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A Perfect New Year's Resolution for All You Writers

January 10, 2013

It’s 2013, and what better way to start off the new year as a writer than by committing to find a healthy balance between those long hours staring at the computer and improving and enriching your life (outside of work, that is)?

           

Although at times it may seem difficult to keep our lives balanced and stress-free, it can be done! Just take a look at some of the ways writers are doing what they love, even as they stay fit and healthy.

 

According to a recent GalleyCat article, there are many new ways to use social media to incorporate fitness and stress relief into your writing routine. For example, AppNewser’s array of free fitness apps for writers, as well as their five free apps to reduce stress, are an easy way to stay healthy, using the phone or tablet you probably already use on a regular basis. The article also highlights Christina Katz’s “Writers on the Move” Facebook group, whose main goal is to keep writers accountable to their fitness goals.

 

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Novelists blog has condensed its strategy for finding balance as a writer into six easy “non-writing” steps. While they highlight the traditional and somewhat obvious ones like exercising regularly and taking a day off once in a while, they also offer more creative suggestions such as reading for pleasure or working on more than one project at once. Of course, they also keep it simple: step away from the desk and turn off the computer once in awhile!

 

For readers of Writer’s Digest, maintaining a balance between writing and other life activities is a challenge, but it can be done with the help of commitment and visualization. One individual comments that an effective strategy to avoid the chaos of life is to wake up early and get in some quality writing time before the day gets hectic. Another writer explains that he goes to bed visualizing his manuscript issues and then wakes early to write while the issue is still fresh in his brain, leaving him time to work on other things later in the day. From compartmentalizing issues to listing tasks and attacking them step by step, these readers have a wide variety of solutions for finding a healthy work-life balance.

 

Although this list is far from comprehensive, these are just a few ways that writers like you have managed to write and create while still finding time to stay healthy. We’re at the start of a new year, and there’s no time like the present to commit to finding balance and happiness in your writing career!

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How to Write an Acknowledgment Page

May 24, 2012

An acknowledgment section might initially seem like the simplest part of writing your book, but many authors feel stumped once they reach this part of the publishing process. How long should it be? Who to thank? How to say it? It can get surprisingly complicated surprisingly quickly. Read on for our tips on how to write a great acknowledgment page.

 

Who to Thank

Similar to making a wedding invitation list, the names of people you want to include may seem to pile on top of each other fifty per minute once you start brainstorming, leaving you overwhelmed with who to thank. A good rule of thumb is to stick only to the people who helped you directly in writing and producing the book (ie: not your friend from pre-K who showed you how to tie your shoes, as invaluable that life lesson may be). Common acknowledgment inclusions are family members, sources for nonfiction pieces, your editor and designer/illustrator, your publisher, and your book mentor. BPS also has a good piece of advice—“Be parsimonious in your praise of animals, too.” Sorry, Spot.  

 

Length

We’ve all read a few books whose acknowledgment pages drone on and on for several pages; don’t submit your readers to the same paper cuts. Keep your acknowledgment to one page. As the Technical Communication Center points out, you shouldn’t be afraid of offending anyone you leave out. If you’re only including Aunt Agnes so she won’t make a comment come Thanksgiving and your acknowledgment page is more than one page, it’s time to start mercilessly deleting.

 

Tone

The tone of an acknowledgment page can be tricky. If you’ve written a fiction book, it’s basically the only place you get to write in your own voice instead of a characters’, which can seem odd. If you’re a nonfiction author, you want to make sure that you’re writing in a casual tone, but aren’t straying too far from the tone used throughout your book. Taking a look at other acknowledgment pages of comparable titles will go a long way. Overall, stay personal, professionally casual, and descriptive (ie: don’t simply say “Thanks to my editor, Gil.” Tell us why Gil rocked.).

 

Privacy

You might consider asking permission of those you plan to include in the acknowledgment page before penning them in, especially if you’re not close with them. This is especially relevant for nonfiction authors or authors whose books may be controversial; some interviewees you’d like to acknowledge may wish to remain undisclosed because of privacy issues. If you’re not completely sure they’re on board, it’s always better to ask first than risk losing a supporter.

 

Placing

Acknowledgment pages are traditionally placed within the front matter of books, though they will occasionally appear in the back instead. As we pointed out in a previous blog post, the acknowledgment section is sometimes grouped within the preface. If the acknowledgment section stands alone, however, it should follow the preface according to The Chicago Manual of Style. Alternatively, some authors choose to place the acknowledgments either before or after the table of contents.  Discuss the placement with your editor to help select the best spot for your section.

