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10 things that keep you from writing

12 Nov

In no particular order…

  1. Fear that you’re not good enough
  2. Too many new ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ trailers
  3. A perceived lack of time
  4. Comparing yourself to others
  5. Facebook
  6. ‘Real’ work during the day
  7. Waiting for the perfect idea to come along
  8. J.K. Rowling is more awesomer than you’ll ever be
  9. I need coffee. I need wine. I need all kinds of other things.
  10. You’re not a morning (or night) (or in-between) person

And a few to get you writing…

  1. Facebook and Star Wars will still be there
  2. J.K. Rowling started somewhere
  3. You can make time
  4. You are you
  5. Your idea is valuable. And it needs to come alive.

Friday Links

24 May

I hope all of you are having a productive week of writing, and that you are looking forward to a long Memorial Day weekend.

To help you finish your writing week off with strength and to guide you into the weekend, I’d like to share some informative and inspirational links. They cover a wide range of writing topics, but all have something good to say.

~ If you want to write a novel (or, perhaps, have already completed one) and are dumbfounded by the process of finding an agent, check out this interview with novelist Cassie Alexander on how it worked for her. Click here for the article from Writer’s Digest magazine…”How I Got My Agent: Cassie Alexander”

~ If you are reading this blog, chances are that you are a lover of all things Web-related. The Internet is a source of great information, but there is SO much to be found online that it can oftentimes be overwhelming. The Webby Awards are given each year by members of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences and focus on such varied categories as Best Political Blog, Best Visual Design, Best Writing, and much, much more. Click here for the list of nominees (and links to them)… “16th Annual Webby Award Nominees and Winners”

~ Are you a poet, or someone who simply loves to read good poetry? It can sometimes be intimidating to read and/or write poetry, especially when you consider all the different stylistic elements that come into play. (from the Academy of American Poets) has a handy list of poetry-related terms in its latest issue. Click here to read it…“Poetry Glossary”

~ Do you ever feel bombarded by a voice inside your head that says you’re not good enough? Or that questions your writing dreams? Every writer has had moments of doubt, but you cannot let the criticism you heap on yourself take over. An editor at Psych Central shares her insights into how to  end such battles with yourself in the latest issue of The Writer magazine. Click here to read this short yet insightful article…“How to Battle Your Inner Critic”

My new book is here!

11 May

I’m so excited to announce the arrival and release of my new book for writers. It’s now in my hot little hands and for sale from the back of my van. (I jest. Well, sort of. But not entirely.)

The book is a practical, how-t0, hands-on, step-by-step guide for getting published today. It’s perfect for anyone who has dreams of getting published, but doesn’t quite know how to get started and where to go.

The entire publishing process is covered in the book, with everything from coming up with marketable ideas, to writing query letters, to writing leads, to working with editors (and everything in between) highlighted.

It also includes a number of “extras”–“Writer Spotlight” interviews with professional writers and editors, “Writing Advantage” sidebars, sample query letters and articles, and learning exercises with every chapter.

The chapters in the book will give you a good idea of what you can expect between its covers:

1: Magazine Writing Today

2: Writing Features for Newspapers

3: Writing for Online Publications

4: Writing for Trade Publications

5: The Magazine Article

6: The Writing Process

7: Generating Ideas

8: Marketing Your Writing

9: Query Letters

10: Research & Interviews

11: Writing a Feature Article: Structure

12: Outlining, Drafting, Revising

13: Writing a Feature Article: Style

14: Final Steps to Publication

15: Business, Legal, & Ethical Practices

The book will be marketed as a textbook to college feature writing and magazine writing courses, but it is also a wonderful resource for aspiring freelance writers (or successful writers who want a jumpstart to their work).

I’m looking forward to talking about the topics in the book to writing groups and at writing conferences in the next months. If you would like to have me as a speaker for your group, let me know and I will get you on my schedule (email me at; comment on this post; or visit me at “Cheryl Sloan Wray” or at “Writing with Cheryl” on Facebook).

If you’d like a copy of the book, let me know and I can mail one off to you. It retails to colleges for $31.95, but I can sell individual copies for $20. (I’ll even autograph it for you!)

