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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Odd Gifts

With the holidays pressing on me, I was knocked off my feet by a stomach virus that would not go away. Day after day I endured dizziness, weakness, cramps, and nausea. I thought I would never feel normal again. Instead of lying in bed, I wanted to be decorating, sending out holiday cards, seeing the lights, attending holiday gatherings, and cooking for my holiday party. Instead, my little poodle curled up with me under the bed covers while I waited for the worst of the cramps and nausea to pass. The doctor warned me it might take ten days.

Today at last I’ve come through, and I’m back in my office. What a logjam of unfinished work I have to attack! I must sort through and decide what is urgent, what can be done later, and what can be skipped. It’s one of those odd blessings. I never wanted to be sick, but if I hadn’t been sick, I never would have had the opportunity to rethink my priorities. Being ill shook me to my core, but I made it through, and now that I have my health back, I feel even stronger, less cluttered with unnecessary obligations, and more determined to move ahead and be strong.

The financial world is going through a virus of a sort, as well. As we go into 2009, reports of our sick economy clog the news. I’ve seen my clients getting struck down. One produces a magazine focused on real estate, and its advertising revenue practically vanished. The company will have to regroup, refocus, and make some difficult decisions.

We all are tightening our belts; it’s what we do when the economy is ailing, but at least we have stomachs under those belts, and we have hearts still beating in our chests. America has always come through its fluctuating financial times. A sick economy may shake us, but it will heal, and when it does, we will be stronger and more clearly focused. Our priorities will be clearer and our futures will be bright. We will have learned how to exist on less and rely on each other more.

The ailing economy is a gift we may not have wanted, but we will benefit from it.

What does all this health and financial information have to do with writing? Everything. Yes, we’re watching publishers pull back and ad revenues drop, but some companies are finding ways to make a profit anyway. For one, I’ve seen a rise in companies that help people self-publish. The self-publishing industry is refining itself, offering more benefits and services to its customers, and hand-holding clients who need guidance. Writers are learning to become their own promotional agents, investing in their own future. E-books are emerging as a feasible future for a portion of publishing.

Although I used to spurn self-publishing, I no longer take a dim view of it. It definitely has its place, especially in a weak economy, when traditional publishers are buying even fewer manuscripts than ever.

The economy has changed everything. We are all examining our priorities, refocusing, and learning what it takes to be successful writers.

We will survive, and when we do, we will be stronger than ever.

Here’s wishing you a healthy, happy, and fulfilling holiday season.

Yours in writing,
Bobbie Christmas ( or )
Author of triple-award-winning _Write In Style_ (Union Square Publishing), owner of Zebra Communications, and director of The Writers Network

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Waiting for Inspiration

I kept waiting for inspiration before writing this message, until it eventually occurred to me that I was going against my own advice to other writers: don’t wait for inspiration, just put your butt in the chair and write! Oh, though, I thought some particular incident would set me off and give me the perfect subject for my letter to you, but alas, nothing spectacular took place.

Instead I kept going to bed at night, dreaming, waking up, dressing, walking the dog, editing manuscripts, writing reports, staying in touch with friends, and then going to bed at night again. Sure, Thanksgiving happened, and I, like countless other Americans, endured DFS (dysfunctional family syndrome), but this year I had no expectations, so I wasn’t as disappointed as usual. Aging helps.

I do have high expectations for Christmas Day, though. For the past fifteen years or so, I’ve held an open house on December 25, Christmas Day at the Christmas House. I cook for two or three days and open my house to friends and family members who want to come over and fill their bellies, get hugs, and exchange happy chatter (but no gifts). Feeding others and providing a gathering place: those are the ways I’ve learned to have a happy holiday, and without disappointment. If guests have the urge to spend money, I ask them to give it to a charity. The rest of us have all that we need and can get anything we don’t have, and for that we can be truly thankful.

Meanwhile, I live in the limbo many writers feel during the chaos of the holidays. I plod along and get my chores done, but I don’t feel particularly inspired. I know some great idea will hit me later, and I’ll get back on the “gotta write about it” track. For now, I’m happy to wait for the next train to come along, and it will, as long as I keep paying attention while I wait.

Here’s wishing you an inspired holiday season.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Writers Helping Writers

I returned from Orlando, Florida, a few days ago, and I’m still glowing. The balmy weather and Florida sun warmed me for sure, but more than that, the people at the Florida Writers Association conference added radiance to my demeanor. The Florida Writers Association tagline, “Writers Helping Writers,” sums up the organization’s attitude and aligns with my philosophy.

