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Right Writing News, May 23, 2005, Issue #019
May 23, 2005
Welcome to the nineteenth issue. It highlights a best-selling author's writing life, numerous writing articles and some new links to check. This publication appears monthly. If you are reading this issue forwarded from someone, be sure and use the link below to get your own free subscription.
If you like what you see here, please forward this copy and use this link to subscribe.
Table of Contents1) If Part of Your Issue Is Missing
2) Call of the Writer--Stephen Lawhead By W. Terry Whalin
3) What's Your Book About? By W. Terry Whalin
4) Writing Opportunity from God Allows U-Turns
5) Payoffs and Blow Offs -- The Ending By Thomas B. Sawyer
6) Authors and Animals Are A Winning Team By Francine Silverman
7) The Conference Alternative Review By W. Terry Whalin
8) Boost Your Creativity--by Giving Procrastination the Boot! By Karen O'Connor
9) New Links to Check
If Part of Your Issue Is MissingWith the last few issues, I've received several readers calling to my attention that only part of their newsletter arrived. Maybe an article started then it was abruptly cut off without completion. Or maybe you didn't receive Right Writng News Issue #18 (sent May 19, 2005). Issue #18 contained a great deal of rich how-to writing material and was about 23 pages long when I printed it.
Some of you noticed that you missed an April issue. With my travel schedule and other factors for the month, it was impossible to get that issue out to you. So....this issue #19 following almost on the heels of #18 will help make up the difference. I've put together a shorter issue yet packed with quality how-to material.
If part of your issue is missing, I suggest you go to the back issues link or http://snipurl.com/rwnback. You received this link with your initial welcome letter to the Right Writing News.
Please take this back issues link and save it into the favorites in your browser. It will help you return periodically and gain all of this valuable writer information. If for some reason, you haven't received an issue in some time, then return with the back issues link.
Enjoy this issue. I'm always looking for quality how-to writing articles to use in this newsletter or on the Right-Writing website.
Call of the Writer--Stephen Lawhead
By W. Terry WhalinDuring college, author Stephen Lawhead discovered his college professors didn't care if a student labored six weeks on an assignment or dashed it off during a couple of coffee breaks. "I soon learned I could write quickly," Lawhead said. As Lawhead became more serious about his writing and the difficulty increased. Lawhead took on more ambitious writing projects and he worked to perfect each level of difficulty.
A commitment to art and the story are central to Lawhead's motivation. Although Lawhead has written non-fiction, he considers fiction "his call." "Because you take on the call, you accept the duty of an artist," Lawhead says, "which is to search for and offer up images of goodness, beauty and truth."
A Nebraska native, Lawhead finished college and moved near Chicago, Il. for a five-year stint at Campus Life magazine. Beginning as an editorial assistant, he worked his way into the senior editor position. But Stephen found magazine work frustrating.
"It's hard to work on other people's words all day, then go home and have any kind of enthusiasm for your own stories," Lawhead said.
With a couple of novels stashed away in a drawer, Lawhead quit Campus Life in 1981 and launched into full-time freelancing along with his wife, Alice, also a well-known author.
Lawhead shuns the fiction labels of fantasy or science fiction. "I'm just a writer whose stories are better framed in fantasy terms," he explains. He calls his novels like Dream Thief or The Dragon King Trilogy (Crossway Books) "imaginative fiction."
Just crack open one of the books in his Pendragon Cycle and let Lawhead take you back to Roman Britain and the days of the Celtic cheiftains and druids. Taliesin (Crossway Books), the first book in the series, received the 1988 ECPA Gold Medallion Award for fiction. These three highly-successful books are based on a genuine historical framework of King Arthur. British readers, who know their own history best, give Lawhead great compliments for the accuracy of this series. Throughout Great Britain, Lion Publishing mass markets the paperbacks in train stations, airports and High Street book shops. In the U.S., Avon Books has released the trilogy in a mass market paperback format.