A new book is always an exciting thing…and I’m especially excited that my book is designed to help writers find publishing success.

(Look for more things here related to the book soon. I will be posting some excerpts, speaking news, and other items related to it.)

Have a wonderful…and productive…Friday and weekend.

Have you heard about this little book and movie…?

20 Mar

Unless you’re living under a rock, you’re quite aware of the worldwide phenomenon known as The Hunger Games.

The bestseller has been made into a movie that premieres this coming Friday (and will be followed by Catching Fire and Mockinjay). Most experts are predicting one of the biggest movie openings ever, fueled primarily by the intense fandom for the books. (Yes. This fandom includes people like me. People who are hosting midnight premiere parties, complete with themed food and decorations. I am a book nerd, and proud of it.)

Whenever I witness the excitement and enthusiasm for a book, it thrills my writer heart. Seeing millions of people–children and adults alike–falling in love with books like those in the Harry Potter series and now The Hunger Games trilogy captures my own imagination as a writer. I am thrilled that a fictional story has inspired such love and devotion.

Even more so, though, I am intrigued by the authors who have created the stories that inspire such devotion. And I am intrigued by the stories of how those authors create the stories…and how they live their lives as authors who are now celebrities.

I have been reading recently about author Suzanne Collins and her journey in writing The Hunger Games. Collins has written for numerous children’s and young teen television shows, and is the author of previous young adult fantasy books. It’s The Hunger Games, though, that has made her famous.

The origin of The Hunger Games and the way Collins is handling her fame, while still living life as a working writer, is fascinating.

In a recent interview with the official Hunger Games website, Collins revealed some insight into the genesis of her stories. The trilogy–which takes place in the futuristic world of Panem, where the totalitarian Capitol keeps control of its twelve districts by enforcing the fight-to-the-death, gladiator-like Hunger Games–evolved from a number of inspirations, including ancient Roman mythology and reality television.

“I was channel surfing between reality TV programming and actual war coverage when Katniss’s story came to me. One night I’m sitting there flipping around and on one channel there’s a group of young  people competing for, I don’t know, money maybe?,” she said. “And on the next, there’s a group of young people fighting an actual war. And I was tired, and the lines began to blur in this very unsettling way, and I thought of this story.”

When asked about how she mapped out her book’s plots, Collins revealed: “I’ve learned it helps me to work out the key structural points before I begin a story. The inciting incident, acts, breaks, mid-story reversal, crisis, climax, those sorts of things. I’ll know a lot of what fills the spaces between them as well, but I leave some uncharted room for the characters to develop. And if a door opens along the way, and I’m intrigued by where it leads, I’ll definitely go through it.”

And how is her life different now that The Hunger Games has created such pandemonium? Can she still follow anything resembling a regular writing schedule? She says that her typical workday goes like this: “I grab some cereal and sit down to work as soon as possible. The more distractions I have to deal
with before I actually begin writing, the harder focusing on the story becomes. Then I work until I’m tapped out, usually sometime in the early afternoon. If I actually write three to five hours, that’s a productive day. Some days all I do is stare at the wall. That can be productive, too, if you’re working out character and plot problems. The rest of the time, I walk around with the story slipping in and out of my thoughts.”

As I get ready for my midnight premiere party, I will reflect a bit on the journey it took Collins to get to this night as well. And I will use her inspiration and success as a way to motivate and encourage myself.

(And if you haven’t read the books, I encourage you to do so. They are truly wonderful.)

What about multiple submissions?

16 Mar

In talking with writers who have an interest in writing for and getting published in magazines, a common question I get from them is: “What does it mean when an editor says he doesn’t want to receive multiple submissions?” And, close to that question, is this: “Can I only send one article at a time to a magazine? That seems like a waste of time to me.”

It’s difficult to get many articles published if you query on only one idea at a time. However, many publications ask that you not send them multiple submissions.

So, as a writer who desires publications and payment, what do you do?

