Monday, April 7, 2008
Mike's Writing Newsletter/Issue #2
An Inside View of the Art, Craft,
and Business of Writing
Vol 1, Issue 2 February 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, Mark Terence Chapman, Angela Wilson
Copy Editor: Melinda Brack
A Word from Mike
To us writers, editors are the great unknown.
All too often, we don’t understand them, we don’t trust them, we don’t like them, and almost always we utterly fear them, especially about what they think of our work.
Even nearly 30 years and over 8,000 stories into my professional writing career, I still dread the reaction of an editor after I hand something in.
Not to mention the excruciatingly painful wait between submission and the editor getting back to me.
God, do I loathe that wait, staring endlessly at the phone waiting for it to ring or clicking to retrieve my emails every two seconds like a maniac, desperately looking for the editor’s name.
And the longer it takes for the reaction to come…I become panic stricken:
Did the editor hate my story? Is that why he/she isn’t getting back to me right away? Are they not going to run it? Am I not going to get paid? Is the editor going to tell me what a horrible writer that I am?
Oh, the incredible insecurity that builds during that wait.
Well, in this issue’s Spotlight Interview, we are lucky enough to finally get deep into the head of one of the top magazine editors of the last generation, as well as one of my best friends, Michael Caruso.
I first met Mike in the mid 1980’s, when he became the Sports Editor of The Village Voice. Yours truly was one of his columnists. And I won’t lie: We had our moments of major disagreements at first, including a standoff one day after he killed my column, but in the end we developed a mutual respect—and admiration—that I haven’t had with an editor since.
In my opinion, Mike is one of true visionaries in the high-level editing game.
Read his words carefully. Listen to him. Learn from him.
I guarantee that once you’re done, editors won’t be as much of a mystery to you anymore.
Best always and stay positive,
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Inside This Issue
Inner View: Ten Commandments, Pt. 2
The Spotlight Interview: Michael Caruso
Jeanne’s Writing Desk
Affirmations to Write By
On the Writing Business
Writing Quotes of the Month
A Bevy of Writing Knowledge
Slice of the Writing Life
Tip of the Month
Poetry Tips and Prompts of the Month
The Writing Life
Mike’s Private Coaching Sessions
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MY TEN COMMANDMENTS TO WRITING SUCCESS: A NO-FAIL APPROACH/Part 2
By Michael P. Geffner
1) Don’t forget that networking is just as important as your talent and computer. It’s a must-have tool in your writing existence. You need to seek out contacts, preferably the power brokers at the top of the masthead or high-level editors, and cultivate them as “allies.” If you ignore this aspect of the business, believe me, you’ll suffer the consequences. I hear all the time from writers, “But I don’t like to mingle. I’m too shy. I’m not a good talker.” My response is matter-of-fact: “This is the way the game is played. If you don’t want to play, don’t expect to win.” Which means: Don’t expect editors to come to you. They won’t. Like Mohammed, you need to go to the mountain. I don’t care how much talent you think you have. It’s not enough to “make your career” all by itself. And remember: If you’re not cultivating contacts, some other writer out there is.
2) Force yourself to work under deadline pressure. Deadlines are what separate the professional from the hobbyist. Pros can’t wait for inspiration, or an act from God, to propel their creativity. They write because they have to, because someone on the other end is waiting for their work. They write whether rain, sleet, or snow, and all hours of the day and night. I’ve tortured myself to hit deadlines over the years, from five-minute ones to monthlies. That’s the nature of the beast. It’s where the tough gets tougher. So, either get assigned to something with a due date or create an artificial one. If nothing else, it’s good practice to see how well you function in such a situation. You may actually find that you’re not cut out to write professionally, that in reality you’re merely a dabbler. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just good to know where you stand.
3) Build a portfolio before you start hitting the major newspapers/magazines/publishers. Mind you, I’m not even remotely suggesting that you work for free. I’m really not. In fact, I insist on writers ALWAYS getting paid at least something for their hard work. What I am saying is this: You can’t expect to be published in the New York Times or sell a book for a $400,000 advance or get a major assignment from Sports Illustrated or People Magazine with little or no experience. You must pay your dues, like any other profession. You won’t go from singing in the shower to headlining in Vegas. That’s not realistic and you’ll be hitting your head against a brick wall if you try. Instead, moving up the publishing ladder a step at a time, for more and more money, you should get at least 5-8 clips together, sizeable ones that show off your writing ability, before considering the “big boys.” Begin with local papers or small magazines or trade publications. Make your “bones” there, where the competition isn’t too stiff and where you’ll have the freedom—and opportunities—to develop your own voice. And consider each story you write an audition for something better and higher paying. In other words, write the heck out of it. Make it brilliant!
4) Read something every day. Magazines, newspapers, books. But try to be choosy. Read things written by great writers. And don’t be a passive reader, be an active one: analyze what the writer is doing, what the writer does to achieve a certain effect, what the writer does with plot, characters, dialogue, action, exposition, etc. Read, read, and read. The theory: Whatever goes into your brain is likely, in time, to find its way out. It’s called “filling your cup.” By mere osmosis, you’ll absorb the craft without even knowing it. Great writing will be in you, dying to get back out.
5) Write something every day. No matter what. Forget that you’re tired or don’t feel like it. You’re supposedly a writer. So write. Don’t be a pretender. And don’t even think about that dreaded of all things creative: writer’s block. If you’re convinced you have writer’s block, just write about it. Write about why you think you’re blocked. Trust me, this’ll snap you out of it in a hurry. Remember, all writers, from Tolstoy to Hemingway to Stephen King, have written badly before they wrote well.
6) Make friends with other artists, especially with happy, positive, and successful ones. It’ll inspire you to be around other wonderfully creative people and to be able to share ideas back and forth. Afterwards, your energy will fly off the chart.
7) Make sure you spell correctly and are grammatical in your dealings with editors. I can’t tell you how many letters/notes/e-mails I get from “writers” with grossly ungrammatical sentences and a slew of misspellings. I cringe. It turns me off immediately—as I’m sure it will with editors. These are the tools of your craft. Learn how to use them—or else. Buy a grammar/spelling book, for God’s sake. Get a good “spell/grammar check” program. There’s no excuse for sloppy English. One misstep will likely sink you with an editor you’re trying to sell a story to.
8) Know as much as you can about the editor and the publication/publishing house before firing off a proposal. The more you know, the more you can “target” your approach. It’ll likely also give you a step up on the competition, since most writers don’t do this extra homework (at least, they didn’t until they read it here). A great example of someone going that extra yard for success is the great golfer Jack Nicklaus. Before playing in tournaments, The Golden Bear would arrive in town a few days early just to scout out the course. Taking a golf cart, he’d ride around jotting down in a small notebook observations and ideas on how to play certain holes. No wonder he won more major tournaments than anyone else did. One time, playing in the Masters, another golfer noticed that Nicklaus look decidedly perplexed. “What’s wrong, Jack?” To which Nicklaus responded, “There’s supposed to be a telephone pole there.” The pole had been removed a day earlier. Jack knew it was there!
9) Find a mentor. Someone who’s a successful writer who can teach you the ropes and keep you from making the same mistakes he/she did. A tour guide, in a way, who can lead you down this dark, mysterious tunnel called the writing business. It’ll not only save you a ton of time reaching your goals as a writer but will also keep you from climbing the wall with frustration. A mentor can be your answer man (or woman) on all problems.
10) Stay on the case. Don’t be a lazy slug even for a moment. Be relentless in your writing and your search for work. Do everything to improve yourself as a writer and never stop sending letters and making phone calls to editors. Aggressiveness, without being annoyingly so, is the key. That is, don’t stalk your editors. You’ll force them to run for the hills and never look back! Just show editors that you want it. They’ll likely be swept up in your passion, and may ultimately even admire you. Bottomline, fight for your writing dreams with everything you have and never let go!
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The Spotlight Interview
Michael Caruso, Magazine Editor/Writer, Web Site Owner
Michael Caruso is one of the true superstar editors in the world of magazine publishing. He has been the Editor-in-Chief of such major magazines as Men’s Journal, Details, Los Angeles, and the now-defunct Maximum Golf; the Senior Articles Editor at Vanity Fair, Executive Editor at The Village Voice, and Editor-at-Large at Condé Nast Portfolio.
He’s edited the brilliant likes of Norman Mailer, John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, Frank Deford, Roger Rosenblatt, and Ron Rosenbaum, and written for a wide variety of publications, including the New York Times, The New Yorker, and Travel & Leisure.
Currently, he’s the Editor-in-Chief of the Web site he founded, The Daily Tube (http://www.thedailytube.com).
Here is my exclusive interview with Mr. Caruso:
Mike: What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
Caruso: Luckily, it happened very early in my career, when I was an intern at the Nation. A top editor from another magazine came in to speak to us one day, and he said the key to getting writing assignments was making an editor care about you. He went on to say that while you have to come across as talented, energetic, passionate, someone with a lot of good ideas, you need to make an editor your champion. Especially when you’re on the outside looking in. If you come across as arrogant, a know-it-all with the “best ideas,” or saying you’re better than the writers they’re using already, you’re going about things the wrong way. That attitude won’t work. The best way to break through is to come across as someone asking for the editor’s advice, their help, to get stories into print at their publication.
Mike: What’s the biggest mistake that writers make with their query letters?
