WAITING FOR THE SINGING BIRD

 

 

Many years ago I read a beautiful Chinese proverb:  “Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps the singing bird will come.”  I have spent my life trying to keep the green tree alive in my heart.  Now I am well past my three score years and ten allotted by the Bible, and I think, in the distance, I can hear its first faint chirping.

 

My life has been devoted to words. I have been  writing since I was a child and first learned their magic.  I remember I kept a book called “My Beauty Book” into which I painstakingly copied scraps of literature, quotations and especially poems whether written in English or translated.  I would sit in the massive Public Library in Melbourne, Australia, my birthplace, with piles of books in front of  me, and it was like wandering through an enchanted garden.  It seemed to me that there was much beauty in the world, but to capture it you needed to be a poet, a musician or an artist.  I used to think: if only I were a musician, I would compose great symphonies, rhapsodies with crashing chords that would let my listeners soar to heights of ecstasy.  Alas, I had no musical talent.

 

Then I would think: if only I were an artist.  My canvas would show swathes of brilliant color … scarlet, emerald, indigo.  I would portray the wonders of creation, and people would be inspired to open their eyes and see for themselves all the beauty that exists in the world and ugliness could be banished forever.  Sadly, I had no artistic talent.

 

Writing, however, was something else.  I could string words together like a necklace of diamonds and crystals, so they shimmered like stars in the night sky.  I would repeat a quotation of just two lines that became my mantra:

 

“Writing is dreaming, head in the skies;

Reading is sharing another man’s eyes.”

 

I could dream and I could write.  I could write about all that was lovely in the world in a way that readers could share my eyes. I would let them see what I saw; touch what I touched; hear the music that I heard; smell the perfumes I smelt and taste what I tasted, even if it was the salt of tears.

 

I have nurtured and cherished this gift.  Writing has been a therapy and a consolation, allowing me to put my life into perspective.  As we grow older, we sustain many losses along the way.  We lose people we loved, that is inevitable, but we sometimes lose our dreams as well.  We can even lose love and that is the greatest loss of all.  When that happens, words can be a comfort if you focus on: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

Pain accompanies  us as we go through life, but a writer can verbalise it in such a way to help it dissipate; and we can use words to help others deal with their sadness.  We learn so much from great writers through the ages… those poets who reveal a touch of paradise; the story-tellers who can point a moral that perhaps will light the way for those of us stumbling in the darkness.

 

I love words.  They have never betrayed me. They have been my constant companion through life’s journey and sustained me through all the rough patches. Every year that I now live is a gift from God.  How fortunate I have been even to be paid for what I loved doing.  My purpose has been to try to enrich my life and that of others with the power of words.

 

In that way I have kept the green tree in my heart.  I have watched it don new green lace every Spring, have seen the leaves turn to russet and gold in the Autumn.  It has been a shelter to build nests.  And now, I think, the bird will soon begin to sing!

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Let me know if I can help you with any writing problems – the advice is free.  My latest novel “Searching for Sarah” is available direct from me at discount – you can contact me at:  dwaysman@gmail.com     Happy writing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CREATING A MEMOIR

 

 

When we reach a certain age, often our children tell us it is time to write a memoir, a short history of our lives.  Usually the family are happy even to pay for the printing for you. They know, as you do, it’s not likely to be of interest to anyone outside the family circle, and it doesn’t need to be a great work of literary merit, but it is to be valued and even cherished among your children and grandchildren.  I am saddened that when my late father told me stories of Portuguese forebears a few generations  ago that he had heard from his parents, I barely listened.  Now I would love to know more about them, but there is no-one left to ask.  Even if young people have little patience to listen to these old stories now, the time will come, as it did with me, when they will realise that these past generations helped to shape them and will hunger for all the information that is available.

 

Why does one write a memoir?  There’s an old saying that to die without leaving  a record is to die without an inheritance.  Every Passover, throughout all the generations, Jews are instructed to tell our children the story of the Exodus from Egypt.  Our personal memoir also tells the story of where we came from and how we got here … to this place in life, wherever it may be.

 

We read and write memoirs to find meaning in life, and as a kind of cry for immortality. The research begins with a  paper chase,  often difficult when those who  know your history are no longer alive.  You collect photos, anecdotes, records of births, deaths and marriages, anything that will shed light on your distant roots.  A memoir is an impression of life, from which gradually a portrait emerges.  It is a testimony of the life you have lived told in the most compelling, vivid and brave way.  You should not only tell the events of your own life, but those taking place in the larger world around you that influenced your choices.  Instincts and desires are also part of the equation.

