Family Fear Factor

Today, there are 65 subscribers to this newsletter. (Note, this was originally posted to the WordCraft newsletter on BackWash, awhile ago). Are you all crazy? I’m a fraud, I couldn’t tell you how to write your way out of a wet paper bag even if I had a map. Just ask my family.

First, they say something that feels like a polite, supportive pat on the head. But they top it with the qualifier. The qualifier is not a good thing, its something about not making money, not having perfect grammar, the typo they found in the odd article they actually did read, etc. Do people give you qualifiers?

Rejection from some editor is one thing. But, its not personal. Family and friends are another thing. How can that not be personal. Likely, they mean well. I know mine do. But each qualifier is like a mountain I have to climb out from under. For a moment I’m suffocating, buried alive under more earth than I could dig my way out from. Not so different from my nephew’s quest in the backyard, that hole to China he starts again, every Fall, in the garden.

But, you do have to keep digging. Keep trying and keep your eye on your goals, your passions and your reasons for wanting to write. Maybe you just write for yourself. But secretly you want to take the next step, its just hard to believe you really can. After all your spelling isn’t that great, the stuff you write about is boring and your grammar is as good as mine.

Welcome to the club, now get writing.

Writing Without Fluff

You can find a lot about cutting the fluff out of your writing. I know, I just searched Google for writing fluff. I did this because someone argued that there is too much gloom and reality on BackWash lately. So, I wondered if there was a guide to writing better fluff pieces. (Not so far in the search but I’m sure it’s out there, somewhere).

Anyway, life is full of drama, conflict and ugliness, sharp edges, people running with scissors, mean spirits and other assorted generally bad things. It balances out all the sparkly fluffy bits. The balance is called reality.

When you write, do you write reality or fluff? If you write fiction do you have one main conflict and focus only on that. Do you forget what it’s like to have a bad day, a day when it seems all the little things keep going wrong. Does your character live a cardboard life where she/ he has no headaches, other than the main one you’ve plotted out for them?

I think we need to trip our characters every now and then. It makes them human, keeps them real. It doesn’t have to tie into the main plot, not directly anyway. Give him a bad knee from some soccer game when he was a kid. Give her a fear of dogs from seeing her sister bitten. Or just have him skin his knee as he’s leaping all those tall buildings.

Don’t write fluff and expect us to swallow it. We know about conflict, we’ve lived it. Every day can’t be sunny and nice. Besides, if you admit it, isn’t it really those windy, blustery days you love the best? I do!

Writing Background Inspiration

Today I was thinking about what you like in the background as you write? Music is the most likely background. I flick on the radio to an oldies station and then I ignore it completely while I write. Some of it likely leaks into my brain but I couldn’t tell you even one of the songs that played.

Anyway, today as I was working I thought of a new background inspiration. Smell! So, I bought 4 bottles of aromatherapy/ cologne stuff. (I found some fairly cheap at the department store). I bought two of the Gingerlily so I could give one to my Mom for Mother’s Day. Here are the four scents: Gingerlily (for positivity), Green Tea (for enlightening), Tangerine (for energizing) and Jasmine (for sensuality). How does that sound? Well, it smells great. Gingerlily is especially interesting, though the smell fades faster than the others.

I bought them to give me a boost when I’m writing. You know those days when you feel like all your words have already been written, all your ideas have already been explored and all your thoughts are stale, having breathed their last during the first Ice Age. On those kinds of days an appeal to a different sense might help. After all, we may write about smells but we don’t use much of our sense of smell while writing. Its not so easy to tune out as the white noise of the radio either.

So, if you’re looking for some extra inspiration or something to keep you going give my idea a try. Or come up with something that appeals more to you.

A Writer’s Website

Here are my ideas about making a writer’s site an asset to you and a resource for others to come to. It’s a bit scattered as I am leaving for Ottawa tomorrow and have some family stuff ongoing. But, I wanted to share the ideas while they were brewing around in my brain.

I think blogs are a great way to go. They take over a lot of the grunt work and are still fresh and creative. Avoid going the LiveJournal route though. Your blog should look like something you have done, not a clone from another site. Getting your own domain is a huge asset, if you can afford the cost. This will also give you an email address which does not include the words Yahoo, Hotmail or AOL.