Caruso: Number one, they seem like they’ve never read the magazine. Before you pitch some publication, read through back issues, at least 3-5. You’ve got to understand the difference between each publication. Each one of them sees itself very differently. You’ve got to understand what the difference is between Self and Men’s Journal and Glamour and so on. You can’t just come up with a great idea and pitch it to a bunch of places. You’ve got to really tailor your pitch by reading, studying the magazine thoroughly and having a clear understanding what they’re going after. So, please, know the publication thoroughly before you pitch them. Don’t just randomly pitch.
For instance, Men’s Journal is an adventure-travel magazine. It’s all about adrenaline, testosterone, daring, thrilling events. Yet I can’t tell you how many pitches I got about basically just travel, with no adventure. Or pitches about spas in exotic locales, or about some wine tour in Italy. The way I see that: It’s just something the writer came up with to get a free trip to someplace he really wanted to go.
Bottomline, if the writer doesn’t seem to know what my magazine is about, I won’t even look at the second sentence of the pitch.
Please, please, think precise, not generic. Think pitching the appropriate editor with an appropriate idea that’s appropriately crafted.
That approach will give you the best odds of getting your story into print.
Mike: What advice do you have about query letters?
Caruso: If it’s a writer I’m not familiar with, the letter better catch my attention in a big way and right from the start. Don’t waste any time on who you are and what you’ve done and where you’ve been. Not yet anyway. Get right into the juice. Editors are like anybody else. We have to be hooked right away. Otherwise you’re going to put it down. Take your cues from the leads of great stories you’ve read. Make the lead of your pitch as powerful as you can. Like the very best pieces, your letter should be exciting, dramatic, and compelling. If the letter is boring, then the story will likely be boring. And if somebody can’t write a good query letter, I doubt that they can write a good article.
The most important thing in both cases is your lead. If you can’t write a good lead, nobody will be interested in the rest of your letter OR your story.
For feature story, I’d suggest two paragraphs of what you want to write. Keep the whole thing as short as possible. The whole query letter should be no more than one page.
Further down, after I’m into the pitch, I want to know who the writer is. I need to know qualifications. I need to know whether this is somebody who can pull this idea off.
And don’t bank entirely on one idea. Give me five ideas. You don’t know what I’m looking for unless you pitch more than one idea at a time.
I know a lot of writers are skittish about this. They think their ideas are going to be stolen. Believe me, at major publications, theft of ideas is not really a huge issue. So don’t be worried about losing an idea. And if you are, if you’re too attached to one thing or a couple of things, then you don’t have enough ideas. You have to become better at coming up with them. If you’re really having trouble coming up with more than one idea at a time, you need to work harder at that skill. The people who are the most successful at this are the least afraid of someone stealing from them. Their attitude is, “Okay, I dare you, steal this one. I have 20 more.”
If you think one of your ideas is so precious, you probably don’t have enough of them to make it in this business. You have to be a little more cavalier, and less attached to your ideas, just as you need to be less attached to your words during the editing process.
And just because you have one really great idea doesn’t make you a writer. Just like having one great idea for a movie doesn’t make you a filmmaker.
Mike: Should a writer email or snail mail queries?
Caruso: I don’t have a strong preference one way or the other. Either way can work. And there’s nothing wrong with doing both. Obviously, that improves your chances of getting through and having the pitch read.
Mike: Is there a way to get your letter to the top of the pile?
Caruso: Yeah, get a reference from one of the staff or from someone outside who knows someone inside.
Mike: Where in the masthead should the writer be pitching ideas?
Caruso: Well, in general, unless it’s a very small publication, don’t go to the editor in chief. Just don’t. He’s got so much stuff on his/her plate that it’s extremely rare for him/her to respond. Start anywhere but the editor in chief. The highest you should go is the executive editor, and even that may be too high. Your best bet is calling the magazine’s editorial department and asking which editor takes pitches on such and such. A simple two-minute phone call and you’ll increase your odds on getting your idea accepted by so much. Find out who’s in charge of the section that best fits your story idea. Once you reach the right editor, that’s half of the game, half the battle.
Mike: What if I send a query letter and don’t hear back for a month?
Caruso: For starters, keep balanced. Don’t take it personally. Don’t get upset. Don’t take any lag in response as a personal affront. Most of the time, the editor simply hasn’t had the time to get to it. Give that editor the benefit of the doubt. Assume he/she has had a tremendous amount of timely work to get to.
What you should do is wait a reasonable amount of time, around two weeks or so, then get in touch with the person you sent it to. Remember that you’re not pestering if you’re asking. Often, you’re reminding somebody of something they meant to get to anyway. In fact, I’m appreciative of the reminder. I’ve rarely felt annoyed by a writer reminding me about a pitch. I’ll usually say, “Thanks, now I’ll get to it.” But do things in the nicest way possible. Not, “What the hell is taking you so long? I sent this in two weeks ago.” Be mild-mannered, gently concerned, but not belligerent. Another example would be something like a brief email saying, “Hey, just wondered if you were able to get to my query letter. In case you need it, here it is again.” And re-copy it into the body of the email or attach it.
At some point, if you it’s gone on for too long, you may want to take the idea somewhere else. And you can send the publication a note to that effect, along the lines of: “Listen, I submitted this about a month ago, and I really wanted to do it for you guys. Please get back to me if you can with a yes or no. If you’re not interested, I’d like to take it somewhere else.” That’s perfectly reasonable and appropriate.
Mike: Any last words about queries?
Caruso: Well, at the beginning, while it’s not a bad idea to pitch to big publications, if that’s all you’re doing, you’re going to get very frustrated. Big publications, with rare exceptions, are looking for established writers. Obviously, it’s much easier to get accepted by smaller publications. And when you’re starting out, building clips, putting a portfolio together, is paramount.
Another thing is, don’t take rejections of queries personally. There are all kinds of reasons why an editor passes on a story idea. We might’ve done that story six months ago and you didn’t know it. Maybe a competitor of ours just did it. It could be a lot of things that have nothing to do with the quality of your idea and writing.
Mike: You’ve been a writer as well as an editor. Which is tougher?
Caruso: Oh, god, being a writer, by far. Being a writer can be an extremely difficult life, if not tortuous at times. It’s like being an actor going on audition after audition, living and dying on someone else’s opinion, judged all the time. Here you are, with work you’ve poured your sweat and inspiration into, and you need to wait on pins and needles for some sort of verdict.
Mike: What’s the best way to deal with that kind of life?
Caruso: To stay as emotionally detached as possible. I know that’s easy to say, hard to do. But you need to try to accomplish that for your own sanity. If you’re too emotionally attached to your work, you’ll drive yourself crazy until you hear back from the editor. And you’ll probably be offended if they find any fault with your story after that wait.
It’s like the actor showing up for an audition and somebody just looking at him/her saying, “You’re too fat,” or “Too tall,” or “You’re not good looking enough.” You need to develop an understanding that you’re merely work-for-hire, a person to help sell issues of the magazine, newspaper, or whatever to the public and pages to the advertisers. Your only purpose from the publication’s point of view is to express the company’s core identity. Nothing more. That’s not to say you can’t write inspired prose. You certainly can. Just keep a clear understanding of what the purpose of those prose is supposed to be.
Mike: What did you learn as a writer that has helped you as an editor?
Caruso: I think I understand how writers think. Writers are in a difficult position, and I really sympathize with them. They are on the outside of an organization looking in, and they don’t really understand the inner workings of a publication—the identity changes, the changes in personnel, and the such. They feel like outsiders just guessing what the publication wants. And when things don’t turn out well, when they have an idea or story rejected, they can’t figure out why. They painfully go over and over in their head: Why did they not like that?
One of the things I try to do, as a result of being a writer, is be really clear about why something worked or didn’t, what I liked or didn’t, to give as much insight into the editorial process as possible. What we’re thinking. How better to do stories that work for us, and ones that will ultimately work for them.
When I was a writer, I absolutely hated the idea of waiting for that phone call. Especially after I handed in a story. You just sit there afterwards staring at the phone, hoping desperately for it to ring. It’s agonizing. Every day that goes by without hearing back from a publication you start thinking about worse and worse scenarios: Should I call them first? Am I being a pest if I call? Oh, my god, they probably hate my story. They’re not going to publish it. What should I do when they call saying they hate it? Or maybe they’ll never call.
It’s horrible. And it’s the reason why during my career as an editor I’ve tried calling writers back as quickly as possible. But I can tell you as an insider that, 95 percent of the time, the editor has had so much work they haven’t even looked at the story yet. Which means you’ve worried for nothing. My advice is: If you haven’t heard back from an editor for a couple of weeks, you’re not being inappropriate by gently emailing, not calling, asking if the story had been read yet. The editor may even appreciate the reminder.
It’s just a mystery for a writer about how editors spend their days. What the heck are these people doing all this time? The truth is, they’re crammed with meetings, negotiations, paperwork, pressing deadlines, art and copy and fact-checking departments, lawyers. We’re not sitting around having lunch all day waiting for stories to be filed.
Writers are infuriated when their calls aren’t returned. They imagine we’re just goofing off and deliberately not getting back to them. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Mike: Do you have a way of comforting writers when you want them to re-write a piece, an ice-breaking opening line, if you will?
Caruso: Yes. Assuming the piece is workable but still needs some work, I tell them first off, “This is really great, but this is how we’re going to make it better.” I came up with that on my own. What it does immediately is relieve all the stress about failure. Most writers live in such dread of editors hating their work that they just want to hear that everything’s good okay. Before they hear that, they’re imagining in their heads: “This sucks. This is never going to be published. What am I going to do when I get rejected?” So once he/she gets the good news, that it’s fine, he/she will be more receptive to the bad news: that there’s additional work to be done.
