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A Writer's Edge

English words, writing, and books--with a tech touch

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Name: Georganna Hancock
Location: San Diego, California, United States

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Who's a Writing Genius?

According to David Shenk, no one is a writing genius. Nor is writing well a talent, a result of inspiration or an example of giftedness. He explains in a new book published by Doubleday, The Genius in all of Us.

I wished on Twitter for someone @Doubledaypub to ask me to review the book. Wishing on Twitter is much more effective than wishing on stars. Within a week, the book arrived (yesterday). Study commenced immediately. This often happens when I receive a book I want to read for personal reasons.

Shenk's premise, backed by a plethora of studies in different disciplines, is that outstanding performance in any field is mostly the result of practice. Perhaps that is too simplified. It's the result of a process, the interaction of genes and environment: G x E, with emphasis on the interaction. He says most all of us can display genius, recharging the Human Potential movement.

If this information ever penetrates the airy-fairy "white veil" visionaries who dream and talk endlessly of becoming rich and famous as Authors, maybe they will cease waiting for the Muse or Inspiration to strike and pontificating high-minded platitudes and theories about achieving success in writing.

Writing success arrives after practice, practice, practice.

I admit that I wanted The Genius in All of Us for a vehicle in my quest to understand myself, my family, background and my life (to a lesser extent). I am struggling with Shenk's revelation, even though I already knew about some of the research he cites. Giving up the notion of being "gifted" can be difficult, especially if you feel that's all you have going for you. Letting go of some elements of the foundation of my higher education in psychology leaves me feeling asea.

I'm only at page 52 and trust that by the time I reach page 139 (the beginning of 160+ pages of back matter) I'll adjust to this new paradigm or at least climb out of denial. Of course I looked at all the back matter first. It's quite impressive and often the most valuable part of nonfiction books.

What's the take away so far? To become a great writer, you need a highly complex verbal and supportive environment in your earliest years and positive reinforcement for your earliest writing efforts. Then you need an intense education about writing (an M.F.A. for creative writing? J-school for nonfiction?) and most of all, you need to try and fail and keep on (practice!) until you succeed.

Just write the damn thing!

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

New Media Reviews

When I saw Jason Kottke's post on new rules for reviewing, I thought FTC. No. He has noticed something I thought was my personal problem: reviewing based on the quality of the media product. If the TOC in an ebook isn't linked to the chapter titles, the book falls in my estimation.  If I find too many typos or outright errors in the printing--or any of a dozen other irritations--I may pan the product.

Kottke's point is that we are more often turning a blind eye and ear to the content. It's all about format. I disagree with him, though, that purchasers pay no attention to, say, the story and buy a format. If you have a Kindle, do you buy books just because they are in the Kindle Store?  It's not like climbing a mountain just because it's there.

If I focus on the quality of the product, it's because I didn't find glaring errors in the content or the story didn't disappoint.  I'm reading a hard cover of short stories right now.  The book is nice, the cover attractive.  The heft and feel of the product is pleasant. The stories suck.  I thought the same of this author's last novel.  She writes depressing tales of disillusionment and despair that simply peter out.  You're glad to reach the end, emotionally exhausted from waiting for something good to happen.

However, rather than waste my time and readers', I probably will skip reviewing this book I didn't want to receive in the first place.  Why give more free publicity to something just to tell you don't bother buying it?  I'd rather tell you to not bother buying this particular edition of a useful/pleasing book. Just because my reviews appear mostly in "new media" (in digital format) doesn't mean I'm not a "traditional" reviewer, either. I'd say or do the same if my reviews appeared in print.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

If Cats Applied for Jobs

Wired editor kitty prepares her resume or job application:

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Writers Still Need Websites

Blogs on the way out? Do writers still need Web sites? Do established, successful businesses need to have a Web site (I can't imagine why anyone is still asking that question, but I saw it yesterday in a mini-poll somewhere online.)

The answers are: maybe, yes! and "are you kidding?"

