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Monday, August 31, 2015

 

Finding Serenity for Writers

by Joe Kopp
I have had a rather stressful year for a lot of reasons. And as I've stated on The Muffin a couple times, I've had a hard time writing through it. I don't know if I'm alone or if the rest of you have ever felt this way? Have you ever had a period of your life where you were writing things--like blog posts or journal entries or articles--but not your creative work? This is what has been happening to me.

So I decided to check out this book: 

Seeking Serenity: The 10 New Rules For Health and Happiness in the Age of Anxiety by Amanda Enayati.

It is a terrific book for everyone who feels stressed out about anything. It offers science and research on the effects of stress as well as self-help advice and even better, practical lifestyle changes. Although the subtitle claims there are 10 “new” rules, the truth is readers will be reminded of age-old advice to become all around healthier and happier in their daily lives.

Amanda begins by explaining how she is a stress columnist, which means she writes essays and articles on stress and the quest for well-being and life balance for CNN Health and other outlets. She is also a cancer survivor, a former “Big Firm” lawyer, and a witness to the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers. She knows stress, but she never thought to write about it until she got an assignment for a new column. From that assignment, this book was born.

The book is organized into two parts: Part One: “The True Story of Stress” and Part Two: “Stress as a Guide”. Part one is interesting and the shorter section of the book, where Amanda outlines what doctors, scientists, researchers and writers currently know about stress—the myths and the facts. From how we perceive stress to how it actually affects our bodies, the information is delivered with facts, figures and powerful stories.

The meat of the book is part two where the 10 rules are introduced. These range from “be resilient” to “be creative” (which is very important to me as a children's author!) to “be kind.” Each rule presents personal stories Amanda found to share with readers, some research to support what she is stating, and finally practice for the reader. The practice section in each of these rules is the most important piece of this book.

Rule 9 is “Be Uncluttered” and begins with a quote from Albert Einsten: “Out of clutter, find simplicity.” When she says, “Uncluttered,” she means physically—our living space. She writes, “Our . . .rule here involves becoming more conscious of how our physical space can impact our emotional space. Specifically, how clutter can affect stress levels.” This is so true for me, and really does affect my energy and how I feel about spending time in a certain space, trying to write.

The practice section for this chapter, which could be overwhelming and cause stress and less writing time, is simple and easy to follow: “Declutter slowly.” She suggests selecting the room you or your family spend the most time in and spend 15 minutes a day over a week’s time removing clutter from this room.

The end of Seeking Serenity offers an appendix full of strategies to use today when you start feeling “stressed out.” These range from moderating the amount of TV and programs you watch to using deep breathing, getting exercise, and laughing.

In Appendix 2, a list of resources (videos, books, articles, websites) is provided for further study on all the topics addressed in the book.

Besides writing about seeking serenity, Amanda is the stress and technology correspondent for PBS MediaShift. She lives in Los Angeles and San Francisco with her husband and two children. You can find out more about her on her website, http://www.amandaenayati.com.

Seeking Serenity is one of those books that I will refer to time and again. I am hoping it can change my life in a positive way if I follow the guidelines in these pages. Before I know it, I hope to be back in front of that work-in-progress or maybe even a new project! Who knows where serenity could bring me?

How do you find serenity and get creative? 

Margo L. Dill teaches classes in the WOW! classroom and is the author of three children's books. Find out more at http://www.margodill.com .

Emerald Lake photo by Joe Kopp. See more beautiful photography at http://www.joekoppart.com .

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Friday, August 28, 2015

 

Friday Speak Out!: Now that my Nest is Empty. . . to Become a Tent Maker or Not

by Andy Lee

I asked Google, “What’s the hardest thing about being a writer?” I was hoping to find answers aligned to my frustration, but the articles rated time management as the number one problem for writers.

Time management is often our nemesis. We work from home. Our schedule is ours to manipulate--or not if we have small children. And well, we are artists. Art can’t be forced. Our strength is not in schedules and calendars.

