Wednesday, September 17, 2008

David Foster Wallace's 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address

Transcription of David Foster Wallace's 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address - May 21, 2005

(If anybody feels like perspiring [cough], I'd advise you to go ahead, because I'm sure going to. In fact I'm gonna [mumbles while pulling up his gown and taking out a handkerchief from his pocket].) Greetings ["parents"?] and congratulations to Kenyon's graduating class of 2005. There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"

This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story ["thing"] turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you're worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don't be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.

Of course the main requirement of speeches like this is that I'm supposed to talk about your liberal arts education's meaning, to try to explain why the degree you are about to receive has actual human value instead of just a material payoff. So let's talk about the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about quote teaching you how to think. If you're like me as a student, you've never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted by the claim that you needed anybody to teach you how to think, since the fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think. But I'm going to posit to you that the liberal arts cliché turns out not to be insulting at all, because the really significant education in thinking that we're supposed to get in a place like this isn't really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about. If your total freedom of choice regarding what to think about seems too obvious to waste time discussing, I'd ask you to think about fish and water, and to bracket for just a few minutes your skepticism about the value of the totally obvious.

Here's another didactic little story. There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: "Look, it's not like I don't have actual reasons for not believing in God. It's not like I haven't ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn't see a thing, and it was fifty below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out 'Oh, God, if there is a God, I'm lost in this blizzard, and I'm gonna die if you don't help me.'" And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. "Well then you must believe now," he says, "After all, here you are, alive." The atheist just rolls his eyes. "No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp."

It's easy to run this story through kind of a standard liberal arts analysis: the exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people's two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience. Because we prize tolerance and diversity of belief, nowhere in our liberal arts analysis do we want to claim that one guy's interpretation is true and the other guy's is false or bad. Which is fine, except we also never end up talking about just where these individual templates and beliefs come from. Meaning, where they come from INSIDE the two guys. As if a person's most basic orientation toward the world, and the meaning of his experience were somehow just hard-wired, like height or shoe-size; or automatically absorbed from the culture, like language. As if how we construct meaning were not actually a matter of personal, intentional choice. Plus, there's the whole matter of arrogance. The nonreligious guy is so totally certain in his dismissal of the possibility that the passing Eskimos had anything to do with his prayer for help. True, there are plenty of religious people who seem arrogant and certain of their own interpretations, too. They're probably even more repulsive than atheists, at least to most of us. But religious dogmatists' problem is exactly the same as the story's unbeliever: blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn't even know he's locked up.

The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.

Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness because it's so socially repulsive. But it's pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.

Please don't worry that I'm getting ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It's a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being "well-adjusted", which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.

Given the triumphant academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. This question gets very tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education -- least in my own case -- is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.

As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.

This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.

And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let's get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what "day in day out" really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I'm talking about.

By way of example, let's say it's an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you're tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there's no food at home. You haven't had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It's the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be: very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it's the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing muzak or corporate pop and it's pretty much the last place you want to be but you can't just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store's confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren't enough check-out lanes open even though it's the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can't take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.

But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line's front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to "Have a nice day" in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera.

Everyone here has done this, of course. But it hasn't yet been part of you graduates' actual life routine, day after week after month after year.

But it will be. And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides. But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don't make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I'm gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it's going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.

Or, of course, if I'm in a more socially conscious liberal arts form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV's and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks, burning their wasteful, selfish, forty-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest [responding here to loud applause] (this is an example of how NOT to think, though) most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers. And I can think about how our children's children will despise us for wasting all the future's fuel, and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and selfish and disgusting we all are, and how modern consumer society just sucks, and so forth and so on.

You get the idea.

If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn't have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It's the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I'm operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world's priorities.

The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it's not impossible that some of these people in SUV's have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he's trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he's in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.

Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket's checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.

Again, please don't think that I'm giving you moral advice, or that I'm saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it's hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won't be able to do it, or you just flat out won't want to.

But most days, if you're aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she's not usually like this. Maybe she's been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it's also not impossible. It just depends what you what to consider. If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won't consider possibilities that aren't annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're gonna try to see it.

This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship.

Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.

They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and [unintelligible -- sounds like "displayal"]. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

I know that this stuff probably doesn't sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don't just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

"This is water."

"This is water."

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to d be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

I wish you way more than luck.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Author David Foster Wallace found dead in apparent suicide

David Foster Wallace, the writer best known for his critically acclaimed 1996 novel Infinite Jest, has been found dead at his Claremont, California, home, police said.

Wallace was discovered by his wife, Karen Green, who returned home to find that he had hanged himself, Claremont police said. He was 46.

The novelist, essayist and humorist hailed for his ironic wit gained international prominence with Infinite Jest, a 1,079-page novel that takes place in a drug rehabilitation centre and an elite tennis academy.

The book won acclaim from Time magazine for its "painfully funny dialogue and Wallace's endlessly rich ruminations and speculations on addiction, entertainment, art, life and, of course, tennis" and was named by the magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923.

Wallace taught creative writing at Pomona College in Claremont.

"I know a great novelist has left the scene, but we knew him as a great teacher who cared deeply about his students, who treasured him," said Gary Kates, the dean of Pomona College.

Wallace's most recent book was a paperback version of a 2000 profile of Republican presidential nominee John McCain for Rolling Stone magazine, titled McCain's Promise: Aboard the Straight Talk Express With John McCain and a Whole Bunch of Actual Reporters, Thinking About Hope.

Wallace, who was hailed as one of the most influential writers of his generation, also wrote the short story collections "Girl With Curious Hair" and "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men," and "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," a collection of essays.

Wallace was born in Ithaca, NY. His father, James Donald Wallace, was a philosophy professor at the University of Illinois, and his mother Sally Foster Wallace taught English at a community college in Champaign, Ill.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Writers Need to Get on Facebook!

If Myspace is for bands, Facebook is for writers.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Mike's Writing Newsletter/Sept. Issue!

Vol 1, Issue 9 Sept. 5, 2008

Editor in Chief: Michael P. Geffner
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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
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A Word from Mike

Dear Newsletter Subscribers,

I’m asking you to do something important this month, something that will be difficult at times, considering all the heat and humidity out there these days.

I’m asking you to move—and stay on the move.

That’s right. I’m asking you to pursue your dream of being a professional writer by whipping yourself into a creative frenzy: finishing your stories, thinking of and writing pitches, making phone calls and sending query letters to editors, reading writing books, taking writing classes, etc.

You get the idea.

What I’ve learned through experience is that action breeds action. Try it and you’ll see for yourself. Once you’re moving daily, especially in a forward direction, you’ll be amazed at how much more time you have to do more and more.
It’s incredibly easy to get discouraged in this business, to get so frustrated that you procrastinate yourself into inaction, into utter stagnation, and into losing precious hours toward furthering your goals.

So make me—and, more importantly, yourself—a promise this month: No matter how oppressively muggy the day, keep moving toward your dream.

Best always and stay positive,

Newsletter Editor-in-Chief

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The Spotlight Interview

Nelson George, Writer, Author, Screenwriter, Filmmaker, Historian

One of the great chroniclers of African-American life in the past two decades, Nelson George has done it all. He’s been a journalist, screenwriter, historian, filmmaker, and novelist. The New York Times Book Review once said of him: “As a critic, Mr. George is an intelligent informed insider; as a storyteller he presents fascinating characters.”

He’s authored several influential books, including: “The Michael Jackson Story,” which made the New York Times paperback bestseller list; “Where Did Our Love Go: The Rise & Fall of the Motown Sound,” which won the ASCAP Deems Taylor award; “The Death of Rhythm & Blues,” which won the ASCAP Deems Taylor award and was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle award; “Elevating the Game: The History and Aesthetics of Black Men in Basketball,” which won an American Book Award and an Amateur Athletic Association award; “Buppies, B-Boys, Baps & Bohos: Notes on Post-Soul Culture;” “Hip Hop America,” which won an American Book award and was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award; “Blackface: Reflections on African-Americans and the Movies.”

He also wrote the highly popular column, “Native Son,” for The Village Voice from the late 1980’s through the early 1990’s; worked for Billboard, Record World, and Playboy; co-wrote the Russell Simmons autobiography “Life and Def;” won a Grammy Award for contributing to the liner notes of James Brown’s boxed set, “Startime;” co-wrote and produced the feature film starring Chris Rock, “CB4;” co-wrote the feature film starring Halle Berry, “Strictly Business;” worked as a consulting producer for HBO’s “The Chris Rock Show;” directed a made-for-TV movie for Black Entertainment Television titled, “One Special Moment,” and was an associate producer for the critically-acclaimed “Just Another Girl on the IRT.”

His short film, “To Be a Black Man,” featuring Samuel L. Jackson, played in film festivals in New York, London and Amsterdam, as has his documentary, “A Great Day in Hip Hop.” Nelson also created the online film project, “Blacker,” a look at racial identity through poetic short films

In recent years, he’s taken his genius to fiction, publishing “Urban Romance,” “Seduced: Life & Times of a One Hit Wonder,” “One Woman Short,” “Show & Tell,” ”Night Work,” and “The Accidental Hunter.”

Here is my exclusive interview with Mr. George:

Mike: What writer influenced you the most growing up?

George: Without question, Ernest Hemingway. Far and away. From the time I read “Our Time” at 14, then later with all his brilliant short stories, which still hold up. He influences me to this day. His purity of prose is amazing. That brevity—I’ve kind of modeled myself after that. I’m not a long-winded writer. I tend to write concisely, picking only the right details. In describing a person, a scene, or articulating an idea, some writers write everything. I’m more like a microscope, going straight to the heart of things. That focus crosses through all my writing, taking the reader straight to what’s most important.

