Writing Tools and Information

Writing Cover Letters.

To get short stories or poems published, a good cover letter is important. It’s the first part of your submittal that an editor sees, and therefore can make the difference between a great first impression or getting lost in the slush pile.

As an editor at 2 Elizabeths, Elise Holland has seen countless cover letters - some good, while others could use improvement. Check out Elise’s guide on how to develop a simple, yet effective cover letter here.

https://2elizabeths.com/2017/10/how-to-write-a-cover-letter-advice-from-a-lit-mag-editor/

Revision.

Writing is a process that goes through many stages. Revision is the catalyst that helps it progress from stage to stage. It’s not just changing a few words, adding a sentence here or there, or deleting material that’s unnecessary. Revision is a chance for a writer to actually re-vision a piece…in other words, to see a piece with new eyes and visualize it in a different way, all with the hope of seeing improvement.

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Seven Questions.

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There’s a short list of questions I ask myself when I’m writing and editing, whether it’s poetry, fiction, essay, or other. These questions help guide me towards clarity.

  • What is it that I’m really trying to say?

  • What words will express my thoughts without ambiguity?

  • What analogy, metaphor, or simile might make this concept clearer?

  • Are the images vivid & fresh enough to have an impact with readers?

  • Can I say all of this more concisely?

  • Am I using big fancy words just to use them?

  • Have I said anything that’s offensive? If so, can I eliminate it or soften it and still get my point across.


It’s not a perfect list, but I believe maintaining the habit of going through these questions improves each piece of my writing.

Motivation & Writing

My motivation comes from acknowledging my writing has value, making a commitment to write, and making sure I find time to do it. This has culminated in me building good habits that help me write consistently, whether I feel a surge of inspiration or not.

It’s easy to blab about writing you’re going to do someday. I’m guilty of talking about a novel I claim I want to write, but doesn’t exist even in outline form. But if you’re always yapping about writing and never actually doing it, then your goals will never get accomplished. You must sit down and write consistently to build a habit.

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Some experts say you need to write daily. That’s a good idea and one that makes it harder to forget to write, but it isn’t easy. Other habits can also work. Choose to write every other day, on a half day on a weekend, for thirty minutes of weekday nights after everyone else is in bed, or as part of a lunch break at work.

It’s not about following someone else’s concept of when and how much you should write. It’s more about building a routine that works for you and keeps you writing consistently. Once you build this habit, writing gets easier, and you’ll fall into a productive mode more quickly and easily – which is a beautiful thing.

At times motivation arrives with fanfare and magical forces guide my pen or keystrokes. But those times are fleeting and rare. If I waited around for that blessed inspiration, I’d never produce new material or content. My advice is to develop an ongoing habit as a substitute for an emotional flurry, then take advantage of your uber-motivated moments when they do happen. Developing a consistent routine is a practical form of motivation that pays dividends.

Try Try Again?

Check out this very informative Q&A between Terrapin Books publisher Diane Lockward and author Karen Paul Holmes on resubmitting a previously rejected poetry-book manuscript.

Since I have several manuscripts written but no book deal yet, I struggle with the question of whether I should bother sending a book that’s been retooled back to the same publisher. This Q&A hit home and gave me some great insight on this subject.

http://dianelockward.blogspot.com/2018/01/to-resubmit-or-not-to-resubmit-that-is_97.html

Is Writer’s Block a Warning Sign?

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I sometimes discover having writer’s block is a caveat that I need to fix some other aspect of my life.

Writer’s block is horrible and unproductive. We all hate it and bitch about it. But part of it could just be that your mind or spirit is in a really bad place at a certain point in life. If you’re in a shitty mental state because of money problems or relationship issues or day-job drama, it doesn’t matter how much effort you put into writing or creative endeavors. You have to fix bigger things than your writing and then go back into it with the passion it deserves.

What’s Your Biggest Writing Challenge?

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Mine is unclear thinking. Clarity clears a straight path between A and Z. The story, poem, or essay feels consistent and clear. When it seems like one train of thought, and not a mash-up of parts done at different times and moods, a finished work feels cohesive. Some obtain cohesion via many rounds of editing.

