Tag Archives: Writing

Writing Time

There are people with day jobs who get up before dawn to have an hour or two of writing time. They have my admiration. When I was teaching full time, I did not have the energy or focus to do that.

Some people have a set number of pages or words that they write each day. That is also an admirable habit. When I’ve squirreled myself away someplace other than home, I can sustain a goal of 10,000 words per day for a week or so. That means I can crank out the first draft of a novel in that time.

But sustain a daily writing habit with specific goals indefinitely? That is beyond me. Sometimes other things take priority for a day. Between now and Thanksgiving, I need to set aside several days to finish painting the inside of my home, rearranging things to house two extra families for a night or two over that holiday, and a full day to go pick up my granddaughter so we’ll have a week together before everyone else comes. We’re going to work on her book for that week. I might spend a few minutes here and there on activities that support my writing (like keeping up with emails), but it will be incidental. I’ll apply the same focus I give to writing to my family and other projects.

I do have long-range and short-range writing goals and I do track my progress. At the end of each year, I make a list of annual accomplishments. When I feel like I haven’t done enough, I check those and realize I’m really doing a lot. I also make a list of goals for the year ahead, and while I may not work on my writing every single day, I do track progress toward those goals. I tend to be overly optimistic about how much one person can do, but over the last ten years, I’ve usually accomplished most of my annual goals.

While writing every day is can be a good habit, even more important is using your writing time effectively. Whether or not you write daily, set goals for the year and monitor your progress toward those goals regularly. Every Sunday, I evaluate the preceding week in light of my yearly goals and plan the one ahead—including realistically setting aside days when I will focus on other things and not write.

2012SheriWaimuPicchuForProfessionalwww.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Profession or Hobby?

You’re writing a book. Are you approaching this as a profession or is it a hobby?

Given how difficult it is to be successful, it might be healthier to approach writing and self-publishing as a hobby, something you do for fun.  However, are you approaching it seriously enough you don’t harm others?

Self-publishing is gaining respect because of writers who are approaching writing and publishing professionally. They make sure their books are edited. They pay attention to genre and industry standards for formatting. The hobbyist who publishes a rough draft rife with errors and formatted poorly hurts every serious self-publisher, not only by putting a dent in the self-publishing image, but by making it that much harder for a reader to find the good books.

You can approach writing and self-publishing as a hobby and still produce a well-written, professionally-produced book. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.

A good critique group can help you polish the writing. Your library, book clubs, and English teachers at a local college may be able to suggest good editors and proof-readers. When it comes to formatting, you can buy templates or do it yourself using your word processor—if you know how to use styles, show all formatting marks, paragraphing, and other tools. If you don’t, head back to the library and local college and ask for a word processing guru. In any case, make sure you have copies of traditionally published books in the same genre to use as examples of how it should look. Pay attention to details.

This takes more time and effort than throwing up a rough draft, but friends who buy it may actually read it, and you won’t be hurting other writers.

2012SheriWaimuPicchuForProfessionalwww.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Read Your Work – Out Loud

I work with several critique groups. Some of them have us email pages ahead of the meeting and we come prepared to dive right into discussion. Others, we each bring a (usually smaller) number of pages to be read on the spot—often out loud. While it’s possible to get more work critiqued with the mail-ahead groups, I really like reading a story out loud. As I read, I often make my own corrections as I hear a word repeated unnecessarily or realize I missed writing a word. I also read pieces aloud before I submit them. It’s amazing how many times I’ll catch one last typo in a work that’s been polished.

It makes sense, though. Teachers are encouraged to use multi-modality instruction because we learn through all of our senses. While we write, we’re using primarily vision, along with the tactile and kinesthetic senses used with the keyboard or pen. If we only use our vision to edit the work, we’re more likely to miss errors. By reading aloud, we add our auditory sense and move the kinesthetic experience from hand to mouth. Because we’re changing the senses used, errors stand out more vividly. Especially if a sentence is worded awkwardly, or meaning is not clear, or the wrong word has been used, it will be heard more readily than seen.

