writing

5 Quick Tips for Writing Better

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writingIf you are like me, the amount of material on how to write better can be overwhelming. Bookstores, websites, blogs, seminars, etc. make it hard to choose which direction to go, especially when there seems to be a media format for just about every imaginable genre.

The wise King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 12:12, “My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” (ESV)

So, here are five quick tips, in no particular order, to help you write better.

1. Write for yourself!

You MUST like what you write. I love watching cooking shows like Top Chef. One of the maxims food critics and judges live by is that a chef must stand behind his or her dish. Stand behind what you write because your words should be a reflection of YOU!

2. Don’t imitate others!

You will NEVER write like Tom Clancy, James Michener, or J.K. Rowling. The simple reason is this — YOU are not Tom Clancy, James Michener, or J.K. Rowling. If you are ever going to be successful as a writer, set your own rules that define what you are or what you want to become. Be yourself.

3. Use available tools!

You do NOT have to spend large amounts of money to purchase specialized software, to go to seminars, or to take advanced classes on writing. Research what is available. For example, Open Office is a free word processing software that includes spell and grammar checkers. Use them liberally. There is little that is hard to endure than glaring spelling or grammatical errors that could have been easily fixed with an extra minute using a free available tool.

4. Write, write, write!

This should be self-explanatory, but it seems that some who want to be a writer think that staring at a screen will improve their chances of making a best seller list. Write on paper, computer, clay tablet, or even paper napkins at your favorite restaurant. Write on a mountain, on a train, or in a box. Write in English, Hindi, Russian, or Mandarin. JUST WRITE!

5. Be a drudge!

Ignacy Paderewski was a master concert pianist. It is said that at one concert, a woman was enamored with him and his playing. After several minutes of this unwanted attention, the great pianist is said to have stopped her and said, “Madame, before I was a genius, I was a drudge!”

Don’t worry about whether you are good right now. Write and write — going from drudge to genius will take care of itself.

Views, Reads & Fans

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Just a brief introduction so you know where I am coming from.

1. I am a self-published author of a small book based on little known characters from the Bible. This was published through Amazon Createspace a little over a year ago. While it has gotten some traction, it is not anywhere near where I would like it to be. Of course, like any author, it would be nice to see it on a Best Seller List. One day, maybe that will come for something I write.

2. I was told about Medium in the Spring of 2018. I looked at it a few times, decided it might be a little too difficult or time-consuming to deal with, and kept shoving it to a back burner of my writing stove.

3. I have owned and designed my own websites in the past, and have been blogging for over 12 years. At one point, one of the sites I owned was regularly seeing about 3–4,000 unique visitors a day which some days seeing surges in excess of 8–10,000 unique visitors.

4. However, like many writers, it is easy to get discouraged. I got tired of trying to find more contributors and editors who would be willing to share the same passion that I did for the blogs. There are still a couple of people who have written recently on at least one of my blogs and I am very thankful for their contributions. So, the blog posts grew less and so did the readership.

That brings me to July 2018 where all four of these points come together.

I took a chance that somebody would be interested in reading my blogs, my stories, my poems, my Haiku, or my whatever I wanted to share. Much of what I wrote at the beginning was simply a response to Writing Prompts with a Facebook group called Warrior Writers (sadly, no longer in existence).

Then, I was reminded about something that I had forgotten about.

MEDIUM!

$5.00 a month? Are you kidding me? That is nothing. I spend more than that on each trip to the local coffee shop to get a raspberry white chocolate frappe. Why not?

Not one to start off with freebies, I decided to take the plunge and buy into the Medium Partnership Program. My ONLY goal was twofold. 1) To see if somebody liked my writing. 2) To eventually make enough money to pay for my monthly subscription of $5.00.

Here is what has happened.

July — 1 story

123 views

71 reads

24 fans

Earned: (Drum roll, please — — $0.00)

Not one to quit easily, I thought, well, I will give it another month or two.