The best thing about a blog on your website is keeping your site freshly updated and making it interactive without too much fuss on your part. You can update daily, or a few times a week. Just add an inspirational quote, a writing tip you’ve found that works, jot down a new publisher/ market you’ve found, scan a sketch or photograph you’ve come across and add it to your blog.

However, a blog doesn’t have to be the focus of your site. Make it a sidebar on your main site, a secondary page or a secondary site. It really does help to keep traffic to your site if they can expect to have something to read when they get there. Avoid link rot, stagnating pages and a bland site in general by adding a blog. Be creative, that’s what we do!

Also, blogs run on text mainly. If you are not a great graphic artist a few simple text graphics are really all you need. Look for a font you like and make a banner to head your blog. Keep the colours simple and easy to read. Add some smaller text graphics as navigation links if you have more than one page. Include a text graphic with your email address. This will foil spam bots as well as they can’t read graphics, only HTML. br /br /Check out other writer’s sites and see what they come up with. Avoid copying anything, instead make your own unique version of the idea. Turn it around to suit you and your own site.

Monitor your traffic cause it does give you a nice ego boost to see people actually coming to your site. Keep a guest book or some form of message boards available. People are more likely to leave a quickie note than send an email. Especially if they can leave a link to their own site behind, self promotion. When you get feedback, answer it as soon as possible.

You can boost your ratings/ rankings with Google by getting your site linked to on bigger sites. So email the webmasters and ask for a linkback. Explain who you are, what your site offers and always offer to link to them too.

If you go with the blog plan and turn your site into a resource of some kind (for writers, for hobbyists, or for the topic you write about) you will find it easier to get linkbacks as you are offering original content. Webmasters and directory editors want original content with simple navigation. If you create it, they will come.

Consider ways of going out to your readers, catching them at home. Send out an email to subscribers each time you update your site. Give a preview of what you ar updating with. Start a newsletter with your best content of the month/ week, depending on how much work you can put into it.

Work on the webring idea. Make yourself part of a chain of sites. When you submit your site to web directories suck as Dmoz send the listed editor an email. Be polite and courteous. Add your URL to your email signature and make a point of joining relevant email lists, forums and newsgroups. Post when you have something to add to the chat, not just to self promote. If you seem interesting people will click on your signature links. Leave comments in guestbooks too. Even if only the site owner sees your link he/ she could be a contact to cultivate. After all, you came to visit them.

Offer free content to ezines relevant to your genre. Set yourself up as an expert on your topic/ genre. Always include your byline with linkage (also known as a resource box) at the end of each article. Stage chats on your site and make sure you are there on time for however long you set the chat. Or moderate your message boards, don’t leave questions unanswered. Set up surveys, quizzes and personality test type things. People seem to be addicted to clicking those. It doesn’t have to be rocket science.

Give freebies of some sort. If you are graphically inclined offer desktop wallpaper. If you write books offer desktop wallpaper of the cover art from your latest book. Link to sites you have found useful. Either handy web gadgets for writers or something useful for people interested in your topic/ genre. Keep these links checked and eliminate/ fix link rot right away.

If you can, offer a coupon or discount on the purchase of your book. Better still, give them out to those who come to your webcasts (web chats) or subscribers of your newsletter.

If you make appearances or attend events keep a schedule available on your site too. Of course, keep it updated. You can also keep readers up to date with what you are working on. Let them know you are writing a fresh chapter, proofreading copy, mailing out an article, hearing back from that promising editor, etc. Also, write about professional organizations you are a part of, as they relate to your work. Let your site become a news portal for them. This is especially nice for hobbyists, crafty types and such. You can become their guide to what’s going on. Not so tough for you since you will already be keeping track for your writing.

Make sure you also include all your essentials for self promotion. Contact information, clips, the services you offer, and so on.

Writing is a business, not just an art. Happy webbing.

Musing with Words

Words are great. They come in a variety of styles, sizes and shapes. They don’t need to be fed and clothed or taken for walks. They won’t beg for food at your table and they never pee on the carpet. They have other ways of nagging at you, digging into your soul and making you lose sleep and even your sanity along with it. Words really are mightier than the sword. Just ask any writer staring at a blank sheet of paper or word processor screen.

Do you have a muse? I don’t. What I do seem to have is a being that takes over my body and my mind and lets me watch while she/ he creates wonderful things with words. I’m not suffering a split personality or psychic interbody takeover, or whatever. It just seems at times that I am not the one doing the writing at all. I don’t know where it comes from but I can see my fingers busily tapping away at the keyboard. I don’t think that is what a muse is.

