Friday, April 29, 2005
10:18 am edt
Are you writing for an advance? Do you have to get an advance on your royalties in order to proceed with your writing
or research? Are you hoping that your proposal or your credentials will be persuasive in obtaining a publisher's agreement
to publish your book?
Have you calculated your financial needs in order for you to complete your work? Have you made plans for where to
deposit and store your advance?
If you are working on these concerns as you are writing and/or developing your project, you are probably putting more
energy into looking for an advance than you're putting in time on your writing.
An advance is like an overdraft on your credit card. You are in debt when you get an advance. You are obligated to not
only complete your project but it is then obligated to sell in quantities which will recover the publisher's investment through
Some publishers may require you to pay back the balance of an unrecovered advance, so you should read your contract very
carefully before signing and accepting an advance.
An advance sounds desireable and may be necessary, but it is not a windfall; it is part of a contractual obligation you
are agreeing to fulfill by completing your work and helping to market it. The publisher takes a risk on you and your project
by giving you an advance. Like a credit card bill, the account carries an obligation to fulfill your part of the agreement.
No free lunch here, but a tangible expression of encouragement.
Thursday, April 28, 2005
7:22 pm edt
A good friend who is a productive scholar and author is an expert in folk music. He is an engineer by trade, but he has
maintained a long-standing fascination with folk songs, particularly those about trains and rail travel. He brings a great
love to his avocation, and is sought after for his detailed and thoughtful liner notes on many CDs and folk recordings. He
makes his living in other ways. He makes his living joyful through his interest in and avocation as a folk music scholar.
As a consequence of his avocation, this man has met and become friends with a number of well-known artists and musicians.
He plays no instruments, and he doesn't sing, but he is remarkably moved by the music and the stories it tells. His liner
notes share and open the many stories he has researched about the music to interested readers, who learn and welcome
Have you considered your own avocations and interests and done some writing about them? The areas which "turn you on"
emotionally are the ones asking you to participate more fully and directly. Notice what really draws you, and contribute something
in writing about it. You owe it to yourself and to those who would appreciate your insight and understanding of your subjects.
Who knows? Following the tracks of your own feelings may lead to a new project and area of professional as well as personal
interest for you as a writer. Keep writing.
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
8:16 am edt
What inspires you? What inspires your writing? Knowing what inspires you puts you in direct contact with the energy which
you most respond to and appreciate.
What got you through the toughest times? Where did you find your strength? Knowing your own accomplishments and resources
also reveals your internal sources of inspiration.
Keep a record of what has inspired you so that you can continue to appreciate and connect with that energy. Are there
authors that have inspired you? Record the words which touch, provoke and encourage you. Are there friends dealing with challenges
you know of? How have they "risen to the occasion?"
Inspiration is an every day event. You can see it in nature, as a small bird struggles to fly. Take note. Keep writing.
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
7:57 am edt
Dear Abby and her sister Ann Landers made a life's work out of giving advice to others. Often the advice was matter of
fact, brief and to the point and it drew upon their own life experience. That touch of sincerity and concern were conveyed
through very few sentences, often, but they reached and had an impact on more than thousands of readers of their columns in
the newspaper every day. Their sincere pragmatism must have reached multitudes over the years.
The Car Guys, Click and Clack, also give advice on automotive repair and irregularities in a light-hearted manner and
followers of their newspaper columns and radio programs come to rely on their insight and mechanical know-how.
Suze Orman is a financial advisor who speaks so directly and clearly to those who contact her about monetary problems
and issues that one cannot help but follow her as a teacher and concerned financial mentor and guide.
Take some advice. Pay attention to how these individuals communicate with their audience. How do they latch onto the
attention? How do they communicate? What part does humor play? You can learn from the advice columns and talk shows even if
you do not take their good advice.
If you'd like, you can take that advice. Keep writing.
Monday, April 25, 2005
10:31 pm edt
Painting can be a nearly magical experience. Oil paints often combine and blend with one another in more than mysterious
ways. There is a degree of excitement in the process as the paints become alive with energy and movement which can fascinate
painter and observer alike.
A painting shows more than the subject at hand. It shows the view and vision...the perspective of the artist, and conveys
something of the heart of the painter. Painting touches the viewer at a depth of common recognition and understanding that
the subject alone may not convey.
