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Thursday, March 31, 2005

Shift Key
The shift key on your keyboard makes it possible to use a number of features in your writing: caps, various symbols and highlighting. The shift key makes punctuation and editorial cuts and changes possible. Shifting to a diferent mode of operation allows for enhanced communication.
Shifting the movement of your story's plot or tone gives access to additional texture and depth. Practice shifting your characters' perspective and voice and notice that they become more recognizeable and complex. We use the shift key often in our communication, and it is interesting to note when a speaker implements it during a presentation. Notice how a favorite author shifts the tone and scenery of a story through various devices. Moods change. Voices are different. Facial expressions shift. Stay aware. Keep writing. 
9:41 am est 

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Catch Phrases
Pick up your local newspaper and notice the number of catch phrases used in headlines to grab a reader's attention. "Funds for Agriculture Plowed into Research", "Top Cat Claws Its Way UP", "Leading Financiers Bank on Your Money" and the like go over the top to engage readers for their paper. This is not what true journalism intends to be, but the limitations and estimations of reader's time and investment in reading as well as the drive to sell papers contributes to what now passes for journalism. Many newspaper articles convey information in a compact, clipped package with little or no depth or critical awareness.
How does your writing awaken critical insight in your readers? Does your writing raise the question of motive and goals and their impact on others? Do your characters "question reality"? What are your own motives and goals in your writing? Investigate your work and know your intentions. Are you selling a product? Arguing a point? Taking a stand? Issuing an invitation? Providing an escape? Living out a fantasy? Questioning reality? Acknowledge your issues and understand what motivates your writing. Critical awareness is essential.  Keep writing.
9:20 am est 

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Pleasant Company
So many writers enjoy the company of a companion pet: a cat or dog, when they write. Pets seem to draw near to their owners when they are writing. Something about the process of writing invites and comforts pets. Perhaps its that when we write we "settle in" and focus in ways we never otherwise do. We move into a space of attentiveness and awareness--thoughtfulness--that we rarely visit during the busy-ness of our days.
We also become better attuned to ourselves when we write. When writing, we are listening more carefully to our thoughts, or feelings, or those of our characters and our pets sense that openness. We  become more pleasant company to ourselves in the process of writing. We process ourselves more thoughtfully. We tune in to life more reflectively and we send out the message that we are more at one with it. Writing is civilizing for the one writing. And your cat or your dog no doubt agrees. Keep writing.
8:27 am est 

Monday, March 28, 2005

Diagrams and Outlines
Remember diagraming sentences? The process of diagraming was to teach the parts and structure of sentences and show the "proper" use of each kind of word: verb, adverb, noun, adjective. Diagraming helped to illustrate the "correct" way to put words together. Like sorting coins and putting dimes, nickels, quarters and pennies in different containers, diagrams arranged words for placement in the "right" place.
Outlines map the territory ahead and provide guidelines for development. An outline shows the direction and avenue through which a project will travel. Following an outline can make writing more clear and exacting.
When do you find word and structuring tools of use? When do they support and structure or restrict and confine? When is breaking through structure critical? How do you structure your writing? How does your writing structure you? Writing is an interactive process like painting. The process can be controlled or it can enlighten and change  the writer. Let your writing live and lead you to new insights.  Free your imagination and perhaps even your identity through the process. Diagrams and outlines are there when you need/want some structure, but also sometimes you really gain by giving your writing a "long leash" and following the direction in which your imagination, story or your characters want to go. Keep writing.
8:14 am est 

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Page Turner
What makes a book a page turner? There are as many definitions as there are readers. What do you find so engaging that you eagerly move on to the next page? Was it the writing or the flow of the story? Was a character one you felt empathy or identification with or were you engaged by or in the issues or dilemmas she or he faced? Learn from your reactions and responses as you read. Make notes to yourself about those books and stories or characters in which you found yourself caught up.
Something in these books "clicked" for you. You opened intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually to these books and became a participant in them. What was it that made them more engaging for you? Pay attention to your attention and where it goes. Keep reading. Keep writing.
8:34 am est 

