Tag Archives: writing advice

Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for November 12, 2012

Photo courtesy of SXC.

A Professional Editor Takes on Self-Editing | The Book Designer

Book editor Linda Jay Geldens provides indie novelists (and other writers pursuing options beyond traditional print book publishing) with a compelling argument for finding a way to have a professional editor supplement their own self-editing of their manuscript. She does a wonderful job of outlining why self-editing by the writer can only be partially successful:

Now, self-editing is fine. Going through your manuscript’s rough drafts several times over a period of weeks searching for errors and omissions, perhaps even reading the text aloud to catch awkward phrasing or redundancies or overcomplicated construction, is certainly not going to hurt—and possibly might even improve—your writing. But let’s face it, there’s only so much self-editing an author can do. Frankly, you as the author are too close to the subject matter to be objective, even if you take a break from the material and come back to it later.

“The Power of Storytelling,” Part 2: Jacqui Banaszynski on the future of stories and Evan Ratliff on digital entrepreneurship

A long, wonderful compilation of two presentations from the Power of Storytelling conference that occurred in Bucharest, Romania, last month. Banaszynski is one of my editing role models, and her presentation on what will happen to narrative in the future is amazing and eloquent.

Here’s just a brief sample, in which she is talking about the continuity of storytelling from the preshistoric past until the present day:

I see the connection between that history in the past and what I do now. The troubadours, the scribes, the people who carried fire from camp to camp in Indian tradition because they carried the stories along with it. I also now see that future, that need to recognize that stories are as eternal and essential as humanity itself. We too often in our anxiety confuse the means of delivery with the essence of what we deliver. Sure, how we tell our stories matters. And we must master as many ways of telling stories as there are stories to tell. But the center that will hold is the story itself. Stories will survive and be needed as long as human beings survive.

Ratliff tells conference-goers about his journey into entrepreneurship when he launched The Atavist, which publishes narrative nonfiction that is sold on Kindles and Nooks as e-books, as well as in apps on iPads. He reflects on the success of his business, which took him in some ways far from where he expected to be as a nonfiction writer:

So, lawyers, accountants, investors. That’s the way I spend most of my time now. It was very difficult for me because here I am, fancying myself a writer, and trying to make it in the world of narrative journalism, and suddenly I’m doing all these things I became a writer not to do.

I think the lesson here is one that I’m still grappling with. I think that sometimes you just have to get over yourself, and sometimes you just have to survive. And this is what we had to do to survive. We had to do things that we were not ready to do and I think that is true for a lot of journalists who want to strike out as freelancers, who want to write things that are different from what your editors want you to write, and you want to go out in the world and find new magazines and find new homes.

24 More Fabulous Tips For Writers, From Writers | Daring to Live Fully

Marelisa Fabrega shares two dozen quotes from writers that address how to write fiction, although there are plenty of tips among them that can easily apply to nonfiction writing, as well. Authors quoted include Issac Asimov, Anne Lamott, William Saroyan, and Joyce Carole Oats.

6 Tips For Getting Gigs as a Freelance Journalist | Poynter

Beth Winegarner provides practical advice and support for new freelance writer. I especially like her emphasis on how networking aids freelancers looking for work:

Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, connecting with fellow freelancers has never been easier. Knowing who’s writing, and who they’re writing for, gives you a good sense of which publications are open to taking freelance work. Get to know other freelancers on social networks and, once you’ve built a rapport with them, ask them to introduce you to their editors. While cold-pitching works, your success rate will be much greater with a personal introduction.

The article also has a replay of a Poynter-sponsored web chat with Winegarner on this topic embedded with it, which is a nice plus.

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Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for October 18, 2011

Photo courtesy SXC.

25 Insights on Becoming a Better Writer | The 99 Percent
Jocelyn K. Glei has compiled a great list of insightful snippets from 25 famous authors, from P.D. James and Kurt Vonnegut to Margaret Atwood and Annie Dillard.

Here’s a sample of the quotable wisdom provided, from Cory Doctorow, author of “For The Win”:

Write even when the world is chaotic. You don’t need a cigarette, silence, music, a comfortable chair, or inner peace to write. You just need ten minutes and a writing implement.

The 5 Step Process That Solves Painful Writing Problems
Copyblogger contributor Brian Clark presents a simple regimen for avoiding writer’s block, bloated copy and do-nothing endings. The most surprising part of the system he recommends? Headlines and subheads should be developed before the rest of the body copy – which is rarely the order in which they are developed for magazine articles.

