Posts Tagged 'writing for beginners'

Wednesday Writer: Flash Fiction

By Kathy NickersonJune 13th, 2018writingNo Comments

Welcome to the Wednesday Writer. Let’s talk flash! Definitions of flash fiction vary, but basically, this is a short story of less than 1000 words. Sometimes as short as 100 words. It is a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end. Flash follows the same simple story structure as a lengthy novel:

Hero + goal + obstacles to overcome= Good story. Most stories also have a sidekick or two, because we all need a little help from our friends to get through this bumpy life to the other side.

The only difference with flash fiction is everything is condensed. Flash relies upon Strunk & White’s advice to, “omit needless words”. Imagine that you’ve just walked into your scene (say the back seat of an Uber driver). Listen to a snippet of conversation and see if you can learn in a few sentences what the driver wants from life (maybe a long-term relationship), what is stopping her, (maybe her own busy lifestyle). And, how she is going to overcome that obstacle. (I’m not finishing this one. You can either read my version in Splickety’s Spark magazine, or you can write your own.)

Writing flash fiction is a great exercise for any writer. Like Twitter, it forces us to bring our writing down to the bare essentials. And, that is usually best. Sometimes, when I’m stuck on a scene in a novel, I flip over and write some flash fiction to rev up the engines.

If you want to learn more, check out one of the magazines at Splickety Publishing.

Or, if fiction isn’t your vibe, try writing a 100-word true story for Reader’s Digest.

The point today, my writing friend, is to have fun!

Read More

Wednesday Writer: Moving into Magazines

By Kathy NickersonJune 6th, 2018writing1 Comment

 

Welcome to this edition of Wednesday Writer. If you have been following this series, you know we’ve talked about starting small as a writer and learning the craft through books, magazines, courses, conferences, critique groups, and mentors. Today, let’s talk about breaking into magazines, both print and digital versions.

Editor Andy Scheer once told our conference group that he is a magazine evangelist. He said most books sell less than 2000 copies. (Don’t cry yet.) That means maybe four to six thousand readers, if you are fortunate. Most magazines have circulation in the upper thousands, sometimes the millions. Which place would you rather send your message about life?

(BTW, you have a message. No matter what you write, your worldview will seep through.)

Where to begin. Start with publications and websites or blogs that you enjoy reading. Look them up in Writers Market or visit their website to find writers guidelines. Even if you check Writers Market for an overview, visit the website for current guidelines. Sometimes these are hidden in the fine print of “contact us” or some other heading. You may need to use the search tool.

The best place to pitch your first article is in a column or department that is open to freelancers. These are fewer words, and they are less often farmed out to staff writers. Study the section you have chosen. Find three or four past issues and actually dissect the column. Does it start with action or description. Is there much dialogue? Does the tone feel light or serious? How many paragraphs? Does it wrap up neatly at the end or leave the reader with a question?

What to write. Most magazines include a section on their website called a press kit. This will give you demographic information on the readers. You can discern the same thing by looking at the advertisements. If the magazine advertises mostly diapers and baby food, don’t pitch them a piece on choosing your retirement destination. A magazine that advertises expensive cars and designer clothes probably won’t want your article on how to shop with coupons.

Once you have narrowed your market, write your best piece, using all the tools you’ve gathered along the way. Then, let it sit several days and revise. Repeat as many times as necessary. (Eventually you have to stop. I always want to edit the piece again after it comes out in the magazine. This urge never ends.)

How to open the door. You send a query letter. (Some publications will just ask for the full article. Check guidelines.) A query is just a question, as in, “Would you be interested in my article on how to help teenagers stay safe on social media?”. You can search Google for “query letters” and learn exactly how to write the perfect one for every scenario.

Write, polish, and send your query. Then, you wait. Sometimes several months. (Some won’t even respond. They tell you to move on if you don’t hear from them in eight weeks.)

While you wait, choose the next market you will target if this one turns you down.

Repeat until the article sells or until you are convinced it needs reworked.

Keep on doing this with other articles so you have several in various stages. That helps you stop hovering over your in-box for a response from anyone.

Okay, have fun! Let me know when you place your first article.

Read More

How 300 Words a Day Becomes a Book

By Kathy NickersonMay 30th, 2018mercy, writingNo Comments

Face the Page

 

Hello from the Wednesday Writer.

Three hundred words. That is the challenge I set when I decided to actually write one of the stories in my head. If I wrote five days a week, I could have a rough draft done in less than a year. Every morning, I sat at my desk whether I wanted to or not, and I wrote three-hundred words before work. Some of them even made it into the eventual book.

