Monday, March 29, 2010

The Importance of Revising

Writing isn’t only about putting words on paper. It’s really about arranging and rearranging words until they say what you mean. Many beginning writers fail to revise their work. They write a first draft and stop there. While you don’t have to completely rewrite what you write, it’s important to make sure what you’ve written communicates clearly to your readers.

To begin, check your work for misplaced content. This might be as simple as an event that’s out of chronological sync or a misplaced modifier. You may have a dull opening that won’t hold on to your reader’s attention or an ending that doesn’t end with a bang. Whatever you’re problem, a little revising can go a long way.

The most common reason for revising is for length. If you plan to sell to newspapers or magazines, you need to adhere to their length requirements, not write long diatribes in which you ramble all over the place. Today, the length of most published articles and short stories lies somewhere between 800-1000 words. As the Internet has threatened to take over the publishing world, magazines in particular have changed their layouts to reflect a “Web” look which means shorter pieces.

Start by deleting any unwanted content. Remove words like “very,” for instance. How nice is nice? Very nice. This word does little to advance the information in your work. You get the idea. Also, check to make sure you’re not using the same words and phrases continually. Create a little variety, and by using words that produce a more exact image to your reader, you’ll write clearer as well.

After you’ve deleted parts of your writing, you’ll be left with holes that you’ll need to mend. To do this, you’ll need to write new sentences, combine others. Be careful that you’re not asking your reader to make a leap in information. Never assume your reader knows what you’re talking about.

Another form of revising is a type of refreshing. When a book has been in print for a while, often publishers will ask the author to revise it for a new addition. This can mean new language and perhaps new information. In today’s fast moving world, a lot can happen in five years–an average length of time a publisher waits to revise a book. Travel guidebooks, on the other hand, are usually revised annually or biannually.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Payment on Acceptance or Publication

Writing for publication can have its drawbacks. For beginning writers, just getting published is enough. But for professional writers–those of us you need to get paid for our writing–when and if we get paid becomes a continual concern.

Professional writers’ associations like the prestigious American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) continually say writers should get paid on acceptance. That means getting paid the moment an editor accepts an article or short story. Well, that’s easy for them to say.

In today’s madcap word of publishing, fewer and fewer publishers of periodicals are paying their writers on acceptance. They want to keep their money as long as they can, and so do their advertisers, who are paying their bills later and later. So what is a writer to do?

First, find out beforehand when the publication pays its writers. You can easily find this in such directories as Writer’s Market, published by Writer’s Digest Books. If you don’t see the publication you’re interested in within its pages, then call the editor and ask. Too many magazines, for instance, want your story months ahead of time, but don’t pay for perhaps a year later. You can’t wait a whole year to shop at the supermarket!

Many publications pay on publication–or more to the point, perhaps 30-60 days after publication. If you’re expecting immediate payment as soon as your piece is published, don’t bet on it. This has become more the norm than not.

The argument ASJA makes is that payment on publication may mean never. What they mean by this is that the publication may close up shop before you get your money. Unfortunately, in today’s economy, that’s the risk you have to take. Otherwise, go get a job at McDonald’s.

In order to write and publish and still get by, you need to work on a number of projects. Always have something in the works. Sending an article or story off every so often will make sure that the payments also come in every so often. 

Friday, March 5, 2010

Write as You Talk

Not so long ago, most people viewed writing as a formal activity not related to talking. In the last 20 years, that idea has pretty much gone the way of the trolley car–while there are still some around, most remaining ones can only be found in museums.

In today’s hurry up, chat and text world, many people have dropped their guards when writing, much to the chagrin of many retired English teachers. Besides writing for a living, I also teach others how to write as part of my business. One thing I’m constantly telling my students is to write as they talk.

Today, good writing is conversational writing–writing that reads and sounds like good conversation, only the writer makes it go where he or she wants it to. To get my students started on this road to good communication, I tell them to pretend their reader is sitting across the table from them and then just tell the reader their story–only on paper.

Recently, I’ve gotten to know a local newspaper reporter. During the week, he reports on the humdrum details of our county court system. But on Saturdays, he gets to write a column where he can express himself on whatever he pleases. I got to read one of his columns for the first time last week. He writes in a witty style but seems to want to let everyone know that he is a WRITER by including lots of more sophisticated words than he would ever use in conversation on the same subject.

A few days later, he sent me an E-mail in which he told another story. It had that same wry sense of humor his column had but without all the big words. In other words, he was speaking right to me, the reader, not past me the way a lot of writers think they have to do. And why should writing an E-mail message be any different than say writing an article or a story?

My point is that if more people just wrote as they talked, we’d have much better communication all around.