Silence Your Inner Editor
© Edie Melson
Is your Inner Editor a friend or foe? For most of us the answer is dependent on where we are in the writing process. This overly helpful person lives inside most of us and comes in handy when we’re putting the finishing touches on our manuscripts. But when we’re in the midst of a creative surge, that same help can short-circuit our progress.
There’s a scientific reason for that roadblock. The creative act of writing a first draft stems from the right side—or creative side—of the brain. Later in the process, when polishing begins, the left side takes over.
Mixing up the process—trying to use both sides of the brain at the same time—can lead to a tangled mess and a major roadblock. All of this is good to know, but what if our left-brained Inner Editor won’t go away? There isn’t one way that works for everyone, but here are some tips that should help.
- Don’t give in to temptation. Our Inner Editor gets stronger the more frequently we give in to her demands. If she thinks you need a certain word before you can finish that sentence, stay strong. Type xxx and go on. Later, during the rewriting process, you’ll have plenty of time to find the right word. At this point in your manuscript, speed is your best friend.
- Set a daily and weekly word count goal. This can often sidetrack the Inner Editor because of her need to meet a goal. Sometimes, in her drive to succeed she can even become an ally.
- Make lists in a separate notebook. Use your computer for the story, but if the need for details overshadows the creative urge, make a quick note in a notebook. Don’t let yourself get bogged down.
- Don’t give in to fear. Many times our Inner Editor is driven by fear. Fear that this draft isn’t good, won’t work or just doesn’t make sense. Remind yourself that this version isn’t written in stone. Sometimes just giving ourselves permission to write a crummy first draft is all we need to derail our inner editor.
No matter how insistent your Inner Editor, these tips can help you change her role from enemy to encourager.
Edie Melson is a freelance writer and editor with a passion for life’s stories. She loves to share her 16+ years experience in the field of writing through mentoring and teaching others. Edie serves as co-editor at Reality Writing and assistant director of Christian Writers Conferences. Be sure to "join the conversation" at Edie's popular blog, The Write Conversation.
It's About the Customer
© 2010 Emily Akin
In my writers’ conference workshop, A Business Approach to Marketing Your Work, I started the session by asking the class to give me answers to these fill-in-the-blank questions.
Writing is a _____________.
Publishing is a ___________.
Business is about _________.
The answers I got were many and varied. Almost everyone said writing is an art, a craft, or a ministry. No one identified writing as a communication method or as a business tool. Publishing is a business, and I got that answer from several people. Unexpected answers included: job, industry, painful experience, and ordeal.
When we got to business, I expected to hear “money” or “the bottom line.” The class gave varied answers, most of which would translate as “making a profit.”
I took the class through this process to get them thinking about why writers hate marketing their work. Most members of the group were creative, artistic, and/or ministry-minded people. They realized they needed to publish their work so their great ideas or valuable messages could be disseminated. But they hated the idea of selling their work to the publisher or to the end customer, the reader.
The final fill-in-the-blank question was, “Marketing your writing includes crafting your product for the market so it will ___________.”
Almost everyone gave the answer I was looking for. Sell! We went on to talk about how writers must target their submissions to publishers and/or readers who are interested in their topic. For example, you wouldn’t send an article about how sports help build character to the editor whose religion forbids participation in sports. Well, maybe that’s an extreme example, but I want to emphasize that a writer’s first responsibility is to fill a need or answer questions for the readers of the publication.
Bottom line—writers need knowledge of the publishing industry and a feel for how business works. They also should learn to love marketing. After all, it’s nothing more than trying to find out what the customer wants and crafting the product so the customer will want to buy it.
Emily M. Akin is a freelance writer, blogger, editor, and marketing consultant. She holds bachelor’s degrees in music and communications and a Master of Business Administration degree. Her work has appeared in numerous Christian periodicals including The Upper Room, The Secret Place, HomeLife, The Lookout, Vista, and Mature Years. She is a regular contributor to Hometown Magazine of the Ken-Tenn Area. Link to her blogs from her web site at www.emilyakin.com.
Giving Your Character a Past
© 2011 Vonda Skelton
I was recently asked to play the role of a psychiatric patient. For this part (which wasn't even filmed, so don't look for an Academy Award nomination), I was surprised to discover I had to learn not only details of my character's health but that of her family as well. I knew I'd have to memorize her symptoms, but I didn't think about knowing her family structure and their relationships. Other details addressed her eating habits, alcohol and drug use, and encounters with the opposite sex. I studied her childhood, knew her sleep patterns, and memorized her medications.
The more I prepared to play my character, the better I knew her. She became real to me. Her housing situation, job description, and exercise routine made sense. As I prepared for my role, her dress, speech, and mannerisms became my own. Before long, I could see how she arrived at her specific emotional state. I knew her baggage, her longings, her disappointments.
And then I realized I cared about her. I wanted her to get well. I was in her corner . . . because I knew her.
You may be asking what all this has to do with writing. Well, the preparation to play the role was very similar to the preparation we must make as fiction writers: We must give our characters a detailed past.
If we want readers to care about our characters, we have to make them come alive. Where do they live? Where did they live as children? Did the siblings get along growing up? Did they live in a loving environment, or were they abused? What about the character's personality traits? Is she good at math? Is she a hard worker or a lazy sloth? Can he sing? Play the piano? Run fast? Does she like tofu? Greasy cheeseburgers? Steamed vegetables?
If we want readers to cheer for our characters, we must create histories and share information that draw readers in and compel them to stay with us for 300 or so pages. And even if we don't plan to write every little detail into the book, we need to know every little detail in order to transform her into a real person.
Create vivid, three-dimensional characters with detailed pasts and emotional garbage and you'll be on your way to selling your novel. Create cardboard cutouts with mundane lives and limited histories and your manuscript will end up in the rejection pile.
Vonda Skelton's humor and insight make her a popular speaker at women's events and writers' conferences. More than 15,000 school students have learned about writing through her Writing Is Fun! workshops. She has published a nonfiction book, Seeing through the Lies: Unmasking the Myths Women Believe, three children's mystery books and numerous articles and stories. To check out Vonda's speaking schedule or subscribe to her informative writers' newsletter, visit www.VondaSkelton.com.
Proof and Profits: Sell What You Write Again and Again
© 2010 Lettie Kirkpatrick Burress
I have a large brown envelope that I use for my class on selling reprints. As the class begins, I pull from that envelope many different inspirational publications, asking students to speculate what those items might have in common. Seldom are the guesses totally accurate. Those publications all contain the same article which I have sold again and again. “Lessons from Shela: A Daughter’s Legacy,” a story about my physically challenged daughter who died at age 19, has been printed multiple times as well as posted on Internet publications.
Let me anticipate questions about reprint marketing and try to “sell” my philosophy on this topic.
1. Why bother with reprints?
- It just makes good sense/cents! Any writers market guide will yield a surprising number of reprint markets—why not add to your income with additional sales of already completed articles? Increased profit is available at the click of a button. I have at times been paid more for a reprinted article than for the original.
- Reprints offer increased productivity with minimum output. Submitting reprints can fill in writing “lulls” with focused, productive activity.
- They increase audience exposure. The first audience that read about my daughter’s legacy was about 250,000 readers. Additional sales increased that audience to over one million.
2. How do I market reprints?
- Exactly as they are. Many publications that accept reprinted pieces don’t require changes—they are purchasing a previously published piece “as is.”
- In condensed form. Sometimes article word count may be altered to meet the needs of different publications. My daughter’s story comes in three sizes.
- In revised form. Occasionally an article will need updating or reworking for an editor’s specific requirements.