Friday, March 25, 2005

Take Advantage
Are you a good listener? Do you notice everything you see and hear? You should absorb everything you can and write with as much detail as you find possible or appropriate when working on one of your characters. Your words become the reader's light and they touch into the reader's imagination, memory and experience as a catalyst which opens the world contained in your character and story.
Give your reader credit. S/He has lived a life of many experiences, has accomplished much and come through many struggles. He or She brings a wealth of knowledge to your book. Respect and engage their investment in your writing. Know as much as you can about your readers. Read the news, talk with strangers, meet with friends to learn what's on people's minds and in their hearts. Take advantage of all the information available "on the street." Be a good listener. Become a better listener. Listening leads to learning. Keep writing.
8:19 am est 

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Copy This
Marketing copy is the purposefully engaging description of a book which seeks to capture the attention of potential readers in a relatively brief statement and summary of the book's essence. Book reviewers and book sellers have little time to read whole paragraphs about the quantity of books they consider for review or sale, so they rely on brief "blurbs"of partial or single sentences to "hook" their interest. Blurbs seek to invite readers to "read on" and learn more about a book.  Marketing copy is critical in making certain a book reaches its  most appropriate market and audience, and it is revised, refined and  reviewed by many members of a press's staff before it is approved.
Consider the copy you would write for your own book. Why is your book worth reading? Who is it written for? What issues does it address? How will it inform the reader? What is your authority in writing it? Why does it matter? These and other questions can push you to knowing how to present the book to a publisher, or can give you a sense of what a publisher thinks about when they review a manuscript for publication.
Being clear, articulate and convincing about the answers to these questions can help refine your presentation to a press. Keep writing.
8:08 am est 

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Take Notes
Keep a notebook just for observations. Write down and record in the notebook anything which catches your eye, your interest, or your imagination. Your notes become snapshot records of impressions, descriptions, and locations you may want to draw upon in your writing. Careful and detailed notes are like an artist's sketchbook from which you can make quick studies, enabling you to draw upon them in more complete and full detail in the future. If you write your impressions down, they will be good reminders of people, places and events and when you do a more detailed study of them, you will find yourself amazed at the resources your notes can provide. Take notes. Keep writing.
4:12 pm est 

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Stop What You're Doing
Hold the presses. Put down your pen and paper. Look out the window. Take a walk. Get away from your writing for a moment.
Perspective changes with distance. Giving yourself a moment to look up from your work gives the opportunity for reflection and renewal in your writing. Sometimes it seems like a waste of time, but we need time to let things steep or to give us a chance to process what is going on in our writing. When you take a break, new insights about your characters and/or your story line may come in. Doing nothing may actually allow the unexpected or unknown to come in to view.
A change of scenery can change your perspective. Knowing when you need to shift perspectives is valuable. You and your characters are more complex than you may think, so take a break and get some perspective. Then, get back to work on your writing. Keep writing.
7:19 am est 

Monday, March 21, 2005

Review and Sales
How do publishers evaluate the success of a book? Sales and reviews are the standard measures. Interesting, though, is the fact that the two may not be compatible in the final evaluation of publishing success. On the same book, reviews can be negative and even scathing while sales may be high. The comments of one critic can be insightful to a particular market and audience but irrelevant and inaccurate to another. Reviewers may be amazed and distressed that their disparaging remarks are so dismissed.
On the other hand, reviews can be beyond enthusiastic and supportive while sales of the same book can be dismal. "No accounting for taste" critics may comfort themselves, and authors may take some comfort in that as well.
As an author you can do something to enhance both sales and the number of reviews your book receives. Active engagement in promotional efforts include speaking at every opportunity you can find, writing editorials in local or even national papers, locating groups that are interested in your topic or ideas and joining or volunteering at their meetings or participating in their activities.  Sitting back and waiting for sales and reviews is not going to work unless you have built a reading public and reputation.
Bad reviews and seemingly poor or disappointing sales do not mean you have failed in your efforts. In fact, they beg the question about your efforts? Its not over just because you have completed the book. Your participation makes all the difference. Keep promoting. Keep writing.  
9:06 am est 

