Please welcome guest author Alana Saltz with a heartwarming article on writing memoirs.
As a genre, memoir has been growing exponentially each and every year. More and more people are finding the strength, courage, and determination to write about their experiences in a compelling and literary way. The success of memoirs like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and Augusten Burrough’s Running With Scissors, which were both adapted as feature films and released in theaters worldwide, help demonstrate that the world is slowly beginning to embrace the genre. Read more
Please welcome guest author Tamara Girardi with a post that challenges the old adage, “write what you know.”
In mid-October, I attended a literary evening with Jodi Picoult as part of the Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures series.
My immediate impression of Picoult: she was incredibly gracious and pleasant. At a reception prior to the event, she worked the room with a genuine smile, taking pictures and shaking hands. During one conversation, she laughed so loud with an attendee the room took notice. In other words, she was lovely.
So was her talk. Read more
Please welcome Natasa Lekic from NY Book Editors with a post that will help you handle rejection letters. Read well, because this post is packed with excellent advice.
Rejection letters are a cruel, inevitable part of every writer’s life. However, they shouldn’t derail your writing habits, which is why it’s critical to get over rejection notes as quickly as possible. To do this, you need to understand their actual value and how it compares to the act of writing.
The advice below will help you cultivate habits and a state of mind that will make rejections feel like a passing annoyance. Read more
Please welcome guest author Bryan Collins with a post exploring four types of writing.
This craft of ours is hard. You’ve got an idea, you’ve finished your research, and you know you’ve got something important to write about. There’s just one problem. When you try to write, the words feel slow, awkward, and off target.
Do you want to know a secret?
Good writing does at least one of four things: it educates, informs, entertains or inspires. Read more
Please welcome Warren Adler, author of The War of the Roses, with an article that compares print and digital book launches and examines the impact of traditional versus independent publishing on authors’ careers.
The launch of a book, be it the first for an author or their most recent release, has always been the established gateway for traditional publishers to introduce a new work. The launch of a book is like the birth of a baby: crucial and necessary. There is, after all, no future for an unsuccessful birth. For the author, like anything born into a lifecycle, it is the aftermath that really matters, and for those authors seeking career continuity, and even enduring recognition, digital publishing has offered a widening arena of options for keeping a book from disappearing. Read more
Please welcome guest author Jack Woodville London, author of A Novel Approach (To Writing Your First Book).
“What I find hard about writing,” Nora Ephron said, “is the writing.”
There’s a difference between writing and typing. Writers produce. Typists reproduce. Okay, that’s a bit harsh. Writers believe that a story worth telling is worth telling well. Writers believe that a turn of phrase can invoke a vision, that the choice of exactly the right word will lead someone to think about something in a new light, will persuade, will entertain. Some writers are blessed with a combination of neurons, synapses, left brain cells (or is it right?) that make their words flow onto the page or screen with clarity and purpose. The other ninety-nine percent of us must draft, erase, revise, delete, change, correct, and revisit, so that in the end, after many drafts and rewritings, it looks like it wasn’t hard.
We want to be writers. Where to begin? Read more
Please welcome guest author Marcy McKay with her top secret for successful writing.
You finally muster the courage to let someone else read your work. A live human being, a person who is actually qualified to share his or her opinion on your writing (unlike your Great Aunt Edna who thinks everything you do is perfect).
This individual reads your piece and gives a vague response. “It’s good. I mean, I like it, but something is missing.”
It’s similar to when you try to duplicate that delicious pizza from your favorite restaurant on your own. It tastes okay, but something still seems off – just not quite right.
So, what’s that certain spice for your writing? The recipe for literary success? Read more
Please welcome guest author Ali Luke with a post on making adjustments to your physical environment to help your writing.
Do you struggle to get into writing?
Perhaps you sit down with your favorite notebook on a regular basis, but you never seem to get far.
Your kids start arguing. Or you get a backache. Or you’re distracted by that neighbor doing yet another bout of DIY. Or an urgent email pops up for your attention.
