Creating Seasonal Articles*

Christmas sugar plumsby Jackie Houchin

Does reading all those December magazines with their holiday stories, recipes, tips, traditions, and inspirations make visions of sugar plums, er, I mean, ideas for articles to dance on your head?

“Oh dear! I so wanted to write an article about those fun games we play for identifying Grandma’s tag-less gifts under the tree!” (Family Circle Magazine?)

“And how I wished I’d shared my Mom’s Christmas fruitcake recipe from her recipe box (that I inherited this year when she died), and told all who read the article why they really should try fruitcake again.”  (Reminiscence Magazine?)

But, I forgot to write them.

And now it’s too late – WAY too late.

At least for this year.

But not for next year, if I plan ahead.  Many magazines need seasonal articles. But they need them long before the pub date. Articles with a “time-tag” are a good way for new writers to break into print (or seasoned writers to pick up some pocket money).

It’s all in the timing

Start by picking up Chase’s Calendar Of Events and look ahead to see what holidays will be celebrated in six months to a year. Or you can check the guidelines in the new The Writers Market Guide for specific publications you hope to write for.

Send a query letter with your idea ahead of the suggested time. If you get a go-ahead, be sure to deliver your article on time. And be patient. If it isn’t used in 2018, it may be held till 2019.

Low-profile holidays

Brain storm ideas for the less popular holidays, such as Arbor Day, Grandparents’ Day, Flag Day, Patriot Day, Friendship Day, Bastille Day, Poppy Day, or even…. Cookie Baking Day! (December 18)  Also think about back-to-school and summer vacation themes.

Your special “slant”

If those “sugar plum” ideas aren’t already dancing away up there, then:

  • Leaf through old magazines (yours or at the library).
  • Think about experiences you’ve had during holidays.
  • Write a short biography of a person linked to a holiday.
  • Research a holiday custom.
  • Remember anniversaries. (What happened 5, 10, 500 years ago?)
  • Interview a teacher, a parent, a coach, a Macy’s clerk.
  • Write a holiday short story or poem. (Some magazines are still open to them.)

Christmas funny poem

Before and After Tips

Start an idea folder with clipped articles from magazines or newspapers. Jot notes about ideas on each. Not all will be usable, but many will work. When you’re looking for a certain seasonal theme, these may trigger an idea.

After the original-rights sale, look for reprint markets for next season. Make a list of potential ones and their lead times, and keep your original article with them.

Open a new bank account!

Christmas bank accountJust kidding!  You won’t get rich from these sales, but you will get “writing clips.”  And when magazine editors discover your timely, well-written articles/stories etc., they will approach YOU with their needs.

Okay… do you need some ideas for NEXT Christmas?  Check out these:

  • Favorite Christmas books, movies, musicals/plays (pastiche or true likes)
  • Christmas mishaps (humorous, or coping skills)
  • Christmas trees: cutting your own, uniquely decorating (we knew friends who lit live candles on their tree!), a special nostalgia ornament
  • Family traditions (oldies, or how to start your own)
  • How to make homemade gifts (food, ornaments, clothes, home decor)
  • Holiday baking (how-to, tastes & smells, shipping)
  • Holiday traditions from other countries (foods, decorations, activities)
  • Or…. interview someone with over 3,500 Santa Claus decorations (Hint: I can give you her name.)

Take away

After all the gifts are opened, the holiday meal is eaten (and cleaned up), the kids are playing with new toys (or the boxes), and the older “boys” are watching football, go grab a piece of crumpled wrapping paper, smooth it out, flick open that new expensive gold-plated pen, and start writing up your holiday impressions, experiences, and ideas while they are still “dancing in your head.”

Christmas garland

Merry Christmas &  Happy New Year !

 

*Inspiration for this post came from Jewell Johnson’s article, Writing Seasonal Articles in the Christian Communicator, Nov-Dec, 2017.

(RE)STARTING YOUR ENGINE

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Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter.

 

 

(RE)STARTING YOUR ENGINE

I was on an author panel recently, and a member of the audience asked us if we wrote every day. The other panelists confirmed that they did, and I had to confess that I do not. I know, call me Slacker.

