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Writing For Your Life Today

“Interestingness”

Genuine, openhearted engagement—what Brenda Ueland calls “interestingness”—is the basic ingredient of a fruitful creative process. Because of this, stories are essentially egalitarian in nature, meaning that each and every one of us ordinary people who writes has the capacity to move a reader. Have you ever sat through a memorial service at which a grieving grandchild read a coarse but genuine rendering of the departed one’s life and set everyone weeping? Have you ever received a card that touched you so profoundly you saved it for years? When I taught seventh grade, my struggling students always floored me with their poetry; it was raw and real because they put their hearts into it and spoke the truth. They didn’t yet have the self-consciousness or ambitions that trip most of us up.

Talent and skill and craft and effort will all increase the effectiveness of our writing, but the essential ingredients for stirring a reader’s heart are available to everyone who loves writing: curiosity, dedication, and courage. Much of the work of learning to write effectively involves stripping away all that interferes with our natural inclinations to explore, and expanding our capacity to recognize and name the truth.

– by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew, from “Living Revision”

Building Your Audience Through Twitter

Here are five ways to build your audience through Twitter-related tactics:

 

  1. Mine Twitter Lists. Once you’re on Twitter for a while, you’ll notice that people place you on public lists. Twitter Lists are a superb way to find relevant people to follow. Lists are generally categorized by a special interest or geographic location. For example, I might be on lists for “marketing experts” or “business educators.” Once you find a relevant person to follow, dig into their Lists and you’re likely to find a goldmine of similar people to follow.
  2. Search for related hashtags. Do a search on Twitter by your topical interests and follow those who pop up in the results. For example, if you’re in construction, try searching by #construction, #building, #architecture, or #remodeling.
  3. Join Twitter Chats. Twitter Chats are regularly scheduled online meetings based on special interests. There are chats available for almost any topic you can think of. Do a web search for “Twitter Chats” and you’ll find a list of schedules. When you attend a chat, you’ll discover many new connections with common interests you can follow.
  4. Keep up with live tweeting. At many industry events, attendees tweet about their experiences as a generous way to share information with those who can’t attend. At large events, there may be thousands of people around the world following an event hashtag. For example, let’s say your sustainable interest has something to do with dogs. Each February, you’ll find people tweeting about the #WestminsterDogShow. Many could be high-potential followers for you.
  5. Use Advanced Search. Twitter has an extremely useful advanced search function – the only problem is finding it since it’s not on the main Twitter site. To discover it, do a search for “Twitter advanced search.” The menu-driven application can help you find people to follow by keyword, location, and other useful parameters.

 

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to building an audience through social media. Twitter will work for many, but it’s also very limited in some ways and may exclude key audiences (the platform isn’t popular in some countries, for example).

 

– from “Known” by Mark Schaefer

Forming Content Partnerships

If you want to expand your content pipeline, consider partnering with another pipeline. This technique is commonly called brandscaping. For example, the insurance company Geico ran a series of commercials featuring icons from other companies, like the Pillsbury Doughboy. This strategy makes Geico appealing to Pillsbury fans as well as its own.

 

Another example is the blog you are reading, where Writing for Your Life has informally partnered with Mark Schaefer to bring you the above paragraph (from “The Content Code”).  Writing for Your Life does not receive any compensation from Mark; we simply believe that much of his content is applicable, and more importantly very helpful, to our audience. 

How a Publisher Thinks / Vinita Wright – Part 1

… a series of excerpts from Vinita’s Writing for Your Life webinar presentation

 

Who is looking for this book, and why?

  • If you cannot answer this question specifically, the marketing department won’t know how to strategize.
  • You must have a specific audience in mind: young mothers trying to keep their prayer life vital, people who study the Bible in small groups, families trying to practice their faith at home, people at midlife who want to become faith mentors, etc.

 

What need is uppermost in the reader’s mind?