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Seeing is Believing
How many people do you know who say to others, "I'm going to write a book." How many of those people who believe "I have a book in me" actually commit to the work and writing to actualize that proclamation? Sometimes it sounds, in such statements, as though in one giant leap a book will spring forth from the speaker.
It takes serious commitment and perserverance to write a book, and it takes more than proclamation to produce a manuscript for submission to a publisher or printer.
On the other hand, making a statement of serious intention to yourself, and being clear on the direction of your goals, can move you in the direction of completing your book. Taking small steps toward that goal and writing every day does lead toward accomplishment. You have to take the small steps and recommit to the project every day. Staying power makes the difference between proclamation and accomplishment.
Once you have a manuscript to submit you can tell others. Seeing is believing. Keep writing.
8:25 am est 

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Shameless Self-Promotion
Publishers need the help of authors to promote the books they publish. With commercial houses there may be financial support for author's tours and readings; appearances or interviews on national talk shows or invitations for guest columns in newspapers or magazines. Smaller presses also need for authors to work with them in promoting their books, but the funding will likely have to incorporate some form of contribution from and by the author.
You may think that once you have written a book, it is up to your publisher to get it to the widest audience. If you believe in what you have written and you care about your work and your audience, however, you will welcome the opportunity to be available for any kind of exposure you are able to give to your project. In fact, you should yourself seek out opportunities for promotion of your book, and let your publisher know you are actively engaged in the process.
Working with a publisher is a partnership and ongoing relationship. Your investment in helping the publisher to promote your book is a crucial contribution to its success, whether in terms of reviews or sales of it. Find a publisher you can work with in the process. Stay engaged with promotional activities for it as long as your book is in print. Care about your work, and keep writing. 
8:39 am est 

Friday, March 18, 2005

The Right Paper, The Right Pen
Writers often spend a great deal of time and energy getting exactly the "right" equipment on hand before they begin their work. Gardeners need tool, too. Shovels, spades, gloves, buckets and other tools need to be available when one opens up some ground for a Spring planting. Tools make a gardener's work easier. Tools won't do the work, though, and in order to get plantings in the ground a gardener has to get down on her/his knees and work it. Row by row, seed by seed, the gardener has to tend to the the improvement and norishment of the soil and what is placed in it.
The same kind of determination, attentiveness and nurturing is necessary in your writing. The right software, or legal pad, or pen, or desk all can support your work, but by themselves they remain mere tools. Your desk, your chair, your computer, all of your tools are ready and waiting for you to go to work. You may have everything you want or you may feel you need other tools, but you don't need to wait to get started on your work;the time to get the garden going with whatever tools you have is now.
Open up some ground. Work the soil. Keep writing.
9:01 am est 

Thursday, March 17, 2005

A friend of mine makes what she calls "outrageous jewelry." She designs necklaces, earrings and pins which, like my author friend's writing, don't fit the mold for what we expect. She has a great deal of fun doing this. In fact, fun seems to be primary for those creative writers and artists who take expectations for what is "normal" and bend and twist them ,whatever their medium, into completely new and surprising creations.
There is so much talk about how difficult and demanding it is to write, and of course there is some truth in that for any serious writer. But there is also the possibility that a writer can have some fun with her or his writing, and in the process, a reader can be surprised and enjoy some as well. How outrageous is that? Have some fun. Keep writing. 
8:25 am est 

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Break the Mold
A philosopher/author friend writes in a way far removed from the rules of grammar, punctuation, syntax and accepted norms of composition. In effect, her writing is more like musical compositions and explorations. The experience of reading her work is both auditory and visual in nature. It awakens the imagination. She uses words to convey not only feelings, but also to challenge patterns of thinking about writing and philosophizing itself.
My author friend uses the language to explore her own thought and experiences in various adventures she embarks upon in her many travels. She is attentive to and appreciative of life in many forms and she provokes criticism as well as true appreciation with her nontraditional approach to her writing about them. She liberates the language so that it dances in light we never knew existed, and we may journey with her in her celebratory excursions with it.
Your writing can take you beyond the standard and time-worn to new and unexplored territories if you dare to break the mold. Keep exploring. Keep writing.
8:50 am est 

