Stop Aspiring to be an Author

Are you an aspiring author? It’s time to stop aspiring and start writing! We live in a busy world. There are only so many hours in the day, and life demands we fill those hours with such tedium as food, sleep, and social interaction. All of those obligations can really take a toll on the aspirations of an author. There are a lucky few people who have the resources to simply sit at a laptop for hours a day and just write with no distractions, no obligations, and no excuses. For the rest of us, there is laundry to fold, hours to work, children to raise, and any number of other things that demand our immediate attention. Fitting a thousand words a day into that can be quite difficult. As with any dream or resolution, achieving success is a matter of planning and execution.

In order to successfully write, you must have the discipline to schedule your keyboard time in around the rest of life. Then, of course, you have to follow through with that schedule. Having carved out those minutes or hours, you must protect them and treat them as a precious, necessary item. Perhaps you write best in the morning. Set your alarm for an hour earlier, pour yourself a large cup of coffee and write. If you thrive in the late hours of the night, put your house to rest and settle in for a few hours of uninterrupted writing time. If neither of those are an option, perhaps you could write during a morning carpool, on the bus, or on a lunch break. You could schedule a block of time every Saturday morning, Thursday during soccer practice, or Sunday after The Walking Dead. It bears repeating that you must protect that time. Don’t short yourself the time you need to be successful. If this is important to you, you must make it happen.

A support system is crucial for writing. There is a reason so many first novels are dedicated to children and spouses. Let your family know that you need their support and their tough love. It can be a powerful motivator to have a spouse who is willing to tell you that you should be writing instead of surfing social media for cute cats or funny videos. Have your children ask how many pages you wrote today and give them a truthful answer. Their excitement or disappointment can be critical. Let your friends into your literary world. Involve them as Alpha readers or bounce story ideas off of them. Not only will their advice be helpful, but it can also give you something new to discuss over coffee or wine.    A plot twist or character arc can really add some life into otherwise dull and rote conversations. Perhaps pick a friend’s brain about how they would handle the issues that your characters face. Inspiration can be found in the most unlikely places.

When writer’s block strikes and you simply cannot get yourself to express even a single sentence, it is time for something new. Change which story you are working on. Find a quick prompt to get the words flowing. Take your laptop to a coffee shop and journal about the patrons there. Try jotting phrases free hand instead of on your computer. Compose a poem about falling leaves or the scent of coffee. Construct a dating site profile for your main character. Blog about what you ate for dinner last night. The important part isn’t the words, it is the communication of ideas into something concrete. The act of writing gets your brain into the mindset of writing. Even if you keep nothing from these efforts, you still put pen to paper, and that is a far better use of your time than “liking” pictures of your best friend’s cat.

In the end, it is unlikely that anyone in the world cares about your dreams more than you do. If you can’t find the time or discipline to write, you will never be a writer. Your stories will suffocate in the dark of your mind. They will stay locked inside of that place in you where fictional characters live before they are born of ink and word.  Free them from the confines of “could have been”.  Make time to write. Make yourself accountable.  Be a writer. Not an aspiring writer.

 

They Said WHAT about My Piece?! Navigating the Critical World by Josh Smith

Criticism is inescapable in the Internet age. In addition to the myriad news outlets, magazines, blogs, and personal pages that feature reviews, the distance and anonymity afforded by the web has turned criticizing one another on social media into some kind of national pastime. This, combined with so many websites requesting reviews and ratings for everything we purchase, see, eat, and experience, “everyone’s a critic” has transitioned from an old adage to an element of modern life.

While this “review everything” landscape has mostly been curated as a customer service tool, people often get caught up in the rush of trashing something publicly, which is usually less a result of something actually being bad and more related to a particular perception, bias, or trend. Full disclosure: I dabbled in album reviews that were predominantly snarky and negative from the outset, but I eventually realized that cracking jokes at the expense of someone’s creations was a lazy approach that did nothing for an art form that I truly love. It turns out that it’s so much more rewarding to sit down with something, whether it’s initially appealing or not, and give it a chance to affect you on the artist’s terms. Unfortunately, there’s still an audience for those scathing “cheap thrill” reviews, and anything we create that winds up in a public space is a potential target for some hack with a chip on his shoulder. It’s a difficult task, but it’s important not to let this permeating negativity crush you, especially when it comes to your creative endeavors. That’s not to say that all unfavorable criticism of your work will be inherently wrong, but identifying the difference between trolling and actual critique will save you a lot of sleepless nights.

No matter the source, intent, or validity, nearly all criticism is accompanied by the sting of failure. That sting never disappears completely, but you can learn to temper it. It becomes a challenge in this age of constant commenting, and there is a real threat that you can become so callous that you are unable to find merit in insightful critiques when they do arrive. The opposite can also occur—when your work is so close to you, you may feel personally attacked by every bit of judgment coming your way, making it next to impossible to get anything positive out of even the most gentle and constructive criticism. Both of these responses develop over time if left unchecked, so be mindful of your emotional response to critiques, whether they come from friends, family, writing groups, or randos on Twitter.

