About mestengobooks

Welcome to Mestengo Books, a gathering place for my work. I wracked my brain for hours to come up with a designation that represents both me and my work. With so many blogs and websites already out there, it was a challenge to come up with something original. Mustang is a popular online moniker because it speaks to strength and endurance. The horse has been a totem animal since I was a child, so I knew it would be a good symbol for me because it represented much of my character: freedom, travel, strength, endurance. Mustangs have survived the wilds of the Americas since the Spanish first brought them here, making them, by nature, most durable. The word mestengo has a neat history; its origin is from 16th century Spanish that translates to wild, stray, ownerless. I knew the moment I saw it I’d found the right name. And anyone who knows me can certainly attest to the fact that I am, without a doubt, una mestenga. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing. Regards, Denise Thunderhawk Denise was a second prize winner of the Southwest Literary Center’s 2006 New Mexico Discovery Awards for her nonfiction, A Bump in the Road.

Not That Kind of Blog

friends2

Source: Google Images/geekwire.com

Saturn Opposition Moon is Kicking My Ass Right Now

I don’t know how many of you are into astrology or accept its veracity but I’m in a Saturn opposition Moon situation through November that has me re-thinking some very personal issues (career vs. personal happiness is one aspect; others are some specific security/insecurity issues and it’s during this time that I’m to work this all out, lucky me). I feel more philosophical these days (which is what comes with age, oh joy) and it shows up in my writing more and more. I’ve realized it’s who I am (and have become more so) and my writing reflects that aspect, even in this blog. I feel a greater need to be even more creative (like it’s pushing everything else out of my mind lately; this is my 3rd blog in the space of a week because the words keep flowing) and often find myself daydreaming about creating in other ways (painting, fabric painting, mosaics, photography, etc.). My creativity seems to have worked its way to the forefront of my life; I’m still not sure if it’s a good thing (because it’s the road I’m meant to be on) or just some wishful thinking (as an escape from those pesky issues). I think it’s part of what I’m forced to work out during this transition.

Not That Kind of Blog

Mine is not a how-to-be-a-better-writer kind of blog, I never intended it to be. Though I might pepper in a few how-to posts, my blog has a more philosophical, narrative and personal style. Since the beginning, I’ve gained and lost readership as a result of writing this blog from a different approach. As with many (insecure) writers, I’m learning to be okay with the ups and downs and continue 1) as if it doesn’t matter in the long run, and 2) believing that some readers will gain new perspectives on their own writing from my personal perspectives.

What Do You Gain?

Are you gleaning anything positive from my posts? Do they help you become more introspective in relation to your writing skills and style? Do my posts help you look at the work you’re creating with a new set of eyes, with a renewed sense that what you’re creating is good enough? This is my hope, my goal. Sharing on a deeper level, to me, is more profound than focusing only on the technical aspects of writing (how to be a better writer, how to sell more books, etc.). Depending on your genre, philosophical or narrative posts may be more helpful; maybe not. It’s all a crapshoot anyway, right?

Walk With Me

So there it is. I hope you’ll stay with me even though I’m not trying to ‘teach’ you how to be a better writer (at least not directly). If we travel this road together long enough, something will stick.

And that’s all that really matters.

A New Addition to the Family

I’m passionate about many topics but the subject of homelessness has moved to the top of my list recently. Here in California there has been an exponential increase in people losing their homes, for a variety of reasons. Three of the main reasons are 1) increased rents (and illegal evictions); 2) wildfires/natural disasters; and 3) loss of jobs or loss of full-time jobs.

Loss is Loss

While it’s easy to feel compassion for folks who have lost their homes due to wildfires (or other natural disasters, as seen around the world right now), there seems to be less compassion and understanding for people who have been priced out of their homes (mainly apartments) here in California, creating a surge in homelessness (including many who work). Sadly, one of the largest increases in recent months here in northern California has been in the senior/over 65 community – it saddens me to think about elderly people forced to move out of their homes because they can no longer afford rent, food, and prescription medications. But it’s true.

Jobs are also getting more difficult to find and many people are scrambling to work in any capacity. I currently work a part-time job for a company that, for the most part, does not offer many full-time positions. So many part-time employees are scrambling to make ends meet with ever-changing schedules that don’t allow room for a second part-time job. (On any given day, you’ll see jobs posted on Indeed where it’s written in the posting they’re accepting only the first 700 applications! Who can compete with that?)

