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I saw this story yesterday, and I got a kick out of it. How many times have you seen a sign with a misspelling or grammar error? I especially get peeved when I see one that is on a permanent sign. Not only did someone decide to write the signed incorrectly, but someone else approved it, and a third person printed it that way. Now their poor English education is immortalized.

Apparently, it got to be too much for this guy who took matters into his own hands and became a “grammar vigilante.” It reminds me of the Studio C skit about Captain Literally and The Grammar League.

 

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Click to watch the video

 

The Grammar Vigilante’s tool of choice is an apostrohiser, which a “a broom handle laden with two sponges and a number of stickers,” according to the UK Telegraph. The newspaper reported that he has been replacing or removing misplaced apostrophes throughout Bristol, England, over the past 13 years.

He told the newspaper, “People might say what I am doing is wrong, but it is more of a crime to have the apostrophes wrong in the first place.”

Reactions to the Grammar Vigilante’s efforts have been mixed. Some don’t mind being corrected, while others feel like it defaces a sign that may have cost thousands to produce. So far, police haven’t received any complaints about his efforts.

You can read the Telegraph article here.

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I once saw a performer in a Cirque du Soleil show who juggled seven balls at once. He wasn’t able to do it for too long before he started tossing balls out from the moving circle. I have never been able to juggle. Sometimes, I’m challenged to toss one ball back and forth between my hands.

I can juggle projects, though. I have gotten very good at doing it over the years. It’s not surprising since I have to deal with writing projects from around eight writing clients each month, and I’m often doing multiple projects for each one. That means I have weekly, monthly, and bimonthly deadlines that I need to meet. Some of the projects are long-term and others are rush jobs. Plus, this doesn’t include my own writing projects.

I usually work on each project for a little bit each day. I might do interviews for one article, the rough draft for another, transcribing notes for a third, a partial draft on another, and a final draft on a fifth project.

It keeps me busy, and all of the projects move forward. It works for me because I don’t feel overwhelmed by how much writing I have to do on a project. I can see forward movement on the project so I don’t feel anxiety as the deadline approaches.

I also like that I can usually see potential problems coming far in advance of the deadline. Maybe I need to do more interviews or research. Maybe I need to completely rewrite an article. By doing a little bit each day, I can see the problem coming rather than having to scramble when I’m doing a lot of writing only a few days out from my deadline.

However, just like the juggler couldn’t maintain seven balls in the air for a long period, juggling multiple projects can wear me down after a while. When I start to feel that way, I also have to back off. This usually seems to be a time when I have an unusually high number of projects that I’m trying to keep moving.

I do this by focusing on one or two projects each day and trying to finish them or at least make major progress toward finishing them. These are usually projects that have looming deadlines or a project that doesn’t require a lot of research and preparation. Finishing a project is like removing a ball from the juggler’s moving circle.

Some of the advantages that I’ve found with this method as I talk with other writers are:

  • I don’t get bored because I’m working on different things.
  • I can avoid writer’s block. If I get blocked on a project, I just jump to a new project.
  • The projects get daily attention so I don’t go cold on a particular project.

This is something that works for me. Maybe it will help you get more out of your day if you try it. Good luck.

Here are some other posts that you might like:

 

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O’Rorke’s Restaurant in Gettysburg, PA, where the Gettysburg Writers Brigade meets.

 

On any given Wednesday night, on the second floor of O’Rorke’s Restaurant in Gettysburg, you’ll find a group of men and women gathered around a long table. Some of them will be eating, some sipping a beer, many of them talking to each other. Newcomers are welcome to the group, but if you sit down, you had better be ready to hear some unusual topics of conversation. How do you make dialogue snappier? How do you use Facebook to promote your writing? How do you get your novel published? Members of the Gettysburg Writers Brigade are all likely to have an opinion on the topics and probably not the same opinion, but that diversity of ideas is what makes the group so useful.

Writing a book is on a lot of people’s bucket lists, but they don’t know how to get started. The blank page that they are expected to fill with words can be intimidating.

You don’t have to face the challenge alone or uninformed, though. The Gettysburg Writer’s Brigade has been helping writers navigate the pitfalls of writing a book for nearly seven years and at the same time offering encouragement to those writers.

Will Hutchison, an author of three novels and two non-fiction books, formed the group in 2010.

“I think writers need to talk to writers and I wanted to get together with some writers to talk,” he said.

Since January 4, 2010, the group has had 372 official meetings and numerous unofficial ones. The official meetings are about 60 percent social and 40 percent writing technique with a little bit of critiquing thrown in, according to Hutchison. It seems to be a combination that works. Group membership has grown from six to eight members to 83 members on Meetup.com and 8 to 12 people on average attending the Wednesday night sessions.