- In partial form. Sidebars that accompany articles can often take on new life as an article and visa versa.
3. How do I submit reprints?
- Send a query asking permission to submit or prepare a cover letter and submit with the complete article, depending on the market’s guidelines.
- Include at least brief information about the article’s previous publication history.
- Reveal the rights you are offering. Offer reprint rights or one time rights (to sell a reprint, the writer must own rights to the piece). I have sometimes sold no one first rights, instead offering one time rights only to several non-competing publications.
A new writing year stretches before us. Pull out the articles you've sold, dust them off and sell them again and again.
Lettie Kirkpatrick Burress is a freelance writer and speaker whose work includes published articles in Focus on the Family, Lifeway publications, Today's Christian Woman, and Discipleship Journal, as well as two published books and contributions to eight book compilations. With a heart for encouraging and a passion for offering hope, she leads workshops for writers, teaches holiday seminars, and speaks at ladies events. Visit Lettie at: www.writingforhim.com.
A New Year Strategy
© 2011 Jeff Adams
Ten hours into the new year and what have I done? Made a decision to write more. But resolutions and five dollars will get you a Starbucks. That's about all.
Rather than unreachable goals, I prefer measurable strategies. Here are a few to stir your thinking.
Decide which publications you want to write for. We’re told at conferences to study and know our audience and market. But how can we do that? You know what you like to write and what you enjoy reading. Why not meld the two? Are there any publications you read that have articles or stories similar to what you write? Pick three. Write one query, tweak it for each editor, and send all three. While you're waiting, write the article. Then when you get the answer, "Yes. I'd like to see your article," submit it.
Think small, start small. If you're just getting started or haven't been published, don't hunt big game—yet. Sharpen your aim by shooting for local, regional, and denominational magazines and limited or niche markets. When I began writing for publication, I wanted to write a book, but I had no idea how difficult that would be. Instead, I did what many successful people told me: start small. It worked. Pick your targets, aim, and fire. Don't wait until you bag one to do it all again. But keep track of what works.
Write regularly. Email doesn't count. And neither does almost everything else that's not for paid publication (e.g. blogs, Facebook, Twitter.) You write better as you practice, but only if you care enough to submit your very best. How? Write devotionals for magazines such as The Upper Room. The point is to write something you can submit every week or two. Over the past 12 years, I've written more than 600 articles and stories. But I didn't set out to do that. I simply committed to write one, then another and another, once a week.
Divide and conquer. Decide what you can do. Be reasonable but stretch yourself. Break down the project. Twelve chapters, twelve months or twelve weeks. If each chapter is 5000 words, that's only 1000 words a day, five days a week. Get focused (make notes, use a tape recorder, create an outline or a storyboard—whatever works).
Rather than concoct feeble resolutions, develop a solid strategy and make 2011 the year you write.
Jeff Adams is a writer, teacher, inspirational speaker, and pastor. He was named the Sherwood Eliot Wirt Writer of the Year at the San Diego Christian Writers Guild in 2007. Jeff lives in Arizona with his wife Rosemary and their daughter Meaghan and can be reached at email@example.com for information on speaking topics.
Give the Write Gift
© 2010 Marylane Wade Koch
In December, we celebrate seasonal traditions with family and friends. One common custom is giving gifts of appreciation to those we love. We hope to present a perfect gift to each person on our list, one that: fits, reflects personal thought, and stays within our budget.
Every year I plan to make homemade gifts, but I am not the crafty type nor am I a great cook (I would love to be both). However, as a writer I can share my ideas and thoughts through the written word. This Christmas I will offer presents that cannot be purchased at Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon.com. I plan to give Write Gifts. Although these gifts won’t stress my Visa, they will require time and thought.
To prepare Write Gifts, take each person on your list and write specifically for that person. The Write Gift can be a story that will awaken a memory and warm the heart of the receiver. A letter, poem, song, or secret family recipe will be treasured longer than this year’s fad that will relocate to the Goodwill store after the New Year.
Below are ideas to help ignite your creativity:
- Search old pictures to clarify the memory or thought you want to share in writing.
- Copy the photo and include it with your Write Gift.
- Write about a time of struggle, blessing, accomplishment, sadness, or support. Was it a birthday, anniversary, wedding, family or class reunion?
- Make a photo album and write humorous or meaningful captions.
- Capture a memory, opinion, observation, or shared history.
- Tell someone what he/she means to you, and how he/she has affected your life.
- Write personal notes inside Christmas cards (store bought or homemade). Send an annual update letter with your cards.
- Use fiction techniques to create your Write Gift. Include emotions and employ the senses so the reader can experience the time and distinctive smells, colors, or sounds.
- Individualize your work with a festive holiday border, clip art, or selected scripture.
Make a short visit to drop off your Write Gift if possible. A hug is usually a welcome addition.
Don’t procrastinate in sharing Write Gifts. Give your present in the present. Adopt Hallmark’s slogan: “When you care enough to send the very best.” Give yourself and the Write Gift this Christmas.
Truth and Fiction—Bringing History to Life
© 2010 Ann H. Gabhart
In high school, one of my required courses was American History. Our teacher seemed uninspired by the idea of history—or teaching if his constant frown was any indication. Match that with a class of reluctant students and you can guess how much history I learned that year. Oh, I memorized some facts to parrot back on tests, but I totally missed the drama behind those facts and dates.
Fast forward several years and the hot genre is historical fiction. Since my dream was to be published, I thought I’d give history another try. No textbooks this time. I found books that were more than facts and dates where the writers recorded the history in such a way that I could hear the battlefield cannons booming. Quite to my surprise, I discovered I liked history. Even more I liked making up characters to drop down into those real happenings.
When I am in the head of a character headed out to battle, suddenly it’s more than a name and date on a page. Now I’m seeing one man cowering behind a tree while another pushes on in the face of sure death. I see soldiers sitting around a campfire dreaming of wives and children. I see a woman’s head leaned against an old cow’s side while she tries to strip out enough milk to feed her sick child. Create characters who live and breathe in a past era and you will make history come alive for your readers.
The best way to entice readers to follow your characters along their story journey is to remember it’s not only what a character does that matters in fiction, but how he feels. Emotions have been the same throughout time. We love and hate. We experience moments of cowardice and others of surprising bravery. We hope for the future and despair of the past. Emotions a reader knows and understands—that’s what brings a story to life no matter the era.
So I read history to learn the facts, but I feel blessed when I come across journals or letters written during whatever era I’m researching. Reading the words of a person who lived the historical time of my book helps me step into my story.
Find your history, mix in great characters, stir in lots of emotion and make your story “true.”
Ann H. Gabhart has published twenty inspirational and historical fiction books, many of them set in her home state of Kentucky. Two titles from Ann’s latest series about the Shakers were selected as finalists for ACWF and ECPA awards. Her next book, Angel Sister, is loosely based on her mother’s memories of growing up in the 1930s and will be released in February 2011. Ann has three grown children and nine wonderful grandchildren. Visit Ann at http://annhgabhart.com or http://www.annhgabhart.blogspot.com.
What in the World Do You Mean?
© 2010 Shirley M. Corder
I had just joined my first on-line writers’ group. Eager to become involved, I requested advice. I used an innocent, everyday word here in South Africa, which I quickly learned means something totally different and not at all nice in America.
Once the group recovered, they took great delight in correcting me. If the article had gone to my planned Christian market, my guess is I wouldn’t have written for them again. To write for the global market, I soon realized I needed to learn International English.
