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Don’t be afraid…

Don’t be afraid…

Writing can be scary.

Lots of fears swirl around the process of writing in the business world. Say you’re asked to write an article for your industry’s trade magazine. What if you don’t have a good idea? What if you don’t write something that’s good, let alone good enough? What if your idea is great but your writing isn’t? Finally, what if you don’t have enough time to write it yourself and that means you’ll never get your ideas out there?

That’s a lot of pressure.

There’s an easier way and, unlike high school or college, it is not cheating. A ghostwriter can be a real lifesaver, sometimes.

  • If you are a subject matter expert but don’t have time to write out your thoughts, the ghostwriter can talk it through over a phone call. Boom. You’re done until you see the first draft.
  • Because the draft is not yours, you aren’t emotionally attached to every single word. You can be objective and work to make it better.
  • If the information flow doesn’t sit right with you, the ghostwriter can change it. That saves you time.
  • The ghostwriter has your back, from start to finish. They will do close proofreading throughout the process. They will make sure changes are made, errors fixed, and copy polished so it is concise and clean.
  • Finally, keeping your ideal reader in mind is sometimes hard. The ghostwriter can work with you to understand your target audience and deliver copy written specifically for them. You get to focus on your day-to-day business instead.

Over the years, I’ve had many opportunities to ghostwrite for professionals who don’t have the time or wherewithal to craft a by-lined article on their own. I work with the leader and their staff members — especially from the marketing communications office — to create an article that matches the leader’s voice and delivers the appropriate key points for the organization. I do research to bone up on the topic or see how others have approached it. That means I can bring marketing intelligence to the process and help guide the focus.

Of course, some people are more comfortable writing their own first draft. For them, my ghostwriting process is the same but with one added feature. I always keep in mind that my edits should improve the piece, not simply alter it for change’s sake. I know that having your writing edited can be a bit frightening so I make the process as painless as possible, explaining my approach and edits along the way.

Don’t be afraid. Ghostwriting help is on the way.

If your leaders don’t have time to do the heavy lifting of writing their own bylined articles from scratch, ghostwriting is a convenient and efficient alternative. Contact me for an estimate.

Lessons from NaNoWriMo

Lessons from NaNoWriMo

In 2004, I heard this crazy idea: write a 50,000-word novel in one month. It was being promoted by this group called National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, for short. There was a really brief book — No Plot, No Problem! by founder Chris Baty — that told you what to do, how, when, what to expect, etc.

Turns out, it only takes 1,666 words a day to reach 50,000 words in 30 days. I type fast. It could take me as little as 90 minutes if I didn’t get stuck.

Oh, and it didn’t have to be good. It didn’t need a plot or an outline, which is good because I am what is called a “discovery writer,” aka “pantser” (writing by the seat of your pants!). Research and outlines before starting? Nah. Not me.

Plus, I had permission to write a crappy first draft, as Ernest Hemingway* said. And, no one has to read it — not even me — so there’s no pressure. Thank goodness! Fear and trepidation about wasting my time writing something bad was banished forever because bad was inevitable and even expected. Yay!

I was in.

Starting Nov. 1, 2004, I sat down and started writing. I had no idea what I was going to write about. What a wild ride I was in for!

In the years since I started, I managed to finish eight first draft novels of 50,000+ words. I wrote each year from 2004 to 2014, skipped 2015, and tried again in 2016 but haven’t done anything since. Each year, I tackled a different genre — murder mystery, romance, historical, crime caper, noir, ghost story, and young adult. The ones that worked as complete novels were not precious ideas. They were ideas that sprang seemingly unbidden from my fingertips on Nov. 1. The ones that held sentimental value, like the YA novel based on stories my late father told us when we were kids, didn’t seem to have the same energy. Probably because I was nervous about taking something he started and not completing it well. (See how fear can stifle creativity? At least, in me it does.)

Will I do it this year? While I’d love to, I have other things I need to focus on.

HOWEVER, I have plenty of advice from my years of experience. When a friend on Facebook announced that she was thinking about doing NaNoWriMo this year and wanted support, I came up with these tips:

  1. Keeping track of my daily word count has been really helpful. I use a spreadsheet but I also post onto the NaNoWriMo website word count chart. Seeing the bars creep higher and higher each day is really encouraging.
  2. Using Scrivener has been a lifesaver for word processing AND letting me jump around in the novel. (I love it so much I use it regularly for real work projects that involve organizing a lot of information and keeping track of where I am in the process.) It’s affordable AND there’s a monthlong free trial and 20% off for participants and a 50% discount if you reach 50,000 words.
  3. If you are a plotter/planner/outliner, you can start before Nov. 1 and the month will be a breeze! As a “discovery” writer, I do a lot of daydreaming about the kind of novel I want to tackle before I start on Nov. 1. So far, that’s been about it. Too much “preplanning” seems to take the excitement out of it for me.
  4. Don’t forget to backup, backup, backup! Email your current version to yourself or put it on the cloud every single day and delete later. Nothing is sadder than losing your work to date.
  5. Get a few of your like-minded friends to do a “write-a-thon” — either in person or virtually! Then, when it’s time to start writing, start and don’t stop until the timer goes off.
  6. Speaking of timers, if I set one (a kitchen egg timer, iPhone app, etc.), it actually lets me start even if I’m not feeling like writing. I just have to satisfy the timer’s duration and if I don’t want to continue or I don’t want to stop writing, I can do whatever energizes me.
  7. Don’t have two contiguous hours to work on the novel? Break it up into 20-30 minute chunks spread throughout the day.
  8. Write on your phone if you’re not near your computer. Or, handwrite in a notebook. (Some people write their entire novels by hand! That’s something I don’t think I can do…my hand would hurt too much.) Any word count counts! Even lists or plot points scribbled down.
  9. Remind yourself that the challenge is to get yourself writing, not to write a final draft. First drafts are shitty.* Seconds and thirds, too. But, without a first draft, you won’t ever have anything. Plus, I use it as a time to try out a crazy idea: Write a crime caper! A silly mystery! A YA novel! A horror story! Committing to one idea for a month is a small investment that might lead to something great down the line.
  10. Are you stuck? Can’t think of what to write? I scribble random words onto a piece of paper, cut it up into strips, and put it into a container to be dolled out as writing prompts whenever necessary. The weirdest and most wonderful sections of my story have come from this technique. Also, free-writing about how you can’t write can help get you started writing. There’s only so much time you can type out whiny thoughts before you want to escape, really fast, to writing your novel again.
  11. Wear a silly hat. Yes, it does work. It gets you “in the mood for writing” no matter where you are. :-)
  12. The last, biggest piece of advice is the most important:

JUST START WRITING

If you don’t, you will never know what you are capable of.

So what have I learned from NaNoWriMo?

  1. I can achieve an ambitious writing goal in just one month. Hooray!
  2. By thrusting myself into the fray, I can deliver. Maybe it’s my former daily deadline-oriented journalism background?
  3. I’m not competitive with other people — I’m competitive with myself. I want to surpass my own past achievements.
  4. I don’t just have one idea: I have many and if I don’t have an idea right now, I can come up with one pretty darn quick.
  5. I love setting little goals and seeing them add up to reach bigger ones.
  6. I enjoy the excitement and intrigue of discovery writing.
  7. I have learned a lot about plotting as you write. That’s been invaluable.
  8. I do better with new challenges rather than focusing on something I have an existing emotional tie to.
  9. I don’t know how to apply rewriting/editing techniques to a massive novel — yet. But I know that just starting and creating short-term, incremental editing goals will probably work best for me. Like Annie Lamott wrote in Bird by Bird.
  10. I can’t (or won’t?) write a summary unless a friend (I’m looking at you, Ewart Rouse!) asks me to explain what I’ve been writing.
  11. Never say you can’t do something. You can. But, you’ll never get good at it unless you try it over and over and over again.

 

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Four Fiction Writing Tips

Four Fiction Writing Tips

Two events recently multiplied in my mind to give me four realizations about the fiction-writing process.

First, I just finished doing a developmental edit of two short novels (in rough draft form) by my longtime friend Ewart Rouse. Editing  my own work is terrifying to me but I love the challenge of reviewing other people’s novels. 

Then, last weekend I attended one of writer Peter Murphy’s terrific writing retreats held in Atlantic City. His approach resonated with me. We read seven pages of poems and short stories and then discussed them through the lenses of time, metaphor, and audacity. Then, he gave us something we rarely give ourselves: time and permission to write and to experiment and try new things. 

These four observations coalesced after I reflected on the two experiences. They may not be original, but they struck me as being important to where I am now with writing fiction.

Think like a movie maker

When the movie opens, for example, you first see three people in a dimly lit living room from the 1920s. Then the camera zooms in on the chipped china teacup, painted with pink rosebuds, that is perched in the prize-fighter’s beefy hand and you see how the tea sloshes out of the cup as the woman sitting next to him clutches his arm as if she might faint. Together they are listening, enrapt, to the speaker, an old woman or perhaps an old man, who is telling them some revelation that will change their lives. That’s when you hear the pitch-perfect dialogue. My advice here is that sometimes as writers (and I have done this myself) forget to show all three people in the room. We focus so much on plot points, dialogue, and moving characters from place to place that we forget to invoke the reader’s senses with vibrant description. We forget how powerful it can be to invoke the memory of a rose’s scent, what it’s like to lean closer to hear a whispered confession, and how it feels to hold a china teacup when you are feeling awkward and clumsy. And, like filmmakers, we have to remind the reader who’s in a scene and why that is important.

Show the reader why you love your characters

People read novels to delve deeply into how characters respond to their challenges. So, show what your characters are feeling, thinking, and experiencing. Let the reader in on their little secrets and foibles and follies — those things happening behind lidded eyes and so personal that we ache for their sorrows, cheer for their triumphs and truly understand what makes them tick.

Ask yourself questions

For example, how does this particular element move the story forward? The element can be dialogue, inner thoughts, a secret or a lie, observations, revelations, a detail, etc. If the element moves the story forward, you’ve done your job as a writer. If not, consider deleting the scene or part of it or re-writing it to include the detail that you’ve inadvertently left out of the reader’s view.

Be an actor

In your final passes through your novel, read it out loud to hear the rhythm of the writing and learn where you stumble, how effective the dialogue is, if you are setting the scene in the reader’s mind, etc. And, like an actor, assess if the “lines” ring true and sound like real speech or the character’s appropriate speech. If you can record your reading — though the computer, digital recorder or even, an old-fashioned tape recorder — you can listen to your text in a fresh new way.

If you have any ideas for improving a first draft, please share them in the comments below.

(Teacup photo courtesy of Anne Hornyak and made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license — CC BY-SA 2.0. See the original photo here.)