Vol 1, Issue 12 Dec. 15, 2008
Editor in Chief: Michael P. Geffner
Layout & Design: Bailey-Shropshire Professional Writing Services
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, Joshua James, Lea Schizas, Dee Power, Hugh Rosen, Julie Ann Shapiro, Sheila Bender, Sandy Z. Poneleit, Krysten Lindsay Hager, Ruth Folit, Rachel V. Olivier
Copy Editor: Joan Migton
A Word from Mike
Dear Newsletter Subscribers,
I know these are tough times for writers, as it is for everybody else.
Virtually every week, we hear news of magazines or newspapers either struggling mightily or, worse, going under. We read about major layoffs, severe cutbacks, and hiring freezes.
And, all the while, we’ve seen our retirement accounts slit right in half.
It’s easy to get down, especially around the holidays—to simply curl up in a fetal position and all but give up.
So I’m making this suggestion: resist.
Choose not to participate in the misery; instead turn things around with high energy, smart thinking, and positive vibes.
View this moment in your writing life as a wonderful chance to be even more creative about your career. Think of new strategies to secure work. Reinvent yourself. Broaden your horizons. Get even more active with your networking and letter writing and the like.
Action breeds action.
Remember that. And remember, there’s always a way if there’s a will to find it.
I wish you all the happiest of holiday seasons!
Best always and stay positive,
Insights on the Craft and Business of Writing
Listen to The Writing Show, where authors, screenwriters, playwrights, poets, and other writers in all stages of their careers reveal:
• How they work
• What they worry about
• How they make their writing sparkle
• How they deal with obstacles
• How they market
• Why they write
• Interviews, reality shows, contests, writing makeovers, and more from Paula B. and the gang!
The Writing Show, where writing is always the story.
Information and inspiration for writers.
FREE INSIDER’S SECRETS
New and established markets. Submission guidelines/leads.
You'll receive today via email Newsflash. Best for poetry, short prose, book projects. Writer's Relief, Inc. (866) 405-3003 http://www.writersrelief.com
We'll share our know-how with you.
In our 14th Year!
Award-winning author/editor: Lea Schizas Editing Services
My commitment is to help you tighten your manuscript before it’s submitted to agents or publishers. I offer you quality service at competitive rates. We'll work together until we both agree the manuscript is ready to go out to publishers.
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The Reader….Your Audience
More Senior Moments—A Book For Seniors
More Senior Moments is a companion book to David W. Silva's Senior Moments. It was a finalist in the National Best Books 2007 Award. It contains strategies and stories that help seniors deal with the problems of aging such as depression, loneliness, loss of independence, self identity and chronic illness. The book contains well thought out and simple advice to help seniors accept aging as a challenge instead of a negative burden.
More details can be found at:
THE LAST WHALE - Narrative Nonfiction
THE LAST WHALE
Creative nonfiction book to be published October 2008 by Fremantle Press.
The true story, written by Chris Pash, gets inside the heads of Australia's last whalers and a group of people who planned and executed a campaign to stop them. The campaign was Greenpeace's first direct action in Australia.
"...the right word for the right occasion"
Reasonable/negotiable rates for full line-by-line edits and basic proofreading available for:
- short stories
- book length manuscripts & novellas
I provide all this in a friendly, teachable way designed to help you perfect your words.
For more details, contact Darlene Oakley at:
Writing Away Retreats
May 1-5 (Taos, New Mexico), June 12-16 (Vail, Colorado)
Writing Away Retreats are a destination vacation for you and your muse. Aiming to serve writers who need to get away and focus on their projects, we offer maximum feedback with minimal interruptions. Providing ample time to write, discuss your goals, dreams and projects with like-minded creative individuals is what we do best.
During your May 1-5th, 2009 (Taos, NM) or June 12th-16th, 2009 (Vail, CO) stay, you will experience an all-inclusive retreat for four nights and four days in a luxurious yet, isolated lodge. MS consultation with the author, editor and agent are included in your package. For those attending the poetry retreat, your chap book MS or poems up to 20 pages will be included with your cost. A 90 minute consultation with Lisa Gates is also available at no additional cost. Delicious organic meals will be prepared three times per day and snacks, coffee, tea, wine and linen service will be provided throughout the day and into the night. During the evenings we will host optional discussions on trends in literature, books and movies that have come from the literary greats and have readings with a roaring fire, cozy furniture and fantastic company.
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
1 The Spotlight Interview: Susan Orlean
2 Jeanne’s Writing Desk by Jeanne Lyet Gassman
3 Journaling by Sheila Bender
4 Affirmations to Write By
5 Mike’s Private Coaching Sessions
7 Looking for a Writing Job?
8 Find Out What’s Going On Inside the Publishing Business
9 The Language by Mark Terence Chapman
10 Writer Beware
11 On the Writing Business by Patricia L. Fry
12 Writing Quotes of the Month
13 A Bevy of Writing Knowledge by Bev Walton-Porter
14 Writing Promptly
15 Marketing by Angela Wilson
16 Tip of the Month
17 Poetry Tip of the Month
18 Gold Member Sponsors
Writing It Real No-Contest Contest
Deadline December 31, 2008
Sheila Bender’s Writing It Real (writingitreal.com), an online magazine and resource center on writing from personal experience, announces its first no-contest personal essay and poetry contest. Visit our website (writingitreal.com) for information regarding online classes including Personal and Lyric Essay, Poetry Writing, Writing from Healthy Starts, Short Stories from Life and more.
In this current contest everyone’s an honorable mention and will receive not only a one-year subscription to Writing It Real, but also a detailed response to their work from Sheila (by email).
1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners will be asked permission to publish their work in Writing It Real and will receive a half-hour phone consult on writing and publishing with Sheila.
Submit up to six double-spaced pages of prose or three poems. Please number your pages. Sheila will respond to your work within two weeks of receiving it. A cover sheet that contains the author’s name, title of work(s), phone number, address and email address must accompany your submitted work. For an online submission form go to writingitreal.com. Reading fee may be paid electronically using a credit card or through PayPal. Mailed entries must include a check for $45.00 (dollars) US. If you are sending funds from overseas, be sure the amount is in US dollars, officially typed by a bank, not handwritten. Checks should be made payable to: Writing It Real.
Mail your submission to:
Writing It Real No-Contest Contest
394 Colman Drive
Port Townsend, WA 98368
No SASE required. Entries will not be returned.
Poetic Expressions: Personalized Poetry for All Occasions
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Words to Write By
Compiled by Robin Bayne
Join a variety of well-known authors as they share the Scripture or quotations they find inspiring to their writing. The devotionals they’ve contributed reflect all aspects of the writing life: basic motivation, rejection, publishing and succeeding. Spend some time with the writers you love and discover what words they write by. www.robinbayne.com.