For many writers, the worst form of criticism is also the most common: indifference. Indifference in a review can be devastating, but when your work doesn’t even reach a platform upon which it can be judged, you start asking dreaded questions like, “should I even be doing this?” and “what if no one ever cares?” These crossroads are the ones that define you, and when you approach them, you must do so with complete honesty. If you can see a way onward without requisite praise or even much acknowledgement, hang in there, put in the work and pave your own roads. If critical reception, fame, and wealth are your primary writing goals, maybe it’s time to take some time off and consider a career path with a more realistic pathway to grand success. If you can’t help but work through the debilitating indifference that most writers experience early on, then you will develop the fortitude to handle any criticism that comes your way, and the poise to  allow it to improve your work.

One of the most important lessons in receiving criticism is giving it time to sink in. Quick reactions to tough observations can increase anxiety, causing you to overlook any helpful elements populating the critique. In writing groups, editor’s reviews, or other professional situations, this can lead to overreactions or outbursts that won’t advance your writing or your career. When you feel that sting, slow down, take a step back and ask yourself why it hurt and what comment struck the hardest. Oftentimes, it is because something has hit close to home. Specific pieces of advice might suggest things about your work or even your personality that are tough to face, but hard truths are often the ones we need to hear the most. Do your best to not be dismissive in these situations, as difficult as that may be. Sometimes you’ll learn important life lessons, and other times you’ll discover that the reader merely missed the point. That said, if you find that people frequently misunderstand what you are trying to do, you may need to reconfigure your approach. Use the results of past critiques, reviews, and comments to zero in on where you’re losing people and find a way to clarify what you want them to see. The subjective nature of art and perception will ensure that someone, somewhere will certainly receive different signals than you intended to send, but if you have made yourself as clear as possible without insulting the intelligence of your core readers, then you can rest easy.

You may not think much of every opinion about your work, but you can learn something from almost any critique. Even a cheap jab can train you to shake off thin attacks and can show you how to more thoughtfully respond if you are asked to chime in on the works of your peers. Take your time, keep an open mind, and prepare to get a bit uncomfortable. Being under the microscope is a stressful endeavor, but the quality of your work is sure to improve if you can allow yourself to see it from new perspectives.

The Smallest Winner Contest

At the LetterWorks, we believe writing is a very personal and important matter, and sharing it with the world is the one of best ways to hone your craft.  Many of our customers are submitting their writings to publications and even contests.

Winning a contest isn’t always about having the best story, format or editing.  Sometimes your work just doesn’t mesh with the publisher’s theme.  It could also be that your competition is very strong.

We think you should be rewarded for your efforts, even if you don’t come in first place.  So the LetterWorks is holding our own contest!

In the spirit of being positive, we are calling it “The Smallest Winner!” contest.  We will have multiple prizes:

  • First place will be awarded to a contest winner with the smallest monetary amount won that wasn’t a first place win.  First prize will be a $25 Visa gift card!
  • Second place will be awarded to a contest winner for the largest monetary amount won that wasn’t a first place win.  Second prize will be a free edit from theletterworks.com, up to 2500 words!
  • We will have up to three honorable mentions.  These will win a 50% discount off any edit up to 2500 words.

Winners will also have the option to have their publication link posted on the LetterWorks homepage!

To enter you can choose one of the following options:

  • Like Us” on Facebook and make a quick post on your page including the hashtag #theletterworks and mention the amount you won and where you submitted your work.
  • Follow Us” on Twitter @theletterworks for the amount you won, where you submitted your work, and include the hashtag: #theletterworks.
  • Send an email to contest@theletterworks.com letting us know the amount you won and where you submitted your work.  Please include “The Smallest Winner” in the email subject.

Submissions should be received by November 10th, 2017.  We will have the results of the contest by November 17th, 2017.

We will tally up the results, and if you win we will contact you in the same way entered the contest.  You may enter as many times as you like, but your odds of winning depend upon the number of total entries and the value of those winnings.  If we contact you, we will ask you for evidence of your winning (a published link or forwarded email, for example).

That’s it!  Get writing and submitting.  Good Luck!

Making the Most of NaNoWriMo by Melissa Heiselt

Nothing gets a fire burning under you like a tight deadline. Ah, that alarming shock to your system that says you’ve got to move now or you will suffer humiliation at the hands of your friends, family, or coworkers! Which brings us to National Novel Writing Month, A.k.a. NaNoWriMo, where hundreds of writers dash in, determined to finish that novel! Or start that novel! Or crank out any novel! All in just those scant thirty days of November. Sound crazy? Well, yeah, it pretty much is, but it’s also a really fun way to make some serious headway on that one project that you love/fear the most, if you approach it the right way. Here are five steps to use this October to prepare for the greatest writer’s holiday ever this November:

        Get Your Head in the Game

Many authors decide to join the NaNoWriMo hype on a whim. I should do something amazing this month! I’m totally going to write a novel! There is nothing wrong with that if it’s just for kicks and you see no serious goals of publication in the future for your work, but it’s very hard to cross that finish line without a concrete goal. Get clear about your purpose here. Why are you doing it? Is this an intense writing exercise to get you over the mental hang-up of writing something as massive as a full novel? Is this to get your ideas fleshed out fully? Is this the major push to get your concept on the road to publication? Know where you want to go when you board the NaNoWriMo train, and you will reach your destination. At the same time, know this: thirty days isn’t enough time to complete a great novel. It can be enough time to complete a rough draft if you are committed. Don’t demand perfection in every word here. Revisions will be necessary, and that is okay. Even a draft that takes years to assemble will need many revisions and editing work. Just get it all on the page so you can see it take shape.

