Bullet Journals for Writers

There’s a high probability that you already know what a Bullet Journal is, in which case you can skip ahead. If you think a bullet journal is for gun enthusiasts, read on.

What’s A Bullet Journal?

Image credit: Mike Rohde

As originally designed, the Bullet Journal is a minimalist system relying on a notebook and numbered pages. You use short codes to tag kinds of data and tasks. You create your own pages to suit your personal needs and style. A bullet journal (BuJo for short) is an efficient way to track your time and goals, and other data that you use for short-range and long-range planning.

If you’re completely unfamiliar with the concept, a place to start is the original bullet journal video Bullet Journal – YouTube by Ryder Carroll. I’ve also linked to some useful pieces about how to create, customize and use a bullet journal in the Resources section below.

Bullet Journals for Writers: The Basics

Because a bullet journal is so very flexible, many writers use a BuJo just for managing their writing time and tasks. I find a bullet journal especially useful in terms of tracking multiple projects and deadlines.

The Index

The first thing to do when you start using a bullet journal is to number the pages. (Some notebooks have pre-numbered pages, like the Leuchtturm1917 notebook, but it takes mere minutes to do it by hand).

The second thing to do is reserve the first three or four pages of your notebook for your Index. The Index is a list of pages and what’s on them; it makes finding your information very quick.

Tobias Bucknell, SF/F author, has written a helpful post about his experience creating, using, and customizing a BuJo for use by a writer This is how I Bullet Journal | Tobias Buckell. Bucknell says that for him the Index was a key point in making a Bullet Journal personally useful:

But creating an index, that was interesting. Because now I suddenly, like a light bulb going off, realized I could create not only daily to-dos, but project to-dos, and flip back and forth. Even better, while I used a variety of to-dos via digital software, some projects of mine were getting so complex that I needed a way to glance at the 30,000 foot view quickly.

Bucknell’s post provides a wealth of information about customizing the basic concepts and practices behind bullet journals with lots of specific suggestions about how writers might want to use a bullet journal.

There are lots of writers of every sort using bullet journals; some of your peers are likely using bullet journals, and may very well have some specific tips. In the meantime, here are some suggestions about ways to use bullet journaling as a writer.

The Key

Image credit: Mario Valdez

One of the primary techniques behind bullet journaling is what Ryder Carroll calls “rapid logging.” It means making brief notes about tasks, events and ideas, marked with identifying symbols to make it possible to tell what kind of a note you’ve made, and whether it’s a completed task or event or re-scheduled, at a glance. There’s an “official” Bullet Journal key; it looks like the image to the right. People customize the symbols they use all the time.

Collections are Powerful
A bullet journal Collection is a collection of data; that data can be lists or images or mind-maps or sketches, or trackers (more about trackers later). These are some possible Collections for a writer

  • Backstory and plot notes
  • Character notes (and sketches)
  • Setting notes (and sketches!)
  • Scene or Chapter breakdowns
  • Brainstorming—ask yourself questions about your WIP (why does Whitney go to the barn? What does Simon need? What does Simon want?)
  • Inspirational Quotes (See Tobias Bucknell’s post on starting with a motivational quotation)
  • A list of those words, you know, the ones you can’t spell without having to look them up.
  • List special character and place names, or special spellings of standard words, archaic words, idioms or invented words that you’ll want to submit to your editor so they won’t get changed.
  • Your personal style sheet; leading and trailing spaces before and after em-dashes, or not; spaces before and after ellipses, or not; preferred spellings of words that have options. Sure your editor and publisher may have different opinions, but if you standardize the way you do it, they’ll be much easier to change later, if it’s necessary.
  • Patricia Wrede has some great questions for fantasy world building that are useful to answer in a bullet journal as part of your backstory.

Trackers

Trackers are a visual method of tracking repeated events or habits. They’re often used for things like tracking sleep or miles walked, or water imbibed, or pages read, or words written. Technically, trackers are a subset of Collections in official Bullet Journal terms, but they’re endlessly flexible.

