Book Review: The Complete Guide to Editing Your Fiction by Michael Seidman

Book review by Alex Shapiro

The Complete Guide to Editing Your Fiction

By Michael Seidman

Writer’s Digest Books

2000

264 pages

In this easy-to-follow book, experienced editor and writer Michael Seidman explains how to approach fiction editing, using his own short story as example.

The author compares the writer’s job with that of a sculptor—both start with a block of words (or stone). They both chip and cut into the shapeless form until they getto the finished work.

The Complete Guide to Editing Your Fiction takes writers through the tedious process of chipping and editing the first draft until it becomes a final manuscript ready for submission.

The book is a must-have. It is, especially for the beginner writer, a trip into the world of fiction editing. Using examples from his own work, Michael Seidman describes the elements of a story, explains what makes a good, realistic character and talks about the stuff good scenes are made of.

The author gives his own tips on writing a realistic dialogue, one that is part of the story and pushes the plot forward. He also discusses the point-of-view, a topic that can get pretty confusing, even for more advanced writers.

What is a story without a plot? There are always changes to the plot, to “what’s happening in the story.” And the reader has the privilege of seeing the author in action, molding and remodeling his own plot, deleting and adding, shaping it into the final form.

Cover of Michael Seidman's Complete Guide to Editing FictionSomewhere into the fiction-editing trip, Michael Seidman stops to emphasize the importance of the story opening and to give examples of good (and not-so-good) openings. Revision after revision, the readers see the story transforming, taking shape, in front of their eyes. They become part of the process and learn to apply the lessons learned to their own work.

Once finding the shape of the story, does it mean it’s indeed the final shape? The author teaches the tips and tricks of fine-tune editing—such as pace, genre, choice of words and language, imagery and style, spelling and grammar.

The most important part of the book may just be the checklist; several pages offering a full, easy-to-use review of the dos and don’ts of fiction editing.

The Complete Guide to Editing Your Fiction teaches as much as it entertains. Readers have not only the opportunity to learn the insights of editing from a professional, but they also have the chance to enjoy a good story and be part of its shaping, from the beginning to the end.

This is a book to hold on to for when you are ready for revising and editing your writing.

Alex Shapiro is a freelance writer and photographer with works published online and in print. She lives in New Jersey.

Copyright 2003 Alex Shapiro.

Interview Preparation for Radio and PodCasts

By Roberta Gale

When it comes to media interviews, interview preparation is a two-way street. The host needs to do his part to become as familiar with the guest and her topic as possible. Whether this means reading (or at least skimming) her book, checking out her biography, or reading reviews, he should ideally be prepared with a list of questions that aren’t just jotted down verbatim from the guest’s press release. Consequently, if you’re guesting on a program, you also need to show similar respect and professionalism by being fully prepared for your part in the interview.

Here are some tips to help authors prepare for a radio program. In the long run, preparation on both sides makes for a more entertaining experience for listeners. And the more listeners are entertained, the more intensely they’ll pay attention to what you’re saying.

1. Know as much about the host, the station, and the show as possible before the interview.

Go to www.yahoo.comwww.radio-locator.com or www.zap2it.com to look up the station’s website. This will allow you to check out the format, hosts, upcoming promotions and contests, selected links, and other information that may be useful to you. If the station has streaming audio, (or obviously if you’re in the same market as the host), you’ll be able to listen to his show. If not, try calling the station’s talk line, tell the call screener you’ll be guesting on the show in the near future, and ask to be put on the “on-hold” line for a few minutes to hear the program. They may or may not honor your request, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

2. Find out as much as you can about the market.

Most local newspapers are on the Web, and you can find them using the above-mentioned websites. Take the time to look over the local paper prior to your scheduled interview. The information gained will enable you to toss in the names of local suburbs and hangouts during your time on the air. This is not only a great way to connect more deeply with both the host and listeners, but you may be able to tie your topic to a hot local issue or event.

3. Don’t forget the small stuff.

Write the name of the host, the station’s call letters, the city name and the number of the radio station on a Post-it note and stick it somewhere where you will be able to see it during the interview. That way, even if you have a temporary mental meltdown on air, you can focus on getting the more important parts of your interview on track and yet not forget who you’re talking to or where they are. And the phone number? No matter who calls who initially, you may need it in case you get disconnected.

4. Make sure you can be heard clearly.

It is very important to have a phone that will sound as good as possible when you’re on the air. Nothing will get you shown the metaphoric radio door faster than poor quality audio on your end. No matter how fascinating your interview, only a masochist would stick around to hear you on a low-level phone with a buzz. In my experience, more expensive phones don’t necessarily sound better than cheaper ones. And corded phones don’t always sound better than the cordless variety. Just find a phone that sounds clear and has sufficient volume. Prior to the interview, call a few of your friends and family members on the phone you intend to use and ask them how you sound.

5. Speak up!

No matter how high-quality your phone is, you must speak loudly and enunciate clearly enough to be heard. The path your voice has to travel before it reaches its intended audience is a long and complicated one, involving phone lines, audio processing, a few transmissions and re-transmissions and perhaps a satellite or two. Again, call a few people you know prior to the interview to test your clarity and volume.

