Writing a novel draft by draft

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You can fix garbage but you can’t fix a blank page.

That was the advice of Mary Burton at a recent writing workshop sponsored by the Virginia Romance Writers with Sisters in Crime.

She should know given that this year she will write four novels. Burton is a USA Today bestselling author, who has written 23 novels.

When Burton first began writing, she would share a chapter with a critique group, but she quickly discovered for her that the stopping and starting process wasn’t conducive because she would lose the thread.

Now she simply plows through and writes a complete first draft, which she refers to as “sloppy copy.”

To ensure that she gets through the first draft, she writes daily goals on her calendar. Some days it might be to write 10 pages, other days 15. The point was that having goals made it real.

“There is nothing better than an external deadline,” she said.

During the sloppy copy phase she doesn’t edit. She does in subsequent drafts. Once the first draft is written, a subsequent draft will focus on structure, another on pacing, until she gets to what she calls “The Big Read.”

It’s at this point that she prints her novel on three-hole paper and puts it in a binder to read away from the computer. “Your job is not to be nice,” she said. “You have to be the editor.”

Each draft will lead to a rewrite and ultimately should lead to a novel that is published.

How to successfully place an op-ed

“I’m going to write and op-ed, and I’d like you to place it for me. Ideally, I’d like to be in The New York Times. Or, if that doesn’t work, I’m good with The Washington Post or the LA Times.”

I have heard that throughout my career in public relations, working for several different organizations.

It’s easier said than done.

Recently, a group of communicators I work with met to discuss placing op-eds, and what it takes to be successful.

Ideally the piece should be tied to current events or newsworthy topics. Readers want to read about issues dominating the news, which means op-ed editors want to publish about them.

Additional tips include:

State your main point at the top. You have a few seconds to hook a busy reader and convince him to continue. Use the rest of the piece to support your case. It’s persuasive writing at its best.

Be brief and concise. Most op-eds are 750 words long. Opinion editors are not going to take your 1,200 word piece and edit it for you. Submitting a lengthy piece is a sure way to earn a rejection.

Short is best. The sentences of most op-eds are short. They rely on simple declarative sentences written in the active voice. If you have long paragraphs, cut them into two or more shorter ones, even a one-sentence paragraph is acceptable.

Make a single point. While you may have several points you want to share, readers won’t be interested in wading through so much information. Focus tightly on one point and you will be more persuasive.

Avoid jargon. You work in the industry so the jargon you use makes sense. The readers of a newspaper don’t work with you, and they are your audience. That being said, if you are submitting your piece to a trade publication, your readers may be more familiar with the concepts and you may not have to explain them.

This is your opinion. It’s acceptable to mention someone else’s work, but it should be a mention, not a recitation of the work. The more unique the piece is, the more likely it is to be published.

Follow submission guidelines. Most newspapers and websites post guidelines about how they prefer to receive submissions. If you follow the guidelines, you are more likely to be published. Always include your contact details and a photo of yourself.

Don’t let buzzwords harm your brand

During a training I offer on personal branding, I ask everyone in the audience to stand up and think about their resumes.

Then I ask everyone who touts themselves as creative to sit down.

Anyone who writes on their resume that they are motivated also is asked to sit down.

This continues with a few more words that communicators usually use to describe themselves.

As you might expect, in short order no one is standing (sometimes a few individuals remain standing).

The problem is that many of us rely on buzzwords, which keeps us from standing out and properly branding ourselves. Tweet: Many of us rely on buzzwords, which keeps us from standing out and properly branding ourselves @PriceCynthia in http://ctt.ec/57YbW+

According to Linkedin, the top 10 global buzzwords are

  1. Motivated
  2. Passionate
  3. Creative
  4. Driven
  5. Extensive Experience
  6. Responsible
  7. Strategic
  8. Track record
  9. Organizational
  10. Expert

How can you strengthen your brand?

Start by reviewing your resume (and Linkedin profile) and highlighting any of these buzzwords. (Highlighting will keep you honest!)

To eliminate the words, use concrete examples to describe your skills and achievements. (Don’t simply use a thesaurus!).

Once you do this, you will have strengthened your brand.

Being mindful about unplugging

Turns out unplugging is in the top 5 resolutions for the year. I’m not surprised.

It’s not a resolution for me. What is top of mind for me is being mindful.

Mindfulness is

                “Paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”

This is according to Chade Meng-Tan who wrote “Search Inside Yourself.”

I try to be mindful of when I use technology. For example, when I’m at dinner with friends, I put the devices away. I’ll hear the alert if it’s a work emergency. Anyone else will have to wait while I enjoy good conversation and good food.

I'm making an effort to be mindful of when I use devices. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

I’m making an effort to be mindful of when I use devices. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

I’m mindful of not taking photos of the food or drinks, too. I started the habit a few years ago, and then realized I had way too many photos of food and drink. Why exactly do I need to share these with others? I do allow myself the occasional photo (or two).

I struggle with mindfulness when I am watching television, which almost seems like an oxymoron. However, I try not to watch much TV, and when I do, I want to enjoy the show. Too often, I find myself tweeting about the episode I am watching (along with millions of others), checking emails or mindlessly playing a game on my iPad. Before I sit down to watch a show now, I put all devices in another room. This way if the urge strikes to use one, I at least have to get up and move.

As I continue to be more mindful, I have resorted to an app on my phone called Calm. It allows me to choose a sound and “enjoy a session of just sounds for relaxation or solo meditation.” It encourages me to “simply stay open to whatever happens” each time I listen. I can program it for 2 minutes to 60 minutes, and I confess that two minutes is about as long as I am able to be mindful. I’m working on it, though.

I often don’t want to unplug because technology enables me to be more efficient. I do want to be mindful of when and how I use it.