From The Dishwasher Froths Success

By C.S. Paquin

Success as a freelance writer has come from the dishwasher— no, not via a lucrative commercial-copy gig bubbling with the attributes of a kitchen appliance, but from the old dishwasher installed in our new apartment.

The state of my kitchen defines my professional success and pre-dishwasher, chaos reigned! Last night’s dishes piled high don’t auger well for a productive morning, but once those counter tops sparkle, well, I’m free to tackle whatever chore is next. The only problem is, I hate dishpan hands, and in avoidance, it’s easy for me to waste an entire day—in fact, the task only takes on a sense of urgency when it’s time for dinner. This disorganization sounds the death knell for my writing career—haphazard working hours, staying up too late to make deadline after hours of procrastination, and working fitfully amidst the laundry, vacuuming, and errands—all impatiently demanding attention once I’m done in the kitchen.

But now, the delight of dealing with dirty dishes without delay, has sparked a catalyst. Each morning, after my daughter goes to school and the baby to the sitter, I tidy the apartment and throw in a load of laundry while the dishwasher sings its sloshy song. By 9 a.m., cappuccino time, I’m opening the mail, and with the rest of the place clutter-free, it’s prudent to keep my desk as pristine and file my papers and pay the bills. I’ve discovered, too, that if I balance the checkbook every few days, then it takes just a few minutes, and I even remember what I bought.

By 9.30 a.m., in disbelief at how early it still is, I switch on my computer and check for looming deadlines. I have regular editing jobs, a small column for a regional magazine, as well as sending out queries to new markets. The difference is, I’m really writing the queries and mailing them. Pre-dishwasher, I’d sit and dream about it, because with a brimming sink, I couldn’t possibly start the query process. So, with my attention not distracted by the chores, I set up and conduct interviews, write and edit what needs to be done, and send in work not only hours, but days before deadline. Ticking off the tasks on my list is addictive and the more I check off, the more inspired I am to find and complete new projects.

Within a few weeks, my flailing career takes new shape—more gigs appear, and checks trickle in. “Aha,” I think to myself, as I add regular banking to the task list: Self-discipline does pay!

This revelation chases away the nagging suspicion that haunted me—that I’m more in love with the idea of writing, than actually writing. These days, as I see my reflection in the shiny plates, I say to myself quite proudly: “I am a freelance writer!”

C.S. Paquin is a nationally published writer in a variety of genres—from news writing to humor. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Journalism, and dreams of being a best-selling author. Her first writing love, however, is creative nonfiction and personal essays.

Breaking Out Of Writer’s Block

By Apryl Duncan

You stare at the blank page. The white of the page embeds itself in your brain, resulting in your mind going blank.

Breaking out of the block doesn’t have to be a mind-boggling challenge, though. Explore the causes and the cure and you’ll be writing again in no time.

Common Causes

  • Unrealistic GoalsIf you’ve decided that you’re going to write from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every single day – no matter what – then you’re probably pushing yourself too hard.Your writing will become dull and drab. The natural flow you once knew will temporarily escape to Writer’s Block Island with the rest of your writing talents.
  • Stress!We all know how stress can affect your mood. But stress can also affect your writing.For instance, say all you wanted to do was come home from work and write until bedtime. Your boss makes you stay late. Your supper was a half-cooked hamburger and cold fries from a local fast food restaurant. Your dog wants to go out. And all you want to do is crawl in bed and forget the entire day.

    As much as we try to carry a stiff upper lip, we’re still human. External factors can affect our mood and ultimately affect our writing. Our focus shifts to all the bad things that happened in our day and writing becomes the last thing we want to do.

  • Neglecting Our WritingSometimes Writer’s Block comes from not writing! Writing every day is essential to keeping those creative juices flowing.You don’t have to make an impossible deal with yourself to write 100 pages of your manuscript in one sitting. Taking as little as 10 minutes a day helps keep you writing and words will flow from your mind much easier.
  • PerfectionismThe perfect paragraph, word after word, is a carefully constructed piece of art. But hanging yourself up on creating that perfect paragraph will win you an all-expense paid trip to Writer’s Block Island.If you run into this problem, give yourself and your writing a cooling off period. After a couple of days, re-visit your work and see where or even if it needs improvement. Your mind will be fresh and clear, giving you a whole new perspective on your own writing.
  • Research-RelatedA lot of writers don’t realize how research can even be a hang-up. Maybe you can’t finish your crime novel because you don’t know how police would handle a certain situation in reality.Sometimes the answer isn’t so obvious and we try to write our way around it. All we really need to do is a little more research.

The Cure!

After you’ve beaten your fists on the keyboard and taken two aspirin for that migraine, try these cures for writer’s block:

    • RevisitRe-read some of your previous works. Maybe it was a journal entry. Perhaps you wrote a poem once. It doesn’t matter if you’re working on a novel. You can still gain insight and even inspiration from something else you’ve written.
    • Change of SceneryHow many times have you heard a song that reminds you of something? Perhaps you heard that song a dozen times a day when you were in college. So that particular song brings back memories. The same goes for scenery in your every day life.If you’re sitting in the same room, day after day, the scenery’s going to get old. That scenery starts to remind you that you’re not writing. That you’re stuck in what seems like a hopeless case of Writer’s Block.

      The solution is simple. Seek out a change of pace. Go for a walk. Take a drive.

    • Rewrite Another’s WorkCheck out a newspaper or magazine article. Now rewrite that story from a new angle. Maybe a young girl was kidnapped. Police are still looking for the suspect and the little girl.Your version of the story might portray the young girl as the daughter of a lawyer. Perhaps one of his clients wasn’t happy with the way his own daughter’s murder trial was handled. So he kidnapped the defending lawyer’s pride and joy.
    • Use Real PicturesFlip through a magazine. Cut out pictures, headlines, even certain blocks of text. Now write a short story based on your clippings.For example, you might cut out a picture of a man riding a bicycle on page 14 of your favorite magazine. On page 22 you cut out a quote that says, “Anyone caught doing this will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

      Your story could turn into one man’s crusade. Perhaps this man’s riding his bicycle across country because he’s outraged by automobile pollution levels. His point is to raise people’s awareness about the effects of pollution.