So, while you are establishing your freelance writing career or writing the next great American novel, you still need a website. I've seen several trusted recommendations that an author start plugging a book on the Web at least six months before it is due to come out. Some agents also like unpublished authors to have blogs or sites, at the least.

I'm not going to tell you that you must be "out there" to get noticed by agents or publishers. "Out there" used to mean "too weird for words." The most effective out there anyway is in the real world, meeting the people who can help you achieve success. Attend conferences, seminars, workshops, book festivals and network and build relationships with influential living beings.

But back to the Web site matter, or, cleaning out A Writer's Edge garage. Neatly stacked at the curb for the virtual charity pickup are some sites to help you if you must DIY:

In addition to the basic standbys: A List Apart and CSS Zen Garden

PulsePoint Design offers custom web and graphic design and promotion services. This site contains many good ideas and tips you can use. See the Author Marketing blog with the great post on book trailers/videos, which I've mentioned previously.

I hope you aren't struggling with HTML 4. And if you're learning to use XML (XHTML) good, but look out, we're about to Dive Into HTML 5. Still struggling with CSS? Try something from Free CSS Templates.

Then there's that icky matter of SEO (optimizing your site for search engines). Yeah, it's still important and I'm not talkin' keywords in the meta tags. That went out long ago. Get a good overview at Website Design Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Tips | Sproul Creative Graphics and Website Design.

And finally, a couple of places to jazz up your offerings:

Open Flash Chart - Home
Webfettiâ„¢ | Free Layouts, Graphics for MySpace, Zwinky, Hi5, eBay, more!

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Retweets Repeated

Best of my recent retweets--there must be something worthwhile here if people feel they're worth repeating:

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Writing for Boys

Remember last Friday's post on boys falling behind in reading? Author Max Elliot Anderson responded to my request for info on what and how to write for boys. He prepares:

chapter action-adventure and mystery books, for readers 8 - 13, that I would have liked as a child. My books are highly visual, with lots of humor, dialog, and plenty of heart-pounding action....my books are larger than most, the paper is bright white, and the type is larger. Sentences and paragraphs are short, the books contain a lot of dialog and humor, along with heart-pounding action and adventure, and a lot of dialog. Most chapters end in a cliffhanger.
See additional information on Anderson's books with nearly 50 pages of reviews and his Books for Boys blog. A photo, bio and bibliography of Anderson's publications are on Amazon.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Online Ghosting Pays

Ever wonder how much $$ we could make as blog or Twitter ghosts? It's a matter of much controversy and strong opinions aired in forums like #BlogChat. Equally ephemeral is information about "standards" and how much to charge.

Whether you think ghostblogging is "a lie!" or "just a job," find out what's really going in in this article The Ghost Speaks - Entrepreneur.com:

Ghost rates vary, but generally, it costs far less to create a ghosted blog or Twitter account than to launch a traditional PR campaign. McCord charges $18 to $32 per blog post, and $150 to $500 a month for multiple daily tweets. Lindsay Manfredi, a social media strategist in Indianapolis, charges $75 to $100 for a blog post, a fee that includes research, writing and editing.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Blindingly Stupid Emails

Silly Saturday continue at the Hancock Hacienda with a LOLcat salute to the idiots who keep sending blatant scam, spam and scummy "offers":


Our mail cat is so pissed at the last 3 days of jerks:

  • David Mulholland again tells us he has redesigned our site
  • "published writer" offers free error-filled articles on writing
  • other published writer asks for free commercial advertising
  • another writer sends an attached "supliment" for display
  • Mary Grace S. Verlade sends 2X "auto loan invitation"
  • Eveline Hamson's:  DONACIZ PARA EL TRABAJO DEL DIOS
  • "BESPOKE WEBMASTER" invites us to join his/her BEBO

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Books for Boys?

If you write kidlit or Y.A. books, consider boy protagonists. According to a study by Center on Education Policy and reported this week, boys are falling farther behind girls in reading. Girls have caught up in math (Yay Girls!) but boys' reading scores are going down the tubes.

