Archive for April, 2009

Reasons to Write: Write to Avoid Housework

Christina Katz

By Christina Katz
It’s not a secret that I dislike housekeeping. Relatives have come right out and suggested to my face hiring someone without apologizing for their directness. But I look at this as more of a sign of their intolerance for our wabi-sabi lifestyle than anything else.

I’m an author, teacher, and speaker and my husband is a teacher and theater director. Our careers require a certain amount of creative immersion that we happen to enjoy. I realize our relaxed lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but over the years in the class I teach especially for moms, I’ve become something of a mess evangelist.

The way it happened is that the moms in my class kept saying they didn’t have time to write. And finally, after tossing out all of my other suggestions, I threw down the gauntlet.

Stop cleaning so much. Lower your expectations about a perfectly orderly home. Ask for and expect more help with household chores from the whole family. Is it still a radical idea, even in the new millennium, that the “woman of the house” is not 100 percent responsible for the cleanliness of the house?

That time to write has got to come from somewhere.

Often women who are home raising kids but are not making a financial contribution feel stuck. They want to start, for example, a writing career from home but their husbands don’t want them to try. They don’t want their wives to make the investment of time and money into becoming a professional who works from home, even though writing is the lowest-investment business you can start-up.

Notice I didn’t say writing is a no-investment business. Rather it’s a low-investment business. Now I think we all know where I stand on this idea. I have had students sneak my class onto a credit card without telling their spouse until the class was over. And though, I don’t especially enjoy being privy to such intimate couple dynamics, we get the picture. Women want to learn skills that can help them make money from home so they can have the best of both worlds. What’s wrong with that?

So here are some tips for those who not only want to write to avoid housework, but those who need to avoid housework in order to write:

1.    Eschew conformity. Don’t confuse your value as a human being with how clean your home is. I have known some fabulous women who couldn’t cook or clean worth a darn. And if anything, this fact only makes them more charming and memorable to me.

2.    Make housekeeping a team sport. Crank up the music. Give everyone a job. Tackle the worst of it for a couple of hours on the weekends. It’s amazing how much a family can get done when everyone works together. Even very young children love to dust, squirt windows and mirrors and sweep. Get them their own special cleaning tools so they really can contribute.

3.    Hurry up and get paid for writing. The longer you drag your feet and dilly-dally, the more skepticism you’ll be confronted with from others. In all of my years of teaching, I have to say that I have encountered many women who seem to want a guarantee before they commit. I can’t give them that. But I can almost guarantee that if you don’t commit, you won’t succeed.

4.    Read the book, A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder–How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and On-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman. Or listen to it on audio while you clean up a little bit between juggling kids and writing gigs.

Viva tolerable messiness! Now if I could only get our dogs to pull their weight around here, I’d be all set.

Writer Mama by Christina KatzGet Known Before the Book Deal by Christina Katz Christina Katz is the author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Build an Author Platform and Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (both for Writer’s Digest Books). A platform development coach and consultant, she teaches writing career development, hosts the Northwest Author Series, and is the publisher of several e-zines including Writers on the Rise. Christina blogs at The Writer Mama Riffs and Get Known Before the Book Deal, and speaks at MFA programs, literary events, and conferences around the country.

Writing for Radio: Polishing Your Script-The Read-Aloud Handbook

Laura BridgwaterBy Laura Bridgwater

Just as you would polish a written piece before e-mailing it to your editor, you can polish a piece for the radio before recording it.

One of the best ways to polish your script is to practice reading it aloud. Read your script to anyone who will listen, from friends and family to the cat if you need to. Read it to yourself until you are comfortable with it.

While you are reading aloud, listen for the answers to the following questions:

Do you pause in the middle of a sentence to take a breath? If so, go back to the keyboard. Unless you are William Faulkner, chances are your sentence is too long. Rewrite it as two shorter sentences. This is a good rule for other kinds of writing, too.

Can you read your script without stumbling over certain phrases? Some phrases that work in print become tongue twisters when spoken. When you find these stumbling blocks, it’s better to reword than try to master them. Invariably, those glitches will trip you up when you are recording.

Does your script sound conversational? If you write mostly for print markets, you may need to tweak your script to make it sound more conversational. For example, the transition “For example” works well in a written piece, but “I was thinking about this…” sounds more conversational in commentary.

