Friday, January 29, 2010

Now, why am I writing this book?

My ancestor was childless??
What the heck?

It's discouraging when a favorite ghost vanishes into thin air. But it's exhilarating to discover another waiting in the shadows. Some of them whisper and others tap me on the shoulder; they want to be remembered.

Alex Haley wrote, "There's an African tradition that says three kinds of people live in every family: those you can see, walking around; those who are waiting to be born; and those who have gone on to join the ancestors."

He continued, "I hadn't seen my old Cousin Georgia for many years. She was in her eighties, bedridden and ailing when I visited and mentioned my interest in the family stories I'd heard my Grandma Cynthia recite. From the time I was five years old, I'd crouched on the porch behind the rocking chair, while the various sisters, nieces, aunts and cousins of my grandmother's generation sat knitting, weaving back and forth through the centuries in their talk. I told Georgia I was researching those memories so I could write them down.

"As I left, she told me something that galvanized me—something that has driven and sustained me ever since: 'Boy, yo' sweet granma and all of 'em—dey up dere, watchin'. So you go do what you got to do.'

I'm doin' what I got to do. Six or seven hours every day I sit in front of my computer, obsessed with following every lead that might take me to something I need to know about medieval times. I'm foraging for cultural history and anecdotes to illuminate a life-style, looking for impressions that will make my dusty mothers and fathers sparkle with personality.

One reason Roots became a phenomenal bestseller was Alex Haley's ability as a storyteller. Beyond his research and writing abilities, he could sit back and talk—in the same spirit of oral-history tradition his ancestors possessed.

Telling about the fourteen years it took him to write the book he said, "There were very sparse genealogical records. People without records are robbed of their past. I had to start from scratch with census records on microfilm, looking for names that changed from generation to generation. The lists seemed endless, and my curiosity was rapidly diminishing. The thought that I'd ever run across a familiar name among so many countless thousands seemed hopeless and I got up to leave. It gives me the quivers to think how close I came to giving up.

"But as I was walking out, I passed through the genealogical-search room and I happened to notice that, unlike the reading rooms of most libraries, where people are sitting back relaxed and comfortable, everyone there was bent intently over old documents, some with magnifying glasses. And the thought came into my head: These people are all here trying to find out who they are. It matters. I turned around and went back to the microfilm room and picked up where I had left off.

"Some rolls later, as I was slowly turning the crank, I suddenly found myself looking down at the name Murray, Tom, Blacksmith, Black. I was staggered. I had stumbled upon incontrovertible evidence that I, my family, indeed, did have a past, a heritage. I just didn't know about it."

I had a moment like this several years ago in the British Museum Reading Room. There, in a copy of the Domesday Book (a survey of England compiled in 1086 for William the Conqueror) I read:

"Hamo (of Mascy) holds the Baggiley Hundred, paying 1 hide in tax. Land for 3 ploughs, 2 ploughman, 2 villages and woodland, 1 acre, a priest and a church and a mill. Value 3s. He is a free man. His son is called William de Baggiley."

I'm writing my book because I have a past, and I want to know about it. (Some of my ancestors must have had kids!)


~Write down a family legend. Are you descended from a pirate, a princess, a pilgrim?

~Is there a time and place in history that fascinates you? Read a book about it.

~Are you losing interest in a goal? Remind yourself why you set it in the first place. Does it still matter to you? If not, cross it off your list. If so, write down a few smaller goals to get yourself back on track.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Sisters, sisters, 
There were never such devoted sisters;

They laugh and talk and listen for hours on end, 
In every situation they have a friend.

Caring, sharing—there is lots of testimony bearing.
Busy schedules try to split them up but nothing can. 

The Lord blesses sisters who bless the lives of their sisters,
Stay close to your sister— 
It’s part of Heavenly Father’s plan!

