Jumpstarting my Inspiration

Blogging inspirationWho:      Incredible bloggers from around the country
What:    BlogU14
Where:  Baltimore, Maryland
Why:      Looking to improve my blogging skills
When:     June 6-8, 2014
How:      Attending classes, networking and making new friends

Last weekend I had the privilege of stepping outside my comfort zone and attending Blog University. It was the first time this particular conference had been held and involved over 100 people, some hoping to start a blog and others, published authors.

I was amazed by how supportive and helpful all the bloggers were in sharing their journeys and what actions led to their success. I learned so much. While I was aware how important it is to build relationships with others who write to a similar audience, I never realized how much we can help each other.

Thank you for your support, your courage and most of all, your willingness to share your time and knowledge with me. You have inspired me to keep working away, word by word, in my part of the world. I can’t wait to meet again.

Can We Be Truly Objective – Travel Writing

Travel WritingWe had an interesting discussion in my new writing class yesterday. The instructor is a travel writer, previously working for Outside Magazine and then as an independent with articles appearing in the New York Times and National Geographic, among other major publications. So, he’s a pro.

“What is the future of travel writing?”

The question he asked hung in the air for a moment before he began talking about how the internet has changed writing. In the past, writers proposed stories to editors and, if interested, they would be sent out to complete the piece. Travel costs were covered and the writer would be paid for his/her time. Articles may have paid a writer up to $10,000. At that time, writers could get by with 6-8 published articles a year, depending upon their lifestyle.

With the advent of the internet, magazines and newspapers have shrunk in size, some even going out of business. Online reporting is at an all time high. Frankly, that’s where I get my news. Where writers were paid for content before, many bloggers submit articles or posts for free for the “exposure”. The Huffington Post comes to mind, but I’m sure there are others.

Then the discussion moved specifically to travel blogging. There are successful travel bloggers who earn a good living, not many, but there are some. Our instructor believes that blogging may be the future of travel writing, with bloggers earning money from ads on their sites. That brought up another questions to ponder.

“Can you truly be objective if you receive free accommodations, access to activities, meals, flights or other subsidies for your travel?”

In order to be “objective”, magazine publishers would not allow writers to accept “gifts” from businesses they were going to be reporting on. In comparison, travel bloggers may receive free “gifts” that essentially discount their travel in exchange for those businesses being included in the final review.

Most bloggers disclose receiving discounts and free products or services to their readers and mention that their opinions are their own. What happens, however, if the accommodations are horrible and that information is reported in a post? Would other businesses still want that same blogger to write about their product knowing that the writer is brutally honest? And, if you enjoyed your time, could it be because you were treated differently than a regular traveler because the business knew they were being evaluated?

I certainly don’t have the answers to these tough questions. If you are a travel blogger, how else do you get “paid” for your work? It’s definitely a dilemma. As someone who wants to include travel reporting in my blog, I’d love to be as objective as possible, but does that mean I can never be paid for my time?

What do you think?

Tough Love Writing

Writing Block

“You’re scary!”

The instructor was a little taken aback at the comment from one of the young women in the writing class. I knew just what she meant. The discussion came after we spent some time selecting one character from our story and then identifying his or her desires, wants, needs and weaknesses.

I had just finished sharing what I’d written down and I was so far off base. The instructor kept pushing, “More detail, more specific! Why is that important? Why? Why? Why?” It was a very uncomfortable place to be. I didn’t have the answers and wasn’t even clear about the difference between desires, wants and needs.

I debated not attending the second session, because I’d left the first one feeling like I’d jumped into a class too far above my skill level. But, in the end, I decided it was already paid for and I was bound to learn something new.

This week’s class exercise was to write down the point of the story. What is it that you want your main character and your audience to discover at the end? And, what is the climactic event that leads to that discovery?

Several people volunteered to share. Most students were too generic with their responses and so the instructor kept pushing and putting them on the spot. They were uncomfortable, but the results were incredible.

As the instructor got ready to move on, I lifted my hand. He asked me if I wanted to share. Somehow I knew that I would lose something if I didn’t grab the moment.

