 for essays they accept and publish. And, as always, I’ll give credit in the form of points for submitting.

(Photo credit for logo: Brevity website)

Creative Nonfiction submissions

Publishing on my blog gives me total control of my content, and I always feel a sense of satisfaction when I click the publish button and send my baby words out into the world. Submitting to a publication and receiving an acceptance email brings an entirely new sense of achievement though. I’ll post several opportunities for submission to publications and contests this quarter, and I highly recommend that you polish a piece of writing and submit at least once.

You might ask why you should go to all that work when you’ve got your own publish button right there under your fingertips. Here are a couple of reasons. First, self-publishing takes your ego only so far. Acceptance by a professional editor adds some validation to your work.

Second, it’s thrilling to see your work either in print or on someone else’s website, and thrill leads to inspiration leads to more and better writing on your part.

Third, too often I see bloggers who hit the publish button before a piece is really polished and ready for public consumption. Before you send a piece of writing to a stranger to judge, you will proofread it until your eyes bleed, and then you’ll ask a couple of friends, your mom, and, if you’re lucky, your teacher who is also a professional editor to take a look at it and give you feedback. In other words, you’ll take your writing to a higher level than you might when you’re publishing on your own blog. (Note: You should observe the same standards of excellence for all your published writing, but lots of bloggers who don’t.) It’s like the difference between practicing free throws and playing in the state basketball finals.

Fourth, you can reach a new and often much bigger audience. You might even drag some of them back to your lair blog and turn them into regular readers.

Fifth, your mother will be so proud.

And finally, sometimes you get paid. ‘Nuff said about that. Money has spoken.

Creative Nonfiction cover

Current cover, taken from the website.

Here’s my first recommendation, and I’ll admit you’d be aiming high. Creative Nonfiction magazine is taking topical submissions for the next several issues. You can find them on their submissions page. If you decide you want to shoot for the moon, make sure you read the submission requirements carefully. Editors kick submissions out without even reading them if the authors didn’t follow the guidelines.

Before you submit, I also recommend you go to the website and read a few pieces they’ve published to get an idea of whether your writing would fit with their publication or not.

Finally, let me know if you do submit. I’ll give extra credit for submissions to outside publications as long as you’ve made the effort to polish and perfect your piece.

Top 50 Writer’s Blogs

Best-Writing-Blogs-top-50Positive Writer recently released their “List of the Top 50 Writing Blogs.” Until I saw this list, I’d never heard of Positive Writer, so I can’t say their list of 50 best writing blogs is any better than any other list of writing blogs. However, I do see some I recognize here, and they’ve given an example of a favorite post from each blog, so I’m willing to believe they’ve done due diligence in putting this list together.

It’s also a good example of a “top #” list, because all the bloggers on this list are going to repost the list to their own blogs. That’s 50 reposts. And a bunch of other people will pick it up from those blogs and repost it either on their blogs or on other social media sites. I first saw it on a horror-writer friend’s Facebook page, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he tweeted it too. I’ve seen it other places too, so it’s getting around.

I won’t have time to go through and look at each of these blogs, but I do see several posts that interest me just from the titles. That’s why the author of this article was smart to include a favorite post from each blog. I will probably click on more links in this article, because I’ll either be intrigued by the title of the blog or by the title of the “awesome post.” That’s some smart list-making.

Click on a few of these articles or dig into the blogs and share your favorite in the comments. Tell me how you can use what you learn on your blog.

No, really. Look at the list.

Go now. Explore.

What are you waiting for ……

Getting inspiration from subgenres

typewriter and stain

(Stolen from

Has anybody ever asked you how you come up with ideas for your writing? I hate that question, because the answer is always “It depends….” Some days I can’t keep up with the ideas my crazy Muse Dolores is throwing at me like a pitching machine gone mad. Other days, I suspect Dolores has emptied my bank account and run away to a sandy island in the Pacific, and that’s when I know I need to get myself unstuck.

One way I come up with ideas when I need to write and my inspiration has fled is by considering various subgenres.  Here’s a list I came up with. See if you can add any to it.

  • Numbered list (Top 5 ….)
  • Review (movie, TV, book, video game, sports event, restaurant, product)
  • Response to something you saw online
  • Response to something that happened in a class
  • Response to a controversial issue – take a strong stance
  • Recipe
  • Advice
  • A compelling memory
  • How-to
  • Hobby
  • Where I live
  • Tips for ….
  • Writing (writers love to write about writing)
  • Rant (If I can’t find something that pisses me off, I’m in trouble.)

What does writing feel like to you?