Writing Journeys in Guatemala and Jamaica
Don’t give in to the winter blues. Write in the most places on earth.
Join Celia Jeffries, MFA and Jacqueline Sheehan, bestselling author, for inspiring writing and yoga retreats.
1. Guatemala February 7-14, 2009 in the Mayan Highlands on Lake Atitlan.
2. Jamaica March 28 – April 4, 2009 in Bromley, Jamaica.
For more information, go to www.jacquelinesheehan.com and www.celiajeffries.com.
The Spotlight Interview
Susan Orlean, Writer/Journalist/Author
Susan Orlean, 53, a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1992 who authored the best-seller The Orchid Thief, is one of the great literary journalists of the last quarter-century.
With sentences stunning in their purity and a droll sense of humor, Orlean has an amazing knack for not only revealing the extraordinary in the ordinary but completely immersing you into the world of her subjects.
Getting to know a subject very well “can lull you into a different sense of mission,” Orlean once said of her own immersion process. “The sharp edges blur and you're into the protoplasm of the person rather than the outline.”
In addition to publishing several books of nonfiction (Little Lazy Loafers, My Kind of Place, The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup, Saturday Night, Red Sox and Bluefish), she has also written stories for Vogue, Rolling Stone, Esquire, and Outside.
For more information on her life and career, please check out her Web site at:
The following is my exclusive newsletter interview with Ms. Orlean:
Mike: How did you become a professional writer?
Orlean: I can’t quite tell you how writing began, since I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t in my life. It’s the only thing I ever wanted to do. From the time I was able to conceive of the idea of writing, I was writing little books and always gravitated toward writing in school. And when the time came to think about professions after college—I didn’t know how you became a writer professionally or whether I’d make a living at it—it was the only thing I was excited about pursuing.
I was around 21 years old and living in Portland, Oregon, after college, biding my time before what I feared was my inevitable descent into law school, or graduate school for English, or something similarly practical but unappealing. Then, out of nowhere, I stumbled into a writing job, for which I was entirely unqualified, except for my absolute, utter enthusiasm about it.
I saw an ad for a little magazine that was getting started. I just couldn’t contain myself and immediately applied, saying that while I had no experience or qualifications, I was dying to do this.
I mean, I was the editor of my high school yearbook and an English major at the University of Michigan, but I didn’t work for my college newspaper because I never wanted to be a newspaper reporter. That just didn’t seem to me to be the kind of training I was after. So I didn’t have any clips, other than one book review for the Michigan Daily. I was just passionate, knew I wanted to write.
They were paying hardly anything and, luckily, they were hiring young people without experience. It wasn’t as if I got a job at The New York Times. But it was a real magazine, with a real budget.
In retrospect, I don’t think it was a bad hiring decision, or a foolish one. I think that being passionate is the most important thing. Everything else is useful and important, but not the critical element. And I had the critical element—a true, honest desire to tell stories.
Mike: Did you think you had talent at the time?
Orlean: Yeah, I think I did. I mean, I was always told by my English teachers that I wrote really well. So I had gotten…
Mike: …positive feedback?
Orlean: Yeah. I felt I was a good writer. And in college, I did take a lot of writing classes, and poetry. And I read great writing.
Mike: What were you reading?
Orlean: Mostly fiction. I was really in love with James Joyce, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway. The big guns.
Mike: How long did you work for that magazine.
Orlean: For a year, where I did feature pieces and came up with stuff that was fairly creative for somebody who didn’t know what they were doing. Then, from there, I went to an alternative weekly, where I was first hired to be the music critic, reviewing rock and pop, although very quickly I transitioned into doing features, because, for one thing, I didn’t like being a critic. I mean, I love music, but that wasn’t really what I wanted to do.
Mike: What did you write about at the weekly?
Orlean: I was working off assignments, like profiling a local city councilwoman. But then, at some point, my editor sensed that I had an instinct for coming up with stories on my own. And he let me do just that. So I did pieces like the one about the old main highway, which ran through Portland and had become a strip of cheap motels and prostitutes and refugees who were flooding into Portland at that time. Stories that weren’t different from ones I would be doing now.
I was really lucky. I had a fabulous editor who let me feel my own way, follow my interests. We had pretty liberal space to do longer stories on subjects that weren’t breaking news. There was a lot of freedom.
Mike: Could you describe your writing process?
Orlean: Well, the whole thing begins with coming up with the idea, because 99 percent of my stories are my own ideas. Generally, I throw myself into something, learning about it from zero up.
I’m attracted to subjects I know nothing about. So, the first part is learning, taking notes by hand—pen and reporter’s pad—and gathering as much information as I can. A lot of it is unlikely to end up in the story, but it gives me a richer sense of the subject or person or whatever I’m working on. And I report and report and report until usually I have to stop because the story is due. It’s hard to tell when you have enough.
My stories tend not to be so focused, so my reporting is very diffuse and broad. And while I’m working, I often think that I don’t even know what this story is about. So I have to keep going and going. There’s a point where I think, “Aha, now I know what it’s about.” Or, “Uh-oh, it’s due and I better figure out what it’s about.”
With most stories for me, the writing is the journey. I’ve learned about something or someone intimately. The writing of it is often when I start thinking, “Why was I interested in this, of all the stories in the world? I’m able to write about anything I want. Why this story? What was it that interested in this? Why do I feel there’s a story to tell?”
I generally don’t figure that out until I’m actually writing. So it can be a little bit of an unnerving transition from reporting to writing, because I don’t know where I’m going with the piece. The writing has a very transformational quality, because I’m finally putting two and two together, understanding why a story interested me and seemed important.
Mike: When you begin a story, do you have to have a lead before you go on?
Orlean: Yeah, I do. I sure wish I didn’t. I write stories in succession, from top to bottom, beginning to the end: first sentence, second sentence, third sentence. As often as I dream how it would be much easier for me to write it in chunks and assemble them, I’ve never even been able to do that. And it’s partly because it is storytelling. I cannot imagine in the normal, oral conveying of a story that you wouldn’t need to first tell the first sentence.
Mike: Does it have to be a fully-polished lead or a sense of the lead?
Orlean: I really need it done and have it ready to roll. There are times, when it’s all said and done, where I’ll go back and tweak it a bit. But generally it’s done and with very little changes.
Mike: You have so much material to organize. How do you do it?
Orlean: My memory is, surprisingly, good. And part of it is, I am really genuinely learning the material, not just recording it.
That’s why I don’t like using a tape recorder. I like to feel like I am really listening, really thinking, really paying attention. So, for example, if all my notes got burned up, I could probably still tell you the story. I would have to look up the facts again, of course, and obviously it wouldn’t have quotes, but I would know it just as well.
My method is this: I write a lead and that first chunk—the extended lead of around 300 words that moves you to the body of the piece. And then I review it all in my head until it all sounds right and make an informal punch list. Not an outline. Just things I know that need to be told.
