Archive: December, 2009

Great Way to End the Year

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Okay, I’m calling it a draft now. 82,419 words and at long last, my novel is written through the final chapter. Phew!

I’m not entirely sure how long this really took. My guess is I started in 1999. According to my reading list, I read J. Winocour’s “Story of the Titanic” in February 1998, and Stephen Cox’s “Titanic Story” in October 1999, and since reading is one of my favorite forms of research and this takes place immediately after the disaster, that seems a good sign.

So … ten years.

This isn’t saying that the book is DONE, mind you. Oh, no. Lots of work to be done! This is just the first draft, but considering I was stymied for something like 6 years with a 1912-era legal dilemma that I couldn’t find an answer to, getting the story all the way through to the end … no matter how rough and bumpy it might be along the way … is a relief.

Of course, there are lots of things that need fixing, tightening, and there are holes I know I need to plug. But that’s not the point, right? The point is that I’ve got 290 pages of manuscript that at least finally looks kind of like a book.

That’s kind of a nice way to end the year.

Highlights from 2009

Here, in case you missed them, are some of my favorite posts from the year:

  • Loot and Plunder: Do you follow through? Or do you leave people feeling like they’ve been pillaged?
  • Anticipation: A rare appearance of a poem I actually wrote.
  • Spinning Words: Because specialized vocabulary can be fun. (There were two more installments, here, and here.)
  • Pet Names: Do you have pet phrases you keep nearby at all times? How well-trained are they?
  • Why I Write: Because it’s the best fun around, that’s why!
  • Where the Action Is: Are the best stories the ones where events drive the story? Or where the characters do? (Or both?)
  • It’s Puzzling: Building a plot is a lot like creating a puzzle–it’s a lot of backward engineering to make sure everything works.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip down memory lane. I know I have!

Bloggers to be Thankful For

I haven’t spread any link-love in a while, so I wanted to take a moment to list some of the many blogs that I read every day and that give me that warm, cozy feeling inside. (Or, you know, are just really helpful or entertaining.) I’ve got hundreds of blogs in my RSS reader, so this is just a fraction, but I wanted to share. Most of them are about writing or reading in some way or another, but a couple are there just because they’re good.

Don’t see your blog or website? Don’t see one of your favorites?

Well, don’t assume that it just didn’t make the list–leave a comment to be sure!

Share YOUR favorites!

Merry

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Here’s wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.

Because, hey, even if you don’t celebrate December 25th as a holiday, you might at least be lucky enough to have it off from work, or be taking at least a few hours off to hang out with the family. And even if you don’t even do that, I certainly hope you have a wonderful day, so … be as non-denominationally merry as you can!

Do You Have A Lucky Charm?

  • Do you have a magic trick to get your writing started each day?
  • Do you have a specific routine that you must follow before you can settle down to work?
  • Do you have a lucky charm on your desk? A piece of jewelry you must be wearing? Some kind of talisman to ward off writers block and bad grammar?

We writers seem to be a superstitious bunch. If we don’t get to read the morning’s Pooch Cafe comic, we can’t write. If there was only enough coffee for three mugs full, we can’t write. If the internet is broken and we can’t check our email, we can’t write. If we can’t find our fuzzy bunny slippers, we can’t write. If we can’t find our favorite green pen and have to use a blue one instead, we can’t write.

This intrigues me.

I don’t think of myself as having a standard routine I have to follow each day to write. I don’t spin clockwise three times and spit on my shoulder (ick), or drop crumbs as offerings to the Writing Gods (and my dog), but that doesn’t mean I don’t have certain things I need just so to be able to write–especially the creative, fiction stuff. I can’t stand having clutter on my desk, and I can’t write at all with any type of audible words around me. No television, no radio (except, perhaps, classical music). If there are words to be listened to, my brain tends to latch on and then I can’t think of my own. Heck, I can’t fall asleep with the television on, either, I’m too busy listening to the dialogue.

While I lack a specific, superstitious routine, though, I do have a couple personal talismans I like to keep around.

