24 June 2008

A Wrong Step in the "Write" Direction

"You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance." --Ray Bradbury

Except for career masochists, nobody likes rejection. We love to be loved, to be appreciated, to be lauded for our efforts. And writers, especially, love to be praised for their work.

Unfortunately, the universe doesn't always work that way. Our manuscripts get rejected, we lose freelance clients, others get hired for the jobs we want. How to deal with this?

Of all the possibilities, the right steps involve moving forward. Continue to write. Keep submitting your manuscript to appropriate publishers. Hone your skils, polish your resume, make those professional connections count. Take classes. Read. And, above all, write.

Don't give up. Don't give more weight to outside opinions than you do to your own. Don't let past stumbling blocks permanently impede your progress.

Believe in your talent and in what you have to contribute. Maybe you need to try a different genre. Maybe find a new niche. Maybe all you need is a change of surroundings, a new outlook, a fresh perspective.

There are so many things to try to get through to writing success.

You only fail when you quit trying. And that's a wrong step in the "write" direction.

29 May 2008

Igniting the "Write" Brain

Scientists, in their pristine labs, have proven that there is a difference between right brain and left brain thinking. And although everyone was born with the capacity to use both, most of our right brain functioning was "schooled" out of us by the time we completed our formal education.

So, how then, do writers, artists, and other creative types access the right brain? And, more importantly, how do you ignite it when the muses are being snooty and ignoring your pleas for inspiration?

I've been a technical writer for most of my professional career--and I've also had a lot of creative energy to expend on my artistic adventures. That is, until 2002, when I decided to take a year off from business to pursue fiction writing full time. It was as if my creativity hit the wall going 90mph. Dead, dead, dead. No inspiration, no voices, no ideas. I'd sit at my computer, blankly waiting for new email to pop up. I'd sit at my drawing board, unable to select what color pen to pick up. Within two months, I was as close as I've ever been to clinically depressed. It seemed that everything about me that was me was gone.

It finally occurred to me that my left brain had belligerently taken over because it had nothing to do. With too much time on its hands, it became the neighborhood bully and pummeled my right brain into silence.

For me, my right brain is only free to speak when my left brain is quietly occupied with something else. It's why I was happily and creatively productive while pursuing a more technical career. I could give my left brain the assignment of thinking through a training program for a new application system while my right brain and I would kick back for the weekend and paint.

Everyone is different, but I can't quash, ignore, or outshout my left brain. I have to engage it. However you interact with your right and left brains is unique to you, but take some time to figure it out. The next time you need to ignite your inspiration, you'll be happy you did.

11 May 2008

Developing the "Write" Image

Last Monday, I got one of the worst and most expensive haircuts of my life (Kiva Salon, $100). Not only had this "senior design stylist" cut my hair expressly as I said I didn't want it cut, he then overdried my baby-fine hair to nearly the point of damage. So, on a beautiful, spring morning in Chicago, instead of my hair looking full, shiny, and healthy (like it did when I went into the salon), it laid flat against my scalp and looked like straw poking out of my head.

As I glanced at my reflection in the Macy's window at Water Tower Place, I debated about whether I should just go home and hide out or swallow my hair vanity and press on with all the things I had scheduled on my one day off of the week.

I forced myself to put one foot in front of the other and continue on along Michigan Avenue to my next destination. I had some gift shopping to do for upcoming events and was hoping to get a jump on my list.

Interesting thing. By not looking the part of a well put-together shopper, I found myself practically invisible to sales people. Have you ever been able to walk through a cosmetic department at any major store and not get stopped repeatedly? I went into three major stores and several boutiques and was completely ignored by all salespeople. Literally. I received no assistance at any of the places I went--and in some of the departments I was the only shopper! I can't remember this ever happening before to me. I hate shopping and I sometimes think that this makes me an extra special fun target for the sales associates. They usually approach me in droves. Not last Monday.

Not having the right image is more serious in business than it is along the Mag Mile. And, more particularly, as writers, what we do is difficult to prove to potential clients and employers. How can you portray to someone who's never met you before that you can write his employee training manual or her new system user guide?

Knowing what you're talking about and looking the part are key. Dressing neatly, cleanly, and professionally for the industry in which you're working goes far in building rapport with the people interviewing you. Even if you know that the office has adopted casual attire, bump up your own clothing a notch for a better first impression. After all, you're a guest in their office. Dressing well is a sign of respect.

Appearance won't keep you in a job if you've oversold yourself, and it in no way is more important than your writing qualifications, but the "write" image will set you apart from the pack when all else is equal.

07 May 2008

Just Do It Write

Here's one of my favorite situations. You're at a cocktail party, dinner, or some other social event and someone asks you what you do for a living. When you tell them, the first thing they say is, "Oh, I could write a book, easy."

Been there?

In my younger, less published days, I would not so patiently attempt to explain to the person that writing isn't as easy as it looks. That the best writing entails endless hours of rewriting. That the hardest work begins when the manuscript is finished.

