Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Favorite Words for May and Flash Fiction

I’ve always been fascinated by words and language. I’m the kind of word nerd who gets a kick out of stumbling across unusual words. If I’m looking up something in the dictionary, it’s fun to discover other cool words. So I thought I’d start a new series called “My Favorite Words” where I share a few of my favorites with my readers.

The other day I was reading a magazine and I came across something rather disturbing. I was holding a paper copy of this magazine; it was an actual printed magazine, not an eBook or tablet. How old school and rather quaint in these modern times, but I prefer magazines, not the digital versions! I was reading about trends, what’s “in” and what’s “out.”

I was astonished to learn that actual words are becoming a bit outmoded these days. More and more people are actually speaking in the shorthand used online for things like tweeting and texting. For example, instead of typing out BRB (be right back) people just say in conversation...BRB!

I also heard that some schools might stop teaching kids cursive writing. It is no longer deemed necessary to have good penmanship or to be able to write your name in script. Since we are living in the digital age, all that’s really required is the ability to type and speak in shorthand.

But whatever happened to a love of language, of literature? You think Jane Austen told her sister Cassandra she’d BRB? Did Shakespeare knock out a few words on his digital tablet before logging into Facebook and Twitter? I believe the digital age has been detrimental for words, and there’s been a real cultural shift in how we communicate as people live more of their lives hanging out online, spending their days in front of electronic devices.

In the spirit of keeping a love of language alive, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite words today.

5 Favorite Words for May:

Solitudinarian - One that lives a secluded, solitary life.

Kerfuffle - A commotion or disorder, an imbroglio or brouhaha.

Autodidact - A self-taught person.

Exsanguinated - Drained of blood.

Transmogrify - To change into a different form or shape, especially one that’s bizarre.

I don’t write short stories; except for script writing I’m pretty much a nonfiction writer. But for fun I thought I’d write some short paragraphs that combined my favorite words in flash fiction. Here goes:

The Cabin in the Woods...

It had been two weeks since Jack escaped to the deserted cabin in the woods, and though his girlfriend Jenny accused him of becoming a solitudinarian, he had to confess he loved living alone, seeing no one, and immersing himself in his writing. What an epic kerfuffle they had, one of their worst fights ever, when he announced he was retreating to the cabin to get some space and work on his novel.

He grabbed another whiskey, wiped the sweat off his brow and pondered the blank page and blinking cursor before him. A hermit and an autodidact by nature, he stared at the daunting tower of books he had hoarded in an effort to teach himself conversational German and archaeology. Perhaps these pursuits would distract his mind from thoughts that plagued him in the dead of night, visions of horrible happenings in these woods that haunted his dream life and lingered like a bad taste in his waking mind.

Suddenly, he heard a hollow tapping sound...could it be Jenny? Could her Jeep Cherokee negotiate the rough terrain and would she even bother to come back after their war of words? But what was that awful, anguished howling? It made the hairs stand up on the back of his head. He had never felt so vulnerable and alone. Anxious for relief, he rushed to the front door and flung it open!

His face was exsanguinated; he trembled in awe at what stood before him.

It was not Jenny. No, what stood before him was something infinitely more horrible. The legend was true! He was face to face with the creature that had transmogrified horribly into something half monster, half human. The legendary ogre of these back woods, chased by a brave few, feared by many, but celebrated in literature.

His heart raced with terror and excitement; he didn’t know if he’d make it out of the woods alive, but if he survived to write the tale, what an incredible story!


That was 330 words for my short story, so I’m not sure if it qualifies as flash fiction, but it does have a 5 word title, plus an ellipsis for added drama! (Cue some scary music...) If you have some favorite words, please share them with me by posting a comment. I’d love to hear them!

Freelance Writing: Brush Up on the Basics

Whether you’re a freelance writer just getting started, or a more seasoned veteran with lots of published articles, it’s a good idea to brush up on the basics of freelance writing. Even though I’ve been working as a content writer for five years this summer, I’m always reading, studying and learning new things that will help me get to the next level in my writing career.

There are a ton of helpful books out there about the basics of freelance writing, and I’ve discovered lots of helpful free resources online. I feel that becoming a writer is a journey that really has no end, because if you are serious about your craft, you are always growing and learning as part of the creative process.

At the end of last year, I reflected on decreased revenues for 2011 that occurred as a result of the Google search engine algorithm changes (what is commonly referred to as “Google Panda updates”). As the holiday season went on, I thought a lot about new directions for my freelance writing. I vowed to diversify in the New Year (and I’ll talk more on the importance of diversification for writers in a future blog post!)

