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…
My friend Devorah Winegarten died today after a short and intense battle with cancer. She was one of my Circle Sisters, which is what we call our fellow writers at Story Circle Network. She and I were in a daily Internet group where we shared our victories and challenges related to our works-in-progress. Debs, or the Debster as she often called herself, was a powerhouse of positive energy and forward motion. She set the pace for that group with clear challenges for herself and lots of encouragement for the rest of us to push forward through our fear and procrastination. She was the queen of the outrageous request, modeling how asking for more than you think you’ll ever get can result in more yeses than nos. Yes, Debs had more energy, more focus and more excitement for life than most of the rest of us combined.
“Together we can change the world, one good deed at a time.” ~~Anonymous
Share Your Opinions:
Why Book Reviews Matter and How You Can Help
Whether you’re an author or not, one of the kindest gifts you can give to any writer is a constructive honest review. It doesn’t have to be long or literary or quote specific passages unless you’re writing for a site that expects that.
Not only will your comments please the author, but your words might help her see her work in a whole new way. You’ll be helping readers who depend on reviews make a choice. In addition your review could be a springboard for new writing for either of you. That’s good for everyone and a lot to get out of a few minutes of reacting to a story that grabbed you and/or made you think.
Quick, short reviews can be very effective—especially on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads. Simply tell why you recommend the book in one or two sentences. If you want to add plot summary, analysis of writing style, or who the ideal audience is, feel free. It’s nice but not necessary.
““Never Too Lateis an honest, insightful look at one of life’s greatest mysteries: the ever changing and ever challenging relationship between a man and a woman. This book is one you won’t want to miss!” —Mary Eileen Williams, Host of Feisty Side of Fifty, author of Land the Job You Love!: 10 Surefire Strategies for Jobseekers Over 50
If you decide to write a more detailed review, start with the themes an author explores and then talk about how and why the story sheds new light on a familiar subject or opens your insights. Often I start by articulating the questions that the author is exploring:
What if you have a gift that no one can accept?
Ever been puzzled by a partner’s behavior?
Ever wonder how others handle the costs of their bad decisions?
What happens when family and ambition compete?
What does it take to survive?
Another approach is to tell people what the book intends to convey and how well it does its job. This works for a two-sentence review or a longer one.
I usually include a brief summary and identify the author’s strengths. If something bothers me I’ll mention it briefly as long as it’s not a story spoiler. If I can’t write something good and make the review at least 80% positive, I move on to the next book.
If you look at the reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads, you’ll see that lengths vary. I’ve written one-sentence reviews and I’ve posted reviews of 350 words or more. Generally, less is more. Many people have short attention spans.
Once you’re satisfied with your review, it’s easy to cut and paste into Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads.
Go to the site where you want to place your review.
Find the search box.
Type the book title and/or author and hit return.
When the correct page comes up, scroll down to the box that says, “Write a Customer Review” or “Add a Review.”
Click on the box. Amazon asks some questions to guide you. Barnes & Noble doesn’t. You can simply rate the book and paste in your review, because you are prepared.
Often the sites will notify the author when a review is posted. Not always. It’s all controlled by algorithms beyond our control. Here’s what’s within your control:
You can write a review.
You can read other reviews as samples.
You can post a review.
You can practice on the last book you read. Or the one you’re just finishing. The authors will love you for it.
Another way to help authors is to recommend their books to your friends, writing peers, and book groups. Word of mouth is excellent publicity. Paying it forward matters. Right or wrong, the number of reviews you have on Amazon also matters, so the important thing is to write honestly and share your thoughts. They’re just as valuable as anyone else’s. You never know where a review might lead. Doing book reviews is a great way for writers to build community.
Also available wherever books are sold. Just tell them to order from Ingram.
“A delightful read that will teach you much about the process of discerning what is right for you.” ~~Linda Marshall, author of A Long Awakening to Grace
“Instead of continuing to search for a mate who is a mirror of ourselves, who is the most intelligent, wealthy, successful, witty, etc., embrace the person who is authentic and trustworthy, with styles or attributes that we lack, who brings out the best in us.” ~~L. Kain