Do you know the correct pronunciation of all the words in your text? When in doubt, check an online dictionary like dictionary.com.The beauty of online dictionaries is that they have audio clips. You won’t need your special phonics decoder ring to figure out the pronunciation key.

Have you made a recording of yourself? It’s worth the effort no matter how much you might detest the sound of your voice. When you play back your recording, take the pillow off your head and listen critically.

Do you sound as if you are underlining every other word? If so, this is Shatner-esque and you should stop. Instead, pause naturally at the ends of your sentences. Also listen to whether you clear your throat or make other distracting sounds. Unless, of course, you are still reading to the cat. The cat might like the hairball sound effects.

Ultimately, writing for radio means translating the written word into the spoken word. The key to sounding good is to read as if you weren’t reading. And that comes, like everything else in life, with practice.

Laura Bridgwater is a freelance writer and radio commentator at KUNC. To listen to her commentary go to http://www.kunc.org and click on tapes and transcripts. She can be reached at blipps@comcast.net.

The Scoop on Writing Profile Articles: Preparing for the Interview

Lori RussellBy Lori Russell

In March’s column, I discussed how to pitch an idea for a profile article to an appropriate publication with a query letter. Once the editor gives you the go ahead to write your profile article, what should you do next?

Before you schedule an interview with your subject, reread your query letter. It holds the key of how to research, interview and write your profile in a timely manner.

As writers, we are expected to be “instant experts” who know about a variety of topics and can explain them using original metaphors and flowing prose. To do that in a timely manner, you need a strategy so you don’t over or under research or write your article. Luckily, because of the work you did crafting your query letter (narrowing the focus of your topic, determining your angle, choosing your interview subject), you already have a great start.

When I wrote a profile on a couple who run a clinic teaching rural kids how to hunt wild turkeys, my angle focused on the efforts of 100 adult volunteers who teach children the basics of carrying on a hunting tradition in their community. Because I knew my angle and my audience’s familiarity (or lack there of) with the subject manner, I didn’t have to know how to a pattern a shotgun, delve into the specifics of turkey biology or be able to imitate the call of a hen to draw in a “tom.”

Familiarize yourself with the basics of your topic first and use the interview to get the color and quotes that come with talking with someone.

After you’ve found your information, copy all your notes into one notebook or computer file. Copying the information rather than simply cutting and pasting from websites forces you to think about which facts are useful. It also anchors those details in your mind-something that is helpful when you begin to write.

Here are some more dos and don’ts when preparing for the “Big Talk”:

  • Do familiarize yourself with your topic before the interview.
  • Do develop questions for your subject about the activity or status that led you to choose him/her for an interview and about the life that brought him/her to that activity or status.
  • Do use your questions to get and keep the conversation going if your subject is nervous, shy or withholding.
  • Don’t feel you have to stick to your list if all goes well and the interview flows naturally.
  • Do interview secondary sources. Consider friends, colleagues or adversaries of the subject. Look for experts on the Internet, through professional associations, trade organizations or the public relations department at a college or university. Contact writers or editors at technical, professional or trade publications in the field you are writing about.
  • Do use the phone or email when you are trying to collect background information or get a supporting quote or anecdote from a secondary source.

Assignment: Reread one of your query letters from last month and review what you promised to deliver to your editor. Research the basics of your topic and compile your notes in a notebook or computer file. Compose a list of questions for your interview subject.

Lori Russell has written profiles about people, their passions and their places for more than a decade. Her nonfiction articles have been published online and in magazines and newspapers around the country. She is a contributing editor for Columbia Gorge Magazine, a regular contributor to Ruralite magazine and has co-written the “In the Spotlight’ column for WOTR for the past two years. She is currently enjoying a writing residency teaching memoir writing to high school students through Columbia Gorge Arts in Education, an organization that brings professional writers and artists to the public schools.

Getting Your Poems on the Page: Writing Music-Rhyme, Rhythm & Repetition

Sage Cohen

By Sage Cohen
Songs can take hold of us and refuse to let go. I have been taken hostage for days, years, decades by some of my favorites. I’ll bet you have, too. What do songs do that speaks so directly to us and moves us so deeply?

