All you accomplished authors can ignore this listing. It just outlines a few tips picked up during the past half-century - or so - from being in the business of writing for a living.
On the other hand, if you've ever thought YOU could do a better job than the author of the latest book you read, or movie you saw, this blog couldn't hurt - much.
Too often those half or hour-long addresses to groups blow off with the wind, unrecorded. Its a pity because not all the life experiences of someone can possibly be committed to paper. That burning question you've always wanted to ask may not have been included in the books you've read.
A living source could provide an answer.
That was my premise. Prime the pump, stimulate a Q & A session for readers who wanted to become writers, but did not know how.
Here's the gist.
How To Turn Readers into Writers [1,800 words ]
Talk for Hawthorne Public Library Readers, March 22, at Two
by JACK OWEN
HOW TO GET STARTED
It is said it takes 10,000 hours of practicing something before one becomes proficient at it.
By the end of this session you will only have 9,999 to go!
By some calculations that's about eight years. BUT...and there's always a BUT – is that a lineal, uninterrupted, 10-thou' where you did not take time to sleep, eat and take care of other bodily functions. Or, is it the actual time spent practicing, learning, honing, improving the task you have undertaken?
Like so many sayings, and cliches, it needs to be taken... with a pinch of salt!
FIRST HURDLE – READING – TAKEN!
Most articles and books about writing – written by name-authors – advise READING as a path to Writing.
Most of you ARE readers already. The difference between reading for Pleasure – and reading to Learn – will hopefully become apparent, soon.
TURN YOUR SKILLS INTO WORDS
There are people in this room who can throw together a dinner party for eight at eight in a flash. And others who have no difficulty describing the toppings, on a take-out pizza ordered by phone, to comfort all participants in the feast. These are acquired skills, And, with the right spin, could be passed on to others through communicating by an article – or several articles – which in turn, could become: a BOOK!
You are within reach of becoming an author. Just by utilizing those untapped skills acquired while you accumulated YOUR 10,000 hours of credibility.
Wow... I bet you didn't know, when you arrived, you were just a heart-beat away from...CELEBRITY !
And now, for a dash of reality.
We all know how to ride a bike. But we don't possess the desire and devious dedication of Neil Armstrong to become a World Champion of the Tour de France.
The good news is – we also don't share in his downfall from grace.
IS THERE A PULITZER IN YOUR FUTURE? 2
Not all writers have Pulitzer Prize potential. When was the last time you heard of the author of a famous cook-book, such as Julia Childs, winning that award? The actors who played her, and writers who claimed her in biographies, did. They were the ones who re-created a personality the viewing public, and cooking audience, was not prepared to say good-bye to, with her passing in 2004.
There are also audiences for John Paul Jones, Andrew Jackson, Sam Houston and – coincidentally – an American hero of history I have recently written about: Midshipman David Porter – In Harms Way. The world may not know about him yet...but they will by the time Book SEVEN is in print!
Porter may not be my path to a Pulitzer Prize. BUT, I already consider myself singularly successful amongst writers. I am the only one to have been awarded the exclusive “Pulitizer Tummy-Rub”... from Roxanne. Of course, that was BEFORE she read the contents of my book, Palm Beach Scandals – An Intimate Guide.
WRITE ABOUT WHAT YOU KNOW
It is NOT necessary to become a murderer to become one. Court records are filled with chapter and verse of horrific homicides to chose from. The task of the writer is to present the facts in a way which will make readers want more.
Many readers become writers when their favorite character(s) die off or become so formulaic they have shifted from 'comfort' reading to a predicable irritant. At that stage, in order to sustain the pleasure of their company, the Reader creates a replacement protagonist. It may not match Hercule Poirot or Miss Marples – but its a start.
By the way – anyone know Miss Marple's first name?
BREAD & BUTTER WRITING
But (there we go again) as you walked through the library into this room you passed the stock-in-trade of most publishing houses, which are the Non-Fiction bread-and-butter books of realism. NOT not literary escapism.
The comfort of cozy mysteries, romantic Renaissance historical heroines, mysteries, vampires, wolverines and horror stories only provide 30-per-cent of all books published. Though their mega-copy sales by top writers like Harry Potter's magical creator R.K. Rawlings...the first to nett One BILLION Dollars, the supporting cast of characters like thee and me would probably have a tough time making the mortgage payments.
As Dirty Harry posed in that classic shoot'em-up cop-flick, “You gotta ask yourself, are you feelin' lucky?”
That is part of the equation but practice, Practice, PRACTICE is needed [did someone say 10,000 hours? ] as well.
WHAT TURNS YOU ON ABOUT WRITING?
And – WHY do you want to write? To see your name in print? Make money? Teach the world? Leave a legacy? Show THEM!
Motivation – inspiration and PERSPIRATION are all called for if you want to become a writer; whether its for personal satisfaction or to answer a calling. Like the insurance-company agent's cell-phone reminder of an overdue payment date [or the librarian's notice; it is time to return that book you've been using to prop up the leg of the wobbly table.]
