Saturday, April 03, 2010

 

Should Writers Specialize?

I've known since I was a young age that I wanted to be a writer. In high school and college, I wrote for my school newspapers. After working in corporate America and teaching both high school and college English and Journalism, I took the plunge into freelance writing.

Experts say "write what you know." What should I write about? Education? Writing? Cooking? Current events? I made a list of topics I felt I could successfully write about. Sure, they were fun, and my knowledge base in many of them ran deep, but I wanted to write and learn. Would I be able to write about any topic and sell a piece to a magazine or should I focus on one area and specialize?

Sure, some experts preach sticking to one area. With social networking and author branding, specializing may seem like a no-brainer. For me, specializing limits my writing style. I've been lucky. I've had investigative pieces appear in national magazines. Regional topics appeal to me and make up half of my monthly sales. And since I have experience teaching writing, I've used that knowledge to bolster sales.

What I've realized about specializing is this: writers need to find the best fit for their writing style. This month, a national glossy may want a 3,000 word article. Next month, a regional newspaper or magazine may offer you eight assignments.

For writers who do choose to specialize - and for writers in general - here are a few ideas to break out of your niche and find new homes for your work:

  • Branch out. Think about the subtopics associated with your specialization area. Under those topics, you'll find even more subtopics, and eventually you'll have a huge cluster of possible articles.
  • Consider the opposite. If you primarily write for women, tailor an article on the same subject toward men. Write for adults? Why not focus on teens or tweens?
  • Find common bond. I once had a writing teacher who said you should be able to write about any topic for any publication if your writing is strong. Look at a topic and consider how it can fit the editorial needs of a magazine or publication you've never queried before.
  • Renew interests. Even writers need to renew their interest in a topic. Are there conferences or classes you can attend that offer new insight? Sign up and learn all you can. Not only may you find new writing ideas, you may also find that you'd like to write a different style of article.
  • Understand trends.Use trends to boost timely sales. Look at trends and find a correlation between them and your area of expertise.

Determine if specializing will be best for your writing career. Discover what fits your style. Decide what writing goals drive your freelance business.

And then, write.

by LuAnn Schindler

Visit LuAnn's website http://luannschindler.com/ or follow her on Twitter @luannschindler.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

 

Interview with Stacy Post - Runner Up in the Fall 2009


Mother. Librarian. Writer. Native Hoosier. Now, Stacy Post can add "WOW! Contest Runner Up" to the list of words that describe her.
As a Mother's Day gift, Stacy's children surprised her with a whirlwind gift: a flying lesson. Ever since, Stacy has been floating on air; earning a pilot's license is on her "bucket list."
Stacy majored in English at Purdue University and received a Master's Degree in Library Science from Indiana University. For the past ten years, she's worked in public libraries.
Stacy's publishing credits include the Purdue Exponent, Skylark, Haiku Headlines, and the Indianapolis Star.
Check out Stacy's story, Twist in the Wind, and then join us for a discussion about flying, expectations, story development, and writing.
WOW: Stacy, welcome to The Muffin. Congratulations on Runner Up honors in the Fall 2009 Flash Fiction contest. In Twist in the Wind, the parents establish a negative tone with the young girl. How does that parental tone affect their child and her future decisions?
Stacy: I was interested in telling a life story in a short amount of words. So I put the parental conflict in early to motivate the character. (It wouldn't be much of a story if she played her parent's negative thoughts in her head like a broken record.) I wanted a character that could move beyond early labels and find happiness.
WOW: Your character certainly broke away from the preconceived notions of her parents and took flight on her own. For me, and perhaps for other readers, flying evokes a feeling of freedom in addition to a feeling of hesitation or uncertainty. What's the fascination with flying, both in your personal life and in your story?
Stacy: In my early twenties, my great uncle took me flying in his small plane over the Gulf of Mexico. When he let me try the yoke . . . that was the moment I put flying lessons on my bucket list.
Presently, we live within a few miles of a county airport. Small planes buzz over the house on fair weather days. I hear this often while writing at my desk. It's neat to know when it is a good day for flying.
In the story, I felt that flying was another form of exhilaration for the character to experience and the plane represented the body well. Her childhood joy was defined in a way she reasonably could express it.
WOW: I'm still visualizing flying a small plane over the Gulf. Beautiful view, I imagine! What a fantastic opportunity! You were able to build a dream based on experience. Why is it imperative for parents to listen to children's dreams?
Stacy: When children share their dreams, I think it's important for parents to listen, to honor those dreams and to help guide those dreams to realistic ends. Not everyone can be a professional ballerina, but everyone certainly can enjoy, appreciate and express a passion for dancing.
WOW: Exactly! My parents supported my dreams and told me I could do anything I put my mind to. I always wanted to be a lawyer, but eventually I followed in their footsteps and became a teacher and writer. Living life to the fullest is one theme your story addresses. Why do you think so many people forget to experience life?
Stacy: Many people don't see beyond the day to day because of responsibilities and obligations. It's easy to get lost in the routine of it all. I think bucket lists are important. Opportunities arise, but if you aren't looking for the potential, they can slip away. For example, if the plane buzzing over my house hadn't happened, I don't think I would've ever had the discussion with my family that I'd like to fly again.
WOW: Good point! I'm sitting down with my husband tonight so we can create our bucket lists. Having that discussion is such an important idea. Stacy, you shared your list with your family and your children gave you the gift of flying lessons for Mother's Day. How did that experience tie into Twist in the Wind?
Stacy: I live a pretty ordinary life as a mom, librarian, wife and writer. Flying ups the stakes. In a small plane, which seriously feels like flying in a tin can, the ride can invigorate or exacerbate your senses. I absolutely love the stomach-trembling sensation of being in the air. It lifts my spirits and changes my perspective.
When you're flying a small plane, your focus has to be directly on the action of flying. There isn't time for distracting thoughts. I felt that was good for my character. There's also so much room in the sky, it'd be hard to knock anything over. And since my character was somewhat clumsy, I wanted to give her plenty of space.
WOW: Character development - and staying true to a character - builds rapport with readers. Such an important lesson for writers to learn! Let's talk about your day job. You work as a librarian in a public library system. What's your favorite genre?
Stacy: That's like asking a mother to pick a favorite child! I read voraciously and eclectically so that I can help many readers find books to enjoy. I worked as a children's librarian for many years, so children's literature will always have a special place in my heart. For my personal enjoyment, I'm a moody reader, in that I might be in a mystery mood one week or a romantic mood the next. Right now, I'm deep into southern fiction with sassy leading ladies.
WOW: Selecting one genre would be difficult for me, too! My reading selections vary with what's happening in my life. My writing process tends to follow that same course. Let's talk about your writing process.
Stacy: Usually a character pesters me. He or she has a secret to reveal. So I follow that character on paper for a while. Sometimes it ends with a flash piece. Sometimes it's a short story. And several times, it's developed into a full-blown novel.
Since I have a day job, I have to manage my writing time efficiently. I'd like to say I write everyday, but it's more like five days a week right now. If I can squeeze in an hour or two in the mornings, or an hour or two in the evenings, I can churn out a decent word count. (I've given up a lot of television to achieve this.)
Revision is a big part of my process too. I like for stories, especially short stories and flash pieces, to sit for a month or two before I go back and revise. Having fresh eyes helps me see the errors. But I'm always thinking about a story or a character, wondering how they'd manage this obstacle or what they'd say or do in a given circumstance.
WOW: Revising work takes practice and a certain openness from a writer to let go of words or entire scenes. What advice would you offer to someone who is considering jumping into the world of flash fiction?
Stacy: Read flash fiction. There are great stories being written right now, available online and in anthologies. Take a workshop and educate yourself on what it is. If you have an idea for a story, see if it can be told in a thousand words or less. It's the perfect medium for tinkering. The WOW! contest offers critiques. It's a great opportunity to see if your story can succeed in the short form. Try it! You might like it.
WOW: Great advice, Stacy! Flash fiction teaches a lot about the craft of storytelling. And, WOW!s critique option helps writers see potential pitfalls and areas that need definition or fine-tuning. What projects are you currently working on that you'd like to share with our readers?
Stacy: February was a great month. I published a poem and two flash fiction stories. I have another short fiction story coming out in the spring issue of Rose & Thorn journal. I'm currently wrapping up a sequel to a middle grade ghost story novel. And, like most writers, I'm sending out stories, poems, queries and gathering rejections. I'm in search of an agent too. It's all a part of the process. I've been blessed to final in this contest. Thank you, WOW!
WOW: Thank you, Stacy, for participating and placing in the contest. If you'd like additional information about Stacy or her work, you can visit her blog or read other works of poetry and flash fiction.
Interview conducted by LuAnn Schindler. Follow LuAnn on Twitter - @luannschindler or visit her website: http://luannschindler.com/.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

 

Spring Resolutions for Writers

Spring officially began last Saturday - somewhere around 2:10 p.m. - but it's possible that winter or the dreary doldrums still interfere with your productivity levels.