Let your writing be like word painting which touches the reader with a sense of common recognition and understanding
as well as empathy for your characters' lives. Let yourself care for and about your characters and the reader will as well.
Allow your words to paint your scenes, suggest your characters and move the story along with heart and a depth which invites
participation on the journey.
Word painting is an invitation to keep writing.
Do some Word Painting.
Saturday, April 23, 2005
Exercising Your Imagination
7:05 pm edt
Try this exercise. Write your name out in vertical format rather than horizontal. For each letter write a name, an adjective
and a verb. Use the first of each which comes to mind, and don't judge or edit your choices. After you have these written
down, look them over and write a brief short story including each of these words. Follow the drift of your imagination. Let
it lead you. Use this exercise with any name you might find interesting...even names from the phone book which engage your
interest are worth working with.
We hold our imagination captive for so much of our time that it is important to give it a longer leash that it generally
has. Allow your imagination to roam free and show you where it would like to take you. Practice freeing your imagination.
Let it wander a bit and give it your pen once in awhile. Exercise your imagination. Keep writing.
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
10:06 am edt
What would your greatest challenge be as a writer? What would be the most difficult kind of writing you could do? What
if you had no options other than that particular genre? Legions of writers have had to do exactly that kind of work they are
least drawn to or comfortable with.
Give yourself a challenge at least weekly. Write for at least a few hours in a genre you are uncomfortable with. In the
process you may become more conversant about the issues facing those working in that area; you may become more literate about
what that genre requires and demands and as a result you may become more appreciative of those who write in them.
Challenge your reading interests as well. Read in areas beyond your comfort level. Stretch your experience. Broaden your
interests. Commit to reading one book outside of your area or genre at least once a week. Keep reading. Keep writing. Keep
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
The Writer's Life
8:38 pm edt
Annie Dillard's book,The Writer's Life, is a sketch of the work and the struggle of the writer. Dillard
talks about words as the tools laid out one after another in a row...a sentence...and how they work to chisel through
stone or notions or perceptions. The book does not make light of the writer's work, and it does not lay out a plan or a roadmap
for success, but it is a good companion for one hiking the trail to know that another is also on the trail working through
the brush and the bramble.
We do not all write alike, and no one else writes like Annie Dillard. We each have our own voice, our own selection and
use of the word tools, our own manner of arranging and implementing them. We have different canvases to work on and some are
more attuned to water than oil, or acrylic, or pastels, or chalk, or pen and ink. The colors vary in our writing, and so do
the textures, the lines, the backgrounds and the subjects we write about.
We shape our writing as much as the potter shapes, throws, spins, supports and adds water to clay on a wheel. We
place the final results in the kiln and let them bake, and watch to see what the glaze will do. We sometimes surprise,
even amaze ourselves with the results, and we sometimes break and destroy them. The writer's life is the process and not the
product, we know.
Monday, April 18, 2005
10:25 pm edt
Take every opportunity you get to practice your craft. Even if the assignment seems or is one uninteresting or unlikely
to provide you with real challenge, it provides you with the opportunity to practice and work at writing for different purposes
and audiences. Does a friend need a resume? Offer to help plan and organize it. Does a local organization need articles for
a newsletter? Contribute to it. Does someone you know need some assistance with a business letter? Involve yourself.
The more you provide assistance of a wide variety of kinds, the better your exposure to the various opportunities the
craft of writing needs and the more exposure you have as a writer.
Don't pass up any seemingly small opportunity to learn from the practice of writing. You never know where even the smallest
opening may lead. Keep writing.
Thursday, April 14, 2005
1:28 pm edt
The professionals involved with bookselling can be of great support and interest to you as a writer. Often it is the
used bookstore owners who know the most about their titles. These people are generally serious bibliophiles knowledgeable
about a very broad range of subject areas and interests. Spending some time getting to know them is valuable for your own
research as well as your understanding and appreciation of what has been published and is currently available both in and
out of print.
Antiquarian book salespeople have societies and annual fairs in key cities. You can meet all members involved in
the book publishing community at the annual meetings of the American Bookseller's Association, where a number of workshops
and seminars on a wide range of topics related to manuscript and book selling are available. Attending one of the annual
meetings and exploring the variety of publishers exhibiting can be enlightening.