In songs, rhyme, rhythm, and repetition typically work together to deliver messages in a way that we respond to physically and emotionally-so much so that hearing a song can spin us back to the time and place of our first hearing it-resurfacing smells, feelings, even people who we might not otherwise have remembered. It seems, then, that the songs we love somehow plug into our nervous systems, entangling themselves in our memories. Because songs are poems set to music, we have the same opportunities to tickle people down to their foundations with the rhymes, rhythms, and repetitions we choose in our poems.

Rhyme
Repeating sounds can help create a kind of cohesion in a poem. This is the delight of rhyme; it’s easier to retain a phrase if it is strung together with sounds that echo each other, probably because it feels good to say and hear it.

Rhythm
Songs rely heavily on instruments to communicate rhythm; poems use words and lines and white space. But the trajectory is similar. The way you break a line, space a stanza, and choose your words for their syllabic pluck is akin to the drum keeping a beat for a song.

Repetition
Most songs have a chorus-a catchy few phrases that get repeated intermittently throughout. When done successfully, a chorus creates a kind of comforting return to the familiar, while expanding in meaning each time as the song progresses. Repetition can work the same way in free-verse poems, but with no standard formula to follow. The real craft of repetition comes in offering something fresh with each appearance, using a recurring idea or image to peel back layer after layer, rather than circling the reader back to the same idea, of which she will tire easily.

Your turn!

Modeled on song lyrics, write a poem that has end rhymes, similar syllable-count lines, and possibly even a recurring chorus. Use the lyrics of any songwriter you admire as your example-and don’t be shy about imitating.
October 2007 Family Fun Magazine

Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry, forthcoming from Writer’s Digest Books, and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. Her poetry and essays appear in journals and anthologies including Cup of Comfort for Writers, Oregon Literary Review, Greater Good and VoiceCatcher. Sage holds an MA in creative writing from New York University and teaches the email class Poetry for the People.

Christina’s Get Known Book Tour Continues

LIVE APPEARANCES:
I love chatting with readers and former students. Come and meet me!

Sunday – Tuesday
May 3-5, 2009

King County Libraries Tour
Seattle, Washington

  • May 3: Mercer Island Branch, 2 p.m.
  • May 4: Covington Branch, 7 p.m.
  • May 5: Belleview Branch, 7 p.m.

More Info

Writer’s Digest/BEA Writer’s Conference
Wednesday, May 27th
All day

NYC at the Jacob Javits Convention Center
More Info

Writer’s Digest Author Webinar, June 4th
Are You a Specialist or a Generalist?
Evaluating Your Skill Set to Survive in Today’s Publishing Environment

by Christina Katz (60 min)
More info coming soon!

News!
Check Out the May/June Issue of Writer’s Digest magazine!

May/June 2009 Writer's Digest Magazine

I have a six-page feature, “Build Your Power Platform” appearing in the May/June issue of Writer’s Digest magazine. My article is part of a twenty-page feature section on how to stand out to agents and editors. Other contributors in the feature section include M. J. Rose, the Writer’s Digest Staff, Jeff Yeager, and editor Jessica Strawser. The May/June issue features an interview conversation between Stephen King and Jerry B. Jenkins and the announcement of the annual 101 Best Websites.

The Fiction Writing Workshop: Let Your Characters Speak

Kristin Bair O'KeeffeBy Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

“Kristin?”

“Yes?”

“Do characters have to talk?”

“Yes, unless, of course, your character is a true mute or her mouth is bound shut with duct tape.”

Silence. And then the sound of nails drumming on a wooden desk.

“Kristin?”

“Mmmmm?”

“Why?”

“For a lot of reasons, but three pretty important ones.”

“Such as?”

“Well, first, dialogue helps readers get to know your characters. Look how much you learn about the narrator’s dad in Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics (Penguin Books, 2006) when on page five he gives his opinion about people writing their life stories:

‘Unless your name is something along the lines of Mozart, Matisse, Churchill, Che Guevara or Bond-James Bond-you best spend your free time finger painting or playing shuffleboard, for no one, with the exception of your flabby-armed mother with stiff hair and a mashed-potato way of looking at you, will want to hear the particulars of your pitiable existence, which doubtlessly will end as it began-with a wheeze.’

“Ooh, that guy’s got some attitude, huh?”

“Exactly. And you know it both from what he says AND how he says it.”

