Thursday, September 29, 2016

How to Keep Writing When Your Stuff is Criticized or Ignored

Glennon Melton has been blogging since 2009 and has managed to not only keep it up, but to grow her readership and publish a NYT bestseller. Here's some unique and sincere advice from her.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

How to Accomplish a Year's Worth of Progress in One Month

When a businessman - let's call him Tony - took a beginner's public speaking course, most of his classmates were booking one gig per month. But Tony was excited to develop his skills and decided to do things a bit differently:  he gave three talks per day. After one month, his classmates had developed the skills and related experience equivalent to one gig. After a year at that rate, they'd progressed by 12 gigs. Because of his aggressive approach, Tony had improved more than that in one week. After one year, Tony Robbins was a sought-after speaker booking large audiences, and his former classmates were telling him how lucky he was to be blessed by all of that "natural talent". 

As a life coach of sorts, nowadays Tony's answer to people who ask, "How long is it going to take me to get there," (wherever "there" is):  

How long do you want it to take you? 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Writer's Doubt: How NOT to Enter a Writing Contest

(This is an entry for the "Overcoming Writer's Doubt" contest held by Positive Writer.)

Head over to the writing blog you recently discovered, and spot an “Enter! Writing Contest!” link. Feel hopeless and excited. Hopeless because you don’t stand a chance. Excited because, well, maybe you’re wrong.

Mentally add “award-winning writer” to your bio and envision a rash of new, engaged readers on your blog. Click the contest link.  

Scan the page and find out that you’ll have to write about, of all things, overcoming writer’s doubt. Wonder how in the world you can write an inspiring “I did it and so can you” essay when you have no major writing accomplishments:  no books, no glossy clips, no awards.

Decide you’ll wait until next year’s contests, after all. By then you’ll have success stories to share.

Expect relief, but instead feel let down. Channel the less than desirable voice of your four-year-old:  I don’t wanna wait another year.

Admire the writers who had the courage to enter despite their own insecurities. Make use of your amazing writer’s procrastination skills by spending the next hour reading through their essays about doubt, courage and success.  Feel instant compassion and affection, as if you’re all in this together.

Desire to be one of them.

How to Enter a Writer’s Contest

Remember what Julia Cameron wrote in The Artist’s Way:  in order to be good, you first have to be willing to be bad. 

Think about how awful it was when you moved to Austria and couldn’t speak German. The German students who progressed the quickest were the ones who put themselves out there, and took chances speaking terrible, indecipherable German everyplace they went. Sure, some locals laughed. But in the end, those students were the ones who learned to speak fluently.

Tell yourself that no matter how your essay turns out, you should put it out there. Not to win a contest or for confirmation that you’re a good writer, or even for that sorely needed cash—but to build your skills and get involved. To practice BEING a writer.

Recall the day that you truly became a writer, when you bought the dark poet’s frames at the eye doctors and wore them for everyone to see. Realize that overcoming doubt is like that, too:  you just have to hear the inner voice that says you’re not ready, not knowledgeable enough, not good enough.

And then ignore it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Lag Time, Eat My Dust

Awhile ago I wrote about why we shouldn't quit, even when it looks like we're not getting anywhere. Honestly, I wrote it to encourage myself as much as anyone - I'd submitted an article to 17 magazines and hadn't heard back from one. I should've known better, but still I wondered:  was the article that terrible? Had I offended editors in some way?

Then I submitted it to a few more places. And a 2nd article to 38 markets; and then a 3rd piece to 20 markets.

Finally, it appeared in my inbox:

RE:  Submission

One acceptance came. Then a second. And a third. I even received an acceptance for an article I'd sent out 5 months earlier. And that lag time is the unfortunate (and amazing) thing about writing - that you can FEEL like you're just running in place and know in your gut that you're never going to get anywhere - and with one editor's email find out that you're a total dunderhead who's been obsessing for no reason. In fact, I just read about a whole book dedicated to Writer's Doubt.

The trick is, well, to trick ourselves into moving forward, despite "knowing" that we're not getting anywhere. That could mean keeping tabs on the positive progress you've made by marking it on a chart, or meeting with a writing group weekly.  Whatever it takes, to keep moving forward and working towards that goal.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Right From The Editor's Mouth: What She Wants

Of course we spend time thinking about how to make articles more appealing to editors. Common sense (and a thousand writing books) say to write to the interests of imagined "readers," or on topics and in styles requested by publications.

But the email I received today from the editor of a regional parenting publication suggests a whole different criteria for how to pick good-selling article topics:

"Articles that lend themselves to being a "sell-around" for advertising are usually of greater interest. So, anything that would generate a business to advertise on an adjacent page would be great. An example may be a Tutoring Center, Children's Book or Craft Store, etc. for the article you will be sending." 

I'm not suggesting anybody should write articles simply to sell advertising space, and am not sure how I feel about this editor asking for articles in this way...but do appreciate her honesty. And also wonder now:  how many publishers of these RPP's and other publications don't say anything, but also look for topics that will appeal to advertisers?

If I have a helpful and informative article, and adding in a related sidebar or paragraph to sell ad space makes it more tempting to business-savvy publishers, I'm okay with that.

How about you?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Um, How Do I Write An Author Bio for Magazines?

