Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

Does It Sound Like Writing?

June 12, 2007

I’ve been reading Jurgen Wolff’s book, Your Writing Coach. It’s broad look at various types of writing from fiction to nonfiction from books to screenplays to magazine writing. I’ve appreciated his vast writing experience and his solid bits of advice. Because Wolff comes from a film background, he has included online bonuses for each chapter. Of course, you have to go to his website and register (smart) plus type a key password from the book to access the bonus film clip (also wise because it forces people to purchase the book to have access). I’ve only looked at a few of the bonus clips but plan to look at more in the days ahead. This book is loaded with practical and tested advice from a practicing writer who has helped other writers.

As an example in his chapter called Watch Your Language, he includes a brief look at novelist Elmore Leonard’s ten rules for showing and not telling. I found the expanded list online at Leonard’s website. They are fascinating and helpful rules. After these rules, Leonard writes, “My most important rule is one that sums up the 10. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing.” I loved that line: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. It’s good advice from my perspective.

A bit later in this chapter, Wolff writes about how to master dialogue saying, “The most useful skill for someone who wants to write good dialogue is eavesdropping. By listening carefully to how a variety of people speak, you absorb a lot of useful information. There is a fantastic website for any writer who wants to get a sense of the voices of real people: http://www.storycorps.net/. It features more than 10,000 recordings of people talking to each other about aspects of their lives.” It’s another resource for you to use in improving your dialogue. It makes it easy to eavesdrop.

I recommend Your Writing Coach as a solid investment in the future of your writing life.

Control What You Can

June 11, 2007

After several days on the road at the Frontiers In Writing Conference in Amarillo, Texas, I’m home before I take off later in the week for another conference. I’m using a beautiful new coffee mug that I received from the Amarillo conference. It’s one of those Barnes and Noble Cafe montage with illustrations of different famous writers. Fun.

Best-selling thriller writer Barry Eisler was the keynote speaker at the conference. I had never met Eisler but enjoyed his messages to writers and I purchased his first novel, Rainfall and enjoyed my conversation with him. Eisler was driving across country promoting his latest novel which landed one week on the New York Times bestseller list. He told about arranging to go to 200 bookstores in 15 days. It was an innovative way to tour the country and stir interest in a new title.

A former CIA agent turned lawyer turned novelist, Eisler gave writers some solid advice and I wanted to repeat part of it. He determined that he would not be at fault for not realizing his dream of publishing his novel. Yes, the fault would arrive with someone else–publishers who didn’t see his vision or agents who turned him down or ______ (you can fill in the blank here). Eisler encouraged writers to control what they can control and that they can not control if they will get published. He said the journey is not all about luck and it’s not all about hard work. Yes, luck and hard work are involved. While you can influence luck through some decisions, you can’t control luck. His message was for writers to write their book because if they don’t write their book, then they will regret it. He said, “If you can to it, finish your novel then you will have nothing to regret. And your mission as much as possible is to get it published.”

He encouraged writers to break down their writing goals into weekly and daily and even hourly chunks of writing and to approach their task one day at a time. Each of us make choices about how we will spend our time. For example, Eisler doesn’t watch much television or even have a television in his home. Instead, he’s committed to the task of writing. It was a solid message that I appreciated.

The Importance of Gratitude

May 28, 2007

Many people in the United States are kicking back today, enjoying a day off and the beginning of the summer season. It’s a holiday called Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day to celebrate our freedom and honor the men and women who died in military service protecting our freedom. Many of us can think of a relative or a friend or an acquaintance who has died in the service of their country. Take a few minutes to pause and remember that person today and celebrate their sacrifice. It’s a step that I’m going to take in my own day.

More than a holiday event, also consider the importance of gratitude in your own life. How are you practicing it? Are you looking for ways to express gratitude and thanks? For me, I’m better at certain times of my life than others. Last week I called an editor friend and left a short message expressing my appreciation for something but then I took it an additional step. I physically wrote a brief thank you note and mailed it to the editor. My handwriting is a bit challenging to read (even my printing) but I’m certain she will note my appreciation.

