"...everything in life is writable...if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt."..... Sylvia Plath

Monday, January 31, 2011

Discovering who I am through writing

How I got this way

I have been writing all of my adult life which, since I’m over 70, is a very long time. As a little girl, besides pretending to be a teacher, I kept journals of my drawings, poetry, songs, and anything else I could think of to put down on paper. I was fascinated by words and their meanings and would read the dictionary and, as I became older, would deliberately try to improve my vocabulary by learning and using a new word every week. This went on all through high school.

I graduated and went to college to study art but the pull of the written word was too much for me to resist, so I changed my major to English Composition. I was very happy for a while until the music ringing in my ears urged me to demonstrate to my “jazz musician” father that I understood where he was coming from. Fortunately, I inherited some of his talent and could sing and dance a little. I ended up with degrees in both English and Music. The art became a delightful hobby.

Immersed in writing and theater

As a teacher of both music and English in the Chicago Public schools, I was totally immersed in communication skills through teaching English classes, as well as putting on musical theater working with students constructing sets and scenery, making costumes, and teaching dance for nearly 30 years. Being so involved with students all the time, did not give me much time to explore my own abilities and desires as a writer. When I retired from teaching and became an Innkeeper, I finally came full circle a few years ago and gave in to the hold that writing has always had on me.

My love affair with blogging

As soon as I began blogging I loved it. I started out with one blog on Innkeeping. It got good response, but most of the readers were not Innkeepers. Innkeepers are notorious, at least they were a few years ago, for resisting Social Media networking. They like face to face interaction. So I started another blog on the Innkeeping Industry, to educate them about the joys and rewards of social networking. I joined Twitter, then Facebook, then LinkedIn. I’m still keeping up all four blogs and touching down at a dozen or so social media sites. I think it’s important for writers to network on the web. It’s one way of building a strong platform and writers groups can be very supportive.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Finding your ideal genre

As a writer, you have probably already discovered that writing has its different specializations. If you want to be truly effective and successful you cannot be a jack of all trades and a master of none. After a while, you will have to specialize in a particular genre.

For years I wrote non-fiction, essays, journal articles, newsletters, cookbooks and so on. Then a year or so ago I was invited to join a private writer's group of around 35-40 writers, many of them published, some of them editors. We would post what we were working on for feedback from each other and from three professional editors. Everyone was experimenting with all sorts of things. There were small specialized groups working on poetry, journal articles, sci-fi, short stories, novels, and so on. If there wasn't a group for the genre you were interested in, you could start one. It was great. 

I started out writing poetry, which is a genre I'm very familiar with, because I knew there was a master poet/editor in the group and I wanted to work with him. I became comfortable with writing poetry again and started posting and commenting on other writer's work. After a while, I decided to try fiction, simply because I like a challenge and I had never seriously entertained the idea that I could write fiction. 

The thought of writing a novel turned me off completely. I knew I couldn't stick with one continuous story for that length of time. But I thought maybe I could handle short stories, or short-short stories, or maybe flash fiction. You see how I was trying to get it down so that my brain could manage the thought of such a project? This is something I know in retrospect but wasn't aware of at the time.

First I wrote a true story about something that happened to me when I lived in Chicago. I got a lot of good feedback and most everyone said I should develop it into a longer piece. Some suggested fictionalizing it into a short story. And so that's what I did. At least, that's what I started to do. The feeling from those in the group who were critiquing me was that I needed to insert more dialogue; it was too much like a personal narrative. 

Then I was told that the characters needed to be more developed...then maybe I should change it to the third person, then back to the first person for more intimacy, then....ad nauseum. By that time I had had it. I tried a couple of other stories and it was no fun. It was like pulling teeth. The group was encouraging me but I was resisting. 

Why was I resisting? and why was it no fun? Because that was not my ideal genre. I started analyzing it. I began thinking about the forms of writing that came natural to me, that were the easiest for me to write, that I always did a great job on, without a great deal of stress. It suddenly dawned on me that non-fiction was where I should concentrate my writing efforts; that was where my talent was. I'm not a cross over writer. 

When I asked my self what I enjoyed writing the most. My answer was clearly: journal articles on almost any topic ( I love to do research), essays also on a variety of topics, creative non-fiction like true stories and vignettes about real events, and most of all, personal narrative. So when I got to where I was ready to tackle a book, the logical genre for me was memoir. I love writing stories about what happened at my bed and breakfast the 16 years that I have been an Innkeeper. And I hope my readers will like them too.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Writing for young adults and children: How to reach your target audience

Brooke Johnson  lives in Northwest Arkansas with her husband and dog. She is a former editor of the award-winning Nebo: A Literary Journal, where some of her stories have been published. An editor and writer, Brooke manages and  edits at  Hogglepot, a weekly fantasy journal. She also blogs at Brookenomicon, a blog of writing, gaming, and dungeoneering 

Guest Post
by Brooke Johnson

Probably one of the easiest ways to write to a target audience is to spend time with that target audience. Some of us don’t have that luxury, but you can find ways to be around kids or teens without interfering with their activities or looking like a creeper.

