Sunday, February 28, 2016

Making That Deadline

Deadlines are the bane of all professional writers. Once you make the jump from writing for yourself to writing for readers for money, you’ll have to deal with deadlines. In the beginning, you most likely will be working on shorter pieces—articles and short stories—the deadlines for which aren’t too stressful. In fact, there really aren’t deadlines for short stories except self-imposed ones.

But once you start writing books, deadlines will become an everyday challenge. At first, you may equate deadlines with due dates, but you’ll soon come to realize there’s a whole lot more to them.

Before you even begin work on a book—whether a project of your own that you’ve pitched to a publisher or one commissioned by a publisher—you need to assess the amount of time you have to work on it. How much research will you need to do? How much writing will be involved? How many words will your book be? After you know the answers to these questions, you’ll need to ask yourself how long it will take to write that number of words?

How long it will take you to write your book depends on how many words you can comfortably write in a day—500, 1,000, 2,000, 3,000. Once you know that, you’ll be able to figure if your deadline will allow enough time to research and write your book. Frankly, you should figure all this out before signing a contract, agreeing to write a book.

Most books average 40,000 to 125,000 words. Check your contract for the number of words your publisher expects. Too many intermediate writers faced with the opportunity to write a book, think more about the potential fame and fortune a book may bring and less of actually getting it done.

While you may plan on writing a certain number of words per day, many things can prevent you from doing so. Are you planning on writing seven days a week or will you take weekends off? What about days where you just can’t produce enough material? Will you be able to take a day off and make it up the following day? It’s a risk.                       

Remember to allow time for editing and an additional week to read over your finished manuscript.

In order not to let deadlines stress you out, you’ve got to set yourself up for success. Do the best you can and press onward. Nothing screws up trying to make a deadline than continually redoing parts over and over. So the better prepared and organized you are to begin with, the smoother your writing will go.

Too many writers work too long at one sitting. Be sure to take breaks. Working in true deadline mode doesn’t mean working until you drop. Try not to write for longer than two hours at a stretch. Between sessions, go for a walk, watch some T.V., or visit a museum. You need to replenish yourself even if you don’t think you have the time. You’ll soon discover that by taking regular breaks, your writing will flow along because your mind is fresh.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Winning the Power Struggle

Do you feel powerless as a writer? Do you feel as if the fate of your writing is in everyone else’s hands but your own? If so, you’re not alone. At some point in every writer’s career, those feelings can be overpowering.

So how can you take that power back and put the fate of your writing in your hands instead of someone else’s?

Let’s start with the guilt you feel when you aren’t writing. Every writer feels that at one time or another. You have the ideas. You have the drive. You have the skills. So why won’t other people leave you to it?

Perhaps your friends and family don’t see you as a writer. You’ve got to promote yourself to them. When you have something published, give or send them a copy, not for feedback but just to show them what you’ve accomplished. In fact, make a point of telling them you just want them to read it to enjoy. They’ll perceive you as creating a product for their enjoyment. Doing so also says you’ve made it.

Another power struggle occurs when you think you can only write in a certain place and at a certain time. If you’re good at writing and like to write, you can write anywhere and at any time. You can write on a scrap envelope or even on a napkin in a restaurant. If you have the ideas, you can write. Get out of this rut and write at some other place and time different from when you normally do. Take your laptop to McDonald’s, buy a cup of coffee, and sit down and write something—anything.

Comments from editors—especially negative ones aimed at you—can sideline your writing, sometimes for weeks or even months. Don’t put editors on a pedestal. Remember, a lot of them wanted to be writers but couldn’t be without a regular paycheck. A lot of them are just frustrated writers. If an editor treats you that badly, it’s time to move on. They can be just as bad as bosses in a day job.

And don’t let comments from other people sidetrack you. While editors should have the credibility to say whether your writing is good or bad, other people don’t—not even English teachers. While English teachers may know their grammar and usage, most don’t understand the kind of writing you’re trying to do. Academic writing is totally different and what you’re writing isn’t literature.