In dealing with the dilemma, it’s important first to understand the concept of
multiple submissions. Sending multiple submissions means that you are sending the same article to more than one magazine at the same time. It would be an ethical issue if you had competing magazines (magazines that have the same audiences) with your same article on slate for publication. Ethical and intelligent ways exist, though, to increase your chances of success and not cause a problem among different publications. Here are the two basic principles to follow:

1. Do send as many query letters on the same article idea to as many magazines as you can think of.

While you must not send the same, complete article to competing magazines, you should send query letters to as many magazines as possible. All of them will not be interested in your idea, but perhaps one or more will be. Imagine, though, that you have created a list of 10 magazines you think might like the idea and you send a query to only one magazine at a time, waiting to get a response from it before querying the next magazine on your list. Also imagine that, on average, it takes each magazine one month to reply to your query and that the first one to accept your idea is the seventh one you query. That means it would take seven months before you get a go-ahead.

Instead of waiting so long, go ahead at the beginning and send queries to all
10 magazines.

2. Do not send the same manuscript to competing magazines, but come up with
other slants to the same general idea.

Most competing magazines–all women’s magazines or all teen magazines,
for example–publish articles on the same general topics (health, relationships,
diet, etc.). So several of them could be interested in the same idea about which
you query. If you send out multiple queries at the same time, then, it is possible that more than one magazine will give you a go-ahead. If more than one magazine wants your article, you then have the following

a. You could send your article to only one magazine and tell the others of
your decision.

b. You could send your article to one magazine–and not reply to the other
magazines–and then, in the event the first magazine decides not to publish the
article, send it to a second magazine.

c. You could write an article for each of the magazines that give you a go-
ahead, with each article taking a distinctive approach to the idea.

Multiple articles on the same general idea are not a problem. Keep in mind that magazines in the same field publish numerous articles about the same topics issue after issue. If two or more magazines want an article from you, simply assure that you use different material–such as sources, quotations, and anecdotes–for each article.

When you sell an article to one magazine, take your success as an indication
that you have a good idea, one that might interest other magazines. So work with the idea, slant it differently, and propose an article to a competing magazine.

(This post is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Writing Feature Articles: The Professional Guide to Publishing in Magazines, Newspapers, and Online. It will be available in Summer, 2012.)

Finding Time to Write

5 Mar

Do you have a busy life? Or, are you one of the lucky few who has plenty of time in the day to do everything you want and need to do?

Wait. Did I just hear a little chuckle come out of you? I think I did, since I’m chuckling myself at that second question.

I don’t think anyone could honestly answer “Yes” to that question. Every person, it seems, has an extremely busy lifestyle these days.

In the midst of all the busy-ness…of family, work, school, church, volunteering, friends, free time…when and how can you possibly find time to write?

Although it might seem like a difficult (sometimes impossible) challenge to find time amidst your day to devote to writing, it is extremely important to make writing a priority in your life. To be a writer you have to’s that simple.

I have found that there are some easy tactics that can make finding the time to write more manageable. It just means that I’ve got to make writing a part of my life like anything else, and that I have to believe that it’s important.

Some of my most “tried and true” time-finding techniques include:

* Designate a specific time everyday to write. (For example: I will write everyday from 10 to 11 pm.)

* Don’t force yourself to write when you aren’t comfortable. (I am not a morning person, so I’m not going to get up early to write.)

* Give yourself a goal. (Write so many words, write for a specific amount of time, finish a specific task, etc.)

* Give yourself a reward. (A cup of coffee or candy bar; a viewing of a tv show; etc. when you finish.)

To help come up with your own plan for writing amidst your busy schedule, try out these exercises:

1. Write out every hour of your typical day (from 12 am to 12 pm), then determine what you are actually doing during every hour. This will help you see where and how you spend your time.

2. Look at what you just wrote down and ask yourself: Where can I eliminate something and instead add writing time to my schedule?

3. Make at least five goals for finding time to write. Write each of them down and then post your list somewhere that you can see it regularly and be accountable for it.

4. Write a paragraph on why writing is important to you. (In seeing writing’s importance to your life, you can then put value on the time you need to write.)