How are you facing your writing work? With thankfulness or drudgery? Can you make an attitude adjustment and face it with gratitude? Instead of looking at the glass as half empty, look at it as half full. Instead of obstacles, ask for a new vision to see them as opportunities. This perspective combined with an attitude of gratitude will help you have joy in the midst of the deadlines.

Take Your Best Shot

May 19, 2007

Next Tuesday night, May 22nd, I’m hosting a teleseminar with two literary attorneys. You will have a chance to take your best legal shot at asking them a question–and using some different technological tools in the process. I’m learning about these tools and this teleseminar will be my first experience to host such a seminar. Hopefully the first of many times.

Sallie Randolph and Anthony Elia are two of the top speakers in the area of the law for publishing and intellectual properties. In their newest book, “Author Law A to Z, A Desktop Guide to Writers’ Rights and Responsibilities,” they reveal straight-forward how-to advice in an easy to understand manner for anyone in publishing.

I’m telling you this because I’ve convinced Sallie Randolph and Anthony Elia to allow me to grill them during a LIVE 70-minute teleseminar on Tuesday, May 22, 2007!

Here’s the different twist: Rather than have the “content” come out of my head (or Sallie’s or Anthony’s head) for the May 22, 2007 teleseminar 5:30 p.m. PDT / 8:30 p.m. EDT, I decided to let you ask them a question.

Sound fair?

So, if you could ask Sallie Randolph and Anthony Elia ANY question you wanted about the legal issues related to writing and publishing, what would your question be?

Here’s your chance to ask Sallie Randolph and Anthony Elia directly and get registered for our call on Tuesday, May 22, 2007 (starts promptly according to www.Time.gov). Just use this link to ask your question.

If you register for the teleseminar, you will get a sample chapter from Author Law, A to Z.” You will receive 45 pages of invaluable information on publishing matters such as copyright, collaboration,
confidentiality and copyright in cyberspace. It’s all FREE if you ask a question and register for this teleseminar.

There’s more: I’ve convinced Sallie and Anthony to give away autographed copies of “Author Law A to Z” for three fortunate teleseminar attendees. You have to attend the FREE teleseminar to find out WHY Sallie and Anthony are doing this or WHO is eligible, so go ahead and ask Sallie and Anthony your question now.

Click on this link. After your question gets submitted, you’ll find out how to get phone access and webcast access to Sallie Randolph and Anthony Elia and me for our LIVE teleseminar, May 22, 2007.

One more detail: Whether you attend the teleseminar or have to miss it, a complete professional transcript from the teleseminar is available for $19.95. Just use this link to purchase the transcript.

More Than A Memoir

May 10, 2007

The writing community has been stirred and drawn to “memoirs.” It’s given writers great hope they can find a traditional publisher for their personal story. Such hope is filled with danger because many of those personal stories don’t have the national pull to become a bestseller. The majority of them are rejected almost immediately and if they appear in print, they are magazine articles. To all of these “regular practices” and “unwritten rules” within the publishing community, there are exceptions. I wanted to tell you about one of these exceptions and why you should rush out to read: If I Am Missing Or Dead, A Sister’s Story of Love, Murder, and Liberation.

Behind the scenes, I’ve been gently cheering for this book and I’m glad to be able to tell you about it here–and other places such as my Amazon review. Janine Latus is a long-time friend and fellow member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. From a distance, I’ve watched her hone her writing craft in many mainstream magazines and excellent journalistic writing. In October 2005, O magazine ran an intense personal story called “All The Wrong Men.” Janine’s article was selected as an award winner at the ASJA 2006 conference. This article was the springboard for Janine’s book proposal for her first book. The proposal set off an intense bidding war which Simon and Schuster eventually won.

