Wednesday, March 31, 2010

5 Writing Lessons from James N. Frey

As I mentioned in Monday's post, I attended a writers' conference over the weekend that featured creative writing teacher and author of How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James N. Frey, as the keynote speaker. Unfortunately, I only got to attend one of his sessions (which I had to leave due to my AGENT APPOINTMENT!), but he gave us some great food for thought during his keynote at lunch. For me, the 5 highlights were:

1. Writing isn't an option. It isn't a calling. It's a life.

2. Your writing stinks. Acknowledging it is the first step--the second is to either decide to do something about it, or "keep on stinking."

3. "Your spouse. You may need another one. Someday you might be given an ultimatum--it's me or the writing! Well, so long B*&%$"

4. If you want to be a writer, copy the styles of writers you admire. Write a 100-200 piece in the style of a writer you like every day--it's a great warmup exercise

5. Read read read. Write write write. Suffer suffer suffer.

What about you? Any favorite writing lessons that you would add?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Reflecting on The Write Stuff Conference

On Saturday I attended one of my favorite events of the year with my friend Jodi—the annual Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group (GLVWG)’s “Write Stuff” conference. This was my third conference, and the first time I (gulp) scheduled an appointment with an agent! (More on that later).

I’m always impressed at how smoothly this conference runs, which says a lot about the efficiency and organization of the chairpeople! They really do it right, from the Flash Fiction contests to the pre-conference workshops to bringing in impressive keynote speakers (this year’s was James Frey, author of How to Write a Damn Good Novel) to the book fair at the end of the day, to the agent and editor appointments that I already mentioned. Many attendees say that this is one of the best writers’ conferences around—I have to take their word for it, since this is the only one I’ve ever attended, but I know that I always get a ton of great information.

This year was no exception. It’s just nice to be around other writers. Granted, I’d say that 85% of the folks there are fiction writers, and many of them have had multiple books published (how do they do that?), but I think the overall atmosphere and supportive camaraderie goes a long way toward making everyone, regardless of genre, feel comfortable. I sometimes think I’m a little nutty for having this constant mental dialogue about finding story ideas, where to send them, or mentally composing the pieces I’m working on silently in my head all day, but I took some comfort in the fact that many of these folks refer to their make-believe characters as real people. This made me feel better somehow—I really was among “my people”.

As I said, this year I decided to bite the bullet and set up an agent appointment. Jodi has met with them before, but I never had anything to pitch, so there was no point in looking foolish. But this time, I pitched my long-dormant NaNo novel from 2008. Imagine my surprise when the super nice agent I met with said I should send her some chapters! Gulp! Ex-excuse me?? Send you chapters?!?! This was something I did for practice! For a hoot, if you will! And now I’m to send out some chapters!?!?

Right. Chapters.

Who am I kidding—what the hell am I doing?!?!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Hugging My Deadlines

Most writers design their whole work schedule around their respective deadlines, whether it’s something due daily, weekly, or a one-time assignment due in several weeks. Most writers that I know agree that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to be effective without deadlines—even if we have to set them for ourselves.

I’ve never missed a deadline (although I admit to asking for an extension a few times), and I usually like to be a few days ahead of schedule. A few weeks ago I was working on a beast of an article that required several interviews, changes, and additions, and it occupied most of my week, and I somehow managed to complete it a full week ahead of the due date. They’re the ideal situations, but as most of us know, unforeseen circumstances can pop up at any time and make finishing a piece a real challenge.

I was working on another piece that seemed to have no end in sight. Again, I wanted to interview several folks, and working around schedules can be difficult. After numerous messages, unanswered calls, and rounds of phone tag, before I knew it, I was staring my deadline straight in the face and was nowhere near finished. Somehow—no doubt there was some divine intervention involved—I was able to connect with 2 folks for much-needed quotes late Friday afternoon, which meant I spent all day Sunday writing to get the piece finished in time for my Monday deadline. Whew! I felt a little bit like a college student pulling an all-nighter—not normally how I like to work, but I got it done and that’s the bottom line. Despite our best efforts and no matter how much we plan, sometimes we do wind up going right down to the wire. I have a few more pieces in the works, and trying to get as much of a jumpstart as I can now to keep this from happening again.