Here are a few other things I appreciated about the conference:

As with almost any conference, several workshops took place simultaneously, which afforded attendees a wide choice of subjects to study; however, it also meant writers couldn’t be everywhere at once, and they sometimes missed information they would have liked to have received. FWA resolved the situation by offering a table where extra handouts from the workshops were available to all, so even if you missed a seminar, you could get the handout.

The food was actually good. I know serving 300 people at once is a challenge, but the chef and the conference folks picked items that could be prepared in large quantities and still be tasty and nutritious.

The meeting rooms were roomy and comfortable, and restrooms were never more than a few doors away.

The hotel facilities were exceptional and spotless.

Friendliness prevailed.

The speakers may have all had a secondary agenda of promoting their businesses or books, but they spent almost all their time giving information to participants rather than promoting themselves.

For every workshop evaluation attendees turned in, they received a ticket to a drawing. In this way most people remembered to evaluate the workshops, presenters and committee members received a great deal of important feedback, and more than seventy items were given away.

Best of all, the presenters offered a wide selection of subjects for writers of many types.

Conferences are great places to meet publishers and agents, many of whom requested manuscripts from people who pitched their projects. No doubt some sales will result. If you want to further your career, you can do nothing better than attend a conference where publishers, agents, and others will be speaking. You’ll learn more, meet people who can help you and educate you, and you’ll have fun doing it. You may even be able to deduct your expenses. Talk to your accountant about it.

I hope I’ll see you at the next conference…somewhere.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What Do You Want?

"Start with the end in mind." -- Aristotle
"If you don't know where you're going, you'll wind up somewhere else." --Yogi Berra

I love motivational quotations, even funny ones, and I've heard one more that says it all, but I cannot find who said it. It goes like this: "If you don't know where you're going, how will you know when you get there?"

When I speak at conferences, as I did this past weekend at the Florida Writers Conference in Lake Mary, Florida, I often mention the importance of knowing where you want to go. Goal setting is vital to writers. We may write because we enjoy the act of writing, but we need to know what we want to happen after we finish writing.

For my award-winning book, Write In Style, I wanted to reach as many English-writing people as possible, so I could teach them easy tips to find words in their manuscripts that, once found, could lead to stronger writing. After editing books for many years, I had a list of words and phrases that most writers put into their manuscripts that, if deleted or changed, would lead to more powerful prose. I didn't care about profits; my goal was to educate the public. I wanted thousands of people to know about my findings, so I set the goal of finding a traditional publisher who would and could get the book into every bookstore in America, Canada, and Australia. Once I set that goal, I was able to achieve it, even though it took me a few years to do so. I knew where I wanted to go, and I would not compromise or give up. As a result, the book has been on the market since 2004 and still sells briskly, even though few stores have copies still on the shelves. They can order it for you or you can order it from any Internet bookstore.

When I wrote Purge Your Prose of Problems, I had different goals. I wanted to have something to offer writers who couldn't afford a couple thousand dollars to pay a professional editor like me. I wanted to teach writers who wanted to edit their own manuscripts or edit the manuscripts of others. I did not, however, want that information to get in the hands of every Tom, Dick, and Harriett. Rather than sell thousands of copies of that book and make a few cents per book, I wanted people to pay me a thousand or more dollars to edit their manuscripts. In other words, I did want to make a profit off the knowledge in that book or from editing manuscripts. For that reason, I self-published Purge Your Prose of Problems, creating only a limited supply. I knew my goals, and I've met them. You can order a printed copy of the book through my Web site or as an e-book through, but I have not printed many copies, and when they're gone, they're gone.

When conference leaders began sending requests for me to speak, I set goals in that regard as well. I have very little sense of direction and a low tolerance for inconvenience, so I envisioned being flown to new cities to speak, being picked up by a shuttle or limo, and being driven to my comfortable hotel. When it came time to leave, I wanted to be picked up and dropped off at the airport, too. If a conference offered me those services, I'd consider speaking there. I set my goal.

The Florida Writers Association did all those things and more for me this weekend. When my plane landed and I could turn on my cell phone, my limo driver had already left a message telling me where he would meet me and what sign to look for. He had already picked up one other speaker, a publisher from Tallahassee, and the two of us had a great conversation in the car while being driven to our hotel. As a result I already had a new friend before I stepped out of the car at the conference center. The accommodations were grand, the food--even the banquet food--was great, and I felt pampered and treated like royalty. I also had dozens of people stop me to say how much they enjoyed my workshops and learned a great deal from me, so I had a sense of accomplishment and pride in being able to help other writers.

