A PLAN FOR ALL SEASONS

 

 

 

 

Most editors lead a double life as they work in the present, but continually have to think in the future. The writer who submits ideas for articles at least three issues ahead is thus a great boon to editors.  Not only are there the four seasons to consider and the subjects topical to Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring, there are all the  seasonal and religious festivals that crop up – Jewish holidays, and for Christians Easter and Christmas.

Recently an Editor at the Jerusalem Post asked me for an article on the forthcoming Festival of Thanksgiving.  As I am Australian-born, I have never celebrated it, but I didn’t want to give up the opportunity to take the assignment, so I played with ideas until I came up with something I thought would be acceptable, and it was and will appear this Friday.

LET’S  GIVE THANKS

As an Australian, Thanksgiving was never part of my tradition.  Nevertheless, it always sounded wonderful. It originally began as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest the previous year.   Pilgrims who emigrated from England in the 1620’s carried the tradition with them to New England.  I used to read about  Macy’s Parade in New York, the luscious foods – turkey with cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and the family get-togethers – and think it was a wonderful idea.

 

I wonder who  remembers from their childhood a series of books about Pollyanna?  Even though Eleanor H. Porter published them in America in 1913, they were still wildly popular when I was a child decades later.  Pollyanna was an 11-year-old orphan who was the eternal optimist, even while living with her strict, unsmiling maiden aunt.  She managed to be glad  and give thanks for  the most horrendous things, and little girl fans set up “Glad Clubs” all over the U.S. and even in Australia where I lived.  I never joined because when she was “glad” that she broke her leg and was given crutches instead of the doll she craved, she became just too goody-goody for me to swallow.

 

But some of the “gladness” seems to have stayed.  Certainly on awakening each morning, I’m always glad of another day.  The American tradition of Thanksgiving – friends and family sharing a meal as the pilgrims did in 1621, seems a very positive celebration.  Orthodox Jews give thanks after every meal, and blessings for many good things throughout the day.  In Asian culture, bowing is a way to say thanks, just as Hindus place their palms together , bring them to their face and nod.  In Bali, the Lomban Festival is held by fishermen to give thanks to the sea. In each case, the underlying message is that of giving thanks for how wonderful and surprising and miraculous life is, with each new day an opportunity for fulfilment, friendship and happiness.

 

You can’t help feeling glad and grateful for blue skies and sunshine; the endless waves of the ocean rolling into the shore; the dewdrops in the heart of a rose; stars scattered like diamonds across the night sky; trees donning new green lace at the approach of Spring.

 

Giving thanks can be a secret weapon and a tool for protecting mental stability and promoting health.  A huge amount of modern life’s trauma and unhappiness stems from a simple lack of gratitude.  The fact of life itself is amazing enough.  We only become unhappy when we indulge in the “me” culture of “I deserve more”’  “I want something for nothing”; “I want compensation”.  Counting our blessings is the best way t avoid the fatal self-absorption that can lead to an unfulfilled life, serious depression, even emotional or physical breakdown.

 

Giving thanks is part of an instinct for survival , because it’s useful and vital to be thankful for the world around us.  It will help keep your balance through the sticky mire of life when there are troubles, losses or sadness that beset us all at some time.  Yet there’s always something to be glad about if you look hard enough.

 

There are many strategies to keep you optimistic.  Set aside just ten minutes a day to focus on the good things in your life.  Make a list if you like. This is an effective mood-boosting technique.

 

Savor just being alive.  Remember those millions who are worse off than yourself in third-world countries.  We have food and water and shelter, and these things should never just be taken for granted.

 

Show appreciation to family and friends who are always there for you.  Say “thank you” often, even if it’s just to the bus driver who stopped for you when he didn’t have to.  Buy some pretty “thank you” cards and send them to deserving friends.  This is a powerful, emotional way to clarify the really important things in your life.

 

Comparing ourselves to people who have more is a recipe for misery.  Remember envy is one of the deadly sins, and money has never been proven to increase happiness.

 

Relish life’s little pleasures … a cup of tea, a piece of chocolate, freshly laundered sheets, a bud that bursts into flower in your garden,  the blessing of hot water.  Be aware of them instead of dismissing them as trivial.

 

Finally, get things in proportion.  Counting your blessings will help you when you must confront difficulties.  You’ll see the bigger picture, and find that you have more going for you than you ever imagined.  We can celebrate Thanksgiving even if we’re not  American!                 _______________________

So start thinking about what seasonal topics edidors will be needing in the coming months and submit your ideas to them now, for the best chance of acceptance.

Happy writing!  I am always glad to hear your comments, and to help with any of your writing problems. Contact me at dwaysman@gmail.com

 

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TAKE A CARING VIEW

When we read, we need to feel that the people we are reading about are real, so that we can both identify with them, and care about what happens to them.The writer’s job is to make sure that the characters we portray can hold a reader’s interest right from the start.

Usually, you’ll have several characters, but one should stand out – the one you personally identify with the most. If you are writing about a man and a woman who are in disagreement about something, you must decide which of the two you most identify with and then relate the story from his/her viewpoint. Other person plus subsidiary characters will have their own points of view conveyed, but only as seen through the eyes of your main character.

