Monday, April 7, 2008
Mike's Writing Newsletter/Issue #1
An Inside View of the Art, Craft,
and Business of Writing
Vol 1, Issue 1 January 5, 2008
Editor in Chief: Michael P. Geffner
Layout & Design: Bailey-Shropshire Professional Writing Services
Marketing Director: Marie Sultana Robinson
Logo Designer: Jennifer L. Miller
Staff Writers: Jeanne Lyet Gassman, Bev Walton-Porter, Kim McDougall, Marilyn L. Taylor, Barbara Crooker, Patricia Fry, Whitney Lakin, Forman Lauren
Copy Editor: Melinda Brack
January 5, 2008
A Word from Mike
Welcome to the debut of what I’m dedicated to making the best ever newsletter for writers!
In it, you will find compelling exclusive interviews with industry leaders of all sorts, insider secrets and tips, hardcore info, how-to articles and columns for all genres, great quotes from the masters, and enough inspiration to get all your creative juices bubbling and flowing.
Also, I very much want this to be an interactive experience, which means I’d like you to send your questions on the writing business to: email@example.com
Please don’t ask to have your work, resume, book proposal, query letters, etc. critiqued. The best questions will be answered here (no private responses) in subsequent issues. I also encourage you to offer your thoughts, feelings, words of wisdom, and constructive criticism. It will be much appreciated.
So get ready for a wonderful ride that promises to do everything it can to help you reach your greatest writing dreams and make a difference in your life.
Happy New Year and Great Writing to All!
Best always and stay positive,
Paula The Writing Show
Are you like other writers?
Find out. Listen to The Writing Show, where authors and screenwriters reveal:
How they work
What they worry about
How they make their writing sparkle
How they deal with obstacles
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Why they write.
Free on iTunes, Zune, and http://www.writingshow.com/
The Writing Show, where writing is always the story
Information and inspiration for writers
Metaphysical and Spiritual
Looking for a gift for that spiritual friend?
Inside This Issue
Mike’s Ten Commandments to Writing Success
Slice of the Writing Life
The Spotlight Interview: Natalie Goldberg
Jeanne’s Writing Desk
Affirmations to Write By
On the Writing Business
The Writer’s Life
A Bevy of Writing Knowledge
Tip of the Month
Poetry Tips & Prompts of the Month
Writer’s Block: A Poem
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MIKE’S TEN COMMANDMENTS TO WRITING SUCCESS: A NO-FAIL APPROACH/Part 1
These principles represent the best advice I can give anyone interested in making writing a career. Study them, learn them, and, most of all, do them. You'll be amazed by the results.
1) Be a letter writer, not a resume sender. Resumes get shoved into the bottomless pit of file cabinets or dumped into the black holes of wastebaskets. Learn instead to be an aggressive composer of letters, though not sending these so often to the same editor that you become increasingly annoying. There's a fine line between persistence and being a nuisance. Don't cross that line, lest you risk turning people off who control your fate in the industry. In your letters, sell yourself like a salesperson, with you, of course, being the valuable commodity: who you are, what makes you different and better, what passions you have, how eager you are to work hard, and why you-and not someone else--should be working for the publication. The stationery and envelope should be of the highest quality (first impressions count!) and smaller than standard letter size (the small size virtually guarantees you'll be put on the top of the pile by the secretary). The letter itself should be flawless and tightly constructed, and the envelope should always be marked "personal and confidential" (to pass the gatekeeper). Your singular theme should be this: I know I can make a difference at your publication. You need people like me. You must use me.
2) Come up with five solid ideas, things hopefully you're passionate about and expert in, and write a couple of paragraphs on each (exactly what the story is and how you'd be attacking it). Make sure these "pitch letters" are well written (the editor will be judging your writing talent every step of the way) and targeted at the appropriate publications, ones publishing similar type stories. Fitting your story to the right publication is key. It should be as natural as a hand slipping smoothly in a glove.
3) Timing is everything. Spot trends and hit publications quickly with story ideas based on these, before someone else beats you to the punch. The hot item of the day approached uniquely is always a great way to get into print. Believe me, a well-timed pitch is gold!
4) Establish as personal a contact as possible with editors. Try to establish a phone connection at the very least, but face time is infinitely better and should without question be your goal. It's harder to reject a real live breathing person than a faceless name at the top of another letter. In fact, in your letters to editors, write a sentence about how you'll be calling on a specific day to discuss your "wonderful" ideas. This opens the door for your phone call. It won't be easy. It's like telemarketing at this point. But remember: Every rejection puts you closer to a sale. Though you'll have to pass some gate keepers to get to the top editors, always be professional, polite but pleasantly forceful. And if anyone asks what your business is with this editor, say it's personal. I mean, let's face it, your career is personal. Also, as a way around secretaries and assistants, you can call before 9 AM and after 5 PM-when they aren't there. And be prepared what you'll say if the editor actually gets on the line. Don't ramble. Get to the point and get off. Less is better. Make contact and leave on a high note. You want editors liking you enough to take your phone calls, not dreading the next one.
5) Study and immerse yourself in the marketplace. You need to get in the game to win it. Read media columns and industry magazines, join writing clubs, scan the net for resource sites, buy market books, get insider newsletters. Know the business inside out. Talk the talk and walk the walk. Editor and peers will know a professional when they see one.
6) Read what the best writers in your particular genre are doing. If you're a magazine writer, get yourself a copy of the annual anthology Best American Magazine Writing. If you're a short story writer, pick up The Best American Short Stories. See how it's done at its best. It'll be a great guide for what YOU should be doing. And read not for enjoyment but to learn. Study the writer's art and craft, and even try to imitate it. In pop speak, this is called Modeling.
7) Networking is nearly as important as talent. This took me a long time to understand--and believe. I always felt that the talent alone would get me to where I wanted to go. Not true. I found that out the hard way. You need to know people. A lot of them. My advice: Write "networking letters" to major editors (at the top of the masthead), not asking for work (never do that in a networking letter!) but simply for advice on how to succeed as a writer. I mean, these are the industry leaders you'll be contacting. They know a ton of inside info you don't, as well as a ton of other influential people in the business. Try to arrange a face-to-face meeting, between 15 minutes to a half-hour long at THEIR convenience in their office. You'll not only likely get some wonderful advice but will also establish yourself with a power broker. If he or she likes you enough and believes in you, he or she will likely consider you for future or current work (without you ever asking), or might refer you to another power broker. In other words, it multiplies naturally. One contact could lead to six. And after every visit, write a thank you note for them both graciously giving you their precious time and imparting some great information. Networking can also include your friends and family, who may have contacts in the field. Don't be afraid to reach out for help. You'll be amazed how many people will reach right back.
8) Do something toward furthering your writing career every single day. Read a book on writing. Write a pitch letter. Apply for a writing job. Set up an interview for a writing job. Write a networking letter to an editor. Arrange a meeting with an editor. Read a book by a great writer (not so much for entertainment but analyzing what the author does to achieve a certain effect). Read magazines and newspaper articles about the industry in media/publishing sections (This is a wonderful way to find the names of top agents). The thing is, you need to be proactive and be it daily. Action breeds action! It also adds up: A single "positive" every day builds into 365 in a year!
9) Write every single day, no matter what. Your mind is like a muscle. It needs a regular workout to stay strong and sharp. It's like the man who asks someone on the street, "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" And the other man says, "Simple. Practice, practice, practice."
10) Don't give up. The secret to ultimate success of any kind, I'm convinced, is persevering in the face of repeated rejection. If a newspaper/magazine/publishing house/literary agency doesn't accept you at first glance, try them again six months later. Editors, people, and philosophies change frequently. If you're not the cup of tea for one, you might be for another. The trick to succeeding as a writer, I feel, is having the strength and conviction to jump hurdles. Never take "no" for a final answer. Simply consider it the start for coming up with a more effective approach. Bottom-line is, if you write well, have great ideas and are well connected, success is definitely yours!
Multi-genre Writers Conference in Eastern PA March 28 & 29
Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group to host The Write Stuff in Allentown PA March 28 & 29. Featuring Jonathan Maberry, LA Banks, Katharine Ramsland,
Elvira Woodstuff, etc. For info—hotel, agents, editors, presenters, fees—visit
Registration opens Jan. 15. Small workshops fill fast!