You bless lives of your sisters as a visiting teacher and/or a visiting teachee. Visiting teachers:
  1. Love each sister and help her strengthen her faith. 
  2. Seek inspiration to respond to her spiritual/temporal needs. 
  3. Plan with your partner to have regular monthly contact with each sister. Partners do not always have to visit together, but you should talk frequently to plan your service. 
  4. When appropriate, share a gospel message from the Ensign, or the scriptures. 
  5. Report to your supervisor by the 2nd of the month. 
Your reports are the way I inform Bishop Koford of the well-being of the sisters and how we have been able to serve and love them. When a personal visit is not possible, use phone calls, texts, email, etc. to watch over them. (A treat on the doorstep is a fun surprise, but unless it's followed by some kind of interaction, it doesn't tell you how that sister is doing.) Confidential concerns should be reported to me ASAP: 801-230-8246.

If you are a visiting teachee, remember your VT are lovingly trying to serve you. Be appreciative and considerate, and love them back!

The Lord blesses sisters who bless the lives of their sisters,
Stay close to your sisters.
It's part of Heavenly Father's plan!

♥ Marty

Remotely Familiar

Martin Crane: Where's the remote? I can't find the remote!

Frasier Crane: (Handing his dad the remote) What was it like when you had to actually get up and walk across the room to change the channel?

Martin Crane: It was hell.

My eyes are going bonkers; my backside is asleep; I haven't left the computer all day. I need a break. I think I'll go watch TV.

"I know you're thinking that the solution is obvious: Don't watch television. But this solution is a surefire loser. Without watching television, where are you going to get the life experience to write your novel?"
—John Warner

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Adolphe Bouguereau

Hold that thought—I sent it. Everyday I send thoughts out into the universe, hoping they will connect with your thoughts and come back to me better, somehow. I ponder, remember, bluster, or wonder, and then I type. It's lonely work. But a reader completes the process; a reader is the other half of a writer. We're partners. Blogging is like putting a note in a helium balloon, wondering if you'll find it, and wondering if you'll wonder about me.

Sometimes you comment, and sometimes I answer, and sometimes we don't, but we always connect. Our thoughts have intermingled making us friends. When you do leave a comment it rolls around in my head all day. I might write the next post with you in mind, inspired by something you said. I even imagine you when you don't comment, as a pleasant acquaintance I pass regularly with a smile in the routine of our lives.

An email today said, "I would love to leave a comment, but I don't know how." Here's a little tutorial:

At the bottom of every post there is a little highlighted section that says Posted by TravelinOma and the time. Then there's a tiny icon (it looks like a cartoon quote bubble) followed by comments. Click on comments and you'll arrive at the comment window.

Click in the box and type your comment. There's a word verification box so other computers can't make random comments. Just type in the letters you see. If you type them wrong, you'll get another chance.

The last step is to choose an identity. If you're new to this, click on Name/URL. You can type in your name, or your blog name, or your secret identity, whatever. Skip the URL line. Then click Publish your comment. Easy-peasy. You're done!

If you have a blog and want me to visit you there, type your blog address where it says URL. Or if you have a google account and want to have your name automatically appear whenever you comment, click that box to sign in.

So, where did my vibes run into your vibes? I'd love to know. My first stop every morning is to see if we've made a connection. If so, my fist raises with a resounding "YES!" and I look up your blog immediately to see what we have in common. I ponder all day on what would be a good topic for the meeting of our minds, because they'll surely meet whether we ever do or not. A connection is gratifying. I can feel your thoughts come back with mine, and they're always better than when I sent them out alone.


~Leave a comment telling us where you are. (You don't have to be exact—"From a reader down south" is OK.)

~Write a post about a blog friend you met in real life. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

~ Read about the Casual Blogger Conference. I'm speaking!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Father of the Groom, 2006

Looking for a gimmick? Some writers call it a hook, some an opener. Whatever you call it, it's the thing you use at the beginning to catch your reader's attention. And I've got some ideas.

My husband Dee is the master of the gimmick. He loves a unique visual aid. At our son Pete's wedding he gave a toast he called The Last Farthing. Holding up an ancient English coin, he explained its meaning and passed it around as he developed his theme into advice on creating a happy marriage. (His listeners never realize they're being taught history.)