6. I Can’t Hear You!

It was always funny when Sgt. Carter said it to Gomer Pyle, but it’s much less of a laughing matter when you have to say it over and over to the person interviewing you. Not being able to hear the interviewer correctly can not only ruin the tempo and pacing of your on-air performance, but it can lower the interest level of the host and audience. Your airtime may even be cut short because of it. If you’re hard of hearing, or if you just can’t hear the other party well, be sure to turn up the volume control on your phone, if it comes equipped with such a device. Since you never know how low the volume will be on the other end, and you may be talking to hundreds of different stations, it wouldn’t hurt to take a tip from my friend, Lorilyn Bailey of NewsBuzz.com, and invest $10-$20 bucks in a volume control device from Radio Shack.

7. Call waiting is your enemy on the air.

Yeah, it’s a godsend when you’re talking to your mother and the network is trying to call to let you know you’ve made the finals of “American Idol,” but it’s a less-than-stellar feature when you’re being interviewed on the air and the audience call hear the tell-tale “drop-out” as your call waiting kicks in. If you are supposed to call in to the station, be sure to disable your call waiting first. If you’re unsure how to do this, call your local telephone company.

8. Create the proper environment to execute an interview.

Whether you’ll be doing your interview from your office or home, be sure that you have a quiet place to think and speak. This is no time for children yelling, battery-powered wall-clocks ticking, co-workers laughing, and phones or doorbells ringing. Clear your desk of everything but your notepad, index cards, book, bottle of water, or whatever else you’ll need for the interview. Be sure that everything you need will be within easy reach.

If you follow these simple interview preparation  tips you will find that your interview goes more smoothly. But most importantly, the host will treat you with the respect due someone who actually put some thought into preparing content for the precious airtime you’ve been so generously given.

Roberta Gale has spent 22 years on the radio in every part of the country. She now heads Roberta Gale Media Coaching, which provides media training to authors, experts, spokespeople and businesspeople.  

 

Get the Most From a Conference

By Patricia S. Baker

Each year, thousands of aspiring writers flock to writers’ conferences bearing< suitcases, manuscripts, and high hopes for enhancing their writing careers. One of them might be you! Given that a considerable emotional and financial investment has been put into this endeavor, how can you optimize your chances for a successful experience? Here are ten tips.

Find the Right Fit

Carefully research and consider which of the many available conferences is a fit for your particular writing genre. Network with writers from your writers’ group who have attended conferences, or visit http://writing.shawguides.com/ for a list of conferences nationwide. Try to choose a conference that schedules critique appointments with editors or agents who are interested in the type of writing you do.

Register Early

Some conferences schedule appointments based on registration number. Attendees who register early are likely to get their first choice of editors, agents, or authors to meet with. The past two years I have been the first registrant simply by visiting a conference website early and printing off the registration form, rather than waiting for it to arrive in the mail.

Visit the Conference Website

Not only is browsing the conference website helpful in getting a jump on the registration process, but you can glean valuable information to prepare for the conference. Many times the site will have links to market needs or overworked topics. These can influence your decision as to what you’ll present during your appointments. It is also helpful if the site has pictures of faculty members, in case you want to familiarize yourself with them before attending.

Polish your Manuscripts

Polish your best work to take to the conference. Whether you are writing articles, stories, poetry, or book proposals, use the weeks before the conference to make your work shine. Have your writers’ group critique your work, or meet with another writer for feedback. Be sure it is typed neatly, free from spelling errors, and double-spaced; pack it carefully in a folder or manuscript box for travel.

Also prepare orally. Memorize a hook of no more than three sentences that describes what makes your work unique, and be prepared to share it with editors or agents you meet at the conference.

Design and Print Business Cards

Business cards can add a professional touch to your presentation during appointments and be a networking tool during the conference. Be sure to include your email address and website. These cards are also handy for staying in touch with new friends and acquaintances after the conference.

Confirm Reservations

You will have enough excitement during the trip without having to deal with last minute surprises in lodging and transportation. Try to make your reservations as early as possible, too; sometimes airport shuttles fill up even before the flights do. And when you make reservations for lodging, see if you can get ground floor accommodations if there are no elevators. Wheels on your suitcase aren’t much help on three flights of stairs.

Pack for Contingencies

I’ll never forget last year’s May conference in Colorado, which greeted our sandaled feet with six inches of snow. We huddled in our thin windbreakers against a three-day blizzard — beautiful to behold but not convenient, considering our wardrobes. The Boy Scout motto says it best: “Be prepared.”

Also be sure to pack your business cards, notebook, comfortable shoes, and a sweater for notoriously cold conference rooms. A camera is a good option, too.

Travel light

Don’t take more than you need, but do pack an extra suitcase or tote for all the free samples and purchases from the bookstore. Who knows, you may even win a contest or door prize. Don’t pack multiple copies of manuscripts or book proposals. If you are fortunate enough to have editors request your work, they will most likely want you to mail it to them after you return home. (They don’t want to lug heavy manuscripts at the conference any more than you do.)

Plan to Arrive Early

Arriving early can take some of the pressure off during the registration process, and give you time to unpack and get oriented. Many conferences have their appointment sign-ups at registration, and the spots can fill up quickly. Arriving early may also give you the advantage of attending any early-bird sessions. If nothing else, it will afford you a brief period of rest that can energize you for the nonstop schedule of the next few days.

Relax

Despite your best intentions, things may not go as planned. You may not get the appointments you’d hoped for, or be able to attend a certain workshop. But don’t rule out the serendipitous surprises that might await you. That editor you didn’t get a chance to make an appointment with may be the one to stand behind you in the lunch line, or sit at your table at dinner, giving you more time with him or her. Whatever the outcome of your conference visit, you’re sure to make valuable contacts and grow as a writer — and who knows, you might just have a lot of fun while you’re at it!

