Hello again! In earlier posts we’ve explored writing basics for publication, how to market stories and write query letters.
Now we’ll put pen to paper.
Let’s assume you’re ready to go. Either you have a place to send your work or you just want to write.
Have tools to hand. Dictionaries (dictionary sites are fine): editor’s symbols ( journalese/writers’ terms like sidebar, paragraph symbol, ff.) and basic spelling tools like M-W.com. Urban dictionaries if you’re writing about that topic, drayhorse lingo for that topic, Haydn’s House in Vienna for terms specific to that area. Writers’ reference books (Strunk & White, for example.).
We Write Now.
Part 1: Use the Linear, then Leap
Though this piece deals with writing with a word processor, everything applies to writing with pen and paper.
Pen and paper specifics: write on only one side of a piece of paper, lined paper if you can stand it, and write only on every other line (so you can insert, delete, and change things). Number your pages. Paperclip pages every time you leave them. Have a complete copy of the document you’re writing, and not just the original. I’ve found that writing in bound notebooks is difficult, but sometimes it’s just necessary (in a wild remote area where you’ll lose pages easily, no matter how hard you try not to.) As soon as you get to civilization, xerox all your work and mail it to yourself at your hotel or at your family’s address — someplace. Alert the recipient of this, like in an email or in a pretty postcard. People like to help in this way. If you plan to try to sell the mss, type it up according to the usual guidelines for nonfiction pieces (online at Writers Journal, etc.).
Typewriters: frankly, I travel so deeply that I cannot imagine hauling around a typewriter, and even my latest laptop has exploded. (The university where I teach gives me a pc.) I’ve become alarmed about radiation, though, so plan to buy another LED screen netbook as soon as I get back to India. (I think they aren’t so dangerous to use, though likely I don’t have all the facts.) I did strongly consider using a typewriter again, but the weight of the paper, if nothing else, stopped me cold. (I do have a digital piano I travel with and music books. That’s all I can bear to think of hauling around the next time I get on an international flight.) Perhaps there are writing devices I don’t know about yet… but I’ll learn.
Writing with a word processor: It helps to use a word processor you’re comfortable with
1. Start a new folder and put it where you can open it the second you’re inspired to write. I’d suggest desktop.
2. Name it with the publication’s title, the type of piece you’re writing and the date. For example, “Wild Travels Afield – Filler 6/2012.”
3. Keep everything connected with that piece in that folder. For example, make a sub-folder and copy and paste in all your correspondence with the publisher – the query letter (s) and replies, notes from experts (it happens), hate letters, love notes from fans.
4. Make a separate little doc citing the page number/where you learned about this magazine/publication. (E.g., June 2012, http://www.writerslist.com).
5. All this will take 15 minutes. In three months you could be pulling your hair out trying to remember the amount you’d agreed on, or how much they said they normally pay their writers, or if they really said such-and-such in their reply. Or if they had replied. So your 15 minutes will be well worth it.
6. Make another subfolder: “MSS in the works.” Further, open a New Document. Provisionally name your piece. Make it something you love that signals SUCCESS! to you. Add the date. “My Triumph! Back to Nepal! 6/2012” is a story I can’t write soon enough.
Begin that doc with a list of phrases and words and ideas you want to use in your piece. For example: “Words/phrases/ideas to Use in Wild Travel Himalaya Filler, 6/18” My list could be:
Doors Open When You Follow Your Bliss
Write Down Your Dreams Every Morning Before You Get Out of Bed and why
Live Your Dreams
Head for the Himalaya
Get some advice about monsoons, snowstorms, ponies, ashrams, safety, and follow it
Don’t get sidetracked. This is a walking meditation: stay focused
Never Move Into Pain
Anasazi dancers, 1994, complete healing
Are you either of these? A machine or a zombie?
TGoTrav.: you might take a trip that changes your life, but your neighbors won’t know you’ve left home
Refer to your list while you write. Check off each item when you’ve dealt with it, too.
Your ‘list’ includes any phrase that will remind you to use a travel experience, a dream, a conversation you overheard, a photo that jogs your mind about the topic, a book you respect and want to refer to, even if you saw the book when you were 6 years old.