In my "neck of the woods" in the Nebraska Sandhills, the sun didn't shine for three months, and snow filled ditches and roadways since December 5. Finally, it's beginning to disappear and we've had two days of sun and warm temperatures.

During that time, though, the gloom and doom of grey skies cut my productivity. Did I meet all the New Year's resolutions I established? Most of them, but it's time to evaluate the goals.

It's not too late to set new goals, especially since spring just sprung a few days ago. Use these ideas to get your writing back on track:
  1. Begin a new project. Use the season as a springboard and kick off a new project. You'll feel an extra dose of satisfaction once you reach your goal. I plan to finish making PDF files of all my clips and have pertinent clips on my new website by June 1. This correlates with my second point.
  2. Devise a list of wants and priorities. Include items from your lists in your daily writing routine. Want to investigate a new subject? Schedule the time and use it wisely. Need to complete the revisions in your memoir? Add revision time to your calendar. I've written my lists and am scheduling my priorities and wishes around the days I'm scheduled to substitute teach. Writing has to be a priority or it will remain an idle notion.
  3. Increase "light" time. Since the weather is warming up, why not spend some of your writing time outside. The change of scenery, coupled with increased light (read that as a boost of Vitamin D), definitely will change your mood and attitude. One rainy days, turn on the lights instead of working in the semi-darkness. Watch productivity soar! I create rough drafts while I work in the yard. Scenes or articles play out in my mind and once inside, I head for the computer. I plan to spend one hour a day outside and outline new material while I'm drinking in the sunshine.
  4. Leave the office. A change in routine not only provides a break from the daily grind, but getting out of the office or your usual writing zone can stir emotions and generate new ideas. I'm schedule to substitute teach two to three days a week until the end of the school year, so the chance of developing new ideas is high. I plan to carry my notebook, camera, and digital voice recorder to capture important snippets. At school, something fascinating is bound to capture my attention!
  5. Rearrange your writing space. Spring cleaning starts with your writing space. Rearrange furniture, if possible. Don't forget to organize your computer files, too. A fresh start will rejuvenate your mind and your commitment to writing. I've already started my spring office cleaning. Once I've organized the clutter and ditched the unnecessaries, I plan to rearrange my writing zone.
  6. Seek inspiration. Read from other writers and remember what attracted you to writing. Hearing about how others struggle with the same frustrations makes the writing process that much easier. I use a writer's calendar and read the quote of the day first thing in the morning. It's my daily affirmation of why I write and why I can't imagine a life without sharing the written word.

Spring is a time of renewal and rebirth. It's not too late to recommit to the dusty resolutions you set nearly four months ago. Your writing - and your attitude - will thank you.

by LuAnn Schindler

Follow LuAnn on Twitter - @luannschindler or visit her website http://luannschindler.com.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

 

The March 15 Blog That Probably Shows Up On March 16

Time. It seems like I never have enough hours in the day. I'm sure many of you feel the same way. Luckily, I have the opportunity to freelance full time. I tried to juggle freelancing with a full-time teaching position, but the results were less than spectacular. I was lucky if I queried five or six publications a year. Now, I query five or six a week!

It's exciting, yes, but sometimes it still feels like I'm running the marathon, trying to fit as many writing opportunities into the day as I possibly can.

In theory, you should have received this e-mail diatribe on March 15. In actuality, it will "probably" end up with a March 16 date, depending where you reside. Is that a problem? Not necessarily. But, for me, the woman-writer-perfectionist, it is a problem.

Basically, I overscheduled myself today. As writers, it's probably happened to all of us at some point. We think we can squeeze in one more interview and get those notes transcribed before we begin dinner preparations. Or we focus on completing the page of fiction or a line of a poem before we fold the laundry.

Sometimes, in the rush for manufacturing as much writing as possible, we forget to breathe. Sometimes, we forget to realize that we may miss a deadline and actually learn from it.

For me, writing is a 24/7/365 career. I'm constantly assessing situations and considering story angles. Does it mean I'm planted in front of my computer 24/7? No. I take a daily breaks, and sometimes, family duty requires an extended break.

I choose to write as much as I possibly can. Occasionally, I overextend myself or I don't take into account how a gloomy day (we haven't had a full day of sunshine in three months and we had 90 days with temperatures below 30) affects my productivity.

Writers need to find a balance between time and projects. Since I've been freelancing, I've discovered that balance exists some days, but other times, the writing table is tilted in favor of putting pen to paper, filling it with exciting words and phrases. I may begin at 7 AM. I may sleep in until 9 and start by 10. I may work two hours, take a break, make lunch, hang out with my husband, and return to the office at 9 PM and write until the early morning hours.

Bottom line: find a balance between obligations - both personal and professional. Make time work in your favor.

My husband's asleep now, and I have moved my laptop back to the confines of the office, where I won't hear the drone of his snoring. You see, before I lay me down to sleep tonight, I have another story that's brewing, and I'm afraid if I don't take time to get those thoughts on the computer hard drive, my brain's hard drive may forget the material by morning. That's something I'm not willing to lose.

Do I worry that I'm not getting enough sleep? Sometimes, yes.

But a power nap tomorrow afternoon will revitalize my energy and guide me toward the keyboard, where I make magic happen.

By LuAnn Schindler
Visit LuAnn's Writing on the Wall at http://luannschindler.com or follow LuAnn on Twitter - @luannschindler

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Friday, March 05, 2010

 

What's Your Favorite Dr. Seuss Book?

On March 2, Theodore Geisel's birthday continued to be celebrated across the States with Read Across America Day activities.

Growing up, reading a book by Dr. Seuss added a sense of silliness to my day. As I grew older, I used his material to teach rhythm and meter in creative writing classes. And as a competitive speech coach, I'd suggest a few of his works to use in poetry or prose interpretation.

My favorite is Thidwick, the Big-Hearted Moose. Something about the moose and his antler-nest of unwelcomed guests always makes me laugh. I'd read it to my kids when they were young, complete with different voices for each of the characters.

What is your favorite Dr. Seuss story?

by LuAnn Schindler
follow LuAnn on Twitter @luannschindler
or check out her website http://luannschindler.com

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

 

Need Writing Inspiration? Think Celebration!

by LuAnn Schindler

Writers discover inspiration in the strangest spots. Actually, stretching intellectual limits beyond the typical-article-idea mill will result in increased sales. It may also mean you guide your creative juices in a new direction and work in a new genre.

One of my favorite ways to increase the bottom line and develop timely stories and articles includes perusing lists of monthly holidays and celebrations. Some are sponsored by organizations promoting an idea or cause while increasing awareness; others are fun days that may only be celebrated by a handful of observers.

But, for writers, these celebrations are the perfect fodder for a researchable and marketable idea, and sometimes, they allow me to write something for fun...and still get paid!

Need examples? Let's take a look at some of February's celebrations. The second month of the year isn't just a time to celebration Valentine's Day or the Super Bowl.
  • Adopt a Rescued Rabbit Month - Sponsored by House Rabbit Society (HRS) and Petfinder, the group encourages the adoption of rabbits that have been rescued. Possible story angles: interview someone who adopted a rabbit for a local paper, create a list article showing why rabbits make wonderful house pets, write a children's story about an adopted rabbit.
  • National Cherry Month - Why not write a health article touting the health benefits of cherries? Have a great cherry recipe? I do. I had my recipe for Cherry Pie Cake published in a cookbook. Or what about settling the argument about George Washington chopping down the cherry tree in an article or prose piece for a children's magazine?
  • Just Say No To Powerpoint Week (February 7 - 13) - Pen an article for a local newspaper showing the pro's and con's of using PowerPoint in the classroom. Or submit an editorial piece of work to a business magazine that shows how the presentation software is misused in the business world. Or, why not write a how-to list that shows the best methods for creating a presentation for an educational outlet.
  • Cowboy Poetry Week - (February 23 - 28) - Know any cowboy poets? I do, and let me tell you, they have many funny stories about rural life. Interview one for a writing magazine. Or better yet, try your hand at penning the poetic form.
  • National Condom Day - February 14 - The American Social Health Association recognizes this day for promoting healthy choices. How about a factual article with relevent examples for a teen magazine. What about a comparison of condom types and brands? Sounds like an good article for both men's and women's magazines.
  • National Tooth Fairy Day - February 28 - Use the tooth fairy to explain why dental hygiene is important. For a children's magazine, why not compare and contrast mythical do-gooders (the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny, etc.). Write a personal essay about when you figured out how the tooth fairy made the money-for tooth trade.