For example, if you live in North America, you probably know the wattle is the flabby skin at the throat of the turkey. Yet if you are in Australia, the golden wattle is your national flower. If you live in Britain, you may have a simple wattle fence, while in Africa many of the locals live in mud-and-wattle rondawels, or circular houses.
As a South African writing for the International market, I have learned a number of important principles. Here are three suggestions.
Clarify your meaning. "Please pick a cluster of wattle from the tree," the Australian writer could say. "The yellow will brighten the table and it smells so pleasant." The international reader will get the picture.
Interact with writers from other countries. If you write an article or book based in another land, please, please check your facts with a local writer. For example, in America, cars drive on the pavement. Try that in South Africa or Britain and you will find yourself in court. In these countries, the pavement is reserved for pedestrians.
Watch your spelling and punctuation. South African and Australian English is similar to British English. But when I write for an American market, I have to remember to realize instead of realise, see colors and not colours, and to say that I traveled and not travelled. I also need to remember to put my periods and commas "outside the quotations marks", for British magazines and "inside," for USA editors. If I write for an American market, I use "double quotation marks" when making a quotation, and 'single quotation marks' if I put another quotation inside the first one. For a British market, I do the opposite.
There’s a whole global market out there interested in what we have to say. As writers, we just need to ensure they know what in the world we are saying.
Shirley Corder has published several hundred articles and devotions in a number of different countries. Her book, Rise and Soar above the Cancer Valley, is due to be published by Baker Publishing House in 2012. For more information on writing for the international market, follow the new thread on her websitewww.ShirleyCorder.com or follow her on Twitter.
Below are more differences between British English (BE) and American English (AE):
* BE: Babies wear nappies.
AE: Babies wear diapers.
* BE: The bathroom contains a bath, not necessarily a toilet.
AE: The bathroom always contains a toilet, not necessarily a bathtub.
* BE: You walk on the pavement and drive in the road.
AE: You drive on the pavement and walk on the sidewalk.
* BE: Biscuits are crisp snacks, similar to the AE: cookies.
AE: Biscuits are a type of bread served with savoury foods, rather like the BE: scones.
* BE: A trunk is a large metal box, which you might put into the boot of your car.
* AE: The trunk is the storage section of your car.
* BE: The engine is under the bonnet.
AE: It's under the hood.
* BE: You go to hospital for an operation in theatre.
AE: You go to the hospital for surgery in the operating room.
* BE: The kids may play in the garden.
* AE: They play in the yard.
* BE: We may go on holiday in our caravan.
* AE: We go on vacation in our travel trailer.
The Value of Critique
© 2010 Tracy Crump
Before my first writers’ conference, I took advantage of an opportunity to submit four chapters or articles for critique. Upon arrival, I eagerly opened the critiques awaiting me. Three, done by busy editors, offered little comment and even less encouragement. But the last was done by seasoned writer Lee Warren.
Red ink covered my book chapter. Lee slashed the first two and a half pages, calling it backstory. He told me not to double space after periods and circled repetitive words. But at the end, he said, “This is an important story and needs to be told.”
After bleeding-pen shock subsided, I made an appointment with Lee to ask questions and learn all I could. Then I returned home, made the changes he suggested, and saw how much they improved my piece. After that, I was on fire for critique.
Writing is a lonely profession. For many, it’s just “me and my computer.” But as I discovered, we don’t have to go it alone. We can get help. Below are my top three reasons for seeking critique.
You’d be surprised by the number of people who say they want critique when all they really want is affirmation. While good critique should include praise, it’s of no value if that’s all it is. Every piece can be improved, and everyone has something to learn, whether beginners or pros.
Objective point of view
Weary and cross-eyed, I labor until 2 a.m. to complete my writing project, sure it will strike my readers as profound and eloquent. Oh, brother! Once we become that close to our work, we no longer see it objectively. In the words of one fellow critiquer: “A critique shows us how our writing looks to the reader.”
Increased chance of publication
Editors today are so busy they have little time for editing. With competition fierce, our work must shine. Passing it through a critique group first gives it that extra spit and polish that makes it stand out on an editor’s desk.
Don’t set yourself up for a fall by looking solely for praise. If that’s all you want, send your writing to my husband. He’ll tell you what he always tells me: “That’s great, honey!” But if you want to make a giant leap in your writing, ask for real critique.
Below are a few web sites for finding critique groups. The list includes Christian and non-Christian groups, as well as online and local. Some groups require a membership fee to join their organization before joining their critique groups. Some online groups are closed to everyone but members; some are open for anyone to read. Remember that once a piece appears online, it has been published. Study carefully to find the right fit for you.
Turning Disasters into Devotions
© 2010 Andrea Merrell
Panic rose in my throat as we inched along the slippery, dimly lit path. The air was cool, but the oppression brought on by fear made it hard to breathe. My eyes focused on the ground to keep me from losing my footing. I prayed. I fought back tears. Just as I was about to get a grip on my emotions . . . the lights went out.
Claustrophobia and poor eyesight do not mix well in an underground cave. Instead of enjoying the tour, I battled my anxious thoughts. By the time we reached the exit, I released a long, slow breath and couldn’t wait to get to my computer to turn my “disaster” into a devotion.
Things happen every day that can be used to teach, encourage, and bless others. Has your toddler ever written on the wall with permanent markers? Has your toilet overflowed, creating a river of crud? On a deeper level, maybe you’ve experienced divorce, struggled with addiction, or agonized over prodigal children. How did you cope? What did you learn? What truth did God reveal to you that changed your life?
In God’s economy, nothing is wasted. He can take any situation, turn it around, and work it for good. You can do the same if you’re willing to open your heart, be transparent, and share your stories with the world. Be listening. Be ready. He may give you a scripture, a title, or just one word or thought. Be creative and put it on paper.
The technique used by ChristianDevotions.us is as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4:
1. Hook: Capture your reader in the first few lines so they will want to read on. Ask a question, make a shocking statement, or say something funny.
2. Book: Present your point and interpretation of the scripture passage.
3. Look: Look at the big picture and give a practical application.
4. Took: Leave your reader with a takeaway. Challenge them, ask a question, or suggest an action (without being “preachy”).
Each devotional venue has specific guidelines and you should check them thoroughly. Word count is generally anywhere from 250-400 words. This parameter will help you strengthen and tighten your writing.
A devotion may be someone’s only Bible reading for the day. As writers, we can impact lives with a few well-written words. You have a story. Are you willing to share it?
Andrea Merrell is a freelance writer and editor, and lives in South Carolina. She is Associate Editor for Christian Devotions Ministry and Copy Editor for DevoKids.com. For more information, visit her Web site at: www.andreamerrell.com.
Building a Platform That Supports Success
© 2010 Marylane Wade Koch
As a kid, I loved to perform. Neighborhood buddies would join me on hot summer evenings for talent shows while the adults sat in lawn chairs and drank iced tea. My act included singing with an old acoustic guitar and semi-choreography with girl friends. To get everyone’s attention we needed a stage—a platform—for our shows. The four-foot high concrete side porch at my house was perfect.
As a writer, I find this same principal applies. In today’s demanding market, writers who want to publish books must build their platforms to get noticed. Editors and agents desire writers who have great ideas, write well, and have access to a following of readers for potential book sales. They want to review the writer’s platform before they offer a publishing contract. Yes, before.
Building a platform comes at the beginning of the book publishing process. Some writers think book publishers provide the market for sales, but the reverse is true: publishers expect authors to provide the market with a strong platform. If the writer plans to self publish, a platform is just as important—or maybe more so—to access readers. A well developed platform can be the passport to book sales in the current competitive environment.