Some say this results from a lack of literature in our schools that appeals to boys. Who knows what boys want, to mangle Freud. To those of you who do know what boys want, the topics that interest them:  if you can write Y.A. or material for children, please focus on the boys for a while. Am I saying jump on a fad? So be it.

No, I don't write much about children's literature--because I know little about it or writing it. I had my fave Golden Books. I had a few Nancy Drews, but mostly I grew up reading adult material. I do know enough about teaching to understand that you must catch students where they live, that is, with what interests them. Many children's writers are women, and it is so easy for us to write from the feminine perspective, plus we've all been girls.  Let's hear it more for the boys now.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

How to Cripple a Book

Some of my books are crippled, disabled, handicapped. Oh, sorry. I mean challenged. Others are outright banned--cut out of library circulation and/or schools. I'm so proud of my little defectives!

Banned Books Week 2010 will occur September 25 through October 2. I mention it now, because I doubt this blog will be active at that time. BBW will focus attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States. It highlights the benefits of free and open access to information--the foundation of writers everywhere, all times. (Challenges are failed attempts to ban).

See the latest list. Can you believe Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird still meets challenges - last time it was because someone thought that reading it might upset black children. Well, I should hope so. It certainly upsets me!

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Brag About Yourself

Where do you find topics to write about? Both beginning bloggers and other types of nonfiction writers often ask this. Instead of my usual "everywhere, all around you" response, I'll detail exactly how this post came about: social media networking. A member of one of the groups I belong to in LinkedIn posted a link to the Psychology Today article as a discussion topic. I saw that item listed in an updates email that LI sends me regularly. I clicked, read the article and thought, "Whew. I'm doin' it right," as the LOL Cat People say. Just last night I'd been adding information to my Amazon Author Page biography section, bragging really. And in third person. Feels weird.

Sooner or later every kind of writer is required to provide a blurb or bio. For me, it's the most difficult writing of all. Worse than a synopsis. It's the same for pitching your services (yourself, really) to potential clients, or bragging about yourself in your website.

If this is difficult for you too, read How to brag about yourself without being seen as narcissistic | Psychology Today by Joshua D. Foster and Ilan Shrira. The secret, it seems, it to mention ONLY yourself, your accomplishments, and not compare them to others. I thought of the latest round of campaign ads in which one politician tries to run down the opposition. Makes me want to vote for the latter.

How about you? When you are dressed to impress, do you denigrate a competitor's accomplishments? Are you positive you write better than ...

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Adopt a Cat Here

I know, I missed inserting a LOLcat for silly Saturday.  Herewith, in honor of Adopt-a-Pet week or month or whatever is my recommendation for writers:

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Friday, March 12, 2010

When is Rewriting Writing?

Of course rewriting is writing, but is the real writing in the rewrites? In a long work, maybe or maybe not so much. I'm one who writes an article in my head before I commit it to paper or bits. Granted, I couldn't do this with a book-length piece. However, I learned long ago in watercolor painting to get it almost perfect the first time, otherwise you "make mud." Watercolor is a very unforgiving art medium requiring planning before painting.

In writing shorts, the skills of brevity, concision, and picking exactly the right word might emphasize the rewrite. (Just think of Twitter!) The shorter the piece, the easier it is to be misunderstood, hence the most urgent need for clarity. But with a book, especially a novel, some urge you to vomit out the first draft; all the art is in the rewriting, they say, which is more than simply refining. How could it go wrong? Just listen to what Anne Rice has to say:



How many time has a writer outlined (maybe only roughly) a novel and then had one of the characters "simply run away" with the plot? Incidentally, that kind of thinking is as surely a crutch, a rationalization, as saying you couldn't help hitting someone because they "made me mad." Who is in charge of your [writing] behavior? Where does the story come from? You are responsible for both.

Don't write to "see where the story goes," and then moan about being unable to finish anything or having writer's block. Maybe you wrote yourself into a blind alley! Get the story straight before you write the manuscript. If "outline" is too mechanical a term for you to apply to creative writing, how about "framework?" Still too concrete? Try this: write the synopsis before you write the book. This will probably force you to research only necessary parts, too. Then you will not only have completed the most difficult writing of all, you'll also have a "literary guide" to "just write the damn thing!"

