The Craft of Writing: Resources for the Journey

By Jennifer Hallmark

Learning the craft, or making our work readable, is one of the more important ways to sell books, gain a readership, and be taken seriously in the writing world. But how do we do that?

College, online courses, or conferences can be a great place to start. But maybe they’re not in your budget or timeframe at the moment. Where else can we find resources for our author journey?

I’m so glad you asked. 🙂 The Crew and I want to share our personal favorites:

 Gail Johnson

Bonita Y. McCoy

Tammy Trail

Kristy Robinson Horine

  • Anything by KM Weiland is useful. Not only is there a blog, and books, she has a podcast that she transcribes so readers can listen or read.

    Brandilyn Collins has some great books out on characters, plot twists, why stories work, etc.  Steven James has a podcast called The Story Blender. It’s pretty good.

Jennifer Hallmark: I’ve read tons of books on craft in the past, but now I tend to read more blogs and listen to podcasts. Here are some of the best (IMHO):

And don’t forget about Inspired Prompt and our resources. Here are three links:

We want to see you become the best writer that you possibly can be. There’s no magic formula. As you study, learn, read, and write, your voice will emerge and your skills will increase. It has worked for our Inspired Prompt Crew and it will work for you.

Click to tweet: Learning the craft, or making our work readable, is one of the more important ways to sell books, gain a readership, and be taken seriously in the #writing world.  #pubtip

Writing Prompt: Commit to either reading a writing craft book, one blog post a week, or listen to a podcast a week to strengthen your writing.

Write, Revise, Submit

It’s a phone call no writer wants to receive.

“Um, we got your story.”

Now, let me say up front that if your editor personally calls you and begins the conversation with “Um”, there is a pretty good chance you need to start praying.

A few years back, this is exactly the call I received.  My editor, Kim, rang me on my cell.

“Um, we got your story.”

She hesitated.

“It’s just not, you know, there.”

Instead of anger or resentment, I felt a little bubble of relief burst inside me.  I knew it wasn’t there, and yet I had turned the article in. What kind freelance writer does that? A tired writer.

You see, here is the normal process:

  • Writer: Find story, pitch it.
  • Editor: Catch.
  • Writer: Interview, write, revise, submit.
  • Editor: Accept, publish.

I did all those things except when I got to the write and revise, I went at them in a half-hearted attempt. I was too close to the subject. I had done too much research. I had way too many interviews. By the time I sat down to write and revise, I had let the research snuff out the passion I had pitched the story with in the first place.

And I left no energy to revise.

edit one

Thank the Lord for editors in both the fiction world and the nonfiction world. Instead of killing the story, she asked me to re-write. All of it. In a day.

I have never, in all my years of writing, been asked to completely re-write an article until that moment, but that moment made me a stronger, better writer.

Yes, the research is important. Yes, the writing is important. But the rewriting absolutely cannot be overlooked.  Here are some tips to help with the writing and revision process:

  1. Do the work on the front end. Make a question list even if the questions seem obvious. Write in big, bold letters: I want to know/write ___ because ___.  For fiction writers, invest your time in writing what the industry calls a back cover blurb. This is usually three to four paragraphs and is basically a synopsis of the work. Once the writing is done, re-read the blurb. See which one needs to change.
  2. Focus, focus, focus. Too much information is often better than not enough information, but there are times when too much information is just too much. Remember your Who, What, When, Where, Why and How for magazines or journalism pieces. Remember to stay in the scope of the pitch or the assignment.
  3. Schedule time for the piece to rest. If you are working on novel length fiction, maybe you can finish chapter forty on Monday and go back to revise chapter one on Tuesday because there has been so much time between the two. If you are working on a nonfiction piece for a magazine, leave at least twenty-four hours between first draft and edit draft.
  4. Read your work out loud. Me? I head to the chicken coop. Even if my ladies think I’m stupid, they can do nothing more than cluck and peck at my shoe laces when I read through a draft.
  5. Get a second set of eyes on the piece. The eyes should not belong to your mother or your children. There is just something about those connections that do not jive with good editing. You’d have better luck at honesty with my chickens.
  6. Be open to those occasions when your editor will ask for clarification, or a complete re-write. In non-fiction, the work is often objective. In fiction, know the limits of your willingness in terms of what you feel comfortable adding or subtracting to make a piece work for a perceived audience. How far will you go to please those beyond the Lord? Some compromises are just not worth it.
  7. Write a thank you note – especially to the person, or people, who advised a rewrite. It is hard to tell someone their work doesn’t, well, work. It’s even harder to hear it. Having a teachable spirit goes a long way in the world of writing and beyond.
  8. When in doubt, pray. Wait. Listen.

