Beat the Writing Blues: Make a Small Change By Rochelle Melander

file9621269753303All great things have small beginnings. —Peter Senge

In yoga, I notice that the small shifts yield big rewards. Tiny movements create aha moments. When I relax my shoulders, shift the angle of my foot, or lift my chin—the correct pose emerges. It feels right.

I’ve noticed the same phenomena in writing. Often, a client comes to me with what seems to be a big problem:

+When I finally get to the computer, I have nothing to say.

+My book structure doesn’t work.

+I can’t find time to write.

As we talk, the client comes up with one or two small shifts to try out. And guess what? These small shifts yield big rewards. These shifts have the power to demolish writer’s block, clear up book outlines, and create space to write.

The mistake most of us make, I think, is to believe that writing success comes when we make a giant effort, working ourselves to death every single day.

And effort matters. But for most of us who work as professional writers, this job is more like a marathon than a sprint. Yes, we must make an effort to reach success. But we must exercise that effort slowly, steadily, and over time.

When something is not working in our writing life, we can often make the most impact by tweaking our routine or our writing craft.

So this week, when you notice what does not work, make a tiny shift. Write in a different place, at a different time of day. Change point of view. Start in the middle of the story. Then see what happens!

 

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How to Write Through Doubt by Rochelle Melander

file5411297239569Remember these things. Work with all your intelligence and love. Work freely and rollickingly as though they were talking to a friend who loves you. Mentally (at least three or four times a day) thumb your nose at all know-it-alls, jeerers. critics, doubters. —Brenda Ueland

Doubt happens. Rejections pile up. Someone offers a not-so-kind remark about our work. Our inner editor gets mouthy.

We face the page but worry if anyone will ever read our work. Instead of writing, we argue with our demons—those negative voices inside our heads that whisper: you’re not good enough to succeed, no one cares about this story, do something useful with your life, who do you think you are, you’re just saying the same things over and over again.

We won’t last very long as writers if we’re fragile beings who can’t take rejection, criticism, and difficult people. We need to shake off that doubt and write even when we don’t feel like it. Here’s how to write through doubt:

1. Expect it. Doubt happens. Shirley Hazzard said, “The state you need to write in is the state that others are paying large sums to get rid of.” Most writers deal with self-doubt from time to time. Fighting against it takes work. Instead, expect it and accept it. When your inner doubter pipes up with a critique, acknowledge it, dismiss it, and keep writing.

2. Disagree with it. John Steinbeck wrote, “The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.” Sometimes, being a writer means believing your own crap—and when it comes to writing through doubt, this is absolutely essential. Forget the friends and colleagues who dis you and your work. Instead, dig up all those nice notes your readers and editors have written to you over the years and put them in a box. Read them, remember you rock, and write.

3. Nurture yourself. Criticism, rejection, and inner doubt can damage our resolve to write. It can also deplete our inner reserves. In Daybook, Anne Truitt wrote about harsh critiques of her Arundel exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art. She said, “I am not concerned with reviewers’ judgments, yea or nay; they cannot deflect my course. What they can do, and this seems beyond my resistance, is hurt my general self, the supporting troops, so to speak, of my striking force.” (Daybook, p. 140) Make a list of ten soul-strengthening actions and do them regularly. When you’re feeling especially low, give yourself a day of nurture!

Your turn: What do you do when self-doubt strikes? What soul-nurturing actions do you use to support your art?

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Writer Interview: Paul Geenan by Rochelle Melander

Paul photo two cropped_edited-1I met Paul Geenan several years ago and was immediately intrigued by his intellect and curiosity. When I heard about his new book, Civil Rights Activism in Milwaukee, I wanted to learn more about the book and Geenan’s writing process. Geenan was kind enough to offer an interview, and you can read it below.

If you’d like to learn more, Paul Geenan will appear at Boswell Book Company this coming Thursday, February, 27 at 7:00 PM. For more information, visit Boswell Book Company’s website.

