Tag Archives: writing tips

Work Smarter

20 Jun

Some of you may know that I love the game of baseball.  It has a sentimental value for me because it was the game my father taught me, a game he and I spent many hours playing together.  Some of my earliest memories are of me at four and five years of age, waiting for dad to come home from work, so we could play ball across the street from our home on an empty lot.  He would hit ground balls to me, and fly balls, and he would patiently teach me how to properly field them all.

As I got older he worked with me on pitching, how to properly release the ball, how to throw a curveball, and a knuckleball, and eventually I became good enough to pitch on my high school team, and then for the college team until my shoulder was injured my junior year and I had to stop playing.

I remember one game in particular, back when I was about thirteen.  I could throw pretty hard for a thirteen year old, and most teams I could handle simply by throwing the ball past the opposing batters.  They simply could not catch up with my fastball.

Until one day in July we played the second place team, a team with a lot of talented batters, and it took them about two innings to zero in on my fastball, to get their timing fixed on it, and suddenly every pitch I threw was being hammered for a hit.  One run, two runs, three runs . . . finally I got out of that inning after giving up four runs, and I was one frustrated baseball player when I got to the dugout to sit down and rest.  It seemed the harder I threw, the harder the other team hit the ball . . . really just a matter of physics, but I was in no mood to discuss physics when that inning ended.

I was getting a drink of water when my dad met me at the water cooler.  He asked me, with that grin on his face I remember so well, how my day was progressing.  I was almost in tears when I told him that no matter how hard I threw, the other team was just killing my fastball, and I didn’t know what to do.  Dad said just two words to me and then walked back to the stands and sat down next to my mother.  He said “throw smarter!”  I knew exactly what he meant.  If they were hitting my fastball then I needed to throw smarter and start throwing my curveball and knuckleball.

We won that game 5-4 and I didn’t give up a hit the last five innings, and a valuable lesson had been learned.

It is that lesson I pass on to you today.  Work smarter!  Make a priority list.  Realize that you may not be able to do everything you want to do as a writer.  Hell, you may have to drop some of your goals, and concentrate on the big goals, or you may have to seek help to fix a problem you can’t seem to fix . . . work smarter!

I hope you all have a fantastic week of writing . . . and living!  Remember how gifted you are.  Remember that probably one percent of the population can do what you do as well as you do it…one percent!

You are extraordinary!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

The Death of a Chicken

13 Jun

We had a chicken die last week.  One of our original six, she was with us for four years and one day she just got sick and died.

We had a rabbit die the next day.  I have no clue why.  I went out to feed the rabbits that morning and one of them was stiff as a board.

The first thing I thought . . . both times . . . was that I was a failure as an urban farmer.  I must have done something wrong.  I must have forgotten to do something, or done something incorrectly . . . but, of course, that was ridiculous.  Nobody loves their animals and birds like Bev and I love ours.  We pamper them all, from the newborn quail to the cranky old hen, they are all our pets and we love our time with them. We have studied and we work hard to do things properly, so the fact is those two died simply because it was their time to die.  It was nobody’s fault and that’s just the way it goes.  Despite my best efforts, it just didn’t work out for that hen or that rabbit.

That true story is a perfect metaphor for the profession of writing.

There are going to be times when, despite your best writing, and despite your best marketing efforts, you simply will not get the views or the sales you desire.  That’s just the way it goes, my friends.  It is not a direct condemnation of your abilities as a writer, and it may not be a condemnation of your abilities as a marketer.  Maybe it just wasn’t the right time, or place, for that article or book . . . and maybe it never will be.

There are no guarantees in the writing profession.  Most writers fail to achieve success measured by great sales.  That’s just “the real of it,” and no amount of weeping and gnashing of teeth will change that.

Write, first and foremost, for the sheer love of writing.  That way you will never feel like you failed.

THE SECRET TO FREELANCING

I was asked the other day what my secret was regarding freelancing, or at least one solid piece of advice for making money freelancing . . . I have a couple things to say about it, if you’re interested.

It took me seven years of hard work to get where I’m at right now.  None of my success happened overnight, so there’s my first piece of advice . . . treat it like any other job and work hard.

The other thing I think is important is to not put all your eggs in one basket.  I make money from writing from a number of sources.  I have income from my books (15 and counting) and I have income from customers (5 steady customers) and I have income from services I provide to writers.  I do that so in case one source of income dries up, I still have others to fall back on.  I think diversifying is a wise move in freelancing.  I also believe in the Numbers Game. The more books I write and publish, the more income I’ll receive.  I learned this from common sense and a book I read called “Write, Publish, Repeat.”