The variety in Lawhead's books is impossible to pin under the single label of fiction. Besides his adult novels, Lawhead's name springs up in other places with a Howard series from Lion Publishing Company. Books like Howard Had a Hot Air Balloon or Howard Had a Spaceship are geared for children ages five to eight and have been translated into five different languages.
Also Stephen has written a couple of children's bestsellers, Brown Ears, the Story of a Lost and Found Rabbit from Multnomah Press. Lawhead wrote the first Brown Ears book as a Christmas present for his oldest son, Ross. After losing his lifelong friend of a stuffed toy, his son received encouragement from the story. From his son's reaction, Lawhead saw a broader application for his work with other children.
In 2006, Stephen Lawhead fans can read the first installment in the transformation of the Robin Hood legend called Lord of the Forest. Fans of his work and others who want to learn more can go to his website at: www.stephenlawhead.com
A disciplined lifestyle, one key to Lawhead's high production, has him keeping regular office hours from 8 to 5, but his daily schedule evolves around a goal to write 1,500 words. Some days, Stephen works hard to write 800-900 words, but most days he makes his goal. If not, Lawhead tries to catch up the next day. This word quota frees Lawhead from worrying about deadlines and keeps his books on a tight production schedule.
"I write as though it'll be the last time I'll ever see it," Lawhead explains. "I don't skip any parts." He describes his preparation work in terms of maps. "I have mileposts but I don't know every little hill along the way." As he writes, Lawhead experiences the joy of discovery and invention. "What will happen next? I don't know until I sit down that day and do it."
As the books keep cranking from Lawhead's word processor, he struggles when he encounters resistance to his books from booksellers. "Read it for yourself first," Lawhead challenges. "People who have the most trouble with my books haven't read them."
"Christians have adopted the work ethic that says if they are going to read anything, it should be spiritual," Lawhead said. "Fiction, when it's done well, does not tell you what to do. It shows you how to be. That's why it's important."
W. Terry Whalin understands both sides of the editorial desk--as an editor and a writer. He worked as a magazine editor for Decision and In Other Words. His magazine articles have appeared in more than 50 publications including Writer's Digest and Christianity Today. Terry has written more than 60 nonfiction books and his latest is Running On Ice (New Hope Publishers). His book for writers has just released called Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success (Write Now Publications). Find out more at: www.bookproposals.ws See more about his writing at www.right-writing.com/whalin.html. He is the Fiction Acquisitions Editor for Howard Publishing. Terry and his wife, Christine, live in Scottsdale, Arizona.
© 2005 W. Terry Whalin
What's Your Book About?By W. Terry Whalin
I could feel the intensity increasing among the other editors involved in acquisitions. I felt it as well because we were facing a deadline to turn in our material for the next publication board meeting. We typically set deadlines several weeks in advance of the actual meeting, then the various participants could read our background materials before the meeting and come prepared with their questions and comments. Besides the author's proposal, we had internal documents to get ready for the meeting. An editorial assistant prepared an agenda which gave the order for the editors to present their books for that particular month.
Tensions in our editorial group always tended to run high the day of the publication board meeting as no one could predict what would happen in these sessions. There is an old saying about editors that it depends on what they had for breakfast. Reality isn't that subjective but the mood of the room can swing to different extremes. For some meetings, the questions were minimal and the reaction was positive about the authors that I championed for the publishing house.
On other occasions it was different. I walked into the room filled with publishing staff, armed with my stack of folders and paperwork. As an editor, I prepared a series of short presentations on the key details of each book. Another editor on our editorial team had worked at multiple publishing houses and appeared before different groups of these publication boards. This colleague told me, "Our publication board is different and a bit crankier than some of the others."