 

It’s something like the old song:  “What’s it all about, Alfie?”  When we write a memoir, we attempt to put our lives in perspective.  It takes perseverance to reach your goal of writing every day (if you’re really serious  about finishing the job), but a dream is like a boat.  To sail, you need some work and skill, but if you make the effort , your dream can eventually take you to a wonderful destination.  There will be painful stops along the way, failures as well as triumphs, setbacks and achievements.    Sometimes it’s not easy to admit to weakness,  but everyone makes mistakes and your readers will empathise with your candour.

 

In your personal memoir, you will be able to examine who you are and where you  sprang from.  It will be necessary to choose a road between honesty and discretion, so as not to hurt those in the family who may still be alive.  This record of a life lived will be a legacy that may help your descendants one day to charter their own journey through life.

 

I am always glad to hear your comments, and to help you with any writing problems.

My latest novel “Searching for Sarah”  is available direct from me at discount price.

You can contact me at :  dwaysman@gmail.com      Happy writing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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WRITING THE FIRST CHAPTER

This is what sells your novel, first to an editor, then the public.  Remember the advertising slogan: You never get a second chance to make a first impression!  And even more so, the first page which a reader in a shop will rarely get past.

Open your novel at a point where a crisis is about to happen.  There must be some form of conflict, dilemma to be solved, or drama about to unfold. You draw the reader into the story , and ensure that he/she knows the personality and something of the background of the characters.  Hook their interest and let them empathise with the problems.

Don’t introduce too many characters at once, and don’t use names of those not actually appearing in the scene.  It is only when they appear physically on the page that they become memorable.  Remember, WHERE the action takes place; WHAT is the problem; WHO are the characters involved.

Tell the reader when the story starts, if it is past or future, or contemporary.    Use flashbacks sparingly.  When you return to the present, it must be clear to the reader.

Getting the tense right is vital. Write scenes chronologically if possible.   Try to show events to the reader and not just tell them.  Within the first scene, describe the setting where the drama is being enacted.  Many new writers start the story too slowly, beginning at a point before the real drama starts. But also don’t rush in with action before the reader knows why the characters react as they do.

Intrigue the reader with hooks as to an approaching crisis or drama that the hero must overcome, to draw them into the story.   Build suspense and tension in the first chapter. Introduce emotional intensity to keep the reader guessing and emotionally involved.  End the first  chapter with a cliff-hanger, so that they’ll want to read on.

A balance of narrative, description, introspection and dialogue is important to start at a good pace.   Be prepared to rewrite several times, always being aware of information needed, and maintaining the drama and pace the hold the reader’s (and publisher’s) attention.

Happy writing.  I am always here to help you with any writing problems. Contact me at dwaysman@gmail.com     My latest novel “Searching for Sarah” is available direct from me at discount.

 

 

 

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HOW TO PROMOTE YOUR BOOK

You’ve written a book – what a wonderful achievement.  But how do you get people to know about it, and actually buy it?

If you’re very rich (and I don’t really know any writers who are), you take out advertisements in newspapers, magazines, literary journals etc.  But this isn’t an option for most of us.  There are various ways to let people know about your book.

One way is to send copies to various media, and ask if they would be willing to have it reviewed (either by one of their literary staff, or someone you might suggest.)  I have always found the most successful way to sell my books has been to make myself available as a free speaker at various suitable organisations.  Make sure your talk is amusing and interesting … you can give brief readings, but not more than a few paragraphs or the listeners will become bored.  Leave at least 30 mins. at the end for Questions & Answers – your public likes to feel involved with you and be respectful of their queries – answer them honestly and with a bit of humor if you can.  My experience after 14 books is that at least 70% of the audience will buy your book if it is available after your talk. I always had someone from the publisher’s sitting at a table with a pile of books available after the talk finished.

My most successful sales were on book tours, which generous publishers financed over the U.S. & U.K. when I was much younger. They were however exhausting, and only sponsored by very successful publishers, who paid my air fares, hotel expenses etc. They arranged for TV appearances every night in different cities, and book signings in various branches of Barnes & Noble.  Of course they received the major income from the book sales, but the royalties were also very nice.