August — 6 stories

432 views

265 reads

105 fans

Earned for August: (Another drum roll, please — — $0.19)

Part of the problem was that I had not figured out how to put stories behind the paywall. I was frustrated to say the least. However, I figured it out the first of September and things began to change.

September — 4 stories

488 views

347 reads

58 fans

Earned for September: $4.66

I will admit that I did a little jig. Told a couple of friends. Bragged about it to my family and signed my wife, Violet, up to write and make money. Barely enough to pay off my subscription, but I had done it.

I was on Cloud 9 and thought to myself, “Wow, only 4 stories and made over my goal!” However, another side of my brain said, “Don’t count chickens before they hatch!”

So, I set a lofty goal of making at least $10.00 in one month.

October — 12 stories

601 views

419 reads

118 fans

Earned for October: $12.39

Amazing! I have no doubt that Mark CAN make money off of what he writes. On to the next month.

November — 15 stories

1195 views

791 reads

232 fans

Earned for November: $9.88

When I received the total, I was disappointed, but still pleased that I was over the $5 subscription amount. So, on to writing in December and thinking that maybe I could take this a little more seriously.

December — 17 stories

4071 views

3103 reads

451 fans

Earned for December: $52.51

What??!! I made enough to take out the family for a celebratory meal. Ok, maybe it was just Denny’s, but this was huge to me. My 12-year-old girls ask my wife and I, as well as my son, Trenton, who has also started writing, how much we make EVERY Wednesday. They are excited and help to keep us encouraged.

For January 2019, I decided that I needed to step up my game and see what difference it makes. My goal is to write at least one story or article for every single day. I am ahead of my goals as I have seen four stories published as of today, January 4th, and I have three stories ready to go for the next few days.

Each month I read the newsletter that comes out and read that only about 9.1% of all writers make more than $100. I determined in November (and told my family) that my goal is to be one of those in the 9.1%. That means that approximately only 1 in 10 will earn enough to pay for a nice meal. This will be me soon, maybe even in January.

All of this to say that if I can write and make money, then you can do so as well! Write about what you love and what excites you. Pay for the Medium Partner Program. Ask to join and write for publications you like.

Celebrate your successes! I look forward to seeing where I am at in 6 months and then as we close out 2019.

Join me!

What Ends the War?

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At 11:00am (Paris time), on November 11, 1918, the guns fell silent over the battlefields of Western Europe. In a railway carriage parked in a forest located about 40 miles north of Paris, France, the Armistice was signed by representatives from both the Allied Armies as well as those in the enemy forces of Germany.

Students of history will know that this hour and day has now been remembered as the day the war ended. It was the Great War, or the “War to End All Wars.”

What is not well-known is that a peace treaty was not reached immediately. The Armistice went through three revisions until the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919. It would be almost six more months until the actual treaty became effective on January 10, 1920.

The Great War took the lives of just shy of 10 million military personnel from both the Allied Powers and the combined enemy forces consisting mainly of the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire. It is estimated that approximately 7.5 million civilians were also killed.

There are times that the thunderclouds of war obscure the reality of hope and the future. Such was the case even within theological circles. A doctrine, known as postmillennialism, was widely adhered to within mainstream denominationalism. This is simply the teaching that the world will get better and better, and ultimately, it will usher in an age of peace for all of mankind after which Jesus Christ will return.

The events leading up to World War 1, and its eventual aftermath, destroyed the cherished dreams of theologians, politicians, and the general populace. The fragile calm that prevailed during the first decade or so of the 20th century allowed many to think that the rapidly developing world would become a peaceful utopia.

Sadly, the politics of government festered underneath the surface. Previous wars between enemies helped to fuel the fires of discontent, and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in June 1914 simply was the spark that would bring mayhem and destruction to the countries of Europe.

In fact, the unresolved conflicts at the end of World War 1 continued to devolve the relationship between the signatories of the Treaty of Versailles. Hatred, bitter disputes, and the unreasonable restrictions of the peace treaty saw the rise of the Third Reich of Germany and, of course, the bloodbath that became known as World War II.