Part 2. Continue to Leap.
I’d suggest beginning your piece with an exciting bit of dialogue you overhead in the place you’re writing about. For example, I once overhead this, in Kathmandu, during the 1996-2006 revolution. “The first thing we said when we opened our eyes used to be ‘OM.’ Now we open our eyes and say, “Curfew?”
Leave some white space, then succinctly explain the circumstances surrounding the dialogue. Coax — ‘persuade’ — readers to stick with you, even if they’re never going to leave their living room for the place you’re so thrilled about. Show readers why, how, when, how much, where. Make it as colorful and zippy as you can. Dash it down and don’t stop until you’ve told your tale completely.
After a few articles, you’ll write your first draft within the word count you’ve agreed on. For example, if the filler is 150 words, or the article is supposed to be 1,000 words. But for now, just write from your heart and tidy it up later.
Next, pruning away extra words that hide your ideas. This is, to my mind, some of the best fun: inserting words that tell the story more clearly, hacking away pretentious words and muddy thinking. I suggest that you edit pretty cheerfully and thoroughly. Enjoy what you’re doing. It helps to think of writing you admire — like Lawrence Stern’s Sentimental Journey — and keep ‘seeing’ the trip you’re describing. Make a few passes — I’d say a minimum of 5 — through the document from the beginning to the end. If, in the query, you said you’d ‘build sidebars’ now is the time to pull out information to put into those important little columns. In one of your editing passes, line up the sidebar info with bullets. Insert the facts at the next editing pass.
For example: during editing pass 2, pull out the sidebar basics.
“Sidebar 1: ‘Trains/Planes/Buses/Local and State-level'”
Kathmandu to Pokhara Bus Schedule with meal stop info
Types of Planes from Kathmandu to India
Train Schedules from New Delhi to Haridwar
Local Transportation: Be Creative and Respectful
Ignore the Touts!
Editing pass 3, fill in the info. For example,
Kathmandu to Pokhara Busses leave twice daily. 30-minute stops for lunch at local stalls only. Tickets sold at many tourist agencies. Round-trip cost: 500 Nepali rupees.
Flights to India leave KTM twice daily. Schedules online at www.***. Under-35 yrs. Discounts.
Delhi to Haridwar: Shatabdi Express, leaving 1 pm. daily. Book ahead. Tourist Center 2nd floor Delhi Railway Station.
You can amplify the information in the body of your story, limiting the sidebar phrases. But be sure to have as many ‘FACTS’ in your piece as you can. Another sidebar idea is ‘further studies.’ List websites, authors to read, courses to take and books.
I believe in using 4–6 sentence long paragraphs and easy-to-grasp sentences. Use interesting vocabulary tantalizing to your audience. If your readers are well-educated and traveled, use words and concepts they relate to. If you signed up to write for 13-year olds, use vocabulary and concepts they live with. (You should do some homework about how your audience speaks and lives.)
But I do encourage you to write clear prose. It helps to imagine readers struggling with twisted, garbled sentences that writhe with emotion. We shouldn’t force people to untangle our convoluted phrases. Learn to write in the present tense, active voice, in understandable language. Try not to grind your ax…people don’t deserve it. Think of someone you really like and see them reading your 1,000 words. Imagine you see that person’s face.
Your first paragraph introduces readers to the world you’ve ‘seen’ and each paragraph reveals more. The last sentence of each paragraph introduces the next paragraph. Each paragraph and sentence must give details and examples from the world you’ve chosen as your travel topic or about that topic (like ‘packing for a 6-month culinary pilgrimage in Poland). Describe briefly and energetically. Be cheerful.
Remember that the place is what’s important — not the writer. Of course you’re important, but ,,, explain it to yourself in a way that doesn’t insult you. I don’t mind thinking about ‘the artist’s discipline.’ I feel it’s an honorable bunch of people to belong to.