Mike: Do you write easily or are you what they call “a bleeder”?

George: Easy. I can write anywhere and all the time. I carry a notebook or pad everywhere I go, and I’m constantly writing.

My whole theory about people getting blocked: They’re probably thinking about one thing too much and not letting their subconscious mind work for them.

If I’m having problems writing my novel, let’s say, I’ll stop working on that for awhile and go write a journal entry, or go to my blog, or work on a magazine piece. In other words, I never stop writing. I just change what I’m writing.

That’s big, in my opinion: You should never ever stop writing. Once you stop and give into that sense of impotence, you open yourself up to all kinds of bad psychological stuff about sitting down at the table and you’re screwed.

Trust me, if you keep going, keep at some sort of writing, it’ll all come to you.

Mike: So, are you saying that writing has never been painful for you?

George: No, it really never has been. I love writing. In fact, there have been times that I wish I didn’t have to do anything but write.

I don’t know what I’d do without it. I have no idea. I’d be in bad shape. It means that much to me.

Mike: How did you get your start in writing?

George: I worked as an intern for both a black newspaper called the Amsterdam News and Billboard, while I was still in college.

Mike: So I assume you recommend internships.

George: Absolutely. They’re crucial. Basically, at the beginning of your writing career, you need to be willing to be a slave for awhile. You also need to know what it is to be a professional. By the time I graduated college, because of my internships, I had so much experience and all these clips and contacts. It was a great advantage over other writers my age.

Mike: What’s the best strategy for breaking through at the start of a writing career?

George: Find a niche. Become a specialist. For me, I always loved reading the back of record albums as a kid. I wanted to know who produced the album, wrote the songs, things like that—the story behind the album. So I got into both reading and writing record reviews. Then I realized that nobody was writing about the type of music that I was interested in. The popular black music. So I became an expert, reading every book, every magazine and newspaper article, on things like Funk and R&B and Jazz and Blues.

Whatever it is that you have a passion about, hang your hat on that expertise and then later, if you want, expand out of it.

Mike: Did you learn how to write from writing books or some other way?

George: Well, I never read any writing books until recently, when I wanted to know how to do screenplays. I learned by reading great writing, especially literary criticism and music reviews. And later on, when I started working professionally, I learned from good editors. They taught me how to construct them to make them work better.

Mike: Are you good about being edited?

George: Yes, I am. I never had a big ego about that.

Mike: What are your writing habits?

George: I’m a binge writer. I like the feeling of the subject matter building inside me, but without writing. While I’m preparing and researching the story, I’ll think about it wherever I go, whether it’s to the movies or playing basketball or whatever. Then, when my gut tells me I’m ready, when the critical mass of the stuff becomes overwhelming in my head, I’ll attack it. I’ll write intensely, virtually day and night, for three, four straight days. I’ve learned over the years to trust my subconscious. Which means that if I’m thinking about a piece on, say, jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, I’ll allow my mind to percolate on it for awhile, to make the connections internally. I might make a note or two, but I wait patiently for the ideas, the major themes, to start coming, before I start writing.

Mike: What do you think about outlining?

George: I’m a big believer in outlines. I outline all my writing, whether it’s a magazine piece, a book, or a screenplay. It keeps you from getting lost, especially with longer writings. I never did the index card thing, but I do it on pieces of paper. In fact, I won’t start something now until I have a good sense of the ending. Because when you’re writing a story, you’re building your case toward whatever particular ending you decide. Going back to the Miles Davis piece, I knew that my ending would have to answer the questions: Did Miles renounce his talent by going electric and plugging in his trumpet? Was that a terrible mistake on his part? Once I had that clear in my head, I was clearer on how to approach that story.

Mike: Do you write only at the computer?

George: No, I write by hand quite a bit. I see the computer as best only for the second draft. I’ve written just one book strictly on a computer, and I didn’t like the result. I read that book now and it reads too fast for me. Like I wrote it too quickly and didn’t think enough about the material. Looking back, I’m convinced I could’ve gotten so much more out of the material if I wrote it first in longhand. The process of going from paper to computer, I believe, slows me down just enough to make the writing better.

Mike: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten about becoming successful?

George: It came from Quincy Jones, while I was interviewing him around 20 years ago about Michael Jackson. I asked him what in his opinion made Michael so successful and he said, “Ass power.” He went on to explain that some singers will come in and give you a little lead vocal, a little background, and then call it a day, while Michael will “sit his ass in the chair” all day in that studio until the work is really done. He’ll knock out the lead and backing vocals, harmonize his backing vocals, and listen to the tracks over and over again trying to make it better and better.

What this all means for anyone looking to become a great artist is this: Do you have the ability to stay there with your art when your friends are out having a good time, going to movies or playing sports or going out drinking? Do you have what it takes to separate you from all the others?

You have to ask yourself those questions, because all great works of art are done inside and often in dark, small, ugly places. Are you willing to put the time in? Are you committed enough? Does it mean that much to you? Do you love your art enough?

Mike: What advice can you offer new writers about query letters?

George: Not much. I only wrote query letters very early in my career and I didn’t get much work, if any, from them. My advice is, develop relationships with editors. That’s more important than merely coming out of the transom.

Mike: What’s harder for you—fiction or nonfiction?

George: Fiction is easier. Not in terms of the writing, but the pure physical work. I’ve done a lot of nonfiction books, and to do a great nonfiction book you need to work so hard. It’s labor-intensive. You’ll have boxes of taped interviews and magazines and newspaper clippings. You’re never quite done with the research. It’s daunting. I know that when I embark on a nonfiction book, I have lots and lots of heavy lifting ahead of me.

In fiction, when you’re stuck, you just make something up. Which is obviously something you can’t do in nonfiction. So I find fiction liberating. It frees me from the burden, the real obligation of a journalist, to be factual.

Mike: Which do you enjoy more—fiction or non-fiction?

George: I’ll always be best known for my non-fiction. That’s how I started my career and it's what made my reputation. Still, my fiction is probably closer to my heart. I write non-fiction with my head, my fiction with my heart. It's an oversimplification but there's a lot of truth in that sentence nonetheless. I’m channeling emotional stuff in my fiction that I wouldn’t be able to mess with in any other way.

Mike: What’s your view of blogging?

George: Well, believe it or not, I had my site for several years before I blogged. For a long time, to be honest, I didn’t really know what a blog was. I’m not even sure I do now, but I know that I enjoy doing it. It’s wonderful fun and has been a great way for me to connect with the readers. I also understand who goes to my site now.

The thing is, I don’t like drivel and I won’t write drivel. If I don’t have something important to say, I don’t write anything.

I began my blog in the fall of 2004, and while I think it’s a great way to spout, and for some writers it can definitely develop a voice, it can also give you bad habits. Especially if that’s all you’re doing. It can be too much haphazard stream of consciousness, writing without discipline. Editing is good for a writer, and with blogging you never get to experience that. Very few writers are brilliant enough to simply write off the top of their heads and dazzle you in a blog.

Mike: Why do you think you made it as a writer, while so many others didn’t?

George: I have an old-fashioned view of that. I believe in corny things such as determination and diligence.

Mike: What was it like doing your “Native Son” column?

George: Well, before I started it, I was a little nervous about doing it. I just felt that it was a lot of writing to do every two weeks. I wasn’t sure if I was that smart to have something to say that often. But my editor gave me some great advice that continues to stick with me. He said, “Describe as much as possible. Use the column as a vehicle to use your descriptive powers. The ideas will come out of it.” And that, I found, worked a great deal for me.

It actually helped me with my fiction later on, and eased the transition from nonfiction to fiction.

Mike: How about your transition to screenwriting?

George: That was the toughest. It took me a long time to write what I considered “good” screenplays. I’ve written screenplays professionally for 10 years, but in only the last three did I think I was any good at it.

The turning point for me was seeing screenplays as something similar to books, structuring scenes like chapters. Like Paul Schrader did so wonderfully with Taxi Driver. Once each scene had a name, I felt so liberated. I began attacking screenplays like any piece of writing.

Mike: What books did you read about screenwriting?

George: I actually read quite a few, but the one that hit me the hardest, the only one I really remember is, William Goldman’s “Adventures in the Screen Trade.” Awesome book. A must-read for anyone entering the film business.

Mike: Any last words of advice?

George: Remember that any great artist must live in the world. Make that your calling card and bring whatever expertise you have to your readers.

Please visit Mr. George’s Web site at:

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E. E. Cummings, poet

Jeanne’s Writing Desk

Your Writing Space
By Jeanne Lyet Gassman

A few years ago, I used to believe that a messy desk was the product of a creative mind. However, as I’ve taken on more writing projects and become more professional in my approach, I’ve come to realize that an organized workspace is essential for success. Each person has his own idea of what constitutes organized, but I thought I’d share what works for me, as well offer some suggestions on what might work for you.

Writing Office/Space. I believe it is important to have a workspace dedicated to writing. This space can be as small as a desk in the corner of a bedroom or as large as a home office, but your writing space should not be used for writing your novel in the morning and eating meals or working on homework in the evening. If you are packing up your writing every day and moving it out of the way to do something else, you risk losing your work or never finishing it. I am fortunate to have an extra bedroom that I use as my home office.