*First published in Christian Communicator. February 2006, Vol. 18, Number 2: pp. 17-18. Reprinted with permission.

A former teacher, Pat Baker writes articles, devotionals, and poetry from her home in Frisco, Texas. She has written for several publications, including Writer’s Journal, The Lutheran Digest, Spirit Led WomanThe Quiet HourBreakthrough Intercessor, The Secret Place, Christian Communicator, and The Lutheran Journal. When she’s not writing, she enjoys coaching figure skating and spending time with her husband Gary and their two children. Patricia S. Baker has a Website.

Write Tight — or It’s Gonna Cost You!

By Diane Sonntag

Our good friends at Strunk and White are always advising us to do away with those nasty adjectives and adverbs that clutter up our writing. This has always been a tough one for me. As someone who really likes to talk — and unfortunately, as someone who writes like I talk — removing those adjectives and adverbs has been a real challenge for me.

Personally, I have always rather enjoyed those cute little adjectives and those good old adverbs. They make my dry, boring sentences more pleasant, interesting, and fun for the intelligent, yet discerning reader. Cutting them out seems like cruel and unusual punishment. For a good long time, I just plain refused to leave out my favorite descriptive words.

See what I mean? Adjectives and adverbs are bad? What blasphemy!

Several years ago, I had to consult an attorney regarding a legal matter. In one of our first conversations, I explained the situation in great detail. I explained that I had been utterly and completely taken advantage of by this rotten person. I described how I had been naïve and trusting and this terrible, awful individual had seen that, and had milked it for every last blessed cent I was worth. I told him how this other party was just the most vindictive, cold, and heartless person to have ever walked the face of this great earth. (OK, I admit it — I might be ever so slightly dramatic!) The attorney just nodded and smiled throughout my monologue. He seemed perfectly content to sit and listen to me talk all day long. But he did glance at his watch every so often and smirk.

Three weeks later, I received an invoice for his services. And then I knew what the smirk was about. That one conversation had cost me nearly $500! At his rates, I was paying like $28 per adjective! I was both shocked and appalled at this bill, and I knew that something had to change. I simply couldn’t afford to carry on like I had during our next conversation. I had to be brief, or it would cost me dearly.

In an effort to cut down on my legal fees, I began to plan out what I was going to say to the attorney. I would write down what I needed to tell him, and then look for ways to pare it down. I reminded myself that unnecessary words were like money down the drain, and I took them out. I couldn’t afford to use two or three words when one would suffice.

No longer had I been utterly and completely taken advantage of by this no good so-and-so. Now I was simply “treated unfairly.” See how many words that saved? And in legal terms, that small cut also saved me like ten bucks!

Overnight, this other party changed from being “a vindictive, cold, and heartless beast who would sell his own poor mother for two nickels” to simply “an opportunist.” Did this person actually change their character? Certainly not! But when I changed how I described that person, it cut down on the words I used, which, in turn, saved me another $32.50. (But let’s be honest here — it did cut down on the drama of the story as well!)

Every time I prepared something to say to my attorney, I pared it down until it was as short as it could possibly be and still get my meaning across. And then one day, I was typing a query letter and I realized that unconsciously, I was doing the same thing. I was taking out all unnecessary words. The bank robber didn’t run quickly. He sprinted. The baby didn’t cry loudly. She howled.

I was condensing my writing down to the bare essentials. I was making it as tight as it could be. And yes, I was sacrificing my beloved adverbs and adjectives. It hurt the Drama Queen in me, but it did make my writing better.

And all of this because I wanted to save a few bucks. But when you think about it, being too wordy had probably been costing me money all along, and I was too dense to realize it. Editors were rejecting my work because it was too cluttered with adjectives, adverbs, and clichés. My writing wasn’t as good as it could have been, and I was paying for it without even knowing it.

My legal situation resolved itself a long time ago, but it certainly wasn’t a cheap fix. I paid a significant amount in legal fees. But when I think about what I learned about writing tightly and I realize how much more I’ve been published, I think I just about broke even.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the “cold, heartless, vindictive beast” got what he had coming to him.

 

Diane Sonntag is an elementary school teacher and freelance writer. Her work has been published in Woman’s World, MOMsense, and Chicken Soup for the Girl’s Soul. She hopes to remain on the right side of the law from now on.

Writing A Great Blurb

By Mayra Calvani

A great blurb can make the difference between a customer taking out his/her wallet to buy your book or putting the book back on the shelf. Great blurbs sell books.

But what is a blurb, exactly?

A blurb is the copy on the back cover of your book. After the cover, the blurb is the first thing a customer will check when considering to buy a book. It should hook, intrigue, and grab the reader right away.

“Book blurbs are eye candy to the consumer,” says publicist Penny Sansevieri, founder of Author Marketing Experts.

Not only to customers. A great blurb can help you find a publisher or an agent, too.

Last year I sent dozens of query letters in my search for an agent. As you probably know, most query letters are composed of a blurb of the book (the hook), some info about the book (genre, word count, etc.), and a short author bio or list of qualifications. The agents who responded said “No, thanks.” I’m not surprised. The blurb was as flat as a French crêpe. One of these agents wrote to say she wasn’t particularly excited about my book, but asked if I had something else to show her. By this time I had improved my blurb and had a completely new version. I mentioned this to her and asked her to consider my edited blurb, which she did. Her response was “Well, I have to admit this is a pretty convincing blurb.” She requested the first three chapters. To make a long story short, she took me in based on the strength of those three chapters. In this case, my blurb was the key factor in getting the agent’s attention.