Surprise is a gimmick. One time Dee stood at the pulpit at church and started singing our family song. This was totally out of character, and had the congregation riveted (except our kids, who were writhing with embarrassment on the floor by then.) Another time he tossed a life-like rattlesnake at some Cub Scouts to start a presentation. He had them hooked.

His books have the same quality. Dee usually has the whole book written before he knows how it will start. Then he lifts the most gripping part of the story out of it's chapter and puts it first. The English Patient is a movie that uses this technique.

Readers are ruthless. We give a magazine a quick thumb-through and put it back on the rack. Two or three sentences convince us to chuck or check out a book. As writers, we have to catch attention immediately or nobody will get to the important stuff we have to say.

Six Gimmicks to Start a Post
  1. Personal story—"I heard the window shatter in my dreams." The trick here is to get right into it. Don't waste words telling us you're going to tell us a story.
  2. Question—"Does the computer scare you?" Make sure you provide a solution.
  3. Quotation—"I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork." Take it from there.
  4. Confidence—"Writing is what I do." Don't lose our confidence with "I'm sorry I'm not a very good writer . . . I really have nothing to say . . . my life is boring . . ." Why should we keep reading after that kind of introduction?
  5. Analogy—"Nursery rhymes stick with us. Maybe we should give our kids advice in rhyme." You can use the analogy throughout the article to tie it all together.
  6. Dramatic Short Sentence—"Gimmicks work!"


~Go back to your last five blog posts. Do you start with a bang? Why or why not?

~Think of a viewpoint you'd defend hotly in an argument. Now, start in the middle of the debate and write a passionate post. Do you sound confident?

~Pretend your article is featured in a magazine. What is the headline on the cover that would make somebody buy it? Use that to start your next post.

Monday, January 25, 2010

That's Mine!


When is something ours?

Years ago I combined Sandra's Chocolate Cake with my mom's Texas Sheet Cake, and added a teaspoon of cinnamon—it became my chocolate cake. Candice now makes it more often than I do. She's adjusted a teaspoon here and a degree there to make it unique. It's mine when I make it, but definitely hers when she does.

Dad was known as the optimist. I believed his ideas. Putting them into practice, they were supported by my own experience; now his philosophy has become mine.

A famous scholar, D.W. Winnicott, refused to give credit to others for his theories. He said, "My mind works differently than yours. I gather this and that, here and there, and form my own theories. I never interest myself about where I stole what."

"Is that mine?"

T.S. Eliot said, "A minor poet borrows, a great poet steals." When a writer uses a quote in the context it was written, to support the same idea, it is borrowed. But when writing inspires some new thinking, the words can be used again, and be original again.

"Are you copying me?"

Everybody has known somebody who copies. An outfit, a decorating touch, a unique style—they're all up for grabs. Just stroll through the blogosphere for many examples. But a copy can't stand on it's own for long; originality is what lasts. We can't really steal ideas. Our own unique combination of experience and understanding puts a personal imprint on anything we collect from others. After that happens we can claim, "It's mine."

(That being said, if my cake falls, remember it was Sandra's recipe.)


~Post a favorite recipe you consider your own.

~Write a post using this prompt: "I loved what she said, but my mind went in a whole new direction. I thought . . . "

~Has someone copied one of your ideas? How did you feel? Write about it.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Take A Break

Illustration by Judy Love

"There is no pleasure in having nothing to do; the fun is in having lots to do and not doing it!"
--Mary Wilson Little

Friday, January 22, 2010

Don't Jump to Conclusions

Micah, 1978

Back in the day, distressed furniture was cool. All the fancy furniture stores sold armoires, dressers and hutches with fake scuffs and scratches, and faded faux finishes. Saving hundreds of dollars, we created the real thing. Our coffee table looked unfashionably new but we topped it off with a couple of brass ducks. The kids took care of the rest. Eventually we had a coffee table to rival something out of a 17th-century farmhouse. The ducks sat contentedly in a pool of gouges.