I’m seeing it everywhere: TV, SM, newspapers. So I can’t help but want to write about it, tell a few stories, and hope to be a small but positive effect on changing attitudes and finding solutions. So I had a brainchild: why not blog about the situation? Why not tell people’s stories? After all, everybody has a story, right? I’m bothered by the lack of serious action by our local government (and the national one as well, since it deems national security and warfare far more important than caring for its citizens by raising their standard of living) so I need to speak up.

Follow Along, If You Like

If you’re interested in following the journey into homelessness and what stories I may find there, please follow my stories at  The Homeless Project. At some point, I may even hit the road to find the stories that need telling. In the telling, perhaps, I can awaken whatever sensibilities need awakening to push people into action, whether large or small. Every step forward is progress on the road to success.

Hope some of you will take the journey with me.

 

Breaking News: You Don’t Need Permission to WRITE/PAINT/DANCE/LIVE CREATIVELY

artistic image3

Source: Google Images/Art Inspirations by Debra at passthefeather.org

Big Magic

I recently finished (with much sadness, it was such a wonderful read) Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic (she wrote the delightful book Eat, Pray, Love). Basically it’s about the magic of inspiration, the freedom to create without another’s permission, and the magic of living a creative life. I devoured each chapter, dog-earing so many pages it looks more like an accordion than a book!

Somewhere along the way, like she writes in the book, I got it all wrong. I believed, wholeheartedly, that I needed the RIGHT desk/workspace/ideas/inspiration/subject, etc. to go ahead and begin creating. That I needed someone to tell me that what I was doing – actually, creating – was okay. I needed permission to create.

Turns out I’ve been creating all my life. I still have sketches from grade and high school (but I stupidly got rid of my oil  and acrylic paintings because I thought they weren’t good enough to show anyone) and a few poems I wrote. I re-discovered them while cleaning out a box during one of my many moves to another new place a few years back. (And I still keep them tucked away, out of sight, for some unknown reason.)

sigh…

Don’t Be Afraid

Then I reached the “You’re Afraid” chapter and found many of the same excuses I’ve used over the years to not create. Let’s see if you find yourself in any of these (there were many more but I think you’ll get the gist):

  1. You’re afraid you’ll be rejected or criticized or ridiculed or misunderstood or – worst of all – ignored.
  2. You’re afraid there’s no market for your creativity, and therefore no point in pursuing it.
  3. You’re afraid somebody else already did it better.
  4. You’re afraid everybody else already did it better. (You know, you’re not original enough…)
  5. You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of discipline.
  6. You’re afraid you don’t have the ‘right’ [quotes added] kind of work space, or financial freedom or empty hours in which to focus on invention or exploration. (This was and has always been one of my lamest excuses for not creating something. That I was always so sensitive to my artistic environment; that the ‘wrong’ time or place or direction I faced with my desk would surely ruin any chances of creating something GREAT that would be enjoyed by ALL; that without all of the ‘right’ things necessary to SUCCEED I would, after all, definitely FAIL.)
  7. You’re afraid you neglected your creativity for so long that now you can never get it back. (It must be my fault – since I couldn’t get the setting ‘just right’ and now I’m doomed to never create again. Hurrumph.)
  8. You’re afraid of being a one-hit wonder.
  9. You’re afraid of being a no-hit wonder.

And so on….

You Don’t Need Permission, After All

But here’s the BEST part, the REVELATION that so many of us (especially me) need to hear (more than once,obviously):

“You do not need anybody’s permission to live a creative life. Maybe your parents were rule-followers or too busy being melancholic depressives, or addicts, or abusers to ever use their imaginations toward creativity. Maybe they weren’t makers…maybe just pure consumers. Maybe you grew up in an environment where people just sat around watching TV and waiting for stuff to happen to them.”

This was my childhood: mom and dad plunked in front of the TV at the end of exhausting days of housework [mom] and construction [dad], smoking cigarettes and barely speaking to each other (or us) while watching variety shows or sitcoms. Art was what hung on someone else’s walls (our living room was decorated with my parents bowling trophies, including the back end of a donkey for my dad’s team coming in last place); I certainly wasn’t encouraged to follow that road. Go to college. Get a job. Those were my parents’ mantras all through school. How on earth could I escape that fate? I’m still struggling to make room for creativity, to give myself PERMISSION to create WHATEVER I want to create, regardless of what you or whoever thinks about it. My sister was even more talented than me and she, too, was forced to become a square peg in a round hole, to abandon all artistic dreams for a future where putting bread on the table was the most important (and only) thing one could do with one’s life. It was the sensible thing to do, after all, right? (sneer)

“You want to write a book? Make a song? Learn a dance? Draw a penis on your wall? Do it. Who cares? Let inspiration lead you wherever it wants to lead you.” 