Waiting for your turn in the room can be a nerve-racking feeling for an editor. Finally my turn came and I walked into the large board room. Key leaders from the publishing house--including sales, marketing and editorial personnel--sat around a conference table. It was almost certain that several of these leaders had only skimmed your paperwork or not read it at all or they read it during your presentation. Some days it was like sitting on the hot seat trying to defend your titles to a room full of skeptics. Other times they were supportive of your selections. As a book is accepted for publication in this meeting, the various groups such as sales and marketing are held responsible for their support of a particular title. Key business decisions for the life and future of the publisher are made in these meetings. You, as the author, aren't present but your view is represented from your work on the book proposal and the voiced words of support from your acquisitions editor.
Your words on your proposal become elevated in importance. How will your book be represented through your words? What is the hook? This should come in the first sentence or two of your overview--the first section for any book proposal. This section defines the topic of your book in a few words. I've already explained the difficulty involved in getting an editor to read your material. Now you have a few seconds to grab the editor's attention. What hook will you use to entice him to keep turning your pages? Your first responsibility is to reach the editor who is thinking about his readers and book buyers when he reads your initial words. He can then use your overview material to hook his publication board.
The overview should be a maximum of one to three pages in length and should clearly explain what the book is about, why it is necessary and what makes this book different than others on the same topic. Normally this material is written in the third person.
If you are looking for a way to concisely tell the idea of your book, I'd suggest that you first write it on paper, but also work with it in an oral format. It's one of the reasons to read your writing aloud after you've finished it--because the ear is less forgiving than the eye. Using this process, you will pick up on all sorts of ways to improve your manuscript.
W. Terry Whalin has written more than 60 nonfiction books and has also worked as an acquisitions editor for Cook Communications and Howard Publishing. He is the creator of a website to encourage writers at: www.Right-Writing.com. A popular speaker at conferences, Terry and his wife, Christine, live in Scottsdale, Arizona.
© 2005 W. Terry Whalin. Excerpted from Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success by W. Terry Whalin (Write Now Publications, 2005). All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission. www.bookproposals.ws
Seven Ways To Get Book Proposals That SellThe new trade paperback book (with the retail price of $14) is available in many different places. As Senior Editor at Multnomah Publishers Larry Libby says, "In the often bewildering world of book publishing, aspiring authors need more than desire, creative skill, and something worthwhile to say. They also need a road map. My friend Terry Whalin offers a map even Rand-McNally couldn’t top. If you have any inclination toward getting a book published, you’ll do well by studying this book first."
1. Order an autographed copy directly from the author at: http://www.bookproposals.ws
Two New Volumes In God Allows U-Turns Original Book SeriesSend Your True Short Story By July 30, 2005
Complete Writer's Guidelines:www.godallowsuturns.com
We are excited to announce a new partnership between Bethany House Publishers and God Allows U-Turns to bring you additional volumes in the acclaimed God Allows U-Turns original anthology series. Growing in popularity with every new volume, this is a Christian inspirational book series. Each book in the compilation series will contain from fifty to seventy-five uplifting, encouraging and inspirational true short stories written by contributors from all over the world. The series, entitled God Allows U-Turns - The Choices We Make, will launch in Spring 2006 with the simultaneous release of two books:
God Allows U-Turns - Volume #5 The Choices Women Make
God Allows U-Turns - Volume #6 The Choices Teens Make
With true short stories written by contributing authors from around the world, God Allows U-Turns - The Choices We Make series will contain powerful and poignant stories of changed lives and miraculous new direction as a result of making a choice to follow God. "We publish stories from first-time authors as well as from authors we've come to know and love," Allison says. Future titles will feature seniors, couples, medical miracles, and more. Visit the web site today for complete Writer's Guidelines, recent Press Releases, and to find out more about the God Allows U-Turns outreach at:www.godallowsuturns.com
Payoffs and Blow Offs -- The Ending
By Thomas B. SawyerEndings.
Guy gets the girl. The murder is solved. Girl gets other guy. The world is rescued from the bad guy. Girl loses guy. The farm is saved. Justice prevails. Earthlings survive attack from outer space. Problems are cleaned up -- or not. Loose ends are knotted, snipped -- or not.
An ending is -- an ending. But...