While on a little getaway, Dee bought me some smaller ducks of the same brass. Late that night I unpacked them and put them on the coffee table. The next morning when the kids raced upstairs to the kitchen for breakfast, Micah's footed jammies skidded to a stop. He did a double-take in front of the living room and squealed, "Oh my gosh you guys! The ducks had babies!"

It's easy to jump to conclusions when you don't have all the facts. In fact, it's sometimes easier. I remember writing my first research paper in 6th grade. It was about Magellan. With my little recipe box and a stack of 3x5 cards, I went to the Evergreen library and started exploring the card catalog. Whenever I discovered a fact about Magellan I'd jot it on a new card. The research was enjoyable, the time flew by, and I was startled when my mom tapped me on the shoulder and said it was time to go home.

Somehow I never got back to Magellan that weekend, and the due date crept up. Around midnight one Sunday night (even then I wrote best in the wee hours) I got out my cards and strung the facts together for my paper. Unfortunately I ran out of facts before the conclusion, so I took a flying leap.


Mr. West wrote on my paper, "A clever angle." From then on, I wrote one paper per class using this tactic: when I ran out of time or material, I killed my character off with a long dying squiggle. I continued to get rave reviews, until 9th grade when I had Mrs. Hathaway. Forgetting I'd had Mrs. Hathaway in 8th grade, I turned in an assignment where Anne Frank died right in the middle of her diary.

I expected the usual A, so I was surprised when the papers came back. At the bottom of my book report, right after the C-, there was a little note. "You've jumped to the wrong conclusion. Check your facts. And this ending was better the first time."

So this week I'm fact-checking. Orlando Bagley's father was married twice: one record says the first wife was his mother, and another says the second one was. A third record has his grandmother listed as his mom. And the same Orlando died on six different dates. Hmmm . . . Is somebody reusing my favorite ending? Corroborating all the facts is tedious work, but I don't want to jump to the wrong conclusion.


~Type up a sheet of your vital facts and file it with your important papers. Most people in the USA don't know their grandmother's maiden name! Make sure your grandkids know yours.

~Ever jumped to the wrong conclusion? Write a post about it.

~Record a memory of someone saying something that still makes you laugh.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Mountain Man, 2008

Tonight I asked Dee why he was limping.
"My morning swim kills my legs.
It's the price I pay for fitness."

Baby Blues

I plopped the donut cushion on the couch and shuffled back to the bassinet for the bundle of blankets responsible for my condition. It took a few minutes to adjust all the pillows and clothing properly so I could begin the two-hour process of nursing her.

Our family, July, 1970

Thirteen days into motherhood the novelty was over and everybody but me had gone back to regular life. Dee was working at a ranch and my family was spending the day there. "Horse-back riding? Nobody even told me!" I whined to my sister. My newborn squealed as her breakfast twisted out of reach. "Well, it's not like you can go," Polly said matter-of-factly.

The baby and I sat home that 24th of July and cried all afternoon. Nobody noticed. Babies are supposed to cry and mothers are supposed to stay home with them. I was twenty years old and I felt like I'd died. In a sense I had. I went into mourning.

Nine months before I said I'd give anything to be a mom. That day I resented giving up a horseback ride. Horseback riding was never my thing, so it wasn't even a real sacrifice. What I was mourning was the possibility of a horseback ride. Choosing motherhood meant that now I was saddled with it. Along with a new baby, I'd birthed a new me. The old me was buried in responsibility.

Two weeks at my mother's was long enough—Dee promised me that everything would be normal once we got back to our own home. Before car-seats and seat-belts, moms nursed their babies in the front seat to keep them content, and the drive to Provo was quiet and reassuring.

Our trailer at BYU

When we arrived at our trailer, Dee dropped me off and left for school. After staying in my parent's lovely big house, our little place added to my depression. Especially when I went inside and found the bed still unmade . . .