Spend Some Time Living Before You Start Writing | Advice to Writers
Jon Winokur quotes novelist Annie Proulx, who confronts the old saw “write what you know” head-on, saying, “It is the most tiresome and stupid advice that could possibly be given. If we write simply about what we know we never grow. ”

Game Changer | Fast Company
Do games have any place in the training of future journalists? Adam L. Penenberg, a journalism professor at NYU, reports on the improvement in learning retention in his graduate classes after he layered in game mechanics (prizes, walking tour treasure hunts, social media leader boards) to his business and economics course. An intriguing article and interesting reading for anyone following the emerging trend of schools employing simulations and games to stimulate learning.

If “He Said, She Said” Journalism Is Irretrievably Lame, What’s Better?
Jay Rosen, journalism educator and author of Press Think blog, discusses his criticism of a recent NPR investigative series on security at the Mall of America and shares examples of paradigm-busting online publications that insist on fairness but do not hide behind “objectivity” as a way of coming to a well-researched and well-reported conclusion about the facts as a reporter has discovered them.

How to feed your journalism cow
UK journalist Adam Westbrook suggests a number of idea-sparking sources for writers of nonfiction and those in associated genres (filmmaking, photography, design). I’m most interested in exploring Adam’s own Video.fu film library, which focuses on nonfiction films that tackle their topics in a story-based way, and using the crowdfunding site Kickstarter as a source of ideas that their owners are trying to make viable.

Bonus!

Forget the candy, give books for treats this Halloween
Book editor Barbara McNichol shares a link related to the Books for Treats campaign, which aims to replace the candy-begging ritual in American neighborhoods at Halloween with adults giving out books to kids instead of candy. What a great idea!!!

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Writing in Two Worlds: An Interview with Novelist and Journalist Jessica McCann

Novelist and nonfiction writer Jessica McCann

We have a real treat today: I recently conducted an e-interview with Jessica McCann, a magazine writer and freelance editor whom I’ve worked with several times over the years. She’s also a budding novelist — her novel “All Different Kinds of Free” is due to be published in April of next year.

Her story of how she got her start in nonfiction writing, and how she reclaimed her childhood love of fiction in order to start writing it, is inspiring and contains valuable lessons for any writer would would like to work in both fiction and nonfiction.

Write Livelihood: How did you get your start as a nonfiction writer?
McCann: I’ve worked at least part-time as a freelance writer since I was 17 years old. I started freelancing as a high school senior for an amazing group of women in the communications department at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. Each of them mentored me in their respective areas — external communications, media relations, community outreach and employee communications. They exposed me to so many types of business and journalistic writing styles and approaches. I consider the time I spent there to be my formal education in the writing profession.

A few years out of high school I landed a full-time job in communications, then as went on to work as the editor of a regional business magazine, and finally editor for a custom-book publisher. To make extra money and build up my portfolio, I continued to freelance on the side. In 1998, I quit my editing job to freelance full time, and I haven’t looked back since.

What role has fiction writing played in your development as a professional writer?
Fiction didn’t have a role in my professional writing career for a very long time. When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a novelist. In eighth grade, a misguided English teacher told me a short story I had written was lazy and unimaginative — that he expected more (out of me). Maybe his assessment was accurate. Maybe he was hoping to fire me up and get me to work harder. But all he really did was crush my confidence.

It took me 20 years to work up the courage to dabble in fiction writing again. I focused instead on nonfiction and built a successful career as a business writer and journalist. Once you’re on a certain path, it’s pretty hard to find the motivation and courage to wander off into the dark scary woods in search of something different. So for a long time, I stayed with what I knew I could do well, stayed with what was safe.

What inspired you to write your debut novel, “All Different Kinds of Free”?
The work was inspired by the U.S. Supreme Court case Prigg v. Pennsylvania, 1842. I first read about it when I was doing freelance copyediting on a book for MIT about Supreme Court justices.  The case  appealed the conviction of a bounty hunter charged with kidnapping Margaret Morgan, a free woman of color who was alleged to be an escaped slave. The court case focused on state’s rights, and the ruling represented the first time a major branch of the U.S. government made a proslavery stand. But I was most interested in Margaret and what became of her.

My original goal was to write a biography, and I spent about three years researching her life — or, at least, attempting to research her life. The sad truth is that Margaret and her fate were irrelevant at the time. The issue for most people in the mid-1800s was much bigger than one woman’s fight for freedom. Yet, to me, it was all about Margaret. When I realized I didn’t have enough facts to write a biography, I was devastated and grudgingly packed away my research. Then my mother-in-law loaned me a book, a fictional biography about George Washington, by Mary Higgins Clark. It was a fun read, and it gave me the idea that a fictional biography might be the only way I could tell Margaret’s story and really do it justice.