      Meanwhile, police keep hindering his efforts because the man’s riding his bicycle on the freeway, a violation of the law. So you have a man on his bicycle and the police quote, “Anyone caught doing this will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

    • DoodleYes! You were scolded in elementary school for doodling on your paper. Now you have full permission.Free your mind while scribbling. No need to think about your character’s next move. No plot structures to consider. Just a sense of connecting your pen to paper.
    • Object FocusTake a look around you. Does something catch your eye? Even something as simple as a stapler. Describe an object in full detail. Start with its size, shape, color.
    • Building BlocksRomance. Mystery. Thrillers. All genres have their own keywords. Build keywords from your own genre.If you’re a romance writer, you could come up with words like love, marriage, betrayal, lust, happiness. Jot down as many words as you can think of.
    • Life EventsThe birth of a child. Holidays. Graduation. Weddings. We all have our favorite life events. Pick one of your own and write down all your thoughts and feelings about that day. Turn it into a story.
    • NetworkMany authors beat Writer’s Block or avoid it altogether by networking with their fellow writers. Bulletin boards, chats and writer’s Web sites all offer you the chance to meet other authors and work your way through the many facets of fiction writing.Think of talking with other writers as your own personal support group.

Writer’s Block may attack you at some point in your writing career but always remember:

WB isn’t fatal.

Overcoming WB is not impossible.

WB’s only temporary.

Apryl Duncan is the founder of www.FictionAddiction.NET, an award-winning site for fiction writers and readers. She is an author and professional freelance writer who enjoys writing everything from mystery novels to how-to articles on the writing craft.

Building a Better Biography

By Ami Hendrickson

Whether you are a beginning writer or an established byline, it behooves you to construct a biography as a means of introducing yourself to those who haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading your work.

Bios are more important than you might think. They give the reader a quick overview of your qualifications to write whatever it is you have to say. They offer a bit of your writing history. And they provide an opportunity to connect with your readers on a personal level.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a string of best-sellers to list on your bio. In fact, it doesn’t matter if you have few (if any) credits to your name. The biography is a fluid piece. As you start accumulating credits, you can easily add them and allow some of the less impressive things to fall by the wayside.

Bio Building Guidelines

Writing your bio doesn’t have to be a chore. Some simple suggestions:

Write in the third person. Use your full name in the first sentence. Afterward, refer to yourself either by your first name only, your last name only, or the pronoun “she” or “he.”

Say you are a writer in the very first sentence. If you specialize in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or screenwriting, say so. If you have a niche area that you are especially known for, say so. (“Jane Smith is a freelance writer specializing in worsted yarn and the humor of Albert Einstein.”)

Brag. Tell people what you’ve done. This is no time to be shy. If your writing has ever won any sort of recognition or contest, use the term “award-winning.” If you have written a best-seller, say so. If you have published ten, 20 or 100 articles, mention it. If your mother thinks you’re brilliant—keep it to yourself.

It’s okay to be eclectic. If your credits are all over the map—if you’ve done a little of everything, that’s fine. Something like “Smith has written greeting cards, warning labels, and street signs. She has also provided copy for breakfast cereal boxes,” would be appropriate to highlight your range.

No experience is necessary. If you don’t have many (any?) writing credits to include in your bio, don’t panic. Identify areas in which you specialize, or that you know more about than the average person. Write those down and don’t worry about perceived shortcomings in the byline department. (“Smith has climbed Mt. Everest twice, walked on the moon, and appeared as a Playboy Playmate. She is a double black belt in Tae Kwon Do and enjoys knitting potholders in her spare time.”)

Location, location, location. If you wish, include a short sentence about where you live. Don’t be so specific that the loonies out there can find you and stalk you. But a reference to your family members, your pets, and your hometown can help make you more accessible to your reader.

If writing about yourself in the third person, or “bragging” about your abilities is difficult, write some sample bios for famous people, or for people you know well. Once you get a feel for the exercise, then apply it to yourself.

If you don’t have a bio, I urge you to spend some time creating one. Make it as lengthy and as packed with information as you wish. Then leave it for a few days, come back to it and edit it.

When you’re done, ask yourself if you would read something written by the person the text describes. Work at your bio until the answer to that question is “Yes!”

Bringing Your Bio on Board

Once you have drafted your bio, you will discover that opportunities to use it are plentiful. For instance:

Websites, weblogs, book jackets, and brochures are useful places to include such information.

A short space at the end of magazine articles is often devoted to the author’s biographical information.

If you ever teach or speak publicly, a short bio allows someone to easily introduce you to your audience.

You can also include your bio in a short paragraph in letters introducing yourself or your work to a potential publisher, editor, agent, or manager.

When you use your bio, tailor it for the situation. Use the whole thing on a resume of writing credentials. Shorten it to a single paragraph for inclusion in introductory letters. For speaking introductions, you may wish to shorten it still further. And for “about the author” blurbs, condense it to one or two sentences.

The point, however, is that you cannot utilize something you do not have. So spend some time thinking of how best to introduce you and your writing to the world. Then have fun looking for creative ways to make your bio work for you.

Ami Hendrickson is an award-winning writer, screenwriter, educator, editor, and consultant. She has written for some of the leading horsemen in the world including Clinton Anderson, of Downunder Horsemanship, and hunter trainer and judge Geoff Teall. Find out about her latest projects Website, or visit her blog at Museinks.

Overcoming the Fear of Writing a Synopsis

By Vicki M. Taylor

If you noticed, I didn’t title this article “Overcoming YOUR Fear of Writing a Synopsis.” I don’t think you own the fear anymore than I do or any other writer. We all share a common emotion, one that can be summed up in one word: Formidable.

What is it about this particular piece of writing that brings out more moans and groans from writers than a room full of sixth graders getting a surprise math test?

What is a Synopsis?