 
It’s not like I don’t enjoy writing—most of the time. I usually have plenty of ideas of what to write, I know where my work in progress is heading, and I WANT to sit down and write, but there are days when it just doesn’t happen. The phone rings—Caller ID tells me it’s a friend I haven’t heard from in weeks, so of course I must answer. Or the computer goes on the fritz and I spend an hour in Help Desk Hell, listening to a robovoice assure me that my call is very important, so please stay on the line for the next available representative. Or the dog begs me for a walk with an irresistible, pleading expression on her furry face.

 
And there go my good intentions right out the window.

 
Generally, I make up for lost time, sooner or later. I turn off the phone, let the dog amuse herself in the yard for a while, and swear off Facebook until I’ve done at least 1000 words or put in an hour of writing, whichever comes first.

 
Recently, however, everything ground to a screeching halt—not for a day, or even a week.

 
For a month.

 
I had a good excuse: hip surgery. The surgery itself was uncomplicated and successful, and I’m making a rapid recovery. But in the days leading up to it, I had too many things to think about besides my current work in progress, where I was a little over the halfway point.

 
Post-surgery, there were many more distractions: follow-up doctor appointments, physical therapy, and fatigue that demanded frequent naps. Additionally, for a while I needed heavy-duty prescription pain meds—a creativity-killer if ever there was one. The opioid fog began to clear, but I still felt apathetic about writing. I’d abandoned the unfinished novel at a point where I wasn’t sure exactly what should happen next, which was a huge tactical error, but by then it was too late to remedy it.

 
I stared at the pile of pages on my writing table, overwhelmed with hopelessness. The novel reminded me of a car with a dead battery; the parts were all there, but the battery was drained and the vehicle was just a cold, unresponsive lump of metal—or, in this case, paper. Stalled car

At that point, I gave in to despair. Why bother? Who cares? Does the world even need another book from me?

 
Then I remembered that some people did care: my writers’ critique group. I soon would owe them 30 pages of new work. With that deadline looming, I sighed. How could I let them down? I must at least try to produce something for them. So I picked up the pages and re-read what I’d written before I went under the knife, all the while laughing at my foolish assumption that I would “catch up on my writing” while I was recuperating.

 
The pages I’d already written weren’t bad, and I’d gotten some positive feedback from my fellow writers. I started writing down words, reminding myself that if  I simply put them on paper, I’d have something to work on, something to build on and edit. I remembered a valuable saying: You can’t fix what’s not on the page.

 
I knew this approach as surely as I knew my own name, so I gritted my teeth and ground out five pages. They seemed flat and pointless. But at least I had something to show for my time and effort. And as I read over what I’d written, I had an idea for how to make them better. A flicker of hope beckoned. Hey, maybe this wasn’t a lost cause.

 

I wrote a few additional pages, and the more I wrote, the more ideas started to flow. First a trickle, then a stream. I lost track of time as I scribbled the outline of what needed to happen next, and a delicious enthusiasm flowed over me, that feeling I’d begun to fear was lost for good. That poor old dead engine had finally turned over. It sputtered a few times, but then it started chugging along.

 
I still have a long way to go to “The End,” but if I hadn’t sat down and made myself pretend to be a writer again, the muse would not have whispered in my ear. Why try and talk to someone who’s not listening?

 
So you see, magic can still happen. Believe in it. You may think the game is lost, but there’s always the chance it isn’t over yet. There may be a tiny spark of life left in that engine after all, but you won’t know unless you fiddle around with it a while.

Anybody out there who had to abandon a project and then fought to resurrect it after some time had passed? How did you get going again, or did you? Or perhaps now you’re thinking, maybe you will . . .?

 

A Boost Up!

By Jackie Houchin

Boost up2“A boost up”….when someone holds their clasped hands together next to a horse, and you put your foot in like a stirrup, and they propel you upward into the saddle.

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Sometimes a beginner (or lazy) writer needs a boost up into the writing saddle.  That’s where The Write Practice came into the picture for me. (I’m one of those lazy ones!)