Desk. A desk needs to be large enough to hold your computer (if you use one), any peripherals such as a printer, and still have some open space where you can jot down notes by hand. My desk is shaped like an L. One side of the L holds my computer, monitor, peripherals, desktop lamp, and phone. I use the other side of the L to spread out my papers and notes. At the end of the day, these notes are all neatly sorted in the vertical stacking file that sits at the end of my desktop.

Good ergonomics are essential when you arrange your desk and seating. You should be able to sit comfortably in your chair, with your feet flat on the floor. Your arms should be level and your shoulders relaxed when you type at the keyboard. The top of the monitor needs to be at or just below eye-level. Problems such as eye strain and carpel tunnel syndrome are often the result of poorly-designed workstations.

Lighting. I am a great proponent of working in natural light during the daytime. It saves energy and is less of a strain on the eyes. However, that may not be possible if your work area is located in a closet, basement, or fully enclosed space. If you have to work in a windowless room, invest in a good adjustable desktop lamp that will allow you to focus the light where you want it. It is also important to realize that dark, enclosed spaces can sometimes feel confining or depressing. If this is a problem for you, consider a special light designed for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). These lights mimic the spectrum of natural sunlight.

Storage/Organization. There is nothing worse than running out of writing supplies during the middle of the project. Since I work in a home office, I have converted the closet into a supply closet by removing the clothes bar and installing stacked modular shelves. I keep my closet stocked with such things as printer paper, ink cartridges, paper clips, manila folders, mailing labels, envelopes of different sizes, pencils, staples, and hanging file folders. In addition, there are a few other essential tools I use to stay organized, including:

Bookshelves. One can never have enough of these. My office walls are lined with bookshelves. The largest set of shelves holds all of my research books for my novel, books on the craft and mechanics of writing, copies of my published works, and published work by friends and colleagues. My two smaller shelves contain books I’ve read recently or personal favorites. I also have a small lectern on the top of one shelf that supports a full-size Webster’s dictionary.

File Cabinets. I prefer lateral file cabinets because they add surface area for extra storage or work space. My files contain copies of important correspondence, notes for my writing classes, hard copies of all final drafts, and drafts/notes of pending writing projects.

Time Management. Wasted time is the thief of productivity. I use something called the FranklinCovey Planner—a daily/weekly/monthly planning calendar—to help me stay on task. For five minutes every morning, I sit down for a period I call “Planning and Solitude,” and organize my day with a priority to-do list. A writer friend of mine showed me this program a few years ago, and it has become an essential organizational tool for my life. Whether you use an electronic or a paper calendar, take some time every day to plan your activities. And if writing is important to you, it should be near the top of your priority list.

Environment. Your writing environment consists of more than your desk and computer; it’s also the space you work in. That space should be inspirational, comfortable, and pleasing to the eye. My walls are decorated with my mother’s paintings, family photos, and other favorite artwork. The top of one bookshelf holds a small collection of art glass paperweights—all gifts from friends and family. When I feel discouraged, these things remind me that my life is more than words on a page. And my inspiration returns. There is one more important piece of furniture in my writing space: a small couch—the perfect place for a brainstorming nap with a purring kitty on my lap!

May your writing space inspire you to create great work!

Some helpful links:

Seasonal Affective Disorder and Light Therapy

Office Ergonomics

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

Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better as a writer and a person.

I know that sometimes I need to step away from my writing to fill my artistic cup.

I am most calm when deeply into the writing process.

I read authors I love and admire to inspire me when I’m stuck or down.

I know my first draft will improve as I continue to polish it.

Guest Column

My Advice to Young Artists: A Few Words of "Wisdom" From a Guy Who's Still Trying
By Julian Gallo

I've been at this a long time. Be it music, writing or painting, I've been running around trying to make my way for more than 25 years now. In 25 years, I've seen a lot and learned an awful lot. When dealing with people over the years, you become well educated in how things work but there is always more to learn. No one knows everything and I don't claim to. But in my travels over all the years, I think I know enough to give some advice to those who are still young and hungry and looking to make their mark in some way. It also depends on how to choose to achieve what you want and what circles you run around in. For me, it's always been the so-called "underground" or "alternative" route (something that's out there still but for the most part disappeared under the increasing weight of the corporate behemoth). I've seen Punk Rock, say, become a viable, true alternative to becoming something you can buy at the mall. A lot of people from my generation (those of us born in the 1960s and 1970s) go from being true pioneers to become corporate stooges selling out all the great music for car commercials and other products (just like the generation before ours, the Baby Boomers, who now use their great music to sell arthritis and "Erectile Dysfunction" pills and retirement plans).

Maybe I am still just a bit idealistic when it comes to all this but as the years go on and the older I get it's hard not to get a little cynical at times. But I still believe it's possible without needing the Corporate God to tap you on the shoulder. With the advent of the Internet and with the increasing number of social networking websites and YouTube-like video sites, the potential is there for a revolution in the arts, that is, if people are willing to bring it on. Sometimes it seems promising, other times it seems to be falling into the trap of wanting fame and celebrity, with people doing anything and everything for their now infamous "15 Minutes.” If that's what you want, the more power to you. For those of us who seek something a bit more, something that may actually touch someone in some way, it's still a long hard road to follow, especially in contemporary America.

I'm the first to admit that I still have a long way to go in reaching my personal goals but I have managed to achieve something over the years, even though that achievement hasn't allowed me to quit my day job just yet. Nevertheless, I am proud of some of it but I'm still not "there" yet, "there" not meaning "fame" or "celebrity" but in the sense that I can one day make my living doing what I love to do, rather than have to juggle it as well as a day job to try to keep a roof over my head in the ever increasing impossibility of trying to maintain a normal existence in New York City.

So with all that said, here is my advice to young artists. Remember, I don't know any more than anyone else and am still learning myself but what I have learned may be useful to some people out there:

1. First and foremost be true to your vision. Don't worry about what is popular. Don't worry about what is currently "cool" or "hip" because these are merely trends and trends die fast and something else always comes along. Never create anything because you think that's what people want to see or hear. Follow your own path and allow people to come to you.

2. Utilize social networking sites such as MySpace or Facebook, etc. to try to get your work out there. Cast the widest net possible. There are literally tens of thousands if not millions of others who are actively pursuing the same goals as you. But don't put too much weight in "networking.” Sure, there will be some people who will respond and be interested in sharing ideas, goals etc, but for the most part, people are only out for themselves and looking to satisfy their own egos. The fact of the matter is a good number of people really don't care what you're doing. They want you to know what they are doing and you will meet a lot of people along the way whose only concern is themselves, no matter how much they say they are interested in you. There are many people who say they are in it for "art's sake" and to "make connections" but much of this is pure bull. Reach out but don't expect much in return. Maybe 4 or 5 out of 20 will actually give a shit about what you're doing. But each small number you reach eventually builds and sometimes it only takes a few dedicated, serious minded people who are really interested in other's work as well as their own to start moving along the road you're taking. And those who do respond in kind are usually those who are truly talented people who actually "get it."

3. Read everything you can. Keep your eyes and ears open to everything. Be observant. Don't fall into the trap of clinging to an ideology, social movement or cultural trend. It stifles growth and limits your potential.

4. Travel. Go to places you’ve never been before and really observe how different people live. Talk to people and listen to what they have to say. It is very educational. It is imperative that you realize that you do not exist at the center of the universe. However cool your city or neighborhood is, remember it's a huge world out there and your city or neighborhood is only a very small sliver of it.

5. Don't limit yourself to one particular thing. If you're an artist, see it all. If you're a musician, listen to it all. If you're a writer, read it all. Or at the very least keep your mind open to it all. You won't like everything but you still may get an idea from something that you don't like. Ideas can come from everywhere and nothing should be off the table. Remember, there are no rules.

6. Never worry about criticism. The fact of the matter is that there are always people out there looking to tear everyone and everything down. Beware of these people. Also beware of people who like everything and never criticize anything. They are equally inept and phony. People are people and people will like some things and dislike other things. No one hates everything and no one loves everything. If you happen to be the one that a person does not like, don't sweat it or take it personally. Remember, there are no experts out there. It's all subjective. One person's opinion (or one critic's or mogul's opinion) does not mean anything in the grand scheme of things. All it means is that this one person just didn't dig what you are doing. Remember there is a world of 6 billion and one opinion really doesn't mean much. It is always nice when people appreciate what you do but it's easy to take things too personally. It's also too easy to cling to a certain artistic circle and think that what they say is law. It doesn't mean anything. Take the criticism and the praise to heart to the extent that you find something useful in it. Otherwise it's all just noise.

7. Do not become involved with creative circles to the extent that you "belong" to a movement of some kind. You will find no room to grow and eventually everyone begins to snipe at one another anyway. Egos are rampant in this pursuit. Try to stay as independent as you can. I know it seems romantic when one reads about artistic movements and all but eventually they're all out for themselves and begin to divide and conquer. Nothing can be more damaging to the creative mind than this. Eventually it all becomes self-serving and the art becomes nothing more than personal letters to one another. Move beyond this.

8. Remember there are always going to be people out there who are better than you are. There are also going to be a lot of people who are not. Do not get into a useless competition with either one of them since there are always people better than they are and worse than they are. Belittling someone to make yourself feel better does nothing but alert everyone around you that you are deeply insecure about yourself and what you are doing. Realistically, in the end, no one really cares and it takes the focus away from what you are supposed to be doing. No one likes arrogant egomaniacs who think they are better and "hipper" than everyone else. There are a lot of people in this world who are very talented and have very interesting ideas. You are not and never will be "the greatest.” There is no such thing.

