Monday, February 20, 2017

Reads for Writers: Why I Write? Thoughts on the Craft of Fiction edited by Will Blythe

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I’m curious about relationships. I always ask how couples met? How people ended up in their current jobs? And since I’m a writer, why people write?

          In Why I Write? Thoughts on the Craft of Fiction edited by Will Blythe, twenty-six writers answer this question. Well worth reading.

Here are some of my favorite answers:  

“The only time I know the truth is when it reveals itself at the point of my pen.”

                                                                   —Jean Malaquais p.4

…Good writing never soothes or comforts. It is no prescription, neither is it diversionary, although it can and should enchant while it explodes in the reader’s face.
                                                                   —Joy Williams p. 9

…The act of writing, though often tedious, can still provide extraordinary pleasure. For me that comes line by line at the tip of a pen, which is what I like to write with, and the page on which the lines are written, the pages, can be the most valuable thing I will ever own.
—James Salter pp. 34-35.

…Yet I don’t blush when I’m with dogs, and I don’t blush when I write. I take it then that these two activities answer a related question: Where in your life are you most yourself?
                                                                   —Amy Hempel p. 42

…the lesson retold in its most basic form was this: write with great truthfulness; work harder than you thought possible; have passion, enormous sweeping passion. Give it first to your work. Let your work have all the passion it requires, and whatever is left, put into your life. What is left varies greatly for me from year to year.
                                                                   —Ann Patchett p. 66

This writing stuff saved me. It has become my way of responding to and dealing with things I find too disturbing or distressing or painful to handle in any other way. It’s safe Writing is my shelter. I don’t hide behind the words. I use them to dig inside my heart to find the truth. I guess I can say, honestly, that writing also offers me a kind of patience I don’t have in my ordinary day-to-day life. It makes me stop. It makes me take note. It affords me a kind of sanctuary that I can’t get in my hurried and full-to-the-brim-with-activity life.
                                                                   —Terry McMillan pp. 70-71

… For the time of the writing, I am nobody. Nobody at all. I am a conduit, nothing but a way for the story to come to the page. Oh, but I am terribly alive then, too, though I say I am no one at all; my every sense is keen and quivering.
                                                                   —Lee Smith p. 134

…Writing should detonate in your brain like a strong dosage of acid, exploding in an abundance of color, attacking all that is accepted as sacred and true, rearranging, changing all sense and sensibility. Writing should dump the jigsaw puzzle of reality on the ground. Let the reader put the pieces back together.
                                                                   —Darius James p.169

…Writers drive cars, hold jobs off and on, raise children, climb mountains, and take out the garbage, but very few have retirement plans. Retire from what? Thinking? Being?...the process of writing goes on, the secret reserve is honed and moving, moving toward writing, into writing, until death cancels all.
                                                                   —Jayne Anne Phillips p. 189

Monday, February 13, 2017

Word Counts for a Working Writer

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          As a working writer, I write almost every day. Deadline for the magazines lasts three days each month so I’m too busy then, otherwise I write.

          Filling a notebook a month is the best way to stay on track. Use an 80-100 page notebook as recommended by Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones. If you write about three pages every day, you’ll fill the notebook. If you don’t, then you will have a lot of pages to fill at the end of the month.

          In January, I had company as well as deadline. Because I wrote only a few paragraphs or a page or two each day, the last week of the month I had to fill 40 pages—which I did. My word count for that week was over 12,000 which also included a blog post and facebook thoughts for the magazines. I had to write fast to meet my monthly notebook deadline.

          Learning to write fast is essential for a working writer. Get all your thoughts down on paper as quickly as you can. This leaves you more time to rewrite, organize, make corrections, and polish your words—the real work of a professional working writer.

The initial act of writing is wild, spontaneous, exciting. When you reread what you wrote, you might not even remember some of these thoughts as they came so fast. Good. Those thoughts are what you really think without any filters. Work with them.

As I wrote in my post on 3/9/15:

 I think anyone interested in becoming a writer should read Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury.

These books will also energize anyone who is already a writer. I often pick one of them up, flip open to a random page, read for a while then jump into writing.

           In Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury not only encourages writing, he also shares his story of becoming a writer then working hard to become a better writer. Read his work. His dedication and creativity are astounding.

