Write Now Prompt for July 25, 2017

Write_Now_Plane

At Today’s Author, our first goal is to get you (and us) to write. Write Now is our own collection of prompts to help you do that. With Write Now we’re not talking about writing, or trying to teach anyone how to write. Write Now is all about putting pen to paper.

Today’s Prompt:

The car smelled like perfume, but it wasn’t her brand.

Now_Write_Plane

How to play along with our Writing Prompts

  1. Write in any format or style you wish: short story, poem, script – whatever you like.
  2. Write for at least 5 minutes. There is no time limit – write for as long as you wish!
  3. Editing is not required, though we do recommend that you run a spell check at least.
  4. Post your work to your blog and include a link back here so your readers can find other writer’s work, too.
  5. Come back here and provide a link to your work on the Write Now! prompt for which it was written.
  6. Read other authors’ posts and leave constructive comments.

Important Note: When you post a draft of your work online, it may be difficult to find a publisher who will accept it, as many see an online document as being previously published. It may also be ineligible to be submitted for certain writing competitions. Always check publisher’s and competition guidelines before using a draft you put online.

Write Now Prompt for July 21, 2017

Write_Now_Plane

At Today’s Author, our first goal is to get you (and us) to write. Write Now is our own collection of prompts to help you do that. With Write Now we’re not talking about writing, or trying to teach anyone how to write. Write Now is all about putting pen to paper.

Today’s Prompt:

People on the street always mistook him for a celebrity.

Now_Write_Plane

How to play along with our Writing Prompts

  1. Write in any format or style you wish: short story, poem, script – whatever you like.
  2. Write for at least 5 minutes. There is no time limit – write for as long as you wish!
  3. Editing is not required, though we do recommend that you run a spell check at least.
  4. Post your work to your blog and include a link back here so your readers can find other writer’s work, too.
  5. Come back here and provide a link to your work on the Write Now! prompt for which it was written.
  6. Read other authors’ posts and leave constructive comments.

Important Note: When you post a draft of your work online, it may be difficult to find a publisher who will accept it, as many see an online document as being previously published. It may also be ineligible to be submitted for certain writing competitions. Always check publisher’s and competition guidelines before using a draft you put online.

Write Now Prompt for July 18, 2017

Write_Now_Plane

At Today’s Author, our first goal is to get you (and us) to write. Write Now is our own collection of prompts to help you do that. With Write Now we’re not talking about writing, or trying to teach anyone how to write. Write Now is all about putting pen to paper.

Today’s Prompt:

The city-wide power outage brought out the best and the worst of people.

Now_Write_Plane

How to play along with our Writing Prompts

  1. Write in any format or style you wish: short story, poem, script – whatever you like.
  2. Write for at least 5 minutes. There is no time limit – write for as long as you wish!
  3. Editing is not required, though we do recommend that you run a spell check at least.
  4. Post your work to your blog and include a link back here so your readers can find other writer’s work, too.
  5. Come back here and provide a link to your work on the Write Now! prompt for which it was written.
  6. Read other authors’ posts and leave constructive comments.

Important Note: When you post a draft of your work online, it may be difficult to find a publisher who will accept it, as many see an online document as being previously published. It may also be ineligible to be submitted for certain writing competitions. Always check publisher’s and competition guidelines before using a draft you put online.

Write Now Prompt for July 14, 2017

Write_Now_Plane

At Today’s Author, our first goal is to get you (and us) to write. Write Now is our own collection of prompts to help you do that. With Write Now we’re not talking about writing, or trying to teach anyone how to write. Write Now is all about putting pen to paper.

Today’s Prompt:

When the storm knocked down the big tree in the front yard, it exposed a large, metal container buried underneath it.

Now_Write_Plane

How to play along with our Writing Prompts

  1. Write in any format or style you wish: short story, poem, script – whatever you like.
  2. Write for at least 5 minutes. There is no time limit – write for as long as you wish!
  3. Editing is not required, though we do recommend that you run a spell check at least.
  4. Post your work to your blog and include a link back here so your readers can find other writer’s work, too.
  5. Come back here and provide a link to your work on the Write Now! prompt for which it was written.
  6. Read other authors’ posts and leave constructive comments.

Important Note: When you post a draft of your work online, it may be difficult to find a publisher who will accept it, as many see an online document as being previously published. It may also be ineligible to be submitted for certain writing competitions. Always check publisher’s and competition guidelines before using a draft you put online.

