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Posts Tagged ‘writing community’

That’s it–The Writer’s Craft. That’s the name of a required class in our Professional Writing department at Taylor University–a required class that I will be teaching for the first time this fall. I’m so excited to teach this class because we’re going to read great writing, unpack it, understand what makes it great, and learn what we can use to improve our own writing.

ProseThe class has traditionally used Francine Prose’s book, Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them (New York: Harper Perennial, 2007).

I love this book because it gives examples of great writing in areas of words, sentences, paragraphs, narration, character, dialogue, details, and gesture. All of this is studied by way of what she calls “close reading,” taking the time to annotate a chosen text and study it carefully.

So I’m excited to bring to the students stories from John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway and Flannery O’Connor and John Updike and Tim O’Brien and Edgar Allan Poe and James Joyce and Anton Chekov, among others. I can’t wait to have my students do close reading of amazing writing, discuss it, learn from it, be inspired by it, use it.

I’m just a little thrilled to teach this class.

It is important that writers read “textbooks” about writing–and those textbooks are the great works that have stood the test of time. Prose (don’t you just love that the author’s name is “Prose”?) writes that these great works are “textbooks, private lessons in the art of fiction” (3). What is it about this piece of writing that makes it great? that has stood the test of time? that makes it classic? She continues, “A masterpiece can inspire us by showing us how a writer does something brilliantly” (11).

We’re not going to look at the big picture–the why of the writing. Instead, we’re going to focus on the mechanics, the how. What words does the writer use? How are those words making this piece sing? What about sentence structure? Paragraphing? How is this dialogue telling us the story without telling us the story? (For the last one we’ll read Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.”)

In his wonderful little book Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon talks about making sure we artists surround ourselves with other great artists (I talked about this book more in this post). He advises us to be collectors, collecting the things we love.

You’re only going to be as good as the stuff you surround yourself with. My mom used to say to me, “Garbage in, garbage out.” It used to drive me nuts. But now I know what she meant. Your job is to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by. (13-14)

Seeing yourself as part of a creative lineage will help you feel less alone as you start making your own stuff. I hang pictures of my favorite artists in my studio. They’re like friendly ghosts. I can almost feel them pushing me forward as I’m hunched over my desk.

The great thing about dead or remote masters is that they can’t refuse you as an apprentice. You can learn whatever you want from them. They left their lesson plans in their work. (17)

So we’ve got our readings, our lesson plans, our pens, and our desire to collect and learn from the greats.

Can’t wait!

What great writers or particular pieces of writing have inspired you?

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So last week I talked about Literary Citizenship and why I love it. A key, of course, is supporting our fellow authors. In fact, that’s what it’s all about. Chuck Sambuchino offers 11 ideas for how we can support new books.

Writers In The Storm Blog

By Chuck Sambuchino

large_5595133805My Writer’s Digest coworker, Brian A. Klems, recently geared up for the release of his first book — a humorous guide for fathers called OH BOY, YOU’RE HAVING A GIRL: A DAD’S SURVIVAL GUIDE TO RAISING DAUGHTERS (Adams Media). On top of that, my coworker Robert Brewer (editor of Writer’s Market) recently got a publishing deal for a book of his poetry.

So I find myself as a cheerleader for my writing buddies — trying to do what I can to help as their 2013 release dates approach. I help in two ways: 1) I use my own experience of writing & publishing books to share advice on what they can expect and plan for; and 2) I simply do whatever little things I can that help in any way.

This last part brings up an important point: Anyone can support an author’s…

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Much is being written lately on the topic of literary citizenship. Since this was the topic of my Master’s final research paper, I thought I’d go ahead and weigh in with my two cents. (I could write 50 pages, but I already did that. Let’s see if I can condense my thoughts here into a readable blog post!)

I just happened upon this term in the last couple of years–but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. You see, I’ve worked in publishing for thirty years and went back to school with the hopes of teaching at the college level. As I sat under Cathy Day, she (thankfully) talked to her students about what’s out there in the real world–how to join the literary world, how to get published, how to organize submissions, how to handle rejection, and how to find their “tribes” once they leave the cocoon of a university writing program–everything I already knew was extremely important for writers to understand.

I was thrilled that she talked about this because too often (I feel) creative writing programs focus only on craft without giving students the tools to know what to do with their writing. Yes, I get it. You have to first be a good writer, no, an excellent writer. That’s a given. Roxane Gay puts it this way:

You’re not going to become a better writer by focusing more on getting your writing published than writing work that merits publication. You won’t become a better writer by resenting the success of others or spending most of your time indulging in conspiracy theories about publishing. Yes, sometimes the game is rigged, but mostly it is not. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the wrong things when so much information about writers and what they’re doing or could be doing is readily available via social networks, blogs, and the like.