So there you have it, and add one more: I have a constant desire to succeed, so I refuse to give up.

Have a great week and remember, you are appreciated greatly by little old me.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Get Out and Meet Your Characters

6 Jun

I work two farmers’ markets each week.

And it’s fascinating!

Here’s something you may, or may not, know about me: I’m an introvert.  It’s painful at times, truly.  I don’t feel like I fit in this world, and I avoid groups of people like the plague.   I will always speak if spoken to, but I would rather not get into a conversation most days.  I’m also painfully shy.  Always have been and I suspect I always will be.

So for me to enjoy working a farmers market is amazing . . . and I’m oddly good at it.  Bev says I am charismatic when I’m working the markets and I try to never argue with Bev.  I was that way working retail at a store I owned back in the 80’s.  Customers loved to come into our store and shoot the shit with me, but at the end of the day I was exhausted and conflicted because a part of me hated the experience.

Anyway, back to the story.  I work two farmers’ markets each week, and it is fascinating.  People are fascinating.  People, in my humble opinion, are the greatest show on earth.  The markets give me the chance to really observe people, to listen to them, to gauge their reactions, to watch them as they talk to friends or as they talk to me, to pick up on individual quirks and nuances, little facial tells when they experience something for the first time . . . the old and the young, the healthy and infirmed, the skinny and the full-bodies, the physically-beautiful and the intrinsically-beautiful, they are all on display for four hours each market, and I am enthralled by them all, and . . .

It is a great training ground for any writer!  I think working some sort of retail should be a required activity for any novelist.  Seriously!  Fiction is about the five senses. It is about characters and reactions.  It is about the human experience, the telling of the story, the story itself, and the reception of the story, and a good novelist needs to be aware of that “human experience” connection.

So get out there and rock n roll with other humans.  Watch them!  Truly watch them!  And then borrow from them the next time you sit down to work on that novel or poem.

THANK YOU LIL SIS

A big thank you to Cyndi for guest-blogging here last week.  It was just what the doctor ordered for me, and judging from the response it was very interesting for most of you . . . a win-win situation!

AND ANOTHER THANK YOU, WORLDWIDE

A HUGE thank you to all my writer friends, in New Zealand, in Jolly Old England, in Malaysia and Canada and Iowa, in New York and Ireland and Brazil…thank you for making this ultra-shy introvert feel wanted and loved!  You rock my world!

Bill

“Helping writers spread their wings and fly.”

Connecting Emotionally with our Readers

23 May

I’m currently writing a reflective piece about a fifty-year friendship which is about to come to an end.

My best friend, Frank, is dying of spinal cancer.  I suspect he will be gone by this fall, and when he leaves me, a giant hole will appear in my heart.  That is in no way hyperbole.  It is very hard for me to even think about this without crying.  Frank has meant that much to me over the years, the brother I never had, a man who has been with me through most of the great, and horrible, events of my life.

And he is dying, and it hurts greatly to write about our relationship, but I want to finish it before he dies, so he can read it, so he will know how much I love him.

So I’m writing this piece, and I cry, and my throat constricts as the words arrive.  I can only do a couple paragraphs in each sitting because it is too emotionally draining for me.  I have only allowed myself to become “close” to a handful of people during my entire life.  I have closed off a part of my heart to protect myself from the pain of loss, but Frank is one of those who always held an important piece, and even writing that last sentence has me in tears.

What’s the point?

OUR JOB AS WRITERS

Well, we have many jobs, depending on the type of writer we are.  Writers of novels are, first and foremost, storytellers, and they must never forget that fact.  Non-fiction writers are fact-gatherers and fact-sharers.

Underlining all of the types of writing is this important fact:  we all share the same five senses, and a good writer, one who really wants to connect with his/her readers, will always remember those five senses.  It is my job, as a writer, to make a scene come alive.  I am the ears, the nose, the throat, the eyes, and the fingers of my readers, and if I’ve done my job properly they will feel as though they are in my scenes.

With regards to my reflective piece about Frank, if I’ve done my job, you, too, will mourn the loss of a quality human being, or you will be transported back to a time of great loss you experienced.

In this particular case, with this particular piece, it will be a painful experience, but one which must be written . . . sweet melancholy . . . a painful celebration . . .

Thank you!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Developing Characters in Fiction

16 May

Mister Streitz's home

Let’s spend a little time discussing the creation of characters in fiction.  As is my norm, I think I’ll drive home this lesson with a story from my past.