In other words, stop worrying what others will think; you don’t need their permission or approval; just create, damn it! And damn anyone who believes differently! Because, in the end, it’s all just creativity. So it really doesn’t matter all that much. Get it?

Good.

Entitlement (the right kind)

That said, you need to understand the concept of entitlement – not the narcissistic American ‘I-deserve-everything-I-want‘ kind of entitlement but the kind of entitlement that lets you live freely with your creativity intact:

“… in order to live this way – free to create, free to explore – you must possess a fierce sense of personal entitlement… Creative entitlement simply  means believing that you are allowed to be here and that – merely by being here – you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own.”

A Final Word

These are two of my favorites from the book – because they’re true, no matter what anyone says:

“Pure creativity is magnificent expressly because it is the opposite of everything else in life that’s essential or inescapable (food, shelter, medicine, rule of law, social order, familial responsibility, death, taxes, etc.). Pure creativity is something better than a necessity; it’s a gift. It’s the frosting… a wild and unexpected bonus from the universe.”

This is a woman deeply in love with her creativity. This is a woman who knows she is FREE to create without boundaries, permissions, critiques, etc. This is the kind of person I aspire to become and after reading her book, I know I am several steps closer to the clarity that I am FREE TO CREATE simply because I MUST CREATE. Because it’s who I AM.

“You can live a long life, making and doing really cool things the entire time. You might earn a living with your pursuits or you might not, but you can recognize that this is not really the point. And at the end of your days, you can thank creativity for having blessed you with a charmed, interesting, passionate existence.”

Amen, sister.

So get out there, folks, and create SOMETHING.

I dare you.

Amazon Gets Bulk of Complaint in AAP Filing With US Trade Commission

amazon complaint pic2_LI

This just in from Publishing Perspectives:

An interesting read!

The Association of American Publishers filed a statement with the FTC supporting scrutiny of big tech companies, especially Amazon and Google.

Source: Amazon Gets Bulk of Complaint in AAP Filing With US Trade Commission

Freelancing Part 3: Would This Work For You?

20 ways to freelance-elna cain

Source: elnacain.com

Here are the final 3 lessons on finding freelance work, especially if you’re a beginner. I was skeptical to begin with (I tend toward cynicism naturally) and wasn’t all that impressed with what she offered. Not that she doesn’t offer quality information or lessons. It’s just that I can find what she’s offering all over the Internet so her services/products aren’t unique. Honestly, once I finished perusing her 6-day lesson, I got the impression that she moved quickly from freelance writing to selling her ‘secret to success.’

Lesson 4It’s all about you.

Again, Elna touches on something that many bloggers and writers before her have discussed – the lack of confidence in your ability to earn money by writing for other people. The DOUBT and FEAR that people have about getting themselves out there, that they don’t really have something to offer. Heard it before but I agree it’s an important aspect to face and move beyond in order to succeed.

Lesson 5Time to source freelance jobs and apply for them.

Assuming you’ve worked out the doubts and fears, she emphasizes the best way (actually, I think it’s the only way, in the beginning) is to start applying for freelance gigs on various sites. A no-brainer; how else might you find work? Once again, she inserts her call to action in the middle of the narrative (the hook). Good advice re free job boards and she lists some sites to visit. Then she offers another 53 sites by clicking on a link to a page on her website that is chock full of information. Overall, some useful information for beginners here.

Lesson 6Step up to pitch.

In this final free lesson, she details successful pitching habits, including her “proven five-step pitching formula”:

  1. Pitch often – make a goal to send 10 pitches a week, or if you’re super competitive, try sending 10 pitches every day before 10 a.m.
  2. Cast a wide net – pitch to any job ad that you’re somewhat qualified for. In the beginning, you’ll have more success if you’re not too picky.
  3. Pitch in the morning or on the day the ad is published. Heard the saying, the early bird catches the worm? Well, the early freelance writer catches all the gigs.
  4. Do some research about the company or startup. Many job ads tell you the name of the company so run a Google search to check them out. This can prove to be helpful when pitching.
  5. Include a name in your pitch – make it more personable by finding out the name associated with the job ad. This can be tricky but looking at their company website is a start.

She closes with some good advice on how to write that pitch letter.

All in all, the information in the last three segments is useful, including the 53 sites for finding freelance work. I like the details on building a pitch letter. And, of course, she closes with another call to action to sign up for her class and ends with an offer for a “special exclusive lesson + gift for you!

