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.
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.
It’s easy to tell others to take risks. It’s harder to live by that rule, especially if you’re wise enough to consider the consequences. Have faith. Take a leap and trust that someone will catch you.
Weigh your choices.
Don’t hesitate to give to a stranger but don’t give everything away.
Be who you are. Everybody else is taken.
Life is short. Have the courage to leave a miserable job, if you’ve tried everything you can. The same is true of a miserable relationship, as long as you’re not hurting your children. If you’re afraid you might be, weigh the value of staying in a struggling relationship against the possible outcome of moving on.
Don’t be afraid to move on and move forward. Don’t let fear hold you back.
Don’t be afraid to love; don’t wear your heart on your sleeve.
Remember that life is what happens while you’re making other plans.
Consider your body, with all its imperfections, a gift from God. Treat it well and know what you can and cannot change.
Accept what you cannot change; change what you can; ask for the wisdom to know the difference.
Maybe they shouldn’t. Maybe I’m being vain, but they sure make me feel good.
I am pleased to report that another award has come my way. This one turned up in my spam box! Who knows why it landed there. I mentioned it to the company owner, because it seemed odd and strange to me.
What’s the award for?Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62. Awards from 5 different companies must mean something. If you’re following this blog, you already know what it’s about. If you’re new to the blog, click on the link.
The stickers are small enough that I could find a place to put them without ruining the cover design. Maybe I should do that…
So what’s going on in your writing life and the rest of your life? Inquiring minds want to know. What was your best moment this month? Leave a comment and let me know, okay?
I wonder how the people we saw in Chico and at the fairgrounds are doing now. When are the checks coming? How many are with relatives? How do you cope as the loss sinks in? How many have still not been found?
Volunteers matter—especially when emergencies come up. At the Butte County Fairgrounds in November my husband and I found a mixture of hope and despair, of gratitude and anguish.
We couldn’t get near “Paradise Lost,” as reporters dubbed the Northern California town ravaged by fire, so we went to the tent cities at the Butte County Fairgrounds and the parking lot next to Walmart. We found unparalleled need along with volunteers helping those who’d lost everything but their lives.
My husband and I took a huge stack of $50 gift cards donated by people in our church. We followed the suggestion of a church guest, who returned to Paradise on weekends. He was there with his wife, who barely made it out ahead of the flames. They’d lost their home but had each other. He said, “Take gift cards and give them directly to the people.” My…