Thursday, February 28, 2013

The 2 Must-Have Qualities For Writing Success

In my effort to read 75 books this year, I just picked up two books from my local library: "letters to a young journalist," by Samuel G. Freedman and "Letters To A Young Novelist," by Mario Vargas Llosa.

I decided to start Freedman's book first. Logic behind it: I worked as a journalist for more than a dozen years before working on my current project - seven modern fantasy novels I call the Mall Demons Series.

I reached Page 7 of Freedman's book when I came across a sentence that forced me to re-read. The number seven has always been my lucky number, and it is considered a number of spiritual perfection in the Bible. I know, I digress. But I believe today of all days was the day to begin reading this book and come across this sentence because I just witnessed it in action in the classroom and was pleased. 

The sentence lauded two qualities above another for achieving excellence. For me, considering my experience in the writing classes I've taught during the last few years, these two qualities are the ones my most successful students have possessed. What is funny is that some of my best students have confessed to me after the first day of class that they "hate writing," or "have never been any good at writing." 

However, they possessed these two must-have qualities that helped them, by the end of the term, achieve writing success. The great thing about these two must-have qualities is that anybody can cultivate them. So, back to Freedman's book.

In this section of the book, Freedman shares about his experience as a first-time professor at Columbia University. In his discussion of that first class, Freedman says this: "I was affirmed in my belief that intellectual curiosity and a relentless work ethic matter infinitely more than natural ability in achieving excellence."

I did a double take. Yes! "Intellectual curiosity and a relentless work ethic." These are the two qualities my best writing students have possessed. I have had students who seemed to possess a natural ability to tell a compelling story. But many failed the course because they couldn't complete the work.

I was inspired today by one of my students who turned in a draft early. This student confessed early on in the term that "writing was not her thing." While the class took a quiz, I pulled out my orange pen and marked up the pages she gave me. I didn't spare one sentence. But I knew she would appreciate my meticulousness. All term she has examined and highlighted the writing textbook, asked question after question, and submitted draft after draft for my approval. On a few occasions she sent me e-mailed drafts hoping for an immediate response. "Before next class." All this from a student who admits she doesn't like writing.

Intellectual curiosity. Relentless work ethic.

After the quiz, I returned the draft to my student. Her eyes widened for a second at the sight of all the orange marks on her paper. Then she asked questions. "What does this mean?" "How do I fix this?" And then she said something that made me very happy. I forget her exact words, but it was something like, "It'll be great when I can get back a paper that has no orange marks on it."

That made my day.

Do you want to be a writer? Ask yourself: "Do I possess these two qualities?" Intellectual curiosity. Relentless work ethic. If not, cultivate them now.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Are You Scared Of Writing? I Will Help

Let me fill you in on a secret. It's a secret many of us weren't clued into: Knowing how to write is important!

There it is. Now you know. But, maybe, you aren't confident in your writing ability. Maybe, your schooling didn't help you. Maybe, you didn't pay attention in those English classes. 

Well, now, you know better. But where do you go? How do you learn how to write? That's where I can help.

You're nervous. Scared. Embarrassed. Then ask me. I'm a writer. I've been writing professionally for nearly 20 years. I am a writing professor. So, confide in me. No question is off limits. What's a subject? What's a verb? How do you write a paragraph? I have the answer. Just ask. I'll help. I won't judge.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

4 Ways To Use Life's Problems In Your Writing

The last few weeks have been filled with the kinds of troubles that break lesser writers.

Forget writers, how about humans (men and women). It doesn't matter where you live or what your occupation might be. Your age or anything else. One thing is certain. Whether your American, Russian, Japanese, British, African, Brazilian or other, you have to deal with life's problems. 

We all have them. Gotta eat. Gotta pay the bills. Gotta have fun some way (Fun is essential). And if you're a writer, these problems can de-rail your writing. It can, but shouldn't. So, here are four ways to use life's problems to help your writing.

1. Consider problems as an inevitable way of life: Face it. Life is full of problems. Can't get around it. Accept this truth, then you can use problems to advance your writing. There's no way to live life without drama. Come to think of it, drama is what drives fiction. That leads us to #2.

2. The more problems you experience, the more you can write about with firsthand experience: This doesn't mean we should look for problems, but if they find you, don't get depressed. Take notes. You find yourself lost in love? Maybe jobless? Dealing with the death of a loved one? Whatever it may be, yes it's painful. So, take notes. Write what you feel. Write what you experience. Write it ALL down. Odds are someone else going through the same thing will relate. If you can put it in writing, you've gained a reader. And if you're a writer, you must always remember that you need readers. Readers are your audience, and you must understand your audience, which leads us to #3.

