Tuesday, February 19, 2019

How to Write and Publish--6--Literary Ideals vs. Sending Beth and Marmee to the Seaside

Before we climb that mountain of submitting our work to magazines, let’s go on a side trail that needs to be hiked.
I needed money.

It was 1987. We were volunteering at a boarding high school for Native American students in the wild northern reaches of Ontario. We were expecting our second child, and I wanted a new car seat for this baby.

For our oldest, we had bought a secondhand car seat that was all awkward straps and buckles that invariably woke up little Matthew when he was strapped in or taken out. Plus, it was so outdated it probably wouldn’t have protected him much in a crash.

So I wanted a fresh dreamy modern car seat with one strap that pulled down over the baby’s head and clicked into place.

However: we didn’t have money. We received a stipend of about $60 a month. We had to buy our own clothes, diapers, peanut butter, postage stamps, shampoo, and transportation to visit family back in the U.S.

The Ontario Health Plan paid for our medical care. So we could afford to have a baby, but we couldn’t afford a car seat, which was going to cost about $75.

I had a small child and we were 125 miles from the nearest town, so employment opportunities were nonexistent.

Maybe I could write!

Paul sent a memo to Merle Burkholder out at the mission headquarters: was it legal for me to write for a US publisher under our current work status in Canada?

Merle said yes!

I was familiar with the Sunday school papers from Christian Light Publications, so they were an obvious choice. I think I wrote to CLP and asked for their writers’ guidelines, because somehow I knew to center the title halfway down the first page and repeat it at the top of subsequent pages.

I sat in our cold little closet at the end of the house, typed out three stories from my personal experience, extrapolated a lesson from each, and mailed them to Harrisonburg, Virginia.

CLP bought them all!!!!!!!!! They sent me a check for each!!!!!!! I had enough money for a car seat!!!!!!!!

Yes, I kept and framed that first acceptance slip, and it hangs on my office wall.
On a trip out to town, we bought a big new car seat that would last from the newborn stage to toddlerhood. It came in a big box. Did I mention it was new? And it had a handy dandy strap and buckle that could slide down over the baby’s head and click neatly into place. I can still see the pretty upholstery—a streaked blue and gray.

I paid for it with money I had earned from writing.

Perhaps you’ve caught the hint that this was a big moment in my life.

That car seat served us until it burned up along with the rest of the van in 1994. Emily was sitting in it that night. Matt, hearing her cry because of the smoke, went back and unbuckled that nifty buckle, raised the strap, released her, and brought her to safety.

The car seat was worth every penny I earned and spent.

I recall feeling that I was trying a bit too hard to manipulate a good lesson from my story that would work for a Sunday school paper, but that was the only qualm I felt about writing for the publisher I chose, for pay.

Maybe you also need to earn money, but you struggle to reconcile your ideals of Excellence and Art and Literature with catering to a magazine’s lowbrow readers so you can pay the bills. If so, you’re not alone.

Here’s an excerpt from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women:

Six weeks is a long time to wait, and a still longer time for a girl to keep a secret, but Jo did both, and was just beginning to give up all hope of ever seeing her manuscript again, when a letter arrived which almost took her breath away, for on opening it, a check for a hundred dollars fell into her lap. For a minute she stared at it as if it had been a snake, then she read her letter and began to cry. If the amiable gentleman who wrote that kindly note could have known what intense happiness he was giving a fellow creature, I think he would devote his leisure hours, if he has any, to that amusement, for Jo valued the letter more than the money, because it was encouraging, and after years of effort it was so pleasant to find that she had learned to do something, though it was only to write a sensation story.

A prouder young woman was seldom seen than she, when, having composed herself, she electrified the family by appearing before them with the letter in one hand, the check in the other, announcing that she had won the prize. Of course there was a great jubilee, and when the story came everyone read and praised it, though after her father had told her that the language was good, the romance fresh and hearty, and the tragedy quite thrilling, he shook his head, and said in his unworldly way...