When your book is first published, have a book launch.  It can be in your home if you have a large one, in a hall or in a bookshop … if the latter, ask them to make a window display of your book.  Serve nice refreshments and either wine or a big urn for tea and coffee. People will be grateful and more inclined to be generous after you’ve indulged them.  Talk personally to as many people as possible, and make them feel special so that they feel they “know” the author, and can later talk to their friends about it.

 

Writing a book is a remarkable achievement.  Be proud of yourself.  It is a wonderful feeling to see your book in windows or on shelves.  You deserve it – you have earned it!

Happy writing. If I can help you with any writing problems, contact me at : dwaysman@gmail.com  Some of my 14 books are now available at discount prices.

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RANDOM THOUGHTS

When I was still giving writing workshops, one of the things that troubled me was that very many students had no idea how to use punctuation.

I taught them an amusing verse to show when to use the comma:

“A cat has claws at the end of its paws. A comma is a pause at the end of a clause.”  It is important to use a comma correctly, otherwise meanings can be altered.  For instance, if a restaurants put up a sign “No dogs please”, this becomes a generalisation , since many dogs do please their owners.    It needs a comma after ‘dogs’ to make sense, that the restaurant requests you leave your dogs outside.

The colon and semi-colon are often misused.  They propel you forward in a sentence towards more information.  The semicolon lightly propels you in any direction related to the foregoing; the colon nudges you along lines already subtly laid down.

The exclamation mark !   In humorous writing, it is the equivalent of canned laughter.

Another problem many students had was that they were short of inspiration.   I would suggest that they check out some local scenery and architecture, and then let their mind wander.   Make the most of museums  – full of art and artifacts to inspire you.  Look through your desk drawers for old postcards, newspaper cuttings, maps, guides, and magazine articles you have kept.    Reread your own favorite  classic novels and consider how you could continue these stories after the author has written: The End.

Finally, write because you want to write, because you enjoy the process.  Remember, publication is the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.

If I can help you with any writing problems, write to me at  dwaysman@gmail.com  Many of my 14 books are now available at discount prices, including my latest novel: “Searching for Sarah.”    I’m always happy to hear your comments.

 

 

 

 

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A PLAN FOR ALL SEASONS

 

 

 

 

Most editors lead a double life as they work in the present, but continually have to think in the future. The writer who submits ideas for articles at least three issues ahead is thus a great boon to editors.  Not only are there the four seasons to consider and the subjects topical to Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring, there are all the  seasonal and religious festivals that crop up – Jewish holidays, and for Christians Easter and Christmas.

Recently an Editor at the Jerusalem Post asked me for an article on the forthcoming Festival of Thanksgiving.  As I am Australian-born, I have never celebrated it, but I didn’t want to give up the opportunity to take the assignment, so I played with ideas until I came up with something I thought would be acceptable, and it was and will appear this Friday.

LET’S  GIVE THANKS

As an Australian, Thanksgiving was never part of my tradition.  Nevertheless, it always sounded wonderful. It originally began as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest the previous year.   Pilgrims who emigrated from England in the 1620’s carried the tradition with them to New England.  I used to read about  Macy’s Parade in New York, the luscious foods – turkey with cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and the family get-togethers – and think it was a wonderful idea.

 

I wonder who  remembers from their childhood a series of books about Pollyanna?  Even though Eleanor H. Porter published them in America in 1913, they were still wildly popular when I was a child decades later.  Pollyanna was an 11-year-old orphan who was the eternal optimist, even while living with her strict, unsmiling maiden aunt.  She managed to be glad  and give thanks for  the most horrendous things, and little girl fans set up “Glad Clubs” all over the U.S. and even in Australia where I lived.  I never joined because when she was “glad” that she broke her leg and was given crutches instead of the doll she craved, she became just too goody-goody for me to swallow.

 

But some of the “gladness” seems to have stayed.  Certainly on awakening each morning, I’m always glad of another day.  The American tradition of Thanksgiving – friends and family sharing a meal as the pilgrims did in 1621, seems a very positive celebration.  Orthodox Jews give thanks after every meal, and blessings for many good things throughout the day.  In Asian culture, bowing is a way to say thanks, just as Hindus place their palms together , bring them to their face and nod.  In Bali, the Lomban Festival is held by fishermen to give thanks to the sea. In each case, the underlying message is that of giving thanks for how wonderful and surprising and miraculous life is, with each new day an opportunity for fulfilment, friendship and happiness.

 

You can’t help feeling glad and grateful for blue skies and sunshine; the endless waves of the ocean rolling into the shore; the dewdrops in the heart of a rose; stars scattered like diamonds across the night sky; trees donning new green lace at the approach of Spring.