For example, I just did a story about a guy who invented a new umbrella and my punch list said simply: 1) Have to tell the history of the umbrella 2) his connection to umbrella. Etc., etc.
It’s all in longhand and sits next to me as I’m writing.
Then, after I’ve typed up all my handwritten notes and highlighted everything I think I’ll use—the stuff that seems to have a place in the piece—I have all the material printed out and spread out in front of me, so visually I have it all there.
Mike: What hours do you work?
Orlean: I tend to work best in the afternoon when I’m working on a book. I’m less formal about this when I’m working on a magazine story.
But my writing process always includes a per-day word quota. I can’t knock off for the day until I’ve written 900 words. And I’m pretty tough about that quota (although I’ll give myself credit for revision). I use it as both a punishment and reward. By doing this, you can project when you’ll be done with the piece. I know that if I keep up that pace, I’ll be done by such and such a day. I find that very helpful, because it can existentially be very distressing to be looking into the void and think, “Oh, my god, I’m never going to be done with this.”
Mike: Are we talking about just 900 written words or 900 fully-polished words.
Orlean: I don’t write a rough draft. I tend to write a rough sentence, then tinker with it and tinker with it and correct it, and then move onto the next sentence. I feel like I can't think the next thought until I get the sentence finished. I’ll tweak and revise a lot as I go along, but I don’t do a super rough draft initially.
Mike: Do you have any ritual before you sit down and write—like Hemingway did by sharpening pencils?
Orlean: The only thing I do, if it’s a magazine story, is read what I wrote up to that point. Usually out loud. I want to hear the rhythm of it, hear the awkwardness, the parts that are boring. It’s the only way to edit what I’ve already written.
Mike: Do you work on a laptop computer or desktop?
Orlean: I have both, but I prefer working on my big computer, even I’ve written a lot, for better or worse, while I’m not at home. I’m not fussy about that. I am not somebody who needs a very, very particular environment. All I need is my notes. I can be pretty adaptable.
Mike: Did you ever read any how-to writing books?
Orlean: No, I never did. The only thing I ever read along those lines was an interview with John McPhee, where he described about how he writes, how he transfers notes onto index cards—which is how I do books, laying them out in front of me. That interview was very helpful. I followed that system and it was a comfort to think that John McPhee does it, so it must be good.
I’m pretty much self-taught. I sometimes wonder how much I would’ve benefitted from a little bit more formal training. I learned from good editors and from trial and error. And, at this point, I kinda do it the way I do it. Every time I look into something that supposedly will help me organize my stuff better, it doesn’t feel natural to me and so I just haven’t done it.
Mike: For the young or new writers out there, how does one become a professional?
Orlean: I say to people: Go anywhere you have to and write. Go to the smallest town newspaper and just start writing and writing and writing. The more you write, the better you’re going to get.
And make yourself indispensable, either by working really hard or thinking of great stories. Make yourself the person that has to be on a staff.
I urge people to go to a small town, or a place where they can afford to live as a writer from the very start of their career, just so that writing is what they’re doing full-time.
I’m not a great believer in going to The Big Place and taking any job you can and wiggling your way up.
I’m a believer in getting good anywhere, developing your style and voice, and then when you’re ready, getting the good job at The Big Place.
Of course, it’s different for everybody. You have to do what temperamentally is going to work for you.
Mike: Do you still worry about rejection?
Orlean: Oh my god, yes. I’ve had this experience a few times lately, where I’ve turned something in, even something fairly minor, and I didn’t hear back from the editor quickly. I was really nervous and upset and imagining that they hated it. Instead, it ended up they simply assumed that at this point, I didn’t need (the assurance).
I think that as you get more experienced your standards just get higher and your appreciation of how success and failure feel is much more acute.
I also think that there are certain bad habits that get more and more ingrained. But I obviously have more confidence. I trust my perceptions and my instincts more.
Mike: What’s the biggest difference between your writing from years ago and your writing now?
Orlean: Aside from normal maturity, I used gimmicks back then that I would never use now.
Mike: How you ever gone through writer’s block?
Orlean: No, not in any big way. I mean, I’ve certainly spent time staring at a blank page. But I never not gotten a piece done, or been significantly late on a deadline.
I feel that true writer’s block is a neurotic problem, has really nothing to do with being a writer. I think it’s got some deep psychological stuff happening. It would certainly be a distressing thing to experience, and while I’ve been at times really stuck, I never thought I had writer’s block.
Mike: Do you think you’ll ever write fiction?
Orlean: In a perfect world, sure. It would be fabulous. But I have a feeling I won’t. Only because, as much as I love fiction and read it avidly, I’m not sure I have the tools to do it.
I’m a bit of a workhorse. So, if someone said to me, you have an assignment to write a short story and get it in by next Friday, I think I could probably do something passable. The lack of structure, where I idly think about fiction, but without any specific urgency about it, I’ve never been patient enough to try.
I do write poetry, however.
Mike: Has your poetry ever been published?
Orlean: No, and I’ve never tried. I’ve thought about it occasionally. I would be thrilled, gigantically thrilled. It would be so cool. In fact, I talked to the Poetry Editor at The New Yorker a couple of years ago and said, “Could I show you some stuff?” But I didn’t follow through. I guess if I feel really strongly that I have something ready to show, I’d be delighted to do it. It just hasn’t happened yet.
Mike: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
Orlean: It’s not one of those big, sweeping spiritual things, but long ago, a good friend of mine, a wonderful writer and a highly perceptive reader, said to me once, “Loosen up a little. Not everything has to be so tight and perfect.” At that point, I was so used to building my stories like dry-laid stone walls, where you couldn’t budge a piece of it without the whole thing collapsing. That advice really stuck in my head. To me, it addressed more the issue of confidence. That you can play a little, that you can relax a little, that the reader is listening to you as long as you’re telling a good story. It’s the piece of advice I think of the most often. It’s not profound, but it’s the most significant.
Mike: What advice do you give to others?
Orlean: To really try when you’re working on a story to look deep inside yourself and try to figure out why you’re drawn to this story or this take on the piece. Like being a method actor. What’s your motivation? What’s really interesting about this subject? What resonated for you? If your notes were burned up in a fire, what would you remember about this?
Also, don’t be afraid to enter stories unprepared but to let them happen to you. Let your learning happen.
That’s the way I go about my stories, although I’ll concede it might not the best approach for everybody.
Mike: Do you ever pinch yourself that you have the dream job of writing for The New Yorker.
Orlean: Oh, yeah. I do all the time. Listen, it never gets old. It’s totally thrilling. I feel enormously lucky with the way my professional life has turned out. It’s been fantastic. I’m amazed in a good way. I’m not jaded at all. I genuinely feel fortunate. But it’s not like someone sprinkled fairy dust on me. My good luck was coupled with working very hard along the way.
