Archive for the ‘Just for writers’ Category
Cindy La Ferle on January 2nd, 2013
The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions — the little, soon-forgotten charities of a smile, a kind look, a heart-felt compliment, and the countless infinitesimals of pleasurable and genial feeling.” - Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Every author I know enjoys getting mail from readers who found that his or her book “hit home” or touched them in some way.
But to wake up on New Year’s Day to discover such a note in your email — first thing in the morning — is just as sweet as finding a bouquet of spring blooms or a box of Gayle’s handmade truffles on your doorstep.
And so it was that I “met” Tina, a kindred spirit who happens to own the Paperback Book Exchange in Neenah, Wisconsin. Tina explained in her email that she’d purchased my book, Writing Home, while visiting Michigan a couple of years ago. She’d put it aside until she found time to read it, picking it up late last year. “I didn’t want it to end,” she wrote. “Many of your pieces touched home with me.”
As if that weren’t lovely enough, she also asked if I had any promotional bookmarks or materials she could share with readers who visit her shop.
If you’re an avid reader, you’ll want to “like” Tina’s Facebook page for the Paperback Book Exchange. As you’ll see from the shop’s cover photo, there’s even a resident cat — which made me wish I lived closer to Neenah, WI, and could visit the place right away. For now, it’s on my Midwest Travel Bucket List.
All said and done, Tina’s email got me thinking — especially since I’m still composing my list of New Year’s resolutions. Maybe I could “pay it forward” and start writing notes to brighten someone else’s day.
I’m also reminded of Carloyn See’s Making a Literary Life, a book stuffed with great advice for writers. See suggests writing what she calls “charming notes” to poets, novelists, editors, or artists whose work you’ve enjoyed or admired. (We’re all too quick to criticize — and too slow to pay compliments — she explains.)
But the way I see it, there’s no reason to limit the practice to authors or artists. Why not write a note to anyone who’s sweetened or changed your life somehow? Maybe you could thank the mail carrier or the pet sitter or the waiter who serves your coffee at the local diner? All kinds of wonderful things will happen, Carolyn See promises. At the very least, you just might make someone’s day. – Cindy La Ferle
Cindy La Ferle on November 15th, 2012
And there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own.” — Mary Oliver
In my workshops for new writers, we often discuss the importance of finding or developing a “voice.” As William Zinsser points out, it’s as simple (or as difficult) as this: Your voice is who you are.
Early on, most of us hear a cacophony of inner critics and advisers inside our heads — former teachers, co-workers, neighbors, spiritual directors, family members, and friends. Which makes it hard to distinguish between what others expect of us and what’s in our own hearts.
Mary Oliver’s “The Journey” gives us clues along the way. It’s one of my favorite tributes to the authentic life — and it brings shivers of recognition each time I read it aloud in class. –CL
By Mary Oliver
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations;
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.
– Reprinted from New and Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press); 1992
– Top photo by Cindy La Ferle; taken at the Grand Rapids Museum during ArtPrize 2011. –
Cindy La Ferle on October 27th, 2012
The only people with whom you should try to get even are those who have helped you. ~John E. Southard
Everyone who’s ever launched a career — especially a career in a competitive field — knows that you need at least one supportive boss who believes in your goals and dreams. Which is why I’m so grateful to have worked for several terrific editors who helped shape my writing life.
Two in particular are Mike Beeson (left in the photo) and John Schultz, both former editors at Royal Oak’s Daily Tribune. How lucky I was to find them at a newspaper office in my own hometown. In 1985, John was the first to give me a regular column, a weekly small business feature that introduced me to countless shops, galleries, and restaurants in our community. While I wrote many stories for the Trib in those days, from theater reviews to news items, my weekly business column taught me how to meet tight deadlines while scouting new story ideas.
When I first started writing for Mike, he had just replaced entertainment editor Ray Serafin. Later on, Mike took over the paper’s lifestyles section and made my biggest dream a reality: He offered me a coveted column space in the Sunday paper — and told me I could write about any family topic that struck my interest. In 1998, my weekly “Life Lines” column won a first place award for local columns in the Michigan Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest. Several of those columns are reprinted in Writing Home, my collection of essays and columns.
All of this came tumbling back when my husband snapped the photo, above, at the opening of his first one-man show at the Lido Gallery in Birmingham last night (Oct. 26).
John, who co-authored a book on the history of Royal Oak last year, currently works as a copy editor at Hour Media. Newly retired from the Trib, Mike now has time to travel and visit his new grandchild.
Chatting about the “old days” with John and Mike, I also felt a rush of nostalgia for all the times I had to drive downtown to deliver my finished articles to the Trib’s editorial offices. Back then — before we relied on the Internet — editors and writers discussed assignments on the phone, face-to-face at the office, or over a burger at lunch. It wasn’t nearly as quick or convenient as sending a story via email, of course. But in the process, we forged friendships that have endured despite several career moves and changes. I wouldn’t trade those days — and everything I learned — for anything. – CL
Cindy La Ferle on September 5th, 2012
The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought; this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium.” ~Norbet Platt
“WRITE THE STORIES OF YOUR LIFE” at the Royal Oak Public Library, Royal Oak, MI
October 4, 11, and 18, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.
