Writing, Alone, Does Not “Cut It”

Writing, Alone, Does Not “Cut It”

by Jack Dermody

Writing, for me, is almost a desperate need. I have always assumed there were people out there who cared about what I wrote. In my youth, parents, relatives, and friends received my letters and responded to them eagerly. Today hundreds of “friends” like and love and jack-and-the-statuecomment on my rants and writings on Facebook. The nonfiction books I wrote in my thirties were eagerly bought up for their usefulness in classrooms.

My articles and books today, however, get little or no comment. What concerns me is that my issues matter so very little to other people. Worse, I worry that people might see my writing as I see the writing of many of my friends: Poor-to-middlin’, not great at all, so why should anybody waste time pouring through it?

I recently sent out a 20-page essay on family research to 20 bona fide family members who, by DNA attachment alone, should rave about the six months of research and the results that I jammed into those 20 pages.

Comments I got varied from “that’s cool” to “very interesting” to “thank you” to complete non-acknowledgement of receipt of the package in the mail. In fairness, two of them did claim they read “a couple of pages” and would get back to me after “finding time” to read the rest.

Yes, I MAILED the packages because I knew half the people rarely open their email and, even if they did, would forget about it, lose it, or – perish the thought – delete it.

My goal in writing this is not to make you feel sorry for me or enable me to wallow in some kind of pity party. Rather, I want us all to answer some questions:

  • Are people reading less today?
  • Are people relying much less on reading?
  • Are we losing our love of reading and replacing it with other things?
  • Do we find reading more of a chore than ever?
  • Is reading just plain annoying? Especially for younger generations?
  • If we are honest, how worth reading is our writing to begin with?

I think I know the answer. Writing by itself is likely a dinosaur in the communications arena. So much media today takes a single story and hits the consumer from several directions at once: a video, a photo, a link, a summary, a full article, a song, an appeal to subscribe to a blog, etc. – and that’s just one article, one story that used to be only a few paragraphs of carefully crafted writing.

I fully understand. I’ve learned, finally, never to simply post a paragraph on Facebook without at least one photo or video. I am betting 95 percent of all Facebook users will not read more than five words of a post that are not accompanied by a visual.

Ironically, adding links, photos, etc. to an article is not that much work. The technology is too easy. This just gets back to the Platinum Rule, i.e., treat others as they want to be treated. They want photos and links and songs and blogs. Oh yes, and the writing better damn well be good, too.

Uh-oh, I just had a terrible thought. Is what I really want an “A” from the teacher? Do I want you, dear reader, to print this out, mark it up in red, fill the margins with praise and criticism, and tell me I am wonderful or horrible? Oh crap, I fear this is not very far from the truth.

Jack Dermody_____________________
Jack Dermody comes to your
organization to help build
real teams, not pretend teams.
Visit
his website.

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Motivation of an Alcoholic

Motivation of an Alcoholic

by Lara Garcia

Day 1: I hope you slept well, baby boy.

Day 2: Make it your day!

Day 3: It might be hard, but you can do it! Be positive; be thankful.

a-look-in-the-mirror

Day 4: Stay positive and take your vitamins. Do something nice for yourself… For example, take a long shower, shave, and put some cologne on! If you look good, you feel good!

Day 5: Today is a day when you become strong. Remember, a positive mind set will also overcome the impossible!

Day 6: Time to think about what to occupy your time with. What are your body and mind saying? Calm your mind and feel blessed. Good things are within your reach!

Day 7: One week of accomplishment. Today is a day of “hell, yeah!” Let’s make it another week. The weekend is here, so keep your head up and your feet on the ground. A positive mind does wonders – you’ve seen and felt it!

Day 8: Wake up and breathe. There’s a blessing there! Be thankful for another day. What will you do with your TIME? Use that positive thinking and think about what makes you happy.

Day 9: The signs are everywhere. What do they tell you, to be strong or to be weak? You choose what today will bring – it’s all about you. Make it a positive, loving one! Happy Sunday! xoxo

Day 10: Another new week… Make a change that will make you proud of you!

(Hiccup)

__________________lara-garcia

Lara Garcia is …

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Prepare Your Manuscript for Feedback and Editing: Keep It Simple!