"You can do better than this, Jo. Aim at the highest, and never mind the money."

"I think the money is the best part of it. What will you do with such a fortune?" asked Amy, regarding the magic slip of paper with a reverential eye.

"Send Beth and Mother to the seaside for a month or two," answered Jo promptly.

To the seaside they went, after much discussion, and though Beth didn't come home as plump and rosy as could be desired, she was much better, while Mrs. March declared she felt ten years younger. So Jo was satisfied with the investment of her prize money, and fell to work with a cheery spirit, bent on earning more of those delightful checks. She did earn several that year, and began to feel herself a power in the house, for by the magic of a pen, her `rubbish' turned into comforts for them all. The Duke's Daughter paid the butcher's bill, A Phantom Hand put down a new carpet, and the Curse of the Coventrys proved the blessing of the Marches in the way of groceries and gowns.

We note that Father, being an artistic soul, says, “Aim at the highest, and never mind the money.” But then, he can’t afford to send Beth and Marmee to the seaside.

Later, this happens. 

Little notice was taken of her stories, but they found a market, and encouraged by this fact, she resolved to make a bold stroke for fame and fortune. Having copied her novel for the fourth time, read it to all her confidential friends, and submitted it with fear and trembling to three publishers, she at last disposed of it*, on condition that she would cut it down one third, and omit all the parts which she particularly admired.

"Now I must either bundle it back in to my tin kitchen to mold, pay for printing it myself, or chop it up to suit purchasers and get what I can for it. Fame is a very good thing to have in the house, but cash is more convenient, so I wish to take the sense of the meeting on this important subject," said Jo, calling a family council.

"Don't spoil your book, my girl, for there is more in it than you know, and the idea is well worked out. Let it wait and ripen," was her father's advice, and he practiced what he preached, having waited patiently thirty years for fruit of his own to ripen, and being in no haste to gather it even now when it was sweet and mellow.

*pretty sure that means it was accepted for publication

Once again we note Father prioritizing the perfection of the book over selling it now.

You will always have people who accuse you of not “aiming at the highest.” Maybe you don’t tell them you had a story in Companions because they mock CLP for being so conservative, Mennonite, and formulaic, and for not using the word “kids.” Maybe you have your own misgivings because they changed the little girl’s pajamas to a nightgown, as they did in my story.

One person accused me of selling out because I wrote for a secular newspaper and I wasn’t allowed to preach the Gospel in my column.

Another one gently chided me for consistently tying the endings of my newspaper columns into a neat bow. He likes to read the New Yorker, that elite literary magazine, where stories don’t have happy endings or tidy resolutions.

Donald Miller, in Searching for God Knows What, writes of going to a writers’ conference, which I understand was our very own Oregon Christian Writers event.

In a review in Spectrum magazine, Trudy Morgan-Cole describes Donald’s description as “funny, but also annoyingly patronizing and chauvinistic.” I agree.

The lady sitting next to me was writing a wonderful series of Christian devotionals for girls who were taking ballet classes, and the lady on the other side of me was writing a series of devotionals you could read while drinking tea. When she told me this, a lady in front of us turned around and smiled because she was working on a series of devotionals you could read while drinking coffee. I told them their books sounded terrific, because it is true that some people like tea and some people like coffee, and for that matter, some people dance in ballets.

I admit, I’ve been a bit mocky myself at the swarms of people at OCW writing devotionals. And I’ve foamed at the mouth about all the smiling clueless lipsticked Englisch women writing Amish novels.

But let’s be clear: devotionals sell. Amish novels sell.

If you want to grow old and poor waiting for the New Yorker to accept your brilliant literary work, that is your privilege. The rest of us bend a bit. How far you bend is up to you and your conscience, of course.

Jo March wrote sensational stories for the Weekly Volcano [what a perfect name] before she decided, with some gentle guilting from Mr. Bhaer, that it wasn’t worth it. 