Above all, remember that a rewrite doesn’t kill you, but the lack of one just might.

Click-to-Tweet: Be open to those occasions when your editor will ask for clarification, or a complete re-write. Write, Revise, Submit from @kristyhorine via @InspiredPrompt #amwriting #editing


Writing Prompt: Compose a quick sentence or short paragraph using this photo as inspiration.

Freelance Writing for Newspapers

by Shirley Crowder

newspaperRecently I was asked, “How did you get your articles published in a newspaper?” I laughed and said, “I read my Facebook (FB) comments.” I knew from the confused look on this man’s face that I should fill in more details. I continued, “I called an FB friend whose comment on one of my Christmas posts was, ‘Call me’ followed by his telephone number … I called!”

This friend, Harry Butler, coordinates writers for “Paper Pulpit” in the Faith section of  The Gadsden (Alabama) Times. He told me to expand one of my posts and email it to him. Why limit carols to Christmas? was published in the online and print editions in February 2014. My articles continue being published—when I have sense enough to write and send them!

Let’s look at some things I have learned about writing for newspapers. I hope some of these will spur you on to identify, investigate, and submit articles for publication in newspapers.

Aren’t Newspapers Obsolete?

Not at all! Newspapers today are not the same as they were when I grew up. In those days you had four main sources of news: television, radio, print newspapers, and news magazines. You couldn’t find the news any time of the night or day, you had to wait until the newscast came on, the newspaper was delivered, and for the magazine to hit the stands or your mailbox. Not so, now. You can go online and find news about events, places, and people all over the world, at any time of the night and day.

Don’t limit your scope.

When you think of newspapers, be sure to include the online news sources, not just the daily newspapers. Think print AND online.

  • Many denominations have weekly or monthly conference or associational newspapers.
  • Communities often have their own small newspapers and are looking for articles on a wide range of topics.
  • News websites often need writers.
  • Clubs, Organizations, and Associations are looking for articles about the passion or focus of their club, organization, or association.

“I don’t even know where to begin.”

As with any writing project you need to do research. Here are some suggestions on how to get started:

INvestigateInvestigate

The most important step in writing for newspapers, as it is with any writing, is to investigate newspapers/news sources.

  • What newspaper is for and about your city, county, state, etc.?
  • Buy or download a copy each day for a week or so and read them cover-to-cover, making note of the type articles in each section on each day of the week that are things you could write about.
  • As you’re investigating and getting to know the newspaper, look on their website and get the submission guidelines and procedures. Familiarize yourself with these guidelines and procedures. (NOTE: Many newspapers now have online portals through which articles can be submitted.)
  • Does the paper accept articles from freelance writers? If not, don’t discount this newspaper. See the section below, “Other ways to be published in a newspaper.”
  • What types of articles will they accept: fiction, non-fiction, real-life accounts, humorous stories, historical accounts, etc.?
  • What is the newspaper’s preferred style of writing? Do they prefer articles that are more folksy than formal?
  • How many words do they want for articles?
  • What topics have they covered recently? What ideas did those give you for articles at different times of the year: summer, start of school, Christmas, etc.?
  • What types of people, places, events, and things do they tell about in their newspaper?
  • Does the newspaper have a foundational political point of view? If so, does it match yours?

Think about …

You may get an inroad at a newspaper by writing an op-ed piece, a letter to the editor, or a book review.

writeWrite

Now you can begin writing your article, keeping in mind all the things you learned about what types of articles the paper publishes.  

  • Make certain to follow their submission guidelines. How many words? Is there a specified font size and line spacing?
  • I always find it helpful to put whatever I am writing aside for a day or so and go back for a careful edit and proof. Then, proof it again! It is also a good idea to have at least one other person proof your writing before you submit it.

sendPitch / Submit

From the submission guidelines, you will know whether you need to send a pitch/inquiry or just submit your article.

