Saturday, May 29, 2010

Having a Baby Elephant

What is it about our society that people put so much stock in authors but not so much in writers. Aren’t writers and authors the same? Don’t they both communicate with words?

Beginning writers seem to think if they write a book that they’ll be recognized as a writer. Many of my Creative Writing students come to class after they start to write a book and realize they don’t know what they’re doing. What drives so many beginning writers to write a book when they haven’t written much else? Perhaps it goes back to school.

We learn to read by reading books. Sure, they’re short with just a few sentences, but they’re still books. How many first graders are out there reading articles and short stories? None. As they progress through the grades, they read more and more books until, before they know it, they’re sitting in English classes studying literature.

I see myself as a writer, even though I’ve written 14 books. When I meet someone for the first time, and they ask me what I do, I say I’m a writer. “Would I have read something you’ve written?” they ask. When I tell them some of the magazines I’ve written for or some of the non-fiction books I’ve written, they’re eyes glaze over and that’s pretty much the end of the conversation.

I’ve learned over the years that a lot goes into writing a book. It’s not just the writing, it’s the research, the organization, the energy. I tell my students that writing a book is like having a baby elephant—it takes 22 months for the little guy to grow inside it’s mother. That’s just about how long it takes to create a book—getting the idea, marketing the idea, researching the idea, organize the idea, writing the idea, and rewriting the idea. Oh, and let’s not forget promoting the idea.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Don’t Forget the Basics

With the advent of computers, the Internet, E-mail, and especially texting, many students have glossed over basic writing skills in favor of abbreviated forms of communication. While most will sadly be able to get by communicating in writing, those interested in becoming writers have to heed to the call.

If you have any dreams of becoming a published writer, you need to pay close attention to your writing skills and, for some, English usage. The writing business has standards of quality—strict ones—that all writers follow, from best-selling book authors all the way down to beginning freelancers writing for their local newspaper.

While most people think that writing skills mean punctuation and capitalization—what writers call mechanics—the truth is they also include things like phrasing and idioms, and at the top of the list, sentence structure and paragraphing. Way down on the list is vocabulary. It doesn’t take big words to make your readers understand what you’re trying to say.

So if you’re writing skills aren’t up to par, it doesn’t matter how great your ideas are because you won’t be able to express them properly.

If you find your writing skills below par or perhaps lacking altogether, enroll in a basic composition class or a basic writing class at a local school night or community college. The former are less expensive and usually run for six to eight weeks. That’s plenty of time to get your skills in shape, especially if you have assignments to write each week.

Of course, you can improve your writing skills on your own, but you won’t get any feedback and that’s very important—not only from the instructor but from other students. If you have any plans to publish anything, get started now improving a writer’s second greatest asset—your writing skills. The first is your ideas.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Book Deadlines Take Over

Sorry I’ve been rather quiet for the past two weeks. Between trying to make a book revision deadline and problems accessing the Internet, I’ve been going slightly crazy.

Books tend to take over a writer’s life. In the beginning, they require intense thought, then the job is to get those thoughts into some order so that they make sense to the reader. In some ways, revising a book for the second time involves even more thought.

When I write a book or an article for the first time, the writing seems right. Everything reads well. It doesn’t occur to me that I may have to revise it in the future. Revising can do several things for a book. First, it allows me to update pertinent information. And second, it gives me the opportunity to revamp my writing. Not having seen it for five years, I forget what it sounds like. In fact, when reading over the book, I didn’t even recognize it as something I wrote. That’s a good thing.

The more I write books, the more I conceive a concept that the book needs to follow. When I first revised this book on starting your own antiques business, I concentrated on getting all the antiques information right. This time, I see that the concept needed to be more business-like. Remember, some readers will be using this book as their step-by-step guide to running a successful business. While it may not be as intriguing as a novel, someone’s financial future depends on it.