And on days when the sun is shining too much or the clouds are too thick, depending on our mojo, motivation wanes. Our muse goes on vacation. The blinking cursor taunts our weary brains, so we dash to the car when a friend calls for a coffee date.

But I disagree that time management is our worst problem. I mean, I get it, and at times struggle with sitting down to write too, but I think the hardest part of being a writer is the lack of income. After seven years of working on two books and writing blog posts after blog posts, I’ve become a much better writer. I even have a small following, but my checking account is bare.

I didn’t start this writing occupation for the money, in fact, becoming a writer wasn’t on my radar—it just found me. But a small, consistent paycheck would be nice.

I’ve reached a place in my life where I must either make a living as a writer or get another job and write on the side. I’m wondering if I need to be a “tent maker” as the Apostle Paul was in the Bible. He preached and made tents for income.

Will my writing help pay our family’s rising debt with two kids in college? Not at the moment.

My husband cheers my writing. He’s supportive, but he wouldn’t mind if I got a “real” job. My advances for two book contracts were minimal, and once those books are released in the next six months, I won’t see a royalty check for months, maybe years.

So, the hardest thing to me about being a writer is making money doing it. My heart is torn. I feel called to this vocation. I love to write and speak. But the pay is minimal.

It seems you need to be an entrepreneur to thrive in the publishing industry. I'm not. I'm a writer.

As I face the first year as an empty-nester, my stay-at-home mom days gone, I get excited about all of the writing I could do, but I also wonder if I need to do more than write. Yet, I worry if I can promote my books successfully if I’m working another job.

What do you do? Is writing a full-time career or do you “make tents” on the side?

* * *
Andy Lee took a maternity leave from teaching Language Arts twenty-four years ago to raise three children and one husband--a soldier in the US Army. Now that everyone is raised, she's a blogger, Bible study writer, writing mentor for Word Weavers International, and mom to one kitty named Hank. She has authored two books, The Book of Ruth: A 31- day Journey to Hope and Promise (AMG, October 2015) and A Mary Like Me (Leafwood, March 2016). Andy writes about finding purpose beyond today at www.wordsbandylee.com. She and her retired, soldier husband live in Wilmington, NC.
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Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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Thursday, August 27, 2015

 

Should Writers Accommodate Infrequent, Inattentive Readers?

Has the Internet created generations of infrequent, inattentive readers?

Photo from contentgroup.com.au.
This blog post is in front of you on your computer screen, or maybe on your tablet or phone screen. How do you read it? From start to finish? Reading only the words in bold? Clicking on the links first and then returning to the article? Do you check the comments before reading?

While some studies have found that we are reading less than ever, others argue that we are reading more than ever, but nearly all studies have found evidence that the way we read and the mediums we use to read are evolving.

Because of the Internet, we are exposed to shorter bursts of texts, which might be limiting our attention spans. According to an article that mentions Nicholas Carr’s book, The Shallows, our “hyperactive online habits are damaging the mental faculties we need to process and understand lengthy textual information.” In addition, The Poynter Institute’s Eyetrack Survey and an analysis by Jakob Nielsen suggest that we are losing the ability to concentrate on an article and/or book from beginning to end.

The Internet allows us to collect a wide range of facts and figures, but we are no longer taking the time to relate these facts to each other. College professors have noticed their students’ inability to read lengthy texts and have responded by either reducing their reading lists or encouraging them to read more print material and less online. Author Lancelot R. Fletcher coined the term slow reading, which has since grown into a small movement to encourage us to slow down while we read and take the time to think about and process it.

What does this mean for us as writers? Do we take our audience’s attention spans into consideration? Write shorter texts? Or create more breaks within texts? Shorter chapters?

What do you think? Should writers change the way they write to accommodate the reading styles of their audiences? Have you already noticed writers changing their styles to appease the masses?

