Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A Would-be Writer's Magna Carta

I am not a “popular’ author, not now, not yet, and I am not sure if there ever will be a yet. That doesn’t stop me from trying to write my best. And “best” changes every time I relook at a piece or poem I’ve written. Frankly, I can’t help but to write; it’s an addiction, a craving, a need and a want. Simply to express myself, as I discover me, is my goal; good, bad or indifferent (never indifferent).

Since retiring as a technical writer after 30 years, I now have the total freedom to express my writings when and where, what and how I please, in assorted mediums meant for sharing. And here is the cornerstone of the foundation of all good writing: 

The First Rule

#1 Please yourself. To be only pleased or even happy or ecstatic (haven’t reached that yet!), is a drive I’ve found in this craft we call writing. Craft and art. For altho I study the craft intensely, the art is learned over time, not taught. It’s a great feeling to find the words that suit perfectly, that can neither be added to or subtracted from, like the jot and tittle. The words and phrasings that fulfill my soul at the moment I write them, and later, more so, when I rewrite and polish, are a joy. Rewriting and polishing confirms my love for the theme or concept, feeling or experience I choose to share at any given moment. A satisfying piece or poem energizes me to continue.

The Second Rule:

#2 Let the moment control. Every moment is a mindset, viewpoint, opinion and most importantly, a commitment. I let my fingers type what comes to mind. I may pause, I may go nonstop. I let the letters and words, sentences and paragraphs free from the cage of self. Free from judgment, self-editing, over-thinking and pre-planning. I am not an outliner, I am a pantser, a seat of the pants type guy. You may be an outliner and if that works, then that is right for you. There is no right or wrong way to express yourself using the written word. And I hold strictly to that foundation. To me it's all experimental. At this point my audience is only one person in the world of existence – me.

That brings me to the foundation itself: the rules of the craft of writing, of which there are four,

1.       Know the rules. The book Elements of Style contains the easiest to understand and the very best advice. 85-pages packed with succinct aphorisms, and tried and true successes. But before that assurance arrives, your own educational background in the English language, grammar, punctuation, mechanics, exceptions and all the rest, is your never-failing bedrock. Some things must be unlearned, others reinforced, more others repeated over and over to understand and implement. And there is lots of help in this, tons! Free courses on Purdue's O.W.L. lessons and other edu’s, Chicago Manual of Style or The St. Martin’s Handbook. Google is the first-line, dictionaries and thesauruses the second. There simply is no opportunity to flounder or guess or be imprecise.

2.       You’re allowed to break rules and make rules. Change is the single constant in this vast universe. As they say, “Everything changes, and nothing changes,” but in reality every atom is vibrating, constantly, and vibrations are life itself. It’s been said we contain the universe inside us. Use it! Meditate, ponder, wonder and question! Above all, ask for guidance and help. This is how we find our own voices, our “me’s,” our soul and psyche. Our motivation to exist. And that voice is unique to each of us, and it shares with us all that is or will be. And in discovering ourselves, we are allowed to make and break rules of conventionality and expectation, to thrill our readers with new truths, a never-exhausted vat of truth, a mine rich in gems of inestimable value.

3.       Be clear and concise. Don’t waffle or hesitate to share, but do it in such a way as to leave a definite impression. Don’t be misunderstood. Don’t be a politician trying to accommodate all voters views and needs. Let your words not just speak for themselves but for you, the inner, real, no-more-secrets, you. Be definite with the force of your own confidence and conviction, hopes and dreams. Think not what your reader will do for you, but what you will do for the reader. And to do that effectively, you must separate the wheat from the chaff, the pertinent details out of a myriad of details. Banish thoughts of reaching all readers and focus on your audience. Address them only, clearly, with authority. Again, do not waffle or vacillate, use vague words and indefinite nouns and verbs. Never be afraid to express what is you alone with crystal clear clarity and preciseness. That is the sole guarantor of achieving positive response. “Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues.”

