Friday, April 29, 2011

Chews Your Words Wisely

It’s a visual age. Adults and kids alike have their eyes on their Smartphones or iPads, making images whiz by onscreen with just a touch. Graphics rule.
When I worked in textbook publishing, we began to receive requests from teachers not to put so many words on the pages. “Students don’t read,” they said. “Show the key concepts graphically, so students can pick out what’s important.”
When I gave a lecture to a class of college students, I glanced at them as I read from my memoir. Nothing much was going on behind their expressions of polite attention. But when I began the accompanying slide show, every person in that room leaned forward. I could hear it happen.
Graphics. We even have graphic novels now—fiction that takes the form of a comic strip. I don’t think the whole world has suddenly abandoned traditional reading, but we can’t ignore these shifts.
We’re also in an age when storybooks read themselves, when sound can overtake the printed word. Grandpa can record his voice narrating a bedtime story and send the enhanced book to his grandchild. Mom can personalize a birthday card in the same way. It reminds me of a slogan from the past, the product forgotten: “It’s almost like being there.”
When we no longer read words, but merely hear them spoken aloud—say, in an electronic storybook, on television, or in conversation--our spelling suffers. When we have to write, we might struggle. Words that sound alike, but have different spellings and meanings, are among the biggest culprits. When we no longer read words, we often write the wrong word. And a spell checker isn’t going to catch it.
A sentence in a novel reads, “But it’s different now, it’s on a whole new plain.” The correct word would be plane.
A book about writing advises authors what to do if they are “waving” a fee. It should be waiving.
A fashion blogger writes, "I tend to add spice and flare..."  That last word should be flair, unless she is describing bell-bottom pants. 

And how many times have we been promised a "sneak peak" when a peek would have sufficed?
This appeared in a newspaper article: “…throngs of…women carrying their high heals walked along…” That one was later corrected online to high heels. Thank you!
In school I was bored by the repetitive nature of English classes; every year we learned the same things. I closed my eyes when I did the word-choice exercises in my workbook, looking after the fact to see which word I’d left uncovered by the pencil. I avoided vocabulary building. But somewhere along the line, I knew I had a feeling for it all, and now I’m not just a writer; I’m a watchdog.
In writing for others, I've made a habit of questioning my word choices and looking things up. This way, maybe I won't be the person who writes of a "hoarse" in a field. But he--or she--is out their. Whoops!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Positive Thinking

If you’re a fan of The Secret, you’ll immediately know why I pasted the title of my own book over that of the No. 1 best-seller on the New York Times list, even though It Started with Dracula won’t be published for another 24 weeks. Jack Canfield, one half of the famous Chicken Soup author team, did the same thing after the first Chicken Soup manuscript was rejected again and again. He was applying positive thinking to attract positive results, and it worked.
Canfield created a motivation wall where he posted positive messages to himself and projected his future success. I started one, too. The first document to go up on the glass of my large Mt. Everest photo (get the symbolism?) was the NYT Nonfiction Paperback best-seller list with It Started with Dracula: The Count, My Mother, and Me as No. 1 as of April 1, 2012.
The essence of each New York Times best-seller is stated on the list in a sentence or less. I wrote this to describe my book: “A solo traveler’s inner and outer journeys in Romania.”
The second thing I put up on my motivation wall was a photo of Ellen Degeneres chatting with a guest on the set of her TV show. I cut out a picture of myself and pasted it over that of the original guest so that I could get used to the idea of being on television. I like Ellen (this idea is now beaming to California) and think appearing on her show would be fun.
Item 3 on my motivation wall is a big check, made out to me in a large amount to represent what I hope to earn with my best-seller. In fact, I’m thinking I was too modest in deciding on the amount; I might do it over. The blank check is free on the website of The Secret, You can print it out, as I did, and fill it in as you wish.
Writing is like Mt. Everest sometimes. I say put up a motivation wall and look at it every day. Picture your success. Imagine yourself where you want to be. Rhonda Byrne, author of The Secret, says it will happen; it will change your life. Let’s find out.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Personal Branding V: The Writers Conference

I recently attended a local writers’ conference. (Where do you put that apostrophe?) I did it to network. The keynote speaker was Hallie Ephron, author of two mystery novels and two nonfiction guides for writers. The instructors included professors, editors, book authors, a screenwriter, and a literary agent. The other attendees ranged from beginners to published authors. Many were there to pitch their books.
It had been five years since I’d attended a writers’ conference; the last one had intimidated me so much that I’d stopped going. I’d made appointments that time to pitch It Started with Dracula, then a work in progress. Pitching was a new term in my world and an unexpectedly stomach-churning activity before I even met … Well, you’ll be able to read more about that in the book.
As I selected my outfit for the conference, I wondered—as always—what writers wear. It sounds ridiculous, but it was important, and my mind always takes the same route before an event: right to the subject of clothing. What should I wear? For the first time I actually was a writer. I was an author, but no one at the conference would know that, or me.
I decided on a casual outfit that was a step up from jeans, put a sweater over my blouse for warmth, and had an acute case of static cling before I ever got out of my own neighborhood.
The roads were deserted at 7:30 on a Saturday morning, greatly reducing my anxiety at trying to find the place, located on a university campus. I tuned the radio to a 50s rock station as I drove and formulated my simple goal for the day: Get through it.
I’d made no pitching appointments, a great relief, but I did have in mind to meet the agent, just because she’d set up her first office in Charleston, West Virginia, a city from my childhood. If she’d accepted memoirs, I might have contacted her earlier, but now I would be only an anonymous member of her class. Whether I introduced myself was solely my choice.
Most of my classes were excellent. I made a few friends, gained new insights about the craft of writing, and gave out several of the business cards I’d taken with me, a new design with my photo on one side and my book cover on the other.
Hallie Ephron--sister of Nora, Delia, and Amy—sat one table away from mine at lunch. She looked regular. Her photo is glamorous, and it should be, but that day she was completely natural talking and laughing with her tablemates. The screenwriter sat beside me. My new friend Debbie had told me the buzz: This woman had “flown in from LA” just for the conference. I didn’t recognize her name, but we had a short conversation—mostly about her.
The best thing I heard Hallie Ephron say in her keynote was that when she’s writing a book, she has no perspective on whether it’s good or bad. I’d thought I was the only one, but my Memoir teacher said the same thing: “None of us do.”
During the break I bought novels from Hallie and one of my teachers. Both autographed them to me. After the last session of the day I did go up front to meet the literary agent, who’d just served on a panel. I shall pin a gold star on myself for that.
Writers’ conferences are on the A-list for networking opportunities, and I totally agree—even if, in my case, they’re an acquired taste. I can’t seem to relax and stop thinking about myself. Perhaps that is the curse of the “writer’s personality”—many of us are introverts--or maybe I just like to think that I’m not the only one.