Thursday, December 31, 2009

What's in Store for 2010?

As we all get ready to officially kiss 2009 goodbye (not to mention the first decade of the 21st century), it's an excellent time to start moving forward and doing some planning for 2010 if you haven't already!

For me, my goals are (in no particular order):
  • Increase marketing efforts to attract business and establish myself as a professional writer and not just someone who "likes to write"
  • Get back to writing fiction and enhance those skills
  • Finish and polish some long-forgottten essays
  • Get the hang of my new content writing gig!

What about you? What are you hoping to accomplish in the new year?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Favorite Books of 2009

Friends, I read a lot. Just look at my WeReads page on Facebook, or just ask, and I'll tell you--I read a lot. Not as much as some, but definitely more than others. I've started reading 2 books at once just to keep my list moving.

I started keeping a list of the books I read every year. While I still have to go back and add up this year's total, I would guess that it's probably at 40-50 books. Overall, I was a little disappointed with the majority of what I read this year. I like to read for escapism, and with my tight schedule, it's a letdown when I make the time to get through something and wind up disliking it.

With that in mind, I read some really great stuff this year, too. As I was going through my list, it dawned on me that most of these titles are memoirs or biographies. I don't have any particular reason for it, really--I suppose I just read more nonfiction than usual, and much of it was good!

Here's a short list of my literary highlights from 2009:

Cornflakes with John Lennon: and Other Tales from a Rock and Roll Life by Robert Hilburn. I just finished this last week and thoroughly enjoyed it. I wouldn't mind this guy's job--reviewing rock shows, discovering the "next big thing", and (best of all) interviewing some of the biggest music legends of our time. Hilburn's interviewed folks like Johnny Cash, John Lennon, Michael Jackson, Jack White from The White Stripes, Elvis Presley, and (I'm so jealous!) Bruce Springsteen and U2! Where can I get that job? Just let me meet Bruce or Bono (or both) and I'd quit the next day, no questions asked--I'm afraid I'd be too starstruck to do the piece justice, but would love the opportunity to meet either one of them! But I digress...

Between Me and the River, Living Beyond Cancer: A Memoir by Carrie Host. This powerful memoir of the strong ties between family and how it can truly conquer any odds--even a rare and often untreatable kind of cancer. I started this book with no particular expectations, but was struck by the quality of the writing and the depth of Carrie's message. Read this book and learn of the trials she overcame to merely live, and your life won't seem so bad!

My (So-Called) Freelance Life and The Anti-9-5 Guide by Michelle Goodman. Love, love, loved both of these books. Besides all of the great info they contain, Goodman's friendly, big sister-y writing style was a treat to read. She sets it straight and doesn't sugarcoat the less-than-glamorous side of self-employment, but the frank explanations were refreshingly welcome. My So-Called Freelance Life is a helpful guide for anyone thinking of ditching the daily grind and going it solo, while The Anti-9-6 Guide celebrates (and offers advice for) the self-employed, particularly those in "alternative" careers, like full-time dog walkers.

Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult. I love anything she writes, so her titles are usually on my "best of" lists by default. Always tackling difficult subjects, this time Picoult focuses on a family struggling to raise a young daughter with a rare bone disease. Her bones are so brittle, they break at the slightest bump, fall, or sneeze. She has a knack for pulling readers right into the story--this one is no exception.

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman. A much different storyline from Jodi Picoult's, but no less compelling. Undress Me is Gilman's memoir from her time in Communist China with her best friend following their graduation from college. Besides the usual cultural barriers, Gilman and her friend have the added strain of mental illness. An interesting, compelling read.

On the list for 2010--

No More Mondays by Dan Miller.

Job Hopper: The Checkered Career of a Down Market Dilettante by Ayun Halliday.

The Other Queen by Phillippa Gregory.

The Crowning Glory of Calla Lilly Ponder by Rebecca Wells.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Since I rushed through Thanksgiving without taking any sort of time to list the many things I'm thankful for this year, I thought it appropriate to make that list now, just in time for Christmas.

I really do have more things than usual to be thankful for this Christmas. Here are a few of the major ones:

*A solid relationship with a wonderful, funny, and truly Renaissance man

*My family's health is holding steady

*I made some great strides in my writing goals this past year, and have very high hopes for 2010

*I finally reached my longtime goal of teaching at the college level. Although it wasn't easy, I'm a better person because of it.

*I've gotten to know some local creatives--both writers and non-writers--in the past few months and look forward to developing those friendships this year

Whatever you're celebrating, be safe!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Planning a Writer's Conference 101

My writer's group is gearing up for our first large-scale event--a 1-day conference scheduled for April 2010. Our group has been around since 2007, and we've finally picked up enough momentum to even attempt something like this.

I've worked on enough events to have a pretty good idea of how the day should flow, but there's always those little details that slip through the cracks, no matter how organized or prepared you think you are. But I'm listing some of the key points to keep in mind when planning a major event:

Know your limits. We don't have the resources (manpower or financial) to pull off something huge, so we're starting with a 1-day event. We're hoping that what we might lack in quantity, we'll make up for in quality. Rather than hold our conference at a huge conference center or hotel, we're keeping it on the smaller side with a more intimate feel and holding it at our local arts council.

Be organized! We started holding monthly meetings to discuss the day's logistics and details. So far we have the location and most of the speakers confirmed. Luckily, our group's treasurer is super organized--I had a fairly good list of initial tasks we'd need to accomplish, and she more than picked up what I'd missed. Lists, lists, more lists and timelines are a huge factor in the success of an event. Try to predict (and plan for) any foreseeable conflict, and especially those you may not see coming! Have a plan in place to troubleshoot for any dilemma that might pop up. Delegate tasks to your volunteers and be sure to communicate with them often.

Have a catchy name. Marketing is key, especially for your first event. After our last meeting, our homework was to come up with a list of possible event names. Though I can't share my list here, the key is to draw in your target audience. Our goal is to bring in writers from all genres, so we can't be too elitist in our title, yet we want something with a "hook" that will attract people's attention. A local city called their book festival Pages and Places, using the book angle to draw crowds to their downtown, while a neighboring writer's group's conference is called The Write Stuff.

Listen to member feedback. We sent out an informal survey to our members, asking them for what sorts of topics they'd be interested in for our conference. Not surprisingly, "getting published" and "overcoming writer's block" were our top winners, so we're including breakout sessions for both topics into the day's schedule. We're also holding genre-specific sessions but allowing the speakers to determine the content--we gave them the general topic but trust them to do the rest!

Schedule dynamic, organized (yet flexible!) speakers. We asked some of the more outstanding speakers that have presented to our group over the past year to lead the breakout sessions.

Think about the takeaway and other incentives for attendees. What would appeal to you if you were a mere attendee? Freebies, writing contests, agent/editor meetings, critique groups, book fairs? It may not be logistically possible to have all of these things for your first time out, but determine what's possible and then assign the task to someone on your committee. Think about what you hope the attendees get out of the event. If this is your first time out, focus on offering one or two "extras" rather than breaking your budgets or manpower by trying to do them all. Even the most established writing conference is constantly being tweaked and developed to better serve their writers. Give yourself some credit--you're pulling off your first major event! Be proud!

What do you look for in a good writer's conference?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Guest Post: Does Your Holiday "To-Do" List Include a Query?

by Priscilla Y. Huff

As you cross off the items on your holiday “to-do” list of shopping, baking, and other related tasks, was “sending out a query” also checked-off? According to publishing insiders, the November-December holidays; and the summer vacation months are two of the best times of the year to approach editors about an article idea or a book proposal. The reason is obvious: writers are occupied with celebration preparations and/or traveling during these months, while editors are often left scrambling for new content ideas.

There is still time to send a query before the year’s end, but do not do it too hastily that you forget to include the query basics in your letters or e-mails:

*Attention-grabbing opening – “The Hook”

*Article summary details – “The Pitch”

*Why your article/book would interest the editor’s readers? - “The Reason”

*Why you are qualified and/or the best person to write this piece/book? - “Credentials”

If you really do not have the time now to write a well-written query, keep a paper and pen handy while wrapping presents to jot down proposal ideas for the New Year; and, of course, be thinking of queries for next year’s summer and holiday months.

Happy Holidays! Happy Writing!

