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As writers, we don’t have to be told to sit down and write. It’s what we do and what we enjoy doing. But asking kids to write can be a whole different story, especially during the summer season when school's out. If they don’t have to write, why would they want to?

Actually, there are plenty of reasons. Writing during the summer is a great way for kids to practice their skills without being graded or judged. It’s a chance to write about topics they enjoy and explore their creativity in a leisurely fashion. Writing can also be highly therapeutic for kids; it helps them manage stress and promotes mental well-being. And here’s the best part: getting kids to write during the summer might not be so hard after all.

Try these five writing activities for a fun way to keep your kids thinking, creating, and engaged this summer:

Find a Writing Camp or Class for Kids

Kids love camps, and writing camps are filled with fun projects, social time, and learning. Check with local colleges, community education, writing organizations, or the public library for offerings.

Host Your Own Writing Workshop

Can’t find a camp or class nearby that suits the kids? Why not host your own. Make up writing projects and invite their friends over to join in. Add some snacks, and watch your writing workshop take off.

Journal with Your Kids

Journaling isn’t just fun; it’s a way to express and communicate your feelings. Get your kids to open up via a two-way journal. Start by writing a journal entry individualized to your child. If he likes thunderstorms, write about a thunderstorm memory. Then get your child to respond back.

Fill a Box with Writing Prompts

You’ve probably experienced writer’s block more times than you can count. Sometimes getting kids to write is simply a matter of finding the right topic. Fill a box with writing prompts and have them pick until they find an idea that inspires them.

Take It Outside

Writing indoors can be stifling. Have your kids grab notebooks, pens, and a lounge chair, and head outdoors to write. You can supply the encouragement—and the lemonade.

Don’t think your kids won’t enjoy dabbling in your profession this summer. Give them a fun way to explore their writing talent, and watch them grow and thrive at an art that will serve them well for years to come.

Image by Carissa Rogers

 

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Valentine’s Day is all about love, sweets, roses—and writing ideas. What better way to prepare for the upcoming holiday than to write about something reminiscent of it? These Valentine’s Day writing ideas won’t just inspire and uplift you; they’ll help set you up for a sale. So head to your computer and get your creativity—and heart—flowing:

Valentine’s Day History

For history buffs, Valentine’s Day is more than a holiday; it marks an important day in history. Check out this list of key events that have occurred on Valentine’s Day. Any would make an interesting story topic.

A Famous Couple

Bonnie and Clyde? Franklin and Eleanor? Kim and Kanye? Whoever interests you—or not—find a juicy detail about a famous couple and bring it to life.

Puppies

Who doesn’t love puppies? And what puppy doesn’t remind us of love? Craft a story for kids, a piece for a pet magazine, or a personal essay about puppies.

The Color Red

What does the color red signify besides the color of a heart? Write an article on the color red—or pink, white, or purple, other common Valentine’s Day colors. Research what the color signifies to others, or write about an object or event associated with a Valentine’s Day hue.

Heart Health

Heart health is a popular topic today—and not just physical heart health. Broken hearts and how they affect mental well-being makes big headlines too. Actually, just about anything related to the human heart is a marketable story idea and one that's gratifying and potentially lifesaving.

Chocolate

Writing about chocolate might be the sweetest idea yet. If you like this tasty treat, you’ll have even more reason to pen a story or article about it. Plus, there’s plenty to talk about—a new type of chocolate, a favorite family recipe, a country known for its chocolate, you name it. When it comes to writing about chocolate, the sky’s the limit.

Flowers

You might think roses are the flower of Valentine’s Day, but many people get bouquets of lilies, carnations, tulips, or a mix. Which flower do you like best? Find out what’s unique about it—does it have medicinal properties or an interesting past? Even if you’re not a gardener, writing about flowers is a great way to recognize Valentine’s Day, prepare for spring, and sell your work.

Valentine’s Day is more than a time to celebrate love—it’s filled with unlimited writing ideas, too. Pick one of the above, and take advantage of all the great writing potential packed into the sweetest day of the year.