But -- like a lot of the stuff of good storytelling, it's not that easy to do it well, to pull it off so that your audience says a collective "Wow!" The zinger, the twist, the topper they didn't quite expect. You know the kind -- those delicious finishes you've encountered in your favorite novels, stories, movies. As with memorable openings, satisfying, drop-dead endings can be elusive, difficult to create.
But they're worth the striving.
In the action genre, whether TV, movies or novels, the end scene is often -- and appropriately -- described as the blowoff. A good way -- for the writer's head -- to regard the finish of even the most benign type of story.
How many times have we read novels where the last three or four pages were coda, where the whole thing just wound itself down, rather than presenting anything new --anything unanticipated? Satisfying, maybe. Blah, more likely. Like certain symphonic pieces that seem to end, but no, there's more -- and then more. And movies? A notable example was a rather pleasant Bette Midler vehicle, Beaches, (Scr. Mary Agnes Donoghue, from Iris Rainer Dart's novel -- Dir. Garry Marshall) which seemed to have three or four endings. They'd play a "final" scene, at the conclusion of which the audience expected to see the end-credits. Instead, another scene was played, and then another.
Looked at another way, I suppose it can be argued that they were giving us their own brand of surprise, but I'm not sure that that was the filmmakers' intent.
Again using action films as a model, think of it as the challenge of coming up with a blowoff that tops all of the movie's earlier fireworks and razzle-dazzle sequences. A superb example of a film that accomplished this at the end of an already breathless, seamless, relentlessly paced story that was full of Big Moments including the all-but-impossible-to-surpass railroad locomotive/prison bus collision), the finale of The Fugitive manages to leave the viewer exhausted and gratified.
But helicopters, explosions and shootouts atop tall buildings aren't a requirement. A much quieter though no less satisfying finish occurs in one of the best films ever made -- the great, enduring Casablanca. Rick and Ilsa's final goodbye was -- and still is -- flawless, almost unsurpassable, speaking to all but the most cynical among us, about sacrifice and lost love. But the film couldn't end there. We had to see the plane taking off for Lisbon, as well as resolving Rick's having shot the German Officer, Major Strasser. And ironically, the final, unforgettable line of dialogue -- "Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." -- wasn't even in the script. It was tacked on during the editing process.
Now -- going for this type of ending seems on the face of it to be an obvious goal. And of course, from page one, you've been trying to give them stuff they don't expect.
But the most important one you're going to write is the one that resonates after the reader finishes your book, or your viewer turns off the TV or exits the theater. Sometimes it's big without being slam-bang -- a moral, a comment about life, or the world.Often it's something small -- smaller perhaps than the goal just achieved by your protagonist. A feelgood moment -- or one that's eerily ironic. Or humorous. Or full of portent. Again, the key is that it should seem unexpected -- yet satisfyingly inevitable. It should feel right.
Always, when you devise your endings, your story's final moments, your curtain-line -- try to surprise. I'm not talking off-the-wall, come-from-nowhere, nonsense endings. I mean an end-frame that's legitimate, organic to your story, that comes from deep within your construct, or your characters -- one that seems right -- and causes the audience to -- if not gasp -- perhaps think about.
A Curtain that stays with us.
One of my favorites is the final moment, the last line of dialogue in Three Days of the Condor. Aside from its superb execution, it struck a chilling note back in 1972. Seen today, in the context of what we now know, it's spookily prophetic.
A few other killer endings: Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, and John O'Hara's novella, Natica Jackson. Both will remain with you for a long time. As will the final, devastating shot in the wonderful, funny/painful film, The Heartbreak Kid (Scr. Neil Simon, based on a story by Bruce Jay Friedman -- Dir. Elaine May). There are of course many others, and you probably have some favorites of your own.
Study them. Figure out what makes them work.
And then steal from them.