So of course, being great writers is step one, and I don’t advise that writers let themselves get distracted by the marketing side at the expense of their product. But, after thirty years in publishing, I come at this with a different perspective, and so I maintain that students should be taught what to do with their writing. How to research the literary magazines or the online sites or the commercial magazines or the book publishers that might be interested in their kind of writing. How to write query letters. How to approach an agent. How to create a book proposal. That’s all part of learning to write.

Because, in the end, while writing can indeed be an end in itself, most of us write because we want people to read what we wrote. We want to share it.

And I’m sure it’s my years in publishing talking, but I’ve sat on the other side of the table, needing to help authors understand the importance of marketing their own books.

I know, what a pain after doing all the work of actually writing the book to have to be burdened with actually doing the marketing, too. Isn’t the publisher supposed to do that? That’s the question Becky Tuch asks and precisely why she detests literary citizenship.

But I understand the business side of publishing; it is a business after all and, if it doesn’t make money, none of us gets published. And yes, all those big-name authors get all of the marketing dollars and the rest of us are left pretty much to fend for ourselves, but there’s a reason for that as well. There’s a statistic in Christian publishing that says 9 percent of the authors sell 80 percent of the books. That means that 9 percent of writers are pretty much carrying their publishing houses. So let them have the marketing dollars! In secular publishing, the number may be similar–and we can be sure that it is indeed the big names who get taken care of. Those authors help keep their companies open, which then allows them to take a chance on little ol’ me.

But here’s the deal–literary citizenship is not to be entered into because you want to sell your books. Instead, it’s about joining Renaissance Fairethe literary world because that’s who you are. Just as you might identify with those who join the worlds of ComiCon or Renaissance Faires because you have an affinity for comics and superheroes or feathered caps and falconry, so you join the world of Words and Books as a literary citizen because that’s who you are. You join with like-minded people to talk about what you love best.

The side effect of being “neighborly” in that world (by doing what many lit cit blog posts have discussed regarding ways to be literary citizens) is that when your article or book is published, you can naturally talk about it with those who care–and who will, in turn, talk about it with others. That’s where the “marketing” part actually begins to happen.

But literary citizenship doesn’t start there. It doesn’t start with “marketing” or “selling.” It’s not all about us. It’s not all about “gimme” as in “gimme your attention–me me me” as David Ebenbach describes in his article, Literary Citizenship Does Not Mean Gimme. Instead, it’s about joining a world of word lovers–reading, appreciating, talking about, and sharing one another’s work.

So let’s not hate literary citizenship, let’s embrace it because, in essence, it’s who we are. Let’s come together in this world of Words and Books enjoying what we love most and making sure it continues for all of us for a long, long time.

 

 

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AND . . . . today is National Proofreading Day. I will celebrate by . . . proofreading! Today I am also reposting a blog I wrote last year on March 8.

What a busy week! We had National Grammar Day on March 4, and today, March 8, is National Proofreading Day. For someone like me who lives this stuff on a daily basis, it’s downright exciting!

The day is devoted to “mistake-free writing” and projecting “a professional image with well-written documents that are 100 percent accurate.” Started by Judy Beaver at The Office Pro, this day is designated because it was her mother’s birthday—and her mother loved to correct errors.

As I noted earlier this week in my post about National Grammar Day, I’m not a total grammar geek but I do care about the correct usage of our language, and I’ve made a living for many years honing this skill. Lots of times I still CMShave to look things up in a dictionary or my Chicago Manual of Style (the style manual for much of the book publishing industry). All manuscripts go through several phases of editing, and I’ve done them all. Generally, if I do one phase on a particular manuscript, I make sure that other people do the other two phases–there’s a different focus that has to take place at each phase.

Editing—I call this the 10,000-foot view. I look at the big picture. I’m reading the fiction story and checking the plot, the pacing and flow, the characterization. In a non-fiction manuscript, I’m seeing if the organization works and makes sense. Any changes I suggest at this point are on the macro level—moving chapter 3 to become chapter 1, for instance. Or looking for that loose end in the mystery that the writer forgot to tie up (“What happened to so-and-so?”). The author makes changes (or not) based on my suggestions, and then the manuscript goes to a copyeditor.

Copyediting—This is more like the 1,000-foot view. Now that the editor has put the manuscript in good shape, if I’m in this role, I’m reading closely for sentence construction—dangling modifiers, run-ons, and inconsistencies. I fact check. I query if something doesn’t make sense, if a transition is needed, if a character’s way of speaking doesn’t sound real based on how he or she has been described by the author (“Would he really say this in this way?”).