Image by Peggy2012CREATIVELENZ

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cupcakeGood holiday recipes are always in demand—which is why if you’ve got one, chances are you’ll be asked to share it. And share it, you should. Whether you’re participating in a holiday cookie exchange or bringing a crowd-pleasing dish to Christmas Eve dinner, sharing a holiday recipe is a giving gesture and a great way to pass on a holiday tradition. Plus, you'll get to hone your writing skills in the process.

There are no set-in-stone rules on writing holiday recipes, but you’ll want to keep a few things in mind before you get started:

Make Your Holiday Recipe Coherent

Recipes aren’t the place to get creative with words, especially at holiday time. Cooks and bakers want to know one thing: how to make your holiday treat just like you did. The more straightforward you are, the better for them. Write your holiday recipe using easy language, a step-by-step format, and short, succinct (not necessarily complete) sentences.

Pay Attention to Recipe Symbols and Spacing

Typing out a recipe versus handwriting it will help you avoid errors, but be sure to use proper mechanics when writing recipes. For example, 1 14 oz. can might read as 114 ounces. Instead, write 1-14 oz. can or one 14-ounce can. Likewise, 11/2 teaspoons is better written 1&1/2 teaspoons. And avoid confusing abbreviations, like "T" for tablespoon and "t" for teaspoon; spell out measurements instead.

Test Your Holiday Recipe

Holiday cooking is different than everyday cooking: time is limited and stress is often high, so there’s no room for error. If you’re giving away a new recipe—something you haven’t made yet yourself—do a trial run first. You may decide it isn’t as good as you thought or that it needs some tweaks. Test out a new recipe, and you’ll be more confident when you write and share it.

Add Helpful Tips

Do you decorate your holiday cookie a certain way? Does adding an optional ingredient to your holiday casserole make it moister? Do cooking times vary depending on the texture you prefer? If there’s something you do to make your recipe especially yummy, include it. Tips are always helpful for bakers and cooks, especially at holiday time, when success matters most.

Review and Edit

Never share a recipe without looking it over for mistakes. One tablespoon off can turn your favorite holiday treat into a disaster for the next person making it. Look over the ingredient list carefully, double check baking temperatures and times, edit for spelling and grammar, and make sure all the steps are included. Check for minor typos, too—they can throw off a cook.

‘Tis the season of giving, so go ahead, share a favorite holiday recipe. And help make someone else’s holiday as bright—and tasty—as yours.

Image: Courtesy of tawest64

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life writer

Do you write to live or live to write? It's a question I see pop up on writing websites and blogs from time to time. And it's a hard one to answer. If you say you write to live, that implies that money is your endgame, and I’m fairly certain that money doesn’t top the list of reasons why most writers write. For one thing, money in this business is often sporadic, unscheduled, and uncertain. To depend on money regularly is just plain risky.

Now, money certainly has a spot on the list of reasons why most writers write, but I suspect the majority of us do it mainly because we like it. I’d even go a step further and say that we need it. Writing makes us tick and gives us purpose. Without being able to write, we would not be fulfilled, and that would make life for us less than satisfactory.

So does that put most of us writers in the live-to-write category? Whether it does or not, living to write—like writing to live, with all its risk and uncertainty—has downsides too.

First of all, we writers need recognition. We can’t expend all that mental energy and not get rewarded for it. (Actually, we can and sometimes don’t but not usually by choice.) Rewards, whether in the form of money or praise, empower us and help validate us as writers. Second, the live-to-write mindset can make us stagnant. While writing to live might force us to write about topics we have no passion for or in styles that aren’t truly ours in order to appease clients, living to write can keep us from delving into new subject areas, learning different techniques, and experimenting with our own voice. Essentially, living to write can, if we let it, keep us from growing and developing as writers.

But whether we think we write to live or live to write, the best place to be is probably somewhere in between. If we write to live, we risk losing our true writing self as we try to meet the demands of readers and our financial goals. If we live to write, we might forego recognition for our work, the opportunities to reach wider audiences, and the chance to flourish at our craft.

If, on the other hand, we aim for a little of both—writing with passion on topics that appeal to us while being open to taking risks in areas that are new, and doing it for fulfillment, growth, recognition, and rewards—we might just win. We might find that happy medium that makes us full and complete, the writer we were meant to be.

