Helpful Tips for Fellow Depression & Chronic Pain Sufferers

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Hello everyone! Lately I have implemented a few things into my life that I do feel are helping my depression and chronic pain symptoms, at least to an extent. No, I am not cured, and I still have some really bad days, but I feel like these small changes have been for the better, so I wanted to share:

  • My psychiatrist has been trying to get me to take Omega-3 supplements for months now, and I finally decided to make sure I actually take them on a regular basis. I have been trying to take 2 supplement pills a day, one in the morning and one at night. It is supposed to be really good for depression and inflammation, so it is worth a try. I don’t like the taste or how huge the pills are to swallow, but I am making it work anyways.
  • I have read multiple places that people with fibromyalgia are almost always lacking in Magnesium when tested, so I started taking a daily supplement of that as well. I do think it has lessened the severity of the body aches and cramps I experience on a daily basis.  I also started taking a Vitamin C supplement in hopes it will help boost my immune system and prevent some of the chronic ear infections I have. I am trying to eat healthier, more natural foods too.
  • I have started practicing mediation on a regular basis again. I try to take at least a few minutes most days to meditate, focus on positivity, and allow the spiritual side of myself to shine. My husband and I have also been attending a once-a-week meditation group when we are able to. Having that time to connect with others on their own spiritual paths has been helpful. They all seem to be very open-minded and open-hearted individuals, which are the kind of people I would like to have in my life more.
  • Lately I have renewed my dedication to my own creative process and have felt inspired to create art again, something I have definitely been missing in my life. I simply feel better when I can create beautiful or unusual artwork, even if others don’t always understand it. Honestly, I create for ME. Yes, I sell my artwork and it fills my heart with joy to know that others appreciate and collect my efforts, but deep down, I create simply because I need to express myself.
  • Make it a priority to spend time with nature. Whether it is going to a park, hiking through the woods, sitting on a swing outside your own front door, or bringing plants, animals (pets), crystals, and other natural objects into your home, reconnecting with nature always seems to be healing and comforting for myself. Maybe it will be so for you as well.

What makes a good poem?

Poetry is an intensely personal thing, so opinions abound regarding what makes a poem truly good. I’m not here to tell you that I know the magic formula or to try and pretend that I am some literary genius that has it all figured out, but I would like to share my opinion of what makes a poem stand out above the rest. Undoubtedly, some of you will disagree with my criteria, which is fine. In fact, I would encourage you to post a comment with your own opinion on the matter if you wish to do so.

So without further ado…my list of poetry must-haves:

1. Honesty – is this one really a surprise? After all, I named my recently published poetry book, “Not Afraid to Be Real”. And to me, that isn’t just a clever title. I strive in all my writing to be honest and present life realistically. Of course, since poetry tends to focus more on thoughts, feelings and images, the honesty in my poetry tends to be more about the inner life than about the outer life. However, both elements are involved.

2. Clarity – I choose this as second, because I really don’t like poetry that doesn’t make a lick of sense. That is probably my number one turnoff when I choose a poetry book to read or buy. If I flip through and find several poems that are overly ambiguous, I put it back down and keep looking. I should make it clear that there is a difference between random humor and pointless confusion. After all, I love the show Family Guy, and that humor is about as random as you can get.

3. Description – most writers know that poetry falls under the category of descriptive writing. Description is extremely important if you want to write a poem that really moves a reader and makes them feel a part of the experience. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to describe every single little thing you see, hear, taste or touch. Pick a few details that really give the vibe you want. Try to make them as specific as possible (instead of tree, use oak, instead of ice cream, use chocolate chip cookie dough, etc.)

4. Spelling and grammar – maybe a bit of a bummer, but writing poetry doesn’t mean abandoning ALL of the writing rules. Yeah, you have a lot more leeway with poetry as far as sentence structure and form goes, but please check your spelling and grammar. The only time a word should be spelled wrong in a poem is if the poet did it on purpose to introduce some clever word play.

5. Make a point – it doesn’t have to be revolutionary or mind-blowing, but poems are a lot more fun to read if they actually have a point and don’t just ramble on about nothing. You don’t have to make the poem preachy or moralistic or anything like that, but make sure you know what you are trying to say. If you don’t know what your poem means, then it’s highly unlikely that anyone else will either.

6. Don’t overdo it – some poets layer on image after image after image until their writing is so bogged down that it becomes dull and boring. Sometimes simple really is better. Know what you want to say and how you want to show it, then figure out the best way to share that with your reader. If your poem has you yawning halfway through, your reader probably won’t even make it that far into it. If you bring your readers to tears, you want it to be from a deep emotional reaction to your words, not from boredom.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this little list. You might have noticed that I didn’t include typical poetic devices, such as metaphors, similes, alliteration, repetition, rhyme, rhythm or form. That isn’t because those aren’t important at all, but because I don’t think they are absolutely necessary to create great poetry. However, if you already have a great concept, adding some of those poetic devices to your poem might make it even better, so do consider using them.