I really lived in an idyllic setting as a child.  The neighborhood where I grew up was overflowing with kids and good people in general.  The adults would watch out for all of us, like one big extended family.  Neighbors would help neighbors with big chores, without being helped, just stop what they were doing to man a wheelbarrow or help with painting, that sort of thing.  Everyone knew everyone’s name, a little Mayberry RFD in the middle of Tacoma, Washington.

It was all a very cool setting except for one person:  Henry Streitz, the neighbor who lived across the street from us.

The meanest man I’ve ever met.

Mister Streitz came back from the war a changed man, or so I’m told. All I know is he seemed to be put on this earth to terrorize and cuss at kids.  We knew, when we went out to play ball, that Mister Streitz would eventually appear, shouting at us to stay off his lawn, retrieving loose balls and tossing them in his garbage, cussing us out for disturbing his nap, the list of offenses was endless.

For fourteen years that is how I knew Mister Strietz, as a bitter, angry human being.  I literally, and I’m serious when I say this, I literally never heard a nice word from him during those fourteen years.

And then my dad died.

The day after my dad’s funeral I was outside sitting on the lawn, petting my dog, completely lost in my grief, when Mister Streitz walked out his front door and came across the street.  He stopped in front of me, seemed to be at a loss for words.  The moments ticked by and then he reached out his hand, shook mine, and told me he was very sorry for my loss, that my father was a good man and he would be sorely missed by everyone in the neighborhood.  Then he turned around and left me to my grief.

He never said another word to me in the next five years, and then Mister Streitz died.

MY WRITING LESSON

I try to remember Mister Streitz when I create characters for my books.  Human beings are incredibly complex.  There is a story in each of us, a story born from years of hardships and successes.  No one person is shallow and without personality.  No one person is one-dimensional.  And I believe it is our job, as writers, to bring each main character to life and give each of them the complexity they deserve.

This lesson is now over.  Have a great week of writing!

Bill

Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

The Pig on a Leash

9 May

Let me share you two stories about pigs, both involving my dad.

The first one took place when I was maybe twelve or thirteen.  Dad and I went to a Tacoma Giants baseball game on sunny Sunday afternoon.  The Giants were the Triple A farm club for the San Francisco Giants at that time, and they played at Cheney Stadium.  There was some great baseball played in that stadium back in the early 60’s, and my dad and I always enjoyed a trip to the ballpark.

So we arrived at the park, bought a couple hotdogs, and went up the stairs to find our seats.  We were walking down the aisle, I looked up, and I saw a guy walking a pig on a leash down the aisle coming towards us.  This wasn’t a potbellied pig but rather a full-sized monster, probably at least 500 pounds, and he was trailing poop behind him.  My dad and I looked at each other, but we simply couldn’t find any words that seemed appropriate.  We laughed for days about that.

To this day that’s still one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen….the context was just all wrong, you know?  It also serves as a strange reminder for me to always leave my readers with a sense of awe after they read one of my books or stories.  My job, as a fictional writer, is to capture my readers and to touch their senses through my words.  So I thank that guy, and that pig, for the early lesson.

NOT SO MUCH A STORY AS A LESSON

The other “pig-related” item I wanted to mention was an old saying my dad was fond of.  He used to say “you can put a dress on a pig, but you still won’t have a date for the prom.”  It’s been sixty years since I first heard him say that and I still laugh when I think of it.

What’s the point?  What in the world does that have to do with writing?

Now this is just my opinion, and considering the fact that in 1975, a guy by the name of Gary Dahl, sold a whole bunch of pet rocks, maybe my opinion is worthless, but it seems to me that you can dress up a product in a pretty marketing dress, but if that product is crap, you won’t be selling too many of them.

As writers, we are constantly barraged by articles about guerilla marketing, and social media marketing, and how to best market our product . .. but not enough is said about making our product high-quality.  If our writing is poor, we simply will not sell many of our articles or books.

Let’s put a ribbon on this and be done with it:  you should concentrate, first and foremost, on the quality of your writing. In the final analysis, producing a great article, or book, will be the best advertising you will ever do.  Don’t waste too much money, or effort, in sewing a dress for a pig.

WRAP UP

Two lessons from pigs, both timely and relevant for writers; I hope you got something out of them.

Have a great week of writing!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

A Few Thoughts About Fear

2 May

OMG!  We are about to have a prolonged stretch of spring weather.  It appears the Winter of Wet is about to end.  Praise the gods!

I have another blog I write in from time to time, a blog about urban farming, but I haven’t written in it for over three weeks now because I got tired of writing about the rain.  Maybe that will change this week.

