Monday, March 27, 2017

One Columnist's Story

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I want to share Cheryl Butler’s story.

          I met Cheryl though a letter she sent me asking to become a contributing writer for one of the magazines I was editing. She discussed her minimal writing experience and also mentioned she was the mother of eight children and hadn’t left the house in a decade except to go to her OB/GYN.

          That comment made me laugh so I called her. We had a delightful conversation so I assigned her an article. She had a strong voice, good perspective, and met both the word count and deadline.

That was well over a decade ago. Since then she has written hundreds of terrific pieces for the magazines.

A few years into her career with the magazines, I asked her if she was interested in writing a column about family life. With eight kids, who could know more about it? With her sense of humor, her column quickly became one of the most popular with readers.

Due to her vast experience as a mother, her family column, and a friend’s recommendation, Cheryl interviewed for and then was named Macmillan Publishing’s Mighty Mommy. She started by writing weekly blog posts then added podcasts. Occasionally traveling to New York City to meet with her editor, she’s living a writer’s dream life.

Over four years ago, Cheryl asked me about writing a blog together to inspire others to write. Her life changed just by taking a chance and contacting me. One brave step and look where she is now. She wanted other writers to take chances, too.

I said yes. Cheryl set up the blog then we each wrote a post a week for years. Cheryl is now working on her second and third books so she stopped writing for this blog, but her Mighty Mommy work and family life columns continue.

I’m so glad Cheryl took a chance contacting me and that I took a chance on her. I don’t know how she found the time to write while raising eight children under eleven when she first started; however, she persisted and succeeded not only as a writer, but as a mom. She has one college graduate, three more in college, and four still at home—and she still finds time to volunteer in the community.

Cheryl’s story proves that dedicated writers can succeed.

* * * *     
If you’re interested in becoming a columnist, start a blog. What is your niche or expertise? You’ll need twelve to fifty-two topics every year so make a list. If you can’t, pick another niche. Put in the time. You need a strong voice, knowledge, and perspective to keep readers interested.

Then take a chance and contact a local publication you enjoy. If your blog is engaging, you might become a columnist. If not, take any assignments—you have to start somewhere. Be professional—NEVER miss a deadline or word count. Who knows where it might lead?

You, too, can succeed. Believe it and keep writing.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Editing and Writing in Reality

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          My deadline for the magazines is the 15th-18th of every month. This month, I spent over 10 hours editing and five hours writing on the 18th to meet my text deadline. (Magazine editor is not a Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm job.) I spent that much time working as the 18th is the sales deadline and the ad count determines the page count. For April, there wasn’t room for everything submitted to fit so I had to do the hardest editing of all—re-editing.

First, I edit everything submitted by the contributing writers and the public for errors, transitions, redundancy, and coherency as I receive them. The word count may go down, but the main goal is to make the writing as perfect as possible.

When space is limited, I have to re-edit ruthlessly—usually in one day.

The first things I cut weren’t happening in April. Those items are the easy targets, but I know the people and writers who submitted them will be upset, but I cannot let that influence me.

I’m also humbled at this time. I always find some errors and redundancy that I missed. When found, these mistakes are easy to edit.

I know the writers put a lot of work and artistry into their columns and articles. The columns fit on two facing pages so I don’t cut the word count in columns; I publish them or I cut them.

However, the hardest editing is taking a cohesive article then cutting it down to fit exactly on one, one and a half, or two pages without jumping extra text to the back pages. I cannot just cut the last three or four paragraphs. I have to keep the articles smooth, entertaining reads. This means great lines and well-written paragraphs throughout the article don’t always make the cut.

If I think the issue is tight—too many items to fit—I put off writing my timely article(s) until I know the pages I have left to fill. Because I’ve written so many articles over the years, I can write them quickly. This does put more pressure on me when I’m tired, but it’s easier and less time consuming to write shorter articles then edit down well-written completed articles. This is one of the tricks of my trade.

The last difficult thing I have to do is contact all the writers and individuals whose items were shortened or cut. I explain the situation. I also publish these items on the magazines’ facebook pages. Luckily, most of them understand and accept this. The ones who don’t, take time and diplomacy to appease.