Building a platform takes time, so where do you start?
- Develop a website, maintain a blog, and/or become a guest blogger.
- Teach workshops or classes.
- Offer to speak for local, regional, or national groups. Audiences can include schools, churches, or civic groups. If speaking makes you uncomfortable, research ways to overcome your fears.
- Cultivate media contacts. Get to know your local news reporters.
- Establish an expertise or credentials for name recognition. Become the go-to person in your area of interest.
- Publish articles in magazines, newspapers, and online. Payment is good, but strategic writing for free can help build your platform.
- Secure a radio interview or TV appearance.
- Start an e-zine or newsletter to market to subscribers.
- Network and build relationships. Collect contact information like emails or addresses for follow-up.
Like my old side porch, a writer’s platform must be solid and easily visible to get reader, agent, and/or publisher attention. Take time to build your platform every day in small ways, and soon the structure will support your publishing success.
Links to learning more:
Why All Authors Need a Platform
How to Build a Marketing Platform
Crafting a Page-Turner
© 2010 Virginia Smith
“I stayed up all night to finish your book. I couldn’t put it down!” That’s one of the highest compliments a novelist can receive, and I love hearing it. Not that my goal in life is to become a source of sleep deprivation, but writing a page-turner doesn’t happen by accident. It takes skill to produce a story compelling enough for readers to voluntarily sacrifice sleep in order to find out what happens next. We all like knowing we’ve succeeded in our craft.
A writer grabs readers’ attention by creating intriguing questions that simply must be answered. One technique is to withhold pieces of information from a character’s past. In his novel, Rooms, James Rubart introduces Micah Taylor, who receives news that a stranger has built a beach house for him on the Oregon coast. Within a few sentences we discover that Micah has avoided the town where the house is located since childhood, when he vowed never to return. Our curiosity is piqued. What happened there, and why does a stranger want him to return so badly?
Once we hook readers by introducing intriguing questions, we continue the technique in order to keep them engaged. As one question is answered, others are posed. In Rooms, we learn of the tragic death of Micah’s mother in the town where his new house is located. By the time that is revealed, Micah has discovered that rooms in the house mysteriously appear and disappear, each with a new revelation from his past. Some of the locals seem to know what’s going on, but how? And why won’t they tell Micah? We’re compelled to keep reading to find out.
Another way to keep the pages turning is to pay special attention to chapter endings. A reader lying in bed late at night is looking for a good place to stop. Don’t provide one. In Crimson Eve, by Brandilyn Collins, a lady realtor is showing a house to a potential client. The scene presents plenty of intriguing questions, but the real kicker comes at the end of the chapter. The client pulls out a gun, aims it at her heart, and announces, “I’m a hit man.” How can we stop there? We must turn the page and read on.
Readers love stories that keep them up at night. Novelists who employ these page-turning techniques will soon develop a following of satisfied—and sleepy—fans.
Virginia Smith is the author of more than a dozen Christian novels and over fifty articles and short stories. An avid reader with eclectic tastes in fiction, Ginny writes in a variety of styles, from lighthearted relationship stories to breath-snatching suspense. Learn more about Ginny and her books at www.VirginiaSmith.org and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ginny.p.smith.
Writing for Tween Boys
© 2010 Max Elliot Anderson
It's clear that some of the most critical patterns for a lifetime are decided during the tween years, that awkward time between still wanting to be a “little kid” and trying to be all grown up.
As a child, I grew up as a reluctant reader. In a family of seven children, I wasn’t pushed to read, so I never formed good reading habits. This was ironic because my father published over 70 books, many written for children.
A few years ago, I decided to look into some of the reasons for my lack of interest in reading. Looking at books written for children, I discovered they contained large blocks of copy, making it easy for a reluctant reader to lose his place on the page. These books tended to be produced on a brown shade of paper with small type.
A reluctant boy reader is not going to be interested in endless sections of detail and description. He wants something happening on every page, fast action and humor. Many of the books were written with girls as the primary audience. The books for boys tended to include dragons, wizards, or the dark side.
My findings led me to begin writing action-adventure and mystery books for readers 8-13, the kinds of stories I would have liked to read when I was a child. As a result of this research, my books are larger than most, the paper is bright white, and the type is easier to read. Sentences and paragraphs are short. The books contain a lot of dialog and humor, along with heart-pounding action and adventure. Most chapters end in a cliffhanger, nearly forcing the reader to start the next chapter.
My writing for kids wouldn’t be very important if it didn’t have a positive impact. But I receive many letters and emails from young readers, parents, teachers, and librarians. Here’s just one example. “I am a reading instructor and work one-on-one with people who struggle with learning to read. Getting some of these kids to practice reading can be a MAJOR ordeal. Recently I found your books. They love them! One student I have has done everything you could possibly think of over the last year to try and cut his reading lessons shorter, and getting him to practice his skills outside of our lessons has been like pulling teeth. Last Monday, he wanted to stay longer because he wanted to read more of Legend of the White Wolf. His mom was thrilled. Thank you, Max! Your books are wonderful. You're making a difference!”
In my live talks to students, I like to remind them that readers are the leaders others follow.
Max Elliot Anderson has won numerous awards for film production including Best Cinematographer for Pilgrim’s Progress with Liam Neeson. Using his extensive experience in media, Max brings the same visual excitement and heart-pounding action to his stories for tween boys. Seven of his books will be reprinted this summer with four new books due out by the end of the year and more on the way. Visit Max at www.maxbooks.9k.com and booksandboys.blogspot.com.
Shorter Is Better
© 2010 Tracy Crump
My love for detail often exhibits itself in the use of long sentences. And I mean long. I’m not the only one. Look at Dickens and some of the other wordy classic writers, to say nothing of the Apostle Paul. One of their sentences could consume the 400-word limit of this newsletter column.
While Dickens can get away with it, most of the rest of us can’t. Today’s sound bite consumer—what I call the Sesame Street generation—wants a quick read with snappy movement from one idea to the next. This is especially important when writing for the web. Editor Jim Watkins says Internet users have an attention span of only about nine seconds so we have to hook them fast. We won’t do that with long, drawn-out sentences.
For printed material, variety is the spice of life. Use short sentences to make a point or move the action along. The quicker and more intense the action, the shorter sentences should be. Use longer sentences for description, narration or to slow the pace for reflection. Vary sentence structure and length to avoid a monotonous, sing-song type of rhythm that will put the reader to sleep. Use introductory clauses or phrases in some sentences and alternate with simple subject-verb-direct object construction.
Even with narration and description, however, take care not to make sentences too long-winded. Many writers say there’s an “ideal” word limit for sentences, but I’ve seen very little consistency in the numbers. I've found a better approach is to read the sentence out loud. If I can’t finish it without taking a breath, it’s too long.
Take care not to wear readers out with long sentences. Our goal is to keep the reader reading. (But I still like Dickens.)
Launching an E-zine
© 2010 Debra L. Butterfield
Have you considered launching an e-zine to expand your writing and networking opportunities? E-zines are small magazines and newsletters distributed by any electronic method such as e-mail. They offer multiple benefits. For example, e-zines serve as a marvelous marketing tool as you build a subscriber base to support your writing platform. They also enhance your profile as an expert in your chosen field. However, e-zines require effort and planning. Below are several questions to answer before moving to the launch pad.
What is your overall purpose?
- To offer expert advice on a specific topic
Ideally, you will do all three. However, if your primary goal is marketing, you must offer more than an email filled with a sales pitch—that is pure advertising spam. Be sure you know, understand and adhere to spam laws. For more information, see http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/canspam.html.