Mike: Why did you succeed, do you think?
Orlean: Well, I think it’s a combination of things. My mind and temperament are quite ideally suited to what I do. Writing is just an extension of who I am. How I look at the world. How I like to tell stories. It’s just a good fit. And that’s not always the case for people. The naturalness of me in this career is very significant.
I have a pretty good sense of how to get on in the world, to deal with the sort of annoying career stuff. That’s a necessary part of succeeding. Knowing how to get by when it comes to the practical stuff. I have a decent instinct for that.
Inspiration for Writers
First prize: Gift package worth over $500, including a professional edit and critique of up to 15,000 words, books on the craft of writing, and more.
Entry fee: $40. ALL ENTRIES receive a complimentary edit of the first 500 words, a detailed critique of the submission package, and an electronic copy of the Inspiration for Writers Tips and Techniques Workbook.
Entry Deadline: January 15, 2009. Inspiration for Writers will announce the winners on or before March 31, 2009.
Submit a one-page synopsis and first three chapters. Additional information at www.InspirationForWriters.com/contest.html or call Sandy Tritt at 304-428-1218.
INVEST IN YOURSELF.
IF NOT NOW, WHEN?
Poetic Expressions’ $10 Poetry E-Books!
Check out the new POETRY E-BOOKS we're offering at Poetic Expressions for only $10. And $4 of every sale goes toward the church where I preach. You'll even get a receipt for tax purposes! So, check it out at Poetic Expressions!
Looking for a gift for that spiritual friend?
Give the Gift of Reading
By Jane Kennedy Sutton
Recipe for Suburban Surprise:
Take one deeply depressed housewife.
Add an unexpected windfall.
Carefully fold in one very handsome, very clever charmer.
Separate and discard one totally self-centered, slightly abusive husband.
Place remaining ingredients into red-hot convertible cruising on Route 66 and see what happens!
HOW EDITORS THINK
By Marcela Landres
"I read How Editors Think in one sitting and was engaged from beginning to end. It is well written, highly informative, and humorous—I found myself laughing out-loud in a few spots! Thanks for sharing the secrets of the trade."—Maryra Lazara Dole, author of Down to the Bone
Inspired by my experience as a former Simon & Schuster editor, How Editors Think: The Real Reason They Rejected You reveals what it really takes to get published. For more information, visit:
Writers Helping Writers on Facebook!
Jeanne’s Writing Desk
A Character Creation Template
By Jeanne Lyet Gassman
Interesting and complex characters are the cornerstone of good fiction. If a writer doesn’t know his characters well enough, he may find it difficult to move the story forward in a plausible fashion. One solution to this problem is to write a short biography of the character. I’ve created what I call a “character creation template,” a tool that allows me to dig deep into my character’s background to find sources of conflict and crisis. In addition to this template, I like to have a photo (taken from a magazine or newspaper) of someone who looks like my character. These simple devices will help you imagine a character in three-dimensional terms. Let’s begin with the basics:
The first place to start is with the facts. Some questions to consider include:
When was your character born?
Where was your character born?
Is there any other important information we should know about the character’s birth?
The choice of a name may be fairly obvious, but the nickname can be an important identifying characteristic. Nicknames are often born from either physical or personality traits. They can also be cruel reminders of past mistakes—a great source of internal tension for your character.
The time and place of birth can be significant to your story if it impacts your character’s present condition. A character who was abandoned after his birth in a bathroom stall may have issues that affect his current choices. In astrology, each astrological sign is assigned certain personality traits. Knowing your character’s astrological sign can be an aid to establishing a framework for your character’s basic temperament.
Our families shape us and define us as human beings. When we become adults, we often spend much of our lives either rebelling against certain family expectations or seeking approval of our lifestyle choices. The same is true for your characters. When you choose your character’s family background, consider how that family influences your character’s life. Some things you should know about the family:
Father’s name and occupation
Mother’s name and occupation
Step-parents (if any) and the nature of their relationship to your character
Birth order—Is your character the oldest? The youngest? A middle child? Only child?
Members of the extended family
Our “favorites” reflect both our personality traits and our needs. For example, a character who loves jazz may already have a mellow temperament. Or, he may listen to jazz because he’s a nervous person who finds the music calming. Some “favorites” to think about for your character:
Favorite place—What about this place makes it a favorite choice? Does it have any particular associations with the past that might influence the present?
Favorite time of day
Favorite time of year
Any other “favorites” including such items as food, activities, weather, etc.
In every life, there are those moments that shape our future. These events—often occurring in childhood—can be painful or joyful, but they affect our feelings about ourselves in adulthood. The same is true for your characters. The important moments in your character’s childhood:
What is the worst memory of your character’s childhood?
What is your character’s fondest memory of his childhood?
What does your character think was the worst day of his life? Why?
What does your character think was the best day of his life? Why?
As you probe deeper into your character’s life, you need to explore how the people around her see her. Is she someone who attracts friends? Or is she a loner? Is she trustworthy? Or does she betray confidences? You can find the answers to these questions by asking her best friend and her worst enemy:
Who is your character’s worst enemy? Why is this person her enemy?
What would your character’s worst enemy say is your character’s best quality? What traits does the enemy admire or respect?
Who is your character’s best friend? Why is this person a best friend?
What would the best friend say is your character’s worst quality? How does your character disappoint her best friend?
“Survival” can refer to both physical needs (food, shelter, safety) and psychological survival (talismans, good luck charms, security blankets, etc.) When you answer these two questions, think about both the physical and the psychological needs of your character.
What does the character always have in his refrigerator? (Note: Refrigerator can be a metaphor for any way of storing food that is readily accessible.)
What does the character always have on his person?
Crisis and Conflict
Good stories are always about change, and change often creates a crisis for the characters. Some characters resist change while other characters seek change. The way your character feels about the changes in her life will affect the way she behaves.
The same idea is true for likes and dislikes. Take away something your character really likes, and she will strive to get it back. Force something upon your character that she dislikes, and she will try to get it out of her life, either by fleeing or fighting.
Finally, remember that you are the god of this universe. You know more about your character than she knows about herself. What your character believes is a personal disaster could prove to be a gift in disguise. With that in mind, here are the final questions for your template:
How does the character respond to change? Does she hate change? Or does she seek change?
This is the type of person who likes/dislikes…
According to the character, what is the worst thing that could happen to her?
According to the author, what is the worst thing that could happen to the character?
May all of your main characters lead interesting and complicated lives. Happy writing!
Newsletter contributing columnist Jeanne Lyet Gassman is an award-winning author whose fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry have 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:
Using Others' Journals in Nonfiction Writing
By Sheila Bender
Those of us committed to seeing personal experience in print often consider our journal entries a valuable source and form for literature. Usually, we are thinking of mining our own journals and compiling selected entries, but if we have access to others' journals, we might think of using them in creating books.
