Dancing into December: My Favorite Writing Tools—Guest Post by Tami Kamin Meyer
Write Now Columbus editor and freelance writer Tami Kamin Meyer pays homage to her favorite writing tools.
I am proud to be a freelance writer. For me, the term evokes a romantic vision of hours tapping away on a dusty typewriter with stubborn, round, porcelain, green keys as cigarette after cigarette slow burn in an ash-filled Diet Coke can on my desk. Coffee mugs with various levels and temperatures of java, one hawking a local sports team, another boasting how The Queen takes her coffee (immediately!) litter my work area, and I am blissfully happy.
Reality, however, could not be further from the truth. For one, I don’t smoke, and when I tried to create a mysterious, smoky workplace, I gagged from the intensity of the incense I had lit.
Note to self: The scent of musk is so 1970’s.
While it is true that java fuels my creativity, and I can drink it anytime of day or night without incident, I prefer it fresh and hot. And, my coffee tastes best in my favorite mug…one featuring a 3D rendering of midtown Manhattan. Sure, my beverage of choice ‘usually’ tastes just as good in a different mug, but it is that vessel that triggers my brain into work mode.
I sometimes think of not using my favorite mug, lest it gets cracked, or worse, the ‘B’ word. But the Old Faithful in me yearns for that mug every day. If I had thought of buying a second one that sunny day in Manhattan several years ago when I first laid eyes on the next Starbucks rendition of its NYC mug, I would have. Maybe even three. Two to break and one to keep in storage, never to be stained by standing coffee, forever.
We writers must have our favorite writing tools.
Another practice of mine when I’m writing is to keep sharpened pencils nearby. While I don’t recall when my love affair with a fresh, razor-sharp, yellow No. 2 lead pencil began, I know it was many moons ago.
Writing with pencil allows me to make mistakes, as we all do in life, but with the added benefit of being empowered to fully erase my errors as if they never occurred. Meanwhile, there have been times I erased my words, only to later realize the verbiage I had wiped away had expressed my thought perfectly.
Writing notes in pencil also reminds me of simpler, bygone days. I recall the pencils we used in elementary school. Their thick shafts of wood barely fit the silver hand-cranked pencil sharpener that hung loosely by a nail on the classroom wall.
They didn’t have erasers, either.
So, I always had a well-used, oddly disfigured pink eraser laying nearby. “If I could just remember where I put that thing….,” I recall thinking many times, “I would be in business.”
Despite owning a laptop and a PC, I continue to write interview questions and responses in pencil. Meanwhile, my personal planner features scribbled notes, random story ideas I wrote down when they came to me lest they be lost forever, phone numbers, some accompanied by the owner’s name and some not (if I never called, now you know why), email addresses, scribbles and more, all created in pencil. Yes, the calendar’s pages can get messy and difficult to read. But, just as with life, nothing’s perfect. Sometimes I actually enjoy the challenge of trying to decipher just what in the world I had written in my planner.
It’s those little things in life, ya know?
Ultimately, I relish the simplicity of a pencil. I don’t have to worry about it exploding its colorful ink in my purse like a Fourth of July firework. I don’t have to shake my pencil to make certain its lead is ‘flowing,” something ink pens beg for at times. My pencil is always ready to write when I am ready to, too.
Except when I hear the teeny albeit woeful sound created when my beautiful, sharp pencil tip breaks.
Anybody got a pen?
(c)Tami Kamin Meyer, 2021, all rights reserved
National Novel Writing Month – You’ve Begun! How Do You Keep Going?
Fourteen-time NaNoWriMo winner Nita Sweeney offers motivation for your National Novel Writing Month adventure.
Congratulations! You’ve taken the huge step of signing up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and you’re in the throes of writing your novel. But what happens if (when?) the exuberant exhilaration wears off? How do you keep going?
Don’t panic! Whether it’s your first Nano or your fifteenth, time-tested methods will help you keep going once that initial excitement wanes.
For the uninitiated, National Novel Writing Month is an annual challenge in which writers all over the world attempt to write 50,000 words of fiction (1,667 words a day) during the 30 days of November. Other writers (like me) aka “rebels,” write in other genres, revise, or add to existing works.