Unclear thinking makes messes. Unclear thinking yields awkward, ineffective, meandering trails of ideas that abandon readers in the woods, lost and confused, or in the desert, thirsty and begging for water. These messes are hard to tidy up and are sometimes unfixable.

I need help and hacks to achieve clarity of thought. Sometimes I make mental maps, outlines, index cards, cover walls with post-it notes, or keep journals for specific writing projects with pages of character, setting, and plot developments.

But whatever you do, however you do it, I believe that structure needs to be there to avoid the scourge of unclear thinking in your writing.

So what’s your biggest writing challenge? How do you overcome that obstacle?

Work Backwards from the Precipice.

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"When I write, I imagine a particular precipice and then work backward. I ask myself: What kind of journey would find its meaningful end here?”

I stumbled upon some interesting writing advice from Naima Coster, author of Halsey Street, over at the Poets & Writers Writers Recommend feature. She has a pretty cool perspective on constructing good fiction by starting with a worthwhile ending and building the story backward from there.

https://www.pw.org/writers_recommend/naima_coster

What to Look For…

There’s no shortage of lists or newsletters available to writers. Some of them are invaluable resources that authors will go back to time and time again, while others aren’t quite as useful. So how does one decide which of these resources are worthy of attention? In this insightful article on the Malahat Review’s website, Erika Dreifus provides some personal guidelines she uses to better understand what makes some these offerings better than others.

http://malahatreview.ca/tips/dec2017.html

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Fight Procrastination by "Chunking" Down Goals

The start of the new year is the season of big goals. And with these lofty expectations undoubtedly comes chances for procrastination to occur – especially with writing. “Chunking” down goals is a strategy I’ve used to dead procrastination in my creative life, especially with larger writing projects like manuscripts.

Achievers sometimes bite off more than they can chew. Procrastination is when you look at what's sitting on your plate and think: No way! It's too just big. I can't finish it.

I said plate figuratively, but let’s think about goals as if they are meals. Whenever you have too much to swallow, do what you’d do if you had ordered a large meal at a restaurant. Cut it up. Chop it into smaller portions. Eat it one small appetizing bite at a time, one manageable portion at a time. If needed, take some home to finish later - you don’t have to down the whole meal in one sitting, despite the peer pressure from others. But break that meal down to pieces you can handle.

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Like that meal, take intimidating goals and slice them into smaller chunks. If you look at those portions and they still seem overwhelming, cut them into even smaller chunks. Keep going until you get to a bite-sized morsel where you think, "yes, I can finish that." Then just eat it one chunk at a time. And keep going until you've finished the whole thing.

When you have a project that seems too big and you’re tempted to procrastinate, break it down. Then attack it one bite at a time. Savor each piece and appreciate that portion of the larger meal (goal). Swallow and progress on to the next chunk.

My Writing Game Plan: Pessimistic Optimism

Over the years, I’ve been blessed to meet many writers, in person and online. Some have been successful following different paths. One thing they all have in common is they are all pessimists. The other thing they all have in common is they are all optimists.

I understand this might be confusing. How can two incongruent viewpoints exist in the same individual simultaneously? But the equation makes complete sense when you consider time as a variable: they have made themselves short-term pessimists and long-term optimists.

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What I mean is this: they expect each and every discrete project they take to fail because the reality is, most things never get completed or published. They are acknowledging reality, and have zero emotional response when a fiction plot gloriously fizzles to nothing, a poem concept just doesn’t work out, or their personal essay fails to ever get published.

Yet they are long-term optimists because they know if they work on enough writing projects, several of them will succeed, making up for all the ones that failed. And yes, that is also reality.

The eternal optimist who thinks everything they write will “work out” is soon ground down by reality. Their beliefs don’t match up with the results, they start to question themselves, and constant disappointment hinders their ability to shake it off and move onto the next project. They become snakebit, and eventually bitter – which is never a positive trait for a creative.

The constant pessimist never takes any action on their writing endeavors because they automatically expect everything they do to fail. And because they never really act, they do fail. They stay loitering on the sidelines moping, never actually getting in the game.