This is the blurb I first included in my query letter:

Can a good man be persuaded into committing murder and still retain his goodness?

Lullaby is about the restless soul of an aborted infant who, in order to become powerful enough to be reborn, must tempt humans into committing evil acts. Having temporarily acquired the form of a beautiful woman, this being plays mind games with the protagonist, bringing back memories of his tragic childhood. As deeply buried feelings of hate and revenge spring to the surface, the protagonist must struggle with his conscience to do the right thing. But will he, when his own ideas about justice and the higher good tell him it is right to kill?

Now compare it to the second one which got the agent’s attention:

At a trendy Turkish tavern one Friday night, astrophysicist Gabriel Diaz meets a mysterious young woman. Captivated out of his senses by her physical perfection as well as her views on good and evil, he spends the next several days with her. After a while, however, he begins to notice a strangeness in her—her skin’s abnormally high temperature, her obsession with milk products, her child-like and bizarre behavior as she seems to take pleasure in toying with his conscience.

The young woman, Kamilah, invites him to Rize, Turkey, where she claims her family owns a cottage in the woods. In spite of his heavy workload and the disturbing visions and nightmares about his sister’s baby that is due to be born soon, Gabriel agrees to go with her.

But nothing, not even the stunning beauty of the Black Sea, can disguise the horror of her nature. In a place where death dwells and illusion and reality seem as one, Gabriel must now come to terms with his own demons in order to save his sister’s unborn child, and ultimately, his own soul . . .

Here are some guidelines to help you create great blurbs:

Guidelines for Creating A Great Blurb

  • Keep it short (100-250 words). The aim is to convey what makes the book unique in a small amount of space.
  • In it set the mood, the scene, and the conflict or enigma.
  • It should have mounting tension. The beginning should  hint at the conflict or threat, yet remain pretty innocuous (look at my blurb number two: boy meets girl in a tavern). By the end of the blurb, the conflict or threat should be imminent (protagonist must save his sister’s unborn child and his own soul).
  • Think of the best angle to approach your story. Both of my blurbs describe what happens in my novel, yet the second one sounds much more exciting.
  • As with a good book review, never put “spoilers” in the blurb. You can do this in a book summary or synopsis, but never in a blurb. (Look again at my blurb number one. In it I make the big mistake of revealing the nature of my “evil” female protagonist—she is the soul of an aborted infant. In blurb number two, you suspect there’s something wrong with her, but you don’t know what. You’re left wondering).
  • Think about what makes your book different.
  • Question marks can be used to leave the reader intrigued.
  • Often ellipses are used at the end to leave reader asking questions.
  • Keep adverbs and adjectives to a minimum and use action verbs.
  • Needless to say, make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors.
  • If your book is nonfiction, does it have special features like pictures or diagrams? What is the aim of the book? What are you trying to accomplish? Does it teach anything? How is this book different from others in the field?
  • Remember that blurbs are not summaries! Don’t tell the whole story—only the exciting part of it so that the reader will want to know more.
  • Don’t exaggerate or sugarcoat it. Be professional.
  • Study the blurbs from your bookshelves, paying special attention to their style, language, and content.
  • Write and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Then show it to people who can offer honest feedback.

One last tip:

Do you know that powerful, dramatic voice that you hear in the cinemas during movie trailers? That alluring voice, often exaggerated, that describes the movies? Well, read your own blurb with this voice in your mind, matching its tone and pitch. You’ll be surprised to find out how much that helps!

Copyright ©2005, 2007 by Mayra Calvani / All Rights Reserved.

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The WriterWriter’s JournalMulticultural Review, andBloomsbury Review, among many others. Mayra Calvani has a Website.

How to Give an Awesome Author Interviews

By Patricia L. Fry

When you become the author of a nonfiction book, you are also considered an expert in your field. People want to read what you write and hear what you have to say. You want to promote your book and get personal exposure by writing articles and speaking publicly. Author interviews are an important part of your publicity program.

Why not add to your professional credibility by seeking interview opportunities through websites, podcasts, radio talk shows, and publications related to the topic of your book?

Add to your professional credibility by seeking interview opportunities through websites, podcasts, radio talk shows, and publications related to the topic of your book?  

Interviews and interviewers come in all shapes and flavors. Some interviewers want you to respond to questions via e-mail and they post your interview as is at their site or publish it in their magazine. Others prefer to conduct a telephone interview which they will paraphrase in their publication. But the most popular interview processes today are the real time podcast and the online radio show.

Not everyone is comfortable being interviewed. Yet, if you expect your book to reach a high level of popularity—if you hope to sell thousands of copies of your book—you really must learn to handle author interviews.

I have been interviewed numerous times in a variety of ways. Personally, I love the e-mail interview where I just respond at my leisure by typing my answers. I like having the time to think about my responses and to reread them before submitting. My worst interview experience occurred when the interviewer, in a real-time interview, began challenging my responses—playing the devil’s advocate. I’m not a debater and I don’t do well under that kind of pressure. I had to work hard so as not to come off sounding defensive. I hope I was able to carry that off. Book sales after that interview were up and that’s always a good indication of a good interview.

You truly never know what to expect from author interviews and maybe that’s one reason why the fear of the interview is so prevalent among authors. Recently, I was asked to participate in a podcast interview. I guess I misunderstood the original instructions because I was prepared to have the host ask me some questions. That’s generally what happens when someone interviews you. Just minutes before the show aired, I learned that I was supposed to speak for twenty minutes on my topic, “The Right Way to Write, Publish, and Sell Your Book.” There would be no questions. No one else would speak. I was expected to take charge of the airtime all by myself for the first twenty minutes of the show.