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

E-Z Duz It
Text messaging on cell phones and handheld "palm pilots" involves learning a new language and way of communicating.  This new language involves and requires short cuts in writing which gets the message across in a cryptic yet effective and "smart" . Information is moved quickly and with "attitude."
Language is fluid and is a tool used for many purposes. Information sharing and message passing is very "hot" with more than the young. Recognizing how we use language gives a sense of values, as well as the shifts in social pressures and demands upon us. The ways in which we speak ("dude") tell us who we are at the present time. There are those who will criticize and dismiss this "misuse" of language and those who (Rap) will celebrate it.
What is being said beneath the style of language you hear? Your writing can benefit from giving that some attention. Keep listening. Keep writing.
7:50 am est 

Monday, March 14, 2005

No Comment
When you first begin a new project you may experience the blank emptiness or feeling that there is nothing to say. You have no comments to make. But if you think carefully about why you were drawn to a particular idea and you gradually peel away the layers of your interest in it, you begin to reconnect with the significance of the writing for you. You come to know more consciously why you "care" about it. Once you care about something, you are in touch with the energy and passion which move you forward. You write because you want something to be different than it is.
Maybe you know someone like a colleague of mine in a publishing house. Frustrated by obstacles which arose, his frequent comment was "whatever." The "whatever" became a closed door beyond which no further persuasion or argument could enter. "Whatever" was his feeling of exasperation announcing his lack of care or concern for the situation or issue at hand. It was his "no comment" about something which he felt he could no longer invest his interest in. He was saying he no longer cared about it. He had given up.
In actuality,  my colleague did care deeply about his work and accomplishment, but he felt stifled and unable to meet his own standards for it. How often do we give up for the same reason? Because we can't achieve everything we would like , we give up and say our own "whatever."
There is an old expression that says "caring is daring." You have to take some risks when you care. You have to push through the sense of frustration if you are to make a difference in your writing and your work. This may not be easy, but caring is difficult work when frustrations arise. Care about your writing. Your writing may, in fact,  open some doors in you and in others that have been closed, in fact, so keep caring.  Keep writing.
9:11 am est 

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Words contain and transmit energy. This is why during recent years "affirmations" have become so widely encouraged. Repeating positive statements about oneself or one's situation with conviction on a regular basis causes changes in oneself and in the situation. There is power in using words with a sense of accomplishment in them. As a consequence, shifts in perception occur, and perhaps new aspects of one's identity are forged.
Written words also contain energy. In Stephen Covey's planners there is always a daily quotation included. Each quotation is meant to provide motivation and inspiration for the day.  For example, a quotation from Ken Kesey and for this day is: "You don't lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case."
Song lyrics also express and carry energy to listeners. How often has a familiar song come to mind and helped you understand or move through a difficult time?  Words spoken,  sung or written are energetic life forms--resources for any purpose and any use. When you write you are working with a living energy form.
Keep reading. Keep writing. 
8:54 am est 

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Rights and Permissions
A publishing house has a division which handles "rights and permissions" or the granting of use for portions or selections from books they have published and for which they hold the rights. If you use materials from others works or publications in your book, you should follow the guidelines in The Chicago Manual of Style to determine what kinds of permission you need to acquire. Acquiring permission can be a lengthy process and, depending on what you are seeking, can involve some financial commitment on your part.
U.S. Copyright laws ensure that you hold the rights to your own creation, but you may want to secure those rights by registering the material with the Copyright Office and placing the appropriate copyright statement on your manuscript.
The legal aspects of publishing have become increasingly challenging and complex in the electronic environment, so familiarize yourself with the particulars of them in as much depth as you feel you would like to have. Your local library carries subscriptions to Publisher's Weekly and Library Journal. These two industry standards bring recent developments to the fore on a regular basis. If they are not out on the shelf, ask a librarian if you can see their copies.
Keep reading. Keep writing.
9:10 am est 