Everyone has at least one memoir waiting to be written. My three-week introductory workshop is designed to help new writers, whether you’re interested in crafting a book-length memoir or short personal essays. Throughout the program, we’ll explore several techniques for triggering your memories and turning them into memoir.
This workshop is offered free to the public but registration is required. Please keep in mind that your attendance on the first night of this three-week program is essential. The first class serves as the foundation for the next two nights — and there won’t be an opportunity to review what you missed.
We’ll be writing in class, so please bring your pen and notebook or a laptop. To reserve your seat: Please visit the Royal Oak Public Library Web site or phone: 248-246-3727. Copies of my own memoir, Writing Home, will be available at a generous discount for workshop students at the end of each session.
For regular announcements of my workshops, please “like” my Facebook author page: Cindy La Ferle’s Home Office and Blog.
Illustration: A detail from an altered book, by Cindy La Ferle
Cindy La Ferle on August 23rd, 2012
Criticism is something one can avoid by saying nothing and doing nothing.” — Aristotle
Seven years after its publication, my collection of essays on home and family topics scored its first negative review on Amazon.
The reviewer, who identified herself as a copywriter and was brave enough to include her full name and city of residence, found my writing style “rather bland” and my topics “so-so” or uninteresting. Ouch.
Making its abrupt appearance in my “Most Recent Reviews” column, the two-star review splashed a small but indelible stain on my Amazon page. Never mind that the other reviews, many of which were written by fans of my long-running newspaper columns, were five-star praise fests. Never mind that the book had already won several press awards.
And never mind than I’ve been writing professionally since 1984 and should be accustomed to criticism (not to mention rejection letters) by now.
That one crummy review from a copywriter in Atlanta threw me into a ridiculous dark-blue funk that lasted a couple of days. In a fit of self-doubt, I even grabbed a copy of my book and scanned several pages for incriminating evidence of “blandness” and boring topics.
In any event, the review provided a much-needed lesson in humility. But before I could cool off — and yes, I did cool off — I had to Google the reviewer’s name. I had to figure out how she’d managed to stumble on my seven-year-old book — and why she felt compelled to knock it down a few stars. I was half tempted to email her after discovering we had a loose connection through a professional writing group.
Instead, I did what most writers do when they realize they’ve been spending too much time alone with their computers: I turned to a few trusted colleagues who always know how to set me straight.
“Bad reviews are part of the risk of getting our work published,” one of my editor-pals reminded me. “And that’s why we all need to keep growing thicker skin.” In other words, if we’re going to put our stuff out there, we must learn to accept a few hurled tomatoes along with the roses and the press awards. Furthermore, if we’re willing to listen up, one piece of honest criticism can do more to improve our game than a dozen accolades.
Mean-spirited criticism is more about the critic and less about the work under fire.”
The crappy review also led to an online discussion about how to take (and give) criticism — an invaluable skill, no matter what your profession. To master this skill, you must know the difference between constructive criticism and mean-spirited criticism.
For starters, constructive criticism is always very specific. It includes concrete examples of what didn’t work along with reasons why the reviewer thinks your writing fell short. Even if it’s unsolicited and painful, constructive criticism can be a terrific learning tool.
On the other hand, mean-spirited criticism (or “sniping”) is more about the critic and less about the work under fire. Dead giveaway: The word “I” appears too often throughout the review or critique. “I don’t like Hemingway’s writing,” for example, isn’t nearly as specific and informative as “Hemingway overplays the declarative sentence.”
Mean-spirited criticism might be the product of a foul mood or professional envy. Or maybe the critic doesn’t share your passion, in which case your work doesn’t necessarily fall short, or stink.
The reviewer who dissed my book didn’t cite examples of what irked her, nor did she suggest what I could have done to meet her standards. But she got me thinking about why I failed to engage or entertain her.
And that’s why a bad review can be an unexpected gift or a wake-up call. If we’ve been writing and publishing for a while, especially, a negative review challenges us to keep improving and refining our craft. Or, at the very least, to stop being so complacent.
William Faulkner once said that real writers and artists “don’t have time to listen to the critics. The ones who want to be writers read the reviews, and the ones who want to write don’t have the time to read reviews.” And I suppose there’s some truth in that.
Still, it’s perfectly normal to feel bruised after getting hit with a rotten review. Scores of authors who are far more prolific than I am still wince when they get negative press. Or, as Danielle Steel once put it, “A bad review is like baking a cake with all the best ingredients and having someone sit on it.”
All said and done, serious writers get over it, then gather their new “ingredients” and get back to work. — Cindy La Ferle
– Detail from an altered book collage by Cindy La Ferle –
“Like” my author page on Facebook for additional updates, inspirational quotes, and creativity tips.