Frankly, if it’s a story that’s going to be killed, I won’t sugarcoat it too much. I’ll be honest, saying, “This doesn’t work for us.” If it’s in the middle, I’ll say, “This is fairly good, but not great. And we need to do some really good work to it to get it in the publication.” And I give very, very specific instructions on how to make it better.
The editor needs to say whatever will get the writer to be enthusiastic enough about the work to put in the hours to make it better. The last thing you want is to make the writer defensive or angry, or be offended.
Mike: What does a person need to make it as a professional writer?
Caruso: You have to have the desire and willpower and enthusiasm, as well as a strong stomach. It’s a tough business. Especially freelancing. If you don’t have the stomach to handle rejection and erratic pay and hustling around to sell stories, you probably should go into another profession. Being a freelance writer is an extremely tough way to make a living. You have to really want it. Better take a gut check before you embark on this life. You have a rough road ahead of you. You must have a burning passion for it or else it’ll never happen. Like being an actor again, you need to go to a 100 auditions hoping to land that one part—and expecting to be rejected by 99.
Mike: Any advice about going either staff or freelance?
Caruso: Oh, always go staff if you can. It’s much more difficult to land, but there’s nothing like getting a regular paycheck.
Mike: What’s the best strategy for becoming a full-time professional writer starting out?
Caruso: Make as many contacts as you can. The more the better. The higher up the food chain the better. And you can never have enough. And I’m talking not just about getting to know professional editors but professional writers as well. Build a network. Be a part of the community. And do everything at once and all the time: Networking, pitching, applying for jobs, writing, coming up constantly with new and original ideas.
Mike: What’s one thing a writer should always understand to keep perspective?
Caruso: That, like the line in the Godfather, it’s business, not personal. The best, most successful writers understand this. They know that, ultimately, they and their words aren’t precious gems, but something serving the publication’s purpose. That you’re working purely to help somebody sell that publication. If you want to write precious gems and not have anybody mess around with it, if you want to maintain a voice that goes directly to the reader, I suggest that you write poetry or a novel but don’t write journalism, don’t write for newspapers or magazines.
Mike: What does an editor know that the writer doesn’t?
Caruso: I know what the publication wants, needs. Secondly, in a more objective way, I’m supposed to know what is interesting for our reader. The editor is the stand-in for the reader.
Writers often feel: “The editor just doesn’t understand the value of this story…The editor is dumber than I am…The editor has poor taste…What does he/she know?”
The writer gets so wrapped up in his work he becomes a little corrupt, like an undercover cop getting too close to his criminal sources.
Mike: How can you spot a special writer?
Caruso: I look for how the writer turns a sentence. Is there an interesting little surprise, something unusual?
Mike: At its best, what should the writer look for in an editor?
Caruso: You want a combination father figure, psychologist, and best friend. You want somebody who’s a real partner in the process. Because there you are, all alone in your room, banging on your computer, doing the work in a sort of vacuum. And your editor is your lifeline to the outside world. And the very best editors are just that. That’s one thing I learned as a writer that I hope helps me as an editor. Of course, editors have a lot more to do than being the lifelines to writers. Often, we have more pressing responsibilities, so you need to be patient.
Mike: What’s your most memorable editing experience?
Caruso: My most memorable—and scariest—was handing a story back to Norman Mailer and asking for a re-write. I hyperventilated for about 10 minutes before the meeting with him. When I told him what I thought was wrong with his manuscript, he furrowed his huge brow. I thought I was a dead man. Luckily, he agreed with my points and handed it back with a smile a few days later.
Mike: How about the other famous writers you worked with, such as Joyce Carol Oates and Frank Deford?
Caruso: Ms. Oates was the first big name author I ever worked with. She wrote a piece for me on Mike Tyson—back when he was the young and unstoppable Iron Mike—that eventually became part of her book-length essay On Boxing. We worked over the phone for hours at a time. What I remember most was she had a small voice—careful and polite, which was an interesting contrast to the savagery of Tyson—but a strong sense of what she wanted to say.
Frank became a good friend in the course of our work together. Funny thing about him is, I expected the most famous sportswriter in America to also be the biggest fan. But he doesn’t really follow sports and isn’t interested on that level. He thinks of himself as a writer who just happened to start writing about sports.
Mike: When you were at Vanity Fair, you worked with one of the most famous women editors of all time, Tina Brown (who later went on to be the Editor in Chief of The New Yorker and Talk). What was that experience like?
Caruso: Working with Tina was definitely one of the highlights of my career. She's a whirlwind, a Tasmanian Devil of information and access. Hurricane Tina. She’s able to work her way through a cocktail party and absorb the best bit of news every single person there has to offer.
Mike: What’s the life of an editor-in-chief, the big boss, the No. 1 cheese, like?
Caruso: You’d be amazed how little real editing an editor-in-chief does. Hands-on editing, you do very little. It would have to be a major piece by a major writer for you to get seriously involved in the line editing. And you read manuscripts only in my spare time and during the evening. You almost never read a manuscript until you get home.
Most of the days are nothing but non-stop meetings— with the advertisers, with the money people going over budgets, with the editorial staff discussing future issues and revisions, with the art director going over layout designs constantly.
On an hourly basis some days, all you’re really doing is putting out one fire after the other.
Mike: Lastly, tell us a little about your new venture, The Daily Tube.
Caruso: Well, it’s sort of like a smarter, more sophisticated, adult version of You Tube. We don’t just slap everything up there. So instead of you wasting time watching a lot of bad videos, my service finds the best ones out there and delivers them to your in-box.
Mike: How is writing for the Web different than writing for print?
Caruso: Writing for the Web is all about fast, faster and fastest. The opening line—really the first few words—is crucial. It should be short, punchy and as dramatic as possible. You have to assume every reader has a severe case of ADD. Save your Henry Jamesian sentences for your novel.
Mike: What made you do this thing in the first place?
Caruso: I just thought there had to be a better way of showing videos online than what was already out there. I mean, it’s not going to change the world, but it’s a fun project.
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Fun Lit Fact
Harper Lee published her first, and ultimately Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” in 1960—and, amazingly, she never published another book again. Another interesting note: One of the book’s characters, Dil, was modeled after Lee’s childhood friend who went on to become a famous author as well—Truman Capote.
Jeanne’s Writing Desk
Tracking Your Submissions
By Jeanne Lyet Gassman
Once you begin submitting your work for publication (and possibly pay), you may find yourself overwhelmed with keeping track of everything.
Where did you send that story last? How long has that poem been under review at that magazine? Did you receive payment in copies for that story or did you receive a check?
I have found that it’s useful to set up writing logs to track my expenses and income, my submissions, and my responses from publishers. I use three separate logs for these purposes: Income/Expense Log, Submission Log, and Response Log.
I use the Tables function in MS Word to create my logs, but you can easily do the same thing with an Excel spreadsheet. For my records, I keep copies of my logs on my computer as well as printed copies in a large three-ring binder. My binder has a pocket where I file all of the receipts and pay stubs I think I may need for taxes.
Income/Expense Log. For tax purposes, if you make any kind of income from your writing, you should keep a permanent record of your income and expenses. If you itemize your deductions on your tax return, you may be able to deduct such expenses as supplies, postage, and costs related to your office in the home. (Be sure to consult your tax adviser or department of revenue to confirm what is considered legitimate income or deductible expenses.) It’s also important to remember that some states require anyone who is self-employed to have a business license. Talk to your state revenue department to see if this rule applies to you.
I create a new Income/Expense Log every year. The header for each page lists the title of the page (Income/Expense Log), the year, and the page number. There are four columns in this log: Date, Description (where I list such things as postage, entry fees, supplies, and payment), Income, and Expense. A typical Income/Expense Log looks like this: Income/Expense/2007/page 1
Staples—black ink cartridges
Payment—Pedestal Magazine for “The Best Year”
Submission Log. The second log I use is my Submission Log where I keep a record of all my submissions. I create a separate log for each short story, article, or poem and keep a running account of my submissions, rejections, and acceptances for that particular piece. This log has five columns: Date (date of submission), Submitted To (includes address and full contact information), Expense (postage, entry fees, SASEs), Activity (any correspondence related to the submissions), and Comments (a list of what was included in the submission package). The header for each submission entry lists the title, genre, and page number. Here is a sample Submission Log:
Final Thoughts/Short Story/2
Literal Latte 200 E. 10th St. Suite 240
New York, NY 10013
Postage: $1.01 SASE: $1.01
note that ms. Was
still under review for
Enclosed: cover letter, 1 copy of story, SASE
Response Log. As I began submitting more of my work for publication, I became aware that I was not targeting my markets effectively. Thus, I created a third log, called my Response Log, which records the feedback and editorial comments I receive from each market. Every market has its own log with the full address, contact information, editor(s), and Website listed at the top of the page. There are only three columns for this log: Date (for date of submission), Submission (title of piece), and Response (includes indication of personal/form rejection, requests for revisions, editorial comments and feedback, and name(s) of responder). Here is a sample Response Log:
Outlandish Humorous Tales/Response/1
Outlandish Humorous Tales
Western Humor Anthology
1111 W. Hopeful St.
Any City, NY 00000
There’s Always Hope—short story
7/30/07—Rejected with following
note: “Thank you for submitting
“There’s Always Hope.” I must
admit that I found the story
humorous and engaging,
particularly at the beginning, but
it’s a little too long for our current
market. Please consider us in the
future, and may you have success
placing this elsewhere.”