        Don’t Fly By the Seat of Your Pants.

I know, I know, I just quashed the creativity right out of you. Just hear me out. If you are using NaNoWriMo as a catalyst with a goal of publication, you will want to use this month wisely. If you want to actually write a novel instead of 50,000 random words, you will still need to plan. Before you write a novel you MUST KNOW your main characters. What drives them? What stands in their way? What scares them? You MUST KNOW the beginning, middle, and end of your plot. If you doubt this, just binge watch the TV series LOST. You guys, it could have been so good. Know your ending. That’s what enables you to foreshadow and create meaningful connections throughout that create that brilliant/ shocking/ satisfying ending. You MUST KNOW your landscape. Your readers will be as confused as you are about where things are happening. Make sure you aren’t disorganized. Strategies for outlining, storyboarding or however you like to organize your world are myriad, and I’m not going to delve into that here, but spend October planning for November. If you have a vague story idea you’ve never had time to really flesh out, this is a great time to give yourself a kick-start on bringing it to life!

         Create Space to Create.

Perhaps the greatest value of NanoWriMo for aspiring authors is that it forces you to commit deeply to your writing and to schedule fiercely guarded, uninterrupted writing time. After all, it’s only for a month! At least that’s what we tell our loved ones as we closet ourselves away for hours at a time writing hundreds or thousands of words each day. If you find your roommates cannot resist coming in during that sacred writing time, pick a different venue. The library. A coffee shop. Wherever will allow you to focus and stay on target. That act of carving out time and space for your creative work has the potential to become a deliciously self-perpetuating habit. Maybe you can’t keep that break-neck speed forever. Maybe you have bills to pay and actually like the people with whom you cohabitate. But that habit carries momentum that you just have to renegotiate to keep rolling at the pace that’s right for you. Begin now to set aside time each day to prepare for NaNoWriMo. Word count doesn’t matter. It doesn’t need to be hours. However, it needs to be consistent every day.  Use that time to get plot details hammered out. Get acquainted with your characters. Research relevant professions. Draw maps. It doesn’t even have to be writing, it just needs to be relevant to the project.

        Embrace the Cloud

Create a safe place to store your work. Nothing is worse than losing your nearly finished masterpiece-in-progress.  It’s sheer devastation. Plan ahead to find the place to save that’s right for you. Dropbox (unless you are incredibly prolific or use it for photos) and Googledocs both offer cloud services for free. Create some accountability for your writing with a word count widget, or commit to consistently updating your word count on the NaNoWriMo site once you begin. Find some way to see your progress visually. It will keep you motivated to keep driving this crazy train.

          Find a Writing Buddy

As antisocial as some of us may be, at our core we are social creatures. We perform better when there is accountability involved. Whether it’s your best friend you’ve roped into joining you on this ride or your local writer’s group or an online forum for NaNoWriMo inductees, find someone with whom you can commiserate. Writing fifty thousand words in thirty days is a huge undertaking; it’s the marathon of the writing world. Connecting with a writing buddy will give you a place to share strategies, encourage, and receive encouragement! Once you begin the race, you won’t want to waste your precious writing time trying to locate someone who really gets it and who understands your insatiable need for hot drinks and validation. Seek out connections beforehand and you will find yourself ahead of the game.

National Novel Writing Month is both a celebration of writing and a beastly challenge. Take some of the fire out of this dragon by preparing now, and you will be much more pleased with your completed novel on November 30th at 11:59pm.

 

What Kind of Editor Is Right For You? By Catherine Foster 

Congratulations! You’ve finally typed the long-awaited words of your masterpiece—“The End.” You thought this day would never come. But what is the next step? Do you need an editor now? If so, what type? Wading through the different services that professional editors provide can be confusing and the process of selecting the right one for your needs can be daunting. There are as many types of editors out there as there are authors, and they all offer a different level of support depending on what you might require. Some editors span a spectrum of services and some focus on a niche according to the area of expertise. Let’s break it down starting with the most general help you might need at the beginning of the project and go from there:

Alpha readers: This is someone who is a nonprofessional. They will likely be found amongst your family or friends. Find someone won’t mind reading a first, unpolished draft of your work. They will likely have a lot of encouragement for you. This is important, since it is the first time you will share your story with someone. Ask them for what their favorite parts are and for things that don’t make sense. They may catch some grammar blunders, some glaring plotholes or elements of the story that don’t make sense. This is the time to do some rewrites and get a second or third draft in order as the story takes shape.

