Friday, June 26, 2015

Tips for Effective Research

Research is an important part of most writing. The majority of writers don’t just pull ideas and facts out of their heads. While their writing may appear smooth, logical, even flawless, behind it lies good research.

What and how much you research you do depends a lot of on the finished format of your writing. A short article or blog, for instance, requires far less research than say an investigative piece or a book. Even short stories may require some research to help you become familiar with the subject.

Today, you have at your disposal a multitude of sources of information. Researching for your writing isn’t like anything you did in school. Too many beginning writers remember back to researching term papers and fail to get the right kind and amount of information they need to complete their current work.

The best research begins with good general sources. To fully understand your subject you’ll need background information. Details come later. A quick search for an article on Wikipedia, for example, should give you an overview of your subject. But be careful, some of those articles often have misinformation. You may also find the background material you need in brochures and press releases. This is especially true when writing about businesses, travel, or products. Before compiling a list of questions for an interview, it helps to know something about the subject and the person you’ll be interviewing.

Take profile writing. To write a good profile, you need to learn all you can about the person so that you’ll be able to ask intelligent questions that get to the nitty gritty about their life or business. The more you learn ahead of time, the better results you’ll obtain from your interview.

Sometimes you have to look beyond the obvious. If writing about a product that’s no longer made, you may want to look into learning about the company that produced it. The development of the product or the progression of ownership of the company will often provide interesting details to add color to your story.

All of the above pertain to writing non-fiction. If you’re planning a novel, especially an historical one, you’ll need to learn about the lifestyle of the times so that you can truly convey the atmosphere of life back then. This includes not only major events in history, but the clothing that people wore, the cultural habits and mores of the time, and even the vocabulary and speech patterns to provide authentic dialog.

Finding appropriate background information for a novel can be more complicated and widespread than for non-fiction. It may require you to make research trips to locations you plan to include in your book. While there, you may want to visit museums to find information to fill out the details like costuming and local history. Some novelists begin writing in a broad way and then fill in the details later after completing their research. Others research first and then begin writing.

Whatever type of writing you do, you’ll want to make sure not to do too much research. Overdoing it can be just as bad as finding too little information. Know when to stop. A good rule for an article is to compile twice as many pages of notes, single spaced, as the number of pages of your finished article. Doing too much more than that will result in your using far more material and, in the end, having to cut half of it out to get back to the length your intended publication requires.

If you’re writing non-fiction, you’ll use most of the research you’ve done. But if you’re writing fiction, you may use less than half since the majority of what you write will have to deal with characters and dialog. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

There’s No Guarantee of Success

Someone once said that success is one of those things that’s often impossible to predict unless you know you have it in the bag. With success, there are no guarantees.

Before you can be successful, you have to figure out just what success is for you. How do you define it? As a writer, is it getting published? And after you’re published, then what? When you first started out in writing—or if you’re just starting out—your main goal was to get published. You probably thought that getting published would prove to others, and more importantly to yourself, that you had made it as a writer. Unfortunately, one article, one short story, or one book does not a writer make.

So to truly understand what it means to be successful as a writer, you first have to understand what it means to be a writer. When someone asks you what you do, can you confidently say you’re a writer? You can and should do that only if you have a volume of work under your belt. Too many beginning writers are more enamored at the thought of being a writer—perhaps to impress your friends and family—than of actually being a writer.

Success can be and often is fleeting. There are those big successes in life, such as obtaining a college degree or raising a family, and there are those little successes, such as finishing the first draft of a novel. All of them are accomplishments. So to get a true handle on success, you must take into consideration all of your accomplishments. There’s something to be said for being an accomplished writer. That’s a person who has written and published a variety of things often in more than one subject area.

Even if you’re one of those lucky writers who publishes a book the first time out of the gate, having the book published, in essence printed, is no guarantee of success. In this case, your success amounts to how many copies of that book sold. And, even more important, how many copies have been read. Unfortunately, statistics only exist for how many copies sold, enabling you to get on a bestseller list. But a best-read list just doesn’t exist.

That said, you shouldn’t define your success as a writer by how many books you’ve written and perhaps published. Books are only part of the broader writing picture. Successful writers publish an assortment of pieces throughout their careers.

Some writers see awards as a gauge to success, collecting them at every opportunity. They figure that if someone chooses to give them an award, that they have made it as a writer. But the afterglow from an award often lasts shorter than a sunset. Once you’ve been applauded, everyone seems to forget, unless you constantly remind them.

To get an idea of just how successful you are as a writer, periodically list your accomplishments. Once a year or even every six months is often enough. You’ll be amazed at just how successful you’ve become. Remember, don’t count only the big successes in your career. Count the little ones, too. They all add up. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Don't Give Up

Just about every writer has wanted to throw in the towel at one time or another. Whether it’s lack of ideas, piles of rejections, or lack of motivation, the temptation is always there. And whether or not a writer considers quitting, most don’t. Why is that?

Writing for many is a compulsion. It’s a drive that runs deep. For some, it starts in childhood, for others later in life. But either way, writers feel compelled to write. And anything that gets in the way of this desire causes frustration.

To avoid getting into this trap, it helps if you know some of the causes, so you don’t get into this predicament in the first place.

Some writers just can’t come up with enough ideas. Do you begin working on what you consider a super idea, only to get bogged down because the idea isn’t developing the way you thought it would? This problem usually comes about because you haven’t thought the idea through. But thinking about an idea is only part of the process. You’ve got to plan it out, too—even roughly.

But not every idea is a super one, so it pays to stockpile them. The more ideas you have, the better. Not all of them will be winners. In fact, most of them won’t be. Having other ideas on hand will enable to you to try something else if the first one doesn’t work. No writer should ever quit for lack of ideas.

Rejections, on the other hand, have put an end to many a writing career. To get published, your work must be accepted. If it’s rejected, you don’t have a chance. One writer got 28 rejections on a book idea before he realized that it may be too specific or not in line with what publishers wanted. He didn’t give up. Instead, he tried another which got accepted immediately. He jokingly said that early in his career he got enough rejection slips to wallpaper his bathroom.

A young California food writer wrote a Moroccan cookbook. No one was interested in it, so she published it herself. She ended up with a room full of several thousand books. Did she quit? No. She contacted Nieman Marcus in Texas and got them interested in selling it in their gourmet shop. That worked out fine, so she continued contacting department store chains and gourmet shops across the country. Her first venture was such a success that she went on to publish six more cookbooks.

Lack of motivation causes a lot of beginning writers to think twice about further pursuing a writing career. Wanting to write is one thing. But have a purpose is another. Whatever you write should have purpose. Do you want to inform or entertain or advise? Giving a purpose to your work will make it seem that much more important. Ask yourself why you want to write. If you say it’s just to get noticed, you’ll fail for sure.

Finally, if you’ve been writing for a while and have had some success but are now in a slump due either to a lack of ideas or a lack of markets, think about all the work you’ve put into your career so far. Don’t let it go to waste. Keep plugging away and give yourself another chance.