Janine wrote the book at a nearby coffee shop. In my view, the writing process of telling such a personal story must have been difficult and draining. The process of reliving the experiences captured in this book must have been tough. For a first-time author, I was interested to learn S & S printed over 120,000 copies, which indicates their expectations for this book. Publisher’s Weekly gave the book a starred review (scroll down to see it from this link). Other reviews have appeared in People and Entertainment Weekly. If you go to Starbucks (I’ll admit not to being a frequent customer), then I understand If I Am Missing is selling a flash drive with the first chapter of the book and part of the money goes to Amy’s Courage Fund. The book is a tool to spur the movement against domestic violence. It is much more than a moving memoir. If you get the book, you should know besides being riveting, it does include some graphic language. Because I don’t typically read or write these types of books, I just wanted you to be aware of what’s inside the pages and not be shocked at my recommendation. It’s true to life so the material is included. After reading the book, my admiration for Janine has grown. Her desire is for the book to be an integral part of a movement against domestic violence. I celebrate the creation of things like Amy’s Courage Fund as a means to help women who are trapped escape these abusive relationships.

I will probably write more about If I Am Missing Or Dead in the future. For now, celebrate this new book and go to your favorite bookseller and pick up a copy.

Use the Power of Personalization

May 8, 2007

I’m learning how to use a tool called Audiogenerator.com to add the sound of my voice to different web pages. Here’s an example that I recorded last night:

Yesterday I recorded a welcome message for the subscription page of my newsletter. I’m experimenting to see if more people will subscribe with this additional boost.

Also you can send postcards with Audiogenerator such as this one. The tool is flexible and easy to use. I’m not very skilled in the technical area and I figured it out. If I can do it, almost anyone can give it a whirl. I see it as a powerful method to personalize your message.

Look For A Mentor

May 7, 2007

Throughout my writing and editorial life, I’ve learned a great deal from many different sources. About twenty years ago, I had no idea how to focus my magazine articles for the marketplace. It was through the patient teaching of a more experienced writer that I learned the skill of crafting a query letter and writing the assigned magazine article. The learning process wasn’t easy. Often my manuscript was returned with many editorial marks and I could have grown discouraged and given up. Instead I pressed on and continued writing. It’s a lesson I hope you will do as well with your writing–press on in the midst of rejection.

One of the biggest authors in the thriller writer area is James Patterson. I’ve read several of these books and enjoy Patterson’s crisp style and fascinating plots. I’ve wondered he has been co-authoring some of his books and how that process worked. You can gain a bit of insight from this Soapbox column in the April 30th Publisher’s Weekly by Andrew Gross titled, The Patterson School of Writing. I found several fascinating elements of this article. First, his connection to James Patterson came from his publisher talking with his agent. Catch that little detail in this article.

Next look at the different lessons Gross learned as he worked seven years with James Patterson. He gives five specifics (you can read the article for the various lessons) but here’s the truth which struck me: “In sum, I learned how to write for one’s audience, not the people you want them to be.” It’s a common flaw in writers. They are writing for themselves and not the audience.

Another key lesson that I’ve been learning is to focus on the people and the relationships instead of trying to figure out how to speculate what will happen from an income or financial standpoint. Yes, we need to have the financials in mind but it’s the relationship which will hopefully continue long into the future. I’ve had many mentors in my life and I continue to be mentored. I’m grateful for each person who continues to teach me either through a book or an audio program or face to face.

The Unknown City

May 6, 2007

Several years ago at an ASJA luncheon, I had the opportunity to meet lifelong New Yorker Pete Hamill. Whether fiction or nonfiction, Hamill writes about New York City.

I love the feeling in New York City with its rich heritage and diversity. It’s fun for me to melt into the crowd and ride the subway to different parts of the city. I often purchase a seven-day unlimited pass to ride to different parts of the city. It’s normal for New Yorkers but it stirs a sense of adventure for me to go uptown or downtown on the local or express trains.

