Pages & Paws

Writing, Reading, and Rural Life With a Border Collie


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Four Tips (and one secret) for Finding Your Writing Voice

If you’ve been around the writing world for any length of time, you’ve probably heard endless minions talk about “finding your writing voice.”  Maybe you’ve wondered what that means.  Or how to go about it.  Here are some tips:

First off, your writing voice is yours.  This may seem self-evident, but it’s amazing how many “writers” try to mimic someone else rather than work at developing their own style or “voice.”  Don’t be one of them.

Secondly, think of your writing “voice” as you would your spoken voice.  How do you sound aloud?  What kind of tone, accents, or intonations do you use?  Do you declare, express, state, proclaim, utter, whisper, echo, articulate or assert?  How do you express yourself verbally?  Is your voice strong, sweet, gentle, smooth, raspy, high-pitched or low?  Evaluate your writing “voice” in the same terms.  Whatever you do, be genuine.

Thirdly, realize that “finding your writing  voice” isn’t like searching for the lost city of Atlantis.  It’s not all that mysterious.  Jettison the cagey cloak-and-dagger stuff, and practice.  It’ll come.

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‘Training Sammie’

One of the purposes of this blog is to give new writers an opportunity to share their work and give them some visibility*. Every so often I come across an up-and-coming writer who’s a real “diamond in the rough.” Gib Check is one of them. That’s why I’m re-publishing this post from 2011.  Enjoy! Don’t forget to thank him in the comments section. (And thanks again, Gib!)

By Gib Check

           Can you better-informed cat owners tell my wife and me how to train ours? Sammie, our part-Siamese, was already house-trained when we got her, or so we thought. We figured she’d do fine with adjusting to our household routines. Instead, she’s had us jumping through her hoops ever since.

For openers, how does she know to wait until exactly 4:30 AM before she starts pawing insistently at the bedroom door? Cats are too dumb to read the time on our clocks, right? Yet, give or take a few minutes, that’s when she wants us up to start her day.

“Sammie”

As I make the bed, she circles my feet meowing impatiently to tell me it’s time for our wrestling match. And yep, I said wrestling. Her previous owner also had a dog with whom he rough-housed a bit. Jealous of the attention the dog was getting, Sammie would join in. So, growling like a wrestler, I tumble her around atop the bedspread for a few minutes. If I don’t, she pesters me until I do.

Next is her water and food bowl ritual. Even if they’re full, I must at least pretend to add more, otherwise she’s displeased. Once I’ve made a big show of dribbling in more of each, she’s satisfied.

Oddly, she thinks using the water bowl is boring at times. Whenever we forget to drop the cover over the toilet bowl, she finds it far more entertaining to scoop up water out of there. Ruthie will head for the john, only to cry out a minute later, “Gilbert! Your dumb cat splashed water on the seat!” (Whenever Sammie is naughty, she’s my cat).

A glutton for being fussed over day and night, she absolutely hates it when we leave on trips. Thinking Uh-oh! at seeing suitcases appear, she begins sounding off and keeps it up as we’re heading out the door. She’s mollified not at all by our friend who cat-sits for us. Upon our return, Sammie scolds us unmercifully the rest of the day.

Contrarily, whenever her snooty Siamese aloofness kicks in, she keeps to herself as if our presence has suddenly become bothersome. During one of her disappearing acts, we realized we hadn’t seen her all day. Suddenly worried she might have escaped outside somehow, we spent until dark looking up and down our block, but no Sammie. Even though she could be a pain in the butt at times, we’d grown quite fond of our temperamental little critter.

Making a final search indoors, I heard sounds coming from behind a dresser set diagonally into a corner. When I peeked in back, there she was! While playing around atop the dresser, she’d fallen behind it and gotten trapped. Totally unconcerned, she must’ve spent the rest of the day catching up on her beauty sleep. Glaring down at her, I exclaimed with a mix of exasperation and relief, “You little goof!” Ignoring me, she nonchalantly began licking a paw to groom her furry face. Beautifying herself is also very important, you see.

Carrying her to the den, I showed her to Ruthie. “Look who I found behind the dresser!”

Blowing out her own sigh of relief, Ruthie laughed, “Can you believe this cat? Back there all this time and never made a sound!”