One little known fact about the end of World War I is that fighting actually continued in the early morning hours of November 11, 1918. Both the Allies and the German forces knew that the Armistice was due to be signed, but the Allies took advantage of the upcoming surrender. They attempted to get the upper hand in the trenches just in case and this resulted in almost 11,000 more casualties. Out of those casualties, almost 3,000 of them died.

One casualty was an American soldier who charged German troops and was shot 60 seconds before the war ended. It is said that this soldier was the last casualty of World War I. Truly, this would have been a tragic way for a soldier’s life to end with only 60 seconds separating him from being able to safely return to his waiting family back in Baltimore, Maryland.

One hundred years later, our small little planet continues to be racked with pain and turmoil. Governments insist on sending troops into battle for the sake of political gain, while troops march bravely thinking it is all about freedom.

Freedom is elusive though and few will recognize that we have less freedom today than were present 100 years ago. Successive wars during this last century have brought us no closer to a peaceful utopia, and peace treaties signed hold no true validity. Hope is vain for those who depend on countries and governments to do what is right.

Remembrance Day 2018 should be a solemn time for us as we dredge the pages of history. We must try to learn from the tragic mistakes of our past and the past of our ancestors. If we do not, then we will fail even more miserably than did the generations of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.

Will their sacrifices be in vain this Remembrance Day? Will more have to die in the elusive search for glory that ultimately only offers the destruction of the souls of men?

Peace cannot be produced by governments who are determined to only look after their own self-interests. If we fail to learn this truth, then they will all have died in vain.

— Originally Written at Warrior Writers on Medium.

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Danger on the Cliff

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Cold tentacles reached up through the gloom and tried to ensnare my legs once again. I screamed but nobody seemed to hear.

Fear crushed my lungs forcing my breath to come in ragged gasps. I could feel them getting closer.

Was there no means of escape?

My body temperature had dropped as I hung on the edge of the cliff. My fingers and arms were burning from the exertion required to keep from falling.

It was not that I was afraid of the fall. My abject horror came because of what reached up to me from the black depths. It was a place where little light could be found.

Just below my line of sight, I felt another tentacle flick across my ankle. It was only a matter of time.

I screamed again, but the cliff tops overlooking the sea remained devoid of human life for as far as the eye could see.

A brief break in the clouds and I thought the sun would make a rare appearance. I wished desperately that it would, for the creatures would then slink back to where they came from. I was sure they lived in lairs and caves that remained hidden from human eyes.

I had always hated the cliffs, but through the blinding pain, I was not able to remember how I had even fallen. I tried to maintain the right path to avoid the danger, but invariably, the cliffs beckoned like the wailing shriek of an ocean siren.

My mind berated me for falling — again! This was not the first time that the cliffs extended a death wish toward me. My fingers had felt the pain of slipping before, but today seemed so different.

Flashed through my mind, the horror of each previous slip danced in slow rhythm to the beat of the deadly rocks below me, while others writhed like a devilish, whirling sand dervish upon the sands of the Sahara. Both were equally dangerous and cared not one whit for me.

No footholds could be found for my feet as I kicked savagely trying to find even a single place to support my weight. All of a sudden, a series of tentacles wrapped themselves around my ankles and worked their way up my legs.

I could feel their cold embrace sucking the life out of me, and with no further warning, a jerk from the creatures below dislodged my left arm. I flailed with my free hand as I tried to force the creatures from pulling me into the gloom.

All around me, the darkness rose from the depths of the cliffs and turned the remaining light of day to darkness. Wet, bone-chilling fog settled across the cliffs and down over my body.

Succumbing to the horror that had befallen me, the fingers on my right hand gave way. I screamed again as I began the free fall to what I did not want to face.

Out of nowhere, a voice above me called my name. Hands reached down and wrapped firmly around my body. Calling my name again, light appeared to surround my rescuer as I felt myself lifted back to the safety of the path.

“Anthony, wake up, wake up!”