My first kitchen

. . . and the dishes from two weeks before still sitting in the sink. On the table was a sack, and when I looked inside I found the stiffened, dirty clothes I'd been wearing in the hospital when my water broke. Gabi was upset by her new surroundings, too. She started crying and didn't stop for at least a month. I joined her most of the time. Our relationship did not come easy to me.

When the stub of her cord fell off I noticed her diaper had blood stains on it. Frantic, I called the hospital, certain my baby would bleed to death through her navel. The nurse who took my call implied that I was being hysterical. In a sarcastic tone she said, "I take it this is your first baby."

A cute green dress came in the mail from my aunt Berniece. Surely a new outfit would cheer my wailing daughter, I thought, and put it on her immediately. She screamed all morning. Finally, because I couldn't think of anything else to do with her, I decided to give her a bath. When I took off the dress I realized I'd left the pins in the sleeves. They'd been poking her tiny armpits the whole time!

What if someone realized I didn't have any motherly instinct, that I was clueless and incapable? Would they come and take her away? But what if nobody ever came, and I was stuck with this bawling baby for the rest of my life? And what was the matter with me? I loved her so much but resented her at the same time. Labor was nothing compared to this mind-wrenching, heart-breaking exercise. Now I understand that this was the process that made me a mother.

Carrying a baby around all the time developed my responsibility muscles. I still missed my old, irresponsible self, but I started to like the new, mature me. Maybe I had potential after all. At the end of six weeks, I felt I was coming out of a heavy and isolating fog, and I was excited to see where I was going.

Marty and Gabi, Oct 1970

My first experience with depression was baby blues, a common short-lived side effect of having a baby. Tomorrow I'll talk about a time I had a deeper, darker shade of blues.

Now it's your turn:

Have you had postpartum depression? How did you cope with it? What would you advise a new mom dealing with baby blues?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Oral History: Pass It On

Jiggs and "Unk" about 1935

"We were rich compared to the lady up the hill. She would come down and ask mom if she was going to wash. She wanted mom to save the wash water so that she could run her load."

Jiggs grew up during the depression. "In those days, you started out with the hottest water to do the whites, and then you did the colors and finally the dark clothes, all in the same wash water. You'd put the clothes through the wringer and then in a tub of medium warm water to rinse. Another tub had 'bluing' in it to help whiten the whites. You'd wring them out again and then hang them on the line.

"The woman up the street wanted the water after Mom had done the black socks and overalls. Then she'd use it for her whites. It was encouraging to know there were people poorer than us."

Jiggs was my father. He continued his story. "Dad was always out of work, looking for a job. Mom said she wished she could worry about something important instead of how they'd afford heat in the winter and new clothes for us kids. Thrifty doesn't begin to describe her. When our clothes were beyond mending, Mom removed the buttons and tore them into strips, sewed them together, and wound them into a ball to weave rugs for the house. I think she sold some of them.

"Dad was a great gardener, so we didn't worry about having enough to eat. Peaches, raspberries, apples, vegetables . . . he was famous for his corn. People came from all over hoping to buy a bushel of corn, but he wouldn't sell it. Instead, he gave it away. Dad wasn't a great businessman, but he made sure we were blessed with what we needed.

"Work was our lifestyle. By the time I was eight I was contributing to the family coffers; I herded cows, picked worms, fed pigs, anything for a quarter. My dad would say, 'Jiggs never quits. Give the job to Jiggs, he never quits on anything.' That was the main quality I had. I used to gripe that I never quit.

"Saturdays my mom plucked chickens to earn a chicken for our Sunday dinner. When I was ten she started taking me along because I could kill and clean a chicken in less than a minute. I'd wring the chicken's neck in my hand, take the knife, slit it and pull it right out of it's skin. I hated that job, but I had to live up to my reputation. I never quit."

Born with a cataract in one eye, Jiggs was noticeably cross-eyed from birth. Glasses were prescribed before he was two, and the doctor said he'd probably never see well enough to read, but his dad was not discouraged. "Dad always had high expectations. From the time I was little he bragged about how smart I was. I learned to read by the time I was three—I think it was easy because I only had to use one eye. Eventually my other eye straightened out, but they never worked together.

