Friday, May 29, 2015

Q & A Friday: How to Build a Platform as a Freelance Writer

Hi, everyone, and welcome back to Q&A Friday here on the blog!

So, what is Q&A Friday? Often I get emailed questions about writing, teaching, editing, book recommendations, and general questions about the literary life, and I was thinking that other people might be interested in these questions, too! Q&A Friday is where I will answer one of these questions every other week or so. I hope you find it to be helpful and inspiring!

If you have a question, please feel free to email it to me at dallaswoodburn <AT> gmail <DOT> com with "Q&A Friday" in the subject line. Also, if you have thoughts to add to my answers, I would LOVE if you would share your ideas in the comments section below! My aim for this blog is for it to be a positive resource and community-builder for readers, writers, teachers, and book-lovers of all ages!

Question: I'm just starting out as a freelance writer and want to expand my areas of expertise, and also build my platform... but I have no clue where or how to start! It's overwhelming. Do you have any suggestions?

My Answer: Yes, I have been there and I know it can feel totally overwhelming! My biggest advice is to try to pick one small thing to do a day relating to building your platform... maybe that means doing some online research of markets you can send your work to; or reading and taking notes on a writing newsletter; or writing an article or blog post; or even starting a page on Twitter or Facebook for your writing career.

Here are some places to start that have been helpful resources for me:

  • One newsletter that I subscribe to that I love is Funds For Writers. It's free, comes out frequently, and lists a variety of publication opportunities and contests for that time frame. I like that it's manageable; if I happen to be really busy and "miss" looking at an issue, I can just move along the next one and boom! I'm up to date again. 
  • Chicken Soup for the Soul is always looking for stories for their upcoming titles, with a variety of themes and topics. They list their upcoming topics and guidelines on their website. Note: there is definitely a specific Chicken Soup for the Soul "type" of story they are looking for... basically, it should be first-person, a true story, and about an event or a person that shaped your life in some way, made you think, made you better, gave you a new appreciation, etc. I would definitely recommend reading a few of the books before you submit. They pay $200 and 10 copies of the book. 
  • Another strategy that has worked for me to build my platform is to reach out to bloggers I admire and offer to write a guest post for them for free. It's a great way to build connections and expand your exposure. 
I hope this is helpful. If anyone has some additional resources to add to the list, please add them to the comments below!

The most important thing I have found when it comes to freelance writing -- and writing in general-- is to keep your spirits up, stay motivated, and believe in yourself. Perseverance is the name of the game. Remember that every "no" is one step closer to a "yes." Little by little, big things happen!

Previous Q&A Friday posts:

- How do you manage class time when teaching creative writing?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Interview with Writer & Filmmaker Marjory E. Leposky

Tell us about your various writing projects. What inspires you? 

To date I have written two feature films: Reasons? and Getting To The Game; two TV pilots, Gables and Who's Jared; one short film, La Fuente (The Fountain); and one animation script/children's book about a cat named Mr. Grumbles. Reasons?, Getting To The Game, and Gables -- the first three -- were written from anger over what was going on in my life and my world at the time. Who's Jared, La Fuente (The Fountain), and Mr. Grumbles were written a few years later, inspired by ideas that came to me and events that happened to me. For me personally, it is a lot easier to research and write from anger than from inspiration.

What made you want to become a writer? 

My parents are non-fiction writers. I never really had plans to become a writer, too. I'm really a filmmaker. I've been told that if I want to move up in my career, I should write my own projects -- but no one explained what went into getting them made: finding an agent or publisher, and raising the necessary funds. So I have had to learn all that myself.

Can you give us a peek into your writing schedule?  

I have not written a script in the past five years. I have spent this time grant-writing and fund-raising, looking for an agent and publisher, and trying to decide if I want to self-publish Mr. Grumbles, which would lead to more grant-writing and fund-raising.

When I am in a writing mode. I just sit down with good music on, and I write in Finaldraft. I do not write the old-school way with cards and strips. I might write an outline. Most of my characters just talk to me, and I write. I find that most of the time I have to do research on the subject I am writing about. I do interviews and "hang out" with the subject.

What is your biggest advice for people who want to write films? 

Don't waste your time and money on those $1,000-dollar writing programs. With screenwriting you need to know the rules before you start to change or break the rules of screenwriting. Do take a screenwriting class at either a community college or university.

What are your favorite children's books? 

