Friday, March 24, 2017

Beyond Words

Words are the building blocks of writing. They’re what pulls readers in and keeps them there. But having a great vocabulary isn’t all there is to writing. In fact, it’s only half the story. Besides being able to choose the right words, a writer must also know how to assemble them to communicate a clear message. And part of that is mastering the language in which the writer is writing—in this case English.

The use of sentence structure, punctuation, and capitalization is called English usage. Grammar is part of it. As a writer, you cannot ignore grammar. Too many beginning writers today think that it’s the editor’s job to correct their sentence structure and grammatical mistakes. And while an editor may correct the occasional grammatical error, his or her main job is to make sure sentences read correctly and that the content is clear. This is the job of the copy editor.

If you don’t make sure that your final draft is free of grammatical mistakes, then you’re not much of a writer. And while good editors will make sure to point out all of your grammatical errors, it will take away from the job they were meant to do. Plus it will cost you since the more time an editor spends on your work, the more an independent editor has to charge.

If you send your work to a publisher, he or she will assign an editor to work with you. But before an editor even begins to edit a book manuscript, for example, a reader will be assigned to read it. If there are lots of English usage and grammatical mistakes, your manuscript will be rejected.

If you have a problem with sentence structure, punctuation, and the like, you’ll need to do something about it before you go on. A professional writer is a not only a wordsmith but has honed writing skills. They’re the tools of this profession.

Perhaps you felt that grammar and such were unimportant as you sat in English class bored to tears as the teach went on about participles and gerunds, for example. After all, you want to write—to create interesting stories. Why do you need to concern yourself with such mundane things. What you didn’t realize at the time was that those mundane things would become your everyday tools to help you create those interesting stories.

So where can you get help? You could sign up for a basic writing class at a local adult evening school. Or you could buy yourself a book on English usage. You can easily find a used one at a local library book sale or get it online at You can also improve your English usage and grammar online.

Begin with the article “14 Must-Visit Websites to Learn English Grammar Online.” Then check each one of them out and see which offers the best resources for you. Another great site is English Grammar 101. There are whole lot more to choose from, so take your pick.  Use the exercises provided to improve your writing skills. And before you know it, you’ll be writing like a pro because isn’t that what you want to be—a professional writer. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Mastering the Possibilities

For years, Mastercard brought in customers with the now-famous slogan, “Master the possibilities.” You can also apply it to your freelancing career. But with freelancing it’s less about using your credit card than figuring out how to find outlets for your work.

Today’s publishing environment offers a wealth of possibilities. It used to be that freelancers had only the print world of magazines and newspapers to choose from when searching for markets. Now that rather closed market has been expanded to include all sorts of publications, both print and digital.

Readers resisted the digital publications for quite a while, but the appearance of e-readers and tablets like the Kindle and Nook gave readers an infinite number of choices.

Writers, too, were a bit hesitant to write for digital markets because most of them didn’t pay. Unfortunately, many still don’t. But breaking in is a lot easier digitally. You can easily study past issues of an online magazine or Web site just be searching for it. Searching offers another advantage—you can see easily see what subject matter is trending. You’re shots in the dark will be fewer. 

Before you go searching, however, you have to figure out exactly what type of writing you want to do. Are you planning to write articles for publication, either in print or online or both? Or are you planning on writing mostly books, using shorter pieces to promote them? And while both require the same writing skills, each requires a different mind set and marketing know how.

As little as 20 years ago, all you had to do was send your pieces to publications that might print them and you’d get paid—maybe not very much, but you would get something. Since there weren’t very many publications or writers, competition wasn’t as keen. But with the advance of technology and the creation of the Internet, all that changed. The publishing world has exploded with what seems an endless list of possibilities.

Unfortunately, just as there are many more opportunities to get published, so are there many more, especially online, that don’t pay anything. For at least the first 10 years, readers and writers looked at the Internet as a chaotic medium for amateurs. Publishers who did have online publications had very low budgets, so they didn’t pay for articles. And while they were a good way to build up your publishing clips, you can’t live on non-paying markets.

With the ease of online publishing and self-publishing through e-books, many more would-be writers are finding it easier to get published, even if they have to do it themselves, thus by-passing the hurdles of the traditional route.

A good way to start out and get your work out there is to write a weekly blog. When blogs first began, the recommendation was to publish a blog daily. But a weekly blog becomes more like a column and readers will follow it if you offer them information that they can use.

While you’re blog starts to build a following, you can study one of the annual market guides—Writer’s Market or Literary Marketplace.

