Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Live Longer, Live Better, Volunteer

Want to live longer?
by Billie A Williams

I’ve heard this before but for some reason it stuck with me today when I read it. When you volunteer you’ll get more than you give. One of those things you’ll get according to a recent study – is a longer life.

“Research on volunteerism shows that people who volunteer live longer, have stronger immune systems, have fewer heart attacks, recover from heart attacks faster, have higher self-esteem, and have a deeper sense of meaning and purpose than those who don’t volunteer.” Jack Canfield wrote in his book The Success Principles.

What does it cost you to volunteer? Commitment, a tiny bit of your time, perhaps some change, perhaps a little money. What can you gain besides a longer, better life? Everyone needs to feel needed (wanted) they want to belong according to Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy pyramid. What better way to be in that position than to help others.

There’s another thing, you can learn from volunteering. There are companies that take on summer volunteers – think of that as FREE training/learning. You can enhance your skills for the type of job you are seeking by volunteering to ‘help’ at a company that may need summer extras – and you will learn. Perhaps when they decide to hire a new employee you’ll be on their mind.

As a writer think about volunteering at your public library or your school. You could read to the students. Help them find things to write about for a creative writing class. Visit classrooms to speak. Everyone is in awe of a REAL writer. They want to touch your pen, shake your hand, pick your brain—and think of all the stuff you’ll learn. Especially, if you write for children or teenagers—it’s all there in a class room full of energy.

Carry that one step farther, read at a local nursing home or assisted living facility. The tome of information availble from the senior citizens that live in these places is unequalled. Tap into this rich resource while you give of yourself, you may be amazed at what you gain in return.

You want to write ad copy — or articles, or biographies, or feature articles, profiles, be a journalist? Go volunteer your services at your local newspaper. Even if it’s stuffing Sunday editions with the junk mail that comes in them — you’ll learn. Being in a newspaper environment is a key to succeeding in these fields.

Where you volunteer you’ll learn to talk the talk and walk the walk – all of it for no cost to you. Rewards as big as all outdoors are yours for the volunteering. How about being a camp counselor, or a park visitor greeter. Park Camp Ground supervisor…all fodder for stories.

Next time you need to research, consider volunteering, the benefits are huge.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Vocabulary Isn't Just for 5th Graders


I was reading a promotion from a master marketer by the name of Michael Masterson -- his emails are tomes of information and it takes time to digest them. Lately I haven't had much time to do that.

Today, his missive was about vocabulary and the benefits of having a good base vocabulary of your own. Of course, I jumped on it with both feet since words - the love of words - is one of my hobbies. When you are a writer, finding the exact right word is paramount to getting your thought across precisely and perfectly. But, what else does a good vocabulary do for you? In a recent study here is part of what Masterson found out:
"...In fact, it doesn't matter how sophisticated you look, how stylish you dress, how elegant you appear. Without a polished vocabulary, the doors to success are shut tighter than Scrooge's cash box.

Think I'm exaggerating? Not in the slightest. Here's why...

The esteemed Stevens Institute of Technology ran studies on what made someone successful. What they found surprised even them. It wasn't physical appearance, it wasn't family connections or even financial backing.
It was how a person spoke - and the words they used. Simply put, it was their vocabulary"

So you see it isn't just writer's that need a strong vocabulary. He did go on to say you don't need to use 25 thousand dollar words where a nickel one will work - you just need to be able to understand what someone is saying to you so that you respond appropriately. Doing that ensures your success, relieves you from the fear of embarrassment. Using a word for which you don't understand the meaning is failure waiting to happen.

I guess that's why I love MyDictionary.com daily new word - they aren't always words I want to memorize, but some seem to stick in my head when I'm writing and pop into my writing. I always check their meaning with my MSWord thesaurus as I edit--but generally they are right on or a better word is supplied because I put the first one into the thesaurus.

I have made a habit of writing down the words in a notebook kept on a shelf by my computer that I may use sometime in my writing -- every once in a while I go through the notebook just to see what I have. It sparks my muse if nothing else.