Beta readers: Like the alpha reader, this group is generally also unpaid and unprofessional, although some companies do offer this as a paid service. These readers are exactly what they sound like: they read through your story and offer opinions on what they liked or didn’t like about the plot and characters. Beta readers can be found through online advertisements, but they are most commonly found in writing groups and places that encourage group input. You can also offer to read through a fellow author’s work in exchange for their advice on your own composition. However you go about finding this second opinion on your work, remember that this person should not, ideally, be a close friend or family member. The feedback that you receive from this round of critiques will give you a little more insight into the reader’s perspective; you are not obligated to take action on these observations, but you will have a more well-rounded view of some things to incorporate into the next draft.

Developmental editors (these are also sometimes referred to as substantive, structural or content editors): After a few people have read your story and you have tweaked your novel as much as you can on your own, you may feel that you are ready for the services of a professional editor. When a developmental editor reads through your novel, they will not start with grammar and punctuation. They will first need to do what can be thought of as a “big-picture” edit: that is, they will make sure that the story itself makes sense. A developmental editor’s job is to make sure the plot is sound. Are there any plot holes that need to be curtailed? Do the characters stay true to their descriptions? Do you introduce someone who is too similar to someone else? What is the point or theme of the story? How is the pacing? Do you answer all the questions that you asked? Does a certain storyline veer off and disappear? Would something make more sense if it was moved to the end or brought forward to the middle? A developmental editor prunes the withered parts and encourages growth from the atrophied sections. He marks the portions that don’t make sense and he highlights the passages that are beautiful but obscured. He polishes away at your story so that you know how and where to reveal a hidden gem in the extraneous words.

Line Editors: When the dust settles from the developmental edit, the finer work of the line edit can begin. The line edit consists of cleaning up the structural bits. Is the piece readable in its current form? How are grammar, spelling and syntax? Are the meanings clear throughout? Are phrases authentic and as good as they can possibly be? Is the dialogue appropriate and are the tags correct? A line editor ensures proper word choice throughout and is responsible for checking minor plot inconsistencies. They must be on guard to check for repetition and to flag against inconsistencies. Sentence flow must be upheld and is a major responsibility of the line editor. Conciseness is encouraged and upheld.

Copy editors: The copy editor’s role is very similar to the line editor, and sometimes they can be combined. The roles often overlap at this stage in that the copy editor is also responsible for appropriate word choice, inconsistency and standard grammar, spelling and syntax checks. The copy editor’s role varies slightly in that they have more responsibility for catching the even finer details of punctuation, indentation, formatting, and paragraph and section breaks.

Proofreader: Many people confuse “proofreader” with “beta reader”, but really a proofreader is the final step before the manuscript goes to publication. This step is usually reserved for extremely meticulous authors, professional authors or people who intend to self-publish and want to ensure absolutely no mistakes in the process. The proofreader’s job includes some of the items on the copy editor’s list, such as making sure there are no glaring errors. Ideally, however, all of these steps have been taken prior to the manuscript reaching the proofreader. They should only be scanning for an errant punctuation mark here or there. Their job is mostly to check on formatting, the removal of extraneous spaces, to highlight stacked hyphens, to remove widows and orphans, to ensure the consistency of late additions of text and design elements, and the finest details of formatting that would guarantee the work is absolutely error free prior to print.

Ghostwriter: On the other end of the spectrum, a ghostwriter can be hired to clean up your text.  This occurs when a person writes any portion of your story, up to and including all of it. They typically collect a fee for this service in exchange for allowing you to remain listed publicly as the author. Sometimes authors will have an idea for a story but don’t know how to execute the writing. In other cases, people will begin writing most or all of their story, but through the editing process they realize they can’t turn their story into a viable book. In these cases a ghostwriter can aid a client with 1) writing the entire story themselves after a series of interviews or 2) taking the already written material and editing it to such a degree that it is a fusion of the idea of the original author and the writing capabilities of the ghostwriter. The option to use a ghostwriter can almost be viewed as extreme editing and allows some people to have their stories told who would not otherwise have a chance to do so.

Editing is as unique as you are! I hope that this illuminates the choices available to you as you start your editing journey. The LetterWorks offers edits in all styles, and our editors have specialties in every kind of discipline listed here, so please don’t hesitate to think of us for your next big project. We are excited to help you as you work to hone your craft!

Can You Afford A High Quality Editor? (The Answer Might Surprise You) by Catherine Foster

There are many decisions that factor into choosing an editor, but one of the most important for authors is usually the price. How much will it cost to edit your novel? Can you even afford it to begin with, or is this something so expensive that you need to take out a loan? What’s the ballpark for this kind of service? Unfortunately for many new authors, cost is also often a confusing question that doesn’t seem to become any clearer upon initial investigation. Many editors seem coy about offering up a flat rate, which can lead to a sense of elusiveness about price that many authors find frustrating. There is no set industry rate, leading to wild price fluctuations from one editor to the next. Can you determine worth between editors? Is there a way get a firm answer on what the final price for your project will be? Is it even worth it in the end? Can you even afford an editor?