If you are to submit a pitch/inquiry, be as concise as possible. Many editors say you should be able to state in one sentence what the article will be about. Remember Sergeant Joe Friday on Dragnet saying, “Just the facts.” The pitch or inquiry should include:

  • The headline or article title.
  • Some articles have a line that appears just below the heading that describes what the article will be about. You will know from your investigative work if articles similar to yours need to have one.
  • Write a paragraph that briefly describes the article.
  • Give them a bullet-point listing of your published articles, including the date of publication and the publication name. Do not embellish here.
  • Do not send attachments unless specified in the submission guidelines. Only send pictures if they request them.
  • Be patient as you wait for a response. Usually, the submission guidelines tell you in what time-frame they will respond to you and how they will respond, via email, snail mail, etc.
  • Keep writing and submitting articles while you wait!
  • Some newspapers pay for articles and some do not. The submission guidelines will specify this. If you are trying to break into freelance newspaper writing, you may want to write some free articles or articles that don’t pay much to get some articles in your writing portfolio.
  • If they accept your pitch/submission, be certain to meet their deadline, and if possible, get it in a little early. Editors will love you!
  • If your pitch/submission is rejected, carefully evaluate your article and submit it to another newspaper. Write another article and submit it to the same newspaper.

What idea do you have that would make a good newspaper article?

Click to Tweet: Do you have a great idea for a newspaper article? #amwriting #newspapers #inspiredprompt

BACK TO BASICS: How to start

Back to Basics

Hello, all! I’m author Sara R. Turnquist. I’ve been doing this whole writing thing for most of my life. I was a “closet writer” for many years before I let anyone read my work. Once they did, I was on the fast track to publication. My first book published in 2015 and I have since published seven other titles.

IMG_7676I often get the question from friends thinking they would like to write or aspiring writers I may meet: How do I get started?

Not the easiest question to answer, but I will share what I have gleaned–things I did well and things I wish I had done better.

WRITE THE BOOK. Delve into writing the best book you can. You are likely wanting to write because you have a story in you that is fighting to get out. You have that seed, that nugget, a bit of inspiration. Get it on paper. Let it be ugly. But start writing. Then learn how to write better. How do you do that?

READ BOOKS ON THE CRAFT OF WRITING. Anything by James Scott Bell, Brandilyn Collins, or Jeff Gerke is solid stuff. Some of my favorites include The Emotion Thesaurus and Rivet Your Readers With Deep Point of View. There are tons of books on craft. You just have to jump in somewhere.

CONFERENCES. I cannot say enough about the difference investing in conferences has made for me. It’s like college for writers! You have the opportunity to learn from those further along in the craft, network with other writers, gain experience at pitching to an agent/editor (or even land a contract). These are a few of the biggies. I recommend starting with a smaller conference so you don’t get overwhelmed. And I recommend Bob Mayer’s Writer’s Conference Guide: Making the Most of Your Time and Money.

FIND A CRITIQUE GROUP. Join a critique group, even if it’s online. Find one that has at least one published author. Otherwise, you might be the blind leading the blind. There is some danger in certain groups that the most talented writers are “picked at”. Be on the look-out. A good critique group will give you feedback, but do so constructively. They will encourage and support you.

WRITE THE BOOK. Are you still writing the book? Cause that’s what it’s all about. You must have the book. It’s really about the book.

MENTOR. Find a writing mentor. Someone in a critique group who is further along than you, or someone you meet at a conference. Mentors are great for teaching and encouraging.

LEARN ABOUT QUERYING. Query Shark is a great resource about writing queries. Be mindful to research the agents/publishers you want to submit to. Follow their guidelines to the letter.

BUILD A WEBSITE/BLOG. If you even think you want to write, you need to start building a PLATFORM. I know…big, scary word. But you will need to market (I know, another scary word) yourself and your book, so you need your own website, a place to build your fanbase where your readers can connect with you. And you cannot rely on Facebook or Twitter solely (although you can and should market here), as they could  disappear any day. Building your e-mail list through your website is the best way to maintain contact with your audience.

READ OTHER AUTHOR’S BLOGS. Like this one! Or mine (saraturnquist.com)! Author blogs can be valuable sources of information. Jerry Jenkins has a great blog as well. I follow five blogs consistently where I make regular comments so the bloggers get to know me.