One is this necklace:

Hope necklace

Hope necklace

I bought this back in 2008 from Kathryn Riechert’s Etsy shop, when we started having family financial issues and I needed something tangible to remind me that Hope was vital. Except for the weekends when I usually don’t bother putting on any jewelry at all, I’ve worn this just about every single day since then. The fact that the chain constantly eats my hair I just put up with because, well, hope can sometimes be painful. Even an optimist like me can use a reminder now and again.

Penny for your thoughts ring

Penny for your thoughts ring

The other is this ring from Nina Gibson Designs, which I find wonderfully symbolic for a freelance writer. First, it’s made from money … sure, it’s just a penny, but when you collect enough of them, it really starts to matter … and anyway, it’s the symbolism thing.

Penny for your thoughts band

Penny for your thoughts band

And then, the band is stamped with “Penny for your thoughts,” which is the whole point, don’t you agree? Because my thoughts ARE worth money, and even more, I want people to be offering to pay for them. Anyway, it’s symbolic (and it didn’t come in silver dollars, which would have been way too big to wear anyway).

So … I shared mine.

What lucky routines, talismans, charms, superstitions, or habits do YOU have to get you writing?

I Am Woman, Hear Me Blog

42-15717216You may have heard, it’s been all over the internet today– in the freelance writing world, at least–our buddy James from Men with Pens is, in fact, not a man at all. She is a single mother who was driven to writing under a pseudonym as a means for putting food on the table for her two kids.

Why the pen-name? Because it was easier to find work, easier to get the rates she deserved, by using a man’s name. She (and it’s going to take some time to get used to this pronoun) says that when she would apply for the same job, using both her real name and her pen-name, the name made a difference.

I was still bringing in work with the other business, the one I ran under my real name. I was still marketing it. I was still applying for jobs — sometimes for the same jobs that I applied for using my pen name.

I landed clients and got work under both names. But it was much easier to do when I used my pen name.

I find this fascinating and not a little depressing.

I was born in the mid-1960s and have lived my entire life hearing about feminism, equal rights, the NOW organization, the glass ceiling … all of it. Women earn less than men for the same work. Many jobs aren’t “suited” for women because they’re too technical, important, or whatever nonsense. (That works in reverse, too; just try being a male nurse or kindergarten teacher). Women’s Studies was an available major when I went to college, as if women needed our own, pink, ruffly little classes so we’d feel included while not interfering with the important, male-dominated topics.

The point, though, is that I grew up believing that I could do anything I wanted to, and that, by the time I was an adult, the fact that I was a woman wouldn’t matter anymore.

I can’t tell you how sad I am to learn that that’s not true, not even on the internet. Not even when it’s a matter of writing, which can be done equally well (or badly) by men or women–writing talent is NOT gender-based.

Do I blame the talented and driven James Chartrand for doing what she had to do to support her family? Not in the least. Do I feel betrayed or deceived, by the male-persona lie, not to mention left out for not having known the secret? Well, maybe a tiny bit, in the first few minutes as I pulled myself up off the floor. (Concussion from falling to the floor will do that, you understand.) After the shock wore off, though, I was filled with nothing but admiration for the way she tricked that gender-biased system … and, a little, a wish I’d thought of it first.

But here’s my question to you.

Why do you suppose that this gender bias exists? Especially in the freelance writing field?

In the multitude of comments in Copyblogger’s post today, there were a couple mentions of the old New Yorker cartoon. “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” If you’re hiring someone to write a webpage, does it matter if the writer is a man or a woman? Maybe, perhaps, in some instances. If your site talks about tips and tricks for breastfeeding your baby, a male writer might not do as good a job as a woman–though I’m sure he could still write decent copy, with some research. And vice versa for a site on, say, motorcycles (or pick the male stereotype of your choice.)

My biggest question, I suppose, isn’t why clients might assume that they could pay women less than they’re paying men for the same number of written words … they probably pay them less for answering phones, making sales calls, and working in human resources, too. It’s what they DO. They pay women less.

No, my biggest question is … why do we women let them? Why do we accept less pay? I can (almost) understand that in some traditionally male-dominated professions, women are still having to prove themselves. (I mean, gosh, it’s only been a few decades, right?) But … writing? Women have been writing for centuries, and it’s not like we spend our time swooning on the chaise these days, in between embroidery stitches. We’re too busy running after our jobs, our kids, our spouses, our dogs, and our sanity. You know, just like many of the men are.