Two women writers I know flexed from their ideals so they could put their children through college. One wrote Amish novels. The other held her nose and wrote romances, including the required three sex scenes per book. I judged the former more harshly than the latter, knowing of course that neither has any obligation to agree with my ideals, and they were the ones with bills to pay.

In the long term, the newspaper was a better fit for my style than the Sunday school papers were. But I have no regrets about writing for CLP.

CLP has its traditions and guidelines, but they’ll give a beginning writer a chance. They bought my stories, paid for a car seat, and let me see my name in print. I’ve sent many people their way since.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with accommodating a publisher’s wishes and the readers’ tastes so you can earn money. Only you can decide how much you're willing to bend your ideals to sell a story.

Monday, February 18, 2019

How to Write and Publish--5b--More Editing

[We're still talking about types of editors.]

4. The freelance editor.

Your writing group and your husband have read your story, but you need someone to take a look at every verb and comma before you send it off to a magazine. Where do you turn? 

Who can make sure your book comes together coherently before you self-publish, or before you submit it to Harvest House?

Freelance editors to the rescue!

Blog posts and newsletters don’t usually need an editor beyond your husband or critique group, but any longer work that you self-publish should have an independent editor work on it.

The higher the stakes with submitting to a publisher, the more you need an editor.

How do you find one? Word of mouth is the best. I ask around at author events, and without fail, every author has their go-to editor that they’re happy to recommend to you. Twice, I’ve been blessed enough to sit beside people at the authors’ table at the county fair who were both authors and editors. Kelly Straub edited Tea and Trouble Brewing with great finesse; Toni Rakestraw twirled her magic wand and formatted my books for print and Kindle.

I ought to include them both in our will.

My friend Esta’s marketing-expert brother John recommends UpWork, an online resource. I'm sure there are others equally legitimate.

We made an exception to the no-family-as-editor rule after Emily got her degree in communications. She set her fees and did an excellent job with Fragrant Whiffs of Joy. For the most part, we were not mother and daughter but calm and indifferent acquaintances, to quote Jane Austen.

Except for that one time. But never mind that. We learned how to not do things with the next project.

I’m hoping Emily has time to edit these posts to make a short book that I can hand out to all the inquiring people who tug on my sleeve and ask for help. I would love to coach them all, and can't of course, but maybe a booklet and prayer will at least get them started.

Often, writers make good editors.

Emily says:

One important note is that editing other people's work is one of the best ways to improve your own writing. I know this is true because most of my writing classes in college followed the writer's group format, where we all critiqued each other's work, and my teacher's explanation was that deeply looking at other people's work and figuring out how to make it better was actually the best way to learn to write better.

 My opinion is that the best/most economical way to edit is to "trade edits" with someone who's at the same writing level as you are. It could happen in a writer's group, but if you're writing a book-length project it might be easiest to just swap with one person. It might not seem like "saving money" because of all the time it will take, but since you're learning so much as you edit, you come out on top in the long run.

Beginning writers are notorious for imposing on their more-experienced friends. “I know you just got out of the hospital with your twins, but I was hoping you wouldn’t mind looking this over. . .??"

I know. You won’t have any money in hand until the magazine buys your article, and they’re not likely to buy it until an editor polishes it, but an editor costs money. Round and round you go.

What is that in thine hand? If they live nearby, clean their kitchen or bake cookies for them. Do you have a piece of dress fabric they would love to have? Mail it to them. 
As Emily said, you can trade edits if you’re at the same experience level.

Better yet, sit down and figure out a way to pay them what they’re worth. You’re a writer. Your imagination is that good.

Sheila Petre says:

What I pay others, for whom I am not trading edits, is a percentage of what they will get for the published piece—if it is published. Depending on how much work they put into it and how much I get paid, I will pay ten to twenty percent. Stephanie Leinbach edits the editorial for my girls’ magazine and she gets a complimentary subscription for it, though I am pretty sure I have sent her additional compensation occasionally as well (a book or two, cash in the two-digit range, a box for her and her family.)

