Saturday, December 6, 2014

We Who Call Ourselves Writers

Once upon a time, in the dreary dark ages before laptops and computers, a form of expression called a typewriter existed. Fledgling and successful writers both sat before this antiquated piece of machinery and, with correction tape and Liquid Paper nearby, produced manuscripts they hoped would be published.

If their words were slashed by editors, they revised their material, because they really wanted to see their words in print. If they mailed off their manuscripts, they waited weeks and sometimes months before hearing from the publisher.

More importantly, they really cared about the craft of writing and spent endless hours learning how to structure their sentences and their stories in a way that would entice their audiences to read the words they so meticulously placed on the page.


And when their work was published, they beamed with excitement, because they felt rewarded. 

Today, a lot of people, who call themselves writers, sit at their computers and randomly throw words on a page. They post those words on websites around the world and then rapidly scan through other poster’s words, liking, commenting, and hoping that the recipients of their comments will read their own scattered words. The posts they “write” sometimes make no sense, but they get comments and likes, and they make money.

Those of us who care about our words wonder if any other profession produces such sub-par material. Imagine an accountant randomly throwing numbers on a report and getting paid just because he had the ability to count and now that his work had been published, he now had to gather together with other accountants and share numbers, so they would all get paid, no matter how meaningless were the reports.

How about a wannabe musician who never picked up an instrument, but who bought CDs made by other artists who now felt obligated to buy the wannabe’s cacophonous piece of you-know-what, because he previously bought their music?

Nowhere but in the writing field (today anyway, when people are abandoning the traditional form of publishing in favor of online publication) do people feel obligated to return the favor of reading everything written by everyone who reads what the writer has written.

Writing may be losing its artistry. If everyone calls him- or herself a writer, maybe writing is no longer as prestigious a career as some of us thought it was. Have you witnessed “singers” who appear on talent shows who believe they can sing? Put those singers into the world of the writer. They post their “talent” on YouTube and whoever watches it is now obligated to watch every YouTube talent show created by everybody who watched theirs.

Have we taken equality on a tangent? Shouldn’t talent and skill speak for itself? Can you imagine Paul McCartney having to listen to everyone who ever listened to him?

Let’s go back to books and blogs. Can you imagine JK Rowling reading every single book or blog written by everybody who read her work? And yet that’s how online writing seems to work. You read me – I read you. Some people even expect a return on their comments and get miffed if you don’t return a read, a like, or a comment, like for like, comment for comment.

Well, what if we don’t want to read each other’s work? What if I write something that doesn’t interest you in the least? Will you feel that you have to read my work because I read yours? 

When did one-to-one, read-for-read begin? Not until recently did it occur to me that the whole process was ridiculous. I was, in some cases, reading garbage (I’m going to take the liberty of revising the following content, but keep in mind that what you are about to read is so common that it breaks my writer’s heart to know that people are getting paid to write such things) – “today I slept in and it felt great and now I’m going to go to the couch and maybe I’ll get something to eat and then I’ll maybe go outside or not, but it looks like today is going to be a boring day and I’m just trying to fill up space so I can get paid for this post).

Why? Why would I waste my time reading comments that don’t amuse, entertain, or enlighten me in some way? I can understand, though, why people take shortcuts or post online (I write numerous blogs myself) – due to the merry-go-round traditional publishers force writers to ride.  

In the 1980s, for instance, I wrote a book for children, aged 2-8, to help them recognize signs of child sexual abuse. I found a publisher who loved the book, but my labor of love had to go before the “board” for approval. The publisher held onto the book for nearly a year before telling me – that because I called body parts by their actual names – the board didn’t think people would accept the book. Maybe they would have preferred I call the male anatomy a baby-making device and women’s breasts milk factories. I don’t know, but, according to the publishing house that almost published my book, the world wasn’t ready for me yet.

Rather than publish the book myself or go through another year, I held onto the book, made a PDF file of it, and decades later posted it online. Today you can find it free by clicking the link: You Are The Boss of Your Body: A Guide to Preventing Child Sexual Abuse.

