Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Here is an interesting article I found on NPR today. Many of you are asking about self-publishing.
Self-Publishing: No Longer Just A Vanity Project

See you tonight at the Safety Harbor Public Library Story Circle - 6 pm - 7:45, join us to write, to read and to share our love of writing.  Members of our group are bringing a holiday story to share.

We have a second group at the Largo Library the first Wednesday of each month (same time) - come to one or both. And please leave comments on the blog - let it become a place to share. Jan

Saturday, December 1, 2012

December Safety Harbor Story Circle Assignment

Since it is December we thought a good assignment would be to write about a holiday experience. Your choice: Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, New Year.

A story from your far reaching past or a more recent event. Normally we  limit you to 600 words but since it is the holiday season we are going to  allow you to use 800 word or less. Be sure to add some description of the  setting and of course, some dialog. 

Jan has started a second Story Circle meeting at the Largo Library the first  Wednesday of each month. 6-7:45 pm. Everyone is welcome.
 The Christmas Letter

 I recommend these two websites:

New post on Telling Her Stories: The Broad View
Writing a Better Holiday Letter by Sheila Bender

The holidays are a time of turning to traditions that symbolize our love and connection to our families, friends, communities, earth, and the divine.  With the pragmatism characteristic of Americans, many of us have made holiday card sending into a vehicle for mailing yearly catch-up letters.  These letters allow us to perform the task of keeping in touch efficiently.  Though full of news about family member’s achievements, honors, and chosen hobbies, the letters don’t usually reach their audiences on the deeper emotional and spiritual levels we want during the holidays.  Giving from the heart requires more than a good news report.

I believe that writing a letter that uses the how-to form of personal essay writing will help in the creation of meaningful holiday letters.

In the how-to form, an author thinks of something she knows how to do that others she cares about might like to read about or learn how to do.

The opening paragraphs of the letter will describe what this process is and why it is important to the author.  Years ago now, Virginia Harding, an attendee in one of my workshops, wrote such a letter in which she described a ritual her family with six children performed each winter harvesting persimmon fruit and making pudding.  The fruit itself seemed to be about the transformation and glory of the season, she wrote, because it changed the yard into a “gallery of color” in winter.  It was a visual gift and also a nourishing gift, inviting animal and human activity as squirrels, robins, bluejays, mockingbirds, opossums, and people pecked at, ate and collected the ripe fruit.

Virginia wrote that she hadn’t harvested persimmon and made pudding for 10 years and no longer lived in Palo Alto, CA where the trees had grown in her backyard.  But writing about the ritual and the fruit, she noticed an ad in her local Northwest paper about a market offering persimmons.  She hurried in each day for three days only to find the fruit hadn’t arrived and the manager had no idea why.  She decided to substitute pear pulp with lemon saying in her letter, “But so what?  Christmas without the family persimmon harvesting isn’t the same either," she mused.  "The important thing is that the spirit around here is as strong as ever.”

Writing about the process led Virginia to that epiphany concerning her ritual and its finished product, one she may not have articulated if she wasn’t writing about the process of gathering persimmons for the ritual of making persimmon Christmas pudding.

Of course, Virginia included her recipe for persimmon pudding in her letter. Shse sent the letter to her friends and family, and also to the editor of Messages From the Heart, a literary journal from Tucson, Arizona (no longer in print).  In the publication, the editor added a note below Virginia's piece, which read, “Believing that a letter is a gift from the heart, Virginia Harding wrote ‘A Holiday Gift’ about a special tradition and sent it with the recipe above as her holiday message of love and good wishes for friends and family.”

Whether you know how penguins raise their young or how to make your great-grandmother’s potpourri, when you write it down in the form of a letter for others, you will see that an epiphany arrives -- one that will delight you and your letter's readers.

In addition to the how-to form of the personal essay, there is another form that is useful in writing holiday letters that offer discovery for the writer and reader alike.  In the cause and effect form, the writer thinks about events and decisions that have had the most impact during the preceding year—examples might be the birth of a child, the death of a pet or loved one, a move to a new city, beginning a meditation practice, acceptance into a program, taking on a leadership role, stopping each day at a local grocer’s, or deciding to tutor an adult in literacy.  The letter writer will first describe the event or decision with words that appeal to the senses.  When readers see, hear, taste, touch, and smell written experience, they live it themselves.  All of us are connect most deeply when we share actual experience.  In contrast, summaries of experience that use words like “wonderful,” “heart breaking,” or “adventurous,” for example, indicate how the author wants us to feel and think but don’t allow us to achieve these feelings ourselves from the sensory information in the experience.  Better to say, “The waves came over the boat washing everything we hadn’t tied down away,” than “Our time on the boat was harrowing and frightened us enormously.”

In the cause and effect form, the letter writer next describes the changes in her life and in her perceptions caused by the event or decision.  There is bound to be discovery for the letter writer as she recounts the event or decision she chose to write about and details the impact of it on her life. One of my students, Tri Nguyen, the son of refugees from Vietnam, wrote about the effects on him of getting up early to watch the sun rise on a day he was visiting on a farm.  He describes scooping up grain with one hand and picking up a small chick with the other, then sitting cross-legged on the grass.  He writes, “As I bring the hand with the grain to the one with the chick, I think of the simplicity of the world and how the sun just now has risen over the mountain peak to warm the earth and my face.  This is a new day.”  I never read these words without seeing in the action of his hand bringing the grain to the chick’s mouth, the sun rising over all of us and nourishing us. This kind of contemplation offers information from the inside of one person and speaks to the insides of others. Tri is renewed and reading him, I, too, travel back to a nourishing simplicity and feel the ways I belong to the earth.

This holiday season, remember how important your particular experience is and how in writing it down for others, you will find discovery for yourself.  Sharing the discovery is the gift inside your letter, whether it comes from writing about how a particular thing you care about is done or from writing about a particular impactful event.  You may feel strange centering your holiday letter on one thing, especially a little thing, and not writing everyone’s news, but give this idea a try.  Using writing to share epiphanies from personal experience connects you deeply to yourself and then to those you care about.