4.       Verbs do all the heavy lifting. I may set the scene with description, but much better is to do so with action. Nouns may be subjects or objects of sentences, but verbs link them with aliveness --  not boring, meaningless death. Dialog and internal monologues fill the edges, may complete the scene or picture, and enhance realism. Stephen King and others eschew adverbs, so I use them, haha, sparingly. Adjectives are details. Prepositions are movement markers and placeholders. Pronouns are identifiers. Conjunctions are joiners of similarities or opposites. Articles are the glue that holds the sentence together, and the fewer the better in my opinion, depending on immediacy of action.  Verbs show action, conflict, emotion, doing not telling, movement and life, forwards and backwards, up and down, sideways and all ways. They are indispensable in showing motivation. And the heart and key of every great story uncovers universal human motivation.

The oldest form of communication is grunts and body language, or motions. Next is speaking, incorporating even more body language. The third writing. All require an audience, even if only oneself. So listening and seeing what’s communicated is the first step to understanding and realization. Good writing is not talking, because the listener is removed, usually unknown, a stranger, not an intimate. Yet, as one read’s written words, images and symbols form in one’s head as if the writer was personally addressing the reader. As if it is a conversation we readers say the words in our head aloud. Writing is personal and so is reading.

So the question I ask myself when writing is not “Who is my audience,” but rather, “Why am I talking?” Good writing needs, must have, purpose and intent. A goal, and that means objectives and milestones. A measurable advance to clarity. We writers refer to it as “theme,” with subthemes and offshoots, most often appearing as stanzas or paragraphs and groups of paragraphs called chapters. If we wish to communicate to anyone other than ourselves, purity of motive is required. Coherence is mandatory. Honesty is indispensable, for, who wants to be lied to?

I’ve given you my opinion on what it means to be a writer, for me.
What does it mean to you? Do you follow rules or make up rules?

I’d like to know if you’re willing to converse.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Use is the premier, most-used submissions website for most professional magazines, contests, and awards for prose/poetry submissions, whether for print or online outlets.

Submittable keeps track of all your submissions online. It is not a site where you will find writing contests or requests. Use Yahoo Groups CRWOPPS and Poets & Writers et al for that. If there's a cost to submit, you do it on Submittable with a credit card.

First, it's FREE to register.

Second, it shows a professional organization has a good handle on all submissions if it's using Sumittable. Remember, it's only an online vehicle to direct your pieces to the proper organization/requester. Part of your fee goes to Submittable, but that's transparent.

Third, it's electronic and very easy to use. It keeps track of all of your submissions.

Fourth, in 90% of cases you'll upload a PDF, so ensure there are no typing errors: no typos, misspellings, incorrect punctuation or missing capitals etc.

Fifth, use a standard font, usually 12 point . Use Times New Roman or thick font, but never use a fancy font like Gothic unless for a special effect, and in short doses. Don't use a thin font like Garamond for even though it saves ink, it's compressed. You want your words to stand out on the page. Use BOLD sparingly, but do for Titles. In EVERY CASE use the font they tell you to use.

Sixth, only submit what the contest or magazine guidelines tell you to and how. If they want a PDF, submit a PDF, or Word doc etc. That goes for font, length, number or words, everything.

Seventh, it's secure. Add your credit card info when you submit. As a rule of thumb I won't submit if the fee is over $15. Even then it must accept three poems or more, for example, in return for my payment. Always print your receipt.

Eighth, submit to premier publications like Glimmertrain often. Never give up. If you happen to succeed first time out, congratulations.

Follow the requester's submission Guidelines

Every contest, award or request will have Submission Guidelines. Follow them to the "T" or you will be rejected and passed over. You'll have a lot of competition, don't screw up.

Some organizations want it single-spaced, others double-spaced. Most tell you the type and font size to use. All say clearly either how many pieces to submit, and poetry is usually in single-column. All say how many words if applicable as in chapbooks and short stories, and especially manuscripts. 

Submit before the deadline. Many good sites will send you an acknowledgement, but remember, the fact you used Submittable is concrete proof you submitted, so most won't. Most sites will not tell you your piece(s) was rejected or not used, and will only announce the winners, or in most cases, simply publish the winners without telling you. So keep track of their stated publication dates. This is important, because if you weren't accepted this means you can submit the same piece(s) elsewhere.