Prepare Your Manuscript for Feedback and Editing: Keep It Simple!

by Matthew Howard

A well-prepared manuscript will improve the feedback and editing stages that come next. A clean, simple format makes it easier for friends, colleagues, workshop participants, editors, and agents to read it, understand it, and offer feedback that helps you improve the content in meaningful ways. You may be working on a book, but beginning with a clean and simple manuscript will reduce your overall production costs and headaches, and improve the quality of the feedback and editing you receive.

formatting-your-ms

Avoid the trap of over-designing your manuscript. Some authors get excited about their ideas for the final product, so they incorporate all kinds of formatting and design possibilities in their manuscript. Rein in that impulse and KEEP IT SIMPLE. In the step-by-step process of making a book, design comes after editing.

Recommended Settings

These recommendations are mostly based on APA format, which many people think of as a citation style, but is really a guide to formatting an entire manuscript. Manuscripts following these guidelines will be well-received by workshops, editors, and agents.

Font Settings:

  • 12-point, Times New Roman.

Page Settings:

  • 5 x 11 page size.
  • 1-inch margins.
  • Page numbers and book title in the page header.

Paragraph Settings:

  • Line spacing = Double.
  • Zero space before and after paragraphs.
  • First lines of paragraphs indented .25 inch. (Never use the Tab key. In MS Word, use “Paragraph” settings for first-line indents.)

Chapters and Sub-Chapters:

  • Insert a Page Break before each chapter so it starts on a new page. Never force them onto new pages using the Enter or Return key. Center and bold the chapter titles.
  • Bold the titles of sub-chapters. Left-align them and place them on their own line.
  • If sub-chapters are broken down further into sub-sub-chapters, bold their titles and leave them in the first line of the first paragraph of the sub-sub-chapter.

Now you’ve established a logical visual pattern of organization for your editor and feedback groups. If your structure goes deeper than sub-sub-chapters, it may be a sign that a topic needs broken out into its own chapter. Once you go more than three levels deep on a topic, readers tend to get lost.

If you are experienced in MS Word, you can set up these recommendations by modifying the Styles known as Normal, Heading 1, Heading 2, and Heading 3. If you are unfamiliar with the Styles feature, your editor should be.

Other Formatting Considerations

Avoid trying to make your manuscript look pretty, and focus on making it look simple. “Pretty” comes later, after the content has been edited.

Sidebars and Call-Outs. Placement of these elements depends on the book’s final page size, so don’t design them. Identify their content by title it “Sidebar” or “Call-out.” This tells your editor and designer what you need without complicating things.

Images. If you are having images created for your book, or pulling them from other sources, they must be a minimum of 300 dpi (dots per inch) resolution for printing. Lower resolutions might look great on electronic devices, but they won’t print well. Consult a graphic design professional before you waste precious time putting low-resolution images in your manuscript!

Covers and Title Pages. It’s great to have an idea about your cover to discuss with your cover designer, because it gives her a starting point. But don’t bother making your title page look like a cover. For printing, the cover and interior need to be separate files anyway, so there’s no point. All you need is a text-only first page showing the book’s title and sub-title, plus your name and contact info.

Spaces. The days of following a period with two spaces are over. They were a holdover from mechanical typewriters and are pointless in word processing. One space is good all you need! Use the “Replace” function in MS Word to replace all instances of two spaces with only one until all the extras are gone.

Spelling & Grammar Tool. Now located on MS Word’s “Review” ribbon, this tool is your friend. You will enjoy two benefits by using it before you hand your editor your manuscript. First, you learn which errors you commonly make, so you can avoid making them again. Second, you improve what your editor can do for you. It can be hard for an editor to know what you mean when sentences are missing crucial words or are poorly constructed. The Spelling & Grammar tool helps you eliminate guesswork and misunderstandings with your editor. And, by correcting obvious errors, you empower your editor to focus on making meaningful contributions to your manuscript instead of fixing minor mistakes.

Conclusion

If these formatting guidelines are a technical challenge for you, don’t fret. A professional editor can help you! But if you are “in it to win it” as an author of many books, then mastering the manuscript format is a skill that will improve your feedback and editing experiences on every book you create.

_____________________Matthew Howard
Matthew Howard
is a self-publishing author who supports award-winning authors and business professionals in writing, editing, designing, and self-publishing their work for global distribution in paperback and ebook formats.