Take away the sales pitches and you’ll find a few good pointers.

Will I sign up for her class?

No.

Will I continue to subscribe to her website?

No.

Does she offer anything NEW that isn’t already out there on the web?

No.

That’s my pitch to you. Take from it what you will.

Is The Freelance Writers Market Saturated?

 

freelance writer pic

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

Is The Freelance Writers Market Saturated?

In an online world where it’s getting harder and harder to get noticed, I question whether we’ve reached a saturation point for freelance writers. While writers are a community-minded bunch, we are still competing with each other for writing gigs, publishers, exposure, etc. So I wonder whether or not freelance opportunities have reached a zenith.

When I Googled the title to this blog, lots of freelance sites popped up, as well as the ‘people also ask’ segment loaded with related questions and drop-downs. When I clicked on the drop-down for ‘How do I get freelance writing jobs?’ this showed up:

If you’re just thinking about freelance writing, bookmark this post and come back to it when you’re ready to take action.

  1. Start Cold Pitching. …

  2. Pitch to a Job Board Ad. …

  3. Follow Tweets From Job Boards. …

  4. Ask Friends, Family and Work. …

  5. Use Your Website. …

  6. Guest Post (For Free!) …

  7. Network With Other Freelance Writers. …

  8. Start Warm Pitching

Intrigued by the list, I checked for the source. It lead me to a website where freelance writer, Elna Cain, offers a free 6-day course and basically promises to teach you how to earn good money from freelance gigs. Honestly, I didn’t see anything different on her site; it contained the usual marketing and calls to action, like signing up for her newsletter, her free course, and some paid options. Ironically, I also found several grammatical/spelling errors in the midst of all the marketing content. I wonder how well she writes for her clients if her website has these kinds of errors.

From what I read, she does offer some good options/tips for getting freelance work but none of it is any different from what’s already on so many other sites. Curiosity got the better of me, so I signed up for her free 6-day course.

I’ll let you know what happens.

Quality of Freelance Writing: Up or Down?

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my other question is whether the quality of writing in freelance gigs is going up or down and is it a problem? With so many people out there trying to be freelance writers, I wonder if the quality of content is affected. Just go online, search Google, websites, job boards, etc. and you will find an overabundance of errors in copy/content. I see it all the time on Indeed, in both job posts and reviews. I’ve seen errors on Yelp, too, but there’s no way to know if the person was hired to write the review or if they actually interacted with the business.

Fifteen Freelance Options to Try

The following is not an exhaustive list; there are numerous sites to search, requiring some time on your part. It’s important to find a good fit for you and your writing skills. Always start out with writing what you know. Do some research, and just maybe you’ll land a paid writing gig:

  1. All Indie Writers
  2. Facebook (especially groups)
  3. Fiverr
  4. Flex Jobs
  5. Freelance Writing
  6. Freelance Writing Gigs
  7. Guru
  8. Job Box
  9. Remote.co
  10. The Barefoot Writer
  11. The Write Life
  12. Upwork
  13. Various job boards (Glass Door, CareerBuilder, Zip Recruiter, etc.)
  14. We Work Remotely
  15. Writers.work

I’m waiting on Lesson 3 to arrive in my Inbox; once I receive all 6 free lessons, I’ll post my review of what she offers. Stay tuned!

This and That

pad and pencil

Source: Pixabay

I’ve been itching to write something today but this heat (triple digits!) and humidity gunk up my imagination/thought process. So I’m perusing the many writing tips I save in my Writing Tips folder, hoping to find some noteworthy tidbits for you. This is what I managed to patch together:

Guest Blogging

Do you guest blog? Do you have guest bloggers on your site? Guest blogging is a great way to increase your exposure, give you access to a larger audience and increase traffic to your own site. Likewise, having guest bloggers on your site adds credibility and again increases traffic to your site. Win-win. If you’re the guest blogger, be sure to familiarize yourself with the host’s guidelines and don’t miss your deadline – that’s a surefire way to not be invited back. Have a nice professional picture you can post with the blog; readers like to see who’s writing what. If you’re the host, make sure to lay out clear guidelines regarding what to blog about, the length of the post, etc.

Niche Freelance Work

It can be difficult to find a good niche these days but with a little homework you can find areas where you have the best chance of finding work (and earn money). While it’s good to write blogs/copy on topics that interest you, profit (you get paid) and demand (this area needs better coverage so there’s plenty of work) may lead you to write on topics or on sites you haven’t considered. With a little research, a good writer can create good copy on almost any subject and it could lead you to a regular, lucrative niche freelance gig. (That means money in the bank on a regular basis.)