While the limo driver drove me back to the airport after three and a half delightful days, I had another educational conversation with yet another publisher, a husband-and-wife team, and we exchanged business cards.

On the plane ride home I vaguely recalled having set my goal for conference speaking years ago, and how it all has come to fruition, and why? Because I knew where I wanted to go. Best of all, I knew I had arrived.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Coping with Rejection

The agent that handled Write In Style, my award-winning book on creative writing, sent me a rejection e-mail last night for a proposal I sent her for my latest book. I looked at the brief note that gave no explanation other than "This is not a project I can pursue." How typical, neutral, and devoid of helpful information, and this note came from an agent with whom I have history.

No wonder writers get frustrated and demoralized and want to quit!

When I read the e-mail, though, I did not let it get to me. I read it over a couple of times and then closed the e-mail. I next went to and searched for agents who might want to pursue the project. I found several leads I'll pursue, and at least two of them have sold books in the same genre as mine.

I reminded myself that my current book is a memoir, whereas my former agent handled my reference/writing book, two completely different genres that call for completely different approaches to publishers.

After hours of performing research, I grew tired and went to bed.

Instead of feeling rejected, I felt energized to keep going, but my reaction comes from many years of facing rejection. From personal experience I know that rejection, especially the very first rejection of a proposal, has little to no significance. Things have a way of reversing. Rejection from one place can mean anything, and sometimes it means only that the piece has not yet reached the right hands. My first book met with rejection from plenty of agents and quite a few publishers before one made an offer.

A new day has dawned today. Yesterday my proposal was rejected. Today I have a list of new agents to try, and many of those don't object to multiple submissions; that is, I can send it to more than one agent at a time, whereas I had given my own agent an exclusive shot at my proposal and had to wait for her response. Yesterday I had hope, had that hope shaken, and rebuilt my hope. Today I have a plan of action, and action always, always, counteracts rejection or depression. Inertia, however, is depression's best friend. I refuse to feed into depression, hopelessness, or rejection. I am writer, hear me roar!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Power of Knowledge, the Privilege to Learn

One of the things I love about writing is that writers never stop learning. We learn about crafting a great sentence, paragraph, chapter, article, novel, or nonfiction book. We learn how to make our sentences more powerful. We create new expressions. We learn what to delete from our writing. We also have to learn about the rest of the world. The fact that we’re writers gives us complete freedom to ask anything, look up anything, learn anything we want, and question anything, because it may very well show up in our next article, short story, or book.

I enjoy checking facts when I edit for clients, although it’s not supposed to be part of the editor’s job. Recently a client referred to the shrimp as the only being with its skeleton on the outside. No, I thought, I’ve heard the term “exoskeleton,” so there must be more beings with external skeletons, although nothing immediately came to mind. A quick Internet search for “exoskeleton” turned up the obvious: clams, oysters, and mussels. Of course! I learned something and could repair the sentence in the book I was editing to read that shrimp are one of several beings with its skeleton on the outside.

I’ve always had a natural curiosity, and I think that’s what originally led me into journalism. I love to hear new facts, new figures, and new findings. Today I read about a research team in Denmark that analyzed more than three million checkout receipts from ninety-eight supermarkets and found that wine buyers bought more fruits, vegetables, olives, poultry, milk, and low-fat cheese, on average than those who bought beer. Hmm. Beer buyers, it turns out, bought more chips, soft drinks, cold cuts, sausages, and sugar. If you say this information has nothing to do with writing, you’re dead wrong. Look at the juicy information I gleaned for characters in a short story or novel! Look how I can use that information to differentiate characters and make each one unique, based on his or her supermarket purchases.

At the Christian Author’s Guild where I spoke recently, one of my topics was “Build Characters; Don’t Just Describe Them.” The type of information I learned from reading about that research in Denmark can be put to good use when I’m next building characters, even if I don’t show them in a supermarket. Still, I can show what they serve guests who drop by. The beer drinker will serve chips and Vienna sausages; the wine drinker will serve apples and cheese. Such behaviors will ring true with readers, because the habits of wine drinkers versus beer drinkers are probably obvious to all of us, yet no one had confirmed it before.