What about you? What do you do to prevent last-minute cram sessions? Even the best of us face one of these now and then—how do you handle them?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Guest Post: Better Web Writing

by Priscilla Y. Huff

Tisha Tolar, co-owner of Trifecta Strategies, LLC, spoke to members of the Black Diamond Writers Network (BDWN) last month about web content writing opportunities. Blogs, short articles, press releases, and other writing venues are in demand by web site owners who use written content on their sites to attract potential customers and communicate with present ones.

If you are looking for online writing jobs, here are some suggestions for better web writing:

*Write shorter than longer. It depends on the site where the article will be posted, but many web content pieces run between 400-500 words.

*Be aware of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Writing, and how key words will improve the ranking of an article in Internet search engines.

*Understand your audience and why they are visiting a web site so you can provide the answers for which they are seeking.

*Write concisely, using an active voice.

*Provide links to additional helpful resources.

*No Matter what the length of your article, remember to follow basic composition principles in your paragraphs and the entire piece: Introduction, Body, Conclusion for each paragraph and for each article.

Two ways you can have fun practicing writing shorter:
1. Set up a Twitter account. Your entries are limited to 140 characters (I have three for business).

2. Try the writing challenge to “tell your life story in exactly six words.” NPR aired a feature about Smith Magazine’s invitation to people to describe their lives in exactly six words (; ).Visit these sites to read the creative entries and posting your own “life story.”

If you strive to write well and to satisfy your readers, the entire World Wide Web is certain to take notice.

Happy Writing!

Suggested Resources:
--Killer Web Content: Make the Sale, Deliver the Service, Build the Brand by Gerry McGovern
--Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content That Works by Janice (Ginny) Redish

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring Cleaning

I spent last week on my own spring break, of sorts—although I was back in class, I’ve been struggling with a bad case of burnout, so other than my weekly column, a beast of an article that had been due on Monday, and my first project for a paying client (so you can see how I spent my weekend), I basically took the week off from my writing projects.

The time off was sorely needed, and I found myself taking a long hard look at the kind of work I’ve been doing. I made the conscious decision to cut back and not do more for the sake of doing more—as in, I think I can afford to be a little more selective with the type of work I’m taking on, and I definitely need to improve my time management. Having said that, I ceased and desisted on some regular work that I’d been doing for a few months. I was finding that the time I was spending on these projects was taking me away from my larger assignments, and cutting into my already very limited time. So I had to make some decisions. As writer Elizabeth Gilbert said, “I wanted to have a bigger, smaller life”, which I interpret as doing more with less, and having more meaningful experiences overall. This is how I want to approach my writing career, and I'm understanding how vital it is to do this. I’m at a critical point with my projects, and I want to make sure that I can fully devote myself to each project. Lately, I’m embarrassed to admit that much of my work has just not met the usual high standards I set for myself.

So, as we do this time of year, I had to weed through everything and see what was worth keeping and what was worth discarding. It’s been a very liberating experience. I managed to get a few larger assignments in the meantime, as well!

Do you do any professional “spring cleaning”? How do you determine what goes and what stays?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Spring Break!

My class is on spring break this week (sheesh--already!), so I'm using that as a reason to slow down a bit in some areas and take some real time off in others, so this might be my only post for this week. You know, I think that sometimes we don't realize how much we need a break until it actually arrives--then it can't seem to get here fast enough! So although I'll still be at the day job this week, it'll be nice to regroup and recharge where my class is concerned--I'm getting caught up on my grading and prepping my next few classes, that's for sure!

I have plenty of other stuff to keep me occupied, too, not least of which is my writers' group's first-ever conference that will be held in April. It's very exciting to hear the buzz that's been going around about our event. Last I checked, we had almost 30 people signed up! I'm incredibly proud of that, especially for our first time out. I'm also wrapping up some lingering work and moving forward on new things, which is always great.

Is the spring more or less busy for you?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

How's 2010 Treating You So Far?