Friday, March 11, 2005

A Lot to Say
Having a lot to say may be what gives a writer motivation, but listening well gives more insight, understanding and appreciation for complexities of character, plot, story and setting.
Have you spent time with a colleague or friend who gives you more information than you have time or patience to hear? After awhile you have probably tired of the monologue and vowed not, in the future, to endure a conversation with this person again. Reading is a voluntary activity, and the reader's investment and engagement is reconsidered  with every paragraph and page. Pay attention to the books and materials you have not completed. They did not hold your attention for some important reason? You can learn something from them. Did the author have a lot to say but fail to engage your interest?
Notice how and which authors have held your attention and, in fact, have left you wanting more. What qualities of writing invited your engagement and interest in the story or article? Knowing what held your attention and what did not hold your attention will give you an appreciation for the kind of writing that reader's will also appreciate. You may have a lot to say, but what you write needs to be engaging and interesting in order for a reader to care about it. Care about your reader's engagement in the process. Keep writing.
9:09 am est 

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Take Some Time
A letter of rejection for your work from one publisher is a recognition that you have taken some important steps: you have created a project and believed in it, and you have taken the risk of putting it "out there" for someone to consider.
Rejection letters are part of the writing and publication process, and you should appreciate any feedback you obtain from them. Be clear that rejection letters generally are simply statements about the specific needs of a publisher. Because your manuscript or proposal does not find acceptance in one or even a number of publishing houses, this does not necessarily or even often speak to the quality or significance of your manuscript itself. Acceptance is generally based on the "fit" with the list a publisher has maintained and is building, which is why it is critical for you to study the catalogs and websites of the publishers to which you submit your manuscripts.
The process of accepting a manuscript is something like trying on shoes. You need to spend some time with a pair of shoes  before you decide there is a fit and you purchase them. Sometimes you know right away that a particular style or shoe is not a good fit for you.
There are so many shoes to choose from, but when the right pair comes along with a familiar yet fresh and new feeling that makes you feel good, you gladly purchase them. Think about the editor's choices, know their choices, and try your manuscript on them if you yourself feel there is a "fit." Keep writing.
The comparison may be mundane, but the reality is that you need to know who you are submitting your work to before you address the envelope or package. You are going to build your collection of rejection letters, otherwise.  Keep writing.
9:36 am est 

Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Counting Words
A production editor in a publishing house often has the responsibility of doing what is called a "cast off" of a manuscript in order to determine the number of words it contains. The "cast off" helps to predict the length of the finished book and so tells the publisher if the manuscript is at the contracted length and the estimated cost for having it produced. 
Once you have completed your manuscript you should use your own software or method to arrive at your own word count.  The more you demonstrate familiarity with a publisher's needs and constraints, and the more familiarity you show with the publishing process, the more satisfying your experience with a publisher will be. Make your words count. Keep writing. 
9:26 am est 

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Neat Trick
Having worked in publishing for years, a friend who acquired manuscripts for a publisher once mentioned that just by looking at an arriving package she could tell whether what was contained within would be of interest and a good fit for her publisher's list. She had opened so many packages over the year, and read so many cover letters, that she had a good sense of how much of interest a manuscript would be just from the kind of wrapping that held it.The printing or typing on the label, the sort of postage affixed, and the weight of it as well as any handwriting on it told her whether the package held something she could use.
Are you aware that 80% of communication is visual? We rely so heavily on sight and appearance that only 20% is left for auditory communication. Being attentive to the appearance and presentation of your submissions is more than a little significant. My editor friend is not psychic, she says, just experienced. She knows what will engage her interests and what looks like a rejection before she even opens a package. Take the extra time to make it look professional in appearance. It might be opened, and sooner, perhaps, if it is. Keep writing.
2:06 pm est 