OUR PUPPY

Well, it really isn’t OUR puppy, but rather my son’s…but my son lives in a room out in the back yard, so Bev and I spend a lot of time with this puppy.  Her name is Penny and she’s a Chiweenie (sp?), and she is adorable and fun and exhausting, all at the same time.

Penny has just taken over the house. She is convinced that the world is her oyster and the rest of us are just here to answer to her every need. I had forgotten just how exhausting puppies are but, at the same time, who can be angry with a puppy? Certainly not me!

So I spend a fair amount of time watching Penny, and the most entertaining of those times is when she is in the backyard interacting with the chickens and rabbits, all of whom are bigger than Penny and much-more established in the “pecking order” than Penny.

But Penny simply doesn’t care.  She sprints off into the backyard and acts like she’s the new boss in town.  She is totally fearless in the face of Butter Bitch, our meanest chicken, and Alice, our killer rabbit.  Penny does this kamikaze thing, running full-speed at the animals, and then changing course just before eminent disaster, and she’s quick enough to pull it off without suffering the consequences.  It’s pretty entertaining to watch.

And, of course, I draw lessons from watching Penny’s antics.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Nelson Mandela
THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Taking talent out of the equation for just one moment, why do you think most writers fail miserably at marketing their books?

Think about that question for a moment.

Penny is too young to know fear.  She simply doesn’t understand the dangers she faces in the backyard, the possibility that any one of the animals, at any moment, will grow tired of Penny and just peck the hell out of her.  Penny doesn’t understand apprehension based on pain or negative consequences in the past, so she just goes off, full-speed ahead, and does her thing.

How about you?  Is marketing holding you back and, if so, why?  Is it that you simply don’t like to market yourself, or is it because you are afraid of the pain of rejection?

Just curious!

NEW CUSTOMER

When it rains it pours.  I recently picked up a new freelance customer.   He’s a multi-millionaire in Texas, he is starting a new business, and he needs over 200 articles (SEO stuff) for his new website.  He heard from a friend about this freelance writer in Olympia, Washington, who does a good job , so he called me, offered me the job at a good rate, and so now I’m busier than a one-armed paperhanger with crabs.

The point is this . . . I’m often asked how to find freelance jobs.  Finding them is not difficult; finding good jobs is much harder, and it often, if not always, depends on your track record and your talent.

Work your craft!

Have a terrific week!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Sweet Melancholy and Syncronicity

25 Apr

Yes, I recently changed the format of this blog. It was not your imagination if you noticed.

The thing is, I’m a storyteller.  There is no sense fighting it, or acting like I’m something else. I love the rich tradition of storytellers over our history as a species, and I enjoy being a part of that tradition. So I’m switching this blog more towards storytelling and the lessons to be learned from those stories.

I hope you don’t mind too much.

TODAY’S STORY

I played baseball in high school and college.  Loved the sport. Still do.  My dad started me on that path, playing catch with me when I was very young, hitting balls to me, great father and son moments that will forever be in my memory.

About the time I turned eleven I declared I was going to be the greatest pitcher in history.  I would be drafted out of college, go on to be Rookie of the Year in the Major Leagues, then MVP, Cy Young, and on to the Hall of Fame.  Simple as that!

I worked hard that first year, throwing fastballs at a cement wall, working on my control, and I was seriously pumped to get my career started in that first game.

I got lit up!  The harder I tried to throw, the harder those batters would hit the ball. My God, it was like a track meet around the bases.  Mercifully, after three innings, the coach came out and took me out of the game. Thank God!

As you might suspect I was heartbroken.  My dreams of a baseball career were shattered at the age of eleven.  I figured maybe some other sport would be better, something not quite as hard as baseball . . . and then my dad sat me down.

“I stink, Dad!  The harder I threw, the harder they hit it.”

“No doubt about it, buddy,” he said.  “You stunk up the field today.  Now I suppose you’re going to quit, right?”

This wasn’t like my dad.  No way he’s that calm about his son wanting to quit something.  I was confused.

“What am I supposed to do, dad?  You saw me out there.  Everything I threw they hit.  If I can’t throw hard enough to get it by them, how am I supposed to win a game?”

He ruffled my hair.

“Bill, you need to pitch smarter, not harder.”

He then went out and taught me how to throw a knuckleball and a curve.

And I made it all the way to my junior year in college before my shoulder finally said enough and I was medically incapable of pitching again.

DAD’S LESSON

That lesson has stayed with me all these years…learn to throw smarter, not harder…and a larger lesson…don’t give up….find a way….if you want it bad enough, work your ass off for it.