Image by Ramunas Geciauskas

 

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pagesWhen writers look for places to submit their work, they often choose markets that require a query letter first. Submitting a query letter definitely has its benefits. It saves time and the effort of writing a piece, which is especially helpful if you don’t get positive feedback from the editor. If you do get a green light, you might also get a better idea of how to hone your story idea. Plus, most writing markets prefer a query letter, so it’s a practice that comes with lots of sales potential.

The problem is, not everyone likes drafting those query letters, including me. In fact, I actually prefer markets that accept unsolicited manuscripts. It may sound counterproductive, but submitting a completed story to an editor who didn't ask for it does have its perks—and, at times, can be the most practical way to submit.

The Pros of Submitting an Unsolicited Manuscript

Here's why I like to submit an unsolicited manuscript rather than a query:

  1. The piece is done. When you submit a completed manuscript, you have a polished piece that’s ready for sale. Even if the market you submit to rejects your work, you still have a finished product to send elsewhere—right away.
  2. You can save time. With the query method, you save time writing a piece that an editor doesn’t want. But writing a good query letter often requires as much effort as writing a good story. With a completed manuscript, you skip the query step entirely, thus saving precious writing time that you can devote to crafting a high-quality piece.
  3. Rejection odds don’t change. Whether you’re submitting an unsolicited manuscript or a query letter—assuming you follow editorial guidelines—your chance of getting rejected remains the same.
  4. You get to write your way. Submitting a completed manuscript is the best way to show an editor who you are as a writer—your style, tone, personality, ideas, and writing ability. Sometimes, a great idea needs the full story to impress an editor; submitting a completed manuscript can do just that.

Tips for Submitting an Unsolicited Manuscript

Of course, submitting an unsolicited manuscript is one thing; doing it right requires a few tips and tricks:

  1. Edit well.  An error-free manuscript has a much better chance of grabbing an editor’s attention and keeping her fixated on your piece than one full of typos and grammatical problems. Make sure you edit well and send in the best, most polished work product you can. It’ll make all the difference between moving past the first reader and landing permanently in the slush pile.
  2. Follow guidelines to a T. If your word count is too high or low or you’re writing about a topic that doesn’t fit a publication’s theme or style, you’ll be out of luck before your story even gets read. Adhere to editorial guidelines to a T, and you’ll have a much better chance of finding a home for your story.
  3. Don’t forget a cover letter. A cover letter is different than a query letter—lots less work but still important. Read up on writing a quality, brief cover letter, and be sure to include biographical and contact information.
  4. Find several markets. If you’re going to take the time to write a full story, also take the time to research and find several markets for it. Don’t bank on just one publication for a home because you may end up with a huge letdown—and a story that sits on your desktop for good.

Five Markets That Accept Unsolicited Manuscripts

So where do you find markets that accept unsolicited manuscripts? Writer’s Market is a good place to start, but freelance writing sites and newsletters can supply you with all kinds of submission requests, many of which accept unsolicited manuscripts. Here are some markets to consider:

 

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groundhogToday is Groundhog Day, a great day to think spring now that Punxsutawney Phil has predicted its arrival in just six weeks. With that in mind, why not leap into your writing by working on some fulfilling and rewarding new projects that’ll make the last few weeks of winter fly by? Here are a few ideas to consider:

Enter a writing contest. In past years, I’ve posted many Spring writing contests around the state and nation. Take a look at my past posts for 2012 and 2013, and check the links for updates. Visit Fanstory.com, and look at the upcoming contest offerings. Or search writing contests in your preferred genre or locale, and see what pops up.  You’ll be surprised at all the options, both fee based and free, for entering a writing contest.

Start a writing journal. I asked for a writing journal for Christmas this year. It’s still sitting on my desk, waiting for my pen to mark up the pages. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how I want to use my journal—as a place to take notes, write poetry, draft character profiles, jot down writing tips, practice paragraph styles, scribble daily thoughts, or all of the above. Of course, you don’t need to put a lot of thought into journal writing. The purpose is to just write, every day. Good advice to self.