  1. Trackers can be as simple as M T W Th F S S to represent a week.Draw a line through the letter to mark the days on which you met your daily goals.
  2. Use a row of boxes with numbers for tracking monthly goals. Cross off or fill in the boxes on the days you met your goal.
  3. If you want to track multiple daily habits for a month, create a simple graph; habits or tasks across the top of a two-page spread, and numbers for the days of the month down the side of the left-hand leaf. Use a filled- in square or dot or X to mark the task (or habit) you completed under the column across the top. (Here’s a tracker example from Heather Haft).

You can get colorful of course, and there’s lots of advice and models about using trackers in your bullet journal. See for instance Bullet Journal Habit Trackers from Productive & Pretty. Lots of people use trackers to track good habits and health.

Migration

Migration in bullet journal terms refers to an event or task that wasn’t completed when you planned, so you migrate it to another day. In other words, you move it from Tuesday the 6th to Friday the 9th (or whenever). The official Bullet Journal Symbol for migrating something is >; lots of people use other symbols. Part of the point of migration is that you have to write the thing down again every time you migrate; if you find yourself doing this repeatedly, it’s an indication that you really don’t want to do the thing, or, that maybe, it doesn’t really need doing. As Ryder Carroll, the inventor of the Bullet Journal says:

You can reduce the amount of things you have to do by transferring things by hand. If a task isn’t worth the time to rewrite it, it’s probably not important. Spend time with things that are important and be mindful of how you spend your time.

Plan to Write

As writers, we all struggle with time management; with finding time to write. One way that a bullet journal habit can help with that is that you can plan not only the time but what you’re actually going to write.

By reducing the time we spend in non-writing activity in our writing time, we can actually get writing done. Those collections with questions, and character notes, and plot points can be springboards, specific starting points for your daily, nightly or weekly writing time.

Tip: A particularly useful technique in terms of tracking your narrative and writing progress, is to make a note when you end a session about where to start the next session

Bullet Journals are Analog

We’ve got Google Calendar, and iCal and all sorts of ways to sync data between our phones, our computers and our tablets. I’m still using them. But there are some advantages to writing by hand on paper.

  1. Handwriting aids retention.
  2. Handwriting allows us to use the parts of our brain that we don’t when we keyboard; there’s a thing that happens when we’re doodling or brainstorming with a pen in our hand where we solve problems, whether of plot, narration or character motivation, or planning. Some of it is perhaps not conscious, but as we write, we formulate a solution.
  3. Because of the way we concentrate on what we are doing and because it is slower than a keyboard, writing by hand gives us time to think.
  4. There’s something to be said for having a single place to track our time and ideas, especially when we write on a digital screen. Think of the journal as a portable extra screen, one that doesn’t require switching windows or apps.

A Note On Aesthetics

Lots of people spend a great deal of effort on prettifying their bullet journal; if you’ve got the time and skill that’s great. There are some incredibly beautiful BuJo’s out there. Me, I have neither time nor talent. I started my bullet journal in stumbled-upon blank page notebook, using a mechanical pencil and my travel fountain pen.

Bullet Journal Resources

Getting Started
There’s the video that Ryder Carroll made, of course, but these are some particularly useful guides to getting started using and customizing a bullet journal to suit you.

For a quick intro see Buzzfeed’s WTF Is A Bullet Journal And Why Should You Start One? An Explainer

It’s worth signing up to the once-a-month newsletter at Ryder Carroll’s  official bulletjournal.com site to download a copy of the free .pdf starter guide. It’s a cheat sheet for getting started with a bullet journal.

The best starter guide (full of practical suggestions for customizing) is How To Bullet Journal: The Absolute Ultimate Guide from the Lazy Genius Collective. Lots of useful pictures, and down-to-Earth advice.

Kim at Tinyrayofsunshine.com has an excellent Thorough Guide to the Bullet Journal System. Her pictures are very helpful and there are some excellig ideas about simplifying and customizing.

Bullet Journals for Writers

Writer’s Edit’s The Complete Guide to Bullet Journaling for Writers has some excellent suggestions about getting started, tracking submissions and using a bullet journal to plan and to manage NanoWriMo.