I quickly revised an hour-long speech I’d given recently on the subject and printed it out as a crutch. There’s nothing worse in radio than dead air, I’m told. And I did not want to be at a loss for words. I think it went well. Even though I was simply speaking over the telephone, I imagined myself looking out over the airwaves into the faces of a large audience eager for the information I was imparting. At the end of the 20 minutes, the host stepped in and asked me a few questions before the show ended. Again, book sales were up for a few days after that.

If you would like to be interviewed on the topic of your book, here are some tips and techniques that could help:

Author Interviews: Tips and Techniques

Locate interview opportunities through websites and publications related to your topic as well as those that feature general author interviews. If you spend some time exploring the site, you will soon discover whether or not they conduct interviews. If you see no indication of interview opportunities, post an e-mail asking for the opportunity.

Do a Google search to locate directories of websites and publications with general interview opportunities or those related to your expertise.

Check Radio-TV Interview Report for possible interview spots.

Create a succinct, but impressive bio to include with your inquiry. A potential interviewer will want to know that you are articulate (which should show through, at least to some degree, in your writing style), qualified, credible, knowledgeable, and interesting. A bio can help to portray this. A good interviewer who conducts live interviews will also want to hear your voice. So give your phone number, as well.
Handle yourself as a professional during any interview. Here are some tips:

Think like your target audience. What do they want/need to know about your subject? Even if your interviewer gets off track with his line of questions, you can bring the discussion back to the issue at hand. Always keep in mind “What information and resources can I offer my audience?

Don’t be afraid to give. It’s highly unlikely that you could ever give away too much during a 30 or 60 minute interview. Besides, the more you give, the more the listener will want. And it’s that yearning for more that will sell copies of your book.

Keep it simple. Remember that your time is limited—there’s no room during author interviews to teach or share what took you several months to write. Concentrate on a few key points and, no matter what the interviewer asks you, try to bring it all back to the original points. My book, The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book, covers writing and publishing a book from start to finish and beyond (including distribution, promotion and so forth). During an interview, however, I may focus on the importance of writing a book proposal or the process of self-publishing or some aspect of book promotion. Your book on baking healthy muffins from scratch would be aptly represented by revealing a few of the recipes and describing the health benefits of the ingredients. If your listeners like what you gave them, they’re going to want more.

Read and listen to other author interviews to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t. Of course, you want to keep your own style of speaking, but there are definite faux pas that you want to avoid. Eliminate filler words such as “ah,” “um,” “er,” and so forth. Banish habitual phrases from your vocabulary. This might include “Ya know what I mean?” and “Right on,”” and “You bet.”

Practice speaking off the cuff. You will definitely need this skill when doing a live interview.

Join a Toastmasters Club near you and participate often in order to improve your public speaking skills.

As an authority on the subject of your nonfiction book, you will be sought after as a speaker, writer, and interviewee. You’ll also want to seek out interview and speaking opportunities. Prepare yourself now for the challenges ahead.

Patricia Fry is a full-time freelance writer and the author of 25 books including The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book. She is also the president of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network). Learn more about her line of books at www.matilijapress.com. Patricia Fry writes a publishing blog. Patricia Fry has a website, and is the author of Promote Your Book: Over 250 Proven, Low-Cost Tips and Techniques for the Enterprising Author.

C.L.E.A.R. the Comfort Clutter

By Michelle Gardner

Maybe it’s because the writing life is a lonely one that we surround ourselves with comfort clutter. Or maybe it’s because we always have a story or stories in various forms of completion that causes the research notes to spill into each other. Or maybe it’s because we want to have everything at hand should an editor need an article ASAP on the very topics consuming the carpet and credenza. Whatever the case, a writer needs to be organized enough to be efficient in the day-to-day. Daunting as it can be to attack the stacks of books, magazines, folders, papers, office supplies, coffee cups, and anything else that has made its way into your writing domain– you can overcome the clutter.

As an acronym aficionado, I have devised the C.L.E.A.R. method to help me with overcoming office space clutter. It’s an easy way to take things in small doses to avoid organizational overload. Remember, it took more than a day for your workspace to achieve its current look. It will take more than a day to bring it back to a model of efficiency.

  • Clear everything off your desk, bookcases, credenza, filing cabinets, and floor.
  • List everything you need to do your job.
  • Evaluate your workspace needs and wants using your list.
  • Assemble essential tools and supplies in your cleared workspace.
  • Remove and Return daily (if possible) any items, such as files and books, brought out for use on current projects.

The first step is easiest if you just throw everything into a box, but it will be harder and more time consuming when you get to the Assemble step. I have found that a three-box approach is best. One box for gotta have items, one for gotta file items, and one for gotta toss items. Once you’ve divvied up your collection, it’s time to use that vast expanse of clear desk space to write out on a sheet of paper what you need to do your job.

Listing is useful in two ways: It gives you an opportunity to think about those tools essential to your work, and it is the document you can refer to when things clutter up — and they will — in the future.

With list in hand, you now can evaluate how all of the puzzle pieces will fit together. You’ve already determined your needs, now you can open up to the wants aspect of designing your personal workspace. When I did this, I needed to have my computer, a work light, space for pad of paper and pencil, and a copy easel on my desk. My wants list included a framed poem from a friend, an anniversary clock from my previous employer, a paperweight that reads, “A deadline is the ultimate inspiration,” and my kitschy hula dancer statue that shimmies when I print documents. I know I can make this scene more efficient by hanging the poem on the wall, putting the clock on a shelf, and losing the paperweight as no great winds blow through my office, but the hula girl stays!

