Drafting with the Pack {Preserve Your Story ~ Day 27}

I step over kid art and toys, all the things that have migrated from their appropriate spaces throughout the house to the communal space here. The counter top, my domain isn’t much better, a mix of junk mail and pans soaking in soapsuds, all waiting for me to get moving.

I want to want to do something, but I’m steamrolled at the sight of the mammoth mess. So, instead I go read a book or surf the net. But when I hear the water running and the sound of metal on metal and come out to see my husband drenching a dishrag, I get this little jolt of energy and feel new hope that the chaos can be reined in.

When it comes to overwhelming tasks, I work best when I’m working alongside someone.

I remember my days as editor of my high school paper, how we’d shut down our boxy Macintosh Classics, grab some Doritos and shuffle our Converse All-Stars over the carpet into the meeting room. We’d dream up themes for our next few issues and start chalking out specifics on the board, what angles we could cover and who could best write each article. We’d interview. We’d research. We’d draft and peer edit. We’d gather snapshots and develop them in the darkroom.

We’d stay late into the evening finishing up layout and design on those 9-inch black and white screens. We’d churn out 11X17 tiles, slice to the millimeter with exacto knives and line up the master copy on the light table grids until it was ready to deliver to the printer.

We’d get it back and smell the fresh ink and sometimes feel the warmth still radiating from the middle of the stacks. We’d unfold the front page, then turn to center-spread, and go forward and backward from there, all of our names represented, everyone offering an perspective on the current issue.

There has always been something about working in community that fuels me forward, makes me feel like part of the line-up of cars on a race track, drafting to reduce drag.

As I write this, I’m in the middle of reading Letters to Me: Conversations with a Younger Self, a collection of 19 entertaining and thought-provoking letters, each written by a different author. While each of them talks to his or her self, they’re saying something to me.

I underlined the part where Shawn Smucker told of how he almost let his true love go: “The stalks rustled together, a shushing sort of sound that made you stop and think…. You never did know how to handle that transition where the giddy laughing moments subside and you have to face an unknown future of commitment.”

There’s a star I penciled in next to Lyla Lindquist’s reflection that “You’ll share with family the heart you thought you’d left in another hemisphere.” I laughed at Seth Barnes’ anecdote of his quest to silence a sleepless rooster no matter who had to deal with the aftermath, and how the arrival of his baby girl challenged his self-centered ways.

I nodded when I read Kristin Ritzau’s words about the Hollywood film industry, the same thing that ultimately led me to drop my journalism major and turn to English studies/creative writing: “But this industry is not what you once imagined. It is built on comparison and competition….Thick skin is a coping mechanism, not a way of life.”

As I read, I’m aware of the richness that comes with variety of insight. This is the good stuff you get in an anthology.

As an anthology writer, whether in print or eBook format, you can count on the motivation of having a common theme and a common deadline as you write alongside a group of committed authors. You will have the little adrenaline rush of completing a small goal that may just lead you to try bigger things in the future. And once the book is released, you’ll reap the benefits of having your name attached to something each author will be sharing in their circle of influence, the result being that publicity and promotional efforts are multiplied.

On top of all that, some anthologies offer financial compensation to their authors, an added bonus. But whether or not the anthology pays, if you choose one that matches your passion, you’ll have the reward of speaking on an issue that speaks to you.

If you haven’t heard of any anthologies seeking submissions in your online circle, you may want to go looking. In this internet age beyond my boxy little Mac of the 90s, we have the luxury of being able to do a simple online search to discover what blogs or publishing houses are seeking submissions for digital or print anthologies.

When you come upon something that sounds interesting, you will want to do thorough research on the editor or publisher, especially if you don’t recognize the name. Look for a reputable editor or publisher that matches your core values, one that you would be proud to have your name attached to, one that does not ask you to pay to be part of the anthology, and preferably one that does not ask you to give up your rights to your work. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the requirements and the contract and to request changes when you feel they’re necessary.