Here are a few tips of my trade:

Follow a Path: I printed blank calendar pages for my novel Thirty Days to Glory since it would follow a month in the life of my characters. I jotted down the main scene for each day. If I had no idea what would happen next, I’d just say something general like, “Elmer will have a memory of the war.” That kept me on course. Calendars have since become my favorite way to plot a story. I rarely write from a detailed outline, but I like to have some stepping stones for the path. Characters keep surprising me along the way, and plots twist or fizzle out. But the main stones are in place. I always fill my calendars in pencil so I can move things around.

Review and Resist: I take a few minutes every morning to read the last few paragraphs from yesterday’s work. Generally, I resist the urge to revise those sentences. Revision steals time from the rough draft. However, I admit, I’m kind of a revise-as-you-go-gal. I do it. But, everyone says you shouldn’t. Pick your own path on this one. Do review, though. Otherwise, you will end up repeating yourself or leaving gaps in your story.

Find a Spot: My morning writing spot for years has been the rocking chair where I read and pray. It sits in a corner of the living room, and everything I need is within reach. We are moving things around in our house this summer, and I may get an actual office. I suspect I’ll keep writing in the rocking chair, though. Carve out your own spot somewhere. You will be surprised how soon your mind begins to respond.

Put Your Fingers on the Keys: Lots of mornings I thought about working on the calendar or coming up with new character names or sketching cover designs because I did not feel inspired to write. Unfortunately, I rarely feel inspired. I always tell young writers that we must discipline our art. Sit ourselves in the chair, put our fingers on the keys (or pick up the pen), and write. Something. Anything. The very act of putting letters together and forming words unlocks something in our brains and our souls. The sentences start to stand in place and march on command. It is a miracle, actually. Every time it happens, I experience a rush of pleasure because I can feel myself cooperating with the Holy Spirit. (Although, I never claim my writing comes straight from God. He would do a much better job than I do.)

Repeat: I am writing my fifth novel now. (Number four comes out this fall.) I find lots of other spaces in my life for writing, of course. I write on the occasional Saturday at home. I steal a few minutes after work. I take my computer and calendar when we travel. And I lock myself away for hours when I get to the serious business of editing and revising. But, those thirty minutes in the mornings are what keep me on task.

 

Lots of people want to write a book. A novel, a textbook, a family history for the grandchildren. Thirty minutes a day will get it done. Have fun!

Read More

How to Start Small as a Writer and Dream Big

By Kathy NickersonMay 23rd, 2018writingNo Comments

Start small. Dream big. Look up.

 

In this edition of the Wednesday Writer, we will look at some places you can actually start publishing your work. Before you tackle a 75,000 word novel, exercise your skills and improve your craft with some of these ideas. Some writers say you should never give away your work to a market that doesn’t pay. But, I’m a big fan of internships. Plus, you are sure to pick up a few loyal readers along the way.

Letter to the Editor – Your local newspaper is a great place to break in. Find a neighborhood treasure and give a shout out in a short letter to the editor. Write, revise, edit and apply all the rules from The Elements of Style. Make it your best work before you debut.

In-House Newsletter – Do you get a regular newsletter from your company, your church, your library, your sons’ PTO, or any other group? Check to see if they accept freelance articles. Keep it positive and polish before you send.

Social Media – Twitter is a great place to practice the art of making every word matter. Facebook posts can become short essays. (250 words or less are best). Even the short captions on Instagram can be exercises in creative writing. Start thinking beyond what you had for dinner, and use your social media accounts to brand yourself as a writer.

Blog – Pick a niche that interests you and start blogging about it. Your herb garden. Antique cars. Raising children in the city. Growing up on a farm. Faith, hobbies, sports, or even politics if you are feeling brave. Google the subject of blogging and learn as you go. Or,  hire an expert (like your twelve year old nephew) to help you get started. Remember to edit and revise every post to make it your best.

Letters to Your Mom – Or your grandchildren. Or your former teachers. The most important words you ever write may be the personal lines you send to someone you love. Never stop writing those, whether you send them in a text or mail them on lovely paper.

 

Keep dreaming. Keep writing. Keep looking up in faith. And drop me a line or leave a comment to let me know when you get published!

Read More

If I’m Writing, Who is Reading?

By Kathy NickersonMay 16th, 2018writingNo Comments

 

Pirate Mike is not my target reader. He is just a generous friend who stopped in at one of my book signings. May you be so blessed.

 

 

On today’s Writer Wednesday, I’m talking about audience.

If you don’t want anyone to read your work, you probably aren’t ready to be an author. Keep on being a writer, though, tucking your poetry and prose away inside a journal. I have notebooks full of things I wrote in the early years, and I’m probably leaving a note for those to be burned at my death. They don’t need an audience. (If you are writing journals to hand down to your children, they are your audience. Good work!)

Most of us write because we have something to say. And, we hope someone is listening. Here are some tips for figuring out the someones.

Before you write, imagine your reader in great detail. If you are writing Science Fiction with a high fantasy element, you probably don’t imagine your grandmother and her friends sipping tea and reading your story in rocking chairs. Yet, those are exactly the women I imagine reading my Glory Circle Sisters series.