To me a muse is an inspiration that you hope you can continue to rely on for as long as you pull words out of the air and put them neatly (or messily) in some form of print.

If I have a muse it is the words themselves. I have long had a love affair with words. I could sleep with them, roll in them and live my life learning all of them by name. My favourite words are the kind that sound like their meaning or those old English type words like bewitching, beguile and serendipity. On a college exam I used the word persnickity as a word that sounded like what it meant. It was not accepted, not that I failed but she insisted persnickity was not a word. I still don’t know. Some dictionaries have it and some don’t.

But, to me any word that more than half a dozen people know about, is a word. Its up to us to figure it out.

I Don’t Feel Like Writing

I don’t feel like writing cause my bra strap is too tight. I don’t feel like writing cause I’m not in the mood. I don’t feel like writing cause I’m too tired. I don’t feel like writing cause I don’t have anything really brilliant to say today. I don’t feel like writing cause my typing is worse than my penmanship tonight. I don’t feel like writing cause my asthma is bugging me. I don’t feel like writing, I just don’t feel like writing. Can’t I just not feel like writing?

I can always come up with reasons why I don’t feel like writing, some of them are real reasons. But, in the end, later I’ll still be trying to catch up on everything I didn’t write the night before. Time keeps passing, you can’t politely ask everything to stop for you.

What do you do to get back on track when you don’t feel like writing? Sometimes I have a shower. Going for a drive or a walk also works, weather and gas money permitting. Even just taking yourself away for the time it takes to make a fresh coffee is now and then enough to get yourself back into a writing frame of mind.

If not, maybe you need to make a list instead. Lists are a short form of writing. You don’t have to obey rules of punctuation, grammar or spelling. You just make notes for yourself. List your plot developments for fiction you’re working on. List possible spin off articles if you’re writing non-fiction. Make a list of ideas you could work on if you felt like writing.

In the process of making a list I usually find I suddenly really feel like writing again. In fact, I often start writing right on the back of my list.

Debating Yourself

Could you argue in favour of something you disagreed with? Could you take the side, against your personal beliefs, and come up with a great debate? Debating is a skill. It’s not easy to come up with strong, winning points when you don’t agree with the overall ideas. But, as a writer, that is what you have to do, sometimes.

If someone pays you to write, speech write or ghostwrite something for them, you have to do it to the best of your abilities. Once you take on a job you need to do your best with it. Your personal opinions can be useful as you will already know the reasoning behind the opposite point of view.

I think one challenge would be keeping your focus and not letting your own point of view creep in to influence the writing/ debate. It would be so easy to slip in a subtle zinger. So easy to not try to really come up with the best points and just settle for your first ideas. But, you’d be selling yourself short that way.

As a writing exercise debating against yourself is a great way to get your brain working. Could you apply this to writing fiction too? If you were stuck at a point of choice for a character, would it help to write a scene where they do the opposite to what you feel they should be doing? By writing what you don’t want them to do could you not find what you want them to do, think or feel?

Trying to be Professional

How professional are you? What impression do you make with potential editors, clients and other writers?

Last year I joined up with a well known online community (Note: When I originally wrote this I named the site. I decided not to name them in the newsletter thanks to advice from subscribers to my InkSplatters list) to write a regular column about the Internet. It took almost a year for my application to be accepted. This was mostly due to it being misplaced or forgotten. I’m still not sure what happened. Eventually, I was accepted to write the column. The editor wanted me to be especially careful with grammar and punctuation. She wanted each column to be professional.

When I wanted to go into the site and update the column, add more links and all the other stuff you do when you write a column for a website, I couldn’t access anything. I had no editor screen. I emailed asking for help. She replied that I must be doing something wrong and gave me a list of instructions. However, I still couldn’t get to any editor screen. It just wasn’t there. I emailed with a few other people at the site about the problem but got no further. Months go by and a new editor starts to head up the Internet/ Computer section of the site. He writes to ask if I’m interested in doing the column or have I forgotten it. To make a long story short, you can still see my dead end column up at that site. The spammers are making use of it.

The point to this is not bad mouthing anyone or any site, it’s showing how people can be unprofessional at all levels. You don’t have to be some newbie writer to be unprofessional. But, you should watch for it and do your best to look like you know what you’re doing and you know how to do it well.