What’s this new book about? This book describes the struggle for civil rights in the 60’s and the 70’s on the South Side of Milwaukee.  Blue-collar workers living in small bungalows, duplexes and rear-lot cottages supported the numerous churches and visited the “ma and pa” taverns on almost every corner. Freeway construction played a role in the resistance of the South Siders to African Americans moving into their neighborhood. Young, newly married couples lost access to inexpensive homes taken by freeway construction, resulting in being forced to live with their parents.

Nuns at Alverno College offered programs on race relations to its students, faculty, and the community, resulting in two Alverno students, Maria Varela and Margaret (Peggy) Rozga traveling to the South, putting their very lives at risk, to help African Americans gain their voting rights.

Jesús Salas, David Giffy and Bill Smith, with the support of Cesár Chávez, organized Wisconsin migrant workers into an independent union called Oberos Unidos, fighting for improved working and living conditions. Failed cucumber and potato strikes resulted in many of these workers moving to the South Side of Milwaukee.

Since Wisconsin was the highest consumer of brandy, the state was an important target for the United Farm Workers strike against grape producers in California. African Americans, students, church and community members demonstrated at grocery stores, encouraging shoppers to not buy grapes resulting in grape shipments to Wisconsin dropping by 61% in 1969.

Hispanics fought for the education of their children in Milwaukee Public Schools and at the city’s universities.  After several months of daily protests, 24 hour vigils and hunger strikes, Hispanics took over the UWM’s Chancellor’s office, locking a university staff member in a rest room This resulted in Hispanics being given access to the University for the first time.

Jesús Salas, Vel Phillips and Father Groppi led “Welfare Mothers’ March on Madison” resulting in taking over the Assembly Chambers and one thousand National Guardsmen being called out.

The decision by Federal Judge John Reynolds to desegregate MPS schools set off a struggle to keep bilingual schools in Milwaukee. Sophisticated Hispanic parents were successful in strengthening the bilingual schools, working with the African American community, the special master appointed to oversee the desegregation effort, the school board, school administrators, the teachers’ union, the media and community groups.

New leadership in the South Side community is a direct result of the civil rights activism of the 1960s and’70s. Today’s leaders, such as Milwaukee’s first Hispanic Alderman Jose Pérez, and Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Vocés de la Frontera, have their roots in the civil rights activists that came before them.

How did you come to write this? A longtime civil rights activist worried that the people who lived on the South Side of Milwaukee in the 1960s and ‘70s were seen as isolated and prejudiced. This person was worried that people would only remember the 13,000 angry South Siders who screamed epithets and threw garbage at Father James Groppi and his 250 young men from the NAACP Youth Council at the south end of the Sixteenth Street Bridge in August of 1967.

Can you talk about your research process? I relied heavily on personal interviews for this book in addition to the existing published works on the subject. Often a person being interviewed makes suggestions on other people to interview and knows of additional sources.  After a month or so of research I usually have enough to create an outline, which gives me a sense of how to budget my time. I continue interviewing and doing research right up to the point where I submit my book for publication.

Can you offer advice to writers who want to write a nonfiction history book If it is possible, using personal interviews gives an added perspective to the story you are telling.  Using as many names of people as possible adds to the credibility and interest of a book.  Using photos from private sources are best, as other sources, such as local and state historical societies, are expensive.

9781626193789_42e639071a9db663c36cb34da3185ac1Can you talk about your road to publication: I submitted an Authors Proposal to History Press in January of 2013 and got an email in June saying that they liked my book concept. So it took a while to get an answer. The effort I had put forth in marketing my first two books with History Press, Schusters and Gimbels: Milwaukee’s Beloved Department Stores, and Sherman Park: A Legacy of Diversity in Milwaukee, helped in getting this proposal accepted.