Regardless of which challenge you have chosen, the following tips can help you keep up your momentum and cross that finish line strong.
Candy Bar Scenes
Coined by author and writing teacher Holly Lisle, the term “candy bar scene” refers to any scene you are eager to write. Writing such a scene is a reward. You get words down and you enjoy it.
If you feel stuck, take a few minutes to make a list of scenes you know must happen in the story. Bonus points if these scenes excite you and make you eager to write, i.e. candy bar scenes. Don’t worry if any of these scenes occur late in the book or even at what you believe to be the end of the story. Don’t worry about writing out of order. Especially if you use writing software like Scrivener or yWriter, but even with word, you can cut and paste or drag and drop scenes into the correct order later. Organization is what December is for!
Make the list. Then, whenever you feel blocked, grab one of those scenes and dive in. Often we’re only fighting inertia. Use one of these “delicious” scenes to entice you back into the work.
Community for NaNoWriMo Motivation
I’m writing this during the pandemic. For safety issues, NaNoWriMo cannot allow in-person events this year. In the before times (and hopefully in the very soon after times), write-ins allowed wrimos (people participating in NaNoWriMo) to gather and write side-by-side in small groups. The pandemic prevents that fun, but it can’t keep us from gathering online!
Be sure to join your local region. Municipal Liaisons (regional leaders) and other wrimos host activities on Discord and Zoom or other chat rooms and video conferencing platforms. Word wars and word sprints or just camaraderie to write together will help you meet your daily goal.
The NaNoWriMo forums may also help you get the work done. Stumped with your plot? Go to the borrow a plot thread. Trouble naming your character? Let someone else name her for you. Don’t know what the name of that thingie your villian uses to kill people? Head to the experts forum. Someone there surely knows.
A word of warning, however. Time you spend in any of these communities takes away from the time you have to write. Beware of time sucks and rabbit holes. Perhaps set a timer to limit how long you spend scrolling through the interesting forum threads. You have words to write!
I hope you’re already well stocked with writing “fuel” (books and snacks). Chocolate and meditation books are my favorites right now and I also need coffee and tea. But we also need to eat healthy foods. Remember to eat a vegetable once in awhile and some protein too.
Friends and family can help here. If they want to support your efforts, invite them to bring you snacks! Promise them you’ll help with the dishes . . . in December. Boundaries are your friends in November (and always).
Maintaining Your Writing “Machine”
In addition to eating a few vitamin-rich foods (or taking some vitamin tablets) during November, don’t miss out on other ways of keeping your writing “machine” in top shape. By “machine” I mean your body.
If you exercise regularly, do your best to keep that up. Exercise benefits mood and mind health and great character arc ideas might pop into your head when you’re out jogging with the pupperina.
If you don’t have a fitness routine, add a walk around the block or a stretching session between writing bursts. Who knows! The habit might stick beyond November.
Your emotions can use a strength session too. Five minutes of meditation or a ten-minute writing practice session can refresh you during the month. No need to complicate it. The simplest thing can have a great benefit.
Structure is Your Friend
Those write-ins I mentioned? That’s a structure. A ten-minute timer, another structure. Word sprints and word wars, yet another way to structure your time and get the words down.
Make It Your Own
Some people write best first thing in the morning. Others are night owls. Another group loves to sneak in a writing session on a lunch break. And you’ll find still another bunch writing in their cars in the parking lot while waiting for their kids to get out of school.
Find the time and the place and the mode that works best for you. Make no apologies. Part of the lure of NaNoWriMo is experimentation. It’s a safe space to figure out your best writing practices. Lean into those, and don’t let anyone dissuade you.
Share Your Tips
I’ve offered some of my best motivation tips. I’d love to hear yours. Comment here or buddy me on the website. I’m willwrite4chocolate. And check out my other NaNoWriMo blog posts. I’ll see you around the forums!
The Opulence of October: Where to find writing ideas—Guest post by Tami Kamin Meyer
Write Now Columbus editor Tami Kamin Meyer shares how she comes up with ideas for writing her articles and stories
I spent much of September traveling this great and beautiful country. I was blessed with a week in Colorado and the Rocky Mountains and a week soaking in the sun and waves on Tybee Island, Georgia. While in Breckenridge, Colorado, I literally spent an entire day staring at the majesty of Baldy Mountain, an enormous peak, 12,441 feet high. It stood like a beacon of the mountains. I could not take my eyes off of her.