9. Don't feel obligated to always "be there" for those you admire and support. You have a life too. Just because you don't attend every show, every gallery opening doesn't mean you're insincere. And don't feel slighted if the same thing happens to you. But you will know who is sincere and who isn't by virtue of how they talk to you about your work. You will be able to tell if someone is just blowing smoke and you can also easily tell when others say they want to "hook you up" but don't really mean it. As I said before, there are a lot of people out there who only care about themselves and could care less about what others are doing. So don't fall into the trap of always being there for them when they are never ever there for you. Actions always speak louder than words.

10. And lastly and most importantly, believe in yourself. If you don't believe in yourself, no one else is going to either.
Copyright © 2008 Julian Gallo

Julian Gallo is a New York City musician/writer/painter who has poems and short stories published in about 40 magazines and journals throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. He has published two books of poetry ("Window Shopping For A New Crown Of Thorns" and "My Arrival Is Marked By Illuminating Stains”) and one novel ("November Rust”). He also has articles written for and BrooWaha New York Edition. He is currently playing bass & guitar for New York singer/songwriter Linda La Porte and working on several writing projects, including his second novel.

For more information on Mr. Gallo, go to:

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• Deal effectively with rejection, blocks, fear, procrastination, and other obstacles

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Mike’s Writing Workshop Named to the
2008 List of Writer’s Digest’s 101 Best Websites for Writers!

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Slice of the Writing Life

Ernest Hemingway’s Speech to Accept the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954
(With Hemingway too ill to attend the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm, December 10, 1954, United States Ambassador John C. Cabot read the speech.)

Having no facility for speechmaking and no command of oratory nor any domination of rhetoric, I wish to thank the administrators of the generosity of Alfred Nobel for this Prize.

No writer who knows the great writers who did not receive the Prize can accept it other than with humility. There is no need to list these writers. Everyone here may make his own list according to his knowledge and his conscience.

It would be impossible for me to ask the Ambassador of my country to read a speech in which a writer said all of the things which are in his heart. Things may not be immediately discernible in what a man writes, and in this sometimes he is fortunate; but eventually they are quite clear and by these and the degree of alchemy that he possesses he will endure or be forgotten.

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer's loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.

For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.

How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him.

I have spoken too long for a writer. A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it. Again I thank you.


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On Being a Writer
Edited by Bill Strickland
An extraordinary compilation of interviews with all genres of great writers, most notably William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Nikki Giovanni, Truman Capote, Allen Ginsberg, Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, Raymond Carver, and Rod Serling. Structured in an easy-to-read format, this book is one you won’t be able to put down. Great bathroom reading!

The Paris Review Interviews: Writers at Work
Edited by George Plimpton
The greatest series of interviews with writers ever done! Includes nearly every great writer of the 20th century—and from all over the world! James Joyce, John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac, John Dos Passos, Anthony Burgess, John Updike, Hemingway, Faulkner, Norman Mailer, T.S. Eliot, Henry Miller, James Thurber, E.M Foster, to name just a tiny sliver. A must-read for any literary writer.

The New New Journalism: Conversations with America’s Best Nonfiction Writers on their Craft
By Robert S. Boynton
Exactly as the title says. Includes great interviews with current creative nonfiction giants such as Gay Talese, Jon Krakauer, Calvin Trillin, Ron Rosenbaum, Richard Ben Cramer, Susan Orlean, and Michael Lewis.

The Practical Cogitator or The Thinker’s Anthology
Selected and edited by Charles P. Curtis Jr. and Ferris Greenslet
An obscure gem of a book. With chapters such as “What is Truth?” and “The Technique of Thought” and “The Power and Spirit of Man,” this’ll spark your imagination out of the box and into a seemingly endless flow of writing ideas. Plus, packed with the thinking of some of greatest minds in the history of mankind, this book will make you feel like a genius after finishing it.

The Describer’s Dictionary: A Treasury of Terms & Literary Quotations for Readers & Writers
By David Grambs
Will instantly unlock your mind when you’re stuck for how to describe something.

Publishing to the Power of Dee

Are Readers Important to Authors?
By Dee Power

Bestselling authors speak of their fans in almost reverential tones, as well they should. A loyal readership that comes back for more, book after book, is the real key to long-term publishing success. Savvy authors work diligently to produce great work that will continue to please their audience, but many of them also communicate directly to their fans. Author’s Web sites are all the rage, some of them quite elaborately produced.

Fauzia Burke is the founder and President of FSB Associates, Her company specializes in publicity utilizing the Internet and author Web sites. We asked Fauzia: What is the most unusual publicity program you've developed? “We’re proud of our ability to harness all the power of the Web in the service of authors and their books, and we’re especially committed to making the online presence fit the project. Here are some examples:

“Our site for Doug Stanton’s In Harm’s Way goes beyond words and pictures to include audio interviews with survivors of the 1945 sinking of the USS Indianapolis, video clips of the actual rescue at sea, and a discussion board. Our campaign introduced the book to many audiences, from World War II vets and history buffs, to college and high school students.

“For Christopher Rice’s supernatural thriller A Density Of Souls, we used animation and graphics to create an online gathering place that echoes the eerie atmosphere of the book, and added exclusive material like a virtual yearbook from the New Orleans high school of the story, and back-story on the characters. We even helped promote Chris's appearance on MTV's Real World.

“We used cutting-edge animated maps in our site for Rick Atkinson’s Pulitzer Prize winner An Army At Dawn, to illustrate critical points in the Allied assault on German-held North Africa in 1942-43. Animation helps bring alive our site for Tony Horwitz’s Blue Latitudes, combining a sea chart that traces the voyages of Captain Cook with excerpts from corresponding passages in the book.

“But we don’t use bells and whistles for their own sake. Our site for Mitch Albom’s novel The Five People You Meet In Heaven called for a simpler approach that lets the warm story and the wonderful writing take center stage. Because this is the kind of book people love to share, there’s an e-postcard that fans can send to their friends. There are teaching guides, and reading group materials, and a Q&A with Mitch. And for the Spanish edition of the book, we’ve created a Spanish-language site that will help broaden the audience even more.

“For all these books, we also waged word-of-mouth campaigns designed to attract attention, site traffic and media coverage. In the end, these coordinated efforts produced the most satisfying of all results – sales.”

Quite a few author Web sites are just storefronts whose major purpose is to sell books. Others have a much more intimate feel, inviting visitors to: “Come on in and meet me. Stay and chat.” With all the other pressures on their time, why do bestselling authors go to the trouble of answering fan e-mail, or posting responses to message boards on their Web sites, and continually upgrading them with information about their new project or where they will be appearing?

Nicholas Sparks,, whose first book, The Notebook, set a new standard for romance, answers the question: You interact with your fans more that many authors do. Your Web site is particularly interactive, with message boards and an e-mail address for fans to reach you. Why did you take this approach? “People have so many questions about my novels or want to know about me, and there's a lot of misinformation out there. I wanted to have the correct answers put up where readers could easily access them. The Web site is a way to make sure the truth is getting out there. For instance, the question, where did I get the idea for The Notebook? If I say it was inspired by my wife's grandparents, this is very much the truth, but not much information. Readers want to know more: How was it inspired? In what way? How did that whole thought process work? So I explained the whole situation so the readers understand.”

Does that interaction encourage the word of mouth buzz about your books? “Maybe a little. But not everyone cares about what an author's life is like. They just want to read a good book.”

Anna Jacobs,, has written 29 novels, mostly historical sagas and romances. She resides in Australia, her primary publisher is in the United Kingdom and her books are sold worldwide including the United States.

We asked Anna: Romance authors seem to have a more personal relationship with their fans, interacting with them on Web sites, message boards, Internet chats, book readings. Why is that? What does an author learn from this interaction that assists her with her work? “I'm not sure it's just romance authors. I think it's a woman's approach. I happen to believe that if you put something back into the universe it will bring good karma. Or as my daughter puts it: What goes around, comes around. But I also keep in touch with readers because if you can 'attach' readers as well as writing good books (the latter is the prime pre-requisite) they go out and talk about your books to others.
“I learn a lot from readers' emails about what has particularly pleased them. That doesn't hurt. Also writing is a very solitary activity, so it's nice to be in touch with others. And we all need feedback and praise. I'm as human as any other. I love to hear that someone has enjoyed my books. It's much more fun than sales figures.”

Susan Elizabeth Phillips,, is the only five-time winner of the Romance Writers of America Favorite Book of the Year Award; inducted into the Romance Writers Hall of Fame, 2001— pioneered, and some say, perfected the “romantic comedy” school of fiction. Writes with a touch of humor. We asked Susan: You seem to interact quite a bit with your readers through your Web site. You even mentioned there were several categories of fans you have, those who enjoy the humor in your books and those who are more attuned to what happens to the characters. How does the fan interaction shape your writing? “I love my readers, but I do my best not to let their comments shape my writing in any way. About ten years ago, the light finally went off in my brain and I truly understood that every book I wrote would be somebody's favorite and somebody’s least favorite, that everybody in the world (gasp) wasn't going to like my books. This was intensely liberating. It told me that to do my best work I concentrate only on pleasing myself. Truly the biggest ‘Aha Moment’ of my career.”

It’s not only romance authors that have their own Web site, Stuart Woods,, writes hard hitting mysteries and has been on the New York Times Bestseller list many times.

Stuart answers the question: You are one of the bestselling authors who regularly correspond with readers via e-mail, why? “It gives me a direct kind of feedback. I get a sense that what I’m doing is the right thing to do. I’ve never made any changes in what I do because of what I’ve heard from readers. The vast preponderance of people love the books and write to tell me so.”