All Fall Down

Look on the jacket back at the photo of the writer whose book you’re reading. That’s right, the image of the man or woman with artfully tousled hair, a somber expression in their eyes, leaning on a stack of books. The photos don’t show the lower extremities of the authors, or if they do, legs are covered in slacks or long skirts and tall boots.

And why is that? Because otherwise their knees would show. No worries about knobby or fleshy joints. It’s the danger of revealing the purple scrapes from falling down, the swollen bumps of landing hard on one’s patella, the bloody bruises endured while writing. Writers fall; banged up knees are proof.

We writers must be willing to fall if we’re going to achieve memorable writing. Like kids who learn to ride bikes, ice skate, or leap over hurdles, we tumble, we topple, we trip, we land on our butts and our knees. It’s the only way to learn to do challenging things. Child athletes and adult writers follow the same scenario. We get up and try it again. Fear of falling on our faces prevents mastering skills, so we try again, sometimes writing crap, and fall again, aiming for our personal best. Who knew that writing would be so dangerous? In what writing course did the instructor advise you to invest in Johnson & Johnson stock so you could recoup on your investment in band aids?

If you are so afraid of falling that you never venture beyond the safety of the formulae for “successful” writing, if you shy from trying strange plot twists to settle for the tried and true, if you are risk averse to including controversy in your stories, you may be too rigid to write your personal best. Your knees will be picture perfect but your story dry and predictable.

Consider the work of Andre Dubus III. My favorite is House of Sand and Fog. It’s about people who would never meet were it not for the house they all claim to own. Many readers agree there is no sympathetic main character because everyone is so flawed that it’s hard to admire anyone. Perhaps the only positive characters are the house itself, an innocent object at the center of wretched human behavior, or the young son, another innocent caught in a whirlwind that stokes the terrible end of the story. Beneath the surface battle for the house is a battle about damaged people caught up in social dysfunction that mirrors fractured contemporary desires and addictions. Read that synopsis again and you will see little ordinary element. Dubus took an enormous risk by ignoring the formula.

The story isn’t a thinly disguised autobiography, but I bet his sensitive portrayal of each injured character is drawn from his own cache of injuries. It’s likely he pulled from the depths of what has wounded him to be able to portray the wounded souls that inhabit the book. He was willing to be vulnerable, to tear out his heart and examine what hurts, in order to write convincingly about the vulnerabilities of others. If we can’t see ourselves committing the reckless acts of his characters, we can at least feel the pain of their awful choices. The result is an unforgettable book that generates deserved admiration among readers. It is the work of a master.

Creativity blooms from being vulnerable. An open heart, an open mind, an open hand reaching out to grasp what is strange and unknown, to welcome what hurts, humiliates, or makes us sob. A writer willing to fall. Do not fear a wound. Wounds heal. Tear open your heart, examine the pain – because that’s what writing is all about. Now turn out your gut – because that’s where the truth is. That which is rigid is stagnant. Vulnerability allows creativity.

All together now: All fall down. Then get up and write your best. Smile for the camera, your knees won’t show.

 

Painting: Caravaggio, The Conversion on the Way to Damascus, circa 1600, public domain

 

Image Copyright Do’s and Don’ts

image copyrightsWhen I teach professional development classes, by far the topic that surprises attendees the most is the legal use of online images. And they’re not alone. On my blog, in educator forums, and in the virtual meetings I moderate, there is much confusion about what can be grabbed for free from online sites and what must be cited with a linkback, credit, author’s name, public domain reference, or specific permission from the creator. When I receive guest posts that include pictures, many contributors tell me the photo can be used because they include the linkback.

That’s not always true. In fact, the answer to the question…

“What online images can I use?”

typically starts with…

It depends…

To try to understand this topic in a five-minute blog post or thirty-minute webinar is a prescription for failure. It is too big a topic. Instead, I’ll cover only four main subtopics with a (very) quick overview and where you can find more resources to extend and self-pace your learning. Some of these resources are from my K-12 classes, so forgive me if they seem geared for youngsters (they are). Luckily, they are no less relevant:

Plagiarism

In general terms, you must cite sources for:

  • facts not commonly known or accepted
  • exact words and/or unique phrase
  • reprints of diagrams, illustrations, charts, pictures, or other visual materials
  • opinions that support research

Watch and discuss the online life of a photo posted by an unknowing student.

