Friday, September 30, 2011

It’s All in the Edit

Next to writing the actual words, your most important job as a writer is to edit your work. Good editing makes all the difference between writing and really good writing. However, many writers find it tedious—they like only the buzz they get from the actual process of writing. Also, just as many writers don’t really know what editing is all about. They think they know based on corrections made by English teachers when they were in school, but this is far from the editing needed to make a writer’s work look professional.

First and foremost, before doing any editing, step away from your work. Let it sit idle for at least a day or several. The longer you refrain from looking at it, the better. Your mind will forget about it eventually, so when you do look at it again, you’ll see it in a new light.

Editing is much more than just correcting mechanical errors—spelling, punctuation, verb tense, pronoun agreement, and general sentence structure. Editing deals with the content of your piece. Does it make sense? Is the flow logical? Are your words familiar enough for all readers? (See my previous blog on using $20 words).

Whatever you’ve written, you’ve done so to express yourself on a particular topic. Have you done that? Will that be clear to your reader? Clarity is the number one problem with most poorly edited writing. Remember, your reader can’t phone you or send you an E-mail to ask what something means.

Generally, editing consists of four jobs:  deleting, rearranging, rewriting, and correcting.

First read through your work and delete any word, phrase, sentence, or paragraph that doesn’t belong. If you can eliminate the word and there's no loss of meaning, then eliminate it.

If you haven’t looked at your work for a while, you may notice that some parts need to be rearranged for better continuity. Readers won’t make the leap, so don’t expect them to figure out what you mean. Make your writing logical. If you’re not telling your story chronologically, make sure you won’t lose your reader in the process.

After you delete parts or whole sections and rearrange others, you’ll most likely have holes to fill, so you’ll have to rewrite some parts to make sure they read well and make sense. In this editing phase, you may also want to check for smooth paragraph transitions. These help your writing to flow effortlessly from paragraph to paragraph.

Lastly, and only then, correct any errors in spelling, punctuation, verb tenses, and pronoun agreement.

Once you’ve edited your article, short story, or book, it may be time to let someone else have a crack at it, especially if it’s a book. Find someone who is a serious reader to go over it in detail. Better yet, hire a professional book editor. With the ease of self-publishing for Kindle or Nook, too many writers today are trying to sell what amounts to writing trash. Make sure whatever you sell is the best it can be before you put it on the market.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Keys to My Success

When I’m at a dinner party or other gathering, inevitably someone will ask me what I do for a living. I tell them I’m a writer and immediately they think of Stephen King or some other celebrity writer. No, I’m not one of those, but I have made a living at freelancing for over 26 years, so I must be doing something right.

There are a dozen keys to my success. Any beginning writer, with a little hard work, can achieve what I’ve done by following them.

1. First and foremost, I meet deadlines. It’s become second nature to me after this long. Editors appreciate a writer who works with them and doesn’t cause them to get behind.

2. I write something new every day.  Perhaps its one of my blogs, a book review, an article for a publication, or an article or two for one of my four Web sites. It’s sometimes hard to make enough time to write since I now have to exercise about an hour and a half a day after recent coronary surgery, plus teach writing classes in the evenings.

3. I read as much as I can. The more I read, the better writer I become because I’m influenced by the thoughts and techniques of other writers. But I don’t just read as a reader, I read as a writer, analyzing the text as if I had written it and seeing how I might improve on it.

4. As a writer, I’m constantly making notes. In fact, my desk is flooded with them. Often, I’ve made so many, I lose track. I make To-Do Lists almost daily. If I don’t, I may forget what needs to be done on what piece.

5. Over the years, I’ve learned to mentally record conversations, visual details, sensory stimuli,  facts—lots of facts. I also record these facts in copious notes that I prepare for each article and book. Notes for the latter often fill an entire file box.

6. To keep myself organized, I’ve learned to clip and file vital information so I can retrieve it later.  This has increased my productivity over the years.

7. Even in this day of e-books and the Internet, I still use my public library from time to time. Some information just hasn’t been digitized. However, I find myself using my local library less and less as technology marches on.