Question: Where does your reader sit when he reads?

Create an ideal reader. Think about the gender, age, interests, and deep needs of this reader. You can even give the reader a name and physical traits. Cut a picture out of a magazine and post it over your computer if that helps. I keep a file of notes I’ve received from readers. Their comments remind me I’m creating characters and stories to relate to the needs of specific people. I keep a few of those actual readers in mind as I write.

Question: What does your reader do on Sunday afternoon?

Recognize your limitations. Never submit a book proposal to an agent or editor and say, “People of all ages and genders will love this.” No, they won’t. You will have some crossover readers, of course. But, you will have a more narrow target audience, such as 9-12 year old boys who long for adventure and want to know their lives matter. That could have been the original target audience for the Harry Potter books, even though people of all ages and genders did end up loving them. If Rowlings had written to all us muggles, rather than to the peers of Harry, the books wouldn’t have worked as well.

Question: What scares your reader? (You don’t have to write thrillers for this question to matter. In a love story, the answer is often “being alone.”

Remember that readers are real. The buzz word in publishing these days is “platform.” That is simply the reach you have as a writer. Your social media presence, speaking engagements, and other places you can sell books. Every writer needs a platform of some kind if they intend to be published and read. But, it is easy to move into a user mentality when you feel this pressure to build. Eventually, people can just become planks in your platform. One way to avoid that is to be closely connected to real people who read your books. Friends, family members, co-workers, the neighbor down the street. Every time you write something, picture a real person who might read it.

Question: How will your Aunt Tillie, your boss, your son’s soccer coach, or your hairdresser feel when they read this work?

 

We will talk in another post about how to find these readers and connect to them. For now, start to write with readers in mind. I suspect it will change a few things for you. It did for me.

 

Read More

How Do I Learn to Write?

By Kathy NickersonMay 9th, 2018work, writingNo Comments

Welcome to The Wednesday Writer edition of my blog. I’ll attempt to answer some of the questions readers ask about the writing process in general and writing for publication, specifically. 

I might own a pair of scissors, and I might like to snip away at things, but that does not make me a hairstylist. Every career or pursuit requires training, study, and practice. This is a phenomenal era in which to find those things as a writer. Here are a few simple ways:

Read Magazines – Your local library probably has copies of things like The Writer, Writers Digest, or one of the many other magazines for writers. If you subscribe, you can clip and keep articles that pertain to your genre. Of course, you can get digital versions, as well.

Read Books – Reading for pleasure helps develop your own voice and style. You might start out copying your favorite author, but you will grow. Reading helps tune your ear for writing. Also, buy good books on the craft of writing. Anything by Writers Digest Books will be an excellent resource for your personal writing library. Consider it investing in your education and in the career of another writer.

Watch Movies – Careful, this can be a cop-out to avoid writing. However, movies can also help you learn to write good dialogue and can teach you story structure.

Read Blogs – The number of good blogs for writers is almost endless. Every year, Writers Digest lists the Top One-Hundred. The archives on some of these sites are a treasury. Plus you can start to develop an online circle of relationships as you comment and ask questions.

Join a Writing Group – When I couldn’t find one in our rural area, I created one. It didn’t take much work to discover a dozen or so other people with an interest in writing. In our few years together, we have seen some wonderful growth. One of our members went from never finishing a project to being published in one magazine so frequently they asked him to work as an editor. Now, we submit to him! Check local libraries, college campuses, social media sites, or writing magazines and reference books for groups.

Take a Course – This doesn’t have to be a college class. Lots of online classes are excellent and affordable. I’ve taken several.

Attend a Writers Conference – I do this every year. Writing is a solitary experience much of the time. Meeting real editors, agents, and other authors is worth the price of admission. Plus, you will learn more than your brain can hold.

This list is not exhaustive, of course. It is only a small beginning, but I expect it shall lead to great things. Please let me know when it does so for you. Happy writing.

 

Resources: (Just a few of my favorites)

Magazines: The Writer, Writers Digest

Books: 

Just Write, (plus, everything else by James Scott Bell)

The Irresistible Novel, by Jeff Gerke

Deer on a Bicycle, by Patrick F. McManus

Writers Market

Christian Writers Market

Blogs

Books&Such Literary Agency

Steve Laube Literary Agency

Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Sally Apokedak, Agent

Courses

Anything at Udemy.com by Sally Apokedak

Anything at Udemy.com by Jeff Gerke

The Jerry Jenkins Christian Writers Guild

Guideposts “How to Tell a Story”

Conferences 

Heart of America Christian Writers Conference, Kansas City, usually in October

Omaha Wordsowers, usually in April

Called to Write, Pittsburg, KS, usually in the spring

Realm Makers, this year in St. Louis, but it travels every year.