Regina's Closet by Diana M. Raab uses her grandmother's journal written about her childhood and young adulthood in Europe and covering the years from before World War I to 1938. Raab entwines the journal pages with her own search for an answer to a family mystery. Not As Briefed: From the Doolittle Raid to a German Stalag, compiled by Karen M. Driscoll, is a first-person narrative created by cutting and pasting an uncle's wartime journals. Water Cooler Diaries: Women Across America Share Their Day at Work, edited by Joni Cole and B.K. Rakhra, uses the journal entries of others to document a topic.
Regina's Closet by Diana M. Raab, Beaufort Books, New York, 2007
Forty years ago, ten-year-old Diana M. Raab went to rouse her grandmother Regina Klein from bed, only to find her unresponsive. The young Diana called her mother at work. An ambulance arrived and took her grandmother to the hospital where she was pronounced dead. A few weeks later, the young girl learned by overhearing her mother talking to friends that her grandmother had killed herself with an overdose of pills. Thirty-three years later, Raab's mother presented her with her grandmother's journal—"a transparent sheath filled with about fifty pages of single-spaced typed pages, laden with strikeovers, awkward syntax, and numerous grammatical errors."
She read the journal composed of pages written in English after her grandmother came to the US. She hoped to find a reason for why her grandmother committed suicide. Reading her grandmother's journal entries, she realized that what her grandmother survived had extra resonance for her now that she had struggled against cancer and survived.
The book includes excerpts from Regina's pages, which start with stories of when she was 11, not too much older than Raab was when she discovered her grandmother dead. The journal entries describe childhood in Galicia at the start of World War I, a cold and rebuking mother, a kind but powerless father and a teacher that builds the little girl's self-esteem. Raab did her own research to fill in details of Regina's life in her Galician village and shares the historical information.
As readers, we not only learn about Regina's life, but track Raab's, as she digests the information Regina wrote down and concludes:
… every image and every memory of her has been recalled, and the result is a renewed understanding of her life and what she endured. The journey has helped me realize that a life without love is no life at all, and that those who have survived severe childhood traumas continue to live with the pain until the day they died. It is with this new understanding that I will hold Regina's soul close to my heart.
Not as Briefed: From the Doolittle Raid to a German Stalag, Colonel C. Ross Greening, edited by Dorothy Greening and Karen Morgan Driscoll, Washington State University Press, Pullman, Washington, 2001
As a little girl, Karen M. Driscoll listened to her uncle, Colonel Ross Greening, a pilot and artist, tell war stories. When she was 13, he responded to a letter she wrote to him complimenting her on her writing and proposing that one day she would help him write a book. It was years before a box of dog-eared carbon copies of the now deceased uncle's typed sheets about his wartime experiences were sent to her home. When she began reading them, she was unable to sleep until she finished them all. The next morning, she knew that she would organize the sheets and type then up for a family history. It turned out that Ross' widow Dorothy had Dictaphone recordings made in 1955 when Ross met with a professional writer to record his history. However, both Ross and the writer died before the book they planned was completed.
Five years after she read the box of papers, Driscoll had threaded Ross's story together from his handwritten diaries, letters and the transcription of the oral materials. Washington State University, Ross' alma mater, was proud to publish the manuscript, which includes his paintings and drawings; Ross eventually finished war in a German prison camp, using watercolors supplied in YMCA aid parcels to record.
Other than two incidences, Driscoll used her uncle's words exclusively as she cut and pasted from the carbon copies she'd typed up, smoothing out the rhetoric by cutting and pasting. She also included footnotes with historically accurate information to help readers understand the context of some of what Ross wrote about.
Water Cooler Diaries: Women Across America Share Their Day at Work, edited by Joni B. Cole and B.K. Rakhra, Da Capo Press, Philadelphia.
The third in a series by the two co-editors, Water Cooler Diaries: Women Across America Share Their Day at Work is made of entries from 515 women across the US who volunteered the day diaries they kept about their workdays on March 27, 2007.
Nashville Symphony Principal Clarinet and mother of two teens, Lee Carroll Levine starts work at home at 6:15 am to get her kids out of the house to school. By 9:47 am, she's made it three minutes early for rehearsal and her contract time to be seated ten minutes before the tuning note. Contributor Taylor Collins describes her day as an artist and writer trapped in a job in a government bureaucracy. Didi Lorillard's job is writing classic solutions to everyday etiquette problems. Long-distance truck driver Patience Bourne contends with the difficulties of unloading the loose potatoes from her trailer, a standard dry van, 13 ½ feet high and 53 feet long. Tina Wexler, assistant to a literary agent, wonders how her husband can fall right off to sleep, as she lies awake thinking about all she wants to get done the next day. Each entry is evocative and full of detail about places and jobs in America.
Using these books as models:
If you are honored to have a relative's or friend's journal or letters, consider using Regina's Closet as a model for presenting their story and weaving it with your own to bring the other to life again and to show how his or her life impacted yours.
If you have old letters, documents, and diary entries of a relative, spend some time reading through them. What were the historically significant times and events in the person's life? Perhaps there is enough there for you to compose a book that covers history from a personal perspective. Check with your local librarians about finding books and newspapers that elaborate on the times in which your relative lived. You might even try your hand at presenting the information in column form, as if it were written for a daily or weekly paper of the times. Or you might write it as a biography for young readers.
If you have thought about creating a book that covers a subject dear to your heart, put out a call for journal entries by people who are involved in the issues and situations you want to write about, and collect information that will prove indispensable. You will have targeted journals that you can cull for writings about a subject that you want to share with audiences. At the same time, you'll be building a solid platform that bespeaks your expertise in the field--after all, you will have read hundreds of primary sources on your topic!
Sheila Bender publishes Writing It Real, an online instructional magazine for those who write from personal experience. She has authored many books on writing, including 40 Writers and Their Journals, A Day in the Life, Keeping a Journal You Love and Writing and Publishing Personal Essays. She has also written instructional content for LifeJournal for Writers software.
Affirmations to Write By
I will read one writing book this month.
I will publish one story by the end of June.
I will spend extra time polishing my work.
I will listen closer to my inner voice.
I will feel better about my finished product.
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2008 List of Writer’s Digest’s 101 Best Websites for Writers!
The entire list can be found at:
Are you a self-employed writer? What information would help you grow your business? What experiences of yours could help other writers? E-mail me at email@example.com to be included in “A Professional Writer’s Ladder to Success”!
Noted up-and-coming horror author P.S. Gifford is heading to downtown San Francisco! At 1:00 P.M. on January 18th he will be reading from, and then signing copies of his latest book at Borderlands. http://www.borderlands-books.com/. For further information please visit www.psgifford.com
The Author’s Repair Kit is a NEW ebook designed to help you breathe new life into your faltering or failing book. Use Patricia Fry’s post-publication book proposal system and heal your publishing mistakes. The Author's Repair Kit, only 27 pages: $5.95. http://www.matilijapress.com/author_repairkit.html.