WRITE THE BOOK. In the end, it’s still about the book. These other things enhance your experience and knowledge, but you cannot forget it’s about your idea, your story, your novel. Never lose sight of that. And there will be days you don’t feel like spending time with your book writing, editing, or revising. But it is necessary. If it is important to you, you must make yourself sit down and work. Once you do, even if you need a writing prompt to get started, the pump will be primed, and the juices will start flowing. And just let it go from there.

TheLadyandTheHussites500x750AS FOR ME. All of these things still hold true. I keep “writing the book”. And now, you can check out my latest title, The Lady and the Hussites, book two in my Lady Bornekova Series.

WRITING PROMPT: I met my favorite author yesterday, and he/she told me the best advice was…

Click to Tweet: Write the book–that’s what it’s all about–Sara R. Turnquist on Back to Basics: How to Start #InspiredPrompt #amwriting

Connecting Through a Conference

by Betty Owens

Cuenca, Ecuador may seem a long way to go from Louisville, Kentucky to attend a writer’s conference. But yes, they do have them.

13781808_10208019875393231_6071279104855773299_n

That’s me teaching the novel-writing class in Cuenca, Ecuador!

I learned this when I went to Cuenca on a recent mission trip. While there, I taught a four-hour workshop on novel writing. In the process of planning and researching ahead of this class, I stumbled on a conference that meets annually in their late summer (February). I was able to recommend the conference to those who attended my class.

Why do you need to attend conferences? This was a point I touched on in the workshop. Here are my reasons:

  1. To connect with other writers, especially those writing in a similar genre
  2. To learn more about the craft of writing
  3. To meet agents, editors, and publishers
  4. To practice telling others about your writing

Notice my first item on the list is to connect with other writers. Living, breathing humans with a definite pulse. Yes, you can meet other writers online. You can “friend” them on Facebook or “follow” them on Twitter. But it’s just not the same and not quite as effective as meeting someone face-to-face. I’ve made some very important connections at writers’ conferences. Many of these led to lasting friendships. This is vital to your survival in the writing world.

coffee-break-1177540_1280Are you nervous about that face-to-face thing? Anxious about meeting new people? You’re not alone. Many of us feel exactly the same. But you need to put yourself out there, because—how will you ever manage to sell books if you’re afraid of meeting people? There are only so many family members and close friends. After you’ve sold to all of them, where will you go?

The people you meet at the conference probably won’t buy your books, but they can help you get the word out. I’m a lot more likely to share a book on Facebook if I’m acquainted with the author. I’ll invite those writers to post on my blog or do an interview. Hopefully, they will return the favor when I have a new book out.

Another way those connections with other writers can work for you—they can inspire and encourage you. Writers are some of the most giving people I know. They don’t hoard their knowledge. They give freely to others. And they have been where you are. They know how to talk you through the tough times. I don’t know about you, but this kind of thing is precious to me.

TeacherItem two is learning about the craft. Where else can you sit in a class taught by one of your favorite authors? Hear them tell how they got their start and how they honed their craft. What do you most need to learn? You can probably find a class on that. Even the smaller, regional conferences offer good classes. They offer them because this is how they keep writers coming back every year.

Agents and editors go to writing conferences to teach classes and to meet new writers. They’re always on the lookout for new talent. That could be you. Again, face-to-face is better than an email. Maybe you’re not ready for an agent or an editor. They can advise you. And friendship with an agent, editor, or publisher? Priceless! Just remember to be respectful of their time. They are busy, busy people.

The last item on my list is learning how to talk about your writing. Practice the “elevator pitch.” That’s the mini-version of your work-in-progress. Don’t give all the details. Only tell the juicy stuff. Keep condensing the story until you’re left with a sentence or two. If you don’t know how to do this, there’s probably a class for that at one of these conferences. 🙂

typewriter-1248088_1280So you want to attend a big conference, but money is tight? Go for one day. You can usually pay a smaller amount and attend one day’s classes. Then head home. Do what you have to do to get the knowledge to compete in our crowded environment. Yes, there are a lot of folks out there doing the same thing we’re doing. Writing their stories and vying for attention. This is why you need to stay on the edge. Learn the latest. It’s continuing education in a fast-moving world. You need to keep up. The writers conference can help you do that.

Writing Prompt Imagine yourself entering your dream writers conference where you immediately make the acquaintance of your favorite author, who asks for your help. Tell us where you are, who the author is, and what they’ve asked you to do…in story form.

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