And it’s not just the household name authors who value their readers.

Lydia Joyce’s,, book, “The Veil of Night,” is an intense, sensual remaking of the Gothic genre, with a mysterious Duke, a crumbling manor, and an older heroine with her own secrets to hide.

Lydia told us: “To be absolutely crass, if I didn't have fans, I couldn't make money. And if I couldn't make money, writing would be a hobby, not a job!

“But fans are important to me for far more than financial reasons. My desire to become a writer started with the ghost stories I used to tell around Girl Scouts campfires. I loved how I could affect other people, how I could thrill them, excite them, and make them care about the people in my tales. The pleasure that other people get from my storytelling is a major motivator for me. If it weren't for that, I could be perfectly happy to leave my stories in my head where they started.”

Lynne Connolly is the author of the Richard and Rose series of books, romantic suspense novels set in the mid eighteenth century. Her book, "Harley Street,” pits the new Lord and Lady Strang against their deadly enemies, Julia and Steven Drury in a tale of old transgressions come to test new found love.

We asked Lynne: Why are your fans important to you as an author? “They validate my work, tell me that I'm on the right track. Fans aren't unthinking admirers, and can often give you information you never had before. Their encouragement keeps me going, and presenting my work to publishers and agents with confidence. Economically, they buy the books, making it possible for me to write more and for my publisher to continue having confidence in me. I sit at home all day on my own with a keyboard for company. Fans connect me, help me to keep on target. And a fan is a reader. They complete the link, the communication between writer and reader.

Marjorie Jones,, who authored “The Jewel and the Sword,” tells us fans are important to her because “For me, fans are the end-all-be-all of the writing experience. Finishing a book is a terrific feeling. Selling that book to a publisher is an amazing feeling. Having that book accepted by the reading public is better than both! Why are they important? Because without them, my stories would float indefinitely inside the walls of my hard-drive. No purpose. No reason for being. Fans give the stories life.

Take a few minutes and find out a little bit more about your favorite author. If you really enjoyed their last book, let them know. They would like to hear from you.

Newsletter contributing columnist Dee Power is the co-author with Brian Hill of The Making of a Bestseller: Success Stories From Authors and the Editors, Agents and Booksellers Behind Them and the novel Over Time.

The Language

Don’t let these commonly misused/misspelled words and phrases trip you up (Part 8)
By Mark Terence Chapman

Continuing my series of articles, here are some more words, phrases and forms of punctuation 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?

Five times smaller vs. one-fifth as large
Wrong: Our R&D budget this year is five times smaller than it was a decade ago.
Right: Our R&D budget this year is a fifth of what it was a decade ago.

While a budget can increase by five times (500% of $1,000 is $5,000), the converse is not true. A budget can’t shrink by 500% because a reduction of 100% takes the budget to zero. (If you lose 100% of your money, you’re broke, right?) On the other hand, reducing it to one-fifth, means an 80% reduction, to 20% of what it used to be.

Five times larger vs. five time as large
Right: Our R&D budget this year is five times larger than it was a decade ago.
Right: Our R&D budget this year is five times as large as it was a decade ago.

There is a fine, but critical, distinction here. Five times as large means $1,000 has grown to $5,000. However, five times larger means the budget has grown by an additional five times—in other words, another $5,000 on top of the original $1,000, or $6,000.

Wrong: I almost like vanilla as much as I like chocolate.
Right: I like vanilla almost as much as I like chocolate.

So you “almost like vanilla?” Almost is similar to only in the sense that the meaning of the entire sentence can change depending upon where in the sentence you use it. For best results, put almost (and only) as close as possible to the object you are modifying.

Suprise vs. surprize vs. surprise
Wrong: Well, that was a suprise!
Wrong: Well, that was a surprize!
Right: Well, that was a surprise!

I’m surprised at how often I see this simple word misspelled. Any decent spell-checker should flag (or correct) it, but keep your eyes open for any occurrences that get missed in emails or in handwritten communications.

Blond vs. blonde
Wrong: He’s a tall, good-looking blonde.
Right: He’s a tall, good-looking blond.

A blonde-haired woman is a blonde, while a blond-haired man is a blond. (Some grammarians suggest that blond should be used for both genders, but blonde is still most often used for women.)

Fish vs. fishes
Right: There are many fish in the sea.
Right: There are many kinds of fish in the sea.
Right: There are many fishes in the sea.

While fish (plural) can refer to multiple piscine creatures, fishes specifically means multiple species of fish. A fishing boat may catch tons of the same kind of fish, while a marine biologist may collect a number of different fishes.

Very unique
Wrong: This is a very unique example of Etruscan pottery.
Right: This is a unique example of Etruscan pottery.

Unique means one-of-a-kind. Something either is or isn’t unique. It can’t be slightly or moderately or very unique. In this case, “very” is redundant. It’s akin to “gilding the golden lily.”

Anyways vs. anyway
Wrong: Anyways, that’s what we’re doing.
Right: Anyway, that’s what we’re doing.

Anyways is simply improper English, along with “youse guys” and “alls I know.” Always use anyway (unless, of course, you’re writing dialog for a character who’s supposed to speak incorrectly).

Momento vs. memento
Wrong: Let’s get a momento of our trip.
Right: Let’s get a memento of our trip.

Momento is simply a misspelling (and mispronunciation) of memento. A memento is a keepsake, reminder, or souvenir. Think of memento as being short for “memorable moment.”

Lightening vs. lightning
Wrong: Did you hear about lightening striking the church steeple?
Right: Did you hear about lightning striking the church steeple?

Lightening refers to the process of something becoming lighter (lightening a load, or lightening a shade of paint, for example). Lightning, on the other hand, is an electrostatic discharge between two clouds or between a cloud and the ground.

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: or his blog at:

Writer Beware

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:


A good writer writes; a great writer reads and writes!

On the Writing Business

Organize Your Nonfiction Book in 10 Easy Steps
By Patricia L. Fry

There are probably more people in the world who DON’T write that book that’s rattling around inside them than who do. Why? They simply don’t know how to begin.

Are you overwhelmed by the idea of putting your story down on paper? Here’s a guide to help you actually write that book:

Come up with a good idea. Make the topic of your book something that you know and find extremely interesting. You should have a passion for your subject because it’s going to be a part of your life for as long as you have books to sell and for as long as your books are selling.

I recently asked a first-time author how his book was doing. He grimaced and said, “I’m afraid I’m kind of burned out on that book.” After three years spent writing and rewriting his book and another year trying to market it, he had lost interest. And part of the reason was that he chose a subject based on what he thought would sell and not something that excited him.

Identify your audience. Who are you writing for? Avoid focusing so narrowly that you eliminate readers and so widely that the book can’t be pigeonholed. When I decided to write a book on book marketing, for example, I could have limited it to just true crime books or just poetry books and my audience would have diminished considerably. If, on the other hand, I chose to write about marketing in general without focusing on a specific commodity, I’ve lost touch with who my audience is and marketing it becomes extremely complicated.

Gather material and contact experts. The research process will serve two purposes: You’ll discover whether you can locate enough information to justify writing an entire book and you’ll have a jumpstart on compiling your book. You’ll also get some ideas about the best way to present this material—which books and articles grab and hold your attention?

Get organized. Store research material and contact information in file folders according to topic or possible chapters. I spent five years conducting research for my 360-page local history book. When the volume of material began to overtake my office, I established one large file drawer for the book. I labeled file folders according to topic (pioneer families, early businesses, annual events, law and order, first church, etc.). When it came time to write the book, my chapters practically fell into place.

Discipline yourself to write the book. Procrastination has halted or delayed many a great book from ever being read. If you have a life, it isn’t easy to add an activity as intense and time-consuming as writing a book. If this is your dream, however, be prepared to make some sacrifices.

I once wrote an entire book in eight months while working full-time. I’d get up at four o’clock every morning and write for two hours before work. I know young mothers who write after their children go to bed at night.

Develop a book proposal. This is a big job, but it’s not wasted motion. A book proposal will reveal whether or not you actually have a book. Can you describe your book adequately in one or two paragraphs? Can you create a detailed chapter outline? Have you thought about how this book will be marketed? What is the scope of competition for this book? Whether you plan to self-publish or locate a traditional publisher, the process of writing a book proposal should be your first step in writing the book.

Write the book. By now you’ve established a writing routine and you have an outline and sample chapters. While a book always needs a beginning, middle and end, you don’t necessarily have to start writing at the beginning. Start wherever it’s comfortable and just let your words flow. Go back and make corrections and adjustments later. And don’t be concerned if it takes you a few hours and several pages before you’ve written something that you actually like. Just keep writing and the magic will happen.

If you need a jumpstart, study books like the one you want to write. Hire a writer to help you establish the skills and tools necessary to complete your project.

Edit, edit, edit and then hire someone to edit some more. Even professional, well-read authors need fresh eyes to view their work before it’s ready for the public.

Create a marketing plan. Even before starting the book, you should be thinking about marketing it. This is true whether you decide to self-publish, go with a fee-based, POD publishing service or locate a traditional publisher.

Secondly, know what you’re getting into. Marketing a book is intense work that demands several years of your time. Review books specific to book marketing before committing pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

Most new authors expect to see their wonderful book jumping off of the shelves in mega-bookstores nationwide. The sad truth is that bookstores aren’t necessarily the best place to sell your books. Marketing a book these days takes study and creativity.