Suggested Resources:

*E-book: QUERY LETTERS THAT WORKED! Real Queries That Landed $2K+ Writing Assignments by Angela Hoy,

*Print book: The Writers Digest Guide To Query Letters by Wendy Burt-Thomas

*Article: “How to Write a Successful Query by Moira Allen
Flickr photo by One Pretty Thing

Monday, December 14, 2009

Balancing Writing and a Day Job

A few writers are lucky to work at the craft whenever they want. For the rest of us who haven't been able to make the leap yet, we first have to put our time in at an outside job before we can come home and get back to our real work. Time management is important to any effective writer, but for those of us who have limited hours to spend pounding the keys, it's even more crucial.

This semester I had the added weight of my teaching gig, which was a real challenge. I had to hit the ground running since I was offered the job on a Friday afternoon and would start the following Tuesday! I had no idea what I was doing, and tried my best to keep up, but I had many late nights over the last few months where I wondered what I'd gotten myself into and when would I ever have time to get back to writing?!?

But I made it, which just goes to show that it does pay to be organized. Here's how I've been able to juggle everything--my methods may not work for everyone, but maybe they'll give you some ideas of how to manage:

Make the most of any, and I mean any, spare time. I'm talking nights, weekends, early mornings, and yes, even downtimes at work (or if you're totally swamped the entire day, use your lunch break wisely!) And don't forget days off (yes, that might even mean a holiday now and then.) That's time that you could be spending researching, querying, or doing some actual writing. Even if you only get to email that query, it still counts as productivity. (Obviously, never use your work email address for writing-related business, but you knew that already.) Early weekend mornings are my prime writing time, followed by weeknights. But really, I squeeze in some writing time whenever possible. I prefer a solid chunk of time to get bigger assignments finished, but will make the most of whatever time I can get.

Make friends with your to-do list. If you don't have a to-do list (and I don't know many writers who don't), it's time you started one. Or two. The list might seem a trifle overwhelming, but as most time management experts will tell you, start with the smaller, less time-consuming tasks and work your way up to the more demanding projects. Also, invest in a good planner. Or two. I can't seem to have enough calendars. I carry a "master" planner in my purse with all of my commitments listed, but decided to get a second one just for my writing-related activities.

Cut back if necessary. I had to scale waaaay back on my querying and didn't pursue many projects besides my regular monthly columns. Between my new teaching gig and the full-time job, I have to admit my writing projects took a backseat over these past few months. In a way I was glad that so many editors were slow to respond--it gave me the chance to focus on the other things. I have a few assignments on my plate over the next few months, but can see it slowing down again once the spring semester starts.

Conduct interviews via email whenever possible. There seem to be writers who are very pro-email interviews, and the others who are staunchly anti-email. I do prefer the face-to-face interviews whenever possible so I can capture the sense of a place or a personality, but sometimes in-person meetings just aren't possible. One of my favorite assignments from the past year was a straight-up interview with an author and forensic psychologist. The editor encouraged email communication, and she was only too happy to "talk" over email, as well. All I had to do was add some transition material so it sounded like more of an actual conversation and spice up my intro, and boom! A finished piece. I also try to schedule phone interviews with folks as late in the day as possible (some are OK with evenings; others, not) or, better yet, in another time zone so I can call them at my convenience.

Don't be so hard on yourself. I hated to cut back on finding new assignments (especially now that I've gotten better at actively seeking markets and finding new story ideas!), but there came a point where I simply had no choice. I was swamped between my various projects, my job, and still trying to have some semblance of a real life--besides wanting to spend the very needed "quality time" with my boyfriend, that laundry won't do itself, nor will those bills get paid on their own! So I had to let the writing projects slide for awhile until I could get back to them. You just have to set priorities and get as much work done as you can without sacrificing the other parts of your life.

What other tips would you share with part-time freelancers?

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Writer's Emotional Education

A recent op/ed piece by New York Times columnist David Brooks struck a chord with me. In the piece, Brooks talks at length about the "emotional education" he received from none other than one of my favorite musicians, Bruce Springsteen. (Read the piece here). To me, Brooks perfectly summarized the feelings of all Springsteen fans.

Beyond that, though, Brooks' piece is just one example of an artist's job--to inspire an emotional connection to our work. Sure, it's easier to do that with music than perhaps other genres, but despite the medium--music, painting, books--the end goal is the same. Another part of our job is to give our audiences a glimpse into what could be, and that's not something to be taken lightly. I think it's been easy for Springsteen fans to connect with his lyrics in particular because he gives some light and hope to the underdog--we may not be a laid off mill worker or a teen mother or someone from the wrong side of the tracks, but through his words and imagery, we're able to better understand these folks a bit. For me, I became a Bruce fan during a particularly difficult time in my life. I started listening to his song "Better Days" over and over again, and for some reason the lyrics just clicked with me--he'd put my feelings right into words, saying it far better than I possibly could at the time. It seemed to sum up my experience at the time, and I thought that someone, even a fabulously wealthy rock star celebrity, had bad days once in awhile, and it gave me a little bit of hope.

What artistic works have had a particularly strong effect on you?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Goodbye, Waldenbooks

I don't get angry that easily, but the news that the last 2 remaining bookstores in my area are closing did NOT sit well with me (a third closed earlier this year). I guess for all of the money that I've spent in each of the 3 stores over the years, it just wasn't enough to sustain them.

I absolutely love bookstores for many reasons. Besides the obvious--browsing through the shelves and checking out the latest best-sellers or finding a new, "must-read" author--they have become a bit of a sanctuary for me. I find it soothing, somehow, to be surrounded by all of those ideas and information. It makes me feel small and anonymous, which is relaxing sometimes. Call it a religious experience if you'd like--all I know is that wandering through a bookstore brings me a tremendous sense of peace.

The 3 to close are part of a chain, which is part of the problem--chain stores need to reach certain sales goals and apparently these stores just weren't cutting it. There are a few "big box" stores about an hour's drive from me, and I admit that I enjoy the variety and availability that those stores have. But for my little community and my voracious habit (but schedule that prevents me from getting to all of the books that I have to read more than I'd like), what we had here was just fine. I posted something about the store closings on Facebook and a few of my friends had similar reactions. Although we aren't exactly a bustling metropolis, we do have some culture, but literary offerings come up short, so it was good to have something locally.

I also love the good old-fashioned independent bookstores, though they're even harder to come by where I live. I've always had this secret goal to open my own little funky independent store, just because there are so many more things you can do with that type of place than you can with a chain. My absolutely favorite bookstore is an independent; again, a good distance away, unfortunately, though I get there as often as I can. It's the oldest bookstore in the country and has loads of charm and history to boot.

I'm very sad about this. Although I've become a loyal customer, there's just nothing like spending countless hours searching through the shelves in a real live store. As my friend said on her blog--"You shop online for books you want; you browse bookstores for something you didn't even know you wanted." I think that sums it up perfectly.

Has the recent economic slump impacted any of your favorite book outlets?
Flickr image by brewbooks

Monday, December 7, 2009

My apologies...

Forgive me, friends. Fine blogger I am--I no sooner get into the regular rhythm of posting and life interrupts, causing everything to go by the wayside a bit!

I am very happy to report that I'm in my last week of my first semester of teaching. I'm also happy to report that I've been given a second chance and have been rehired to teach the same class in the spring. Suffice it to say that I'll be much better prepared the next time around, and am already working on new ideas and trying to plan my syllabus! My hat's off to anyone in the teaching profession--the last 15 weeks have been an invaluable learning experience!

I've also lined up more work, which is very exciting because things have been eerily quiet in the last few weeks/months. The word is that print media is on its last legs, yet 2 of the pieces I've just been given are for print pubs. I'm also exploring a few other genres, which is sure to be a welcome challenge. I'm hearing that quite a few writers are shifting their focus from magazine features to other avenues, and it looks as though I'll be doing the same. I'm simply too impatient for all of the follow-up--I certainly don't want to come across as annoying, and I'm afraid that's what will happen, so I just have to keep myself in check with that!

With this semester rapidly coming to a close, I should have much more time to post a bit more frequently. Thanks to those who've continued to check in--fresh material is coming soon!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Endless Benefits of Journaling

My friend Jodi passed on some info about author B. Lynn Goodman, who writes at length about the importance of journaling in her book You Want Me to Do What? Journaling for Caregivers.

The book is based on Goodman's own experience as a caregiver for her mother and how she fell into the daily practice of journaling. The book includes over 200 prompts for readers to follow her lead and start the practice, as well.

The daily practice of journaling is invaluable for writers. Whether you jot down a few lines or observations about your trip to the mall, or have a set time for your journaling every day, just the practice of getting words down on a page regularly helps you establish self-discipline and can get you into the "flow" of writing regularly.

