Look To the Western Sky

A blog about single life as a parent & the dreams of a writer by Margo L. Dill

Tag: writing advice

Stay at Home Writer? How Not To Become a Hermit

When you’re asked by a new acquaintance what it is that you do for a living, and you say that you’re a writer, you can almost hear the cogs turning in their brain and you can visualize the images that flicker into their mind. Immediately, they picture you at a desk in a dimly lit room, sitting behind a laptop. There’s something slightly sinister about the scene of the reclusive writer, a la The Shining. While all work and no play doesn’t send you quite as cuckoo as Jack Nicholson, the life of a writer can be solitary; and finding the time to venture outside of your four walls can be tricky. However, you must resist the urge to become a hermit. Take a look at these ideal activities that will see you up and out of the house and enhance your writing.

Book Clubs

It may sound a little cliche, but it’s true that the more you read, the better the writer you become. As you read reams of novels from umpteen different genres, writing styles, vocabulary and literary devices flood into your subconscious. If you’re able to link up with a local book club, you can network with fellow book enthusiasts. This new network of friends can be a great support if you ever suffer a bout of writer’s block or if you just fancy popping for a coffee after a hard slog on your penultimate chapter.

Courses

Just because you’re a writer doesn’t mean you can’t undertake professional qualifications related to your field of work. Research local creative writing courses in your area. You may find that there’s an evening class at a local college; or if you fancy something a little more formal, you could even enroll in a literature degree. If you feel that your English credentials are already top notch, you may want to branch out and take a look at studying something else that is wholly unrelated to writing but will keep your CV looking relevant. The latest top of the range VBA training classes or SEO introductory courses will keep your IT skills up to date, just in case you ever want to enter the world of full-time employment again.

Visit Schools

If you’ve been lucky enough to have had some of your work published, try and make links with some local schools. It doesn’t matter whether you write for children or adults, local education establishments will relish the opportunity of having a published author to engage and enthuse their students. You could take samples of your work, run a workshop, or create a school text in conjunction with the children. Sometimes, you are paid for these school visits. Make a name for yourself in this field, and you could effectively supplement your income from writing.

Becoming a writer is very much a vocation. The hours are long, you need supreme self-motivation, and the rewards aren’t instant. However, if you stay committed and break up some of your long spells at the laptop, you won’t ever run the risk of becoming the stereotypical writing recluse.

contributed article

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Ditch the Notebook! Get the Writer in Your Life Something Great for Christmas

If you’re a writer, chances are you’ve received dozens of notebooks and journals over the years; if you’re the friend or family member of a writer, chances are you’ve bought dozens of them too. Although there’s nothing wrong with a good notebook (in fact they’re pretty great), they aren’t exactly a surprising gift, which kind of takes the excitement away.

So, maybe it’s time to ditch the notebook and get the writer in your life (even if that’s you) one of these great gifts for writers instead:

A Subscription to Novlr

Novlr is an online writing platform created by writers for writers. It makes planning and writing a novel a whole lot easier with features like split chapters, offline backup, writing stats, and ebook publishing capabilities, which means the aspiring author in your life will love it. It’s very reasonably priced, too.

Aqua Notes

Aqua Notes is sort of like a notepad, so you’ll have to forgive me, but it deserves inclusion because it is so much more awesome than the average Moleskine. Why? Because it’s completely waterproof and you can hang it in the shower. Every writer knows that their best ideas tend to come at the most inconvenient moments, but with Aqua Notes, those shower inspirations don’t have to be lost forever!

Postcards from Penguin

Penguin Classic books are iconic, so you can bet that the writer in your life will appreciate being presented with Postcards from Penguin: One Hundred Book Covers in a Box, which showcases some of the most beautiful and most important book covers in history, and serves as a good place to write important notes and messages. Check it out here to get some idea of how fantastic a gift it really is. Simply beautiful!

A Fountain Pen

Instead of buying them the notebook, why not get them a pretty fountain pen instead. Sure, it might seem just as unoriginal as a notebook; however, writing with a fountain pen makes you feel something a bit special. Also, if you look for the best fountain pen under 50, you’ll quickly see that you can buy some beautiful pens that will impress. They’ll also last a lot longer than the average notebook, too.

A Kindle

Writers love to read, which means that their homes tend to be taken up with lots of hefty tomes, and they have trouble meeting the baggage limits when they travel. That’s why, if they aren’t adverse to technology, buying them a Kindle (or any eBook device really) is sure to be a winner. Buy a pretty cover for it and perhaps add a gift card, so they can start buying some of their ‘To Read” list in digital format for a Christmas package that they’ll be delighted with.