Writing Effective Leads–12 Different Approaches

20 Feb

As you get ready to write your article (whether it’s for a magazine, newsletter, newspaper, or website), you will probably first consider how you want to START it.

The first impression you give is of upmost importance, after all. You want to start an article with a catchy lead, capturing the reader’s attention from the get-go.

Here are 12 different techniques to consider using for the next lead you write:

1. Summary Lead

A summary lead — which is sometimes thought of as the straight news lead — states the key point of the article. (For example: “Howard B. Unruh, 28, a mild, soft-spoken veteran of battles in Italy, France and Germany, killed 12 people with a war souvenir Luger pistol in his home block in East Camden Tuesday morning. He wounded four others.”)

2. Direct Address Lead

A lead that is a direct address to readers  —  a “you” lead  —  is calculated to induce them to continue reading because it involves them to some degree. (“If you have a shape like a pear, don’t let it bother you. You are more likely to succeed in life than most people.”)

3. Anecdotal Lead

      An anecdotal lead tells a real-life story that illustrates the point of the article. While not always the case, anecdotal leads can be emotionally charged (poignant or humorous, for example). (“It’s the night before Sarah’s wedding. The images she’d dreamed of for years — the perfect dress, the meaningful vows, the sumptuous cake — now seem to reside only in the land of fairy tales. Her bridesmaids are fighting, her groom hasn’t reported on the state of his vows, and the wrong flowers were ordered. Thinking of the disarray around her, Sarah bursts into tears. This isn’t the way her wedding day is supposed to be.”)

4. Descriptive Lead

A descriptive lead describes a person, place, or event. It transports readers immediately to the location or helps them “see” the setting of the subject the article will be about. ( “The long line of Khaki-clad youths stood at attention. The last notes of a bu­gle across the parade ground floated through the late-afternoon light. In the dis­tance, a warm window light shone, and John Henry felt a lump growing in his throat.”)

5. Why Lead

A why lead emphasizes the “cause” and is combined with the “what.” ( “They told Williard Johnson he’d never be a football player. After all, he had only one leg.”)

6. Unbelievable Lead

An unbelievable lead grabs the reader’s attention by revealing something startling. The reader will say, “I almost can’t believe that,” and then will want to continue reading to find out more.   (“Five out of 100 people have an extra rib. Every three days a human stomach gets a new lining. The record for the loudest burp is 118 decibels, which is as loud as a chainsaw.”)

7. Cliché Lead

      A cliché lead takes a familiar saying and puts a twist on it. The saying must be related to the theme of the article. Avoid bro­mides, platitudes, and triteness.  (“A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it’s not worth much of anything if it’s out of focus.”)

8. Contrast Lead

A contrast lead combines two or more antithetic elements to make an idea more significant or interesting.  (“School teachers went on strike this fall for the third time in eight years, but the city’s 62,000 public school pupils were told to report to class.”)

9. Quotation Lead

A quotation in the lead can draw readers into the ar­ticle. The quotation, though, should be brief and part of the gist of the article — and, most importantly, it should be powerful enough that it deserves being used in the lead. Don’t just use just any quote.  (“One evening in January when their children were in bed, Richard and Eu­genia Smith sat before their television set, talking. ‘All right,’ Richard said coolly, in re­sponse to an accusation from his wife. ‘I don’t love you, I haven’t for some time, and I want a divorce.’”)

10. Figurative Lead

Metaphors, similes, and other figures of speech may be used in a lead. Be certain, though, to avoid triteness and banality. (“The colorful dark horse wearing a white rose, running headlong into the election of 1872, hoped to buck the ‘superiority of man’ harness off America’s women.”)

11. Question Lead

A good question lead makes readers want to know the answer. Don’t ask a frivolous question. Choose one that provokes your reader’s curiosity.  (“Were the best presidents of the United States the sickest ones?”)

12. Combination Lead

      Leads may combine two or more of the preceding types of leads. You might, for example, combine an anecdotal lead with a question lead. Such a lead would present readers with a real-life situation and then ask if they have ever been through a similar experience. Or you could combine a quotation lead with a direct address lead … or you could use any other combination of lead types.