The Write Practice

”If you want to become a better writer, you need to practice,” says Joe Bunting, creator of The Write Practice organization and blog. What’s involved? Fifteen minutes a day, five days a week, practicing with fresh writing prompts, unique lessons on technique, and getting feedback from a supportive community.

There are over 1000 practice exercises and lessons on the blog in such categories as; better writing, genre & format, characterization, grammar, journalism, plot & story, writers block, inspirational writing, publishing, and blogging. And it’s free.  http://thewritepractice.com/about/

I’ve attempted two lessons so far in the Short Story category. The first lesson was to read at least six short stories from the many magazine links supplied. The second lesson was to free-write for at least 15 minutes, post what you wrote in the comments section, read three of what other people wrote, and give them brief feedback.  Simple as that; practice writing and give feedback. It’s really the basis for everything Bunting does.

I wrote a short ditty on ‘Pig, Porcupine & Pineapple.’  It was totally fun!  Now to see with my fellow writers say about it

The Becoming Writer Community & Challenge

 If you are ready to go to the next level and start writing finished pieces (and get published), then the Becoming Writer community is the next step. Bunting compares this with what the “Inklings were for Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, the expats in Paris were for Hemingway, and the Bloomsbury group was for Woolf.”

I discovered Becoming Writer because membership in it (yes, it does cost a little) was a requirement to submit to The Write Practice’s quarterly short story writing contest. But what you get with membership is a lot more than the contest.

Like the free practice lessons above, you share your writing with a community of writers to get and give feedback.  Actually giving feedback on another’s work helps you when it comes time to edit your own piece.

The Challenge is to write ONE piece EACH WEEK, submitted on Fridays.  It can be a short story, blog post, poem, essay, or a chapter in a book.  This is what us “lazy” writers call accountability.

And finally, besides actually finishing your pieces (Yay!), you get opportunities to submit to magazines like Short Fiction Break, Wordhaus and others.

The feedback on my first piece, an essay I wrote about Africa, brought a suggestion for submission to a specific online magazine. I submitted it and am waiting to hear.  http://thewritepractice.com/members/join

The Fall Contest

This is what caught my attention at first, a writing contest that promised cash prizes, free books, and publication. The theme was “Let’s Fall in Love.” Stories had to contain the two elements FALL and LOVE and be no longer than 1,500 words.  I told myself, “I can do that.”

The name “Autumn Gold” sprang to my mind and I quizzed my writer friends on Facebook as to how a girl with that name might look. The first answer – a stripper – caused me to cringe because that’s not what I had in mind. But when another person confirmed what he said, it left no doubt.

The story I eventually wrote keeps the title “Autumn Gold,” but the girl’s name is Audrey Gould.  I wrote an outline of sorts, showed it to a friend for her opinion, and then pounded out a story about LOVE that takes place in AUTUMN. It was 1,948 words. Lots of cuts and edits later, I submitted it to the Becoming Writer Contest community.

For the contest (548 entrants) the community is divided into ten groups, A–J, with about 40-50 writers in each. I landed in Group D. There are 46 of us, and we’ve become a close-knit group.

I’ve gotten about nine feedbacks on “Autumn Gold,” and I’ve given at least many more on other stories.  Some are VERY good! Others will need some work.  Reading my story’s feedback and the feedback on the other stories has opened my eyes to what works and what doesn’t, and what readers “get” from what you write, even if it’s not what you intended.

Invaluable!

I’m considering rewriting the ending and running it past them one more time. The final deadline to submit the story to the judges is September 4.

Other Programs

The Write Practice offers other programs for writers and authors on building a platform, publishing & marketing, Twitter, and the 100 Day Book challenge.  http://thewritepractice.com/products

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Now I’m up in the saddle. I’m trotting around and loving it. I can’t wait to press my calves against my steed’s sides and rise into a canter.  I needed that boost up.  Do you?  Perhaps you should consider a writing community.

I suggest The Writing Practice. Take advantage of the discipline and the getting and giving of feedback.  Pick the lessons you are interested in and go for it. They are free! You might also consider Becoming Writer.

Or join a critique group and begin giving your work over to new eyes and opinions.