Slice of the Writing Life
Remembering Norman Mailer
Norman Mailer, who died at 84 in November, was a titan of American letters. Michael Caruso, who edited Mailer at Vanity Fair, shared this memory of him exclusively with our newsletter:
“I was in my early 30’s, a mere pup, and hadn’t been at Vanity Fair long as the articles editor when I was assigned to take on a Mailer piece. It was about the Brett Easton Ellis book, American Psycho, which was very controversial when it came out. Mailer liked the book and wrote a very cerebral piece on it. Unfortunately, I wanted him to write more vividly about the idea of violence, which meant I had to ask him to do a pretty major re-write. Before we met in my office for a face-to-face meeting to discuss the changes, I was just about hyperventilating. And when I told him what I was thinking he lowered his huge brow and frowned. I thought he was about to deck me. Which, considering his history, wasn't just paranoia. But he finally started nodding, said he saw my points and that he would work on the piece. And he did. Here was one of the greats and he was willing to keep working to make his piece better. It gave me the confidence to be a better, stronger editor and it made me realize that all those writers who are precious about their words are probably worried they won’t be able to come up with more of them.”
“Writers don't have lifestyles. They sit in little rooms and write.”—Norman Mailer
THE LAST WHALE - Narrative Nonfiction
Read the blog about the upcoming book, a 1970s story of hippies Vs whalers set in the Southern Ocean during Greenpeace's first direct action in Australia. It's a true story that for the first time gets inside the heads of whalers and anti-whaling activists as they duel
across wild seas. http://thelastwhale.blogspot.com/
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The Spotlight Interview
Natalie Goldberg, Writer/Author/Poet
“It's the process of writing and life that matters... We are trying to become sane along with our poems and stories.”—Natalie Goldberg
Natalie Goldberg, poet, teacher, writer, and painter, revolutionized the world of writing books with her very first book, “Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within,” originally published in 1986, then reissued last year for its 20th anniversary, and ultimately translated into nine languages.
In the years since, Goldberg has written nine more books, including “Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life,” the novel “Banana Rose,” “Living Color: A Writer Paints Her World,” and two memoirs, “Long Quiet Highway: Waking up in America” and her last, “The Great Failure: A Bartender, A Monk, and My Unlikely Path to Truth,” in which she courageously faces the twin demons—and idols—of her life, a deceased father, Ben, who owned a bar in Long Island, New York, and “had poor sexual boundaries,” and a deceased Japanese Zen teacher/mentor, Katagiri Roshi, whom she studied with for a dozen years and whom she claims had an inappropriate relationship with another student.
An inspiration to so many writers, Goldberg, 58, has always been a model of honest, intimate writing, stripped so thoroughly of any pretense or self-consciousness or fear. Her work, influenced heavily by Zen Buddhism, which she has studied for three decades, is full of soulful curiosity and wonder and exploration, exhibiting a great yearning to understand the world around her, as well as her place within it.
Oddly, however, Goldberg didn’t start writing until very late, at 24 years old, working instead as both a teacher in Detroit and co-founder of a natural foods restaurant in Ann Arbor called “Naked Lunch,” named after the William S. Burrough’s book.
Then, after finishing up cooking ratatouille at the restaurant one day,
Goldberg strolled off to the local bookstore and experienced an epiphany. “I saw a thin volume of poetry by Erica Jong called “Fruits and Vegetables,’” she says. “The first poem I read was about cooking an onion. I didn’t know you could write a poem about something that ordinary. It was what I’d been doing all day. And with that, I was ready.”
For more information on Goldberg and her books, please visit her Web site at:
Here is my exclusive newsletter interview with Ms. Goldberg:
Mike: Are you amazed that Writing Down the Bones has become such a phenomenon?
Goldberg: Well, to be honest, I’ve only caught on recently about that fact, and that it’s changed so many people’s lives. When I wrote that book, I was only trying to be true to myself. I just wrote it and kept on writing book after book without looking back.
Believe it or not, last year was the first year I took off since writing Bones. And so, I was finally able to really take it all in.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I didn’t have any sense of the reaction. Because I have gotten a lot of letters and everything else over the years, and people have told me how much they loved the book. But, you know, I was busy. I was always writing. So even though I took it in, I didn’t take it in deeply, like I recently had the space to do.
For me, that book was nothing more than what I developed in writing practice. So it’s very ordinary to me. Since I live in a very cultural kind of place that understands such things as “sitting” and “walking meditation,” I just thought everybody knew all about the things that I wrote about in Bones.
It’s just Zen really, because my whole life is grounded in Zen. It’s not Natalie being a genius. It’s just Natalie wanting to share with the world something she understood.
But now, I understand that I broke a paradigm, that I broke something wide open. And I so much appreciate that I’ve helped people.
In fact, just last October, at a conference in Pittsburgh, I met an old, bigtime book editor from New York City, who told me that Bones not only changed her life but the way she saw the world.
That really floored me.
I’m totally happy I could do that for people.
Mike: What was the original purpose of Bones?
Goldberg: I think I was writing the book to save my creative life. To learn to trust my own mind and have a confidence in my experience.
I felt I had something to say and wanted to say it. At first, though, I was afraid, like many people are, because I’ve been put down a lot in my life, grown up in a very critical environment. I was afraid people would think it was stupid or idealistic. But I decided I had to put it down and share with the world something that I saw.
I also had been a poet for 13 years by then, and it felt like the next natural step after poetry to write these chapters as if each were like a poem, standing on its own.
Mike: How are you different from that woman who wrote Bones?
Goldberg: I’m not as naïve as I was back then. In fact, several years ago, I taped an audio of me reading Bones and after each chapter I commented on it. It was so interesting, since it was the 50-year-old looking back at the 30 year-old. And what I saw was this: Everything in that book is still true for me. Except now I’m not as enthusiastic—about the business, about the craft. I know now that writing is hard work, and I don’t have as much energy as I used to. I was bursting when I wrote that book, and now I’m more sober.
Yet, when I pick up the pen and just start writing, it’s the same heaven it was all those many years ago.
Mike: It’s a spiritual practice for you, is it not?
Goldberg: Yes, from the writing of Bones on, writing practice has been meditation for me. The two are completely aligned now.
When I’m writing, I either take a long walk or just sit there—watching my breathing. And when my mind wanders, I come back to the breathing.
All my writing is about studying the mind. My writing is a practice, as is meditation. It’s a way to explore thoughts and how they move. The writer’s landscape is the mind. So it’s the same thing.
Mike: What did Bones do for your career and your life in general?
Goldberg: It opened up a lot of doors for me. But people are very idealistic about that. For me, I didn’t enjoy my success. I felt hounded, like I lost my privacy. People seemed like they wanted to eat me alive. Everybody wanted to tell me a story, wanted me to recognize him or her. They didn’t just say thank you for writing the book and move on.
I’m just one person. I couldn’t take it all. I wasn’t geared for that level of success. I was geared to be married and have children. I didn’t know what to do with it all.
Not to mention that after that book, everybody wrote books that were similar to mine.
The truth is, I didn’t know when I was writing Bones that it would take off like it did. You can’t control that. That’s what people don’t understand. It’s not about your own little will. It’s about when it’s your time, when the sky and the wind and the trees and the birds and everything else are behind you. And it might not ever be your time in this lifetime. And it’s none of your business. Your job is to shut up and write.
Mike: The thing I love about Bones is the raw honesty.
Goldberg: (She chuckles) Well, it’s just the bones. Nothing extra.
Mike: In Bones, you tell the story of your Zen master Katagiri Roshi encouraging you to make writing your spiritual practice. Could you elaborate?
Goldberg: When I was 26, I began trying to figure out how to write. I didn’t have any rules. I didn’t call it writing practice. I just wrote and wrote. Then in 1976, I went to study writing with the great poet Allen Ginsberg for six weeks at the Naropa Institute. He brought together a lot of stuff about writing and its relationship to the mind, and I continued to pursue it after the course ended.
And then I started to time myself while I kept my hand moving as I observed my mind. I went deeper and deeper into it and noticed things, but I didn’t give the experience a special name. In this way I learned which practices helped me write, and which didn’t.
I did it this way for years before I met Katagiri Roshi. When I met him and began sitting with him, he said one day, “Make writing your practice.” At the time I never listened to anything he said; I was so arrogant. I said, “Oh, that’s ridiculous, Roshi.”
Many years later, I finally began to understand what Roshi said. And it was actually in the writing of Bones that it all came together. There was a great “Ah.” About two years after the book was published I went to see him and I said to him, “Why did you tell me to make writing my practice?” And he looked at me very nonchalantly and said, “Well, you liked to write, that’s why I told you.” He understood where my passion was, where my energy was. So in other words, if you really want to be a runner but think you should meditate, make running your practice and then go deeply into it at all levels.