Admittedly, by the time we've completed our outline we may not always have found that stick-to-the-ribs, unexpected ending -- the superbly orchestrated blowoff. Oh, we should be more-or-less there, have an idea of how it's going to end, but -- things occur to us as we write -- it's part of the process -- and when it's working, when we let art happen, one of the fun parts.
But certainly by the time you reach the end of your story there should be that turn, that switchback (or maybe several) that maybe even you -- weren't anticipating. I didn't find the closing lines for my novel, The Sixteenth Man, until after I had finished what I assumed was my final draft. As with so many of the discoveries we make while in process, that one hit at about 4:30 AM, jolting me out of heavy sleep.
Novelist, screenwriter, playwright Thomas B. Sawyer was Head Writer/Producer-Showrunner of the hit series, Murder, She Wrote, for which he wrote 24 episodes. Tom has written 9 network TV pilots, 100 episodes, and has been Writer/Showrunner or Story Editor on 15 network series. He wrote, directed & produced the cult film comedy, Alice Goodbody, is co-librettist/lyricist of Jack, an opera about John F. Kennedy that has been performed to acclaim in the US and Europe. He is co-creator of Storybase software. The bestselling mystery/thriller, The Sixteenth Man, is his first novel. Both his latest book, Fiction Writing Demystified: Techniques That Will Make You a More Successful Writer, and Storybase are Writer's Digest Book Club Selections. His next thriller, No Place To Run, will be published in 2005. Mr. Sawyer has been nominated for an Edgar and an Emmy. Tom, his wife Holly, and cats live in Malibu, California. You can learn more at his website: www.ThomasBSawyer.com or his site for writers: www.storybase.net.
Authors and Animals Are A Winning Team
By Francine SilvermanChildren's book authors who bring animals - pets, pictures or stuffed - to book signings usually sell lots of books – and have fun too!
Joyce Sidman collaborated with teen authors on The World According to Dog: Poems and Teen Voices (Houghton Mifflin Company 2003). "Working with an extremely progressive-minded bookstore owner (Wild Rumpus of Minneapolis), I dreamed up the idea of a 'dog party' – an event including dog owners and their dogs," she says. "It took place outside, with plenty of room for the dogs. The teen authors and I read from the book, and then we invited the audience to write about their dogs on 4x5 cards, which some of them read aloud. We then posted the cards on a 'Dog Wall of Fame' in the bookstore." http://www.joycesidman.com
"I did two readings for B&N," says Anita Salzberg, author of three children's books on animals and an adult book about her life with her husband, the turtle lover. "The first was an early afternoon talk on Turtles (Franklin Watts 1996), my children's book written with my husband Allen. B&N promoted the reading and the fact that we'd be bringing turtles. A crowd of 50 showed up--parents, children (mostly under 5), and as many of the store staff as could get away from their posts.
"We were told that an average crowd for a children's book reading was closer to 20, so we and our turtles were a big hit. First we talked about turtles and what children could learn from our book. After that we had the children draw a turtle with the paper and crayons we had brought. Only then did Allen walk around with our live turtles. We both answered questions, which came fast and furious. (For the record, a turtle cannot take off its shell!)
"The store had ordered 25 books (softcover, $7). We sold 10 that afternoon. The Events Coordinator explained that people would return later and buy more books. People did. The store reordered 25 copies the next week. Okay, our sales were not on a par with John Grisham's, but we did way better than the 5-7 copies I know to be standard for book readings/signings by unknown authors.
"About a week later, I gave an evening reading at that same B&N of Confessions of a Turtle Wife (Bookpublisher.com 2001). Again, the promotional materials stated that we'd be bringing live animals."
"If you're promoting a book about animals or about people and animals, bring the animals! Anita suggests. "As an unknown author, you may or may not draw a crowd. But your animals sure will.
"The corollary to this suggestion is: at your reading/presentation, bring out the animals last. Otherwise, you will be upstaged! No one wants to listen to you talk about your book when they can ooh and ah over a turtle that reminds them of the one they had as a child.