Get up there and get galloping!

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Currently the Becoming Writer and the 100 Day Book programs are closed until next semester.  Future contests in Becoming Writer will be on Flash Fiction, Essay writing, Novels, and Poetry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Make A Booklet in 33 “Easy” Steps

By Jackie Houchin.

This is a “How To?” post on making simple half sheet booklets. Booklets can be used for any project or advertisement. I use them to print out my MISSIONARY KIDS STORIES so some of the younger kids can have a “hands on” experience and be able to re-read the stories when Mom’s laptop is not available. These booklets are pretty simple to look at… and I hope I’ve made the instructions simple, but…you judge.  The problem is, there will be differences between PCs and Apple computers and laptops, and with the various aged or brand new software you are using.

I’m using Window 7 with MS Word 2007, and a mid-range Cannon Printer.

READY,

    SET,

         GO!

 

1. Open a new document in Word (I have 2007)

2.  Go to the Page Layout tab.

3.  In the bottom right corner there is a tiny arrow – click on that for a “Page Setup.” (It will open with a small Margins tab, if not, change it to that.)

Snip - Page Set Up

4.  FIRST go to ‘orientation’ and change it to LANDSCAPE.

5.  SECOND go down to the “pages” drop down and click on BOOK FOLD.

6.  THEN, for ‘sheets per booklet,’ use ALL. (Your booklet – however long – MUST have pages divisible by 4, such as 12, 16, 20, 24, 48 etc., or your page printing will be off.  If necessary, press enter, until you have blank pages at the end to equal enough. (Check the page count at the bottom of your screen.)

7.  NEXT  Set the INSIDE and OUTSIDE margins to .5″  Set the TOP and BOTTOM margins anywhere from .5″ to 1.0″ as desired for more or less white space.

8.  Leave O for the GUTTER if you plan to open the booklet flat and center staple it together, or sew it down the middle. If you plan to close your booklet and staple it along the left side, or use a spiral or squeeze binding, then set the GUTTER at .25″ or .5″ inch.

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 9.  Still in the Page Setup box, go to the Layout tab.

Snip - Page Set up - PAge Layout

10.  Set the Section Start at “New Page.”

11.  Warning: DO NOT CHECK the box for “Different First Page.” Somehow it screws up the order of pages in printing.

12.  Set the headers & footers at .5″.

13.  The vertical alignment stays at “Top.”

14.  Click OK.

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15.  You will see a vertical half page. Make this title page special, with fonts or photos.

16.  Start your work (or copy and paste from another document) on the following page.  You can change fonts and sizes, spacing and indents, add photos, clip-art, tables, charts,  etc., and change the style by using the Home settings. (For my stories, I use an easy-reader font and the block style of indents.)

Snip- Word home page

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17.  To add page numbers, go to the Insert tab.

Snip - Header Footer Page Number

18.  Go to the Header & Footer square and click on Page Numbers. It will give you choices as to where you want the numbers placed. For a booklet, it’s best to place them at the center of either top or bottom. You can also “format” what they look like, and at what number you wish to start. Experiment with what you prefer. I start with #O since I don’t want the front cover to be page one.

19.  When you are finished,  MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A NUMBER OF PAGES DIVISIBLE BY FOUR, as per the page number on your screen, NOT on the document, even if you have to “enter” your cursor several times to get a few blank pages at the end.

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NOTE: I am using a Cannon MG5500 Series Printer, so the following may differ with your machine. Use these as general instructions, and adjust for yours.

20.  Click on “print” (not quick print).

Snip - Print Screen

21.  When that window opens. Choose the number of copies you want to print (or experiment with one at first), and check “Collate.”

22.  Click on “Properties” (upper right corner of your print box).

Snip - Print - Properties - Page layout

23.  Go to the Page Setup Tab.

24.  Make sure LANDSCAPE Orientation is checked.

25.  Check DUPLEX Printing

26.  UN-CHECK “automatic” if it is checked. (With “automatic” checked, the printer will draw the paper back inside to print the opposite side before going on, but THIS DOES NOT WORK WITH A BOOKLET. The second side will be upside down.)