What’s your next project: I would like to write about some of the major players in the civil rights movement in Milwaukee in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

 Your turn:  Writers, what questions do you have for author Paul Geenan?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stuck? Write Out of Order By Rochelle Melander

file0001601824864Genius is finding the invisible link between things. —Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita, wrote all of his novels on 3 x 5 index cards. Each day as he began his writing period, he would shuffle the cards until he found a scene that had energy for him and started writing from there. When the scenes were done, he rearranged the cards until he discovered the novel’s order.

How many writing projects are abandoned half way through because we are slaves to writing in order? Skip the boring or difficult parts and write the scene you have the most energy for right now.

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Are You Writing at the Wrong Time of Day? By Rochelle Melander

file1761306949777Dear Writers,

Last week, Chuck Wendig wrote a great post on the quantity and quality of self-published books, Slushy Gut Slog: Why the Self-Publishing S$*t Volcano is a Problem.  He said, “An author on Facebook the other day noted, quite correctly, that writing is a craft and as a craft it can be evaluated fairly easily.” Well said!

As a writer, reader, and coach—my job is to help you make sure your book is good enough to stand out from the slog, whether you want to self publish or submit your book to agents. That’s why I’ve invited editor Amanda Valentine to come to this month’s Write Now! Mastermind class to talk about how you can revise and edit your own work. Join us on Wednesday, February 19 at 12:00 PM CST. If you’re not yet a member of the Write Now! Mastermind class, you can sign up here.

Happy Writing! Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach

 

Me and My Shadow, at the Urban Ecology Center Sundial

Me and My Shadow, at the Urban Ecology Center Sundial

Are You Writing at the Wrong Time of Day? By Rochelle Melander

The right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing. —Joshua Harris

According to scientific research, our bodies peak for physical, social, and intellectual tasks at specific times of day. Researchers offer broad suggestions about when we do best at various activities. For example, many of us do well at intellectual tasks during the late morning while we excel at creativity in the evening when we are tired and more open to new ideas.

But even scientists admit that peak working times are different for each of us. Though some people can be classified as early birds or night owls, many people don’t fit easily into any category. As a writing coach, I encourage clients to examine their own life in order to discover when they write best. Here’s how:

+For the next two weeks, try working at different times of day. Keep a journal of your work. For each session, note the time, where you are writing, how the writing went, and any important external details. Additional details might include preparing beforehand, working in a quiet house, or trying to meet a deadline. Did you feel engaged? Creative? Did you experience flow or did you encounter blocks?

+Review your writing journal. When did the most productive writing sessions occur? When did your second best writing sessions happen? Did anything besides time of day contribute to your productivity?

Once you know when you write best, schedule your writing during those times of the day. Keep your second-best times as a back up for those gnarly days when your precious time gets taken up by drama or you need the extra hours to complete assignments.

What I learned from my writing journal: I’m a morning writer. I’ve always believed that if I squander those early morning hours, I’m done for the day. But after reading this article in 2012, I played with my schedule. I wrote at different times of day just to see if I could be productive at other times of day. I was surprised and delighted to discover that I enjoyed drafting work in the afternoon and evening. But I also found that I had a hard time polishing work at night—I was too tired. I encourage you to play with your writing schedule, too. You might find enough extra time to finish a new novel this year!

Your turn: When do you write best? Why?

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Manuscript Makeover: A Checklist for Nonfiction Articles by Rochelle Melander

Writing without revising is the literary equivalent of waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear. —Patricia Fuller

Last week, my dogs went for their regular grooming session. I was amazed at what they were able to do for Muffin Man in just a few hours. Take a look.

Muffin (before)

Muffin (before)

Muffin (after)

Muffin (after)

That’s kind of what I do as an editor. I take a messy manuscript and make it magnificent—or at least better than it was.

No one wants to turn in a mediocre manuscript. But when we’re facing multiple deadlines and juggling other responsibilities, we need to figure out how to quickly revise our rough draft so that we can turn in a stellar final draft. But how?