External factors aren’t the only (or the biggest) distractions that affect our writing, but they make a surprising difference in our ability to be productive.
If you’re already struggling to focus, a few distractions and irritations can easily be enough to make you give up for the day.
Here are seven key factors that influence how well – or how wrong – your writing sessions go. Which of these could you tweak today? Read more
April is National Poetry Month! Please welcome guest poet Bartholomew Barker with some tips on participating in Writer’s Digest’s Poem-a-Day Challenge.
I agree with T. S. Eliot, “April is the cruelest month.”
April is National Poetry Month. For the past seven years, Writer’s Digest editor Robert Lee Brewer has presented the April Poem-A-Day Challenge on the Poetic Asides blog. Brewer posts a prompt each morning and poets around the United States write a new poem that very day. This means thirty new poems per writer by the time May flowers.
It’s a brutal challenge, but satisfying for those who finish. This is my third year taking the challenge.
Brewer requests participants submit their top five poems written in April. He creates a best-of list and names a Poet Laureate. This year, in conjunction with Words Dance Publishing, he will produce an anthology of the winning poems. How does he plan to inspire writers?
“I love to write and use both ideas and images to get started. For my prompts, I try to make them specific enough that most poets have a firm springboard into their own poems, but I also like them to be open to a variety of interpretations,” Brewer explained. “For instance, a weather poem could mean a weatherman to one person, a tornado to someone else, and forgetting to bring an umbrella to yet a third person.” He wants to offer a “focused freedom” every day of the challenge.
Thousands of writers attempt the challenge. They may keep a strong pace for the first few days, but many tire of the daily requirement. Life’s obligations take over and stanzas don’t write themselves.
I offer a few tips to help writers keep their pens going. For two of the past three years Brewer has honored my poems. How did I make it through the daily challenge, push through the mental fatigue, and make time to write an original poem every day? Here’s how:
- Use the whole day. Writing a poem each day for thirty consecutive days is a test of endurance. The peculiar mental fatigue turns some writer off. My routine involves reading the prompt first thing in the morning, then I let it irritate my mind while I’m at my day job. In the evening I force something out and hope it’s a pearl.
- Just write. What if you miss a day? Doesn’t matter. Some days we’re busy. Move on. Take the next prompt and ignore the previous one, or write a poem a day late or a week later. Whatever. Just write. Use your own prompts if necessary.
- Let it go. I don’t expect to produce thirty masterpieces in April. If I get five decent poems, it’s a good month. I hope to get ten more that, with a lot of revision, could be crafted into something (that’s what May is for). Just get the poem out before falling asleep. For instance, here was the prompt for April 27th, 2011:
Take the phrase “In the (blank) of (blank),” replace the blanks with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and then, write your poem. Some possible titles might include: “In the Heat of the Night,” “In the Heat of the Moment,” “In the Middle of a Heated Argument,” etc.
In the last week of the month
In the last hour of the day
Desperate to keep
The streak alive
He types his internal monologue
Inserting line breaks
Removing superfluous words
Hoping for a coda
I got nothin’
After 26 poems in 26 days, my exhaustion shines through. The key is to let it go and not worry about quality.
It helps to consider something like Poetry on Demand which is a valuable exercise in public poetry. Living Poetry, the group I help organize in North Carolina, sets up a table at street festivals. We write poems in three minutes for passersby who offer us one dollar and one word as a prompt. There’s only so much poetic trickery one can include in three minutes, so we just write, read the poem aloud, give the customer their poem, and move on to the next. While I’m sure plenty of my poems ended up in trash bins, I was told some are posted on refrigerators. It’s a poet honor.
I suggest all poets attempt the Poem-A-Day challenge at least once in their lifetime. Consider it a pilgrimage. All that is required is to write. Just like life, rules can be followed or not. Poems can be shared or not. It doesn’t matter. Use the whole day. Let it go, and just write.