Don't feel limited to writing something in your usual genre. Use these creative and informative celebrations to build a lucrative database of ideas!

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

 

The Music Muse

by LuAnn Schindler

When I write, I like to listen to music. OK, I usually enjoy listening while I write. Other times, like when I'm on a tight deadline, I prefer the peace and quiet of our farm. Sure, there's the occasional 'MOO'........

Seriously, music ignites my writing muse. My musical choices vary as much as my writing topics. Some days, 80s and 90s rock blares, keeping my energy focused on the page. On Saturday mornings, I need the Kings of Leon and The Fray to jumpstart my morning pages. If I'm working on a creative endeavor, such as poetry or flash fiction, slow tunes by Sara Barilles, Howie Day or Tim McGraw or classical pieces like Moonlight Sonata help me keep an even writing pace.

And some days, I let iTunes decide what's up next.

The rhythm and words formulate the emotional connection between musical rhythm and written word.

It works for me, but does it work for all writers? What artists, music genres or songs keep you connected to your writing muse?

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

 

Interview with Norma Bishop - Summer 09 Flash Fiction Runner Up


When in the fourth grade, Norma began her passionate journalism career with a piece about whooping cranes for her class newspaper. She has written poetry for as long as she can remember, and years later, took up nonfiction as a regular contributor to Santa Barbara's Coastal Woman magazine. But through her careers in the U.S. Navy, as an attorney specializing in non-profit law, and most recently as a museum director, she never submitted her fiction or poetry for publication. With the encouragement of receiving WOW! final status in her first contest, she appeals to other writers who hold their personal writing close to their hearts to let go. Share what you create. You never know when someone will read your work and relate to its message.
Norma's story, Bluer, shares some a positive message about taking chances. If you haven't had the opportunity to read it yet, head over to the contest page and peruse the story. You'll be glad you did!
WOW: Norma, welcome to The Muffin. Congratulations on receiving runner up honors in WOW!'s Summer Flash Fiction contest. Your story, Bluer, talks about taking risks and having faith. What led you to use the horse racing term?
Norma: I love learning new words and turns of phrase, especially when they have a story all their own. I heard the term "bluer" somewhere, and at first it conjured up a pretty predictable cast of characters, the stereotypes you'd expect to hang around a race track. But eventually, I broadened my perspective . . . the horse racing term and environment led to the realization that we all continually weigh the risks in life. Holding back because of fear, bad experiences, is true of people as well as horses.
WOW: I agree wholeheartedly! Many people hold back because they are afraid or have had a negative experience. Likewise, many are afraid to take a chance because they are afraid of change. Why did you decide to write a story that explores the possibility of a happy ending?
Norma: I'm not so much of a Pollyanna that all my stories must have a happy ending. Claire and Jim aren't married in the end, but the "happy" ending is that Claire stepped out of the claustrophobic little cell she lived in. She got on the bus without the safety net of a return ticket. Who knows? Maybe Jim had left Vegas with a stripper by the time she got there . . . maybe, Claire got a job in a casino and fell in love with a math genius who was working as a part-time dealer while he planned to scam the casino out of millions. I won't tell.
WOW: (Smiles) So, happy endings can take a few twists and turns of their own. Norma, you've written a fair share of poetry. How does that process compare to flash fiction?
Norma: For me, poetry and flash fiction, after the initial inspiration, become something of logic puzzles. Poetry should be lean, just enough meat on the bones for the metaphor to hang together. Flash fiction is a similar challenge; every word counts.
WOW: That's so true. Word count and precision can make or break a piece. Would you wind sharing your writing routine?
Norma: I wish my writing were "routine." I have a demanding career, so I try to write on weekends. I keep a notebook by the bed. And I'm fortunate . . . at home I have a lot of quiet time. The best ting any writer can do is to "kill your television." I decided the last thing I want is my head filled with other people's stories. TV steals your imagination. The other thing I do is read great writers. Right now, I'm working my way through the Man Booker Prize winners. I just finished White Tiger, a first novel by Aravind Adiga. It's an incredible read.
WOW: Writers need to make time to read. It helps writers stay sharp, and it allows writers to see and experience other styles of writing. It's a great source for ideas. I know you're career path has been an interesting journey. You've served in the Navy, been a non-profit lawyer, and now you're a museum director. Plus, you spread your nonfiction wings writing for a magazine. Do you draw on any of these experiences for your poetry or fiction endeavors?
Norma: Ideally, my life and spirit would be so integrated that "drawing on my experiences" would be like breathing . . . inhale, exhale . . . but it's a little more work than that. I've been fortunate to have traveled, met many people, and seen them facing varied challenges, sorrows, and joys. But more important is your inner journey, traveling toward your own complete soul. Writing is putting that soul down on paper, and as you do so, more and more of it is revealed to you. You can be a writer without ever leaving your hometown. Emily Dickinson is proof that the greatest inspirational well is within us.
WOW: Jim, one of the characters in Bluer, is a retired Navy man. Is he based on someone you knew in the Navy?
Norma: Jim is a composite of men I knew in the Navy . . . smart, honorable, and forthright . . . and a risk-taker, but a wise one. I think Claire will be all right, don't you?
WOW: Claire will be just fine with Jim. He has good intentions. I enjoy museums, and one of the best I've visited is the U.S.S. Midway in San Diego. There's so much history and knowledge that most people probably don't consider. At the Maritime Museum you direct, what's the most unique piece or your favorite exhibit? What lessons should visitors take away from touring the museum?
Norma: The Wisconsin Maritime Museum has so many exhibits and incredible artifacts, including the most completely restored World War II submarine in the country and a beautiful 1917 Burger yacht, Lady Isabel, formerly named Swastika - imagine the stories she can tell! But my favorite items in the museum's collections are personal diaries, letters, and photos of people who sailed ships on the Great Lakes, our inland seas, perhaps vanished on them, went to war on submarines built here in Wisconsin, or stayed at home imagining the lives of their loved ones so far away in conflict. Those are the things that touch me most.
WOW: The museum sounds incredible. I hope I'm able to visit some day. The intimate stories of those who live in a our neighborhoods intrigue me, too. Norma, what projects are you currently working on?
Norma: I'm always working on short stories or "modular chapters of an undetermined longer work or works". (How's that for saying whatever my brain cooks up!) I am working on a specific novel, constantly writing poetry. I'm enchanted by haiku and the epiphany or "ah-ha" moment each haiku contains; I've found it a great way to get my creative juices going.
WOW: Brilliant! I enjoy haiku and the challenge of creating a visual image. What advice would you offer aspiring writers? Also, for writers who have never entered a writing contest, what hints can you offer to "take a risk" and enter?
Norma: KILL YOUR TELEVISION. READ GOOD AUTHORS (and the New York Times bestseller list may not be the best way to find them). Do whatever you can to give yourself the gift of quiet. WORK OUTDOORS. . . I think plein air writing should be as common a concept as plein air painting. ENTER CONTESTS. They give you a time goal, a structure, and the promise of a reward. I can't guarantee a happy ending, but don't live your life always buying the round-trip ticket. STEP OUT . . . and HAVE FUN!
WOW: Wonderful advice! I especially like the idea of writing outside. Norma, thank you for sharing your thoughts about your stories and writing. And again, congratulations on the runner up honors in our flash fiction contest.
Interview by LuAnn Schindler

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

 

What Does Your Business Card Say About You?

by LuAnn Schindler

As a writer, you spend large chunks of time sitting in front of a computer screen, maintaining your blog(s), updating your website, and promoting your work via social networking outlets.

But in your rush to effectively market yourself , you may be forgetting one of the most basic marketing tools available: the business card.

A business card is one of the quickest introductions a writer can make. It's also one of the least expensive forms of self-promotion.

Take a look at your business card. What does it say about you as a writer? Does it make a statement about the type of work you produce? Does it let potential clients know you are serious about your craft? Does it provide multiple ways to contact you?