 Because I do so much editing for free, anything is a bonus. So if you just stick a ten or a twenty in your envelope with an SASE, I am very happy. It seems like writers could be more creative than they are: postage stamps, Subway cards, gift certificates for your little catalogue store, stickers for my children to play with while I edit—but no, those are just the things I fantasize about as I stare down into the envelope full of their words. Follow the golden rule, folks—it shouldn’t be this complicated.

Of course, if the freelancer is not a friend, you will need to pay the set fee and that is that. 

Morty Miller, a former student of mine, charges by the page. She says:

I’m a licensed proofreader. But I also do some editing as in making suggestions for a smoother flowing sentence, or how to reword things to perhaps paint a clearer picture of what the author is trying to say. 

When you send your work to an editor, you need to be thorough and specific about what you need. Services range from line edits and proofreading [the exact terms and services vary a bit] where they check spelling, punctuation, and consistency with Oxford commas and such, to in-depth edits where they delete whole sentences, move paragraphs, and suggest major revisions.

If you’re not using paper and ink, make sure your editor uses the “Track Changes” feature so you can tell exactly what has been altered.

I’ve had a few bad experiences with freelance editors changing words and phrases in my book manuscripts when I only wanted punctuation and spelling edits, without marking their changes, and I had to go through the entire book line by line to find and correct their helpful additions. I was not happy.

I learned to be really precise and clear about what I was hiring them to do.

But I’ve also had editors who, with permission, snipped and curled a phrase here and there, tucked paragraphs where they belonged, and made the whole thing smooth and shiny.

Those editors are gold.

Here’s some information from Manuscript Editor Online:

Types of Editing

The most intensive form of editing is substantive editing. The document is evaluated as a whole and problems of structure, organization, coherence, and logical consistency are corrected. Sentences may be removed or added. Paragraphs may be rewritten, condensed, or expanded. Blocks of text may be moved from one section to another. 

Copy editing
The editor corrects problems of grammar, style, repetition, word usage, and jargon. 

Proofreading is the lightest form of editing. Minor errors are corrected. Minor errors include:
errors of grammar and style (e.g., verb tense, units such as ml, use of numerals and words such as “5” or “five”)
errors of capitalization, punctuation (e.g., the use of commas, semicolons, colons, periods, dashes, apostrophes)
errors of spelling and word usage (e.g., to/too, affect/effect)

5. The Professional Editor

These are the editors who work for publishers. After the soul thrilling raptures of selling a manuscript to a magazine or book publisher or newspaper, you discover with a bit of alarm that your work will be gone over by an editor, or several. They will be thorough. They will not be your buddy. They might send your work back for revision, heavily marked in red.

But ultimately they will make your story a lot better.

You don’t pay this editor like you do a freelancer. This is all part of the happy package of having your submission accepted.

My editor at Good Books was a woman named Delphine who consulted me about significant changes and did her best to preserve my voice and style. I was very sad when she retired.

I had four different editors in my years with the Register-Guard newspaper, and a good working relationship with all of them, but I didn’t get to know any of them very well. While none of them ever made huge changes in my articles, the small changes they made were always for the better.

May you all be so lucky.

Next: Sending short pieces to a publisher.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

How to Write and Publish--5a--Editing

You need an editor.

Sorry to break it to you.

Remember that post about the lovely idea in your head that looks a bit less attractive when it’s on paper? An editor can help you restore your work to its original intended vision.

Yes, there's self-editing, and you need to do it thoroughly. Some writers are sure that if they’ve been over their own work fifteen times, an editor couldn’t improve it.

Those of us who have bad experiences with editors conclude that we can do this better ourselves, thank you very much.

Once you’ve worked with a good editor, though, you will love her, appreciate her, rely on her, praise her in the gates, and weep when she retires.

We all need someone to look at our work and catch what we’re missing. Self-published shorter pieces such as blog posts might need only types 1 and 2 below. Longer works, either self-published or sent to a publisher, need more kinds of editors.