My motivation was a way to explore the world that interested me – and get paid to do it.
It was an era devoid of journalism schools. There were classes for typing. There were classes for shorthand. The only class available to teach How-To find a story was through observation and a curiosity about everything. The theory was...if it interested YOU then, properly packaged, it could capture the interest of READERS!
JOURNALISM AS A PATH TO WRITING
Journalism, in the days when every community in every country in the world relied primarily on newspapers for a news-fix, seemed like a good idea at the time. It enabled me to get first-hand exposure to everything from Mushroom-Farming to Murder. Those experiences, translated into pithy prose, became the “stop-press' call for street-corner newspaper-boys, wire-service feeds and sometimes, a front-page headline for Fleet Street.
Inspiration can come from anything, anywhere, BUT – the writer has to be AWARE...of potential for a story. Plus WHERE and for WHOM it will appeal.
Of all the writer guides available in glossy magazines, costing upward of $10.00 each, only a tiny amount of space can be devoted to potential sources of sales for freelance writers. However, a professional Writer can get all the information needed, quickly and cheaply by merely searching the magazine he/she has in mind, and finding the 'Writers Guideline' field. Usually buried way down on the editorial page, it states who the publisher, editor, art-director, copy-boy, coffee-girl are.
There's even an online web-page available, now, which indexes submissions by category, at: http://www.freelancewriting.com/guidelines/pages/
KEEPING CURRENT – AND POLITICALLY CORRECT
However, the editorial guidelines are only an educated guess to the mind-set of the current editor. Keep in mind, the staff of magazines are as ephemeral as the products themselves. Today's cutting-edge crusading crew may be dispersed on the next tidal-wave of conglomerations seeking to 'Rule the Publishing' world.
I once worked for a newspaper who encouraged me to dig deep into the workings of a local Sheriff. When my multiple-chapter series was turned in for editors and lawyers to scrutinize before publication – they killed it.
The new owners – from a far off land – AGREED with the politics of 'their man' on the ground.
Another job-change for me, though!
KNOW YOUR FRIENDS AND FOES – AND WHICH WAY TO ROW
Few who have ever visited a doctor, dentist or vets office can be unaware of dog-eared copies of Reader's Digest. It is published in 49 editions, 21 languages and reaches a readership greater than 40-million.
Guess how many original stories this DIGEST prints?
But every year enough people buy stamps to mail off their newly-birthed Vampire Mom and the Wall-Mart Wolverine manuscripts to support the GNP of a small country!
They spent their money on postage...instead of an ice-cream...BECAUSE ?
They did NOT read the 'Writers Guidelines' section of the Reader's Digest editorial requirements which states: Please note that Reader’s Digest does not print poetry or fiction.
It will print original items from freelancers in its various department sections: Making it Matter; My View; My Story, but its a very limited market.
BUT...you knew that was coming – what they don't say is the person writing the story has to be the person IN the story.
For every brilliant singer, scientist, golf-pro and soldier there is an opportunity for a writer. Not all professional or skilled people have the ability, or time, to write the book the public yearns to read.
A writer who can strings words together, in the right sequence, combine facts with entertainment and titillation, CAN vicariously live in someone elses shoes – for a little while. Beware, though. The glamor aspect wears through QUICKLY. The grunge and grunt reality of getting the facts, then assembling them in an entertaining and informative sequence – which also meets with the approval of 'X” ( and handlers) - can be INTERESTING!!!
HOW TO GET STARTED
The scariest thing for most writers, beginners and pros, is the blank page or screen.
The longer one looks at it the harder it is to start.
One writer I know employs the “Letter to my brother” ploy. He begins to type a catch-up letter, outlining familiar family situations, then tells about his latest commission and begins to outline the story idea he has, then CHOPS everything out - not relevant to his story. Then... he Writes ON!
Remember – You Can't Edit a BLANK PAGE
HANDY HINTS & SUPPORT SYSTEMS
When you leave here 95% of what you heard will float off and next time you sit down to write that blank page will still be staring back at you.
Writing is a lonely business. Here are some “CRISIS” Links to get you started.
Florida Writers Association http://floridawriters.net/About_Us.html
It has branches throughout the state. The 'Ancient City Writers', based in St. Augustine, is the most active one locally. It regularly meets the THIRD Saturday of the month at the Main Library. There's also a group in Ocala and one based at Palm Coast. Check it out.
FWA also runs seminars, a state conference, competitions, publications and creates awards following writing competititions.
Closer to home, an active group of wordsmiths based in Gainesville called WAG – Writers Alliance of Gainesville – holds regular meetings at Millhopper Library. They also feature PODS; groups of like-thinking genre-specific writers who informally gather to discuss, critique and give help and feedback to new material. Check it out at: http://writersalliance.org/
Be sure to leave your name and Email – LEGIBLE – before you leave. My Email is firstname.lastname@example.org. And remember – the Library is your Lifeline to the writing life!