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The Joy of Flash

The Joy of Flash

by Vaughn Treude

Flash has nothing to do with exhibitionism, the Adobe browser plugin, or the superhero who runs really fast; it’s the niche category of very short fiction. Flash fiction is defined as stories of 1,000 words or less, which in typical prose equals approximately three pages. Flash is something I’ve only flash-fiction-addictiverecently attempted because, like George R. R. Martin, my work tends to be long, way too long. Trying your hand at flash is, however, a helpful exercise for any writer. It can also open up new possibilities for publication, and with it, publicity for one’s longer works.

Very short fiction is not a new thing. It’s been featured in periodicals for many years, particularly in women’s magazines. In today’s world of electronic devices and short attention spans, flash fiction seems like a good way to attract new readers. Sampling a 1,000-word story doesn’t require much of a commitment.

Creating flash-length works helps the writer to focus. A flash story can have only one message, and you must define it succinctly. Only words that serve this purpose are allowed; everything else must be purged. Even so, I typically end up writing around 2,000 words or more to start. Getting it down to 1,000 (occasionally the limit is a bit higher) requires a painstaking editing process. In terms of time spent per word, my flash stories are the most “expensive” writing I’ve done.

Since I’m by no means an expert on this topic, I did some research online. I found an interesting article on the Guardian’s website about the art of creating flash fiction, by writer David Gaffney. His six tips include “don’t use too many characters” (I try to stick to two, sometimes three) and “write long, then go short,” which I’ve already addressed. Other advice, such as “start in the middle of the story rather than the beginning” is suggested to fiction writers of all sorts. There’s a common tendency for novice writers to do WAY too much explaining and back story, which can discourage readers before they even get started. Flash is a good way to break that habit.

My fellow sci-fi writer George Donnelly has edited and published a number of flash fiction collections, and I’ve contributed to a handful of them. The first, Valiant, He Endured: 17 Sci-Fi Myths of Insolent Grit, has a political focus. My contribution, “Ghost Writer,” is about a man who discovers the sinister purpose behind popular conspiracy theories. The second is Christmas in Love: A Flash Fiction Anthology. For this, I wrote “Happy Diversidays,” a satire in which a space traveler returning to Earth discovers that his choice of Christmas celebration must be approved in order to ensure yuletide diversity. Number three is coming soon. Tentatively titled Steaks, Walls, and Dossiers: The Best Trump Anthology Ever, it features tales about our recently inaugurated 45th President. No, it’s not partisan, and judging by the cover art, I assume that most entries are, like my own, spoofs of some sort.

You can check out the aforementioned flash anthologies by heading to Amazon and searching for “George Donnelly” under books. The Trump anthology will, I hope, be available very soon.

____________________vaughntreude
Vaughn Treude grew up on a farm in North Dakota. The remoteness of his home, with few children nearby, made science fiction a welcome escape. After many years in software, he realized that the discipline of engineering could be applied to writing fiction. Check out his works at vaughntreude.com.

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How Acting Improved My Writing

How Acting Improved My Writing

by Cody Wagner

So I’ve been jumping back into theater lately. I’m not bragging or anything. I mean, I’m a really awful actor. Just awful. I actually wrote a character in my novel who auditions for a play and everyone laughs at him – and he’s based on me.

Anyway, now that I’m reading through scripts and trying to remember what various acting teachers have told me, I realize that acting can really improve my writing. How? It all comes down to this:

Making Choices in Life

I once heard a director say, “I’d rather someone make bad choices in acting than none at all.”

That saying really stuck with me. The one thing I’ve learned from all my acting lessons is that choices are everything. If you think about real life, everything we say and do is about a choice. Do we choose to hurt someone with a comment? Or maybe sweet talk them with that same comment? The choices we make in moments determine how we speak and behave.

miranda-and-jack

The same concept is poured into good acting. Actors who are truly amazing are the ones who make bold choices. Look at Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada (did I just out myself by bringing up this movie)? She chose to play the role very calmly. Although she’s kind of a slave driver, she doesn’t yell or scream at her employees. Instead, everything is cool and calculated. And, man, it works so well. She experimented with a choice, and it really paid off.

