Posts Tagged ‘writing’

6
Jan

What’s in a (Pen) Name?

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Writing

Like most of the other members of the Shared Words writer’s group, I have had aspirations for many years to be a published author. And, in fact, I am – did you know our group published a book in 2014? You can learn more about it by visiting the following link — Shared Words: Volume One

I’ve worked on several writing projects on my own, with encouragement from the rest of the group, and even have one completed book. Well, okay, it’s in draft form, but it’s still a complete story. And one of these days I’ll get around to editing the dialogue and polishing up the text. And then maybe I’ll see about getting it published.

But…

…one of the things I’ve gone back and forth with is whether publishing something under my real name is a good idea. I decided to do a little research into this to get a feel for what other published and want-to-be-published writers are doing. After checking with several sources and reading through some interesting discussions on the topic, I found the opinions about evenly split and the reasons fairly consistent. These two stood out the most to me:

Avoiding conflicts. Many writers who decided not to use their real names did so to avoid creating conflicts with family, friends, and even their employers. Their concern was the subject matter of their writings might not sit well with family or friends, or could cause unacceptable disruptions in their place of work (and from what I’ve seen so far, most writers need those non-writing jobs to keep food on the table until they can get established).

Protecting privacy. When you stick your name out in front of the world, and people start to notice your work and you get more popular, eventually someone’s going to want to learn more about you and/or your family. And in today’s age of instant access to information, it’s not difficult for someone who is determined enough to find out where you live, the kind of car you drive, or the names of your children. There were more than a few women in these discussions that said they chose not to use their real names in order to avoid having an abusive ex-boyfriend or ex-husband hunt them down, which I found very disturbing.

There was one more thing I looked into, and that was to see if there were any other published authors out there that share my name. Now you might think with a last name like Bernier that we’d be few and far between in the literary world, but it’s not the case. In fact, I found published works under the names Mike Bernier, Michael Bernier, M. Bernier, and M.J. Bernier, which are the only versions of my name that I would have considered using (there are two other variations but I use those mostly when signing official/legal/contractual documents).

With my “rare” name not being so rare after all, that pretty much ended my deliberations — a pen name it will be.

But now, what name do I choose?

 

2
Jan

A Writing Prompt to Share

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Writing

I’ve found that a lot of writers like to use “prompts” to help them develop ideas for new stories. My writer’s group does this too, usually in the form of posting a word or phrase and everyone tries to write something that incorporates the prompt, either literally or in an implied way. It’s usually a lot of fun, and we take turns reviewing and critiquing each other’s work, which in turn helps us all become a little better as writers.

Every once in a while, I’ll come across something else that strikes me as a good prompt to use in writing. It might be a sentence, a photograph, something I see while driving down a road, and so on. A few days ago, a very dear friend posted an animated GIF image on her Facebook page, and when I saw it the idea of what to write immediately popped into my head. A few minutes later, I had posted my thoughts in a comment below the picture. It’s not so much a story as it is a description of the scene, which is just as important because it sets the tone and the mood for the story.

Here’s what I wrote. Read it first, then have a look at the image. How well did I do in setting up the scene in your mind? What would you expect to see next? I’m definitely keeping this piece of writing in my collection. Who knows? You might see it again someday…

“New Year’s Eve 1898, Springfield Illinois. A narrow road, its ruts from carriages passing earlier in the day filling with the light flakes of new-fallen snow. Overhanging trees, their leaves long lost for the winter, painted in the icy whiteness of the season. The gaslight’s glow brings the stillness to life, inviting her to walk down the lonely path…”

(Link to image: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/09/6e/97/096e973023df1543114b0c3107b32109.gif) I do not own or claim any rights to this image; it is reproduced here for illustrative purposes only.

 

Happy New Year!

Wow, it’s been four and a half years since I posted here — where did all the time go?

There are a couple of reasons for my long absence:

The first reason is, I got busy with other activities both inside and outside of work. In March of 2011 I joined the local Civil Air Patrol (CAP) squadron, and I gradually became more and more involved in the group’s activities. I became the squadron’s Information Technology Officer (ITO), then its Public Affairs Officer (PAO), and a lot of my creative energy was spent building a new website (which you can visit at http://www.captexoma.org/), writing press releases and articles, and eventually taking on a Facebook page as well. Two years later in 2013 I was asked to become the squadron’s commander, a role I didn’t think I was ready for but all of the other members have been extremely supportive and helpful, allowing me to take on the responsibility and not look too much like an ignorant fool in the process. It’s a 3-year commitment that I’ll be stepping down from later in 2016.