Assembling everything should be straightforward by this point. You have already cleared the way for the gotta have items on your list and have evaluated what needs to be where for efficiency’s sake. So, working from the gotta have box first, you can remove only those items that made the workspace cut. Anything else will be reassessed for placement elsewhere. The gotta file box, in my case, is always a work in progress. I take it in small bites by filing only a few items at a time. Some days I go crazy and file the whole thing when I’m procrastinating on an assignment.

All assembled; now the real work begins. Keeping your workspace clutter-free is like adopting any habit — it usually takes about a month to get into the routine. The last step is the one that will be the most difficult, but is the key to success with this process. Remove and Return any items to their respective homes at the end of the workday. My office is in the basement so my R and R mostly involves the collection of teacups and water glasses that need to be taken to the dishwasher. I’m also a recovering stacker of mail and magazines and have purchased a bill sorter and several magazine file stands from the office supply store to help me stay on track.

Admittedly, my journey to clutter-free writing is only beginning but now that my path is C.L.E.A.R., I don’t trip over unnecessary and unimportant items along the way.

Michelle Gardner is a former aviation publication editor who currently writes for trade publications specific to the construction, transportation, and wine industries. She was a regular columnist for The Brentwood Recorder, of Brentwood, England, as well as an editor of a monthly newsletter for expatriates living in the United Kingdom, and has been featured on BBC radio for her articles. You can find Michelle Gardner on LinkedIn.

20 Ways to Keep Your Writing Inspiration and Creativity High

By Catherine Franz

When we are stressed or blocked, it is wise to make a change so that we don’t stay in that place. Yet many times we forget some of the simple things that we can do for ourselves, quickly and easily, to bring our inspiration back and increase our creativity.

  1. If you usually type your first drafts, hand write them. Nothing compares to the feeling of the ink melting into the paper and the surge of that creative flow.
  2. If you spend too much time at the computer, take a break every hour. Go for a walk or just sit outside in the sun. Even five minutes in a winter sun does wonders for a mood and creativity.
  3. Flip through magazines or books. Their colors and ideas will give you sparks and switch your attitude. Blue and green can reduce your stress levels by 30% or more.
  4. Add strong smells to the room. Light scented candles around you, visit the fruit aisle at the grocery store, or go to a store that is heavily scented. Find an orange or strawberries and smell it. Both will change a mood or create inspiration. Smells awaken your creativity. Smells trigger memories and are a great method to rekindle stories from the past.
  5. Go see or rent an inspirational movie. Relaxation time is important. You can even take your notebook and record inspirational phases. Afterwards, free write what those phrases bring up from your subconscious.
  6. Read a book that stirs you or sparks your creativity. If you prefer, read poetry.
  7. Look at bold and bright colors for a few minutes. These change your mood.
  8. Talk with a friend about your topic to flesh out ideas and creativity. Record the conversation, with his or her permission of course, and play it back to hear the little nuances that you might have missed.
  9. Write an e-mail to a friend to tell him or her what you want to accomplish. If you are stuck, say so and ask for help.
  10. Check in with your vibrational energy and do something to switch it into high gear. Take a shower. Go for a walk. Turn on some music and dance naked for a few minutes.
  11. Hire a virtual assistant to do some typing so that you can stay focused on writing. You can fax your writing or dictate it into the computer and send her a voice file for transcription.
  12. Go to church for the noon service or whisper a prayer or two. This reconnects your energy with the universe and replenishes what might be missing.
  13. Complete an appreciation exercise. Pick something around you, like the telephone, lamp, or pen. Talk to it and tell it how much you appreciate having the electricity to turn it on, the opportunity to write with a tool that has the ink inside (not like a quill), or the softness of the paper you write on. Be grateful for that you have and not what you are missing. Or make a list of “count your blessing” items.
  14. Write a personal note to friends or family and tell them how much you love them, appreciate their thoughtfulness, or kindness.
  15. Authentic, flat-out, raw laughter frees the psyche and opens the creativity process.
  16. Find a setting with lots of trees and flowers and feel nature. If the weather permits, take off your shoes and socks and feel the grass between your toes. Nature has a way of freeing our spirit and renewing our soul.
  17. If guilt or a past incident has captured your mind, write a “Dear Me” letter and ask yourself for forgiveness to to loosen its grip and expand your freedom.
  18. Are you used to writing in a quiet place? Find a noisy place to write, like McDonald’s or the mall. When your space is noisy, you will have to focus harder in order to write with clarity.
  19. Go for a quiet leisurely drive, listen to a favorite CD. You can sing out of tune and no one will notice (laughter allowed).
  20. Do something nice for someone else that you wouldn’t normally do and be a gracious receiver of a hug.

That was exciting, wasn’t it? Post this list in a conspicuous place so that it is readily available when you need it. Do one or two of these daily and keep on writing. Your readers are waiting to read your words.

Catherine Franz is a marketing industry veteran, a Certified Business Coach, Certified Teleclass Leader and Trainer, speaker, author, and Master Attraction Practitioner. Business clients include professional firms, restaurants, retail stores, coaches, writers, the marketing challenged, and independent professionals across the globe from Japan to New Zealand.