 

Giving thanks can be a secret weapon and a tool for protecting mental stability and promoting health.  A huge amount of modern life’s trauma and unhappiness stems from a simple lack of gratitude.  The fact of life itself is amazing enough.  We only become unhappy when we indulge in the “me” culture of “I deserve more”’  “I want something for nothing”; “I want compensation”.  Counting our blessings is the best way t avoid the fatal self-absorption that can lead to an unfulfilled life, serious depression, even emotional or physical breakdown.

 

Giving thanks is part of an instinct for survival , because it’s useful and vital to be thankful for the world around us.  It will help keep your balance through the sticky mire of life when there are troubles, losses or sadness that beset us all at some time.  Yet there’s always something to be glad about if you look hard enough.

 

There are many strategies to keep you optimistic.  Set aside just ten minutes a day to focus on the good things in your life.  Make a list if you like. This is an effective mood-boosting technique.

 

Savor just being alive.  Remember those millions who are worse off than yourself in third-world countries.  We have food and water and shelter, and these things should never just be taken for granted.

 

Show appreciation to family and friends who are always there for you.  Say “thank you” often, even if it’s just to the bus driver who stopped for you when he didn’t have to.  Buy some pretty “thank you” cards and send them to deserving friends.  This is a powerful, emotional way to clarify the really important things in your life.

 

Comparing ourselves to people who have more is a recipe for misery.  Remember envy is one of the deadly sins, and money has never been proven to increase happiness.

 

Relish life’s little pleasures … a cup of tea, a piece of chocolate, freshly laundered sheets, a bud that bursts into flower in your garden,  the blessing of hot water.  Be aware of them instead of dismissing them as trivial.

 

Finally, get things in proportion.  Counting your blessings will help you when you must confront difficulties.  You’ll see the bigger picture, and find that you have more going for you than you ever imagined.  We can celebrate Thanksgiving even if we’re not  American!                 _______________________

So start thinking about what seasonal topics edidors will be needing in the coming months and submit your ideas to them now, for the best chance of acceptance.

Happy writing!  I am always glad to hear your comments, and to help with any of your writing problems. Contact me at dwaysman@gmail.com

 

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TAKE A CARING VIEW

When we read, we need to feel that the people we are reading about are real, so that we can both identify with them, and care about what happens to them.The writer’s job is to make sure that the characters we portray can hold a reader’s interest right from the start.

Usually, you’ll have several characters, but one should stand out – the one you personally identify with the most. If you are writing about a man and a woman who are in disagreement about something, you must decide which of the two you most identify with and then relate the story from his/her viewpoint. Other person plus subsidiary characters will have their own points of view conveyed, but only as seen through the eyes of your main character.

 

If writing in the first person, nothing can happen unless it is seen or heard by rhis person, or related to him or her.  This narrative has limitations, as the plot must be planned to avoid episodes occurring when the hero/heroine is absent.

In 3rd person narrative, the viewpoint character is “he” or “she”. This is the most popular as it gives more scope. It makes for solidarity, especially in a short story, allowing you to relate the tale with fewer restrictions than when writing in the 1st person.

You can choose an omniscient narrator, maybe an onlooker who tells the story about other people from a distance. For example, a staid old bachelor might describe the torrid love life of his young nephew. The account would be quite different if related by that same nephew. This choice is suited to a leisurely or humorous tale. Novelist Nina Bawden wrote: “You know people better in a novel than in real life because you know what they think, not just what they say they think.”   So when writing, you need to decide which of your characters reveal their true thoughts.

It is important to decide who your viewpoint character is before you write a word. Imagine a story of a middle-aged couple. Their son has been arrested on some charge (a fight, drug possession, drunk driving ….) . The effect of your tale will depend almost entirely on whose point of view you choose.

So, to start. How to select your viewpoint character? First thoroughly know all the characters, even the ‘baddies’.  Care about them. Once you achieve this level of intimacy with them, the selection of a viewpoint character will happen almost automatically … the person you yourself most identify with. You will care about him or her, and have achieved your main objective of making your readers care too, creating a satisfying, enduring story.

Happy writing! I am always pleased to hear your comments and to help you free of charge with any writing problems.  You can purchase my latest novel “Searching for Sarah” or an earlier one “In A Good Pasture” at discount, by contacting me at:  dwaysman@gmail.com

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