Write outside the box.  Have you ever wanted to write a fantasy story but didn’t think you had it in you? Do you sometimes wish you could go back to school and develop your writing skills more fully? Has your fear of networking kept you from meeting other writers and finding markets for your work? Being a successful writer requires stepping out of your comfort zone and trying new things. Take a class, try your hand at writing in a different genre than you’re used to, or join a writer’s group. The benefits of your leap of faith will far outweigh the risks.

Happy writing all!

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800px-Woman_reading_at_the_beachAugust is here, and so are the dog days of summer. Maybe you’re planning to spend the month preparing for the upcoming school year. Maybe you’re scheduled to take that much-needed vacation. You might just want to spend the final weeks of summer at home, relaxing under a shade tree. Whatever you’ve got in store for the month, here’s a suggestion for something not to do: write. Seriously write, that is. Taking a break from writing can actually do a whole lot of good by helping you refresh, rejuvenate, and write better when it’s time to return full force to your craft.

Here are a few of the ways I plan to “write” in August. Try these out for yourself. You might be surprised at how much you’ll achieve this month—without creating a single draft.

  1. Read helpful books. Learn something from another writer by adding a writing book to your summer reading list. Consider one of these noteworthy recommendations:  Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do (Meredith Maran), Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction (Kidder and Todd), and Letters to J.D. Salinger (Kubica and Hochman).
  2. Research writing classes. It’s never a bad idea to take a writing class, even for the most seasoned writers. You can always learn something new, and fall is a great time to go back to school. I have a few classes on my list already; it’s just a matter of thinking them through and choosing the right course.
  3. Develop a fall writing plan. I’m halfway through my fall writing agenda, where I’ve listed all the projects I can think of that I’d like to work on come September. I’ve also got a list of those writing classes I plan to further research and a few follow-up reminders for projects I’ve already completed.
  4. Update your website and social media. Does your website need some freshening up? What about your profiles on your social media sites? Adding new photos, updating writing credits, providing new links, and expanding your bio can all uplift and enhance these all-import sites.
  5. Connect with other writers. Networking is such a big part of making it as a freelancer today. If you haven’t reached out to other writers and professional contacts, now’s a good time to do it. Use your social media outlets to make connections or attend local writing and reading events.

There are many other ways to work at your writing without actually writing. Use this month to concentrate on those activities. They’ll make sitting back down at your computer at summers’ end that much more successful.

Image by: El coleccionista de instantes

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Can’t get motivated to write? Maybe you need a change of scenery. Truth is, sitting at a desk all day can get old. Of course, it may be more practical to write where everything you need—your computer, writing resources, files, phone, etc.—is at your fingertips. But do you really need all those things to write all the time? Sometimes, a pen and paper or even just a new environment will do the trick.

I can think of several places I like to write besides at my desk. One is the public library. There, I have millions of books and periodicals at my disposal for research and note taking, plus a friendly staff, plenty of quiet spaces to write, and even a little café. On a rainy or snowy day, it’s a perfect alternative to my desk. I also like venturing to the local historical society, where I can take advantage of everything it has to offer writers.

Coffee shops and restaurants can be good writing venues, too, as long as the noisiness and busyness aren’t distracting. For me, going to a different room in the house—like the sunlit porch or the dining room, where I can spread out my work on the long table—is sometimes all I need for a change of atmosphere. But when the weather’s nice, there’s nothing better than the great outdoors.

Peaceful Lake Atmosphere - Ideal for Writing

Where I live in Minnesota, the public parks can be perfect motivators for writing. Many of the parks here are spacious and peaceful, with lots of inviting spots to set up shop—at picnic tables, under shade trees, and in pavilions. The area lakes offer another relaxing and inviting writing place, whether sitting on the dock in a comfy lounge chair or under an umbrella at the beach.

My favorite place to write outdoors, though, is on my daily walk. I usually take the walking paths near my house that cut through the woods. And no, I don’t bring a pen or paper with me. In fact, the only thing I have with me is my dog. Amazingly, on those walks I’ve done some of my best and most productive writing. I’ve figured out sentences, written conclusions, brainstormed for ideas, and made important writing decisions. The best part? I return home eager and ready to write.

Writing at a desk is practical and often necessary, but for those times when you need a change of scenery, there are plenty of options. Find a place that works for you, and get re-motivated to write.

Have a favorite place to write beyond your desk? Please share it here.