About the Author: Bartholomew Barker is a poet based in Hillsborough, North Carolina. His poetry made the Top 25 nationally in the 2013 Poem-a-Day Challenge. Wednesday Night Regular, his debut poetry book, was published in November 2013. Bart’s work has appeared in Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Three Line Poetry, and the anthology Point Mass. He is one of the organizers of the Triangle’s largest group of poets, Living Poetry. His Twitter handle is @bartbarkerpoet.
Please welcome guest author Dana Leipold with a post about getting started on a piece of writing.
How many times have you gotten an idea for book, but when you sat down to write it you froze or started playing Words with Friends instead?
The hardest part of any writing endeavor is getting started. You are turning a nebulous thought into something real and tangible—but that blank page or computer screen can be intimidating.
Professionals even grapple with getting started:
“One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest just comes out very easily.” —Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The difference between a professional writer and someone who does it as a hobby is that a pro knows how to get over that initial hurdle. In my experience as a copywriter and author, I’ve used a few tried-and-true techniques that have worked for me. I’ve also seen what other professional writers do and stolen those techniques too. Don’t tell on me!
Here is a compiled list of six techniques for going from your head to the page that can work for any writer—from novice to the seasoned professional.
1. Get Serious
You won’t be able to start anything if you don’t get serious. Professional writers see the process of writing as a business. They can’t sell their books, their ideas, or their expertise if they don’t have a product. Writing is their product.
Many authors see writing as their raison d’être or their life’s mission. If you have been given a mission (meaning an idea for a book that won’t go away) it’s your job to start it and see it to its completion.
Is it time for you to get serious about your writing?
2. Set Little Goals
You’ve got to put a stake in the ground so you can aim for it. Sometimes this is what blocks new writers because setting the vague goal of writing a book can feel monumental and overwhelming. If you set manageable, little goals, you can trick yourself into getting started. A little goal could be a word count or a predetermined number of pages or scenes. To me, achieving 1,000 words feels a lot easier than “writing a book.” The important thing is to set a goal that you can complete and will feel like an accomplishment when it’s done.
3. Use Productivity Tools
Productivity is the lifeblood of any writer. How much are you writing? Not enough? Not sure? Luckily there are tools out there that can help you stay on task:
750 Words is an online tool that rewards the writer with points for producing 750 words (roughly three pages) of work at a time. There’s a social element too: users can see how fellow site members are doing with drafts of their own.
Another online tool is Write or Die, which is available as an app for iPads and PCs. It boosts your output by giving you a time limit and attaching consequences to procrastination. The website says, “As long as you keep typing, you’re fine but if you become distracted, punishment will ensue.” That punishment can range from a pop-up box admonishing your distraction, to seeing your work “unwrite” itself in Kamikaze Mode.
If the thought of your precious words getting deleted is too much for you, try Written? Kitten! It is a positive reinforcement tool that deliverers a photo of a kitten every time you deliver a set number of words. How can you not be motivated by the idea of a cute kitten delivering words of encouragement?
4. Build in Accountability
Tell someone you trust–a friend, partner, or even a coach–about your intention to write a book. Ask that person to keep you on task. A lot of writers also join writing clubs or critique groups to help keep them writing. It’s a lot like exercise: When you have a person or group that does it with you, there’s accountability built in and you are more likely to do it. We are less likely to flake out when we’ve told someone else that we’re going to write.
5. Schedule Writing Time Each Day
Pick a time each day to sit your butt down and write. What you’re doing is training yourself to be creative and productive at this time. Pick a day of the week and start with weekly scheduled writing sessions. Build that up to two days, three days, and so on. I guarantee that the more you write, the more you’ll WANT to schedule a time to do it every day.
6. Leverage Momentum
This is probably the most important step because this is what determines whether you get what is in your head onto the page (or not). Stephen King says you should write your first draft as quickly as possible: “I believe the first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months.”
Why is this so important? Because if you stop, it’s really hard to get started again. It’s less work to keep going than it is to restart from a dead stop. So don’t stop. Even if it feels overwhelming, eventually momentum will carry you through to a finished first draft.