This week an editor requested something both exciting and terrible:

“I include a writer's column each month to introduce the writers. So, please forward a short bio (a paragraph in size) to introduce yourself.

Exciting, because I’d be one of those professional, interesting writers in the “about our writers” section.

Terrible, because I needed to write something that made me sound both professional and, well, interesting. Thankfully it only took two days of research and anxiety to put together something only slightly cringeworthy.

I’m far from an expert, but did find a few things that helped me figure out what the heck to include – and might help you, too.

Plagiarism is a Great Place to Start

Okay, not plagiarism exactly.  More like getting ideas by scanning other writers’ bios. Because I couldn’t find examples in the target publication or similar RPPs, I scanned the magazines that are overtaking our hall closet. Discovery:  different magazines focus on different aspects. For example, the Oprah issue I had asked contributors random interview questions. The writers’ answers are put on the “about our writers” page, in lieu of bios. Other magazines included bios with mainly personal information;  professional designations & memberships; or connections to the issues’ articles.

One thing that would help is to have a collection of memorable bios clipped and saved.  It feels presumptuous to do that before somebody actually wants a bio. But it’s so much easier to whip out a few shining examples, than it is to frantically scan the internet and dig through years’ worth of magazines accumulating in the closet while you imagine The Editor sitting on the other end of the internet, waiting.

After reading through many bios, I noticed the ones that stood out had the 4 H's in common:
  • Hi - they give the one-liner intro information, although not necessarily all together or in one sentence:  name, home state, job, sometimes mention of family
  • Human - they tell you something that makes them relatable (hooked on the Housewives, eats a gallon of ice cream in a sitting, etc.)
  • Humor - often at their own expense
  • History - they give you related experience and education, and share interesting things they've done
Because I couldn’t find examples from the target publication, I decided to include four "H's" that their readership (other parents of young children) would be interested in.

Ask the Google Goddess

Unfortunately, Google is decidedly sparse when it comes to telling writers how to write things, such as their own resumes and, well, author bios. Now, there’s plenty of info out there about how to write author bios for book jackets, but not many about writing them for magazines. Luckily, a lot of the guidelines that apply to writing other types of bios also apply to these. 

One helpful piece was author Anne Allen's How to Write an Author Bio When You Don't Feel Like An Author...Yet. She gives a template for short bios, and guidance on what to consider when choosing content. Author Richard Ridley suggests that bios range between 25 and 125 words, and that unknown writers should try for ~75 words (this is for books, of course, but the word counts seem to apply to the magazine bios I saw, too.) And finally, there was this article that gave tips on how to write "an enchanting author bio".

All of this information definitely made the process more manageable, if not comfortable. I hope it does at least that for you, too.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Perfection is Not an Option

Last night, a friend asked why I hadn't shared my children's book draft with my new writing group yet.

"I haven't had time to revise it," I told him.

He laughed, and pointed out that most picture books are under 1,000 words. How hadn't I had time to polish one stinking draft? At that point, I could have done a few things:

  • Pointed out that one picture book goes through about 40 revisions before publication.
  • Shared the average length of time it takes for a book to go from 1st draft to final copy:  two years.
  • Hit him with a very packed pillow.
Instead, I wondered if he was right. Not about polishing the draft, but about sharing it with the writing group. Should I share what I have with them?  I'm stuck on a few plot points and know the end is wrong. I'd like to figure these things out and have a better draft to present. But at what point does "presenting a better draft" become Perfectionism? At what point should you get feedback?

You Can't Figure Out What's Wrong

Well, the draft I DID share with the group was an essay that I'd revised several times over the course of 18 months. I'd line edited to death, but still Something wasn't right. I couldn't put my finger on what it was. At that point, any revising would've been worthless-what was needed was a fresh set of objective eyes that would overlook line editing & find the larger problem. Said eyes discovered that the entire essay was a reflection which (gulp) lacked tension and significance for the reader. 

Had I not shared the essay, and waited until I figured out what the problem was, revising again to present the most perfect draft, I'd be waiting forever.

You Can't Figure Out What's Right

Sometimes it's hard to know what the best choice is, when it comes to things like point of view and ordering scenes. And while going with the best possible guess might work, getting other opinions could save you a lot of work. I can't help but wonder, if I'd shared my essay after only a few months in, could I have gotten the feedback I needed and saved myself the work of all of those useless revisions? Sometimes we need to take the long(est) path before we're ready to hear the truth. Other times it's just an annoyingly useless 18-month hike.

You're Afraid They'll Think Less of You

Under all of that perfectionism is the fear that what we've done isn't good enough - that they'll wonder what the heck we were thinking when we wrote that and look at the disaster of an attempt with an internal oh, lord. And that fear is the BEST reason to share with a trusted, supportive group of writers. Because without their encouragement, the fear makes it too easy to get stuck in the revise, revise, revise mode.

Anyways, the odds are what's there is pretty darn good. And even if it's not - how else can we make it better? Everything's a work in progress. I think it was Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way who said that before we can be really good at something, we have to be willing to be bad. Sometimes, really bad.

As for my children's book, I think what I really need at this point isn't a read-through, but help figuring out the right way to go with my plot. Perfection may not be an option, but asking for help is a pretty great alternative.