The first on the list, Writer’s Market, published by Writer’s Digest Books, has been around since 1921 and is the least expensive with a list price of $50, although you can purchase it online directly from Writer’s Digest for $30. You can also get it by monthly subscription. It features over 8,000 listings of newspaper and magazine markets, book publishers, including small presses, playwriting and screenwriting markets, and even those for greeting cards. Each listing gives you the information you need to see if your work will fit. And while there are many markets in which your work will be a good match, there are 10 times as many that it will not. And while the book has it’s good points, it offers a lot of markets that just don’t pay well or not at all. Plus, it’s so widely used that many of the publications listed get overwhelmed with submissions.

Literary Marketplace claims it’s the “ultimate insider’s guide” to the publishing industry. For a whopping $360 for first-time buyers, it ought to be. It offers 54 sections in which it organizes publishers, agents, advertising agencies, associations, distributors, and events. It features twice the number of listings as Writer’s Market, but concentrates mostly on book publishing. Since its cost is prohibitive, you’ll have to use it at your local library.

Whether you use one or the other or both of these annuals will depend on how often you’re repeatedly writing for certain markets, how good you are at selling spin-off material, and where you wish to focus your publishing efforts each year.
As you progress in your freelancing career, you’ll find more markets that aren’t listed in the above annuals. Publishers of all kinds choose whether they want to be published in them. Many refuse because doing so opens them up to receiving tons of correspondence from too many wannabee writers who have neither the skill or talent to write well. They prefer to be more selective. Also, new technologies create new markets. In the last five years many opportunities have opened up for educational and recreational material for home and school computers.

Because editors play musical chairs and their requirements change regularly, it’s a good idea to use the latest edition of each of the annuals. It’s important to know the exact name, spelling, title, etc., of a publication’s editor. If you’re going to impress editors, you must get their names right.

In the case of Writer’s Market, you can check out last year’s edition from the stacks at your library, find what publications look good, and make a list of them, then go back to the library and find those on your list in the latest edition in the reference section and note the changes. Because of the high cost of Literary Marketplace, you’ll have to do all your work using the reference edition at the library.

Once you've decided on a specialty, you should subscribe to the best publications in your chosen field, or track them down regularly wherever you can. If you’re serious about book publishing, then you’ll want to read Publishers Weekly regularly at your local library or online.

Whether markets appear to be a broadening or a row of locked doors is entirely up to you, your energies, ambitions, and skills as a writer, promoter, and, most importantly, a salesperson.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Writers’ Block—Is It All in Your Head?

All writers face the inevitable—writers’ block—at some point in their careers. For some it’s a passing state of affairs, a sort of down time after working furiously on a big project. But for others, writers’ block can be as deadly as a fear of heights. In fact, it often results from a fear of success.

But writers’ block doesn’t just happen. Usually something triggers it, much like any other psychological condition. And, yes, it is psychological. To keep from falling prey to this condition, you have to keep your mind active.

The most common cause of writer’s block is trying to make your writing perfect the first time. Many beginning writers plod through whatever they’re working on agonizing over every word. You want to make whatever you’re writing your best, so you go back and revise every sentence as you go. Instead of trying to write the final draft, work faster and steadily to complete your first draft. Get everything down on paper and don’t worry about grammar or the words you’re using. You’ll be able to fix both in the revising process. Leave sparkling writing until your second or third draft.

Another thing that seriously affects novice writers, and many veteran ones, is hearing the opinion of others. Don’t allow yourself to be stymied by what your friends, family, or spouse may think of what you’ve written. And worst of all, don’t show your writing to strangers until you have finished the final draft.

If you write fiction, you should be doubly careful about showing your work to others before its time. As a fiction writer, you have only your own experiences to draw from for your stories. If your story centers around characters who are uncomfortably similar to people you know, you could find yourself in trouble.

Whatever people say, it will affect you. Beginning writers have thin skins and aren’t used to criticism, whether it’s constructive or not. Particularly harsh criticism can cripple you mentally, causing you not to be able to write.

To combat writer’s block, there are a few things you can do.  Keep several projects going at the same time. The more involved you are in different types of writing, the less likely you’ll be to be stymied by writer’s block.

Another trick is to re-read what you’ve written most recently. You’ll be amazed at how you’ll react to your own words, especially if you haven’t seen them in a while. Besides reading your own work, try reading books, stories, and articles written by others.         
Create an idea file. A stockpile of ideas will give you plenty to write about, should you get stuck on your current project.

You might also try to set a word quota—writing so many words a day. This will force you to move forward and not get mired in your current work. And reward yourself for achieving your daily word goal. This could be a walk around the block or a cup of coffee at a local coffee shop.

Finally, be positive. Negativity about your writing will definitely lead to a block.