Here is a chart about different types of editors.

Here are some of the “editors” you need:

1.       The cheerleader.

My friend Ilva sent me an email the other day and said she loved the excerpts from The Eye that I posted. She loved The Eye back in the day, she said.

That’s not the only thing Ilva has ever said about my writing. Not by far. Ilva has read my form letters, newspaper articles, and blog posts. She always says the same kinds of things: I love this! I understand! You made me laugh! You made me cry! You are wonderful!

Every writer needs an Ilva, someone who thinks everything they write is amazing. Maybe your mom is this person for you, or your best friend.

I noticed on Facebook today that my old friend Heidi linked her daughter’s blog and said, My daughters writing... so good!!! I can identify... I love your honesty and putting it in perspective!"

You need someone like that. You know deep inside that not everything you write is breathtaking and beautiful. But you need That One Person who lives under this delusion that you and your work are just astonishing, always.

Go find your Ilva.

2.       The practical skimmer.

We learned long ago that things work best if I don’t expect my family, especially my husband, to be my editors. [There is one exception to this which I’ll explain later.] Paul doesn’t think or express himself or relate stories like I do. He doesn’t find the same things funny.

In the form letter days, lacking a critique group, I would get Paul to read my writings. He would work his way down through a long letter without changing the expression on his face. “It’s fine,” he would say.

“But isn’t it FUNNY?” I would wail. “That part about Matt and his experiments—I was trying to make it funny!”

“I guess, but I already knew about it, so I couldn’t really laugh.”

This did not make for marital harmony.

Over the years, a lot of people have asked if I made up incidents for the newspaper, or embellished things that happened. I could always tell them, no, I didn't, because Paul in particular and also a few of his offspring have a pathological dislike for exaggeration, and they always brought me back, grudgingly, to the bare facts.

For example,when I wrote about the grass seed harvest almost 20 years ago, I said that when the cleaner is running, the warehouse shakes and rumbles.

"No it does not!" said Paul. "It vibrates and hums."

How could he!? That was so far from reality!

We compromised. If you go read page 149 of Ordinary Days, you will find that the warehouse vibrates and rumbles when the cleaner is running. 

Another time I had Paul read a poem I had posted on my blog on Thanksgiving. I thought it expressed the deep feelings of my heart. “I don’t really get it,” he said. “It seems like you're asking for sympathy for your hard life."

Oh mercy. That wasn’t my intention at all. So I deleted the poem. That afternoon a niece told me she had read it and related to it, but when she came back to re-read it, it was gone. So I posted it again, feeling vindicated, and got more response than for any other poem I’ve posted, I think.

We finally settled on an arrangement where Paul read my newspaper articles before I sent them off, but only to correct any glaring flaws, maybe about seed cleaning or family history or theology. And of course, to check any inclination toward over-inflating the truth. In addition, if I mentioned Paul or any of the children, they got to have veto power before the column went to my editor.

Paul is good at catching the glaring errors. If I don’t expect him to do more than that, we are both happy with the arrangement.

Find yourself a Paul who will read your article and say, “It’s fine,” and then you know it is.

3.       The critique group.

The idea of a writing group is to share your work with peers. You read their work and find ways to improve it. They do the same to yours. You all share questions, advice, and motivation.

A good critique group member has a sharp eye for detail and is also kind, honest, punctual, supportive, and humble. He or she will point out flaws in your work without ever making it personal and take your suggestions with similar equanimity.

You need to find a group that’s roughly at your skill level. If you’re a complete beginner, you’ll feel lost in a group with Francine Rivers and Jane Kirkpatrick.

I’ve been blessed to be a part of a few different writing groups. First it was one of Verda Glick’s Writers Workshops by Mail. Verda had designed an efficient system: all our submissions circulated in a package. When it arrived, I read the others’ comments on my story and put in a new one. I also read the others’ work and wrote a page of comments for each. I dropped out of this group, regretfully, when I began writing for the newspaper because I couldn’t keep up with both.