But Roshi also said, “Ah, but it’s pretty good to sit too.” So I also sat to keep myself honest, and to somehow develop my back. You know, my front was all energy. I explain it all in Bones – you have to have quiet peace at your back, otherwise you burn up.
Mike: What would you like people to know about Bones that they might not already know?
Goldberg: That a lot went into the writing of that book. It’s not like I just wrote something. It was completely ordered.
Mike: What’s been the secret of writing for you?
Goldberg: That you have to let go. Let go of all the trying and the wanting, letting go of success and failure. It’s very hard to do that, but the true letting go is huge.
I truly believe that great writing only comes when you let go and stop trying to be a success, or trying to run from failure.
But as much as you strive to let go, you still have to show up and pick up the pen and write.
Mike: So, what goes through your mind when you’re writing?
Goldberg: Nothing. I don’t think. I just sit down and go.
For instance, when I’m working on a book, I never ever think about that book. I just keep feeding my belly. I become pregnant. Like composting. But I don’t think because then monkey mind takes over.
You know, we all have tremendously strong monkey minds that are very creative, that can make endless excuses. “I really can’t write today because my daughter is having trouble in school. I really can’t write because I have a stomachache every time I write.” Monkey mind will always think of new reasons why we can’t write. What I teach is if you want to write, do it and do it now.
Mike: Could you give me your definition of “monkey mind”?
Goldberg: Monkey mind is actually a Buddhist term. It refers to that annoying inner voice that creates busyness. It keeps us away from our true hearts, from expressing our real thoughts. It tells us things such as “I can’t write today” and “I don’t want to write today.” You must try to ignore your monkey mind and live in that huge place called the “wild mind,” where everything is available to us, where all things—rocks, trees, animals—are interconnected and interpenetrated. This is what we have to connect with in order to write.
Mike: People are always pairing you with Julia Cameron and comparing Bones with The Artist’s Way. Are you okay with that?
Goldberg: Yes, I’m fine with that. I know Julia and we talk regularly on the phone and I’m very fond of her. She’s lived in Taos as well, and in fact we’ve joked that maybe something’s in the water here.
But Julia has helped thousands and thousands of people. So the pairing is wonderful.
Mike: When you read The Artist’s Way, what did you think of it?
Goldberg: I liked it. Some people say it’s like Bones. But I don’t see that. I think she took it a whole different way.
Mike: How do you differ from Julia’s approach?
Goldberg: I think she’s been hesitant to look at the dark side, although I’m not sure that’s true anymore.
Mike: You and your books have been described, in a somewhat dismissive way, as “cosmic” and “New Age-y” and “out there.” Does that bother you?
Goldberg: No, I can’t aggravate over that stuff. And I try not to read those reviews. Besides, I’m not New Age. My stuff is rooted in 2,000 years of watching the mind. So it’s not just “some creative thing that Natalie does.” What it is, is that you keep your hand going and whatever goes through, you put it down. Just like in meditation: Whatever comes up, you keep sitting with it and you don’t run from it... hopefully. Writing is a taskmaster because it’s on the page. You can’t fool yourself.
Mike: Tell me about your last book, The Great Failure. It has such a forbidding title.
Goldberg: The title came from Buddhism, which talks about The Great Spring, The Great This and The Great That. The thing is, we’re all frightened of failure. We’re all running from failure and toward success. For me, this book was a chance to step back into what I fear—into failure—look around, feel it, and stand my ground. And what happens when you stand your ground, when you’re not afraid of failure, when you’re not running from it, it becomes the Great Failure. In other words, it’s really an embrace of both failure and success. It’s an embrace of everything. So it’s actually a magnificent thing, to have a Great Failure.
I was trained to fail. And in Zen, that’s a great thing, because finally, in the end, nobody succeeds. We all face old age, sickness, and death. So, in a way, it’s a very grounding thing. In the book I look at betrayal, disappointment and failure—the things we’re all afraid of. In looking at them, they become The Great Success, because we’re no longer running from them.
I stepped right into what I was afraid of, and so it no longer hounded me. The world opened for me and suddenly became big and magnificent.
Mike: How long did it take you to write The Great Failure?
Goldberg: Two years. Which is average for me.
Mike: The book is about your dad (the Bartender) and your Zen teacher Katagiri Roshi (the Monk), both of who betrayed, disappointed, and failed you. Tell me about them.
Goldberg: My dad died in 1999. He was fabulous, funny, alive, and very frightening. He was a bully who had really poor sexual boundaries. And though I adored him, I was always scared and uncomfortable around him. I had to finally stand up to him. And in standing up to him, I think I grew up. And part of my growing up was learning to take on the part of myself that wanted to write.
My father was a bartender and didn’t read books. I actually thought I could win over my father’s love with my success with books. But he didn’t love books, so my writing books didn’t make much sense to him.
We have this idea that when we publish a book all these great things will happen. That we’ll get all this love and everything else that we want, and it’s really not true.
And from my Zen teacher, I learned about the ground of being. We all want well being. I learned the dharma from him.
Mike: Was The Great Failure a difficult book to write?
Goldberg: Yes, very. Not the actual physical writing. But I couldn’t believe I was writing what I was writing, the stuff I was saying. So I was scared. So I wrote some of it in airports, when I didn’t notice I was writing.
Mike: To fool your mind, I guess.
Goldberg: Yes, exactly, that’s a good way of putting it.
Mike: Having written this memoir, what’s your take on the whole memoir controversy involving James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces?
Goldberg: Listen, in a memoir, you can’t lie about being in jail if you didn’t go to jail. But I don’t think he should’ve been ostracized the way he was. I feel terrible that he’s been made such a scapegoat. I mean, have some compassion. He’s a human being. Don’t turn on him all at once.
But they have, and made such a big deal of it—from Oprah to the publishers.
It’s shameful, just shameful.
The thing is, the readers aren’t taking any responsibility. They’re so naïve. The man is an addict, and addicts are liars and exaggerators.
I feel really sad about the whole thing, especially since the book has influenced and helped people anyway.
That’s what happens when you’re a success. If he and the book weren’t so successful, he would’ve never been ripped apart the way they have.
This is why I warn people about success. People don’t know what they’re getting into before it happens to them. He was probably so blown away that the book took off like it did
Success isn’t what you think it is.
Mike: Talking about success, you’ve become such an inspiration to entire generation of writers. Are you coming to grips with that fact?
Are you enjoying your success now?
Goldberg: I’m trying to. I enjoy teaching, and my success gives me the opportunity to teach a lot. And I enjoy writing, and my success helps get me published.
Mike: Do you write every day?
Goldberg: No, but when I say to myself that I will, I do. I show up. That’s the difference. When you say you’re going to write every day, it’s like going on a diet. And when you don’t write one day, you feel guilty.
But in my early days, when I was building my muscle, I did write every day.
I’ve been writing for 30 years now. Things change.
Mike: Is writing harder, easier, or the same after all these years?
Goldberg: It feels like it gets harder and harder. Because I’ve said everything I know, and now I have to go beyond what I know to write more.
When I was young, I felt as if there was this mountain far away and I had a lot of energy to run toward it. Now, I feel like I’m up against the mountain and have to move it a centimeter to say a word.
Mike: You once said that you could never write on a computer because you couldn’t “go that fast.” Has your view changed or do you still write in longhand?
Goldberg: I do all my creative writing in longhand in a notebook. I know very little about computers, I tell my students it’s okay if they use computers, but to know that it’s just a different physical activity, so a slightly different part of the mind comes out—not better or worse, just different. And also, I think it’s important to always be able to write by hand, because it’s an essential thing that we learned when we were very young.
Mike: Everybody seems to have a blog these days. Do you blog?
Goldberg: No. What’s a blog? (She chuckle) No, no, I’ve heard of them. I just don’t do it and can’t see myself starting.
Mike: Were there any writing books that inspired you?
Goldberg: I like Peter Elbow a lot. And Dorothy Brande’s Becoming a Writer is a wonderful book.
Mike: What book of yours is your favorite?
Goldberg: Well, they’re all my darlings. But I love Living Color. Which is all about my painting. I’ve been painting as long as I’ve been writing.
I also very much love Wild Mind. I feel like it says a lot in there. I get in the practice of writing, a lot of memoir stuff, and I think it’s funny. I still remember well the process of writing it, and it was very alive and actually easy.
Mike: In the workshops that you conduct, what problems do you encounter most?
Goldberg: That they don’t read books. Around 40 percent of writing should be reading books, but people just don’t read anymore. They don’t understand that in order to write you must join the lineage of writers and care about authors. And not be so opinionated. I like. I don’t like. Just shut up and read, and see what you can learn from these writers.