I wrote another book in the 1970s, published it in the1990s, but pulled it for personal reasons, because I wrote it in a rage, and I had created something so destructive I was afraid people would actually duplicate it.

Today another book I wrote sits on Amazon, The Bountiful Book of BLOG IDEAS: Your Guide to Generating HUNDREDS of IDEAS for Your Blog, which you can find by clicking the link.

Despite the fact that I’m competing with possibly MILLIONS of “writers” from around the world, I continue to write. With the advent of independent publishers, many of us have found a new venue for sharing our words and our worlds. Independent publishers provide more one-on-one attention and will tell you whether or not your work is worthy of publication – remember, though, sometimes your personality won’t click with the publisher. If you have done your homework, and you are proud of your “baby,” keep looking.

Of course, you can always publish your book yourself. And if people want it, they’ll buy it. Fortunately, Amazon allows us the opportunity to preview books before we purchase them.

For those of us who truly are writers, whether we scribble our words on paper, type into a computer or on a laptop, or speak into a microphone, let’s give ourselves a break – you do NOT have to read everyone who reads YOU. However, you won’t know what you’re missing if you don’t check out those writers’ works. I have found some very enjoyable bloggers and writers, and I'm happy I took the time to read them. Give those writers/bloggers a chance, but don’t feel obligated to read everything.

And if you’re looking for a publishing house, consider contacting the independent publishers, Humor Outcasts Press or Shorehouse Books.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Frustrations of an Unknown Writer (Or How to Become Invisible)

Originally published on Yahoo Contributor Network July 25, 2008.

According to, nearly 7 billion people inhabit our planet. I have not made it even to the status of insignificant. You see I have discovered the secret to being invisible. The short answer to the question, "How does one become invisible?" is this: Become a writer.

I should know, because I have the audacity to consider myself a writer. Why? Because I write.

When writers complain that their work is in the slush pile, I'm thinking, you made it to the slush pile? I would celebrate if anything I wrote made it that far. Instead, for several decades, I have been riding a literary merry-go-round.

Here's how the ride works:

# 1 - Spend several hours researching a topic (lets you know you're alive)
# 2 - Spend several more hours writing about your research topic.
# 3 - Revise
# 4-10 - Repeat # 3
# 11 - Mail your manuscript
(Here's where it gets interesting.)
# 12 - Become invisible

Somewhere between #11 and #12, you become invisible. And it is at that point you find yourself spinning endlessly on the aforementioned merry-go-round. You stand in front of the mirror wondering if the reflection you're looking at is actually you or some phantom of your imagination.

Maybe you're not really here.

Maybe you only think you're here.

It's that whole "pinch me" experience, but not because something amazing has happened and you can't believe it's happening to you; it's because you really just want to know if anybody is aware of your presence.

After a while, in exasperation, you start calling people. If they respond, it means at least somebody can hear you - maybe - because maybe you're fantasizing about that too. Your conversations go like this:

To a publisher:

YOU - Hi, I'd like you to publish my manuscript.
THEM - Do you have an agent?
YOU - No.
THEM - Do you belong to the Guild?
YOU - No.
THEM - Sorry.

The conversation is slightly different with agents.

YOU - Hi, I'd like you to represent me.
THEM - Have you had anything published?
YOU - No.
THEM - Do you belong to the Guild?
YOU - No.
THEM - Sorry.

You see a pattern, so you call the Guild.

YOU - Hi, I'd like to belong to the Guild.
THEM - Do you have an agent?
YOU - No.
THEM - Have you ever had anything published?
YOU - No.
THEM - Sorry.

Even if you get beyond the point of invisibility, you then have to concern yourself with rejection. How many rejections should you accept before you realize you're not the caliber of writer you thought you were - 10, 100, a billion?

Apparently you should accept an infinite number of rejections, because if you consider yourself to be a writer, you never give up writing, even if you, your family members, and your friends are the only ones who read what you've written.

Of course today, we can blog. But again, with so many bloggers, how can I get recognized for my writing?

Poof! Oh! No! It's happening again. I'm becoming invisi...