I think I wrote to Verda, in the beginning, and asked her to add me to a group.

Sheila Petre, a writer and editor from Pennsylvania, says:

Many non-internet-using Anabaptist writers are part of writer’s workshops by mail, groups who trade editing skills with each other. Each scribbles her opinions on the other’s manuscripts using a separate ink color. This is my favorite kind of editing to give or receive. 

Later I took a write-your-life-story class, and after the term was over we kept meeting for about a year. I still run into one of the women on occasion.

Then there was Red Moons, a semi-professional group that was a great help in writing for a secular audience. There was a copyright lawyer in the group and one who wrote for National Geographic Traveler and led the group, so the resources were plentiful. The leader had read my columns in the paper and invited me to join. When the leader and the meetings moved an hour away, I stopped attending.

For the last six months I’ve been a part of the Fictitious Five, a group of Christian fiction writers. Two of them have 3-book deals with a publisher, so they know what they’re doing.

One week, we email out new chapters to all the others. We read, add comments, and print them off. The next week, we meet at Pat’s house. When it’s my turn to be on deck, everyone takes a 5-minute turn talking about my paper. Then it’s Amanda’s turn, and we each talk about hers for 5 minutes. And so on. I am new at fiction and this group has been invaluable. They see things in my stories that I would never catch, but they are kind. For instance, last week Pat noticed that I had the word “placed” three times in one sentence.

Amanda, one of the Fictitious Five, invited me to join the group. She and I had met back when she owned a small bookstore, and she knew I was interested in fiction.

If you want to be part of a writing group, don’t wait for an invitation. Libraries often have information about groups in the community. If you know any local writers, ask them if they know of a group you could join.

Maybe you can start your own group, in person or by mail/email. Decide how similar the group needs to be. Is it ok if the members are writing fiction, nonfiction, articles, books, Christian, and secular? If not, decide your specific parameters.

The key to success is clarity about expectations: how often do we meet, and where? How much do we write for each meeting? How long do we discuss one chapter? What kinds of help and information do we need?

--more information on editing tomorrow--

Friday, February 15, 2019

How to Write and Publish—4—Short Pieces, Self-Publishing

Writing, as explained in the three previous posts, is the process of getting ideas out of your head and translating them into a readable form. Putting your musings on paper is a huge step, but communication really happens when someone else reads what you wrote.

Publishing is the process of getting that writing out to where others can read it. If it’s scary to take your ideas and put them into a document for the first time, it’s absolutely terrifying to put that writing out before the eyes of others.

This is all part of using the voice God gave you, of listening to that persistent voice in your ear or thumb in your back, and of sharing your unique message.

The publishing process varies with the length and style of writing, its intended audience, and whether it’s distributed by yourself or someone else.

Today we’ll talk about publishing short pieces of writing and doing it yourself. “Short” is article length, maybe a few thousand words.

Today’s writers have landed in a propitious moment as communication has switched from paper to digital, from a laborious and difficult process to a few clicks, and from only a few gatekeepers in the industry to everyone potentially being their own publisher.

Here are a few ideas for spreading your work:

To one person, or a few
To many people
Paper and ink
Individual letters
Photocopied form letters,
Newsletters, booklets, tracts,
Group emails

Blog posts
Facebook posts

Never underestimate the value and validity of a letter. I know people who wouldn’t consider themselves writers at all, yet they pour their hearts and stories into personal letters that are a joy to read.

My dad's letters always begin with, "Dear Ones in the West,"
HOW TO: If you’re too young to remember letters in the mail, you might want to learn that art from a grandma.

As a child and teenager, I had lots of penpals. It was a magical process—getting a letter in the mail and answering it. Depending on the receiver’s personality and the type of relationship we had, I could insert all kinds of witticisms and craziness in my letters to them, knowing they would understand. 

In between pen pals and blogging came a strange little newspaper called The Eye that I produced sporadically during my years as a teacher and a few years into married life. It served no real purpose except as a creative outlet, and I was lucky to have friends who acted like they were happy to receive it. Production involved several evenings of typing, cutting, pasting, and photocopying.

