America, How I Weep

 

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Courtesy of “Beverly & Pack” via Flickr

 

America, How I Weep

A Poem, by Shari Lopatin

©Shari Lopatin, 2016

 

Oh America,

How I weep for thee!

My once beautiful muse,

My distant refuge.

Your maternal embrace

Protected our grace, and welcomed

My family whole.

 

But now I stand atop your dream,

In cowardice and fear I glean …

We watch with haste,

Such distaste,

And mourn the death of hope

And faith.

 

America, when will you rise?

And crush the hate which I despise?

With this prayer,

I say to thee,

Revive the truth in us … in me.

 

 

Be the Chicken Nugget in a Bag of Vegetables

This post is part of the Countdown Series on ShariLopatin.com, re-publishing my top “writing tips” blog posts from the past five years. The Countdown Series will culminate in a few weeks with the announcement of my business’ (Shari’s Ink) new arm, which will benefit other WRITERS!

NOTE: This post was Freshly Pressed!

Originally published Jan. 5, 2011

My boyfriend found a chicken nugget in his bag of frozen vegetables the other day.

And just to make sure it was a chicken nugget, he popped the frozen mound into the microwave. Sure enough, it emerged crispy and delicious. Like McDonald’s.

Concerned that perhaps the workers at the packaging house were rebelling, and some poor vegetarian would end up with the same fate from another bag, my boyfriend called the company.

“Are you sure it wasn’t a carrot?” the manager asked him, after he explained his immaculate discovery.

“Of course I’m sure,” my boyfriend replied. “I think I’d know the difference between a chicken nugget and a carrot.”

Though laughing hysterically, this got me thinking. The odyssey of his chicken nugget was so outrageous, that it became contagious.

So here’s my question to you: When you write, are you being the chicken nugget in a bag of frozen vegetables?

Make Your Writing Stand Out

I struggle with breaking free of clichés, as does every writer. But whether you’re a journalist trying to engage the public, a creative writer encouraging people to buy your book, or a corporate writer building your company’s brand, you won’t get anywhere if you don’t stand out.

Besides writing about the unexpected, consider these tips to transform yourself from a frozen carrot into that chicken nugget:

  • The Curse of Knowledge: A communications coach from my work once fed me this term. Are you so embroiled in your area of expertise, that you forgot what it’s like to be an outsider? Think: what would excite an 8-year-old to read your story?
  • Humor: Of course, this depends on what you’re writing, and for whom. But while making people cry takes talent, making people laugh takes true genius. Ask yourself: am I laughing as I’m writing this?
  • Your Personal Voice: Don’t you want to slap those teenagers who try on new identities as easily as they change outfits? With writing, you need to let your unique voice shine through. Don’t try to be anyone else, except you, even if you’re writing for a company (yes, I said it!).
  • OBSERVE: Admittedly, I’d forgotten this tip lately. My boyfriend had to remind me that the best writers observe the world around them. Are you stepping back and just looking? Seinfeld was insanely successful for a reason.
  • Realism: I don’t care whether you’re writing about a real person, or a character you developed. That person, and his or her story, better be realistic and believable. If people can’t relate, they won’t care. Which leads me to my next point . . .
  • Conflict: We’re all drama kings and queens at heart. Without conflict in a story, we’re bored! Build the tension of conflict, whether for a novel, article, or short story. In the corporate world, you can do this too. Established a new process? Interview an employee and learn how hard their job was before the new process kicked in.

Considering this is probably the longest blog I’ve ever written, I’ll stop here. But make yourself that chicken nugget in the bag of frozen vegetables—and surprise the world!

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Shari Lopatin is a professional writer, editor, journalist, and social media manager with a decade of experience in media and communications. She lives in Phoenix, Ariz. and blogs about finding a literary agent, writing tips, social media or tech trends, and sometimes current events. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter!

How Reading Critically Changed My (Writing) Life

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If you’re like me (a writer), you probably love to read. Good books. Not crappy books. Crappy books bore me. They probably bore you, too.

Which is why, as a writer, I want to write those good books. You know, the ones everyone can’t stop talking about during lunch in the break room. I want to be that writer.

Call me a perfectionist. Call me arrogant.

But if I’m going to be a writer, I want to be one of the best. Not THE best, because in writing, there is no best.

Like Ernest Hemingway said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”

In order to become one of the best writers, I know I have to read. A lot. Which I started doing a few years ago, literally binge reading book after book. It helped. But it wasn’t enough.

You know what really made the difference?

Reading Critically

What exactly is this “reading critically?” Simple, really. Reading critically is picking up a novel and reading it, not just for enjoyment, but with the intent of picking it apart and learning from it.

  • Did the dialogue drag, or sing. Why?
  • How was the tension, the story arcs? If they were good, WHAT made them good?
  • What didn’t you like about the book, and why?

Think of yourself as an editor for a writer friend, and the novel you’re reading is her book. She asked for your feedback before sending it to a literary agent. What good, solid, critical feedback would you give?

THAT, my friends, is reading critically.

And once I began doing this, my writing started to fly. I soared from the minor leagues to the major leagues. Heck, this was a better education than any MFA program!

Am I the best writer, now? Well … duh … of course not. But I’m always competing against my younger self. And compared to that girl, oh man …

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Shari Lopatin is a professional writer, editor, and social media strategist who lives in Phoenix, Ariz. She recently finished her first novel and blogs about the lessons she learns while finding a literary agent, among other topics. Want to follow Shari’s progress toward a book deal? Then join The Readers Club! Sign up here.