 

Overall, you should have a little fun with your acknowledgments! This is a great opportunity to formally thank all of those who have helped you in the amazing feat of publishing a book. Once you’re finished writing your page, be sure to have a third party take a look and you’ll be on your way to a great and unique acknowledgement page—one your buyers might actually read. . .Well, maybe not, but we all have dreams, right?

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Tips to Get You Through NaNoWriMo

November 16, 2011

You’ve probably heard. It’s National Novel Writing Month—an annual writing marathon that challenges its participants to write a complete novel consisting of at least 50,000 words in only thirty days. Known affectionately by its practitioners as NaNoWriMo, hundreds of thousands of wordsmiths around the globe take part—last year’s event inspired 2.8 billion words. Rumor has it some people are even freezing a month’s worth of food so they can scribble uninterrupted, literary-style.

 

We’re at the halfway mark of NaNoWriMo, and you may be feeling fatigued, run down, and just plain sick of writing. If you’re not quite willing to give up your Thursday spaghetti night but are finding yourself a bit behind, we’ve collected our favorite tips to get you out of your writing slump.

 

Read!

You may be sick of words by now but believe us, reading is a great way to stimulate the writing process. All of us have an author or two who makes us just want to write. Not into being inspired by an author you look up to? Read a book in your same space and be motivated by competition—take this month to write a better book.

 

Write.

You heard it here first, people—you need to write in order to be a successful NaNoWriMo participant. But what if you’re at the point where the idea of putting your fingers to the keyboard is physically repulsive? Try typing out your favorite passage or chapter from a book, copying it word for word. This act can get you in the rhythm of writing and also give you an idea of how other authors structure their narrative details.

 

Mix It Up.

Don’t stress about writing your novel in order. Write whatever pleases you at the moment. Have a funny joke? Skip a few lines or open up a new document and write that thing down! Feeling lousy? Write the sappiest scene in your book, regardless of where it’s supposed to be. In a prolific phase? Might as well write the first and last paragraphs. This will help you feel more positive toward your book; maybe you’ll even stop shooting those threatening glances at your keyboard.

 

Gettin’ Social With It.

No, we didn’t just write this tip because we wanted to include a Will Smith reference. (OK, that was part of it—but only a small part!) Blogging and tweeting about your experience can reenergize your dedication to your project. Knowing that others are going through the same struggles and triumphs you are will be refreshing. It will also hold you accountable to finishing the project.

 

Embrace the Slump.

Try not to get too worried about your laziness. Writing motivation ebbs and flows. Have confidence that you will feel the urge to write again, and you will finish your project. Indulge yourself with an afternoon of television, a long nap, the local Chinese buffet—whatever you want to do.

 

Go Outside.

Fresh air stimulates thinking and ideas. It allows more oxygen to reach the brain, making your mind more alert. So take your computer outside or take a break to take the kids to the park. Even Einstein recognized the value of thinking outdoors. He was known to systematically take a walk or ride his bike to encourage his inventive thinking.

 

Don’t Think Beyond NaNoWriMo.

Eventually you’re going to need to consider all the things beyond your manuscript—the marketability of the book, the way it fits in with your brand, its cover, not to mention securing a publisher and a distributor. This goes against our standard advice of avoiding shotgun publishing, but given the goal of NaNoWriMo, now’s not the time to get bogged down with all those worries. All you need to think about is finishing.

 

If none of these tips get you motivated, check out GalleyCat, mediabistro.com’s publishing blog—they’re listing a tip each day for the whole thirty days of NaNoWriMo. And they did it last year, too. That’s, what, sixty tips? Should get you to the end of next week. If not, you can always remind yourself that Sara Gruen wrote Water for Elephants during NaNoWriMo—since then, the book has made the New York Times bestseller list, sold hundreds of thousands of copies, and been made into a movie. Sounds good, right? Now get to your keyboard!

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Tips to Jumpstart Your Book in 2011

January 4, 2011

It’s that time of year. Time to sign up for gym memberships, to clean out cluttered spaces, and to make grandiose lists of things to-do in the New Year. All joking aside, if you want to make a real go at becoming a published author in 2011 there are a few commitments you need to make.