The gentle voice soothed my fears as it spoke again.

“You were having a nightmare again. But, you are safe in bed and there is nothing to fear.”

Written in response to Warrior Writers Prompt #28

Catch Me If You Can

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A jack-of-all-trades, but a Master of only one!

That was me and my life.

Blending in had never been a problem for me. Obnoxiously plain, I would never stand out in a crowd and that makes it even harder for others to notice where I fit in the grand scheme of things.

I take great pride that I can be right in front of you, and you would simply look right past me. This is true no matter where you might see me. Some thought they had spotted me in the country, while others insisted that I never left the city. A few tried to find me while thinking that my flashy wardrobe would let the authorities capture me, but they were all wrong.

My prowess at escaping and hiding would have made Frank Abagnale, Jr. jealous. The movie about his life called “Catch Me If You Can” pales in comparison with the life I lead.

Some have tried to find me for years, but I quickly give them the slip. My ability to disappear so easily has frustrated old and young alike, and I am certain that when I pull a Jason Bourne and disappear that not even Sherlock Holmes would be able to locate me.

I have a team of individuals that I work with and they are just as good at their jobs as I am. We used to have a much larger organization, but some of our numbers preferred to live life on the edge. Without one exception, they all got caught. We tried to warn them that living a straight life would make them vulnerable, but they refused to listen.

Tonight was just another job for me, but I knew it required a high degree of stealth. It was probably my most dangerous job that I had ever undertaken. Surrounded by individuals of all shapes and sizes, I found myself staring right into the eyes of an enemy. I was certain that he had not seen me, or that my disguise was just too good. He and his partner looked like rank amateurs and I was shocked that they had been sent to do the job of trying to bring me in. Others far better than they had tried and failed.

As casually as I could, I leaned back further into the dark recess of my hiding place. It was the best I could find for the night yet it seemed that I was totally exposed to the elements. If I could just remain still for a little longer, then I was certain they would forget about me and move on to their next target. Watching their eyes flick back and forth, at times I thought they hovered briefly over me, but there was no recognition. I knew I was at the top of my game.

But I should have known better. One day, I knew my cockiness was going to bring me down, just like James Bond brought down each of his enemies.

However, I was certain that tonight would not be that night. Both of my hunters disappeared and I took the opportunity to slip out of hiding. Staying in the shadows, I carefully chose a path that would allow me to turn the tables on the two amateurs.

Two more blocks and I would be free.

Rage permeated the air as they realized they had been duped. I expected that their bosses would call them on the carpet after letting me disappear, but that was not my problem.

Once again, I had slipped from their grasp like a greased banana in the hand of a monkey. But, wait…

These two would not give up. Spotlights split the night and I knew they were on to me. They had called in reinforcements and exhausted, I could go no further. I tried to pull myself together and gather enough strength for one last-ditch effort to hide, but it was to no avail. The lights methodically covered each strip of land as they narrowed their search and I knew it was only a matter of time.

I slunk down and tried to get as flat as possible. Maybe, I would get lucky tonight.

I never heard the steps that led him to my hiding place as I had been too focused on the lights. My mistake cost me dearly and I felt his cold, sticky hand close around one of my joints. I froze in abject fear as I became stiff as a board.

No amount of struggle made a difference as my captor pulled me into the light. It was over and I had finally lost. With my capture, everything simply fell into place as I became a part of the big picture.

“Hey Mary, look here! I found the last piece of the puzzle that we have been looking for.”

Written in response to Warrior Writers Prompt #26

The Call

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lamppostBlood adorned the warrior as eternity loomed. Life’s final flicker caressed her leaving only a shadow.

Approaching the solitary edge, truth reflected her heart’s whiteness making death’s blackness diminish. No worries caused her lonely steps to sway for none could travel with her. Looking back held no desire, for her work was complete.

The unknown beckoned again. Memories swirled like clouds, but there were no regrets.

Lifting her foot, she needed no encouragement although tears like stars surrounded her.

Beyond, the undying light called.