The Giving Tree and other poem books by Shel Silverstein; and Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel and Blair Lent.

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

Start with writing from the heart. Then you need to do re-writes, which no one wants to do. Also, always have a good proofreader.

Connect with Marjory at the links below: 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Interview with Young Author and Entrepreneur Chental-Song Bembry

Chental-Song Bembry is the creator, author, and illustrator of The Honey Bunch Kids series, which she uses to promote literacy and entrepreneurship in youth. The Honey Bunch Kids is a humorous book series for boys and girls ages 7-12. The series follows the adventures of a group of middle-schoolers who learn the meaning of true friendship, respect, and getting along with others. You can purchase her books directly here.

Chental-Song was recently honored at the 2015 BET Honors as an "Early Riser" for her accomplishments as a young author and motivational speaker. Last month, she was honored as a Making a Difference Girl at the 2015 BET Black Girl's Rock awards show for her commitment to community service and education. 

Tell us about your book series THE HONEY BUNCH KIDS. What inspired you to write these books? 

I created The Honey Bunch Kids when I was 10 years old. At this age, I loved to read, write, and I loved to watch cartoons. I created three cartoon characters of my own and called them "The Honey Bunch Kids." When I turned 11, my mother sent me to a writing camp at Middlesex County College, where I wrote a story about my three characters, and I called that story The Honey Bunch Kids. In April 2010, The Honey Bunch Kids was published, and based on the overwhelmingly positive feedback I received from boys and girls, I wrote two more books: The Honey Bunch Kids: School's In Session (Book 1) and The Honey Bunch Kids: School's In Session (Book 2). Throughout each book, I highlight elements of African-American history, group dynamics, teamwork, and problem-solving skills.

In addition to being a writer, you are also a literacy advocate. Why are reading and writing so important, especially for young people? 

After publishing the first book in The Honey Bunch Kids series, I started the "Chental-Song Literacy Campaign," which allows me to travel to schools, libraries, and churches to speak to youth on the importance of literacy, goal setting, and the impact of reading on academic success. I believe that reading and writing are so important for young people because with reading comes knowledge, and with knowledge comes confidence. High confidence levels create the drive to achieve any and all goals in life. Writing allows freedom of expression and a chance to showcase creativity. It is an escape, and when people write, they discover stories inside of them that might have never gotten a chance to be exposed. The better the reader, the stronger the writer. When young people embrace literacy, they will be more inclined to tackle difficult homework assignments, and will be able to converse with others at a higher level. Literacy and education are crucial components to the success of a young person, and this is why I am so dedicated to the advancement of literacy in all children. 

You were a busy student in school when you first published THE HONEY BUNCH KIDS, and now you are a college student. What is your writing schedule? When/how do you find time to write? 

Currently, I attend Hampton University as a sophomore Broadcast Journalism major with a minor in Leadership Studies. Before sitting down to write anything, I make sure that my assignments are completed. I write (and draw) whenever I have the free time, and whenever a great idea hits me. If I cannot sit down at the computer to fully flesh out an idea, I will jot it down in my notes. I usually have more time to write and develop story ideas during Christmas, Spring, and Summer breaks. I always make sure to put energy into my craft each and every day, because energy creates movement in a positive direction.

Very true! What is your biggest advice for people (especially young people) going after their dreams and facing their own challenges in life? 

My biggest advice for young people (and all people) who are going after their dreams is to push forward, never settle, and do not give up. There will always be roadblocks and challenges along your journey to success, but you must remember that each challenge is put in your path to help you grow and develop into a stronger person. Do not fear challenges. Embrace them. Always remember that nothing of greatness comes without struggle. It is through hard work and difficulties that you become humbled and more prepared for the next chapter of your life.

Another piece of advice I have is a quote by Louis Pasteur: "Chance favors the prepared mind." You will only get your greatest opportunity in life when you are both physically and mentally prepared for it. You must always trust God and know that He has ordered your steps, and through Him, you can do all things.

Who are some of your favorite writers? 

Some of my favorite writers include Nancy Farmer, Virginia Hamilton, Zora Neale Hurston, and Maya Angelou. I grew up reading fantastic pieces by each of these authors, who influenced my passion for writing a unique story that all children can enjoy. 

What's next for Chental-Song Bembry? 

As I finish out my remaining three years at Hampton University, I am currently developing The Honey Bunch Kids book series into an animated series and a global brand, which will be featured on a major television network. From the animated series will come more books, and I will continue the literacy campaign I have started.