C.J., Editor and Publisher
As you can see, each one of these logs has a specific function. The Income/Expense Log helps me at tax time; the Submission Log allows me to track my submissions; and the Response Log helps me target favorable markets for my work. If you find these logs too difficult to set up and maintain, there are also two free resources you can use on the Internet. Duotrope has a free submission log available to all of its registered users:
And this site offers a free download of its submission tracking software, called Bard’s Assistant:
May all of your submissions lead to successful publication. Happy writing!
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 have practiced and studied my craft diligently and will use the skills I’ve developed, as well as the talent I was born with, to the best of my ability.
If I succeed, I keep working. If I fail, I keep working. Whether I feel interested or bored, energized or tired, encouraged or discouraged, I keep working.
I will learn from reading those better than I am and use what I’ve learned in future stories.
I trust my writing instincts and don’t let others dissuade me.
I have the craftsmanship and creativity and drive to successfully finish this book or this project or this magazine story or this newspaper article or this poem or this screenplay.
I am in control of my own destiny, and if I put my mind to it I will make it as a writer and make enough money to live by it solely.
I am a keen observer of life and find a way to include that profusely in all my work.
I am patient with myself and therefore don’t give up easily just because the writing doesn’t flow right away.
I am a writer and a writer writes, so I am writing today at some point. Procrastination be damned!
I find tremendous joy in creating and immense peace in finishing.
Don’t let these commonly misused/misspelled words and phrases trip you up
By Mark Terence Chapman
Here are 25 words and phrases that are commonly misused, misspelled, or mispunctuated. A conscientious writer should use these correctly. More importantly, using these words/phrases correctly will reduce the odds of your writing being rejected by an editor due to excessive errors. (Editors are human, too, believe it or not. They don’t want to waste time on pieces that require an inordinate amount of their time to clean up.)
Baited vs. bated
Wrong: I waited with baited breath.
Right: I waited with bated breath.
Do your friends call you “fish-breath”? If not, then you wait with bated breath, which means “reduced, lessened, lowered in force.” The expression bated breath (using a short form of abated) refers to how someone almost stops breathing through awe, terror, anxiety, or extreme anticipation. Perhaps you waited with bated breath as he baited the hook.
Diffuse vs. defuse
Wrong: We need to diffuse the situation.
Right: We need to defuse the situation.
Diffuse has a number of meanings, but all are along the lines of spread out, scatter, or disseminate. In this context, defuse means to make less dangerous, tense, or embarrassing. A bomb is capable of diffusing debris throughout a blast zone, if someone doesn’t defuse it first.
Accept vs. except
Wrong: I except your proposal.
Right: I accept your proposal.
To accept is to take or receive something or someone (accept a package or accept a person into membership), or respond affirmatively (accept an invitation). Except means to exclude (“everyone except him”), or otherwise than (“everywhere except Tokyo”). One is inclusive while the other is exclusive. You might accept someone for who they are, except for one particular foible.
Affect vs. effect
Wrong: Inflation effects the buying power of the dollar.
Right: Inflation affects the buying power of the dollar.
Affect (verb) means to influence something or someone, as in: “It didn’t affect me at all.” It can also mean to pretend or assume. (“He affected a French accent.”) In contrast, effect—when used as a verb—means to make something happen, such as: “While in office he strove to effect change.” It goes beyond mere influence. (Effect can also be a noun referring to a result, as in: “She had a profound effect on me.”)
Adverse vs. averse
Wrong: He’s adverse to taking risks.
Right: He’s averse to taking risks.
Averse means strongly opposed, while adverse means unfavorable or even hostile. You might be averse to voting for a candidate because you think he might have an adverse effect on the economy.
Vinegarette vs. vinaigrette
Wrong: I’d like vinegarette dressing on my salad.
Right: I’d like vinaigrette dressing on my salad.
Although frequently seen, this is a simple misspelling/mispronunciation (vin-uh-ger-ETTE) of the French word vinaigrette (vin-uh-GRET or VEEN-uh-gret), based on confusion with vinegar, which is often (but not always) a principal component of the dressing.
Principal vs. principle
Wrong: He refused on principal.
Right: He refused on principle.
A principal (noun) is something or someone of foremost importance (for example, a school principal or a meeting among the principals in a transaction). It can also be used as an adjective (the principal reason for something). A principle (noun-only) is a rule of conduct or action, or a doctrine or tenet, among other meanings.
Wrong: He is six feet in heighth.
Right: He is six feet in height.
This is a simple misspelling/mispronunciation, likely caused by the fact that width and depth each end with th.
Inequity vs. iniquity
Wrong: He visited a den of inequity.
Right: He visited a den of iniquity.
Unless there was something unfair about that den, the correct word here is iniquity (sin or wickedness). Inequity refers to unfairness, injustice, or bias.
Alot vs. a lot vs. allot
Wrong: Thanks alot!
Right: Thanks a lot!
This is a simple spelling error. There’s no such word as alot. (And don’t confuse it with allot, which means to “parcel out” or “divvy up.”) If you dole out items frequently, you might allot a lot.
There, their, they’re
Wrong: There going to the store.
Right: They’re going to the store.
These are frequently mixed up, yet they aren’t all that hard to keep straight. They’re is the easiest. It’s short for “they are.” Unless you mean to say they are, don’t use they’re. Their means “belonging to them.” Are you referring to people, animals, or things? If not, don’t use their. There has a number of meanings; but, to make life simple, unless you mean “they are” or “belonging to them,” use there.
Hung vs. hanged
Wrong: They took him out back and hung him.
Right: They took him out back and hanged him.
Simply put, pictures are hung, but men are hanged. (Okay, some men are well-hung, but that’s a completely different issue.)
No problemo vs. no problema
Wrong: Hey, no problemo. It’s cool.
Right: Hey, no problema. It’s cool.
The movie The Terminator popularized the phrase no problemo, (pronounced prah-BLEM-oh) presumably meaning “no problem” in Spanish. The problem is, the phrase is incorrect. You might as well say “no big-o deal-o” for all the meaning it has in Spanish. The correct phrase is no problema (pronounced proh-BLAY-mah). If you’re going to use Spanish phrases in your writing, you might as well use them correctly. (Also, typically, foreign words and phrases are italicized, as shown, to set them off from the English prose surrounding them.)
Everyday vs. every day
Wrong: Take two pills everyday.
Right: Take two pills every day.
Everyday is an adjective that means common or ordinary, as in “an everyday occurrence.” Every day is an adverbial phrase that refers to a time interval.
Alls I know vs. all I know
Wrong: Alls I know is….
Right: All I know is….
This one is simple. It’s always all, never alls.
Assure vs. ensure vs. insure
Wrong: Insure that she gets home safely.
Right: Ensure that she gets home safely.
Assure means to make someone confident of something, just as to do so again is to reassure him or her. To make sure of something is to ensure that it happens, while insure specifically refers to insurance. I might assure you I will ensure that a package will arrive safely; but just in case, you might want to insure the package.
ATM machine / PIN Number
Wrong: Let me get some money from the ATM machine.
Right: Let me get some money from the ATM.
Because ATM stands for Automated Teller Machine, it’s redundant to say, in effect, Automated Teller Machine machine. Similarly, “PIN number” means Personal Identification Number number.
Auger vs. augur
Wrong: That doesn’t auger well for him.
Right: That doesn’t augur well for him.
An auger is a device for boring holes, something like a drill bit, while augur means bode or portend. If your auger breaks, that doesn’t augur well for completing your drilling on time.
Site vs. sight vs. cite
Wrong: Check out my web sight.
Right: Check out my web site.
A site is a location. (“This is the site of our upcoming restaurant.”) A sight is a vision or a glimpse of something. (“She was quite a sight in that dress.”) Cite isn’t even a noun, it’s a verb. It means to quote as an authority (“Cite your sources.”), to commend for outstanding service (“He was cited for bravery.”) or to summon to court (“She was cited for speeding.”).
Click vs. clique
Wrong: They have their own click.
Right: They have their own clique.
This is simple auditory confusion. The two words sound alike, so people assume they’re one and the same. However, their meanings are quite different. Clique (pronounced CLIK or CLEEK) refers to a small, exclusive group of people, while click is a slight, sharp sound.
Hardy vs. Hearty
Wrong: We’ll set off after a hardy meal.
Right: We’ll set off after a hearty meal.
These two words are often confused. Hardy means vigorous, robust, daring, or courageous. Hearty has many meanings, including warm, enthusiastic, healthy, nourishing, or satisfying. So, the next time your hardy perennials make their annual appearance, give them a hearty round of applause.
Continually vs. continuously
Wrong: The waves continuously beat against the shore.
Right: The waves continually beat against the shore.
Continuously means nonstop, while continually means again and again, at regular or frequent intervals. While the waves may appear to be unceasing, they actually come in intervals.
Wrong: This is a high performance vehicle.
Right: This is a high-performance vehicle.
There are numerous situations where a short phrase can be used in more than one way. When used as a compound adjective, it’s usually hyphenated; when used as an adverbial phrase it isn’t. For example, you might be traveling at high speed (adverbial phrase) in a high-speed (compound adjective) chase (noun). Your new computer might have a dual-channel Ethernet controller that offers communications through dual channels. You might back up the car to go buy a backup generator.
Why do we care about hyphenating compound adjectives? For clarity. Many times it might not matter, but occasionally the lack of a hyphen can confuse the reader momentarily, forcing him or her to stop and reread the sentence. For example, does the phrase “four channel indicators” mean that there are four “channel indicators” or that the indicators are “four-channel?” If the latter, using the hyphen will eliminate confusion. Whenever possible, we should try to avoid breaking the “reader’s trance.”