Look at the word. Synopsis. Say it with me. “Sin-op-sissss.” Even the sound of the word emanates dread. What is a synopsis? Webster’s defines it as “a shortened statement or outline, as of a narrative. Abstract.” Nothing sounds particularly evil in that definition. Let’s look at it a little closer — “shortened statement or outline.” Hey, look at that, “outline.” Now, there is a little word we’re all familiar with. Does “outline” make you cringe as much as “synopsis”? What about “shortened statement”? Not me. Probably not you, either.

Start with a Simple Sentence

Let’s start with the shortened statement. I’ll use the popular children’s story Lady and the Tramp to demonstrate my points.

What is our story about?

Lady and the Tramp is a story about dogs.

True, but the portrayal is dry and uninteresting. Would you want to just read a story about dogs? What makes this dog story different? Let’s see if we can add some more information to better describe the story.

Lady and the Tramp is about two dogs from different sides of the track.

Good. Now we know that there are two main characters. And, we know that these two characters are different in some way. Let’s see if we can do a little bit better.

Lady and the Tramp tells the adventures of an upper-class, well bred cocker spaniel and a roguish mutt from the wrong side of the tracks.

Okay. Now we have some description and a hint at a story. We know that these two distinctly different characters are going to have at least one adventure.

Describe Your Story in 25 Words or Less

So, now we need to think about our audience. The synopsis generally goes to an editor, agent, or publisher. So, we must capture their attention. Give them something to grab onto and not let go. This is where you can really get creative and meet the “describe your story in 25 words or less” challenge.

Lady and the Tramp is filled with exciting adventures of Lady, a lovingly pampered cocker spaniel, and Tramp, a roguish mutt from across the tracks.

Whew! There it is — 25 words — exactly. We’ve just written a strong hook for the opening of our synopsis.

Every synopsis should start out with a statement that describes your story in approximately 25 words. However, don’t be a stickler about trying to hit the “magic” number. There isn’t really a magic number. But, keeping your description to approximately 25 words helps to focus your writing on the key elements of your story.

Key Elements — Not That Difficult to Identify

Speaking of key elements, those are what we now need to identify so that we can create our synopsis.

Wait, wait. Stop groaning. I promise we’ll go slowly. Okay?

I think I’ve read every article and book written on creating a synopsis and even though every writer has their own formula for creating the “perfect synopsis,” I admit that authors agree on one thing — You need to practice. So, my suggestion is that you do what I’ve done here. You find some simple stories and practice creating the synopsis for them. Once you’re able to pick out the key elements easily, you’re ready to create a synopsis for your own story.

So, back to our story, Lady and the Tramp.

First Element — Structure

The basic structure of the synopsis should be a complete summary of your story from beginning to end, written in present tense. Simple, right? So far. Let’s see how that helps us with our story.

Lady and the Tramp is filled with exciting adventures of Lady, a lovingly pampered cocker spaniel and Tramp, a roguish mutt from across the tracks. Lady’s owners love her but ignore her when their baby arrives. The owners leave her with a cat-loving aunt who locks Lady out of the house. Lady runs away and straight into a street-wise mutt named Tramp who shows her how good he has it being free from owners. Lady is caught by the dog catcher and spends time in the pound learning some of Tramp’s secrets. Hurt and jealous, Lady is returned home and exiled to the doghouse once again. Lady discovers a rat making its way into the house and is helpless to defend her home. Tramp helps her by getting into the house and killing the rat. However, he’s accused of attacking the baby and is placed in the dog catcher’s wagon to be taken to the pound. Lady’s owners return home just in time to see how Lady has been treated and have Lady show them the dead rat.

More Key Elements — Setting, Main Characters, Conflict

Not bad for a first draft. We’re missing a few items that would make the story more dramatic and compelling for the editor, but those can be added easily. First, we should make sure that we’ve established the setting for the story and identified our main characters.

We’ll have to identify real conflict between these characters and their motivations. Then, we’ll have to show the resolution of the conflict. It isn’t as important to name every character in the synopsis, but you must name your main characters.

Final Key Elements — Tell Your Ending

Finally, we must make sure that we’ve wrapped up our story and told our ending. Yes, that’s what I said, we tell our ending in the synopsis. You must never, ever tease editors and leave them guessing about the ending of story.

As a side note for romance writers: If your story is a romance, make sure you always establish the love relationship between the two main characters by showing how they met and why they’re fighting against their attraction.

With that advice, let’s see how our synopsis shapes up after adding these key elements.

Lady and the Tramp is an early twentieth century story filled with exciting adventures of Lady, a lovingly pampered cocker spaniel, and Tramp, a roguish mutt from across the tracks in New England. Lady’s owners lavish attention on her until a new baby arrives that takes all their attention. Ignoring Lady’s needs, they go away on a trip leaving her and the baby with a callous aunt and her two Siamese cats that wreak havoc. Lady, wrongly accused of the mischievous cats’ pranks, ends up in the backyard doghouse and eventually fitted for a muzzle.

Fearful, Lady runs away and straight into a street-wise mutt named Tramp who shows her how good he has it being free from owners. He treats her to a night on the town, complete with a romantic Italian dinner from his favorite restaurant. Unfortunately, even though he protects Lady from a vicious dog attack, Tramp can’t protect her from the dog catcher. Lady spends time in the pound learning some of Tramp’s secrets from his other wayward, albeit intimate, acquaintances.

Hurt and jealous, Lady returns home and is once again exiled to the doghouse. Lady’s other neighborhood dog-friends advice her to forget this scoundrel and chivalrously offer to take care of her. Tramp returns, hoping to change Lady’s mind about him. She rejects his advances and sends him on his way. Moments later, she’s alarmed that an ugly rat enters the house, but can’t do anything about it because she’s chained. Tramp comes to the rescue by finding a way into the house and killing the rat before it can harm the baby. However, the heartless aunt accuses Tramp of attacking the baby and calls the dog catcher who places him in the wagon to be taken to the pound.

Lady’s owners return home just in time to see how Lady has been treated and have Lady show them the dead rat. Lady’s friends run to stop the dog catcher’s wagon and everyone is reunited after a thrilling chase scene. When the commotion settles, Tramp chooses the family life and abandons his drifting ways to stay with Lady and her owners.