After a brief respite at home for laundry and dog kisses, I drove 1,700 miles to Tybee, then Atlanta, then home. This unique situation afforded me time to ponder a myriad of topics and listen to an excellent book on CD.
I don’t recall everything my mind touched during that long drive, but I am certain about one thing: I thought often about writing.
As my hands gripped the leather steering wheel of my convertible, I recalled articles I had written and ones that were due. I reminisced on how I conjured some of the ideas for articles I eventually wrote, and about the many more stories I’d like to have published when I find them a home. I also smiled when I recalled a question people ask often of me and other writers.
“How do you come up with story ideas?”
That question really perplexes people, which is understandable. Methods for generating story ideas are as unique as the writer who creates them.
I don’t have a formula for conjuring story ideas. I know some writers who brainstorm for suggestions by writing a word, then brainstorming every concept or word relating to it. Out of those scribblings, the writer hopes to piece together an idea about what to write about.
I don’t work that way.
I think of ideas organically. Story suggestions come to me from an article or book I am reading, or from something I hear on the TV or radio. Recently, a friend mentioned how the Holocaust led to the meeting of his parents, and eventually his birth. His unique attitude about how he owes his very life to the vagary of the Holocaust shocked me at first. I had never considered a point of view like his before. However, after the initial surprise of his tale wore off, a story idea came to mind.
And that’s how I come up with article writing ideas.
Sometimes, an idea is related to a topic at hand. Or, a story suggestion simply enters my mind without warning or impetus. Suddenly, they’re just there. I keep a pen and paper by the side of my bed and next to my favorite seat on my living room couch, just in case the mood strikes.
Some of my ideas are founded in my personal interests, while others highlight topics that pique my attention. I never know when an idea will come to mind. I also sheepishly admit to forgetting many more ideas than I’ve ever researched or written about. If I don’t make myself commit the suggestion to paper when it comes to mind, I usually forget it. It’s gone forever. Even if I write an idea down, I may not be able to decipher my handwriting or unscramble my hieroglyphics when I try to read my scribblings.
That bums me out, of course, but it’s all part of the creative process.
This month I will finalize an article for a well-known publication, researching and writing about a one-time Ohio State athlete and, of course, mining my world for ideas for what to write about next.
(c)Tami Kamin Meyer, 2021, all rights reserved
This essay originally appeared in Write Now Columbus, a free, monthly email newsletter for central Ohio writers and readers. SUBSCRIBE HERE.
THE SERENDIPITY OF SEPTEMBER – GUEST POST BY TAMI KAMIN MEYER
When I think of September, I think yellow school busses, football and cooler weather. I throw open my screen porch door and house windows to allow the fresh, crisp air to waft through my house like a welcome friend. I also adore the renewed energy of Fall that seems to radiate everywhere, although admittedly, it is muted due to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, something happened to me recently that conjured up that same sense of excitement, although this occurrence relates to my life as a freelance writer.
With time on my hands during the quarantine, I often found myself perusing LinkedIn for something interesting to read. A few months back, I happened upon a post about a non-profit organization, headquartered in Johnstown, Ohio, just east of Columbus. The message’s author was John Mennell, the founder of the Ohio Literacy Bank (OLB). The mission of his non-profit is ending illiteracy by providing new and recycled magazines to at-risk readers in locations easily accessible to them, such as food banks.
I immediately invited John to connect with me, and he obliged. We exchanged several messages about his group and how I wanted to volunteer at some point. We share a love of magazines, and it was fun to discuss how the industry has evolved over the years. Thankfully for my professional endeavors, print magazines are not a dying breed, as evidenced by an article in Forbes. New titles, such as Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia, are replacing defunct hardcopy publications such as Marie Claire.
I feel an extra dose of pride when one of my pieces appears in a print publication
I am incredibly grateful for technology and the Internet, because they expose freelance writers to a large, diverse and information-hungry audience and online publications for whom to write. However, I must admit I feel an extra dose of pride when one of my pieces appears in a print publication versus online only. In my mind, there is something poetic, even romantic, about opening a magazine and flipping through its colorful pages. People carry magazines from room to room and keep them stacked on their bedside table. Some read magazines cover-to-cover and others, sadly, are left in the plastic in which they arrived until it’s time they are recycled. No matter their journey, magazines are ubiquitous and I am supremely thankful for that.