“Okay, I get that. But why else should I use dialogue?”

“Ever get stalled in the forward motion of a story?”

“Oh, yeah. All the time.”

“Well, dialogue helps you figure out what happens next.”

“It does?”

“Yep, on page fifteen of Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Vintage, 2003), the first-person narrator says to a girl he meets, ‘I’m looking for my cat…’ Simple sentence. Simple introduction of a problem via dialogue. And so begins a relationship and a journey that takes you places you never thought you’d go.”

“Wow, that’s pretty cool.”

“Told ya.”

“But you said there were three reasons, didn’t you?”

“I did, and the last one is the simplest. Dialogue is interesting to read. Readers love it. In fact, I had a friend in college who only read the dialogue in books. She skipped all the narrative. She said dialogue was all she needed to get a full story. A little extreme, but telling.”

“Any examples of dialogue readers love?”

“Actually that’s a great assignment for you. Grab your favorite book. Study the dialogue. Look at it for characterization, story movement, and entertainment value. Then write your own.”

“Hhhmm, me and my big mouth.”

Understanding Personal Essays: A Healthy Niche

Abigail Green

By Abigail Green

If there’s one subject people never seem to tire of, it’s their health. Their latest ailment, how much (or little) they’re sleeping, the newest diet or exercise fad-it’s all fodder for discussion. Or, in the case of essayists, exposition.

Even if you don’t think of yourself as a health writer, you’d be wise to consider this popular niche within the personal essay genre. First-person health pieces can run the gamut from essays about how you lost weight to the pros and cons of getting a tattoo removed, how to choose a new doctor, whether the latest nutritional supplement really works, and much, much more.

Health essays don’t just run in health and fitness publications, either. You’ll find them in newspapers, parenting and travel magazines, and general interest magazines, as well as specialty publications targeted to pregnant women, seniors, or people with diabetes. The possibilities are virtually limitless.

So how do you approach this popular niche? First, understand that health essays need to interest people other than your doctor. Editors and readers aren’t going to be riveted by your first-hand account of losing your love handles unless you can make it relevant to them. While certain topics never seem to get old-weight loss, sleep, and sex, for example-it’s precisely because these subjects are so frequently covered that writers need to find a fresh angle.

Did you get in shape thanks to a hot, new pole-dancing class at your gym? Were you able to cure your chronic insomnia using natural remedies? Did you find a miracle food that boosted your lagging libido? A fresh, first-person account of a common health issue may be just the thing to grab an editor’s attention.

One caveat: if your experience is too unique, that could work against you. For instance, if you have been diagnosed with a rare disease, publications may not want an essay on a condition most of their readers have never heard of, let alone suffer from. The exception? A current event makes your condition newsworthy. A great example is Kawasaki syndrome-a relatively rare childhood disease that was all over the news recently when John Travolta’s son reportedly died from complications stemming from the syndrome. An essay about your child’s experience with the disease is almost sure to sell.

Another thing that sets the health essay apart from other personal essays is that it often includes reporting. That is, in addition to the writer’s own experience, the piece may include facts, statistics, and quotes from medical experts. This information is not hard to find. Start by visiting the Centers for Disease Control website or by interviewing your family doctor.

Scan the publications you read regularly for first-person health articles. Mine your family’s and your own medical history for subject matter. It’s worth your time to explore this personal essay niche, which can be a healthy addition to your freelance portfolio.

Abigail Green has published more than 150 articles and essays in regional and national publications including American Baby, Baltimore Magazine, Bride’s, Cooking Light, and Health. Her work also appears in the new book, “A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers.” (Adams Media, 2009). Abby holds a B.A. from Vassar College and an M.A. in publishing from the University of Baltimore. She writes the “Crib Notes” column for The Writer Mama e-zine and the “Understanding Personal Essays” column for Writers on the Rise. A mother of two boys, she blogs about parenting, publishing and more at http://diaryofanewmom.blogspot.com.

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  • This Blog Moving to ChristinaKatz.com as of December 30, 2009… December 27, 2009
    We’re moving! Writers on the Rise archives have been here for years. I hope that WordPress will let the archive live on for a good long time. However, it’s time to move on, bittersweet as change may be. Please come and find me at my new digs: http://christinakatz.com. And while we’re both thinking of it, […]
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