And, there you have it. Your synopsis. Was that so painful?

This synopsis is rather short when compared to the longer books you desire to write. Don’t let that intimidate you. The concept is still the same.

Final Advice

Editors have specific requirements when it comes to the length of your synopsis. Unfortunately, just like snowflakes, no two editors are the same. One editor requires a ten-page synopsis while another may only want two pages. My advice to you is that you follow the requirements of the editor and make sure you include enough information in your synopsis to tell your story but not so much to slow it down. Focus on the story’s development from beginning to end and make sure you emphasize the resolution of the conflict and/or romance.

If you’re having trouble writing your synopsis, don’t beat yourself up about it. Go back to your story. Have you developed the plot completely? Do you understand your characters and their motivation? Is your conflict believable and resolvable? If you can’t answer those questions, the problem isn’t with your synopsis. If you don’t understand your story how do you expect an editor to?

Good luck and remember to practice, practice, practice.

Vicki M. Taylor has been writing technically for nearly fifteen years and has recently published fiction. She enjoys writing stories with strong women as the main characters. When she’s not writing, you can find her lurking about the many writing boards chatting with others and dispensing little pearls of wisdom from her computer in Tampa, Florida. Vicki M. Taylor has a website, where you can read more of her writing.

Lady and the Tramp is owned by Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

How To Avoid Being Trapped

By Nancy Julien Kopp

Can a writer be compared to a jungle animal? Is a writer anything like the tawny leopard who pauses in a shaft of golden sunlight and lifts his regal head, nostrils flaring? He crouches low to the ground and proceeds toward his next sure meal. The leopard ignores all other aspects of nature’s bounty as the scent of a fresh kill draws him on. Without warning, he falls into a vast hole and lands at the bottom with a thud. Trapped! Caught with no way out!

Unsuspecting writers fall into traps, too. The scent of publication draws them through their own jungle. Sometimes writers forget to be cautious and tend to business, and they fall headlong into a different type of pit, trapped like the leopard. But a writer can find the means to escape and continue on his journey.

Writers are urged to write often, to write voraciously, to write, write, write. We know that in order to become better writers and win the prize — publication — there are myriad things we must do besides putting words on paper. Writing successes don’t arrive out of the blue, but are achieved in various ways.

Among them, reading about writing is foremost in our minds, so we go to the local library and bookstores. We borrow dozens of books that tell us how to plot, how to sketch characters, how to present a book proposal, and more. The books line our shelves, and we immerse ourselves in one after the other and absorb the lessons within. Certainly one viewpoint is too narrow. Let’s expand our horizons and read several.

It eats into our writing time.

Kathryn Anzak writes book reviews and nonfiction and is also working on a novel. She says, “Reading books does get in the way of writing. I get caught up in the learning and forget the application part.”

Read books about writing, but read fewer of them. It’s impossible to read every book written on the subject of writing. Select the ones you do read with care, and look for material dealing with the type of writing you do.

In addition to instructive books, the Internet is filled with writers’ sites presenting weekly or monthly newsletters. The editors offer articles to read and classes to take. They present markets and contests, writing prompts, and fun activities. Seldom satisfied with one of these newsletters, most writers subscribe to dozens. The newsletters do have some excellent information, but they take precious time to read. It eats into our writing time.

Once again, be selective. If you find yourself skimming through the contents of one of these newsletters rather than fully reading it, unsubscribe quickly. With a practiced eye, you’ll soon discern which are worth the time it takes to read them. You’ll figure out which ones offer solutions to problems or new markets, and which are forms of mindless entertainment.

We look for help other than what we find in books and on the Internet, something that includes other writers in a social setting. We find it in a personal, face-to-face critique group, which profits writers in numerous ways. Whether it meets weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, a local group like this can offer constructive criticism and perhaps praise for our work. It also eats into our writing time.

Before joining one of these critique groups, take a serious look at the time involved. Ask yourself if the time befits the benefit. Is it worth using precious hours you might spend at your computer writing a story? A writer can profit from an honest answer to this question.

Research provides another way to help craft a successful manuscript. Those who write nonfiction, historical fiction, and contemporary fiction often need to delve into investigative fact-finding. One thing leads to another, and the research takes far longer than anticipated. It eats into our writing time.

Jerri Garretson is the owner of Ravenstone Press and author of several books for children, including The Secret of Hidden Springs and Imagicat. Jerri says, “For me, the distraction is likely to be too much researching, way beyond what I actually need. I get to enjoying the process, and it feeds on itself.”

With practice, the writer can determine an appropriate amount of time given to research. A written list of facts and information to complete the story is helpful in deciding how much research is necessary. Adhere to the list rather than enlarging upon it as you go. The important thing here is to stay focused.

Writers’ organizations offer another opportunity to learn from others. If you live in a city that has a chapter of a national writers group, it makes sense to join. Groups like this can bring many advantages, but we can also become so involved that it eats into our writing time.

An author of adult fiction, who prefers to remain anonymous, says that she recently resigned from a group of writers because she got caught up in revising their by-laws, policies, and procedures. She says, “With all the apologies I heard from others at the meetings for not having gotten any writing done since the last meeting, I knew I was wasting my time.”

If you want to retain membership in a group like this, do so, but attend when you can afford the time, and don’t allow yourself to become embroiled in the operation of the group to the detriment of your own working time. It’s not easy to say no when asked to help, but learn to put your writing first and foremost. It’s the gold star item in your life if you intend to be a serious writer.

We’ve explored numerous ways we attempt to become better writers but not all of them are beneficial. As we’ve seen, some of them lead us into a trap. Frank Kryza, author of The Power of Light/cite>, gives some excellent advice. “Very few writing projects can be completed within a short planning horizon, so you just have to be committed to writing every day, whether you want to or not, and the best teacher will be your own (self-discovered) mistakes.”

This advice is plain and simple and leaves few, if any, traps to snare us.