You have to care in a big way about all writing, not just about your own book.
Mike: From what I understand of your workshops, you emphasize mostly commitment and perseverance and determination. What about the concept of natural talent?
Goldberg: I guess I don’t believe in talent. I know talent exists. It’s kind of free-floating. Like maybe you’re born pretty—but so what? What does that get you?
I never thought of myself as talented—mostly because no one ever told me I had any, and any time I went to a palm reader I was told I should be an accountant. It was my own effort, really, that made new lines in my palm.
I’ve always believed in human effort. Not just hard work, like “put your shoulder to the grindstone.”
Talent has nothing to do with waking up. I’m talking about being aware and mindful as a writer, knowing the names of trees and plants. Noticing the light and how it’s hitting a tree or hitting the chrome on a car. That comes with practice. It’s pretty nice if you’re talented, but it will only take you so far. Work takes you a lot further.
Mike: You don’t talk about writer’s block. I guess you don’t have such blocks, do you?
Goldberg: No, not really. At least not the kind of blocks people usually talk about.
Mike: What do you think of writer’s block?
Goldberg: Oh, it’s just monkey mind. Shut up, pick up your pen, and write.
Mike: And how about when people say they don’t have the time to write sometimes, or who procrastinate to no end?
Goldberg: I think it’s just people saying to themselves: “I’m afraid to let myself out. I’m afraid to follow what I really want. I can’t do it right now, but it’s my deepest dream. I can’t do it because I have a family and I have to make a living. I am scared that I’m not good enough.”
I don’t pay much attention at that level. All I hear is an excuse. In other words, these people want something but they’re not willing to step forward and grab it. Over the years that I’ve been teaching writers, what I’ve watched is that people don’t let themselves burn. They don’t let their passion come alive. They don’t feed it. To me it doesn’t really matter what the excuse is.
Now I can hear you saying, “Well, but what if the excuse is true? What if the person does have six children and they work two jobs in order to feed them?” What I say is that if the person burns to write, then they will have to find time to do it, even if it’s one half-hour a week. You have to somehow address your whole life. You can’t put it off until you’re 60, because you might die at 59.
Don’t make any excuses. Simply take out your notebook, pick up a pen, and just write. In the middle of the world, make one positive step. In the center of chaos, make one definitive act. Just write. Say yes, stay alive, be awake. Just write, write, write.
Writer's Pocket Tax Guide - 2008 Edition
The Writer's Pocket Tax Guide leads freelance and salaried writers through the harrowing experience of dealing with the U.S. tax code. Line-by-line instructions steer writers through the jungle of Schedule C and Form 2106 and help them make full use of deductions without incurring the wrath of the ferocious IRS. Purchase it at:
Jeanne’s Writing Desk
When is It Posted? Published? A Publication Credit?
By Jeanne Lyet Gassman
If you have ever submitted your work to a magazine or writing contest, you will often see the caveat: “No previously published material.” It’s easy enough to identify a work as published when it appears in a print format, but what about when it appears online? What is the distinction between writing that is posted on the Internet and writing that is published on the Internet?
In addition, there is confusion about what constitutes a legitimate online publication credit. Many times, a market will ask for a brief bio, requesting you list your previous publication credits. Does the poem you posted on the literary and writing forum at Craig’s List count as a publication credit? What about the flash fiction that appeared in an ezine?
Let’s begin by clarifying our online terms:
Posted—If a work is posted, it’s preserved in an electronic format and is available for viewing by others. Some of the places where people post their work include: Websites, blogs, writing forums, and online critique groups. Depending on where it appears, posted work may or may not be published.
Published—The writing has been posted in a public venue. If you can locate your writing using a search engine such as Google or Yahoo, then you should definitely consider it published.
Publication Credit—The work has been vetted by an editor, judge, or publisher and published online.
How does this work in real life, with real-life scenarios? Let’s take a look at some of the most common examples you might encounter:
Published—Maybe. Suppose you wrote a beautiful Mother’s Day poem and sent it (via email) to your favorite aunt. Well, your aunt thought it was wonderful and passed it along to ten of her best friends. One of those friends, Mary S., was quite impressed by that poem. In an attempt to give you the recognition she thinks you deserve, she posts your poem in its entirety (with your byline) on Craig’s List’s “Literary and Writing Forum.” Your poem has just become published.
Publication Credit—No. Mary S., good friend though she may be, is not an editor. She did not screen your work to select it for Craig’s List. In fact, none of the writing that appears on Craig’s List is pre-screened.
Online Critique Group
Published—No, not if the group is private, accessible only with a password or through invited membership. It doesn’t matter how large the private critique group is. Mike’s Writing Group has over 7,000 members, but membership is by invitation only and all members must use a password to access the site. Anything posted for review at Mike’s Writing List is considered posted, not published.
Publication Credit—Yes, but it’s important to remember that there are tiers of publication credits. If work in the magazine has been nominated for or won some awards (such as storySouth’s Million Writers Award or the Best of the Net Award), then the magazine carries more panache as a credit than an ezine no one has ever heard of. I always advise people to start with the top markets and work their way down.
Personal Website or Blog
Published—Yes, if you post the work in its entirety on the site. Since it’s difficult to post an excerpt of a poem, I advise people to post only previously published poetry. If you publish an excerpt of an unpublished short story, novel, or nonfiction work, the work is not considered published because you didn’t post the entire piece.
Published—Maybe. If the newsletter is available to the general public (sometimes by subscription only), then you should consider work that appears in it to be published.
Publication Credit—Maybe. Suppose you have written an inspirational poem and published it in your online church newsletter. Could you list that as a publication credit? Probably not. Since this type of newsletter is open to contributions from all members of the church, the work is not viewed as vetted. However, if an editor approaches you and asks you to write for a newsletter, then you could list a newsletter publication as a legitimate publication credit. When listing a publication credit, always consider the publication’s intended audience, the purpose of the publication, and the level of editorial screening.
The easiest way to determine if a work is published or posted is to search for it via Google. If you can enter the title and your name and find the work on the Web, then it’s published as far as an editor is concerned. In fact, some literary magazines now indicate that they do an Internet search for previous publication of works they are considering. If a stranger can locate your poem on your blog, the editor can as well.
The Internet has opened up new opportunities for publication, but it’s not a place for the unwary to tread. Take your time, research your publication venues, and send your best work to the best markets you can find.
Newsletter contributing columnist Jeanne Lyet Gassman is an award-winning author whose fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry has been published in magazines, newspapers (including The Arizona Republic and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), and anthologies. In 2002, Ms. Gassman was the recipient of an Encouragement Award in Creative Writing from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, and in the 2005 Preditors & Editors Reader’s poll her story, '”Healing Arts,'” was ranked among the Top 10 in the nonfiction category. She also teaches writing classes and conducts workshops in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Please visit her Web site at:
Affirmations to Write By
I do not presume that my audience will understand me, so I make sure to write as clearly as possible.
Images and words come easily when I sit down to write.
I write daily with excitement, enthusiasm, and confidence.
I don't wait for inspiration. Work inspires inspiration.
I write concisely, making sure to go over my work again and again to take out any extraneous words or thoughts.
I support my assertions with specific details, facts, and examples.
I take short breaks as needed during my work periods, coming back fresh and raring to go again.
I use my time wisely and efficiently, resisting procrastination as best I can.
I proofread to catch mistakes and careless errors, thereby improving my work as well as my professionalism.
Everyday, in every way, I'm getting better and better as a writer.
On the Writing Business
6 Tips That Will Jumpstart Your Writing Career
By Patricia Fry
There aren’t many careers that allow you to follow your passion while earning a living. And there aren’t many people who can establish the balance one needs in order to create a business around their passion.
Would you like to establish a career as a freelance writer? Do you dream of writing full-time? Follow the suggestions below and your dream could become a reality.
1: Spend time writing whether it is convenient to do so or not. Perhaps you have a full life—you work eight or ten hours a day outside the home, you do a lot of charity work and/or you enjoy an active social life. We each establish lifestyles that suit our needs and desires. Our routines are important to us. In fact, it represents our comfort zone. To step outside of this zone, even to pursue something we think we want to do, often causes some discomfort. What to do? You have choices. You can give up your dream of writing or try easing into the writing realm. When people say, “I want to write, but I just don’t have time,” what they mean is, “Writing is not one of my priorities right now.”
Make writing a priority and you will find the time.