As with articles, you will want to read the submission guidelines and follow them closely. Most publications prefer new material, stories or essays that have not been published elsewhere, whether in print or online. Some require you to write for a very specific audience. And you’ll want to make special note of the deadline so you’ll be sure to get your submission completed on time. After all, what good is all that drafting if you don’t make it to the finish?

{Have you read any good anthologies lately? Have you ever thought of submitting to one? Do an online search for “anthologies seeking submissions.” What do you find that interests you?}

Click here to purchase your copy of the anthology, Letters to Me: Conversations with a Younger Self.

This is Day 27 of my series 31 Days ~ Preserve Your Story, linking up with The Nester’s annual 31 Days of Change.

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(This post contains affiliate links.)

The Dish on Articles {Preserve Your Story ~ Day 26}

The first time I ever clicked “follow” in blog world was on Ann Voskamp’s site, A Holy Experience. My friend Sarah had led me to her and I settled right in with the beautiful imagery, the grace-filled moments, and the devotion to God all served up on the farm table. Soon, through following Ann around to other sites where she dished out words, I came upon other hearty stuff on the internet, stretching like the table at a good after-church potluck.

Through (in)courage and The High Calling, I found Emily Freeman, Deidra Riggs, Lisa Jo Baker, Amber Haines and the like. I followed these from their internet homes to other community places like Prodigal Magazine, Deeper Story and Tweetspeak (which I’d also been introduced to through my real life friend Charity). Then, through another real life friend Kelli’s articles, I began reading Kyria/Today’s Christian Woman and Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics. Little by little I’ve been getting my bearings in this little corner of the web where my kind of people are finding a place to set their words.

Maybe this could be a good start for you. Take some time to venture out from your favorite writers’ personal blogs and columns to see where else they share. If their words sit well with you, the places where they share those words will probably do the same. This could be an offshoot of the old “write what you know” adage: “write with who you know.”

But the age-old advice itself applies here, too. When you know something well, you’ve got that secret ingredient, that natural element of credibility. If you’re an expert at something, or are interested enough to do the research to become one, start your writing there.

While you’re at it, pay attention to the periodicals that feed that part of you. Do you subscribe to a particular gardening magazine? Maybe you’ll want to work up a piece on edible landscaping and submit it there. Maybe you’re working hard at homeschooling and have some creative lesson plans to share. Give back to the publications that inspire you by sending them your own ideas in return.

Maybe you have survived a difficult experience such as cancer or a life-threatening injury and want to share your experience to help others navigate similar situations by writing for a health or inspirational publication. Maybe you have a passion for a particular era or classic author and could share that perspective in light of a current event by submitting to a magazine where you’ve seen similar topics covered.

This past year, most of my writing time has gone toward getting my blog established. Outside of my own site, I’ve written a couple of guest posts for other bloggers, but I have yet to branch out to the larger community-style blog and online magazine world. This is next on the list for me, and I’ve got a few ideas and drafts going from the little bit of research I’ve done. I plan to start with submitting to internet publications as these can link back to my blog and can tend to be more welcoming to the writer who’s building the portfolio.

When I visit a potential publishing space on the internet, I search for “submission guidelines” to check the staff’s policies on accepting articles (some like The High Calling have a writing staff and do not accept submissions) and to discern whether or not my style and subject might be a good fit.

Sometimes I’m fortunate enough to find a list of themes by season or month which helps me generate new ideas and gives me a deadline to work toward. Beyond letting the writer know which topics are appropriate for the particular site, submission guidelines may also detail the target audience, how the article should be structured, the preferred style and the required word count.

Whether writing a how-to article or a personal experience article, you will want to research the issue and then sit down to outline your thoughts. At this stage, you should begin by introducing the problem/need that this piece will address. Often, sharing a personal story as a lead-in will allow the reader to feel more connected with the issue. In the next several paragraphs, you will offer a solution, sharing specific details from your research. You will round out the piece with practical application, action points and resources for the reader.