Tips for teaching poetry writing to kids and teens

Along with all the author visits and book signings I do, I also spend some of my time teaching poetry and other writing forms to kids and teens. I often have teachers express to me how hard they find it to teach poetry (or any kind of writing) to the kids in their classroom, so I figured I would offer a few tips that I have found work for me when it comes to getting kids excited about writing in general and poetry in particular.

*First off, allow kids freedom with poetry writing, especially when they are first starting out. Free verse tends to be the most accessible and least intimidating form to begin with. If you try to force your students to rhyme or follow a form, you will quickly have a room of frustrated kids.

*Show your kids how much variety there really is in the poetry world. For many children their experience with poetry is limited to nursery rhymes and Dr. Suess. Make your classroom a poetry-friendly zone. Hang up posters with different kinds of poems on them, stock your bookshelves with an assortment of kid-friendly poetry books and make sure you include great examples of poetry in your curriculum throughout the year.

*Read your students poems that were written by kids their age. Before a child will feel confident that they can write poetry, they need to know that other kids their age have been successful with poetry writing and have even gotten published. A few great resources to find poems by kids and teens include the magazines Highlights for Children, Teen Ink and Stone Soup.

*Make it fun. Allow kids to play poetry games. One fun medium that has always seemed to be popular with kids and teens is magnetic poetry. If you have never played with magnetic poetry yourself, feel free to check out www.magneticpoetry.com to see what it is all about.

*Use prompts the kids will actually care about. The fastest way to lose your students’ interest is to give them boring, stuffy prompts. Don’t ask them to write an ode to spring or something predictable like that. Instead, ask them to write about bullies, pets, friends, dreams, things they love, things they hate, what makes them angry, etc. Just because kids are young doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings and emotions every bit as strong as adults do.

*Make your class a safe, constructive review zone. Encourage kids to share their poems with the class so that they can receive feedback, but make sure all the kids know that only kind, helpful comments are allowed. No teasing, jeering or laughing at a fellow student’s work (unless the poem is meant to be funny of course).

I hope you have found these tips to be useful. Feel free to let me know what works for you and what doesn’t. You can contact me at Shojobeatgirl@live.com if you have any comments or questions, or you can simply leave a comment below. Also, feel free to contact me if you are interested in having me visit your library, class or school!

Tips for Publishing on Smashwords

Since I recently published my new ebook, “In Memory of Dad” on Smashwords, I have had quite a few other authors ask about how the Smashwords process works.  Many didn’t even know what Smashwords was, which didn’t surprise me too much since I only recently found out about Smashwords after being asked to review a few books published there.

Put simply, Smashwords in a website that allows you to publish your own ebook.  Even if your book is available in hard copy or is published by another company, as long as you have the rights, you can publish your book on Smashwords as well.  Not only does Smashwords allow you to publish your ebook for free, but they offer the opportunity to have your ebook distributed to other major ebook retailers, provided that you follow their guidelines.  Another thing I really like about Smashwords is that they offer your book to customers in a variety of formats, including Kindle, PDF, online reading and various popular phone apps.

If you are considering publishing an ebook and want to know more about Smashwords or what the publishing process there is like, here are a few tips:

1.  Above all else, make sure to follow the guidelines Smashwords provides when you upload your book.  If you don’t it will affect your chances of having your book distributed to other retailers.  Also, your book might look kind of wonky if you don’t follow the guidelines.  Luckily, Smashwords offers a great resource to help you at no charge, the Smashwords Style Guide.

2.  Make sure you have a good cover image for your ebook.  You can hire someone to do one for you or create one yourself like I did.  Of course, if you create it yourself, make sure it looks professional…your cover WILL affect sales.

3.  Don’t post your ebook, walk away and hope to sell millions of copies.  Realistically, there is too much competition for people to just keep randomly stumbling over your ebook and actually want to buy it.  Do some promotional work, even if it is only on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.  If you can get your friends to review your book, that helps a lot too.

4.  Edit, edit, edit!  I love Smashwords and have found some great stories there, but far too many authors publish mediocre or downright painful prose.  If you don’t know how to edit yourself, find a friend who will help or consider hiring someone.  Even picking up a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and studying it would help many authors to avoid common grammar, punctuation and style errors.  Check your spelling too!

5.  Read the FAQ page on Smashwords.  This resource can help you avoid ALOT of mistakes and wasted minutes!