Over the years, I’ve developed checklists to help me edit. I’ve also created lists to help me makeover my own manuscripts. Today, I’m sharing my checklist for a nonfiction article or blog post with you.

 

Content Checklist

1. Assignment

+Does the content accomplish what I promised or what the editor assigned?

+Review the article with the query letter in mind: did you present the points you promised to explore?

+Review the article from the point of view of the editor: does the article accomplish the goals outlined in the assignment?

2. Lead

+Does the lead hook the reader with juicy language and one of the following: a great idea, good information, or a compelling story?

3. Body

+Do I support my claims with adequate information from interviews with experts, anecdotal evidence, or research.

+Have I sufficiently explained difficult or challenging ideas?

+Have I left out any key information or points?

+Have I included any information that doesn’t fit?

+Does any of my content raise issues I do not want the article to address? (E.g., political or social issues)

+Have I adequately identified terms and people who appear in the article?

4. Conclusion

+Does the article end in a way that’s appropriate to the medium?

+Does the conclusion adequately wrap up the piece?

+Does the conclusion offer the reader something helpful to take with them. This will differ depending on the topic and medium but it might include an idea, a challenge, or a new way of thinking about a topic.

+Does the conclusion answer the question, “Why does this [topic] matter?”

5. Organization

+Do the headers help the reader follow the information presented in the article?

+Is the content organized in a way that works for the medium? (E.g., in an online article, most editors want the juiciest information at the top of the article because readers don’t always read through. In a print publication, the requirements may be just the opposite.)

 

Technical Checklist

1. Does the piece meet the technical requirements of the assignment?

+Is it the right length (word count)?

+Have I provided all of the pieces the editor asked for? In addition to the article, that may include a sidebar, research links, headers, quizzes, author bio, photos or any other additional information required by the assignment.

+Is it in the format the editor asked for? (RTF, MSWord, etc.)

2. Language

+Have I used any jargon? Is that acceptable for this publication, or do I need to change it?

+Did I write enough of the article in active voice to keep the information interesting and lively?

+Is my sentence length appropriate for the piece and the publication?

+If I’m using headers, are they parallel construction?

+Is the point of view consistent?

+Do my pronouns refer to clearly identified subjects?

+Have I checked the article for my frequent mistakes? (Pro Tip: Create a list of the mistakes you tend to make repeatedly.)

3. The Nitty Gritty

+Have I proofread the article for grammatical, spelling, and typographical errors?

 

Your turn: What else?

What else would you add to my checklist? Add your comment below. When I have everyone’s suggestions, I’ll put together a big ol’ checklist that you can download and use in your own writing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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#WritersRead: Five books with Soul by Sarah Allen

I’m always curious about what writers read—so I started a blog series! In #WritersRead, authors share five books that have inspired or educated or nurtured them in some way. Today I’m delighted to welcome fellow blogger Sarah Allen to talk about five books with soul. Enjoy!

 

file000336805371#WritersRead: Five Books with Soul by Sarah Allen

Writing this post was much more troublesome than I expected. I mean that in the best way. I’ve pondered for days about which books have meant the most to me and why, and how I could group them together for a cohesive post, if I could do it at all. As for all of us, so many books have influenced me in so many different ways. But when I really thought hard about which books have remained with me since I opened the first page—in fact, when I listed them—I realized they all have one thing in common. They all have soul.

Here’s what I mean by that. The publishing industry delineates between fiction meant for a religious market and fiction for a non-religious market. I think that is a false dichotomy. And before you get too squirmy, let me explain. The largest portion of humanity has some kind of spiritual belief. Not only that, but those beliefs form the core of who we are. I think most of us don’t really see that thick of a line between our “spiritual” lives and our “normal” lives. They’re one and the same—just, us.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There is definitely a place for explicitly religious fiction and a place for books with no religion. Obviously. But the books I want to talk about today are books that, while not specifically for any type of religious market, still have a spiritual soul at the heart of the story.

