Sunday, August 29, 2010

Don't quit when you're behind

My favorite definition of success is "the enthusiasm with which one moves from one failure to the next." This definition implies resilience and perseverence. I like that implication.
We've all been discouraged by our writing careers, or lack thereof, at one time or another. But when you think about the writing careers of many famous writers, those roads weren't always smooth, either. We see those careers at the end of the road, at the finish line. Many of us are still at the beginning, or maybe a little farther. But we just aren't there, yet.
We didn't see the hours of solitary writing at a sad little desk, or the marked-up galleys that bleed red, or the edits and fact-checking that made your favorite writer want to pull out his or her hair. We missed all that. We came in at the end, where everything came together and the writer received the payoff for months or years of hard work.
So the next time you are a little discouraged about the progress of your career, count those rejection letters with pride, and savor those criticisms as badges of honor that pave the road of success. Maybe next year at this time, you will be recognized as one of the up-and-coming writers you've read about so many times.

What if the following people had quit when they were behind?

Tina Brown was expelled from school, as were swimming champion Diana Nyad and Roger Daltry, composer, musician and lead singer of The Who.
Dr. Robert Jarvick, inventor of the artificial heart, was rejected by 15 medical schools.
Sally Jesse Raphael was fired 19 times before becoming a famous host of her own radio and television shows.
Walt Disney was fired by an editor for having "no good ideas."

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Do you enter contests? I do at times, but have limited my contest entries during the past few years. Instead of sending out my work to any contest, I pay attention to the judge, his or her work and the entry fee.

If the judge has written something similar to my style, I may have a better chance of having him or her respond positively to my work. If I write fantasy poetry, and the judge has published books on fantasy poetry, then I think my work may be a good "fit."

A couple of years ago I entered a contest that featured a judge whose work wasn't similar to mine, but I submitted a piece I thought he would respond to. My strategy worked. I won second place.

I also make sure my entry fees go to contests where I get the most for my money. For instance, I check the entry fee, the prize awards, and whether or not a critique is provided. I wouldn't spend $25 on a contest that features a $50 prize. I might, however, be willing to spend a little more if I get a critique from someone whose work I admire.

Some writers vary the amount they spend every month,  others have a strict budget they adhere to, and others just send out whatever they want, whenever they want. Whichever type of writer you are, try to get the most for your hard-earned dollars. And remember, if nothing else, you may be able to deduct this expense from your taxes!    

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

All the rules, all the time

Have you ever stopped writing because you don’t know all the rules? If you think about it too much, the rules can be overwhelming. Trying to remember all the rules of grammar, spelling and fiction or nonfiction can conjure up a big bad case of writer’s block.

A few years ago at a Saturday Writers meeting, we had a magazine editor who was pretty laid back and honest about the whole process of writing. He acknowledged how difficult it is, but like many other forms of art, realized that there are times when rules can hinder writers. Sometimes, the whole is greater than its parts, and writers can drive themselves crazy trying to follow every rule, especially while trying to break new ground.

Someone asked him about the story arc in one of his stories. He hesitated while he thought for a moment, and then said something like, (and I’m paraphrasing here) I don’t even know if I really know what that is. Everyone laughed, and breathed a sigh of relief. Obviously, he hadn’t thought about following a story arc when he wrote his story. But the story was wonderful regardless of a story arc, or lack thereof.

I’m not saying you can disregard all the rules. I’m saying you need to know the rules, but realize that sometimes the writing takes you to a place “outside” the rules, where creativity takes precedence over everything else.

This man is a good writer who doesn’t always follow all the rules. In this case, wasn’t even sure what the exact rule was. I appreciated his honesty, and he helped many writers in the group who struggle with following all the rules, all the time.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Five-minute fiction

Hi again

I wanted to talk about marketing today, after a meeting this morning with some writers looking for ideas to market their work, but I'll save that for next time. Today I have a fun challenge.

My daughter challenged me this afternoon to write a story in five minutes! Sounds hard, and it was! I couldn't do it, but what I did was start a story that I finished within the hour.

Now I want to challenge you to do the same! Keep stories to a maximum of 500 words, and finish within the hour. I wrote about 150 words in five minutes, so let me know how far you get in five minutes, and then how long it took to finish. (The funky lines mark how far I got in five minutes.)

Send in those you finish within the hour. I'm counting on honesty! And also that you keep the stories PG-13 rated, please. No erotica or gore or horror.