Work has taken some twists and turns as well. The client contract I’d been working on for 10 years was not renewed, and I was pulled into a new project to close it down. This took an amazing 2-1/2 years to complete, and really pushed my skills in designing and managing databases and performing complex data analysis to new levels, resulting in saving our company a lot of money. I was very proud to have been recognized for all the hard work, but saddened that many of the people I had worked with over the years were either sent off to new positions or laid off from the company. I did manage to hold on to a position with the tiny piece of service for the same client that we were still providing, but the type of work is something I hadn’t done in many years – production support. If you don’t know what that is, drop me a note and I’ll be glad to explain it to you…it’s not the most glamorous of jobs, but it pays the bills.

The second reason for being away so long is, I needed to take a step back. Anyone who reads my blog posts from July 2010 through July 2011 will see that I spent the entire year after Stephen’s death writing about him and little else. My writing seemed to swing back and forth from happiness to sorrow, and I’m sure many people were wondering at the time if I was going to spend the rest of my life writing and living that way (and for a time, I was asking myself that same question). So, I backed off most of my writing (except for a few smaller projects here and there) and spent a lot of time looking at what I was doing and where I was going. Some of the major things I focused on were:

  • Taking time to grieve. In spite of my resistance to it, the psychologists were right: I needed time to grieve over Stephen’s death. Time that was spent in the ways I felt they needed to be spent, which might have been different from the way some people might have expected.
  • Establishing a “new normal.” What does that mean? It means adjusting to all the changes that came about because Stephen was no longer alive. What would my relationships be like with family, friends, and co-workers? What would I say to people who ask to “hear the story” about his accident? How would I respond when someone who knew him wanted to talk about their memories? And most of all, what would I need to do in order to get through the daily routine of working, eating, sleeping, and just being alive?
  • Securing Stephen’s legacy. He touched so many lives that it didn’t seem right to let his memory fade away after his friends and classmates moved on. So, following that first year after his death, I worked to ensure the honors established by everyone else would continue going forward. Each year since then I’ve presented both the “Super Steve” award at the year-end band banquet and the Stephen Bernier Memorial Scholarship during Senior Awards night, and I’ll continue to do both for as long as I’m invited. And at last year’s banquet I presented a display case filled with memorabilia including his trumpet, a project that was almost three years in the making; this case is now on display at the high school where students from now on can see it, learn about him, and ask questions.
  • Finding a new direction and purpose. The day Stephen died, a part of me died inside as well. The changes were enormous: the road my life had been following up to that time wasn’t working any more, and the goals and dreams I once had didn’t fit in with the new world laid out in front of me… so trying to continue down that path was pointless. I started searching for new goals and reaching for new dreams, which in part led me to volunteer work with CAP and the local Amateur Radio community (I’ll talk more about both of those in future posts).

But even with all that, I still felt something missing. My writing… somehow I needed to get back into my writing. There are still plenty of stories floating around in my head, ideas waiting to be shared with the world (or maybe just a few close friends). And so I decided to start up this blog once again. I don’t know how often I’ll be posting just yet, but at least I’ll be writing.

Wish me luck!

14
Nov

An Update On My NaNo Writing — And Me

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

It is almost mid-month, and as I expected I am not on track to complete the annual NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) goal of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Instead of being 50% of the way (25,000 words), I am at about 15% (7,400 words). The fact that I am so far behind does not bother me; the subject I selected, writing about Stephen, was destined from the outset to be a labor of love rather than a labor of typing.

I tackled the most difficult piece first, which was the day of his accident and the following day when funeral arrangements were made and I attended a remembrance event at the school’s band hall. I haven’t made it completely through the rest of the days leading up to the funeral yet, but I have outlines of what I plan to write. The reason I have not finished that piece is because my mind began to wander, and I found myself looking back at the day Stephen was born. I recently found a set of pictures taken in the hospital that day, and as I looked through them the memories came flooding back…and I felt compelled to stop where I was and start writing about his birth instead.

As I was writing that section, I discovered something about writing itself that I had never considered before. I have been a technical writer for many years, and the thought process that a technical writer goes through is linear in nature – step 2 always follows step 1, A always comes before B, and so on. Technical writing focuses on the technical aspects of putting words on paper – namely, accuracy and orderly precision – and leaves no room for compromise. In contrast, the creative writing process is not linear at all, but instead is somewhat random in nature. Creative writers focus on feelings and emotions, which like all of human nature are constantly changing shape, flowing and ebbing with the events going on in a person’s life. Accuracy and orderly precision are mostly set aside in favor of expressing what is on the mind or in the heart of the writer. As the writer searches for the right combination of words to use, compromise becomes the rule rather than the exception.