1. Commit to Read More

If you want to become a published author you need to know what’s selling in your genre. You should be reading the bestsellers plus the others to see what’s getting published and what’s standing out. In addition to reading in your genre you should be reading about the craft of writing and the business of publishing. The more you know the better your chances are of getting published (and not getting screwed).

2. Commit to Learning

No matter how good you are you could always be better. Take a class online or at your local writer’s group. Watch webinars, read, and attend workshops. Set aside at least 30 minutes every day to learn and improve your skill.

3. Commit to Making Friends

Writing is a lonely pursuit. Don’t work in a vacuum. Make friends with other writers and passionate readers. There is so much you can learn from them and the support they give you can help you weather the rejections and bouts of writer’s depression.

4. Commit to Marketing

Publishing is highly competitive. Everything you can do to raise your name above the crowd and get noticed will help you get a book deal and,  once the book is published, make sales. Figure out your “brand,” get involved on social media, and start networking with your readers.

5. Commit to Writing

You need to commit to writing and submitting your work several times a week. Build a solid writing practice, line out a schedule you can stick to, and hold yourself accountable. You can’t publish a book without a finished manuscript. You have to put in the work.

6. Commit to Passion

You should write because you love it. Yes its work and yes sometimes its hard, but you have to fuel your passion and drive your creativity to its limits if you want to succeed. Any gains you make mean nothing if you aren’t passionate about what you do.

Shennandoah Diaz is the President of Brass Knuckles Media, an uncensored PR & Marketing firm catering to creatives and the avant garde. Passionate about education, Diaz empowers creatives by sharing articles and teaching workshops on marketing, social media, and publishing. Learn more at www.brassknucklesmedia.com or at www.shennandoahdiaz.com.

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How to Get Feedback on Your Manuscript

September 9, 2010

Writing a book can be a lonely experience, and you don’t want to completely isolate yourself during the writing process. It’s important to get feedback, especially while you’re developing an idea. Not only does this help motivate you, it also helps you catch issues and address concerns on the front end rather than trying to overhaul a manuscript after it’s already complete.

It’s not difficult to find people to provide regular feedback. Here are a few ways of locating people willing to give you critiques:

  1. Start by asking fellow authors. Though it’s nice to get a variety of opinions, authors within your genre are best. Not only do they know who the competitors are, they also have a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t within your genre.
  2. Put out an all-call on social media. Put out a post asking for people to read your work. You’ll be surprised at how many will respond!
  3. Ask colleagues. Ask people at work or others in your industry. This is especially good for nonfiction authors, as people in your industry represent your reader.
  4. Locate a formal writers’ group. There are many writers’ groups already established by genre and location. Check with local groups such as the Writers’ League of Texas or with genre-specific groups such as Sisters in Crime—or go to Writer’s Digest and other forums to find groups in your area.

But getting someone to read your work is only the beginning. In order for the feedback to be useful, you need to keep the following in mind:

  1. Distance yourself. It's not a critique of you. It’s an honest opinion about your work, so don’t take it as a personal affront to you or your abilities as a writer.
  2. Maintain veto power. You don't have to accept every suggestion or change made. It is ultimately your work, and it should reflect you and be something you are proud of. If you truly want to keep something, then keep it, but do consider the reader’s reasons for suggesting changes.
  3. Recognize patterns. If more than one person says the same thing about your work, take notice. If on every critique you hear that your characters are flat, you may have to accept that your characters are flat and strive to correct it. If several people say a passage is confusing, you may want to consider rewriting it. The point here is to improve as a writer.
  4. Respect their opinions. Show the one who critiqued you the same respect you expect by acknowledging and thanking them for their time and feedback.
  5. Have them focus on the big picture. Most readers are apprehensive about critiquing because they feel you want a complete copyedit. Unless they’re an editor, ease your readers by instructing them to focus on feedback related to the overall feel and goal of the book. Have them point out what works and what doesn’t work in relation to plot, narrative arc, usefulness of information, and style rather than addressing issues such as misplaced commas and word usage.

Remember, you don’t want to write in a vacuum. Despite all of your genius, in order to truly understand what your readers want and how to give it to them, you need to engage them from the beginning. Not only will it make you a better writer, your advance readers will have a vested interest in the final project and will do everything they can to help you succeed.

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Type in Motion: Writing Out Loud

December 7, 2007

typography.pngFact: Helvetica turned 50 this year. Yeah, people celebrated and everything. Okay, that may be an overstatement, but when there's actually a feature film named after and about a font, there must be something interesting going on, right?