Try finding out more about the local and national bookselling professionals on the web and then make some contacts. You
have a great deal to learn from these professionals who have made books their livelihood. Keep writing.
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
The Art Spirit
10:12 am edt
Robert Henri was a great teacher and American artist. His book The Art Spirit "embodies the entire system
of his teaching, with much technical advice and critical comment for the student...and contains inspiration for those to whom
the happiness to be found through all the arts is important." The back copy on this wonderful book is a brief summary of Henri's
writing about the process of painting. There is so much wisdom and beauty in the writing itself, that it is a wealth of ideas
and invitations to the sense of awareness required by the painter as well as anyone interested in writing.
Henri advises the artist, "Do whatever you do intensely. The artist is the one who leaves the crowd and goes pioneering.
With him/her there is an idea which is his/her life. The signature on a picture should be modest, should be readable and simple
and should enter into, not interrupt, the composition."
The spirit of the work..the art spirit, should carry the work to completion. The authorship should not interrupt the
compositon. The Art Spirit is a wonderful companion for the writer as well as the painter and for any thoughtful
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Too Much to Say
10:49 pm edt
A writing group we knew of was once led by a person who had written a manuscript of 800 double spaced typewritten
pages. The leader used the gatherings to read portions of his novel, narrated by the Island of Manhattan, ad nauseum.
Page after page of this manuscript went into detail far beyond its usefulness. The author had become so enamoured with his
material that he did not realize that he had managed to create a wonderful sleep inducing work. There was no discernable plot,
except when the author spoke of it and clearly identified it. The author's fellow writers stayed tuned to the group
because they enjoyed the company of one another and because they did provide thoughtful and kind comments of some value
to the author.
Readers , especially editors, will not be so patient. There are too many other items on an editor's daily docket
to stay with a book which dwells on a descriptive presentation rather than the plot and characters. You have no doubt known
someone who tends to go on too long in describing events or people they are telling you about. They have so much to say and
so little ability to listen. How much more interesting your work could be if you listened better and observed more. Your writing
comes from listening more than from speaking. Keep listening. Keep writing.
Monday, April 11, 2005
5:13 pm edt
In a press, editors tend to work in two areas with different kinds of responsibility. Acquisitons editors are those who
seek out manuscripts and work with authors to develop the projects they believe are worthy of publication. They help to shape
and target the work and they strategize with other departments in the press to produce the book.
Production or copyeditors do the actual production of the book itself. They may edit or hire freelance editors to do
line editing, checking for grammatical and punctuation concerns. They follow up by asking the author to review the editorial
changes and respond to queries they have made. Editorial shaping as well as production can improve a book but you as author
can elect to take or decline that direction. You have a vote in the direction your book takes from the beginning.
Editorial feedback gives you important perspective for consideration and it is valuable for showing you what your first
reader's perception of your work is. Recognize and appreciate editorial feedback. Keep writing.
Saturday, April 9, 2005
Freedom to Write
2:55 pm edt
When a friend of ours was writing her dissertation for her Ph.D. she said what she was writing was just stringing one
sentence after another. She was, she felt, just meeting an academic obligation, and so she felt the weight of the work upon
her. It was a drudge, and she clearly felt the work to be tedious and difficult to churn out. Her goal was to finish the job
and get the degree so she could go teach and move forward with her work.
This person is really a bright and dedicated scholar who felt the weight of the academic machinery bearing down on her
in an uninspiring manner. She knew that she had to produce something in order to get the degree and be able to write what
she really wanted to write. She has now finished her degree and broken free of the boundaries imposed on her. Her insight
and passion for her subject is expressed in numerous articles and publications. It took receiving a Ph.D. for her to be free
to do what she needed and wanted to do.
How often do you choose to follow the obligations of others in order to achieve some level of authority which you then
believe gives you the freedom to write what you would really like to write? Have you considered skipping the obligations and
going right toward your own passion and insight? Can you own your own writing by following your own guidance? Keep writing.
Friday, April 8, 2005
Writing for Dummies
7:25 pm edt
We all feel inadequate at times, so the series of "Dummies" books come in a wide variety of topics. Whether its horseback
riding, sewing, drawing, or writing, there is a Dummies book available to provide the basic guidelines for attempting to master
an area of personal or professional endeavor. There is a competing series of "Idiot's Guides" which also seeks to reach those
who feel "in over their heads" regarding various topics. These books are best sellers year after year.