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

I am so grateful to God for each and every opportunity He places before me. I am looking forward to expanding The Honey Bunch Kids brand into an entertainment source that children around the world will enjoy, because I believe it is so important for all children to have positive role models within their cultures.

Here are links to connect with this amazing writer, illustrator, entrepreneur, and literacy advocate, Chental-Song Bembry:

Friday, May 15, 2015

Q&A Friday: How to manage class time as a writing teacher

Hi, everyone! I have something new that I am excited to debut on the blog today. 

Often I get emailed questions about writing, teaching, editing, book recommendations, and general questions about the literary life, and I was thinking that other people might be interested in these questions, too! So I had an idea to start a new feature on the blog called "Q&A Friday" where I will answer one of these questions every week or so. I hope you find it to be helpful and inspiring!

If you have a question, please feel free to email it to me at dallaswoodburn <AT> gmail <DOT> com with "Q&A Friday" in the subject line. Also, if you have thoughts to add to my answers, I would LOVE if you would share your ideas in the comments section below! My aim for this blog is for it to be a positive resource and community-builder for readers, writers, teachers, and book-lovers of all ages!

Question: When teaching a creative writing class, how do you manage the class time?

My answer: It depends on how long the class is, but I like to mix things up every 20 minutes or so. Usually we do a short "freewrite" prompt at the beginning to get kids in the "writing zone" -- for example, at my Summer Writing Camp, I have a prompt written on the board when kids come in. When everyone has arrived and has written for 5-10 minutes, I give time to share if anyone wants to read what they've written.

Then, we spend another 15-20 minutes or so going over the topic/lesson of that day -- maybe it's a class discussion about favorite literary characters and how we think the writer created such a memorable character, or talking about ways to re-start the story's plot if you're feeling stuck, or a compilation of descriptive-writing prompts to really delve into the setting. It's great to do class brainstorming where you write down what students say on the board so you have a wonderful list at the end full of ideas.

For the remainder of class, I  usually use one or two writing activities/prompts that relate to that topic -- for example, dialogue activities or character-creating activities, with time in between for students to share their writing if they wish. A lot of the younger kids REALLY enjoy sharing and it is a big motivation for them, so if you can it's great to build in that time.

Of course, during sharing it is important to only encourage positive comments and positive feedback. As a teacher, you can set this environment by asking, "What did you like about xxx's story/poem/etc?" and have the class raise their hands to share compliments. It's a great way to build each other up. And of course you the teacher should give them compliments, too! It means a lot to them, believe me. They will be looking up to you!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Finding Your Voice as a Writer

“Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.” –Maya Angelou 

How do I find my writing voice? This is a question I hear often from writers of all ages, and especially from young writers. And it is very closely related—indeed, I would say it is interwoven—with other important questions, such as:

  • How do I get “unstuck” when I am struggling with writer’s block? 
  • Will other people think my ideas are interesting enough? 
  • What do I have to say that the world will care about? 
Developing your voice as a writer is akin to developing your voice as a human being, as a global citizen of this one world we all share. Cultivating your own unique writing voice will resonate in all aspects of your life. It requires you to reflect on what you believe and how you feel comfortable sharing those beliefs with others. What feels natural to you on the page? What captures you most fully and truthfully?

All writers begin as readers, and when we first begin writing it is natural for us to write like—for our voices to sound like—the writers we most love and admire. The first pieces I ever wrote were Dr. Seuss-like poems; years later, in college, I was still honing my writing voice, working on magical-realism short stories inspired by Aimee Bender and George Saunders. Gradually, as I have grown and learned and developed as a writer—and as a person—my own true voice has emerged more and more clearly.

Now, when I sit down to write, I don’t sound like anyone else. I simply sound like me.

The process reminds me of breaking in a pair of shoes until they fit your own individual feet perfectly. You can even use your speaking voice to develop your writing voice! How? If you feel stuck, a great strategy is to “talk through” your idea to a friend or teacher. Better yet, talk it through to yourself by recording your thoughts—you can buy an inexpensive tape recorder or digital recorder, or many smartphones have free apps you can download.

Why does this strategy work? Speaking often feels like “less pressure” than writing; the more pressure you put on yourself to write, the harder it can be. Many people feel more comfortable talking out a story or essay instead of trying to write the words down on paper. Once you’re done talking it through, play back the audio and write down, word for word, what you said. Now you have your authentic voice down on paper, and you can edit and shape it as you wish!

