Archive for June, 2009

Reasons to Write: June-The Discovery Zone

By Christina Katz
If you’ve ever read my books, heard me speak or taken a class with me, then you are no doubt familiar with a drum I Christina Katzbeat often and hard: don’t wait to be discovered; produce yourself!

The flip side of my frequent don’t-wait-to-be-discovered admonition is, naturally, to discover yourself. The word “discover” means to see, to get knowledge of, to learn of, to find, to gain sight of, to notice and to realize.
Once you become willing to discover yourself, you have the key to everything-you can know your thoughts, uncover your plans and ambitions, and see the best path right in front of you.

Why is this so important these days? Because if you don’t know which direction you are headed and why, there are more ways to get off the path and into the woods than ever. So if your choices feel like they spoke in too many directions, why not pause and dive back into self-discovery? Even five minutes of self-reflection can get you out of spin mode and reset your clarity of direction. Because if you don’t know who you are, what you are all about, and where you are going, then nobody else is going to get it either.

Why then, would you want to write to become discovered, when the same skill can be used to see and know anything and everything you are ever curious about? When you feel adrift in a sea of choices, don’t reach for the input of others. Reach for your pen or your keyboard and-WOOSH!-you’ll find that you had the power to shine in your capable hands all along. Next thing you know, you are off, making discoveries that can take you and your readers anywhere.

Through writing you can discover a new use for something old. Indeed the process of writing IS a new use for something old: you get to share a seemingly endless stream of words on nothing but good ol’ brainpower. What a joy to discover something for yourself through the process of writing that may have been previously known to others but was unknown to you.

Writing allows you to chance upon ideas, to observe closely or from a distance, to notice what you hadn’t before, to find out things that thrill and dismay you, and to identify, name and claim what is revealed.

When you write to discover, instead of writing to be discovered, you are an active force in the world. You become privy to your own thoughts, your personal passions, your true feelings, your once distant memories, and the very stuff you need to express. Your efforts pay off with exponential rewards, which cannot be topped by literary accolades or rave reviews.

You remember to write for the pure bliss of writing. You come to the center. The seed. The source from which creation springs. And from there, do you really need the adoration or acclaim or attention of others? You don’t. You have it all. The key to creation. The core. The root. And the discovery is divine.

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.

The Writer’s Digest Conference: The Business of Getting Published

Breaking news: Get $50 off the conference when you use the registration code: KatS8
The Business of Getting Published is designed to guide any author through the new dynamics of today’s publishing world.  This three-day event takes place Friday, September 18, through Sunday, September 20, 2009, at the New York Marriott Marquis, on Times Square in New York.

With emphasis on platform, networking and social media, The Writer’s Digest Conference is an innovative and ground-breaking conference, featuring the industry’s top forward-thinking speakers, leading sessions on topics relevant to the current and future state of the publishing world.
Chris Brogan, social media genius, is the keynote speaker.

Other speakers include Kassia Krozser, editor/publisher of;  David Mathison, whose online sales success is the new business model;  Mike Shatzkin, the industry’s top publishing consultant, Seth Harwood and Scott Sigler, whose own podcasts and videocasts have made them superstars in the business;  and many more, plus the editors of Writer’s Digest!

Complete program information, including speaker bios, special events related to the conference and registration, is now available here.