After you have all of your ideas sketched out, you’ll draft your article. You’ll come back and revise to get the big ideas right. You’ll want to revise again to work on the phrasing. Then, you’ll edit the finer details, checking grammar and punctuation and cited sources. Finally, you’re ready to submit that article and put your own work out there, part of the banquet.

{What are some of your favorite online and offline periodicals and writers? Your assignment: Peruse those favorites and dig for information on submission guidelines. Work up an existing piece into a well-structured, polished article and submit in the next two weeks.}

This is Day 26 of my series 31 Days ~ Preserve Your Story, linking up with The Nester’s annual 31 Days of Change.

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Also, for those wanting to stock up on writing supplies, stationery and photo gifts for Christmas, be sure to take advantage of Paper Coterie’s CRAZINESS today for first time customers and returning customers— get 50% off your entire order when you use the code CYBERMONDAY at the checkout. (This post contains affiliate links.)

The Right Container {Preserve Your Story ~ Day 25}

Every time I see a play or musical I get this little itch to join the chorus, or practice for a supporting role. I watch the actors’ confident movements, their convincing voices, all the loveliness of set and costume and literature put to music, and it makes me want to be one of them.

I danced with this idea a bit in my twenties, but I ended up settling on the notion that the stage just wasn’t the right container for my calling. I can’t tell a lie with out my face betraying me. I had heart palpitations every time I got the killer card and had to feign innocence when we played the mafia party game during college. And in awkward social situations, I sometimes don’t even know what to do with my hands. Imagine me on stage.

While I could no-doubt gain something from shadowing an actress, practicing this art-form outside of my gifting, it will never be first nature to me. This made even more sense when I got to digging in temperament and personality theory. As an INFP, my seriousness and strong magnetism toward authenticity makes it hard for me to even pretend to be someone else. I “seek unity in [my life], unity of body and mind, emotions and intellect” and that makes it extra hard for me to play a role, even for fun or art’s sake.

The actress and I are both built to express emotion and meaning through art, but we do so in very different ways. The performer’s gifting moves me, and I know that a writer’s work can in turn bless the performer, as we glory in the pages of epic tales finding their way to the stage or screen. (Anybody ready for Les Miserable and The Hobbit on the silver screen this season?!!)

But even as I call myself a writer, I’m aware of the myriad of different angles in my own beloved craft, everything from poetry to technical writing. I shrug at some of them. I know my areas of competence. But then I have my favorites, the types of writing that feel like that comfy divot in my couch, the place I find myself drawn to sit every time. What is your comfy spot? Which of the following descriptions and writing avenues (inspired by this article) feel like your style?

The Guide: This writer takes an idea and explains it in-depth to a readership looking to learn something. Think the five-paragraph expository essay with added protein. Often, this writer is an expert in a certain field or shares findings from extensive research on a topic. This writer looks at a person, place or thing in detail and communicates information to deepen the reader’s understanding. Good outlets for this type of writer may include: biographies, Bible studies and curriculum, children’s books, travel articles/books, how-to articles/books, consumer reports, technical manuals, or academic papers.

The Influencer: This kind of writer communicates an idea in a way that persuades readers to change their thinking or make a commitment. Facts are presented with an intellectual or emotional slant. Those who enjoy friendly debate and making a case for an ideology or lifestyle or product will be especially drawn to this type of writing. Good outlets for this writer include commercial ads, promotional material for not-for-profits, social justice articles/books, political columns/articles/books, speech writing, and opinion editorials.

The Kindred: This writer uses natural, casual language to exhibit her own individual personality, to share ideas, and simply to connect with those around. Often writing in first-person, this writer has a real sense of camaraderie with the reader and uses very personal methods for giving and receiving information. Good outlets for this type of writer include personal letters, social media, blogging, devotional material, and reviews or consumer reports.