Below are a few tips for getting started with journaling:

First rule--there are no rules! Your journal is really what you make it. If you're a list maker, use your journal to jot things down. I suppose you can call my little notebook my "journal"--I have a little orange notebook that I keep in my purse. I write down article ideas and possible markets for them, lists in varying stages, reminders, quotes, book name it.

You don't need a "pretty" journal. Plenty of folks give me those pretty, leather-bound journals as gifts, but I'm embarrassed to say that I prefer a regular old spiral-bound notebook. Out of all of the journals I've kept over the years, I've never been one for the fancy books that almost look too pretty to write in. I taught a workshop about journaling over the summer, and a few other writers and I came to the same conclusion--you can rip out the spiral-bound seems like a crime to rip a page out of one of those nice books.

Don't hold back. Your journal is for you. Remember those diaries back in high school? This is the same idea. Don't be afraid to get your thoughts, fears, hopes, and dreams down on paper. Don't worry about grammar or sentence structure or any of that technical stuff--just write. As much as you can, as often as you can.

Be observant. Pay attention to the world around you. Jot down quirky or interesting phrases that you hear or physical traits that you notice as you people-watch. That information just might be useful later.

What about you? Is journaling part of your regular routine? Any other tips for those new to the practice?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Guest Post: Literary Agent: Yes or No?

by Priscilla Y. Huff

A recent article in “Galley Cat,” e-zine of debated whether authors will need agents any more, now that they can upload their manuscripts to various services and sell them directly to readers ( My own experience is that I have had one agent. She was professional and negotiated a new revision for one of my books; and contract for a new book. When I decided to venture into different areas of writing, though, I chose to approach publishers on my own. I am fortunate that I also have an excellent lawyer who has advised me on the content of several writing project contracts. My published writer-friends do and do not have agents and each has his/her own opinion on the subject. You will have to conduct your own research and decide whether or not to seek an agent to represent your work. As to what to expect from an agent:

Agents will expect authors to know what types of manuscripts they represent (See “Suggested Resource"). Find out before you contact an agent if they handle your genre of writing.

Agents are the mediators between publishers and editors and you like to stay on good terms with both parties; so the agent will do her best to see that each side is satisfied. She is not going to alienate them with antagonistic tactics on your behalf, because she wants to maintain a good rapport with those in her industry.

Do not expect frequent updates from agents. Some stay better-connected with their authors than others; but most are occupied with additional writers and reading manuscripts from new clients and other business matters. They will contact you when they have or want information.

Having an agent is not a guarantee that she will find you a publisher. If your manuscript has not sold in a year or so she may no longer want to search for a buyer for it. Then it’s back to you to decide to approach another agent or to market it on your own.

Agents are not publicists. They search for publishers and negotiate contracts, but it is your responsibility to create your book’s marketing plan. Competition is fierce for paying readers. As you write your book, you should also be planning talks, workshops, a web site, and other promotional tactics to sell your book’s copies. This also increases your chances of receiving a book contract when a publisher knows you, the author, will actively help promote it. No matter how good an agent is, she still has to have quality work to sell. Hone your writing skills to produce the best writing you can do and that will gratify your readers. If you do that, your book will practically sell itself with the “buzz” of excited readers’ word-of-mouth referrals.

**Based on the article “What Your Literary Agent Won’t Do” by Fern Reiss, CEO of ( and (; and author of The Publishing Game: Find an Agent in 30 Days, The Publishing Game: Bestseller in 30 Days, and The Publishing Game: Publish a Book in 30 Days as well as several other award-winning books.

Additional Suggested Resource: Jeff Herman's Guide To Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents 2009 (19th Edition)

Who They Are! What They Want! How To Win Them Over! by Jeff Herman

Monday, November 23, 2009

Musings on Turning 30

I turn 30 today!

I've been a little down in the dumps over the past few weeks as today approached. I've been telling friends that I'd hoped to have more to show for my life by now, but really? Good things take time. I'm hoping to have a big announcement shortly after the new year, and I'm very excited about it!

I truly feel that this will be my decade; at the very least, my year. I'm a big believer in working hard, but sometimes you have to make your own luck and opportunities, too, so it's time to put some of that into practice.

The best is yet to come! Happy Birthday to me!

Image by Google Images

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Opportunity Doesn't Always Knock

...sometimes you have to go after it.

I say this because, although I don't consider myself to be an aggressive person normally, I'm pretty persistent when it comes to writing projects. Being more assertive (rather than aggressive, which often has a negative perception) is something I always seem to be working on, but there are times when even I surprise myself at my nerve.

I'm quickly finding that you have to have some level of nerve and persistence when it comes to the freelance writing game. You simply won't survive if you don't put yourself out there, at least somewhat. It'll be ten times harder to land good opportunities if you take the passive/aggressive approach, so sometimes you just have to put your fears of being annoying/pushy aside and speak up. The old saying goes "You'll never know if you don't ask", and I've definitely found that to be true.

I've had three recent instances where I went after the opportunity, rather than wait around for something to fall into my lap. Over the summer I approached the editor of my local paper with an idea for a weekly column. I've been a stringer for them for about two years, so he was familiar with my work and my writing style, so it wasn't a hard sell. I still had to persuade him to give up some white space, though. I approached another editor of a monthly e-newsletter about freelance opportunities. He had an encouraging response, saying that there is a definite lack of stories from my area (the e-newsletter covers business stories statewide and has an extensive distribution list). And my third outreach effort just happened yesterday. The responses from editors aren't moving nearly fast enough for me, so I decided it's time to mobilize my marketing efforts for my copywriting services. I emailed the owner of a new business near my 9-5 job, briefly listed the services I feel comfortable offering at this point, and hoped for the best. I was sure it would go right to spam or be deleted instantly, but she responded within 5 minutes--now that's what I call results! She invited me to stop in, saying she's always looking for writers. I'm hoping this will lead to a positive working relationship.

There are plenty of opportunities out there--you just need to be patient enough, persistent enough, and yes, sometimes I think a little kooky enough, to go after them.

What writing opportunities have you pursued, even if it seemed hopeless at first? What was your result?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

5 More Favorite Movies About Writing and Writers

I wrote a post awhile back about my Top 5 Favorite Movies About Writing and Writers. Since then, I've been much more attuned to just how many movies seem to focus on writing and/or writers in some way. Here's a "P.S." to my last post:

Something's Gotta Give. Diane Keaton plays Erica Barry, a slighty neurotic, control-freak-y independent woman who happens to be an extremely successful playwright. She's battling a case of writer's block when she meets Harry Sanborn (the endlessly brilliant Jack Nicholson), a music mogul and bona fide ladies' man who finds himself a reluctant long-term guest at Erica's beach house. Their first awkward encounter (did I mention that Harry is dating Erica's much, much younger daughter, played by Amanda Peet)? turns out to be the spark that Erica needed to complete her latest show-stopper. Inspiration can come from the most unlikely situations.

Finding Neverland. This is a personal favorite because it stars my two favorite actors, Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet. The film tells the story of how writer J.M. Barrie became friends with the Davies family, and how his relationship with the boys inspired his best-known work, Peter Pan.

Secret Window. I'll look for any reason to mention Johnny Depp, but this film deserves a particular mention. I thought this role was an interesting choice, even for Depp, who prides himself on his quirky, challenging film roles. Depp plays Mort Rainey, a fairly successful writer who is hard at work on his next novel. He is visited by a strange man, played by John Turturro, who accuses Rainey of plagiarism. Based on Stephen King's short story.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. Who says you can't make a living from writing? Julianne Moore (another one of my favorite actors) plays Evelyn Ryan, a plucky housewife in the 1950's who supports her 10 children almost exclusively on her winnings from writing commercial jingles. Her husband, played by Woody Harrelson, comes to resent her success, but in the end, Mrs. Ryan defies the odds and does what she has to do for her children. Based on a true story.

Stand by Me. I could have easily made a list made up entirely of Stephen King movies (he does seem to use writers as the protagonist quite a bit, doesn't he?), so I tried to keep them to a minimum. Stand By Me is one of my favorites of any genre, but the fact that it's about a writer doesn't fully hit you until the end. In case you aren't familiar with this movie (which is probably about 10 people in the world), it's a touching coming-of-age story set in the late 1950's. The incredible cast of River Phoenix, Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman, Jerry O'Connell, and Kiefer Sutherland make this film what it is. Four friends (Phoenix, Wheaton, Feldman, and O'Connell) go for one last camping trip before school starts, but with a twist--this time, they set out to find the body of a young boy who'd disappeared. Wheaton plays Gordie, the future writer and sensitive soul of the group. Classic. Enough said.

