Basic Writing Tips

It’s almost ten years since I first submitted my work, got it published, and got paid to do what I love. But I look back on that first bit of writing and cringe. Oh, the writing was good–the editor even called me to tell me how much he loved it. He asked if I was a professional writer. At that point in time, no.  I’ve wondered, though, didn’t he notice the cream-colored paper I mailed my work on? The interesting yellow box I used as a header? The single spacing between lines? Or, best yet, the cutesy email address I gave?  Immediately after, I read up on how to submit my work and gasped. I had it all wrong. Yes, great writing trumps all, but to look professional, to really catch the eye of an editor, there are some basics.

First, the font. Times New Roman, 12 pt., is the best, the one most editors like.

Second, the spacing. Unless the magazine guidelines state otherwise, double spacing between all lines, and indented beginning paragraphs, are the norm.

Which brings me to the third point: READ the magazine guidelines, or the publisher’s or agent’s guidelines for books. Most you can get online. Use www.duotrope.com, www.ralan.com, www.agentquery.com ,  or type in their name in your search engine. Don’t break any rules. Not in the beginning at least. And many times, not later either.

Read all you can about writing and cover letters and queries. Good places to start are recent books in your public library, or the extensive threads on www.absolutewrite.com  Don’t just jump right into submitting. With email so easy to just hit “send,” you’re in a lot of competition. Once your writing is polished, your query and/or manuscript ready, send it out there. Don’t let it languish in your writing folder.

Rejection happens. It happens far more often than acceptances. Reread what was rejected. Reread it out loud. Polish it. Send it out again. But make sure you’re targeting the right markets for it.

But please, remember–money flows toward the writer, not away. You should never have to spend a dime for editing, book covers, ISBNs, or to get your book into bookstores. And agents get a commission from your sales. No money upfront.

And when you get that first acceptance from a reputable magazine, book publisher, or agent–celebrate!  You worked hard for it.

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It’s Plastic

Today I received a complimentary copy of a magazine devoted toward upscale living. How I got on the list, I have no idea. Curiosity got the best of me and I thumbed through it. Here’s what the contents mostly consisted of: plastic surgery, both articles and advertisements of doctors who will readily and happily do a make-over. Just hand them your other plastic (as in card) and you can look fifteen years younger.

I see several problems with this way of thinking. First, if the model wasn’t airbrushed, the tiny lines where the surgery was done are noticeable. And the Botox–too full in the cheeks or no lines in the forehead, even when smiling. Fake, fake, fake. I have yet to see facial rejuvenation that doesn’t show some sign of “I’m not 100% real.” Second, any time something is done for cosmetic purposes, it doesn’t last. A person has to go back for more injections, more surgery, within months or a few years. And when the sagging hits someone who has had work done, it looks worse than when nothing was done at all. Third, surgery is surgery. And it’s not fool-proof. Nor is anesthesia. Fourth–look at a person’s hands, knees, or elbows. A dead give-away to age. And if a person was to have any procedure done on their face, they’d have to have it done on their neck and the rest of their bodies.

I can understand if someone’s nose is way too large for their face, or they were in an accident and need plastic surgery. Or their ears stick out and no end of teasing is in sight. I can fully understand that.

I think what bothers me about all these advertisements and articles about how a person can look younger is intimidating. One radio commercial has men enthusing how a certain product or pill (I can’t remember which) makes their significant other look so youthful and wonderful. As if the guy was repulsed by her before. Sad.

For anyone debating about undergoing any procedure to do away with lines and wrinkles and sagging skin, visit a hospital or rehab center or long-term facility. There are many, many young and middle-age there too, trying to get better but struggling. Go to a vent unit where patients are on ventilators through a tracheotomy. Many aren’t past their 50th birthday. Yet they fix themselves up the best they can, they smile, they socialize. They’re beautiful. It puts everything in perspective.

So–thinking about that procedure to turn back the clock? Please, take that money and donate it to charity. You’ll be doing good work, you’ll feel good about helping out, and that will show in your face. And smile. That alone will rejuvenate you.

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Out With The Old…

…in with the new. I write this at 1:26 on the morning of January 1, 2010. I have looked forward to this date, to be glad to leave the first ten years of the 21st century behind. During that time, my life took a 180 degree turn. Change is good, but also hard when it is the result of my parents and my sister dying. I know they’re happy now with God, and out of pain and their varying disabilities, and that keeps me going, makes me smile, that they are now okay and safe. And they’re watching over me, loving me still. And I’m thankful for what I do have: a great husband and two sons, two surviving sisters and their families, my in-laws who all live nearby, and many friends.

I look forward to 2010, and I wish for all who read this, a happy, healthy new year!