"And, of course, make sure all PR/advertising materials trumpet the fact that you'll be brining animals to your presentation." http://www.turtlewife.com
Sandra McLeod Humphrey, whose latest book is Dare to Dream (Prometheus Books 2005), doesn't bring a pet but always includes a drawing for a large stuffed animal at her book signings. "The stuffed animal [attracts] the kids and the parents follow the kids," she says.http://www.kidscandoit.com
When her 25th book, My Little Book of River Otters (Windward Publishing 2003), was published, Hope Marston had a cake made to order with the otters from the book jacket on it. "We had over 100 people, more than the room could hold safely, and I sold lots of books and stuffed animals that go with all six books in the series," she says. Hope attributes the large turnout to the fact that she brought along her illustrator, whose drawing of an otter was used as a door prize.
Francine Silverman is editor/publisher of Book Promotion Newsletter, a bi-weekly ezine for authors of all genres, http://www.bookpromotionnewsletter.com, and author of Book Marketing from A-Z (Infinity Publishing 2005), a compendium of marketing strategies of 325 authors. http://buybooksontheweb.com (Category: Marketing) or http://www.amazon.com
© 2005 Francine Silverman. Used with Permission.
The Conference Alternative
Review By W. Terry WhalinOften in my various entries about The Writing Life, I've discussed the immense benefits of attending a writer's conference. It's a great place to learn about the craft of writing, gain some encouragement from other writers as well as begin to make some solid relationships with different editors and literary agents. I regularly teach at writer's conferences as well as invest to attend different writer's conferences. I understand and appreciate the value in each one conference.
While there are many advantages to a writer's conference, there is also a cost in terms of time and expense. To attend most of the major writers conferences it's easy for someone to spend $1,000 when you add the airfare, conference costs and other expenses. Is there another alternative?
One alternative is a product I've seen called Everything You Need to Know to Become A Best-selling Author, Lessons from an Anonymous Publishing Giant by Scott Jeffrey with Dr. X. It's loaded with information from an experienced author who can't reveal his identity because of his intimate relationship with a large publishing company.
You may wonder about this Dr. X and whether he knows his "stuff." The back of the product provides some additonal background. "Dr. X" operates one of the ten largest publishing companies in the United States. Starting in publishing 25 yers ago, Dr. X has worked in every major facet of the business. He also ran a successful literary agency for eight years and has written two New York Times bestsellers.
Follow the link to get the complete information about this package but it has over 7 1/2 hours of recorded conversations with someone who knows the inside scoop about publishing because he has spent years in the trenches of publishing.
I've listened to most of this material. For over twenty years, I've been reading books and magazine articles about publishing and writing. I learned a great deal on these CDs which I've not seen any where else in print. It's like going to publishing school and an excellent way to be educated on some of the keys to producing an excellent product. It's not inexpensive at $297.50 but look what these CDs cover:
DISC ONE: The Winning Author's Mindset
DISC TWO: Crafting a High-Impact Book Proposal (Part I)
DISC THREE: Crafting a High-Impact Book Proposal (Part II)
DISC FOUR: Deciphering the Publishing Business
DISC FIVE: Landing a Publishing Contract
DISC SIX: Understanding the Publishing Process
DISC SEVEN: Mastering the Publicity Game
DISC EIGHT: Book Marketing Strategies (Part I)
DISC NINE: Book Marketing Strategies (Part II)
DISC TEN—BONUS CD: The Psychology of Publishing
Because you purchase the audio CDs, you can repeatedly listen to the information and I believe each time you will pick up a new aspect about this business. It's not easy for anyone to be published and you have to learn the system. This innovative package teaches you a different means to learn about publishing in the comfort of your own home or car.
It's a solid alternative to attending a writer's conference and something worthy of your serious consideration.