Are there any that I missed that you feel should be added? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

What's Your Query Output?

I'm always interested in learning more about the opportunities available to freelancers and what my freelance friends are currently working on. Most of my focus has been on writing for print magazines, newspapers, and e-zines, though I know the average project load for any freelancer can vary wildly from one person to the next.

For those of you who also focus primarily on the magazine/e-zine world, I'm curious to know how many queries you typically send out, and how quickly the editors respond. This year has been quite a banner year for me, query-wise. To date, I sent out over 50, with about 10 acceptances. Most of them seem to have gone into a black hole that no amount of email follow-ups have been able to save.

I've followed the advice and formula of other freelancers and followed up after 2-4 weeks, with mixed results. So far, I've only scored one assignment this way--the rest of the editors have either said "Drop me a line in [given time frame]", which is encouraging because it's not a rejection, but the majority have been frustratingly silent.

I have ebbs and flows as far as query submissions. I hit my stride over the summer, then hit the ground running with teaching and literally had no time to think about anything else, let alone put together some pitches, and now I seem to be back on a hot streak again--I've sent out about 5-6 in the past two weeks. Of course, I'm sure it would be a different story if I was a full-timer and most of my livelihood depended on it, but I was pleasantly surprised with my productivity this year.

What's your average query output? Do you churn them out regularly, or work in fits and starts as I seem to be doing?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Back to Writing Basics

My first semester of teaching College English is rapidly coming to a close--it seemed light years away back in August! I have to admit, I'll be breathing a sigh of relief once finals week rolls around--to say teaching has been a challenge is pretty much the understatement of the century.

I've been met with resistance every step of the way, so much of these students' English experience has been writing. They aren't big on class discussions, so I turn them over to the old reliable PC and let them loose.

I feel bad for many of them. This is the first experience many of them are having with the tight, constricted world of academic writing--so many rules! That damned MLA format! Why do I have to cite it this way? When/where/how should I quote directly from the source? It really is enough to make you want to blow your brains out (figuratively, of course).

They're not to the point where language is flexible, even fun. I've written more than my share (and probably many other people's) share of research papers in my day, so I can churn out 10-12 pages of the most beautiful nonsense you've ever read. Well, maybe it's not nonsense, but it's definitely not something I'd choose to sit down and compose on my own. But anyway, I can cite sources, breeze through the Works Cited page, and summarize my sources til the cows come home. They're stuck at the stage where thumbscrews would be better. I remember those days. I really disliked Language Arts and conquering all of those pesky grammar rules. I always realized they were necessary, but that didn't mean I liked them. Now I'm getting a refresher course in all of that thanks to my teaching experience. I still don't like it any better, but I definitely have a new appreciation for the basics.

I can't see many of them turning to writing for fun (or profit), but I hope I can help them appreciate the written word and tighten up their own writing skills for whatever they do next.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Guest Post: Will These Books Really Help Me Get that Book Deal? by Priscilla Y. Huff

I was writing this spring and listening to NPR’s “All Things Considered,” when I heard a piece by Sarah Pekkanen who credited three, how-to writing books that did indeed help her get her first book contract. Most writers have read numerous writers’ magazines and how-to writing books, but Pekkanen’s piece piqued my interest in that I have been writing a couple of children’s fiction books over the past several months and have found it more difficult than the non-fiction business writing I usually do. Going a completely different direction in my writing career has been a bit daunting, so I ordered the three books Pekkanen recommended:

On Writing, by Stephen King. I read this one first and loved how Stephen King described how he started his writing career. The second half of the book provides his frank comments about what makes a good novel. It was also interesting to me to read how many words a day King recommends a writer should write a day (1,000…six days a week).

Plot & Structure, by James Scott Bell. I like the structure (or not, if you choose) Bell provides you to construct a novel. I made many notes, and am already using his “LOCK system”: “Lead, Objective, Confrontation, and Knock-Out Ending,” and am sure I will keep his book handy to review his tips as I continue to write my fiction books.

Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass. I have not read this book yet, but am looking forward to it as Pekkanen commented about it, “Maass wants me to bring it (conflict) to every page.” When you think about it, conflict is present in some form of our lives on a daily basis, and how we deal with these conflicts are indicative of who we are and how we live our lives. If we want believable characters, then they too will have to overcome (or be overcome) each story’s conflicts.There are many other excellent books, CDs, and web sites that provide writers with information about how to write and be better writers; but I’ll finish reading these three books first. I’ll let you know if their authors’ advice helps land me a book contract, too.

Happy Writing!

Source: “Get That Book Deal: Three Books Tell You How” by Sarah Pekkanen

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Blogs I'm Loving

A few fellow bloggers have been nice enough to either mention my little spot in cyberspace as a blog worth reading, or they've been gracious enough to provide me with the opportunity to write a guest post for them. So I think it's only fair that I put together a short list of those blogs that I make a point to read regularly, and I think you should, too:

The Urban Muse. I started reading this blog earlier this year, and it's now on my daily "to do" list. This is one of the most helpful blogs that I've seen, especially for those fledgling scribes like myself. The author, Susan Johnston, offers some great tips and insight into the writing world. She also has a free monthly e-newsletter (titled, appropriately, The Urban Museletter) that readers can sign up to receive. It's full of Rockin' Freelance Resources, updates on her writing projects, and other fun info.

The Writer Today. Writer Ana Rios regularly features guest bloggers talking about anything and everything writing-related. Her blog is a nice mix of information from all genres, so no matter what you write, you can find some helpful information here. Thursday offers practical, straightforward tips and words of wisdom on the business side of freelance writing. During the month of July she ran a "Market Your Writing in 31 Days" series of posts, which she's since turned into an ebook.

Freelance Switch. This site should be called a freelance extravaganza, since this site lists literally anything and everything related to the freelance life. The site is not just for writers--the articles and blog posts are for web designers, photographers, graphic artists, and virtually any type of freelance professional imaginable. As an added reason to check out FS, some of the bloggers I've listed here are regular contributors. I've barely scratched the surface of all of the information available on the site.

Hell or High Water Writer. Must give credit where it's due--I learned about this site from reading The Urban Muse. Dublin, Ireland-based writer Beth Morrissey posts great info about the craft of writing, and also regularly posts calls for anthology submissions, writing contests, and other markets for various genres.

Anti-9-5 Guide. I'm currently reading (and loving) Michelle Goodman's latest book, My So-Called Freelance Life, but it's her first book, The Anti-9-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube, that inspired the blog's title. Michelle offers some kick-ass advice about both freelancing and pursuing alternative careers, no matter what your interest. I love her straightforward and conversational writing style. It gives me a boost of confidence, like maybe there is something to this crazy freelance writing life after all. I kinda think she's one of my new heroes.

Now it's your turn--which writing-related blogs should we be reading?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Author Q&A with Sara Morgan

I'm very excited to speak with Sara Morgan (just love the name!), author and former member of the corporate rat race who gave it all up four years ago in order to pursue her own dreams. Although she says that the road was difficult, she wouldn't trade it for the world. She says that her latest book, No Limits: How I Escaped the Clutches of Corporate America To Live the Self-Employed Life of My Dreams is not a "how to get rich quick story" It is a "how do I maximize my potential and feel satisfied and happy with what I am doing in life" story that is sure to kickstart anyone who isn't quite "there" yet. Sara was nice enough to answer a few questions about writing and living one's passion.

AITWL: Sara, you’ve done what so many of us hope to do one day—leave the corporate world behind and become your own boss! What made you take the leap?
SM: Well, my jump was not exactly planned. In fact, I ended up quitting my high-paying corporate job as a web developer without having another job or a significant savings lined up. While that did make things a tad difficult at first, I still do not regret doing it and think it was the best thing I ever did for myself. I am now living an authentic and purposeful life and I leap out of bed every day to get to it.

AITWL: Why don’t more of us take the risk and follow our passions?

SM: Fear of the unknown, plain and simple. While some fears are good (like a fear of snakes), most of our fears are wrapped up in other emotions, like insecurity, and they are just holding us back. The funny thing is that the person that will hurt you most in life is you. I am trying to encourage people to get out of their own way and start living the life they deserve.

AITWL: Switching gears a bit, how did your book No Limits come about? What was your writing process like?

SM: Well, this was not my first book. I had written and published six other technical books with traditional publishers. While I liked doing that, I preferred writing this book, since I think it will appeal to more people and can potentially help them live better lives. Writing this book was very easy and I was able to do it in less than 3 months. Of course, it was easy because I was writing about something I knew a lot about - my life and the life of someone that is self-employed.