Compound adjectives don’t have to be limited to two words, either. Longer examples include “twenty-five-year-old man,” “better-than-average looking,” “faster-than-light drive,” and “ready-to-wear clothing.” (Note that in the latter two examples, without the hyphens we could be talking about something that’s faster than a “light drive”—whatever that is—and someone who is finally ready to “wear clothing.”)
Followup vs. follow-up vs. follow up
Wrong: We need to followup with him next week.
Right: We need to follow up with him next week.
First, there is no such word as “followup.” It can be written as follow-up (a noun; something that increases the effectiveness of something else), as in: “This will require some follow-up.” Follow-up can also be used as an adjective: “Be sure to write a follow-up story.” In the example above, however, the adverbial phrase follow up is an action that produces follow-up.
Jive vs. jibe
Wrong: Their stories don’t jive.
Right: Their stories don’t jibe.
In this context, jibe means to agree or to be in accord. Jive has numerous meanings, including deceptive, teasing, pretentious, or irrelevant talk. So even when jive-talking, your stories should jibe.
Why is it a good thing to patronize a business (“Thank you for your patronage!”) but a bad thing to patronize a person (“Don’t patronize me!”)? Why is a citation both a good thing and a bad thing (citation for bravery/citation for speeding)? Why do flammable and inflammable mean the same thing? Why are olives with the pits removed called “pitted” olives, rather than “depitted” olives?
Isn’t English a funny language?
If you’ve ever been confused about any of these words or phrases, tack this article to the wall by your desk. It’ll help you avoid similar errors in the future.
Mark Terence Chapman writes in various genres: He’s a poet, short story writer, novelist, humorist, and even a nonfiction writer tackling computer topics and nanotechnology. To find out more about Mr. Chapman, please visit his Web site at: http://tesserene.com, or his blog at: http://tesserene.blogspot.com.
Writers, Don’t Get Scammed, Defrauded, or Taken Advantage Of
Do yourself a favor and check out this great site to keep you safe in the publishing world:http://www.sfwa.org/beware/
On the Writing Business
Tips for Becoming More Media-Worthy
By Patricia L. Fry
If you’re an author, you know how important it is to publicize your book. You’ve told everyone you know about it. You sent notices to your entire mailing list. You’ve submitted announcements to your online groups and forums as well as appropriate newsletters. And you’ve solicited a few online book reviews.
Now you’d like to take publicity to the next level and get media coverage. But do you really have something worth sharing? Will radio and TV hosts be interested in your story? Would magazine and newsletter editors be receptive to your promotional articles? Will newspaper reporters interview you? In other words, are you media-worthy?
You already know that national, international and even local coverage is important to your success as an author. Through media coverage, not only is your book publicized to hundreds or thousands of people, but you will eventually be looked upon as an expert in your field. Each radio/TV interview, magazine article and newspaper report about your book adds to your credibility. Readers who are interested in your topic are more apt to buy a book by someone they’ve seen or read about and come to know and trust. It is important to your bottom line to be seen, heard and read as often as possible in as many venues as possible.
Choose a Newsworthy Topic
Not every book has media appeal and not every author is media-worthy. What do program directors look for in radio and TV guests? What kind of promotional articles will editors publish? Good media coverage depends on three things;
The slant or presentation.
Your topic must be interesting, timely, entertaining, provocative—in other words, newsworthy. But then if it wasn’t a newsworthy subject, you wouldn’t have written a whole book on the topic, would you? Or would you?
How do you know if the book you want to write is newsworthy? This is something you can find out by writing a book proposal. A well-organized, well-written book proposal will tell you whether or not you have a book at all. A book proposal will reveal whether this is a viable project and the extent of your potential audience. Eliminate this major step and you could end up with a book that no one, including the media, cares about.
A book proposal may cause you to shift gears in midstream and this could be a good thing. It might mean the difference between boxes of books that sit forever in your garage collecting dust and books that fly off of bookstore shelves by the thousands into the hands of eager readers.
In order to attract readers and the media, choose a newsworthy topic, give it a clever angle and prepare an intriguing presentation.
Make Yourself Media-Worthy
Not every author has what it takes to pull off live media. But most of us can acquire the necessary skills. If you want wide media coverage for your book, but you aren’t comfortable in front of microphones and cameras, start training now.
Join a Toastmasters club in your community and participate often.
Seek opportunities to speak in public—take on leadership roles at work, volunteer to speak on behalf of a local cause, head a committee for a charity or join a storytellers group.
Observe other speakers and learn from them.
Read articles and books on public speaking and interview techniques.
Say yes. When you are invited to present awards at the county fair, to speak on behalf of your family at a reunion or to say a few words at your writers’ group gathering, always accept the challenge—work through the fear.
Practice being interviewed. Ask a family member or friend to ask you questions and to help you mold appropriate responses.
How to Get the Media’s Attention
It’s only after you’ve had a lot of media coverage that reporters and program directors start calling you. At least in the beginning, it is up to you or your publicist to get the media’s attention.
1: Come up with a good hook. If you wrote a book proposal with your audience
and the media in mind, you probably already have an angle to pitch. If not, here are some tips:
Tie it into the news. If your book features unique and warm ways to comfort oneself in times of grief and turmoil, focus on a segment of society that needs comforting. This might be military wives or the families of people lost in a particular type of accident, for example.
Make sure that your subject and the angle you’ve chosen are timely. Connect your pitch to a season, an event, a celebration or a holiday. A book on the history of plastic toys might draw a lot of interest around the Christmas holiday. But also watch for the announcement of a new toy, plastic appreciation week, a unique recycling process for plastic, the opening of a new antique store, a story about someone who collects antique toys, etc.
Hit a nerve. Your book on how family caretakers can take care of themselves is needed year around. Just continually come up with provocative hooks such as, “Are we killing our caretakers?” or “How to get out of jury duty and other perks for family caregivers.” or “Caregivers and illness—how to maintain your physical and mental health through it all.”
Make news. I once consulted with an author who wrote a novel featuring a homeless family. I suggested that he attract media attention by starting a charity for the homeless in his area. He could make sandwiches one day a week and serve them to the homeless in the park, arrange for donations to house a homeless family for six months, help dress the homeless for job interviews. Do something newsworthy that’s related to your book and then contact the press.
2: Contact the media. Unfortunately, the media will not generally seek out an unknown author. It takes a lot of media coverage before you will be noticed by reporters from the New York Times or the program director for Oprah. For now, it is up to you to make contact. Once you’ve hit upon a few good hooks, start sending out press releases. Strive for clarity. Be brief. Ask for what you want—an interview or a spot as a guest on a particular show, for example. Give some examples of previous interviews (for print media) and previous appearances (for radio or TV). Locate appropriate editors through www.newspapers.com, www.thepaperboy.com and program directors through Literary Market Place (in the reference section at your library or online for a fee) or The Business Phone Book.
3: Submit articles to magazines. Promote your book and gain credibility by writing informative, educational and entertaining articles for magazines related to your topic. But beware: Editors do not want to see anything that resembles a promotional piece. Avoid touting your book in the article. Your opportunity to promote your book comes through the sharing of your knowledge and expertise and your bio at the bottom of the article. Your bio might read, “Author Name is the director of Caregivers Anonymous and the author of Caregiving: How to Avoid Giving Until it Hurts, available through Amazon.com and www.xxxxxxxx.com.
For specific guidelines for submitting articles to magazines, read, A Writer’s Guide to Magazine Articles. www.matilijapress.com/writingpage.html
Get Media Attention For Your Novel
Novelists sometimes neglect the media as a promotional opportunity for their books. Yes, even if you write fiction, you can get media publicity. But you must be creative and clever in finding a hook. If yours is a historical novel or one set in an interesting place, for example, you might get interviewed in that place or with regard to the historical event about which you’re writing. I encourage novelists to give one of their characters diabetes, a horse, twins or a husband in the military serving in Iraq, for example. Use these embellishments or circumstances to attract media attention.
The ability to get media coverage is not automatic once you become a published author. You can’t get publicity just by wishing for it. I was recently approached by a man who wanted me to get him some publicity. He was halfway through writing a book and he wanted to build a publicity page for his Web site now. But there wasn’t anything particularly interesting about this man. I spent hours interviewing him in search of something we could expand on and feature. He was writing a book on common grammatical errors found on the Internet, but he had no background in grammar. He was a retired factory worker in a small town and he’d never done much outside of his job or his family. He loved working any kind of word puzzle and he belonged to the Moose Lodge. Other than that, there was next to nothing. Of course, I encouraged him to get out and make some waves—write articles for magazines, newsletters and Web sites related to grammar and word puzzles, launch a puzzle contest, start a newsletter of his own, devise a speech to present at local civic group meetings, start a puzzle club, engage a group of homeschoolers or homeless families in a puzzle-related event, join a club and run for president. In other words, get out and get involved. Then tell the media about it.
Don’t get caught off guard. Even before you start writing that book, start establishing a platform related to the topic of your book. Then, and only then, will you be considered media-worthy.