Decide whether to self publish or find a traditional publisher. Be informed before making this decision. Read Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual or my book, The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book. Talk to other authors. Many authors today are having just a few copies of their books printed by a Print-On-Demand (POD) company to see how well they are accepted before going out on a limb ordering thousands of copies they can’t sell.

I know an elderly former school teacher and world traveler who wrote a 500-plus page autobiography just to leave a printed legacy for her loved ones. She had 100 copies printed at a local POD company and gave them all away to friends and family.

As you can see, there’s more to becoming a published author than just writing your story. Follow these steps and you, too, will live your dream.

Contributing newsletter columnist Patricia Fry is the author of 28 nonfiction books, including, “The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book,” “Over 75 Good Ideas for Marketing Your Book,” “How to Write a Successful Book Proposal in 8 Days or Less,” and “The Author’s Repair Kit.” She is also the president of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network,

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 can be an adventure!

Writing Quotes of the Month

“Day by day, you have to give the work before you all the best stuff you have, not saving up for later projects, If you give freely, there will always be more.”—Anne Lamott

“Ideas are easy. It's the execution of ideas that really separates the sheep from the goats. I read newspapers, textbooks on crime. I talk to private investigators, police officers, jail administrators, doctors, lawyers, career criminals. Ideas are everywhere.”—Sue Grafton

“Unless a writer lives with a periodic delusion of his greatness, he will not continue writing. He must believe, against all reason and evidence, that the public will experience a catastrophic loss if he does not complete his novel. The public is just clamoring to give him his fame.”—Leonard Bishop

“The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.”— Tom Clancy

“I write at eighty-five for the same reasons that impelled me to write at forty-five; I was born with a passionate desire to communicate, to organize experience, to tell tales that dramatize the adventures which readers might have had. I have been that ancient man who sat by the campfire at night and regaled the hunters with imaginative recitations about their prowess. The job of an apple tree is to bear apples. The job of a storyteller is tell stories, and I have concentrated on that obligation.”—James A. Michener

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection.”—Anais Nin

“Every secret of a writer's soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.”—Virginia Woolf

“[The artist] speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives; to our sense of pity, and beauty, and pain; to the latent feeling of fellowship with all creation - and to the subtle but invincible conviction of solidarity in dreams, in joy, in sorrow, in aspirations, in illusions, in hope, in fear...which binds together all humanity - the dead to the living and the living to the unborn.”—Joseph Conrad

“Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.”—Carl Sandburg

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthwhile cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worse, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”—President Theodore Roosevelt

A Bevy of Writing Knowledge

Slaying the Interruption Imp
By Bev Walton-Porter

It's taken years for me to realize there is an inexplicable, but very true element to writing. And worse yet, it's one none of us can fully control; it's called interruptions.

I'm convinced that there is an imp lurking around somewhere out there—and he's quite invisible—whose job it is to torture writers with interruptions and petty annoyances when what we need the most is uninterrupted writing time.

Time to ourselves, that's what most writers need. Time and space and, heaven forbid, some semblance of silence so we can think our way through a tough query letter or peacefully polish our book proposals.

Unfortunately, if you're a woman writer, and one with children, the chips are stacked against you even more. Not only do you have a chief Writing Interruption Imp assigned to you, but when you have children, you're also assigned a smaller deputy imp for each one of your children. You get a double, triple, or even a quadruple whammy. These imps serve one sole purpose: their mission is to keep you from writing at any cost.

Am I being frivolous? Of course I am. But only to make a point. So loosen up, it's casual here. Am I suggesting that you overlook your children's basic physical or psychological needs? Of course not. What I'm saying is that there is a distinction between, "Mom, I'm having trouble fixing my bike and wondered if you can help" and, "Mom, I was just watching a strange music video and now I'm wondering: how much does a human eyeball weigh?" Lest you think the eyeball question is in jest, a friend of mine was actually asked that question by her son!

Yes, you should spend quality time with your children. Yes, you should assist them with homework. Yes, you should drive them to soccer practice and scout meetings. Yes, you know all the quality things you should do with your children. But you also know there are times when you must draw the boundary and make it known that you are working. This is especially important if you're freelancing as a business.

For example, I have a standing rule that my children’s friends may not come over to play until after 5 p.m. on weekdays. Why? Because from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., I am in my office working. Or ruminating on a project. Or interviewing for an article. Or any other number of work-related things.

My reasoning is this: when I worked outside the home, I worked until 5 p.m. and no visitors were allowed at my home until AFTER I was home, usually around 5:15 p.m. In other words, my "job" at home is treated in much the same way as my "job" outside the home was treated. In addition, this hour and 15 minutes after the kids get off the bus is prime time for them to do their homework, anyway. We're all "working." If they have no homework, they begin their daily chores.

Next, let's talk a bit about the husband and wife interruptions. Unless you're fortunate to be married to another writer, you know what I'm talking about: chronicus interruptus. You know, your husband dashes into the room and cries, "Babe, come here and look! The Muskatewl Mice just scored a touchdown!" or perhaps your wife saunters into your writing room and purrs, "Look, honey, I got this terrific designer cologne for 50 percent off. Doesn't it smell like heaven?"

Okay, okay, this could be sexist. Maybe your wife bursts into the room after an excellent sports play or perhaps your husband just purchased a fabulous men’s-only facial cleanser - who knows? But you get the idea.

I used to think I only had two children, but I was wrong: I used to have three children. Only the third one was 6'5" and loved the Denver Broncos more than a triple-decker burger with fries on the side (my husband was blessed with an excellent metabolism and a lean physique, so he could still eat burgers while the rest of us picked at iceberg lettuce and cursed the gods of cuisine!).

So what to do? Non-writer spouses can become mighty jealous and pouty when they find themselves competing with a word processor sometimes. If you can, try to involve them in the process. Use your spouse to bounce article ideas off of (not literally -- paper fighting can cause nasty paper cuts!) or enlist them in helping you research for your project. Sometimes this will work and sometimes it won't. Just get a feel for your spouse's enthusiasm and wanna-be-involved factor and go from there. Above all, if you have a don't-wanna-be-involved spouse, then don't bore him or her with hours of writer talk. Save that for your writing buddies.

The only way I can describe how I dealt with my spouse in this regard is simple intuition. Some nights he was so dog-tired that he just wanted to go to bed and not be bothered. That was my cue to work a little extra when I could. However, there were some nights when I could tell when marital attention was wanted -- even if it was watching a television show together or even going against him in a video game shootout. These things still matter in a marriage, and that's when I hung up my golden pen until the next day.

Watch for cues and clues, and then act accordingly. The key is to be tuned in enough so that you're aware of how extra writing time can fit comfortably and unobtrusively into your relationship. There is extra writing time to be mined; you just have to watch for clues to finding that treasure.

Keep this in mind: just as you give quality time and attention to other members in your family, so should you reward yourself with some quality/quiet time as well. Contrary to what you may have been told, this is not selfish. As I've said before, in order to dip into your well, you must first fill it. That pertains to writing as well as everyday life. And often, if you freelance, those two elements: writing and life co-exist together in some fashion.

But what about non-family interruptions? The neighbors, ex-coworkers, stay-at-home-but-have-nothing-else-to-do friends, telephone solicitors, door-to-door salespeople and others?

Well, the name of the game is a combination of utmost tact, containment and, if everything else fails, outright avoidance. Remember Pavlov's dogs? You too can train chronic interrupters.

Your approach depends on the circumstances and who's doing the interrupting. Your goal: don't alienate friends or relatives if at all possible, but remain tactful and firm. As for salespeople and telephone solicitors? Be firm and mean business. Finally, there's what I like to call, the sympathy approach. It's rock-bottom, lay-it-on-the-line truth and most people can empathize, if not sympathize, with your pleas.

Contain Your Interruptions As Much As Possible

Some things in life you can't control. Other things you can't control, but you can contain them to a degree. How can you control interruptions, you ask? Well, it's really a matter of containing interruptions and keeping them to a low roar as often as possible.

Obviously you cannot control when other people pick up the phone to call you or decide to drop by unannounced, but there are preventive steps you can take beforehand to let everyone know you mean business about your writing time.

Get a Caller I.D. or an answering machine and monitor phone calls during your writing time. I've learned that, chances are, if the Caller I.D. reads, "Unavailable," that means the phone call is from out of state and is more than likely some company trying to sell me something or trying to ask for donations. I never answer these calls during writing time. Never.

Realize that just because you have a phone and it's ringing, that doesn't mean you have to answer it! If you have already made it clear that 10 a.m. - 12 noon is your "do not disturb" time and have politely requested no phone calls, then let the answering machine pick up on the calls.

Here's how to determine the telephone's pick-up rating, from one to ten, with one being most important. "Bob, your house is burning!" warrants a pick-up of the phone and rates a one. "Jill, you'll never guess who I saw at the mall this morning!" does not rate a pick-up, and falls squarely at a ten rating. Okay, maybe an eight, depending on who Jill knows. Seriously though, gossip and chit chat can wait. Eventually your well-meaning, but gabby, neighbor or friend will figure out that you are firm in your resolve not to be disturbed during your writing time.

To drive the point home, draw an analogy between your writing time and, say, your neighbor's morning Yoga lessons. You wouldn't interrupt her in the middle of a Yoga class with idle chit chat or gossip, would you? Of course not. That is her time to connect with her body and mind. Call it the Omm factor, if you will. Writing is also your time to connect with your mind and your psyche. Ask for the same respect you give others in regard to their life passions.

Post a "Please Do Not Disturb" sign on your front door during the day. Let relatives and close friends know that you will be unavailable during this time.