Curt Herring is one of the newest members of the group. He joined in July 2016 when he was looking for tips on how to write a book about his father. A neighbor who was a member of the group told him about it.

“I like the fellowship and I’m learning something new every week,” Herring said. “I look forward to it each week.”

Not everyone in the group is an unpublished author. When the Gettysburg Writers Brigade first began, Hutchison was the only published author, but now he estimates that a third of the group has either had articles, books, poetry or something else published.

 

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Gettysburg Writers Brigade Founder Will Hutchison

“More people are getting published and that’s the bottom line,” Hutchison said.

 

Gail Furford joined the group in 2012 and now has two books published. “I like the input I get from each member,” she said. “I like learning from each other’s styles.

Even the group’s founder learns from the meetings. He has had two of his books published since the group started meeting.

“This group has also helped me write the books. I bounce ideas off the group and get feedback from the critiques,” Hutchison said.

While most writer’s groups are critiquing sessions that can be quite brutal to an insecure author, the Gettysburg Writer’s Brigade only does readings once a month. The group critiques must be constructive to help the author and not tear down the writer’s confidence or enthusiasm for writing.

A typical meeting begins with members filtering in a half hour or more before the meeting just to talk about what is happening in their lives. Between 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. when it looks like everyone who is going to show up is in the room, Hutchison will get the group’s attention. Sometimes there are some general announcements to be made. Other times, he simply gets started on the evening’s presentation. It will be something having to do with writing, whether it’s technique, marketing, publishing or something else. Each week’s topics are decided on by the group at the end of the previous meeting.

“There’s a lot of pressure to have a presentation each week, but this is how the group likes it,” Hutchison said.

He originally thought the Gettysburg Writer’s Brigade would meet monthly, but the members enjoy the regularity of weekly meetings.

“It’s fun to sit with people who are going through exactly the same things you’ve gone through writing,” Hutchison said.

Furford agreed. “I’m getting so much more than I expected out the group learning from people’s different styles and the various topics,” she said.

Other posts that you might like:

 

 

 

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Here I am at The Book Center in Cumberland, MD, on Nov. 19. I’m the one on the left, in case you couldn’t tell.

I was doing some organizing the other week and decided to put all of my book ideas on a spreadsheet. At the time, they were written down on anything from a scrap of paper to pages. I put everything onto the spreadsheet including working title, genre, notes, and summary.

It took me quite a while to put together the spreadsheet because I kept finding scraps of paper in different folders in my filing cabinet. Eventually, I got everything transferred. At least I hope so. I haven’t found any idea scraps in a week or so.

My final list totals 92 book ideas!

I’m pretty prolific. I average about three books a years. That means that I have 33 years worth of books yet to do, and that’s only if I don’t add any more ideas to list. That won’t be happening. I’ve already added a new idea this month. My list also includes some books that are parts of series. The list might include an idea or two for additional books in the series, but what happens after that?

Now not all of those books will get written (obviously) because I won’t be able to flesh out the story enough to make it work. Still, when I look at the list, about a third of the titles already have a significant amount of writing done.

This is one of the reasons that I’ll never retire. I’ve got too much writing that I want to do.

The other reason that I won’t retire is that I enjoy what I’m doing. I still get frustrated at times from trying to figure something out or stressed out over deadlines, but overall, I love my job. I get to meet fascinating people and do fun activities (all in the name of research, of course!).

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in elementary school, and now that I am, I’m going to make the most of it. That means I’ll be writing and writing and writing.

Here are some other posts that you might enjoy:

I like writing for regional magazines. Some writers are all about getting into the big-name magazines, and that’s fine. I like writing for them occasionally, too. However, the bread-and-butter side of non-book income is writing for magazines so I need to keep the assignments and checks coming.

2fd069a12889a0c3761c5db01730cb0d6858b490Here’s why I like to write for regional magazines:

  • Larger market: If I wanted to write a story for a national history magazine, I have three or four possible markets where I could pitch the article. However, if I look at the local angles of the story, I could at least double that number of market, maybe even triple it. I live in Gettysburg, and there are six magazines that I can think of that directly cover the town.
  • Easy to resell articles: I find that it is easy to resell article ideas between regional magazines. The article needs to be refocused a bit to fit the market of the magazine, but probably half of the article can stay the same between the markets. For instance, I wrote an article about the Tuskegee Airmen who were from Maryland for a Maryland magazine. I then repurposed it for both West Virginia and Pennsylvania magazines focusing on the airmen from those state. While the names were different and I had to interview different people, the basic information about the history of the airmen was the same.pa-heritage-magazine-spring-2016_large
  • Multiple chances to impress: This ties into there being a larger market of regional magazines. Each of those magazines has a different editor, so you have multiple chances to build professional relationships that can serve you well. Once I have worked with editors for a few stories, they quickly realize I like history so when history ideas up in editorial meetings, they contact me to write the story. Also, if the editor moves on to a new job, they know they can contact me for assignments.178e9ea3549cac3b6d3a2d20aee0ad2c
  • Good payment: Certainly national magazines pay more, probably around $1 a word, but regional magazines easily pay 25 cents to 75 cents a word. If you repurpose your article idea for four magazines, you’ll probably make more for the overall idea by selling it to regional magazines.
  • Unique stories: Because national magazines have a national market, I find that the stories they tend to tell are more generalized. I find that I have plenty of good articles ideas that national magazines wouldn’t be interested in because they are too local. For instance, I recently wrote an article about the year-long hunt for a supposedly escaped gorilla. It was a fun story that local people enjoyed reading about, but I doubt that a national magazine would have cared for it.
  • Less competition: Regional magazines have fewer writers competing for the editorial space. That means you have a better chance of being accepted. While national magazines may pay more, if you don’t get the assignment, you won’t be making anything. Not only do I have a better chance of getting the assignment at an individual magazine, but if I’m pitching an idea to multiple magazines, such as the Tuskegee Airmen story, I have a better chance of getting the story accepted somewhere. The odds are against me getting the $1 per word story, but I could easily get 50 cents per word.

1192240118All that being said, national magazines still offer advantages.

  • More-impressive clippings: When querying magazines for assignment, having national credits is more impressive to editors. That would make them more likely to see my query favorably. I do have some national credits, and I name them in my queries as well as pertinent regional credits.
  • Better pay: As I already said, if you can get a national assignment, it will more than likely pay better than regional publication. This is particularly true if you can get an assignment from one of the big-name publications that might pay you even more than $1 per word.
  • Author reputation: It doesn’t happen as much now as it used to, but some authors can build a following of readers who are anxious to read their articles.

From my perspective as a full-time freelance writer who needs to earn a living, these are my reasons for favoring regional publications. You may have a different perspective. If it works for you and gets you published, keep it up. If you find it failing you more often than not, try your luck with regional publications. There are some great ones out there. I should know. I write for them.fm2017_smcover-1

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gjon-mili-writer-damon-runyon-working-on-script-at-deskThe most-frequent question that I get as a writer is probably, “Where do you get the ideas for your columns?”

It’s hard for me to give that questioner a short answer to this, especially when we’re talking face to face at a book signing. I thought that I would go through the process with you for my blog.

For those of you who don’t know, I write a local-history column for five different newspapers in Maryland and Pennsylvania. These aren’t the same column appearing in five newspapers. They are different columns, pertinent to each newspapers’ readership, published in those newspapers. This means I need to regularly come up with interesting history articles on a regular basis.

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I routinely go through the old newspapers that service the different areas where my columns appear. Many of these old newspapers can be accessed on newspaper databases that I subscribe to, but others require trips to different libraries that have the old newspapers on microfilm.

I pick a year at random, and I generally start with whatever month the month is when I’m doing the research. There’s no reason for this, other than it helps me gather articles not only from different years but different times of the year.

I start scrolling through the newspapers. I read all of the headlines looking for something that catches my attention. I search for stories about interesting people, unusual events, famous people, local versions of national events, and others. This is where personal preference comes in. My selection of stories is going to be different than someone else’s choices.

One other thing about story selection. I try to find stories that seem to have enough meat that I can turn into a column. If the original newspaper story is short, it had better be fascinating to me because I will probably have to do a lot of research to flesh it out.

As I find the possible stories, I save a copy to my idea file.

bernard-schoenbaum-writer-working-on-computer-uses-a-electronic-tablet-to-handwrite-his-words-cartoonStory selection

I don’t start working on the stories I save right away. When I need a topic for a column, I go to my idea file and look at the different ideas that I’ve saved. If the idea still catches my attention, I may use it.

Sometimes the story doesn’t. There have been instances when I have saved a copy of a newspaper page that had a story on it that I thought was interesting. When I went back to look at the story again, I couldn’t even tell which one was the reason that caused me to save the page.