In writing, mindset is very important. But it must be a reality-based mindset, with hard-nosed expectations, not pie in the sky fantasies or pouty tantrums. The more you do, the more you fail, yet paradoxically the more you succeed.

The pessimistic optimist is armored against constant failure and rejection, and it bothers them not.  But they also expect success to occasionally interrupt failure, which is why they write and compete in the first place.  Become the pessimistic optimist writer, and you will evolve into a winner in a literary world full of losers who love losing.

Free Time Calculator: Do You Really Have Time to Write?

If you're like many writers, you've probably convinced yourself that you don't have enough time. Whether it's finding time to send out submissions, edit your work-in-progress, set new writing goals, finish your novel or just about anything…we often give up before we even start because we believe it's just not possible to fit writing into our busy lives. 

Well, the interesting thing is, if you sit down and do the calculations, you'd be surprised at just how much time you really do have. 

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To make it easier to figure out how much time you actually have to write, check out the Free Time Calculator at the link below. It's a simple, but effective, spreadsheet that will reveal the time you actually have to work on things you've been putting off - such as your writing. And it will help you identify the time blocks you can use to your benefit each day.

Quick Instructions:

1. Simply open the spreadsheet and you'll see all the days of the week across the top and then 60-minute time blocks on the side. These time blocks should start from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed, so you may need to make adjustments. You can also switch to 30-minute increments to be more precise if you prefer.

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2. In each time block, mark all the times you are busy. For example, include time at your job, exercise, family time, church, meal preparation and eating, commuting, etc. 

3. Then for open blocks, write in “1” for each hour block that you have free. If you switch to 30-minute blocks, enter “0.5”.

4. Once you've completed these steps, you'll see how much free time you have each day AND the total free time you have each week.

Of course, this calculation is just the first step in getting more done with your time and possibly reaching those writing goals you never thought you had time for. From here, you'll need to connect that time to the writing goals you want to achieve.

http://www76.zippyshare.com/v/qCoImh3d/file.html

Contingency Plans.

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It is something writers would rather not think about, even if they should – protecting your writing from a computer emergency. Most writers have faced this at least once. The struggle to recreate that perfect short story you lost because you didn’t backup your work is almost as painful as losing the story in the first place.

So check out Triona Guidry’s article “How to Protect Your Writing from a Computer Emergency” over at The Writer. It gives some great hints on how to protect your writing from that inevitable data crisis.

https://www.writermag.com/2017/10/30/computer-emergency/

A Blogging Gameplan.

Writing content for a blog isn't always simple, To make it easier, I follow a set process.

1. Decide On A Topic

Develop a list of things you’re passionate about or you can write on authoritatively. It could be a mix of not only your expert subject-matter, but also topics related to productivity, motivation, work/life balance, etc. Also, think of questions you’re constantly answering. What common problems/concerns do people have? What info do you often seek? Pinpoint areas that others face difficulties- then you can create a benefit to readers by solving their problems. Keep a list of potential subjects to write about to fall back on when you don’t have new ideas.

2. Develop an Outline

I suggest using a traditional outline like we all learned to make in grade school. Break out the primary points of a post and create a list of what you want to include in the order you plan to address it. A traditional outline helps you work out the flow of a post and organize ideas in a logical manner.

3. Fill In The Holes

Next take your outline and start filling in the blanks. Add supporting evidence, research, sources, examples, and stories. Just write. Don’t worry about how it sounds. Since writing and editing are different skills, trying to do both at the same time hinders your process. Just focus on getting your ideas out and conveying what you want to say.

4. Edit

With a first draft down, read your post out loud to help identify any writing awkwardness, typos, wrong words, sentence fragments, and anything else that hinders the flow of your post. If you have a hard time reading it, your readers will also have a tough time getting through it.

5. Create a Title

Coming up with good blog titles is hard. A title needs to not only summarize your post and hint at what you’re about to say, but it also needs to be engaging to readers and descriptive for search engines. To become better at writing blog titles, I’d recommend following some exceptional blogs and note how they come up with their titles.