 

If writing in the first person, nothing can happen unless it is seen or heard by rhis person, or related to him or her.  This narrative has limitations, as the plot must be planned to avoid episodes occurring when the hero/heroine is absent.

In 3rd person narrative, the viewpoint character is “he” or “she”. This is the most popular as it gives more scope. It makes for solidarity, especially in a short story, allowing you to relate the tale with fewer restrictions than when writing in the 1st person.

You can choose an omniscient narrator, maybe an onlooker who tells the story about other people from a distance. For example, a staid old bachelor might describe the torrid love life of his young nephew. The account would be quite different if related by that same nephew. This choice is suited to a leisurely or humorous tale. Novelist Nina Bawden wrote: “You know people better in a novel than in real life because you know what they think, not just what they say they think.”   So when writing, you need to decide which of your characters reveal their true thoughts.

It is important to decide who your viewpoint character is before you write a word. Imagine a story of a middle-aged couple. Their son has been arrested on some charge (a fight, drug possession, drunk driving ….) . The effect of your tale will depend almost entirely on whose point of view you choose.

So, to start. How to select your viewpoint character? First thoroughly know all the characters, even the ‘baddies’.  Care about them. Once you achieve this level of intimacy with them, the selection of a viewpoint character will happen almost automatically … the person you yourself most identify with. You will care about him or her, and have achieved your main objective of making your readers care too, creating a satisfying, enduring story.

Happy writing! I am always pleased to hear your comments and to help you free of charge with any writing problems.  You can purchase my latest novel “Searching for Sarah” or an earlier one “In A Good Pasture” at discount, by contacting me at:  dwaysman@gmail.com

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RECOVERING FROM REJECTION

It’s part of being a writer, especially in the early days.  Stay positive:

Submission itself is an achievement. If you’re submitting work, you’ve taken the first step to publication by finishing something and being brave enough to send it out into the world.

REMEMBER YOU’RE IN GOOD COMPANY: I’m sure you’ve heard that JK Rowling was rejected 12 times before her first Harry Potter book was accepted by Bloomsbury (and only then, because the Chairman’s 8 – year-old daughter enjoyed it.)

LOOK AT YOUR REJECTED WORK WITH FRESH EYES:  It is not a personal insult. Perhaps in the joy of finishing it, you overlooked flaws that may now become apparent. Maybe it’s repetitive. It doesn’t mean it is without merit. Looking again with more critical eyes might show you how to fix it.

RESUBMIT ELSEWHERE: Maybe you just targeted the wrong publication or publisher.  Did you do your homework first? Consult publications like The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook; search news stands; study magazine websites until you find the perfect match.

WORK ON SOMETHING ELSE FOR A WHILE:  Try something in a different genre or style. It will sharpen your skills and when you return to the rejected piece, you’ll see it with fresh eyes.

AVOID SEEKING CONSOLATION FROM FRIENDS & FAMILY: They won’t take an objective view, in their efforts to please you. It will only make you more resentful that some editor failed to recognise your genius.

REMEMBER WHY YOU STARTED WRITING: Making a living as a full-time writer is a feat that few people achieve. You need to recognise when a piece just isn’t working and move on to something else. Write because you enjoy it, and publication is the icing on the cake. Believe in yourself and celebrate that you have such an enjoyable and rewarding hobby. Publishing success may be just around the corner.

Happy writing.  I am glad to hear your comments, and to help you with any writing problems. My latest novel “Searching for Sarah” is available from me at discount price. You can contact me at:  dwaysman@gmail.com

 

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TIPS FOR TOP-NOTCH INTERVIEWS

Being prepared can help bolster your ability to ask relevant questions, develop ease with your subjects and coax out quotes with aplomb.

REMEMBER THE REASON FOR THE INTERVIEW:  When you frame your questions, focus not only on the facts, but also on the subject’s motivation and inspiration.   Never presume you are taking up his/her valuable time. Positive publicity is usually welcome, so the interview is mutually beneficial.

RESEARCH YOUR SUBJECT AND USE THAT KNOWLEDGE :  Refer to related newspaper & magazine articles; press kits etc. Talk to people who may know the interviewee.  This helps in formulating your list of questions.  Knowing something in advance can open the door to a fantastic interview. People enjoy talking about themselves, and your subject will share more if they feel you were interested enough to do advance research.

SEND A FEW QUESTIONS IN ADVANCE;;  This way, the subject has the chance to consider some responses  in advance and reduce any nervousness.  Choose open-ended questions questions that require some thought.

KEEP YOUR READERS IN MIND:  Are you writing for a women’s magazine, a science monthly, a kids’ newsletter?  Vocabulary, slant and tone will differ in each case, so read past issues of the medium you intend to write for.

DEVELOP AN EASY RAPPORT: Dress comfortably and professionally, so you feel at ease. If you’re well-groomed, you’ll be taken more seriously. A warm greeting and light conversation for the first few minutes relaxes tension.