The Scoop on Writing Profile Articles: Find the Story with an Outline

By Lori Russell
Lori RussellLast month, we discussed how to interview your profile subject. After all your hard work, the best thing you can do to move your article along is to take some time off–even if it is only the rest of the afternoon. This part of the writing process involves more head time than minutes at the keyboard, yet it is equally valuable. While you enjoy a walk or prepare dinner, your subconscious is doing what it does best-spotting patterns and connections in your material.
After your well-deserved break, reread your query letter and any notes from your editor about the size and scope of your article. Knowing where you want to end up with your final story guides you in how to take your next step-outlining.
Did I hear a groan? While you may have had to follow your English teacher’s rules for outlining when you were in high school, you are now free to use whatever method works for you-formal or informal, computer software, index cards or a legal pad. However you do it, the goal of any outline is simply to help organize your information.
I begin by typing the notes from my interview into a computer file. With each new thought, I skip a line and begin a new paragraph.
After printing my notes, I fix myself a cup of tea and head to my recliner with my pages and a jar of colored markers. Most profiles include details about whom the subject is or what he or she has done that has led you to write the article. I mark any information that pertains to this in one color along with the category in the margin. Then, I mark each of the steps the person took to get to this point in a different color. I continue through my notes, color-coding different aspects of the material. I don’t get too hung up in analyzing; I am just grouping patterns.
Next, I return to the computer to cut and paste all the information with the same color together to form my rough outline. I work from broad to specific, breaking the information into smaller subgroups in each category.
Organizing your material with an outline forces you to see what’s important in the story and what can be left out. It reduces backtracking and rewriting. Think of your outline as a working draft that grows and changes as you add details, and research info and quotes.
After you have your basic outline, determine the logical progression of the story you are telling and put the information in order. This will help later when you are writing your drafts and creating transitions from paragraph to paragraph. The time you take to create an outline of your article can save you hours later when you sit down to write.
Assignment: Reread your query letter to remind yourself what article you have promised to write. Then pull out the colored markers, index cards or scissors and outline your profile story. 

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: Shaping Poems with Stanzas

By Sage Cohen
Sage CohenA stanza is a series of lines in a poem grouped together to comprise the body of the poem. If a snowman were a poem, each snowball section of him would be a stanza. The size and shape of each are unique to express each individual part, but are also similar and related. Together, they add up to the whole of snowman. In a similar way, the parts (stanzas) of a poem add up to the whole shape and continuity of the poem.
Stanzas also influence a poem’s momentum. Line breaks are the place where the reader lingers an extra beat; the space between stanzas brings the reader to a hard stop. Therefore, a two-line stanza will have a different impact on pacing (typically more halting) than an eight-line stanza, which allows language and images to flow a little longer without interruption.
Unless you are writing in a specific form that dictates stanza length, how you navigate the shape and heft of your stanzas is entirely up to you. Some stanzas are two lines, and others are the length of an entire page-or more. Some poems have a series of similar stanzas (each with four lines, for example) and others have stanzas of varying line lengths (one might have four lines, another eight, the next three, the last a single line). Your choices are literally infinite.
Over time, you’re likely to develop your own aesthetic sense of how stanzas work and what your choices mean. For example, there was a period of years where I wrote mostly in very long stanzas of uneven length. I’d break the stanza when I was starting a new idea. A few of my poems about disappointment in love found their way into short-lined couplets (stanzas of two lines.) I felt that paired lines mirrored the yearning to partner. Clipping the lines short created for me a kind of tension. And the white space around the couplets contributed, in my mind, to the melancholy of the poem.
A poem intended to be a rant or chant might have no stanza breaks and either very long lines to give a feeling of streaming momentum or very short lines to communicate intensity. And a poem about a Zen garden might have lines that are precisely the same length, with four stanzas, each comprised of four lines, for balance.
There’s no right or wrong when shaping stanzas-only your own sense of visual aesthetic, rhythm, pacing and meaning. The best way to find out what feels right is to experiment!
Your turn!

Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Writing the Life Poetic by Sage CohenPoetry, 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, andVoiceCatcher. Sage holds an MA in creative writing from New York University and teaches the email class Poetry for the People.

Columnist’s News!

Thirsty by Kristin Bair O'KeeffeKRISTIN BAIR O’KEEFFE has launched a new website and blog. Here’s a sneak peek at her forthcoming novel’s cover.

Kristin Bair O’Keeffe’s debut novel, Thirsty, will be published by Swallow Press in 2009. A family saga that explores domestic abuse, race, class, and Pittsburgh’s mighty steel industry, Thirsty tells the story of Klara Bozic, a Croatian immigrant who seeks the strength-through love and friendship-to leave an abusive husband.

Can Klara rise above her circumstances and lay claim to her own peaceful spot in the world? Look for Thirsty in Fall 2009 to find out!

ABIGAIL GREEN’S essay, “Taking Care,” appears in the new anthology A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers: Stories that celebrate the miracle of life  (Adams Media, March 2009). Stay abreast of her success over at Diary of a New Mom.