Kate Reynolds has completed one novel and is working on another. Kate, too, has some good suggestions. She says, “Years ago, I read an article that listed ‘The Five Essential Steps To Publishing.’ I typed them into my computer and printed the page. It’s dog-eared and coffee stained now, but I keep this list by my computer and read it every day to keep myself focused.”

Kate’s five steps are:

  1. Write
  2. Finish it
  3. Do not re-write endlessly
  4. Send it to someone who can buy it; not friends or relatives
  5. Go to step 1

Don’t be like the leopard and let the scent of publication lead you into one of these traps. You can maintain a healthy balance of the tools of the trade available to a writer. Review your writing activities occasionally to make sure you aren’t falling into one of those deep pits again. When you are producing fewer and fewer pages, it may be time to step back and assess the reasons why you are writing less. To make writing a priority takes the same kind of commitment as saving money. Financial experts advise clients to take the savings out of the paycheck first. Writing is no different — those thousand words a day must take precedence over all other writing-related aspects of your life. You know what the traps are, and by practicing self-discipline, you can avoid all of them and become a better writer.

Nancy Julien Kopp’s writing reflects both her growing-up years in Chicago and many years of living in the Flint Hills of Kansas. She has published stories, articles, essays, children’s stories and poetry in magazines, newspapers, and online. She is a former teacher who still enjoys teaching via the written word. You can find her at Writer Granny’s World.

Career Smart Writing

By Ursula Vogt

The most important work any writer can do will never see an editor’s desk. It doesn’t make any difference what you write, where you publish, or even if you’re watching the mail for your first acceptance letter; the few pages you write for yourself can build a new career, or take an existing one to a much higher level.

If you’re looking for professional writing success, you probably use the one basic plan all writers have in common. Write. Submit. Cash the check. When the plan fails, and it will, a career smart writer survives while the rest talk about when they did a little writing once. For a lucky few, the basic plan works, but it’s not sophisticated, not focused enough to build a future. At some point, you need to write a career plan. Not just a general list of goals, because most of us have one of those, too; I mean a plan to reach those goals. It’s the best way to insure you have a career rather than a hobby.

Immediate gratification is priceless in our world. We want new ideas we can put to work right now, so let’s take that approach with a writing plan. Consider this a writing assignment from the toughest editor you know–yourself. Be realistic, but don’t be afraid to dream big. If you take it seriously and give it your best effort, your career plan will start producing usable results in about ten minutes.

Success Is A State Of Mind

Start by being clear about what success is for you. Everyone has a different definition, but the one thing most have in common is that you need to keep proving yourself. If you buy into that thinking, you’re giving someone else control of your career. Writers tend to focus on their lack of accepted submissions, their rejections, instead of focusing on their writing success.

Rejection letters are a big part of a writer’s life. You’re going to get them and sometimes your writing will deserve them, but notice I say, your writing deserves them, because rejection letters aren’t personal. Writing groups and chat rooms are full of that discussion, so don’t kid yourself into believing rejection letters are the reason you aren’t achieving goals. You might be a good writer who needs to polish up the submission and marketing skills, or one who needs to improve grammar and punctuation. It may be that the editor is shoulder deep in the same kind of thing you write.

Try a proactive approach that puts you in control. If you have successfully published before, you can do it again. If you haven’t—wonderful. You won’t make the mistake of starting out with the hit-and-miss approach. The key isn’t proving yourself; the key is training yourself to be the best writer you can be. Make it one of your goals to spend time improving your craft, and if you think you don’t need to learn anything more, think again. The markets change daily.

Despite our best efforts, eventually, we all pace the floor, coffee cup in hand, wondering what to write, where to submit, or considering real estate as a better career option. It’s a given that you will still have dry spells, but that isn’t a measure of success either. If you know where your writing is going, career dreams quit being dreams and become attainable goals. Dry spells stay dry, but they’re much shorter and they won’t take control. You will.

Playing Office

Have you ever had a day when ideas poured from someplace deep, someplace you didn’t recognize? It was so good you felt guilty for putting your name on it, because surely, creative elves visited your desk during the night?

The next day usually turns out to be one of those dry days we were just talking about. In the absence of a creative downpour, you start organizing file drawers and alphabetizing sticky notes, looking for that writer’s high. You can’t recreate that feeling any other way than by writing. Playing office is the ultimate denial. You can organize all day long, a few days like that are actually necessary, but if you don’t write, you won’t achieve the level of satisfaction we all look for.

Go ahead and use the dry time as effectively as you can. Maybe reading through old notes and files will jog the muse to life, but recognize it for what it is. Try writing, even if it turns out to be the most creative grocery list at the market.

Write The Plan

Once you are past the success crisis, it’s easier to be realistic about what you really want to achieve. Do you want to write a book? Good, write that down. How about a specific number of article submissions a month? Add that to your list. I have a conference I want to attend that requires submission of several chapters, two months in advance. It’s on my goals list.

Take an honest look at your desk. What do you have that needs work? What potential story dried up? What market possibility sits there unexplored? Maybe your desk is empty. Add, find potentials to the list.

The Daily Check

I have four or five questions tacked over my desk that I apply to everything I write, and I should be able to answer yes to at least one, and preferably all of the items on the checklist. Feel free to use mine or tailor it to your own goals, but keep it positive. Keep moving your career in a forward direction.

  1. Will today’s project improve my writing skills?
  2. Will this expand my knowledge base?
  3. Is the submission to a well-researched market?
  4. Will the publication be a good addition to my writing resume? If not, is there a strong reason for submitting it anyway? Sometimes volunteer work is a reason of its own. Maybe you just like the publication enough that your resume isn’t the goal. Allow yourself these rejuvenating writing projects, they’re important.
  5. Does it define me, as a writer, in a positive light?

Your list may contain things like targeting particular markets or specific genres. Maybe it moves you toward finishing that book and learning to market it.

If a project doesn’t fit the plan, don’t pitch it. File it away for another day when it can be tweaked to fit. As you expand your knowledge base, you may find one of these ideas to be perfect in the future.

Not Just Another Plan

The most important aspect of a career plan isn’t the actual writing. Have you ever wondered why simple writing goals weren’t met in the past? There’s a good chance the reason is that a goal was set, but no solid plan to achieve it came next. What makes your plan a success is that by developing the checklist, you commit to action every day.