One of the things that we do not talk about when we talk about writing is the sound and scent and sensuality of it, the scratching and hammering and tapping, the pitter of pencils and the scribble and scrawl of pens, the quiet mumble of the electric typewriter like an old pharmacist humming, the infinitesimal skitter of forefingers on keyboards; and the curl and furl of paper, the worn and friendly feeling of pocket-notebooks, the shards and scraps on which we have started essays and stories and poems, trying to catch an angle of light or the faint sound of a child giggling in the next yard over or the way a falcon actually no kidding furrowed the air; and the dark moist smell of ink and the rough grain of dense paper and the faint scent of glue in the spines of old books; and the snap and flap as you fold a newspaper in half and then again, so that you can focus on the story above the fold. ~~Brian Doyle, “Sensualiterature” (Creative Nonfiction)

Enhance Your Site with Post Formats

Here’s an interesting article about how to use post formats. Open a new post and see what formats your theme supports.

The Blog

A simple way to add visual variety to your site’s front page is to publish your content using Post Formats. Over 50 of our themes support Post Formats, which means they can display various types of content — including images, videos, quotes, links, audio, and short snippets called “asides” — with different formatting, adding subtle but nice touches to your site.

The types of Post Formats you can choose from depends on your theme. To see what Post Formats your current theme supports, go to Posts » Add New in the dashboard and look for a Format module on the right, with various options like the one below:

Format Module

Using Post Formats is optional — if your theme supports them, you don’t have to use them, since the default (standard) format works well with any content you publish. Using Post Formats is also free: you don’t need to purchase the custom…

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Five reasons why I need to quit Facebook

Facebook needleFacebook, I need to quit you. I’m addicted, and by that I don’t mean to underplay the terrible effects of drug and alcohol addictions, but I can’t look away. My mom always said I was afraid I might miss something — what writer isn’t? — and Facebook is an evil, time-wasting temptation that I can’t resist. It’s my connection to the world when I’m home alone, and for this extreme extrovert that’s no small thing. Sometimes I think it keeps me sane; other times I know I’m wasting my life away staring at any one of my screens looking for the next high.

So here, purely to give myself a kick in the pants, are 5 reasons why I should get off  Facebook.

Disclaimer: I’m not saying my 530 (as of this writing) Facebook friends shouldn’t post whatever makes them happy. The point this list will make is that I need to make better use of my time.

  1. Dog and cats. I fear I may soon find myself guilty of adding to the overwhelming clutter of cat and dog photos and videos that clog my feed. Look how adorable my puppy Poet is when he chews his ball, wraps up in a blanket on the couch (won’t happen on my couch), rolls in the dirt, sleeps, sits in the sun, takes a poop …. We all think our own pets are cute as … well, puppies, but really, who else does? Nobody. Every once in a while Facebook will automatically play a video of a cat who lets a toddler crawl all over him or a dog that saves a kitten from a raging flood or a golden retriever who nurses a tiger, and I’ll watch with tears in my eyes, but most of the time, I don’t care.

Disclaimer: I think my friends should post whatever pet photos and videos make them happy. I just don’t need to spend my time looking at them. This is all about me, Queen Carol.

  1. Football. I don’t give a damn about football. Football is one of the reasons my decades-long marriage failed. I’m not going to go into details, but that’s time my kids and I will never get back. The only time I cared about football was when I was dating a football player in high school. If I wanted to watch football, I would watch it on TV or go to a live game (definitely more appealing), but the constant stream of comments about every play and every fumble would not enhance my experience of either. And they certainly don’t when I’m not watching and don’t give a damn. If I did care, I’d be watching the game, not reading Facebook anyway. I wouldn’t need a minute-by-minute stream of commentary. (Same with soccer, baseball, and any other sport I don’t give a damn about.)

Disclaimer: Football fans probably love hooking up with each other on Facebook and sharing their excitement. This is not my problem. My problem is that I don’t need to spend my time scrolling through a bunch of football posts. I’ve always been a person who would rather play than watch.

  1. Food. I don’t care what people ate for dinner or lunch or breakfast. OK, maybe if it’s a special meal at a restaurant I might like to try. But honestly, even then, if you want to share food with me invite me out to eat. Photos of the food you eat are meaningless to me. I cook and eat food every day. That doesn’t make me special. I don’t feel the need to share a photo of my scrambled eggs or my grilled chicken breast or even my blue-ribbon cowboy cookies every time I make them. Nobody cares.

Also …. beer. I hate beer. I don’t need to know how many beers my friends have untapped, especially if they’re 3 blocks from my house, and I wasn’t invited. I mean, yay, you’re out having a good time with friends and I’m here watching Netflix. I’m so happy you unlocked that hoppy IPA that would taste like skunk pee to me. Thanks for sharing – no irony intended.

Disclaimer: If it makes people happy to share their food and beer consumption, why should I care? I don’t. But again, I don’t need to spend my time looking and scrolling past. I’m rarely interested, and sometimes I really do wish I could be there instead of here watching the fun scroll by on my feed.