At what point did you decide the novel might be publishable?
In its earliest stages, I never really believed it would ever get published. It was just a story I felt compelled to write, and I was enjoying the creative process. Then I entered the first few chapters in  some writing competitions as a novel in progress. I didn’t win, but I received semi-finalist recognition in two respected contests. That’s when I started to believe I might have the chops to actually write a novel that people would want to read. When All Different Kinds of Free was named a finalist in the Freedom in Fiction Prize, publishing my novel was no longer just a fun dream. It became a tangible goal that I wrote  into my business plan.

Does your writing process differ for writing fiction?
Not much. I enjoy the research phase of writing. That’s often what fuels my creativity, whether I’m writing fiction or nonfiction. The interviews, digging through articles and books at the library, searching online for little-known facts and resources — it’s a process that helps ideas form in my head, helps me arrange the pieces of my story to create the picture I want my readers to see.

How does writing fiction impact your nonfiction writing, and vice versa?
As I mentioned earlier, for many years I was quite literally afraid to try my hand at fiction and was content writing magazine articles and corporate work. Then, after more than 10 years freelancing for the same clients, I hit a sort of road block. I was bored out of my mind, to be blunt. My clients were still happy with my work, but I felt like I was writing the same old articles again and again. I could do it with my eyes closed.

I felt stifled creatively, felt I was doing my clients an injustice, and felt it would soon catch up to me in a bad way. So I started writing short stories based on writing prompts, just to flex my creative muscles and work my brain in a different way. A couple of amazing things happened. One, I remembered how much I enjoyed writing fiction; and two, I realized that good fiction writing isn’t a whole heck of a lot different than good nonfiction. Being efficient with the language, using vivid imagery, telling a compelling story — these are universal to good writing, regardless of the genre.

Going forward, how do you see your fiction writing fitting in your career overall?
I would love to become a full-time novelist. It’s a challenging, slow transition, but that’s the ultimate goal. My debut book releases April 2011 from Bell Bridge Books, and I’m deep in research for my second novel.

What advice would you have for nonfiction writers who’d like to get started writing fiction?
Just get started. Start small to build up your confidence if you need to — write a short story or two, enter a contest here and there, research literary journals and submit your work. As you gain momentum, the fiction writing will start to play a bigger role in your writing life. If it’s important enough to you, it will eventually take on a life of its own.

Any final thoughts or advice for writers who work in both genres?
Be brave. Keep writing. That may sound trite or hokey, but for me it’s that simple. Look to other writers for inspiration, encouragement and motivation.

The following quotes in particular have come to mean a lot to me recently:
“To write something, you have to risk making a fool of yourself.” ~Anne Rice

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” ~Mark Twain

“The one talent that’s indispensable to a writer is persistence.” ~Tom Clancy

“Forget about becoming a great writer. Work instead on writing great stories.” ~William Tapply

That pretty much sums it up for me. Writing is scary. When you’ve already experienced some measure of success in one type of writing, switching genres and starting from scratch is even scarier. You’re putting yourself out there, vulnerable to fresh criticism, with every new thing you write. Why subject yourself to the hard work, the anxiety and the potential rejection again and again? Because you have a story to tell. So tell it, in whatever genre does it justice.

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You can learn more about Jessica’s work by visiting her website.

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Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for June 6, 2010

Photo courtesy SXC.

Is J-school relevant? (#wjchat)

Multimedia journalism educator Mindy McAdams, on her Teaching Online Journalism blog, summarizes a recent Twitter chat she moderated. The chat was organized by WebJournalist.org and discussed the relevance of journalism education in today’s media landscape, what would replace j-school (internships, etc.) and what j-schools might teach to help students compete in today’s vastly changed journalism world. She also links to a full transcript of the chat, which is awesome and info-packed!

Lost Remote | How to be a good PR person – or PR client

Steve Safran reminds flacks and their clients to “remember what we write about” and asserts that providing signal, not noise, to online and traditional journalists will result in influence that will carry a company’s or individual’s story much farther.

How To Live Tweet A Conference

Mark Stelzner, writing on the Inflexion Advisors blog, offers a compact post full of tips on the right way to live-tweet conference proceedings on Twitter.

Journalists to Follow

Very nice two-part list (this is part 1) from the Society of Professional Journalists’ publication, Quill. What’s especially nice is that they include a Q+A with each person about the future of journalism. (Here is part 2, if you are interested.)

73 Ways to Become a Better Writer | Copyblogger

Mary Jaksch, Chief Editor of Write to Done blog, shares dozens of suggestions for improving your writing, as shared by WTD blog readers.

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