This is why my days off coincide with delivery of the magazines to the printer. Once they are printed, I can’t change anything and I need to recover from all the work and stress it took to get them there.

Editing is more than using a red pen to transform text. It also takes persistence, patience, and people skills. It’s a great job, but not for everyone.

Word count for the week of March 12-18 was 7,121.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Reads for Writers: More Personal Writing Classes and Notebooks

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          You might think I have enough writing to do working for the magazines, freelancing, and blogging, but no. I have a lot of other writing plans and dreams. As I mentioned earlier in the year, I have set up several writing projects. Writers write!

          I have five notebooks going right now: my fill-a-notebook-a-month notebook based on Natalie Goldberg’s suggestion in Writing Down the Bones, one for exercises in Backpack Literature by Kennedy and Gioia, one for exercises in Screenplay by Russin and Downs, one for my book ideas, and a new one for the exercises in The Writer’s Workshop by Gregory L. Roper.

          The key to completing any project is a deadline. The first notebook has a built-in deadline, but the other four do not. I’ve set up weekly deadlines—a chapter a week for the three ‘personal writing class’ notebooks. To ensure that I meet my deadlines, I have a pact with Cheryl to send my word counts to her by email three days a week. She is working on a couple of projects of her own so she sends me her word counts two days a week. If we don’t receive them, we agreed to send email reminders.

          So far so good. We’re both professionals so we are meeting our deadlines.

          As for my projects, not only do I see progress by word counts, but my writing is changing. It’s becoming more detailed and specific. I’m also writing more quickly.

I wrote my most recent facebook thoughts for the magazines in seventeen minutes including rewriting. The word count was 165. I wasn’t under a tight deadline, but once I got an idea, the words just flowed through me onto the page. I credit filling a notebook a month with improving my writing speed and thought process to just get the words onto the page so I can rewrite them.

I credit becoming more detailed and specific to both Backpack Literature and The Writer’s Workshop. I highly recommend both books. While I’ve completed six chapters in Backpack Literature (I started the book over to complete all the exercises in each chapter instead of just one), I’ve only completed the first chapter of The Writer’s Workshop. I HATED the first task, but I loved the second two. They made me realize my weaknesses when it comes to describing people or anything else, but also gave me inspiration and concrete steps to improve my writing.

Details are necessary, but thoughtful, well-worded details elevate regular authors to best-selling status. In his book, Roper has excerpts from various authors throughout the ages for readers to review then imitate. While writing in each author’s style, you realize how many ways there are to describe something. It’s eye-opening.

For extra credit, I looked at the character descriptions written by some on my favorite authors. I realized I have very good reading taste, but not very good writing description skills—but I’m enjoying working on them in my five notebooks because I’m a writer.

Word count for week Feb. 5-11 was 8,105.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Working Writers Meet Deadlines No Matter What

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          A working writer doesn’t have the luxury of waiting for inspiration. If there’s a deadline, it must be met on the page—not in your hopes or dreams. It must also be met in spite of any setbacks—personal or professional.

          I’ve had a tough week, but my blog post is due. So instead of wallowing in cookie dough ice cream or rereading a favorite book in bed, I’m at my desk writing. It’s difficult, but this is what I signed up for when I became a working writer.

          Unlike my previous career in Corporate America, I have no co-worker who can step in for me so I can take some time off. If I haven’t written blog posts in advance then I am at my desk even if exhausted, sick, or heartbroken. When the magazines are at deadline, I work. The printing company waits for no one; the workers go on to the next job that’s ready if I miss that deadline. Then the magazines are delivered late. Advertisers complain or pull ads. Soon, no more magazines. So I work no matter what.

          Lots of people romanticize the writing life. Get up when you wish, write when you wish, live as you wish. I wish that were true, but when you have worked hard for assignments and therefore deadlines, you write them on time, no excuses. A working writer learns not to procrastinate. If you miss deadlines, assignments and jobs dry up as no editor wants to work with unreliable writers.

However, life happens. People and pets you love get sick and die. Accidents occur. Illnesses strike. Not on a schedule, just out of the blue. Be prepared to write anyway—that’s what working writers do.

      Word count for the week of February 26-March 4 is 9,687.