Studying words, doing crosswords--even if you look up the answers--is a great way to increase your vocabulary. As writers, WORDS are our stock in trade, after all.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Prepare to Take Off (with your writing that is)

Hang On To Your Pen and Get Ready To Take Off
by Billie A Williams

Statistics, you got to love them – even if you hate them. You can make them say whatever you want —if you are clever at turning a phrase. However, some statistics can’t be manipulated no matter how hard you try.

For instance,
290,000 books were published in 2006 – makes you feel like a needle in a haystack if you are an author. Where do you fit, how can you possibly hope to compete? Take heart!

31 Billion dollars a year is, according to a recent survey, spent on book purchases. That’s a lot of change. I imagine some are purchased for schools, but many of their textbooks are used year after year with minimal replacement. So, you have to think that most books are purchased for personal reasons. All you have to do is write the book you are passionate about, market it like there is no tomorrow, and you may carve out your slice of that Billion dollar pie.

Speaking of writing — did you know that if you have an idea that you think sounds like a great first line, gets you unstuck on your current WIP (Works in Progress) or just takes your breath away—you only have 37 seconds to capture that fleeting pellet of wisdom before it floats away on the ether? And even if you can recall bits and pieces of it — within 7 minutes it will be gone forever.

Now do you know why you are cautioned to always keep pen and paper within easy reach? Amazing! Our brains are veritable libraries housing tomes and tomes of information, but a fleeting nugget of information doesn’t necessarily take up residence in that gray matter. As Mark Victor Hansen says, “As soon as you think it ink it,” good advice I’m thinking.

“It’s not what you think of; it’s what you write down AND take action on that counts.” Jack Canfield. [Emphasis mine]

Action is the key to success. You can sit in the middle of the road and think all you want – you’ll either get run over or dehydrate while your muscles atrophy, but you won’t get anywhere. If you want to be one of those who are getting a piece of the Billion Dollar Book pie, you need to TAKE ACTION.

So what are you waiting for? GET WRITING !

Comments welcome. Feel free to share this article just leave the resource box in place.
Billie A Williams, Award winning author of over two dozen fiction works, plus non-fiction and poetry books, articles, columns and recently a 3-Act Play to be released July 2007. http://www.billiewilliams.com/ http://www.word-mage.com/ (where you can visit other authors of her Word Mage writing group)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Don't Touch That Critter

Critters Are Off Limits When it Comes to Murder.

Today I was reading another newsletter from some very good mystery writers. To my surprise, this revelation hit me square on. “Unless you want to feel the wrath of your fans, do not kill off the critters in your novel.” Whether they are winged, four footed, or slithering—apparently fans will not appreciate you ending the precious pet lives. One mystery writer accidentally included a cat to help solve a problem – and then the cat had to become a part of her series – her plot needed to include reasons for the cat to be — and thus put a new twist in her series.

I wish I had known that before I wrote Skull Music. Oliver Beeblebox leaves a trail of bodies, mostly human, accidentally a cat is left hurting as someone else breaks in and causes havoc in our sleuth’s home. Oliver loves cats, he would never harm one. Oliver loves Charlie Wolfe. Charlie Wolfe loves cats and graciously accepts Midnight from Oliver, before she knew the very fragile thread that connected this man to sanity.

There are also Dolphins in this book – Xenotransplant Labs are experimenting with sounds, brain wave patterns to be exact. They do not harm the dolphins in these experiments – but they have more sinister plans than what appears on the surface.

Charlie Wolfe keeps her cats, Marblesque and Midnight, but nearly loses her life. I will remember never to let her precious cats disappear.

In the next story in this series Marblesque helps a young boy deal with his mother’s deployment to Iraq when he stays at Charlie’s home in his mother’s absence. Ghost Music of Vaudeville is really Tommy’s Story, but his friendship with the cat Marblesque, who seems to sense exactly what a person needs, continues in the place of the feline mystique in this mystery/suspense.