The Storyteller: This writer pays attention to the transforming events of her own life or imagines events for fictional characters and uses creative language to communicate plot, character traits and setting. This type of writing is shared from the perspective of a specific narrator, either the author or a character. Good outlets for this writer include short stories, novels, screenplays, narrative essays, children’s books, creative non-fiction and autobiographies/memoirs.

The Wordsmith: This writer is a word artist who expresses emotion, whether whimsy or passion or frustration, through carefully chosen words. Sound, rhythm and meaning are all paramount in the writing process. Good outlets for this writer include poetry, lyrics, short stories, novels and creative non-fiction.

Beyond the categories I’ve listed here, there are other points to consider. Are you an introvert who would work best in a quiet, secluded space as a freelance writer or are you an extravert who would thrive in a busy newsroom as a staff writer? Do you have the discipline it takes to see a long work to completion? If you are one who gets overwhelmed and loses motivation mid-project (like me!), you will probably want to practice achieving some smaller goals such as blogging consistently or submitting a short story to an anthology before you think of publishing your memoir or novel.

When we know ourselves, we use our time and our gifts in the most effective ways. Before we pick up and examine the different writing avenues in more detail, take some time to reflect on who you are as a writer. Revisit your tears, your mission, your history, your transformations, your wide-eyed wonder. Find the style that resonates with you, heart and mind. When you find the right container for your gifts, you’re ready to pour yourself in.

{Share your writer type (or combination of them) below. Or if you’d like other readers and myself to give our take, leave a link to a post on your blog or a public note on your Facebook page and we’ll reply under your comment with our thoughts. Is there anything you would add or change in the categories I have listed?}

This is Day 25 of my series 31 Days ~ Preserve Your Story, linking up with The Nester’s annual 31 Days of Change.

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A Blog that Blossoms…plus an exciting giveaway! {Preserve Your Story ~ Day 24}

{The giveaway is now closed. Thank you for your enthusiastic response. Results announced midday on Friday, November 30 here.}

After blogging quietly for myself and my family for five years, I started Message in a Mason Jar last November with the intention of interacting more in blogging world (where I was already an avid reader) and to grow a readership in order to give myself incentive to write more consistently. The more I do this, the less shy I get about hitting the publish button or sharing my links on social media.

When I share, I partake in this big interconnected community. And sometimes I’m blessed to see those connections materialize in real life. I’d followed Hayley Morgan at The Tiny Twig for several months by the time I found myself sitting next to her at the (in)RL meet-up last spring. In person, Hayley showed up as the same cheerful “more passion, less fuss” lady I’d come to know from her blog. She’s an idea person and a make things happen person…a rare, refreshing mix.

Since re-launching her blog two years ago, she has grown her readership to reach tens of thousands of women each month, dreamed up and rolled out the Influence Conference and the Influence Network, and is even slated as one of Tsh Oxenreider’s regular hosts on the popular Simple Mom podcast. As Hayley releases her second eBook, The No Brainer Blog, I’ve asked her to share in our Preserve Your Story series about how her blog led her to do an eBook and how the eBook in turn affects the success of her blog. Meet Hayley….

 

Writing The No Brainer Wardrobe was a turning point for my online life. It took Tiny Twig from a fun hobby to a very viable business. It was the best strategic decision I’ve made so far. Prior to writing for 31 days about having a No Brainer Wardrobe, I hadn’t ever thought about directly monetizing any written content. But, when I saw the immense growth and incredible traffic Tiny Twig experienced during the month of writing about the No Brainer Wardrobe–I knew it could be a highly sellable product.

I had two things that were important to me when writing the eBook. First, I didn’t want to pull content down from my blog–the comments were invaluable and I felt kind of sleazy removing the content people had already engaged with to repackage it for profit. Second, I wanted to explore the subject more thoroughly than I could in scattered and fragmented 300-600 word posts. So, instead of just repackaging content, I used the posts I had written as jumping off points and more deeply explored the information.