Especially if you are a new writer, read your work out loud before you submit it to a critique group, contest, or publisher.

2012SheriWaimuPicchuForProfessional

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Read Your Genre

I recently had an artist/writer ask me to review her book.

She’d made water colors based on photographs she took on a journey to Thailand when she was young, then rendered them in colored pencil to mock up a picture book aimed at young children, including short lines of text for each picture. She’d taken it to a critique group and they’d advised her to write more for each picture, giving much more of her story as a teen. She came up with the alternate text, but didn’t think it met her original purpose. She was right.

Her pictures were appropriate for young children, and most picture books have very few words accompanying each picture. Her original mock-up was perfect for that audience. The alternate text was more appropriate for older kids—maybe even teens—and her original photos might work better for them, rather than the paintings she’d made with little children in mind.

The members of her critique group were good writers, but they were accustomed to writing for older audiences. Fortunately, she had looked at enough picture books to question their judgment. She only came to me for affirmation.

Mysteries, thrillers, romance novels, young adult, middle school, picture books—each genre has its own audience, and the audience develops expectations whether they realize it or not. You can try to learn these forms by reading about them, but your best bet is to read the genre—lots of what fans are reading now.

2012SheriWaimuPicchuForProfessionalMake sure you’re reading what your audience is reading.

www.sherimcguinn.com

Amazon Author Page

 

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What Makes a Good Writing Class

I’ve taken courses and workshops in English, journalism, fiction writing, poetry writing, technical writing, grant writing, and probably more that I’m not thinking of this moment. Quality has varied, but many were excellent. Based on that experience, here are some elements I consider essential for a good writing class:

  • The instructor is a good teacher, someone who builds on your strengths rather than focusing on your errors.
  • Once you have basic skills, the instructor helps you refine your writing style rather than forcing your writing into a template or their personal style.
  • The instructor is a writer, preferably someone who’s published or is in the process of trying to be published, so they know what it’s like to risk rejection repeatedly.
  • The instructor regularly writes the form they are teaching, be it short or long fiction or non-fiction, plays or screenplays, or academic work.
  • Students are there because they want to improve their writing. If it is a required class, the majority of students become enthused as they see their writing improve.
  • Everyone is expected to write for every class meeting, whether that’s bringing in new or revised work and/or doing spontaneous writing in class.
  • The class as a whole or in small groups critiques each other’s work with the instructor modeling and supervising constructive critique methods. The emphasis is on the work, what works, and what can be improved. This way you will learn from everyone’s writing.

If you have other criteria, please post them.

Sheri McGuinn Photo Signature

 

 

 

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

 

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Resources to Improve Your Writing

WMWDWMPicsLast week I listed resources for selling your work, because that’s my current focus.This week I’ll back up a step for people who know their writing still needs work. Some of the resources listed last week also include articles on writing that are very helpful for writers at any skill level. Those were: Writer’s Market, Writer’s Digest Magazine, The Writer Magazine, and Writer’s Digest Books.

Internet
Today, the internet is my primary resource. My personal preference is Yahoo’s search engine, but I use Google Maps for maps and when I have access to Chrome, and I use Google Earth to view places. Wikipedia has an extensive list of search engines divided into useful categories to get more targeted results.

I use Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary and thesaurus when I’m searching for a word. For access to style guides, I use Purdue Online Writing Lab, but they have free basic writing instruction there, too. I haven’t used it yet, but The International Writing Program offers massive open online writing courses (MOOCs) for free – and this is supported by the University of Iowa, which is known for its writing programs, so I would expect the courses to be excellent.

BONOWWPbooksBooks
I have about seven feet of bookshelf taken up with books on writing, screenwriting, self-publishing, and marketing – about half of them published by Writer’s Digest – and I’ve given away twice that many over the years. As much time as I spend with a computer screen, curling up with a book to dive into the details of a topic is a pleasure.

You should go to Writer’s Digest Books and pick out ones that are relevant to your skill level and interests, so I’m not going to list all of mine. For fiction writing, my favorite is Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. My favorite non-WD book on writing fiction is Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s a memoir and a textbook for writers. I underlined key comments and marked them with sticky notes so they’re easy to find.