 If you have children, I don’t recommend stalking them. You can certainly interview them to see how they would act in a certain situation or what they are learning at school, but they’ll feel threatened if you watch them all the time to see how they act. They won’t act normal. You could host sleep-overs and parties to see how your kids act with their friends in that setting.

 If you are a teacher, being on cafeteria duty, recess duty, bus duty, or car-rider duty can have its advantages. You are in a prime position to watch how students interact with one another outside of the classroom, how they talk to their friends, how they settle differences on their own, etc. For teens, you could be a teacher sponsor for a student group like the homecoming decorating committee, computer club, cheer leading, etc. You could offer to chaperon after school activities like dances, or offer to work the concession stand at basketball games. You would be surprised how much uncensored contact you can get with teens in school-related activities. 

If you aren’t a teacher, but have time to spare, offer your services as a substitute teacher. You only need 30 hours of college credit (as far as I know).

If you are a member of a church, volunteer to be a Sunday school teacher. Host church-related activities for kids like discussion groups, church league sports, or special get-togethers once a month.

The further away you are from your target age, the harder it is to write for them without sounding motherly or preachy. Ten year olds now don’t do the same thing they did fifty years ago, or even fifteen years ago. It’s been ten years since I was a fifth grader, and I’ve already forgotten about DH, computer lab, hall passes, the pressure of school dances, etc. Fifth graders don’t do the same things I did when I was that age. They don’t have Gameboys; they have Nintendo DS and PSP. They don’t trade Pokémon cards; they play with Tech Decks and trade Silly Bandz.

If you don’t have access to your age group, and you have no way to get access, then you need to do research. Watch TV shows about middle-schoolers or teenagers. You’d be surprised how accurate they are. I’ve been watching Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide to get a better idea of middle school as it was five years ago (and I really like that show). For preschoolers, watch Nick Jr. and PBS – shows like The Backyardigans, Blue’s Clues, Sesame Street, The Little Einsteins, Dora the Explorer, etc. Watch a lot of Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and Disney to get an idea what middle graders are interested in - shows like Spongebob Squarepants, Wizards of Waverly Place, Fairly Oddparents, Ben 10, iCarly, etc. For older teenagers, watch more primetime television like ABC, CBS, NBC, all those acronym channels - shows like Grey’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill, True Blood, Desperate Housewives, Smallville, Degrassi, etc. Teens watch pretty much everything adults watch.

I find that TV is better suited for research than reading books from your age group (though I also recommend doing that too) because TV is more current. Maltida is an awesome book for beginner readers, but it was also published 22 years ago. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published 13 years ago. They both take place in other-worldly settings, so they can get away with being a bit dated. They’re essentially timeless. Books that take place in a school setting or a modern setting have to be nailed to what is going on today. Like I said before, school now is not like it was in the ‘80s or even the ‘90s. Kids learn new subjects, have more options in school, have different slang words, and text their friends in the middle of class instead of writing notes.

To write to an age group, you have to know a lot about that age group. Do what you can to be around your age group, and if you can’t accomplish that, do research. Lots and lots of research.

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

A strong platform: What it means for writers

Do you recognize this man? 
It's because he has a strong platform
If you are planning on publishing a book traditionally, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, you are going to need to develop a platform, especially if this is your first book. You may be wondering just what a platform is, what it has to do with you as an author, and if and when you should develop one.
Your author platform determines your reach in the marketplace and it's important to your book promotion success. There are lots of definitions for author platform, but it basically boils down to three things: your brand, your reputation and your connections.

When publishers evaluate book proposals, they want an idea of how well known you are and how successful you will be at promoting your book once it's published so a strong author platform is critical. A platform is just as important for authors who publish independently.

The best time to start building your author platform is before you write your book or book proposal. It takes time to build your platform but, regardless of where you are on the publishing trail, you can continue to strengthen your author platform as you go along.

Branding helps you stand out in a crowded marketplace. It can include: your logo, book covers, the color scheme you use, your distinctive style of writing or speaking, and your academic qualifications, as well as your picture and you tag line (e.g. Jane Doe, the love Doctor) All of these elements together constitute a recognizable brand that makes you memorable and builds credibility as part of your author platform.

Your reputation 
Your author reputation refers to how well known you are known, what you are known for, and how credible you are. Part of that reputation may include a degree, special training, extensive experience  or professional certification in your area of expertise. You may have won awards, had media experience or written and published articles. Leadership positions, speaking engagements and interviews will also help to get you recognized, as will reaching out on the Internet through blogging and social networking.

If you've written other books, people need to know about it. Promote your books on your blog, get them reviewed, guest post and link from other sites to your blog. Boost your author reputation and expert status by increasing the number of people you are trying reach. Find ways to highlight your credentials in your marketing materials and on line. The Internet is an important vehicle...learn how to use it to your advantage.