These questions brought to you by Anne Greenawalt

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

 

Public Speaking

One of the best ways to get word out about your writing is to get gigs as a public speaker. I know that you’re a writer and, most likely an introvert, but it is supremely do-able. I know because in just a few weeks I’ll be speaking at the Missouri Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Fall Conference. I’ve come a long way since my first time speaking.

The first time was at the local historical society. I kept a death grip on the podium through my entire talk. I only let go with one hand to turn the pages of my printed speech. I needed that grip to keep myself upright. I was that terrified.

That’s not the case anymore. Now I can actually roam around the stage. Of course, that’s how I kicked my water bottle into the audience but that’s a story for another day. Here are 5 tips to help you get beyond your fears about public speaking.


  1. Say yes. You’re not going to get over this by not doing it. If someone asks you to speak, say yes. Practice may not make perfect but it will help you get better one stutter or misstep at a time. Really. No one suffered because of the water bottle incident.
  2. Get the Details. What are you speaking about? How much time do you have? I’m pointing this out for a reason. You don’t want to prepare a 20 minute talk, only to find out you have an hour and the reverse is just as panic inducing.
  3. Prep It. This next step varies a bit person to person but you need to get your talk ready to go. For some people, this means writing it out word for word. I don’t do this anymore because I don’t want to read my talk. I write an outline. You can try both as you …
  4. Practice. Actually give your talk several times. If you can get your children or spouse to listen, that’s great. I’ve been known to explain research to the cat and oral history interviews to the empty dining room. This step helps you see how long your talk is (do you need to add or cut) and also make sure it flows.
  5. Take Your Time. Last but not least, when you get up to give your talk, take your time. I consciously force myself to speak slowly. Speaking from an outline helps me do this since I can’t just quickly read word-for-word. I look down. Read a line. Take a breath. Then I look back up and speak some more.

Public speaking really is doable even for an introvert. The effort will be well worth it when, afterwards, someone compliments you. “You’re a natural. I could never be that relaxed.” It’s up to you to decide whether or not you tell them about the death grip on the podium.

--SueBE

Sue is the instructor for our course, Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults.  The next session begins on September 7, 2015.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

 

Meet Flash Fiction Runner Up, Linda McMann

Linda McMann is a 60-something retired pharmacist who spent most of her working life in pharmacy management at a large Portland hospital where she wrote many newsletters, evaluations, and memos. Her move to creative writing started with a retirement goal of writing a short story for each of her eight grandchildren. After multiple on-line writing courses, conferences, and seminars, she now posts short stories, poems, bits about daily living in Warren, Oregon, and chapters from her current work in progress on her writing blog http://Parrot-Writes.blogspot.com. Please stop by for a visit and leave a comment.

She is currently marketing her second novel, Counterfeit Chemistry, a contemporary romantic suspense story about a young divorced woman who uncovers a counterfeit drug operation in her small town, and when she tries to identify and expose the people involved, finds her life and her son’s life in danger. Her WOW entry winner is the prologue to this novel. She is three-quarters of the way through its sequel, When We’re High, about a family dealing with meth addiction and its connection to identity theft.

When she’s not writing she can be found working with her husband in their small vineyard, taking care of the gardens around their two-acre lot, traveling to Northwest car shows in her husband’s latest hot rod project, or enjoying the company of her eight grandchildren.

She thanks the organizers of the WOW contest and agent Stacy Testa for choosing her story as an award winner this quarter.

***

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the top ten in our Winter 2015 Flash Fiction competition! What inspired you to enter the contest?

Linda: I was introduced to the WOW blog and writing contests by another writer friend and have been a devoted follower ever since. I've submitted multiple contest entries over the past several years and I appreciate getting helpful feedback for a few dollars more. My entry for the Fall 2013 contest ("Hank's Reveal") made it to the honorable mention list, so I've kept submitting stories. I'm excited to have placed in the top ten this time. Next goal: in the top three!

WOW: Keep submitting! Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, “Counterfeit Chemistry,” which is also the prologue to your novel?

