Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Start to Finish (Part 5 of 10)

Write the first draft.

Vomit on the page because you can always mop up the yucky stuff and no one will know. Get the material written. Let it flow. That's the first draft.

Don’t worry about syntax, grammar, or consistency: just write. I recommend that you not edit yourself during the first draft. Novice writers often bog down because they try to make every sentence perfect before they can go on to the next. Resist that urge to make it perfect in the first draft. In this computer age, you can make changes easily, and no one else will know how much you edited.

In my early days of writing, I had to fight that urge to make each paragraph totally right, and I realized how it choked my thoughts. I began to say to myself, "I write creatively; I edit analytically." That means I wrote, wrote, wrote. After I finished an article (or a book), I went back to repair the bad spots.

A few times my personal critic grumbled as I zoomed ahead. I started talking to that negative voice. "Relax. Let me write it. After that, you can tear it up as much as you want." That worked for me.

I've been at the craft a long time and my tactics have changed. I often do minor editing as I write. I can do that and stay at my task, but that's the kind of self-discipline most of us have to learn.

Write the first draft and allow no distractions. Afterward, you can make improvements.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Start to Finish (Part 4 of 10)

Structure your article.

Before you write, plan where you’re going. If you start with a single focus, you decide on a beginning or introduction and bring in evidence to support your point. For years, I tried to teach this by using either what's known as the train method or the way Guidepost teaches. Neither has worked well for me. It may be that I'm not the analytical type, so I'll give it as simply as I can.

If you have a focus—a single idea—that's where you start. I strongly recommend a written outline. It helps you know where you start and becomes like a map to get you to the end.

Once I know I have the material structured, I like to begin with an illustration or a statement that points readers in the direction the next six pages will take. The story can be either negative or positive. Its purpose is to bring out the problem we want to resolve in the article. (This holds true with fiction: you start with someone having a problem.)

Ask yourself questions. Answer them in logical order so that each fact or incident naturally leads to the next.

For example (and those two words are a logical transition from the previous paragraph), I want to write about learning to forgive. The most obvious way is to set up the problem. It can be done in a few words or two paragraphs.
I can't remember when I began to detest Maynard. Was it in grade school when he played his stupid jokes on me? Was it the time he stole two dollars from my wallet? Or when he started dating Gina because he knew I liked her?
Again, I urge you to start with a written outline. Later you might be able to structure it inside your head (which I do). If you don't start with an outline, you may end up where you didn't plan to go.

An outline is the beginning of your structure.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Start to Finish (Part 3 of 10)

Gather the material.

Once you know what you want to write and you've decided on one idea for the chapter or article, gather the material. That's called doing research. Learn everything you need to make your manuscript complete and include all essential information.

If it's a personal experience, search your memory and ask others who were involved. If it's historical or factual material (even if you write fiction) read widely. Find the one or two best sources—the original sources others quote.

Always learn more about a topic than you plan to use. Years ago I wrote a scene in a novel that included a woman's visit to a field of pyrethrum, a natural pesticide. By the time I finished my research, I could have easily written 5,000 words on the topic. In the novel, I wrote one paragraph and used 93 words. That's all I needed for the story.

When we research carefully, we provide accurate information. Keep records. Footnote your writing if needed. If you use on-line sources, verify the information before you quote.

Decide the anecdotes and illustrations you want to use. Think of those word pictures as windows. It's a way for readers to see inside the structure—to understand your statements.

Work hard as a writer so you can make it easy for a reader.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Start to Finish (Part 2 of 10)

Don't distract readers.

As you read each article, here’s another question to ask: Is there anything that distracts me from a single focus? Less experienced writers, like beginning preachers, tend to provide too much information and thus divert the power of the message.

Once you have a single-focused idea, you can state it in one sentence. Here are examples:

• If you’re considering adoption, here are seven things you need to know.

• Too often people see the patient, but the caregiver becomes invisible.

• I didn't want to forgive Betty, but Betty forgave me and made me see the hardness of my heart.

If you can't reduce an article, scene, or chapter into one statement,
you probably haven't focused.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Start to Finish (Part 1 of 10)

We can cite many reasons for rejection, such as poor quality of writing, but one of the major problems is that too many people simply didn’t understand the nature of an article. (I use the word article, but the principle applies to chapters of a nonfiction book, a fiction book, or a scene in a novel.)

Focus on one idea.

Let’s start with a definition. An article is a short piece that focuses on one idea. A chapter is a short piece that focuses on one idea. In the chapter of a novel, several things may happen, but the chapter has a single purpose and stays with it. It's also true with a chapter of a nonfiction book in which you may explain five ways to avoid a heart attack. But all five methods stay with the same theme.