One way to be professional is organization. If you have a few balls in the air make sure you know where they are, which one you need to catch next and when the next one is ready to be tossed. Don’t lose track of important details. I’m not good at this myself. But you can always improve. Just cause you messed up one day doesn’t mean you can’t do better the next day. We’re human and adaptable for a reason.

Another way to be professional is to learn, find out what the expected standards are and use them. Write a query letter without irrelevant personal comments. Save chit chat for friends and people who are interested in what you have to write. Don’t forget or be too timid to include your terms, your contract, along with the ideas you are submitting. Make it clear writing isn’t some hobby you do without pay. It’s more professional to present yourself as a professional, showing what you can offer and what you expect back for your work.

Are there ways you could be more professional? Read some of your past business correspondence and see how you could improve. Did you find any typos? Did you chit chat a bit too much? Was your proposal specific enough? Know what you need to fix so you can write a better query next time. Also, if you get into the habit of being professional it becomes easier and it will leak out into all the aspects of your writing career. One other plus, the more professional you are the more you will feel like a writer and less like someone trying to be a writer.

Setting Goals

We all have some goals as a writer. Whether you have written them down or just keep them somewhere in your head, they are there. Are they good goals, goals that inspire you to keep going or are you making goals into a torment for yourself? Having high goals may actually keep you from getting where you want to be. If your goals are too high you may not really think (expect) you can reach them. In that case you need to adjust your goals. Set them up as a path you can follow rather than a pinnacle you can’t reach.

These are some goal setting guidelines based on those I read in “Writing for Magazines: A Beginner’s Guide” by Cheryl Sloan Wray.

Start simple. If you are beginning your goals won’t be the same as a writer you has been published a few times and has contacts with editors/ publishers already. Simple goals are comfortable, attainable for as long as you need them.

Challenge yourself. Having simple goals doesn’t mean you won’t be working, challenging yourself to do better and try bigger. Make goals simple so you won’t give up in frustration but challenging enough to be taken seriously, worthy of working for.

Set goals that suit your personality. Don’t try to make yourself into some other writer. Make the goals work for you, your style, your routine, etc.

Be concrete and specific. Goals shouldn’t be too broad or lacking in detail. Don’t have a goal of submitting an article to the local paper. Be specific, plan an article topic and set a date for submitting it.

Share your goals with a few writer friends. Pick a few people who encourage you and let them know what you’re planning. They will help keep you on track.

Check your progress. Mark your progress somehow, keep a goal calendar to show yourself how you are making progress in keeping each of your goals. This way you can look at how far you have come when you need to keep yourself going, along to the next goal.

Stick to it. Remember you made the goals to help you become the writer you want to be. If the goals you set aren’t working for you change them, use the guidelines here to set goals that will work.

Some good goals you could try are: I will write at least a page every day. I will be ready to write by 10:00. I will submit at least 2 of my articles every month. I will challenge myself with the goal of submitting to one big publication each month.

Site Promotion and Emotion

One thing anyone reading this has in common is that we are writing online. Its a different market/ medium from print, obviously. But not always in obvious ways. The language is different. The rate at which content needs to be refreshed is much different. The problems with having content stolen are also different and more challenging. But, there is a huge audience out there, if you can lure them in. You don’t have to be a big ticket item like Woman’s Day, Cosmo or National Geographic to pull in readers. But, you do have to find a way of pulling them in.

One other difference that not a lot of writers take advantage of is self promotion. You can set yourself up as the controller of your own little empire. Add all the clips you want, promote them everywhere possible and even break into new markets by offering free content to other sites.

But, you do have to take those first steps and get yourself out there, into the community. A big part of doing that is a personal/ professional website. You really do need a place to hang your hat online, an address to send people to when they want to know more about you, see what you know and how you think. Also, of course what you have that someone else doesn’t already have.

One important thing is balancing personal and professional. Unless you have a couple of separate websites You need to make sure your website isn’t saying too much about you. There are some hobbies, collectibles, activities, political leanings you might not want to offer up right away. For me its Wicca. My sister was looking over my resume and was astonished that I had left in a reference to my BackWash column, Bewitching Vagabond. She strongly suggested I take it out. I decided she was right and I have removed it.

What about your own site? Is there anything there you need to consider a problem area? Assuming you have a site, of course.

Add a resume to your site too. Just don’t be careless about leaving your street address and phone numbers on there. Blank them out or just delete them.