Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ask Editors for Writing Assignments by Malcolm Campbell

What happens when the editor of Fir Tree Magazine receives an unsolicited article manuscript titled "How to Get Barnacles off Your Boat”?

Whether he laughs, cries or uses industrial-strength profanity, the result's the same for the writer:
a form rejection slip.

A publication’s submission guidelines tell prospective contributors to
read the magazine first. Get to know what it does and how it does it. Many writers skip this step because it takes time. Yet, if you submit an article that demonstrates that you know little or nothing about the magazine, the editor might also doubt the credibility of your article itself.

Instead, write a query letter or e-mail describing your idea rather than writing the article and sending it in blindly. Show the editor how the article will meet his readers’ needs, what you plan to cover, and why you are qualified to write it. Online and printed magazines often place editorial calendars for the coming year on their websites; consult this for themes and subjects on tap for the year.

Asking for an Assignment

Most editors depend on a trusted, dependable group of staff writers, guest experts, and often-used freelancers for most of their material. They don't sit around waiting for somebody they've never heard of to send in exactly the thing they are looking for at the exact moment they need it.

Once you read the editorial calendar and learn that
Fir Tree Magazine is planning a series of articles on the identification of flat needle conifers this fall, it’s obvious why the barnacle article is a bad fit.

When you pitch an on-target article idea to an editor, he immediately sees that: (a) you’re approaching the magazine as a professional, (b) you aren't wasting time researching and writing something the he may not use, (c) you’re asking "what do YOU want in your magazine" rather than assuming he will like something randomly sent in.

You want the editor to say, "yes, write the article," while offering guidance that helps ensure the it has the right approach. If you've proposed an article about pine needles and cones, the editor might say, leave out the cones, we're already working on that one. The editor also might suggest a slightly different focus or a longer article than you initially planned.

The first time an editor says, "yes, send me your article," he will probably stipulate that you are sending it in on speculation, that is, without a guarantee that it will be used. Once an article or two is published, the editor will see that you can deliver what he wants. Then, the next pitched article may result in a more formal assignment.

One Day, the Editor Might Contact You

In time, the editor might start pitching ideas to you: "We need an article about the Douglas-fir. How would you like to send us about 2,000 words on the largest examples of this tree in Oregon and Washington?"

Now you're where you want to be.

Writer's Market and Funds for Writers are among the sites you can consult for market listings.

Malcolm R. Campbell is a contributing writer for Living Jackson Magazine and the author of two novels, "The Sun Singer" and "Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire."

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Writer’s Life: Living Amongst “the Others” by Chelle Cordero

~~~Every now and then I feel like an alien living in my home. Often misunderstood, mostly tolerated and usually hidden away. When family members are asked what I do, their voices tend to lower, they avert their eyes and finally, after shuffling their feet, whisper in a clandestine tone – “She’s a writer”. Their words are spoken in the same clandestine tone you might whisper of the black sheep of the family who is currently serving time in prison.

~~~Non-writers just don’t understand that a writer must write in order to breathe. This is not something we simply choose to do, this is something we must do. I will sit for hours at my desk in front of my computer screen and pummel my keyboard. If the power goes out, I emit a terrifying yowl as if someone were cutting off my fingers. My characters become as real to me as the nephew I send a birthday card to.

~~~I will find myself immersed in emotion as I put tearful words into the dialogue, I will laugh uncontrollably as I type a conversation between humorous characters, I will ponder for hours as I help a heroine through her dramatic dilemma. The words on paper, or on my computer screen, are no longer mere letters – they are thoughts, actions, deeds, misfortunes, passion, pleas and life and death deciding moments.

~~~I become fully entrenched in the lives of my fictional characters and the line between my day to day existence becomes fuzzy. Just one more thought before I get up to tend to some droll household chore – just one more thought turns to pages. I dream for my characters, I try to think like they do, I worry about them and sometimes I even become them. Other writers understand this obsession – non writers do not.

~~~The excitement over a book signing, even when the sales are disappointing, the thrill of seeing your name emblazoned on a book cover jacket and the joy of reading words you once imagined now immortalized in black and white are all things a writer can appreciate. We are willing to put hours of our lives into sitting and typing while we are never sure that the finished product will actually pay off. Offers of publication, distribution and virtual tours may seduce us out of our savings.