Most contests or requests allow for "Simultaneous submissions," which means you can submit the same piece to multiple outlets at the same time. (I stay away from ones that are exclusive) However, if a piece is accepted by one, you must immediately inform the other sites that you are withdrawing the pieces you submitted to them. A few orgs will request that you submit a DOC like MS-Word docx, so be sure to follow their requirements.

Submittable allows a space on their Submission Page for your Short Bio. Never print your bio info, your name, your contact information etc within the documents you upload, unless they say to do so. Submittable will forward the contact info you registered with to the contest organisers for you. 

Remember that the judges will never see your name, only the organizers will know.

If you are chosen, some orgs may ask you to edit or fix your document. Do so quickly without complaint or argument. It's not a negotiation. If a winning fee or monetary prize is involved, it's usually paid to you within 30-days of publication. 

Now go Submit!

Opinion Copyright 2016 Rodney Richards

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Performing vs Sharing Your Written Work

Here's some great advice on reading your written work in public, to an audience.
At the end of Peter's article, find my own advice to readers sharing their work in a critique group or writer's workshop.
it's very different, in deed and word.

Murphy Writing of Stockton University logo

Peter at the micYou've spent days, weeks, months, years...writing and revising your work, but when it comes time for you to read it to an audience, you flub it. What to do?

At the Winter Getaway, Peter shared his tips on how to give a reading that will connect with your listeners so they leave wishing they could hear more, not less. Today, we'd like to share them with you as a thank you for being such loyal readers.


10 Tips for Reading Your Writing Like a Pro
  1. It's not about you, it's about your audience. Beware of what Nietzsche referred to as "A dog called ego."
  2. Less is more. Choose your pieces carefully.
  3. There's a difference between reciting your work and performing it. You're not an actor, you're a writer. Gesture if you must, but not too much.
  4. Break up your reading, if possible, with an anecdote or something about the piece. Humor is good. Self-depreciating is good. Putting yourself or your writing down is not good.
  5. Make eye contact with your audience without losing your place. Give them the, no, place it on your text as you scroll down the page.
  6. Make your voice a tool using breath, rhythm, pacing and contrast. Don't allow your voice to settle into monotone.
  7. What? The PA system isn't working? Be prepared to read with or without a microphone.
  8. Oh no, they don't have a podium or a music rack or a table or anything? Be prepared for mechanical failures and other emergencies.
  9. Leave graciously. Don't run from the podium. Thank the audience for listening and accept their applause.
  10. Practice. Practice. Practice.

That's it for now. Write on!

Peter, Amanda and Taylor

Murphy Writing of Stockton University
Challenging & Supportive Workshops

Now, here's some advice in your private setting looking for feedback on your piece:

We writers are all readers in many ways. The two most prominent are reading other's books and articles, essays and poems, and reading our own writing aloud to a group or audience.
     Here's some great tips on how to "perform" a reading for a public audience that you should adhere to be successful, since if you want to promote your authorship, you must read to public audiences to get the word out and sell yourself as much as your book.
     But, word of caution here.
Performing for an audience is not, repeat not, the same as reading your piece to a private critique group of fellow writers.
     As you can see from Tip #1, IT's NOT ABOUT YOU

Here's my advice when reading to a critique group.

1. Do not "perform" your piece. This distracts us entirely from comprehending the words and meanings behind the words that you are reading. 
In other words, the true story gets lost on us, because we are listening with a critical ear.
2. Do not "perform" your piece. We are not a public audience you need to impress with your great speaking skills (which you must develop). 
We are your friends trying to help. Don't treat us as strangers you're trying to impress.

3. Do not "perform" your piece. Oh, I'm sure you can do a great job, but do it instead in front of a mirror or family and friends, not us.

4. YOU DO need to read your piece to us with intonations, and pauses, and Aha's and some emotionality where emotionality is called for. 

But keep it low level. Again, your big voice distracts us from doing our job: critiquing your story and words and everything in it. Use your "little" voice for us, but don't be quiet. Balance is necessary.

Just my personal opinion here. .As always, do what the hell you want to.
What's your opinion on this?