The final paragraph must touch on the first paragraph, but you don’t need to re-state paragraph one. In your last paragraph, open your readers’ minds even more. Summarize and expand those notions you introduced. In the body of your article remind readers about the sidebars (perhaps in parentheses). For example, ‘the high-mountain Chhetris are shrine-keepers (see sidebar A).’ End on a cheerful, encouraging note.
The Business of Writing. Continue reading if you need it now. If not, bookmark it and return when you want it.
In your final mss (the one you’ll submit or the perfect copy you’ll keep), delete the list and go right into the article. The title, if you’re submitting it, should have the name of your article, the word count and ‘photos available’ if that’s a true statement. A copyright sign is ok, in a completed mss, though not in a query letter. The title is all bolded, and though only a book Is italicized, it’s up to you if you want to italicize it. Quotation marks would be correct. For example, “Living in a Monastery, Eating in a Tent” (c) by Samuel Sanders (line 1); Word Count 1400 (line 2); Photos available (line 3).
If your story’s been accepted or if the guidelines say to do this, create an ‘author’s bio.’ Write a few sentences — 3-4 — about yourself – things you admire about yourself – and any contact information you don’t mind the world seeing. Put this in the cover letter in an indented paragraph.
For example. Mary Ann Davis is a published freelance writer and certified Jin Shin Jyutsu therapist. She studies classical Indian thought in New Delhi, India. Write to Mary Ann at her website. mdaviswrites.wordpress.com
In your cover letter, which mainstream publishers seem to demand nowadays, I suggest you say that you send them ‘camera-ready copy, spell-checked and ready to print.’ Indicate that no more work is needed. Indirectly, perhaps through the tone of your friendly, but business-like cover letter, tell the editors that you’ll do further re-writes. Professionals say that saying so outright is a mistake, though.
Send only your finest work. Be meticulous with editing and spellchecking. Be sure to go through the document again after you’ve spellchecked it; very often a spellchecker uses words you didn’t dream of using that don’t make sense.
Perhaps it’s best to let the mss sit around for a few days so you can become friends with it, or ‘sleep on it,’ in other words.
Be sure to do everything that you said you’d do in your query letter. If this is an unsolicited manuscript, make sure you’re not wasting your energy and this is a publisher who will look at finished manuscripts. If you’re submitting a completed manuscript to a small press, make sure that you’re sending it during their ‘reading period.’ (They take long breaks and look at things only during certain months. Go to the publisher’s website to make sure.)
Because freelance writing is highly creative, though, respect your intuition. My first sale came when I sent a poem I’d written for my yoga classes to a glossy trade journal. Markets can surprise you: for ten years a trade magazine’s readers loved my off-the-main-road travel stories from Nepal and India. (The financial crisis stopped this publication of ‘personal essays.’)
Finally — and I hope this doesn’t get me blacklisted — don’t mentally sell yourself to any publisher. Always remember that you’re a freelancer so you can be…Free.
Healthy Writing to You
Two years ago I broke the ligaments in my ankle while I was writing. I was sitting at my desk, typing away, and had been there for a couple of hours. I remembered that I was boiling water, leaped to my feet — and keeled over. My foot had gone to sleep. I was writing in the field, in a remote place with no doctors. Two years later, I’m recovering from peroneal tendonitis.
I now set my phone alarm to ring every 50 minutes. I place the phone in another room.
Also, I suggest you eat decently. Look around at your pals who survived on Zap Cola and little else for a couple of years. Clarity of mind and even interesting dreams don’t come from junk food. Whole grains and plain yogurt are ‘stress’ foods and let’s face it: computers are a bit…stressful, or even hazardous. On the days that I’m working hard, I eat very little and only foods of high quality. A small chicken breast, baked, for lunch or dinner, brown rice, carrots and kale. Whole grain toast and tea for snacks. Keep hydrated — with water. Fill a gallon jug with water in the morning and drink it by bedtime. I do yoga for an hour every morning and exercise during those 10-minute breaks. I go to bed at 10 pm and get up at 5 each morning.
Striking out on your own isn’t easy, so you must take care of yourself. But it’s definitely worth it. Share your thoughts with me. Write me at my site, for now in China.