Proofreading—This is the 10-foot view. If I’m in this role, sometimes I’m working on a manuscript, but often at this phase I’m looking at a pdf of typeset pages—which means I have to check the table of contents to make sure the titles and page numbers are correct, I check all the folios and running heads, I check the look of each page—marking widows and orphans (those random one or two words at the top of a page, or the lone line at the bottom—these just look awkward). Then I read every word. Even a clean manuscript can have random errors show up when the document is flowed into the typesetting program (a hidden tab in a Word document can suddenly rear its ugly head and space words far apart when typeset).

I love it.

Proofreading is probably my favorite. It’s that red pen mentality. I’m looking for errors only because I want the book, the author, and the publisher to put their best foot (feet?) forward.

The three types of editing take different skills. In my Editing class, I give my students practice in all of these areas, telling them that they will probably find an affinity for one and not like the others so much. But I also tell those who want to become editors that they should hone their grammar and punctuation knowledge anyway, because the copyediting and proofreading jobs are often the entry level positions in publishing companies. From there, they can move up, since often editors and acquisitions editors are hired from within, from people who have been with the company and understand the ethos there.

proofreading

As I noted in my post earlier this week, proofreading skills are vitally important, especially on the job market. To have a clean paper, I suggest the following:

(1) Don’t trust the spell check program on your computer. (Judy has some tips on her blog about this.)

(2) If you’re not absolutely sure of the spelling of a word, don’t guess. Look it up. Dictionary.com is your best friend.

(3) Go back and read your letter, paper, email, memo, whatever, aloud slowly to yourself. This will help you notice if words are missing or if a sentence runs on and on. (It’s best to do this on hard copy. Trust me, you’ll see things differently than on screen. A friend of one of my students writes about that on his blog.)

(4) Then, read it again starting from the bottom paragraph backward, a paragraph at a time. This helps you get outside your own flow and see errors you might skip over otherwise.

(5) Electronically, go back and do a search for an open parenthesis (to make sure that you always have a matching close parenthesis), an open quotation mark (to make sure you always have the appropriate closing quotation mark and to make sure any inner quotation marks are single and that they are both there). And get rid of those double spaces between sentences!

(6) Be aware of your own weaknesses. If you know you tend to write run-on sentences, watch for that in particular. If you know that possessives always mess you up, do a search for apostrophes and check each one for correct usage.

This will clear up a good number of your errors. It never hurts, however, to have someone else look over an especially important document—like a cover letter or resume or manuscript submission.

Let’s put our best foot forward—both of them!

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It’s the middle of day two of the Midwest Writers Workshop here in beautiful Muncie, Indiana.

Writers are scurrying from pitching an agent to a social media tutoring appointment to their next session from one of our amazing faculty to a manuscript makeover appointment to finding a bathroom to grabbing a snack to checking out the book table to heading to yet another session.

And that’s what it’s all about. Learning more about the craft that we all love.

We’re all here supporting one another as writers. Some with published books. Some with dreams of publishing. All with a passion for words.

That’s why I love it.

This place reeks with people who love words and writing. We’re all geeks sort of geeking out over words and how to put them together. This place reeks of geeks.

And it’s awesome.

There are lots of writers conferences, and I’m a strong proponent of all writers attending a conference for the continued training, support, and encouragement from other writers. I’m new on the planning committee for the Midwest Writers Workshop (we’re celebrating 40 years with this conference), and I’m amazed at how this team pulls together to make a great conference happen.

This year, Cathy Day and I worked together with some savvy Ball State students. Several of the students are acting as assistants for the five agents who are taking pitches, and the others are working in the social media lab giving one-on-one tutoring advice in the art of social media (websites, Twitter, Facebook pages, etc., etc.). Here’s a photo of our social media lab:

The social media lab with one-on-one tutoring about social media for writers

The social media lab with one-on-one tutoring about social media for writers

I’m sitting in the social media lab listening to the students talk about how great the attendees are, how they feel like they’ve both been able to teach something to their clients as well as learn something from them, and how they’re enjoying connecting with other writers. We’ve built in time for the students to attend a couple of workshop sessions as well.

We’re all in this writing life together.

And we’re having a perfectly awesome time.

You ought to think about attending next year!

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Thought you’d like to see a glimpse of my fan club.

My fishy fan club.

My fishy fan club.

Seriously, these little guys totally love me. They’re like groupies (not group-ers, group-ies). Whenever I walk outside my back door into the garden, they all come as one and follow me as I walk by. They dog-paddle (fish-paddle?) at the edge of the pond and watch my every move.

They totally love me.

Or, more likely, they totally think I’m going to feed them.