~~~The employee who appreciates regular bi-weekly direct deposits into their bank account doesn’t understand how we can manage on infrequent royalties, long overdue invoice payments and, shudder, occasional kill fees. The “others” wonder how we can stand to just “give it away” when we submit to free-ezines and non-paying web-logs just to get our names out there. And of course no bank will understand that a contributor copy of a magazine is indeed payment.

~~~The public image of an eccentric writer with a feather boa around her neck investing her mammoth royalty checks and being ferried to television appearances to promote the latest novel between spa visits may very well be a splendid fantasy; it sure isn’t real. And writers understand that. We know that the work just begins after we have typed “the end”. We actively search for agents and publishers, we partner with our publishers to market and promote, we maintain web-sites and solicit interviews to keep “the buzz” going.

~~~Some of us may have to work at other jobs in order to support our writing habit – some may be fortunate enough to have forty or more hours a week to put into our writing. No matter what our circumstances may be, we need to be creative when we write and we need to be pragmatic in our business. Right brain thought comes to a screeching halt in order to allow for the left brain sensibility. We cringe when our writing is called our hobby, we feel like screaming when we are asked “are you ever going to get a real job?”

~~~So we will all just muddle along writing and pouring our hearts into every word. We will get our hopes up each time we submit a query and we will stop breathing for as long as it takes to open the returned SASE. Our spouses and kids will stand at our office doors and shake their heads as we tap-tap-tap obliviously. We’ll feel accomplished when we manage to string one-hundred words together in a project that will ultimately need seventy-five-thousand. It will be an honor beyond anything else we’ve done to sign a book or to receive a fan letter.

~~~…and a writer understands.


Chelle Cordero is blessed to be a full-time writer and a self-proclaimed hopeless romantic. She has eight novels published with Vanilla Heart Publishing, short stories in three anthologies and numerous articles in various North American newspapers and magazines. Chelle also teaches an online writing course available through Kindle subscription.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Write Like An Earth Mage by Smoky Trudeau

My latest book, Observations of an Earth Mage, is a collection of essays, poems, and photographs on nature. I am, at heart, a nature writer.

But you don’t have to be a nature writer to need to know how to write about nature. It’s the rare novel that doesn’t at least have some element of nature in it, and writers of all genres need to know how to write about it convincingly, even writers who never get closer to nature than their local city park. Of course, there’s not enough room in a blog column to teach an entire course in nature writing, but here are some tips to make sure your scenes evoke Mother Nature in her finest light, as well as some exercises to get your creative juices flowing:

Use specific, descriptive language. Descriptive, specific language is what distinguishes beautiful prose from the mundane. While this is true for every element of fiction writing, nowhere is it more true than with setting description. Yes, I could have written the sentence, “It was foggy at the river,” as the opening to Chapter 22 of my novel, Redeeming Grace, and readers would have gotten a general idea of the setting. But I didn’t write that. I wrote, “The cool, early autumn air hugged the still-warm sandy shores of the Choptank, enveloping the river in a surreal, steamy fog. Water droplets clung to each blade of grass in the yard, dangling precariously like a precious crystal earring from a dainty lobe. The air smelled sweet, a sticky mixture of fish and pine.” Specific, descriptive language turns a bland sentence into words worth savoring and creates a three-dimensional, color picture in the reader’s mind.

Engage the senses. When you take a hike in an apple orchard in full bloom, you smell the blossoms. When you walk along the ocean shore, you hear gulls overhead and waves crashing on the beach. Make sure your readers can smell, hear, or even taste your nature descriptions. In my novel The Cabin, I could have written: “Corrine walked into the forest,” and left it at that. But I didn’t. What I wrote was, “The first thing she noticed was the smell. It was the same scent she had breathed in every time she walked in the forest, but this time, she could break down the individual essences perfuming the air: rotting rhododendron blossoms mixed with moss-covered granite and cold, crisp water. She had never noticed granite had a scent—like the air during a thunderstorm, vaguely electrical—or that water could smell cold.”

Don’t get carried away with this, of course. You don’t have to engage all five senses at once! But don’t rely only on the visual.

Use unexpected, surprising phrasing and metaphors. A good trick here is, when describing an inanimate object in nature, such as a rock, liken it to something animate. You might write something like, “The granite rock was like a gray whale in the middle of the meadow, swimming in a sea of big blue stem and purple coneflowers.” The rock is inanimate; a gray whale is animate. Doing the opposite works well, too: when describing something living, like an animal or a flower, liken it to an inanimate object: “The flock of Canada geese overhead looked like the Blue Angels doing maneuvers at an air show.” Another trick is to compare something small to something large: “When the hiker wandered too close to her babies, the mother marmot charged like a rhinoceros.”

Do your research. I recently read a lovely book that was set in what today is Turkey several thousand years BCE. The main character had a pet cockatoo. What’s wrong with that? Cockatoos are from Australia. There would have been no cockatoos in Turkey five thousand years ago. If you are writing a nature scene in a work of fiction, please remember to ensure the plants, animals, and weather phenomena you write about actually exist in the place you are writing about. Don’t have grizzly bears attacking tourists in Shenandoah National Park; don’t put triggerfish in the Great Lakes, and don’t set white Christmas stories in Sydney.