Ah, the power of knowledge, the privilege to ask and learn, and the bonus of getting paid for it: could anything be better than being a writer?

Yours in writing,
Bobbie Christmas ( or )
Author of triple-award-winning _Write In Style_ (Union Square Publishing), owner of Zebra Communications, and director of The Writers Network

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Power of a Deadline

When I speak at conferences and to writers groups I often mention the power of planning and setting deadlines, yet many people complain. They say they simply cannot plan or set deadlines. Pooh on that! We have a plan every day we wake up. We know when we have to go to work, go to school, pick up the children from daycare, go grocery shopping, attend meetings, return books to the library, meet with friends, and even eat meals. If those are not plans, what are they? In essence, too, every plan has a deadline, a time by which the thing must be done. Knowing we already have plans with deadlines, what’s so difficult about creating a writing plan with a deadline by which you wish to finish your essay, short story, novel, or nonfiction book?

Yes, I tell people how easy it is, yet I’m equally as likely to skip these steps myself, and when I do, I’m, as they say in the South, “fixin’ to mess up.” Let me explain.

I have a great client for whom I am ghostwriting a children’s book that will help market a product he created. I’ve handled projects like this one quite a few times. The product-related children’s books always look like they will be fun when I accept the project, but when I face the actual work, they turn into monsters I resist tackling. I don’t know why it is; it just is. My client patiently waited as plan after plan (I hesitated to call them deadlines) fell by the wayside, while I kept saying I was working on my creative juices, trying to find the right way to approach the project. The months ticked by, and it’s a wonder my client wasn’t ticked off as well, but he remained kind and supportive, until I beat myself over the head over the length of time I’d taken to produce the book he requested. In the end I set a deadline for the project, told him the deadline, and wrote it down. Did the deadline spur me to jump into the project immediately? No, it didn’t, but it made me see the date by which the project had to be completed, and each day that went by made the deadline closer, until I finally did sit down and write the thing I’d been mulling over and over for months. It’s lovely, and the client likes it, as well.

Had I not set that absolute drop-dead deadline, though, the project would still be incomplete, I’m sure.

If you are waiting for inspiration to hit, there’s no better inspiration than a deadline. Set a date by which you plan to complete your own project. Write it on your calendar. Post the date by your computer. Tell your friends your deadline. Chances are you will see your project completed, and you can celebrate. Deadlines? Maybe we should call them live-lines.

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Don’t Try; Do

Robert Frost said, “Talking is a hydrant in the yard, and writing is a faucet upstairs in the house. Opening the first takes all the pressure off the second.”

When I ran across the quote from Frost, I smiled, because I have the same philosophy. From time to time “writers” tell me they have ideas for books, I tell them to write the book; don’t tell me their ideas. I intentionally put quotation marks around the word “writers” because quotation marks indicate irony when used outside of direct quotations, and the people who talk about their ideas are talkers, not writers. Talking about an idea drains the energy from the project. It leaves no need to do the hard word of sitting down and writing. Real writers (no quotation marks needed, because no irony intended) sit down and write.

I had the honor of meeting a group of real writers this month, women and men who came from many parts of Georgia to hear me speak at the arts center in Carrollton. When we went around the room introducing ourselves, I was pleased and amazed at the confidence and successes of almost everyone in the room. Only one person was relatively new to writing, and everyone else in the room seemed eager to help her move toward getting published as well. That’s another thing I love about writers; we have no proprietary information and no secrets. We gladly help one another.

Even though almost no one in the room was new to writing, they loved what I spoke about. I did not talk about the basics of writing, which most of us know, but about how to revise a manuscript objectively using my trademarked Find and Refine Method. I won’t go into a sales pitch, but the Find and Refine Method is explained in my book Write In Style and in one of my free reports, which you can receive by sending an e-mail to

More important is the fact that everyone in the room was a real writer. No one said, “One day I’m going to write” or “I’ve always wanted to write a book but never had the time” or any of the other excuses I have heard hundreds of times. Instead, they had put their rear ends in a chair and their hands on the keyboard, and they wrote. As a result, they were published. They didn’t try to write; they wrote. I’m impressed.

Many people can spend their time trying to write, but trying never gets anything done. Writers write. I hope you write every day, too.

Yours in writing,
Bobbie Christmas ( or )
Author of triple-award-winning _Write In Style_ (Union Square Publishing), owner of Zebra Communications, and director of The Writers Network