8. And though I love words and their origins, I’m careful not to add vague words, that my readers won’t understand, to my vocabulary.  (See my previous blog on $20 words).

9. I love books and my house shows it. There are books in just about every room. As my writing career has advanced, I’ve amassed a small library of perhaps 500 books on both writing, and the subjects I specialize in—Mexico, travel, and antiques.

10. In order to sell my work consistently, I study the markets for it.  However, today, it has become a challenge to keep up with writing markets. It used to be easy to spot a trend, but things have changed so much and so fast, that today it’s difficult. And while it’s always my goal to be at the right place at the right time, I don’t always hit the mark.

11. Since I began writing books, I’ve had to learn as much as I could about editing, publishing, and marketing. Being more knowledgeable about all facets of my business, I’m a more effective business person.

12. I take my writing seriously and have made an effort to make my family and friends do likewise. It isn’t just a pastime or a passing fancy. I communicate with my readers and now, through social networking, many of them communicate with me.

These keys are what have made me successful, but they won’t necessarily work for every writer.
And while my name may not be a household word, I’m still successful at what I do.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Seven W’s of Freelancing

You’re your own best resource. It all begins with you—who you are, where you live, what you need to survive, what you want out of life, what you believe in, what you know you can accomplish, and what you admit is difficult for you. These are the seven “W’s” of freelancing.

Let’s begin with who you are. Every person—every writer—is unique. Each sees the world in a personal way and interprets it for his or her readers. Everything about you affects the way you write—the environment in which you grew up, your family, your education, your likes and dislikes.

Where you live is equally important. Each region of the country has geographic and cultural differences that influence those who live there. You have been and still are being affected by the geography and climate of your region. Today, to be a successful writer it’s not as important to live in a metropolitan area. But where you live does affect the type of ideas you generate. And your ideas are the foundation of your writing.

Do you know what you need to survive as a writer? This could be better writing skills, better ideas, or better equipment—even money. Are you confident about your writing or do you need someone to tell you its good. It’s important to always work at improving your craft. Study works by your favorite writers and analyze them for the techniques they use. Record your ideas in an “Idea Book,” so that you won’t forget them. And buy the best computer and software you can afford. Remember, you don’t have to buy them new. Used or refurbished units work just fine—plus you don’t have to use the latest and greatest software. Financially, how much will you need to live satisfactorily? Will your writing alone bring in enough for you to live on or will you have to supplement your income. If you have to seek supplemental work, try to find something related to what you’re writing about. Then you’ll increase your knowledge while bringing in extra cash.

Have you given some thought to what you want out of life? The primary goal of beginning writers is to get published. But once you’ve done that, you need to know what you’re going to do next. Create a plan for the future, even if it’s only for six months ahead.

Your personal beliefs will definitely affect what you write. Everyone has personal opinions. Yours will work their way into your writing eventually. No matter whether you write non-fiction or fiction, your opinions will subconsciously seep into your work through topics you choose, themes, even dialogue of fictional characters.

Do you know what you can accomplish, based on your writing skill level? Most writers have no idea what their writing skill level is. Compare your writing to other writers—not the big names but other beginning writers who write about similar topics. Check out books from new writers. You’ll be able to tell immediately if their work is above or below you writing level. As a writer, you should be able to notice really good writing when you read it.

Can you be truthful with yourself and admit what’s difficult for you? People in general don’t like to admit their frailties. Writers aren’t any different. Make a list of your weaknesses–and not just those associated with writing. Once you have them down on paper, you’ll be able to work at making each stronger. You won’t be able to eliminate all of them, but just working at a few of them will make you a better writer and a better person.

Make a list of these seven “W’s” and post it on your bulletin board or your refrigerator. Remind yourself of them every day, and you will succeed.

Friday, September 9, 2011

What Does It Mean to Have Cave Smarts?

Neanderthal man survived for a very long time because he had “cave smarts.” To survive as a freelance writer, you also have to develop cave smarts but of a different kind. While the Neanderthals learned to hunt by trial and error, you must know your strengths and weaknesses and use them accordingly.