Since my daughter is in high school, I wrote a story about a couple of high school girls shopping for dresses. It's light and fun and I hope you enjoy it. Maybe it will inspire you to write one.

Send your five-minute fiction and let's see how creative we can be in five minutes, and an hour!

Here's my five-minute fiction:

The perfect dress

After searching all day for the perfect Homecoming dress, Laurie Taylor knew exactly what she didn’t want. The ones she had tried on. Each one was wrong in a different way. The hems were too short, too long or too weird. The necks didn’t fit right, or hung awkwardly from her shoulders. The colors were too bright, too pale or the pattern was awful. Nothing worked. She and her friend Claudia were ready to give up.

“Let’s go get a cappuccino,” Claudia said. “We can think about what you want, and where to go next.”

“I don’t think anything will help,” Laurie said.

“Well, at least we can get off our feet for a while and regroup,” Claudia said. “Maybe the cappuccino will have all the answers.”

Before they reached the counter of the Coffee Klatch, the clerk asked “What’ll you have?”

Laurie didn’t answer. She just stared at him. He didn’t bother to look up.


This was no ordinary coffee clerk. This was Jake. Jake Phillips, the coolest kid on campus. Even in his white apron, he managed to look like the most interesting person in the coffee shop. His dark hair was pulled back in a casual ponytail that curved under slightly, just brushing the place where his neck and shoulders met.

The sleeves of his white, button-down shirt were rolled up, exposing his tanned, muscular forearms. He rolled the pencil between his fingers and focused on his order pad while waiting for a response. He didn’t get one. Laurie just stared, mouth open.

When he finally looked up, he smiled. He recognized her from chemistry class.

“Hey, I know you.”

She smiled, still unable to speak. She couldn’t stop staring at this beautiful boy who was actually talking to her.

“What’s your poison?”

Laurie laughed too loudly at the comment.

Claudia jumped in, and ordered a cappuccino for her friend.

When they got to the table, Laurie said she wanted to leave.

“We are not leaving,” Claudia said. “We need to figure out our next move.”

“My next move is to change my mind about going to this stupid dance,” Laurie said. “You and Janice and Cynthia and Katie will have a better time without me, anyway. I don’t belong there. My people just don’t do that kind of thing.”

“Your people?” Claudia asked. “What people are those?”

“My family. We aren’t dancers. We don’t do parties well. One time, my uncle accidentally fell into the pool underneath the dance floor.”

“Nice try, George Bailey. That was a scene from “A Wonderful Life.”

“Well, maybe it wasn’t a pool, but he fell off something, somewhere, I’m sure.”

Jake came out from behind the counter and walked over to their table. Laurie sank in her chair.

“My people aren’t dancers, either,” he said to Laurie. “That’s why I play the guitar. My band’s playing at Homecoming, you’re going, aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Of course I’m going.”

Laurie turned to Claudia. “C’mon Claudia, let’s go look for dresses. I think I saw one that might work.”

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Hi again.

Back from vacation, ready to tie up a few loose ends for my book Strengthen your Nonfiction Writing. I haven’t talked to Lou Turner, publisher of High Hill Press, since I’ve been back, but am working on the “Acknowledgements” page. Now I know why the speeches go on so long at the Oscars. There are many people to thank whenever a large creative endeavor is undertaken, regardless of how many people contributed directly.

I’ve been thinking about how many people have touched my life, and offered a word of encouragement or praise when I needed it most. Kind words, a few laughs, and the feeling that you aren’t completely alone on this planet go a long way. There are several people in my “Acknowledgments” that I haven’t spoken to in years. But when I think about the type of person I am, and why, I realize these people contributed something positive that helped shape my world.

In the book I mention connections, and the importance of words to connect people and their emotions. Words connect us when we feel like the only one who wasn’t invited to the party, or dumped by a boy- or girlfriend, husband, wife or lover. Words allow us to feel what someone else has experienced. Words allow us to share the wonderful moments of being crowned queen of anything, along with the humiliating memory of falling down the stairs in high school. Powerful stuff, words. Hope you love them as much as I do.

See ya later this week.


Wednesday, August 4, 2010


The good news is my book "Strengthen your Nonfiction Writing" will be published soon by High Hill Press. The writing is finished, but there's still a lot of work to do. I hadn't thought about type or the cover, so Lou Turner and I will hammer out the details during the next few weeks, and I'll share with you the highs and lows of the publishing process. Stay tuned.