One of the places I see a (desperate) need for good copy is on Indeed, the online job search site. It’s obvious after reading pages of job posts that the people writing copy for their companies are clearly not writers. One idea is to copy and paste poorly written job ads to a Word document, make the necessary corrections, then email both the bad ad copy and the corrected ad copy to the company’s HR or hiring person and offer your services. Include a link to your site, your Upwork profile, wherever you’re listed. 

Some other areas that need good copy are: law/legal, insurance, financial markets, how-to topics, and employment (resumé writing, curriculum vitae, job ads).

Charging for Your Freelance Work

So how much should you charge? Are you writing only copy or do you edit as well? Do you have a degree in English/Journalism or in some other field where writing was mandatory (e.g., Psychology, medicine, criminal justice)? What is your experience? What you charge will depend on the body of work you’ve already created. If you’re just starting out, you’ll likely have to take those low-paying gigs, like on Upwork, where they pay $1-5 for 100-500 words.

Do you edit or proofread? Proofreading is a type of editing, as are copy editing and content editing. I find myself automatically editing for spelling and grammar no matter what I’m reading (which is why I picked up on the idea of writing job ad copy since so many are written so poorly). Proofreading is the easiest of the three and I prefer to charge hourly. You can also charge by the word; Writer’s Market suggests you charge $3 per page for proofreading.

Copyediting is about improving style, formatting and accuracy so experience in this area is key. You can do light (accuracy, grammatical issues), medium (correcting flow, reworking text) or heavy (restructure paragraphs, style, flow, and grammar) copy editing, depending on your abilities. Writer’s Market suggests $4 per page for copy editing.

Content editing is more intensive; you will often have to add what was left out or rewrite whole sections. Because this is a higher level of editing, Writer’s Market suggests $7.50 per page.

Miranda Marquit, an experienced editor, gives this advice: If you’re just starting out as an editor, you can charge around $20 per hour. An experienced content editor can charge as much as $50 to $85 an hour. Once you have established yourself as a proofreader, you can charge $25 to $35 an hour.

Write on!

The Bloom Is Off The Rose

withered rose

Source: Pixabay

That’s it, I’m done. This morning I read an interesting post by a writer I follow who took a 6-week break from SM (which explains why I didn’t get any new posts from her in my inbox). Many of the comments I read for that post agreed and offered some useful words on how to handle SM if you choose to stay in the game. I’ve posted before on the pros and cons of SM and how much we actually ‘need’ to be on it. I was inspired by her desire to cut the proverbial ties that bound her to her followers and the global writing community, the ties that took her away from her writing time. I constantly struggle with a similar issue. But her honesty encouraged me to take a small step today and I deleted my Goodreads account (for the second, and hopefully, last time) while reorganizing and thinning out my online bookmark manager.

Honestly, why should I give a damn which books complete strangers are reading? And why would they give a damn what I’m reading or have read? FYI – just finished Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan; I hope knowing this changes your life in some way. 🙂

I’ve also wrestled (many times, actually) with closing my Mestengo Books FB page; it contains the same information as my website and I’d rather you visited that over a lackluster FB page. All my FB followers (a whopping 35 people) can visit my website, if so inclined. Well, that’s gone now, too. Whew. A moment of trepidation but I quickly recovered. (And I have fourteen days to make it live again, in case I change my mind and realize I simply can’t live without an ineffective FB page.)

I’ll keep the FB page for my nutrition book; eventually, I’m fairly sure, I’ll tire of that one as well. I’m trying out Instagtram and Twitter for a few months; I don’t spend more than about thirty minutes a day on each (first thing in the morning is best for me) so I don’t yet feel they’re sucking the soul out of me. Give ‘em time.

Does this mean I’m focusing more on productive writing? Not necessarily. I am currently in a predicament that is engulfing almost every moment of almost every day and invading my thoughts almost round the clock . Exhausting. But that’s life: the ups and downs, hills and valleys, ebbs and flows. Due to unforeseen circumstances, my life is currently in that ebb/down/valley so I’m not focused on writing other than this post. Maybe I should be, it would bring a welcome relief from the stress and insomnia.