2: Make time to write. Usually this means making some sacrifices. What are you willing to give up in order to write? Sleep, TV, Internet surfing or perhaps overtime at work? If your life is filled during all of your waking hours with specific activities and rituals, then something will have to change in order to accommodate your desire to write. And the change won’t occur just by wishing or hoping. It will take your concerted effort.
Get up an hour earlier or stay up an hour later and spend this time writing. Turn off the TV more often—much more often. Say “no” to every other social invitation. What may feel like a sacrifice at first, will become part of your new writing routine. If writing is your passion, you will soon feel blessed to have the time to write rather than feeling deprived of time in front of the TV.
3: Be realistic about your writing choices. Perhaps your true dream is to support yourself by writing stories for your favorite romance magazines. Or maybe you’d like to become a novelist. It is extremely difficult to break in as a career writer of fiction. If fiction is your writing bag, I strongly urge you to set that dream aside for now and pursue a mode of writing that is more likely to produce the monetary results you are seeking. If you’re planning to earn a living through writing, nonfiction is easier to sell and a more reasonable medium to engage in. Establish yourself as a nonfiction writer, first—start the flow of work and the flow of money. Then, add to your writing repertoire in order to facilitate your love of fiction.
Here’s what I recommend: start writing articles for magazines, seek freelance writing work in corporate offices or on the Internet or produce some how-to booklets on topics related to your expertise, for example.
Now there’s a creative and viable idea. Whether you give horseback riding lessons, make beaded jewelry, are a whiz at finances, raise poodles, do nails or grow herbs, create booklets on various aspects of your knowledge and distribute them for sale to clients, appropriate specialty stores, from your Web site and so forth.
Let’s take the subject of manicures as an example. You could write booklets on the care of your nails, cuticle health, how to give yourself and others a professional quality pedicure, manicure styles over the years, what your nail color choice reveals about your personality, how to decorate your nails for the holidays, recommended products, old-wives tales about nails and so forth. And you can submit articles on these topics to magazines at the same time.
4: Use your time wisely. Becoming a successful freelance writer takes discipline and realistic scheduling. Failure comes to those who procrastinate, who have trouble prioritizing tasks and who are easily distracted. Those who succeed in this business have found a way to organize and discipline themselves.
While some freelance writers schedule certain hours each day to work no matter what, others work around family and professional obligations. The important thing is that you spend enough time in work mode and that you work smart enough to actually accomplish something each and every day. I work best with a schedule. Each evening, I evaluate that day’s work. I consider upcoming deadlines and the volume of work that needs my attention. Then I create a schedule by prioritizing tasks.
In a typical week, I might respond to writers’/authors’ questions via email, revise an article for a magazine, write a few articles to promote my latest book, submit several reprints, spend a few hours promoting one of my books online, package and ship anywhere from one to four dozen books, deliver books locally, catch up on bookwork tasks, rehearse a speech for a conference, be interviewed on the radio, write a book, and spend time on the clock editing a manuscript for a client, for example. I put in full days. In order to pay the bills, I must be productive and in order to be productive, I must be organized. Yes, I typically put in more than the usual 8-hours each day.
5: Just start. It isn’t easy to transition from full-time office worker to full-time writer. Most of us don’t have the funds to support us while we build a new business. I didn’t always have 12 or even 8 hours each day to spend working my freelance writing business. I built it over time. For any of you who are interested, here is my story:
I started writing articles for magazines from a corner of my bedroom using a manual typewriter in 1973. I was selling quite a few articles and I even had a book published through a traditional royalty publisher during those first several years. I was fortunate to be a homemaker and stay home mom. I waited to start my career until my three daughters were in junior high and high school, so my transition into the world of writing was fairly easy. Frankly, while I was serious about my writing, I was under no pressure to earn a certain amount of money.
In 1986, however, it became necessary for me to take a full-time job. I’d just spent 5 years researching and writing a comprehensive local history book and self-publishing it. So funds were low and my lifestyle was in transition.
How I missed writing. While I had a good job with lovely people around me, I hated working for someone else—on someone else’s agenda. And it looked as if this would be my future. I became despondent. That’s when I realized that I had to find a way to write no matter what else was going on in my life.
I started getting up at 4 every morning and writing before I went to work. Then I would write on weekends. I wrote my book, Quest For Truth, a true metaphysical adventure, in 8 months on that schedule. I can’t even begin to describe how happy and fulfilled I was. But I wanted more. I wanted to come home and establish a writing business that supported me spiritually as well as financially. So I began using that time in the wee hours of the morning to submit articles to magazines—remember, this was before the ease of the Internet. Within a year, I was able to quit my job and come home to write. And I’ve never looked back.
6: Write what they want. You have to go where the paying work is and accept the jobs that are available. While I never compromised my values in order to get paying work, I have certainly had to take some challenging and sometimes not very interesting jobs in order to keep the flow of money coming my way.
I prefer writing books, editing interesting manuscripts for clients and presenting workshops. But, in order to pay the bills, I’ve also written copy for local water companies, I’ve written articles on boring topics and I once wrote a 16-chapter book in 3 weeks for a client.
I’ve seen too many writers so bent on making their own personal statement or doing things their way that they get nowhere in this business. If you want to make a living or even earn some part-time money as a writer, you have to go where the work is and write what is needed/wanted. Write about things that are current, popular or even a bit provocative or controversial.
It takes more to become a full-time writer than just dreaming about it. If writing full-time is your dream, read and reread the above six points and use them to finally fulfill your passion.
Contributing newsletter columnist Patricia Fry is the author of 25 published books, including, The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book. She is also the president of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network, www.spawn.org). Visit her publishing blog at:
Ms. Fry’s free guide to writing a Post-Publication Book Proposal can be requested by emailing her at:
Writing Quotes of the Month
"The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.”—Joan Didion
“There is no use writing anything that has been written before unless you can beat it. What a writer has to do is write what hasn’t been written before or beat dead men at what they have done. Only dead men are useful as standards, as competitors, because only their work has been tested by time and has proven value.”—Ernest Hemingway
“The role of the writer is not to say what we can all say but what we are unable to say.”—Anais Nin
“One demands two things of a poem. Firstly, it must be a well-made verbal object that does honor to the language in which it is written. Secondly, it must say something significant about a reality common to us all, but perceived from a unique perspective. What the poet says has never been said before, but, once he has said it, his readers recognize its validity for themselves.”--W. H. Auden
“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster.”--Isaac Asimov
The Writer’s Life
Writing/Publishing Tips for New Writers
By Whitney Lakin
Disclaimer: Just to let you know—I'm very sorry, but I don't have the power to actually get you published. My aim here is to share advice that I've had to find out the hard way on the path from the first word to the published book, story, article and poem. Some stuff you might know already, some might be new. Whatever the case may be, I hope that you find the advice helpful.Publishing is a challenge, and that's the litote of the century. It's chock-full of ups and downs, but if you work for it then it will happen. Make sure you're heading in the right direction, and keep on walking. Writing in your spare time is a passion. Publishing is a lifestyle. It's physically, mentally, emotionally and socially demanding. The writing life is at times lonely and frustrating. It happens to us all. Sometimes, you just can't be like "other people." You will live, eat and breathe at your computer. You will somehow morph into your own personal word processor. Bon courage! Enjoy the process—it will shape you for the best. Determination and discipline will define you as a writer and as a human being. It's one of the most rewarding experiences of a lifetime.That said, make sure you're able to commit to it. Number one—and this may sound strange coming from someone who writes liquor-drenched horror, but take care of your body. A well-cared for writer will, in the long run, produce better work and deal better with the inevitable setbacks of the writer's life. Healthy methods of coping with stress and rejection are crucial. A beer once in awhile is a blessed thing, and delving into decadence can be gorgeous and thought-provoking, but there's a limit. Take care of yourself, and your ideas will come. It does not mean your ideas will dry up. It means that you'll be better able to serve them if you're in good health.Now, onto equipment. As with any profession, you need the right equipment. Start with a good text program that has the capability of creating .doc or .rtf files (these are the most commonly requested formats by publishers). I would strongly advise buying an external drive and backing up your work there. It is so worth the extra $100-$200. Lock the external in a fireproof safe EVERY TIME you step away from your computer. I have 4 copies of everything I write: one on my hardrive that I save every 5 minutes, one on my external drive that I lock in a firesafe, another on a remote webserver that I upload in .rtf format every night, and a hard copy of every finished draft. Sound extreme? Maybe, but compared to losing your precious intellectual property it's a very small sacrifice. Trust me. My laziness in saving cost me over 30 pages of my first novel, weeks before it had to go to the publisher. Wah. ?Before querying a publisher (we'll get to that in a minute), make sure that you have a finished manuscript ready to go. Completely finished, from intro quote to THE END. Edit then edit some more. Put it down for a few days or weeks and come back with a fresh eye. Accept that there is always room for improvement. Even on published stuff. That's the caveat of being a writer—there's always something left to pick at in terms of a manuscript. In terms of productive editing, enlist the help of a trusted friend, preferably someone well-read and articulate who can give you honest feedback without either being too vague or too critical. Choose this person wisely—they will be your new confidant and in a sense, personal trainer and all around literary ass-kicker. Speaking of which, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank anyone who has ever suffered through a first draft reading of my work. They know who they are, and they have my undying devotion for life.When it's ready to go, make sure that the manuscript is formatted exactly as the publisher asks. (You can usually find guidelines in "The Novel and Short Story Writer's Market" or through the publisher's website). Some publishers will publish the manuscript as is. Some will work with you to make changes. Don't be afraid to ask. Do as much footwork as you can before contacting your editor or publisher with a question, but if you can't find the answer on your own regarding any aspect of the publication process, you have every right to ask. When it comes to submitting anything, don't try to be cute—no colored paper or funny doodads. Professionalism is key. Neatly typed, usually in Times New Roman or Courier, 12pt, 1-inch margins are typical industry standards. Page numbering and headers vary from publisher to publisher—make sure you do your research before submitting. Same goes for the query letter. By the way, a query letter is what you send to a publisher when you're asking them if they want to publish your book. You usually don't just send them the manuscript straight out. The query letter goes something like this:Your nameYour addressYour phone To: Name of editorName of PublicationAddress of publicationDear (editor's name):[Insert intro here and brief summary of manuscript, see below]My name is Whitney Lakin. I found your publishing house through "The Writer's Market." I see in your listing that you publish new horror that focuses on the demonic. If you're currently acquiring, then I have what I feel is a perfect fit for you. My most recent manuscript, "A Computer in the Devil's Kitchen" is set in modern-day New Orleans. The Devil acquires a brand new computer, and begins targeting victims through the popular networking site MySpace. Drawing on the contemporary theme of computer stalkers, the Devil creates a profile and lures unsuspecting teens and twenty-somethings who think that they're just in for a good party. Once in Hell, the Devil steals their souls. (Think Strangeland meets Faust).