W. Terry Whalin understands both sides of the editorial desk--as an editor and a writer. He worked as a magazine editor for Decision and In Other Words. His magazine articles have appeared in more than 50 publications including Writer's Digest and Christianity Today. Terry has written more than 60 nonfiction books and his book for writers has just released called Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success (Write Now Publications). Find out more at: www.bookproposals.ws See more about his writing at www.right-writing.com/whalin.html. He is the Fiction Acquisitions Editor for Howard Publishing. Terry and his wife, Christine, live in Scottsdale, Arizona.
© 2005 W. Terry Whalin
Boost Your Creativity--by Giving Procrastination the Boot!
By Karen O'ConnorAs I sipped my morning tea and lingered over the newspaper one Monday morning the phone rang. I recognized my friend Angela's voice immediately. "Hi Karen. Guess what? There's a class on wildflower identification starting next week at the Community Center. Six weeks, one night a week, and two field trips to the desert. Isn't that fabulous? I want us to go together."
"Gosh, Angela," I said as my mind raced ahead, "I'd like to but I can't spare that much time away from my writing. I have four articles due by the end of the month and I'm putting a book proposal together."
"I had a feeling you'd put your writing first," she said. I could hear the disappointment in her voice. "It's okay, I understand." Then at the last moment, she added, "I wish I had your discipline. I wonder if I'll ever get to my writing...." She laughed nervously. "I seem to have a case of terminal procrastination."
The Three P's
There was that word again--procrastination. I had just spent more than an hour in one of my recent writing classes addressing that very topic. The students ranged in age from twenty-something to seventy-something and had a variety of professional and life experiences. But following our introductions at the beginning of class, we soon noticed that everyone in the room had two things in common: a desire to write and some resistance to actually doing it. They continually put off doing what they claimed they really wanted to do. Write. Like my friend Angela, their creativity suffered because they gave in to procrastination.
Several students shared their frustrations. Then I suggested the possibility that "what we call procrastination may be just an excuse we use to avoid doing things that we feel powerless over." I asked the students to list activities they feel passionate about, things over which they feel powerful, and ways in which they are productive. I recited a few examples: tinkering with cars, playing with one's grandchildren (that's high on my list!) and building model airplaines. Suddenly heads went down and pens flew across the pages. Five minutes later we compared lists. The interests and activities ranged from bridge to baking, from golf to gardening, from chess to church work, from skiing to sailing, from cooking classes to computer games. Several men and women admitted to investing hundreds of hours a year and thousands of dollars in their hobbies.
"I love sailing," said a gentleman in the front row. "I could stay on my boat all weekend. It's my thing," he said.
"Bridge stimulates my mind," said an older soft-spoken woman in the back of the room.
"I'm good at what I do," said another, referring to his bread-making hobby.
"It's a way to meet people," added one man, speaking of his interest in dog shows. The comments continued.
In moments we had a consensus. When we do something we're passionate about--something that gives us a sense of power, procrastination is not an issue. We feel creative!
"You mean I might actually get going if I pick something I really like and begin writing about it?" asked George, a retired man who spent hours on the golf course.
"Absolutely," I said. "Make a list of the things you like best about golf. How it's changed your life, tips you've acquired over the years to help beginners, perhaps something on the history of the sport...and so on."
By then George was grinning and taking notes--with passion. Students began encouraging one another to put their hobby, pastime, interest, and expertise to work for them.
And you can do the same. For example, if you enjoy music, write about it. Develop a specialty that will land sales to publications that specialize in topics related to music.
If you're into computers or bridge or cooking or health care, learn more, interview the experts, query the appropriate magazines and get started writing in those fields.
As your passions are ignited, that same flame will light your personal power. You'll have something to say that is worth saying--and hearing. And the more you are heard and respected and acknowledged for your expertise, the more productive you will become. So there you have it. Passion. Power. Productivity. Here's how it works for me and how it can work for you too.
What am I excited about? What interests me? What can I stay with long enough to sustain the completion of an article, story, or book? These are the questions I ask myself every couple of years. As I change and grow as a person, my writing interests change and grow, as well.
