Friday, February 6, 2009

Tips On How To STart Writing And Keep On Writing By Beth Harpaz

One of the hardest thing for a writer is to get started on the book and then just keeping that momentum. Here's a good article I got from MSNBC on tips on getting started and just seeing the project through. May it be a family history, collection of poems or recipes, perhaps you'd like to write a manual or a how-to book for your clients. And while some folks dream of commercial success, others just want to express themselves.

Whatever your goals, here's some advice on everything from getting started to self-publishing.

START WRITING: Get into a writing routine. Some people swear by journals; others like to write early in the morning, before dreams are forgotten and the day's distractions begin.

One way to do it: "Every morning at 5:30 a.m., get up and meditate, then write," said Jan Sadler, a writing coach and publications specialist in western Massachusetts.

Deborah Edler Brown, who runs writing workshops in the Los Angeles area, had a student who worked out daily but couldn't find time to write. Brown said, "What would happen if you took your notebook to the gym, and wrote either before or after? It's a place you already made a habit of going to."

Some writers treasure solitude. For others, a class can help.

"It's like having a trainer," said Brown. "Anybody can exercise by themselves but not everyone is successful doing that."

Sadler recommends writing retreats. "Just leave behind the cell phone or the BlackBerry," she said.

Don't worry about making your writing perfect. "You don't know how many times bad writing clears the way for the thing you really want to say," Brown said.

Brown uses random words to prompt short in-class assignments: "When you sit with a group of people and write for five minutes after pulling the word 'apple' out of a bowl, you realize how much can be done in a tiny amount of time. You don't need three hours a day."

Sadler, who offers writing workshops at the Springfield (Mass.) Museums, recommends visual prompts. "Visit the museum if you want to get away," she said. "Take your notebook some quiet morning. Sit in front of a painting or in a corner. The quiet and the imagery will really speak to you."

GET ORGANIZED: Create "physical homes" for your project, said Brown. Get a file folder, and "when you see an article that has to do with the story you want to write, or the photo that goes with your memoir, put it in there."

Create a folder in your inbox, too, and save copies of all relevant e-mails.

Sadler said nonfiction writers should also make a "map or plan of where you're going. It's another word for an outline with subject headings, and once that's done, everything just flows in."

Sadler added that nonfiction writers must "define the boundaries of their material" and be able to explain their projects in a sentence or two.

Once you start writing, find ways to keep going. "Life interrupts you and three weeks later, you're trying to pick up the thread and you've lost the spark. That's heartbreaking," said Sadler. "If you have to leave a piece, jot down a few notes as a memory jogger. Do Post-It notes."

Try leaving the last sentence unfinished, so that you have something easy to start with when you resume.

LIFE STORIES: Would you like to write up your childhood memories, or help a loved one tell the family story? can help. This Web site is free, easy to use and fun, with tips for interviewing and an outline for capturing a life story in 12 chapters. Themes range from childhood and school years to jobs, romance, favorite pets and vacations.

Uploading stories and photos is free. GreatLifeStories also turns stories into books for as little as $20 a copy — perfect for the next family reunion.

Reading other stories on the site may inspire you. Or get out a photo album and "begin recollecting stories that the pictures bring forward," said Phil Gibson, a co-founder of the Web site.

But don't wait too long to approach family elders. "Capturing a family's life stories only becomes urgent almost when it's too late," said Gibson. "If there's a serious fall or serious illness, it can make you realize that the person who is the keeper of family knowledge can fade away very quickly."

SELF-PUBLISHING: Recent technology has lowered the cost of self-publishing a book, from "thousands of dollars to hundreds of dollars," said Jason R. Rich, author of "Self-Publishing For Dummies" (Wiley, 2006).

"You can publish a few copies for yourself, 100 copies for a family reunion, or 1,000 copies to distribute and sell. You can do full-color books that look as good as any book in the bookstore, and you don't need an artistic or publishing background," Rich said.

One type of self-publishing, printing on demand, is basically "a glorified Xerox machine that takes a PDF file and creates a bound manuscript with a push of a button," Rich said.

Print-on-demand services like sell books through Amazon or other sites. Copies are only printed and shipped when someone orders them. Authors set the price for the book, pay $5 to $10 of the printing cost, and earn 15 to 20 percent of the sale.

Alternatively, you could order a set number of copies, pay all costs upfront, and distribute and sell them yourself.

But consider hiring a professional editor from a site like Craigslist, or before you publish. "If you're an expert in your field and you publish a book that has typos or other errors, your credibility gets shot," Rich said.

Remember that bookstores generally do not carry self-published books. To sell your manuscript to a conventional publisher, you'll probably need an agent. A book like "Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents" (Three Dog Press, 2009) can get you started, but be prepared for a long, frustrating process.

That's why Brown encourages her writing students to have fun. "Success in writing is always such a long shot that you have to enjoy the process," said Brown. "If you're not enjoying it, what's the point?"


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