The answer to these questions is yes … and most likely. Selecting an editor is difficult for many reasons. Currently, in the U.S. and in the rest of the world, there are no definitive tests or certifications that exist to standardize editors. This means that the onus of investigation into the practice and knowledge of each editor falls onto the consumer. Namely: you. Since there is no agreed upon way for an editor to point the consumer to a degree or certification to show his value, this means that each and every editor has his own way of demonstrating worth. Some positive things to look for would be many years of experience in professional editing, a significant list of clients or a record of edited and published titles, a well-designed website and a fully-entrenched social media presence. Red flags include a hastily designed website, spelling or grammar errors and someone without a list of references or much experience.

A good resource for finding reputable editors is through the EFA (Editorial Freelancers Association) or ACES (American Copy Editors Society). These are places that cultivate professional membership, and you can search profiles of thousands of qualified individuals. You can post a listing for an editor for whatever you are working on, and you will receive hundreds of responses in an hour. Your only decision will be how much money you want to spend.

The next step in selecting an editor is contacting them. Are they prompt in returning your e-mails? Do they edit your type of work? Some editors are academic editors while others work in the medical field. If you are seeking an editor for your memoir, you want someone who has experience with that genre. Do you like their personality? Remember, this is a job interview for a personal project, and you have to be able to work with them closely for (potentially) a long while. You want to be able to take direction from someone you like. Some other things to consider are: is this person clear and professional in their responses? Do they have an opening in their schedule for your work that suits your timeline? How will they communicate with you, and how will they make their edits? These are all important questions that will help you determine who you will select.

That brings us to the question of budget. There are many ways to determine to how charge for editing, and each editor is different. This is the cause for confusion among authors, and understandably so. At more professional places such as the EFA, it is the standard to charge an hourly fee, usually between thirty-five and fifty-five dollars an hour. Some editors charge by the word and some charge by the page. The matter can become more complicated when we define a “page”: to an author, they simply look at the number of pages in their word processor. To an editor, a page is defined as 250 words. There is usually some calculation necessary when looking at the total of the work, which renders the actual number of pages displayed double or more. An author, therefore, must be aware that if they are being charged per page that it will not necessarily be per the number of pages they believe but a much higher number. The same applies to the word count. Oftentimes different word processing programs count characters differently—a hyphen or an ellipses or a comma in one program is not considered a “word”, but in the transfer to the editor’s program all/some of those characters may become words. This may seem like a small detail, but when it is your dollar, they add up fast. It is something of which to be aware.

Should you just have a friend edit your document or find someone on Craigslist? They will be cheaper, certainly, but in our experience, if you are serious about getting your work published, you need a professional editor. It is possible to find someone through the classifieds in this way, but beware a discount price—the old adage that you get what you pay for is, unfortunately, true. Many of our clients are people who are on their second or third round from just such an experience. They hoped to economize, but in the end they chose to spend the money twice over to get the appropriate service they required—one which they all have expressed that they did not end up finding through lesser means.

How, then, can you make sure that you can afford your edit? The first step should be asking for a sample edit. There is a schism amongst professional editors: half of them do not provide sample edits, and the other half do. It is your right as a discerning consumer to ask for one. If you find an editor that you like and they don’t provide a sample edit, you may of course go forward, but you should proceed with caution. A sample edit serves to protect both you and your editor. Your editor is assessing how much work is involved in your piece and the time it will take him to complete this work. Only then can he give you an accurate quote of price. On your end, you will get a chance to see what he can provide, if you like his style enough for a thorough edit and if you truly want to pay for his entire service.

Once you are agreed, an editor should be able to give you an accurate quote based on that sample edit. If this is a time-based quote, he should be able to tell you how many hours it will take him to finish the job. It is important that he agree not to exceed this number, and that he agrees to finish the project at the same price even if he underestimates the time. If it is based on the number of words, it will still be an exact price. There should be a contract in place, and most editors require a certain payment schedule throughout the project and before delivery; this is normal. When you deal with a professional editor, you will find that you are contracting a person for a specific service, and that is all outlined in the contract. This is, again, for your protection and theirs. It may seem daunting at first, but it should be viewed as a relief. If you ever deal with an editor who does not have a contract, you should not ever pay any monies! This is a warning sign to you. Having a contract in place is a record that this person is obligated to provide exactly what they outline; they promise to do so by a certain date and time. You should read your contract carefully. You do have legal recourse should your editor not provide what they promise. While it should never come to that, it is a protection to you as well as to them. It is also something you can refer to as the project progresses as a record to make sure that both sides are holding to their end. This is a benefit to contracting a professional and part of your contracted service.

Each freelancer is different, and each way of handling payments is as varied as there are editors and authors. At The LetterWorks, we understand that editing can be expensive, and it isn’t always easy to work into your budget. We want everyone to have access to high-quality editing, and to meet that goal we try to structure creative ways to budget. We’ve worked out a lot of different ways to work with our clients, from changing the timeline to the size of the project to the methods in which we can work on it. We are ready to meet your needs in any way we can. Editing may be more affordable than you think. Please check us out and let us help you make your writing dream a published reality.