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
“We are as much informed of a writer's genius by what he selects as by what he originates.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson
“A writer writes not because he is educated but because he is driven by the need to communicate. Behind the need to communicate is the need to share. Behind the need to share is the need to be understood. The writer wants to be understood much more than he wants to be respected or praised or even loved. And that perhaps, is what makes him different from others.”—Leo Rosten
“Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.”—Rainer Maria Rilke
“One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment.”—Hart Crane
“It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous”—Robert Benchley
A Bevy of Writing Knowledge
E-queries: Make Your Writing Life Easier
By Bev Walton-Porter
Back in the old days of freelancing, sending a hard-copy query letter to editors was a given. These days, while there are still publications that require hard-copy query letters, many will allow you to send them an e-query, otherwise known as an electronic query letter. What are e-queries, you ask? Quite simply, e-queries are nothing more than query letters that are sent through e-mail as opposed to regular mail, or 'snail' mail. With an e-query, you pitch your article or story through e-mail. You cut down on mailing time and you don't have to worry about buying postage!For my own e-zine, Scribe & Quill, I only accept e-queries. I also require submissions through e-mail rather than regular mail. Things are much easier on all counts. It's quick and easy to pop into my mailbox, read a query letter and then respond. Best of all, the writer doesn't have to wait for days for the postal service to deliver my answer. In a matter of seconds after I hit 'send,' he or she will receive an answer to the e-query. If there are questions, a follow-up message can be sent back in a matter of minutes. Smooth, fast and no stamps or envelopes required!What makes an e-query different from a regular query sent through the mail? Not much, save for the need for an envelope and a stamp, plus a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) attached.
When you compose an e-query, you should make it as professional as one you write on real paper. Just because e-mail seems informal to many people, you shouldn't treat it casually. In this case, it's a business tool.Typically, I would venture to say that most of my queries are sent through e-mail these days. In fact, I'm more apt to search out writing opportunities over the Internet just so I can send an e-query as opposed to a real paper query. Less hassle for me as a writer and anything I can do to make my writing world run more smoothly so I can write more is the ultimate goal.All the elements of a query letter sent through standard mail should also be present in your e-query. The format should remain the same. You should make sure to include your mailing address and telephone number on your e-query, as well. Just because it's an electronic query, that doesn't mean an editor won't contact you by standard mail or by telephone. In an e-query, you should type directly into an e-mail message rather than add it as an attachment. Some publications may specifically request attachments, but if they don't, write it up as a regular e-mail message. I've never sent an e-query as an attachment because attachments can harbor viruses, and editors are usually wary of accepting or opening attachments. As for Scribe & Quill, it states clearly in our guidelines that we don't accept e-mail attachments for queries or submissions. And yet, every week I still receive attachments! How do I handle those? I e-mail the writer and tell them attachments aren't accepted and to please resend pasted in regular e-mail. I'm a lot nicer than some editors; they would simply trash the submission and not take the extra time to reply. Why? Because it may seem like one small reply, but if you receive 20 of those weekly—or even 50—after ten weeks, that's 200 –or 500—e-mails!As a precaution, and for record-keeping, I would recommend that anything you send to an editor through e-mail, you send as a copy to yourself, as well. Use the CC (carbon copy) line in your e-mail program to mail a copy to yourself. This goes for not only e-queries, but for articles you submit, as well. Although e-mail is a relatively reliable means of communication, I have had a couple of articles that were never received by editors when I clearly sent them and had my own copy to prove it.Although some people are reticent about using technology to its fullest extent because they clamor for a true, hard copy of their submissions, I would highly recommend that you try at least one e-mail query. There is just no good reason to shun e-mail as a tool for procuring more writing assignments. These days, e-queries are generally the rule, rather than the exception.
You have to slog through a lot of frogs to find a prince, and sometimes you have to slog through a lot of queries before landing a gem of an assignment. Make it easier on yourself by using all the tools available to you—including e-queries.If you plan on freelance writing, you'll have to get used to the fact that querying will be a normal part of your publication plan. You won't ever get published unless you connect and communicate with editors. It's a necessary part of this business (or your hobby, if it's not a business quite yet). Take away as much intimidation and stress as possible by finding ways to make the most of your time. E-queries cut down on turnaround time for the most part. Granted, you can't make an editor answer you faster through e-mail, but you'll know the same day an editor gives you the "yes" or "no"—and you won't have to wait three to seven more days for postal handling. Those three to seven days gained will allow you to get to work reworking your query and resending to other markets.If you're convinced and ready to test the waters with an e-query, here is a short checklist to follow before hitting the 'send' button:
1. No fancy fonts or unique e-mail stationery. Just because you can do wonderful backgrounds with some e-mail software, that doesn't mean this is the time to use them. Follow the same rule for snail mail queries—don't make it fancy, just neat and professional. In an e-query, a white background and black type (ten- or 12-point, Times New Roman or San Serif (Arial) font will do just fine.
2. Electronic queries do not give one a license to be informal. This is still a professional letter to an editor, so "Hiya there, Bob!" won't cut it. Use all your salutations and closings as you would a query sent through regular mail.
3. Always send a copy to yourself. I would even recommend saving a copy on a disk specifically labeled "my queries" or printing them out and placing in a file folder. Depends on how dedicated you are to keeping hard copies and additional paper in your office.
4. Add your mailing address and your telephone number to all electronic query letters. You never know when an editor will be inclined to pick up the phone and call you about an assignment. It's happened to me!
5. Once again (because it bears repeating): type your e-query directly into an e-mail message. Do not send as an attachment unless it has been specifically requested by an editor. The trouble with attachments (besides the virus issue) is that not everyone uses the same word processing software, and why go to the trouble of guessing when you can just type it right in the e-mail message? Simpler is better.
6. Use your spell check before hitting the “send” button. Make final checks for grammar and punctuation errors.
7. Once sent, begin another query. See how easy it is?
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.
Please visit her Web site at:
The trait that you most admire about yourself.
The trait that you wish you could change or get rid of.
What you love to do with your free time.
What you need to improve to be a better writer.
How you approach your writing.
What you’re like when you wake up in the morning.
Your sleeping habits.
What you think of war and war protests.
Your greatest distractions.
The most peaceful place in the world for you.
Target Your Market
By Angela Wilson
Being an author isn’t just about writing anymore. If you want to be successful in today’s highly competitive market, you must be able to promote yourself and your work.
It is not as daunting—or as expensive—as it sounds.
First, grab a clean notebook. Make this notebook your strategic planning area, and keep it nearby to refer back to when you consider taking on something new.
Write a mission statement.
For example: To write stories and novels that entertain youth and to achieve financial success as a published author.
Next, make a wish list of your goals. These can include anything from the number of books you want to write for what genres to the number of hits you would like to see on your Web site or MySpace page each month.
Separate the writing goals from the marketing goals. An idea for a series of books would be a writing goal. Web site hits falls under marketing. Prioritize both categories. You will find, in most instances, that in order to meet a writing goal, you will need to meet one or two marketing goals.
For example, to sell more books, you might need to participate in three additional book festivals a year.
Create a timeline for your plan. Using your list, make short-term goals and long-term objectives. By using this format, you can create manageable chunks of goals over a one-, five- or ten-year period.
Now it’s time to figure out how to accomplish your marketing goals. Here are key questions to ask yourself:
•Who is my audience? (Age, salary, location)
•What other authors do they read?
•Where can I find them? (Youth at high schools, seniors at senior centers, etc.)
•How can I use the Internet to reach my audience?
•What websites do they visit?
•What blogs do they visit?
•Do they use sites like MySpace.com?
•Do they podcast/videocast?
•What forums do they belong to?
•How can I use the Internet to publicize my work?
•What book review sites would review my novel?
•Can I sign on for an Amazon.com blog?
•From which websites should I purchase advertising so reviewers and other media know about my work?
•Could I start a blog to publicize my work? Should the blog be for writers, reviewers, editors and agents, or for my audience? Should I have a blog or website for both?
•Mass emails to readers? How can I find them?
•What types of materials do I need to publicize my book?
•How can I get these materials into the hands of readers, reviewers, booksellers and anyone else interested in my work?
•What’s my budget? How much am I willing to spend to publicize myself and my work?
•What should I include in my media kit?
•What is a media kit?
•Are there any writing conferences I can sell my books at, or possibly serve as a guest speaker?
•Who can I enlist to help publicize my work?
•Who should I send review copies of my book to?
•Are there any newspapers, magazines, web columns or radio shows that would be interested in interviewing me about my work? (Your local publications and stations are a great way to start. Then, expand yourself outside of your comfort zone.)
These will get you started. Once you have the answers, refer back to your timeline and see how this information can help you reach your goals. A complete marketing plan should share a symbiotic relationship with your writing goals. To move forward in publishing, you need an audience, to build an audience, you need a solid outreach plan, and so on.
To be effective with marketing, you must plan for it each week. Marketing is serious business. I find three to five hours of solid marketing each week makes an incredible difference. Start with the minimum amount of time and work your way up. If you find certain things too tedious—like making and accepting friend requests on MySpace—then find someone who likes to do it and is willing to help you out for a nice lunch or a gift certificate. (Children and grandchildren work wonders on social networking sites. Don’t be afraid to tap into their online energy for help!)
In today’s market, the bare minimum you should have is a Web site and a MySpace page. If you don’t already have these, get them. Once you are comfortable with what you have, add additional social networks like Facebook, Ning.com and AIM Pages. You should have a presence on Author’s Den and Author Nation, and become a member of one or two forums where you post once per week.
And, more importantly, you should be enthusiastic and determined about promotions. I have met many authors who ride a cloud of forced enthusiasm for promotions, then fizzle quickly out within three months. They go back to their writing and stop worrying about marketing because it is just too hard, too many headaches and just not what they want to be doing. Do not fall into this trap. Continue working, doggedly, steadily, to fulfill your goals. Enlist the help of reliable friends and family who believe in you and are willing to lend a hand on the tasks you find much too tedious. (Finding MySpace friends seems to be a time-consuming aggravation for many authors.)