My responses, as expected, were too broad and muddy.  As the instructor pushed and prodded, I struggled for the answers. My fellow students added their thoughts and my brain hurt as I tried to find the right words. And…as the hot seat sizzled…ZING! There it was…the point of my story in three words.

The tough love has led to places I never would have imagined. This instructor is so powerfully passionate about story telling and his commitment to each one of us, that he pushes us far beyond our own comfort zone. While I’ve always thought I could write a book, after this week’s class, I believe it.

I can’t wait until next week. Hmmm…I wonder what else he teaches? Thank you, Michael!!

Writing Journeys

Writing Journey

It’s over.

I finished my first writing class Writing 101 at the Lighthouse in Denver. One of my goals, or resolutions for 2014, was to improve my writing skills. While several of my other resolutions are stalled right now, this one has moved forward.

What did I learn in this four week class?

  • Relax and let it flow– Don’t worry about punctuation or spelling, just write. Exercises with writing prompts and time limits forced me to put something down on the paper. I’d get started and somehow, finishing the first rough section would lead on into other thoughts.
  • There is and should be more than one style-  As our class shared writings, I found they were so different. The same prompt ended up in so many different places…and each one was amazing in its own way.
  • Not every story deserves to be in the light- Some stories, or what I would consider to be my ramblings, will never be shared. I’m still glad I put them down on paper and someday, parts of them may evolve into future stories.
  • Write it by hand- I’m not sure what it was about writing in a journal, but the flow of my writing improved when I got rid of the keypad. Our instructor and the majority of students agreed that it made a big difference.
  • Most importantly, I can do it- As many of you know, I was afraid of taking this class. I needed to overcome my lack of confidence to even show up. Let’s face it, some of my writing sucks, but there are fun glimpses of hope for future success.

So what’s next?

The other students and I are starting a writer’s group. Not everyone is participating, but I’m excited to be challenged by those who are. The first meeting is tomorrow night at a local coffee shop. That’s a logical place for this part of the journey.

I signed up for my second round, Four Week Craft Series: Plotting the Plotted Plot, starting this Thursday. While there are other classes that might have been the next logical step, they didn’t quite fit my schedule. I received an email from the instructor a few days ago letting us know we would be working on one of our stories. I looked back at my writings from the first class and found one that might work. That’s a relief.

A writing challenge:

The writing prompts in class were really helpful to leading me in new directions. So here’s a suggested prompt for those of you interested in giving it a shot. Remember, no perfection allowed.

Look around the room and find a newspaper, magazine or other written material with pictures. Go to page 23, or the next page with photographs. Select one and write a story about it. Don’t think about it. Just set your clock or cell phone timer to seven minutes and write.

Only seven minutes of your time could be the start of something big.

Happy writing!!

Prompting a Story

Young Woman Writing in Her Journal

Last night was the second session of my writing class, Writing 101. Considering how afraid I was to begin, I’m amazed at what a difference it has made already in the way I think and feel about writing. The group is filled with nine women from diverse backgrounds. The stories we share are so wonderfully different.

The exercises the instructor uses to trigger our writing are sometimes difficult and sometimes fun.

How does it work?

Last night, we were each given a small piece of paper to write down three things:

A color
An object
The name of a person

Then, we passed our paper to the person on our right. We had five minutes to write a story that included the three words we’d just received…blue, book, John.

Ready, set, go…

He sat on the floor and pretended to play with his cars while his mother rested in a nearby chair. She was doing it again, writing in the blue book. The sound of her pen on paper was almost silent and she’d pause, looking up. Then she began writing furiously, forcing her pen against the paper, scratching so loudly it could have been the sound of the engine in one of his cars. 

John looked up as the writing stopped and saw his mother weeping. What was in the book that would make her cry? As he jumped up to hug her tears away, he tried to see what was written on the pages, but she quickly closed the book, sealing the mystery inside.

One day he was going to find the book and open it to reveal the pain. He would rip out the pages that caused his mother to cry and bury each one in a separate place in the yard, never to be found again. Then, he would buy another book, not blue, but a bright yellow like the sun and write his own story that would make his mother laugh and dance with joy, just like before.