  1. Celebrity deaths. Is it not obvious to most people if they see on their feed that a celebrity has died, and they’ve seen it 25 times, that most of the rest of us have already seen it too? Why post it again? Is it that compelling to have to share the tragic news? We know already. We saw it too. And for some of us, the constant barrage of information about, for example, suicide can trigger some ugly anxiety or even panic. I had to stop reading Facebook for several days after Robin Williams died, and I’m not the only one. I don’t think sharing and speculating and digging up the dirt is respectful of the dead. It’s a feeding frenzy. Lots of people die and commit suicide. Let’s focus on the people near us who need help and support. They aren’t celebrities, but their lives are just as important.

Disclaimer: Some people think they’re spreading information about suicide, drug abuse, or various diseases that will help their Facebook friends. Maybe. Or maybe it’s like blasting a sermon from your car speakers and hoping somebody will find Jesus. In any case, if my friends need to grieve over dead movie stars in public, that’s up to them. My point is that I don’t know those movie stars, and I need to spend my time with the people I do know and love.

  1. Quizzes. Oh, those stupid quizzes. I get sucked into them too. The last one I took was what my job would be in a post-apocalyptic world. I posted the results to Facebook. Who cares? Nobody! Nobody cares about the color of my soul or what Princess Bride character I would be or which Hogwarts house I’d live in. Nobody cares, including me. But still I take those stupid quizzes, because it’s such an easy waste of time. It’s such an addictive way to do anything but the things that would create real value in my life. Like write a book. Like invite people over for a party. Like …. almost anything. Almost anything contributes more value to my life than taking one of those idiot quizzes.

Disclaimer: Take the quizzes if it makes you happy. I’m sure the people you’re sitting with at a bar don’t mind that your face is buried in your phone. Hell, they’re probably taking the same quiz. Hell, I probably am too.

Do you see a thread here? The problem isn’t my friends or what they post on Facebook. The problem is that I can’t look away from Facebook. (Joe, you were right to save yourself, but who will save me?) As Mary Oliver would say, I have one precious life, and I spend too much of it on Facebook. I don’t have time for half an hour of yoga, but I can spend an hour and a half on Facebook. I don’t have time for a long phone call to a friend (remember those?), but I have an hour to spend on Facebook. I might even get out and find somebody to play music with, but I’m on Facebook instead. I don’t have time to write a book, but my Facebook friends will back me up when I say I’ve written an entire book this past year on Facebook. I take forever to answer an email, but I shoot off Facebook comments all day. I have a problem.

And yet … I have reasons. Just like any other addict, I have reasons. I’m connected to people I never see in real life, and wouldn’t but for Facebook. Today I saw a photo of my wonderful Aunt Shirley, who has suffered with dementia for years, sitting in her wheelchair with a puppy on her lap, smiling. I would not have seen that if not for Facebook. I saw a TED Talk given by a teenager that I will share with my students this week. I saw a plea from a dear friend asking people to support her in fighting heroin addiction, which killed her stepson a few weeks ago. I was invited to several parties. And in the wee hours of the morning, I posted a link to last night’s blog post, and a bunch of people offered their support with my new puppy blues. A friend reached out to talk about the return of his cancer … another friend asked me if I wanted to go dancing … people helped me decide on a name for my puppy and gave me advice on training him … I saw photos of my niece’s family putting up their Christmas tree in Iowa … I signed up to bake some cookies so my neighborhood can give homemade gift baskets to organizations that have supported us.

I am conflicted. I get so much from Facebook. I truly do. I’m in contact with friends from high school I hadn’t seen in decades. I can show photos to my mom. I know when my friends need my support, both online and in real life. I can get support from lots of people when I have a problem. Facebook feeds me almost as much as it sucks away my time and my life and all those things I could be doing … because we only have this one precious life, these precious minutes and hours.

Do people who shoot up heroin give the same excuses? How many books might I have sitting in a drawer somewhere, probably unpublished, if I didn’t spend so much time on Facebook?

I wish somebody could throw me a life preserver, but I fear I’m on my own. Most of you suffer from the same addiction I do, and Joe can’t save us all. (Joe is one of the few people I know who refuses to get on Facebook, but he does read my blog.)

I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe we could all be more careful about what we post on Facebook, and yet, I know my friends are posting what’s important to them. As am I. What’s a person to do, once the poison has gone down the hatch?

Widgets, Widgets, and More Widgets: A Roundup of Widgets Resources

Here’s a comprehensive list of articles on the use of widgets on your blog. A good reference post for deeper design of your blog.

The Daily Post

Widgets, those nifty little additions to your site, allow you to highlight important information, direct readers to the content you want them to see, and reinforce your site’s design (injecting a bit of color along the way).

We often hear from bloggers — beginners and veterans alike — who aren’t sure how to best use widgets on their site. If that sounds like you, here’s a roundup of some of our favorite posts on widgets (and the magical things they can accomplish). Just scroll down the list and visit the one(s) that address your current needs.

Get Widgety

If you’ve never used widgets and just want to learn a bit more about them and how they work before deciding what to do next, this quick intro is a great place to start. (Read more)

Widgets 101

Jumping into the thick of things, this post guides you through the basic uses of widgets…

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