Looking for a Writing Job?
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(Disclaimer: I only recommend these sites as interesting ones to check out. If you decide to purchase any products or services, or become a paid member of a site or apply for a posted job, you do so at your own risk. Please use your discretion and common sense.)
Find Out What’s Going On Inside The Publishing Business
Industry News and More!
Don’t let these commonly misused/misspelled words and phrases trip you up
By Mark Terence Chapman
Here are some more words and phrases that are commonly misused or misspelled. 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 don’t want to waste time on pieces that require an inordinate amount of their time to clean up.) Even if you write only business reports and emails, you still wouldn’t want people chuckling over your misuse of the English language, would you?
Que or Cue vs. Queue
Wrong: Cue up at the ticket office.
Right: Queue up at the ticket office.
To queue up is to get in line or line up. The spelling isn’t intuitive (another word borrowed from the French) and often gets mangled as cue or que. A cue is a hint, guiding suggestion, or prompt (among other meanings), as in “That was his cue to enter.” or “Cue the music.” Que is simply a misspelling of queue (or an obsolete term for a half-farthing coin). So take a cue and get in queue.
Sherrif or Sherriff vs. Sheriff
Wrong: There’s a new Sherrif in town.
Right: There’s a new Sheriff in town.
Sheriff (the law in these here parts) is often misspelled. Don’t let this sidewinder bushwhack you, pardner.
Opps vs. Oops
Wrong: Opps! Sorry about that.
Right: Oops! Sorry about that.
I have no idea why oops (an expression of chagrin or dismay as one’s mistake or clumsy act) shows up as opps so often. Opps doesn’t even sound like oops. Undoubtedly it’s a typo sometimes, but when the same person misspells it opps multiple times, it must be more than a typo.
Cord vs. Chord
Wrong: Something in what she said struck a cord.
Right: Something in what she said struck a chord.
Cord has many meanings, but most relate to string, wire, a cord-like structure (e.g., spinal cord), or binding of some sort (the cords of marriage). Chord can mean a combination of musical notes or, in this case, evoking a feeling or emotion.
Funner vs. More fun
Wrong: I think tennis is a lot funner than bowling.
Right: I think tennis is a lot more fun than bowling.
I’m sure funner is used tongue-in-cheek sometimes; but it’s not a proper word, falling into the same category as ain’t. It should only be used in dialog where the speaker is supposed to sound uneducated. If you use it in narrative, you’ll be the one sounding uneducated.
Zippo vs. zippo
Wrong: He flicked open his zippo and lit a stogie.
Right: He flicked open his Zippo and lit a stogie.
Wrong: We went for it all, but we ended up with Zippo.
Right: We went for it all, but we ended up with zippo.
Zippo is a registered trademark for a brand of cigarette lighter. If you’re referring to the lighter, it should be capitalized. Conversely, if you mean zip, zilch, zero, nada, goose egg—as in nothing—then it would be lower-case zippo. You might request a Zippo but get zippo instead.
Xray vs. X-ray
Wrong: He went in for xrays of his wrist.
Right: He went in for x-rays of his wrist.
X-rays is properly written with a hyphen or as two words (x rays), but never as one word (xrays).
‘im vs. ‘em
Wrong: They’re inside. Don’t let ‘im get away.
Right: They’re inside. Don’t let ‘em get away.
Right: He’s inside. Don’t let ‘im get away.
The contraction ‘im is short for “him,” while ‘em is short for “them.” It shouldn’t be hard to keep ‘em straight.
Risky vs. Risqué
Wrong: I love those risky poses.
Right: I love those risqué poses.
Risky means hazardous, while risqué mean racy or suggestive of sexual impropriety. Of course, the two terms aren’t mutually exclusive. A topless dancer, for example, may be engaging in behavior that is both risqué and risky.
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
Warnings About Literary Fraud and Other Schemes, Scams, and Pitfalls That Target Writers
Do yourself a favor and check out these great sites to keep you safe in the publishing world:
On the Writing Business
10 Surefire Ways to Get Your Book Proposal Rejected
By Patricia L. Fry
Every hopeful author who has conducted even minimal research into the publishing process knows the term book proposal. And most authors shudder at the thought of writing one. I did when I was just starting out in this business. As soon as I realized that publishing IS a business, however, I understood the importance of writing a book proposal. A book is a product, after all, and a book proposal is a business plan for that book.
But what if you’ve written a book proposal and, still, you’ve been rejected by eighty-five publishers? Maybe you need to take a second look at that proposal. Perhaps you’ve committed one or more author’s deadly sins.
Following are some of the most common mistakes perpetuated by hopeful authors today. Avoid these ten mistakes and you have a tremendously greater chance of landing a publisher for your perfect project.
1: Do not tell the publisher his business. In other words, don’t say, "You really must add this book to your list if you hope to be successful." Or "This book will make you rich." Rather than putting the hard sell on the publisher, demonstrate your manuscript’s worth through a well-organized book proposal.
2: Don’t threaten the publisher. It will do you no good to say, "If you don’t buy my book, I will kill myself." Or "You’re missing the book of the century if you pass on this one." Instead, provide him with pertinent details that clearly demonstrate the value of your book project.
3: Don’t claim that your book contains no mistakes. Have you ever picked up a book that had no mistakes? I don’t think it is humanly (or even mechanically) possible to produce a book without a mistake. And from what I’m told by publishers, many authors who claim to have hired a professional editor for their books, have been taken for a ride. So make sure that you hire a reputable editor before submitting your book proposal or manuscript to a publisher or agent. Strive for perfection and hope for the best.
4: Avoid saying that everyone will buy your book. Statements such as this serve to demonstrate your amateur status. You may hope that everyone will buy your book, but this is an unrealistic expectation. A publisher will be more impressed by an author who has done his homework and is quite clear as to the segment of the population who is likely to purchase a book of this sort.
5: Don’t claim that this is the only book of its kind. This, too, implies that you’re an amateur. A well-organized book proposal includes a competitive analysis of books similar to the one you propose. The purpose of this section is to demonstrate a need for your book. If there is nothing to compare it with, how will you convince the publisher of its worth? If you can’t find other books just like it, dig deeper, my friend. Evaluate popular books from the same category and point out the similarities and the differences. Publishers want facts and figures not wishful thinking.
6: Do not state that this is the only book you’ll ever write. Publishers prefer working with authors who are likely to produce more than one good book. If your book is successful and you are a pleasure to work with, the publisher would just as soon accept another book from you than someone unknown to him.
7: Don’t reveal that you’ve been working on the book for the last 25 years. There is nothing impressive in the fact that you have not been able to complete a 12-month project in over two decades.