One day, a girl is investigating her brother's abduction when she comes across the Devil's Myspace page. Can she figure out how to save him before it is too late and her brother is damned forever? Or will she be caught in his hellish web and tortured for all eternity?[Insert readership here and any plans for marketing or a personal platform—i.e. any affiliation you have that can help boost sales, see below]"A Computer in the Devil's Kitchen" resonates with readers young and old alike, but has a special appeal to those in the 18-25 year bracket. As a frequent public speaker, I will be actively promoting my book through appearances and internet-based advertising. [P.S. Don't say "my friend read it and thinks it's great." You need to cover more ground with your query][Insert bio here, see below]I am the author of the full-length novel "A Paintbrush in the Devil's Toolbox." I've published dozens of non-fiction articles as well as gothic poetry and horror shorts in such well-known magazines as "Skullcrusher Press" and "BloodRain Digest." I am also prepared to follow up "A Computer in the Devil's Kitchen" with a sequel.[Summarize what you're sending and THANK THEM—can't stress this enough!!]I've sent the first three chapters of my work as requested. Should you be interested, I'd be happy to send you a synopsis** or the entire manuscript. I appreciate your taking the time to read my work.Sincerely,Whitney Lakin666 Canto LaneDis, Hell, USA**A synopsis is a longer summary of your work, complete with chapter divisions. You would include the main characters and action. It's much like a treatment for a screenplay. There is a good example of a query and also of a synopsis in "The Guide to Literary Agents."**For a fantastic example of proper manuscript formatting, go to:
**For an extensive list of magazines/book publishers out there and their average response times, go to:
Some additional tips for query writing: take yourself seriously. Speak definitively (I.e. "I'm a writer, and I have a story/novel that I think fits your needs perfectly). If you want others to believe in you and spend money on your work, you must believe in yourself. You have a finished manuscript. You've labored over this baby for eons. Be proud! Also, tailor your query to each and every publisher you solicit. Show them you've done your homework. Order a copy of their magazine if you're submitting poetry/short stories. If it's a novel, research other authors that the company publishes. Give the editor feedback. Be sincere. I just read a copy of "The Horror Library" that kept me up till dawn and gave me amazing nightmares. I e-mailed the editor the next day to thank him.If you've done your homework and you've found a company that publishes work like yours, give it a shot. It's really worth the extra time and money to find the right fit. Better to query 5 well-chosen houses than 50 that may not work for you. The acquisitions editor (the person who first reads your manuscript) will appreciate it. How to go about finding the right publisher? For writers in the U.S, Canada and the U.K, check out "The Novel and Short Story Writer's Market." There's also "The Guide to Literary Agents" and "The Poet's Market." Get the most up-to-date version you can. You can buy a copy through amazon.com or at your local bookseller. Go through listing by listing. Get a good amount of info on houses you think might work for you. It might seem overwhelming, but in the end it'll give you so many valuable leads. Break it up if you need to, taking small chunks at a time. Also, if you order a magazine and enjoy the work of an author, look to see where they've been published. Chances are that might be a good market for you too. In addition, search for message boards and attend conventions in your genre. The Horror Writer's Association sponsors a very helpful con every year—the World Horror Convention. Once at a con, go to panels, talk to other writers and have fun! If you run into a publisher or agent, it's not against the rules to pitch your manuscript, but introduce yourself and ask them if it's a good time for them. If someone sends you a polite rejection letter—especially if they give you helpful criticism, take the time to thank them. I'm serious. They probably get hundreds of submissions, and if they've taken time to actually give feedback on a piece that they're not going to publish (i.e. that won't earn them any money), that's saying a lot about your work. Take pride in this, and don't get discouraged. Remember, in the end, you've submitted your stuff. That takes so much time, discipline and guts. Keep trying. You will make it happen. I try to have 3 submissions out there at all times. When I get a rejection letter, I just find a new market and go from there. It also helps to have a large and diverse body of work. By that I mean essays, flash fiction, short stories, novellas, manuscripts and poetry. That way, if you come across a call for stories somewhere, you may just be able to send away something you already have in your body of work. (By the way, a standard length for short stories is roughly 3,000-6,000 words, and for shorts 500-1,000 words. Novels are usually somewhere upwards of the 60,000+ word mark (that being a short novel). Between that range is the novella. Poetry collections usually ask you to submit 3-5 poems.)I'll say it again--don't get discouraged. Rejection happens. It doesn't necessarily mean that you suck. It means that your piece didn't fit the needs or whims of a certain editor. My first novel was rejected 30 times before I sold it, and I'm told that's a pretty low number all things considered. Some other considerations: Writer's groups—to join or not to join?This one is a very personal call. I've attended one that was more drinking beer and bragging than giving caring, honest feedback. I'm now member of a private group that has been nothing but supportive, informative and challenging. As for the people you choose to read your rough draft, choose your writing partners very carefully. You should feel comfortable and welcome but challenged at the same time. No matter how good your ideas, it's often the push of another talented writer or a good editor that can bring your writing to that certain special level. You should also get the sense that the majority of members are serious about work and about giving helpful feedback. If you can find that, then I'd say that writer's groups can be a huge help—it's great to have someone there to celebrate your writing triumphs and to massage your soul when you get the inevitable rejection letters. Do you need a BA in creative writing?To that I'd say nope. I'll give you the pros and cons from my perspective. Cons: Sometimes, a lot of ego and profs that may not be as sufficient as you would like. You don't often get much instruction on the actual publishing process. A very close confidant of mine just admitted that he got a BA in creative writing from a top 50 school and he didn't learn anything about the actual writing process. That said, BA's in creative writing can also be enormously helpful. You're exposed to a wide body of literature (if it's a good program), and you may just find that special mentor that pushes you to new heights. You also may be able to do some very helpful networking. It's your choice. I, personally, do not have any of my degrees in creative writing. However, there are some universal essentials when it comes to honing your craft: Discipline, determination, a willingness to admit that you can improve, among other things. It helps to be well read, and to constantly seek out new experiences. Having a good grasp of grammar is a good idea too;-)On that note, some books I'd recommend along with the various Writer's Markets:Strunk and White "The Elements of Style" (If you only read one book I recommend, READ THIS ONE).Noah Lukeman's "The First Five Pages"Stephen King's "On Writing"Which brings me to my next topic:Manners. I'm not talking about stuffy tea parties or life at Versailles. I'm talking about modern-day finesse. "Please" "thank you" and patience will take you far. Remember, editors and agents are humans too and respond to kindness better than badgering or out and out rudeness. Be conscious of the fact that they have hundreds of manuscripts in the slush pile (the pile of yet unread manuscripts). It may take them months before they can get to you. Always be polite to anyone who has shown you even a moment. Kate Spade's "Manners" is a great read for the modern man or woman.So is Candace Simpson-Giles "How to be a Lady" and John Bridges'"How to be a Gentleman." I'm serious. Savoir fair goes a long way. I've personally dropped people because even though they were talented, they were rude.In the end:Yes, you need to work hard to get a contract, but once you do remember that it should be a mutually beneficial working relationship. Have a lawyer look over your contract, and make sure that you understand it before signing. Haste makes waste, and oftentimes a lot of heartache to boot. Likewise, if your publisher doesn't give you adequate time to review your contract and makes you feel unduly pressured, go elsewhere. As for money, unless you self-publish, you should not have to put up a dime. However, additional advertising will be your financial responsibility. Some great low-cost advertising methods include bumper stickers, radio spots, building a website, MySpace (heh, heh), and booksignings. When you get published, send a copy of your work and a brief bio to major and underground newspapers in your area. However, you can't guarantee a positive review, even if you send in a free copy. Still, you never know who might want to interview you or run a review—don't be afraid to ask! The worst someone can really say is no. I'm grateful to everyone who has proposed an interview with me, offered helpful feedback, distributed flyers or bumper stickers or referred a friend to my Myspace page, not to mention all who've supported me and offered so much love and magic on my journey. I could not have done it without all of the support. No writer lives in a vacuum.So as you make your way along the journey, remember Whitney's 3 P's: Patience, perseverance and PBR. If you get frustrated, take a step back, have a beer and take a rest. (Um, a beer, not 10…not that I've ever done that or anything…speaking of health;-)You can do it. I have faith, and I look forward to hearing the story you have to tell.Whitney Lakin is the author of "A Paintbrush in the Devil's Toolbox." Her work has also been featured in Twisted Dreams, Midnight Lullabies, and Ellipsis. When she's not busy writing or rescuing stray animals, she tortures students at Tulane University in New Orleans, where she teaches French.