It’s clear her stubborn streak of independence has convinced her that our house is actually hers and that she can darned-well do or not do whatever she pleases. And so, is there hope Sammie can be re-trained? On second thought maybe I should be asking; is there some way my wife and I can escape being trained by her?

Author Gib Check

Retired from construction, I live on a Wisconsin lake with wife Ruthie and am finally exploring being an author. When I write about our travel adventures, I focus on the fun we have meeting people and exploring these places. I’m also big on hiking, biking, canoeing, and thrill to stargazing. (I keep hinting to Ruthie and the kids about a new ‘scope). But always, it’s the writing I love.

* Have a short story, anecdote, travelogue or “slice of life” piece you’d like to see featured on Road Diverged? Let me know in the comments section or shoot me a line at: KristineWriter@gmail.com.


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Seven Deadly Social Media Sins

Congratulations! You’ve taken the plunge and joined the wonderful world of  social media.  Now that you’ve set up your Facebook, Digg, Redditt, LinkedIn or Twitter accounts and have burnished your initial blog post to a fine sheen, you’re ready for the world to snap up your pearls of wisdom.  But wait. Although savvy sales folks and business gurus often push social media as the latest and greatest marketing miracle, it has its hazards.  Here are some common pitfalls to avoid:

  1. Feeding readers a steady stream of me-centered posts. Fascinating as you may find yourself, the truth is that unless you’re the POTUS, a Nobel Laureate or the Pope, you’re probably a “small fish in a big pond.”  One way to “enlarge” or enhance your presence is to get outside yourself and engage others.  Offer content targeted to a specific audience.   Carve out and cultivate your “niche” by offering readers something they can use: tips, tools, advice, links, feedback.  Leverage your experience and expertise into a shared resource.    Respond.  Reciprocate.  Retweet.  Ask questions.  Don’t forget to comment.
  2. Opening an account and using it once in a blue moon.  Your life need not revolve around your Twitter account or blog, nor do you need to develop a Facebook addiction that sends you into withdrawals if you’re not checking in every 20 minutes.  But you need to post on a reasonably regular basis if you want to retain your readers/followers.  Don’t forget to complete your profile and keep it updated!
  3. Posting ho-hum or redundant content. You’re not the only game in town.  If you’re not offering a new angle, fresh perspective, something original or breaking news, your followers will find someone who is.
  4. Using profanity. A big turn-off and a big no-no.
  5. Wordiness. You’ll lose readers if you dump the online equivalent of War and Peace on ‘em every time you post. Choose your content carefully, keeping in mind your focus, theme, and intended audience. Keep posts short, sweet, and to the point (2,000 words doesn’t qualify).  Offer value, not volume.
  6. Expecting to be an overnight heavyweight. Building a social media following takes time and effort.  Schedule in a bit of time each day to work your outlets.  Post quality content to a targeted audience.  Participate, contribute, and be patient.
  7. Taking your readers for granted. Social media is a community. Think dialogue, not monologue.  Focus on building relationships and networking.  That means joining a conversation, offering help, advice, or encouragement and highlighting those who contribute.

If your primary goal in using social media is to promote yourself or your product, you don’t get it.  Instead of selling or self-promotion, focus on building friendships and offering content with “take-away” value.  Be patient.  Stay focused.  Don’t forget your manners.  “Please” and “Thank you” go a long way in both real and virtual worlds.

Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be well on your way to increasing your social media traffic.  Bon voyage!

***

Coming up:

Part 1 of a five-part series: Write Away...


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A “Writer” Is…

Public domain

Public domain

Long ago and far away, when I was young and foolish – like last week – I had this image of what A Writer was or is.   A “writer” is  someone who keeps weird hours, drinks bad coffee, roams their own reality,  swings from euphoria to depression at the drop of a hat, and smokes Maduros like a chimney.  A writer is reclusive, creative, eccentric. Elusive. Can stand almost anything except being interrupted when on the cusp of a brilliant stroke of genius. Every five minutes. Has a spouse who understands that when I’m looking at the window, I am ‘working.’

Guess I better work on that Maduro thing.

What does “writer” mean to you?