He’s inspiring—hard not to be when he begins his essay “The Joy of Writing” on page 3 with:

Zest. Gusto. How rarely one hears these words used. How rarely do we see people living, or for that matter, creating by them. Yet if I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road to where he wants to go, I could only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto.

          Bradbury notes on page 13:

In quickness is truth. The faster you blurt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for a style, instead of leaping upon the truth which is the only style worth deadfalling or tiger-trapping.

Tiger-trapping. How exciting that makes writing sound! We are brave. Capturing truth. Following wherever our creativity leads us. Zest and gusto indeed!

Write with zest and gusto in a monthly notebook no one else will ever read. You’ll surprise yourself as well as come up with ideas for writing projects. I’ve written many essays and blog posts on thoughts I might never have discovered without scribbling in my notebooks which I take with me everywhere—like Natalie Goldberg, I carry a notebook-sized purse. Writing in public is inspiring in a different way than writing at home. Write wherever you are.

Word counts do matter. Not only in meeting specifications for projects, but quantity leads to quality. In filling these notebooks, you’ll find your voice, your rhythm, and your ability to meet deadlines no matter how short—all hallmarks of a working writer.

My word count for February 5-11 was 7,287.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Monthly Magazine Timeline 4---Editor's Essays

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          As I mentioned in last week’s blog, I write an essay for an Editor’s Thoughts column each month for the magazines. The word count is 450-500. The topic is timely—something I thought about recently or plan to do in the upcoming month.

          I often write this essay in one day after deadline but before proofing. I’ve written well over 100 of them as an editor so I’ve had lots of practice. Since I’m exhausted after three days of editing all the text for both issues, I don’t expend the energy unless it’s going to be published although I’ve had to cut it occasionally at second proof if ads come in late. Editing requires tough calls.

          Here is the essay I wrote and rewrote on January 19th in 242 minutes:     

If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend viewing Hidden Figures—the true story of three brilliant black women, Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, who worked for NASA’s early space program.

Who isn’t in awe of anyone who can create equations to overcome gravity then accurately bring astronauts back to an exact area for pick up, or program one of the first computers, or design space crafts to withstand re-entry? Yes, there were smart and brave men who sat in those space crafts not knowing if they would live or die, but they would not have succeeded without every employee at NASA doing their jobs.

          Imagine if during some of the proudest moments of this country—John Glenn in space then astronauts on the moon and back—everyone in the world knew about the contributions of these and other black women like Christine Darden and all the other minorities that helped make it possible.

NASA’s workforce reflected America, but most citizens were not aware of it. These people were living their dreams in a time when most were not. Wouldn’t these facts have changed the country and the world even more?

According to the book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, who visited NASA as a child because her father, Robert B. Lee III, was an engineer there: “Five of my father’s seven siblings made their bones as engineers or technologists…Our church abounded with mathematicians. Supersonic experts held leadership positions in my mother’s sorority…As a child…I knew so many African Americans working in science, math, and engineering that I thought that’s just what black folks did.” (page viii)

Imagine a world where everyone thought that; a world where all people were valued for their abilities regardless of race or gender.

The events depicted in Hidden Figures took place before I arrived on earth, but I’d like to image being born into a world where the STEM program wasn’t needed because all little girls studied and then grew up to major in science, technology, engineering, and math, if they wished, due to these strong female role models who provided crucial knowledge and data to put men on the moon.

In return for their amazing work, NASA named buildings in their honor. Katherine Johnson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.

In this day and age, I cannot understand why the history of space exploration isn’t taught so we know the names of at least these three women, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, as well as we know the names of astronauts Alan Shepard, Wally Schirra, and Buzz Aldrin. We would not have won the space race without all of them working together—a giant step for all human beings.

As the Editor, I also write weekly thoughts for the magazines’ facebook page. Here is my most recent one, 193 words written and rewritten in 50 minutes on February 1st:

          Recently, my sister surprised our father with an array of photos from his high school ice hockey team printed from older newspapers now online. As the goalie, there are photos of him blocking shots including one where he is doing a split with his glove outstretched and stick ready to block a rebounding puck. It’s a photo he is proud of, but the newsprint copy in his scrapbook is crumbling.

          He was surprised and touched that she found the photos and articles, printed them out, and framed them. They are now hung on the wall or on shelves where he can see and enjoy them every day. He may not be able to do a split anymore, but there was a time when he could do it well. They’re called glory days for a good reason.

