Thursday, January 28, 2010

Welcome Back, Baby-sitters Club!

My inner 10-year-old self did a little jump for joy when I saw this article about the plans for a prequel and a relaunch of the Baby-sitters Club series in the Dec. 31 New York Times!

It was hard to find a ”tween” (though we didn’t have that expression yet) in the ‘80’s who didn’t totally dig the Baby-sitters Club. We weren’t as sophisticated as girls are today—no Twilight or Jonas Brothers for us!—but somehow, I think these books were a little better. Ann M. Martin included characters that all girls could relate to. There was a leader (Kristy), a quiet, bookish type (Mary Ann), a sophisticated city girl (Stacey), the artsy gal (Claudia), the California girl/health food queen (Dawn), the wannabe children’s author (Mallory) and the dancer (Jessi). The girls taught us about friendship, responsibility, the importance of being yourself, and they tackled some pretty heavy-duty issues. I remember that Stacey was a diabetic. One of the kids they sat for was autistic, and that was the first time I’d ever heard of that condition. They also talked about death and dying, divorce, stepparents, first love, and a host of other things that were totally alien to us, but helped prepare us for when we had to deal with them in our own lives.

I know I spent my elementary school years zipping through each new book when it came out—I even moved on to the Little Sister series. Now that I think about it, I owe a lot to the Baby-sitters Club. I can trace my love of reading back to those books (and Sweet Valley High/Twins, of course), and I modeled many of my earliest stories after the plotlines in the books. I even developed an early entrepreneurial streak thanks to the girls in the BSC. I tried to start a baby-sitting service of my own, but only made a few dollars. Even with my handwritten fliers made from construction paper, I was only in the baby-sitting viz for a short time.

I’m so excited to see that they’re bringing these books back! I have some great memories of reading each new book and wondering what Ms. Martin was going to talk about next.

Were there any favorite books from childhood that have left a lasting impact on you?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What Are You Working On?


How's 2010 treating you so far? I have to admit, January's been a bit of a whirlwind for me, so I'm trying to hunker down and get back into several routines--not always easy!

Just wondering what kind of projects everyone is working on. Personally, I'm working on about 4 articles that are in various stages of completion. Most of them require interviews, so it's been a challenge to work around day jobs and schedules and whatnot. 2 of the most time-consuming pieces are due on the same day! Gulp. I also sent out 2 more queries this week and have a third one in mind that will need some real time devoted to it.

Besides the articles, I have some ongoing work, which is nice. I have my workplace column and the online content pieces I take each week (typically 2-3 articles, though this week I have 4 since some of their other writers are busy with various other commitments.) Last week I was also offered a gig as a blogger for a local company, so I'm anxiously waiting for more information on that opportunity. So, lots of exciting things happening!

What's keeping you busy these days?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Guest Post: Building Your Writer's Resume with Published Clips

by Priscilla Y. Huff

Before approaching editors and/or publishers with an articles or book ideas, you should have garnered several published pieces or “clips” that demonstrate that you are qualified to write a coherent sentence or two.

What if you do not have any published samples of your writing?

Here are eleven suggestions:

Write a feature for your local organizations’ or clubs’ or college’s publications. Most organizations have regular newsletters for their members and usually welcome contributing writers.

Write press releases for your local library’s showcase of crafts or events.

Volunteer a column. As an amateur naturalist, I volunteered to write a monthly nature column, with photos and with related Bible verses for my church’s Sunday school newsletter.

Write a blog based on your profession and/or interest.

Enter writing contests.

Write a “Letter to an Editor” for a well-known magazine or newspaper.

Contribute how-to tips to publications’ featured departments.

Look for on- and off-line small literary publications that welcome new writers to add a story or non-fiction piece.

Write a web article for a person’s web site or a “guest” contribution for a person’s blog who is in your professional network.

Write reviews of products, books, movies, or other items for related Internet forums.

Build or do it and feature it. Bake or make a recipe, craft, or project from plans offered in a magazine. Photograph you and your completed task and send it into the publication with a written description.

Note: Keep a list of the Internet links of any of your posted published pieces for editors’ quick online reviews. These are just a few of the many ways to get those first published clips that will help you get that paying writing gig or book contract. Photocopy and print them out for your own portfolio.

Happy Writing!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Shout Out to Grammar Girl!

I've been making some really interesting finds during my weekly trip to the going-out-of-business sale at the local bookstore. One that I picked up last week was Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. As I head into a brand-new semester and put my "teacher's hat" back on, this one definitely looked worthwhile.

Grammar Girl is the alias for technical writer and entrepreneur Mignon Fogarty, creator of the ultra-successful Grammar Girl podcast and Quick and Dirty Tips Network. Grammar Girl started hosting weekly podcasts in 2006 to help people answer those tricky grammar questions and ultimately help improve her listeners' usage and overall writing skills. Since 2006, she has become a bit of a writerly phenomenon, appearing on Oprah and sending weekly emails with grammar tips to her growing fan base.