The same goes for Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. The director actually hated the odd way Depp played Jack Sparrow, but Depp’s bold choices made the movie. He presented us with a unique, deep, strange character we couldn’t help but take an interest in.

Making Choices for Our Characters

The same concept should go into our writing: our characters should make bold choices that make them unique.

I’ve always said good writing is character driven. Why? Well, most of us have been the same kinds of milestones in life (breakups, marriages, layoffs, etc…) that our characters experience. It’s how we, as individuals, deal with those milestones that make our stories unique. The way I handle a breakup (watching romantic comedies on repeat while sobbing) will be different than someone else, who might scream and throw dishes. Similarly, I want characters in novels to feel real, and that means they have quirks, flaws, strengths, and everything in between. Seeing bold character choices in writing is what makes novels stand out, in my opinion.

acting-sequence

Now that I’ve talked about how acting helps writing, I also have to say the converse is true: writing has also helped my acting. Honestly, they feed into each other. I now find that when I sit down to write, I’m thinking about the unique actions my characters can take as they act across the page. Just as when I’m on stage, I’m thinking about how a character was written and what I can do to bring him to life.

OK so, after this exciting post, who wants to get onstage and audition now? No one? Hello? Hello? Is this thing on?

_______________cody-wagner
Cody Wagner loves to sing, mime (not really), and write. His award-winning debut novel, The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren, recently “came out.” See what he did there? Check out his writing and see more of his wackiness at Wagner-Writer.com, or find him on Twitter (@cfjwagner), Goodreads, and Amazon.

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My Passion for Adoption

My Passion for Adoption

by Beth Kozan

After a 30-year career in adoptions, I was interviewed for a job to become the director of adoptions where I worked. I was asked if I wanted to go further up the chain of supervision – if I aspired to be an administrator. I said no, and was asked why. I said, “I am passionate about adoption.” I hadn’t realized it until I spoke it aloud. (I didn’t get the job.)

newborn

I am not an adoption triad member: neither adoptee, birth parent, nor adoptive parent. I knew no one when I was young who was adopted. When I was in college and took beginning psychology, I learned that the fantasy I’d had in the fifth grade (when a new girl moved to town who was pretty and popular and I fantasized we were twins separated at birth) was a common experience, and I told my mother that I’d had this fantasy. Her reaction was: “We didn’t do anything to make you feel unwanted!” Unwanted. Was that what my mother thought adopted meant?

My first child was born profoundly retarded in 1967. When she died of a massive seizure four months short of her 5th birthday, she had never been able to sit alone, feed herself, or be potty trained. In the efforts to explain her condition, microcephaly, the doctors said there were four known causes, none of which applied in our case, so it could be genetic. If it was genetic, our chances of having another child with microcephaly were 1 in 4. We might have to adopt, the doctor said.

We took our baby home from the hospital at 22 days of age. Holding her for the first time, I awaited the Zap of Motherhood; it did not come. The love I felt for her matched feelings I had for my nephews and the babies of friends of mine. I considered: Could I love a baby not born of my body? I believed I could.

When Chickee was three months old, the Army pediatrician recommended: (1) put her in an institution; (2) have another child as soon as possible; and (3) above all else, don’t feel guilty. That was the least understanding I have ever experienced from any professional in my life, bar none.

I knew we needed help to get through this crisis. Sierra Vista, Ariz. in 1967 was an “Army town.” There was very little available except for services provided by the Army. The Red Cross referred me to the Army chaplain, a man in whose office were displayed pictures of his five healthy children. “God gave you this baby when you were in the Army. Therefore, God wants you to stay in the Army, which can pay for this baby to be in an institution.” His was the second least helpful advice I received.

Two-and-a-half years later, we were free of the Army and we had Heather, our daughter who was healthy and pink and perfect. I felt redeemed as a human. By the time Heather was 3 months old, she surpassed her sister’s physical abilities, and my husband could no longer make the excuse that it was the seizure medicine that was stunting Chickee’s growth. No, side by side with her sister, he couldn’t pretend Chickee was – I don’t know – hibernating?

When Heather was 11 months old, my husband moved out. How could I manage two small children and work to support us? My in-laws stepped up and we gave legal custody of Chickee to them in Texas. Internally, I faced the self-recrimination of a parent who gives up a child.