AITWL: Since this blog is geared toward writing and writers, what advice can you offer to those of us who may be thinking about pursuing writing full-time?

SM: Write about what you know and write as often as possible. Like everything you do in life, the more you do it, the faster and better you will become. You also need to get a thick skin and accept criticism as a good thing and something that will make you grow as a writer. I have seen too many writers get defensive about editors comments and I don’t think they are doing themselves any favors. Just accept the criticism as potentially useful feedback and don’t take it personally.

AITWL: What other project(s) do you have in the works?

SM: Unfortunately, getting the word out about this book has been harder than I thought. Even though every reviewer that has read the book loves it (I mean, they really, really love it), no one is buying the book yet. I know this stuff just takes time and so I am being patient. In the mean time, I have to start paying the bills since for the past 6 months I have been doing this (writing and promoting the book full time). This means that money has been going out, but not coming in. I cannot do that forever.

So, I am now starting a new business as an independent garden consultant for The Happy Gardener. I found out about the company when I interviewed the owner for the No Limits book. I was so impressed with what the company is doing for the environment that I no longer want to be a web developer. I now want to do my part to make the planet a better place and I think The Happy Gardener is one company that can do that. It feels good doing the right thing. Oh, and if anyone wants a catalog, email me at Their stuff is all organically-based and chemical free.

Thanks, Sara!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Do You Know NaNo?

For those of you prolific writers out there, don't forget that NaNoWriMo is just around the corner!

November is National Novel Writing Month. NaNo poses the writerly challenge of producing 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. Last year was my first time as a participant, and although I didn't quite make my goal (a small thing called "paying assignments" took top priority), it was a great exercise in productivity and self-discipline!

Though I have an idea for this year's NaNo, I haven't decided if I want to put myself through the paces this year. Everything has sort of been put on the back burner with this teaching gig--which I still find challenging, but I think I'm learning to take back some control--and I haven't had time for much else since the end of August!

But for those of you who are debating, I highly recommend giving NaNo a try. It helps to get you on a regular, daily writing schedule and who knows? You might just keep going and finish that long-stagnant masterpiece!

Want to learn more about NaNo? Visit

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Author Q&A With Carrie Host

I recently had the great pleasure of reading and reviewing Carrie Host's memoir, Between Me and the River: Living Beyond Cancer, for a site that I contribute to every few months. Her story is an amazing account of how the power of love and positive thinking can help anyone through the worst possible ordeals. Carrie agreed to do the first author interview for Adventures in the Writing Life, and was nice enough to answer a few of the many questions I had for her:

AITWL: You talk about a lot of deeply personal experiences in your book. What was the writing process like for you?

CH: I love writing as a fish loves water. I don’t know more than while I am swimming I am free of all thought and burden. I belong there in that water. Also, I am breathing and seeing like never before. Writing is less like a project, but more like a part of what I must do to be who I am.
While I was writing this book however I had unique moments where I knew that what I was capturing was going to deliver deep emotional rescue to the reader. I was healed in the process of trying to be there in my pages for each person who would eventually hold my book.

AITWL: In your book, you talked at length about how writing short stories with happy endings in your head helped you get through your illness. Did you keep a journal throughout your treatment and recovery?

CH: No. I did not keep a journal. Never have. Well, that’s a lie. I did keep one single journal and that was as a seventeen year-old, as part of a required piece of an “Outward Bound” experience in the Mexican Desert, the Sonoran Desert to be precise. We did what was called a “Solo” where we spent three days and two nights alone, with a sleeping bag, a book of matches (very generous) and three quarts of water. No tent. No lie. Anyway, I still have that journal. I wrote about the non-stop flies that attacked me endlessly and the piece of cherry pie I couldn’t wait to eat when I returned to civilization.

That said, isn’t it curious that I can tell you what I wrote in that journal some thirty years ago? That answers the memory piece of this. I have an excruciatingly accurate memory. I think the nuns slapped that into me.

AITWL: What was the most challenging part of writing a memoir? What was the easiest?

CH: Letting go of the idea that my description of someone might hurt their feelings, was the most challenging. I knew that I was revealing the personalities of others which is a little bit like talking behind someone’s back, but on a microphone. I got over it. Especially when that person would read something where they were featured and say, “Well you nailed me there.”
“Sorry.” I always answer with a smile.
The easiest part was the pure joy of writing itself.

AITWL: I can imagine that your book has helped a number of cancer patients, families, and medical professionals as they go through their own challenges. What kind of response have you gotten?

CH: I have gotten the most incredible responses from all of the above. I have cried as I have read some of the individual letters. I can only say that it is one thing to write a book it is entirely another to read a letter from a mother in New Jersey, saying that my book “saved her 35 year-old daughters’ life.” That is beyond any “review” that I will ever garner for my work. It doesn’t get more profound than that. She was serious. Her daughter has the same cancer as I have and was struggling with depression and wanting to give up. Then she read my book. What?
So I cried.

AITWL: How is your health these days?

CH: Very good, I think. See? I always have to have a question in my own mind after I answer that. But I continue to have a monthly treatment for which I am grateful. Three tumors on my lung. More than I feel like counting on my liver. But I love living life so I guess I’m hard to kill, try as the cancer might.

AITWL: Writing-wise, what’s next for you?

CH: I am planning to do some magazine writing of the essay nature and also travel related. But I definitely have some book ideas. What writer doesn’t? Also, I secretly desire to co-write a screen-play. I’ll need some screen-play writing workshops under my belt for that. See, I am always finding excuses to continue to learn a new angle of the craft, mainly because it can be quite entertaining to be around a bunch of other writers. We are all slightly insane. At least we speak the same language.

Many thanks, Carrie! Learn more about Carrie Host at

Author photo by Sue Drinker

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

WOW Blogging Buddy: Family Ties

Today I'm participating in a mass blogging! WOW! Women on Writing has gathered a group of blogging buddies to write about family relationships. Why family relationships? We're celebrating the release of Therese Walsh's debut novel today. The Last Will of Moira Leahy (Random House, October 13, 2009) is about a mysterious journey that helps a woman learn more about herself and her twin, whom she lost they were teenagers. Visit the Muffin to read what Therese has to say about family relationships and view the list of all my blogging buddies. And make sure you visit to find out more about the author.

Every family faces their own unique challenges. Some have a family member battling addiction. Others have members with fidelity issues, financial issues, and the like.

With my family, it's health issues.

My family has been touched by two illnesses in particular. My mother and a cousin have suffered with multiple sclerosis for well over 20 years; my great-grandmother and now my grandmother were both diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. As my mother has lived with MS for most of my life, I've come to accept her condition as my "normal", though she has deteriorated steadily over the past two decades. Her condition has prevented her from participating in many of the "milestones" throughout my childhood and adolescence--her last venture out of the house was to attend my high school graduation in 1998. She has been living in a long-term care facility for the past 7 years.

In that time, the rest of us have watched my once vibrant, active, Superwoman of a grandmother revert back to childhood, and I'm not exaggerating by much. The faces of her grandchildren are vaguely familiar, though our names have been long forgotten. Now she needs to be coaxed through the regular activities that most of us don't give a thought to--things like getting dressed (in matching clothes), brushing teeth, and household chores. As my mother's health declined, my grandmother filled in for many of the things that my mother wasn't physically able to do. Seeing my grandmother's memory and comprehension skills disintegrate in front of us has not been easy.

As I watch both my mother and my grandmother live their lives as best they can in their current states, many thoughts go through my mind. I wonder what they are thinking. Do they realize what is happening to them? Do they worry about themselves as much as the rest of us worry about them? Will these challenges and hardships bring the rest of our family closer together, or will we drift apart because it's simply too painful to remember them as they "used to be"? Each time I see them, I'm reminded of how truly fleeting life can be, and how honestly precious every moment is. I had my mom and my grandmother for a good twenty years, and though they're still physically with me, needless to say the dynamics of these relationships have changed considerably. I often wish that I had more time with both of them, but a force far stronger than my wishes is working at a much faster pace. So I do what I can as a sort of tribute--by writing posts such as this, and essays where I can, to remind them that I haven't forgotten them as they used to be.

For more information on the Alzheimer's Association, visit

For more information on multiple sclerosis, visit the MS Society at

Thursday, October 8, 2009

New Clip!

Where is this year going?!? It seems like summer was just a few weeks ago, and now I'm already seeing Christmas-themed commercials on TV and specials in the stores! Yikes!