But still . . .

I like the fact that they notice me. I think it’s funny how they come as an entire group with their little mouths up out of the water looking at me so longingly.

When we moved into this house a few years ago, the little pond was already there with all of these fish (a neighbor recently ‘fessed up that she had taken some of the overflow from her pond and dumped them here during the year that the house was vacant). We had moved in at the end of October and didn’t have a clue what to do to winterize a pond. We figured that the house had sat vacant the winter before and no one had done anything, so we’d just let it go and see what would happen. Sure enough, the little pond froze over and got covered with a layer of snow. We figured we’d have to skim out the dead fish and start over come spring.

Then, as the water thawed, so, apparently, did the fish. By the time the Indiana air turned warm, the fish were back to their usual selves.

The moment I drop some fish food in the pond, I’ve got myself a fan club.

Wouldn’t the writing life be nice if we just dropped a few of our choice words into the world’s pond and we suddenly had such loyal fans? Fans who waited on our every word? Fans who knew we posted on our blog every week and sat by their computer, eyes wide, mouth agape, waiting for us to toss the morsels their way?

Eh, maybe not. fishies2

I just reach into the bag of fish food and toss the same morsels to those fishies every day. And they love me for it.

I can’t do that with my writing. I’m not looking to recycle a formula or take the easy route. In my blog post a couple weeks ago, I talked about the hard work of writing. Our words matter. That’s why even though only a few people may read something we write, we still agonize over what we want to say. We want to represent ourselves well, say what we mean, write something that will be enjoyable or helpful or compelling or inspiring to those folks who take a few minutes of their day to read our musings.

We do that because our writing matters so much to us.

We do that because we instinctively know that the words we put out there can have a life of their own.

Back before everyone was blogging, before Facebook and Twitter, I had a couple little books published. They’re long out of print, so imagine my surprise when a couple of years ago I found one of those books at a garage sale. (You know you’ve arrived when you find your book at a garage sale.) Then, a few years after that, when everyone was blogging and Facebooking and Tweeting, my son sent me a link to a YouTube video a woman had done to recommend another of my books.

Our words live on.

So I guess that’s my encouragement to my writing friends. You never know when a piece of your writing will rise again. Even if a book you wrote years ago went out of print causing you untold despair, it still lives on.

I tell students in Writing classes that they never know how or when a piece of writing will inspire someone. That’s why it matters so much. That’s why we do that hard work of writing. We put ourselves out there because we have something to share and we want to join our friends in digital conversation.

I’ll never know the paths my words have taken. I only know that they’re still out there with little lives of their own.

Our words matter. They live on.

Just like my fishy fan club.

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May, Short Story Month, is almost over.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned in my blog about my love for the short story and my personal aesthetic that constantly leads me that direction. I asked for some ideas from readers about favorite short story writers and got some great advice (thank you!). L. Marie (my great friend who writes YA Fantasy) mentioned Flannery O’Connor, Poe (I’m reading him right now in my Romantics class), and the Grimms (and not the guy on the TV show). Cathy Day directed me to a post on her blog titled “Toolbox Stories” where she rounds up a terrific list of the stories she has in her writing toolbox.

toolbox

We all should have such a toolbox–those go-to stories that just do it for us. Maybe they inspire. Maybe they give us a new way to handle our plot line. Or maybe, as Cathy uses them, a specific story will help a writing student understand how to make his or her own story work better.

I’m working on my toolbox.

Some of my favorites? Ernest Hemingway (“Hills Like White Elephants”), Guy de Maupassant (“The String” is included in the anthology noted here, but my favorite will always be “The Necklace”), James Joyce (“Eveline”), William Falkner (“A Rose for Emily”), John Updike (“A&P”), John Steinbeck (“The Chrysanthemums”), and indeed Tobias Wolff’s amazing “Bullet in the Brain” . . . all included in On Writing Short Stories (Tom Bailey, editor). short stories

So as a roundup this week, I want to also thank The Missouri Review lit magazine which, this past month, has celebrated Short Story Month by writing a daily blog post about their favorite short stories. (If you want to start at May 1 and work your way through the posts, start here.) I’m intrigued by Angela Carter (Day 5), T. Corahessen Boyle (Day 9), Alice Munro (Day 22), and, of course, James Baldwin (Day 23).

There is so much to read, so much to learn. Some of my other favorite literary magazines have great short stories and essays that deserve further attention.

I’ll do my best to bring my favorites to you, some interviews, and even some advice as I learn as well. I’m working on filling my toolbox.

Short story month may be over, but my work is just beginning. I have a lot of learning–and writing–to do.

What about you? How’s your writing coming this summer?

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