  • The person who picks up this book does so for a specific reason. “I want to know how to keep my faith strong while I’m so busy with small children at home.” “I need to enhance my skills in leading small groups through Bible study.” “How can our family pray together, do social-justice work together?” “I want to encourage younger people in their Christian life, but how exactly can I do that?”

 

Does the reader expect answers, inspiration, or instruction?

  • If she expects answers, then the chapters and material must be organized around providing clear answers and supporting information.
  • If he expects inspiration, then the writing must be personable, warm, and provide stories and various other means of inspiration.
  • If she expects direction, then the book needs to be structured and written as a how-to presentation.

How to Find a Literary Agent

– by Tim Beals

 

The hardest part of the entire process can be identifying the best agent for your work. But there is no shortcut. Do your research, starting with these resources:

 

  • Guide to Literary Agents (Writer’s Digest Books). A reference book published annually. Contains a comprehensive list of agents. Provides limited information on each agent.

 

  • Writers’ Handbook (JP&A Dyson). A reference book published annually. Includes a complete list of agents for the US market, plus separate entries for literary representatives in Canada, the UK, and Ireland.

 

  • Writer’s Market (Writer’s Digest Books). A reference book published annually. Includes a much shorter list of agents, but each agent’s interests, specialties, and credentials are described in detail.

 

  • Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents (New World Library). A reference book, now in its 27th Edition. Includes a comprehensive list of agents, including their interests, specialties, and experience—over 300 pages long!

 

  • For an online list of top agents and agencies, visit the website of the Association of Authors’ Representatives at aaronline.org.

 

Specialized Lists of Agents:

 

  • Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market (Writer’s Digest Books). A reference book published annually. Contains a list of many agents who handle material for children and young adults. Each listing is very thorough.

 

  • Christian Writers Market Guide (Christian Writers Institute). A reference book published annually. Includes a chapter called “Literary Agents” with a list of agents and agencies representing Christian authors.

 

  • Dramatists Sourcebook (Theatre Communications Group). A reference book now in its 26th edition. Includes many agents who handle material for the stage.

 

You are also encouraged to ask other people for information on agents they have worked with or know. Ask about agents’ effectiveness, responsiveness, willingness to stick with a project, knowledge of the market, strengths, and weaknesses. People you might talk to include:

 

  • Writers you know

 

  • Editors and publishers with whom you have established a professional relationship (even if you’ve never sold them anything)

 

  • Members, officers, and staff of any professional writers’ organization to which you belong

 

  • College professors of creative and professional writing. Many of these people have agents or knowledge of and experience with agents

 

  • Faculty and organizers of writers’ conferences and events.

 

Tim Beals, “Agenting 101: The What, Why, When, and Hows of Literary Representation” in Jot That Down: Encouraging Essays for New Writers ed. A.L. Rogers (Grand Rapids: Caffeinated Press, 2017), 116–117.

On Revision

Writing for writing’s sake is marvelous so long as the writer isn’t in denial about his or her dreams. Most writers, whether we admit it or not, want our creations to be recognizably dynamic, in the private sphere as well as for a broader readership. We write because we want to communicate. When fear of playing to an audience or facing an audience upon completion keeps us from ever developing our work, everyone loses. The writer never experiences the wild ride of revision, nor receives revision’s gifts. No readers benefit. Aborted projects may lead to energizing new projects, but aborted creativity serves no one.

Besides, we can reap the benefits of revision and still choose to keep our work private.

Revision’s bad reputation is based on stereotypes and misunderstanding. As soon as we pen a thought, we’ve already revised an invisible, intangible wisp inside our head into visible, tangible print. Something changes. Like any creative act, writing creates simultaneously inside and outside the creator. Writing helps us receive what experiences have made of us and make something of these experiences, which is how the Jungian Ann Belford Ulanov describes the source of all aliveness. Revision brings us and our work to life. Isn’t this why we initially fell in love with writing? Writing moved us and what we wrote moved others. Writing revised our world.