Victoria of Something Delicious has more specific tips for writers using bullet journals in Bullet Journaling for Fiction Writers. (Scroll down past the introduction to bullet journaling to see specific tips for writers).

Belle Cooper has some great practical suggestions for using a bullet journal to track freelance writing.

Supplies

There’s a section in the Absolute Write Amazon Store for Bullet Journal supplies; but you might want to try bullet journaling first before making an investment in pens and notebooks.

According to Bullet Journal inventor Ryder Carroll “All you need is a notebook and a pen . . . ” Consider using something you already have to start with (I did!). If you don’t have a blank page notebook (notebook paper isn’t really suitable) consider something like this Amazon Basics Classic Notebook, in either blank or “squared” (graph paper lines).

If you’re sure you’re game, consider using a notebook that has either a square grid (like graph paper) or a dot grid; they’re easier to use for charts, and they make it easier to write legibly.

If you already use a BuJo, let us know how you use it. What tips do you have for those just starting out? What do you suggest in terms of bullet journaling for writers?

Interview: Marko Kloos

Marko Kloos is the author of the Frontlines series of military Science Fiction and a member of George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards consortium.

Born and raised in Germany, Marko now lives in New Hampshire with his wife and two children. Their compound, Castle Frostbite, is patrolled by a roving pack of dachshunds. Marko Kloos has a website. His latest novel Fields of Fire (Frontlines Book 5) is due February 28, 2017 from 47North. 

Why did you self-publish initially?

I used to be dead set against self-publishing, but when I finally went that route with Terms of Enlistment, it was sort of a measure of last resort. I had pinged every agent and publisher on my list, and run out of places to send the manuscript. At that point, I was tired of the submission/query treadmill and figured that if I don’t put it out there myself, nobody would ever read it. So I published the novel through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. I figured I’d see how it would go, and move on to other projects in the meantime.

Did you handle the book production yourself when you self-pubbed?

Yes, but it wasn’t very difficult. I bought a commercial license for cover art I wanted to use and uploaded the ebook to KDP and iBooks. My writing software, Scrivener, can compile ebook formats, but in KDP’s case, it wasn’t even needed because you can upload the book as a Word document and let the Amazon software handle the conversion. (I did compile the book in all current ebook formats to have on hand for direct sales.)

Did you plan to involve the Lankies (aliens) at the start or was that something that occurred to you later?

I didn’t have the idea for the Lankies until I was in the middle of writing Terms of Enlistment. But once I knew I needed aliens to fuel a conflict for more than one novel, I wanted to subvert the “bug war” trope and make humanity the bugs, so I knew I would need unusual and formidable aliens, vastly bigger and stronger than individual humans. Everything else just came out of that requirement.

How do you track the back story data (i.e. weaponry and station names, etc.)?

I keep a whiteboard in my office with data for the current novel in progress. I also have notebooks for all the ancillary data that comes with writing novels in a military SF environment: ship classes, hull numbers, lists of names for key unit members, and so on. And I still contradict myself and list the same ship in different books with two different hull numbers. (It has only happened once, and the copyeditor caught it, but it was definitely a “d’oh!” moment. Keep detailed lists and refer to them often, kids.)

Did you have a playlist for Fields of Fire?

I did! I have a playlist for every book. For Fields Of Fire, it was a lot of video game soundtracks, particularly the Halo series, and the soundtrack for Mad Max: Fury Road. (Terms of Enlistment and Lines of Departure were written to the Battlestar Galactica soundtracks from the first few seasons. Angles of Attack was written to the M83 soundtrack for Oblivion and other assorted electronica.)

I know you’re going to be writing for George R. R. Martin’s Wild Card consortium. Can you tell us a little about that?

George asked me to join the consortium in late 2015, and I was both elated and terrified at the same time to be invited into such an experienced and talented group of writers. My apprentice piece, if you will, was a novella called Stripes, which will be part of a Wild Cards novel called Low Chicago, out next year from Tor Books. Since then, I’ve played with more ideas for characters and storylines, and I’ll be contributing more stories to the Wild Cards universe in future books. Wild Cards is out of my usual wheelhouse, but it’s a really fun world to play in, and having to work with the constraints of someone else’s sandbox is a great creative challenge.