What is the subject of your e-zine? An e-zine needs a specific topic such as home improvement, writing, or gardening. Provide readers with take-away value or eventually they will unsubscribe.
What will you name your e-zine? Employ your best writing skills to create a title that grabs the reader. Before you decide, do a trademark search with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office at http://www.uspto.gov/trademarks/index.jsp. This provides a general list of trademarked names. Deeper searches require a fee. The search is especially important if you plan to use a corresponding website domain. How will you send your emails and manage your subscriber list? A web search on the keywords “email marketing” provides several options. Shop around. Top Ten Reviews offers comparisons of list managers at http://email-marketing-service-review.toptenreviews.com/ . Along with email templates, these services provide features such as viewing who opened your email, grouping subscribers into subgroups, and ensuring that your emails meet the requirements of spam law. Of course, there is always the option of doing it all yourself.
More questions to consider:
- Do you plan to sell advertising space?
- Do you want your e-zine to earn profits? If so, consider purchasing Angela Adair-Hoy’s e-book, Profitable Email Publishing (www.writersweekly.com).
Upfront planning will give you a better end product with fewer headaches after launching. Now you are ready to fire up your engines.
Below are more resources on e-zines:
Marketing: Accepting Your Role as Salesperson
© 2009 Emily M. Akin
“Writing is an art. Publishing is a business.” These words jumped out at me in a workshop given recently by Lawrence Wilson, pastor and former editorial director at Wesleyan Publishing House. This simple statement encapsulates the aspiring writer’s problem with getting published.
Writers see themselves as artists, resisting the idea of putting a dollar value on their writing. Perhaps you write because you are passionate about a particular subject or about writing itself. Once you begin the quest for publication, though, you have entered the realm of business. For any business to be successful, somebody must sell something to someone. In my experience, writers abhor the whole idea of “selling themselves.” You, the writer aspiring to publication, must sell your work to publishers who, in turn, sell their publications to the end user (reader).
Does the idea of selling your work conjure up images of door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesmen or network marketing gurus? You’re not alone. Intrusive and manipulative sales techniques have given sales a bad name for most people. I think that’s why some prefer to call it “marketing” rather than “selling.” The term “marketing” suggests that you put your work out for people to see in hopes that someone will see it, like it, and buy it—like at a flea market.
Flea market vendors don’t sell much unless they offer quality products that shoppers want. They must know the market, the customer demographics. They must also interact with the shoppers to convince them to buy the product (selling). As a writer, you submit your work to publishers, making sure that you have followed the guidelines. Your customer, the publisher, states the demographics and preferences of his customers (readers), along with the technical requirements of the documents they are willing to consider. Still, you may need to “sell” the editor on your work. Extra-mile features will entice the editor to buy your work instead of someone else’s with identical specifications. For example, include sidebars and pull-quotes will make your article more attractive. For book proposals, mention an established speaking ministry or other platform for selling your books
If you believe in the quality and value of your product, selling it is an honorable pursuit. You won’t sell to every customer, but you won’t get your work published unless you try.
Emily M. Akin is a freelance writer, blogger, editor, and marketing consultant. She holds bachelor’s degrees in music and communications and a Master of Business Administration degree. Her work has appeared in numerous Christian periodicals including The Upper Room, The Secret Place, HomeLife, The Lookout, Vista, and Mature Years. She is a regular contributor to Hometown Magazine of the Ken-Tenn Area. Link to her blogs from her Web site at www.emilyakin.com.
What's Your Story?
© 2010 Marylane Wade Koch
In the midst of change and uncertainty in our culture, some ideas remain timeless and sure. For example, people still love a good story. No, people need a good story to counter the dismal broadcasts by media news and the inevitable troubles of daily living. Consumers spend hundreds of millions of dollars each week at the box office to view new movies. Readers search the New York Times Best Seller list for the most popular books. The world wants to hear, see, and read stories. Someone has to write these stories. That someone could be you.
The Write Life (TWL) newsletter launched after Tracy and I began presenting workshops on writing stories for the successful Chicken Soup for the Soul series. This anthology market offers close to 200 titles published in more than 40 different languages with sales of over 112 million books. They seek positive life experience stories that encourage and inspire their readers. These personal stories require no research, can be written in a reasonable time frame, and can be submitted online. Upon publication, some publishers pay with checks while others provide complimentary copies of the book; Chicken Soup offers both. The callouts from Chicken Soup and other anthologies are passed to TWL readers as possible markets for their work.
As you celebrate the New Year, take time to review your writing accomplishments of 2009 and your goals for 2010. Do you have an uplifting or humorous story to tell? Has anyone ever suggested you write about your experiences? Think about defining moments in your life. We all have traveled different journeys and experienced trials as well as joy. Someone could be waiting to read your story to help him through a difficult time. Another may need a laugh or an escape from the daily routine.
Consider writing your story and submitting it for publication this year. For ideas, visit the Chicken Soup website (http://www.chickensoup.com/form.asp?cid=possible_books) to review possible book topics. Read books and articles on writing inspirational stories. Attend a workshop or take an online class to provide the motivation and skills needed to submit and get published. Your story could be the one that makes a difference in someone’s life and shines the light of hope in the midst of pain and despair.
What the world needs now is a good story. Why not write yours in 2010?
The Book Bomb on Amazon: Does It Work?
© 2009 Julie Ferwerda
Recently I had the exciting opportunity to try out the amazing publicity move, book bombing on Amazon.
How it works: Pick a bomb date a couple weeks before your Amazon release date. This is because the bomb date is like a preorder, and you can then figure out how many books need to be shipped to Amazon. If you try to guess, you could overstock. Then you have to pay to have books returned to your warehouse, so this could get expensive.
Send out a nicely crafted email a couple weeks ahead of the bomb date asking everyone you know to buy a book on that day. Tell your contacts why they need this book and how it will change their lives. If necessary, bribe them. Then ask them to forward the email to all their friends and relatives, hoping they actually do it. They probably will unless your book is about snail reproduction or how to learn to enjoy living in Antarctica. Also, post on all resources available—Facebook, Twitter, etc.—and ask your FB friends to post on their walls as well.
The day of the bomb, send another letter reminding everybody to get bombing. Hopefully you round up enough people to buy your book that day, catapulting you all the way from #1,467,893 to #83 or even #47. Amazon takes note of the surge, and Amazon readers learn that your book is hot right now.
The results: As your book soars up the charts on the book bombing day, you get onto the revered "bestsellers list" (for that day). If you stay up for a few days, you may get into the “movers and shakers” category. These lists breed momentum because many shoppers use them when looking for a good read. You may even get a shot at an interview in The New York Times. This happened to brothers, Alex and Brett Harris. They catapulted their book, Do Hard Things, to #5 overall on March 25, 2008!
As for my book, One Million Arrows, I sold about 250 books during the bomb, moving it up to #6 on Christian Living, #22 on Christian Books, and #476 for overall Amazon rankings for the day! I was thrilled since I don’t even know that many people.
Happy bombing. But I do suggest you refrain from mentioning your Amazon plans while moving through airport security.
Julie Ferwerda writes for many prominent magazines and websites from her home in Wyoming. Her book, One Million Arrows casts an inspiring vision for families, and all proceeds are being donated to the care and discipling of international orphans. Learn more: www.OneMillionArrows.com.
Writing with Banana Peels
© 2009 James Watkins
The secret to writing humor is to look at life from a perspective of about 17 degrees off center.
So, I find myself asking “what if” questions:
What if it were bigger? smaller?
