Sunday, September 14, 2014

Advice from Theodore Roosevelt!

In honor of the Roosevelt documentary that began tonight on PBS, I found a quote by Teddy that applies to writers struggling to get their thoughts on paper (or computer screens).

"In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst this you can do is nothing."

Theodore Roosevelt

Write soon, (and don't worry if it's the right thing!)


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Horner's Law of pre-press blindness

I’ll never forget a phone call I received a few days after the magazine I worked on was delivered to its subscribers. A woman’s voice asked me if I had read the issue she just received. Now, as managing editor, I read everything cover to cover, more than once, mind you, and many articles five or more times throughout the publication process. I wanted to answer her question in numerous ways that were neither professional nor courteous, but alas, I refrained. I told her that I had.

She proceeded to tell me about an error on page 47, and I was mortified and embarrassed and I thanked her for her call and told her I would look into it and run a correction if necessary. When I hung up the phone I cursed a blue streak, followed by an afternoon of self-loathing accompanied by feelings of worthlessness, which were somewhat diluted later that evening with alcohol.

The funny thing is, my boss wasn’t upset, and said we could run a correction, and reminded me that overall we had had very few mistakes. I was proud of my relatively “clean” record, but it took just one little error to throw me into a tailspin. Even as I sit here writing this years later, I still feel frustrated. What could I have done to catch it? Why hadn’t I read that article one more time?  

I’m feeling that same frustration now as the second printing of my book “Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing” is just around the corner. I’ve worked with my publisher, Lou Turner of High Hill Press, to correct some minor errors and update information about search engines that no longer exist (good-bye Alta Vista!).

For me, those are easy fixes, and I like doing them. I’ve worked in publishing for many years, and have written and edited hundreds of articles and chapters. But it’s still frustrating that I can miss something on the galleys, or proofs, only to find it EASILY once it comes out in print. Why is that, anyway? 

Let’s call it Horner’s law of pre-press blindness (PPB). It’s a thing, now, and it has a name. Since the first step is to admit the problem, now all we need is an awareness campaign and a fundraiser. How about we discuss this at happy hour, and although we may not find a cure, we can offer support and refills. And if you can't come to the meeting, then share your stories here so I don't have to suffer alone!

Write soon,

Monday, September 1, 2014

Book marketing challenge in September

It’s a difficult task for many writers to market their work. Between social media and speaking engagements, how does a writer get the most return for his or her time and money? Follow this link to find out more, and let me know what you are doing to market you work!

Write (and market) soon!


Sunday, August 3, 2014

First Lines

"Hello, my name is Mary Horner, and today I am going to address how to begin your article." That sentence is the equivalent of an author beginning his or her novel with “Hello, my name is Nora Novelist, and today I am going to tell you the story of my main character, Gretchen, heir to a peanut fortune, and her struggle to overcome an addiction to peanut butter while falling in love with a six-toed man with a nut allergy."

Those sentences aren't terrible, but not effective because they do nothing to move along the story or article. They don’t help the reader get involved in the story and want to stay there. 

Jane Henderson, book review editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, spoke recently to Saturday Writers and advised writers not to back into a story. What she meant by that is don't start somewhere else before getting to the story. She believes that if you are telling a story about someone traveling down a river, don’t start with the history of the entire region before getting to the river. Start with the story of traveling down the river, and then, if it’s pertinent, bring in the history of the region as it unfolds naturally. 

She said that in some cases, she can chop off the first paragraph of a book review because it doesn’t say anything about the book. It’s like my old habit of “But first, … “ when I want to tell you some background before I get to the story. But I don’t have to do that. When I start telling the story at a logical place, the audience will get it.

I love Stephen King’s thoughts on this topic, who said, in The Atlantic, “A book won't stand or fall on the very first line of prose -- the story has got to be there, and that's the real work. And yet a really good first line can do so much to establish that crucial sense of voice -- it's the first thing that acquaints you, that makes you eager, that starts to enlist you for the long haul. So there's incredible power in it, when you say, come in here. You want to know about this. And someone begins to listen.”

So don’t throw away that first line’s potential with something that doesn’t work. Take some time to develop the story and the characters, and perhaps something great will pop that makes you realize you couldn’t start anywhere else.

Write soon,

Here’s the article with King’s quote:

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tell me something about yourself

In speech class, I encourage my students to share something about themselves in their speeches. What I mean is that instead of giving a speech full of facts and statistics, connect the speaker to the audience through self-disclosure. Telling a pertinent story about yourself in a speech may tell us why you care about your subject, which, in turn, makes us care. Stories that expose our vulnerabilities can connect us on a level with which we may not be fully aware.

The rewards can be great, but sometimes speakers and writers can be hesitant to “let it all hang out.” There is no right or wrong as to what to reveal and what not to reveal, and everyone has to make their own decisions. I am comfortable telling my students some of the errors or embarrassing incidents that have happened to me, and they laugh, and I think it helps give them permission to not worry about being perfect, and it connects us. But there is a risk when it comes to self-disclosure, so there are a few stories that I will never share, and that’s OK. I have enough embarrassing moments to go around, so I’m not worried about keeping some to myself.

In an interview on NPR with Walter Kirn, author of eight books, including Up in the Air, he said writers try to “build bridges between the parts of people’s selves that are hidden from people’s social lives.” He once had an editor who told him that people don’t want to hear how handsome he is or how well he does, they want to hear about screw ups and embarrassing habits -- those are the things we all have in common.

Let’s celebrate our imperfections and share who we (or our characters) really are, to strengthen our writing, and connect us. 

Write soon,