I suddenly felt hungry for information about how I could make more money as a writer and break into new writing markets. Over the years, I have collected quite a few books on all aspects of writing, and I started reaching for these books in order to arm myself with as much information as possible, to help me go in new, more profitable writing directions.

Since New Year’s, I’ve been reading books about writing, and visiting some fantastic websites that offer free information and tutorials. I’d like to share a few of my favorite free writing resources to help freelance writers brush up on the basics:

1. Freelancewrite.about.com is a great resource for all types of freelance writing. This site offers tips and tutorials for journalistic type writing, such as nonfiction articles, as well as fiction writing. There is even a whole section about writing business copy. I find this site of particular interest because it talks about “creative freelance writing,” which is something I’ve become more interested in lately.

2. Writing-world.com is one of my favorites because it is SO comprehensive. There are articles that cover freelance writing basics, as well as more advanced topics. Reading the information here, I’ve become enlightened about the many markets out there for my work, from writing movie and music reviews to personal essays to selling articles about genealogy!

3. Constant-Content.com offers helpful reference materials (called extended writers guidelines) for potential contributors to study before submitting high quality content to its site. These tutorials cover topics like proper grammar and style, and it’s a treasure trove of free information about writing. (If you’d like to submit to Constant Content, which can be a lucrative market for web writers, it’s important to absorb this information in order to have your articles accepted at this site).

Those are my big three favorites at the moment, but there are lots of other informative blogs and writing sites out there that provide free information for writers who want to brush up on the basics of freelance writing. As an honorable mention, here are two other sites I like:

WritersWeekly.com has a long list of instructive articles about freelance writing:


WritingForDollars.com offers a list of useful articles covering all aspects of building a freelance writing career:


I could literally spend hours at these sites, reading and bookmarking articles for future reference!

After a beautiful sunny weekend, it’s been raining nonstop. Rain, rain, go away! But rainy days are a good time to fire up the coffeemaker (I like hot, steaming and sugary Donut Shop coffee...) and settle in with some good reading about freelance writing. I hope you enjoy these free resources!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

My Journey With Ovarian Cysts

I’ve been meaning to blog more, but recent health concerns have left me wiped out and off balance, and it’s only today that I’m finally feeling clear enough to write my thoughts. How about you? Has the coming of spring filled you with a sense of renewal and the urge to write?

I hope you are getting a lot of writing done, and working on your “passion projects”: a nonfiction book, or novel, a memoir, songs, solo shows, plays, poetry and so on...

Creative freelance writing is so varied and takes on so many different forms and genres; that’s what keeps it interesting!

The above photo is a lovely scene taken on the first day of spring here in the Hudson Valley. This peaceful serene setting is quite a contrast to the turmoil in my heart surrounding my annual gynecological exam, the one where my complex ovarian cyst is evaluated for anything suspicious.

My journey with ovarian cysts began eight years ago. In the spring of 2004, I had been experiencing some dysfunctional uterine bleeding and when I went to the gynecologist to look into the cause, my pelvic ultrasound revealed some interesting information that would put me on the path to ovarian cancer awareness...

It turns out my abnormal bleeding was due to an endometrial polyp that was then removed that summer; however, doctors discovered I also had a complex cyst inside my right ovary. At that time, I had no knowledge whatsoever about ovarian cysts, and didn’t realize that complex ovarian cysts sometimes turn out to be cancerous.

As I began researching ovarian cysts, I felt terror sweep through me as I read message boards and articles about the malignant potential of complex ovarian cysts. It was such a scary time for me. As I searched for information, I realized how terrified and confused other women are about their own ovarian cysts. It can be hard to find accurate information online and there’s a lot of misinformation about the disease, which is often overlooked, misdiagnosed and not found until the later stages, when ovarian cancer is often deadly.

When my complex ovarian cyst was discovered, I went into a “watch and wait” period to see if the cyst looked like anything that was, or might become, ovarian cancer. This “watch and wait” period has been going on now for eight years. I’ve had about a dozen transvaginal (and abdominal) ultrasounds in the last eight years, one MRI, and several CA 125 blood tests, and so far, after much evaluation, it doesn’t look like anything to worry about.

But I’m still in watchful waiting. And I’ll admit: eight years, it feels like a long time to “watch and wait.” I’ve grown weary of transvaginal ultrasounds, and wondering about test results. I just wanted to be free of the whole burden. In the spring 2010, my test results showed my cyst was unchanged since 2006.