When speaking to my writerly/author friends, we’ve discussed the books that do better in the digital format and what books are great as traditionally published projects. After a lot of these conversations and my other observations, I’ve come to the conclusion that an eBook would do best to solve a tangible problem the reader might have. I’m saving my “manifesto” type words for a possible-someday-maybe traditionally published book. If I pour my heart out, I want to smell the pages and see the book on the shelf. If a book I’m consuming wrecks my heart, I want to dog ear the pages and slide it onto my bedside table as my eyes sag shut.

Here are some great reasons I see to write an eBook:

  • To make passive income. You write the book once, do a lot of marketing on the front end, and then hopefully the book continues to perform well with little effort.
  • To give away as a perk for joining your mailing list. Your email list is highly valuable and an eBook is a great incentive to get people to give your newsletter a try.
  • To explore an idea further than the blogging format allows.

I’m still experimenting a lot with what works and what doesn’t work so well as far as eBooks are concerned. I’m not sure anyone has a definite handle on how to make it work perfectly just yet, but the digital format is certainly changing the face of publishing. I’d love to speak with you further about eBooks, either through a class on the upcoming Influence Network or through a personal consulting session (email me through my site to set something up…or enter to win the giveaway below!).

—————————

Hayley Morgan wrote newly released eBook The No Brainer Blog. The eBook helps women cast a vision, define their voice, and refine their blog space to ultimately propel their blog to be successful on their terms.

Hayley also writes at The Tiny Twig, a lifestyle blog inspiring women to create lives of more passion and less fuss. She recently hosted The Influence Conference and is launching The Influence Network in January 2013. You can follow her on Twitter, “like” her Facebook page, or follow her days on Instagram for the latest updates, resources she loves, and a peek into her life with 3 (almost 4!) boys.

The Giveaway:

Here’s the exciting part! In celebration of Hayley’s ebook release and my 1-year blog anniversary, Hayley and I are teaming up with an exclusive opportunity for Message in a Mason Jar readers….

~Our FIRST WINNER will receive a copy of the brand new No Brainer Blog ebook.

~As if that weren’t enough, our SECOND WINNER will receive:

  1. a copy of the eBook
  2. a personalized 45-minute strategy session on Google Chat with Hayley and me
  3. follow-up contact in which I’ll collaborate with you based on the strategy session to either workshop the writing in one of your posts (or even brainstorm your own ebook outline) OR design a blog header to get you going with a fresh look that communicates who you are as a blogger.

I hope you’re as excited as I am about the one-of-a-kind opportunity to connect and collaborate through this giveaway. Happy Black Friday to you!

Five Ways to Win (enter by 12 midnight on Thursday, November 29, using separate comments for each entry):

  1. Required Entry: Follow Message in a Mason Jar via email or RSS feed (see homepage sidebar) and say so in a comment below.
  2. Extra Entry: Follow both Message in a Mason Jar and The Tiny Twig on Facebook and re-comment here.
  3. Extra Entry: Tweet about this post using my Twitter handle, @darcywileywords, then re-comment here.
  4. Extra Entry: Pin this post on Pinterest and re-comment here.
  5. Extra Entry: Share this post on Facebook and re-comment here.

Or buy the The No Brainer Blog eBook now and get started on helping your blog to blossom!

This is Day 24 of my series 31 Days ~ Preserve Your Story, linking up with The Nester’s annual 31 Days of Change. (This post contains affiliate links.)

A Feast of Grammar and Grace {Preserve Your Story ~ Day 23}

We gather around to feast on grace, to celebrate the bounty of the year or to thank Him for the way He’s helped us muscle through hard times, all things through Him who gives us strength. We squeeze tight at the table in the name of family and faith with good gifts all around, all these extras, the butter on the tray, the gravy in the little silver pitcher.

But along with it all, there is the underside of the season, the too-full bellies, the tryptophan, the kids running wild and sometimes our mouths running wild, too. Later, always, I regret the words I let loose before polishing them, clumsy moves coming through like an untrained dancer stepping on toes.

We don’t have a delete key or an edit-undo option on our mouths, but thankfully, we have them on our keyboards. Either way, whether in person or in print, don’t let your words go out into the world without a thorough polishing.