Another crucial follow-up is to treat goals like you would any assignment. Show up at the desk ready to do your best. Go an extra step by scheduling time to evaluate your progress, adjusting either the plan or your approach, and be flexible. You may need to fill in gaps, or slow the pace if you’ve over-estimated.

Take a few minutes to write three pages today, and you’re less likely to give up on success tomorrow. By following your own plan, you spend time improving your writing instead of getting caught up in the hit-and-miss approach. Achieving the smaller goals will add up to a successful writing career instead of a writing hobby.

© Copyright 2001 Ursula Vogt

Ursula Vogt is a freelance writer whose work has been published in Writer’s Digest, Chronicle Online, The Writing Parent, Parenting Today’s Teens and Writer’s Exchange. You can find her at UrsulaVogt.com.

Ask And Ye Shall Receive (Most of the time)

By Sable Jak

A few days ago I got an email from an editor asking me if I was available to take an interview with a well-known screenwriter. I made a couple of phone calls to rearrange my schedule and became available.

As I was interviewing the writer about his latest work, I touched on something else he’d done. The “something” was a favorite of mine and we talked about it briefly, within the context of the interview. That was the end of it.

But all day after the interview I kept thinking, “I really have so many other questions.” I had been given the opportunity to talk to someone whose work I admired. I now made a new opportunity and emailed him asking him if he would be interested in granting another interview, this time specifically about the piece of work on which we’d touched so lightly. I assured him it would be an email interview so he could answer the questions at his leisure. The tone of his reply had a distinct “delighted” feel to it as he agreed to the new interview.

I had turned one opportunity into a second one.

One of the zines I write for didn’t have anyone in Seattle covering a yearly event. I don’t think anyone’s ever covered the event for the zine. I wondered if I could, and decided to follow my daddy’s advice “You don’t ask; you don’t know.” I fired off an email asking if I could cover the event. The editor agreed. The event offers many more opportunities to people willing to grab them while attending.

As you can see, I’ve had one opportunity lead to another, which leads to another which—you get my drift. The funny thing is, when a writer I know asked me what I was doing, and I told him, he said, “Gee, how’d you get those gigs? Wish stuff like that would happen to me.”

Well, “stuff” didn’t happen to me. Months ago I submitted an article to an editor, then another. Next I proposed an idea for another article and another. When the ideas were accepted, I delivered. And, most importantly, I also made myself available for other gigs that might lead to more opportunities. I’m not saying that opportunities don’t just “happen,” because they do. More likely, however, they happen because the people who get them have been busy setting them up. If you don’t believe me, think about some of the “opportunities” you’ve been presented. Weren’t most of them the result of something else? Weren’t they, in some small way, the result of a prior set up that you may, or may not, have set up?

Just how is an opportunity set up? That’s easy, by asking. For instance:

Several of my latest articles in Scr(i)pt ezine are the result of me asking if I could write them. I had an idea for an interview with a tax attorney. After all, a writer’s taxes can get rather sticky and who better to ask about tax stickiness than a tax attorney? Also, a woman I know had organized a rather extensive advanced screenwriter’s retreat. I thought it might make a good story and I asked the editors at Scr(i)pt if I could do an interview with the organizer. They said yes.

And if they’d said no? So what?

So what if they would have said no! Would I be worse off than I was before I’d asked the question? Oh, there’s always the possibility my ego would have been wounded, but Billy Keen pretty well wounded that for all time when he refused to kiss me in the cloakroom back in second grade. The fact is, no, I wouldn’t be worse off than if I’d never asked. As a matter of fact, even if they’d said no, I might still be better off. Why? Because, by suggesting articles, I’m (hopefully) showing that I’m willing to take on more work.

It’s a fact: you don’t ask, you don’t know. What will anyone do to you if you do ask for something? Cut off your hands? Scream at you? Turn you over to some secret organization that puts a black mark on your permanent record? (Wait, that permanent record was used back in the second grade too, wasn’t it?) The worst thing that anyone can do is say, “no.” In which case, once you’ve been given a “no,” you simply ask another question, or put together a question that can’t be turned down.

Once you’ve got a few of your own opportunities finished, relax and let all sorts of new “stuff” happen to you.

Remember, writing is a solitary activity shared by many.

Sable Jak is a screenwriter who is still questing after the secrets of screenwriting. She loves Celtic art and finds a correlation between its mesmerizing intertwining lines to both the craft of screenwriting and the business of film making. You can find her at her Website, sablejak.com

Five Ways to Beat the Waiting Game

By S. W. Vaughn

One of the many unavoidable facets of the writing life is the waiting. Writers wait until their prose is polished to perfection. We wait for feedback from writers’ groups and trusted readers. We wait for weeks, months or years for responses to our queries. Even when the ultimate goal of publication is achieved, we wait for galley proofs, cover art, reviews, bookstore releases, and signing tours. And sometimes—oh, the horror—we wait for the next idea to seize our writing muscles and spur us into action.

If your writing career is beginning to seem like an endless stretch in a crowded doctor’s office—only to find out the doctor is on vacation and won’t be back for a week—you are not alone. Other than listening to the Muzak of your internal communication system while you’re on hold (which often sounds like this: Why did I query that agent—she doesn’t even read thrillers! What if a wild dog ate my manuscript? What should I change my name to when the New York Times rips my debut novel to shreds?), what can you do to hold on to your sanity and stick it out until your sorely tested patience pays off?