She closed her tired eyes…

“Nurse, I am pronouncing death at 11:57. Three minutes to midnight.”

In response to Writing Prompt #20 — A story in 100 words.

My First Interview

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I had the privilege of being interviewed by Parker J Cole of “Write Stuff.”  This was my first interview about my book “Heroes of Courage.”  I also had the honor of being able to speak about Liberia which is still very close to my heart.

 

The Temptation of the Door

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The temptation started early. In fact, it had persisted for quite some time.

My mind whirled as I contemplated what I should do next. From my earliest memories, I recalled a time when there was no temptation accompanying the door. It existed but I was blissfully unaware of its presence.

Staring at my reflection in the mirror that hung on my bedroom wall, I recalled the dire warnings of those who had many years of life’s experience behind them.

“But what is behind that door?” I would ask innocently.

“Never you mind, laddie. That door is not for you.” It was the common response from my own parents, but their voices had long been silenced. Out of respect for their care and concern for me, my footsteps kept me walking away from the door.

Sadly, like many young people, the door ensconced in bright lights and surrounded by the allure of my broadening world beckoned me to disregard the warnings.

As I became a young man, I personally knew friends who had disobeyed. Walking through the door, their lives were forever annihilated.

Circumstances can change on a daily basis, and my mind told me that today, my circumstance was different. My situation demanded that I find a reason to open the door, but it was nothing more than a flimsy excuse that I had meticulously designed.

Refusing to look myself in the eyes, I continued preparing for my day. Like many young people, I had looked at the door. There were times I fantasized about possibly would happen should I disobey the warning. There were days that I passed the door and the agony of not knowing almost overruled the thought of any potential danger. But I still held myself in check.

Today was not really any different than any other day, but yet it was different. I, Jarrod King III, woke up knowing that today I would succumb to the temptation. There is no way to explain why or how I felt the way that I did. It was just there. Actually, that is not quite the truth. Planning my steps, I knew what I was going to do, where I was going to go, and how I would achieve my ultimate destination.

“Jarrod, you are a fool.” Walking past my mirror, I whispered the words to the reflection that only I could see.

Turning on my heel, I went back to the mirror but closed my eyes tightly. I already knew what I would see, but my mind forced me to take one final consideration. Opening my eyes, I stared back at myself and all I could focus on was the depths of my dark brown eyes.

Thoughts whirled through my brain as I contemplated my youth. Today, there would be nobody with me. Many days or weeks might pass before such a chance presented itself again. No, it had to be today. My reflection stared back at me. I turned to leave, but not before I saw that a knowing smile had crossed the lips of my reflection.

Adrenaline raced through my veins as I softly opened the door and snuck out of my home into the dreary mist of another winter’s morning.

While a few may have been able to stop me, my plans had ensured that I would not be followed. I had not even mentioned this in my diary, and there were no intentions of leaving any traces of my day should I survive whatever lay behind the door.

Startled, I stopped to reevaluate what I should do. As I walked down the cold path, three individuals merged out of the mist and boldly opened the door. There seemed to be no concern of the dangers and none of them had bothered to even look at the sign that read, “Do Not Open Under Any Circumstances.”

Squaring my shoulders, I knew I had to complete my task. Regardless of whether anybody else saw me, my mind was committed. Saying a whispered goodbye to the world as I knew it, I walked up to the door.

Grabbing with both hands, I pulled it open and was immediately overwhelmed. Lights and smells smothered my senses to the point of exhilaration.

Could my parents have been wrong about the dangers? Were the minds of my friends enlightened because of what I could see or was it all an illusion?

Stepping into the light, a voice forever changed my life.

“Welcome to Starbucks. May I take your order?”

Heroes of Courage – Book 1

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There are few things in life that are as exciting as seeing your own material finally in print. This is the first in a series of books.  If you order a copy, please consider leaving a review for me when you have finished the book. Thank you.

My second book is almost complete and I am hoping that it will be on the market by late summer 2018. Stay tuned.