Already, we’ve talked about revision, the process of firming up the big ideas and taking out the ones that don’t do much for the story’s taste. Now that the content is better developed, it’s time to focus on the delivery.

Depending on your audience and format, you’ll have different requirements for how much attention to pay to whether or not to hyphenate a compound word, or when to use a numeral and when to spell out a number in whole. When I’m writing in the more casual environment of the blogosphere, I don’t feel the need to sift all of my words and sentences with a grammar guide next to me. I often go from intuition and feel fine about making my own decisions as long as I’m spelling correctly and being consistent in the formatting I choose. But, I also have a background in language and a good foundation in the style books from my time in college.

If you’re feeling rusty in your grammar and punctuation and formatting skills, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to skim the Chicago Manual of Style (used widely in the publishing world) or the AP Stylebook (used for more journalistic writing) and then take a few of your existing blog posts or essays or stories and run them through the sieve. Click over to this website for a  primer of blog posts comparing the two main stylebooks.

Don’t forget though, that this polishing stage is just as much about making the words more palatable as it is about getting the formatting right. Here are some ways to work on your words after revising the big ideas:

  1. Read your work aloud to listen for repetitive words or phrases, which can interfere with a smooth reading. Delete or rephrase with new words for better flow.
  2. Listen for rhythm in your paragraphs. Are many of your sentences the same length, creating a monotonous sound? If so, cut unnecessary words or turn one sentence into two to clean up the cadence.
  3. Look at the beginnings of your paragraphs and sentences. Do many of them begin with the same pronoun or proper name? Unless you’re using this as a language device in a certain segment of your piece, you should vary your start words and thereby better your document as a whole.
  4. Check for wimpy words that tell rather than show. Go easy on adverbs and passive verbs (am, is, are, was, were…) and heavier on active verbs and concrete nouns, things the reader can picture.
  5. Get rid of clichés, over-used word images and phrases. Peter Selgin of Writer’s Digest says: “The real problem with clichés is that they deprive us of genuine details, which, though less sensational, are both more convincing and more interesting.” Click here for a short list of what to watch for.
  6. Comb through your commas and apostrophes. Their absence or correct placement can change your meaning entirely. As the funny example going around on the internet points out, a comma in its correct place can mean the difference between “Let’s eat, Grandma,” as in Grandma is joining us for Thanksgiving dinner, and “Let’s eat Grandma,” as in Grandma is on the menu. Apostrophes can get you in trouble, too. Check this chart to get your apostrophes in working order.
  7. Finally, while it is fine to write conversationally in blog posts and less formal venues, sometimes our everyday language hiccups sneak their way into our writing. Be sure to check your spelling on words and phrases like should have (not should of), a lot (not alot), definitely (not definately), weird (not wierd), judgment (not judgement), mischievous (not mischievious), jewelry (not jewlery). Check the definitions on words like weather/whether, effect/affect, then/than, principle/principal, there/their/they’re, your/you’re, edition/addition, compliment/complement, and peak/peek/pique to make sure you’re using the one you intend.

The work of polishing can feel like a burden at times, but in reality our heartfelt meaning comes through more freely in the structure. Like C.S. Lewis said, “The pattern deep hidden in the dance, hidden so deep that shallow spectators cannot see it, alone gives beauty to the wild, free gestures that fill it….” Grammar and grace.

{What are your biggest hang-ups in polishing your writing? Take some time today to work through an existing piece with a grammar website, a stylebook, or a friend who knows her stuff.}

This is Day 23 of my series 31 Days ~ Preserve Your Story, linking up with The Nester’s annual 31 Days of Change.

Don’t want to miss a post? Be sure and follow via email on the homepage sidebar or click “Get the Message” on the main menu.

(This post contains affiliate links to items that I personally use and enjoy. When you purchase through these links, you encourage continued creative community here at Message in a Mason Jar with no extra charge to you.)