Posts Tagged 'writers'

Fiction and Non-fiction Writing Share Similar Preparation

Sometimes we get hung up on differentiating fiction and non-fiction writing when we’re better served as writers if we understood they share similar preparation.

Both require research, for example. Even if writing fiction, you need to be accurate in what you write. Readers know stuff and they’ll challenge your credibility as a writer if you get it wrong. Once you’ve alienated a reader, you have very little chance to get them back. Plus, they’re willing to share their disappointment in you with anyone who will listen.

Of course everyone knows research is vital to non-fiction writing, but don’t underestimate it in your fiction writing as well.

Another thing fiction and non-fiction writing share in the preparation stage is you determining why you’re writing the book. Are you writing it because you have a good story to tell? Storyline(s) are important in both fiction and non-fiction writing. Are you writing it because you want to explore an idea or emotion? Again, this applies to both fiction and non-fiction. Are you writing it to give the reader something to ponder? Yep, both fiction and non-fiction writing do this.

One more thing fiction and non-fiction writing have in common during preparation is how do you want to get your message out? Do you want to use description? Character profiles? Statistics? History? You have many choices, but one thing to always remember is your job is to get your message out while doing your best to meet reader expectations.

If you’re writing genre fiction (romance, mystery, thriller, horror, sci-fi, western, etc.), follow the formulas for the genre. If you’re writing non-fiction, provide the information the reader needs without overloading the reader with information that can  confuse or blur the point of your book.

Preparation is critical to writing a good book for both fiction and non-fiction writers, so don’t overlook its importance.

Happy writing!

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Have You Ever Told Anyone You’re a Writer?

In my class “Becoming a Writer While Keeping Your Day Job,” I ask each student to introduce himself or herself and tell me something about what they write or why they took the class. I get the normal answers and that helps me focus the direction of the lecture.

Early in the lecture I ask them, “Has anyone here ever told anyone they’re a writer?” Typically fewer than a handful of hands go up. I focus on those who raised their hands and say, “Once you tell someone you’re a writer, you probably get two questions. What are they?”

Within seconds, they respond, “What do you write?” and “Have you been published.” Yep, those are the two questions I expected to hear.

Then we discuss how the implication (from those questions) is a person is not a writer unless they’re published. I debunk that idea immediately by telling the class that I can promise everyone attending that they won’t be published unless they write.

What about you? Have you ever told anyone you’re a writer? If not, why not? After all, a writer writes AND SOMETIMES gets published. But if you don’t write, you’ll never get published.

Find some time every day to work on your writing. What counts as work? Research (including interviews, reading, observing, experiencing), working on your rough draft, rewriting, etc. Strive to spend 30 minutes a day that you’re currently wasting (you determine if that means you get up 30 minutes earlier, go to bed 30 minutes later, turn off the television for a half-hour, stop surfing the web for a half-hour, etc.) and use that found time for writing.

And if people interrupt your writing time, let them know you’re working/writing and you’ll get back to them shortly. The important thing is you write and don’t worry about getting published until you’ve written something publishable.

Happy writing!

Editor and Writer–A Challenging Alliance

Writers primarily write because they have something to say. There are those who suggest writers have an agenda, while others suggest writers simply need to express themselves, and they chose words as their vehicle.

Editors primarily edit because they want to make sure that what the writer says is clear to the reader. There are those who suggest editors are frustrated writers, while others suggest editors lack creativity and originality.

Being both a published writer in periodicals and books, as well as an editor for writers of articles and books, I appreciate the challenging alliance between author and editor.

As a writer, it’s hard to have someone critique and/or correct your creative work. As an editor, it’s hard to restrain yourself from inflicting your own preferences that may change the writer’s voice, or at least intent,  in writing the work.

Authors understand the subject.

Editors understand the reader.

A good editor also understands the author must write in his/her own voice, which means the editor should not change the voice. Instead, the editor’s goal should be to show the writer why the writing isn’t clear, then potentially offer some suggestions (if possible) in ways to improve.

A good writer knows there’s more than one way to get an idea across, and just because the writer (who knows the subject well) thinks something is clearly communicated, doesn’t mean that it is.  A good editor will communicate directly with the writer about suggested changes and explain why the changes are needed.

At times the exchange may appear battle-like, but in reality when an editor and a writer create an alliance, in spite of how challenging that may be, the real winner is the reader.

If you’re an author, consider your editor’s suggestions and question the editor about why a suggestion is made if you don’t understand or like the suggestion.

If you’re an editor, consider your writer’s knowledge of the topic may be the very thing that’s making it hard for the writer to bring it to a level the reader can understand. Let the writer know what changes you’re suggesting and why.

The end result is an improved book that says what the writer intended to say–and says it clearly enough that the reader will think the writer is a genius. Remember that readers buy writers they like. A good editor will help you become just that and that’s worth the challenge of the alliance.

Happy writing!

Are you squandering your writing ability?

I’ve been teaching my “Writing for Fun and Profit” series at two different colleges this fall. As often happens, students take the series to help them decide if they really want to write as much as they think they do.

I’ve been doing this series since 1996 and have watched hundreds of students blossom as they realize they not only want to write, but they want to write in a variety of venues–from short pieces to full-length books.

One of the underlying issues many students bring to class is the discounting of what they have to offer–the squandering of their writing ability. Notice I didn’t say talent (although talent is a nice thing to have). Writing is both art and skill and skills can be learned, given ability.