27.  Click on OK, then OK to print.

28.  The printer prints ONE side only, then stops. (It will look weird at first.)

29.  Take your printed pages out and re-insert them, according to how YOUR printer works.

Snip - Print again

With my printer (a front feeder), I keep the pages face up and just lower them down to the paper feed tray beneath the output.  I don’t turn them over or rotate them clockwise (like in this screenshot), STRAIGHT DOWN just as they came out of the printer (EVEN if my printer screen SAYS to rotate them, I don’t.  THAT works only for full page documents, NOT for booklets which are printed and compiled differently.) TEST yours first!

30.  Click “Start Printing” when prompted.

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 31.  After the second side is printed, take the pages out, align the edges carefully and fold them in half crosswise to find the line where the staples or sewing will be placed. (Or crease them heavily in preparation for stapling or binding them along the left side.)

32.  Use a stapler that opens flat, place cardboard or wood beneath and staple two or three places, with the inside pages of your booklet facing down.

33.  Open and carefully bend the staple ends tight. Fold and crease tightly.

 

AND…

    VOILA!

         A BOOKLET!

 

Megan reading Dead Mice

Megan reading MK Story #1 – “Dead Mice”

 

MY SUPERPOWER: PERSISTENCE by BONNIE SCHROEDER

4618c-bonnie

 

Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter.

 

I come from a family of quitters. Sort of.

Several generations ago, my family owned a farm in northern New Mexico, in the Four Corners area. Now, anyone who’s ever lived on a farm knows it’s hard work. There are no vacations, holidays, or sick leave. It’s dangerous work, and you’re always at the mercy of Mother Nature.

So it’s totally understandable that at some point they gave up, sold the farm, and moved on to something less overwhelming. However, the people who bought the family farm went on to discover oil there. And I’m sure my great-grandparents sometimes thought, “If only we hadn’t given up.”

I heard that story from the time I was a little kid, and it haunted me. So when I became a writer, I swore I would never give up or give in to discouragement. I would become a published writer.

Life intervened in unexpected ways, and I had to put my dreams on the back burner for a while, but I never abandoned them. I kept writing, if only in stolen moments on a commuter van traveling to and from my job.

Writing is hard work, and you often must sacrifice other pursuits, many of which are easier and more entertaining. Your friends look at you funny when you tell them you’re skipping the movie so you can work on your novel. Sometimes I’d wonder, “Is it worth it? Who will care about this book anyway?” The answer, of course, was “I will.”

I finally finished a novel, and I even found an agent. Yay! Mission accomplished!

Ooops, not really. My agent was very determined; she got me rejected by all the big publishing houses, until a junior editor at the now-defunct Zebra Books took a liking to the novel. We talked, she suggested a few changes, and I was almost done revising when my agent called. The junior editor’s boss overruled her. No publishing deal.

My agent briskly told me to write another novel— “a mystery this time.” I did. She read it and dismissed it, telling me “that theme isn’t selling right now.” And she gave up on me.

But I didn’t give up. I wrote another novel, and after years of workshops and revisions, I began sending it to agents and to publishers who took unagented work.

I sent 167 query letters over six years before luck landed me at Champlain Avenue Books (well, luck and my friend MM Gornell, a fellow member of this blog.) And after all that time and all that angst, before I could even catch my breath, Mending Dreams came into being—and into bookstores.mdfrontcover-web

I was tempted a lot of times to give up, but that family story stuck with me, and I didn’t want to be the one who walked away and let someone else reap the benefits.

You hear all kinds of slogans on this subject: “Winners never quit; quitters never win.” But in my case the slogan took tangible form, and I’m here to tell you that you CAN achieve your dreams, if only you keep trying. Sometimes just hanging on for that extra day, that extra mile, that extra page—it can make all the difference.mountaintop

I’m putting my words to the test again, working on a new novel—the most challenging one yet. But it’s easier to keep going now, because I know I can do it, and I know that I have to.

Have you ever been tempted to quit writing because it can be so hard and sometimes so discouraging? Did you persist? How did you motivate yourself to keep going?