8: Do not try to bribe the publisher. Unless you can offer the publisher an impressively large sum of money or a vacation home in the Bahamas, don’t bother to entice his favor through bribery.
9: Don’t contract with an unprofessional, unqualified agent. A bad agent is worse than no agent at all. What is a bad agent? One who charges you for her services, who either sends your manuscript to publishers who are inappropriate for the project or doesn’t send it out at all and who does not maintain reasonable communication with you. Choose an agent who is appropriate for your project and who is sanctioned by the Association of Author’s Representatives (www.aar-online.com).
10: Never try to write a book without first writing a book proposal. I tell people that the first step to writing a book is to write a book proposal. Without a book proposal, you are at risk of using the wrong slant for your book and/or writing for the wrong audience.
Your excellent, honest, thoroughly researched book proposal is your key to success. Publishers today are more interested in the marketability of your project than your writing skill. They need you to identify your target audience and explain how to reach them. They want to know about your competition. A well-organized, complete book proposal will help to sell a publisher on your project.
Writing a book proposal is not a walk in the park. But once you’ve completed it, you can go take that walk in the park. If you avoid the ten mistakes listed above, you may not have time to take a walk because you’ll be too busy showing off copies of your new book.
Contributing newsletter columnist Patricia Fry is the author of 25 published books, including, The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book and The Author’s Repair Kit. 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
“Beware of self-indulgence. The romance surrounding the writing profession carries several myths: that one must suffer in order to be creative; that one must be cantankerous and objectionable in order to be bright; that ego is paramount over skill; that one can rise to a level from which one can tell the reader to go to hell. These myths, if believed, can ruin you. If you believe you can make a living as a writer, you already have enough ego.”—David Brin
“Never throw up on an editor.”—Ellen Datlow
“I try to let whatever's coming just flood its way out, and then I deal with the mess later. I like mess. You can find a lot of good nuggets in the junkyard.”—Thisbe Nissen
“The job of the poet (a job which can't be learned) consists of placing those objects of the visible world which have become invisible due to the glue of habit, in an unusual position which strikes the soul and gives them a tragic force.”—Jean Cocteau
“I have never thought of myself as a good writer. Anyone who wants reassurance of that should read one of my first drafts. But I'm one of the world's great rewriters.”—James A. Michener
“Writing is the hardest way of earning a living, with the possible exception of wrestling alligators.”—Olin Miller
“Anecdotes don't make good stories. Generally I dig down underneath them so far that the story that finally comes out is not what people thought their anecdotes were about.”—Alice Munro
“Without a reader, I cannot write. It's like a kiss: they cannot be done alone.”—John Cheever
“Deliver me from writers who say the way they live doesn't matter. I'm not sure a bad person can write a good book; if art doesn't make us better, then what on earth is it for?”—Alice Walker
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”—Goethe
A Bevy of Writing Knowledge
Get in Sync: How to Reach Your O.W.L.
(Optimum Writing Level)
By Bev Walton-Porter
Are you a morning lark or a night owl? Regardless of whether you favor early day or late night, to be the most productive writer you can be, you should work your writing into a scheme that will effectively make use of the time of day when you have the largest burst of energy—not just creative energy, but productive energy as well.
I'm a night owl, and I admit it. My most creative moments happens when most people are drawing down the shutters and readying themselves for shut-eye. For years I've worked against this natural propensity to work late at night; finally it dawned on me that I was working against the natural scheme of my nature.
I adjusted my work schedule as best I could, given the fact that I also have a family, and since then I've produced more than I ever did when I tried to work against my night owl personality. In short, I discovered my O.W.L.—Optimum Writing Level.
Whenever possible, I try to do my research, interviewing and work-related reading during the day. Daytime is also when you can find me searching out new freelancing opportunities and making notes of where I need to send queries this coming week.
When late afternoon rolls by, I stop and prepare dinner for my family. Then, once dinner is finished and all my other errands (like grocery shopping, bill paying and other meetings/obligations) are covered, I then return to my home office to write.
This general scheme of things seems to work rather well for me. Especially since I can't even think in a logical manner prior to ten a.m. and without help from a pot of coffee! The downfall to all of this is that I do have a hard time shutting off my mind once I decide to get to bed for shut-eye. My mind is pumped up by then and continues to shoot images and ideas this-a-way and that.
Best way to calm those frenetic mental whirlwinds? Read. Yep. Read for enjoyment. Delve into some fiction or purely escapist literature. Or maybe you prefer something inspirational or motivational—who knows? The key is to select your material so you can relax your mind before slumber. Another cool down for your mind: relaxing music. By that, I don't mean pounding rock music or the heavy thump of rap. What I mean is to find music that calms your weary mind—which might be soft rock or instrumental music or even classical music.
My personal favorites are Yanni (don't laugh; even my kids calm down and conk out when they listen to his music!) or Enya. You'll probably find a lot of soothing music in the New Age section of the music store, but back when I was growing up, they used to call it Easy Listening. At Christmastime, I enjoy listening to Mannheim Steamroller or some of those old classic holiday songs sung by oldies but goodies like Frank Sinatra or Bing Crosby.
Perhaps you'll use some of those soothing tapes with sounds of the ocean or a thunderstorm. You can also find these close to the New Age section in the entertainment store. Whether you listen to music or natural sounds of nature, it really doesn't matter. I even have a tape of Jim Morrison and the Doors called An American Prayer in which Jim (who really was a poet first before he was a singer) recites some of his work with the Doors' music as a backdrop. Whatever works, do it!
Getting to Know You
To thine own self be true, advised the Bard, William Shakespeare. Not bad advice; certainly a bonus for writers and poets. A definite must for freelancers, especially! To work at your best level, you must first know yourself and your personal energy rhythms.
How to find your rhythm? Most people know whether they're more of a lark than a night owl or vice versa. You'll hear people say, "Oh, I'm up at the crack of dawn," or, "It takes me till late afternoon before I'm really cookin'." Take note—which statement fits you the best? Your answer is an excellent indication of where you fit in the scheme of things. Lark or owl? No matter. What matters is your recognition of that fact so you can mold your writing around your natural energy cycle.
If you're still not sure, take a few days and make notes in your journal or handy dandy writer's notebook how you felt and what your energy level was in the morning, mid-morning, at lunch, in early afternoon, near dinnertime, and late in the evening. Chances are, after studying your energy dips and peaks over several days (or better yet, a week!) you'll see a pattern emerging.
You've determined your predominant energy cycle and personality, whether lark or owl. Now what? Think of how you can restructure your days and nights so you can write when you're at your best. This is known as O.W.L. (Optimum Writing Level), a little acronym I invented to label this marriage of writing when you're functioning at your highest peak of creativity/productivity.