After sleeping last night, I revisited the story and made minor modifications. I loved this writing prompt and the story that came out of it. Are there things you use to trigger your writing?

Making the Most of Your Travel Journal Part 2

This post is a followup to last Thursday’s travel post. Here’s a link to last week’s article if you missed it.

Making the Most of Your Travel Journal Part 1

Travel Journal 3 web

Now that you have a blank book just waiting for your travels to make their way onto the pages, how do you begin?

The First Entry

My first entry, besides a title page, always includes an overview of my trip. Here are a few suggested questions to get you started.

What are you planning to do?
Where are you planning to go?
Who is going with you?
When are you traveling?
Why are you traveling to this destination, in particular?

Documenting the Journey

There are so many ways to organize your journal. I tend to write my journals in chronological order from the beginning of the day until the end, but there are many ways to capture the moments.

Who are the special people you have met along the way?
What were the highlights of each day?
Where did you eat?

I glue almost everything into my journals. I’ve learned lots of unique ways to fold things so they’ll fit and I can still open them up full size to the most important information.

  • Menus from restaurants I’ve visited- Did you know there’s a BadAss Cafe in Dublin, Ireland? Many restaurants have paper menus they are willing to share, especially when you explain what you are doing. Sometimes I search for restaurants to visit based on their fantastic names.
  • Visitor guides- Stop by the visitor information center. They have great summaries and photos of the places you’re probably planning to visit. I cut some guides apart and some I add to my journal in their full glory. It’s an added bonus that most of these guides are free.
  • Post cards- If writing all the details is just too daunting, grab postcards from the different places you visit. It will spark your memory when you find time to write and adds amazing pictures as well.
  • Travel agency mailings- When I arrange travel through an agency, they always mail me great information, including maps and other trip details. In they go. My journal and maybe a photo album are the only things that remain when I’m finished. I’ll never go back through other trip related documents once I’m back home, so I include the most important papers in my journal. I’ll see them there the next time I want to revisit my trip.
  • Receipts and wrappers- I add in receipts and wrappers from things I’ve eaten. I am very careful about not including too much information on receipts. I don’t want my full credit card number available if my journal is stolen. Make sure you clean off food wrappers so that your journal pages don’t get sticky. I’ve made the mistake of adding the cover from a jelly container without fully cleaning it first. Did you know that grape jelly makes great glue?
  • Other stuff- The sky’s the limit here. All of the “stuff” still tells the story of your travel. If it’s of interest to you, include it. This also helps fill the pages so you don’t have to write a book and miss the most fun parts of your trip.

Travel Journal 7 web

The Writers

Some of my favorite sections of my journals are views of my trip from other people’s perspectives.

  • Fellow Travelers- Are your family members traveling with you? Ask them to add their thoughts at the end of each day. Even if it’s just a sentence, the kids will love going back to the journal to see what they wrote and you’ll eagerly wait for the journal to return to you so you can see their thoughts, too.
  • People You Meet- There are drawings in my Africa journal from several of the guides including that of a kudu and a mopane worm. (I actually ate a mopane worm that was sautéed in garlic.) Numerous people have written in my journals including friendly flight attendants, waiters, pilots and guides. Just ask…many people will be honored to add their thoughts. I show them the journal first so they can see what I’m doing. I usually ask people that have touched me in some way. Were they welcoming and friendly when you sat down for a good meal after a busy day?

Journal Rules

I have a couple key rules that I follow when I write my journals.