Writers set high standards regarding what counts as writing–what personal experiences should be drawn upon, what emotions can be shared, and what thoughts deserve deeper exploration.

My response: human experiences should be drawn upon–when your reader can relate to what you’re writing about, you create fans who want to read more from you.

Emotions aren’t good or bad, they just are. It’s the behavior the emotions motivate that determines good from bad. Anger is often thought of as a negative emotion, but it got the founders of MADD to do something positive–work on reducing drunk driving fatalities. Love is often thought of a positive emotion, but when someone’s murdered, among the first people authorities look toward  is those who loved the person–spouse, lover, etc.

Thoughts create possibilites. If no one thought of word processing software, we’d still be creating manuscripts on typewriters. Before dismissing a thought too quickly, give it some time to ruminate,  then consider capturing it in your writing.

My point is don’t squander your writing ability by thinking everything you write has to be profound, world-shattering, or the next literary masterpiece. Write so your readers can relate to your words.  The old saying, “Writers are observers of life,” still holds true. Live your life, observe life around you, and capture what you experience, feel, and think in your writing!

Happy writing!

When You’re Done, You’re Done

I’m not sure if it’s because writers love to write or if it’s because once they’re on a roll, it’s so hard to stop, but for whatever reason, many writers don’t stop writing when they’re done.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about ending whatever piece you’re writing when you’ve accomplished what you set out to do.

Are you writing a mystery and your protagonist solved it? Guess what? You’re done!

Are you writing a curriculum/textbook/instructional piece and you’ve explained the concepts, the how-to? Guess what? You’re done!

Are you writing a memoir and you’ve laid out all the memorable points in your life? Guess what? You’re done!

Well, you get the idea. Have a purpose for your writing and when you’ve accomplished that purpose, end the piece.

My parents owned their own business and my aunts and uncles were all farmers. Growing up, I had one foot in the city and one in the country. One thing I noticed about my country relatives is how hard it was to say good-bye.

We’d head for the door and they’d walk with us, telling us how much they enjoyed our visit.

We’d get out the door and head for the car and they’d follow us, reminding us we didn’t come often enough and should plan to come back real soon.

We’d get in the car and roll down the windows as they stood close to the car, smiled at us, and told us to have a safe trip home.

We’d turn our car around in the driveway and they’d smile some more and wave a big country wave.

We never saw them turn and go inside because we were down the road before that happened.

Here in Minnesota, those good-byes could be challenging in the winter months. But that’s how it was every visit. I don’t offer the story as criticism. I loved the ritual. But not everyone in the car did.

How long does it take you to say good-bye to your reader? Not every reader wants the long good-bye ritual. When you’ve accomplished what you set out to do with your writing, write the ending and let your reader go. It will serve you well.

Happy writing!

The Last Thing A Writer Should Do

Harry picked up a voicemail last Monday morning. It was left at 9:30 Sunday night.  The person asked if we were publishers since he was looking through the phone book, then said something about wanting us to call him back with some tips on how he could sell his writing. He left his name and phone number–then repeated it to make sure we got it okay.

After listening to the message, Harry asked me to listen to it. We both agreed that while the person was probably sincere about wanting us to give him tips, the call left much to be desired.

The first thing the caller needed to do was research–research the company he was calling, research writing sites (both on the Internet and local establishments/courses), read blogs, subscribe to Writer’s Digest magazine (and read the articles), and learn all he can about his customers (publishers he wants to sell to).

The last thing the caller should have done is call a publisher outside of business hours and ask the publisher to educate him.

Publishing is business and publishers want to deal with professionals. There are myriad of classes on publishing. There are websites and blogs filled with information for writers. There are writers groups, writers conferences, and writers organizations all ready to help fledgling writers learn the publishing business. And, finally, there are books and periodicals (many are available free at libraries) to help.

Any writer who’s serious about writing for money should invest in himself or herself by learning as much as possible about the opportunities and options available. But don’t pick a publishing company out of the phone book and leave a voicemail asking to be called back and provided tips on selling your manuscript. That’s the last thing a writer should do.

Happy writing!

Authors Must Self-Promote to Succeed

The publishing industry is changing almost as fast as the auto industry. Most royalty publishers aren’t interested in authors with unproven track records. Publishing is business and royalty publishers want authors who are either celebrity or have a platform and are willing to get out there and promote their books.

Technology opened the door for the puppy-mill presses to use the Internet to reach out to uninitiated authors with dreams of being published even if the big publishers aren’t interested.

Most of us aren’t logical when it comes to dreaming. We see what we think is an opportunity and we latch on–then learn our dream wasn’t what we thought it was.

There are more opportunities to publish today than ever in history. Yes, dreams come true, but not without the author doing a lot of hard work in promoting self (platform) and book (product). If you’re an author with a royalty publisher and you’re not getting publicity for your book, chances are you’ll be out of print shortly.

No matter what type of publisher you have, it’s up to the author to get out there and create the buzz about the book. People buy authors, not publishers.

You may think a royalty publisher who’s bought the rights to your intellectual property will promote your book in order to get a return on the investment, but you’re wrong. If your book loses money for the publisher, you’re simply taken off the list of authors publishers want to work with. Why? You didn’t do enough to promote your book to make it a success and there are many more authors waiting to take your place.

Writing is a solitary activity and most authors prefer staying home and writing to going public and promoting their books. That’s why royalty publishers are now focusing on working with authors who have proven they like visibity. If you don’t, yet you want to be successful as an author, stretch yourself to get out there.

Happy writing!