Please visit her at:
The Writer’s Handbook
A must-have compendium resource with the names, addresses, phone numbers, editors, online sites, email addresses, etc., of countless publications and publishing houses, covering all genres; also includes, among many other things, some wonderful articles about the art, craft, and business of writing. This book is especially close to my heart, since my how-to article about freelance writing, “Keep in Writing Shape,” was featured in the 2004 edition.
The Writer’s Market
A must-have compendium resource with the names, addresses, phone numbers, editors, online sites, email addresses, etc., of countless publications and publishing houses; also includes, among many other things, some wonderful articles about the art, craft, and business of writing.
[Other important books in this family are the specialty ones: Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, Guide to Literary Agents, Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, Poet’s Market, and Writer’s Market Deluxe Edition.]
Stephen King on Writing by Stephen King
I can’t say enough about this part-memoir, part instructional book: funny, poignant, inspirational, and loaded with awesome advice about the writing craft. The section entitled “Toolbox” is alone worth the price of the book. “The job of fiction,” writes King, arguably the greatest horror author ever, “is to find the truth inside the story's web of lies.” A true classic for anyone serious about writing and the writing life.
The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. & E.B. White
This is the granddaddy of writing books, the best book of its kind pound-for-pound of all time. Originally written in 1959, this slim volume began as a self-published work by Cornell English professor William Strunk; After Strunk’s death, one of his students, E.B. White, revised and revived it. It’s known in many literary circles as “the little book.”
Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field
This step-by-step guide from concept to finished script was written in 1979 and is, arguably, the best book ever on how to write a screenplay. It’s helpful not only to aspiring screenwriters, however, but to fiction writers as well.
A Bevy of Writing Knowledge
Ten Quick Tips to Better Short Stories
By Bev Walton-Porter
All readers love a good short story, but how does a writer take and idea and transform it into an engaging story? Step by step. By following these ten tips, you'll write better short stories in no time at all!
1. Limit the time span of your story.
Short stories should last from a few days to a few weeks. Because of the limited length of short stories, time is especially important.
2. Be selective with your characters.
Just as you're limited by the time span in the story, you're also limited to a fixed number of characters. To avoid confusing your reader, limit the number of characters to half a dozen at most.
3. Whose story is it anyway?
If your lead character is Joe and it's his story, then Joe must hold your reader's interest. Joe's neighbor might be amusing, but if the story isn't the neighbor's, then don't have him competing with Joe for the reader's attention.
4. Choose the right point of view.
Will you tell the story from Joe's point of view (first person), or from a "he said/she said" (third person) point of view? If you use first person, the story can only be told through Joe. Usually, third person is a better choice.
5. Begin with a bang!
From the first sentence to the first paragraph, hook the reader's attention immediately and HOLD it! Get rid of long, boring description and put in more action or dialogue.
6. Show, don't tell.
Instead of saying the main character is "feeling nervous," describe the sweat trickling down his face and the swirling in the pit of his stomach. Use all five senses to SHOW, not tell!
7. Fill your story with conflict!
The main character must struggle with obstacles one by one. This is the rising tension of a good story. He must overcome each setback in a way that makes sense to the reader. The main conflict should come from the main character's own choices or actions.
8. Use dialogue, but make it count!
Don't be afraid to let your characters speak. But when they do, be sure every conversation they have moves the story's plot forward.
9. Force your character into action!
When your story reaches its highest point, the main character should be forced into making a choice. Often, he must decide between the right thing to do (moral decision) versus his original goal.
10. End on the right note.
The end of a story is called the resolution. The main character finds a way to solve the major conflict of the story. At the end, the character must show change or growth because of the course he's taken during the story. Avoid sad endings. The ending isn't always perfect, but the main character is hopeful and sees his life in a new and meaningful way.
Newsletter contributing columnist Bev Walton-Porter is a professional writer/author who has publishing hundreds of stories on a wide variety of subjects and written three books: “Sun Signs for Writers,” the contemporary romance “Mending Fences,” and “The Complete Writer: A Guide to Tapping Your Full Potential,” co-authored with three other writers.
She has also worked as a contract editor for NBC Internet and Inkspot.com, among others, published in the award-winning e-zine for writers, Scribe & Quill, for the past nine years, and is a member of The Authors Guild as well as the co-founder of the International Order of Horror Professionals.
the sexiest person you know.
your favorite room in the house
the worst person on TV.
the view outside your back window.
what scares you most.
your favorite grandparent.
your favorite childhood friend.
the worst thing your parents ever did to you.
your favorite holiday growing up.
what makes you feel sad.
Tip of the Month
Be Precise. Be Detailed. Be Unique.
Breathe life into your writing, give your subjects distinctiveness, and say it all in an original way.
Don't just write: "The man had light brown hair." Occasionally, write something along the lines of: "The man had thin, limp hair the color of spicy brown mustard, parted in the middle, and matted down like day-old spaghetti."
Get the idea?
A Survey of Market Search Sites
By Kim McDougall
You’ve crafted the perfect story. It has a great hook, evokes emotion and ends with a satisfying twist. Now what? Where do you send your creation? The vast array of markets out there can be daunting, even to an experienced writer. Luckily, several websites have popped up to help narrow your choices. Some of these sites specialize in certain genres, some try to do it all. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and like presidential hopefuls, if we could take the best features of each, we’d have the perfect candidate. Unlike a president, you don’t have to pick just one. In fact, you’ll benefit from cross-referencing between several sites, using the strengths of each to get a complete picture of your intended market.
It is also important to remember that market search sites are not a substitute for careful consideration of the publisher’s own guidelines. A source like Duotrope, for instance, might tell you basic information, such as the publisher’s policy on simultaneous submissions and pay scale, but this information can change at any time. Be sure to check the publisher’s site before submitting.
Market search sites are a great source for another kind of information, the kind the publisher might not want you to know. Feedback. How long does a publisher take to respond to submissions? What is their acceptance rate? Are they courteous? Does an agent respond to queries in a professional manner? Are there any conflicts of interest? Apart from helping you find markets, these sites can also shed some light on these murky questions.
Here is an overview of several submission guidelines sites, their strengths and their weaknesses.