A Literary Tote Bag

If they have a favorite classic book and you know what it is, chances are you’ll be able to find a tote bag printed with the cover, and that will make a pretty special gift. 

If you ditch the notebook for any of these suggestions, I guarantee you’ll have one happy writer come Christmas morn.

(contributed article)

 

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What Is Something You Wrote About That You Never Thought You Would?

(Some of this post originally appeared on WOW! Women On Writing in September 2017)

I know everyone who reads this blog is not a writer, but you have had to write in your life for college entrance essays, papers for school, journal entries, or exercises for professional development days. So, have you ever found yourself writing about a topic that you never thought you would? If you are a writer, I bet this has definitely happened to you because as we change and grow as a person, our writing also changes and grows.

When I decided to pursue writing as more than just a hobby, I was set on writing fiction for kids. Short stories, poetry, novels, picture books–whatever a kid, who loved fiction, would read, I wanted to write. I was naive and didn’t understand how the writing world worked–that nonfiction sells better. If you want a paycheck as a writer, you might have to write something else than your dream manuscript.

One thing I did right was find a critique group of writers who did not just write for children, who wrote essays, articles, adult novels, romance, horror, and more. I began to dabble in nonfiction and short stories for adults, and guess what? I was having fun! I didn’t give up my dream of writing fiction for kids, and I did publish 3 fiction books for kids and teens; but I also expanded my portfolio and wrote about some subjects and for some publishers that I never thought I would.

I wonder what some of  you have written about that you never thought you would. I’m curious what your story is, how you got where you are today, what you thought at the beginning of your writing career if you are a writer, and how it turned out in the end–and how you feel about your writing. Maybe you wrote about a painful time. Maybe you wrote something funny. Maybe you wrote an editorial for the newspaper, and it received a lot of attention!

For example, I worked as a stringer for The News-Gazette in Champaign, IL, and I had a Sunday book review column for over five years. I never dreamed that I would do either one. I wrote about a 90+ year old garage sale volunteer, a reindeer ranch and a baby reindeer who survived only because she was bottle fed by the owners, and a beaver dam that was backing up a creek in a little bitty town–but there was nothing the people could do because the beavers were protected. I wrote a villanelle about the Trail of Tears, and it was published, as well as a funny romance short story for adults that won first place and $250 in a magazine contest.

And my point? I am a much better writer because of these experiences.

Even my personal blogging has changed over the years. When I first started a blog, it was called “Read These Books and Use Them”, and it was only about children’s books. Now, I am writing about being a single parent, practical parenting, self-esteem, writing inspiration, and more on “Look to the Western Sky.”

So…what have you written about that you never thought you would? 

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Unofficial Writing Week: Let’s Look at Blog Posts

If you’re a writer, most likely you have a blog OR will have to write a blog post for someone else for promotional purposes.

I did a series on WOW! Women On Writing a few months back about tips for writing good blog posts. Here are some excerpts and links to the rest of the articles, if you are interested.

ALSO, if you haven’t had the chance to enter to win one of Claire Gem’s supernatural novels or her new writer’s help book, The Road to Publication, you can enter on this post until the end of the weekend.

Post 1:

3 Tips to Title Your Blog Post and Draw Readers In:

You’ve heard time and again from articles, blog posts, and conference speakers that titles do matter, and you’ve probably spent countless hours coming up with titles for your prose. Here’s another point to consider about titles: the titles of your blog posts DO MATTER too. I feel like they are even more important than for an article or book, especially if you are tweeting and Facebook posting about your blog to draw more traffic. I have been WOW!’s social media manager for years as well as blogging for the Muffin. I also have my own blog and have done guest posts on several sites around the blogosphere. Your title needs to tell readers what you’re writing about–cute and clever doesn’t work well for a blog post. Here are three tips to help you create a good title to draw readers to your blog and keep them coming back:  1. Put a number in your title (if that works for your post):

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by orangeacid (Flickr.com)

Post 2:

How to Write the First Paragraph of Your Blog Post: 

Blog posts are important when used as marketing tools, freelance income, and editorial expression. To reach your audience online, connect with them, and get them to read an entire blog post, you have to begin with an opening that either gets right to the point (like this one), makes them laugh out loud (not like this one), or reaches them on an emotional level. This is not much different from what you’ve learned about article writing. However, with a blog post, you have a fewer number of words to catch your readers’ attention because they’re probably in skimming mode, until something catches their eye. (Have you seen the way people scroll through social media apps on their phones at top speed?)  Here are some beginnings that work well and why:

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Post 3:

4 Ways to Close a Blog Post:

On the last day of 2016, it’s only appropriate that I close my series on blogging …with blog post endings. WOW!’s executive editor Angela said in a recent comment that she sometimes had difficulty with blog endings; and it seems if a person covers beginnings, she should also cover endings. So here we are saying good-bye to 2016 and discussing how to say good-bye to your blog post readers, too.  1. A Question If you want to see a good example of ending a post with a question, then please see just about any post on the Muffin written by Crystal Otto.