Digital privacy

Digital privacy is constantly under attack in a world where people post everything they do on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. 6 Degrees of Information reinforces how easy is it to find out about anyone by following the crumbs left during their online surfing. Next, watch Eduardo post pictures he considers innocent in Two Kinds of Stupid. Expand your learning by watching this video on Online Reputations.

Copyrights

Copyrights range from public domain—creative work that can be used without permission or notification—to intensely private—available only to view and usually on the host website.  Here’s a simple review of copyright law I use to start the discussion.

The law states that works of art created in the U.S. after January 1, 1978, are automatically protected by copyright once they are fixed in a tangible medium (like the Internet) BUT a single copy may be used for scholarly research (even if that’s a 2nd grade life cycle report) or in teaching or preparation to teach a class.

You can see details on the original law through this link. Or, watch the video, ‘Copyright Explained’, for an overview.

‘Fair Use’ is why students can grab online images without obtaining permission from the creator. It allows for a single use for educational purposes–nothing more. For more on this topic (especially if you have children), watch A Fair(y) Use Tale.

If you don’t qualify for Fair Use and are looking for public domain images through Google, the screenshot below shows how to adjust your search parameters to find only freely-available, legal online images:

copyright--available

The following sites provide mostly public domain images:

If you find an online image you like, figuring out if you can use it is often time-intensive but necessary. If you can’t find the copyright notice on the site that’s hosting the image, pick a different image. Here are two examples:

copyright pictures

The bottom one requires attribution—a linkback or credit–so I’ve provided it here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/crazymandi/.

Here’s a general collection of websites addressing copyrights and digital law that will help to address your specific areas of interest:

Make-your-own Graphics

A great way to avoid the worry about legally using online images is to create your own. You can use software such as Paint, Photoshop, and GIMP, or an image creation tool like:

If these don’t work for you, here’s a list of websites or apps with lots more options.


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and  Twenty-four DaysShe is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

Write Now Prompt for July 11, 2017

Write_Now_Plane

At Today’s Author, our first goal is to get you (and us) to write. Write Now is our own collection of prompts to help you do that. With Write Now we’re not talking about writing, or trying to teach anyone how to write. Write Now is all about putting pen to paper.

Today’s Prompt:

The person at the door claimed to be his sister, though he had grown up as an only child.

Now_Write_Plane

How to play along with our Writing Prompts

  1. Write in any format or style you wish: short story, poem, script – whatever you like.
  2. Write for at least 5 minutes. There is no time limit – write for as long as you wish!
  3. Editing is not required, though we do recommend that you run a spell check at least.
  4. Post your work to your blog and include a link back here so your readers can find other writer’s work, too.
  5. Come back here and provide a link to your work on the Write Now! prompt for which it was written.
  6. Read other authors’ posts and leave constructive comments.

Important Note: When you post a draft of your work online, it may be difficult to find a publisher who will accept it, as many see an online document as being previously published. It may also be ineligible to be submitted for certain writing competitions. Always check publisher’s and competition guidelines before using a draft you put online.

The Writers Circle: Handwritten or Typed

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

When you begin working on a new project – be it to start the actual drafting or to start building an outline – do you have a tendency do this with pen and paper? Or do you tend to do this on a computer? Do you find your level of productivity with the initial work on a new project to be better if you write it out by hand or if you type/draw it on the computer?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

Write Now Prompt for July 7, 2017

Write_Now_Plane

At Today’s Author, our first goal is to get you (and us) to write. Write Now is our own collection of prompts to help you do that. With Write Now we’re not talking about writing, or trying to teach anyone how to write. Write Now is all about putting pen to paper.

Today’s Prompt:

At the last minute he decided he couldn’t go along with the plan, no matter what his bosses might do.

Now_Write_Plane

How to play along with our Writing Prompts

  1. Write in any format or style you wish: short story, poem, script – whatever you like.
  2. Write for at least 5 minutes. There is no time limit – write for as long as you wish!
  3. Editing is not required, though we do recommend that you run a spell check at least.
  4. Post your work to your blog and include a link back here so your readers can find other writer’s work, too.
  5. Come back here and provide a link to your work on the Write Now! prompt for which it was written.
  6. Read other authors’ posts and leave constructive comments.

Important Note: When you post a draft of your work online, it may be difficult to find a publisher who will accept it, as many see an online document as being previously published. It may also be ineligible to be submitted for certain writing competitions. Always check publisher’s and competition guidelines before using a draft you put online.