What’s your writing environment like (your work area and tools of choice)?

I have an office in the back of the house, between my kids’ bedrooms. It has just enough space for a chair, a big desk that can be turned into a standing desk with a button push, a bookshelf, and some whiteboards, brag trophies, and movie props on the walls. (I rented an office in town for a year, but it didn’t work out as well as I thought it would, so I moved back into my home office last year. It’s much easier to get up and running in the morning if you don’t have a 40-minute commute.)

I wrote the first two Frontlines books in longhand with a fountain pen, but the current publication schedule means that I only write longhand occasionally now—a chapter here and there, just to mix things up. But most of the time, I write directly into Scrivener on the laptop. For the longest time, I used a Macbook Pro, but the latest iteration had me underwhelmed. The current laptop is a Surface Book, which has a detachable screen that serves as a tablet in a pinch. For software, however, it’s always Scrivener, whether I write on the PC or the Mac. It’s an indispensable tool for me when it comes to structuring a novel and keeping track of the flow and beats of the story.

I know you used to have full-time munchkin wrangling duties; any suggestions about time management for writing parents?

Writing while parenting full-time is rough. To be able to be productive in that sort of setting, you need to let go of ritual and forget about writing when you’re “in a creative mood.” Kiddo goes down for a nap, you have an hour or two to crank out as many words as you can, even if you feel like taking a nap yourself. No special setups or circumstances allowed—it takes too long to get your special writing tea and fill your special writing pen with your special writing ink. I’ve written hundreds of pages on playground benches while the kid was running around and playing on the swings. Get a notebook and a pen, something that doesn’t need a charged battery or a power cord, something you can stuff into the diaper bag on the way out of the house. Writing while parenting will teach you how to make the absolute most of your limited time, and you will learn to be able to write anywhere with any tool at hand.

Why dachshunds?

Because they are a lot of dog in a low-slung package. Smart, stubborn, tenacious, ferocious little killers, admirable in their single-minded pursuit of small prey and kitchen scraps. Of all the dog breeds I’ve ever owned, dachshunds have the most distinctive individual personalities.

What have you read lately (in the last year or so) that you really liked?

The two novels that stick out in my head immediately are N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth books—The Obelisk Gate. It’s a fiercely inventive fantasy/SF mix with terrific world building and believable character and social dynamics.

I’ve also been on a bit of a YA binge. I read Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall and then tackled her entire backlist. And Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake blew my socks off—it’s an apocalyptic narrative taking place during the Norman invasion of England in 1066, and it’s written in a sort of “shadow tongue” that mimics Old English. The first few pages will seem bewildering, but then you get into it, and it’s a mind-bender. (The audiobook is considerably easier to get into, because the narrator already parses the spelling for you.)

Do you have any particular favorite books about writing?

My favorite books about writing aren’t so much about technique and nuts-and-bolts stuff as they are about general mindset. Stephen King’s On Writing is great, of course. But the best “How To” writing books I’ve read are Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, and Spider, Spin Me A Web.

Is there a question that you’ve never been asked that you’d really like to answer?

“Which dessert is best?”, to which I would have to answer, “Crème Brulee. Always Crème Brulee. It’s the perfect union of texture and flavor.” (Although a good tiramisu is a close second.)

What’s your favorite charity?

I have a lot of fans who are in the military or not too long out of it, so the charity I’ve picked for my own fundraising efforts in the past is called the Semper Fi Fund. It assists wounded, critically ill, and injured service members and their families. They do much-needed work, their administrative expenses are low, and their accountability and transparency ratings are very high.

As of this posting, Marko Kloos first four Frontlines books are on sale for Kindle in anticipation of the Fields of Fire release. I read the entire series over the course of a week, and enjoyed them for their characterization as much as for the story. 

Handwriting: Is it Part of Your Process?