How has the new year been treating you? Are you reaching those goals, branching out, maintaining what you have, or going in a totally new direction? From what I've been reading on other writers' blogs, there definitely seems to be a positive change in the air.

I have to admit, my year is off to a great start. It was looking a little dismal at the end of 2009, but then all of a sudden, a bunch of editors came through, and now I find juggling all of the work to be a real challenge. Let's see--I've had articles in quite a few new publications, picked up some new assignments from publications I've worked with before, just had another article greenlit, and received a very encouraging email from a new editor. And of course, picking up some actual corporate clients is no small accomplishment, either. My goal was to pick up 5clients by the end of the year, and I'm well on my way. Most of the work I've been doing lately is a bit of a stretch, and I like being able to flex my writerly muscles and get into more topics that interest me, but that I haven't had much of an oppportunity to cover. I have a great feeling about the rest of this year!

How has the new year been treating you?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Three Reasons to Enter Writing Contests

Priscilla Y. Huff

You are busy, busy with everyday work-life schedules, plus fitting in your current writing project(s) whenever possible, so why should you consider entering writing contests? Here are three good reasons:

1) You have a set goal to produce a specific writing piece by a specified deadline. In my case, deadlines are the primary reason I have finished my articles and books.

2) Often you are challenged to write in a different style or genre that will help broaden your writing skills and may even open a new direction with your career.

3) You may win (!) and have a new accolade to list in your writing credits. If not, you have demonstrated that you can start and complete an assignment and have the writing sample to prove it. You can also now take it to market.

Three suggested tips:

1) Read previous winners’ entries to provide you with a sampling of the type of stories and styles the contest organizers judge worthy.

2) Follow each contest’s entry specifications as to word length, submission procedures, fees and other requirements to ensure your entry will be accepted for review.

3) Proofread carefully and/or have another person also go over it.

Suggested Resources

--Writer’s Market – Browse through the latest of this annual guide’s “Contest and Awards” section for prospects.

--Other sources offering periodic writing contests include writing trade publications like The Children’s Writer newsletter,, Highlights for Children, Writer’s Digest Magazine, The Writer** (see below); general interest magazines like Family Circle; online sites like; and other publications, companies and assorted writing-related organizations.

--Ask writers in your network for contests they enter and stay alert for additional ones. For example, I am a faithful NPR listener and recently heard that they offer a “Three-Minute” fiction writing contest to be read on air:

**The Writer Magazine is sponsoring a short, short story contest. $10 entry fee, deadline May:

Writing competitively is not only fun, it may just be the boost you need to persevere in your quest to become a successfully-published writer.

Good luck and Happy Writing!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Any Freelancing Regrets?

Everyone, no matter the profession, has days at the job where they feel like throwing in the towel and pursuing a totally different career. It wouldn’t seem as if freelancers have those days, since the freelance life is ripe with the promise of flexible hours, setting your own price, taking on a variety of different clients and projects, and basically living it up.

Right? Isn’t that all we freelancers do? (Sense the sarcasm?)

There are frustrating and non-productive days in the freelancing world, just as with a regular office job. Of course, it’s nice to not have to deal with clashing personalities and the never-ending office politics, but that doesn’t mean it’s all hunky dory all the time, either. It’s basically like job hunting all the time—sending out pitches, following up, trying to secure clients, following up again, and then trying to understand the nature of the work so you know the best way to proceed. It’s an endless cycle, and to the untrained eye, it may not seem very rewarding, either.

So let me ask you—are there any freelancers out there who have regretted their decision to pursue this crazy unpredictable life? It’s definitely a commitment, whether writing is extra income or your main job. Pitching editors, tracking down sources, doing interviews at their convenience (anytime, anywhere—Walmart, anyone? I’ve done it!), finding story ideas, hoping to get paid on time—and that’s when things are going well! Down times can seem like endless stretches of nothingness—it’s enough to make you want to ditch it all, buy a business suit, and head back to the office. And yet for all of the frustration, there are few things in life I find more satisfying. I just love it. I wish I would’ve known more about all of the opportunities available and how to go after some of what’s out there a bit sooner.

Have you ever regretted your decision to pursue freelancing? What were some of your darkest moments? What changed your mind?