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Importance of Wording: Misplaced Modifiers and Missing Words

Originally published on Yahoo Contributor Network Feb 1, 2011

For several semesters I tutored English students at a local community college. One of the most difficult aspects for students to grasp was misplaced modifiers. I tried to get the students to understand that if they were describing a person, place, or thing, the modifier had to be as close as possible to the word it modified; otherwise it would appear as if the modifier was describing a completely different person, place, or thing.

Another concept that was important, but also difficult for students to learn, was that leaving even one necessary word out of a sentence could completely alter the meaning of that sentence.

Though I have spoken English all of my life, I've heard that English is a difficult language to learn. Different idioms, dialects, and accents all contribute to language misinterpretation, and some spoken words aren't even in the dictionary.

If you visit Chicago's southwest side, for instance, you'll likely hear the annoying (to me), "Yous guys." Midwesterners who want you to join them will ask you if you want to, "come with." And in the south and southwest, you might hear, "all y'all," their variation of "all of you."

While various word choices can be endearing to hear, especially when they come from the mouth of a 3-year-old, adults who leave important words out of their sentences lack effective communication skills. Their inability to accurately convey their thoughts contributes to carelessness and vague or confusing expressions that leave them wondering why nobody understands them.

Because some people are completely oblivious to the fact that they omit important words or place modifiers so far away from the words they modify that the sentence no longer makes sense, they underestimate the power of proper word choice.

My job was to help students choose the proper words, to prepare them for their English assignments, and to assist them in learning how to detect and correct their mistakes.

But as professional as I TRIED to be, I had to laugh at some of the altered meanings of their sentences.

Even after I left my job as a tutor and worked as an ad designer, I had to stop myself from laughing at some of the misplaced modifiers and incomplete sentences I read, especially when the situation called for solemnity.

One of my jobs, for instance, was to design memorial messages for people on the anniversaries of their departed loved ones' deaths. Mourners wrote thoughtful and meaningful poems that were heart wrenching, heart warming, and so filled with sorrow, they nearly broke my heart.

One ad, though, caused me so much discomfort, I could barely sit still. The memorial, while quite touching, was also poorly written. I wasn't allowed to change the wording, and I didn't want to disrespect the woman who had poured her heart and soul into the memoriam, but the wording tempted me to explode with laughter.

The woman and the memorial tormented me, in fact. I desperately wanted to change her wording, but I couldn't touch the ad that read:

"All we have left is memories of you hanging on the wall."

Though I remained dignified on the outside, my insides were in a state of hysteria, screaming for release.

I immediately pictured taxidermists stuffing people instead of animals.

And my mind wouldn't stop there. I imagined visiting homes where dead relatives hung on den walls to commemorate the lives of loved ones who had passed on.

Once the thought entered my head, it wouldn't let up. I took it even further, thinking of how people might now want to preserve their relatives by taking their bodies to taxidermists instead of mortuaries. (The blog, Dream of Dead Grandpa, will introduce you to what could happen if taxidermists allow us to keep and store our dead relatives.)

The bottom line is this: WORDING IS IMPORTANT. Leaving words out and misplacing modifiers could potentially change the entire meaning of the sentence. Make sure your word choices reveal your intentions.

Unless you're a comic striving for humor and you recognize the hilarity of misplaced modifiers, I implore you to read Funny Misplaced Modifiers to find out for yourself just how easy unintentional wording mistakes can contribute to innumerable misunderstandings.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Talent vs. Skill

Do you think you can write because you've always been told you have talent? Congratulations! 

But listen – just because you're talented doesn't mean you'll be successful. Talent without skill is like being invited to a feast and then sitting at a table with an uncooked holiday meal. You may have been born with talent, but you can't present it properly without preparation. The only way to succeed in writing is to build your skill set. 

To learn more, read, 8 Things that are More Important than Talent for Writing Success, posted on TV Writer. And read the WHOLE article. The article is long, but if success is important to you, you'll take the time to read it. Anne R. Allen provides some very important information regarding skill and talent!



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