Remember, only someone who’s in the writing business can tell you if you’re good or not. If an editor does say you can’t write, ask them why. Ask them to go into details. It’s the only way you’re going to learn to improve your skills. But if another person without credibility says that to you, just ignore them, or at least say you would never begin to criticize the way they do their type of work.

Don’t get wrapped up in market trends. Too many writers think they have to write about the latest trendy subject. In fact, there are probably too many other writers writing about that very subject. Pick another one that few writers are writing about.

Do you believe the only way you’re going to get published is if you have an agent? Many writers do. Agents are people who help sell books and films to the right people. But you really don’t need one if you’re willing to pitch and promote your own work. Famous writers mostly have agents because they’re way to busy to pitch and promote their own work.

Don’t rely totally on anyone else’s opinion about what you write. Only you can make the final decision about what to include. But do listen to what others who are credible have to say and take what they say into consideration.

Finally, don’t put the fate of your writing in anyone’s hands but your own. Only you have the power to make things happen. And when you do make it in writing, shout it out to the world!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Sensing the World Around You

In order to draw your reader into the world you’re reporting on or into a fictional world you’ve created, you’ve got to be able to translate what your senses tell you into words. Too many people, including a lot of writers, just amble through life, not truly interacting with the world around them. To be a good—no make that great—writer you need to be aware of every nuance as you go about daily life. To do this, you must learn to how and when to turn on and off your sense awareness.

If you were to be hypersensitive 24 hours a day, you’d probably go mad. But there are times when you need to hike your sensitivity up a notch, to put your senses into hyper mode. Then after you’ve mastered this hypersensitivity, you must learn how to write about it so that your readers will experience it, too.

As humans, we’ve been given something that separates us from other mammals, who also have sense awareness. That special something is reason. Just being aware of things around you isn’t enough. You have to be able to interpret them—to understand how they all fit together.

The strongest of your five senses is sight. If you write fiction, you probably fill your scenes with rich visual detail that your readers can picture in their minds. But make your writing come alive, you must include bits of the other four senses, for without them, your writing will be lifeless.

People normally depend on sight so much that it replaces some of what the other senses are meant to do. When a person loses their sight, not only does their world go dark, but they feel as if they’re living in a void. Writing using only sight does the same thing for a reader.

Sight offers us shape, color, and texture, important things to consider when describing people and objects. But it also helps us interpret distance, an important part of describing landscapes and cityscapes. We pay so much attention to what we’re seeing that we forget that there are sounds to be heard and aromas and fragrances to be smelled.

The sense of smell is the one that’s most closely linked to memory. Why do you think that the smell of popcorn evokes such a strong desire to watch movies? Selling popcorn in the lobby of movie theaters over the decades has associated the smell of it with watching movies with most people. When Blockbuster Video had video rental stores, they always had a popcorn machine making popcorn. The smell of the stuff permeated the store and encouraged people to rent movie videos.

The same is true of the smell of cinnamon buns. Supermarkets get their buns frozen and ready to bake. They position their bakeries in the front of the store with a vent to the parking lot. As you get out of your car, you’re drawn into the store by this delicious smell. Even if you don’t buy any cinnamon buns, the smell of them triggers memories of a cozy home which makes you hungry, thus you buy more of everything else. So including smells in your writing will trigger memories in your readers, putting them into the scene, itself.

Generally, smells can be divided into three types: aromas, odors, and fragrances. The first is a pleasant one having to do with foods. The second has to do with unpleasant food or other smells. And the last is the ultra pleasant scents of flowers and perfumes.

Taste is another sense often forgotten by writers. Ernest Hemingway knew this and included tastes of foods in many of his stories.  The sense of taste is usually associated with the sense of smell. You can break taste down into five types: bitter, sweet, salty, sour, and the newest and trendiest, umami, a Japanese word that means “pleasant savory taste.” A good example of this last type is cooked mushrooms.

The sense of touch, on the other hand, is often ignored by most writers. That’s because they, themselves, aren’t fully aware of it. The only time you may be aware of your sense of touch is in extreme situations—touching something hot or cold. At most other times, you just take your sense of touch for granted.