So I am ashamed to say out of weariness and a bit of “watch and wait” fatigue, I got complacent about ovarian cancer awareness. I didn’t keep my yearly appointment with the gynecologist out of fears I might have to endure another pelvic ultrasound (my last one had been very uncomfortable, but in medical speak it’s often referred to as a “painless procedure”).

Then something awful happened: I recently experienced a few weeks of dysfunctional uterine bleeding. I felt horrified. Women of all ages sometimes experience a little abnormal bleeding and it can be nothing unusual, especially for ladies past 35 in their perimenopausal years. Yet I knew that abnormal vaginal bleeding can be a sign of cancer. This chill went through me and I knew I should have kept my yearly appointment; it’s been over two years since I’ve been examined.

I saw the gynecologist on April 19. She ordered a pelvic ultrasound for that very day! I was over the moon with joy, because this time it was just the transvaginal ultrasound, without any transabdominal ultrasound first. If you’ve read my other posts here about ovarian cancer awareness, you know that I absolutely hate drinking the copious amounts of water needed for the abdominal part of the ultrasound.

I had my test and descended into the usual worry spiral I feel waiting for the results, with my fears compounded by the dysfunctional uterine bleeding. I didn’t have to wait very long though. My gynecologist called just a few days later to let me know what was happening with my body: left ovary normal, right complex ovarian cyst to her surprise was actually smaller, but she found a few small fibroids and a polyp in my uterus.

Then she gave me the alternatives to deal with the uterine polyp which can cause bleeding: I could have a hysteroscopy (which uses a camera), or a saline sonogram with a catheter, or we could follow up in a few cycles with more ultrasound. Which kind of reminds me of that old “Let’s Make a Deal” game show where you could pick from a few options.

I instinctively chose door number three, the less invasive option. I said I wanted to wait and follow up in a few months. Then I researched the tests online, and I’m glad I had the option to wait, because these procedures seem scary and painful. Back in 2004 I had an endometrial biopsy, another so called “simple painless in office procedure,” and folks, it was not all sunshine, rainbows and unicorns.

It was invasive, psychologically disturbing and excruciatingly painful. It was just horrible! So I was really sweating it out, in anticipation of having to endure more of these medical procedures. The tension was really building in me. My doctor said to call her in a week if I was still bleeding.

Fortunately, after the week went by, my dysfunctional uterine bleeding disappeared on its own! Hurray! I have no abnormal bleeding, my complex ovarian cyst is shrinking, and Thursday, I had a normal mammogram! Life is GOOD!

However, I won’t forget the lessons learned from this experience. I had become far too complacent about ovarian cancer awareness. After coming so far to educate myself about this deadly killer of a disease, the last two years I’ve really buried my head in the sand. I was OVER the whole thing: the tests, my fears, and the worry about having ovarian cancer.

But ovarian cancer is called “the silent killer.” It doesn’t take time off. The potential for the disease is still there, even if I chose to ignore the issue. It isn’t proactive for me to ignore the issue of ovarian cancer simply because I’m tired of watching my cyst.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about how the medical community is divided on the issue of whether or not complex ovarian cysts can turn cancerous. For example, if my ovarian cyst looks benign today, as I age across the decades, could that complex cyst one day develop into cancer? When I asked my doctor if she thought my cyst could one day be cancerous, she replied: “It’s possible, that’s why we follow it.”

So that was a changing day for me. I’ll never stick my head in the sand again about ovarian cancer and my ovarian cyst. I’d like you to do the same also. If you feel you might have symptoms of ovarian cancer (which you can read about on sites like ocrf.org, the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund has a Fact Sheet) please visit your doctor promptly for a full medical evaluation. If your doctor dismisses you, and something doesn’t feel right, then find more doctors and knock on as many doors as possible until you get answers and proper treatment!

The slogan of ovarian cancer awareness is: “Ovarian cancer whispers, so listen.” Listen to those subtle signs within your own body. Also, if you are being monitored for a complex ovarian cyst, or anything else, please don’t become complacent. Keep your appointments; don’t hide your head in the sand, hoping for the best. Regular screenings are the best way to catch any potential problems early, when they are more treatable.

Note: This blog post and all other blog entries about my health and journey to ovarian cancer awareness represent my own opinions, research, and personal experiences. My book and blogs are not intended to treat or diagnose any medical conditions. Please consult with a qualified physician if you have any questions or concerns about your own health.

For further reading about my journey with ovarian cysts, read the posts on this blog and my Soul Tripper blog labeled “Ovarian Cancer Awareness.”

My Soul Tripper book has a whole chapter about my journey to ovarian cancer awareness titled: “Close Encounters of the Ovarian Kind.”