This was such a lovely, thoughtful gift, I wanted to share it. A blast from the past like this is perfect for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays, etc. Imagine the look on your loved ones’ faces as they are reminded of wonderful times captured years ago yet available now for display thanks to the internet.

Writing and rewriting fast are necessary skills for editors. Deadlines have to be met and the editor is the one who has to make it happen.

Weekly word count for January 29-February 4: 12,902.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Monthly Magazine Timeline Part 3

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

Continued from last week:

          My toughest week editing a monthly magazine runs from the 15th-22nd.

          I have an issue list I follow every month. On it, I list all the articles, features, and columns along with the page space each will fill and how many photos, if any. Depending on the page count, I have three to six articles per magazine. Columns are the same each month except I have one writer who alternates between his own Sports Column and an essay the next for a column he shares with another writer. I submit this list to the Production Department to make sure they include everything in the layout. I also prioritize items in case something doesn’t fit due to additional ads sold. (Remember I don’t find out the page count until the 18th—the day I turn all text over to the Production Department.) I also use this list to check off each piece after I email it to the Production Department to make sure I included them all.

If every writer meets deadline, I receive all the articles and columns on the 15th via email. I read each one then reply immediately with a thank you, a compliment, and any questions to let each writer know I appreciate their work. Most of them have written for the magazines between five and twenty-two years (some before I was the editor). As a writer, I know hearing from an editor is important. Also, most writers have become friends so it’s fun to let them know what surprised or entertained me.

          I then read each piece in depth trying to catch all errors. It isn’t possible so I reread each one at least three times between the 15th and the 18th. Fresh eyes are essential so I do these readings between eight to twelve hours apart. Luckily, I work with writers who take their work seriously so there are few errors usually. However, we are all human so mistakes happen.

          I used to print out the articles and columns then used a red pen to make corrections. I would then make the changes on the Word Doc. After a year or so, I just edited right on the Word Docs.

          Some writers choose to write the captions for photos running with their articles. Most don’t so I write them. Captions start with a clever phrase in all caps followed by the names of people in the photo and what they are doing. Generally, I wait until first proof to write the captions as space varies for each one depending on the layout.

          Only the gardening and sports columns run with photos. The rest are essays which run with pull quotes if there is room. Again some writers suggest pull quotes, others don’t so I choose them. Amount of space on the layout page determines the length of the quote and the size of the font used.

          While I have copyedited the event postings and Good News items during the month, more come in at deadline so I have to edit them as well. We list birthdays sent in which have to be set up as a feature. We include Pets of the Month to help animals get adopted which come in on the 15th as well so lots to do in just three days.

Once everything is edited, on the 18th of the month I email all text to the Production Department. Then I send all jpeg photos labeled by story or column so everything is received at the same time. Each item is labeled by month and year, 217 for February 2017, then initial for which magazine, then title of article, column, or feature. Photos are sent with same info, but begin with the word PHOTO so can be searched for easily.
          If something falls through at the last minute, I have to fill the space. If the page count goes up by eight pages (minimum increase), I have to fill the space. If a photo never comes in, I have to fill the space. And I only have hours to do so.

          To fill space, there are lots of options: use extra photos or add pull quotes to articles, add late arriving Postings or Good News items, expand press releases about programs or events into articles, have non-timely articles ready to go, or write an article or book column. Sometimes I can expand the articles I wrote for the issue by adding information and quotes I didn’t think I had room for originally.

I have an arts column that can fill a full page or two anytime. Artists are invited to send in photos of their work along with title, media, and contact information. I run the photos on a page like a gallery wall. Lots of white space with artists’ information underneath so readers can appreciate the pieces printed three or four to a page.

Whatever it takes—that’s the job. I do not get a lot of sleep during these three days. No time to write in my monthly notebook or work on my blog posts or do much of anything else like errands or house cleaning. Family members pitch in and pizza is often ordered. During the day, the dogs go in and out as they wish through the doggie door built into the storm door into a yard where I can watch them through my office window. They come in to check on me so I take short breaks to play fetch with them and get some fresh air.