Interview with William Shunn Part Two

Interview by Amy Brozio-Andrews

William Shunn’s novella Inclination appears on the just-announced 2006 Preliminary Nebula Award Ballot. William Shunn is a Nebula Award-nominated science fiction writer (cite>Dance of the Yellow-Breasted Luddites)and stage/film reviewer. His work has appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Realms of Fantasy, Science Fiction Age, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Science Fiction Weekly, among others. Listen to Shunncast, his biweekly podcast at via iTunes. William Shunn has a Website.

Don’t miss Part One of Absolute Write’s Interview with William Shunn.

Is attendance at events like the World Fantasy Convention part of growing as a writer and expanding your network?

Oh sure. I go to maybe two or three, sometimes four, conventions a year and they’re just invaluable for meeting other writers and editors. I don’t even necessarily get as much out of attending panels and so forth than I do just hanging out and meeting all the people I can. I’m sort of introverted by nature, so I drag my wife along to these things and she makes sure that we always have something to do and someone to do it with.

Do you think it’s getting to the point where writers need to have a core competency in terms of technology and reaching out to their audiences?

I [don’t] think that it’s vital. It may be, in the future, ten, twenty years it’ll be more important even, but I think someone who is not necessarily good at computers, Web design, and what-have-you might waste an awful lot of time trying to get a Website going and learning all the ins and outs of that.

I do think it’s a good idea to use the web as a resource for learning more about the craft . . . different sorts of bulletin boards and newsgroups and so forth, but, I think you can get too caught up in the self-promotion and not focus enough on the writing.

I know in the early days of the Web, that happened to me and I spent way way too much time on my Website. Now . . . I post on my blog . . . during odd moments of free time at work.  My podcast takes more time, but again, with a podcast, it’s helpful if you’ve got a bit of a reputation already and have something to build on. I don’t know that it’s going to help everybody right out of the box.

Do you think that readers of science fiction might be more willing to interact with authors through technology than other readers in general?

It has always seemed that way to me, yes. There are certainly exceptions, but it seems like science fiction fans and science fiction writers are among the early adopters of new technology.

I was interacting with science fiction writers online as far back as 1991 or 1992 back when it was just usenet and GEnie and Compuserve . . . and there was a really thriving community of science fiction writers on GEnie. There must have been at least one or two hundred folks I would see on the newsgroups thirteen or fifteen years ago. And it really does seem like they keep doing that; they’re the first ones doing podcasts. There are a lot of science fiction podcasts now and yeah, I think there’s a fascination with gadgets and with new technology that sort of goes hand in hand with being in that genre. I don’t think everyone else is that far behind, though.

The readers, and the writers, they’re interested in cool futuristic stuff and as it comes along, they want to grab a hold of it.

Science fiction and fantasy are so often lumped together, yet there are many readers and writers speak vehemently about the differences between them. Do you think the two of them really do have a genuinely close relationship?

The two genres are definitely very closely related, so closely related that a lot of authors write both. I can think of very few examples of science fiction writers who’ve never written a fantasy story or novel or vice versa. Myself, I’ve published maybe in equal measure science fiction and fantasy. Most people tend to fall more toward one end of the spectrum or the other but I think that the close relationship there is that these are the two really imaginative genres and there are a lot of storytelling elements that they have in common. And then, within that, a lot of people prefer one over the other, or prefer science over what they see as the softness of fantasy or people who can’t stand thinking about technology or science and things like that . . . you get closer in and it’ll break down more and there will be among readers people who will be really very adamant about the differences between the two . . .

I do prefer science fiction more in a lot of instances than I do fantasy but some of my favorite novels are fantasy novels. Tim Powers is one of my favorite writers and books like Last Call will always be on my top ten favorite novels list but I read more science fiction and lately I write more science fiction. They’re very closely related and you can’t talk about one without the other in most cases.

Do you have any thoughts on the future of science fiction that you’d like to share with other writers? Advice? Observations?

Once challenge that science fiction writers continually face is the increasing rate of technological change in the world. It’s like, you write a story and then if it’s near future or even not-so-near future, sometimes it turns out that just a few years later, there’s some kind of scientific development that makes your story look really old fashioned really fast. A challenge for science fiction writers has always been to try to stay ahead of the curve and keep your finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the world of science. But I really don’t think that that’s going to make science fiction obsolete at any point. I think that no matter how much that’s technologically exciting that’s going on the world, there’s always new things that we can imagine and new stories we can write about it. The technological change brings up ethical dilemmas and so forth and that’s the sort of thing that makes interesting science fiction. That’s the reason a lot of people read it, is for a sense of wonder that they get about the future, for a look at some of the dilemmas that changing technology present to us as humans. As long as we’re accelerating technologically, we’re going to keep thinking about what is it that comes next and how are we going to face that and how are we going to respond to it.

Amy Brozio-Andrews is a freelance writer and book reviewer. Visit her Website at http://www.amyba.com.

Dealing with the Newbies

Five Tips for Handling People Who Want You To Critique Their Manuscript (for free, of course)

By Jonathan Moeller

First, some context.

I am a writer of no significance whatsoever. I wrote one novel, which disappeared without a trace, and I’ve written some short stories and nonfiction articles, but none have ever become well-known. In short, in the official taxonomy of writers I am Published but Obscure, and you’ve only heard of me if I’ve managed to tick you off to some extent. Or if I owe you money.

Yet people still ask me to critique their manuscripts.

This experience can range from flattering to downright creepy. One of the worst ones happened a few years ago, shortly after I published my one and only book, when a co-worker approached me during lunch.

Co-worker: “So I wrote a book, and was wondering if you’d read it.”

Me: “What’s it about?”

Co-worker: “Well, there’s a lot of sex with aliens. In fact, you could say it’s mostly sex.”