"In 3rd grade I was skipped to 5th grade. From then on I was the littlest kid in the class, but it didn't matter. I knew I was also the smartest because dad told me I was. He'd show me off to his friends by giving me long, complicated math problems I had to do in my head, which I always got right. I couldn't let him down. When the kids in my class started driving, I did too, even though I was only thirteen. That was one of the perks. I could drive on my paper route, and to my basketball games."

Church basketball was a big deal to Jiggs. "We were playing down at Granite High School to get in the All-Church tournament. Wandermeer Ward beat us. Afterwords, all of us down in the dressing room decided to go get drunk—drown our sorrows. Dad was down in the dressing room with us and got wind of what was planned. Quietly he came up to me and said, 'Be sure you drive if there is going to be drinking.' His high expectations kept me from getting drunk that night."

Years later, when Jiggs had a teenage son, he tried the same strategy. Tom's friends pulled up in a convertible and June saw cartons of beer in the back seat. She went inside and said to her husband, "Jiggs, you have to tell Tom he can't go." Jiggs said, "I remembered the way my dad had handled it, and I said, 'Hey Tom, be sure you drive if there's any drinking.'"

Jiggs was a natural story-teller, and his stories were fascinating. But he didn't write them down. In 1997, two years to the day before he died, I interviewed him about his parents for a family history book I was writing. None of the questions focused on him—my plan was to interview him again about himself. I never did. Luckily, he meandered a little bit that day, and I got a few of his stories in his own words.

Now that I have grandkids of my own, I want them to know what kind of folks they came from. I think it will help them decide what kind of folks they want to be. At least that's my expectation.

Oh, and Happy Birthday, Dad!


~Plan and conduct an interview with someone you love—a kid, a parent or a grandparent will do.
Record it, transcribe it, and treasure it forever. Tips for a successful interview:
  1. Make a 60 to 90-minute appointment when there will be no distractions. (Interviewing more than one person at a time gets confusing.) Plan to do it face-to-face or over the phone.
  2. Send a list of items you want to cover. Some questions should be specific so they will be prepared with important names and dates. Some should be open-ended to get them thinking: Describe the home you grew up in. Tell me how your parents interacted with each other.
  3. Be prepared with extra batteries, and a notebook and pen.
  4. Start the interview by stating the date, your name, and the full name of your loved one. Include the name you call them (Uncle Don.)
  5. Don't be afraid of silence. If you don't rush to fill in the gap, they'll usually think a few seconds and add important details.
  6. Have them spell out any names, and print them in your notebook.
  7. Write down emotions and facial expressions the tape will miss.
  8. Get them back on track with phrases like "You mentioned your job at the bank" or "Let's go back to your parent's reaction" or "I'm interested in hearing about your courtship."
  9. Listen carefully, with an interested expression. React to what they're saying to draw them out more. (Don't let yourself talk very much. This is about them.)
  10. Not everything they say will be valuable. You will be sifting for a few precious nuggets, but it will be worth it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Story Board

Chloë and Jess
(Click on the photo to see the whole story.)

We held a board meeting today about Bagley Beginnings.

Oma started. "I'm writing about a girl named Joanna Read who lived in 1423." "Is it about our ancestor, or fiction?" asked Jess. "Well, I know where she was born, what her life was like, what she wore, and stuff like that. It's . . ." "Factual," inserted Chloë. "Right," I said. "But I don't know what she looked like, or how she actually felt." "So it could be faction," said Chloë.

"I was thinking the book could be about a Time-TravelinOma, but I don't know how to start," I said. Jess said, "This is my suggestion. You could wear a locket when you come to tend that is filled with time-travel pixie dust. Then everyone could fly off somewhere."

"I don't see the problem," said Chloë. "Just take all your magical ideas—Harry Potter, shrinking fairies, Peter Pan, yada, yada, yada—and create your own whole new idea."