Business cards come in several sizes: the skinny, or 1 x 3 inches; the standard, 3.5 x 2 inches; or the oversized (offered by several printing companies), is 2.5 x 3.5 inches. The traditional or standard size is recommended by industry professionals, but it's clearly a choice you can make that best fits your needs.

Another consideration is font, size, and color. A serif font is easy to read. Make sure the size is large enough for "older" eyes to view it clearly. The color of the type can make a difference, too. Determine if the color will stand out against the background or if it will blend in and be unreadable.

Select the information you want others to know. At the minimum, include your name, title, and contact information, including a phone number, e-mail address, and web site URL. Some authors advise not to place a mailing address on the card because that information should be available on your online site. It's worth thinking about!

Use the back of the card, too! Special services or skills can be listed on the flip side. Use the room and promote what you are able to offer potential customers.

Design your own cards or use templates provided by online vendors. Sites like VistaPrint.com or 123Print.com offer multiple templates. These sites are cost effective, too. Depending on the style you choose, up to 200 cards can be purchased for around $10.

Another site worth checking out is Zazzle.com. You may pay more for the cards, but the site has thousands of designs to choose from and cards ship within 24 hours.

I just returned home from a PR trip in St. Augustine, Florida. As I was going through the stack of business cards I received from businesses, historical sites and fellow writers. The cards that stood out used vivid photography and a heavy paper stock. These examples also used the entire space of the card to promo themselves or their business.

Take a look again at your business card. Does it say all it can about you as a writer?

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

 

1000 Journals

by LuAnn Schindler

I started journaling when I was in high school. Actually, it was in 7th grade when grandma gave me a diary in my Christmas stocking. It had a beautiful white cover with the 'diary' embossed in gold on its cover. As the years progressed, I started myriad journals. In our bedroom closet, one box contains seven volumes of my ramblings through the years. Another six sit on my computer desk.

I'm a journal junkie. I'm not afraid to admit it!

One of the most amazing journal projects I've discovered is 1000 Journals, an ongoing experiment that tries to follow 1000 journals. The stories, artwork, collages gracing the pages provide a random glimpse of society and the creative inspiration everyone has within. The project has been bound into a book and a documentary.

If you're interested in becoming part of the journal project, check out 1001 Journals.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

 

Still Time to Set Resolutions

by LuAnn Schindler

We're not quite half way into the first month of the new year, so if you haven't taken time yet to develop a list of writing goals, don't worry. There's still time. But instead of procrastinating (do writers do that?), take a good look at what you accomplished last year and where you want to direct your energies this year.

Unsure where to start? Here are a few ideas I implemented last year and a couple I plan to complete in 2010. Consider it a productivity map.
  1. Submission / Time Tracker: I used to keep track of submissions and queries by creating a folder in the document section on my computer. Sure, it showed who I sent it to, but I wanted to be able to use a tracking system so I could list experts and interviewees, possible publications for submissions, type of submission (feature, how-to, FOB), time spent on research and writing, and publication and payment info. I revamped a query tracker previously posted on Premium Green (WOW!'s premium subscription newsletter) and it makes my life so much easier! I've used the system to come up with new article ideas based on information from experts, which increases the bottom line. It's a win-win! How do you keep track of submissions and amount of time spent on each article or work?
  2. Data Backup: I need to work on this one. Do you? I have CDs filled with photos and flash drives loaded with documents. Now, I need to get it all in one place. Thanks to the data backup program that came with my laptop, I will now be able to keep all my files safe and accessible. What do you use to backup photos and writing files?
  3. Project Deadlines: Do you have a large project that seems like you'll never complete? Don't worry. You're not alone. Unless we writers set a deadline for major projects, we'll likely let them continue throughout the year. That's not healthy for a writer's bottom line. Set deadlines, whether it's writing a set amount of words per day, a certain number of pages, or a certain amount of time. Use a planner or calendar to mark the deadlines. The brain makes a stronger connection and gives a stronger sense of urgency to those tasks we note as being important. How do you track deadlines?
  4. Network: Establishing relationships with other writers and editors is important. It's also important to continue to make new contacts. I plan to send three queries to new markets every week in 2010. I also plan to step up my social networking campaign. How will you build or increase your network?
  5. Website: Do you have a web presence? About four years ago, I started a website, but I wasn't happy with the design and eventually, I quit adding material to it. And then, I got married and I never updated the site to include my new last name. In 2010, I will create a new website and keep it updated. I'll keep my blogs updated, too. Do you have a website to promote your skills and expertise? If so, what's one new element you can add to market your skills and reach new audiences/clients?
  6. Skills: As a teacher, I have to update my repertoire of skills and learn new methods to reach students. As a writer, I have to update my repertoire of skills and learn new methods to reach editors and readers. I'm enrolling in a one-hour credit class for web design and animation. I'm also teaching a writer's workshop for a local community college. How will you improve your skills?
  7. Fresh Ideas: Ever feel like all your articles/blog posts/storylines are the same? Challenge yourself by tackling a new subject, writing from a different perspective, or trying a different genre. I've already written a piece and submitted it to a market I never would have considered before. But, once I saw the potential for earning money, I decided to try. And guess what. I enjoyed it! How will you challenge yourself in 2010?

Having a road map for the new year will keep you on the "write" track, push you to try new ventures, and make you accountable for your successes and failures. Set goals for a productive 2010.

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Friday, January 01, 2010

 

Relax Body and Mind

by LuAnn Schindler

In the midst of winter, it's sometimes difficult to take a break from the computer screen and head outside for physical activity. But writers need to make time to step back and give their minds and bodies a rest from the office chair and the written page.

When I'm in the middle of a long stretch of writing or editing, I work for an hour to 90 minutes, and then I take a break. Then, I strike a pose - a yoga pose - and clear my mind and stretch my body. The Sphinx pose restores the curve in the lower spine. When you're sitting in the office chair for extended periods, it flattens. Sphinx also gives a boost of energy to the chest by giving the heart and lungs more space to operate.

How does the position affect your disposition? An open chest encourages an open heart, preventing depression from setting in. It also gives an individual a feeling of support.

It's easy. Lie on the floor on your stomach. Feet should be shoulder width apart. Rest the tops of the feet on the floor. Prop your torso up on your forearms, keeping your elbows underneath the shoulders. Forearms and fingers point forward. Lift up your heard and keep the chin level to the floor, eyes gazing ahead. Pull shoulder blades toward each other. Stay in the position for at least five deep breaths or up to two minutes. To come out of the pose, lower your torso and head to the floor. Move the arms next to your sides and turn head one direction. Rest for several moments before resting in child's pose.

Balancing work and rest helps creativity. Take a few minutes for yourself throughout the work day. You'll be amazed at how your productivity increases!




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Thursday, December 24, 2009

 

Maintain Motivation in 2010

by LuAnn Schindler

This week, amidst holiday preparations, I sat down and began to map my writing goals for 2010. I'm a big picture person, so I made a visualization chart with generalized goals across the top and broke that flow chart into specific goals. (Some people might say Way to procrastinate, LuAnn, but I say I need visual proof that I'm working hard to meet my goals, so it's not procrastination!)

One problem I've dealt with in the past is maintaining focus on the prize. I may start the year with fountain pen or computer keyboard blazing, but winter doldrums fence me in, spring fever skips through my work, summer fun beckons for play time, and fall festivities fetch my fancy. In other words, life happens, and sometimes, those roadblocks slow down the journey to the goal. And, sometimes, goals shift or are left unmet during the year, causing motivation to wane when I need it the most.

What I've discovered through the writing years is this: We are the choices we make. If I choose not to write today, that's my prerogative. But, if I make that choice, I shouldn't complain, I shouldn't let it slow down tomorrow's writing, and I shouldn't let it interfere with the long-term outcomes I would like to achieve.