Most writers are industrious, sometimes intuitive,  at times a bit impulsive and perhaps compulsive, and observant. What drives most writers is inspiration. The difference between writers and wannabee writers is how they handle it.  A wannabee writer believes that he or she has to be inspired to write anything while a professional writer uses inspiration to get ideas that he or she further develops into articles, stories, and books—all the while keeping an eye on their target market.

If you don’t have a reader in mind when inspiration strikes, you might as well not write anything. Writing for yourself won’t get you anywhere professionally. You have to write for a specific audience. This audience may change from publication to publication or from book to book, but it’s there, nevertheless. Knowing who that audience is ahead of time will enable you to use those inspired ideas to their best advantage. And that’s where being industrious comes in. It takes a lot of hard work to develop an idea to its full potential—perhaps hours of research, followed by an equal amount of time actually writing.

And men, don’t let the women convince you that only they have “intuition.” If an idea seems right, then it probably is. Follow your intuition once in a while. You may have a “gut” feeling about a topic. Follow it through. It may turn out to be the best piece you ever wrote or a runaway bestseller.

While it isn’t in your best interest to act impulsively, once in a while you may have to decide then and there—providing the light bulb goes on in your head—that you’re going to start working on an idea. This often will give you a jump on the competition. And in today’s super fast media world, that may not be such a bad thing.

Avoid acting compulsively. Don’t worry about sharpening your pencils or making sure your desk is compulsively neat. Sure, you’ll have to put on your janitorial hat occasionally, but don’t make it come before getting your writing done. Don’t use cleaning, filing, or sorting as an excuse not to write. As a professional writer, you should be able to write any where at any time.

Many believe that successful writers don’t clip, file, retrieve information. Only a handful of writers work at an empty desk with only a computer and a monitor. If you don’t accumulate lots of files on the work your doing, then you probably aren’t doing enough research. You may use clips of articles to help develop a current project, or you may let them age to help trigger ideas in the future. More important than talent or luck, is the knack for using clips and files to research and develop topics to write about. Contrary to popular opinion, professional writers don’t write off the top of their heads. Even writing a blog takes some thought and preparation.

Writers overdevelop their sense of observation the way a blind person overdevelop their sense of smell or hearing. You need to be alert at all times, even when you’re not actually working. Ideas are everywhere and if you’re not keenly observant, you’ll miss them and perhaps some great opportunities.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Can Your Words Change the World?

Many writers don’t realize how their words can change the world. While the average writer may never know the effect of his or her articles, books, or stories, just about all affect their readers in some small way.

As a writer, it’s one job to enhance knowledge and ultimately change the world in which you live and work by publishing a meaningful article on a controversial new topic or by writing a short story or novel that illuminates human frailties. It’s another to affect change.

Early in my career, I wrote an article in a travel trade magazine about Apple Vacations, a travel wholesaler that has since grown by leaps and bounds. A group of people had taken a charter flight with another travel company, which while they were on vacation in the Bahamas, suddenly closed its doors and disconnected its phones, stranding this large group of vacationers. Someone in the office of the travel agent who had booked the charter read my article about Apple Vacations and immediately called them. The representative on the phone connected her to the president of the company who immediately sent one of Apple’s own charter planes to the Bahamas to retrieve the stranded passengers. The travel agency was so overjoyed about the rescue that it switched all of its vacation charter business to Apple Vacations. And I also got a call from Apple’s president thanking me for writing such a good article.

An antique dealer read another of my articles, this one about Parian ware, a less expensive look-alike to marble, and was able to identify a piece in his shop that he had drastically underpriced The information in my article allowed him to make a tidy profit on the piece when he sold it.

The first time your writing affects your reader in a visible way—providing you find out about it—the romance of freelance writing will become clear. When you incorporate the reality of this romance into every thing you write, you’ll begin to realize how rewarding a freelance writing career can be.

But keeping your ego under control is just as important, for success is often fleeting. You may bask in the glow of it for a few minutes, hours, or days, then it’s gone and you have to begin the process once more.

For many writers, the best rewards aren’t monetary, but the satisfaction that perhaps they’ve changed their readers lives for the better.