Interview with Cass McMain: On Crafting Twists

Cass McMain’s third book, Gringo, is a little different than her first two. There’s still the realistic dialogue and relatable characters she’s known for, but this time she pushes the boundaries and includes a mysterious, perhaps supernatural, element. She’s created something of a headscratcher for her readers, but figuring it out is so rewarding that I convinced her to help walk us through it, with as few spoilers as possible. I also think it’s interesting to consider one writer’s process and compare it to your own.

This book is a bit of a puzzle by the end. The reader has do some work to figure it out. What is the reader response you’re getting so far? Do people get it? I had figured out that Daniel is an unreliable narrator and was relying on neighbor Greg to point me in the right direction. But you have to read those sections very closely.

I sent this to a number of beta readers, asking especially for them to look at it with an eye toward understanding. I was told by all of them that it was clear as a bell. Then, of course, half of these readers immediately proved with their next words that they had not understood it at all. I think almost nobody gets this book right away. It takes some thought. But everything is there; you just have to pay attention. You have to be very aware of the world you are in, aware enough to look back at the road you’ve been on. A lot of people don’t read that way. Greg is, as you noted right away, crucial to the understanding of this novel — but he also has been very carefully presented; you are meant to be sure you have seen what you have not seen at all.

For people who don’t get it immediately, what would be a helpful hint that doesn’t give it away completely?

How to give a clue without giving away the work, that’s one for the ages. I have no idea. I think the concept is familiar enough, from previous efforts in film and print, that when you give the only clue that helps, it immediately ruins the effect. All I can say, as you have: it makes sense. “Trust me.” Haha. It’s hard to get by with that.

When you started writing this book, had you already figured out what the twist would be? Was writing this book different than your first two and, if so, how?

When I started this book, I had no idea. I, myself, had to go back through, looking for proof I was wrong. I wasn’t wrong. My God, I said. It’s true. I have fooled even myself. It was halfway through writing the book when I found out what had happened, when I saw the twist. The other twist, the more obvious one, yes, I knew that one early. It was built into the reason I wrote the thing.

What inspired the events of this book?

Lack of sleep inspired the book, in a big way. The people across the street, an unfriendly crew whom I never actually laid eyes on, had tied a dog to the tree out front. He barked every night from 11pm until 4 am. (I never did find out what was behind these strict hours he held to.) He kept me awake for weeks. I was out of my mind with lack of sleep, crazy angry. I had just finished Watch, and was looking for new things to write about, and I could not concentrate at all. Everything became barking, everything was a dog.

I hated that dog. I wanted him dead. I called the City over and over again, to no avail. Eventually, I was standing in the street, barefoot at 2 am, in my bathrobe, throwing rocks and sticks at the dog and at the windows of the house, screaming nonsense. If I’d had a gun, I’d have shot that dog. Shortly after that, a writer friend asked what I was working on, and I told him: nothing. I explained about the dog. I explained about the barking. My friend said I should write about that. And when I said no, the story would be too short, how could I write about a barking dog and make it into an actual story, he said… maybe the dog is barking for a reason. And it came to me, the dog’s reason, then. I started writing the book the next day. I never once saw the people who lived in that house, but they moved away a few weeks after I started writing. Maybe they were never there at all.

gringoWhat is the message you hope readers take away when they finish Gringo?

I’m not sure. If the message in Sunflower was that you don’t have to be anyone but yourself, and the message in Watch was a more-disturbing maybe you can’t be anyone but yourself, perhaps the message in Gringo is: maybe you can’t be who you think you are. Maybe nobody can.

As a reader, I think figuring it out is half the fun, which is why I hesitate to give it away here. For those who’ve already read through the book once, here’s a SPOILER/HINT:

You sent me an article that helped me think about it.

The article I sent you was helpful, and maybe the clue is there, though I think once you posit the term “parallel” you have given it all away. Perhaps the secret, then, is in what way these people have come to be so broken, broken enough to find other worlds under their very noses. Broken enough to leave parts of themselves, ghostlike, behind. Does that give away too much? Yes, of course it does. My goal, early on, was to make people want to read it again, just to prove me wrong. To prove they did see what they assumed they saw.

I’d love to continue this conversation in the comments section with readers of Gringo or writers who’ve struggled with similar issues in their work. How do you make your intentions clear without hitting readers over the head?