Out of the Great Hodgepodge of Your Life – by Frederick Buechner

The word fiction comes from a Latin verb meaning “to shape, fashion, feign.” That is what fiction does, and in many ways it is what faith does too You fashion your story, as you fashion your faith, out of the great hodgepodge of your life-the things that have happened to you and the things you have dreamed of happening. They are the raw material of both. Then, if you’re a writer like me, you try less to impose a shape on the hodgepodge than to see what shape emerges from it, is hidden in it. You try to sense what direction it is moving in. You listen to it. You avoid forcing your characters to march too steadily to the drumbeat of your artistic purpose, but leave them some measure of real freedom to be themselves. If minor characters show signs of becoming major characters, you at least give them a shot at it because in the world of fiction it may take many pages before you find out who the major characters really are just as in the real world it may take you many years to find out that the stranger you talked to for half an hour once in a railway station may have done more to point you to where your true homeland lies than your closest friend or your psychiatrist.

– from Secrets in the Dark

The Three Hats

On a shelf in the little room where I write, there are three hats.


The first one is a black beret. If you could see me walking through the neighborhood wearing my beret and carrying my sketchbook, with my beard and my sunglasses and my sandals, you would say to yourself, “Now, there goes an artist if ever there was one.” “And a right stylish artist at that,” some might say. I hope someone might say that.


The second hat is a sun-faded, well-loved, and well-worn New York Yankees baseball cap, my gamer from the last year the Yankees won the World Series. Gamer is the proper name for the new hat you buy at the beginning of the season. You wear it the first time you watch your team play in the new season, or the first time you listen to the team’s game on the radio, and always when you are going to bump into a Red Sox fan and you want to make a point.


The third hat is a brown fedora. When worn at the correct rakish, Indiana Jones angle, it makes a writer feel like a million bucks. The fedora suggests that I, the man underneath, am a man to be reckoned with, a man of action and decisiveness and clarity. [I revised the previous sentence, because the proofreader pointed out a grammatical problem with the original. Ok?] A man who can make the tough calls and will do so gladly.


One of the tricks to making a book is to know which hat you are wearing while you are working on the different tasks required to make your book come to life.


– Robert Benson “Dancing on the Head of a Pen”

Will It Move?

There is a terrific exchange between the great editor Maxwell Perkins – who edited F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, among others – and one of his authors. The author was complaining that one of this books wasn’t getting enough advertising support from the publisher.  Perkins reply – over eighty years old – is still critically relevant to every type of creative. Comparing advertising a product to a man attempting to move a car, Perkins wrote:


“If he can get it to move, the more he pushes the faster it will move and the more easily. But if he can’t get it to move, he can push till he drops dead and it will stand still.”


– Ryan Holiday – “Perennial Seller”

What Should I Say in the Bio Section of My Proposal?

– by Angela Scheff


We were recently asked about what specifically should be included in the author bio section of your proposal. While it does sound a bit foreign as you’re writing it, the standard is to write it in third person. This might also make it a bit easier to talk more about yourself. As we’ve said it before, your proposal is not the time to be modest. 

Start with your writing credentials—your previously published books or those you’ve contributed to or even articles online. Next move to relevant information. If you’re writing on a specific topic, is there anything you’ve done that makes you an expert on it or gives you credibility? List any degrees or schooling or workshops you’ve taught or even volunteering opportunities that are relevant. Finally, include personal information, like where you live and your family details.

The key with an author bio is to keep it professional as well as personal. Those reviewing your proposal like to be reminded that you’re a real person who is qualified to write. It’s also helpful to have a long bio for your proposal but to have a short one on-hand too, in case it’s requested. That’s the bio that goes on the back of your book or included in any interviews.

I recommend taking a look at different authors and see how they handle their bios. What’s on the back of their book and at the end of online articles? What do they include on the author section of their blog? Does it make you want to read what they’ve written?

Finally, when you’re done with your bio, check out some additional things you can include in your proposal to help the publisher get to know YOU better—things like an author photo and/or video.


How to Tell When You’re Halfway Finished


I enter a mild depression in the middle of every book I write (or edit, for that matter). I’m in too deep to back out, yet I cannot see the end and I’m just not excited anymore. Because I know this about myself, I now take this depressive period as a good sign; it means I’m halfway finished! I don’t worry about it or try to ease it; I simply keep going, because I know that I’ll work through it in a while.


– from “The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life” by Vinita Hampton Wright Loyola Press


The Law of Focus

The most powerful concept in marketing is owning a word in the prospect’s mind.


If the given words are computer, copier, chocolate bar, and cola, the four most associated words are IBM, Xerox, Hershey’s, and Coke.


[the above was written in 1993]


– Al Ries and Jack Trout – “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing”


A Writer’s Insides

Voice grows from the nature of a writer’s talent, which stems from innate character. Just as a memoirist’s nature bestows her magic powers on the page, we also wind up seeing how selfish or mean-spirited or divisive she is or was. We don’t see events objectively; we perceive them through ourselves. And we remember through a filter of both who we are now and who we once were.


So the best voices include a writer’s insides. Watching her mind feel around to concoct or figure out events, you never lose sight of the ego’s shape, its blind spots, dislikes, wants.  The books I reread don’t seek to record as film does – a visual medium tethered to surface action (these days, in popular film, the flashier the better); nor as a history does – by weighing and measuring various sources and crafting a balanced perspective.


To tell the truth, such a memoirist can’t help but show at each bump in the road how her perceptual filter is distorting what’s being taken in. In other words, she questions her own perceptions as part of the writing process. The deeper – and, ergo, more plausible-sounding – writer inquires.


– Mary Karr – “The Art of Memoir”


A Battle of Ideas

Marketing is a battle of ideas. So if you are to succeed, you must have an idea or attribute of your own to focus your efforts around.  Without one, you had better have a low price. A very low price.


– Al Ries and Jack Trout – “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing”


Believe in the Process

Creative work is often solitary work. It requires a lot of time with one’s soul. It requires reflection, work and then more reflection, and much of this happens when the artist is alone. And even when an artist is out with friends or going about other business, there is often that other self that keeps musing on the work in progress.

It takes confidence in yourself as a creative person to make the time and space needed for your process to work itself out. Your creative process is as individual as you are. And while you can talk to other creatives and learn from them, in the end you must settle for yourself what your process actually is and what you must do to facilitate it.

This means that, deep down, you have to believe that there is a process and that this process is yours to own. You have to be willing to take a stand and put boundaries around your time and energy. When people ask what you’re doing, you can give them an answer or not, but you must know for yourself what the answer is.


– from “The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life” by Vinita Hampton Wright Loyola Press

Your Sacred Journey – by Frederick Buechner

From the introduction of Frederick Buechner’s first memoir “The Sacred Journey”

What I propose to do now is to try listening to my life as a whole, or at least to certain key moments of the first half of my life thus far, for whatever of meaning, of holiness, of God, there may be in it to hear. My assumption is that the story of anyone of us is in some measure the story of us all.

For the reader, I suppose, it is like looking through someone else’s photograph album. What holds you, if nothing else, is the possibility that somewhere among all those shots of people you never knew and places you never saw, you may come across something or someone you recognize. In fact-for more curious things have happened-even in a stranger’s album, there is always the possibility that as the pages flip by, on one of them you may even catch a glimpse of yourself. Even if both of those fail, there is still a third possibility which is perhaps the happiest of them all, and that is that once I have put away my album for good, you may in the privacy of the heart take out the album of your own life and search it for the people and places you have loved and learned from yourself, and for those moments in the past -many of them half forgotten-through which you glimpsed, however dimly and fleetingly, the sacredness of your own journey.

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