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Unofficial Writing Week Kick Off with Claire Gem Book Giveaway

Hi! This is writing week on my blog. I know I have several people who read my blog who are also writers, so welcome to The Unofficial Writing Week (I’m sure it’s national something week out there–it always is, but I’m choosing to celebrate what I want when I want.) We kick off with Claire Gem and her new book perfect for writers:  The Road to Publication: A Writer’s Navigation Guide (available by clicking here). You can find out more about Claire and her fiction books on her website here.

A brief bit about this book: The multi-faceted, complex, and somewhat mysterious world of the publishing industry can quickly turn into a maze, ensnaring aspiring or new authors within the twisting alleys of its labyrinth. Multi-published, award winning author Claire Gem spent the first five years of her career floundering, wandering through a tangled jungle without a guide. In The Road to Publication, Ms. Gem takes charge and assumes the duty of cartographer—map-maker for the aspiring author. You know your goal, right? You want to publish your book. Ms. Gem provides a comprehensive, entertaining tour of the publishing industry and its many facets. It’s then up to you decide which route you’re willing to take to reach your pot of gold—your published novel at the end of “The Road to Publication.” “This is a great book, and I believe a necessary one…so much more entertaining to read than a straight how -o guide.” Allie Rottman, Editor

I am lucky enough to have an interview with Claire AND then don’t forget to enter on the Rafflecopter form below to win a prize! 

Margo: Welcome, Claire. Thank you for joining us today. When did you discover you were a writer? What was that initial spark that made you type “Chapter One”?

Claire: I’ve always loved to write, particularly essays and research papers. (I was a lone wolf in high school and college, let me tell you!) But I was particularly moved about twelve years ago by an encounter I had with a family of hawks nesting behind our barn in Texas. I actually developed a “relationship” with the rapidly growing baby birds, and (incredibly) they interacted with me. I wrote a creative essay about the experience, and it won a contest and was published in a literary journal in 2005. That was the impetus that made me believe in my ability to write—not only nonfiction, but fiction as well. Shortly afterward I wrote “Chapter One” on my first novel.

Margo: It seems like we all have some defining moment where we realized: We are a writer! Do you write your first draft longhand or on a computer?

Claire: I’m a computer junkie, all the way. My cursive isn’t legible, and it takes too darn long to print my thoughts out on paper. I can’t even type fast enough to get the words out sometimes!

Margo: Ha! I am the same way! How do you feel about marketing? Is it a love or hate relationship?

Claire: I’m actually a rare bird in that department as well! I guess it’s because my daddy was a door-to-door salesman: Marketing is in my blood. I enjoy the marketing aspect almost as much as the writing—which can sometimes be counterproductive, because I tend to “waste time” marketing when I’m having trouble working on a particular manuscript. A valid, though still sometimes counterproductive, excuse.

Margo: Any advice for new writers just starting out?

Claire: Yes! Tons, as a matter of fact, which is why I wrote my first author resource book, The Road to Publication. When I first started out writing, I felt as though I were abandoned in a jungle without a road map. The Road to Publication is just that: a guidebook for the new or aspiring writer who knows what they want—a published book—but has no idea which route to take. It’s the book I wished I could have found when I first started my career as an author.

Margo: That sounds great! I agree–if i could go back. . .btw, what genres do you write?

Claire: A little bit of everything. I started out writing historical magazine articles, and my features have appeared in magazines such as Renaissance, Herb Quarterly, The History Magazine, and The Family Chronicle. After winning the creative writing contest in Whisper in the Woods, I went on to write my memoir, which was published by High Hill Press in 2015. The same year, my debut novel, a supernatural suspense, was released. In 2016, I self-published three novels, the first of which won the New York Book Festival. Two of my short stories (also supernatural in nature) came out in Centum Press’ One Hundred Voices Anthologies, Vol. I and II. I have gravitated toward writing mostly supernatural (ghost) stories, as they have always been my favorite genre to read.

Margo: Claire, thanks again for stopping by and letting us know about your new book and journey. WRITERS! Watch the book trailer about The Road to Publication and then enter to win on the Rafflecopter form below! There are THREE prizes being given away (2 ebooks of any of Claire’s novels–winner can live anywhere in the world.  1 paperback copy of The Road to Publication–winner must live in the United States).

Stop by all week for FUN writing posts in the first Unofficial Writing Week on Margo’s blog. 

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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