All the Little Live Things by Wallace Stegner. If you asked me which writer, out of any, I would choose to write like if I could, it would be Wallace Stegner. His words sing. This is a short, simple story about an old man who has learned to close himself off to feeling too much, until a young woman and her family move next door and rips off the protective layer from around his heart. This book is not explicitly religious, but the beautiful thoughts of this man as he becomes friends with this new family can only be described as transcendent. My description dims in comparison to how brilliant Stegner’s writing really is, so I’ll let him do the rest of the talking himself:

“One thing I have learned hard, if indeed I have learned it now: it is a reduction of our humanity to hide from pain, our own or others’. To hide from anything. That was Marian’s text. Be open, be available, be exposed, be skinless. Skinless? Dance around in your bones.”

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. The next writer I would pick would be Marilynn Robinson. She also is the level of genius I can only ever aspire to. Gilead is the story of a pastor in his seventies writing a letter to his young son who will most likely grow up without knowing much of his father. As this pastor writes his thoughts and experiences and current struggles, you see all the heart-wrenching stories going on around him. Written from the perspective of a pastor, the story often deals with his spiritual questions and ponderings, but this book is the opposite of preachy or didactic. It is clear, open-minded, heart-stirring and thought-provoking.

“It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance – for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light …. Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it?”

Lost Boys by Orson Scott Card. Though Orson Scott Card is definitely more known for the Ender’s Game series, this may be my favorite of his books. This story centers around a young man and his family. It talks about the relationship between the man and his wife and his children in an incredibly honest and poignant way. The family themselves are Christian, and that comes into play in so far as it develops plot and character, but as this is OSC, there is something much larger, and most likely sinister, going on under the surface. There is something going on with their oldest son and both allies and enemies are found at church, work, and the children’s school. I won’t give anymore away than that, but it is a beautiful story.

The Green Mile by Stephen KingIf Lost Boys is probably my favorite OSC, The Green Mile is definitely my favorite Stephen King. I’m not a big horror reader, and when I recommend this book to people I often get wary looks, like “Really? Stephen King?” Yes. Really. King has his own brand of gritty genius that stays with you for a long time. The Green Mile was made into an Academy Award winning film several years ago, and I’m sure many of you know it. But this story is set on death row during the great depression. The main character is a guard on death row, what they call The Green Mile. Among other prisoners, an almost inhumanly large black man is sent to their block. Through various incidents involving a urinary infection and a squashed mouse, the guards realize that this man has an ability that really is beyond human. And more than that, he’s probably innocent.

So why do I add this to my list of books with soul? Because even though this isn’t directly religious, it’s a bit of what might happen if a thread of the supernatural got loose in our “normal” world, which isn’t quite that “normal” after all. Read the book. It will definitely keep you up past your bedtime.

The Wednesday Wars by Gary SchmidtThis book makes me smile just thinking about it. This is a middle grade novel about a young boy who is the only Presbyterian in his class, so on Wednesday afternoons, half his class goes to Hebrew school and the other half go to catechism at the Catholic church. This means he has to stay with his teacher, who he is sure hates him, and study Shakespeare. The story is set in the Vietnam war era, and maybe it’s weird to say that this story is a beautiful mix of Shakespeare and the complicated mentality of the Vietnam war, but it is. Apart from the mentioning of the other students leaving on Wednesday afternoons, there isn’t much direct mention of religion. However, the whole story is about this young boy’s journey of discovering what makes a person really good, and what good people can do when things are bad.

If you’re like me, these books will stay with you a long time after you read them. Not just that, but you’ll feel your soul expanding.

Happy reading!