Later this month, New York will be the host for Book Expo America. In honor of that event, Publisher’s Weekly included a stirring piece from Hamill about his city. Hamill writes, “Nobody truly knows New York, not even most New Yorkers. The city is too large, too dense and layered to be intimately known by anyone. I was born here, the first son of Irish immigrants, during the first term of Franklin D. Roosevelt. I grew up on the streets of Brooklyn, attended schools here, and worked for more than 40 joyous years as a reporter and columnist on the newspapers of the wider city.” I loved how the heritage and memories of the long tradition of the city are woven into this article. I hope you will read the entire article.

How can you weave this type of emotion and detail into your own writing? Can you capture the sense of place in your nonfiction magazine articles? Can you take me to the place with your fiction? It takes continual creative work for each of us to find the right words for each piece of our writing. Many people aren’t willing to do this work. Today I’d encourage you to lift your head and rise up beyond the ordinary in your writing. You can do it with the right amount of energy and effort. Let’s learn from the example from Pete Hamill.

Two Week Wonder

May 5, 2007

We had a great trip over to Las Vegas to hear Celine Dion and back. I appreciated each of the terrific comments about our anniversary.

On the trip over and back, I was reading through the May 7th The New Yorker. Typically when I travel, I’ve only been reading from takeoff until the plane reaches 10,000 feet so I’ve limited my reading time. On a regular basis, The New Yorker will include in-depth profiles of various authors. This week’s issue includes an article about novelist Paul Coelho. As of this morning, only the abstract is online. According to the article, Coelho has over 100 million books in print. Several months ago, my wife read The Alchemist for her local book group. Here’s the remarkable passage in the article about this book and is also in the abstract: “Life and letters about Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho. Paulo Coelho wrote The Alchemist in two weeks, in 1987. The book has been translated into fifty-six languages and has sold over twenty million copies.” Now that’s what I call pretty good work for two weeks if you can get it. It’s why I call this post the the two week wonder.

You may be asking, “What I do after they ring the little bell on a plane that they’ve reached 10,000 feet and the plane continues to climb?” I reach into the back seat pocket and pull out my AlphaSmart. They don’t allow laptops in that pocket but no one has ever objected to my AlphaSmart keyboard. I get more weird looks from the people around me but I switch on the machine and begin pounding the keys. I admit that I’m a hard typist. It’s a trait leftover from learning on a manual typewriter. I’ve managed to get a great deal of writing done in a short amount of time on these flights. For example, the flight from Las Vegas to Phoenix is only about 45 minutes. It’s been a great tool–even if it is a strange-looking thing.

Learn From the ASJA Award Winners

April 25, 2007

One of the annual highlights of the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference is the member day meetings. This year for the first time, the information about the member day was included in the public brochure. Only ASJA members can attend the member day, which is held the Friday before the public Saturday and Sunday conference. Because of this restricted access, there is typically a rush of applications to the membership committee in the weeks prior to the conference.

Each year, the number of members attending the annual conference has been increasing. In the last five years, the ASJA has grown from 1,000 members to now over 1,300 members. This year for the Friday awards luncheon, the event was moved from a smaller ballroom into a much larger place so the entire group could comfortably fit into the room.

Over ten years ago, one of our members wrote a book with Roselynn Carter. President and Mrs. Carter were invited to attend the ASJA members-only luncheon and came to the event. I received an incredible opportunity to meet a former President of the United States and I told the full story several years ago.

At the luncheon, the awards committee presents a series of awards to members for their outstanding contributions to nonfiction writing in books and magazines. They announce the winners and normally the articles are available at the end of the session for members to read and study the craft of these writers. This year, the committee tried something different. Instead of massive duplication of these articles, they gave us a press release with links to each of these articles. The press release is available online. I suggest you study these articles as another means to increase your insight into the craft of writing.