In a world where writing means the syncopated click of touch typing onto a screen filled with digital words, trailing black ink across the white pages of a notebook feels like a Brontosaurus wailing at a meteorite of progress, but I still prefer a ballpoint dinosaur to electronic progress. I prefer paper to computer screens. I prefer ink to pixels.
Just as the scriveners of Melville’s time might have taken one look at a ballpoint pen and said they’d prefer not to upgrade their quills, I’m suspicious of the cursor on my laptop that blinks with the impatience of a tapping foot. I prefer the quiet patience of blank paper spread out like a field of fresh snow inviting me to make my mark.
A laptop may be able to perfectly typeset my thoughts as I write them, but a first draft has no business being easy…
Most writers know that readers for literary journals have to
review hundreds of submissions. In practical terms this means readers may only
give each submission a paragraph or two to make a good impression before
deciding to reject or consider the piece further. That doesn’t give a writer
much of a chance. So what should a writer try to do to engage an Orca reader?
Your opening can establish character, setting, point of
view, conflict, and other aspects. But more importantly it must establish the
voice of the story, and create some connection to the character’s situation,
also known as the stakes.
Let’s look at a couple of examples, one that doesn’t quite
work, and one that does:
Here’s a first paragraph, written by me to approximate many
of the stories we receive in our submission queue:
Jim Stone walked past the gates of O’Hare’s spacious Terminal B, checking his…
Are you one who dreams of publishing your stories in a book some day?
We are all natural storytellers. Some of us decide to write our stories down. We want to pass them on to children or others have encouraged us because our unique stories have universal value or we are driven to write because writing helps us solve our own problems.
I think of some of my writing friends’ tales of a grandparent’s life in San Francisco at the turn of the 20th century, of struggling to survive a Japanese war camp as a child, of traveling to places like Brazil as a single woman, of trying to find a mother’s home, or like me, moving to another country and having a normal life except with the adjustment to a different culture and being illiterate in a new language. We all have stories to tell, but it takes persistence, dedication and focus to bring a book to life.
I’ve been in a writers group for more than 20 years. Many of the writers in the group join with the intent to complete a book. They all have great stories to tell. The writers are aided by the encouragement and support of the group of fellow writers. As they write portions of their book, they realize how difficult writing, editing, publishing and selling a book can be. All of those tasks are more complicated now. Major publishers have been squeezed by digital publishing so they rely heavily on well-known authors. Independent publishers look for new authors, may have editing staff, but not the resources to provide promotion. Agents are swamped with requests for help getting a book published. All the different jobs besides doing the writing can deflate the interest of a fledgling writer. But if they persist, they can publish a book.
I’ve been lucky to watch numerous friends produce a book. Sometimes the book is not the story they thought they were going to tell. Often they started with a memoir, which honed their writing skills. They struggled with naming names of people close to them and decided to turn parts of their lives into fiction. Sometimes they started over and over again with a different point of view each time. They sought the help of editors to polish their work and to help them stick to deadlines.
For me, I started out with family stories, asked relatives to send me their responses to the statement, “I remember…” which I collected and published through a printing company owned by one of my cousins. The more I wrote the more I realized that short essays about life and my artwork let me say what I wanted to say. Writing helped me to understand my place in this crazy world. Blogging became the avenue for my writing.
Some friends have managed to produce a finished work (some have published more than one book). I am proud of their endeavors because I know they have accomplished what many us dream about.
Elizabeth is the founder of Wednesday & Friday Writers Groups, journalist, teacher, and author of 5 non-fiction books about women and their relationships with their families. Her latest book, co-written with Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, Ph.D
A mother, author and blogger who in her own words: “My first fun blog, shoezle, started way back in 2011 when I barely knew anything about social media or how to take a picture on my shiny hot-pink cell phone. I guessed at how to blog and through the amazing feedback from readers and a bazillion writing groups and classes, I got better. I got better a blog photos too. Then I got the courage to write a book.”https://www.francielow.com
A retired psychologist and writer was born into a Greek family in the Bronx in the 1940s in which fear and peril hovered. Out of the Bronx is her story of coming to terms with her mother and her past that terrified and paralyzed her for far too long — and of how she went on to create a new life free of those fears.
A columnist, author and performer, and one of my cousins. In her own words, “She champions the idea that it is never too late to reinvent oneself in unexpected and fulfilling ways.” Her latest book, Blue Yarn, describes her experience in Africa where she loses her marriage, her home and her career.
Former drama teacher, continuing to be a writer, editor with Story Circle Network and blogger. Her latest book, Never Too Late, describes her new life as a wife at 62 and the challenges of changing from lifelong single to married woman.Talent is a young adult novel about a young teenager trying to get out from under the shadow of her older brother.
This is a plea: Women, tell your stories. Now, more than ever, the world needs to hear the voices of rational women—nurturing, assertive, educated, and under-educated. Scientists, poets, mathematicians, journalists, stay-at-home moms, working moms, young moms, grandmothers raising their kid’s kids, librarians, IT workers, software designers, romance writers all have stories to tell.
Society used to teach women that we were the weaker sex. We need to remind Eleanor Roosevelt’s words, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Women don’t fit into one mold any more than men do. We don’t have one voice, either, but we agree that sexually demeaning behavior is unbecoming and unacceptable.
So women, tell your stories. All abuse is not about sex. It’s not necessarily about parents and children, drugs and alcohol, or bullying and being bullied. Whatever your story, whether a man is in it or not, whether it includes sex or not, whether it seems interesting to you or not, write it down for your family, your neighbors, your community, the world, and especially for yourself. If you don’t tell your story, who will?
Do you have an idea for a story but don’t know how to start?
Do you have a draft but need an editor?
Are you stuck on your summary? Cover letter? Query?
Do you want to make your story, memoir, or fiction shine and sparkle?
During this 4-week session, I’ll take your writing to the next level. That means something different for everyone. I’ll ask questions about your overall project and the chapters, segments, or scenes you submit. You’ll start seeing new possibilities and approach your writing with renewed energy.
B. Lynn Goodwin owns Writer Advice. She’s written You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers (Tate Publishing), Talent (Eternal Press), and Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62.
She was short-listed for a Literary Lightbox Award and won a Bronze Medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards for Talent, and she was a 2018 National Indie Excellence Award Winner, a Human Relations Indie Book Awards Winner, and Next Generation Indie Book Awards & Best Book Awards Finalists plus a NABE Pinnacle Book Achievement Award Winner for Fall 2018
Goodwin’s work has appeared in Voices of Caregivers; Hip Mama; Small Press Review; Dramatics Magazine; The Sun; Inspire Me Today; Caregiver Village; GoodHousekeeping.com, PurpleClover.com and elsewhere.
She is a reviewer and teacher at Story Circle Network, and she is a manuscript coach here at Writer Advice. She always has time to write guest blog posts and answer questions. Visit her website and her blog.