As I’ve posted before: all we can do, in my opinion, is what’s best for each of us, no matter what the ‘experts’ tout. If you like SM, are good at it, and are finding success with it, then stay the course. Too many people are in burnout mode from the addictive lure of instant success, instant money, instant something. As always with a fad that rapidly becomes popular, (almost) everyone  wants on board, wants their ‘piece of the pie.’ What was once shiny and new quickly fades into oblivion, replaced more quickly by the newest, baddest, greatest, freshest, cheapest, etc. And many of us (writers) are exhausted from trying to keep up. In that realization, a host of writers are backing off, reverting back to doing things ‘the old-fashioned way.’ They’re taking a step back to view the bigger picture. Exhaustion is then replaced with serenity, clarity, and wisdom gained only by the experience.

I will continue to post to my blog because I need it, even if you don’t. And I will make a concerted effort to keep only a small space in my life for SM. The bloom is definitely off that rose for me.

 

What has been your experience with SM? Positive or negative? Care to share? What are some good arguments for keeping up with it? What are some good arguments for letting it go?

 

 

 

Getting Paid to Lie: Is It Worth It?

liars

Source: Google Images/Me.me

I recently received an offer on Upwork to write a 5-star review for a local business. For a whopping $10, I was offered the opportunity to write a 45-word review but obligated to give the company five stars in order to be paid. In the proposal, the owner wrote that he wanted to bring in more business for his new company. I sat on the request for a day or so to mull it over, feeling a bit on the fence about it. This morning I replied that I could not write a 5-star review for a company I’ve not done business with, that it just didn’t seem right. Then I got to thinking, well, it would’ve been a paid gig… and it would’ve added a successful gig to my Upwork homepage. Yet somehow I couldn’t get comfortable with the idea of writing a review that may or may not be true.

Sometimes I have to choose principles over pocket money for a writing gig.

Where do we draw the line? Is anyone else drawing that line? The online world has opened us up to numerous opportunities, some good, some bad, some in between the two. Maybe it’s the way I was raised; honesty and strength of character were deemed more important than making a quick buck. Now it seems to be more about making that quick buck. With a burgeoning human population, I’m sure much of it is driven by individual economics and the need to earn livable wages however one can.

With only so many jobs open at any given time, working as an independent contractor or as a freelancer has opened up countless opportunities. One of those opportunities is to provide false information; it comes in the form of online business reviews, professional references (yes, you can pay someone to lie to your potential employer about your work history but it’s fraudulent and you can get into a boatload of legal troubles for it), even on a resume (also fraudulent).

Liar-for-hire Tim Green, founder of Paladin Deception Services, will lie for you, for a price ($54 a month). He says he won’t break the law but he obviously has no problem being deceitful or fraudulent for his clients. He even has technology so he can provide a phone number that will show with any area code in the U.S.

Deceitful behavior is a sign of poor character, even if it’s profitable. Making money from it doesn’t make it okay just because you rationalize that you’re not “breaking the law”. It’s a serious breach of ethics, both personal and professional. It reminds me of a concept that I studied in a Greek (Socrates) philosophy class known as ‘fun morality’. Basically, the premise is that if it’s fun, it must be okay. For writers, this unethical approach will eventually get you into hot water.

In the end, it comes down to whether I can live with a professional deceit like a 5-star review for a company willing to mislead their potential customers.

I can’t. 

Skills Building: Write Your Obit

obit_citizens voice

Source: Google Images/Citizens’ Voice

Last week I lost a family member; it was a rather sudden, unexpected passing. I’d not seen him in many years but it did not diminish my feeling of loss. I remembered him as a sweet, gentle, quiet soul and his obituary, which read more like a loving eulogy a family member would give at a service, echoed that same sentiment.

Then it got me thinking; in two previous posts I emphasized the importance of getting your Digital Property (blog 1, blog 2) in order so that those left behind when you’re gone can manage your completed (and not completed) works. And then I thought, what better way to up one’s writing/skill level than to write one’s own obituary? It’s often an assignment in writing classes as it provides a sense of mortality and an intimate examination of our lives, as well as our place in this world (or at least what we hope it might have been).

What will you write about yourself? Would you include your accomplishments, hobbies and (mis)adventures? What would you leave out? What will you leave behind? To whom will you leave your belongings? Family? Charities? Or just donate it? If you had to do it over again (life), would you change anything? Leave anything undone, incomplete? It’s a sobering experience, for sure; trying to see yourself the ways others might. I attempted this exercise once and found it difficult to decide who got what (if anybody actually wanted any of my crap to begin with, they have enough of their own), to parcel out my “stuff” to people, some who aren’t in my life all that much and others who are. It actually scared me, as if I’d suddenly gotten a glimpse of the universe, less me.