I like what I've seen in her first book so far. The tone is conversational, so she makes it seem as if everyone casually discusses sticky situations like "affect" or "effect", punctuation, and the little spelling tricks that trip us all up from time to time (i.e. "a lot", "alot", "allot"; "they're", "their", "there"). Grammar isn't usually something I think twice about--I would say my usage is pretty strong--but since I'll be teaching first-year English again, I plan to spend quite a bit of time on grammar and I'm trying to pull from as many resources as possible. I can see Grammar Girl's book being right at the top of the list!

Any other required reading for sharpening those basic skills?

Monday, January 18, 2010

I don't get it...

I give up.

I'm hoping some of you out there can sell me on Twitter. I've had an account for a few months now, and I "follow" a few folks on there, but quite frankly, I don't understand the hype. Of course I'm interested in learning about new ways to promote myself and learn of possible opportunities out there, but my limited tech-savviness is getting in the way on this one.

I've done my best, and now I surrender. HELP!

What's the best way to pick up followers? There are quite a few writers/editors/creative types/friends who I've located, and I enjoy reading the "tweets", but either they don't know I'm on there or I'm not "tweeting" anything very interesting.

How can it help me promote myself? Whether it's an article, service, or call for interview subjects, rather than "tweets" I'm hearing crickets chirping when I post. Frustrating! Mostly because I really do need some fresh blood for a few pieces I'm working on.

Again--HELP! Can you folks in the blogosphere help to school me on Twitter?

Friday, January 15, 2010

10 Questions Never to Ask a Writer

Michelle Goodman tweeted this article from Tuesday's She Writes on Twitter and I just had to share! I couldn't have said it better myself!

Although, I would add the age-old question "What do you write?" and "So you write books, or...?" (because that's all we writers want to write...or something?)

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What's Your Perfect Writing Space?

I'm always curious about the habits and habitats of writers--i.e. how and where we write. Every so often a writing pub will feature a story on writing spaces, and I find them fascinating. I just went back and dug out an old Writer's Digest to reread their piece on "The Write Space" to get some ideas for this post.

It's a goal of mine to one day have a proper writing space--as in, just the right desk, bookshelves that aren't bursting at the seams, and some sort of order to the stacks and stacks of piles in the room. I'm far from that! I do 85% of my writing in a room full of semi-controlled chaos--on a (cluttered) computer desk in my (cluttered) spare bedroom, where my bookshelf is, in fact, bursting at the seams (which means that's also cluttered). Most of my active writing projects are contained to a plastic file box and a stack of "working" file folders on the little catch-all nightstand/bureau right next to the computer desk. A creative mishmash? You'd better believe it!

But somehow, it works for me. I guess our creative spaces have to serve our purpose, or else we wouldn't get a whole lot of work done. If it's not going well, we just make the small adjustments needed in order to get the work flowing again. Someday, though, I aspire to a room full of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and possibly a worktable (OK, a desk) that all but takes up one wall. Something like, well, the space in the picture I used with this post. That looks just about perfect to me!

What about you? Describe your writing space. What, if any, changes would you make to it? If you don't have your perfect writing space, what would that look like?

Flickr photo by nbklx17 (Sandy)

Monday, January 11, 2010

First Week of 2010

My apologies for being MIA all of last week. On Monday I definitely felt the early stages of a cold coming on. I tried to fight it off with my usual methods, but by Thursday it was clear that this was a bit stronger than I'd anticipated. Long story short--a sick day at work and a doctor's appointment was in order. Diagnosis--sinusitis and a "contaminated eye" that I've been battling all weekend. Needless to say, besides the assignments I had to complete, I wasn't doing much of anything all week! I'm definitely on the mend now, however.

How has 2010 been treating you? I started a new gig at the end of the year, and I think I'm finally starting to get the hang of it. I thought that blogging regularly would be the answer to keeping my writing skills up, but I think this other gig might keep me on my toes even more. I also have a few other projects in the works that I've been trying to move forward with--I had a lot of time off over the holidays, but people I needed to speak with did, too! Now I'm trying to line up interviews on lunch breaks, which is never easy and something I really dislike, but I don't have too many other options.

I wrapped up 2009 financially, too, and now I'm getting everything in order so tax time is painless.

I'm also trying to get ready for the spring semester. I managed to get my syllabus done this weekend (1 week early!), so I'm already ahead of the game. I'm getting excited about teaching this spring--I feel much more prepared, and hopefully I'll get a good group of students who actually want to learn something and improve their skills.

I have a few story ideas in the works, but I want to make some headway with my other assignments first. I think I'll spend some time on developing the queries so they don't seem rushed. There's a lot on my plate--hopefully on yours, too!

What was your first order of business in 2010?