The last of the articles I completed over the summer is finally live. Check out my interesting interview with author and forensic psychologist Dr. Katherine Ramsland here. This is my first piece for WOW Women on Writing (look for more about WOW here next week), and I'm definitely hoping to contribute again. The editor is great to work with, and I think the publication itself is excellent. So nice to see such an outlet for women writers, readers, agents, editors, etc.

Back to my interview with Katherine. I'm fascinated by all of the scary and dangerous topics she writes about--ghost hunting, serial killers, vampires, and cold case files, to name just a few--and she has more than a few stories about some of her experiences, as you can probably imagine. I had the pleasure of meeting Katherine this summer at a literary awards ceremony. We sat at the same table, and I just listened in on a conversation she was having about ghost hunting in Italy over the summer! Fascinating stuff, no? And how appropriate that the interview went live just in time for Halloween!

Enjoy the clip!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What's the Best Writing Advice You've Ever Received?

I have shelves and shelves of an ever-growing collection of writing books, with no end in sight. Some I've read, most I haven't, but I think of them all as an investment and most of them have come in handy for the classes I'm teaching this fall.

Yet on the other hand, it's silly because out of all of these books that I own, I remember the best writing advice I've ever received. My freshman English teacher constantly reminded us to "Say the most in the least amount of words", always striving for brevity and clarity. Those words have always stuck with me, and I find myself saying the same thing to my students (for some, it hasn't sunken in yet). I have no patience for the old "Write what you know" philosophy, because if writers just stuck to that, we'd be out of ideas in a few minutes. Out of all of the tips I've received over the years, that short piece of advice has always stood out above the rest.

What's the best writing advice you've ever received?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What's Your Biggest Writing Goal?

All writers have their own short-term and long-term career goals. It's easy to let other commitments or projects sidetrack us, and it might seem as if we're never going to get there (there is different for all writers).

So if a freelance writing career is a bit of a "forest for the trees" sort of lifestyle (especially for us part-timers who are just trying to snag any job we can!), how do we know when we're there?

Right now my biggest goal is to get to a place where I'm financially secure enough to at least give full-time freelancing a try for a few months. Of course, in our current economic climate, it's beyond risky to take that chance and hope that a job might be waiting for me if I decide to go back after 6 months or a year (and I'm not a risk-taker by nature!)

Any other writing-related accomplishments I earn after going full-time are just extra. I have a few book ideas stewing (what writer doesn't?), but right now that's where I'm trying to get--the flexibility, artistic freedom to explore the many topics that interest me, experimenting in different genres, and oh yeah, did I mention the flexibility? all just seem too tempting to pass up. I went through a period of unemployment for 6 months a few years ago and it was torture--I'm hoping I would have enough work to keep me from going stir crazy! I have a lot more going on in my life (personally and professionally) now, though, so I don't think I'd have that problem!

What's your biggest writing goal?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Writing Lessons from Freshman English

My experience teaching first-year English this semester is bringing me back to my roots, so to speak--parts of the writing process that I no longer think twice about are proving to be real challenges for some of the students in my classes, which is in turn keeping me on my toes.

We're about a month into the semester, and I'm already taking stock of the things I've been learning from my classes--lessons that have been lying dormant for awhile, but are no less important than the first time I learned them:

Always remember the basics. Grammar, mechanics, word usage, and spelling (you know, the boring stuff) are the heart of any well-written piece. It's important to master these basic skills, as they serve as the foundation for all books, articles, screenplays, what have you. Stephen King calls them the "toolbox", and it's really true--a misplaced comma or misspelled word can change the whole meaning of your message.

"Hook" your audience early. Just as the tone of the class is all but set on the first day, a well-written introduction that pulls your reader into your piece from the beginning is essential. My students need to know the instructor's boundaries and expectations--your readers expect the same from you as a writer. What are you going to tell them? What do you expect from them as readers--a chuckle, a tear, or a "Wow, I never knew that!" Make it interesting from the start and your audience will stay with you the whole time.

Say what you mean. I'm finding that students take things literally, and since this is the first college course for many of them, I can't assume that they're familiar with any of the information I'm teaching them. Your choice of words and how you present them are important.

Have more than you need. Over-research, over-interview, write a long first draft of an can always edit later! I'm living proof of the philosophy that over-preparedness may not be a bad thing! It's always much easier to cut out the excess than scramble to find info because you've come up short. I'm finding the same to be true with teaching--it's difficult to know how much I'll get done in a particular night, so there tends to be more free time than I'd like at the end of the class. I'm trying to work ahead on my presentations and have other material ready so we can move on to the next thing if time allows. I'm trying to have more so I can edit later. I'd rather fill up the full class time than let them go much earlier than they should!

Be consistent. As a freelancer, everything falls on us--querying, follow-up, researching, writing, invoicing--plus the various other elements of being a writer. Set some consistent standards for yourself and your work--establish your pay rates, focus on certain markets, and set up a tracking system that works for you. I'm learning that I need to take another look at the rules and guidelines that I've set for my classes so that there's more consistency and accountability, and that I need to follow through on the framework I set up at the beginning of the semester. A certain level of consistency makes life easier for everyone.

What are some "basics" that you still use in your writing today?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Guest Post at The Writer Today

I'm today's guest blogger at The Writer Today. Stop by for a visit!

Hope to post a little more this week. This teaching gig is a lot of work!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Some Post

This post is from the "D'oh! Why didn't I make that connection?" department.

One of the most creative spins on the writing life that I've seen in quite some time. This was posted last Friday on The Urban Muse, one of my favorite writing blogs:

Writing Lessons from Charlotte's Web

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What's Your Favorite Part of the Writing Process?

I have several irons in the fire lately, so I'm loving any time that I get to devote solely to writing. Strangely enough, most of the other fires that I have going are part of my plan to actually write more, so although they're "necessary evils" for the moment, I'm hoping my schedule won't be quite this jam-packed forever.

I'm on deadline with a few things, so I've been fitting in my writing time wherever I can. Over the weekend, I had my first long, uninterrupted chunk of time in weeks, so I made the most of it. It was awesome. There's really nothing like having a few hours at a stretch to be truly productive--the fact that I have so few of them these days make them even more precious!

With that in mind, as I worked I got to thinking about my favorite part of the whole writing process. Don't get me wrong, I love all of it--every torturous, "searching-for-the-right-word/best-way-to-say-this" moment--but I think my absolute favorite part is when I get into what I call the "zone". That's the time when things are beginning to gel, and I find myself thinking about the story and mentally composing parts of it over and over, until I can get back to the PC and fight with it some more. I might start a piece and do a little at a time, but actually wait until the "zone" mentality kicks in, and then I can't wait to work on it again. Sometimes, depending on how interested I am in the subject, I can actually feel it start to come together. I might still have to wrestle with it until it's exactly to my liking, but that's my absolute favorite step in the process.

Well, besides getting a positive email from an editor!

What about you? What's your favorite part of the writing process?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Guest Post: Discovering Your Writing Specialty by Priscilla Y. Huff

My great-grandmother was not only a suffragette, marching for the women’s right to vote, but also a published poet. My mother was a published poet, too, in addition to writing humorous non-fiction pieces and essays. When I began to write, I tried poetry and it was horrible. Instead, I found that I liked people and what type of work they did and thus began a writing career featuring boot-strapped entrepreneurs, specifically women who are and still continue to lead men in starting new businesses every year. If you are unsure what type of writing you can do best, here are five suggestions to help you find your particular writing specialty:

1. Write about your passion. No, I am not referring to the romantic kind, unless you intend to write in that genre, (which, btw is very lucrative). Write about what interests you, what you absolutely love to do. Consider your hobbies and what you like to do in your free time such as travel, gardening, birding, hiking, scrapbooking, making money, and any other pursuits that you adore.

2. Write about your work. Your industry or profession, no matter what it is, has one or more publications related to it. Editors of trade journals, industry newsletters and web sites, welcome articles, papers, and books to assist managers and employees to improve their performances, learn about new innovations, and catch up on industry news.

3. Write about where you live. You may not feel where you live is exotic or unusual, but every place in the world has some history or some occurrence that was notable. When I asked questions about a wall mural in my local post office, I learned the artist was hired during the Great Depression, along with many others to paint murals in post offices, railroads, and other public buildings. My question led to a feature article in a regional magazine. Read your daily and regional papers. They often contain news that could easily be a current feature story of interest on a national or international level.