I'm going to have these two do the screenplay.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Human Race: Set Your Own Pace

"Is there really a human race? Is it going on now, all over the place?"
—Jamie Lee Curtis

At twenty I started out at my own steady pace.

At thirty I ran faster. I was losing face.

At forty I stumbled late in the day.

At fifty the finish line seemed further away.

At sixty I wonder:
How long is this race, anyway?

Do you ever feel you're running faster than you can?

Years ago a well-meaning teacher set a goal for herself and included the whole class in her challenge. She was going to do a good deed, something extra, outside her normal responsibilities, every day. Each week she passed around a sheet to sign if we'd met the goal, which even included a place to record how many "service hours" we'd given. I was totally caught up in what became a contest to be "the most charitable woman."

Looking back I realize how nutty this was. I had a husband, seven kids and a dog at home who needed to be fed. Bedraggled plants begged for water from their macrame hangers; the dryer beeped endlessly; the closets glared messily, all calling for my attention. Teenagers sat in class every Sunday expecting a lesson, and great-grandmas called, wondering when I was coming to visit. Birthday cakes, haircuts, ear-aches, dance lessons, science projects—none of these counted as good deeds. They were my normal responsibilities.

Although I was running as fast as I could go, I felt like a failure because my to-do list left good deed unchecked more often than not. When the weekly sign-up sheet came around to me, I was embarrassed to pass it on, knowing I looked pretty uncharitable with my meager service hours.

Years later I was in a class on budgeting. The teacher cautioned us about living beyond our means—spending more than we had. Suddenly it dawned on me: I have 24 hours a day. Circumstances already claimed most of them. Setting goals with time I don't have is living beyond my means. One woman's finish line had become my stumbling block.

Misty wrote a cute post about her New Year's Resolutions, reflecting on the baby books she hasn't started since her twins were born. But how many baths has she given? How many late nights and early mornings has she put in? She probably doesn't even have time to count the appointments to the obstetrician, and then the pediatrician, that have kept her kids healthy. Misty's running a different race right now, pushing a triple jogging stroller at full speed.

Don't despair young moms. Someday your course will lead back to your baby books. In the meantime, give yourself a breather, and skip once in a while.

There's no human race. The run itself is the pay.
Where am I going in such a rush, anyway?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Punctuation: Explanation Points

—Mary Engelbreit

I hung out with my writing mentor this afternoon. Mother Goose is the master at getting her point across with memorable language, and unforgettable rhythm. She encouraged me to re-read my favorite book on punctuation. I know that does not rank up there on the list of Good Reads, but I love this book. I am smitten with commas, semi-colons, (and parentheses.) Explanation points? I love them!

Consider this: just twenty six letters, organized with periods and question marks, became To Kill a Mockingbird. Good prose is a matter of interior design. A few things I've learned about writing:
  1. Use variety. A sentence can be a long, wordy string of words, with commas breaking things up, like this. It can actually be two sentences; just put a semi-colon in the middle. Do you see how punctuation adds visual interest? It's amazing!
  2. If you want to tell your reader something confidential (like a secret) whisper it in parentheses.
  3. Long paragraphs are intimidating. Without some visual space we get claustrophobic. Compare reading a magazine to reading the little warning sheet that comes inside the Tylenol bottle. The contrast is a reminder to hit the return key often. Short paragraphs make readers feel welcome.
  4. Use your dictionary; spell check can only do so much. A precise word conveys the right meaning. Is your sister erratic or erotic? (The computer doesn't pick up the difference.)
  5. Quote an expert. In Writing With Style, John R. Trimble said, "View your reader as a companionable friend–someone with a warm sense of humor and a love of simple directness. Write like you're actually talking to that friend, but talking with enough leisure to frame your thoughts concisely and interestingly."
  7. if you adopt a style for creative purposes, be consistent. you want your readers to know it's intentional.
  8. Unless you're training for a marathon and have to keep going even when you're exhausted remember to put commas in to give your readers a chance to take a breath before they faint.
  9. Ellipses are used to show that you've left a word out of a quotation. Rudolf Flesch said, "Punctuation . . . is the most important single device for making things easier to read." When . . . are used incorrectly . . . we wonder . . . what we are missing . . .
  10. Explanation points! They can be overdone! Use them sparingly!
Any questions?