130609-1208502About the author. Novelist and freelancer living in Las Vegas and working on querying two novels. Blond, fanatical, not-as-naïve-as-you-think uber-dork. Either writing, reading, or obsessing over a movie or show with painfully stunning acting. Slyther-puff, cinephile, Jane Austen groupie. Secret lover of jazz and post-grunge rock, not so secret lover of Colin Firth, white chocolate, cavalier king charles spaniels and Frasier. Find her at her blog: http://fromsarahwithjoy.blogspot.com/

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Your Query Letter: How to Write An Irresistible Offer by Rochelle Melander

file7081235859209All I wanted to do was buy discount tickets to the Amazing Pets Show and The Hollywood Wax Museum. It’d been a long day of wandering around Branson, MO, and we were picking up groceries at the Price Chopper. I was delighted to find a discount ticket booth inside the store. Sweet!

“What do you want to see?” asked the ticket counter guy. As I named the show, he punched it into his computer. He asked how long we’re in town and how many tickets we’d need. Once he had his information, he jotted down a price on a piece of paper and said, “Yup, that’ll run you upwards of $100 for all four of you to go.”

“Wow, I thought this was a discount ticket booth,” I said.

“I can do better for you,” he told me.

“How much better?”

I needed a price I could live with. Then I could pay and leave. I was tired and hungry. But it wasn’t that simple. The guy told me that he could save me more than $100 if my husband and I would sit through a presentation. The kids would get to attend an activity, even play miniature golf for free, while we spend an hour, two at the most, learning about some luxury travel club.

Oh. Not what I wanted to hear.

I hesitated. By this time my husband was standing next to me. He’d already put the groceries in the car. The kids were playing with the video games, conveniently located next to the ticket counter.

“You can choose from these times tomorrow,” said the salesman, writing them down.

Before I can answer, an older woman with wild gray hair stops by the booth. The other salesman asks her what brought her to Branson. She said, “We’re here because of a &*% #@&! time share.”

Before we can walk away, our sales guy says, “I’ll sweeten the deal. I’ll give each of you a $25 Visa Card if you go.”

I did the math in my head. $150 for 90 minutes, that’s $50 an hour. Plus, I figured, I can learn something from this.

And I did. The salesmen we encountered at the Price Chopper were brilliant at crafting a hook. As writers, we can learn from these guys.

file5161255831301The hook. Next time you write a query letter, here’s how you can write an irresistible offer:

+Offer exactly what the client wants. Solve a problem for them. We were a family vacationing in Branson over the holidays. The sales guy correctly identified the universal problem facing families on vacation: they want to have fun and not spend a lot of money. They offered to solve that problem for us by offering us free tickets to the show we wanted to see, extra money to spend, and free miniature golf for the kids. As you write your hook, consider this: what does the agent or editor want? How does your product or service provide that?

+Sweeten the deal. Every single time we hesitated, the sales guy did one of two things: he wrote down how much we’d be saving by just going to the presentation or he sweetened the deal. Of course, if you’re making an offer in writing, you’ll need to consider ahead of time how you can provide added value in your query or proposal. This might include:

*Key experts

*Valuable information

*Timely topic

*Unique presentation

*Special features

*Large platform

+Add urgency. The salesman wouldn’t let us walk away from the counter until we’d made a decision. He knew that he’d never have a better chance to hook us. How can you add a sense of urgency to your offer?

*Note the timeliness of your query, including the benefits it will offer the reader.

*Offer a time limit for considering your query such as, “I’m offering this to you exclusively for the next month.”

Your turn: Have you ever been hooked into a timeshare presentation? What elements of their pitch have you borrowed to write great query letters or book proposals? Add your suggestions below!

 

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Writers@Work: What Journalism School Taught Me About Writing by Kevin Gannon

Welcome, writers. Today’s post comes from a recent journalism school grad. In it he offers his top five—what he learned about writing from school! Chime in with your top learnings! —Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach

 

file0001998405515Writers@Work:

What Journalism School Taught Me About Writing

by Kevin Gannon

As a young, aspiring (mostly) online journalist fresh out of college, I am finding it increasingly important to remember what I learned from the journalism courses I took. While it’s impossible to wrap up every single bit of information into one article—or even several—I aimed to present the five lessons that I learned about news and feature writing that have stuck with me the most. In an increasingly competitive market for writers, I’ve found that it’s most crucial to at least have these skills in my back pocket.