4. Write about your life. No, not necessarily to write an autobiography (unless you are famous or for your own family), but what is happening now to you or what you have “survived,” involving family members, cancer, shopping, causes, religion and more. Others who are going through what you have, will be interested how you tackled and coped with a particular problem.

5. Write about what you read. If you read cooking magazines, for example, or visit related web sites, or are a regular subscriber to other publications, you already know the audience(s) and can provide new insights through an article or book. If you read mysteries, fantasies, or other genres, see if you can come up with a new twist in a plot line or series. Editors love it when their writers are familiar with their readers’ interests.

These methods can be incorporated in both your nonfiction and fiction. In fiction, your characters will be interesting because you, the author, will have them perform work or leisure activities with which you have actual knowledge of what they experienced. Think John Grisham, Kathy Reichs, Nevada Barr and others who have intrigued millions of readers using the background of their professions to highlight their characters and stories. Read the writer’s/author’s guidelines of the publications or publishers of the books you like to read, and make a list of possible article/book ideas you might like to propose and then query those editors. The only way to find your ideal writing specialty is to start writing about what you know, and you are sure to uncover your ideal writing niche that was there all the time, just waiting to be discovered.

Suggested Resources (purchase in book stores or check for current copies in your public or college library):

*How-To Writing Publications: Writer’s Digest Magazine (; The Writer (
*Writer’s Market Guides: Writer’s Market (; Literary Market Place (

Thursday, September 10, 2009

How Writing Groups Can Help You Stay on Track

I'm probably biased because I'm president of my local writer's group that I also co-founded with another writing friend, but it's hard for me to imagine where my freelancing efforts (not to mention my fledgling writing career) would be had I not gotten involved with such a group.

Our group is a bit more formal and structured than, say, a critique group (though we have a few of those who meet outside of our regular meeting times). The purpose of our group is to provide programming and resources to our members so they can be armed with the tools they need to get (and keep) writing. One of my favorite parts of my role in the group is scheduling our speakers. We've had a huge array of folks come and share their knowledge with us--we have a wide membership, so we try to include speakers for everyone and cover as many genres and aspects of the craft as possible. The majority of our membership are fiction writers, so most of our programming focuses on elements of writing fictional pieces, but we try to work in something for us nonfiction folks, too.

If you don't have a writer's group in your area, why not start one? There are a few other groups near me, and they follow various structures. Here are the most common types of writers' groups:

  • Education-based. This is my group. Every month, we have a speaker who talks about some element of the art or craft of writing. This year alone, we've had speakers cover blogging, finding markets for your work, playwriting, writing creative nonfiction, and developing a plot. We also allot some time for one of our members to read some of their work, and the rest of us provide feedback.
  • Critique Group. This is the group for you if you're strictly looking for feedback on works-in-progress or a push to get motivated when you need it. I personally haven't checked out any of the critique groups associated with our larger writer's group, simply because I haven't had time--most of my work is on deadline and I don't have time for lengthy editing sessions.
  • "Open writers". The third type of group seems to be a combination of the other two. I know of one local group like this. I can't say much about their meeting structure, as I haven't been able to make a meeting. From what I can gather, writers gather and are given a writing prompt, and they either work on the piece right there at the meeting, or work on it on their own time and bring it with them to the next meeting. This seems to be a good fit for those who are just starting out or aren't that confident in their writing style and need some motivation.

As I said in my last post, I don't think I'd be nearly as successful with my writing efforts had I not gotten involved with the group and met other writers. I live in a very small community, and the literary/artistic types tend to be well-hidden, so our group has been a great way for more of our local writers to network, share resources, and learn from each other. It's the best feeling in the world to come home from a meeting with a particularly inspiring speaker, sit down at the PC, and jump right in to whatever I might be working on. It's been a great motivator, and I definitely think the meetings and my commitment to the group has helped me in many ways.

What other types of writing groups are out there? How have they helped you?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

When Did You Start Taking Yourself Seriously as a Writer?

The first step to being a serious writer is to take yourself seriously as a writer. How can you ever expect publishers, agents, or editors to believe in you if you don't believe in yourself? Taking the craft seriously and thinking of myself as "a writer" above all else is something I've only recently allowed myself to do. Until very recently--as in, within the last year or so--writing just didn't seem practical, even though I'd slowly built up a freelancing career and had been learning all I could about the craft.

I've always written, and, as most writers probably do, I always had it in the back of my mind that I "would write a book someday". But it never occurred to me that writing could be a serious career choice, or that I could make actual money from something I just chipped away at "for fun".

I didn't start taking myself seriously until a few years ago, when I started a writer's group in the area with my friend Kathy. Our first meetings drew writers from all genres, and it really started to sound like something I could do, and maybe make some money in the process. I started asking some questions, and thanks to encouragement and the patience of another writer friend (who'd been in the game for years), I finally felt comfortable enough to send out my first query.

I've had my share of rejections, of course, but there have been quite a few successes, too. Now I can't imagine how my life would be had I not gotten involved with the writer's group, and was brave enough to send out those first few queries. Now, I think of myself as a writer above everything else. Now, about a dozen or so clips later, I absolutely feel that I'm on the right path.

What about you? When did you start taking yourself seriously as a writer?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

More Local History: The Town That Was

I just did an article about this place, and I'm having my classes watch the movie and comment on it in the not-too-distant future, sooo...let me share it all with you, as well!

First, I live in a pretty unique location, geographically speaking. I'm literally an hour (or thereabouts) north from the Chocolate Capital of the World (Hershey, PA), and I went to college about 10 minutes from there. I'm an hour south of Scranton (yes, as in Scranton-where-The Office-is-set-Scranton), and my work is a block away from Yuengling Brewery. Plenty of people are envious when I tell them how close I am to any of these locales.

Second, there's a downside to where I live. I'm right in the heart of coal mining country, which has posed more than a few dangers over the years. This is important for you to know, because another small town in the heart of mine country has virtually been wiped out because of the region's biggest commodity--coal.

If you've never heard of the Centralia, PA mine fire, let me give you the abridged version: In 1962, a routine controlled garbage burn in an abandoned strip mine has turned into one of the longest-burning, most dangerous mine fires in the country. As the town's firemen burned the refuse, flames from the burn accidentally made their way to a coal seam, igniting it instantly. Though efforts have been made to extinguish the fire over the past forty years (some funded by the federal government), all of their attempts have been unsuccessful. The fire has continued to burn underground ever since, causing dangerous carbon dioxide and other poisonous gases to seep into people's homes. The heat from the fire caused an irreparable crack down the middle of the town's major highway. Back in the 1980's, most of the town's residents voted to relocate, leaving their homes and neighbors. As residents moved out, the government razed the homes. Nothing remains of the once-active small community besides grass-covered lots where homes once stood, a few sidewalks, and two cemeteries. Many of the town's residents may have left, but they return to be buried in their hometown.

It's a creepy place, no doubt about it. I remember passing through it years ago, when more homes were still standing but were in various phases of demolition. So sad to see boarded-up windows of otherwise perfectly good houses, destroyed for no other reason than they were in an unfortunate location.

Want to see how bureaucracy handled it, and how the town became divided? Read The Day the Earth Caved In by Joan Quigley, or watch the documentary The Town That Was. The book gives some excellent background on the fire, a 12-year-old boy's near-fatal tumble into a sinkhole that opened in his grandmother's backyard, and the steps taken to preserve what was left of the town. The Town That Was picks up a bit where the book leaves off, focusing on the town's youngest resident and how he has fought to remain in his home and look after his few remaining neighbors.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Blah blah blog

I may be doing considerably less posting over the next few weeks, as I've landed a new gig--I'm teaching 2 English classes! I'm confident in my knowledge of the subject matter (please--talking about reading and writing, and actually reading and writing, is no problem for me!), but I'm a bit less confident in my lectures and presenting the material. BUT--so much of writing is just sitting down and doing it, and much of the time will be spent with the students working on their assignments and having me provide feedback right there.

I literally just got thrown into this--three days before my first class started last week! Initially they said they didn't have anything available that meshed with my schedule, but lo and behold, another professor backed out, so here I am. Everyone has been telling me that things will sort of work themselves out, so I'm hoping that's true. Writing is one of the very few areas of my life where I feel totally confident and comfortable. However, I realize that most people don't feel that way--many of these students are taking classes to get a better job or improve their status in life...not because they love the subject as I do. I hope that my enthusiasm for the subject comes across, at least.

So, I'm planning to drop down to 2 posts a week if I can manage it. What a jolt to my comfort zone this week has been!