I will never again let an animal come to harm in any of my books. Rather like the disclaimer at the end of the movies nowadays—‘no animal was harmed in the filming of this movie’ – no critter was harmed in the writing of my books, anymore ever--at least not fatally, I’m reminded of Hooch here. He was wounded, but Tom Hanks saved his life by getting him medical attention quickly.
Spare the animal, save the fan!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Christmas Dream 3-Act Play

My very first attempt at writing a three act play will be released next month. A Christmas Dream is a novel written by my dear friend Janet Elaine Smith. When she mentioned she'd love to see it be produced as a play I had just finished several screen writing courses and belonged to an RWA Screen Writer's group. I volunteered to give it a try.

I had a good deal of fun taking on the challenge of this medium. It is quite different than writing a novel - I had a couple dozen of those already published. The thing with a play is - the dialogue must carry the whole show. The characters must be what the narration of a novel creates for the reader. Certain things cannot be done on a small stage in the time of an hour or so that a stage play uses. Sets must be changed--quickly for the most part--they can't involve a lot of cumbersome extras - a herd of horses - or the like. The danger is that the playwright is so familiar with the story that he/she thinks the words carry the image she hoped to present. This may not be true.

A novel may be 2-300 pages where as a script for a movie is rarely more than 120 or so. A play is even less. A rule of thumb is 1 minute of performance time per page of script. So, the problem becomes; how do I, successfully, show the story my friend has written and keep it in tact and yet structure it to fit in the alloted time frame of a 3-Act Play.
Stay tuned as we examine this phenomina.
Happy Writing!

Monday, June 11, 2007

So You Want to Write a Play. Just Do It!

So You Want to Write a Play. Why not?

“You are the person who has to decide. Whether you'll do it or toss it aside; you are the person who makes up your mind. Whether you'll lead or will linger behind. Whether you'll try for the goal that's afar. Or just be contented to stay where you are.”
- Edgar A. Guest

“Don’t let me hear you use the word ‘impossible.’ If I’ve learned anything over the course of my career, there’s no such thing as impossible. Overnight the impossible may not be possible. But over time, the impossible certainly becomes possible.” Earl Graves

So You Want to Write a Play. You can, the internet makes learning from your home easy. You can learn anytime of night or day, whenever you have ‘free’ time. Books, classes, like minded people in areas you chose to study are as close as a click away. The Nike™ phrase applies…If you want to, just—DO IT!

There are no guarantees in this world, but if you want something bad enough, you can do it. Stories abound with those who wanted something bad enough, were willing to work hard enough and dream big enough that the desire consumed them. They learned everything they needed to know as they tested the water—first with a toe as a swimmer would do. As they gained more knowledge, interacted with more people in the field of their dreams, they became what their dreams entailed.

Read any of Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen’s Chicken Soup series of books if you need examples. Go to Jack Canfield’s website at http://www.successprinciple.com/ and get on board to learn. Stop by Cynthia Kersey’s website. The author of Unstoppable talks the talk and more importantly walks the walk. http://www.unstoppable.net/ .

This brings me to the title of this missive. A friend had a short novel (A Christmas Dream) that I thought would make a perfect play. I had been dipping my toes in the icy water of learning script writing with classes, books, groups and lists of like minded individuals. I had my own novel I wanted to turn into a script. Tung Umolomo is an African suspense adventure story, a longer novel than my friend's.

I spoke with my friend, Janet Elaine Smith, her exuberance, encouragement and enthusiasm convinced me to apply what I had learned to A Christmas Dream. I did it! The results is a 3-Act Play that is with a publisher now (Star Publish, LLC) going through the formatting process, expected to be available to small and medium theatrical groups of church, school, college, and community theaters in July 2007.

Follow me while we examine the process. As I swim up stream, holding my breath until the first curtain goes up. I’d like to be there where ever that might be. I’d love to congratulate the cast and crew for following their dreams of producing A Christmas Dream where miracles still happen, even for Santa.