Be colorful; use apt descriptives and pictures to express who you were in life (like the image above). These days, everything goes online for family to see and they can “sign” an online memorial book. How do you wish to be remembered? Are your stories/works included in that legacy? We’re told to take control of our lives, to own them, so why not own your obit? Let the world see you as the artist, writer, sculptor, etc. that you are, and in YOUR words. Give them an opportunity to revel in what you leave behind. Don’t be afraid to build yourself up in their eyes; it’s natural for the mourning family to do that anyway. 

Think of your obituary as your last and greatest work, the final piece of the puzzle that is YOU.

 

Writing a Whodunit Isn’t Much of a Mystery

whodunit

I recently completed an article on cardiovascular health for a trade journal. To begin the process, I researched the necessary information and laid it out in outline form to see what I would use and what I would discard. Once I used some research, I drew a line through the paragraph or section with strikethrough. Anything I didn’t use I simply deleted.

You can utilize a similar process to write a mystery novel. There are some necessary steps in that process and I’ll touch on a few basics here to get you started:

Plot out the novel

This is an opportunity to put your ideas to paper. What kind of murder? How many people involved? What’s the murder weapon? Location of the murder? Setting (time period or locale) of the book? It might help to draw a map of the area(s) where the story takes place, as it will provide you with a sense of direction (north, south, etc.) and landscape (or seascape) when moving characters around. Don’t forget about seasons/climate, year/century, and overall mood (feeling) of the locations.

Opening hook

You need an opening hook that grabs readers and makes them want to read more of the book. I prefer a shorter first chapter that includes the hook, the protagonist(s) or antagonist(s) (or both, depending on the storyline) and a bit of mystery about what is to unfold:

“She stuck her perky titties in his face; he pretended to display a modicum of interest. He knew what she wanted; he knew she was hungry for him. She tossed her shoulder length blonde hair from side to side, waving her golden locks like a flag in the wind to garner his attention. She playfully brushed his muscular arm as she feigned interest in the fabric of his jersey. Instead, he was focused on the nondescript woman sitting in the far corner of the local watering hole. She’d been coming in regularly on Thursday nights, he recently noticed, and always alone. She sat in a quiet corner behind the bar that gave her the broadest view of the goings-on of the locals. It appeared she was taking notes.” (Rescue on White Thunder, 2012, all rights reserved.)

Based on this opening paragraph, this was the review left by a noted author (for which I was ever grateful):
“Despite the hilarious opening line, this is not that kind of book. It really is a good, serious story. At first I thought ‘chick-lit’ but it really isn’t and the characters, plot and story continue to grow throughout. I don’t know exactly where I couldn’t put it aside, but it happened. There is some really good American Indian lore that I hadn’t heard before as well.”

Build your characters

What does your protagonist or antagonist look like? How do they act/speak? Any quirks? Do you describe secondary characters enough for readers to know them? Good physical descriptions provide a visual image for the reader but personality, attitude and other intangibles are important as well:

“Leonard Laughing Bear is a six-foot man in his mid-fifties with a stout build and broad shoulders designed for carrying the weight of the world.  Hair as thick as a Berber carpet flows freely down his back and is streaked with gray between strands of deep black. The lines on his face are a roadmap to the life history of an experienced elder. His left knee is bowed outward so when he walks he tilts a little to the left. His eyes are small, dark beads that glow with an intensity and hint of a deeper knowing, and are bordered by prominent cheekbones that seem carved from rock. He is a soft-spoken man with a velvety-toned voice that draws people in to listen attentively. He is a gifted storyteller.” (Rescue on White Thunder, 2012, all rights reserved.)

Mishaps, obstacles, and red herrings

These are the “monkey wrenches” you throw into the story to mislead or move the protagonist(s) and/or antagonist(s) in different directions. Don’t get wrapped up in too much misdirection, it will move you further from the heart of the story and you may confuse or lose the reader.

“6:30 am: The explosion reverberated throughout the house. Braddock flew out of his chair at the breakfast table and Jim sprung to his feet, knocking his chair to the floor, both of them spilling their mugs of coffee. Smoke perked up his ears, looked around, and howled as Annie froze in front of the stove, her eyes wide with fright. Wolf, working in the garage, was knocked backward as the ground shuddered and shook. He had a bad feeling in his gut so he ran to his trailer, grabbed his survival pack, and ran to the main house.” (Rescue on White Thunder, 2012, all rights reserved.)