To awaken your sense of touch, you must purposefully touch something with the pads on the insides of the tips of your fingers. Don’t fully touch the surface but hover close to it with the pad with your finger pads, just enough to be able to sense the texture of the surface. Now while you can’t go around only using the pads on your fingers to touch things, doing so will train you to become more aware of things you do touch. Readers want to know what things feel like. That vicarious experience of touch really draws them into your writing.

Sound is another sense that most people take for granted. We hear all the time, yet we really don’t listen. Most people put hearing on auto mode. Hearing is selective. We hear what we want to hear. Even though there may be softer sounds in the background, we select to hear those that are the closest and therefore the loudest. Put sounds into your writing. Let your readers hear them. Doing so will help create drama and impact.

Until you train yourself to include all five senses in your writing, the best way to deal with them is to write as you normally do, then go back over what you’ve written and note the senses that are missing and put them in. Eventually, you’ll include them naturally.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Listen to Yourself

Everyone thinks they know how to write. In fact, just about everyone can because they all learned how to write in school. But learning how to write and knowing how to write are two different things.

Because writing is one of three universal forms of communication—the other two being speaking and listening—writers are susceptible to comments and even harsh criticisms from just about anyone.

It begins with someone telling you that you should be a writer. “You certainly have a way with words,” they may say. Or, “Have you ever thought about being a writer? You certainly have the talent for it.”

In most cases of this sort, the person making the comments has neither the background nor credentials to determine whether you should be a writer or not. Only another writer can truly comment on your aspirations. And even then, it’s only their opinion.

And even if you’re trying desperately to become a professional writer—one that gets paid for their writing—the person who doesn’t write for a living but just writes to communicate can’t understand what all the fuss is about because to them writing is an everyday thing.

So what makes a writer so special? Although “wordsmith” is a word only used in pseudo-intellectual circles today, it best describes what a writer does. A writer crafts articles, stories, and books using words in a special way to achieve a purpose, to communicate a special message. People describe those who can do this without too much effort as having “talent.” But, in truth, any writer can achieve the same goals with hard work and determination.

It’s like when you were back in school. Some of your fellow students got good grades with hardly any effort. It seemed as if they didn’t do half the work you did. But in the end you may have received good grades by working harder. The same happens with writers.

Once you’ve had something published for pay, you think you’ve made it. But getting published is only the first step in a career-long process. At this point you can claim to be a writer, for you’ve written something and gotten paid for it. But other people don’t see the difference. To them, you write just like they do—you put your fingers on the keyboard and tap away.

Because of this, they look upon you as a threat to their writing abilities. Normally, you may not have a problem with this, but should you use your writing abilities for a project that isn’t related to your professional work, all bets are off. At this point, others see your writing abilities as equal to theirs. So whether you know that a passage should be written in a certain way doesn’t matter. They won’t hesitate to criticize your work because they feel equal to you.

Ironically, this doesn’t happen with other professions. No one tells a doctor or a lawyer or even a business owner the right way to do their work because they know nothing about it.

Even in the writing industry, we have prejudices. People look upon writers who are on the staffs of newspapers and magazines as professional writers. But they don’t look upon freelance writers with the same eye, even though they also get paid for their work. To many people, working for a weekly paycheck gives the job credibility. In fact, most people don’t even realize freelance writers actually exist even though they read their work in publications all the time. And what about all the authors out there? Using the word “author” after your name only says you write books, but in the end, you’re a writer all the same.

So what can you do to gain credibility in the eyes of others? First, you must study your craft and learn all the grammar and usage rules. Then you need to learn when to break those rules to make a point or show emphasis. Academics only write by the rules. General writers write using the rules or not depending on what they’re trying to say. What makes it difficult for freelance writers is that there are no requirements to be one—no special schooling, no degree, no internship. The only credibility a freelance writer has is his or her ability to get published and get paid for it.

In the end, stick to your guns and listen to yourself, for only you know what you want to say and how you want to say it and get paid for it.