What if it were a different color? shape?
What if it were upside down? inside out?
What if it were younger? older?
What if it were faster? slower?
What if it were lighter? heavier?
What if it visible? invisible?
What if it were edible? inedible?
What if it were easy? hard?
What if it were animate? inanimate?
What if it were movable? immovable?
What if it could talk? were mute?
What if it were male? female? asexual?
What if it were evil? righteous?
What if it were the exact opposite?
What if it ran in reverse?
What if it were used for something other than its intended usage?
What if it came with instructions? without instructions?
What if it were high tech? low tech?
What if the government took it over?
What if it were regulated? unregulated?
What if it were free? sold?
What if it were taken to the extreme?
What if it were made into a TV show? a song?
What if it were combined with X?
What if it had never been invented?
What if it were in the future? in the past?
For instance, one of my favorite columns looks at the politically-correct “tolerance” mantra from the perspective of medicine (“I brake for bacteria!” “Save the salmonella!”) and brake repair (“I don't like to use the words 'safe' or 'unsafe' when it comes to brake shoes. I prefer to think of them having mechanical diversity.”) I don’t even want to think of tolerant airline pilots or nuclear power plant operators! (http://www.jameswatkins.com/intolerance.htm)
Another favorite strategy is combing two dissimilar things. For instance, what if the government decided to “bail out” struggling churches? What if presidential primaries were conducted as a reality game show?
Finally, simply report the facts. Bill Cosby explains his success, first at stand-up and then with the phenomenal Cosby Show. “My one rule is to be true rather than funny.” George Bernard Shaw would have agreed: “My way of joking is to tell the truth. It is the funniest joke in the world.” And where did humorist Will Rogers find his material? “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.”
Wringing the Most from an Interview
© 2009 Tracy Crump
Three years ago, I wrote regularly for a newspaper and conducted a number of interviews. Some went well; some did not. But I enjoyed getting to know people and learned a few things that might help you.
- Make an appointment well in advance, even for a phone interview.
- Research the topic or individual so you can ask intelligent questions.
- Prepare a list of ten questions based on your research and market slant. Some people think this precludes spontaneity, but it helps to have questions to fall back on for withdrawn interviewees or for those times when your mind goes blank. You don’t have to use them.
- Gather necessary materials ahead of time: pen, pad, recorder, extra batteries, etc. (Be sure you know how to work the recorder if you use one.)
- Call shortly before the appointment to confirm. This will save you wasted travel time if your subject forgets or has something come up.
- Even if you are nervous, try to make your subject feel comfortable. Explain a little about yourself and the purpose of the interview—but not to the extent that you take up interview time. Focus on the interviewee.
- Start with simple yes and no questions to put your subject at ease and move into more complex, open-ended questions. You may have to steer your subject back to the main topic if he has a tendency to wander. Conclude with “Is there anything else you would like to add?”
- Be considerate of your subject’s time. Keep an eye on the clock and end the interview at the appointed time.
- Ask for permission to call if you have any further questions. Leave your business card.
- Send the interviewee a copy of the published article. Experienced writers differ on whether to send a draft of the article for approval before publication. I never have, but I can see the benefit in fewer mistakes and misunderstandings.
To record or not to record
Some writers prefer to record interviews; other like to jot notes. At the risk of sounding obsessive, I admit I do both. I get much more accurate quotes with the recorder, but technology has failed me. Having notes puts my mind at ease.
Interviews can be exciting, challenging, and productive if you wring the most from your interview time.
© 2009 Marylane Wade Koch
You’ve finished your story, polished to perfection, and submitted it to the publisher. Maybe you met an assignment or contest deadline. Perhaps you sent a query or book proposal to an editor or agent. What comes next? The Wait.
Most of us have experienced periods when we wait for a special phone call, letter, or email to arrive. Time drags and anxiety mounts as each day passes without an answer. The Wait can be painful—zapping our energy, creativity, and self-esteem.
The idiom The watched pot never boils applies to the writing life. We wait for an acceptance, feedback, or a check for our work submitted in a timely way. Then the editor, publisher, or agent takes weeks or months to reply. Sometimes we don’t even receive a response.
The best way to manage The Wait is don’t. Make the most of that suspension in time. Increase productivity by taking some of the following actions:
- Log the completed work into your submission tracking file and regroup.
- Press on to your next article, story, or poem submission.
- Retrieve those rejected manuscripts sleeping in some almost forgotten file and revise them for submission
- Develop a list of possible article or story topics for future writing.
- Organize an inventory of target magazines or publishers for upcoming submissions.
- Send a query to a new magazine.
- Look for opportunities to submit previously published work as reprints.
- Research another article, story, or book idea.
- Read a book on writing, take a class, or attend a writers’ conference to sharpen your skills.
- Keep more than one story or manuscript submitted to editors or publishers at all times.
Taking these positive steps can banish the when-will-I-hear blues and increase the chance for more publications. Commit to a writing goal such as submitting a story, article, or query every Friday or every other Friday. That way when the acceptance (or rejection) from your last submission comes, you already have other work under consideration.
After you submit your story or manuscript, enjoy a glass of iced tea or a cup of coffee but get right back to work. Don’t wait for a raving response or glowing acceptance. Just move on to the next project and keep those submissions in circulation. When faced with The Wait, just say no.
I’m Not Making This Up
© 2009 Tracy Crump
I don’t remember learning about dangling participles in school. In fact, I thought dangling participles were like floppy disks (stay with me here). The first time my programmer husband introduced me to the term “floppy disk” I said, “You’re putting me on. There is no such thing.” He not only assured me floppy disks were real, he showed me one.
Unfortunately, dangling participles (or more correctly speaking, dangling modifiers) are also real, no matter how funny the term sounds or whether we learned about them in school or not. Even once we think we understand them, there they go, turning up in our sentences again. So let’s get a handle on the pesky things.
A dangling participle is a word group that acts as a modifier but fails to modify the correct word. They occur at the beginning of a sentence and may suggest but not name an actor. Therefore, readers expect the participle to modify the closest noun. When it doesn’t, the results can be confusing—if not downright funny.
Watch especially for phrases beginning with -ing verbs, infinitives (to + a verb), prepositions, and adverbial clauses. For example:
- Browsing through the jewelry department, a necklace caught my eye. (Was the necklace shopping?)
- To grow properly, you must water newly planted trees at least every other day. (What’s growing—you or the tree?)
- After using a hairdryer, the appliance must be unplugged to avoid a fire hazard. (Did the hairdryer use itself?)
- Faithfully following the instructions, the swing set was erected in two hours. (My husband would have loved a swing set that followed the instructions.)
Once you’ve identified a dangling modifier, you can repair it in one of two ways:
- Name the actor in the modifier
- Name the actor immediately after the modifier (as the subject of the sentence)
- As I browsed through the jewelry department, a necklace caught my eye.
- Browsing through the jewelry department, I spotted a necklace.
- When my husband faithfully followed the instructions, the swing set was erected in two hours.
- Faithfully following the instructions, my husband erected the swing set in two hours.
Other misplaced modifiers can muddy our writing, too. Comedians like Groucho Marx made a living with some of them: “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know.”
But that’s a story for another day . . .
And the winner is . . .
© 2009 Marylane Wade Koch
In my twenties, I dreamed of winning the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. Now each year I virtual-tour the HGTV dream house online, submit my entry, and envision myself as the owner. However, I only considered entering writing contests after I read an article in The Writer profiling authors who catapulted their careers to publishing success with their wins.