Next time, we’ll dip our toes in the icy winter waters of the new. I don’t pretend to know it all, but to me; life, living, learning is an ongoing adventure. I intend to participate to the fullest. Want to write a play? Why not? Be here for the next installment and we’ll do it together.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Creating a Movie in Your Readers Mind

Create a Movie in Your Reader's Mind
By Billie A Williams
While I was re-reading some material on script writing this morning I came upon some very interesting information that I wanted to share with you. You know how everyone tells a writer, show don't tell, how they say don't use weasel words - make your nouns and verbs strong enough to stand the test without the anchors that drag your story down. Well here are some great examples -- and a quote from the movie Finding Forrester

"No thinking--that comes later. You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is...to write, not to think!"

That's exactly it about the first draft of your story, novel, or poem too--you really do need to just dump it all down onto the page and worry about the exact wording later. Look at this from "The Longest Night, by Eric Heisserer "...Gormand, as oily and wrinkled as a gas station dollar bill..."and farther along..." Bundled against the cold." ...A sign welcomes him to Barrow, Alaska the most northern town in the USA..."A mote of civilization on the ass of Old Man Winter." "...an orange smear of a sun slowly collapses on the horizon." You can almost feel the chill following that orange smear.

How colorful, how powerful -- you can visualize what this man is seeing so clearly - in your writing, this is what you want to emulate. Not flowery, adverb and adjective cluttered, cliche riddled writing, but clear, concise, decisive writing.

How about this phrase "he's a pit bull with a badge". You know immediately what this fella looks and acts like don't you? Reading the works of the masters will show you the way to make your writing that true. Take note too, that writing is genre specific. The way you say something in a romance novel is not the way you would say it in a thriller or horror story. Try describing a sunset or a sunrise in both. If you use it to create a mood for that story – you know you will have totally incongruent descriptions or at least you should. Colorful, dreamy, feel good sunrise:

Let’s try it. Lavender threads pulled the sun leisurely to the horizon as a mist settled over the valley. Angelica stirred and realized a body shared her bed and this early morning, she smiled and reached out to place a hand on Spade’s shoulder. [Romance]

Foreboding, expectant: Lavender streaks spiked across the sky interrupting the orange glow slashing through the pre-dawn. Angelica stirred and realized a body shared her bed, panic instantly knotted her insides. She slowly reached to pull the sheets tightly around her as Spade’s broad shoulders were silhouetted in the light sneaking through the sliding glass patio doors. A heavy haze cloaked the landscape giving it a surreal look as she slipped quietly from the bed trying not to disturb him. [Suspense]

I’m visualizing the same morning through the same window and sunrise – but from different plans for a story. Romance and then suspense/horror. Can you feel the difference?

When you work to rewrite your story, do it from several passes through the work. Don’t try to do it all at once. Check the format – is it properly put together. Then check the story, is there continuity, does it flow, is it cohesive, are there places where the flow is interrupted that you can smooth out. Can you make better transitions; get us from one place to another better?

Next take a look at your characters. Can you tell them apart? Do they have their own idiosyncrasies, their own language that helps the reader keep the players straight? Do they stay true to character? Does their dialogue lead you forward – cut any useless, word-padding verbiage?

Now read through for a look see at your action. Is it moving the story forward at a good pace—do you race where you should and pause where the reader needs to take a breath? The pause can be narrative, a reflective paragraph or two, a hint of comedy to lighten tenseness. Keep in mind your reader cannot remain on an concentrated, highly-charged peak indefinitely—he needs some relief for your story to continue to be page turning. Too much suspense, too much romance, too much of anything bogs the story down. Your reader will close the book never to return or throw it against a wall vowing never to pick up a book by this author again.

While you are doing these pass throughs is the time to tweak the words so they say exactly what you mean, exactly the emotion, the feel, the sentiment you want to leave your reader with. As film producers will tell you, it’s the last 20 – 30 minutes that makes the movie memorable — so too should your last 20 - 30 pages be your memorable ones. Send you reader off satisfied and waiting for your next novel, short story or poem....or script.