Is it because we were taught differently? Did our mothers somehow encourage us to accept less, even while telling us to reach for the stars? Or is it simply because we have not put our collective foot down and say, “Enough, already?” I’ve never been a radical feminist, even when it was popular. I figured I already deserved equality, and any perqs beyond that were up to me.

Thanks, James (or whatever your name is), for showing everyone that gender doesn’t matter when there’s a brain and a talent at work.

You know, for those people who hadn’t figured it out already.

Yes, my name is Deb Boyken, and yes, I am a female writer. Proud of it, in fact.

Not only that, I’m proud that almost every comment I’ve seen on this topic today–mostly from the freelancing/writing community–has been supportive and generally in the “What difference does it make?” arena. At least we writers know the facts.

It’s the writing that matters. Not the gender.

Now, we just have to convince the rest of the world…

Do You Write With Conviction?

It’s hard to be a writer. You spend your day staring at a blank computer screen searching for the words to fill it. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a novel, poetry, an article for a magazine, a webpage, advertising copy, white pages … all writing is a risk.

A risk, you ask? Unless you’re inciting a riotous overthrow of the government, how can it be risky? It’s just a matter of putting words on a page. What’s hard about that?

The hard part is that it’s YOUR words. Yours, and nobody else’s. Your thoughts. Your ideas. Your turn of phrase. Even if you are writing copy for someone else, or shaping your sentences to the requirements of a specific magazine or type of publication–or a speech for someone else–you’re opening yourself up to criticism from all and sundry who think they know better. Writing is both an act of faith and an act of self-confidence at the same time. Faith that you’ll be read and appreciated, and self-confidence that what you have to say is worth your reader’s time and effort.

So, really, what’s intimidating about that?

Hmm. It got quiet out there.

Anyone?

Why, Joanna! Thank heaven you’ve come!

300If you read Joanna Young’s Confident Writing blog (and you should), you already know how supportive she can be. Her goal in life seems to be wanting to see everyone write as well as she does–not in a nit-picky, grammar-laden way–but as someone who throws herself into what she writes. Every post on her blog glows with enthusiasm and a sense of pure joy in writing and connecting to her readers.

It’s really no wonder that she now has a book.

199 Ways to Write with Confidence: Because our Words Count is a slim book, the kind that easily slips into your bag so you can take it everywhere. Small though it may be, it is jam-packed with tips and words of inspiration to help you write with the conviction your thoughts deserve.

It’s so easy–especially when we are bombarded by words and thoughts all day long–to try to write how you think you’re supposed to write, how you’re expected to write … instead of How You Actually Write. Your own voice can be lost so easily when you try to follow other people’s rules, or agonize over grammar and punctuation, rather than what you need to say.

Writing is unique in that it’s very personal and yet meant to be public at the same time, and nobody wants to be laughed at for doing the “wrong thing” … and that is stifling to creativity and deadly to productivity.

Joanna’s book promises 199 ways to be more confident, and while I didn’t count them, I can tell you there are a lot of great tips in here to help you say what you want to say. How to develop a credible writing style. How to cut words to save the planet. (Gotta love that one.) A 60-second guide to engage your reader. Stuff like that.

The book is divided into four sections: The essence of confident writing, Confident business writing, Writing on the web, and Motivation, creativity and the writing process. Some of her old blog posts are repeated more or less verbatim, but some have been tweaked to fit the book’s format, and all of them are golden.

If you do read Joanna’s blog (because you DO, right?), you might be wondering if it’s worth your while buying the book–haven’t you seen all this already? And, well, the answer is that yes, you have, but not all tightly packed in this nice, logical sequence that you can take with you and easily flip through when feeling scared or alone in front of your keyboard.

Every writer needs confidence.

Isn’t it nice to know there’s someone who can help you find it?

(And, thank you Joanna for the review copy you so kindly sent me–full disclosure, you know–but, honestly, having read your blog for a couple years now, how could I possibly have been disappointed?)