For the first fifteen years of my career, for example, I wrote books on animals, science, special effects in films, natural disasters, animal rights, the environment, and homelessness--all subjects I had strong feelings about. I didn't mind the long hours of research and interviewing, or the fifty-some newspaper articles I had to read on microfilm. When I think of it now it sounds daunting. But that's because I am no longer passionate about these topics. And that's an important distinction between then and now. I didn't mind the work then because those subjects were of interest to me at that time. Today I am on to other things: grandparenting, literacy, intimacy in relationships, women and money, personal development. I have written books on all these topics in the last five years and I never once procrastinated because I loved what I was writing about.
On the other hand when I think of writing a book today on birds or horses or careers in the zoo (all of which I wrote about during the past twenty years) I realize I can't do it. I simply don't have the drive--or the passion--to take on such a project. What valuable information that is. I now know what to say yes to and what to say no to--because I know my passions. You have the same emotional tone scale available to you. Look within at what you really want to write about. Forget about what's 'in' or 'hot' or trendy. If your heart's not in it, chances are you will never write it and your creativity will take a dive.
My entire writing career transformed when I took seriously the meaning of the word power. "Strength. Might. The ability to do or act…" (The World Book Dictionary) When I wrote with passion, I felt strong and resilient. I had the ability to do what needed to be done. I could meet deadlines. I could work with editors. I could make requested changes without feeling judged or criticized. I was writing on topics I knew and cared about. Therefore, I was not easily shaken or side-tracked. I was able to encourage and reward myself when I accomplished a goal. I had no desire to put off till tomorrow what I could do today. I wanted to write today and the next day and the next because I was empowered by my passions.
For example, for five years I nurtured an idea for a book on how parents of grown children could restore broken relationships with their adult sons and daughters. Then when I experienced a break in my relationship with one of my children, my passion for the subject reached a new level. I had to write that book. It sold to Thomas Nelson Publishers and was published in 1993. Once I started the book I never looked back. My passion for the topic strengthened me. Even the interviews came easily.
Power fueled by passion results in productivity. Once you are clear about your interests and your strengths, you will be eager to get to your keyboard to share what you know about the subject. You'll be able to set goals that at one time might have sounded impossible, even overwhelming, but now seem not only possible, but plausible. You know you have something worthwhile to say and you're eager to say it. That determination will also help you create a productive work schedule--one that is realistic and appropriate for your life-style.
When I began writing in the middle seventies, for example, I had three children under age twelve. My best efforts yielded only one article or story per month. But that was fine with me. At least I had made a start. I had plenty of years ahead to develop myself as a writer. Today, however, my children have families of their own and I am alone in my home office all day. Such freedom allows me to turn out two or more books a year, and several articles a month in addition to part-time teaching.
What was productive twenty years ago would be loafing today. What I do today, however, was not possible twenty years ago. I started with that first step. You can too. So boost your creativity by giving procrastination the boot! Let your heart have its way. Write what you love (and write it well) and the money, byline, and recognition will follow.
Karen O'Connor is a sought-after speaker and award-winning author of more than 45 books for adults and children, including the best-selling Help, Lord! I'm Having a Senior Moment (Regal Books), Getting Old Ain't For Wimps, (Harvest House) and In Step With Your Step-children (Beacon Hill). She is a wife, mother, grandmother and writing mentor for the Long Ridge Writers Group (www.longridgewritersgroup.com) and for the Christian Writers Guild (www.christianwritersguild.com). Karen is known for her wit and wisdom on the platform and in print. Visit Karen on her web site for more information: www.karenoconnor.com.
© 2005 Karen O'Connor. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.
New Links to Check
Learn the Secret to Writing Natural Dialogue
Robin Lee Hatcher tells authors how to prepare for interviews in What Did I Say?:
Right-Writing.com is in the top 1% of the 56.1 million websites in terms of traffic. Check out this link for the results and see the site under the "self-help" section:
June 24th and 25th, Terry will be speaking at Frontiers in Writing in Amarillo, Texas. Join him at the conference:
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