No, maintaining motivation is personal, but sometimes, it takes a village to raise a writer. Consider these four tips to keep inspired during the next 365 days.
  • Establish writing time. When I first began freelancing, I kept a rigid schedule. That lasted about six months until I realized the schedule was cutting into my creativity. Now, I make a to-do list and if it takes me three hours to research a possible story idea, I go with it. I make it work. That's one of the benefits of being a freelancer. But, I also make sure that I spend a certain amount of time each day writing. I'm the most productive from 4:30 - 7:30 p.m., and from 10:30 - 1:30 p.m, so I let those times work for me. Find a time that fits your schedule and use it - even if you can only spare ten minutes - to write.
  • Develop both short- and long-term goals. My visualization chart is a compilation of both. I like to plan my week and say to myself, Okay, here's what I would like to accomplish this week. But it's also important to have a direction to work toward. Otherwise, some pieces of work will stay on the back burner if you don't self-impose deadlines.
  • Share your work with other writers. It's important to get other opinions, especially from colleagues. That's how you grow in your craft. This is an area I need to work on. I joined a local writer's group, hoping to share my YA novel, but most of the group wanted to be given a topic and then write about it. While that may work for some writers, it's not the type of critique I need at this point in my career. I'm still searching for an appropriate online group that will fit my needs.
  • Celebrate your achievements. If an editor or a reader let you know how much they appreciate your work, celebrate! If you land a major article in a national magazine or sell a manuscript to a publishing house, celebrate! If you send a new query, celebrate. These moments provide impetus for writing careers, so go ahead, celebrate! I recently completed a three-part series for a regional newspaper, and an editor from one of my state's dailies sent a note to my editor, who forwarded it to me. In the note, he pointed out elements of my story that stood out. Trust me, I celebrated! I printed it out and have it directly behind my laptop screen so I remember why I write: to connect with readers.
  • Network . Connect with other writers and editors, develop relationships, and maintain a professional but friendly demeanor. First impressions are lasting, and hopefully you'll set the right tone with others who, someday, may use your work.
  • Learn a new skill. Even though the art of writing may change very little, we writers still need to keep our skills sharp. Attend a conference. Take a class. Buy new software that assists with writing. Learning a new skill and putting it to use will make you more marketable.

I'm glancing at my goal chart and re-reading what I hope to accomplish in 2010. With a visual reminder, reasonable goals, and writer friends who encourage, I can't go wrong. Maintaining motivation won't be a problem this year.

Happy Holidays! And, happy motivating!

Follow LuAnn on Twitter - @luannschindler

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

 

Interview with Rebecca Gomez Farrell - 3rd place winner in the Summer '09 Flash Fiction Contest


Rebecca Gomez Farrell, a Californian with a bad case of wanderlust, moved to the East Coast following college, thinking to improve her writing by gaining more life experiences. Now, she writes, edits and blogs from her home in Durham, North Carolina. Rebecca is amazed she placed in a writing contest.


Using the pseudonym, The Gourmez, Rebecca reviews restaurants, cocktails, and wines. She also blogs about her lifelong passion, General Hospital, for Eye on Soaps. When these writing gigs aren't consuming her time, Rebecca modern short fiction and creative nonfiction. Currently, she's in the midst of a fantasy novel.
If you haven't had the opportunity to read Rebecca's flash piece, Last Complaint, you'll find it on the WOW! contest page. Go on, click over there.
WOW: Rebecca, congratulations on winning third place in the Spring '09 Flash Fiction contest. Last Complaint is intriguing! How did you develop the idea?
Rebecca: Last Complaint has been rolling around in my head since a creative writing course in college. We had an assignment to do a character sketch and I thought up this woman who'd spent her whole life complaining. She was the sort of person that any customer service worker (I worked in a move theater at the time) would be loathe to encounter. I think writing a piece where I could kill off someone like her was cathartic. Over time, she evolved into a character with a few more layers to ground her as a human and not merely a caricature so that the reader wouldn't be as happy to see her meet her end.
WOW: She reminds me of a few people I've encountered. What draws me to the piece is the ripple of tension that runs through it. It's unnerving! Why is conflict important to a story?
Rebecca: Most readers, at the end of the day, want a story. They want something that catches their interest, rises to a climax, and then resolves with a certain level of satisfaction. Conflict of any sort makes this possible. Creating tension within your story is a way to hook people in without needing to supply that much background information or establishing a strong connection with a character, something that is hard to do in short pieces like these. The reader knows something is going to happen but they don't know what or when so they keep reading to find out.
WOW: That's so true. Creating a hook that keeps readers invested is the goal. Your creation of the main character is brilliant. She's self-centered, lonely, demanding, and vulnerable. That's a powerful combination. What does her attitude say about the state of humanity?
Rebecca: Since she spent her life not taking other people's feelings into consideration, she essentially removed herself from humanity and they no longer wish to consider her feelings, either. Through rejecting the simple human connection that comes from things as basic as treating the people around you with respect, she has essentially lost the right to that same treatment herself. Not that I want people to read about a murder and cheer on her death, per se, but I do like that it's a bit of a comeuppance for her and the way she's lived her life.
WOW: Excellent lesson that everyone should remember: treat other's the way you want to be treated. Let's switch gears and talk about your writing career. As The Gourmez, you blog about restaurants and drinks. Some people would consider that a dream job! What are some of the ups and downs of food writing and reviewing?
Rebecca: I started The Gourmez primarily as a way to get myself in the habit of writing regularly, even if it wasn't about fiction, which is my passion. It has done wonders for me in that sense. As a blogger develops a readership, you feel responsibility to keep up your writing for them, not just for yourself any longer. So that definitely has strengthened my writing. However, realizing that what you write, no matter how subjective reviews are, can actually affect someone else's business can be both a negative and a positive thing to learn. Also, it's not the most fun to try and slyly take pictures in an establishment and meals while dining out! But I definitely have gained a strong attachment to my local community, fellow foodies, and so many fascinating people through a shared love of great food, great wine, and great cocktails, for which I am very grateful. That overrules any negative experiences I've had from my writing as The Gourmez.
WOW: A sense of community is so important for writers. That's great that you've built rapport with others through your experience. Another passion you have is for the daytime soap, General Hospital. You blog for Eye on Soaps. What makes daytime drama so fascinating?
Rebecca: Soap operas are all about the payoff for longtime viewing. I've been watching General Hospital since I was five years old and being able to see how characters and story lines develop over decades is fascinating. One character might be cheating on her husband now, but as I've watched her grow up, I don't just chalk it up to a despicable act - I can see how she's doing it because I remember when her father abandoned her when she was only a child and how every boyfriend she's had since has either died or left her. I think being able to see things play out on such a grand scale can give loyal viewers the ability to see how history affects every character's actions, which is something that has definitely made its way into my own writing and I think it's the better for it.
WOW: Great point! History affects each character's actions. I understand you're working on a fantasy novel. Would you mind sharing a bit about your upcoming novel?
Rebecca: My novel is an epic fantasy that deals with what happens when a society allows ignoble qualities to multiply without restraint. The "good" people of my imagined world have allowed those who do not wish to live by society's rules to create their own country rather than deal with how to live together any longer. Fifty years later, the corruption, abuse, and other manners of vile behavior is spilling back over the borders and into their own idyllic world. As it's fantasy, of course, this also involves the generation of creatures that suck out a human's life matter, leaving only a shell behind and a prophecy that foretells the only person who has the power to bring about their destruction since they are invisible to the naked eye. There's horror, there's love, and there are spirits of the dead that advise humanity but few who recognize them for what they are. Did I mention writing fantasy is fun?
WOW: Oh, it definitely sounds like fun! Rebecca, what advice would you offer to your fellow writers?
Rebecca: Write, write, write. Even if you've only got 30 minutes before you roll into bed, try to make a habit of doing a little writing every day. Since I write across many different genres, I find that it's helpful to switch between them if my brain isn't mentally able to handle a particular piece that day.
WOW: Wonderful advice, Rebecca. Again, congratulations on writing a piece with amazing depth and for winning 3rd place in the contest.
Interview by LuAnn Schindler

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

 

Beating Writer's Block

by LuAnn Schindler

Stuck in a rut and unsure of how to get the creative muses to delight you once again? Try these surefire sensory tips that will let the words flow.
  • Move it. When I lose concentration or when the words don't come easily, I move to a new location. Sometimes, I take my laptop and move from my office to the kitchen or bedroom. Other times, I saunter out to my deck and take in what's happening outside. And yet on other occasions, putting words on paper instead of typing, makes all the difference.
  • Look around. Pictures may be worth a thousand words. Or maybe even an entire novel! Those times when I can't seem to get a handle on a character trait, I look through my photo albums and look at what's going on. Another visual attack on writer's block is to visit a museum. You'll be amazed at how details stand out.
  • Read it. When I find a publication I think I would like to write for and I can't come up with a topic that will translate into a sale, I peruse the newspaper and look at every advertisement. I've come up with several articles from ideas generated off a 2x2 ad.
  • Listen carefully. Working in complete silence does not bother me, but when I'm developing ideas, I like music to blare in the background. I have an eclectic mix on my iPod, and it generally takes a couple songs to pump up the volume - and the possibilities.
  • Taste it. Trying to come up with specific details? I'll grab a piece of fruit and slowly note the details of what I'm tasting. I usually amass a sizable list of words I can add to what I'm working on.