I still like writing by hand. Normally I do a first draft using pen and paper, and then do my first edit when I type it onto my computer. For some reason, I much prefer writing with a black pen than a blue one, and in a perfect world I’d always use “narrow feint” writing paper. — J. K. Rowling 

Image credit: Petar Milošević

I prefer to take notes by hand because I’m actively listening when I write, in ways that I’m not when I’m typing. Sometimes I choose to handwrite because being able to write with paper and a pen or pencil and a convenient light source makes it possible to write in places where even a Chromebook or iPad are cumbersome.

The primary reason I choose to write by hand that my brain works differently with pen (or pencil) and paper. I’m less distracted by aesthetics (typography, for instance, is not an issue). I often turn to pen and paper (or pencil) when I get stuck, particularly on when I’m writing books, or lengthy research articles. Often, I’ll draft in long hand, then edit in longhand, then keyboard it and edit again before I submit.

Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of other writers also choosing to write in longhand, or print, even when they could use a keyboard. I was surprised by how many of my favorite novelists are prefer pens and paper for drafts.

When you’re writing with pen and paper, you’re working in the same direct mode you use to tell a story to children, and for a first draft, that’s maybe not a bad thing. — Joe Hill  

J. K. Rowling deliberately chooses to write by hand, though as she notes, she prefers narrow-ruled paper and black pens. Neal Stephenson, in a now defunct interview for Barnes and Noble (quoted here) notes that he started writing his novels with a fountain pen with Quicksilver, the first volume of his Baroque Cycle. Stephenson said

What I was noticing was that I’ve become such a fast typist that I could slam out great big blocks of text quite rapidly — anything that came into my head, it would just dribble out of my fingers onto the screen. That includes bad stuff as well as good stuff. Once it’s out there on the screen, of course, you can edit it and you can fix the bad stuff, but it’s far better not to ever write down the bad stuff at all. With the fountain pen, which is a slower output device, the material stays in the buffer of your head for a longer period. So during that amount of time, you can fix it, you can make it better, you can even decide not to write it down at all — you can think better of writing it.

I think that’s true. I noticed that the amount of time it takes for me to formulate a thought into a sentence, because it’s slower to read the paper than the screen, often means that I realize that it’s not something I want to write, that the idea or sentence isn’t ready for committing to paper. ItÆ’s less a matter of the internal editor interfering, than one of my “inner ear” noticing that those aren’t quite the words I want, In the time it takes to hesitate before committing the words to paper, my brain supplies other, better words. In other words, there’s less to edit or delete. Stephenson comments on that too, observing that the process of editing is often easier with pen and paper:

Editing, strangely enough, is quicker and easier with a pen. Because drawing a line through a word is just faster than any sequence of grabbing your mouse and highlighting the word and hitting the eject key. That act of editing leaves behind a visible trace of the word that you decided to change, and sometimes that’s useful; you may want to go back and change your mind about that. Finally, I find that writing with a pen is a physically healthier activity. There’s actually more range of movement involved with it than there is sitting with your fingers on the keys for hours at a time. So I just physically felt better when I was using the pen rather than typing.

Jonathan Carroll, famous for his contemporary fantasy and slipstream novels, notes that:

Handwriting anything makes me think hard about what I really want to keep or throw out. Because the process is generally slow, I’m thinking all the time while my hand moves across the page. While using any kind of keyboard device, my fingers are whizzing much faster than my mind can think and that is a dangerous thing if you want to write it right.

I find that the experiences of novelists in terms of their writing process, is true of my much less interesting process as well, when I’m writing scholarly or academic pieces or even when I’m writing pieces that I know are destined for Web publications; I think differently, and write differently with a pen in hand. As Joe Hill says:

Finally, in a notebook, you’re stuck with yourself. You’re cut off from your games, the internet, Twitter, Facebook. The only thing you have to entertain you is your own imagination.

What about you? Do you write by hand? Have you ever tried switching to pen-and-paper (or a pencil!) when you’re stuck? Is handwriting part of your process? If not, consider trying it.

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