Getting started is hard and not all that fun. Your inner procrastinator is all too willing to kick in at the thought of writing a book. No wonder so many writers don’t make it past the first page of their work. You are bringing forth something from nothing, which is an amazing thing. Instead of banging your head against the wall, try some of these techniques professional writers use to get over that initial hurdle, and you’ll be well on your way.
I’d love to hear from you: Do any of these techniques sound like they’d work for you? Do you have go-to techniques for getting started that you’ve found helpful? Please share in the comments below.
About the author: Dana Leipold is a writing coach and creative collaborator. She helps people write and publish books that change the world for the better. You can download her free training videos and more at www.danaleipold.com/hello.
Please welcome guest author Tony Vanderwarker with a post on bringing old drafts back from the dead.
One of the things you accumulate as you age is not just years, but places to stash your stuff. My wife and I have filing cabinets in the garage; stacks of plastic cases in the studio; and boxes of records, bric-a-brac, family photos, and just plain junk in the attic. So no matter how carefully we tuck some treasure away, months or years later it’s inevitable we can’t remember exactly where we put it, and a search can consume hours, sometimes days.
When prompted to start a search for a plastic bag full of floppy discs I’d secreted away years ago, I despaired of finding them. Should I start in my studio? In the garage? Or the attic? And even if I managed to locate them, would my computer be able to read the outmoded discs?
I’m not sure why I bothered to save them in the first place. I only remember stripping the stuff off my computer’s hard drive and transferring it to discs so I’d have room to write more novels. The six books I removed were my first attempts, relics of my first ten years of novel writing, read only by my wife, children, a couple close friends, and the New York literary agents who rejected them. I guess I couldn’t bear the thought of hitting the delete button and vaporizing years of writing.
I was astounded to find the dusty and cloudy bag containing the floppies on my first try, tucked away in a container under a bunch of old IRS records, titles faded but still legible. But I was not at all surprised when my computer would not recognize them.
First thing I did was call our computer wizard and ask, “Lou, any chance you can unlock these floppies?”
Two days later, Lou reported that he’d been able to save the 3 files I was most interested in.
After slipping the CD into my computer, I was delighted to discover that while one novel was fatally flawed, two held up well. So well that the idea of potentially bringing them back to life that had sent me searching for them was not whacko, but maybe reasonable and even promising.
They’d been buried, if not dead, for decades. I had quit writing after a novel I wrote, under the guidance of my friend and neighbor John Grisham, didn’t sell. “If I can’t sell a book with John Grisham looking over my shoulder,” I said to myself, “it’s time to hang up the laptop.”
After that I didn’t go near my studio for four years, doing environmental work instead, throwing Walmart off a battlefield, fighting a couple of ill-advised road projects and protecting 100,000 acres of land. But the writing itch came back big time and I was soon sucked back into the chair in front of the computer.
I wound up writing a memoir about the process of writing a novel with Grisham: Writing with the Master: How One of the World’s Bestselling Authors Fixed My Book and Changed My Life. I got John’s permission to use his notes and critiques, and I found an agent and a publisher.
Initially, the publisher pitched a two-book deal bundling Writing With the Master and the thriller I had written under John’s guidance, Sleeping Dogs. I was flabbergasted by the interest in a novel that had been dead and buried for eight years. Could a resurrection of Sleeping Dogs be possible? Why not? It was created under the auspices of a master.
Then the publisher decided to start backing away from novels, so they didn’t go through with the two-book offer. But later, when the sales and marketing people began to work on Writing With The Master, they were so sanguine about the prospects for Sleeping Dogs that they came back and made an offer for the ebook rights.
That’s when I started my floppy search. I was looking for two other long-buried novels: Ads For God, a comic novel about advertising with the same kind of wild characters and sleazy situations that has made Mad Men such a hit; and Say Something Funny, a comic takeoff on reality TV before it even existed. I’d written them ten and fifteen years ago, respectively. Were both too far ahead of their time to be appreciated? I wondered. Would the two books, having hibernated in a plastic bag for all this time, come back to life?
