Mar 27, 2008

The skin of a rhino & the soul of an angel

“The skin of a rhino and the soul of an angel” is Albert Schweitzer’s advice for being a great leader. It’s also perfect advice for being a great writer, poet, novelist, journalist, or essayist. It’s necessary if not required to have the tough skin of a rhino when you’re writing, because the rejections outnumber the acceptances (for most of us).

And I know I’m not supposed to call it a “rejection.” It’s an “opportunity to do it better” or an “ignorant decision of an editor” or “business decision.”

Anyway, if you have the skin of a rhino, you don’t take things personally and you don't let the rejections knock you down. And if you have the soul of an angel, you've got enough spirit and wisdom and courage and creativity to try again. You also have imagination, hope, faith, goodness and light, too.

Writing quotation: “In my dream, the angel shrugged & said, “If we fail this time, it will be a failure of imagination” & then she placed the world gently in the palm of my hand.” – from Brian Andreas’ “Imagining World.”

Writing tip: Writers imagine, and writers fail. (Here’s a good opportunity for me to talk about my recent mistake regarding sourcing for an article, and my ulcers and lost sleep and that awful stress hormone cortisol running through my veins, making me fat and gray haired and anxious and afraid that that magazine won't hire me again. But no – instead I will talk about writers who have soul.).

Imagine an angel – one who shrugs and dismisses failure – has placed the world in the palm of your hand. All you have to do is summon the courage to figure out what to do with your world.

Mar 21, 2008

Stephen King likes to resonate with readers

If this doesn’t work for freelance magazine writers, novelists, poets, and journalists, I don’t know what does.

Writing quotation: In On Writing Stephen King says, “What I want most is resonance, something that will linger for a little while in Constant Reader’s mind (and heart) after he or she has closed the book and put it up on the shelf.”
Later in the same paragraph, King says, “I’ll also want to delete stuff that goes in other directions.” (this actually goes in a different direction, and I shouldn't have included it here).

Writing tip: Resonance in my magazine articles means finding something that readers can talk about later, at cocktail parties or on first dates or in the lobby after church. That's one reason I love writing about scientific research – such as the discovery that yawning cools the brain. I want my readers to remember the information I gave them, and talk about it later.

Resonance for you as a writer could be emotional, spiritual, or intellectual. Resonance is the “take-away.” What image, thought, or opinion does the reader hold after reading your stuff?
And then (and this is the stuff that goes in another direction that I shouldn't have included here -- but it's a "teachable moment") get rid of all the fluff. The more focused you are, the more captivated readers will be. If you're juggling different ideas and scenarios, readers may get confused and distracted. Weed out the extra words.

Mar 16, 2008

Mentoring for writers

Writer Julia Cameron realizes the importance of mentoring relationships for artists. To keep inspired and motivated, Cameron urges artists to find a biography or autobiography that details an artist’s life. Here’s what she advises regarding mentoring.

Writing quotation: “You are on the look out for experience, strength, and hope. You want to hear from the horse’s mouth exactly how disappointments have been survived,” she says. “It helps to know that the greats have had hard times too and that your own hard times merely make you part of the club.”

Writing tip: Julia Cameron doesn’t just look for mentors who are alive and able to converse with her. She’s also into mentors in non-fiction books (autobiographies or biographies) who offer guidance when she’s sitting quietly and listening. “Very often you will find that there is a wisdom available to you that does not seem to be your own,” she says.

"In writing musicals, I look to books about Rodgers and Hammerstein. Their success is laudable but very hard won. Rodgers once faced such discouragement that he almost quit the music business to become a lingerie salesman." (From Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance by Julia Cameron).

To learn more about the benefits of mentoring relationships, read 8 Ways to Find a Mentor.

Mar 10, 2008

Inspiration for freelance writers

I tell you, I’m actually getting used to sending out 147,258 queries for every article I sell. It’s just part of the job – but what keeps me going is tracking my long-term success. This week, I’ve got articles due for Woman’s Day and Reader’s Digest. In a couple weeks, I have a deadline for Flare.

So even though I get rejected all the time, I am hitting it every now and then. And, boy, is it sweet! That's what keeps me going.

Writing quotation: “Is freelancing hard work? Sure – damned hard. But it’s not harder than any other profession. Like every job, it requires a combination of skill, thoroughness and dependability,” says I.J. Schecter in the 2008 version of Writer’s Market. “The difference is you don’t have anyone defining the parameters of the job for you or providing incentives to succeed.”

Writing tip: You have to define your own parameters when you’re freelancing. That means setting your goals, staying disciplined, and taking risks. Above all, it means NOT waiting until you feel creative before you get to work. Freelance writing means NOT waiting for inspiration to strike.

Instead, you have to hunt inspiration like the beast it is.

Mar 6, 2008

Elmore Leonard’s writing advice

Writing quotation: Novelist Elmore Leonard disapproves of “Thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.”

Writing tip: I’m not 100% sure what “hooptedoodle” is, but I can guess. Elmore Leonard is talking about those neverending paragraphs of prose that don’t add much to the action and that lose most readers fairly quickly. Instead, dialogue and short bursts of information should weed our writing so only the most important, vibrant stuff remains.

The above paragraph probably has 20 unnecessary words. Though my blog may not show it, I have learned to write tightly through my magazine writing. When they give me 200 words to summarize a long-term scientific experiment that described multiple important findings and a list of possible implications as well as future plans, I had to learn to write short and snappy prose.

Again, the above paragraph has about 20 extra words. The best way to apply Elmore Leonard's writing advice is to edit until you use one word instead of three to make your point.