           If the page count goes down by eight pages, filling the space should be easier but it isn’t. I start by shortening or cutting items in event postings. I make articles about events into short postings. I cut my Editor’s Thoughts column. (Because it is sometimes cut, I write my 450-word Editor’s Thoughts on the 19th in time for the second proof. Yes, I have learned to write quickly doing this job for well over a decade.) Most of the articles are timely so they need to run although I try to have at least one that isn’t so I can save it for the following month. Shortening articles takes hours, but sometimes it must be done. Obviously, pull quotes aren’t used and only one photo per piece. Readers love the columns so they run if possible. If not enough room, I run columns on the magazine’s facebook page so they can still be read that month. All of this takes time on the 18th and 19th. Again, there is not much time for sleeping or anything else.

          I get the first proofs by email on the 20th. I do print these out and use a red pen for corrections.

I have about 24 hours to proof both issues, but I do sleep for a whole night as tired eyes will not catch errors. My red pen gets lots of use as I sometimes rearrange the order of items to fill the space more efficiently. Then I go through looking for errors I missed. Things jump out at me in this different format. For example, titles that don’t work—too long or not clear. The Table of Contents needs correct titles and page numbers. Jumps must be noted at bottoms of pages to the correct tops of pages where text continues. Also, as the writers and I use Word but the Production Department uses Macs, there are some conversion problems notably symbols for some punctuation marks and apostrophes everywhere for no reason. They are difficult to spot and make proofing a nightmare.

I used to return the proofs on paper for corrections to be made, but now we do them over the phone so if there are any questions I can answer them so second proofs are in great shape. Usually, I only have two or three hours to complete second proofs late on the 21st or early on the 22nd. The final versions are sent to the printer on the 22nd or early on the 23rd to be printed then delivered to local Post Offices for delivery to every home and business by the first of the month.

No rest for me. I have to assign articles to the writers by the 25th for the next issue. See Monthly Magazine Timeline Part 1 as the routine starts all over again. (As December 25th is a holiday, I wrote that I assigned articles by December 26th in Part 1.)

Local Monthly Magazine Editor is a great job if you like to plan things way in advance, pay attention to details, look up grammar rules, and take the heat for all errors as it’s the editor’s job to catch every one of them. On the upside, I get to work from home, interview interesting people, work with other writers, and be part of a publication residents enjoy reading. I also get to write articles, essays, and book reviews. This is my dream job.

Week of January 22-28, word count was 5,841.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Monthly Magazine Timeline Part 2

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

Continued from last week:

Dealing with people is the biggest challenge for an editor. Writers accept assignments, but don’t complete them; people agree to be interviewed, but back out; people agree to be photographed for the cover, but change their minds. One woman did pose for the cover photo, but she never returned the writer’s calls so there was no article. She never explained why. A new cover story had to be chosen and another photo shoot scheduled.

          As the editor, I am responsible for filling every space around the articles. I cannot procrastinate on anything (assigning articles, interviews, writing, cover shoots, or proofing) so if something falls through I have time to fix it before the printer’s deadline which cannot be missed.

Cover stories are picked out in advance. Photo shoots are set up as soon as possible as several schedules have to be meshed. I have to find a time the person or people in the cover story are available at the same time as the photographer, who receives an ad in payment for his services. Then I make myself available to ensure things run smoothly.

At the photo shoot, which can be inside or out, I stand behind the photographer trying to keep everyone smiling and focused. Sometimes I help with lighting so people’s faces do not have shadows.

 The photographer takes off-center photos as there has to be room across the top for the magazine’s name and a white box at the bottom where the Postal permit and address information is printed. People’s faces cannot be covered up or their feet cropped off if they are in the shot. That takes some practice.

I arrange for two photo shoots each month. They can take ten minutes or an hour depending on how people take directions and the photographer composing the shots. The background may have to be changed or the lighting as the sun moves. No two shoots are the same.

Once the cover photos are chosen, we used to put a tag line at the bottom. Now we just go with a plain photo. The cover photo, inside cover ad, back cover ad, and inside back cover ad are all printed on one piece of paper then folded in half. When the three ads are completed, they can be sent to the printer with the cover photo ahead of the rest of the issue.

I try to get all of this completed before the 15th of the month so I can concentrate on editing and proofing the issues.

More on that next week.

Weekly Word Count for January 15-21 is 4,547.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Monthly Magazine Timeline Part 1

From Kate's Writing Crate...


          My schedule as a working editor and writer:

          We publish two issues every month, one each for two different towns. The page counts are based on the number of ads sold. We run about 50/50 ads to text so if 23-25 pages of ads are sold we run 48-page issues. Page counts are always divisible by four as sheets of paper are folded in half and printed on both sides. However, our printer only goes up or down in eight-page increments so sometimes there are more ads than text (a tight issue), sometimes more text than ads (an open issue).