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Book Review of UNFORGIVABLE

Just noticed my review of Philippe Djian's Unforgivable is an editor's pick today on the Books page at Blogcritics.org. The review itself begins there, but the whole article starts here.  This was one of those smallish books I didn't know was going to arrive. That always irritates me, and inevitably I cannot resist peeking inside.


I must admit that European literature seldom satisfies due to the usual lack of a happy ending (which many American readers expect) and the authors' penchant for leaving loose ends dangling all over the place.  Well, what happens to the writer, Francis?  What was Jeremie going to do with the gun? And will Judith (Francis' second wife) simply carry on in her down-to-earth practical manner? Saaay ... this sounds like a good book for a book club to discuss.

Any book mentioned may have been a gift from the publisher.

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Monday, March 08, 2010

Mein Fuhrer, Blogger & FTP

This is about how I feel towards Blogger these days. Little by little they are nibbling away services. Rinky-dink little aggravations like slow uploads, no more deleting spam comments (or any for that matter), glitchy image uploads. I could go on and on. Oh, and the "edit post" button has disappeared.  But I may have found a White Knight in Erik Aronesty. PAGING DR. ARONESTY, PLEASE REPORT BY EMAIL TO EDITOR @ THIS DOMAIN NAME. I may have a job for you!

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Women's Day - International

Tune your browser channel to http://bit.ly/9L5Wj8 for the Google live feed of material appearing on the Internet about today, National Women's Day. The topic is so popular that I can't slip through any openings in the movement's official website.

Rather than waxing poetic about the women who have grown, carried, birthed, and fed us from their bodies, then raised, taught, and cared for us in sickness and health, and those who loved us as relatives, friends and partners, I choose to honor some of my fine friends for who I can find photos. In the top row are Maryam in Tehran and Barbara with Tyler in Guam.  Middle row is Betsy in California and "Gran" in Washington. In the bottom row are Bonnie in Florida and Paula of The Writing Show, in California.


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Saturday, March 06, 2010

More Caturday!

Bringing back Silly Saturday because this is definitely how I feel:

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Friday, March 05, 2010

Get Fuzzy Potty SM Chat

I could tweet all day about last night. Thanks first to Melodie Tao a.k.a. @MyMelodie on Twitter. She arrived at the SDbloggers Meetup bearing gifts. As soon as I hear the words, "Who wants...?" My hand shoots up, in this case, to grab the "Get Fuzzy" desktop daily calendar Melodie gave away. I was so busy marveling over my good luck, that I didn't hear which generous company donated them -- maybe it was MarketingMelodie as the online marketing specialist bills herself.


Just before the meetup started, I was staggering through Lowe's (warehouse stores disorient me 'til I'm sick, bad sick). I tried to see the distinctions among $99 toilets and ones that cost up to $500 but are still without a plasma screen and Internet connection. That's as far as I could tell, because the models were all mounted above my head on tilted shelves, and I feared the headline if an earthquake shook them down on me:

"Woman Dies in Potty Tumble"

I felt my way back to the customer service counter (weirdly vacant of customers), to learn that the company delivers for a fee, even if I hire them for installation. Separate trucks, separate crews, separate charges, I guess.

Preceding this plumbing excitement was a Twitter Chat on balancing your time between building an online presence and actually writing the damn thing. As usual I questioned the question. I'm all about the context and data.  The notion seemed to be that all the publishing industry and related personnel (agents) want all writers to have a burgeoning existence on the Internet. No data were offered.

Yes, I know you can cite some agents who advise this tactic. And I've read of a few authors whose publishers expect it. And do the majority? Throwing up a blog, Facebook page, Twittering, etc. seems fairly easy to start.  But wait!  These are for people who have already acquired an agent, sold a manuscript.  It's for established writers more than people trying to break in to the publishing industry as writers. Show me the data that say it helps beginners.