Later, after I’d received my master’s degree in counseling, I answered a newspaper ad for a pregnancy counselor at an adoption agency. My life circumstances helped me understand the positions of adoptive parents, and of birth parents. At work I would learn from adult adoptees seeking information about their birth families.

I seldom tell this story because I can’t always tell it without tears, but that’s how I developed a passion for adoption.

___________________
Beth Kozan is the author of the book
Adoption: More Than by Chance and the forthcoming Beth KozanHelping the Birth Mother You Know. Beth worked in adoption for 35 years and retired to write. She has many more books than these titles to write and will emphasize and explore the concept of community in her additional books. “Growing up in a close agriculture-based, rural community in Texas, I felt the comfort and bonds of caring for others which is often missing in our busy lives today. Exploring and building communities for today is my writer’s goal.” Follow Beth on Facebook or visit her website, where she reviews books and films featuring adoption.

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The Effective Author: Is the Right Answer Crippling You?

The Effective Author: Is the Right Answer Crippling You?

© 2017 Kebba Buckley Button, MS, OM. World Rights Reserved.

perfect-right-answer

Many of us learned all about The Right Answer in school; but is the quest for the single Right Answer now crippling you? Especially for authors writing a book or a series, I invite you to consider how much your work has been delayed by waiting until you get the single Right Answer to questions of genre, character/s, time frame, plot, and the decision to have a series or not. Go ahead and journal your thoughts about the productivity of your project since you first decided you would like to do it. Revealing, eh? In truth, there is no rule about the genre, character/s, time frame, or plot.

In school days, we learned either/or thinking. There was one right answer. This made perfect sense when we were learning arithmetic. In pure numbers, 2 + 3 is always 5. There is one correct answer. But which is the most civilized country on Earth? It depends on how you define “civilized.” And what is the biggest city in the US? It depends on how you measure it: square miles, total population within the city boundaries, or perhaps the number of buildings over 20 stories high?

I suggest that if you can’t look it up, it may be holding you up. If it isn’t a definable fact, waiting for the perfect Right Answer is a quixotic quest. Here are questions with no firm answer, which people ask all the time:

  • Is this a good exercise program?
  • Is this supplement Good For You?
  • What color palette should I wear?
  • Is this a good computer (for me)?

Using the field of mystery fiction as an example, here are parallel questions I hear authors asking, themselves and others:

  • What type of mystery should I be writing? Cozy, thriller, horror?
  • Should it be a single masterpiece or a series?
  • What basis should I use? Food mystery, architectural, historical, European cities, quaint British village, futuristic on a space station, university town?
  • Should I use a single detective/solver? A duo? A team?
  • What kind of villain/s do I want, and should they continue throughout the series?

Certainly, these questions need to be answered, but there is no Right Answer. And you will spin your wheels imagining that a single perfect answer will fly into your mind if you just wait long enough. In fact, if you are prone to procrastination, waiting for the Right Answer can greatly help you in getting nothing done at all, ever. So try something. At least outline your ideas. Sketch out what the hero/es would be doing if they were in, say, Rome in 340 AD versus Cincinnati in 1960 or Sydney in 2060. Try using 3 columns. Then start filling in details.

Soon your creativity will be bubbling. You will know just which way to go. And you may discard a partial draft because you realize you don’t want to do that much research on the settings and the weapons of that era. Who cares? To get into your future, remember that Joyce Meyer says:

“You can’t drive a parked car.”

The Effective Author keeps producing, and s/he sets aside what isn’t working for the overall project, or what isn’t working any more. S/he keeps what is working. The best answers will emerge. Now get on the production highway and get driving! More and more, you’ll be The Effective Author you want and need to be.

_____________
Kebba Buckley Button is a stress management expert and author of the award-winning book, Kebba booksDiscover the Secret Energized You, as well as the 2013 book, Peace Within: Your Peaceful Inner Core, Second Edition
. Her newest book, Sacred Meditation: Embracing the Divine, is available through her office. Just email SacredMeditation@kebba.com for more info. Like this article? Buy Kebba’s books by clicking the links! Reach the writer at kebba@kebba.com. For an appointment or to ask Kebba to speak for your group: calendar@kebba.com.

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