And the response I'd usually get was a smug look and a, "Guess you're not as good a writer as you thought you were."

Now that I'm a mature adult with an established career, I take a more fulfilling, immature conversation route.

"Oh, I could write a book, easy."
"Uh huh."
"Really. Writing's a piece of cake for me."
"Great. Do it."
"I would, but I don't have the time right now."

Short and sweet. No arguments. No explanations. No wasted energy. Makes me smile.

This type of conversation illustrates the critical difference between writers and wannabe writers. The wannabes are all talk. They posture. They discuss their ideas. They lament their hurdles to getting their projects complete. But they don't write.

Writers write. They know that even great ideas require effort to complete. They know that energy spent discussing their writing depletes their stores of energy for actually writing. They don't make excuses, they just do it. They write.

It's great to want to be a writer. That's the first step. But to avoid getting stuck as a wannabe, it takes action. Start a journal. Start a blog. Start a story. Outline a chapter. Get the creative juices flowing. Get the writing process in place. Do it.

Just do it write.

29 April 2008

Using the "Write" Word

Seriously. Good English may soon be a thing of the past. Educated people used to be taught to speak as well as they wrote. Then, it became "understood" that writing was a more formal means of communication than speaking. So, it was acceptable to use slang and relax grammar rules in speech, as long as you left no participle dangling in your written work.

Now, I'm lucky to be able to decipher a third of what people say to me, and, heaven help me, the resumes and cover letters that I receive from prospective employees are a fright. And these are from people who hope to be hired to edit the books my company publishes. Are they kidding?

Aparently not. One aspiring editor wrote that she was the best at her job at her current company. She boasts "the lowest amount of punctuational errors of all the editors." Her current employer must have literally no standards for hiring.

If punctuational didn't tip me off that she might be a bit wordier than I would prefer in an editor, she stomped directly on one of my most sensitive pet peeves by using amount instead of number.

One of the most searched pages at ChicagoWriter.com is the Word Wrangles page. Here, she could have learned when to use amount (measurable) and when to use number (countable) before she sent off her cover letter--or edited anything.

Using the right word is as important in speaking as it is in writing. Whether people comment on your word choices or not, they are subconsciously judging you by the quality of your speech or writing. The difference is when you make sloppy, ignorant, or careless errors in writing, you're leaving a documented evidence trail of your incompetence with the English language. Not the "write" impression for someone wanting to work with words professionally.

02 March 2008

Do You Know Your Writing Niche?

After working with and around writers for almost three decades (gulp!), I've noticed a trend: When writers are "between opportunities," most are dead in the water as to where to turn for their next writing gig.

Whether looking for a job, a client, or a writing assignment, it's vital to know who's buying what you're selling in your market segment. Otherwise, every time you market yourself, you're reinventing the wheel--looking for new contacts, creating appropriate collateral materials, etc.

If you want to make a break with the past and move to a new niche, that's great. But be aware, that in writing, as in every other profession, you're most appealing when you're actively employed. So even if you want to make a job loss into an opportunity to move to something really new, it might be in your best interest to find something short term in your current field while you're investigating your new one.

For writers who intend to remain in their current niche, it's vital to survey the field every once in a while. If you're a business writer, it's obvious that knowing four or five companies from your city's who's who will assist in your next job search, but you should also be aware of two or three recruiting firms who place writers (either full-time or contract) in your area, as well as a couple of journals or magazines who buy articles that you have the knowledge to write.

If you're an entertainment writer, you should be aware of all of the publications (trade, association, and consumer) who buy similar work, as well publicists, music companies, and not-for-profit associations who might want to hire someone with your special talents.

Every niche has a defined arena and known players. The more you know about it, the easier your transition will be from one opportunity to the next.

If you know what you dream for your writing and you take the time to stay up to date with your working niche, your career path will begin to emerge.

25 February 2008

What Do Writers Dream?

I'm always intrigued at the angst some writers express at losing a job, being bypassed for a promotion, or getting turned down for a writing assignment or contract. Granted, we all have bills to pay. But that should be the limit of our concern about temporary unemployment.

One job, one assignment, one contract does not a career make. Not even a series of jobs or assignments make up a career. Your career is the big picture about what you want to do with your professional life. What do you want it to amount to? What is the path you want it to take? What do you dream for it?

Anyone who has planned a trip knows that there is always more than one way to get to the final destination. Same goes for careers. If you know what you dream about doing with your career, you will realize that every job, every assignment is a step toward your career destination. There is some lesson to be learned; some skill to be gained.

Look at the big picture. What do you dream about? Keep that dream in the forefront the next time you lose a job (it might just be the universe telling you it's time to move on) or miss an opportunity (maybe you weren't yet ready to make the most of it). Take a few minutes of downtime to correct the course for your "write" destination. Then pick yourself up and take another step forward.