Posted in Backstory, Electronic Publishing, Publishing, Self-Publishing, Traditional Publishing, Writing, Writing books

Helping Writers Means Telling the Truth


Anyone who knows me knows that I was an accidental academic. When I took my first part-time university teaching position so many years ago, I had no intention of making it permanent. I didn’t see myself starting off as a lowly assistant professor making my way up the academic ladder to associate professor and finally the ultimate academic goal: Full Professor. But that’s what happened. You know the old saying… “If you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans…” Well, God must be laughing. Anyway, that happened, but that part of my life is also over. And I find myself back where it all began: teaching writing.

Yes, that first course I taught all those years ago was a writing course. You see, I had already begun to carve out a path for myself as a writer. I had published numerous magazine articles mostly in my specialty area of health and medicine, and I had also already published my first book – also in my specialty area. So, teaching writing seemed natural to me. And it still does. However, my venue has changed.

This past year I finally pulled together thirty years of writing and publishing experience to share it with the world. I thought I’d be able to be a mentor to newbie writers just starting out. But something happened.

In the intervening years between when I first established myself as a writer, and today, the writing and publishing industry has undergone nothing short of a transformation. Everyone can be published today. No one seems to need a publisher. Or even an editor. And so many writers are part of an online writing community that oozes self-congratulation and disingenuous positivity about everyone’s writing – all because you never know what someone else might say about your writing. You pat my back and I’ll pat yours, or something like that.

The upshot of this whole project was a book that seeks not only to provide a bit of mentoring to new writers but also to provide a foundation in reality and to disabuse writers these days of some of the myths about fame and fortune as a writer. The book is Permission to Write: How to Write a Book and Other Myths from the Real World of Writing and Publishing. I’ve also decided to share additional materials through the medium of video.

Thus, I’ve begun a 10-part series to accompany the book. The first episode “Want to be a rich and famous writer? Don’t give up your day job” is already up and running.

Today episode number two launches: “Don’t write that book! Or at least don’t publish it.”

So you can see that I don’t necessarily paint a rosy picture for wannabe writers. However, serious wannabe writers will get through them and still want to write that book. Those are the writers I aim to help.

The videos are posted on the Moonlight Press YouTube channel. Let your friends who “wanna write a book” know. 

Posted in Backstory, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing books

Reviving old manuscripts: 5 things a writer might consider

life without endMany years ago – in a former lifetime even before my academic career – I worked in the field of organ transplantation. I was called an “organ procurement officer.” An odd title, you say? Yes, odd indeed. My responsibilities included overseeing the transplant coordinators who were tasked with ensuring donor organs made it to appropriate recipients (kidneys and livers mostly in those days), and the public education programming for increasing organ donations. This latter responsibility involved developing strategic promotion plans, writing about organ donation and making copious numbers of public presentations. All in a day’s work.

While I was working in the field I became fascinated with the myriad ethical dilemmas posed by the transplantation process itself, but more so by the way the health professionals involved in transplantation demonstrated a kind of fervour, often bordering on the religious, about their chosen medical field. It was this fascination that led me to research and write my very first non-fiction book many years ago.

Life Without End: The Transplant Story was my take on the ethics and politics of organ transplantation in Canada at the time, and I think it’s fair to say that not all of what I wrote made the folks I had worked with happy. Some of them were very unhappy indeed.

That was my last job in the real world before I started my academic career, but stories about organ transplantation never really left my monkey mind. So, not long after that first book was published I started writing a novel about what might happen if that kind of religious fervour about transplantation got out of hand. When I finished the manuscript I shopped it around to agents which resulted in finding one who actually loved the story and decided to take it on. She did her job (or at least I guess she did – we never did meet only talked on the phone), sending me detailed lists of where she had sent the manuscript and what the results were. She never did sell it, so I filed it away in the depths of my electronic writing files and almost, but not quite, forgot about it.