BE READY TO DEVIATE FROM YOUR PREPARED QUESTIONS:  Sometimes the subject’s off-the-cuff remarks can turn out to be the highlight of your article. Don’t be afraid to wander into uncharted territory. Spontaneity is the difference between lifeless facts and information borne out of human experience.

TAPE OR TAKE NOTES?  You can do both. Place your tape recorder in the open, and ask permission to use it, as it would allow you to concentrate on them more fully.  Taping allows you to focus on your subject and watch their body language. Taking notes is handy for recording proper names, and asking for correct spellings etc.

ENGAGE WITH YOUR SUBJECT: Emotional connection isn’t always necessary or desirable, but sharing a personal moment can give a more rewarding interview.

FINISH ON THE RIGHT NOTE:All your questions have been answered, and the interview is winding down.  A great way to end is to ask the interviewee, what they would most like readers to know about them, and to add anything not already covered.  You can then ask to take photos.  Thank them and offer to send a copy of the published article. Follow up with a brief thank-you note. Try to do justice to the subject – don’t exaggerate, distort of @go for the kill.@

Approach each interview professionally, with sincere curiosity, and you will find that you won’t feel panic or dread, but will find it one of the most enjoyable aspects of your writing life.   Happy writing!

I am always happy to hear your comments, and to help you with any writing problems. You can contact me at  dwaysman@gmail.com  Copies of my books are available at discount including my latest novel “Searching for Sarah.”

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THE FIRST CHAPTER

This is what sells your novel to the editor, then to the public. It is the first impression of your talent – and you never get a second chance to make a first impression!

If the first chapter is important, how much more so the first page. You must intrigue the reader from the outset.

Open the novel at the point where a crisis or a catalyst is about to happen. There must be some form of conflict, dilemma to be solved or drama to be unfolded.  It must take the reader straight into the drama, so that he/she knows the personality and something of the background of the characters.  The opening must give the reader the necessary information and hooks to capture their interest, making them empathise with the hero’s problems.

Don’t introduce too many characters, and don’t use names of those not actually appearing in a scene. It is only when characters appear physically on the page that they become memorable.

Tell when the story is set; where the action is taking place; what is the crisis or problem  and who is involved.

You must inform when the story starts (past or future), if it is contemporary.  Use flashbacks sparingly. Get the tense right. When possible, write scenes chronologically. In the first scene, describe the setting where the drama is being acted out. Don’t start a story too slowly.  In a good opening, the information should be given in a need to know basis.  Intrigue the reader with hooks to approaching crisis that the hero must overcome to draw them into the story.   If you can, end the chapter with a cliff-hanger. If the reader is kept in suspense, he will want to read on.

You need a balance of narrative, description, introspection and dialogue to start at a good pace.

The first chapter may be the most difficult to write, but once you’re on your way,  it gets easier.

Happy writing.  Am always glad to hear your comments and to help you with any writing problems.   Several of my novels are on sale at discount if you contact me direct at dwaysman@gmail. com

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FINDING A DYNAMIC PROBLEM FOR YOUR STORY

You need to be inventive enough to develop complications that will keep at least one problem alive from the first chapter on.  Don’t keep a problem important to the main character offstage, even though you know action is coming later.  There are two ways to do this. The novel’s central problem can be gradually revealed through lesser problems until you are well into the story, but before all is made clear to the reader. The second method is to disclose it at once – sometimes in the first scene.

Here are a few life-or-death problems I have come across in successful novels:

The main character’s brother is in jail with threat of a murder charge.  She must prove him innocent.

Heroine is fleeing with her child to escape a brutal husband.

Heroine’s father – from whom she is estranged – is dying. She must go to him, although still unforgiving for past hurts.

Hero tries to save a brain-injured child from being institutionalized.

These problems became more complicated as the stories developed … other characters enter and conflicts arise. Always, the main character must be emotionally involved or you will lose the reader. You must ask what your main character is doing, or planning NOW. The reader won’t wait. If you allow the central character to become passive, there will not be enough suspense.

Not all scenes can carry high action, but there can be strong conflict where characters merely sit in a room talking. Dialogue can be like dueling with words, and tension can sometimes run high even without physical action. Whatever happens, you should stay inside the viewpoint character in each scene. It helps to stay in the viewpoint of one character throughout your book.

A fiction writer must be inventive.  Continue to surprise your readers. The more you use your imagination, the more you reject the obvious and push yourself to create and venture, the more practised you’ll become in providing ingenious twists in the plot.

The same applies to settings. To keep everything dynamic, the background – whether a room or a mountaintop – should be touched on again . Stories don’t happen in a vacuum. Make sure your main problem will be strong enough to carry a whole novel. Think of what the penalties will be if he/she fails; and the rewards if they succeed.  Success won by your main character at the end of a valiant struggle against overwhelming odds will bring reader satisfaction.  Dynamic problems lead to dynamic events that may lift and bring inspiration into the lives of your readers.

Happy writing! You can always contact me at   dwaysman@gmail.com  either for help with a writing problem; or to buy discounted copies of my many novels.  The latest one (no. 14)  is “Searching for Sarah”.

 

 

 

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