6. Toss in an Image

Adding compelling images to your content will enhance your story and affect how users perceive it. If you use stock photography, select photos that add pizzazz to your content. Choose images to set the tone for your post and pull people in. One place I use for images is https://unsplash.com/, which has artistic images from amazing photographers for free.

7. Share the Post

Once you’ve done the work, post the article to your blog. Share the post via all of your social media networks, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and wherever else you participate.

This is one process for developing blog posts that people want to read. I’m sure there are other methods, but this one seems simple enough to help anyone get started. Happy blogging!

 

Think Like an Entrepreneur.

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“Not every entrepreneur is a writer, but every writer is an entrepreneur.” This is the premise of Benjamin Sobieck’s article “How to Breathe New Life Into Your Creative Career” over on the Writing and Wellness website. Mr. Sobieck chronicles how the same creative juices that fuel his writing practice also powered his efforts to roll out a new product and start a new business. It's a great read.

http://www.writingandwellness.com/2017/10/01/how-to-breathe-new-life-into-your-creative-career/?utm_content=bufferb40ae&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Need a Spark? Try Using Writing Prompts!

Even a motivated writer can need a jumpstart to get the creative juices flowing. Rather than staring at a blank sheet of paper waiting for inspiration to arrive, why not try using writing prompts? A single Google search can yield a plethora of creative prompts. These can serve as a starting point for your endeavors. The work that comes out of using prompts could prove to be your best stuff, or it might take you in a creative direction you wouldn’t normally head in. Or the prompt might result in your worst writing ever, but the act of pushing through instead of giving up could pull you closer to your next masterpiece.

Here’s a short list of writing prompts that I found over on the Submittable Blog – this can be a great starting point. Good luck in getting your derailed creativity back on track!

https://blog.submittable.com/2017/10/write-right-now-or-get-ready-to-write-later/

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So what does it mean to be a writer?

Lately, I’ve thought about what it means to be a writer. I’m a self-taught creative with a technical day job. I used to equate my worth as a writer to the number of publications my work appeared in. I felt as if I needed to legitimize myself in a world filled with accomplished MFAs.

Over time I have evolved – I’ve had work published in at least 200 periodicals, both in print and online, and won or placed in contests for both poetry and fiction. I know that I’m not a hack anymore. My work has faced off with some exceptional creative minds – sometimes winning, more often losing, but I’m sure my writing deserves the chance to compete. I’m not the most polished. I don’t have MFA connections or a book deal (yet). But I’m humbly certain my writing deserves the little bit of attention it steals from time to time.

With that manufactured confidence, my personal writing focus shifted from just getting work out there to crafting better writing on a daily basis. That transition has helped my growth, energy, quality, and work rate. Not to mention that spilling new ideas on paper is immensely more satisfying than obsessing over amassing empty publication credits.

All of this self-reflection fell in line with my thoughts as I read “What It Means to Be a Writer—and to Emerge as a Writer”—guest post by Albert Flynn DeSilver on Jane Friedman’s site. This article presents some unique insight on the term “emerging writer” and the transformation many writers experience as we hone our craft. It is a great read.

So what does being a writer mean to you?

https://www.janefriedman.com/what-it-means-to-be-writer/

So what should you blog about when you’re blogging on your blog?

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Just like with any form of creative writing, blogging presents the challenge of generating ideas. This is especially true if you want to keep a steady flow of new content for readers.

So how should you go about creating new ideas for blog posts? This article by Vicki Krueger on the Poynter website provides some examples of basic constructs that can be used to spark successful blogging. Read them, implement them, then bask in the glory of your awesome blog!

https://www.poynter.org/news/7-ideas-writing-blog-posts

Putting it together…

If you’re looking for guidance on developing a book of poetry, check out this blog post in which Marilyn McCabe shares everything she can think of on the subject of putting together a manuscript of poems. It’s easy to read and has some solid advice. It just might inspire you to piece together your poetic masterpiece.

https://marilynonaroll.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/putting-together-a-manuscript-of-poems-everything-i-can-think-of-a-megablog/