Develop a Voice. First and foremost, I learned that I needed to develop a voice within my writing. This may seem difficult at first and, yes, it most certainly is. However, it is simply something that came with writing until my hand fell off—hypothetically speaking—until I became even slightly comfortable enough for my voice to breathe through my work. I personally don’t think I’ve quite honed my own approach just yet, partially because I feel as if I’m slightly harping on the works of the greats. But still, that’s not a terrible way to start, and it’s actually one of the tips I learned from my professors. After all, as T.S. Eliot once said, “Good writers borrow, great writers steal.”

Always Be Prepared If there’s one thing I cannot stress enough, it’s being prepared. This became devastatingly apparent for me during one of my internships in college. I was assigned to cover several meetings in the town nearby my university and report on the most important issues discussed. The first two went just fine as I showed up with my notepad, pen, and trusty voice recorder. But on my third assignment, I thought I’d try going the digital route and bring my tablet along to jot down my notes. To be sure, I failed somewhat miserably.

Keep It Simple (Stupid) I can remember it like it was just yesterday, sitting in a 300-level journalism class and hearing my professor proclaim, “You’ll need to write for an 8th-grade reading level.” Instantly, the English degree-earning side of my tried to reject that knowledge, but I couldn’t. The idea of keeping it simple struck me most strongly when I began reading newspapers like USA Today and others of its ilk that work to keep their articles tight and concise. I also realized that they don’t tend to be verbose or reach for their Thesaurus whenever they want to spice up an article. Why? Because reports like this one by the L.A. Times prove that literacy simply isn’t as strong as it once was.

Diversify Your Skill Set In starting out as a journalist, I’ve learned that I cannot diversify my skill set enough. Basically what that boils down to is that I needed to be a jack of all trades (of sorts) and willing to tackle nearly any number of topics thrown my way. In my experience covering small-town politics, both in my internship and now as a freelancer, I’ve had to report on so many different subjects that I have basically lost count. From school committees to planning boards to parks and recreation and everything in between, I have been expected to have a sense of what’s going on throughout the community to which I’ve been assigned.

Follow the Rules, But Not Too Closely. As an avid AP Stylebook follower, I am pretty much never without that book by my side. I have learned and continued to study the ins and outs of AP style, meaning that I spend at least 20-30 minutes every day flipping through it to stay fresh. But when it comes to actually writing my articles, I have found that I do not absolutely have to stick to what I have learned from my college professors. I haven’t allowed rules to undermine my voice or restrict what I’m actually writing about. If there has been a time where I feel as if a more loosely structured approach could portray the subject in a different and more interesting manner—this is important for weekly paper reporters like me—I have learned not to become afraid to pitch it to my editors. They have said no before, but they have also respected my willingness to be a touch more creative.

About The Author: Kevin Gannon is a recent college graduate with an English degree. For those wondering, he minored in Journalism and just so happens to have a strong passion for reporting on news of any kind and for any outlet. As a young writer, he’s learning that it takes time to hone your chops, and you can never branch out too much.

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Who Else Wants to Restart the New Year? by Rochelle Melander

IMG_0634My husband has long said that January is the worst time to start a New Year, especially if you live in the Northern Hemisphere. January means short days, cold air, and an abundance of chores. It’s hard to feel hopeful about anything at this time of year. Instead, I’m inclined to hibernate and focus on soothing activities: reading books, cooking soup and baking cookies.

But write? Send out query letters? Revise my novel? Yikes. I need a nap.