Contests provide opportunities for writers in any genre. Awards may include gift cards, subscriptions, books, computers, and software, as well as cash and the opportunity to see your work in print. Winning a writing contest could land you an agent or a publishing contract. Agents and publishers view reputable contests as a way to find the best writers without wasting staff time and resources. At the least, this new credential will add prestige to your writing resume, useful when submitting a query letter or book proposal.
To ensure your entry gets the highest consideration, try these strategies:
- Select a contest specific for your genre.
- Examine all information available, including the reputation of the sponsoring company and the names of the judges. If in doubt about a contest, check with Predators and Editors at http://anotherealm.com/prededitors/pubctst.htm or Writer Beware at http://www.sfwa.org/Beware/contests.html. Both offer excellent information on contest scams.
- Make sure the prizes match the investment of the entry fee. Look for reasonable low-cost fees.
- Read the rules for submission carefully. Noncompliance could disqualify your entry.
- Start with a strong opening that holds the judge’s attention and close with a memorable ending.
- Write the draft ahead of the due date to give your entry time to chill. Read your work out loud and revise it carefully. Ask a trusted person to proofread for correct grammar and punctuation. Send only your best work and submit well before the deadline.
Although I have not won any major contests yet, last year I received a year’s subscription to a favorite magazine, and this spring I secured the money to paint our house, both with 200 word essays. Remember: writing and submitting can make you a winner.
Resources on writing contests:
Poets & Writers magazine (contests and grants)
The Writer Magazine
Writers Digest Magazine
Sally Stuart’s Christian Writers’ Market Guide lists contests
Hope Clark’s Funds for Writers Contest Listings
Hope Clark’s No Fee Contest ebook
How True Is True?
© 2009 Tracy Crump
“So it’s ok to lie, huh?” My son shot me an impish grin.
I had just explained that I was adding dialogue and other details to flesh out a story I intended to submit to a Chicken Soup for the Soul book. The incident I wrote about took place over sixty years ago—before I was born. Not even my eighty-two-year-old father, who experienced the event firsthand, remembered the particulars.
Chicken Soup wants true stories about ordinary people. They also want stories with action and dialogue, “filled with emotion and drama” as well as “vivid images created by using the five senses.” But what if you weren’t there, and others’ memories have grown fuzzy. My son’s ribbing raised a good question: How true is “true”?
Whether writing for anthologies or penning our memoirs, the technique we often use is creative nonfiction. Lee Gutkind, author of The Best Creative Nonfiction, says, “Ultimately, the primary goal of the creative nonfiction writer is to communicate information, just like a reporter, but to shape it in a way that reads like fiction.” In discussing memoirs, veteran writing professor William Zinsser writes, “You must become the editor of your own life, imposing on an untidy sprawl of half-remembered events a narrative shape and an organizing idea. Memoir is the art of inventing the truth.”
I don’t believe Zinsser gives us license to lie, but we can employ the fiction techniques of characterization, plot, setting, dialogue and narrative while keeping our stories within the bounds of truth. Below are suggestions for doing so:
- Research and interview primary sources to get all the facts you can.
- Remain true to what really happened—leave known details intact.
- Create a setting consistent with the facts but ripe with sensations. If it’s fall, paint the trees with color and let us feel the crisp air, even if you don’t remember those details.
- Write dialogue true to your characters’ personalities, what they most likely would have said.
- Omit unnecessary details and repetitions. Zinsser says we can “alter a time sequence” or “collapse several events into one event” without violating the truth.
- Don’t fabricate characters, but you can create composite characters or “heighten a personality trait” (Zinsser).
Take care. Some writers have gotten themselves into hot water by inventing "reality" (see Wikipedia web link below). Writing creative nonfiction can be challenging, but remembering Jesus’ oft-repeated words, I tell you the truth, will keep us on track.
Gutkind, Lee. The Best Creative Nonfiction, Vol. 1. New York: W. W. Norton, 2007, pp. xi.
Zinsser, William. On Writing Well. New York: Collins, 2006, p. 136.
Zinsser, William. Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir and
© 2009 Bill Wetterman
As a career businessman, I've had to meet deadlines and instruct others on how to meet deadlines. There are three huge stumbling blocks. They will differ person-by-person, but I think most people will see themselves suffering with one of them.
Taking on too much. You make too many commitments. Then you find the unexpected things in life raise their ugly heads, and you fall hopelessly behind.
Solution: Prioritize! Think ahead and remove or delay doing things that don't make the top of your list. Finally, learn to say no to additional commitments until your top priorities are taken care of.
Fear of failure. This is particularly a problem for successful people. You've set a standard of excellence, and you worry about maintaining it. “My work is not good enough. I'm not skilled enough. Where has my talent gone?”
Solution: If you're going to write, you might as well accept rejection, criticism, and letdowns. Seek the help of others. Seek out your critique group particularly. Put your ego aside. Do the best you can. Then hit the send button, or put the stamp on and mail it in.
Fear of success. I know people don't believe this is a problem. But many people delay meeting a deadline because they just might succeed. Then more and more will be required of them, and they fear having to meet the standard they just set for themselves.
Solution: Decide what you want out of life, and decide what you have to give up to obtain it.
If your desire is excellence, and it should be, you must take control of what you’ll work on. Make your writing the best it can be and meet that deadline!
Bill Wetterman is a member of ACFW, TWV2, and WIN, Writers of Inspirational Novels. He retired after twenty-five years as Vice President of Operations for Wolters Search Group, an Executive Search Firm. During his worklife, he trained some of the top Search Consultants in the country. Bill has been married to Pam Wetterman for 44 years. They have two grown children and three grandchildren.
Take Time to Sharpen Your Saw
© 2009 Marylane Wade Koch
Years ago I received some advice that proved invaluable but challenging. I tend to be the always-busy-with-something type. When a friend asked me to attend a professional development workshop, I responded, “Thanks, but I’m too busy right now.” He kindly reminded me, “Sometimes you’ve got to stop and sharpen your saw.”
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steve Covey describes habit #7 as “Sharpen the Saw.” He explains this concept of self-renewal with the analogy of a woodcutter who saws for days but becomes less productive. Because the cutting process dulls the blade, the woodcutter must stop and sharpen his saw to accomplish his goal. Writers build poems, stories, or books using words and thoughts. Like the woodcutter, they need sharp and reliable tools to accomplish their mission.
One of the best ways a writer can sharpen his or her saw is by attending at least one writing workshop or conference each year. At these events, participants spend time away from the stresses of daily life to learn more about their craft while networking with other writers. Sometimes editors and agents present educational sessions and offer private consultations. The investment of time and money in a writing workshop can translate into publishing success.
Check out the diverse workshops and conferences available to writers and pick one (or more) that matches your needs. Below are some websites for locating conferences:
Writers, take time to sharpen your saw. Forget those “I don’t have time” excuses. We all have the same 24 hours each day. Invest in yourself and reap the rewards!
Leave Splicing to the Electricians
© 2009 Tracy Crump
Splicing is the act of joining two things together, such as wire, rope, or film, it can even refer to joining two people in marriage, a splice can be a good thing in those examples, in writing, comma splices are a definite no-no, good writers take care not to use them. Whew! Read that sentence without taking a breath!
In a comma splice, a writer joins two or more independent clauses (complete sentences) with a comma(s), creating a run-on sentence. Unfortunately, I’ve seen many proficient writers commit this error.
If you find comma splices in your writing, you have five choices:
Add a coordinating conjunction. The seven coordinating conjunctions in the English language are and, but, or, nor, for, so, and yet.