This is my favorite. First, it’s free (donations are accepted). It has a submissions tracker that allows you to watch all your submissions. The search tools are easy to use, comprehensive, and with all the relevant information (pay rates, genres etc) for each market visible on one page. Duotrope has another valuable too, that many sites overlook: stats on return times from editors. After all, if everything else were equal, wouldn’t you send your story to the editor that replies in 6 weeks rather than 6 months? This is one way to keep publishers honest, but it only has relevance if a good majority of writers actually take the time to submit their stats, a procedure that Duotrope makes painless. Duotrope also provides weekly email updates on new markets and news such as temporary closings or dead markets. Duotrope does not track contests. Even though, this is my favorite, it is by no means, the only site I use. Like internet search engines, using a variety of market sites will give you a more rounded overview. http://www.duotrope.com/index.aspx
This was the first search product I used many years ago, when Writer’s Market was a huge hardcover tome put out yearly by Writers Digest. They have now gone online, which makes searching easier and they have included a submissions tracker. On Writers Market, you can find small and large publishers for short fiction, poetry, novels and children’s books as well as agents. Editors, publishers and agents are encouraged to comment on their submission needs, likes and dislikes. It’s a good place to get a feel for the style of a market. A free newsletter and tips from experts round out this package. Writers Market is $30.00 per year or $3.99 per month. http://www.writersmarket.com/
Similar to Writer’s Market, First Writer offers a more global perspective on the markets. I often find Australian and European markets here, that don’t appear on other similar listings. First Writer also offers a newsletter and its own magazine of fiction and poetry. User comments are displayed on each market’s page. Leave feedback about your experience with an editor or agent, and read how others were treated. First writer is $3.99 per month with savings for quarterly and annual options. http://www.firstwriter.com/
Preditors and Editors
This is the last site I check before submitting. P&E is dedicated to shedding light on the best and worst of the literary world. Scam artists prey on writers desperate to be published. P&E tracks these scandals and gives recommendations based on clearly stated criteria. For instance, if an agent asks for a reading fee, he will be on P&E’s not recommended list. So, do your research first. Find your publisher or agent, but check P&E last, before sending your precious manuscript. P&E is a free service at http://anotherealm.com/prededitors
Writers’ Forums and Guilds
Another good source of market information is writers’ forums, guilds and magazines for writers. Almost all of these include links to publishers, agents and contests. I have also learned of many new markets simply by chatting with other authors and hearing about their successes. In this new world of social networking, information is everywhere, if you simply keep your ears and eyes open.
Here is a more complete selection of market research sites, some catering to specific genres:
Free search site for speculative fiction markets. Includes many features like a newsletter and contests.
Spicy Green Iguana: http://www.spicygreeniguana.com/
Free search site for speculative fiction markets.
Black Hole: http://www.critique.org/users/critters/blackholes/sightdata.html
Free site from the creator of the Critters writing forum. Gives good information on publishers’ response times and encourages publishers to respond more efficiently.
Creative Writer’s Opportunity List: CRSOPPS: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CRWROPPS-B/
This is not a site, but a Yahoo group where publishers can post current contests, themed anthologies and even writing jobs. It has a strong academic base. It’s free to join and the postings come straight to your email box.
New Pages: http://newpages.com/default.htm
News, information and guides to independent bookstores, independent publishers, literary magazines, alternative periodicals, literary contests, independent record labels, alternative newsweeklies and more. A free resource.
Funds for Writers: http://www.fundsforwriters.com/
Free resource that specializes in grants, markets and contests that pay.
The Writer Gazette: http://www.writergazette.com/
“Free writer-related articles, paying calls for submission and freelance job postings, contests, resources, tips, and more to help induce, improve, and promote your writing career - every week.”
Freelance Writing Organization: http://www.fwointl.com/
“Our site is an ongoing endeavour to construct the world's largest, free, online writing resource database. Started in 1999 we provide free writing resources and writing links in a database filled with international writing web site”
Wooden Horse: http://www.woodenhorsepub.com/default.htm
At $149.00 per year, perhaps the most expensive of the market search sites. All US and Canadian consumer and trade print publications with Contact and publishing information, Editorial calendars, Reader demographics, Editorial concepts, and Writer's guidelines.
Kim McDougall, of Montreal, Quebec, is a writer whose work currently appears in Allegory Magazine and Aoife's Kiss Magazine. Her story “Divine Sympathies” leads off the Twist of Fate Anthology launching in November by Eternal Press. Fantasy fiction is her first love, but Ms. McDougall will write anything from children’s picture books to erotica. "I believe that genres are crippling literature," she once said. "A story takes on what ever form it needs. I do not set out to write a fantasy or a romance. Rather, I write the story as is demands to be written and then try to fit it into a category only for convenience sake. Needless to say, some of my stories fall through the genre cracks. So I have created my own genre: Between the Cracks Fiction, stories that push the boundaries of current labels, fiction that creates new labels." In 2008 two of McDougall’s novellas will be produced as ebooks: “Angel Venom” a fantasy by Double Dragon Publishing and “The Stone Beach,” a YA paranormal fantasy by Eternal Press. For more details of her work, please check out her Web site at: http://www.kimmcdougall.com/.
Poetry Tips & Prompts of the Month
By Marilyn L. Taylor
In order to fix anything the way it ought to be fixed—cars, plumbing, poetry—you need the proper tools. Here are three that every serious poet should have in arms reach:
1. A good thesaurus. Not the skinny paperback kind; you already know all those words, don’t you? Instead, make it a big, doorstop-sized hardcover edition, organized in a manner that’s easiest for you to use. Remember, thesauruses are not all alike. Go to a good bookstore, compare them, and bring home your favorite.
2. A good anthology of English and American poetry that spans the centuries. For starters (and you can branch out later), choose one that’s comprehensive, as opposed to one that privileges a particular point of view, or point in time. The Norton Anthology of Poetry and the Longman Anthology of Poetry, for example, are both excellent standbys, frequently updated, and they also include invaluable information on the history of poetry and the intricacies of prosody.
3. A good guide to the forms and conventions of poetry. Even if you prefer to write wildly unconventional poems that pay zero attention to traditions and forms, trust me-- you still need a book like this. A few of the best ones: The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (Alex Preminger and T.V.F. Brogan, eds.); The New Book of Forms (Lewis Turco); The Poetry Dictionary (John Drury). There are many more. Whichever one you choose, I would like you to please repeat after me: I should know the rules before breaking them! Very good. Thank you.
1. Write a poem (or take a poem you have already written on the topic) about relationships. Then rewrite it, substituting words having to do with warfare for the words having to do with sex.
2. Write a poem (or take a poem you have already written on the topic) about love. Then rewrite it, substituting words having to do with government for the words of amorousness.
3. Write a poem (or take a poem you have already written on the topic) about god and religion. Then rewrite it, substituting words having to do with a political figure whose policy you oppose for the words referring to faith and god.
Writer’s Block: A Poem
I stare at this pageWith my rage in my hand
I'm freed from my cage
On this stage where I stand
It's all played unplanned
As I've panned here for gold
I await something great
Just a break from the old
My story unfolds
So it's told as I'm speakin'
While I feel like a faucet
That's caustic and leakin'
Tonight my mind's freakin'
I'm knee-deep in doubt
As I wait for the courage
In my words to seep out
I creep through the clout
And reroute my steps
Then I come about
Towards the bout that I left
Disconnect from the stress
Resurrect, now it's true
I'll bust through this rut
If it's the last thing I do
© 2007 – Forman Lauren
Forman Lauren, of Long Island, New York, is as much a literary juggler as poet, delicately balancing cadenced fury with metrical musings. She has published a collection of her work, MindSpace, records audio clips of her work, and performs regularly at poetry slams.
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Credits, Disclaimer, and Copyright
Michael P. Geffner, the founder/editor-in-chief of this newsletter, has been a writer/journalist for nearly 30 years. He's appeared in hundreds of publications, including the New York Times, USA Today, Details, The Sporting News, Men's Health, The Village Voice, FHM, Texas Monthly, and Los Angeles Magazine. He has won two Associated Press Sports Editors awards, been awarded first place for magazine profile writing in 2000 by the Society of Professional Journalists (NJ), voted Best Sportswriter in New York City in 1990 by New York Press, and acknowledged for excellence six times by the annual anthology, The Best American Sports Writing.
Mike’s Writing Newsletter does not guarantee any offers made by any of the advertisers, sponsors, or business opportunities mentioned herein. While every business and persons associated with said businesses are believed to be reputable, this publication cannot and does not accept responsibility for their actions; therefore, readers using this information do so at their own risk.
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