And there is. But it doesn't really have to do with Helvetica---or even fonts, per se. No, it's the entire study of and love affair with typography. And it's nothing new: technology has effectively democratized the use and development of powerful, elegant, strange, and creative word design, but professional manipulators of text---each imbued with a vehement passion for how language is communicated---have existed since long before the computer and long before Gutenberg.

What can we learn from designers about writing and about communication? This: Visionary typographers understand one thing above all else---one thing that transcends the technicalities of kern, x-heights, serifs, and baselines. They understand that typography is writing out loud.

So when you're writing, evaluate what you've developed, and imagine it in type. That is, imagine what it would look like if it were alive and animated. This may help you to choose better words, create better sentences, and establish better flow. Here's an elementary example. Try to imagine how different both sentences would look.

She walked slowly. vs. She crept.

Can you see the difference? No? Still don't know what I mean? It's hard to explain. Check out these videos instead to get a better idea and to hopefully get inspired.

And after the videos, there's a list of great typography resources to visit.

A simple little introduction to typography:

[youtube width="325" height="335"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ki6rcXvUWP0

Some animated text from Pulp Fiction dialogue. Warning: It's Samuel L. Jackson, which means there's cursing. A lot if it:

[youtube width="325" height="335"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IJ6b3E5HYE

A classic Abbott and Costello moment:

[youtube width="325" height="335"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejweI0EQpX8

Lowell Fulson's "Tramp":

[youtube width="325" height="335"]http://youtube.com/watch?v=Z3vaxlJ86vk

Trainspotting dialogue:

[youtube width="325" height="335"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8X9BtNmSig&NR=1

Have a better idea yet? As promised, some further resources:

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Book Writing and Editing: 6 Signs That Your Writing Isn't Finished Yet

November 29, 2007

checklist.jpgForget all that business about checking a publisher's submission guidelines before you send your manuscript in. The most important consideration when you're preparing to take a project to the next level is whether your work itself is ready, fully conceptualized and mature. Who cares about typeface and font size if the content is half-baked? There's no setting for "masterpiece" on my egg timer, but these guidelines will help you know when to call it done.

1. First of all, how long is it? If your manuscript is ninety-seven pages double-spaced, you're not done yet. If it's a thousand pages single-spaced, you likewise have some work before you. Most trade books have between 160 and 400 pages, but the right number of page depends on the genre you're trying to enter and the purpose of your book. Do a little "market research" at the bookstore and figure out where you stand---you don't have to match the other guys, but they are your competition. If your book is too fat or too thin, it will suffer.

2. Have you covered everything relevant? Here's a test: When you tell people what you're writing about and explain the concept to them, do they ask questions you don't cover in the book? If so, you will probably want to add treatment of these common points before sending your manuscript out into the world. There's no excuse for neglecting aspects of your topic readers want to hear about.

3. Of course, asking what readers want to hear about raises another question: who are your readers? Who is the target audience for your book? If you don't know, you need to. Make sure that your focus isn't too narrow or too wide. For instance, for a business book, "everyone with a job" is too broad an audience; "CEOs of Fortune 500 companies" is too narrow. Once you know who your audience is, list out what they want---and read through the manuscript to make sure you're giving it to them.

4. Is your book really about something---something you can explain? This is the time to make sure you can describe in thirty seconds why your book is different from all the rest, practically helpful, and, of course, a must-read literary tour de force. Seriously, if you can't say what it's about and what it can do for the reader in thirty seconds or in the first page of the introduction, you probably need to refine your focus.

5. Have you gotten a second opinion? Don't ask your mother. Instead, make your most tactless friend read through it, then nag her incessantly until she tells you she quit reading on page 34. Go to page 32 and figure out how to keep her reading. Repeat this process until you have no friends or someone finishes the book and likes it. If you already have no friends, a real live member of your target audience would be even better. You don't have to take any advice you get, but you do have to listen and seriously consider it.

6. Is it neatly typed and formatted with minimal errors? I know I told you to forget the technicalities, but if you've made it this far, you're ready to send it in. Congratulations!

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Podcasts for Writers

November 15, 2007

podcast.jpgWriters: Put away that inkwell and feather for a while and get hip to podcasts. We've already shown you the elements of a superb podcast; now we've prepared a list of podcast resources to a) strengthen your knowledge of the book industry and the writerly craft on an ongoing basis and b) give you ideas to cop for your own syndicated series. We hope as you explore them you'll get a feel for the wide range of uses these little audio phenomena can be put to, and---if you're one of those obsessed, reclusive, technologically clueless writer types---pick up some valuable new-media skills.