Here's what I think happened. When the Web became available (early 90s) many rushed to put up a "personal page," to link a few together for a site.  It was a fad until marketing people latched on. A new medium to exploit! They brought in businesses.  Internet use exploded.  People with products to sell shifted to pages/sites about products.  It seems to me that the same cycle repeats for each new social medium (SM) introduced.  Eventually, if you have anything to sell you were/are required (by social pressure) at least to have a site.

Then pundits (myself included) warbled praises of digital devotion, forgetting that we were watched by beginners as well as established writers.  No wonder newbies are so confused about platforms and which SM to use, and exhaust themselves trying to do it all. One at a time, it seems easy, at least to jump in. The work is in the long haul, and now in coordinating your broadcasts.

What is the result of all this self-promotion for people who want to become published authors or establish themselves as writers: a lot of time lost. Not all wasted, but nothing productive accomplished in terms of producing writing to sell.  SM tidbits are not credits in the writing world.  Tweeting is not writing poetry.  Maintaining a FaceBook fan page is not enticing people to buy your work.  It's all playing around.  "Time suck" is a term I see more often in discussions about this arena of battling media.

Sometimes I think a better term would be "social seduction."

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Why Editors Say No

Ring! Ring! "Hello, editing central."
"I can't find your rates anywhere on your website!"
"That's because it depends on the work, the complexity and length, and the kind of editing services desired."
I convinced the caller at the other end of the country to email her "short story" for me to look over.  It turned out to be a rather nice story poem, written in contemporary verse. I wrote back:

Hi REDACTED,

Your lovely story poem is something I would not edit. Poems are so personal and so much creative writing rather than something to convey information.  Although I might punctuate it differently, I wouldn't know if I were violating your intentions. In poetry, copyediting matters are as much the author's tool as rhyme and word selection.
 
I will offer this advice, however:  read the poem out loud, maybe even into a recorder, and listen for the places where you want the reader's voice to continue to the next line without a break, and where you want pauses or stops.  Take away any punctuation that causes a break where you don't want one, and add the appropriate marks where you want a pause or stop.
 
Punctuation ranges from "snatch a breath" (comma) to full stop (period).  Semicolons formally separate phrases that could stand alone as complete sentences; a colon indicates a medium pause but continuing in the same tone of voice because what follows is an explanation of what came before the colon.  Use ellipses and em dashes sparingly. An ellipse marks a place where the voice trails off and pauses before starting a new sentence, while an em dash is a pause like a comma, only longer and the voice continues in the same tone.  As Jay Leno says:  exactly the same, only different!
 
I see no capitalization problems, but have you seen poetry by ee cummings?  That is another poet's choice! 
 
My minimum fee for any service is two hours of my maximum charge, $70 per hour. So, if you still want me to edit it, that's what you'd have to pay.  I suspect you can tweak it yourself with the information above.
 
Please keep me in mind for your future editorial needs.
 
Yours truly,
 
Georganna Hancock
10725 Escobar Drive
San Diego CA 92124
858-571-5390
A Writer's Edge  http://www.writers-edge.info
Hancock Websites  http://www.hancockwebsites.com
 
Just yesterday, I had to explain why I would/could not help a woman with her novel--she wanted developmental editing (POV, pacing, plot) and only on a partially written manuscript.  If I could do that type of editing fiction, I told her, I would be writing novels myself! 

Quick! Somebody send some solid nonfiction so I can get all up in your words.

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Monday, March 01, 2010

Humor in Writing

I have a headache. Can't think. You'll have to amuse yourselves today with my storehouse of humor resources:

Sites Tagged 'Silly'
Oddly Specific
Bitstrips: Living with Shakespeare
Action Figures, Play Sets & Nodders - Archie McPhee
Andertoons Cartoons About Writer
Cat Boxes
LOLcats and other icanhascheezburger sites

Please respect the copyrights and licensing protocols.

And while I have your focus on humor, on April Fools Day, the #scribechat at 6 p.m. (PT) may have as a guest, the inimitable Ultimate Cheapskate, Jeff Yeager. The Twitter chat topic is writing humor. No foolin'!

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