I had forgotten that poem, which has since been relevant to many situations, 
not only school board meetings.
"Entreating with the Lord
At a meeting with the board
I have found to be the standard and procedure.
And the long and dull discussions
On the weather, life, and Russians,
Have relevance to school things: very meager."

I dug out my old Eyes to get a picture and may have gotten a tiny bit distracted.

: I’m not sure anyone should try to replicate The Eye, but you have permission to be as creative as you want with paper and ink or online.

One writer who combines writing and illustrations is Striped Pineapple.

As a young mom on the mission field, I wrote monthly form letters on our primitive computer and mailed them out to a list of family, friends, and supporters. The letters often took a week or more to arrive, and a reply might come back weeks after that, but all the people on our list made us feel supported during long winters and tough times.

The feedback from those letters helped me improve my writing and prepare me for a larger audience later on, although I was unaware of this at the time of course. 

Sometimes I wrote a story and everyone misunderstood it. Or they got exactly what I was saying. It all helped me communicate better.

HOW TO: Form letters are still the communication of choice for ministries and missionaries, but there’s no reason you can’t send out form letters on your own, just for fun. Type one up, print it off, send it to friends, and see what happens.

Blogging was a natural transition once I was introduced to the internet. I was still in charge of the process, but everything about publishing this way was so easy and free. No paper, no stamps, no photocopying—and I could reach hundreds or thousands of people with the same amount of effort.

Wikipedia says:
A blog is a discussion or informational website published on the World Wide Web consisting of discrete, often informal diary-style text entries. Posts are typically displayed in reverse chronological order, so that the most recent post appears first, at the top of the web page.

HOW TO: If you want to get started blogging, go to Blogger.com or Wordpress.com and follow the instructions. If I can do it, so can you. My children will verify this. You can adjust your settings to restrict comments, if a public discussion makes you uncomfortable.

Eventually I switched to email for much of my personal communication, but I didn’t get into mass emails until after I had a newspaper column. I would copy the column and email it to my list of maybe 300 people every month.

An email list is a rich resource when you start publishing. I have friends who invite people to sign up for regular updates, devotionals, or articles. I send a notice to my email list when I have a new book coming out or a book signing coming up.

We’ll talk later about finding a publisher for your book. One of the words you’ll hear over and over in the publishing world is “platform.” Even a beginning author is expected to have an audience and a platform, which is unfair and unrealistic, in my opinion, but meanwhile a list of email subscribers can be a good foundation for your platform.

HOW TO: To develop an email list, send a letter out to everyone in your current address book letting them know what you’d like to send out regularly and giving them the option of signing up. Also, invite them to forward the email to others.

You can send them updates, articles, or fun meandering letters, like my Georgia friend Rhonda Strite does.

I think her letters are dispersed to people she chooses, but her blog is open to all, and it gives you a good taste of her writing. Here it is. 

Make sure you always use the “blind carbon copy” feature for group emails.

In recent years, I’ve done less blogging and 
more posting on Facebook, usually quoted conversations or 4-paragraph cogitations that seem too short for a blog post. Some people like to do longer posts on Facebook.

Again, you are your own publisher and you can post whatever you want.

HOW TO: go to Facebook.com. Sign up for an account. Do a search for people you know, and invite them to be your friends. If they like your posts, they might "share" them with others.

When you publish your work in any of these ways, people will read it. If your words resonate with them, some of them will let you know. Their responses will tell you whether or not you communicated clearly what you wanted to say. There’s no shame in finding out that everyone misunderstood you. That’s how you learn.

Be brave. Write. Find a way to share your work. Learn a lot. Keep writing.

Post 5: Edits and critiques.
Post 6: Publishing short pieces via a publisher.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

How to Write and Publish--3--Organize and Begin

Step 3a is to gather and organize your notes.

Pull together the bits of paper, the notebooks, the documents on your computer.