3. Use your problems to walk in your readers' shoes: Write what you know is what we're talking about. But... what if you've never walked in your readers' shoes? Well, see every problem you encounter as a way to relate to more readers. I mean this. For example, what if you've been cheated on in love. Heartbreaking. This destroys lives. Nobody wants to experience it, but if you do and are a writer, you can share that experience. Why? Because odds are some of your readers have been there, too. If they read your work and how you dealt with it, they might have a better chance of overcoming it. If they overcome it by reading about your experience, well...how do you think they'll think of you? This leads us to #4.

4. Be vulnerable. Share it all and you'll help yourself and your readers: Look up the word "catharsis." That's what you can experience if you write through your problems. It's great therapy for you to get all that poison out of your system. Put the poison in words on the computer screen or on paper. Get it there so that it doesn't remain in your body. If it remains in you, it continues to poison you. Get it out! Yes, you reveal your soul to others, but they will appreciate it because your readers are just as hurt as you. They want help. You, the writer, can help them. They may not be strong enough to put their hurts into words. But you are strong enough. You are a writer. You can do it. So... do it now!

Do you know more ways to use life's problems to help your writing? Share your comments. Help us. You're a writer with valuable knowledge to share.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Are You Good Enough To Be A Writer?

Have you ever wondered if you're good enough? Talented enough? And then a relative steps up to say, "No, quit dreaming already. Go get me some more cake."

And just maybe in that moment you cowered. You wanted to shout out: "Yes! I can do it! I am a writer! Shove your cake where the sun don't shine!"

But this isn't your fictional world. You can't manipulate the actions and reactions of the characters in this far too realistic drama. So you freeze.You say nothing. Maybe they're right. Maybe you weren't meant to be a writer.

Now, maybe you agree. Everyone's right. I was delusional. Now what?

I think I'll write about it.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Can You Make A Living As A Writer?

Truth is I don't know.

But I must believe you and I can. That's why I'm putting all my eggs in the writing basket. It takes a lot of work. That's what I'm doing now.

Writing isn't just what I think of as artistic. Not just poetry. Not just short stories. Not just novels. There's so much more. I'm exploring that now. I'll let you know how it goes. Then you can tackle it too.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Daniel Speaks: A New Mall Demons Journal

Daniel is the main character in my Mall Demons Spiritual Urban Fantasy Series. The fate of the world is on his shoulders. He must prevail, or the world will become a demon playground.

Daniel is barely out of high school working as a busboy at a mall restaurant. When he's visited by two angels, he has a hard time accepting his role as savior of mankind. To cope with this responsibility, he writes down his thoughts in an online journal. This is Daniel's journal. It's available for all to read.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Productive Day...For The Most Part

I love Fridays because they are my days off from the classroom. Not that the classroom isn't fun, but my Fridays are my time to write, read, research, and have fun.

First things first, I had to renew some library books. Yes, I'm one of those borrowers who racks up overdue fines. But with e-mail alerts I'm more on top of my library account. Checking out e-books is great for avoiding late fees, too. Once the loan period is over, the book disappears from my Kindle. Sweet!

That's what we need: actual hardcover and paperback books that disappear through some sort of vortex or something when it's time to return them. The vortex then automatically sends them back to the library. Somebody needs to invent that!

Much of my research today has been on Christian fiction. I'm also reading "25 Books Every Christian Should Read," and Robert W. Bly's "Secrets of a Freelance Writer."

I've also been thinking a lot about my main character, Daniel, from my Mall Demons project. I started writing a journal in his voice. Trying to get in his head.

What really got me excited today is discovering that I've lost three pounds since I started hitting the gym. Writing and reading can be a sedentary lifestyle - and has been for me the last several years - so I decided this year I would get in shape.

Good times!



The Flu Season Sucks!

I can't even remember feeling healthy.

Maybe it's been days. Maybe weeks. Don't know. All I know is I'm coughing, sneezing all the time.

I am a big baby when I'm sick. I don't like to do anything... that includes writing. Although I have done some reading. Not much, but my goal this year is to read 75 books.

Right now it's quiet at my house. That's because everyone but me is asleep. Good times. Only thing is... we're out of tissue paper.

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