[I wrote this in March 2015. At this writing, in January 2016, I have 110 stories.]
I just published my 50th blog piece. I decided number 51 could be different. I’ll talk about how I write my stories and articles – in other words, I’ll tell what works for me, in hopes of helping others with their writing.
When I began my writing project, the first thing I realized was this: if my stories were going to be worth reading, they needed to have a point. Who, what, when and where matter a lot more if the “why” is there. So for most of my stories, I either draw a conclusion or point out a moral; or the punch line of the story itself serves to do that.
Even if my story is about an art piece a nine-year-old created, I’ll find a way to draw a conclusion or make an observation. Such as, in that case, art is art. Do we need a category called “Children’s Art”? An artist is an artist. He or she begins creating, learning, developing, honing skills, having revelations – it’s a continuum.
My story highlighting my Ukrainian folk art turned into a story about the artist and his wife, and my desire to locate them, or to at least find out how they are. Since the art my friend made was so filled with human feelings, the story needed to have the human-interest component to it. The story was also made better, I think, by my showing the art in a historical and cultural context. I drew upon my knowledge as a collector; but I also found the internet to be essential in helping me say what I wanted to say — to a certain extent.
My anecdotal stories almost invariably start with just a small idea or occurrence, and I expand from there. For instance, for one of my stories, I could have simply said, “While walking downtown with my friend, she pointed out that store window displays always feature a different season than the one we are in.” OK. — That’s it in one sentence, but it would seem pretty much tossed off, if left like that. That’s when I start concerning myself with who, what, when and where: just what season was it? What was the weather like that day? What else did my friend say or do? Well, I remember how she wrapped her scarf that much more securely around her neck, when she made the observation. Great! That goes in the story: “Wrapping her winter scarf just a little more tightly around her neck, my young friend turned to me and observed, ‘It’s always a different season in the store windows’.”
I use photographs to illustrate my stories. Actually, I wish I was a filmmaker or cartoonist. I don’t happen to have those skills. But I do think of many of my stories as short films, or cartoons. My use of photographs helps me make the story more like that. It may be because I’m older, and I watched an awful lot of slide shows and film strips in school! 🙂 — Adding photos also aids me in helping my reader see things as I saw them when the event took place. I use my own photography when possible. [Note: I’m working with two graphic artists to illustrate some of my stories, and turn them into comics!]
I fact check. I can turn to my archives, my photos, to gather a lot of information. If I’m inaccurate, I assure you, it’s inadvertent. Because I truly care. And I will absolutely take responsibility and go back and change a story to make it correct, if I discover that needs doing.
I collect folk art, Native American art, African art. When it comes to my collection, I have a lot more feelings about my art than I have facts. And those facts can be hard to come by. So when I wrote about my Native American pottery, I made one of the main points about the story, the fact that not only did I not have a lot of information about the art, but that I could not find a lot of information about the art. But my art there to be enjoyed and treasured.
I will not copy a quantity of text from Wikipedia or an individual’s website. For my story about the beaded art of the Masaai from my collection, had I copied and pasted from a great article I found on a website, I could have made my story longer and more detailed. But that was someone else’s writing! I dropped one or two factoids into my story which I learned from reading that person’s writing; then I included a link to that website in my addendum, so that people wanting more information could get it from the source.
Sometimes, I invite readers to share their own information, in case they have something which will help my readers and me know more about a subject. I’ve asked people in my Facebook groups for their stories and remembrances regarding something I’m writing about, and then added their information and credited them in an addendum. I’ve used that information to write a second, follow-up story. For example, I wrote a story about growing up near a small canyon, where I liked to play when I was a boy. At my request, readers shared updated information; I incorporated that into a follow-up story. (I post links to my stories on various Facebook group pages, in order to increase my readership.)
When I write my story, I go over and over it, to remove unnecessary verbiage, to add words that clarify an idea, to eliminate repetitive language, and to carefully check for proper grammar. And of course, I spell-check before I publish. I search my archives, or the internet for the correct spelling of all persons’ names who are mentioned in my stories. — Super-important.
I add an addendum or “coda” to my stories whenever I think a follow-up, or special little “extra” can be added. I keep that separate from the actual story, by inserting a dotted line between the story and the addendum. I want people to come to a stop where my story ends. And then, they’ll notice that I’ve added some extras for them to check out. I may include links to internet sites or articles, or embed a song via YouTube which I think goes well with the story.
I pay attention to my WordPress stats; thus I’ve learned that people from many countries are visiting my blog. With that in mind, I keep my writing a bit more formal. I may use less slang, unless the story really calls for it. I want to be understood.
To sum up: When you read my stories, you are getting the best I have to offer. The stories have a reason for being, they’re researched, illustrated, edited, annotated as needed. And most of all, they are a labor of love! Thank you.