To avoid staking out your mailbox, checking your e-mail every fifteen minutes, or haunting your Amazon listing hoping for a boost in your rank, try these tips to get off the waiting train:

  1. Write something else. If you’ve just sent out half a dozen carefully targeted, well-worded queries to your dream agents or editors, resist the temptation to sit in a lawn chair at the end of your driveway and ream out the mailman for delivering you grocery store flyers instead of used SASEs. Plant your butt right back in front of the computer and start something new. You may find yourself so caught up in your new project that you miss the mail for a day or two—and discover a pleasant surprise waiting for you when you return.
  2. Do something non-writing related. Even writers need a break. Sure, we all knew going into it that the word “vacation” would soon retreat from our vocabularies until the memory of it became an urban legend. But there is no rule stating you can’t take a few hours to do something you enjoy. Go for a long walk, read a great book, have lunch with a friend you haven’t seen in weeks (because you were immersed in the final stretches of revising your manuscript for the hundred and eighth time), or take up a new hobby. Know that your writing will still be there when you come back.
  3. Do some research that will further your writing prowess. As a writer, you no doubt have a score of ideas that have been percolating on the back burner while you slaved over your work-in-progress. Now that you’ve begun the excruciatingly long process of delivering your baby to the world, choose one of those ideas and flesh it out. Dig up as much information pertaining to it as you can online, and then head over to the library to find out more. If you don’t have anything specific in mind, you can simply start reading up on something that interests you. You’ll probably find the kernel of an idea in your research that will spark a whole new project, and soon you’ll be stabbing blissfully away at your keyboard with thoughts of important e-mails clogged in spam filters and evil, query-eating postal employees behind you.
  4. Learn a new language. You are in the business of words, after all, so what better way to bulk up your business than to expand your cache of raw materials? You don’t have to write your next novel in Swahili, but your life—and your writing—will be enriched with your understanding of a whole new culture.
  5. Vent your frustrations. Write a nice, long letter to a fictitious editor at an imaginary publishing house (or a real one if you prefer— just make sure you don’t actually send it out!) and tell her how all this waiting makes you feel. Reveal your insecurities, question her methods, or accuse her of using the pages of your manuscript to line her hamster cages. This can also help to deal with the pain of rejection. Confidently assure this fictitious person that you are an excellent writer, and won’t they be sorry when Berkley offers you a million-dollar advance and a three-book deal while she’s sitting on your manuscript for months on end.

Writers wait. It’s a fact of life. You can drive yourself crazy mentally listing the what-ifs and the should-haves during your on-hold times, or you can get out there and improve yourself and your craft. Instead of viewing the wait as a specialized form of torture created to punish you for making the stupid decision to try and be a writer in the first place, take action. Learn to see these interminable, unavoidable waits as opportunities to grow.

Most important, keep this in mind: somewhere out there, an editor or agent is waiting for you and your writing. Don’t disappoint them!

S. W. Vaughn is a novelist and freelance writer who is waiting for something at this very moment. You can read about S. W. Vaughn’s House Phoenix novels or follow S. W. Vaughn on Twitter.

Thoughts on a Bicycle Going Nowhere

By Susanne Shaphren

My boring black bicycle traveled over 1500 miles last year without ever leaving the house

Day after day, I pedal furiously only to wind up in exactly the same spot.

The daily routine of well-disciplined writers is alarmingly similar to that bicycle going nowhere. Day after day, we write, revise and cross our fingers as we complete that last round of proofreading. Submitting online or stuffing manuscripts into neat brown envelopes with an expensive array of stamps is the beginning of a journey that ends all too often right where it started with nothing but rejection to show for the trip.

Perhaps the similarity between the bicycle going nowhere and the pursuit of a writing career is more symbolic. No actual distance is conquered by the exercise bike, but muscles are tightened and calories burned. At the end of the ride, I’m a bit more in shape.

Every day at the typewriter or computer accomplishes some small improvement too. We travel a bit farther down the road to proficiency by more clearly defining a character, constructing a sentence a bit more effectively, surprising the author as well as the reader with a wonderfully clever plot twist.

Before the exercise bike was uncrated, I’d decided that promptly at nine each morning, I would mount up for my daily quota of exercise. No matter how firm my resolve, it seemed Fate had other ideas. The dog couldn’t possibly get tangled in the fence at a more convenient hour. Friends I’d not spoken to in five years suddenly called. Neighbors just happened to drop by with freshly baked coffee cake or small emergencies that couldn’t wait.

Just like a not-so-instant replay of my humble beginnings as a writer. I’d set my alarm for the crack of dawn, vowed to swallow one quick cup of coffee and head for the typewriter no matter what. Had I but known the infinite variety of no-matter-whats, I might never have gotten out of bed!

Developing a schedule that was rigid in terms of total time but flexible about specific hours made all the difference in the world. Deciding that 30 minutes of bike riding would be enough, estimating a minimum of five hours at the typewriter, never failed.

If everything went perfectly, I’d ride my bike in the early morning when it was cool and save my writing for late evening when the phone seldom rang. But I was no longer a slave to the clock. I could turn on a portable fan and ride in the afternoon, take advantage of the answering machine and write any time of day or night. On really rugged days, I divided tasks into easily managed segments. A mile or two of bike riding between errands. Five or ten pages while the laundry dried.

My original goal of ten miles a day evaporated into frustration after the first mile made my out-of-shape muscles scream. Equally impossible was my novice’s dream of turning hours a day into a best-selling novel by the end of the year.

Setting more reasonable goals made all the difference between sticking to the task and giving up completely. So I couldn’t ride ten miles that first day. I could do one. By the second day, it was a bit easier and by the third . . .

The mere thought of that novel was enough to panic me into contemplating a career as a factory worker, but there was nothing scary about one or two pages of polished prose.

Something like the proverbial bird told me when it was time to upgrade my goals. No doubt about it, I was cheating myself by doing two miles when I could probably do three. Surely, it was time to leave the comfort of letters to the editor and plunge into the icy water of genuine competition.

I’ve worked up to the point where ten miles a day is fairly easy, but that daily ride on the bicycle going nowhere is boring, so dull I’m often tempted to just forget it. Stubborn pride prevents me from giving up. I quickly reach for a brand new issue of my favorite writing magazine, a crisp paperback, any traveling companion to keep me going that extra mile.

Many would-be writers have switched to “easier” professions like skydiving because of the boredom of daily routine. Fortunately, there are ways to combat the problem.

Something as simple as changing font color on all those preliminary drafts no editor sees may do the trick.