For your listening pleasure, a handpicked selection of writing/publishing podcasts:

Fiction

  • AmericanWriters.com offers full podcasts on fiction writing ("The Shadow in the Hero," "How to Open Your Story") and quick, morsel-sized audio tips.
  • Write Where You Belong: The Creative Writing Podcast is therapy for members of the writing community experiencing creative problems. Let Steve Yudewitz walk you through overcoming writer's block and deciding if it's time to throw in the towel on your writing career.
  • Attendance at the Odyssey Writing Workshop will not only cost you tuition, but will require you to get dressed to hear the lectures. So, in lieu of paying a fee, brushing your teeth, and putting on pants, opt instead for the free monthly podcast, which offers advice from top fantasy, sci-fi, and horror writers.
  • At FictionRight, husband-and-wife team Alan and Rebecca Lickiss cover fiction technique, interview fellow authors, and provide writing exercises.

Business

  • 800-CEO-READ, supplier of business titles to corporations and other organizations, hosts a series of interviews, updated monthly, with their top authors.
  • From HarperCollins Canada, Foreword Thinking is a podcast on business and motivational titles. Host Mitch Joel picks the greatest entrepreneurial brains in the book business.

Children's

  • Recorded over the faint, comforting din of an Ottawa coffee shop, Just One More Book features satisfyingly specialized discussions on "the children's books we love and why we love them." Break out the apple juice and sippy cup for the full effect.
  • Childrensbookradio.com interviews kiddie lit authors who talk about what it takes to make a good read for the kids.
  • Book Voyages gives listeners an elementary school library media specialist's take on the children's book market.

Miscellaneous

  • When it comes to verb agreement, comma placement, misplaced modifiers, and a host of other common punctuational and syntactical trip-ups, the prolific Grammar Girl's got you covered. Her "Quick & Dirty Tips" entertain and inform.
  • The uselessness of most of the information at A Way With Words doesn't mean it isn't fascinating and addictive. Renegade word lovers Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett explore etymology and the origins of strange phrases, among other linguistic trivia. The Collective Noun Contest is a highlight.
  • The Writing Show supplies wide-ranging audio resources to authors from a different guest each week, from analysis of self-publishing contracts to strategies for writing historical fiction to developing and packaging scripts for Hollywood.
  • Didn't make BookExpo this year? BookExpoCast.com has many of the highlight events and panel available via (you guessed it) podcast. Archives extend back to the 2006 expo.

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Lies Your English Teacher Told You: Grammar Rules You Can Break in Your Writing

July 13, 2006

liesyourenglishteacher2.jpgPicture the worst English teacher you ever had. The one who made you diagram sentences and say "May I" instead of "Can I" and never, ever laughed, even if you packed five vocabulary words into one demonstration sentence. The one who made you read The Scarlet Letter. The one who told you that everything you wrote from that moment forward had to have an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion to sum up your claims, preferably beginning, “In conclusion . . .”

How would you like to break some rules you learned in that class? What if it turned out that you never really needed to follow them in the first place?

Here are some of the lies your English teacher may have told you—grammar “rules” that are simply myths perpetuated through hearsay and folklore and transmitted to generations of students. Let the deception stop with you.

  1. You can begin a sentence with “and” or “but.” There’s no reason not to. You shouldn’t begin all of your sentences with “and” or “but,” but if it sounds right, don’t fight it.
  2. You can end a sentence with a preposition—“with,” “to,” “for,” “against,” any of them. The idea that you shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition comes from the fact that you shouldn’t in Latin. English is not Latin. In many of the most natural and simple constructions in English, a preposition falls at the end of the sentence. Don’t let a dead language complicate what’s not complicated.
  3. You can split an infinitive. Some poor misguided souls try to follow this rule, even to the point of phrases like “to go boldly where no one has gone before,” or “to reach home finally,” instead of “to boldly go” and “to finally reach.” Don’t let this so-called correct construction make your sentences weak and awkward.

Now that you know the truth, one quick reminder: these techniques are best used in moderation, just like other constructions. But don’t let misinformation from your youth stilt your prose and cripple your sentences. For invigorating, natural writing, unlearn these silly superstitions and rediscover how to write what sounds right. It’s a freeing experience—and with no Gorgon of Grammar breathing down your neck, it’ll be much easier this time around.

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