Author Spotlight: Kristy Gherlone

Kristy Gherlone was born in Maine into a family of musicians, writers, and outdoor enthusiasts. Much of the inspiration for her writing comes from her unusual childhood experiences, including the series of events that led her to the north Maine woods town of Millinocket, where she spent most her life.

After graduating high school, Kristy went on to the University of Maine.  In between attending classes, she co-opened a day care center and worked at the University child care center.

Later, she made the decision to leave school to start a family of her own, and raised three girls. She worked for several years at Baxter State Park, as a Behavioral Specialist, and then as an Early Interventionist for children with autism. She has a great deal of passion for children and nature.

In 2004, Kristy moved to New Hampshire. She married a wonderful man from the area in 2014, and finally found peace. She started writing, which was something she had always wanted to do, and released her first novel, The History Lottery, in 2015. Since then, she has published two more novels, Twelve Urns, and Innate Tendencies.

Recently, she has turned her attention towards flash fiction and short stories, and has appeared in seven different magazines. One of her stories, The Whupping Tree, was edited with the help of The Letter Works, and it will appear in The Mystic Blue Review very soon.

 

 

Truth is Stranger Than Fiction: Reading and Writing Memoirs by Melissa Heiselt

Truth is stranger than fiction,  and we love to be voyeurs. Unlike autobiographies, which detail a lifetime of achievements and more commonly feature the rich, powerful, or famous; memoirs are the distilling of a life. Any life. All comers are welcome to try their hand here as the genre has exploded in the recent decades. Perhaps as technology has burgeoned, pulling us further from the intimate lives of others, we subconsciously seek a replacement; be it social media, mommy bloggers, reality TV, or a good memoir. Here we can explore the nitty-gritty of a life we might never otherwise touch, crossing boundaries and borders forbidden to us. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls encounters deep poverty and abuse, Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom confronts aging and death with grace and humor, diaries by Anaïs Nin dive into unexplored paths of sexuality, and Memoirs by Pablo Neruda dances us around the globe to absorb humanity in all its glory and shame.

When writing a memoir, remember that it isn’t your whole life’s story; it is only a snapshot. Perhaps you want to share the profound insights you’ve discovered as you’ve aged. Maybe you ascribe to a religion or subculture that is massively misunderstood, and your life could be a window to educate the world about it. Each life is unique and has value as the face of humanity with beauty that can be cultivated with artistic framing. Written in first person, a memoir can be as natural to write as telling a string of stories to a friend. With the help of a memoir coach or editor, you can home in on the anecdotes that make the most impact and sharpen the focus of your work. It is the lessons learned, the harrowing journey, or your hilarious outlook on life that make a compelling read.

While detailing your life there will inevitably be other people involved unless you are a modern day hermit. You will need to carefully choose how to navigate the impact your work may have on those mentioned in it. While a memoir is nothing if not unfailingly honest, avoid using a bitter, vengeful tone. It is not an opportunity to exact revenge or seek sympathy by public shaming as if it were a backhanded Facebook post. Be aware that defamation and invasion of privacy laws are there to protect people who feel they have been wrongfully maligned in print, so it is in your best interest to acknowledge that you may (and probably do) remember things differently from other characters in your story. It is okay to change names of those involved, but if there are enough other identifying details that they recognize themselves or worse, their colleagues can identify them, you can still find yourself in trouble. That said, the law typically is on your side. This is your story, after all, protected as such by the first amendment, and as long as what you’ve written is verifiable, you have nothing to fear.

Writing your own memoir can be an incredibly cathartic experience. When speaking of her prolific diary writing, Anaïs Nin once remarked that she found, “life would be more bearable if I looked at it as an adventure and a tale. I was telling myself the story of a life, and this transmutes into an adventure the things which can shatter you.” To take all the drama, pain, and challenges of the past and illuminate and refine the truths that have transpired is a powerful experience. Even if you don’t intend to pursue publication, it can be a worthy writing exercise, challenging your ability to craft narrative from seemingly disparate parts and see a story emerge that had been hidden for a lifetime.

Memoirs remind us that we are all human and as capable of triumph as defeat. People continue to surprise us again and again, and this genre more than any other allows us to walk a mile in another’s shoes. What a transformative journey that can be.

What Kind of Writer Are You, Anyway? by Josh Smith

What kind of writer are you? Are you the type who can kick out a book a year, pad it a few short stories, and still manage to keep up on your emails? Maybe you’re a writer who labors meticulously on a single project for the better part of a decade. Do you drift somewhere in the median? There is no wrong answer, but understanding your natural tendencies, methods, preferences, strengths, and weaknesses will help you approach your writing from a more tactful place and help you direct your career into one that not only best suits you, but one that is more rewarding.

The first thing to consider is the rate at which you work. Everyone’s situations, routines, motivations, and abilities are different, but it’s good to understand where you fall on the spectrum of prolificacy. Some writers can dedicate long daily stretches to writing while others wait until their families are tucked into bed before hunkering down and toiling late into quiet nights to pursue their passion projects. Even considering wide schedule disparities, both types of writers could very well end up with a comparable heap of words. No matter the circumstances surrounding your writing, you know better than anyone if you are constantly firing on all cylinders and churning out waves of exceptional prose or whether you meticulously select each word, craft each phrase, and chart the rhythm of each passage to the pace of an unhurried muse.  Perhaps you fall somewhere in between. It is even possible that you fluctuate wildly between these poles. None of these approaches is wrong in any way, but it is important to recognize which one is YOU.