- In writing, comma splices are a definite no-no, so good writers take care not to use them.
Use a semicolon to separate the independent clauses.
- In writing, comma splices are a definite no-no; good writers take care not to use them.
Make the clauses separate sentences.
- In writing, comma splices are a definite no-no. Good writers take care not to use them.
Restructure the sentence by subordinating one of the clauses.
- Since comma splices are a definite no-no in writing, good writers take care not to use them.
Leave the comma splice and let the editor think you don’t understand basic sentence structure.
The choice is yours, but I suggest you leave splicing to the electricians.
Resource: The Bedford Handbook, 6th ed., by Diana Hacker
Don’t Write Solo: Join a Group
© 2009 Marylane Wade Koch
Writing is not a team sport. Sometimes writers feel alone in pursuit of their writing goals. Even close friends or family may not relate. Where can writers turn for support, encouragement, and feedback from other writers? The answer may be to join a writers’ group.
Writing groups come in a variety of types. Some are support groups where members share writing goals, hear guest speakers, and learn skills to become published authors. Some groups offer critique, where writers present their work and receive feedback from other members. Some meet in-person while others meet online. Some groups specialize in poetry, romance, or mystery while others welcome any genre. Some meet weekly, others monthly. Some groups have many members, some just a few. Some have dues, others are free.
Selecting a group is an individual preference. In-person writing groups promote personal relationships among members with common interests. They provide social interaction with others on a similar journey. Over coffee, writers can enter discussions and receive feedback on their ideas. Online Internet groups offer diverse opportunities without the constraint of geography or meeting times. Some writers join both in-person and online groups.
To locate a writing group, explore local libraries, bookstores, or colleges where groups often post meeting information. Check community announcements in newspapers. Visit national professional writing organizations online to discover local chapters. Find in-person and online groups though a search engine such as Google or Yahoo with key words like “writing groups” or “writers’ groups.”
Consider the goal/mission of the group, average attendance, frequency and location of meetings, and dues or fees. At the meeting, evaluate the following:
- Does the meeting focus on writing or on socializing?
- Are the members writing, submitting, and publishing?
- Are the members positive about writing and learning?
- Do members welcome newcomers?
- Do members leave the meeting inspired to write and submit?
The writing journey can be more fun and productive when shared with others. If a group is not available in a given area, the writer can always start one!
LINC Memphis area (Keywords “writers clubs”)
About online groups
How to start a writing group
Marylane is President of Byhalia Christian Writers (BCW). To learn more about BCW, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pass on the Passive
© 2009 Tracy Crump
Which of the following sentences arouses more righteous anger?
- The World Trade Center was destroyed in 2001.
- The World Trade Center was destroyed by terrorists in 2001.
- Terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center in 2001.
Though all three sentences are grammatically correct, the last uses active voice or construction which conveys more power, emphasizes the actor, and is clearer and more direct. The first two use passive voice which generally expresses an idea in a weaker, less straightforward manner.
To understand passive versus active voice, simply remember: In active voice, the subject performs the action; in passive voice, the subject receives the action. Passive voice always combines a form of to be with a past participle. Sometimes the direct object acts upon the subject (as in the second example), and sometimes the actor vanishes from the sentence altogether (as in the first example). Your sentences will carry more clout and communicate better if you use the active voice.
Passive voice is still appropriate in certain situations:
- To emphasize the receiver of the action (Jesus was raised from the dead.)
- To minimize the importance of the actor, when you don’t know who the actor is, or when it doesn’t matter (The dam was opened to release flood waters.)
- To place the actor at the end of the sentence for emphasis or surprise (The family was saved from the burning building by a ten-year-old child.)
- To make the sentence a command (Trucks are not allowed on this road.)
- To emphasize the process or experiment in scientific writing (The solution was kept at a steady temperature.)
NOTE: Writers sometimes refer to linking verbs, such as to be, as passive. As Cec Murphey, author of 90 Minutes in Heaven, says, “There is no such thing as a passive verb.” Though to be verbs weaken our writing, they do not by themselves constitute the use of passive voice. Also don’t confuse the use of progressive tense—a to be verb combined with an -ing verb (i.e. I was walking down the street)—with passive voice. Remember that the subject must receive the action of the verb to constitute the use of passive voice.
Keep your writing strong, clear, and active. Pass on the passive!
Resources: The Bedford Handbook, 6th ed. by Diana Hacker, Woe Is I by Patricia T. O’Conner, and The Writers View 2 posts by Cecil Murphy (May 21, 2008)
Writing Is Rewriting
© 2008 Marylane Wade Koch
First comes the idea; the writer rushes to the keyboard to start that story or article. After hours or weeks of labor, the work is complete. How wonderful it feels! However, is the project really finished? Unfortunately many manuscripts never reach publication because the author stops after this initial effort. Getting the story or article on paper is basically writing the first draft.
- Professional writers know that writing is rewriting. The next critical step in the publishing process is revision of the draft. Rewriting is time consuming but necessary to advance the manuscript from the slush pile to successful publication. Below are some basic actions that can make a difference in whether an editor accepts or rejects a writer’s work:
- Print a hard copy of the manuscript. The careful scrutiny of revision is best accomplished by reading a paper copy of the work. Editing on a computer screen can lull the author’s attention and result in errors.
- Give the manuscript a vacation. Put the paper into a file or a drawer for a period of time. Some authors suggest the work should cool for a minimum of 24 hours while others recommend a week to a month. Time away from the story or article provides the distance necessary for objective revision.
- Read the manuscript out loud. The ears are less forgiving than the eyes, so errors become evident as the author hears the spoken words. Listen to the rhythm or cadence of the phrases. Read aloud to highlight misused words like from instead of form or homonyms like bear and bare, your and you’re, who’s and whose, weak and week, or there, their, and they’re.
- Correct basic grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes that can prevent any good idea from finding a published home. Use the spell check function on the word processor to confirm the spelling of all words. Check out resources available at local bookstores and online. Every writer needs access to Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, a good dictionary, and a thesaurus. The Internet offers excellent free resources such as the following:
Online copy of The Elements of Style
Online dictionary and thesaurus with pronunciation
Online list of homonyms
Now, pull out that first draft and get to work. Rewriting requires time and energy, but the investment will pay off in better writing and successful publication.
To Cliché or Not to Cliché
© 2008 Tracy Crump
I love clichés. Editors don't. I don't know what's wrong with those people. I would give them a piece of my mind, but I guess I'd better let sleeping dogs lie.
The Microsoft Works dictionary describes a cliché as an "overused expression; a phrase or word that has lost its original effectiveness or power from overuse." Clichés may compare things (She's as pretty as a picture) or impart a crumb of wisdom (An apple a day keeps the doctor away). They are the everyday expressions we've grown up with and express exactly the right sentiment for the occasion.
Clichés often originate from great literature. I once started a list of common sayings from the Bible and was surprised by how much of our everyday speech stems from scripture. Many of the truisms attributed to Shakespeare actually came from the Bible.
So why don't editors like clichés? Jan Karon has made a mint off them in her Mitford series. But as people like to tell me, "You're not Jan Karon."
Clichés tend to be stale and hackneyed. Editors (and readers) like writing that is fresh and original. By articulating our thoughts and feelings in unique and creative ways, we give our readers new glasses through which to view the world. We can do this by altering a cliché (as in the title of this article) or by making new comparisons (Her welcoming personality made me feel good inside—like a stack of warm pancakes on a Saturday morning.) Anyway, you get the idea.
Try to find imaginative ways of expressing yourself and one day your words may become the next generation's cliché.