Maybe you have excuses already: "Oh, there's no way I can write at 5 a.m.!" or, "All the good movies are on late-night TV!" Sorry, but hardly any excuse is good enough. You want to write? Write. You will have to sacrifice something if you're truly serious about your profession. Late-night TV movies can be taped, and if you're already up at 5 a.m., then there's no reason why you can't spend the time writing!
Give it a try and see for yourself. If there's a will, there's a way. In writing, this rule applies as well. Don't let the fear of the blank page keep you from writing early in the morning. Actually, writing when you first awaken is one of the best times to create. Your critic isn't quite awake yet and you'll get a chance to really tap into the purely creative side of your brain. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way, uses morning pages (writing three longhand pages in the morning) as a way to connect with that essential, creative part of you.
Filling in the Blanks
While you fill your highest energy times and match your natural rhythm with your writing, you'll also need to match your non-writing activities to other parts of the day. As mentioned before, since I'm a night owl, I use the daytime to do other tasks like interviewing, researching and searching out markets to query.
In addition to those listed above, daytime is also the prime opportunity for me to write correspondence. By this, I mean sending thank-you notes, follow-ups to business arrangements, press releases and other assorted duties.
The idea behind all this is to rework your day so it not only fits the needs of your writing, but also gives you down time to take care of necessary duties, as well.
In the Mood
Experts say it generally takes 21 days to change a habit. Now, I'm not sure how they arrived at the 21-day mark, but they're the experts, not me. Give your new writing schedule some time to sink in and attach to the walls of your psyche. Promise yourself a month's worth of experimentation.
To move yourself into your writing time and make it a recognizable habit, use an anchor - something you do each time you begin your “block” of prime writing time. For me, it's switching on the radio in my home office. I have one station I listen to at a very low volume. This station plays soft rock from the '60s to the '90s. There are no surprises on this station. Other times, I play a rotation of songs I’ve handpicked for listening pleasure.
When I switch on the radio station and pour my cup of coffee (I know I shouldn't drink coffee at night, but it's one of my anchors to writing), this puts me in the mindset that it's time to work. Generally, by the end of the first cup, I'm humming along rather nicely and have seated myself (or anchored myself) in the moment. I'm in the groove. I'm tripping the light fantastic. The words are dancing out of my fingers and into keystrokes that translate into meaningful sentences on my computer monitor screen.
Don't be impatient with yourself while you're discovering your O.W.L. You may have to rearrange your lifestyle a bit and do things you've never done before, but if in the long run that means becoming a more creative, more productive writer, then chances are, you'll be a happier writer. There's nothing worse than writing at 4 a.m. when you're truly a late-night person. Believe me, I've been that route and it was a tough row to hoe.
We're all different, so work when your energy level is highest and don't try to imitate others. You'll never win the race if you try to compare yourself with other writers. Each of us is unique. Each of us has his or her own style. Each of us has something and can express it in writing like no one else in the world. Learn effective habits and take pointers from other writers. Then mold those things to fit your personality and work habits.
Morning lark? Night owl? One is no better than the other. The only thing that matters is how you use the self-knowledge you gain so you can become the most effective writer you can be.
Newsletter contributing columnist Bev Walton-Porter is a professional writer/author who has published 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:
Your favorite quote.
What’s in your garden.
The scene outside your window.
What’s pasted on the refrigerator door.
Your favorite class as a child.
The last great dream you had.
Time-travel. Where? When? How?
The story that led off the news tonight.
Your biggest challenge.
A near-death experience to you or someone close to you.
Holiday Promotions Net Fans
By Angela Wilson
Holidays are a great time for promotions. You have an opportunity to get your books in the hands of people in creative ways.
Here are just a few ideas:
• Several romance authors I know also sell Mary Kay or Avon. Put your bath salts, lotions and other non-cosmetic items into a nice basket or tin case, along with one or two of your titles, and send as gifts or use as Christmas giveaways at your site.
• Work with coffee shops to sell your books in baskets. Grab some java, flavored creamers and cups and put them into a nice arrangement. It is great promotion for both you and the coffee vendor.
• Don't forget Mom. Many organizations give toys to children of needy families and gifts for Mom as well. Put your books together with a few pamper items for the woman of the house to make her feel special this holiday season. It not only brings joy to that person, it helps agencies, who in turn remember your generosity. Non-profits are fabulous at word-of-mouth marketing.
• Arrange signings. Christmas signings are extremely popular. To make yours even more effective, create a stunning basket of goodies to give away to one of your buyers that day. Do NOT include your books in this giveaway. Some people will just put their names in the drawing and not buy the books, hoping they will get them free.
• Create a special gift or gift basket with your books for your library and ask them to give it away during a holiday event.
• Stop at your local Christmas-only store and arrange to sell your novels there.
• Get auction fever by donating a creative, fun basket that includes your books for silent auctions. These are popular during the holidays and event organizers are always searching for free stuff to present to buyers who want to support a charity.
Check your local community calendar for events where you may be able to use a giveaway to your advantage. Don't be afraid to approach vendors about coordinating sales - like at coffeeshops or stores that carry unique items. Gift baskets are incredibly popular and can easily be created specifically for any event or family. If you are not basket-savvy, ask a friend for help.
Angela Wilson is an author, freelance author publicist and professional blogger and podcaster. She requests ARCs and manages the book blog for Pop Syndicate, where she hosts authors on virtual book tours. If you have a question about promotions, visit www.askangelawilson.com and fill out the contact form. Your question may be used on that site or in a future newsletter column.
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Tip of the Month
Set writing goals.
Joseph Wambaugh, author of The Onion Field, once said: "There are writers around with more talent than I; but there are none more disciplined than I."
Wambaugh sets a goal of writing at least 1000 words a day. If an emergency stops him, he writes 2000 words the next day.
So stop procrastinating and get to work!
Poetry Tip of the Month
By Amy King
2007 Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere
Locate two or three poets you really admire and eat up everything they've written. I mean dip into those books at inopportune moments, between meetings or on the way to the bathroom. Do this to remind yourself poetry is omnipresent and ready to be tapped into & written down. Drink from other poets now and then, but moreover, read beyond poetry; find some other aspect of daily living that strikes a chord and balance poetry with that 'other' interest. You may read books on the intersections of film and literature, immerse yourself in the political climate and her unceasing diatribes, or even dissect the interviews of great philosophers who tempt & confound you (Derrida and Wittgenstein are my faves). Bear in mind: a poet does not live on, or write, poetry alone. Even as Whitman was a journalist, a teacher, and a volunteer nurse during the war, a poet must live widely and be in the world to learn it, feel it, and invent it.
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Credits, Disclaimer, and Copyright
Michael P. Geffner, the founder/editor-in-chief of this newsletter, has been a writer/journalist for nearly 30 years. He's appeared in hundreds of publications, including The New York Times, USA Today, Details, The Sporting News, Men's Health, Cigar Aficionado, 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 seven times by the annual anthology, The Best American Sports Writing.
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