I miss my dad!  He died just about the same time my shoulder died.  There is great synchronicity in that fact.  And sweet melancholy, of course.  J

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

 

How Very Lucky I Am

18 Apr

REFLECTIONS

When I was eighteen, the summer before my freshman year in college, I got a great job at a fruit & produce warehouse.  The job paid $10 per hour and, please note, this was in 1966…that was great money back then and, in fact, it was more money than my dad was making at his job.

Anyway, my job consisted of unloading boxcars of produce, loading trucks, bagging potatoes for grocery stores, putting orders together . . . it was hard, physical work, but I was in good shape and like I said, the money was superb.

I came home from work one hot summer day and I was complaining because I was asked, at work, to sort through a particularly nasty load of potatoes and sort out the rotten ones.  Now I don’t know if you’ve ever encountered a rotten potato before, especially one that has sat in a hot boxcar for a few days, but trust me when I tell you the smell will gag you.  So I was not a happy boy when I sat down at dinner and commenced to complain to my parents.

That complaining went over about as well as farting in church.

My dad, who left high school his sophomore year to ride the rails looking for work during the Great Depression, was not impressed with my complaining.  In fact, he hit the roof!  He informed me, in rather colorful language, that I was getting paid damned good money, money many people would gladly take, and it was honest work and I should shut up and do what was asked of me, and I should do it well, the best I could, and I’m sure he went on telling me that people were dying of starvation around the world, and single mothers worked three jobs to feed their kids, and, well, you get the point.  It was not a pleasant meal!

But the lesson was learned!

It’s been fifty years since I had that lesson force-fed to me over dinner, and I haven’t forgotten it.  I do my jobs without complaining.  Every job is important.  I am grateful for the jobs I have. Thank you, Dad!

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“By taking the time to stop and appreciate who you are and what you’ve achieved – and perhaps learned through a few mistakes, stumbles and losses – you actually can enhance everything about you. Self-acknowledgment and appreciation are what give you the insights and awareness to move forward toward higher goals and accomplishments.” Jack Canfield
THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Here’s the thing:  comparatively speaking, in a world with over seven billion people, there is but a handful of people who can do what we do, and do it well.  I am lucky to be a writer.  I make a living doing something I love doing.  I make a living out of creating stories which entertain people.  I am paid money to touch the hearts and souls of people.

That is an important job and I never want to consider it anything less.

What I do is incredibly important, and what you do is important, and we really need to be thankful and do the best damned job we can.

End of sermon!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Limitations: Real or Manufactured?

11 Apr

When I was five years old, way back in 1953, my parents purchased a home after renting for the first eight years of marriage, and we moved to 4022 North 18th in Tacoma, Washington.  As a way of lessening the trauma of a major move, my parents bought me a new puppy.

She was a Toy/Rat Terrier, all-black with a white chest, and I named her Pixie.

Pixie was a small dog, full of energy, and I was thrilled to have her.  The plan was  for Pixie to stay in our backyard, a yard surrounded by four-foot high fencing.  It was a decent-sized yard, certainly with enough room for a small dog to frolic in.

But Pixie had a different idea.

One day I went out to feed Pixie and she wasn’t in the backyard.  I must have spent a good five minutes confirming the obvious, that my small dog had somehow escaped, and then I yelled for my mother, tears in my eyes, and she and I went around to the front yard and there was Pixie, contentedly chewing on a stick of wood under the willow tree, apparently without a care in the world.

Mom scooped up the dog, took her around to the back, and locked the gate.  She and I both went inside and watched Pixie.  It didn’t take long for the mystery to be solved.

Our backyard and the neighbor’s backyard were separated by a stone wall, and our fence butted up against that stone wall.  Pixie took a run at that corner, leapt up on that stone wall, pushed off it at an angle, and vaulted off the top of our fence to the other side.

It was pretty impressive for a miniature dog.

From that day on, we just left the gate open, and Pixie had free run of the front and backyards.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Do just once what others say you can’t do, and you will never pay attention to their limitations again.” James Cook
THOUGHT OF THE DAY

There are certain things I simply cannot do in my sixty-eighth year.  I can no longer throw a fastball ninety-miles-per-hour like I did as a teen.  I can no longer run like the wind nor can I climb mountains with reckless abandon.

But I can still write, and I can find time to write, and I can definitely find time to practice my craft and become a better writer.  I have no excuses with regards to writing.

How about you?

HAVE A GREAT DAY…

Unless, of course, you’ve made other plans.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”