On Paper, Real Life…and giveaway winners! {Preserve Your Story ~ Day 30}

I had a simple plan for Thanksgiving weekend. I’d bake a dozen biscuits, simmer a batch of fresh pumpkin butter and head over for a hearty meal with the extended family. We’d settle in for good conversation on the couch while the kids burned off energy, sure to lead us to an early bedtime. We’d wake refreshed on Friday, clean the house and decorate the tree at nightfall to the sound of Christmas music and the smell of store-bought ginger molasses cookies baking in the kitchen.

But there were problems. A week-long migraine and its sidekick nausea had me in a haze. I left the pumpkin too long in the oven and my biscuits baked up like a tray of stones. At the Thanksgiving feast, the kids took a few nibbles and abandoned their plates for cookies and cupcakes when we weren’t watching. Grown-up conversation buckled under ref whistles and the roar of stadium fans. I always forget about the football games. I settled for a nap, trying to kick the migraine for good, but found myself too often in the middle of the kids’ tackle zone. On the way home, my firstborn tossed his cookies, puking in a Ziploc bag while I hung my head out the window dry heaving and trying to talk myself out of being a sympathetic vomiter. More kid puke after dinner. Friday, the migraine came back in full stealing away any urge to do housework and by the time my husband brought the Christmas decorations up from storage, he opened them to chaos instead of peace. Glass ornaments slipped from overzealous little hands and broke into shards on the floor, apropos.

I’ve chatted with some friends recently about the pressure of the holiday season, how it brings out the best of ideals and then shines light on how reality so often falls short. We deal with our little bit of sickness at home while one of our regular servers at a local restaurant bends from the pain of chronic arthritis with no money to pay for her pills. I grow my baby and plan delivery/recovery under watch of the best medical staff while women who live overseas near my friend Alyssa deal with the prospect that “just having a baby is a dangerous event. Women who suffer traumatic labor often lose their children to death and then face the embarrassment of incontinence–women who leak urine are ostracized by communities.”

This kind of awareness of the world and our feelings about it can sometimes leave us feeling short on holiday cheer, but can also be the foundation for good non-fiction writing. Through experience or research, the non-fiction writer lays a problem or need out on the table and motivates the reader to turn the page to discover inspiration and practical tips for addressing the need.

Even in creative non-fiction, which tells a story of personal experience, the author presents a need and shares solutions, even if in a more subtle way. Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts starts out with a heart wrenching first chapter that gives the raw story of what’s wrong with the world, the crushing pain and loss that can cripple a person’s emotions and leave her ill-equipped to carry out her calling. We are hurried, we are stressed, we are in need. But if we will only pay attention to the beauty around us and respond to its Giver in gratitude, we will find wholeness and joy.

What about your story? What is it that makes you angry, irritable or teary-eyed? What depth of need does your own idealism take you to? This is where you start and where your readers will start, too.

Once you have your passion picked, you’ll want to give it a name and a description. Make your title catchy and your subtitle descriptive. And then write out your premise including the problem/need and your overarching solution. From here, you can come up with an overview and chapter outline that will serve as your framework as you write.

These same ingredients are the basis for writing a proposal for presenting to a publisher. While fiction writers, especially newbies, usually submit a whole manuscript when seeking publication, non-fiction writers have the advantage of presenting the idea in mere proposal form to gauge interest before putting months or years of work into it.

In your double-spaced non-fiction proposal, you’ll want to include:

1. Title: This will be a working title that may change as the book progresses. Again, choose a catchy, interesting main title and a more descriptive subtitle that will clearly explain the contents of the book.
2. Premise: What’s wrong with the world? Why do people need this book? Present the problem/need and your basic answer for it.
3. Overview: Stemming from your premise, write several paragraphs going into more detail about the content of the book.
4. Bio: What is your platform? What characteristics and experience make you the perfect one to write this book? Detail aspects of your background that give you special insight or expertise on the issue. Share past publications and writing experience that will equip you to complete this project. While you want to present yourself at your best with no self-deprecation, some writers shift into 3rd person for this section so it doesn’t sound self-focused.
5. Audience: Who is this a must-read for? Who is your target audience? The more specific you are, the better your aim will be. Include gender, age, profession, etc. (For the writing process itself, some authors picture a particular person or character to make their writing more personal.)
6. Competition: Differentiate your book from classics or current reads on the same issue.
7. Promotion: What creative ideas do you have for getting the word out about this book? Can you recommend certain trade show, conventions, or organizations? Do you have connections with high profile individuals who can help promote your book?
8. Outline: Provide a mini-synopsis of each chapter, preferably in the same style of writing as your chapters themselves. You may include your estimates of manuscript length and possible publication date here as well.
9. Samples: Provide one or two chapters of sample writing for this particular book. Many publishers prefer to see something other than the first chapter.