Nonfiction authors can gain a reputation as experts through writing books and articles, speaking and teaching, and appearing on talk shows. Being quoted in other people's articles, and writing the foreword for other books may bring attention to you. Fiction authors can become known for their writing style and expertise in writing in a specific genre (children's, sci-fi, romance, or mystery) or for their niche within a particular genre (vampire stories, romantic adventure). Finally, testimonials and endorsements from celebrities and experts can add credibility no matter the genre in which you write..

You need to be to connected if your are going to market your book successfully. If yo have not already done so, begin by developing a contact data base of clients, prospects, colleagues, friends and family. You may, through your business or through socializing, be able to develop lists of people who've given you permission to contact them. If you know any celebrities or know someone who knows a celebrity they can help you spread the word about you forthcoming book.

Don't forget any associations, organizations, groups or clubs you are a member of. These can be good sources. Online networks such as Twitter, Face book and Linkedin are great places to network and, by the the way, besides these major ones, there are many more. You just need to spend some time looking for them and joining a few. It'll be worth it.

And then, very importantly, there's your blog. A blog doesn't have to be just a place where you go to rant, write about your favorite topics, or write chapters for your book. It's a great place to actually promote a forthcoming book...to let people in on what you're doing and how it's going and to peak their interest in your project.

Finally, you need to think about what you can do to increase your connections and to leverage those you already have. Partner with others to extend your reach. Remember platform building is an ongoing process. Think about ways you can strengthen your own author platform and map out a plan of action. You may not have the reach that Donald Trump has, at least not now. You may not even like him, but you can learn about building a platform from him and from the many others who have perfected the game.

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Monday, January 3, 2011

Writer's block: Can't think of anything to write about?

It doesn't matter what you write about. You have to just start writing anything. Don't worry what it's about or if it even makes any sense. The more you write, the more you'll come up with more ideas for what to write about. Start with the rain, the sun, the paperboy, your favorite food, your annoying neighbors, anything. Once you see those words on the paper, you will want to make them better. Rewriting is the goal, at this point.

Writing is a process. The beginning is where you just slap those words down on the paper (or computer screen). Don't worry about spelling or grammar or anything except telling, describing, reviewing or suggesting, whatever! Let the words flow. Do this, freely, unencumbered for a period of time.

Now read it over. Move stuff (ideas, words, paragraphs) around on the paper or screen. Rewrite. Throw out what you don't like. Add more to it. Walk away from it. Come back and read it again. Rewrite. Love what you're doing. Make a game of it. Wallow in the process.

Don't worry about how much time you're spending. Unless, of course you're getting paid and have a due date. If so, you probably already are familiar with the process.

BTW, do you read a lot? If not, make it a practice to do so. A lot of ideas for what to write about can come from or because of something you read. Good luck!

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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Writer's block: Getting over the hump after the holidays

It's hard to stay motivated to write when there are so many other things going on in your life, but it can be done.

First, you need to figure out a few things:

1. What time of day you write the best.
2. Where you are comfortable writing when home.
3. Or where you can write comfortably away from home.
4, If at home, when everyone is out of the house at the same time, or asleep
5. What's the best way to keep your ideas for writing projects at your fingertips and flowing  .

It takes time and thought to work this out and should be worked out before you fall in a heap on the floor beseeching God to give you back the urgent and continuing desire to write...the one that wakes you in the middle of the night, or grabs you as you're quietly sitting in the passeger seat of a car or in an important meeting with your boss. And you could also use his help and support to organize your thoughts into paragraphs and pages.

Besides coming up with the best way to facilitate the process the most comfortably and expediently, journaling may help you stay motivated to write. I've included a few tips with the following suggestions: 
Buy a journal or notebook, if you don't already have one. Write in your journal every day before you’re fully awake to tap into your intuition and creativity. Try writing at different times during the day to find out which times seem best for you.

Tip: When you don’t know what to write about, open up book to any page. Close your eyes and randomly point to anywhere on the page. Open your eyes and look at the word you landed on. That’s your topic. Write about it, free word associate, or write about why you don’t want to write about it for at least ten minutes.

Tip: remember that a strong emotional response is usually a sign there’s something deeper going on and worth exploring in your journal.

Tip: If you have trouble fitting journal writing into your schedule, make an appointment with yourself. Commit to write for only 10 minutes. Time yourself...you can do anything for 10 minutes.

Tip: Go for a short walk. Listen for sounds of birds, cars, sirens, children playing, dogs barking, etc. Notice the associations you have with these sounds. Go home and write about what one of the sounds and the associations it elicited.

Tip: Read your journal entries on the same day each month. Highlight phrases, thoughts, ideas, and events you think are especially memorable or significant. Develop topics to write about from these. 

I am not big on journaling for myself, but I know that it works for lots of other writers. What I prefer to do is blog. I can then use my blog entries as one would use journal entries, gleaning ideas and memories to come up with topics for all sorts of genres from essays, to memoirs, to maybe a novel or two.

Also see previous post on writer's block (a popular topic)

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