Back to John. After two aborted attempts to meet face-to-face to further discuss our professional commonalities, we recently met in-person for coffee and a chat.
John regaled me with interesting stories how his small-but-mighty non-profit is attacking illiteracy. To hear him discuss the various magazines the OLB has received and distributed as well as the numerous unselfish acts of volunteerism performed by supporters across the country that have ensured that publications get in the hands of those who would benefit is like listening to a well-tuned orchestra. As John’s zeal and pride about his organization’s mission grew, so did my interest in hearing more.
And that’s when my moment of serendipity hit.
I felt a surge of excitement as story ideas based on the OLB’s successes flooded my brain. Intuitively, I began brainstorming about which publications might be interested in those ideas and why John’s story might appeal to the demographics of particular outlets. John and his mission are compelling and I was thrilled to be learning more about him and his organization’s efforts. All of that and they’re right here in central Ohio, too.
I scribbled notes in my characteristically messy handwriting as he spoke, careful to understand the gravity of his non-profit’s efforts and achievements. I peppered him with questions, all of which he answered with positivity and specificity. Meeting in person, over a cup of coffee, just like I would have pre-COVID-19, was refreshing. It was also vaguely familiar as an activity I enjoyed immensely prior to COVID-19. Meeting face-to-face made the experience that much richer, and I realized how much I missed the social aspect of being a freelance writer.
My heart pumped with adrenaline while meeting with John because after so long of not interacting with people face-to-face, I was gifted with that experience again. Speaking with him at arm’s length rather than through a square box on my laptop monitor, ala Zoom, reminded me of one of my favorite aspects of being a freelancer that I truly missed: social interaction. That experience reignited my zeal for writing, which honestly had waned during the long, hot summer and the even longer and seemingly unending worldwide pandemic.
Thankfully, it’s back and so am I. Hope you enjoy a serendipitous September, too.
(c)Tami Kamin Meyer, 2021, all rights reserved
This essay first appeared in the September 2021 issue of Write Now Columbus. Subscribe here.
“When Writing Feels August” GUEST POST by TAMI KAMIN MEYER
As a freelance writer with many years of experience, I have written many things. News stories, feature articles, blog posts, essays, emails, social media posts, press releases and more.
More often than not, I write without an outline. The words flow directly from my brain to my fingertips, and I am merely the mechanism for that transfer.
While that harmonious flow is an amazing feeling, it doesn’t guarantee the mass of content I just spewed makes any sense.
You see, I don’t know what led me to journalism and writing. The first time I used the noun and adjective ‘writer’ to describe myself was as a high school senior, when our drama teacher tasked my classmates and I with creating a pictorial collage that captured our essence.
I recall gluing the word ‘writer’ on my collage, but literally do not know why I choose that word. To date, I hadn’t written anything of note, and I didn’t think of myself as a writer, either. I didn’t enjoy reading very much and, other than Judy Blume, didn’t care for many authors.
Still, while my sub-conscious must have known something about my covert desire and ability to write, it sure didn’t mention anything to me.
I am in a zone . . .
. . . when the words flow from my brain to my fingertips, transforming them from random thoughts into concrete language right before my eyes. It is magical, mysterious and exciting. I never know when that utopia will recur, but one of my interview techniques is designed to encourage it as often as possible.
I do not record my interviews, whether by phone, in person or otherwise. People have cautioned me not to skip recording, but I find I do not listen as well when I know the conversation is being recorded.
Another reason I prefer to listen intently and take copious notes rather than record a call is that my notes are more accurate that way. I pay rapt attention. And, if I’m lucky, the interviewee’s quotes and comments inform me how to use them in an article. When that happens, and it is rare, it is like being overtaken by a waterfall. My fingers become a conduit commanded to type the letters creating the words and punctuating the sentences of whatever I’m writing.
Is there something you do that brings you absolute joy? As for me, I will continue to be august about writing and the written word.
This essay first appeared in the August 2021 issue of Write Now Columbus. Subscribe here.