Research

Once I select the story that I want to work on, I start researching it. The first thing I do is search the newspapers to see if there are additional stories concerning the topic. I also study the people and places in the story to get more background about them. Sometimes, I may interview someone, but often, I can’t find someone living who has something pertinent to say about the story. I may even do a web search to see if there is anything out in the ether that might help me.

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I transcribe the information and quotes from my research into a Word document. This pulls together all of my research into one convenient location. I then sort and rearrange the information into roughly the order that I see the story progressing. This will sometimes show me gaps in my research that I need to research and fill in.

At this point, what I essentially have is a very meaty outline.

Writing

I start writing, moving from point to point in the outline and including the quotes that still make sense to include. This is another place where individual style comes into play.

I may write about the same thing as someone else, but the story I come up with will probably be very different. Both stories may be fine versions of the same idea. It just depends on whose style appeals more to readers.

So, that’s my process. Nothing too fancy, but it works for me.

 

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Here’s a screen shot of this blog post as I started to write it. You can see how the suggested changes are in the right sidebar. You can also indicate on the toolbar what types of checks you want the program to do.

 

I signed up for Grammarly last week, and I have been enjoying it. It seems to do a very in-depth grammar and usage check. I ran a 300-page manuscript through it, and it came back with 2,500 issues. As I am working my way through all of them, I find that about one-quarter are changes that I definitely need to make and another quarter are in a gray area that I think can go either way. I usually make the change. About half of the issues are things that I don’t believe need to be changed.

The program looks at contextual spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, style, and vocabulary enhancement. You can also run a plagiarism check. I haven’t tried this feature yet, so I can’t comment on how effective it is.

Grammarly offers a free and paid version. I’m not exactly sure what the differences are, only that the paid version found a lot more issues. The paid version is $140 a year. With the amount of writing that I do each year, it’s a bargain for me. I can head off mistakes before an editor sees them.

What I am finding is that the program is calling my attention to words that I use too much. I have to look at each one and decide if I want to keep it or substitute a different word.

I can see this becoming a very valuable beta reader of my books and articles; one that will improve my writing.

The program was easy to install. It not only looks at my Word documents, but another add-on also looks at any writing that I do online, such as e-mails.

Writers should check out this program. Sign up for the free version and try it out and see if it doesn’t help you write better.

Check out these other posts:

2500dagenrust-dicht-8001-300x300A common question that I hear when I teach novel writing or even talk with other writers is, “How long should my book be?”

My answer is usually, “What genre of book are you writing?”

There are different acceptable lengths for different genres of books. It doesn’t mean that you can’t write outside of those limits. I found one writer named Wildbow who had written a web-published book called Worm. It’s not on Amazon but you can find it online. It is made up of 31 arcs and an epilogue and each arc has about 10 sections. If it sounds long, it is. It has 1.75 million words or about 7,000 pages. Each arc I’m guessing could probably make up its own novel.

That’s an extreme example of an author writing outside of typical lengths. Some well-known novels can be outside of the typical lengths for their genres. Les Miserables runs long at 530,000 words while Old Man and the Sea is a short novel in any genre at 26,000 words.

Word count matters for publishers for a couple reasons. Longer books cost more to print, which means that they will have to charge a higher price, which could affect sales. Also, readers of certain genres expect books to be certain lengths.

Nowadays, an acceptable length for a novel depends a lot on the genre. Here’s a list I’ve compiled from different sources on the web and averaged out.

  • Flash  fiction: up to 1,000 words.
  • Short stories: 1,000 to 10,000 words.
  • Novellas: 10,000 to 50,000 words.
  • Middle grade readers: 20,000 to 55,000 words. The longer books are for the older students.
  • Westerns: 50,000 to 80,000 words.
  • Romance: 50,000 to 100,000 words. The smaller ones are the ones that are published by companies by Harlequin while the larger are independent.
  • Young adult: 55,000 to 75,000 words.
  • Memoirs: 75,000 to 85,000 words.
  • General fiction: 75,000 to 90,000 words.
  • Mystery: 75,000 to 90,000 words.
  • Horror: 75,000 to 90,000 words.
  • Historical fiction: 90,000 to 105,000 words. These tend to be longer because of the need to weave in historical detail.
  • Science fiction and fantasy: 90,000 to 115,000 words. These books tend to be longer because there is a lot of worldbuilding involved.

These numbers aren’t locked in stone. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, which were all in the same genre and targeting the same audience, ranged from 76,000 words to 257,ooo words. So there can always be exceptions, but generally not for first-time authors. Even Rowling’s first Harry Potter novel was pretty close to the range for a young adult novel. The numbers didn’t grow until she had proven herself as a writer and the shown the popularity of the characters.