The arc of the story

 This is how the plot progresses through the novel. There are  eight stages of a story plot, according to Wikihow:

  • Stasis – the normal, everyday life of the person whose point of view you’re using to tell the story
  • Trigger – this is the event that sets everything in motion
  • The quest – this is the murder or murder mystery
  • Surprise – these are the twists and turns, the complications (“monkey wrenches”) that keep the story going; most important to keep movement in the story to keep the reader’s attention
  • Critical choice – this is where the protagonist(s) must decide how to act, often faced with a hard path; it can be a defining moment for the character and tends to lead to the climax
  • Climax – where the murder is solved and murderer is caught
  • Reversal and resolution – these represent how the characters have changed and what their “new normal” looks like after the crime has been committed and suspect caught

Remember to keep the readers guessing throughout the novel (hence the movement of storyline and characters). As I mentioned in a previous post, start at the end (the murder, the location, evidence, etc.) and work backwards; take the story apart, scatter the evidence and details around (but not too much), then slowly piece them back together to create a full picture.

Mystery solved.

Knowing Where To Start Is At The End

Vision-Board-example

Source: 510mpls.com

I read an interesting post on a hypnotherapy blog this morning.  I know it may sound a bit crazy, but it was about starting at the end and looking back to the beginning, to see what you can do differently with what you know NOW. A purposeful ‘hindsight is 20/20’ approach. Brilliant.

I’m not one for making lists of goals I want to achieve, I never have been. I’m artistic and more of a ‘vision board’ kinda gal. I enjoy and even thrive on creating a collage of pictures and words that create the energy to bring goals to fruition. The idea of ‘looking back’ over what I have not yet accomplished feeds the vision board builder in me more than a list. Writers are usually more artistic anyway, so this approach may also work for many of you.

“By setting goals backwards – with a focus on result rather than perfection in the process – you only fail if you stop striving. The route to success isn’t a straight line, it’s a wibbly-wobbly windy fall down seven times get up eight times kind of a thing.”

Source: sacramentohypnotherapy.com

What results do you seek with your writing projects? Picture yourself at the end of the book/article/poem/proofreading project, etc. Is the result what you wanted? Did you miss any steps? Have you taken a good look at what it will take to complete your goal or project?

Looking backward gives you the opportunity to see the steps you must take to get to the desired end result, whether it’s publication or just completion of a certain project. Here’s to looking back at what we can do when we move forward!

Keeping Up with the Digital Joneses

book meme

In one of her recent blogs, author Lee Foster offered some good suggestions regarding traditional vs. self/independent publishing, formats and whether to license your work.

Sadly, traditional publishing continues to deteriorate with the uptick of digital media and independent publishing, whether the medium is books, magazines, or newspapers. Independent publishers are gaining more of an edge over traditional routes but it’s important to maintain any existing relationships you might have with a traditional publishing house to ensure continued publication of your book. According to Lee, physical books still account for about 70% of the market; eBooks, about 17%, and audio books about 6%. These stats will likely change as the demand for digital media surges, especially with the 18-49 age group. It’s vital for writers to stay current with what’s in vogue so their work isn’t passed over because the format’s not popular.

If you’re an independent publisher, check Meetup.com in your area for meetups. They’re a great place to network, share your work, and get/provide feedback about the writing process. Who knows, you just might get some great ideas for that unfinished scene that’s been nagging at you for weeks or months.

The format you choose for your book can vary; publishing in all formats increases your exposure and ups the odds that more readers in your target market will find you. How many of these options are you using or are yet to use?

  • Print book – Ingram, Lulu Press, Amazon KDP, etc.
  • eBook – Lulu Press, Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, etc.
  • Audio book – Audible, etc.
  • Translations of your book – the language/s you choose should be based on your target market and perhaps the setting/location or cultural aspects; if you can’t afford a translator, try Bing Translator or Google Translator. They can be time-consuming to use (one paragraph or so at a time) but if budget is limited, it’s a good place to start. You also may want to come up with additional title options, as not all titles will translate well. Do some research.
  • A “website” book, where your work is available online in a website

copyright clearance ctr author options

Something else to think about is licensing your content. Do you write nonfiction, books for academia or business? Then you might consider the U.S. Copyright Clearance Center, where you can set up an account to collect fees from people who use quotes from your works with your permission. These are a few of the options from their site:

  • RightsLink for Permissions – automates permissions and reprints from your website; “facilitate permissions and reprints requests for copyrighted articles, images, mobile and new media content right from their websites.”
  • Republication Service – allows you to secure republication permissions for others’ works, as well as subsidiary rights
  • RightsCentral – where publishers, authors, and agents manage their account; from this option you can also download title usage reports; view and manage your participation in CCC services; review your permissions and fees; and set your fees within each service