How do you beat writer's block?

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

 

Checklist for Freelancers

by LuAnn Schindler

You've submitted queries and you're playing the waiting game. Once the editor bites on your pitch, there are a few items you need to cover with the editorial staff. Clarity of expectations will help the project progress smoothly. Use this list when working with an editor.
  • Ask for a precise explanation of the project. What's the word count? Are photos necessary? Do you need a sidebar?
  • Note the deadline.
  • Determine what format should be used to submit the final product: an attachment? body of an email? mailed on a disk?
  • Learn what rights the publisher is asking for.
  • Discuss payment. Will you receive a flat rate? Are you being paid by the hour? Will you earn a certain amount for each word?
  • Decide what types of expenses, if any, will be covered as well as the payment procedure for expenses.
  • Review invoicing policies. Who should receive the invoices? When should they be sent?
  • Check if multimedia products (photos, videos, drawings) will be returned.

Many publishers will send a checklist of this nature when they decide to use your article. If a publisher does not use a similar form, a writer can send a form with her understanding of the project and ask for the editor to return it with an electronic signature via email. Protecting your bottom line and your projects will establish a solid relationship with an editor.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

 

Fonts and Writing Style

by LuAnn Schindler

When you're composing on your computer, do you tend to select one font more than another? Sure, Times New Roman is common in the publishing world, but do you long to use other fonts that express your personality?

At times, I do. And some times, I compose in those fonts because it makes sense in my mind. It adds an edge to my writing, especially when writing fiction. It's a visual cue that allows me to see how a character sounds. It's a personality trait that formulates a picture and maps the story arc.

Does a certain font describe your personality? I took a ten-question quiz on the Independent Lens webpage that discusses the history of print.

According to the quiz, I'm Edwardian Script. I believe that's fairly accurate: I'm a true romantic at heart; nothing gets my juices flowing more than flowery, flutterly love.

What font are you? Does it describe your personality?

Follow LuAnn on Twitter @luannschindler .

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

 

Words We LOVE to Overuse

by LuAnn Schindler

Read through your writing, and you will undoubtedly find a word, several words, or even phrases you tend to repeat. For those of us who write on a daily basis, the practice of penning the same word in the majority of our stories may seem like happenstance.

Or maybe it plays out like the movie Groundhog Day - no matter how we try to cut the word, it keeps popping up in our writing And then we begin a new day, with a new goal or assignment, and guess what happens? That's right. There's the pesky word or phrase, taunting us, daring us to strike it from the page.

It happens to the best of writers as often as it occurs with the novices. Recently, I flipped through a handful of poems I was contemplating for a contest entry. In three of the five, one word and one phrase glared at me and begged for a fresh reprieve.

At first I thought it was a coincidence, but then I scanned my memory bank and remembered what was happening in my life at that time. I understood why those words and the connotations stood out.

But a quarter-life crisis doesn't excuse a writer from overusing a word. No, I'll keep that until I reach my three-quarter life crisis (which, luckily, is still close to 30 years away!).

Yesterday, a New York Times standards editor instructed Times reporters to delete the word 'famously' from their vocabulary. Precision is necessary, and 'famously' doesn't always create a sense of preciseness.

Like most of you, I have a personal list of words that make me cringe when I see them in print. I could share the entire list, but I'm afraid some readers may not have all day to peruse my laundry list of pet peeves associated with writing vocabulary.

Sure, many of them are basic grammar errors that can be easily solved.

But some words, like 'love' and 'hate' bother me. When writers overuse emotional words that have a strong meaning, the words become watered down and run off the page, splashing into a puddle of jumbled letters that simply want to be rescrambled and formed into new words.

When that happens, a writer loses the connection she's established with readers. She alienates potential clients when she chooses to fill the page with overused, often misused, terms. Yes, say what you mean, but be precise! Love the new fill-in-the-blank-NYT-bestselling-author's-name-here book, you say. Love it! Love it?

No, tell me how you really feel about it.

Tell me the truth and tell me precisely why you enjoy it.

What words are on your overused (or often misused) list?

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

 

Interview with Doris E. Wright, Runner Up in WOW!s Spring 09 Flash Fiction Contest

Congratulations to Doris E. Wright of Homer, New York. Her flash fiction piece, You Can See, earned runner up honors in the Spring 2009 Flash Fiction Contest.
In addition to short stories and poetry, Doris completed her first novel about a the offbeat relationship between a middle-aged man and his philosophical bedding plant. Now, Doris ponders if agents that specialize in quirky, philosophical, comical, literary-satirical character studies actually exist.

A workshop veteran, Doris has participated in a poetry workshop at Colgate Writers' Conference and previously attended the Colgate Conference's novel-intensive workshop, a fiction workshop at The New York State Summer Writers' Institute at Skidmore College, and the Algonkian novel workshop.

Doris has a varied background: she's been a teacher and a newspaper reporter and feature writer. Now, she concentrates on traveling around the world. In the last three years, she and her husband Don, an African historian, have traveled in China, France, Spain, The Gambia, and Mali.

If you haven't had the opportunity to read her story, saunter on over and read it. Trust me, you won't be disappointed!

WOW: Congratulations, Doris, on receiving runner up honors for your story. I'm super impressed with the quality workshops you've participated in. How have these opportunities helped your writing skills?
Doris: While each has had its value, the workshops I attended at Colgate University were especially helpful. This summer I took the poetry workshop and, though I’ve written poetry since high school and studied it in college, I found there was a lot to learn, especially in terms of form. The craft talks and readings were wonderful; inspiring. But for me, the most valuable thing about workshops is being immersed in the writing world for a week or two. Even at meals or on a walk across campus, you are talking and thinking about writing all the time. So you start to take yourself seriously and really think of yourself as a writer (which means, you better get busy).

WOW: I like the idea of being immersed in the writing world and learning to take the craft seriously. What advice would you offer a writer contemplating attending her first conference?
Doris: Don’t be afraid. Most everyone is open and accepting. Approach people, even the established writers, and ask questions about their work and writing experience. Take advantage of every opportunity, don’t miss a talk or a reading; and read your work to others if you have a chance. It can be exhausting, but it will be over soon and you don’t want to miss anything.

WOW: A conferences sounds like workable fun! Imagine how much a writer can learn while participating! You previously worked as a news reporter. How does your background as a feature writer shape your fiction?
Doris: I suppose any writing, in the sense that it’s practice, contributes to your ability. You are constrained by time and style requirements, which is a useful writing exercise. And, when you work for a newspaper you encounter interesting situations and unusual people who can stimulate your imagination.

WOW: Imagination and unusual people and situations really do help stimulate the writing mind. Your story has an unusual situation and even the title lends itself to various interpretations. Plus, the title contains a touch of irony. How important is the title for flash fiction?
Doris: I think finding the right title is fun—I love words, and plays on words. The title in flash fiction is important: it gives you the opportunity to tell the reader something you couldn’t say because of your word limit and point them in a certain direction.

WOW: That's a great point to make. Flash fiction can be limiting, but quality stories create a strong story arc and are filled with details and symbolism. You Can See contains a lot of symbolism about seeing and sight. What's your method for incorporating so much symbolism into the prescribed word limit?
Doris: I have no method. To be honest, it wasn’t deliberate. Perhaps I injected symbolism reflexively or intuitively? I suppose writing poetry might bring that element to my writing. I’m not sure.

WOW: Perhaps you did! It's so fascinating to see how a story and all its details take shape. Let's talk about how the writing process works for you. When do you write? How do you develop ideas?
Doris: I don’t have the discipline I should and tend to let things distract me. I’m better off writing in the morning, before other things snatch me up. At one point I ordered myself to sit down and write for at least an hour most days of the week. I got a lot done that way because once you start you tend to keep going. It’s the starting that’s hard. As far as developing ideas, they mostly just come to me. I tend to see things ironically—like, what would it be like if I was out driving and suddenly there was a rhinoceros crossing the road—and that’s why my writing could be considered dark or quirky.

WOW: I agree that it is all to easy to get distracted. Eventually, I get back on track and stick to my schedule. It helps when deadlines must be met and the project list continues to grow. What current projects are you working on?
Doris: Although my novel is finished, I’m still tweaking it and seeking an agent. I have several longer, short stories that I want to polish, poems that need work, and ideas for other short stories. There’s a memoir in my future, I think.