So, the first thing to do is write the best story you can. Once you have a good solid draft, then take a look at the word count.

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Man Relaxing Behind Stack of DocumentsYou can certainly jump right into full-time freelance writing without any preparation. It’s the sink-or-swim method. I can’t say that that way works for most people, but maybe you’re one of the lucky few. Either way, you are certainly making it much harder on yourself to succeed.

I speak from experience on this. The first time I became a full-time freelance writer in the 1990s, I just jumped right in with no work or clients lined up. It was extremely stressful. I was working harder and longer hours than I had ever done before.

The second time I became a full-time freelance writer about 10 years ago was unexpected, but I was actually better prepared than I had been the first time.

Why? Because I had already started doing some part-time freelance writing on the side about six months earlier. I was lucky enough to have a boss who said that as long as the story wasn’t something that could run in the newspaper I was editing, he didn’t mind me freelance writing. Not all bosses are that kind. I had one boss try to tell that I couldn’t do any paid writing outside of the newspaper that I was writing for whether or not it was something that the paper could publish.

Ease into freelance writing. Start writing while you still have a regular paycheck. That way you can gain clients and experience. If you are really new to the writing game, you may need to make your first freelance assignments free or at a very low price in order to get clips. You might also need to do this even if you have experience but are trying to break into a new area. If you have a regular paycheck from a full-time job, you can do this without too much worry.

I would also recommend not specializing in a certain area, at least not at first. That was a mistake I made my first time freelancing. I had a few people lined up who were all part of the biotech industry. The work paid well, but it put me in a narrow pocket that I had a lot of trouble digging out of when I needed to.

Some freelancers can specialize right from the start, but because of that early experience I had just writing biotech materials, I’ve always felt like its too much like putting your eggs in one basket.

The second time I started freelancing, I started out as a generalist. I have developed specialty areas over the years, though. For example, I once pitched a Spanish flu story to a magazine. The editor liked the idea, but wanted it to look more at modern flu, too. So I wrote it from that angle (another reason to query) and turned in a health story. This lead to another health story with the same magazine about colds. With two clippings of health articles, I was able to successfully other health articles.

Another reason to start freelancing on a part-time basis rather than full-time is that it allows you time to build up a savings account that you can run your freelance business from until the checks start coming in regularly. This is called capitalization and under capitalization is the main reason that most businesses fail within 5 years. While freelancing doesn’t require as much capitalization, it does require some, particularly since it may be a month or more before you get paid after turning in an article.

Your overall goal starting out is to build your business. You do that by any means possible. At this early stage you can’t afford to be too choosy. Try everything. You never know what will work or not. Once you can start making a living and reach the point where you can’t fit more in, then you can begin prioritize and cut the least profitable areas from your business.

It’s a nice position to be in.

Here’s something that I was thinking about last night. There’s no right answer, but I would be very curious as to the reason why you answer the way that you do.

Let’s start with the assumption that you are a very successful writer (Yay!), now would you:download

  • Want to have authored a book that that was a mega-bestseller and then spend the rest of your career not writing anything close to that successful again? This is where J. K. Rowling is right now, although she may still write something more successful than Harry Potter, it’s hard to imagine it happening.
  • Want to write books that sell well, although none can be considered a breakout novel? I would say, another favorite author of mine, David Baldacci, fits this model. He writes consistently good thriller so that there’s not one particular title that he’s best-known for.
  • Want to write regularly and have some of your novels become bestsellers, but then have your other novels be considered subpar?
  • Write a book every five to 10 years, but have those novels be bestsellers?

david-baldacci-book-listThere are advantages and disadvantages to each option. It depends on what you are looking for from your writing career?

Money? Then the first option might be what you want. Like Rowling, you could make a lot of money this way and be set for life, but I don’t think I would like working the rest of my life trying to recapture that early glory. I guess this could be called the “peaked too soon option.”

A long-lasting career? Then the second option might be you. This is the one I think I would like, although I wouldn’t say “no” to any of them. I have a lot of ideas. This option would mean that I am able to write and have them published regularly and have them sell well. The money is good, but it doesn’t give Warren Buffet any competition.

Critical acclaim? Then the last option might be what you strive for. With this option, you would be considered one of the best writers out there, but you might not be able to make such a great living at it. Each book makes you good money, but it has to be spread out over a number of years.

The third option is a combination of the second and fourth. You publish regularly and would have regular income, but your writing would be inconsistent. When you hit the mark, it’s a bullseye, but otherwise, you hit in the outer rings.

As I said, I think my ideal would be option number two, but that’s for me and my personality. What is your choice?

 

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