Me: (nonplussed) “Uh-huh.”

Co-worker: “And it’s pretty violent, too. Lots of just really raw violence.”

Me: (still nonplussed) “Okay.”

Co-worker. “And the sex is pretty violent, too. It’s really just sixty pages of really violent alien sex.”

(long, awkward pause)

Me: “I’m going to go clock back in now.”

Of course, not everyone who asks you to read a manuscript will hand you sixty pages of deeply, deeply disturbing alien love. But, still, it’s an awkward situation. I really don’t want to read someone’s 700 page manuscript, but neither do I want to make a new enemy. Here, then, are five tactful tips for politely turning down the opportunity to read someone’s 700 page magnum opus of interplanetary love.

1.) “I’m sorry, but I just don’t have the time.”

Writing takes a lot of time, and sometimes life makes it exceedingly hard to find that time.

The government could summarize my ethnicity and marital status as Creepy Caucasian Loner, so you’d think I’d have ample time to write. But I still struggle to find the time. I work full-time, and sometimes my brain is simply fried at the end of the day. And life throws other stuff at you. I really should cook something for dinner that didn’t come out of a box in the microwave, and I ought to sit down and pay those bills, and I’ve got to look for a new apartment, and I’ve put off returning some phone calls for long enough, and I can’t remember the last time I got some decent exercise, and I have got to get in touch with the car insurance company and my lawyers, and good Lord when was the last time I cleaned the toilet . . .

I am always amazed by married writers with full-time jobs and children who find time to write. Have they forsaken sleep entirely?

The bottom line is that if you’’re doing any kind of serious writing, you’re not going to have a whole lot of time. And that’s a perfectly valid reason to turn down the chance to read someone’s manuscript. You have a lot of other obligations and priorities, and you simply don’t have the time.

2.) “I’m sorry, but I can’t give you the kind of help you want.”

Sometimes people want help that you simply can’t give. They’ll ask for a complete line-edit of their manuscript. Or they’ll want help with a massive rewrite. Or they’ll ask for any number of things that would be a huge imposition on your time (see above) and that you’re really not comfortable doing, or even qualified to do. What then?

Fortunately, this is the era of the Internet, the golden age of information. Sure, there is a lot of garbage out there, but you can also find any number of good resources. Someone wants to know where to sell their writing? Direct them to Ralan.com, or Duotrope, or a copy of Writer’s Market. Need to know how to approach an agent? Several reputable agents frequently blog on that very topic. Want to know how to deal with an editor in a professional manner? Lots of editors write blogs, and heaven knows they’re not hesitant about dispensing their wisdom.

And there’s always Absolute Write, of course.

You may not have the time or the inclination to review someone’s manuscript, or provide them with detailed career advice, but you can point them in the right direction.

3.) “I’m sorry, but I just don’t want to take the legal risk.”

There are countless documented horror stories floating around the writing world. Rights-grabbing publications, greedy agents, dishonest agents, disappearing royalties; almost everyone knows someone who’s gone through that at one time or another. And it’s commonly acknowledged that reading someone’s unpublished work is a substantial legal risk. Why’s that? It’s simple; if you read someone’s manuscript, and then publish a work of your own a few years down the road, there’s always the chance that the same person will pop up, usually in the company of Nazgul-like lawyers, and claim that you stole their work for your own.

Granted, this isn’t all that likely. But like it or not, America (and most of the Western world) is something of a litigious dystopia these days. In certain ways this is a good thing; we don’t have to settle disputes with pistols at dawn. The downside, though, is that one spiteful person with an unscrupulous lawyer can really screw up your life. Reading someone else’s unpublished work is often just not worth the legal risk.

4.) Just ignore it.

Sometimes people will ask for your help in a polite fashion. And sometimes they’ll be total jerks about it. Who are you, they’ll say, to turn me away? You’re an arrogant gasbag! You don’t care about unpublished writers! You got to the top (right!) and you’re pulling up the ladder after you.

One of the great fallacies of the Internet, I think, is that people feel the need to respond to every stupid little thing. Someone writes a blog post you don’t agree with, and you leave a long, angry comment. You come across a message board thread that upsets you, and you plunge into the fray. A nasty e-mail message pops up into the inbox, and you fire off a response.

Life is short, and it’s full of nasty people. So why tolerate them any more than you must? Those Delete and Block Sender buttons are there for good reason. Use them. If someone gives you grief, start blocking and start deleting. Your blood pressure will be the better for it.

5.) Just do it.

And from time to time, you’ll come across someone whom you can help, and whom you want to help. Perhaps a friend, or a family member, or a student who shows a lot of potential. I know it’s hard to believe nowadays, but not everyone you meet is a potential lifelong nemesis with a fetish for litigation.

Everyone was a newbie, once upon a time. I don’t know much about writing or the business of writing, but everything I do know I learned the hard way; why not pass it on to someone? Give someone the chance to avoid learning things the hard way?

It is a risk, I know, and you should use your best judgment. But from time to time risks are worth
taking.

Standing over six feet tall, USA Today bestselling author Jonathan Moeller has the piercing blue eyes of a Conan of Cimmeria, the bronze-colored hair of a Visigothic warrior-king, and the stern visage of a captain of men, none of which are useful in his career as a computer repairman, alas.

He has written the “Demonsouled” trilogy of sword-and-sorcery novels, and continues to write the “Ghosts” sequence about assassin and spy Caina Amalas, the “$0.99 Beginner’s Guide” series of computer books, and numerous other works. Jonathan Moeller has a Website

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