  • Perfection is out-  I misspell words. I cross things out. I draw right over my drawings if I made myself too thin or too fat. I glue stuff over things I’ve drawn or written that weren’t quite right. Part of the joy of my journey is not adding pressure to make my journal the most beautiful, perfectly organized book. I’ve written the same thing twice after forgetting I already captured the moment. Who cares? Sometimes I only have a few minutes of downtime to write a quick overview, so my handwriting isn’t the best it can be. A messy page more accurately reflects my journey. So get rid of the need to be perfect and you’ll have more fun.
  • Journaling Isn’t the Most Important Part of the Trip- Don’t spend your whole trip journaling. Just like a photographer who only sees the journey through a camera lens, don’t focus all your time on your journal. Experience the magnificence of the scenery and the joy in spending time with special people.
  • Write each day- If I don’t document each day, I tend to forget the fine details of special moments. Take the final pages in your journal to jot brief notes during the day so you don’t forget. I tend to write in the evening just before I go to bed or on airplanes. I carry my journal with me as I wander around, so I can sit at a sidewalk cafe and catch up after I’ve finished my meal. It’s fun to document what you observe.
  • Don’t make yourself fill all the pages- All my journals have left over pages at the back with nothing on them. I fill as many pages as I need to document my journey.

Your journal is just that, your journal. It may be in a book or online. Make it your own, write your own rules and enjoy the journey. 

If you have tips and tricks you use to document your travel, we’d love to hear them.

 

50,000 Words or More

writing book

Once upon a time…

I searched through the course catalog. A Certificate in Creative Writing? I felt my heart blossom just thinking about it. I’d just finished my Bachelor’s Degree in Organizational Management and was considering continuing my education in a completely different direction…until I noticed that the classes weren’t always held every semester so I’d need to either fill in with other non-relevant courses or begin paying my student loan while still adding more debt. So, I walked away.

It’s always been a dream of mine to write a book. But I’ve never quite known where to begin. So I haven’t. The thought of writing more than 50,000 words has frozen me in my tracks. I write a blog post several times a week and probably average about 400 words, but more than 100 blog posts put together with a logical and enticing flow?

Despite my fear and doubt, I’m stepping forward. My writing class, Writing 101: Gotta Start Somewhere starts tonight. The course description sealed the deal for me when I signed up last month.

“You want to write, but you have no idea how to begin. Or, you’re not sure what form you’d like to try-fiction, nonfiction, poetry, memoir. Perhaps you’ve even got a sizzling writing idea, but can’t quite muster up the courage to take a craft workshop. You might even be a highly experienced writer who’s stuck. That’s quite all right: This experiential,
non-critiquing writing workshop is for you.”

It sounds perfect. So why is my heart in my throat? Why am I a bit sick to my stomach? The questions keep flooding my mind. What if I’m not any good? What if I have to share my writing and it sucks compared to other students? What if? What if? What if?

I bought a beautiful journal and some colorful pens just to begin the class on a good note. While I am still afraid to attend, I’m more afraid not to reach out toward a lifelong dream. So, I’m stepping past my fear into a new adventure.

Is there a time in your life where you’ve overcome your fears to realize a dream?

Just Keep Writing

Laptopoutside

In the early 1990’s, my two sisters and I created an encouragement newsletter called Crosswinds. The publication ran its course and we moved on with life. Blogging entered my life when I got my real estate license as a second job and was looking for additional marketing opportunities. That site was called Central Denver Blog and it lived for about five years.

One constant in these adventures has been my love of writing and creating. In early 2010, A Brief Pause was born. The vision was, and still is, to encourage, inspire and entertain those who visit. The blog began as a joint adventure, but never really blossomed. It has come alive again over the last few months, starting as a place to journal about my trip to see the polar bears. It continues as I work toward getting my head, heart and finances in place for a happy and healthy retirement in January 2019 and other topics that catch my fancy.

Many of my blogging friends have incredible goals for their blogs, mine are fairly basic.

  • Improve my writings skills: I have signed up for a local writing class. The class is not specific to bloggers, but will speak to all areas of writing. I’m also traveling to my first blogging conference. I want to learn from the masters.
  • Just keep writing: As Dory, my favorite character in Finding Nemo says, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…” I need to just keep writing. It’s been somewhat easy while I’ve been on vacation, but it will get much harder once time is at a premium and the weeks and months wear on. My plan is to still be writing in December of 2014, including journaling my travel to Namibia in May.
  • Incorporate my love of photography: Part of my 2014 journey is to focus on doing things that I love. So you’ll be seeing more of my photos as time goes on.

I hope you’ll visit me from time to time and find something that will make you laugh, encourage you in your journey or inspire you to try something new.