In other news, thanks to Stephanie for the props!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Blogging About Blogging

Our speaker at the September meeting of my writer's group did a presentation on blogging, particularly on how starting a blog can help writers. We had a pretty lively discussion, both on the basics of blogging (best providers, designing the layout, cost, etc.) and content. I'm fairly new to the blogging scene, but I was able to share some of what I've learned throughout the course of blogging fairly regularly.

Another writer friend and I have had an ongoing discussion (debate?) on what to put in a blog post. She argued that anything you put in a blog post is considered to be a published work and therefore, the blog could keep the first-time rights of your work. I couldn't dispute that, but I then argued that you shouldn't post anything in a blog that could be a potential money-making idea elsewhere--i.e. a possible article or short story idea. If you blog long enough, you'll learn to identify when a post sounds like it could be more of an article idea.

In my opinion, blogging is especially effective for writers in the following ways:

Helps you become disciplined. Since I made the commitment to start a blog, I aimed to post 3 days a week. It's become part of my routine, like going to the gym and working on other assignments. I feel guilty if I don't have a few posts in the works or ideas for future posts. I love the "Post Options" function in Blogger, because I can save what I've already done, then go back and make changes. I can also schedule the posts ahead of time, so they'll be up without my having to worry about it. I've also found that having to think of a constant stream of blog ideas dovetails nicely into coming up with article ideas or speaker topics for my writers' group.

A way to share your knowledge and learn from others. My blog is about the "trials and triumphs of the writing life", so I can share my successes, rejections, and lessons I learned throughout the process of both. I also enjoy reading other writers' blogs to see how they may have handled the same issue.

Vent about issues. Same as above. It's nice to know that there are other writers out there grappling with some of the same concerns.

What are some other ways that blogging can help writers?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Guest Post: Soothing the Writer by Ana Rios

Ana V. Rios is a Human Resources professional with a passion for writing. She is a person who enjoys helping people and enjoys sharing what she knows and learns. Her writing journey began almost a year ago and her aspiration is to become a published author of a romantic suspense novel. In her blog, The Writer Today, she writes about her experiences, ideas, writing resources and anything that is relevant to writing or that she connects with.

“To make the right choices in life, you have to get in touch with your soul, to do this , you need to experience solitude…because in the silence you hear the truth and know the solution.” – Deepak Chopra

Getting “in touch with your soul”, through solitude, is one of the best ways a writer can “recharge” the muse within. We are the main character in our own lives, with all its plot twists and turns. It is in our power to make and change our own path, to write and rewrite our direction and go somewhere new. We need to be our biggest fan. “I write because I can” is my new motto. I feel that writers are so busy taking care of other people and things that they do not take the time to take care of themselves and this causes burn out, writer’s block and a lack of purpose. In order to avoid this, I made a list of some things that can be soothing to the writer and allow for more energy, more of an open mind, and of course, more writing.

Find a place for solitude – and use it for reflection, relaxation and inner peace

Get as much rest as possible

Destress with meditation and/or Yoga

Surround yourself with people that give you comfort when you need it

Seek inspirational and motivational resources

Simplify your life whereever and whenever possible

Let your writing place have everything you need to create

Have things soothing to the senses: aromatherapy lotions, candles, music

Be good to yourself – you deserve it

“I keep the telephone of my mind open to peace, harmony, health, love, and abundance. Then, whenever doubts, anxiety or fear try to call me, they keep getting a busy signal-and soon they forget my number.” – Edith Armstrong

What else can you think of that would be soothing to a writer?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sara's Picks for Best Books of the Summer

Since summer is more or less behind us (where I live in the Northeast, it seems like it didn't get here until a few weeks ago, but I digress), I thought I'd write a quick post on the best books I read this summer. People are always asking me for recommendations, so I thought I'd beat them to it!

Again, these are not paid endorsements--simply good reads that I enjoyed over the past few months:

I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley. This collection of essays was funny, but in a dry, sardonic, cynical way--in other words, exactly my humor. Though I smiled throughout many of the essays, my personal favorite was "You on a Stick"--Sloane's retelling of being guilted into being in a long-forgotten best friend's wedding. Hilarious!

How to Be Single by Liz Tuccillo. I just finished this book last week and really enjoyed it. Julie, a writer, tired of her life and her demanding job, convinces her boss to write a book about how single women handle their singlehood across the world. Her adventures are interspersed with the antics of Julie's friends, all with very different personalities who grow much closer by the end of the book. This has a very Sex and the City feel to it, which is probably because the author used to be a writer for the show. The idea of Julie writing a book gets a bit lost in the shuffle and some of the threads in the story never get tied up, but overall, this was a good read. There was no sunny, "everything is beautiful" ending, which I kind of liked--a very true glimpse of life.

Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs. I read her first book, The Friday Night Knitting Club, and enjoyed that, as well. I didn't think Jacobs broke any new ground here or anything--she simply wrote a solid, well-crafted book with nicely developed characters and a storyline that kept me interested.

Testimony by Anita Shreve. I find that her books are hit or miss, and I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I love her elegant writing style, which served this particular book very well. A sex scandal at a private New England school causes a ripple effect of damage throughout the community--to the students involved, the school's headmaster, and the students' families. She alternates narrators, which I think added another layer of depth, and it shows that even the most private of moments or most impulsive of decisions can have serious repercussions for years.

There are a few precious days of summer left, so it's not too late to check a few titles off your reaidng list!

Friday, August 21, 2009

When Should You Give Up on an Assignment?

I've been doing my best to follow my own advice and do just about everything I listed in Monday's post. I've had a fairly productive summer, considering the economy and belt-tightening that most markets seem to be doing. I've also hit a personal best as far as the amount of queries I've been sending out. I've even been rigorous with sending out follow-up emails to editors.

The problem is that even some of my follow-ups aren't getting me anywhere. I can name at least three editors who have gotten at least two follow-up emails from me about specific queries, and I've received exactly zilch in reply.

So should I just give up, or hope that the editor responds eventually?

I should say that two of the publications are regional, so I wouldn't be able to retool the query and sell the idea somewhere else. The third was for a trade publication--also specialized--so again, it would be difficult to try and sell the idea to a market with a broader readership. I did send an earlier query to one of the editors. She rejected my idea but asked if I would be interested in covering something else for them. The wording confused me a bit--did this mean she'd assign me something, or would I have to come up with the idea? I responded as such, but just to cover myself, I included a few story ideas. This was early July, and again, there's been nothing from her--a formal query with the new ideas and 2 follow up emails later!

It's been my experience that if the editor wants your article, they respond within a week at the absolute latest. Since it's literally been months since some of these queries were sent, should I continue to pursue these markets or put it on the editors?

How do you handle unresponsive editors?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Guest Post: It's Summertime And the Living is Easy... by Jodi M. Webb

When she isn’t sending out queries, Jodi Webb has spent this summer getting her oldest daughter ready for her first year of college and playing lifeguard for her younger daughter and son. She’s also found time for a trivia book, a book for writers and arranging WOW! Blog Tours( ).

Photo by Pink Sherbert Photography

"It’s summertime and the Living Is easy…"

…but not if you’re a freelance writer. While the rest of the world is sprawling by the pool, enjoying long weekends, and generally taking it easy, many freelancers are frantically sending out queries. Why? Because the rest of the world (including many writers) are enjoying summer. Haven’t you been paying attention?

What types of people do freelance writing? OK, there are those who depend on freelance writing as their sole income. But most use freelance writing as a boost to their primary income—heading IT departments, writing advertising jingles, remodeling bathrooms, fill-in-the-blank-with-your-job. Another large group is parents: stay at home parents, work at home parents, work at work and write at home parents.

The first group is counting the days to their treasured annual vacation and savoring those early Fridays and three day holidays that break up the summer months. They plan to use that time to write and query but somehow…they don’t. The second group is suddenly surrounded by invaders who have escaped from school. Those hours of guaranteed quiet writing time have been replaced by trips to the playground, marathon viewings of Spongebob, and those sad cries of “I’m bored.” They have been sucked into the black hole that writers call summertime.

Don’t make the mistake of abandoning your writing for summer fun. Remember that lots of freelancers make that mistake and, whether freelancers feel like writing or not, editors still need articles to fill their pages. Jump into the void left by vacationing writers by filling editors’ empty inboxes with your fabulous queries. Now is the perfect time to get noticed by a new editor. Your competition is all at the beach!

If you failed to use June, July and August to your advantage don’t worry—November and December are fast approaching. Writers will be stuffing turkeys, attending parties, doing some holiday shopping. Once again editors’ inboxes will be emptying. Fill them! And not just with holiday greetings!