Post a "No Soliciting" sign on your door, as well. Although some harebrained salespeople (and that does not mean all salespeople are harebrained, so don't take offense if you've been a salesperson!) simply choose to ignore the sign or, perhaps, just pretend they can't read it, most door-to-door salespeople know you won't win a person over if you knock on the door anyway and disregard the homeowner's expressed wishes.

If you've had tough deadlines for a week or two and have eschewed most outside human contact during that time, make a point to go to lunch or some other kind of purely social outing with a friend or two the following week. This will not only reconnect you with your friends, it will give you some much-needed fun time.
This also serves another purpose: it sends a message to your friends that, although you're not always accessible, you are making an effort to make regular dates with them for purely social outings. This reconfirms the message of the work/play trade-off freelancers often have to make.

If you happen to get stuck with a telephone solicitor (for whatever reason), stop the spiel right then and there. Tell them firmly that you are not interested and you specifically want to be taken off their calling list. In some states, violation of this request by a company can cost them money per each offense if they call you after you've made this formal request. Check your state laws to see if similar rules apply. Telemarketers don't rule your telephone; you do.

If you have school-age children, schedule your telephone interviews during the time when they're in school. There is nothing worse than having a six-year-old interrupt when you're interviewing a professional source. It makes you look unprofessional and makes your source ill at ease.

If you can't get the interview until later that evening, plan for your spouse or a friend (or grandparents) to watch your kids for a little while so you can have the interview go as smoothly as possible.

Perhaps it's true that the Writing Interruption Imp has a bag full of tricks to use for interrupting your writing time, but you don't have to fall prey to all of them. Be steadfast, be firm and be confident in your resolve to stand up for your freelancing "writes."
Above all, don't allow yourself to feel guilty for demanding time for your chosen profession. Just because you write from home doesn't make it any less of a profession than your white-collar friends. You wouldn't interrupt them in the middle of a banking transaction or client interview, so why shouldn't you ask for, and receive the same respect?

Often, writers have to gently "train" non-writers. We have to show them that this is not just a simple hobby of ours. We also have to stress that our writing time is an important, vital part of our lives just as they, too, have important elements to their own lives.
Perhaps they don't look at us as "real" writers unless we have books on the shelves. We have to educate them in the knowledge that writers come in all flavors: freelancers, scriptwriters, playwrights, technical writers, copywriters and more.

Writers don't just write books, and book writers aren't the only "true" type of writer. A real writer is simply a person who writes ...whether book, article, play, script, advertisement or business proposal.

A writer writes, and all writers deserve respect. We have one of the most difficult jobs in this world, and the last thing we need is to be taken for granted by anyone. What we do is important. What we do matters. After all ... what kind of world would it be without writers? Think about it!

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, 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:

Writing Promptly

Write about…

the sexiest person you know.

your favorite room in the house.

the worst person on TV.

the view outside your back window.

what scares you most.

your dream vacation.

your favorite day of the week.

your neighbor.

what you remember most about your favorite grandparent.

the best advice you’ve ever received—about life or writing or anything else.

The Next Best Seller

If you write it, they shall read.

Video Clips, Live Feeds Add Personal Marketing Touch
By Angela Wilson

Net junkies just can’t get enough video. No longer is it a cool, polished feature of top industry Web sites. This innovative element of Web 2.0 is a feature that surfers expect from everyone today – including their favorite authors.

Most authors won’t even try to start video elements. They think it’s too expensive, too complicated and won’t do much for them, anyway.

Don’t let these myths hold you back. Technology is cheap, and slick marketing videos are not what viewers want. They want something authentic – real. It does not matter if the clip is grainy, shaky, or slightly out of focus. If it is genuine, then people today take notice.

All you need to get started is a web cam, a good headset and a glib tongue – or at least an idea of what you want to share.

How to use it

You can create professional videos for fellow authors, or pitches for editors and agents to post on your Web site. These videos do not have to be perfect, but you do have to dress for the occasion. Be certain to write out what you want to say and keep your message succinct and professional.

Conference footage is interactive and takes readers and other authors to events they may not be able to attend. Tape yourself interviewing authors, agents, editors and publishers, or participating in a panel discussion. Post these to video sharing sites and to your blog and Web site. Use the Share button to share links to those video posts on your Ning, Facebook and MySpace. By sharing the link, you will drive more traffic to the sites you want readers to visit. Author Morgan Mandel offers up clips from the Love Is Murder conference on her YouTube feed.

Using SKYPE or uStream, you can chat live with book clubs across the globe. This is a popular way for authors to personally touch base with readers without the travel expenses. You must have a high speed Internet connection like DSL and a headset for this option. Headsets are fairly inexpensive on sites like

Video diaries are all the rage. Share the writing process with your fans by creating a video diary of your next project. Don’t just tell them about the story; show them what it’s like to write it. Do not hesitate to share your angst, the bad days, writer’s block, deadline pressure, and the need for chocolate when things just aren’t coming together. Let people get to know the real you while generating interesting in your latest project.

For a small annual fee, Flikr Pro allows you to post what they call a long photograph – 90 seconds worth of footage that’s more than a still, but less than a video segment. This is an excellent option to use when doing short blurbs about contests, upcoming book signings and plugs for your publishing house, other authors and contest sponsors. This is also a great service to use when sending holiday greetings. If you share a blog or Web site with several authors, consider splitting the fee to keep costs down.

Have a friend or family member video your autograph sessions and chats with fans. Get quotes from fans and use this footage to create a montage about your latest book tour. Post to a video sharing site like YouTube or Blip. Fans will love it. They will send the link to all of their friends and post to their own blogs – especially if they are featured in a few frames.

Do you conduct speaking engagements at events other than writing conferences? Take a note from children’s book author Sara Ann Denson, who tapes her talks with students at elementary schools and uses them to promote her work, as well as plug her speaking abilities.

Book trailers are finally catching on, and will be key to future online novel promotions. HarperCollins has several for the popular teen horror series Wicked Dead by Stefan Petrucha and Thomas Pendleton on its YouTube feed. You can create your own, or hire a company to create a trailer that will pique the interest of readers. This option will be more important than the back cover blurb within the next few years, as media-savvy Web viewers come to expect the element from writers. Check out the HarperCollins feed at YouTube. You can also find several book trailers on the Crimespace network at

The best clips are viral videos. If you have captured yourself falling down the stairs – and don’t have a problem showing your humanity turned upside down – then share it. You would be shocked at how quickly you can develop a net reputation by having no shame.

How to share it

Though YouTube is the household equivalent of video sharing, there are many other sites better suited for your needs – including some that don’t have the time or file size restrictions. Top video sharing sites denoted by PC World Magazine include BlipTV, Brightcove Beta, Revver, and Vimeo. For their complete rundown, visit

Wikipedia offers a comprehensive list of all sites on the Web at: Be certain to Google ones before you sign on to see what others users think. Blogs are excellent sources of reference, as is

Video doesn’t need to be slick or savvy to attract viewers. It just has to be fun and personable. Experiment around with equipment and services before fully enabling your video marketing plan. Ask for help when you need it – kids are an excellent resource for techno jargon and goodies.

Contributing newsletter columnist Angela Wilson is a Web producer, author publicist, and marketing/PR specialist. When not writing, she manages the author virtual book tour blog at:

Also find her on the Web at:,, or

Got a marketing question you want answered in this column? E-mail Angela at:

Find Out What’s Going On Inside The Publishing Business

Industry News and More!

Tip of the Month

Make every sentence count!

Sounds like an automatic, but it’s amazing how often we writers get lazy sometimes and don’t prune each and every sentence to perfection, making sure it does something valuable in the context of the story. You should constantly ask yourself: Is this sentence as good as it can be? What point am I trying to make with it? Is it driving along the plot or being used merely as a rhetorical device to provoke a response of some kind? A famous writer once told me: “Never throw away a single sentence, no matter how short or where it’s placed in the paragraph.” The wisdom of those words has stuck with me every day for 30 years.


The Writing Life

The Write Decision?
By Will Greenway

How long has it been since you appeared on the grassy hilltop surrounded by oaks—a month or only a minute? It’s hard to say. Time seems to blend together in this pastoral place with the tittering of birds and the hum of the wind through the leaves. The sun gleaming in cirrus-dotted sky makes your skin prickle with warmth. A cool breeze sighs through the clearing, bringing with it the fragrant hint wildflowers threaded with the scent of pine and the pungency of old tree-growth. Leaning back to stretch, you press your palms into the soft grassy soil. The sound of a harp being strummed drifts through the woods. A moment later, the plucked thrumming of a mandolin joins in.

You wonder how the students seated to your left and right feel about this locale for a writing seminar. There are representatives from all manner of cultures, ages, and races here; the only thing that they have in common is that they each have the same stylus and tablet that you used to travel here. For yourself, you’re not sure if these tranquil surroundings put you at ease or create a distraction.

At the head of the ‘class’, the thick-bodied instructor adjusts himself on the tree-stump and clears his throat. He daubs at some perspiration on his forehead, and pushes a hand through his thinning dark hair. He favors everyone with a nervous smile and fidgets with the pointer in his hand. After a moment, he appears to steel himself.

"Why be a writer?" he asks in a voice you barely hear. He draws a breath and when he speaks again his words are clearer. "Do you really want to be a writer, or someone who simply knows how to write?" Tapping the pointer on his shoulder he glances around at the students. "Would someone like to volunteer their definition of what a writer is..?"

Writers. Is there anything divine or special about them? Some of us writers might like to think so—but the truth is, serious storytellers are pretty much like everybody else except they’re wired a little different from their peers.