I’m not alone. Psychologist Cliff Arnall dubbed yesterday, the third Monday in January, “Blue Monday.” He said, “Motivational levels also tend to be quite low at this time of year.”  A survey in the UK revealed that most people expected to fail on their resolutions by Friday, January 24.  All over the web, you’ll find doom and gloom predictions about your New Year’s Resolutions:

Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail 

This is Why You Won’t Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions 

11 Reasons New Year’s Resolutions Fail 

So here’s the thing: stuff happens. Whether we’re talking about keeping New Year’s resolutions or sticking to a writing schedule: not everything works out perfectly. As Sarah Jessica Parker said:

After all, computers crash, people die, and relationships fall apart. The best we can do is breathe and reboot.

Ahhh. That’s the ticket: reboot.

Anyone who’s owned a computer, smart phone or MP3 player knows the value of rebooting. It’s often a quick and easy fix for a malfunctioning program or a stuck system. Writers, what we need right now is a life reboot!

file761283458686Pro Tips for Restarting

Reflect. When my computer crashed last September, it was because I’d given it an enormous task. The small amount of available working memory couldn’t handle the amount of data I’d thrown at it. Of course, I paid someone $95 an hour to figure that out!

Just like computer crashes, most resolutions fail for a reason. We might be tempted to blame ourselves, but that doesn’t help anyone. Instead we need to put on our scientist hat and examine the data: what’s getting in the way of our success?

When I examined my slow start to the year, I realized that I wasn’t writing because I was trying to work on too many new projects at once. I couldn’t focus because I was juggling three writing projects, laundry, and kids. No wonder I left the wet laundry in the washing machine for three days last week. When I restart, I’ll lower my expectations. Before you reboot, reflect. Don’t beat up yourself. Just note what worked and what didn’t. The information will help you start better.

Start small and move slowly. When it comes to new stuff, turtle time works best. Choose one small action to work on. Instead of “work on novel every day” try “work on writing a scene from 3-3:30 PM every M-W-F.”

Stop comparing your progress to others. It happens every day. I finish my work, check Facebook, and discover that everyone in my timeline is skinny, tan, and in Aruba. They’ve just published their tenth novel to raving reviews. On top of that, they’ve been recognized for having the best blog in the Universe. I can’t get to the chocolate fast enough. Can you relate? If so, you might have a tiny little problem with comparing yourself to others as well. Stop it. You can only do what you can do. And if you can’t stop it, don’t look at what others are doing. Just focus on your own project.

Stuff Happens. Forgive Yourself. Okay writers, it took me many years to realize this, and I’m still working on it: I’m not in charge of the world and neither are you. (Dang! If only!) Stuff happens every day. We can plan everything, and it can still fall apart. Stuff happens. Love and forgive yourself. And start again.

file000412410432How to Reboot Your Life and Writing

1. Restart your New Year. (Party,  hats, and champagne optional). A 2013 study on The Fresh Start Effect showed that people do better with new goals immediately following a new start in the calendar—a birthday or the beginning of a week, month, or year.

If you need to restart your resolutions, choose your date. Plan an evening of reflection (or a party), chuck the old stuff, set a new resolution and begin again the next day.

2. Restart your writing. Rebooting works for writing, too. When your writing isn’t working, stop. Save and close everything. Walk away for a while. Restart in one of these ways:

+Consider what kind of fresh energy your project needs. Do you need to write it in a different format? Do you need to write it in a different place? At a different time? Do you need an outside eye to look at it?

+Do you need to do something totally different? What project would you work on if you could start fresh? Do that.

+Open a new document and ask: How would I write this if I lost everything? If I had to start from scratch?

 

 

 

 

 

 

WANT TO USE THIS TIP IN YOUR EZINE OR WEB SITE? You may, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Write Now! Coach Rochelle Melander is an author, a certified professional coach, and a popular speaker. Melander has written ten books including Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It). As the Write Now! Coach, she teaches professionals how to write books fast, get published, and connect with readers through social media. Get your free subscription to her Write Now! Tips Ezine at http://www.writenowcoach.com.

 

 

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