If you are feeling insecure about your word count, whether you feel you create too little over long periods, or you find that you overproduce and worry about slipping quality, consider ways in which you might leverage these factors to your advantage. For the slow writer, perhaps you have embarked on your project prematurely. This is more likely the case if you notice a decrease in your regular output. In this situation, it’s best to take a step back, make detailed notes and a thorough outline. If you lean toward visual thinking, draw some diagrams, or perhaps a map, but be careful not to let a tool become a distraction. Let the story you are telling guide you, but always be aware whether it is pulling or you have begun to push. If you’ve got every detail together but can’t seem to find the words to bring them to life, the problem could lie with your routine or your state of mind. Try setting aside a dedicated, uninterrupted block of time at least three days a week depending on the scale of your venture. Take care of all lingering chores and responsibilities and work out an agreement with your family or roommate(s) that will allow you to dig in without distraction. It may help to begin each session with a brief meditation. Still distracted? Many writers turn off their Wi-Fi or surrender their phones so as not to succumb to the pull of constant connectivity. If your work is deeply complex and multi-tiered, make sure you stay organized and keep any notes easily accessible during writing sessions and keep in mind a loose plan of attack when you begin. Avoid falling into research while you are writing, but jot down anything you need to look into and take care of it in advance of your next scheduled production period. Perhaps none of these instances apply to you—fear not! You may just require more time to properly translate your concepts from thought to text. If that is the case, stick with it and be mindful of moments of clarity. Remember how you reached them and use that information to curate an environment conducive to your particular mode of creativity.

If you are writing so much that it feels the story is going off the rails or meandering into too many unnecessary details, you might just need a side project to sate your creative impulse. An ideal option is getting into a freelance writing gig. Whether it is with a local paper or magazine or an online venue, there are paying jobs out there for the productive, timely writer! Start with areas of interest, such as book, album, or film reviews, or perhaps you have journalistic leanings and would like to write about events in your community. This path is not for all writers, but if output is your specialty, it can help you with focus and teach an economy of language that is best learned through experience. If this holds no appeal for you, start a blog! If you’re feeling a little insecure, you can always keep it anonymous, and it doesn’t need to be something you share with everyone, or anyone, for that matter. You have free reign on topics, no deadlines, no, length, style, or format restrictions. This is your chance to exercise all those excess ideas. When the time comes to sit down with the next short story or that novel that’s been wobbling around in your head, your focus will be in the right place. Not interested in blogging? You can also start mapping out your next project. If your writing stays on topic but you’re producing bloated, opaque slabs of text, get comfortable with killing your darlings. The prolific writer must also become the astute editor, or at least know an astute editor who can be trusted to amplify essentials and eradicate excess.

However you write, regardless of genre or format, intimately understanding your approach will provide critical insight on how to decide which ideas to pursue and how to present your completed works. It’s important not to pander to markets just because they are hot, but don’t pass up an opportunity to take advantage when they bend into your sphere. It may be tempting for fast writers to set their sights on churning out the next Game of Thrones, but adding to the noise leads to over-saturation and substandard work, not huge sales and global acclaim. If you’re looking for a mega-hit, remember that Harry Potter and Twilight weren’t riding the coattails of other works, they were exploring ideas that had not fully permeated popular culture. Instead of bandwagon-hopping, take a step back and consider the format and whether your productivity level would be an asset or a hindrance. A long book series is a smart goal for prolific writers, but write what you love, not what you think other people might love based on the popularity of another franchise. Slower writers should note that novellas and short novels have become increasingly popular in recent years and can be an ideal gateway for new readers. This is an exciting development because a novella can be anything you want it to be. Any genre or topic, standalone or series is an opportunity to make a big leap into the literary world without the daunting length of a traditional novel.

This path is yours and yours alone, so be mindful of its many twists, turns, and detours as you embark. Work to understand yourself and your potential; think about what you hope to achieve. Our literary dreams don’t always shake out as envisioned, but having a general direction will help guide you away from the many distractions and pitfalls you’ll encounter in your pursuit!

Why You Need To Stop Worrying About Adverbs and Learn to Love the Verb by Catherine Foster

Writers love to describe the world they have created for their audience. One of the things I most enjoy about working with authors is the passion they have in sharing their vision with their readers. The  delight of the written word is easy for me to pick up from my clients, and it fills me with joy to see how much we authors are connected in our love of writing and in our drive to describe our inner perceptions with our followers. We want to take them on a journey. We want them to see what we see, hear what our characters hear and experience the sensations of this universe of our making. The endeavor of writing and reading is a tremendous and fantastic undertaking. What could be better?