With the advent of electronic publishing the idea of reviving old manuscripts in my files began to take shape. I’m a firm believer, though, that not everything we write needs to be published, or even should it be published. Sometimes our writing is either for our eyes only (or ought to be) or it is our writing practice. I had never thought of this novel as being practice, though; rather I had believed it was ready to make its way out into the world. So I finally decided that The Body Traders would see the light of day.THE Body Traders cover FINAL for print front

First I reread it and found that I still loved the story. Then I spent a lot of time over the past year rewriting and updating it. You can well imagine that a book written more than a decade ago would need a tweak or two: for example, back when I worked in transplantation we carried pagers – no one even had a cell phone! Updating was indeed required!

I considered shopping it again, but in the end decided to self-publish. So, what did I learn from this process? I learned that there are several things you need to consider when deciding to revive an old manuscript.

  1. Ask yourself why you want to publish it now. Do you just want to see it in print (electronic or otherwise)? If the answer is yes, I suggest you need a better reason. There are a lot of books out there these days that no one will ever read. If you really don’t care if anyone else reads it, perhaps you need to put it away. “Publication” and “publish” both refer to “public” meaning that the work should be for the public.
  2. Reread it to see if you still feel as enthusiastic about it now as you did when you finished it. If you don’t, put it back in the electronic drawer and step away.
  3. Analyse it for it currency. Are the ideas still resonant? Will current readers appreciate the themes? If you aren’t sure, ask someone whose opinion you value to read it. Perhaps even consider beta readers.
  4. Edit the manuscript for specifics that will bring the details up to date. For example, if the protagonist still uses payphone, unless it’s part of a quirky character trait, you need to do a bit of updating.
  5. When you have finished the rewrite based on your own analysis, feedback from others’ and your update, read it again to see if you still feel enthusiastic. If the answer is yes, you’re ready to press the publish button!
Posted in Backstory, Writing, Writing craft

One writer’s New Year’s promise – to herself

Happy New Year 2015And so that time of year upon us again.  You know the one – where news organizations begin publishing their greatest stories of the year lists, the weather networks offer us a list of the ten worst storms of the year gone by, and the rest of us tally up what we’ve done, and more precisely, what we are planning to do.  I have never been a person to make New Year’s resolutions.

First, as a professor for the bulk of my working life, New Year’s has always been the first Wednesday after Labor Day – the first day of classes on my particular campus.  Now that was the time for making a new start.  But January 1?  Not so much.

This year I’ve been thinking about what the word resolution really means.  Who knew that it had so many different nuances of meaning?

According to the Oxford English dictionary[1] it can mean (among other more specific things) any of the following:

  • “A firm decision to do or not to do something;”
  • “The action of solving a problem or contentious matter;”
  • “The process of reducing or separating something into constituent parts or components.”
  • To resolve to do something means to “Decide firmly on a course of action.”[2]

Clearly, when people say they are making New Year’s resolutions, they mean they are making a firm decision to either do something, or refrain from doing something.  A firm decision.  I’m thinking that making a decision is not necessarily enough to actually get you to act on that resolution.  Perhaps we need something more.

That got me thinking about making promises.  What does a promise have that a resolution doesn’t?  Back to the Oxford English dictionary I went.

  • A promise is “A declaration or assurance that one will do something or that a particular thing will happen;” which seems to me to be a synonym for what a New Year’s resolution is, but…
  • To make a promise means to “assure someone that one will definitely do something or that something will happen.”[3]

So, I guess semantically they seem to be much the same, at least as far as their denotative definitions go.  But what about that connotative definition?  In my mind they are different.

A resolution to me seems a bit business-like, clinical, removed.  On the other hand, a promise seems more personal, closer to the bone.  For me, the promise holds more sway.  Keeping promises is a value that I cherish, far above the notion of keeping resolutions.  So, what am I promising myself this year?

My 2015 promise to myself is to finish what I start, and that includes what has already been started but not finished.  Oh, I don’t mean finishing those manuscripts that in my heart of hearts I know were just for practice.  I mean finishing the ones that I know are meant to be finished.  That means that between now and the end of 2015 I have to finish two novels.

I think that those of us who write – whether for personal growth and a sense of accomplishment – or for a living (or both for the ideal writer’s life) all have unfinished business.  Maybe you’ll join me in making 2015 the year of getting the finish line.  Let me know how you’re doing!

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

 

[1] http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/resolution?searchDictCode=all

[2] http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/resolve?searchDictCode=all

[3] http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/promise?searchDictCode=all