~As a rule of thumb, whenever you've written three longish sentences in a row, make your fourth a short one. And don't fear the super-short sentence. It's arresting. Sometimes just a single word will be plenty long. Experiment! Write a paragraph using sentences of various lengths.

~Read something you wrote a while ago out loud. Can you read each sentence without stumbling or running out of breath? Does it easily communicate what you wanted to say? Did you pick up any unconscious word repeats? Do your sentences sound choppy, or do they have a comfortable rhythm? Edit it just a little and see how you've improved it just using punctuation.

~Pull out a favorite book, and read a few pages. Notice the punctuation, the length of the sentences and paragraphs. Pay attention to the style of what you read. When you thumb through a book or magazine, what catches your eye? If a blog has long paragraphs do you save it for later? Write your next piece using this new perspective.

Monday, January 11, 2010

How to Start Writing a Book

"To me, writing a book is a two-part process. The first part, and probably the toughest, is starting the book. The second part, which I've always considered much easier, is completing the book. It's much longer than starting, but also considerably easier—because now, momentum is on my side. It's kind of like jumping out of an airplane. The first step is nearly brutal, but the rest is just a matter of going with gravity."—Jay Conrad Levinson

How I Started My Book:
  1. I opened a new folder on my computer and named it Bagley Beginnings.
  2. Next, I opened Microsoft Word for a blank page, and created a title page. I saved it as Title Page in the Bagley Beginnings folder.
  3. Then I opened a new blank page and named it Contents, and saved it in the folder.
  4. The next page I called Chronology, and I saved it, too.
  5. Finally I made ten separate pages for Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. and put them in the folder.

Examples from another project.

Now I had somewhere to actually start writing. The next step was to decide what I want to include in my book and write preliminary chapter headings for the contents and chapter pages.

Chapter 1: Helen de Baggiley, 1178.

Chapter 2: Lord Richard de Baguley, 1243.

Chapter 3: Sir John Colepeper, 1404.

Chapter 4: Joan Reade, 1423.

In this case, the names gave me birth dates for my chronology page. For other projects the chronology might be the order of your scenes and when characters are introduced, or the sequence of events you want to write about.

After listing the years down the side, I started sifting through my notes to compile them in an organized way. Large sections will get written and inserted into the right chapter as I go along.

This method can be used for any book or even a blog series. When I wrote a series called Life in the Motherhood I compiled it beforehand on my blog. First, I opened to new post, wrote the title, labeled it and saved it as a draft (like a title page.) I did the same for five other ideas that fit the category (similar to creating chapters) and labeled them the same. Over the next few days I found quotes I wanted to use, remembered stories, and searched for images, slotting them into the posts they fit. (I'd compare this to creating a chronology.) When I was ready, I opened a different draft each day, decided what was worth keeping, and wrote the posts.

"I love being a writer. What I hate is the paperwork."

Preparation pays. Remember last month when you hauled all those Christmas decorations upstairs from the basement? All the knickknacks you took off the shelves to make room for the garlands, and the piano you moved to make room for the tree? It was a long day, but you sat down after the vacuum was put away, turned on the lights and basked in the ambiance. You'd created the setting—now you could start the season.

With the hard part out of the way, I'm ready to enjoy the season.
I'm writing a book!


~Decide the scope of your project and where you're going to work on it (blog, computer, notebook.) Name it. Create a folder and a title page. Doesn't that feel awesome?

~Make an index page and name your chapters. Make a separate file for each chapter and save it in your folder.

~Put together a chronology page, listing the things you'll include. You probably won't compile everything in this exact order, and you may end up changing the sequence of events in your final draft, but this will help with organization.

~Sit back and bask in the ambiance. You're ready to start this season. You're a writer!