There are some pitfalls in this craft of writing, and one of the major ones I run across on a regular basis is the overuse of adverbs. This is a hotly debated topic in writing circles: are they wrong or are they okay to use? Let me frame it in way that moves away from correctness or incorrectness but rather more in terms of asking the question of how to make the most of your writing. It isn’t that adverbs are wrong. They are most certainly a part speech that is recognized and validated, and there are times when they are quite useful. The problem occurs when they start accumulating. I find that adverbs, like rabbits, are something that begin to multiply rapidly once they take hold. “ How can a modifier of a verb compare to a darling little mammal?” you might ask. You might even be right to ask, especially if you are also an editor and keeping a wary eye out for the overuse of similes and metaphors (for which there will be an upcoming blog post—be sure to watch for it!) But I would assure you that much like the critters of famed reproductive zeal, adverbs tend to multiply and flourish. Where there was once an occasional one or two, you start finding four, then six, and soon the page is peppered with words ending in that dreaded “ly”.

“So?” I can hear the belligerence in your tone all the way from here. “You already said that they  are a valid part of speech. What’s the problem?”

“Ah, you’re clever!” I would say, because you are quite correct to rebut my objections with the cold, hard truth. Adverbs, in and of themselves, are perfectly allowable (see what I did there?). However, as with most rules, it requires temperance and guidance to understand application. For instance: readers often experience fatigue when they encounter similar words and phrases. If they notice that many of the words you use look or sound the same, they will get bored and tend to skip ahead, even on a micro level. If they think they can predict what you are going to say, they will start skimming. Thus begins a watershed. The boredom with your writing style soon leads to boredom with plot. This is not a path you want to to lead your readers down. You do not want them to be bored with a single word. Not one! You want to create the sort of story that makes readers stay up, bleary-eyed, into the wee hours of the night, thinking to themselves “Just one more page”. You don’t want them to skip to the end or, far worse, shut it in the middle and forget where they left the book altogether. Do adverbs alone cause this? Perhaps not alone, but they are a part. They signal a masterful grasp of writing style to a reader—or the lack thereof.

At the beginning of the article, I discussed how much a writer wants to share their vision of their story with the world. They often employ adverbs to more accurately describe action in the story and give more life to the scene, but it has the opposite effect due to reader fatigue. What’s more, adverbs can indicate writer laziness. This seems counterintuitive, but consider the following sentences:

 

  1. The cloud floated lazily across the afternoon sky.
  2. She loudly shouted, “Hey, give that back, you idiot!”
  3. He angrily threw his towel to the floor.

 

In these examples, the adverb doesn’t add to the information being provided, even though at first glance it seems supportive. In the first sentence, the verb, float, is adequate. Clouds float. The nature of floating is that it is a lazy motion. It is not necessary to describe it any further; the laziness is implied in the verb itself. Providing an adverb, in this case, is adding two words together that mean the same thing. It is akin to saying “I have cash money,” or “I am drinking wet water.” It is simply unnecessary, and if you get into the habit of writing extraneous words, your readers will begin skipping them.

The second example is similar in that loudness is implied when someone is shouting. However, this example is even more important because it contains dialogue which gives the readers all the context clues that they should need to understand the tension of the scene. Whether you are writing anger, sadness, love or anything else, the emotion should be very easily gleaned by the dialogue. If you must rely on adverbs to prop up your writing, you need to take some time to extend and support that scene.

The third example brings us to the true lack of effort in hidden sentences here and there. In a first draft, these sentences don’t seem important. They are conveying action as part of a larger scene. Something else is happening, and this is just to get us to where the major action is. However, it is important to remember that each and every sentence must pay its way. There is no sentence that is too small to be examined. If you have even one bland sentence, your readers will lose interest. If you have a sentence in your story that is not worthy of having been written by a real writer, you need to go back and shore it up. Take this third example: it is functional but not spectacular. It conveys an action but nothing else. The adverb, angrily, should be omitted because surrounding dialogue or scene should set the emotions. If you must tell the reader that the character is angry, then you must question why you can’t communicate that point in a more subtle fashion. Let’s then reconstruct the remainder of the sentence with the adverb gone: He threw his towel to the floor. This leaves all of the stress on the verb, threw. This is a garden variety verb, and it lacks pizazz. If you are going to cut down on adverbs, then you need to dazzle with your verbs. Flung, tossed, chucked … These are all stronger and more interesting choices. They are a little more unusual, and they will interest readers in your story.

You took up the craft of writing because you are not like everyone else. You are a better writer with a story to tell. As such, you are going to have to find a better way to tell it This is going to require you to stretch a bit beyond the clichés and the treads of words that others before you have worn into common parlance. You are going to have to snap this language together in your own, unique way. This takes work. But it is why you are such a great writer! It isn’t going to happen on the first draft, and maybe not even on the second, third or fourth. On some hammering out of your story, you will find a way to make your mark on the puzzle that is our language, and when it is paired with that plot that is yours to tell, you are going to be absolutely brilliant.  One of the steps in this process is learning to cut out the crutch of adverbs. I know you can do it! I hope that this article helps explain why and how. I can’t wait to see you accomplish it and have a better story to tell when you get there. Good luck and happy writing!