          Since the ads are sold for each issue from, for example, January 1st-January 18th for the February issue, I do not know the actual page count until three days after my monthly deadline of the 15th, I assign articles on my best guess of the page count, but I have to have enough extra copy to fill four to six pages in case the page count goes up eight pages due to an increase in ads. This copy does not need to be timely so profiles of artists, seasonal essays, and book reviews are good to have on hand, but often I have to write an extra article or two in a day or two.

          Specific dates for one issue: By the 26th of December, I assign articles to contributing writers which are due by January 15th for the February issues mailed to every home and business in town by February 1st. This gives the writers about three weeks to contact people, interview them, and then write and rewrite their articles. I start looking for assignment topics in November, but usually discover them in December. Anything published in the magazines has to be local. These articles are about residents with interesting jobs, who are coordinating public events, or visited great location destinations (for example) along with children accomplishing amazing things like one eight-year-old boy opening a lemonade stand he set up all over town with help from his mom to raise money so every student in need in his school could buy a book at the school’s book fairs.

          From December 26th-January 15th, I copyedit information about February events and club meetings as well as news bits about award-winners, events, business news, charity donations, and photos of cute kids at parties or in scouting programs for publication which are submitted all the time.

          Copyediting means I reduce the information to basic facts: who, what, when, where, cost (if any), why (if it’s about a charity or fundraising event). The events are either open to the public or for different groups in town like gardening club, women’s clubs, school events, concerts, the arts, performances, etc. The news bits run about 80-150 words with a photo usually.

          I also copyedit for the magazine’s style. For example, time is 8am, not 8AM or 8 A. M. Dates are listed as February 6 not 6th. Numbers under ten are written out, ten and over are numeric. Space is at a premium so we use the version that takes up the least amount.

I copyedit information from local libraries and senior centers, too, which are emailed to me by January 15th about that month’s activities, lectures, performances, and trips. These run in two different columns.

On January 15th, I receive all the articles I assigned as well as all the regular columns on sports, family life, gardening, food and wine, essays, and books. The articles average 1,000 words, but range from 800-1,600 words. Columns run 850-1,000 words. Articles run with photos. Some columns do, some don’t. Photos have captions unless space is tight.

          I write my articles between the 10th and 15th of the month. I do the interviews earlier in the month by phone, email, or in person to get all the facts and quotes. Sometimes I wait until the 18th to finish my articles to see how many pages I need to fill then write longer or shorter articles.

          On the 15th of the month, I begin editing. The covers also have to be chosen.

To be continued in next week’s post.

Weekly Word Counts as promised:

January 1-7       4,316
January 8-14     3,843

Monday, January 9, 2017

2017 Writing Projects List

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

As a magazine editor and contributing writer, I have paid assignments for two magazines. As a freelance editor, I have paid projects. As a freelance writer, I have goals I’ve set for myself. I plan on writing about 410,000 words in finished pieces this year.

          Here is my current 2017 writing project list:

Magazine assignments:
(numbers will change as page counts go up or down by eight pages depending on ads)

12 Thoughts from the Editor columns, 450-500 words each
20 Q&A articles, 1,200-1,400 words each
50 articles, 800-1,200 words each
4 book columns, 500-1,000 words each
52 Facebook thoughts/book reviews, 250-500 words each
Total: about 100,000 words published

52 posts, 250-500 words each
                                                Total: about 18,000 words

4 articles, 1,000-1,500                   
Total: about 4,000 words


         Finish roughing out the plot.
Writing in proper format.
                                      Total: about 10,000 words

          Still roughing out the details.
          Notes and text, about 30,000 words
                                                Total: about 30,000 words

Fill 12 notebooks (80 pages each) with jottings a la Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, about 20,000 words each
                                                Total: about 240,000 words

Backpack Literature, 300-500—depends on assignments I audit
                                                Total: about 10,000 words

My planned word count total for 2017 is over 410,000, using averages. 
(Before editing and rewriting, the count will be over 500,000.)

I’ll post the actual word counts weekly to better keep me on track.

January 1-7 word count:

          Facebook    259
          Blog Posts   398 (current and future posts)
          Screenplay    75
          Book            181
          Notebook   3,403

              Total       4,316