Linda: I combined two pieces of advice I've received about writing in this novel: write what you know and write what you like to read. I'm a retired pharmacist who enjoys reading romantic suspense novels (Nora Roberts, Linda Howard, Jude Deveraux.)

I'm concerned about the rise of counterfeit drugs being sold to the public. I was inspired to write this novel to show the dangers of purchasing drugs off unknown internet sites. The counterfeit drug industry is a $40 Billion international criminal enterprise and growing. I've found no other novel with this story line and am hoping the people who read this novel will wonder if this could happen to them and be more diligent about their medication purchases.

WOW: We’d love to know more about your writing routines. Could you tell us when and where you usually write? Do you have favorite tools or habits that get you going?

Linda: I share a home office with my husband and find mornings are my best time to write. I'm also learning to use Scrivener (writing software for novelists) which seems to help me stay organized. I enjoy participating in NaNoWriMo; it's the perfect motivator to get me back in the seat, writing daily, after a busy summertime of off-and-on writing. The goal of 50,000 words in a month requires me to set daily goals and this carries on after the month is over. I've started three novels and finished/revised two of them during NaNo, and will be at it again this November finishing the last quarter of my third novel.

WOW: You mention that you’ve taken multiple online courses as part of your writing education. What were the main benefits of the classes you took, and how did they help your writing?

Linda: I've taken nine online writing courses through our local community college. The content of the courses has been extremely helpful and the relationships built through the classes have provided a great network of like-minded writing friends who help with critique and commiseration. The first class, "Beginning Writers Workshop" was a perfect starting point and instilled the enthusiasm and excitement I still feel as I write today. Other courses have been specific to romance writing, mystery writing, children's writing, and descriptive writing, editing, and publishing.

Another person who has been extremely valuable to me is Larry Brooks, author of Story Engineering, Story Physics, and www.storyfix.com. I've attended several of his workshops and follow his principles of story structure, which help with the evolution of the story. He's shown me how to identify the concept, theme, premise and to find the core story which guides me as I write.

WOW: You've inspired us to keep up our writing education! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Linda! Before you go, can you share your favorite writing tip or advice with our readers?

Linda: When I sit down to write, I read the last two chapters to get me back into the time and place of the story (and I try not to revise them.) If I'm having trouble with dialogue, I read it out loud. It's amazing what you can pick up by hearing it spoken. Probably the best advice is to find a teacher that resonates with you (via books or lectures), read and learn as much as you can from them, and then sit down and do it: write, write, write!

***

 For details about our quarterly Flash Fiction contestvisit our contest page

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Monday, August 24, 2015

 

How Blogging Connects Authors with their Target Readers

A following of targeted readers curated from blogging isn't built overnight. It’s a long term strategy and takes a great deal of effort, time and planning. Authors need to be reminded of the benefits of blogging from time to time, because they aren't always convinced that someone is reading their blog somewhere in the world.

There’s no magic recipe for hunting down target readers, but lots of evidence in this post proves that blogging increases online visibility as well as sales, and is the hallmark for showcasing one’s expertise.

The strategy itself is simply a combination of deciding on a niche or topic, aligning the content of your posts to suit your chosen topic and niche, and finally, developing a strategy to strengthen your blogging efforts and platform.