This was a real eye-opener for me. Until now, I had been trying to develop creative writing skills but following the path of a technical writer; the result has been writing that expresses feelings and emotions, but does so in a very stiff and regimented manner. In order to be more successful as a creative writer, I have to follow a different path – one that is more random in its choice of direction, is peppered with spontaneity, and which molds itself to the feelings and emotions I am experiencing at the moment. The result should be writing that flows rather than stutters.

I can think of no better opportunity to put this to work than writing Stephen’s story. It may take longer to produce a finished product, but it will have a heightened level of expression over my previous writings.

And with that, I will now go off and continue working on the story. I do not know exactly what part of Stephen’s life I will be writing about next, but I do know the words will be more meaningful to me and to anyone else who reads them.

28
Oct

It’s NaNoWriMo Time!

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

November is NaNoWriMo time. What is that? It stands for National Novel Writing Month, an almost tongue-in-cheek project/competition organized and managed by the whimsically-named “Office of Letters and Light” to encourage writers (and want-to-be writers) to commit words to paper and write those stories they have always wanted to sit down and write “someday”. The goal? To write 50,000 or more words in exactly 30 days (from 12:01am on November 1 to 12:59pm on November 30). The task is very daunting; to stay on track, an average of 1,667 words must be written per day. While that may not sound like a lot, consider that this blog posting is a little more than 550 words…imagine writing about three times as much every single day for 30 days, and you can begin to get a feel for the size of the project.

What is the prize? Apart from some web “badges” and a print-it-yourself certificate, nothing of financial importance (i.e. no cash awards)…but “winners” do have the satisfaction of having finally put those words down, and hopefully the momentum from participating will carry them forward to finish their novels (if they have not already finished by the end of the month). Many participants over the past 10 years of the project have gone on to have their writings published, including some making it onto best-seller lists (for a rundown of this and all the other details, you can visit their website at http://www.nanowrimo.org).

Last year was the first time I participated in NaNo (as some people refer to it), and I had the good fortune to “win” (I finished the month with almost 52,000 words, and added more to it in December). My writing was not a true “novel” or work of fiction; instead, it was a form of autobiography I wrote about a very significant period in my life over 20 years ago, written as a favor for a close friend. The book is still being reviewed and edited, and I do not know when or if it will ever be published.

I have plans to participate this November as well, and hope that I will succeed in reaching the goal. My subject this time was originally going to be a fictional story I have had sketched out for several years, but following Stephen’s death in June (has it really been over four months since the funeral?) it became obvious to me that my original idea was not going to fly this time. Instead, I plan to write Steve’s story. I have little doubt I can eventually come up with more than 50,000 words; after all, I have 16 years of material to work with. The question is whether or not I will be able to write it all down in that short timeframe, which will be even shorter because we have made the decision to travel to Georgia for the first time in several years to visit relatives at Thanksgiving. I suppose I can find some time here and there to write while we are “on the road”, but my best course will probably be to write a little extra each day before and after the trip.

And with that, I will now go off and prepare for NaNoWriMo 2010. I probably will not be able to post anything elaborate here while I am off writing, but I will try to at least put up some brief updates on my progress as we move through the month. Wish me luck!

19
Mar

Writing Today, Remembering Tomorrow

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Tomorrow's Dreams

In response to one of my other postings, a fellow SharedWords member made the following comment: “In years to come pieces of your writing, like this blog, will be treasures to you and your family.”

I hope she’s right.

I’m sure it’s the wish of everyone who writes to have their words remembered long after they were written, and still longer after they have left this world. In days past, this was a lot tougher to do because of more limited access to the tools a person needed to create and properly preserve their work. In this age of word processors, CDs/DVDs, the Internet, and instant publishing, almost anyone with an idea and a keyboard can write and preserve it for posterity, even if they use nothing more than cryptic abbreviations (i.e. text messaging) or write one short sentence at a time (i.e. Twitter). And soon enough, even a keyboard won’t be needed – there are several very good speech-to-text converters on the market that take spoken words and type them out on a computer screen, and each year this technology continues to improve.

So, it seems nowadays anyone can acquire the tools to write words and make them last. But, even with all those things at everyone’s disposal, some people seem more destined to be remembered for their writing than others. Why?

Here’s my opinion: A person’s writings are better remembered for the feelings and emotions they stir within the reader than for the words themselves. On their own, words are lifeless and bland; but, in the hands of a talented writer, they can be brought to life and filled with color, leaving behind all manner of feeling and emotion as they tell their story. The better a person can accomplish that,  I believe, the more likely their writings will be remembered in the years to come.

So now I ask myself: will the things I’m writing today be remembered tomorrow?

I’d like to think so, but only time will tell for sure.