 

 

 

 

Read More

Why I Write

By Kathy NickersonMay 2nd, 2018mercy, work, writing2 Comments

Welcome to Writer Wednesday.

 

One of the basic questions professionals like to ask newbies is this: So, why do you write? The answers are as unique as the folks replying. But, here are three of the most common reasons.

I write because I want to be rich. Nobody actually says this, of course. We know that wouldn’t be polite. Anyone who writes, though, has a little seed buried deep inside that expects our book could be the one to win the publishing lottery. We hear the dismal statistics of how few books actually make a profit. We know scads of authors who still have day jobs. Yet, we keep writing with a best-seller ticket in our mind.

In case you are wondering, writing for riches is not a good idea. Could it happen? Of course. But, if it doesn’t (and it probably won’t) you risk giving up in despair. And maybe you were just one idea away from the most important book of your life. (Which probably won’t make your rich, either.)

So, if you probably won’t get rich, should you quit? Absolutely not. Adjust your perspective. If you are intent on making a living as a writer, check out advice from people like author Jeff Goins. If you want to let your art grow and breathe without the burden of supporting you, find a job that leaves you enough strength at the end of the day to write around the edges of your life. Or, you might even find a willing patron who will support you while you write. (Spouses and parents can be excellent at this.)

I write because I want to be famous. Again, we probably don’t say this, but it creeps in. I entered a writing contest where a Hallmark Movie executive served as judge. Once my story broke through the first round, I started listing in my mind which agents I knew who could handle the TV movie rights for me. Good grief, Charlie Brown.

Wanting to be liked, noticed, accepted, admired, and loved is part of our humanity. We just need to remember where it got us back in the Garden of Eden. Think of the best book you’ve read this year. Do you know the author’s name? How about a movie you loved. Know the screenwriter? Beauty is fleeting and so is fame, to misquote the scriptures. So, let’s look for something more rewarding and eternal through our art. Like friendships.

I write because I have something to say. Ahhhh, there it is. If you don’t have something to say, just doodle on your notepad. Don’t try to become an author. But, if you have something to say that will help the world, start saying it. Maybe your thing is about building a healthy family. Or about how to train your dog. Or about how the Civil War impacted commerce and what we can learn from that today. Maybe your message is how to plant a garden and live a sustainable lifestyle in the zombie apocalypse. We need to know!

Every writer has something brewing in their soul. It may come out in a variety of stories and forms, but it will always emerge. When an editor read my second novel, Rose Hill Cottage, she said, “I love how you write about community.”

I said, “What? This book is about a widow looking for solitude.” Then, I realized I had written community all around her in the secondary characters. I couldn’t escape from my message, and neither could the grieving Nora.

So, why do you write? Have you sorted that out yet? If not, start asking yourself some basic questions, and it will become clear.

(If you figure out the getting rich part, please let me know.)

(Just kidding.)

(Sort of.)

 

Resources: Jeff Goins on writing

Read More

So, You Want to be a Writer

By Kathy NickersonApril 18th, 2018work, writingNo Comments

Welcome to a new column featured on my blog. The Wednesday Writer answers some of the questions readers ask about the writing process in general and writing for publication, specifically. 

 

The first time I walked into a bookstore to buy a Writers’ Market, I hung around in the back corner for twenty minutes before I found the courage to approach the check out counter. When the clerk asked if I was a writer, I felt like an identity thief. I stammered “Yes” for the first time in my life. I’d been scribbling for more than ten years, but I hadn’t told anyone besides my mother and my husband.

“Wonderful,” she said. “Come back when you publish your first novel and we’ll hold a book signing.”

It would be another five years before I actually published anything. A fun article for Mother Earth News called, “How to Barter with Your Local Doctor.” (They never published the piece, but I got the check. And my doctor-husband kept getting zucchini and sweet corn in trade.)

My first novel came out more than thirty years later. Don’t despair! Your path may be much smoother and faster than mine. When I started writing, Inspirational Women’s Fiction didn’t even exist. We didn’t have bonnet fiction in those days. (Stories set in the Amish community, which sell in the billions now.) Christian fiction in general was a brand new genre, and few publishers accepted manuscripts. In those days, I wrote first-person essays and spiritual growth articles for magazines like Christian Herald. And, I held the other stories close to my heart, hoping for a day when the world might want to hear from Jonas ben Jesse, the shepherd boy at the stable. (That one has not been published yet, in case you wondered.)

I did go back to the original bookstore when Thirty Days to Glory came out. They had become a gift shop and didn’t do book signings anymore, according to a younger clerk. But, I haven’t given up. People sign books in all kinds of places these days, and that one is still on my list.

So, if You Want to be a Writer, this column might be a good place to start. Next week, we will talk about why we write. In the meantime, be brave. Tell somebody.

Resources: The Writers’ Market 

 

Read More