Working on a project short enough to complete in a single session does wonders for your morale. So can stretching out and immersing yourself in something long enough to allow the luxury of richly developing characters and ideas to their full potential.

A sure cure for boredom is taking a safari into an entirely different market area. If you make your living writing history texts but devour Ellery Queen for sheer pleasure, why not try your hand at creating a mystery short story? Is fantasy your bread and butter? Think about a solid piece of non-fiction for a change of pace.

Even a three-year-old knows better than to pedal his tricycle backwards. Can’t get anywhere that way. Why then do so many of us waste time agonizing over rejection? Forward. On to take advantage of editorial comments that might make the manuscript fare better at its next destination. Out to the next market on the list. Full speed ahead with a brand new project.

Years of dealing with rejection taught me that the more manuscripts making the rounds, the less pain caused by a single, “Sorry, this doesn’t quite meet our needs.”

No matter how many thick brown envelopes in your snail mailbox, how many “Sorry” emails, there should always be a few potential masterpieces on editors’ desks.

Is a published manuscript the only true measure of “success?” Not in the long run. Even the total failure you banish to the back of the file cabinet teaches you valuable lessons that will help you tackle the next project.

Developing a workable schedule, setting reasonable goals, battling boredom and refusing to be intimidated by rejection make your daily writing sessions more pleasant and profitable.

Anyone willing to invest time and effort can’t possibly stand still  . . whether pedaling a bicycle going nowhere or pursuing the craft of writing.

A slightly different form of this article was published in Freelance Writer’s Report.

Editor’s note: Susanne Shaphren passed away in 2009. She will be missed.

The Art of Revision

By Sherryl Clark

Writers seem to fall into two categories: those who hate the first draft and love the slow, detailed pleasure of revision, and those who love the rush and excitement of the first draft and hate revision.

Many of us balk at revision. I’ve heard writers vow that their work comes out so well the first time, they never need more than one draft. None of those writers are published, by the way!

If you’re serious about getting your work noticed by editors, the revision stage is where your work will truly reach its full potential. The problem is how can you approach rewriting so that it becomes constructive, enhancing, and problem-solving? It’s part of your craft, so it needs a coherent strategy.

  1. You have to read critically that means read other published work. Books and stories in your genre or form, books outside your genre, any book that might give you a great or bad example of writing. Any book that does a good job of something you struggle with (at the moment, I’m working on deepening character how to do this with a character who has a very hard outer shell). Read to see how accomplished writers work with words, with character, with plot, with theme. Stop reading just to put yourself to sleep at night and start reading as a writer. Learn from it. If you can’t see what makes a great novel great, you’d better study it some more.
  2. Find out how you can put distance between you and your writing. That might mean putting your story or novel away for a week, a month, a year, until you can look at it with a critical eye, and not fall in love with your own words again. It might mean reading it out loud to yourself, or onto a tape. It might mean psyching yourself into another mental realm and pretending that the novel wasn’t written by you. Whatever works for you, whatever leads to you being able to cut ruthlessly or see where there are gaps and shallowness.
  3. Learn to separate the stages of revision. Understand that there is structural revision (the big picture stuff) and revision on a paragraph by paragraph basis. And then there is line editing, on a word by word basis. That’s where most people trim and tighten. Understand the difference between re-visioning and revision. Re-visioning means re-imagining your novel, seeing it in a new light, seeing other possibilities for it. That’s where distance helps. It’s also where mental space helps it’s almost a re-dreaming of your story, and that’s not going to happen in half an hour, crammed into the end of the day.
  4. Acknowledge to yourself, no matter how hard it might be, that fiddling around the edges and changing a few things here and there is not rewriting. True rewriting is retyping the whole thing from scratch, writing it as a new piece of work. You may refer to the original– some people don’t even do that.
  5. Only give it to a trusted reader or critique partner/group when you are sure you have done everything you possibly can, or are capable of at this point, to make it the best you can. Don’t ask people to critique something that you know you can still work on, or something that is OK for plot but you haven’t done the line editing. Why should they spend their time on your punctuation and grammar? Think about what you want or need from the critique. If you want to know if the voice works, say so. Ditto for plot, character, pacing. Make the best use of your critique person’s time and energy.
  6. Take your critiques seriously. Don’t say, “Oh, they weren’t good readers, they just didn’t get what I was trying to do.” If that’s the case, that’s your fault, not theirs. Take heed of all comments, consider them seriously. Some may be of no use to you. Most should at least raise the question of “Did I do that well enough? Why has that comment been made?” Don’t take any critique personally. It’s not about you, it’s about the story.
  7. If you have revised and revised and revised, learn to see when enough is enough. Do you want to revise again because you’re too scared to send it out? Or do you really think another revision will help? If you are up to Draft 15, ask yourself what you are doing. Have you really done 15 drafts, or 15 “picking at the edges”? If the story isn’t working after 15 drafts, you need to work out why not. You may have to abandon the story. It has still taught you an immense amount along the way. If you have to, let it go. Don’t hang everything on one manuscript. Write more. That’s what writers do.
  8. If you revised a bit, sent it out, and have 20 rejections, you have to make a decision. It’s probably not publishable in its present state, but maybe only 100 rejections will convince you how honest are you being about it? Is it fabulous? Is it a manuscript that sings? Or is it competent? Does it need another big revision? Suck it up. Do it. Or start something new. Note: If it’s a story that just won’t leave you alone, you probably need to keep working on it. Otherwise it’ll give you nightmares, interrupt your daydreams, and intrude on your other writing.
  9. How do you know when your revision is finished? Obviously, when it is accepted for publication (but then your editor will want more revisions!). Often you will get to the stage where you know in your heart it is the best you can possibly make it. If you’re still not sure, put it away again for at least a month, then re-read it. How does it make you feel? Are there still bits that niggle at you, however much you try to deny it? Or do you feel totally happy with it?

Revising is a large part of the craft of writing. If you tackle it the same way you tackle learning to write better, you’ll take a huge step towards your publishing dream.

Sherryl Clark is a writer of children’s and adult fiction and poetry. She teaches professional writing at Victoria University in Melbourne. Sherryl Clark has a website.