WOW: Doris, you've traveled to so many interesting spots, I hope your memoir includes stories about your travels. Good luck with your projects! Contests can help a writer fine-tune her craft. You've had success in previous WOW! contests. What elements do you feel are necessary to make a solid flash piece?
Doris: Certainly you must convey an idea or event that is, in one way or another, complete in itself. But, I think, it needs to have emotional weight to it—something that makes the reader think or moves the reader, and makes them reflect back on it. With that emotional component, you expand your word limit, involving the reader and their own experience.
WOW: Great advice, especially for writers contemplating entering a flash contest. Congratulations again, Doris, and I hope to read more of your work.

Interview by LuAnn Schindler
Follow luann on Twitter @luannschindler

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

 

Teen Read Week

by LuAnn Schindler

October 18 - 24 marks Teen Read Week. As a former junior and high school teacher, I've read my share of YA literature. And truthfully, I often find YA literature more compelling than contemporary fiction.

Good YA literature places rich characters in realistic situations. The dialogue is strong, and most importantly, sounds like teens. It's not contrived. Neither are the plots.

If you haven't read a YA novel lately, check one out. You'll be pleasantly surprised!

Some of my favorites include Thirteen Reasons Why, Language of the Goldfish, Spanking Shakespeare, Wanted!, and Make Lemonade.

What are your favorite YA novels?

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

 

So You Think You Know Literature

by LuAnn Schindler

If you're like me, you're a literature buff. You have an extensive collection of books in your personal library, only rivaled by your parents, who are twice your age and have twice as many books.

And, if you're like me, you like to test your literary prowess and brag about it. I've found the perfect place to test your literary genius in addition to your personal writing. Try the never-ending book quiz at Good Reads.

Who are the lovers in The Time Traveler's Wife?

In C.S. Lewis's The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, what mythical creature does Lucy encounter on her first trip through the wardrobe into Narnia?

Which book begins, "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times"?

Registration is required to continue past the first question, but it's worth it. If I need a short break from my writing routine, I head to the quiz and see what trivia I know.

Sure, it's addictive. So is good literature.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

 

Interview with Elizabeth Barton - 3rd Place Winner in the Spring '09 Flash Fiction Contest


According to Elizabeth Barton, she's been penning stories for just about as long as she can remember. After earning degrees in psychology and nutritional sciences, Elizabeth worked as a medical writer and editor. She participated in the Writer's Loft program in Chicago for over four years and recently ventured into fiction writing. An avid writer, Elizabeth has multiple manuscripts in varying degrees in completion, and now, she is putting the polishing touches on her first novel.

Elizabeth lives in Chicago with her husband, Ian, and two cats, Roxie and Gordon. When she isn't writing, Elizabeth enjoys reading, theater, and wine. Elizabeth likes other artistic pursuits, including painting, drama, painting, and stained glass work. She believes every experience can be an inspiration.

Elizabeth's story, "The Wedding March", is located on WOW! 's Spring Contest Page. If you haven't had the opportunity to read her work yet, head over to WOW! Women on Writing. Her story will resonate with anyone who has experienced pre-wedding jitters.

WOW: Welcome, Elizabeth, and congratulations on winning third place in the Spring 2009 contest! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with WOW! readers today. "The Wedding March" examines the nervous jitters a bride experiences prior to her wedding. What was the inspiration for your story?

Elizabeth: It actually began with a writing prompt: "Terrified, she opened the door..." I knew I didn't want to write a horror story, so I began to think of what other kinds of things people find scary. The idea of getting married to someone you're really not sure about is pretty scary to me, but I know it happens.

WOW: I agree with you! It happens quite often. I like how you incorporate wedding traditions and terminology. To you, how important is the use of detail ?

Elizabeth: I think details are important, especially in flash fiction. Since the story is so short, you don't get to know the character(s) as well as you might in a longer piece. Every detail can help bring the reader into the story, and when you are specific in your phrasing, you create something uniquely your own.

WOW: And creating something unique is an important element of a story, and especially true of flash fiction. Your bio states you have a stash of short stories. Do you also write a lot of flash fiction? What genre do you prefer?

Elizabeth: I do write a lot of both flash fiction and short stories. It's hard to say which I prefer, but I have been writing more flash fiction recently. Although flash fiction doesn't allow one to delve as deeply into characters and conflicts as longer pieces do, it offers its own challenges. When you're writing such a short piece, it really makes you think more carefully about every single word you put on the page.

WOW: Word choice really makes a difference in flash fiction. Flash fiction writers learn to be precise. Precision is also a key element of medical writing, which you spent time doing. Plus, your background is in Psychology and Nutrition. Do you incorporate any of those non-fiction ideas into your fiction?

Elizabeth: Every story incorporates psychology. Even if psychology is not actually mentioned in the story per se, a character's thoughts and actions reveal his or her psychology. I can't say that I've incorporated nutrition or medicine/medical writing into my fiction thus far, but perhaps I will some day.

WOW: Great! Critique groups and workshops are a benefit to a writer. You participated in the Writer's Loft Workshop in Chicago. Share your experience and what you learned.

Elizabeth: It was a great experience. I learned, not only from someone who had been writing and teaching for decades, but also from other aspiring writers as we critiqued each other's work. It really helped me grow as a writer. I learned that you can write about almost anything and make it interesting as long as you have conflict (whether internal or external) and characters to identify with. The leader of the workshop (Jerry Cleaver) always said, "If your characters are having a good time, your reader probably isn't." I think that's great advice, and I always like to keep that in mind while a write.

WOW: Wonderful advice for all writers to consider. Thanks for sharing! What additional advice would you offer writers who are contemplating entering a contest?

Elizabeth: The worst thing that could happen is you don't win, and no one wins every contest she enters. You really have nothing to lose except a (usually nominal) entry fee, and you might just surprise yourself, so do it!

WOW: So true! Surprises are always welcome! And, like you said, there's nothing to lose. What current projects are you working on?

Elizabeth: I'm almost always working on at least a couple of short/flash fiction pieces. However, my main focus lately has been revising my novel (working title: Thick and Thin). It tells the story of two young sisters who endure a tumultuous childhood touched by abuse, alcoholism, and suicide, as they discover whether the bonds of sisterhood can survive and help carry them through it all.

WOW: It sounds like a powerful story! Thank you again, Elizabeth, for talking about writing and your story with WOW! readers.

Interview by LuAnn Schindler
Twitter - @luannschindler

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

 

Learning a New Language

by LuAnn Schindler

This morning, I attended a foreign language class at an area high school. My assignment: interview the teacher and students about why this language is important and worth learning. What's unique is that the language is Chinese, and the school is located in the middle of Northeast / North Central Nebraska.

How does this relate to writing? It's interesting; the instructor handed me a sheet of paper and a 'pen' resembling a paint brush and told me to work along with the students, drawing the Chinese words for numbers one through ten and the directions.

Later in the class, she shared a slide show with famous places to visit in China. Each slide had English and Chinese writing, as well as gorgeous photographs. At the end, she played a clip of a Chinese acrobatic troupe, similar to the Cirque Shanghai show I saw in Chicago this summer. Spectacular! When I asked her what her goals were, she said to give students a hook of culture and then reel them in to learn the language. I think she's succeeding.

She hooked me.

As a former teacher, I can't stress enough the importance of life-long learning. According to the instructor, one of every five people in the world know Chinese. Think about the career possibilities: translators, writers - in every genre, travel guides. The list of opportunities is endless.

As a writer, it may seem like there isn't enough time to squeeze in time for a class of any kind. I look at my schedule and wonder when I'll ever get caught up with my writing obligations and contemplate adding another element to the mix. But, if I want to remain marketable and open new doors, I should investigate learning another language.

You never know where the world of language may take you.

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

 

Turn a "Fan"-tasy Into a Feature

by LuAnn Schindler

A funny thing happened on the way to the Husker season opener. (Actually, it happened on Friday afternoon; the game was Saturday evening.)

I landed a part-time sports writing job.

To make a long story semi-short, earlier this year I contacted a sports-writing company about a writing position. I didn't get it, but I still registered with their online site. Although I had several story ideas to share, I pushed them to the back of my mind, tackling other pressing projects. Then, I received the editor's email, stating they'd like a story.

Can you turn a "fan"-atic's "fan"-tasy into a feature? I believe so. Most people have something they are passionate about; I happen to enjoy sports, primarily anything related to my home state Huskers. (It also helps that we have season tickets. Thanks, Mom and Dad!)