Beware of purple prose. Purple prose is prose that is so over the top, so flowery, it breaks the flow of your essay, story, or poem by drawing attention to itself. It often is exaggerated, overly sentimental, and evocative beyond the call of duty. To avoid falling into the purple prose trap, evoke only one or two senses at a time. Use only one metaphor to describe something, not five. In short, don’t get mushy.

Practice, practice, practice. Learning to write about nature (or anything else, for that matter) is no different from mastering any other art form. Picasso’s first painting probably wasn’t a masterpiece. Chopin had to learn to play a scale before he could compose and perform his piano masterpieces. Rudolph Nureyev took dance lessons before he became a world-class ballet dancer. Anything worth doing is worth learning how to do well, and that means practicing!

Ultimately, the best way to learn how to write about nature is to spend time in the woods, on the prairies, at the seashore, or in the garden. Nature is as close as your backyard or city park. Second, read nature writing. Read modern day nature anthologies, like my Observations of an Earth Mage. Read the classics, like Thoreau’s Walden or A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. Read nature poetry. Read novels where nature plays a thematic role, like Moby Dick. Then, go to your keyboard and write!

Smoky Trudeau is the author of the recently released Observations of an Earth Mage, a collection of prose, poetry, and photographs celebrating the beauty and splendor of the natural world. She is also the author of two novels, Redeeming Grace and The Cabin, as well as two books on writing, all from Vanilla Heart Publishing. An ardent outdoorswoman with a deep reverence for nature, she lives in California with her husband, daughter, and a menagerie of animals, both domestic and wild, in a ramshackle cottage in the woods overlooking the San Gabriel Valley and the mountains beyond. When she isn’t working, Smoky spends her time hiking in the mountains, camping in the Sierras, splashing in tidepools, and fighting the urge to speak in haiku.

Finding Time to Write by Victoria Howard.

The question I get asked most often when giving talks to readers' groups is 'how do you find time to write'?

In this day and age it's easy to feel overwhelmed by everyday life without the added pressure of writing a book or short story. So just how do you apply the BOSFOK (bum on seat, fingers on keyboard) principle?

The answer is by scheduling the time you have.

Don't try and fit your writing into your 'spare time.' There's no such thing, especially if you work full time in order to support your family. Study your schedule and designate time when you can concentrate on your writing, but don't be too ambitious. For example: If you are a morning person try getting up half an hour earlier and using that time to write. Some writers prefer to work of any evening while the rest of the family watch TV, others dedicate weekend afternoons as their time to write. Choose whatever works best for you, and stick to it.

1. Use a timer when doing research--it's very easy to become distracted, especially when searching the Internet. A timer will help make your time at the computer more productive.

2. Limit the amount of time you spend answering and sending emails (unless they are to your editor), and reading on line newspapers and blogs.

3. Think about what you're going to write BEFORE you sit down in front of the computer, perhaps while ironing, or mowing the lawn. When you do sit down at your desk, you'll have the next few pages worked out, plus you will have freed up time in which to write it.

4. Make use of downtime--those tedious journeys on the bus to work or sitting around waiting for appointments. Carry a notebook and write while you travel or wait. If you spend a lot of time in the car driving from place to place, invest in a voice activated voice recorder.

5. While you're watching your children play in the park, work out the next scene or think through a problem. When you sit down to write, the words will generally flow.

6. If your children have an essay to write use the time they are sat quietly to work on your novel.

7. Don't try and write while the TV or radio is playing in the background, it will only distract you.

8. Instead of taking an hour to eat lunch, use part of the time to write.

9. Invest in a netbook computer--most are no bigger than a sheet of A4 paper, are lightweight and relatively inexpensive.

10. Use an answering machine to screen calls during your 'writing time.'

11. But most of all, set yourself a writing goal. It could be something as simple as entering one writing contest in the course of a year. And remember; if you write 250 words a day--the equivalent of one page of A4, in a year you will have written 365 pages or approximately 90,000 words--enough for a full length novel. Whatever your goal, stick to it, as it will take the pressure off.

Time management is all about common sense. It's a matter of understanding your commitments and knowing how you work best, and using that information to achieve your goals.

Victoria Howard is the author of two romantic suspense novels, The House on the Shore, a finalist for the 2009 Joan Hessayon Award, presented by the Romantic Novelists, Association, and Three Weeks Last Spring, a 2009 Pushcart Nominee.

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