Think hard—did you write about this subject in a journal, letters to your sister, or sermon notes? Include those on your pile as well, if you can.

If you’re writing a life story, whether it’s your own or someone’s else’s, you’ll want every document you can scrape up. Old letters, diaries, pictures, cards, report cards, and so on.

I inherited my grandpa Adam’s financial record book. Even the notes about eggs and cream tell me about him.

A list of farm products the family sold.

Writing a children’s book or a devotional on forgiveness will be a different process from writing someone’s story, but in every case, the more jotted ideas you begin with, the easier the process will be.

Usually when I begin work on an article or speech, some notes are on paper and some on computer documents. However, when I prepared a few talks on marriage for a retreat this past year, I decided to put all my points and illustrations on bits of paper. Then I sat on the floor and placed the notes in piles all around me, with one pile of papers for each main point of my outline.

It worked amazingly well.

Our son Matt who works for the Navy is in charge of transitioning certain systems from paper to digital, much like the medical community has been doing for a number of years. Sometimes he is in charge of meetings where others with similar tasks get together from various points of the country to make sure they’re all doing this the same so that their systems can communicate.

Oddly and a bit ironically, he’s found that the best way to conduct these paper-to-digital workshops is not with Powerpoints and videos, but with Sharpies and Post-It notes. Everyone writes their questions and issues on Post-its, and Matt groups them by subject. Then they figure out solutions.

There is Matt organizing information and explaining things. And people are listening.
I am so proud of him.
He has always been good at explaining things so I can understand them without making me feel stupid.
He is sitting on his right leg. It is not as amputated as it appears.

So despite the benefits of fancy programs that let you cut, paste, and manipulate, there’s something about handwritten notes that helps you organize ideas.

Try it.

Step 3b is to start writing.

Most of us, at this point, agonize before the glowing computer screen. How should I begin? Beginnings are so crucial We slowly tap out one line.

“In 1990, my husband and I moved our little family to a reservation in Ontario.”

No no, too dry and chronological. Delete.

“I held my baby close as the Cessna 206 roared across the lake. Behind me, lumber for school desks was stacked to the ceiling. In front of me, the steering wheel thingamajig moved toward me as the pilot pulled the matching majiggy on his side. Beside the lumber, my two older children were strapped into one seat. I barely had room to turn my head to check on them.”

Sigh. I’m cramming too much into one paragraph. Maybe I need more backstory.

Actually, I need to quit worrying about how to begin.

The place you start writing won't necessarily be the place your story or book eventually begins, if that makes sense.

Much later, you can figure out the words that will draw people into your story.

At this point, you need to plunge into the middle of the pool and start swimming. 

This is what works for me at this point: take a pile of notes and dive in. Expand on ideas. Turn the jotted words into complete sentences. Add more sentences to explain it better.

Take another jotted note. Write out the idea or event in a full paragraph. This might remind you of something else that’s not in your notes, but it fits. Write that down too.
Don’t worry about beginnings and structure. The most important thing at this stage is to write like a maniac. Words words words. Pile them up.

This stage of writing is like building a sand castle on the beach: first you need a big pile of sand. So you shovel and scoop and mound it up high. Next, you run to the ocean for buckets of water to dump over it.

When the mound of sand is ready, the careful work begins. You pat here and carefully cut away there. You shape turrets and windows. You gather shells to make a pretty driveway, and put seagull feathers on top for flags. It turns into a beautiful castle, and you step back and admire it.
from Wikimedia
That’s how it is with writing. First you shovel and scoop a big pile of words. This gives you lots of material to work with. Then you slow down and start crafting. This first, then that. Cut this out and move it up here. An embellishment here. Less of this, more of that. Experiment with beginnings and endings. Read it from beginning to end a dozen times. Look at it from different angles.

Eventually, you’ll step back and admire your creation.

That idea tucked away in your mind has become something real.

I hope you are as proud of yourself as you ought to be.

 Next: How do I share my work with others?