I recommend the first year, you do most of it yourself. That way you know what it takes to accomplish, so if you eventually have the extra cash to pay a publicist, you will know exactly what services you are buying and how much time it really takes compared to the publicist’s bid.
All you need is to create a list of goals and objectives for your writing career, with ways to fulfill those goals and objectives lined out in a long-term marketing plan. You don’t need a marketing degree to do this. You just need the determination to be successful and the willingness to follow through with your plan.
Angela Wilson is an author, marketing/PR specialist, and Web producer for Learfield InterAction in Central Missouri. Find her on the Web at www.angelawilson.net, www.wickedwordsmith.com, or www.myspace.com/angelawilson.
Slice of the Writing Life
Ernest Hemingway on Writing:
“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.”
“The best way is always to stop when you are going good. If you do that, you’ll never be stuck. And don’t think or worry about it until you start to write again the next day. That way your subconscious will be working on it all the time, but if you worry about it, your brain will get tired before you start again. But work every day. No matter what has happened the day or night before, get up and bite on the nail.”
“When you write, your object is to convey every sensation, sight, feeling, emotion to the reader…When you walk into a room and you get a certain feeling or emotion, remember back until you see exactly what it was that gave you that emotion. Remember what the noises and smells were and what was said. Then write it down, making it clear so the reader will see it too, and have the same feeling you had. And watch people, observe, try to put yourself in somebody else’s head. If two argue, don’t just think who is right and who is wrong. Think what both their sides are. As a man, you know who is right and who is wrong; you have to judge. As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand.”
“Good conversation with good people is always stimulating, especially after work. You can talk about writing generally, about words, and when you are learning and trust or respect another writer, he can help with the blue pencil and in other ways—but never talk about a story you are working on. If you tell it, you never write it. You spoil the freshness, you mouth it up and get rid of it in the telling instead of the writing. Writers should work alone, then talk.”
Tip of the Month
Use the Zen approach with action verbs: Become one with them!
If action verbs are what give spirited movement and strength to your writing, it might be a good idea to collect them. Why not buy a small notebook and jot down the ones you already know, and then build your vocabulary with others you discover in your readings? Trust me, the mere act of writing them down will help you remember them, but if nothing else, you’ll have created a great “action verb” reference guide.
Heyday for Horror
By Kim McDougall
Why should you write horror? The editors of the new horror market, Necrotic Tissue, put it succinctly:
“We created this ezine for two main reasons. First, we love horror in all of its many forms. Second, we believe Horror is on the cusp of finally being recognized as mainstream literature. The Golden Age of Science Fiction occurred from the late 30's through the 50's. We believe we are currently living in the Golden Age of Horror. Many great writers have come before us to get us to this point, and we want to help you become a recognized part of it.”
The Golden Age of horror. Sounds noble, literary almost, which may seem to some like an oxymoron when coupled with any genre fiction and particularly horror. But horror is not just pulp and gore anymore. It has grown up. Many horror magazines ask for literary horror or at least no gratuitous gore. They’re looking for beauty amid the darkness, plots that soar and characters that do more than just die. The genre has spawned many sub-categories like paranormal horror, Lovecraftian, gothic, noir, and splatterpunk. Many of these spill over into other genres like fantasy, romance, sci-fi and mystery, making classifications more difficult. Where does dark fantasy end and horror begin? How much suspense makes a novel dark? This literary shuffle can be confusing to a writer, but the beauty of it is that so many markets are now open for the horror writer.
In the last month, Duotrope Digest’s Weekly Short Fiction Wire (if you don’t get this amazing newsletter, check out the link below) posted 28 new markets. Of those, 15 are horror markets, more than all the other genres put together. And that’s just the paying markets.
So, you don’t write horror fiction? I’ve always been a believer in writing want I want, and not what the market dictates, but horror is such a broad genre, anyone can jump on board. Do you write westerns? Why not throw a ghost into the mix? Romance? Vampires are still hot in this genre. Even fairies have turned dark. See Twisted Fayrie Tales from Eternal Press or In the Gloaming from Freya’s Bower.
As new sub-genres emerge, the web of interlinking themes can be mesmerizing. Searching horror markets is more confusing than trying to understand your teenager talk about the latest school dance. Terms like splatterpunk and Cthulthu are bandied about for those in-the-know, but what about the rest of us? Here are some of the more obscure terms to keep in mind when perusing the horror markets:
Splatterpunk is distinguished by its graphic violence. Often, rock-and-roll culture with all its accompanying themes of urban grit and drugs feature in splatterpunk fiction, sometimes termed urban horror. It¹s trendy and edgy, and sings the mantra: be scary, be sexy, be violent. Many horror markets ask for no gore, unless it furthers the plot. Splatterpunk asks for deliberate gore that heightens the plot. A fine distinction, but a distinction nonetheless. City Slab and Red Scream are good examples of urban horror and splatterpunk.
Noir is the dark twin of hard-boiled crime fiction and is both more violent and sexier than its brother. The term noir comes from film noir Hollywood’s bad child of the 1940’s. Nowadays noir implies unrelenting fatalism with self-destructive characters. The new incarnation of The Strand magazine (the original magazine goes back to 1891) publishes great literary noir. Others have popped up, such as Shots and Nefarious.
Lovecraftian or Cthulhu Mythos is psychological horror in which fear of the unknown reigns as the ultimate terror. Cthulhu is a creature of abject terror created by H.P. Lovecraft. This monster has been so influential to the horror trade that whole books and magazines have been dedicated to it. Including HP Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror and Leng: The Cthulhu Mythos Magazine.
Gothic horror is categorized by dark castles or metropolises painted by the hand of a twisted cartoonist. Romance plays a big role in gothic horror as do haunted mansions, mad scientists and femme fatales. Almost every horror magazine publishes Goth, but check out Gothic Magazine or Ballista for great examples of this sub-genre.
But what does this proliferation of sub-genres really mean to the modern horror writer? It means that everything goes. If you write gothic-urban-faerie-space-operas, you¹re at the cutting edge of horror. What really matters‹the only thing that has ever mattered‹is write a great story with characters the reader can care about. The rest is semantics, and yes, people will debate over these semantics; let them debate. Every argument only enhances the growing brouhaha around the entire horror bandwagon. Perhaps in fifty years, professors will be talking about the early millennium as the heyday of horror. Hop on board with these links:
Ballista Magazine: http://www.mucusart.co.uk/ballistasubsinfo.htm
Cabinet des Feés: http://www.cabinet-des-fees.com/
City Slab: http://www.cityslab.com/
Duotrope Newsletter: http://www.duotrope.com/newsletter.aspx
Freya’s Bower: http://www.freyasbower.com/
Gothic Magazine: http://www.gothic.net/
HP Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror: http://wildsidepress.3dcartstores.com/HP-Lovecrafts-Magazine-of-Horror-4-issue-US-subscription_p_21-39.html
Leng: The Cthulhu Mythos Magazine: http://www.trufanpublications.com/leng.html
Necrotic Tissue: http://www.necrotictissue.com/
Red Scream: http://www.redscream.com/
The Strand Magazine: http://www.strandmag.com/
Twisted Fayrie Tales, by Eternal Press: http://eternalpress.com.au
Kim McDougall, is a Canadian-born writer and photographer whose work has appeared in magazines such as AlienSkin, Aiofe's Kiss and Allegory Magazine. Her story “Divine Sympathies” leads off the Twist of Fate Anthology from 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.” Check out Between the Cracks Digest at: http://www.kimmcdougall.com
Poetry Tips & Prompts of the Month
By Barbara Crooker
Someone on my women’s poetry chat group recently asked, "Why not write poetry, instead of free verse: write in meter just because it is hard?”
My friend Diane Lockward replied, "Are there still people around who don't think free verse is poetry? Maybe you just mean it's not the poetry you like, that you prefer metrical poetry. That's fine, but don't dismiss free verse. Yes, meter is hard, but it's also hard making free verse musical without the guide of the meter.
Molly Peacock has said that she writes in forms because free verse is too difficult. In fact, it's all hard. “Poetry is difficult. And it's not either/or. Shouldn't we be somewhat adept at both metered verse and free verse?" I couldn’t agree with her more. So my tip is, try both.
And that’s also my prompt: Take a free verse poem that you’ve already written, and try casting it into form. And that doesn’t have to mean meter, you could try adding a rhyme scheme. Or try a new form, one that you’ve never used. I’ve been trying to write a ghazal for years. So far, no go.
Prompt # 2 is: If you’ve only written formal poetry, try to write something in free verse for a change of pace.
The Writer’s Life
50 Strategies for Making Yourself Work
By Jerry Oltion
Copyright @ Jerry Oltion
Work avoidance is one of the major paradoxes of the writing profession. Generally, writers want to write (or want to have written), but all too often we find ourselves doing anything else but. We'll mow lawns, do the dishes, polish silverware—anything to keep from facing the blank page. At the same time we know we eventually have to get to work, so we come up with all sorts of strategies for forcing ourselves to the keyboard.
Sometimes a single strategy works beautifully for an entire writer's career (for instance: for over 40 years Fred Pohl wrote four pages a day no matter what, after which he was free to polish all the silverware he wanted), but in my own case I've discovered that any particular strategy only works for a couple of months before I learn to subvert it. As a result I have to keep inventing new ones. I've come up with quite a few (some of which I've stolen from other people), which I offer here for anyone who cares to try them. They're not in any particular order, so don't feel compelled to work your way down the list. Just try the ones that seem interesting, and remember that some of them won't work for you at all. Also, while some of them are mutually exclusive, most of them aren't, so you can mix & match all you like.
