Learn Your Best Writing Time and Write Then

October 31, 2012

My senior year of college I took a class called “Professional Writing and the Publishing World.” It was the last class I needed (I’d completed all the required classes) to graduate. I was interested in the subject and thought it would be an easy class.

The professor was incredible. I hung on her every word. She’s earned her living as a writer and decided to quit writing to teach. I thought she was heaven sent.

One day the professor said something that almost mortally wounded my writing ambition. She went around the class and asked each of us whether we were morning people or night people. Each of us shared our preference not knowing why she asked. We soon found out when she said, “Night people are more creative and better writers. Morning people stand little chance of succeeding as writers.”

Huh? What? My heart fell because I had shared how I loved the morning and getting an early start on the day–I was a morning person. And because of that I was doomed?

Since we had writing assignments due in the class, I kept writing. The professor kept giving me harsh critiques. My confidence level inched lower. I couldn’t believe I was going to fail the “easy” class and not graduate.

The last day of class we were to pick up our final graded project. I knew the professor liked to drink tea, so I took her a new cup as a parting gift. She thanked me. After an awkward silence, I asked her if I passed the class. She laughed and said, “Of course you did. Do you know why I was so hard on you?” I replied, No.” She said, as she took my hand, “Because you’re the only one in class I thought could make it as a writer.”

Huh? What? My heart raced because, in spite of my love of morning, I could succeed as a writer! The professor said so!

I hurried home, pulled out my magazine research, and drafted a query letter to Victoria magazine (a Hearst publication). After a few rewrites, I sent it off to New York. A couple of days later the editor called me and told me if I included a particular angle to the article, the assignment was mine.

Huh? What? I sold my very first query letter? I called the professor and she said, “I knew you could do it.”

I went on to sell my first query letter to Woman’s World Weekly, Mpls-St.Paul Magazine (an award-winning magazine), and several more to Victoria.

Who knew a morning writer could do all that?

The point I’m making is be true to yourself. Learn your best writing time and write then, no matter what others tell you. Listen to your writers groups when they critique your writing. Listen to your editors. Listen to your readers. But don’t fall into the trap I did. You can succeed if you write well and are persistent.

Happy writing!

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It’s All Been Said–But Not By You!

October 22, 2012

I watched a television interview with Steven Spielberg last night.

One of the things that comes up during most interviews is the promotion of the person’s latest offering, albeit a book, record, movie, or television show. In Spielberg’s case, he talked about his latest movie, Lincoln.

Being a history fan, I watched with  interest as I wondered what in the world could be written (yes, screenplays are written) about Lincoln that hasn’t already been said. The answer came quickly–the movie is about the last four months of Lincoln’s life and his work to pass the thirteenth amendment that abolishes slavery. I’m sure there’s lots in the movie about working together, leadership, etc., but the point is there’s new written work about a subject that’s been very well covered.

So what does all of this have to do with you and your writing? No matter how much has been written about the topic you want to write about, it hasn’t all been said because you haven’t written your perspective yet.

Only you can bring your insights, your interpretations, your ideas to a subject. Whether you’re writing nonfiction or fiction, you get to bring a unique viewpoint to your reader.

Keep your antenna tuned to stories you hear, events going on,  quotes shared, or news reported. Look for that nugget you can use. Offer your reader your vision, viewpoint, perspective, position, belief, idea, or attitude regarding that nugget. Of course, you don’t want to alienate your reader, but you can show your reader a new or different way to look at a topic.

Think about Lincoln. How much has been said about him and his presidency? Yet, someone found a different angle and the public gets the benefit. Don’t deny your reader by holding back. About the time you think it’s all been said, remember that it hasn’t been said by you!

Happy writing!


Editing is a Critical Part of the Writing Process

October 3, 2012

I attended two meetings and one seminar last week and one issue surfaced in each venue–today’s writing needs more editing. When pressed for more details, each person talked about the explosion of independent publishing created by technology and the deterioration of the quality of the end result. Most of the complaints centered around e-books, but independently published (aka self-published) print books were just as bad.

Here are some of the points raised in the discussions during last week’s meetings:

  • Simple punctuation errors such as where to place commas or periods with quotation marks (both go inside the quotation mark, by the way).
  • Simple punctuation errors such as whether or not to place a comma before the conjunction in a series (per the book industry standard, Chicago Manual of Style, a comma goes before the conjunction in a series).
  • Pronoun/antecedent disagreement (plural pronouns such as they or their with singular antecedents such as speaker). Example: When a speaker tells their audience a story, they should use more gestures. Edited version: Most speakers should use more gestures when telling stories to their audiences.
  • Overuse of trite expressions.
  • Overuse of favorite words or phrases.
  • Overuse of scare quotes. Scare quotes are the quotation marks put around words. These should be used judiciously and only when “scaring” a reader into seeing a word is used in unusual manner. Too many scare quotes become distracting.
  • Capitalization of job titles without a person’s name. Example: I couldn’t reach the Principal, so I called the Superintendent.
  • Using ellipsis to show a break or pause. The correct punctuation for that is a dash. Ellipsis shows omission, not pause. The one exception is that ellipsis is correctly used  in dialogue to show faltering speech.
  • Sometimes words are missing.

The take-away from the discussions is the writer’s credibility is compromised, if not dismissed, when he or she shows little regard for details before publishing.

One caution, however. Avoid asking people who love you (and everything you write) to help you with your editing. They simply won’t tell you where your writing lacks clarity or needs work, either because they don’t see it  themselves or they don’t want to risk hurting you.

Do yourself and your reader a favor and invest in hiring an editor before you independently publish your work. The perception of your credibility depends on it.

Does all of this mean your “baby” won’t have a birthmark? No. Writers are human. Editors are human. Humans make mistakes. It happens, even in the big publishing houses. All I’m suggesting is it’s worth doing a little extra editing for both you and your reader.

Happy writing!