Here’s an easy way to see how this works. Pick out two magazines. (I suggest you avoid ezines. Many of them are badly written and poorly edited.) Read three articles in each magazine.

As you read, ask yourself: What is the one point the author makes? The title should help. If it’s a how-to article called "Three Ways to Lose Weight," that points the direction. If it’s something such as "The Day Dad Cried," everything in that piece needs to point to a single, poignant event with no distracting information about where Dad lived when he was fifteen (unless it’s relevant) or the fact that he went to school with Brad Pitt's mother's younger brother.

Open a novel at the beginning of any chapter, and the principle works. Books from 100 years ago often had a table of contents for fiction that told readers what they were about to read in each chapter.

"It's not portable," an editor said about an article I wrote 30 years ago. He meant it wasn't focused. You don't want to get a similar message, do you?

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

How to Avoid Publishing Potholes

This article is used with permission from Rob Eagar of Wildfire Marketing. Visit www.robeagar.com for more good articles for authors, and sign up for his newsletter to receive three free e-books.

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One of my favorite hobbies is cycling, which means flying down the road at speeds of 30–45 mph. To stay safe when riding a bike, you must always look ahead at least 20 yards. If you look right in front of you, that's when a wreck will occur.

If you look ahead into the distance where you are going, your brain has the uncanny ability to process upcoming obstacles, determine the safest route, and maintain smooth progress.

However, if you put your focus on your front tire, your brain will concentrate on what you see and pull you in that direction. If there's a pothole in your path and you keep looking at it, you will be drawn right into the hole.

The same dynamic of riding a bike applies to your career as an author. Wherever you choose to place your concentration will determine your destination.

Some of you reading this article are getting drawn into potholes, because you are focusing too much on current obstacles. For example, you may be struggling with a recent problem or past mistake, such as:
  • Your book got a negative review on Amazon. 
  • Someone turned down your request for an endorsement. 
  • Your last book launch didn't go well. 
  • A publisher or agent rejected your book proposal. 
  • Your Facebook ads didn't produce the desired results. 
You might be so focused on a past mistake or a missed opportunity that you’re living like someone trying to ride a bike while looking backward. That's dangerous.

The more you focus on negative issues, the more you will head in that direction and wreck your progress. Instead, keep your focus on where you want to go. Give your brain the freedom to see into the future and chart a safe course. Concentrate your thoughts on looking down the road ahead of you, such as:
  • I will get my book published. 
  • My next book launch is going to be better. 
  • I will ask three other people for an endorsement. 
  • Look at all of the positive reviews I have on Amazon. 
  • I will learn to use online advertising and reach new readers. 
This week, take a moment to ask yourself, "Where am I looking?" Are you focused on the future or stuck looking down at the circumstances?

Then, go ride a bike. It's quite fun . . . as long as you look ahead.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

How to Ruin an Interview

This article is adapted from Don Otis’s MediaWise blog and is used with his permission. Don is president of Veritas Communications, a publicity agency that has scheduled more than 30,000 interviews since 1991. (www.veritasincorporated.com)
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In a world where the loudest (or stupidest) voices seem to garner the most attention, few people have the sense to let their reason and civility prevail. Christian pastor and writer Steve Brown says, “Wise and successful communicators will always realize they aren’t half as good as those who applaud are implying, aren’t half as bad as those who criticize might suggest.” 

I agree. Humility is always a greater strength than is arrogance.

If you’re a writer who wants to ruin an interview, here’s what you should do:

Try to impress the host or audience rather than communicate. A college English teacher once told me the idea of good writing is not to impress with big words (intellectualize) but to help people understand what you want to say.

Be stoic and show little or no emotion. If you aren’t excited about your book or topic, I guarantee no else will be either.

Quote the Bible often to show how biblically literate you are. There are times this may be helpful, but these times are rare during any interview. As the old saying goes, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Don’t listen to the questions. By the way, this happens in marriages all the time. That’s why a good therapist will ask couples to repeat what they just heard a spouse say. You can’t do this in interviews, but you can be “others-directed” and listen well.

Disrespect the host or audience. We use the word rapport to describe good communication between people or groups. This is simply a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other's feelings or ideas and communicate well. Disrespect inevitably destroys rapport.

Be unprepared. Show up late or forget to have your book or notes ready for an interview. Some authors I know are proud to say they “wing it.” Avoid this attitude.

Be inflexible. This means staying so focused on your needs that you fail to recognize the needs of the host or audience.