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‘Desper-Doodles’ and Snake Oil Salesmen

“Never mistake motion for action” – Ernest Hemingway

If you’ve been at the writing trade for longer than twenty minutes or so, you’ve probably noticed the “desperate doodlers.”  These are the writer wannabees who are so desperate to break into print that they’ll pitch their work to anyone and everyone, even paying a third party to get “published.”  Those who continuously stoop to submitting anything, anywhere, with little to no regard to a publisher’s reputation, accessibility or integrity aren’t Real Writers so much as they are Desper-Doodles.  They’re dying to pad their scanty resumes with “publishing credits” from any Tom, Dick, or Harry that comes along and says “I’ll take that.”  (This can actually hurt you in the long run if you make it a habit.)

Heads Up

A word of clarity here: In the publishing world, “small” or “independent” doesn’t necessarily mean poor quality or ill repute.  Just because a publisher or literary outlet isn’t a household name doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a boiler-plate, fly-by-night outfit.  But it might.  So heads up: “Come one, come all” publishers who prey on inexperienced novice writers are a dime a dozen.  They’ll publish anything and everything, usually for a fee, regardless or quality or merit.  Some of these “publishers” make a living at predating on hapless souls who are willing to sell their firstborn for a chance to see their name in lights.

Look before you leap.  You may get your work “published” with some of these “snake oil” publishers, but good luck on finding anyone who’ll actually buy your book – let alone fall in as a loyal reader.

***

Have you had an experience with a publishing “snake oil salesman?”

What did you learn?


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38 in 10

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot…reading is the creative center of a writer’s life…you cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.” – Stephen King

38 in 10
35 booksThirty-eight in ten. It wasn’t easy. But it was fun!

My local library wraps up its annual Adult Winter Reading Program today  The program began in January and ran for ten weeks. My goal? To read and/or listen to 40 books during that time frame. I came within a cat’s whisker of reaching it.

“How in the world did you manage 38 books in ten weeks?” you ask. “Where’d you find the time?”

Truth? I didn’t “find” the time. I made it. Yep, it’s amazing what you can accomplish if you bring a book to the dentist or doc’s office. Read at red lights. While standing in line at the post office or grocery check-out. Hibernate in the library. Listen to a book on CD while doing dishes. Double as a Himalayan hermit.

Why Is That?
The best writers I know are also voracious readers. Why is that? Check out some of the links below to find out.

 

What were the best books I read/listened to in the last ten weeks? Answer: It depends.  Mostly on which day you ask.  Those that were particularly memorable, in no particular order, include:

These Strange Ashes – Elisabeth Elliot
Epic- John Eldredge
Dawn – Elie Wiesel
Tuck Everlasting – Natalie Babbitt

Noteworthy: Cry, The Beloved CountryAlan Paton; Zia – Scott O’Dell; War Horse – Michael Morpurgo.

Kristine Lowder and friendAre you a writer who reads? Share some of your favorite titles below.

Up next: Books to Grow By. How Many Have You Read?


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The Hunt

“Writing is like hunting.  There are brutally cold afternoons with nothing in sight, only the wind and your breaking heart.  Then the moment you bag something big… You think, ‘This one is a keeper.  This is a trophy brought back from the future realm, the kingdom of glistening night where we know ourselves absolutely.  This one goes on the wall.'”  – Kate Braverman

What have you “put on the wall” lately?


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“Tech-Save Us”

Roads Diverged is pleased to feature new talent and fresh voices from time to time.  Today it’s author Gib Check.  Grab a chair and sit down for some chuckles and “oh yeah!” moments with Gib’s humorous ode to modern day technology, Tech-Save Us:

            These days we’re always hearing how the latest technologies will save us precious time and make our lives easier. Great, but what I’d like to know is; what’s going to save me from technology?

My troubles began years ago at UWSP when taking my first exam, not with blue book and pencil, but on-line. Though knowing the material pretty well, I was sweating bullets because I also happened to be computer illiterate. Seated at the keyboard with my computer-savvy wife, Ruthie, alongside, I nervously fumbled my way along and was doing OK. But then I accidentally hit the wrong key and deleted my entire exam sheet! We managed to recapture it, but it was panic city.

Having It Ordering Me Around…

It hadn’t been the computer’s fault, of course, but I’ve been trying to come to grips with our increasingly high-tech world ever since. For instance, one day my van’s digital display suddenly warned, “Low pressure in tire # five!” This only confused me because I couldn’t have told you which tire was number one, let alone five. After stopping to do some air-gauging, sure enough, number five turned out to be the spare I’d put on and it was a bit low. But even though forced to award my van’s computer some points just this once, I hate having it ordering me around.