Based on tried and true experience, these strategies will help build a following of devoted readers over time:
1. Niche blogging. Your target reader is reading other noteworthy blogs on your topic and perusing forums and threads connected to your topic. That’s why it makes more sense to blog the topics focused on your niche. This is a good way to set yourself apart in such a competitive and crowded writing marketplace. 
2. Strategy for blogging your book. Once you have a clear idea of what your book is about, it’s time to blog it. There are many ways to blog a fiction or non-fiction book. One popular way is to gather a list of themes and lessons that can be supported with excerpts from your book.
For example, the niche topic for my memoir about leaving New York City to serve in the Israel Defense Forces fits in perfectly with transformation type blogs, because of the running theme of courage and leaving one’s comfort zone. One blog post focused on the 7 Courage Scenes that didn’t make the cut for my memoir Accidental Soldier. Another post focused on how to have the courage to make life changes – either extreme or minor.
3. Guest blogging. Once you’ve determined your niche and topics, as well as keywords and brainstormed a list of potential blog posts, the next step is finding guest blogging opportunities. These exist everywhere, but the key is finding the right ones that dovetail with your niche. Like anything, the key is to start small. I gathered six different guest blogging opportunities just by asking on my Facebook wall.
The challenge of course for any author is to maintain consistency over time. How does one stay focused, with patience, faith, self-confident and productive – in short, to “stay the course?” When you have a plan to stay accountable as indicated in the course I’m teaching Blog Your Fiction or Non-Fiction and Reach Your Target Readers, you can in fact, remain focused for the long haul.

***
Dorit Sasson is the founder of the Giving Voice to Your Story website and global radio show. Her mission is to help authors and entrepreneurs give voice to their stories and the powerful messages that lie within their book by blogging as an engaging way to build their platforms. As a memoirist, blogger and copywriter, Dorit models vulnerability and authenticity that help break down barriers and allow others to weave their stories with content. Dorit is a regular contributor to the The Huffington Post. Her cultural memoir, Accidental Solder: What My Service in the Israel Defense Forces Taught Me about Faith, Courage and Love is a heroine's journey of how Dorit was able to find her own voice in a foreign, militaristic society.

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

 

How to Make More Money as a Freelance Writer


Let’s be honest for a minute here—we all want to see our byline attached to feature-length articles in magazines, newspapers, and blogs, etc. But sometimes the cash flow of a freelance writer can move in the wrong direction. When that happens, it may be time to tap into your work experience and see how the skills you utilize as a writer can also earn you a paycheck. Here are a few ways I’ve filled in the gaps over the years:

Fact-checking. Tap into the relationships you’ve built with editors. There is one local magazine I’ve worked with in various capacities. I’ve written articles, edited, proofread, and worked as the calendar editor, all at different times. They recently contacted me because they needed an extra set of eyes during the copy editing process. I check each piece of content before it is flowed into the layout for AP Style, consistency, typos, etc. This magazine also publishes several annual publications (such as travel or education guides), which are typically chock full of short articles, stock photography and resource listings. This is where you come in. There is usually one person in charge of updating all the resource listings and other repeating information in the publication, and freelancers are perfect for this. Keep an eye on the various guides your clients publish and go ahead express interest at least six months ahead of time. It can provide steady work and larger paychecks than merely writing feature articles.

Calendars. Smaller magazines and newspapers have also been known to farm out calendar listing duties. I’ve done this in the past, and while it wasn’t as creative as some of the assignments I normally work on, it allowed me to work remotely and provided a monthly check I could count on. Take a look at some of your favorite local publications and you’ll find that most of them include a calendar of some sort. It’s worth contacting the editor to let them know you’d be happy to help them with that portion of the magazine if they ever get short-handed.

Public Relations and Marketing. My position as a blog tour manager requires some writing and editing, but it also involves networking, public relations, and thinking outside of the box, a skill set that can be found in the most successful and prolific freelance writers. There are writers who specialize in writing bios for small business owners, and I once had the director of a preschool pay me $200 to write a short advertorial about her school that she could send out to the local media outlets. Browse through the portfolios of a few freelance writers you trust in order to brainstorm and get ideas of other ways you can expand your own services.

While these types of jobs aren’t glamorous by any stretch of the imagination and probably won’t pay as much as an article in a national consumer magazine, they can provide monthly contracts or assignments that can help keep your writing cash flow in the right direction with prompt payment terms. And by showing your clients that you’re not afraid to take on the occasional grunt work and do it well, they’ll most likely show their appreciation by throwing a few extra writing assignments your way.

What are some ways you've earned extra income freelancing?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and blog tour manager for WOW! Women on Writing who isn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves for her regular clients. Visit her website at www.FinishedPages.com.

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