The difference between a writer and someone else is that the writer often feels compelled to create. To a hard-core storyteller, writing is an obsession. The question of whether they are good writers or bad is irrelevant—the words are in their mind and not inscribing them in some form or other is a source of lost sleep. If you’re one of the people so afflicted, you already know you’re a writer. The words that come later in this article aren’t going to change your mind.

From here out, I will test your determination as a storyteller. If you fail, it does not mean you don’t have a good story to tell, or lack the ability to write well. What it says is that writing will not be your career, and you will likely not ever finish any large projects. If you press on, I can only wish more power to you.

To master writing, one has to ask one hard question right after the other. Can you learn to handle rejection? Does criticism, constructive or otherwise, piss you off? Think you can learn to objectively deal with those two issues? Can you passionately create a literary work and then let go of it? To be specific, once your work is fully formed, can you treat it as print on a page and not some untouchable conglomeration of your blood, sweat, and tears? If your answer is ‘no’ to any of these questions, find the exit.

Still with me? Can you stomach hours of work for no pay? Can you dedicate at least two hours a week, every week, to your art and stick to it? Are you ready and willing to defend your writing time against every spouse, child and relative who thinks it’s a silly waste of your precious time? If you’re not—kiss your career goodbye baby. Unless you live alone, or you are truly blessed with an understanding mate, you will be disrupted—constantly. If you can’t lock that darn door and have a do-not-disturb sign heeded in at least in some marginal measure—you are bound to be frustrated. If you simply can’t imagine slicing two whole hours out of a 7-day week—step to the right—the sign reads ‘exit.’ If you can’t think of a way to engineer your schedule with your room-mates, spouses, and children so that they observe your privacy for that same two hours a week—so sorry, come back when you can state a stronger case for your ‘me’ time.

If you were a dedicated writer coming into this, you are already fighting these battles. It’s hard for the married folk, and writers with children have it the worst. I used to pooh-pooh not being able to get my significant other to lay off for a couple hours a week. Then I got married. I went as far as to make sure before we got married that she knew I had my not-to-be-disturbed slot of writing time. Just the same, there’s always some reason—a question that simply can’t wait, news article that just has to be shared, a cute anecdote she heard on the phone. Growling at the disruptions is NOT the proper response. Your spouse is already jealous of the ‘me’ time you’ve set aside. If you start bristling over it, the problem gets worse. I know this from observing other married writers who went that route and ended up having to choose between their marriage and their writing. Five for five—the writing went the way of the dodo. It’s probably not a coincidence that all five victims were men. The ongoing battle for ‘me’ time is a war that men have battled with women since the existence of couples.

Childless married women don’t experience the spouse problem nearly as much as the men. It balances out though; moms typically have twice the problem of dads. The "go ask your mother" syndrome can be fingered as the culprit there—that and lazy husbands.

There’s no question. It is a battle. It’s a war where the casualty is your ability to focus, to produce material, and do what’s necessary to learn and grow. I sympathize whole-heartedly with your plight. Time-guzzling attention-starved spouses, constantly needy children, and never ending list of household chores are all a real drag. If you want to do the storytelling gig, you have to find a way to surmount these obstacles. If you can’t foresee finding a way over or around, that’s really too bad. You had promise. You have my have sympathy. Maybe you’ll catch up with the rest of us later.

I take this cavalier tone to protect you. If you don’t want to write badly enough to even find the time to write on a regular basis—the ugly emotional parts of criticism and rejection simply WON’T be worth the headaches they will give you. Your enjoyment or drive to create story has to override the drawbacks and pitfalls. Unless your circumstances are truly extraordinary, your problem is far from impossible to overcome—you simply aren’t willing to prioritize. Writing simply isn’t important enough to you.

I know these problems can be overcome, because I myself have to constantly wage the same war on the time and attention front. My wife is only semi-understanding. She thinks her brief interruptions—every ten minutes—are no big deal. I get by. When I’m not writing smarmy articles about being dedicated to the writing ethic, I work forty, fifty, and sixty hours a week for an IT firm. I have a consulting business on the side, and maintain four Web sites. I somehow have time to write this article (and a few others), plus get work in on my fiction projects. I’m not superman. I’m actually pretty lazy. I could write more if I wasn’t constantly screwing around on the web. I can do it—so can you.

Those that haven’t stopped reading by now at least have some measure of dedication to the craft.

So, after all that, why in heck would anyone want to take up this time sucking, attention demanding, ego-crushing pastime?


But it’s a GOOD kind of insanity! Really. Just don’t expect strokes from your friends. "So, you’re writing a book—what’s it about...?" Ever hear that question? Did you ever notice how the eyes of a non-writer glaze over or they develop an interest in another topic? Even loved ones—they’ll read your latest and greatest. "Oooh, that’s nice, Darling." This is the point when you get excited. "Really? What was nice!?" That’s when your spouse’s eyes start trying to find another point of the room to study. Unless you happen to be married to an English or literature teacher, chances are you won’t get a constructive answer you can use. If you happen to have another writer for a partner that can be equal slices heaven and hell. Nobody can sting your pride quicker than the love-of-your-life. They know they need to tell you the truth. However, being familiar can sometimes result in your spouse being somewhat more direct than you’re ready for… "Honey, the description is great. I really see that scene. Darling, there is one thing though. I’m afraid your dialogue—well, it, ummm—stinks." It’s moments like those that you wish they simply said it was "nice.”

Because of that barrier of understanding, the pastime of writing is mostly solitary. The only people who understand your obsession are other people in the literary industry. For many, that is a big emotional pitfall. Especially when they have no access to anything like a local writers group. The growing online community is a great compensating boon to writers. It’s slowly eroding that wall of isolation around the people that had no other outlet. Its grants the ability to communicate with other writers in their medium of choice—the written word! Marvelous.

By this point you’re wondering—is there ANYTHING good about being a writer? Sure, you’re in a fairly elite and eccentric group of individuals who—for the most part are pretty darn interesting to interact with and talk to. Most writers love to read, and they tend to become topic experts on the fiction and non-fiction that interests them.

Another good part of being a writer is a sense of accomplishment. There is a special kind of exhilaration that only a novelist (or perhaps a doctor completing a thesis) can relate to. When you put the last word to the page of long project—it is a fist pumping, joyful thrill. Pooh-pooh, you think? You obviously haven’t ground your way through a hundred thousand word narrative and finally finished it to your satisfaction. Woo-hoo!

Being addicted to writing definitely has less impact on your health than cigarettes or alcohol. Now, if only we could get writers to replace those habits with their writing regime...

No other self-inflicted craziness that I can think of makes a person jump up and down and get excited because they sold an article for five dollars. Most people make more money than that on their fifteen-minute coffee break. Still, if you can get that excited over five dollars—imagine fifty! Getting a thousand bucks for a piece of your writing is a swooning affair.

Getting published is hard. So when the drought abates it’s a terrific feeling even if you get nothing for it. Most writers are just happy that someone liked their ideas beside themselves.

If you’re just beginning in writing, don’t expect to get rich—especially if you’re only going to write fiction. If you work at it, have good ideas, study and market, you’ll sell—it’s just a matter of time and discipline. However, that best seller—giant advance—type of sale is like winning the lottery; somebody usually wins—but very rarely is it you. Some bestselling books that earned their authors millions were bounced up to a hundred times. Stephen King’s Carrie bounced around for years to the point he was ready to throw it in the trash can. To make it big, he had to pay his dues in frustration and postage. Most likely, so will you.

If you want to make money writing, the best compromise you can make is to supplement your fiction with non-fiction sales. If your fiction techniques are solid—you have the potential to sell well in the non-fiction market. The article you’re reading is product of that thinking at work. The non-fiction market pays more and is far easier to place in. I can sell six non-fiction articles in the time it takes to place one fiction story. Not fair—? Who said life was fair?

So, does that mean I only promote non-fiction writing? Of course it doesn’t. Fiction satisfies a creative itch that writing non-fiction simply doesn’t abate. Non-fiction writing is a business, just as journalism is a business. Non-fiction is a shortcut to building your confidence and seeing worth in the words you put on the page. When someone pays for your written work, it makes you a professional writer. That’s a nice feeling. There’s nothing wrong with it either. A publishing credit is always a good thing. We all have to pay our dues as writers, learning and growing to the point that editors feel our material is good enough to publish. Each credit you can claim on a cover letter increases your chances of selling again. Persistence pays off.

Now, after all that, do you still want to be writer? Are you willing to fight family and friends for your private time in order to claim the distinction of being a published author? The road is bumpy, but at least the scenery is interesting. Peers are hard to come by, but you can pick up some e-mail pals if you make the effort. The work is hard, but success is extremely satisfying. The rejection and criticism sting, but your skin eventually toughens up. Ultimately, you will learn to be objective about your work and it will be better in the long run.

Still with me? Welcome aboard the Creative Writing Express. We’re bound for the literary marketplace. It’s a long uphill crawl on rickety tracks. The boiler, she be a wee bit hungry, but we got plenty ‘o coal. Roll up yer sleeves, grab a shovel, and start stoking the burner. Watch yer pressure and keep an eye out for bandits. I’m pullin’ the brakes and lettin ‘er roll…

Will Greenway, of Spring Valley, California, has written five novels, more than a dozen short stories, and a slew of articles on both the craft of writing and the writing lifestyle (used as source material in four university writing programs).

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.

Writers bring joy to hearts of every age!

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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, 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 six times by the annual anthology The Best American Sports Writing.

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