Feel free to share this article with your list, friends, or whoever as long as you leave this resource box attached. Thank You!
Billie A Williams is a Mystery Suspense author, but she also writes in other genres you will find her work at http://www.billiewilliams.com/ or her blog http://printedwords.blogspot.com/ or the writers group she owns http://www.word-mage.com/ . You can send her an email at billie@billiewilliams.com

Friday, June 8, 2007

Using Articles to Drive Traffic to Your Site

Writing to Help Others Can Help You Brand Yourself.
by Billie A Williams ©2007
(Small Town Secrets - January 2008 - ISBN 978-1-59705-283-2 )http://www.wings-press.com

The internet is full of content starved web masters, newsletter publishers and ezine operators always looking for your articles if they will increase the publication’s value to its readers. This is a win win situation. As you help others, you help yourself. How, you might ask.

If you include a link in your signature line, a link back to your website people who see your name on articles time and again begin to trust and rely on your word. They’ll want to check out your web site to see what else you are about.

Spend some time looking around the various article directories. See what people are writing about. Can you contribute something similar? You know things that no one else knows because your words are colored by your experiences, your life. You are unique and therefore, anything you write will have your personality all over it. This is more or less branding you – like a Campbell soup label, no one needs to tell you who that is — a Pepsi label no one needs to tell you who that is. You become similar when people see your name and your articles they feel like they know you personally.

You don’t need to be a literary genius – if you wrote a book you have expertise – you had stick-to-it-ness. You started some how, you wrote pages and pages to finish a book length manuscript. People – your readers— want to know how you did that. Where did you get your idea, how did you keep at it in spite of rejections (and we all get those). Think of the tons of questions you had as a newbie to the writing craft. What did you want to know? Now you are the expert, you can help others by telling them what you know in an article.

Your web site (You do have one don’t you? You should if you are hoping for a career in writing.) is full of ideas to write about. If you have a bio page, go through it — what have you done, what do you do? Do you have a day job? There is a wealth of information on your own website. Use it to create articles.

What was your book about? How did you find that information to make it appear real? Are you an amateur detective? How did you get to be that, did you take courses where, how long did it take you? If you aren’t, where did you get your idea and how did you expand on it? If you talk of abuse, are you a victim, have you worked with victims in your other life? Who did your book cover, did you have input? How did you decide on what you wanted? What is the process you used to get from page one to “the end” and did you have a cover in mind before you started? Some people are visual, they see a picture and they have a story – is that you or how did you ‘see’ your cover and when?

As you can see there are a million questions readers and would-be-writers would love to know. You can use that to help them, help other publications as described above and help yourself. That sounds like a winning situation all the way around to me.

Feel free to use this article as long as you leave the writer’s resource box below intact. Thank you.
Billie A Williams Accidental Sleuths solve crimes with wit, wisdom and chutzpah
writer’s group http://www.word-mage.com/

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

What Can One Hour a Day Do For You?

By Billie A Williams ©2007

Often when I’m reading, a sentence or paragraph will spark an idea that I need to write about. Today while I was reading Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles was one of those occasions. This man is so brilliant and yet so down to earth it’s hard not to become absorbed by his writing. He is one of the authors of the enormously popular Chicken Soup for the… books. He shares his secrets, his ideals, his methods so eloquently and so freely you learn just by being in the book no matter what your intentions are.

Today he sparked a thought. What could I do with ONE TINY HOUR A DAY. So turn off the television and read a book – not just a book but one about a successful person, a biography, or a how to book. This example of the time that accrues with that one hour should cause you to pause and think for a minute.
1 hour a day = 365 hours per year—that equals nine 40-hour workweeks, which will give you 2 extra months of time to accomplish your dreams – that’s every year.