We’ll talk more about the publishing process as a whole in our final post, but hopefully this will get you started in turning your ideals into something that transforms both writer and reader.

Back at the Christmas tree, I pulled the last of our garland from the box unraveled it and circled it around, all these scraps from the hem of my wedding dress now adorning evergreen branches. These meaningful pieces, these cast-off strips of fabric, somehow made things feel right in our little corner of the world. Each night now, when I leave off my writing and follow my husband to bed, I turn off the lights and find this little surprise of light in the dark, an ideal gleaming.

{What experience or idea do you feel compelled to share? Spend some time working on a 3 to 5 sentence summarizing the need and solution. Share below.}

And now, the winners of our Blog that Blossoms Giveaway….

Results were picked at random from all 72 eligible comments.
Our first winner with comment #19 is Carrie. Congratulations on your free No Brainer Blog eBook!
Our second winner with comment #9 is Becky Marie. Congratulations on your free No Brainer Blog eBook, personalized blog/brand consult and writing/design session!

We’ll be contacting you both soon with details on how to claim your winnings. Thanks again for the enthusiastic response of all who participated. I look forward to getting to know each reader in greater depth in days to come. And for those who didn’t win the giveaway, be sure to get your own copy of The No Brainer Blog here!

This is Day 30 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 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.)

A Creative Compost {Preserve Your Story ~ Day 18}

More than half of the trees have lost their leaves. My green pepper plants have shriveled up and fallen over. The newest tomatoes have suffered frost bite. The veggies have grown through drought and flood in this hearty stew of compost and peat and vermiculite, but now it’s time to clear out the garden and put away the shovels and shears.

But even as the plants give way to the season, there is potential in the slow and still. The garden extras, the piles of crunchy leaves, the scraps from the kitchen, if I allow them the space, they’ll come together and create a whole new substance.

While your notebook is tucked in a drawer and you are resting from your work, something is happening in that stillness. When you pick up someone else’s book, when you sit face to face with the good people in your life, when you venture out of your writing world into fresh contexts, borrowed thoughts mingle with the ones already written.

Onto the heap of our drafted ideas, we throw new clippings and scraps. Sometimes inspiration will come from talking directly about your idea (though I wouldn’t do too much of that or you may lose some of your steam!), but most often it will come in surprising forms, the cast offs from listening to a stirring sermon or someone’s take on a current events issue or a family struggle.

All these apple peels, blades of grass, egg shells, used tea leaves, pine needles, these textures and flavors of all sorts come together and sit a while. Then ideas turn over one another and heat up like compost in the bin.

Maybe your essay or blog post or short story feels stuck. You shove it in the drawer and wonder if it should stay. But bring yourself into a new context and see what happens.

Maybe you’ll be like the man in the 1960s who left a failure of a project at work over the weekend. He turned out the light and locked the lab door on this new formula for glue, one so weak that the pages barely stuck together.

But in the choir loft on Sunday, amid the reverb of soprano, alto, tenor and bass, he looked down at the hymnal with his makeshift bookmarks, torn pieces of paper falling all around like confetti. He scrambled that morning to reopen the page for the choir number, but he’d never have to do that again.

Weak glue? Paper that barely sticks? A hymnal sprawled open letting plain paper fly? All these problems came together to give him the perfect idea for a hymnal marker, one that would stick but wouldn’t tear the page when removed.

In this moment of synergy, in this completely different context, a place of rejuvenation, the man’s subconscious did the work for him and the idea for the Post-It Note was born.

We refine our writing when we enter new contexts, engage in conversation, or soak in the words of a treasured author, even with our own story put away out of sight.

I had written a draft for my Gift from the Sea series detailing my night swim in the luminescent waters off of the islands of Thailand when I set my own writing aside to do some reading. As I came across the words of a fellow blogger through a link-up, I read some punch in the chest quotes from Surprised by Joy, a book I’d been wanting to read for quite awhile. I grinned when I came upon the shelf at the bookstore. The spine of Lewis’ memoir stretched tall, just four books down from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s classic written in the same year, these two works sitting together in a picture of synergy. Joy sneaks up on us, they both said in their own way. And my story agreed.

On the small scale of a blog post, the ideas compost in a matter of hours or days. When it comes to larger stories in creative non-fiction and novel writing, we can expect a much longer process. I mulled over the theme of Dress of Many Colors for more than five years before I felt the story was ready for dedicated writing. And even now as I’ve taken a break from it, the ideas continue to react to my everyday experience.

Whatever the nature of our work, when we venture out of its bounds, we let ideas commingle, we stir them up and let them sit again. We put the happy process on repeat and soon the pile turns dark and earthy, each ingredient becoming part of the whole until we can’t tell one idea from another, all of them blending into one rich compost, the boost our story needs to flourish.

{Are you getting out enough? Are you listening enough in conversation? Are you reading enough? How have you experienced the synergy of ideas in a current or past project?}

This is Day 18 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.)