Book By Book by Cindy HudsonCINDY HUDSON’S Book By Book, The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs is coming this fall from Seal Press.

I recently interviewed Cindy about her nonfiction book pitching and writing process over at The Writer Mama Riffs blog.

You can read the complete interview here.

Writers on the Rise was mentioned in the New York Times!

Meryl Evans mentions Writers on the Rise in her recent article in the New York Times, Web Worker Careers: Writers and Editors.

Here’s a taste:

Ninety-nine percent of authors don’t make money on their book projects, 99 percent of publishers lose money and 1,500 books are published every day, reports Clint Greenleaf. With those stats, why does anyone consider a career as a writer or editor?

Because even with those stats, it is possible to make a good living. Especially now, as the growing number of online publications means there are many writing and editing opportunities that go beyond traditional books, newspaper and magazines.

Could you consider writing or editing as a career?

More in the NYT…

The Fiction Writing Workshop: Plot (Keep Your Eye on the Ball)

By Kristin Bair O’Keeffe
Growing up, our family played a lot of backyard baseball. My mom was usually the pitcher. “Keep your eye on the Kristin Bair O'Keeffeball,” she’d say before unleashing a pitch. When I followed her instruction, I usually hit a line drive or on a good day, a homerun (sending my sisters into a wild scramble in the outfield); when I didn’t, I either missed the ball completely or hit an embarrassingly lame foul tip.
Throughout the years, I’ve discovered that in this particular way, writing fiction is not so different from hitting a baseball. If I follow my mom’s instruction when writing-keep your eye on the ball-I am able to create a compelling plot in a story.
Take, for example, Audrey Niffenegger’s novel The Time Traveler’s Wife. In it, the plot (the ball on which you must keep your eye) is “time-traveling man falls in love and wants to stay put in the present with his woman.”
In the book, all action and events speak to this plot in some way. As the story moves forward, Niffenegger keeps her eye on the ball. If she didn’t, the story would wander, and readers would get frustrated, give up, and move on to another book.
As you can see, plot is not a list of events in a story. Plot is the purest description of a story.
Another good example is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Of Love and Other Demons. Here the plot (ball) is “rabid dog bites girl; girl may have rabies.”
And again, throughout the book, Marquez keeps his eye on the ball. Never do you, the reader, lose sight of “rabid dog bites girl; girl may have rabies.”
When broken down this way, plot is a pretty simple concept, but, of course, writers love to complicate it. When someone asks, “What is your story about?” a writer will take a deep breath, say “Weeelll,” then launch into a play-by-play account of the entire tale. “It’s about a woman who buys a dog for her son even though he doesn’t like dogs, and when the dog runs away on a Sunday with the neighbor’s favorite dress…”
Whoa! Hold on! Remember, the purest description…
“Oh, yeah. Got it. Man gets dog; man learns to love.”
See? Simple.
When I was little, it took a while (and many strikeouts) to figure out that when my mom said “Keep your eye on the ball” she meant just that-“Kristin, look at the ball. Don’t look at my eyes, my hands, the outfielders, the squawking bird on the fence.”
In the same way, it took me a while (and many, many stories) to understand that when I’m writing, I have to do the same thing. Now it’s your turn. This month, pretend your book just got published and you’re being interviewed. The interviewer asks, “What is your novel about?” What do you say?
Once you’ve got that answered, look at your story. Do all actions and events speak to this plot? Is your eye on the ball?
If not, time to get back to work.

October 2007 Family Fun MagazineKristin Bair O’Keeffe’s debut novel, Thirsty, will be published by Swallow Press in 2009. Since moving to Shanghai, China, in 2006, Kristin has been chronicling her adventures (and misadventures) in her blog, “Shanghai Adventures of a Trailing Spouse.” Her essays and articles have appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Poets & Writers Magazine, The Baltimore Review, San Diego Family Magazine, and The Gettysburg Review. She teaches fiction and nonfiction writing and is the curator of Out Loud! The Shanghai Writers Literary Salon. To learn more, visit

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