Never underestimate what you know and what you have to teach or share with others. A woman we know who teaches Alexander
Technique, an approach to body alignment and movement, begins her classes with the words, "You're taller than you think you
are." She adds, "You're wider than you think you are." And she follows up with:
"You're younger than you think you are." As she adjusts a client's posture, years seem to melt off and body shape and
size changes significantly. Her words and her adjustments shift and change the client's entire system.
As a writer, you are "wiser than you think you are." Don't underestimate what you have to say in your articles or through
your characters. "You're more creative than you think you are." How much the thinking determines the outcome. You've heard
that before, but it's so true, its worth repeating here. You have a wealth of experience and understanding within you.
Thursday, April 7, 2005
9:46 am edt
An older woman of 85 whom we know has always had beautiful handwriting. Her handwriting is a product of her appreciation
for beauty and attention to detail. Even as she faces health challenges and restricted activity due to arthritis, her caring
and thoughtfulness show through in the beauty of her handwriting.
The care and appreciation we bring to writing can also be evident in any kind of project we are working on. A reader
can sense when an author is clear and attuned to his or her words and sentences. That care and appreciation for the story,
the article, the poem, the book is a statement about the author and readers come to recognize and rely on the careful craftmanship
with which a writer weaves a story or an essay.
Writing comes from a hand. The touch of that hand can be felt. The touch of the heart and mind conveys the story to another
heart and mind. Like a torch being passed, writing conveys more than the story or the words themselves.
Monday, April 4, 2005
9:58 am edt
Your background and experience are critical in supporting your authority for writing. Sometimes previous publications
add and lend credibility to your authority if they are in the same area of research or writing as your project. Take the time
to list your degrees, your participation in professional groups, and presentations you have made, reviews or articles you
have written etc. so that you yourself recognize what you are bringing to your writing project. You may or may not include
this information in a cover letter for an editor or agent, but it is important that you have a clear sense of why you
are qualified and have achieved a level of expertise on your topic.
At the same time, you should thoroughly investigate the credentials of any publisher you use. If you know of or have
access to reviews of the books they have published you can get a good sense of whether they have done a good job of editing,
producing and promoting their titles. Speaking with one of their authors is even better. Publisher's websites often include
interviews with authors who comment on their experience with the publisher. Visit them often.
Take some time to familiarize yourself with your own and your prospective publisher's credentials. Credibility counts.
Sunday, April 3, 2005
11:22 am edt
Though it seems unlikely,many new authors don't read their contracts. Only at a later point when something unforeseeing
or unacceptable occurs do they or their attorney review and understand the terms and limitations of their contracts.
Mathematicians sometimes are very poor at arithmetic. We know a number of gifted mathematicians who are unable to balance
their checkbooks and do simple arithmetic. They work at a level of abstraction and theory far removed from simple numerical
The obvious is so easily overlooked. An author can be so immersed in the process of writing that s/he misses the details
which make publication possible. Make certain you take care not to overlook the obligations you and a publisher have as they
are written in a contract. Keep reading. Keep writing.
Friday, April 1, 2005
Notebooks of Note
9:54 am est
Simone Weil,a French mystic and philosopher, left a number of wonderful and insightful notebooks containing her thoughts
and ideas on concerns and causes she cared about. Her brief exerpts are glimpses into her mind and heart. Each brief note,
and sometimes there is only a sentence or two, carries a world of possibility in it for additional exploration. Her notebooks
were published and are still available through antiquarian book dealers.
Markings, the collection of thoughts and ideas of former UN Secretary Dag Hammarshold, is another fascinating
and moving glimpse into the heart and mind of a remarkable and thoughtful world leader. The writings of Albert Camus are another
resource and repository of personal notes containing profound insight.
Notebooks may be of any kind you might find useful for future writing. Observations, impressions, insights, and sketches
or studies of places and persons are not the same as personal journals but windows to the perceived world. Acquaint yourself
with the notes of others. Sometimes a notebook contains the essence of a life. Cryptic notes and sentences sometimes
reveal poetic inspiration and insight. Take notes. Keep reading. Keep writing.