Some of these electronic marvels strike me as creepy, especially ones which talk. While we were visiting Connecticut, our hi-tech grandkids steered me into an automated check-out line at the supermarket. As I began sliding bar-coded stuff past the scanner, a loud and very eerie metallic voice interrupted, “ERROR! PLEASE SCAN AGAIN!!! Nearly scared out of my wits, I nervously complied. But again, the menacing voice told me I’d screwed up. Really fidgeting by now, I tried once more to obey the confounded thing, but this time I managed to shut down the whole system. When a harassed-looking clerk came over to re-start, she glared at me like I was some ancient relic from pre-tech times. The kids then demoted me to bagging while they effortlessly ran the items through. But to this day I avoid automated check-outs and go to human ones no matter how long the line.

Spaghetti Wiring and Tech Gibberish

When ready to hook up our new DVD player, I actually tried something I normally never do; read the directions. I was soon scratching my head over instructions like; “Connect  Y Pb Pr (COMPONENT-OUT) jacks to corresponding Comp-Vid. If using Comp-Vid. In-jacks (Progressive Scan), set Progressive to On…(I’m  not making any of this up)… Otherwise,  Progressive-Off.” Completely befuddled, I had to go to Emergency Plan B. “Ruthieee!!!, I yelled. Somehow comprehending this gibberish, she untangled my spaghetti bowl of wiring and quickly got our DVD up and running.

“Terminator” Telephone?

It’s no use my trying to fight these gadgets, either, because some of them, including my multi-function cell phone, are like The Terminator. They just won’t stop. While in water up to my waist raking weeds out of our channel, I’d forgotten the phone was in my short’s pocket. When I dug it out after its soaking, it was coated with drippy mud and looked very dead. With nothing to lose, I plugged it into the charger, while smirking, Well, here’s one gadget that won’t pester me any more, right? Wrong. It lit up and has run fine ever since. This set me to thinking; OK, it’s indestructible. With all its built-in functions (which I’m always afraid to try), it’s also smarter than me. Could I coax it into teaching me how it takes photos and sends text messages? If it decides it will, I’ll give it a break and stop taking it swimming with me.

Plan B

I’m clear about one thing, that to keep climbing this high-tech mountain I’m on, I’ll need help. Fortunately, we do have a great library staff that’s always happy to show me where to find “Computers For Dummies”. Also, our 15 year-old grandson, who’s currently building talking robots, can maybe convince me I needn’t flee from them. Meantime, no problem. I can always fall back on Emergency Plan B.

About the author:

Author Gib Check

Retired from construction, I live on a Wisconsin lake with wife Ruthie and am finally exploring being an author. When I write about our travel adventures, I focus on the fun we have meeting people and exploring these places. I’m also big on hiking, biking, canoeing, and thrill to stargazing. (I keep hinting to Ruthie and the kids about a new ‘scope). But always, it’s the writing I love.


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Write Away: Attitude (Part 1 of 5)

“Everywhere I have sought rest and not found it, except sitting in a corner by myself with a book”

– Thomas a Kempis

Most people think “writer” is a noun and “writing” is a verb.  Not quite.  Writing is a talent, a skill.  Writing well is a gift.  But it’s also a calling, every bit as much of a calling as is the “call” to be a pastor, missionary, doctor, lawyer, butcher, baker, or candlestick maker.  What kind of “calling” is writing – and how do you know if you have it?  Let’s start with some of the differences between “Writer Wannabees” and “Real Writers.”

It’s not unusual for Writer Wannabees to fancy themselves the Real Deal.  Lord love ‘em, these are the folks who dabble in, play at, or “write” bi-annually, “whether they need to or not.”  Their version of “writer” is anyone who can bang out a few semi-coherent sentences or pages to wow the fam or undiscriminating friends and associates.  Some think their attempt at cranking out the next great American novel earns them the appellation.  Or their degree in English.  Or landing a book contract.  Or getting published.

I beg to differ.

Call me old-fashioned, but my version of Real Writer – as opposed to hobbyists or the occasional, haphazard Writer Wannabee – doesn’t have so much to do with talent as it does inspiration, motivation, and attitude.

More later, so stay tuned.

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