Now my memoir, Writing With the Master, will be published traditionally along with the novel it talks about, Sleeping Dogs. And I’m using them to promote Say Something Funny and Ads for God, which I’m going to self-publish. So I’ll have four books coming out in 2014 after a drought of twenty years.
How it will turn out, I have no idea. But I can tell you, there’s definitely a warm glow from seeing your long-ago creations being brought back to life.
So authors, save your floppies, flash drives, CDs and old computers. For who knows what gold lies buried in them?
About the Author: Founder of one of Chicago’s largest ad agencies, Tony Vanderwarker is author of the memoir Writing With the Master: How a Bestselling Author Fixed My Book And Changed My Life (Skyhorse, February 2014) about his experience being mentored by John Grisham while writing the thriller Sleeping Dogs, releasing in 2014. He has also penned the forthcoming novels Ads for God and Say Something Funny.
Please welcome Sylvia Nankivell with a guest post on writing every day.
As writers we often wait for that flash of inspiration before we grab a pen and wrestle with the paper in a flurry of blood, sweat and tears. This flash can come at any time: when waiting for a bus, while drinking your morning coffee, or quite possibly not at all.
All of the master authors of the 20th century tell us that if you want to be a great writer, then you have to learn to write every day. Hemingway would rise after breakfast and sit at his office desk from 9 until 5. He treated it exactly like a day job and of course the results were astounding. I’m not saying you have to don a suit, carry a briefcase and chain yourself to the desk until five o’clock, but a little taste of Hemingway’s method can help.
The bottom line is simple; to be a great writer you have to write, and this means practicing writing every day.
Why Practice Writing Every Day?
Writers are the artisans of the written word; they are painters with language and they are storytellers. To be the best at your job you have to hone your craft and this means practicing.
You wouldn’t expect a ballet dancer to perform Swan Lake without a rehearsal; you wouldn’t expect a baker to make a cake without the proper ingredients; and you couldn’t invite an electrician into your home to fix your wiring if he or she had no experience. The same goes for writing.
You will never get better at writing if you don’t practice; this means that at the end of your daily writing session you might have five pages of junk and one paragraph that means something, yet it doesn’t matter—if the art of practice delivers one sentence, then it has been worthwhile.
How to Find the Time
If you want to write, you will make time for it. I have heard of mothers waking up at five a.m. to write for two hours before their children stir. I have heard of bankers catching an hour on their lunch break to scribble in the park. If you are a writer, you will steal minutes from your day to polish your craft and commit words to paper. However, it must be done every day, even if it’s one word, one line, or one paragraph at a time—the art of writing must be practiced.
Keeping the Juices Flowing
Finding fresh inspiration is never easy, but there are ways you can jump-start your imagination to keep the juices flowing:
- Start by keeping a dream diary and writing in it as soon as you wake up. Before you grab a cup of coffee or let your dog out, take a few minutes to scribble down what you remember from your dreams. You will be amazed at the wealth of imagery trapped within dreams and it may also allow you a deeper look at your innermost thoughts.
- Go to art galleries. When I am running dry on inspiration I simply pack my pen and paper and visit the art gallery. Walk around with your notebook in hand and write about the paintings. You can create whole stories or poems from a splash of color.
- If you are stuck within the home and fighting to find a subject to write about, try freewriting. This is an exercise where you commit the pen to paper for at least ten minutes. All you do is write and never pause. Just keep going and don’t stop. If you find yourself coming loose and panicking then you can simply write I remember over and over, and take it from there. Keep coming back to I remember when you get stuck. This is a great exercise for ploughing through the mines of your memory and practicing your craft every day.
Make your notebook your treasure chest and use it to practice writing every day. A notebook is a writer’s best friend and you should always carry it with you. Use it for mindless scribbling, doodling, collecting things you find in the street and sticking in photographs you cut out of magazines. The notebook will come to reflect your inspiration and can be a spider’s web for collecting fragments of your imagination.
About the Author: Sylvia Nankivell is the owner of usedbooksearch.net, a free used and rare book price comparison search.