The engaging and inspiring book, a picture is worth… the voice of today’s high school students (available from Arch Street Press) used a similar strategy to help the students develop their essays for the book. The sixteen students featured in this outstanding collection write about everything from their families to their faith, from their communities to their experiences in society as a whole, from their past histories to their dreams for the future. In order to craft their essays, each student told their story to an interviewer, preserved it as a recording, listened to it and shared it, and—yes—captured it in written words. But the writing down of the story was simply one strand of a larger web of storytelling, connecting, and sharing.

In the introduction of a picture is worth…, David Castro and Alisa del Tufo write: “Particularly within the personal essay form, good writing demonstrates voice. … [B]eginning with each student’s voice, this project grounds itself in the essential strength of the spoken word as a harbinger of awareness, creativity, and human connection.” By discovering and defining your own voice as a writer, you are then able to engage with the voices of others—and that is how meaningful conversations happen and true connections are born.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Guest Post: How to Become the Writer You Always Wanted to Be

How to Become the Writer You Always Wanted to Be 

a guest post by Cindy Bates

Being a writer requires time, devotion, passion and skill. For aspiring writers and those who have just started writing, a big challenge is how to become the writer you always wanted to be. There are times when you would end up asking yourself if you can really do this. Are you really good enough to write? All of these thoughts are completely normal. Even the most prolific writers have experienced problems like these and it does not take a best-seller for you to establish your identity as a writer. 

Here are some tips to help you make the most of your writing potential:

Trust in yourself and just write  

The most successful writers can only give you their own formulas of success. The same thing goes when you are writing a particular kind of content. Whether it is a simple essay, a short story or a novel, there is lots of information out there saying you must write in this manner, you do this and you do that. Sometimes, you face the predicament of doubting whether you can possibly write something significant -- especially when what you are doing is different from what others are doing. 

But always keep in mind that each person is unique in his or her thoughts and ideas. Trust in yourself and just keep on writing. Keep in mind that you write to express yourself and to share your ideas to your readers. 

Allot enough time for writing 

You can never find an excellent writer who succeeded overnight. Apart from talent, writing is also a skill that you must continuously hone and develop. Just as artists hone their craft, you need to practice writing in order to grow and improve. When you allot time for writing, you develop certain skills that are essential for writers, such as the ability to think fast, brainstorm ideas effectively, and organize your thoughts. 

Proofread your work 

It is never a bad thing to read through your work. Just don’t overdo it that you end up removing almost everything that you have initially written because you doubt your words. Keep in mind that the goal is not necessarily to identify what is "right" or "wrong" with your writing. As a writer, you can never please everyone; you can never get everything "right" with no disagreements. What you want to know is if you are able to express what you want to share to your readers and if the content achieves that purpose and goal. 

Accept constructive criticism

All of the most highly acclaimed written works went through a lot of editing and some even experienced numerous rejections. This is the flow and the process that most writers have to experience before their works are published. So, never be afraid to take criticisms and even rejection. You can learn so many things about your work from other people especially if the person reviewing your work is also a writer. It is much easier to see which parts needs to be changed or what needs to be removed. After a work has undergone a series of proofreading and editing, the best version of your work emerges. 

Set your goals 

All writers set their goals. Prior to writing, you have to know what is your purpose and your objectives. What do you want to achieve? What is your goal in writing a particular piece? Stating your goals clearly is a great motivational force. It serves as blueprint when you are writing, as you can compare if what you are writing serves your purpose and your goal. 

Put aside your fears 

To write effectively, you have to set aside your fears. Many writers worry whether they have enough skill to write or if their ideas are worth writing about. But when you finally learn how to let go of your inhibitions, you experience wonderful freedom to explore your thoughts and to write anything you want without self-doubt. Set aside your fears and let your ideas bloom and your thoughts wander. It is only when you finally cast away your fears that you get to tap your creative potential as a writer. 

All of these are tips that you can apply to become the writer you have always wanted to be. Yet, at the end of the day, every writer must establish his own identity and his own formula for success. The most important thing is to keep on writing and never doubt yourself. The greatest writers didn’t emerge overnight. It took years for them to reach the place they wanted to be -- and then, they continue to strive further onward and upward! 

About the author: Cindy Bates works as a freelance editor and writer at Bestessaytips. She used to write articles and share her knowledge and experience in educational sphere. Circle her on G+.