I wrote an opinion piece about the season opener and grading different aspects of the game and certain player positions. I also created a slide show about the top five pre-game events in the stadium.

If you can analyze, offer an opinion, or formulate a feature, you have the opportunity to parlay being a fan into a hard sale. And if you can offer a multimedia package - combine text with pictures and / or video - you'll increase your bottom line.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

 

Searching the National Archives

by LuAnn Schindler

You're conducting research for a piece about World War I. Along the way, you scour through books, look through microfilmed newspapers, but you want more. You want to glimpse at objects that document the journey of a soldier. Where can you find these objects? Begin at the National Archives.

The National Archives and Record Administration is the nation's record keeper, documenting the business conducted by the U.S. Federal government. According to the Archive's website, only 1 - 3 percent of the documents and materials created in the course of business are kept for legal and historical reasons.

But here, at the archives, you can discover a world of knowledge about a variety of historical topics about ordinary citizens. Established in 1934, the National Archives contain holdings dating as far back as 1775. And in the Internet age, the Archives also maintains electronic records. Imagine the possibilities!

The Archives aren't all housed in Washington, D.C. The nation is divided into nine regions, and these regional facilities house valuable records from the territory it represents. Additionally, each regional facility contains holdings for certain Federal agencies. Documents are stored in temperature-controlled storage areas. Preserving these precious documents is a primary objective. Visitors can observe records, and strict handling regulations are enforced.

Last October, I visited the Southeast Region Archive, located in Morrow, Georgia. Here, records from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee are stored.

While touring the immense facility, I made a personal discovery: all 24 million original WWI draft cards remain in existence at this Archives location. My grandfather served in this war, and I knew I wanted a copy to share with my family.

The process of retrieving the record was simple: I filled out an online form, paid the $5 fee, and within 48 hours, I received a digital copy, complete with my grandfather's signature. It's such a powerful feeling to hold that piece of family history!

In the lobby of the Southeast Archives, learn firsthand about our nation's history. Over 500 quality facsimiles of regional holdings show the paths of the famous and infamous. It's a breathtaking look of the history that defines us as a nation.

The Southeast facility offers these original records:

  • Draft cards. All Word War I draft registration cards are here. Word War II , Korea, and Vietnam-era draft cards for the states covered by the Southeast region can be found here.
  • Microfilm resources. Census records, passenger arrival, Freedmen's Bureau, Native American records and documents exist on microfilm and can be viewed on site.
  • Military Service and Pension Records. A great source for genealogical information, pension applications and payment records are available on microfilm.
  • Naturalization Records. Find the records of immigrants who applied for American citizenship. The earliest records date from 1790.
  • Slave Manifests. Any ship transporting slaves were required to present a manifest listing the names of slaves on board. Records include a slave's name, sex, age, and height. The person who shipped the slaves and the party purchasing the slaves are also listed on the records. Unfortunately, the last names of the slaves are not included on the manifests.
  • Tennessee Valley Authority. Relocation files for families and cemeteries reside here. Want to look at photographs of the agricultural and natural resource practices? You'll find them here.

The possibilities for story ideas from information housed at the Archives is endless. Check out this untapped resource and watch history come to life.

For additional information, check out the Archives site. If you're interested in items stored at the Morrow, Georgia, facility, visit the National Archives Southeast Region website.

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

 

Finding writing support on Twitter

by LuAnn Schindler

For those of you who are Twitter junkies, and for those writers who think social networking distracts from your work, take note: you can learn and get your creative groove on at Twitter.

I've been checking out the #amwriting hashtag lately. And I'm inspired. Writers talk about what they're working on and they encourage one another to set and reach goals. Twitterers from around the world discuss their work. You see people struggling to fine-tune an idea, phrase, or word. But you also see success stories. Just this morning, people were talking about the revision process, research, and inspiration.

Check it out.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

 

Interview with Tricia Bowering, 2009 Winter Contest Runner Up


Born and raised in Victoria, British Columbia, Tricia Bowering studied Psychology at the University of Victoria. She lives in Vancouver, where she keeps busy working as a physician and spending time with her partner Alan and energetic daughter Sophia. Tricia remembers writing short stories as early as grade two and all throughout high school, but years of study and work slowly pushed writing aside. Finally, she has returned to writing as a serious pursuit, and has enjoyed reconnecting with her creative voice.
If you haven't had the opportunity to read Tricia's wonderful story, When My Grandmother Made Perogies, head to the WOW! site and take time to devour it. Like a fine meal, Tricia's story is meant to be savored.
WOW: Congratulations, Tricia, and welcome to The Muffin. Your story reminds me so much of my grandma. Is this story based on personal experience or is it purely fictional?

Tricia: Much of the fiction that I write starts with a few details from life, either a conversation or an image. In this case, I was able to take some of my memories and build a fictional event around them. My grandmother did indeed make perogies that we devoured on our trips to her house, but my daughter hadn’t been born by the time she moved. In some ways, the story reflects what I wish could have happened. I would have loved for my daughter to enjoy the same cherry tree climbing and perogie eating that I did. The story is really a tribute to my grandmother, and her important traditions.

WOW: Those are great memories! Your grandmother sounds like a marvelous woman. Your story definitely fits into a 'keepsake' category. Why are stories that preserve family values and traditions important to tell?

Tricia: Reflecting on the past, and incorporating it into our own lives can be important in many ways. I find myself wanting to explore the themes of my childhood as I get older, perhaps as a means of connecting to previous generations. Now that I have my own home and family, I’m trying to create traditions of my own. I’m beginning to understand the ways that my grandparents and parents instilled a sense of meaning in my life, and I don’t want to lose those memories.

WOW: Keeping and building traditions is so important. Your family will appreciate them as they grow, too. You use a quite a few sensory details. Why is it important to use those details to paint a vivid picture for the reader?

Tricia: Without a lot of action in the story, vivid description became particularly important. I tried to describe the scene as if from a child’s point of view, with all the wonder that it encompassed. Since the story was so much about the perogies, I wanted the process of making them to come to life, evoking a special time and place. I used other details about the house and the past to create a sense of nostalgia, something I felt while writing.

WOW: (smiles) That sense of nostalgia comes across. Let's talk about the writing process. What's your writing routine like?

Tricia: It’s irregular, at best. When I have a writing project on the go, I tend to set aside writing time each day. My mantra is “an hour a day for writing”. However, when life gets busy, or I’ve just finished a piece, I tend to slow down a bit. Sometimes, it’s just a few hours of writing on a day off, once a week.

WOW: Great mantra! Even experienced writers need to be reminded of that. It's difficult to always make time to write, and you are a busy woman. How do you balance working in the medical field with family and writing time?

Tricia: First off, family comes first! Balance in life is difficult and I’m always busy, but I try not to use that as an excuse. Although finding time to write has been a challenge, I feel such a sense of accomplishment and pleasure in crafting and completing a story that it’s so worth it. It’s only been a year since I’ve taken up writing again, and reconnecting with the creative part of myself has been a great journey.

WOW: Good for you! Keep on the "write" path! Due to study and work, you weren't able to express your creativity. Why is it important for people to stay connected to their creative voice?

Tricia: So many parts of my life are enriching. Both work and parenting challenge me in different ways, but as I begin to have a bit more spare time, life is quiet enough to allow me to reflect on my experiences. Beginning with a blank page and ending up with a finished story that is meaningful to me is very satisfying. It challenges me in different ways than studying and working. I’m sure that the importance of creativity is different for each one of us.

WOW: That's so true. It depends on what our interests are. What types of writing do you prefer? Has any of your work been published elsewhere?

Tricia: I’m still exploring different types of writing, and it’s a fun process. I like to write flash fiction and longer short stories, taking my inspiration not only from life events, but also from interesting contest prompts. At the moment, I’m having fun rediscovering language, playing with phrases and description. I’ve never used my thesaurus so much! I’ve not been published yet, but here’s hoping…

WOW: We'll keep our fingers crossed for you! What projects are you currently working on?

More short fiction. I’ve got lots of ideas in my head waiting to be written down, and the difficulty is which one to tackle first. As for the future, who knows? I’m enjoying the journey right now.

WOW: And enjoying the journey is so important for a writer. Good luck with your endeavors. What advice would you offer to fellow writers?

Tricia: Taking up writing again has shown me that it’s never too late to start something new. I hope that these contest events inspire more women on their own pathways to creativity.
Interview by LuAnn Schindler

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