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.