*Set a quota of pages written per day. Make this realistic. The object isn't to prove anything to anybody, but to give yourself a reasonable goal to shoot for, one you'll actually be able to hit every day. If you go over it, that's cool, but all you have to do each day is hit the quota. The catch: Extra pages don't count toward the next day's quota.
*Set a quota of hours worked per day/week. The same applies here as with page quotas. Make it realistic.
*Write a story or chapter a week.
*Promise your sweetie a steady supply of bedtime stories.
*Pay yourself an hourly wage for time worked, and don't allow yourself leisure activities (movies, dinner out, etc.) unless you can pay for it with this writing money.
*Have someone else pay you for writing. Use the coin of whatever realm you happen to be in: someone else cooks dinner when you finish a story, or a friend buys you a cookie, or your significant other does that kinky thing with the chocolate syrup.
*Write to music. Put two or three CDs in the player and stay at the keyboard until they're done. Crank it up. Boogie a little. That's not just background noise; that's the sound of you working.
*Lighten up on yourself. Give yourself the freedom to write when the urge strikes, and not write when you don't feel like it. That's one of the attractive things about the popular conception of the writing life, right? So enjoy it!
*Hide your wristwatch in a drawer. (Meaning: reduce your dependence on the clock. Let your inner circadian rhythms tell you when it's time to write and when it's not.)
*Set a timer for a short period of time (15 minutes or so) and stay at the keyboard—no matter what—until it dings. Then do it again. Only allow yourself to get up after the timer dings, and always set the timer again if you stay at the keyboard. This will hold you in place long enough for the first impulse toward work-avoidance to pass, and you'll often discover yourself eager to keep going when your time's up.
*Schedule your day's activities—and schedule writing hours first. This doesn't necessarily mean putting them first in the day, but putting them on the schedule itself first, so they get priority. Schedule everything: bathing, eating, sleeping, telephone time (outgoing calls, at least), walking the dog—everything. Then, if it's not on the schedule, don't do it. Schedule it tomorrow.
*Form a support/nagging network of other writers.
*Graph your hours and/or pages against those of your support group. Post the graph where you can see it when you write. Also post it where you can see it when you don't write.
*Challenge other writers to finish a story a week, losers to buy dinner (or dessert, or whatever) for winners.
*Generate story ideas mechanically. Roll dice and pick characters and settings from a list. Tumble a desktop encyclopedia downstairs and write about whatever it opens to when it lands. Throw darts at your bookshelf and write a homage to whatever you hit. The goal here is to demystify "idea" as a stumbling block. Ideas are a dime a dozen once you learn how to find them. Become a supplier rather than a consumer.
*If you've been sitting on an idea until you think you're good enough to do it justice, do it now! You may be run over by a bus tomorrow. Even if you aren't, by the time you think you're good enough, the passion for it will be gone. Write it now! Write all your good ideas as quickly as you can after you get them. Don't worry about getting more; they'll come faster and faster the more you write. Before you know it, you'll be begging people to take them, like a gardener with zucchini.
*Outline. Plan everything you're going to write, scene by scene, all the way through to the end. Do your research while you're outlining, so by the time you start writing the actual story, you're already living in that world. With a detailed enough outline, the actual writing becomes a matter of choosing the right words to describe what you've already decided to tell. You can concentrate on style and let the plot take care of itself, because you've already done that part.
*Don't outline. Don't plan ahead at all. Feel the lure of the blank page. Trust your instincts and dive into the story, and don't look back until you're done.
*Keep written goals, and revise them daily. (Production goals, not sales goals, which you can't control.) Rewriting them every day helps you focus on each one and think about what you can do at the moment to further it along.
*Unplug the TV for six months. This is a tough one, but it's the one with the biggest potential for shifting your priorities over to writing. You can gauge your need for it by your resistance to it. If you can't imagine giving up your favorite programs in favor of writing (or if you're more faithful to your viewing schedule than to your writing schedule), you should probably remove the TV from the house permanently; but no matter what you do, give it six months, minimum, before you even look at it. Turn the screen to the wall. Seriously. What's more important to you: your writing or TV? Find out.
*Turn off the talk radio. Same as above; if you can't give it up, you're making it more important than your writing. Even if you think you need it for background noise, substitute some other noise that doesn't engage the language center of your brain. That's for writing, not for listening, when you're at the keyboard.
*Remove all games from your computer. This is just as vital as reducing your dependence on TV or radio. The key to all these suggestions is to reduce the amount of time you spend on unproductive stuff. If you play games to relax, put them on another computer in a different part of the house, and play them outside your writing time.
*Ditto the above for email and web surfing. Don't allow yourself to do it until after you've done your writing for the day. If you're really addicted, allow yourself to read only one email message per paragraph written. Don't count paragraphs shorter than 50 words, either. I don't mean add up all your short paragraphs until you get 50 words--I mean don't count paragraphs shorter than 50 words at all. Write until you get one that's at least 50 words long. So what if you're in the middle of a stretch of dialog? Keep writing. (And if this email-as-reward system works for you, join a busy listserver!)
*Reward yourself for success. Choose the reward so you'll work hard to earn it.
*Read a book a day (for inspiration).
*Keep 5 (or 10 or whatever) manuscripts in the mail at all times. Choose a number that'll make you stretch a little, but one you can realistically maintain.
*Use every spare moment to write something, even if it's just one sentence. An extreme version of this: don't plan any official writing time; just use the spare moments in your day—but use them all.
*Carry a note pad or tape recorder with you wherever you go. Use it to record ideas as well as the actual text of stories. Make it your external memory. The idea here is to keep yourself focused on writing no matter what else you're doing.
*Keep more than one project going at once. Switch to another the moment you slow down on one.
*Collaborate. You'll be less likely to slack off if someone else is counting on you to perform.
*Switch tools. If you normally use a computer, write with pad and pencil for a while. If you normally write hard sf, write fantasy. Get out of whatever rut you might be in.
*Change your writing environment. Rearrange your study, or go write in the library or a cafe for a while.
*Keep yourself constantly "on." Start another project immediately after you finish one, before you even get up to stretch your sore muscles.
*Don't think; just write. Keep the writing and editing processes separate. Don't worry about clumsy bits; you can fix those later. If you're writing on paper, intentionally cross out a few lines and re-write them so you won't have to worry anymore about messing up the page.
*Edit for perfect copy as you go. This one works for some people, but not for others. If you find yourself getting too critical of your new material, stop editing during your creative time. But some people discover that they build up momentum editing, and when they get to the end of what they've already written, they're eager to forge ahead into new territory.
*Write an hour for every hour you read.
*Spend an hour a day in the library researching new ideas.
*Rewrite a story a day. (Works best if you've got a lot of unsold stories lying around.)
*Jump-start your creative juices. Start your writing day with a long walk in pleasant surroundings, or gardening, or doing something else that wakes you up and gets your mind working.
*Identify your best hours of the day and write during those. Let other people take the leftovers for a change.
*Paper your study walls with Playboy foldouts (or whatever else is likely to keep you in the room).
*Evaluate everything in your life according to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Air is at the top. Food and shelter are close behind. What's next? Sex? Money? Where does writing fit in now? See if you can move it up a couple of notches. Write now, breathe later.
*Give yourself regular days off. Most people get weekends off; why shouldn't you? An important point: Days when you tried to write but failed don't count as days off. Only days you've scheduled in advance count. Conversely, now that you've got regular days off, don't use your work time for personal stuff.
*Take up a hobby. A lot of writers started writing as a hobby, and it slowly became their passion. That's cool, but it left an empty niche in your life where the hobby used to be. Find something else to fill it. You'll be amazed at how much you realize you missed that kind of thing. More to the point: you'll suddenly stop resenting your writing for not fulfilling that need, and you'll start to enjoy it for what it is.
*Turn writing into a hobby. Not everyone has to be a full-time writer. If you don't want to (or can't) write full-time, or if you can't find another hobby that scratches the particular itch that writing did when it was a hobby, then make it one again.
*Hack-write. Put words in a row for pay. Write anything you can get a contract for, so long as there's money in it, but here's the kicker: do the best job you can on it. Even if it's something you don't care about, do a good job anyway. You're practicing two things here: writing on demand, and writing well.
*Build a ritual around writing. Start well ahead of the actual act of writing, and continue the ritual after you've finished work. The idea is to make writing an integral part of a bigger picture. Let the cat out, make a cup of tea, feed the fish, put on some music, light a candle, write, check the mail, fix lunch, do the dishes. Doesn't seem quite so ominous when it's buried among all that other stuff, does it?
*Light a candle. Make it a big, wide one. Write until the wax pool is entirely molten, as far out as it will go. Anything less will "core" the candle, wasting wax as the wick burns itself downward without using the wax from around the edge.
*Binge! Gear up for a major writing weekend. Get your ideas ready, set a goal, and plan to work every waking hour until you're done. Cook meals ahead of time and freeze them so you can just nuke 'em and keep going. Tell your friends you'll be out of touch. Turn off the phone ringer and put a message on your answering machine telling people to send the cops if they really need to talk to you that bad. Lock yourself in your study and don't come out until you've committed fiction.
*Chain the wolf to the door. Buy expensive things on credit, quit your job, etc. JUST KIDDING! (But I tried it once, and it worked, too … for a while.)
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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.
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