So what dreams have you put on hold because you don’t have enough —enough time, money, knowledge, skills, —what are you doing with that hour before bed? Are you reading? Why not make it a learning time. Learn something to advance you toward your dream goal. Read about how other successful people before you have done it. Discover just what it is you need to do and then DO IT! One small step at a time is all it takes to walk that extra mile. Learning is the oars that will row your boat up the river…the knowledge needs to be accompanied by action however. Knowing will get you nowhere unless you move toward your goal. Plan to do one thing to move you closer to your dream goal every time you finish reading one of those books.

If you read one book a week, in 10 years you will have read 520 books.
That’s a wealth of knowledge. Imagine if you accompanied each book read with one action to move you forward? Just think of the possibilities and all because you gave up one hour of television a day.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Editing or Typo Hunting, What's the difference?

Put your best book forward to avoid humiliation and ensure success.
by Carolyn Howard-Johnson
ISBN 978-0-97851-7-4
Red Engine Press
Reviewed by Billie A Williams

In this day an age when, according to some studies, over 81 percent of Americans feel they should write a book and more than six million of them actually have at least written the manuscripts. What are your chances of getting published when that is just over two percent of the population? Most of these manuscripts however, are doomed to failure because they don’t understand the intricacies of polishing (read that as editing) their manuscripts before sending them out, and/or hiring an editor to give it the final tweak before they send them off.

According to a recent article by Robert McCrum in "The Observer" and I quote,
“…according to the New York Times, there's a new book published in the United States every half an hour, and - wait for it - that's just fiction. RR Bowker, the company that compiles the Books in Print database in the USA, has calculated that no fewer than 175,000 new titles were published in 2003. That's one book roughly every 20 seconds.” As you can imagine that trend has only increased since then. As McCrum says, the new books have the shelf life of yogurt, but that quality will always stand above the rest and will persevere. So how do you bring that quality to your own work?

The Frugal Editor by Carolyn Howard-Johnson is like having an editor in a box, or more correctly, between two covers of a book. Concise down-to-earth advice about how to edit your manuscript before you even begin to think about sending it out into the red pencil world of publishers, where their editors get the first chance to evaluate your hard work.

Frugal Editor is a veritable thesaurus of how to spot the gremlins that can mess up your prose. If edits and editors paralyze you with fear, take heart. Carolyn Howard-Johnson makes the whole process palatable. She intersperses her directives with light hearted humor making the whole process nearly enjoyable.

If there is an error your manuscript could contain, you’ll find the method for search and eradication in this delightful book. You’ll want to read it cover to cover, but then you will keep it by your side as you write, rewrite and edit so you can be frugal when you do decided to hire that editor to give it one last polish before you submit it anywhere. As Howard-Johnson says; “The lesson here for all of us is that attention to detail and craft counts, and that even experienced writers can flub an opportunity if they don’t pay attention to the last great step toward publishing, a good edit.”

Howard-Johnson explains the difference between and editor and a typo hunter. She also cautions that “…no matter how skilled an editor is, the author needs to know a lot about the process too. The cleaner the copy you hand over to your editor, the more accurate she can be and her edit may cost you less in time and money.” When Howard-Johnson says frugal in her book titles she means it and she goes to great lengths to insure the reader gets her/his money worth by providing resources with links, examples of the often scary Query letter construction, and more. She doesn’t leave the reader high and dry at any point. Further advice or learning is a matter of using the comprehensive index to find the detail you need and then following the advice, link or resource mentioned to guide you in your search for excellence.

The twenty plus pages of appendices is not mere fluff or padding of book length or word count, it is more than a bibliography of recommended reading (though it also contains that). You will find samples and links such as the query letters mentioned above, helpful groups to investigate, grammar helps and books. It’s hard to believe more could be contained in any book on your shelf. Spare no gremlin—search and destroy, polish and perfect before you send out your hard work. This book is the tool to help you do that. I highly recommend this power house of methods and means that will not only enhance your chances of publication, it will help you make any publishing house sit up and take notice – perhaps even pushing your book to the coveted best-seller lists faster than you ever imagined.