When we segregate revision from idea generation or journal writing or drafting—when we assume revision is for the professionals, and especially when we imagine revision to be devoid of exploration and surprise—we do a disservice to the creative process. Revision—reseeing—begins when we pen our first thought and continues through the drafting and development of a work, into and beyond publication. Revision is the dynamic, relational work of creating and being created. Isn’t this also the work of love? 

 

– by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew – from “Living Revision”

Imagination – by Frederick Buechner

EVEN A THOUSAND MILES inland you can smell the sea and hear the mewing of gulls if you give thought to it. You can see in your mind’s eye the living faces of people long dead or hear in the mind’s ear the United States Marine Band playing “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” If you work at it, you can smell the smell of autumn leaves burning or taste a chocolate malted. You don’t have to be asleep to dream dreams either. There are those who can come up with dramas laid twenty thousand leagues under the sea or take a little girl through a looking glass. Imagining is perhaps as close as humans get to creating something out of nothing the way God is said to. It is a power that to one degree or another everybody has or can develop, like whistling. Like muscles, it can be strengthened through practice and exercise. Keep at it until you can actually hear your grandfather’s voice, for instance, or feel the rush of hot air when you open the 450-degree oven.

 

If imagination plays a major role in the creation of literature, it plays a major one also in the appreciation of it. It is essential to read imaginatively as well as to write imaginatively if you want to know what’s really going on. A good novelist helps us do this by stimulating our imaginations—sensory detail is especially useful in this regard, such as the way characters look and dress, the sounds and smells of the places they live and so on—but then we have to do our part. It is especially important to do it in reading the Bible. Be the man who trips over a suitcase of hundred-dollar bills buried in the field he’s plowing if you want to know what the Kingdom of Heaven is all about (Matthew 13:44). Listen to Jesus saying, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew11:28) until you can hear him, if you want to know what faith is all about.

 

If you want to know what loving your neighbors is all about, look at them with more than just your eyes. The bag lady settling down for the night on the hot-air grating. The two children chirping like birds in the branches of a tree. The bride as she walks down the aisle on her father’s arm. The old man staring into space in the nursing-home TV room. Try to know them for who they are inside their skins. Hear not just the words they speak, but the words they do not speak. Feel what it’s like to be who they are—chirping like a bird because for the moment you are a bird, trying not to wobble as you move slowly into the future with all eyes upon you.

 

When Jesus said, “All ye that labor and are heavy laden,” he was seeing the rich as well as the poor, the lucky as well as the unlucky, the idle as well as the industrious. He was seeing the bride on her wedding day. He was seeing the old man in front of the TV. He was seeing all of us. The highest work of the imagination is to have eyes like that.

 

-Originally published in Whistling in the Dark and later in Beyond Words

Velma Still Cooks in Leeway

When I was in the early stages of writing Velma Still Cooks in Leeway, I decided to spend some time in the book of Ezekiel. The issues I wanted to explore in the story were forgiveness and the need for healthy leadership in the faith community. Ezekiel includes wonderful passages about the “shepherds of Israel,” in which God delivers scathing judgments on leaders who are not caring for the people. So I dwelt in Ezekiel for a month or so, just soaking up ideas and images.

One image that struck me was in chapter 3, verse 14: “The spirit lifted me up and bore me away; I went in bitterness in the heat of my spirit, the hand of the Lord being strong upon me.”

These words gave me the idea for my book’s title character, a middle-aged café owner named Velma. She was an ordinary person in a little Midwestern town, but I would give her “fever dreams”-times when she fell into fever and was carried away in dreams that said something about what was happening in her life. I would give Velma an experience suitable to an Old Testament prophet. So the very first sentence of the book reads, “When I was a young girl, strange fevers would fall upon me.”

That was the progression: I choose the theme of the book, which let to reading Ezekiel, which led to giving Velma strange fevers.

 

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

 

 

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