Finally, for grant or other technical writing or editing, the Allyn and Bacon Series in Technical Communication is well-designed. Whatever kind of writing you do, keep developing your skill.

2012SheriWaimuPicchuForProfessional
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Writers Revise

Last week I wrote about not getting ripped off when you self-publish.
My favorite resource for this is the free annotated list of companies you get when you sign up for Carla King’s mailing list for Tools & Services at authorfriendly.com.
This is a marketing strategy for her 4th edition of Self-Publishing Boot Camp and for her services, but she has NOT buried me in promotional emails and she DOES send updates. This is an excellent tool for any self-publisher, but if you’re new the knowledge is essential.

20170824WritersRevise

Sheri McGuinn
I write.
www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Never Pay to Publish – and OMG

I had this writer’s blog, Never Pay to Publish, ready to post today. For anyone following this for writing tips, it’s below.

But sometimes life happens.

KatieRiver2My daughter Katie has always been a risk taker – when she was twelve, she bought two tickets to whitewater the Colorado River for my birthday. She knew it was the only way she’d get to go. That’s her grinning. I’m under the wave, still in the boat.

After college, she surfed the beach off San Francisco alone – worried me sick. When she and her husband first met, they surfed the Pacific beaches all the way to Panama. She has a little scar where coral ripped open her lip in Costa Rica. Now she lives in far northern California where she can teach safe kayaking and surf year round – with a wet suit.

She’s gotten old enough to call people in their late teens and twenties “kids” and when she and her husband saw the surf near home was big and rough this morning, they decided to go north to a different beach. On the way home, they stopped on the cliff overlooking the beach they’d decided was too rough to surf – they always take time to enjoy life like that. What they saw was three “kids” on boogie boards in an area they NEVER surf because of the rip tides, two boys and a girl in their late teens or twenties. They saw the white of the boys’ backs and realized they had no wet suits. Even in August, the water up there is icy cold. The “kids” were caught in a rip.

Katie and her husband drove down to the beach, where the kids’ friends were finally calling 911 – they’d already been in the water at least 45 minutes. Katie and her husband got their boards and headed out, through the waves they’d chosen not to surf, out into the rip they’d never go near.

When they got to the kids, Eric took charge of the two who still had some strength to help them back to safety. Katie took the boy who was sinking into hypothermia.

At first she tried to tow him to shore, but he was too weak to hold onto the board. So she pulled him onto it, got on top of him, and paddled the best she could.

Once they got back to the break, they still had to ride the waves into shore – the waves that were big enough Katie and her husband hadn’t surfed that beach earlier. The other two were still strong enough to ride in on their own and walk out of the water. Katie’s kid couldn’t hold onto the board. She had to ride in on top of him.

They made it most of the way before they got dumped and she lost him. But by then, the fire and rescue crews were on the beach, ready to help, and they got her kid to shore and onto a stretcher for the ride to the hospital.

The helicopter that would have looked for them at sea was still at least 15 minutes away.

Today, my daughter called me from under a tree, where she’s sitting, still shaken up by the whole episode. She didn’t want me to find out by reading about it somewhere. But there were no news cameras, so it may never be noticed by media. She found out the kid she helped warmed up and was released from the hospital.

I’m still tearful. My daughter saved that kid’s life by risking her own. I’m terribly proud of her – both her actions and her need to sit under a tree and absorb it all today.

20170817Never Pay to Publish

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Critique Groups – Key Elements

I was extremely lucky in my first critique group. Running Away was losing agent interest in the first pages. I read it to the group and they unanimously proclaimed I’d started in the wrong place. They were absolutely right!

The best critique group is going to include people with diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and skills. They’re going to be supportive of each other, even when they’re giving negative feedback. Every person will leave the meeting energized.

Aside from that, there are a lot of different ways critique groups may work. Here are a few variations.

Sheri McGuinn
I write.
www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

Critique Group What to Look For

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