Sunday, March 6, 2005

Material Wealth
Do you expect to earn millions of dollars as a result of your writing? You are not alone. There are millions of authors who have had that expectation and that hope. How often have you heard of authors being listed as the top millionaires in this country? Can you name one? Even the most successful published authors are not the highest earners.  Authors are generally rich in experience, sometimes rich in wisdom, but for the most part authors are rich in gratification that they are doing work they love and making a contribution to their own and the lives of others through their writing.
A friend of mine has referred to another misperception as the "myth of the glamourous world of publishing." In fact, while most of those in publishing love their work, and they do meet and work with authors and come to know some more than interesting people, salaries in the field tend to be modest. The compensation, as for an author, comes from the process of working with writing and seeing it shaped and presented in such a way that it will reach the most appropriate and broadest audience for it. The wealth is in the writing of the book and getting it out there. If you put your sights on that process, you can bank on your success.  Keep writing.
11:23 am est 

Friday, March 4, 2005

Get It Together
When you approach a publisher, make sure you have done your homework. Learn everything you can about their press and review their catalogs and listing of publications. By seeing what they have already published, you gain insight into what they have succeeded at publishing in the past. The kinds of books they have successfully published in the past may be a clear indicator of the kind of books they want to continue to publish. Getting a clear sense of their editorial direction and identity will give you a good understanding of whether your book will be something they may and can express interest in. Publishers are looking for books which will keep them in business, so  spending some time doing your research on them, and learning more about their needs will better position you to spark their interests in your own work. Get it together before you approach them. Keep writing.
8:49 am est 

Thursday, March 3, 2005

Deadlines and Lifelines
Do you set deadlines for your projects? Everything in publishing works on the basis of deadlines and "due dates," whether the latter refers to manuscript submission dates, copy preparation timeframes or bound book shipment and arrival dates. Deadlines give a sense of definition and anticipation to a project. As an author, you commit to achieve or produce something by a set and unalterable date.
Deadlines can motivate and make essential the work you may at present only aspire to do. In fact, deadlines can become a motivating lifeline for your work. Holding on to a deadline is like hanging onto a llifeline pulling you through the project. Use these lifelines, which in fact help to guide your writing to fulfillment. If you do, your writing will be spurred on and, one day, in fact completed.  Regardless, keep writing.
1:41 pm est 

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

There used to be an expression coming from a 50s TV show that went: Abracadabra, Please and Thank You! (Was it Captain Kangaroo?) where saying those words would make something magically appear or occur. Those words in that combination were magic, and they never failed to produce or make something exciting happen.
Do you believe that your words are magic? They are. Words can create realities for better or worse. They can transport readers to worlds you may not be aware of, and they can open imaginations as magically as the words Abracadabra Please and Thank you spontaneously caused something to occur. What could be more magical than touching a reader's imagination and heart with your words? Never underestimate the power of the written or spoken word. The energy within words touches others in sometimes lasting, deep and powerful ways. You change the world when you write. You change the world when you read. Abracadabra Please and Thank You! Keep writing.
8:55 am est 

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Soften the Critic
Criticism has its place. It is not,however, when you are writing. That is a difficult lesson to learn. We have a tendency to self-evaluate our writing the moment we have something written.
No published author ever evaluated every sentence they put down. Nothing would be published if that were the case. Often, even authors with contracts suddenly become fearful of the judgement of others and they never complete their manuscripts, regardless of the encouragement of their editors. Fear of criticism causes them to abandon their project. It has happened.
Criticism serves a purpose once a manuscript is complete. At that point, other perspectives can help to provide a sense of how it "reads" and how readers will respond to it. This helpful and supportive role and sense of criticism is not only valuable and important, but it can also be encouraging to an author, inviting her/him to rethink or reshape some aspect of the work.
Criticism is not condemnation unless you take it to be so. You should welcome criticism and recognize that it actually has a supportive function to play in your writing. Criticism can be useful once you have written your material. While you are in the writing process--doing the work-- be certain to soften your internal critic, and let it know that sooner is not better than later. Your job at this time, in fact, is to keep writing.
11:32 am est 

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