Why a Copywriter Needs to Tell Stories

CBR001478Do you know  the most powerful tool a writer has in his or her arsenal?

Telling a story.

I’m not talking about a fairy tale that starts with “Once upon a time” and ends with “happily ever after.” I’m talking about the kind of story that immediately makes your readers interested in what you have to say, and how it affects them.

The best stories start with a character having a problem.

His wife leaves. A hurricane destroys his house. The aliens invade. On top of that, he just got fired from his job  just as his parents are due to come visit, and he’s coming down with a cold. And it’s only Monday. You’re immediately drawn in–HOW is he going to manage?

Or, maybe you prefer non-fiction, and you’re wondering how the doctors will cure the plague, how Louisiana is going to handle massive flooding, or how Abraham Lincoln is going to convince his biggest rivals to help him hold the Union together. It doesn’t matter, which. The point is, you’re going to care.

The gripping stories pull you in right away by making you curious, and making you care about the outcome.

They add some kind of human interest–you’re not just reading about statistics, you’re reading about how the hurricane of the century affected ONE person, or how a global crisis affected one small town. It’s immediate. It’s visceral.

You don’t start with, “Once upon a time, there was unemployment of over 10% and the Great Depression was spread across the globe.” No, you start with “Once upon a time, when every tenth person couldn’t find work, one man was determined to create jobs for every one, no matter what the cost. This is his story.” Focusing on something or someone specific immediately makes your reader want to know what happens next.

This is a powerful, immediate tool. And you should be using it in your copywriting … right this minute. Case Studies are built on this. So is some of the best Copywriting.

Think about it. What’s the best way to get somebody’s attention? You start off with a person, just like them, who woke up one day with a problem, or an idea, something to change the world … and then you tell what they did about it.

Tell a story.

You’ll be glad you did.

(Now, the next question? Ponder this: Would this entire post have been more powerful, more helpful if I had written it as a story? If I had framed it by telling you how this technique has helped me gain clients, or write better copy, making me more successful? Of course it would! Because here’s the other, big secret … Lectures are boring. Stories are fun. Discuss!)

Joyful and Jubilant

Hey, folks, I’m going to have a post up at Joyful Jubilant Learning on Wednesday, December 2nd … be there, or be square! The month’s theme? Returning Home for the Holidays.

Back to Essentials

Joanna wants to know which post of 2009 I would consider essential? As in, showing the very essence of my blog, as well as being essential to my readers?

Man, I hate making decisions. I can almost never state that any one thing is my favorite. I can pick favorite authors, but not favorite books. I can pick favorite musicians, but not favorite songs. So, saying I need to pick ONE post to symbolize my entire year?

Um, what d’you say I share my three favorites, huh?

Let The Yeast Do the Work

Writing is like bread baking. You start with the basics.
Yeast: The initial idea. The spark that’s going to make your writing grow into a loaf of bread. (Well, you know what I mean.)
Flour: This is the substance, the main argument. Really, without the flour, what’s the point of baking? Or writing?
Water: Flour may be the building blocks, the structure, but without the water, it’s going to fall apart. This helps tie it together, blend together
Salt: The extra zing that makes it come alive, that adds savor to keep it interesting.


How NOT To Get Your Novel Published

Anybody can claim to be a novelist and then not carry through by writing an actual, well, novel.

The real challenge for being an Undiscovered Novelist is to actually HAVE a completed manuscript, one that is good, interesting, and entertaining, one that has real character development and depth, and a multi-layered plot that all ties together. A masterpiece, that is, or at least something that is good.

To have all that and still remain unpublished is tricky. It takes a master of evasion. An expert at avoidance. That’s where my distinct talents come into play. Because, naturally, my completed novel is wonderful. Every time I pull it out of mothballs, it makes me laugh, smile, cry, and tingle all the way to my fingertips, it’s so darned entertaining.


Writing Makes Everything Possible

Writing–just the mere act of putting words on paper–shapes the possibilities of our lives. Things we’ve learned. Things we want to share. Things we want to pass on to other people and other generations. Ideas. Philosophies. Poems. Emotions. Stories. Drama. Comedy. History.