Practice, And You Will Excel!

paywexcelI like to think, even though I turned 40 this year, that my best writing years are still ahead of me.

But I have to admit that, so far, my very best writing years were–gulp!–more than a decade ago, when I was a roving columnist for the newspaper in Dubuque, Iowa.

Sometimes you flip through your old clips and wince, thinking, “How could I ever have written so awkwardly?” or “Why didn’t the editor save me from myself?” But when I nostalgically leaf through the yellowing clippings of the stories I wrote during those three years in Dubuque, I smile. Okay, it s a wistful smile (the clippings are yellowing and I am 40, …

Mental Illness: Describing It Can Be Difficult

mentalinessIn the deep shade, at the farther end of the room, a figure ran backwards and forwards. What it was, whether beast or human being, one could not at first sight tell; it groveled, seemingly, on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal; but it was covered with clothing, and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and facet

In 1847, Jane Eyre’s description of the madwoman in Rochester’s attic was consistent with the popular conception of mental illness. Since then, the treatment and perceptions of mental illness have changed dramatically, posing challenges to writers of both nonfiction and fiction.

Language. One out of every …

The Best Poetry Takes Courage

apoetryI wasn’t thinking about poetry when I wrote this about courage in my journalism text Living Ethics:

As any war veteran will tell you, fear is a natural or logical response when you confront a potentially significant or catastrophic threat. In fact, fear lends meaning and substance to the words courage and bravery because a courageous and brave act suggests that a person did not succumb to fear when the stakes or consequences warranted.

But courage is part of poetry’s creative process, too.

Just as beginning poets overcome fear of writing or rejection, they quickly encounter new terrors. They realize they must share some significant lesson or truth with readers. They must face and make …

Real Loss Can Pay Real Dividends

Two years ago, the floodwaters that ravaged homes and businesses throughout the Midwest also left their mark on many of us in supposedly safe bedroom communities. Our losses were so minimal in comparison to those close to the river that, even now, complaining feels shallow.

Still, loss is relative. And what I lost in three feet of muddied, basement floodwater felt devastating: Our children’s baby books, my wedding album, my college yearbooks, such irreplaceable Christmas ornaments as the cookie-dough replicas of our sons’ miniature handprints.

But it was when I opened the bottom drawers of two metal file cabinets that real despair set in. Where once lay 15 years’ worth of magazine and newspaper …

Negotiation Makes A Major Difference

nmamWhen I edited a small regional magazine, I once asked a writer who had contributed articles to numerous national slicks if she would be interested in writing for me. I stammered out a figure that nearly choked in my throat because it was so low – $250 for a 2,000-word article. “Is that okay?” I asked.

Picking up on my discomfort, the writer replied: “That’s fine. Frankly, I’m more interested in getting good clips than in payment.”

Can you guess the first thought that flickered in my mind?

a) Delight that I secured the services of a first-rate writer.

b) Relief that she accepted the rate of pay so easily.

c) Excitement over a story …

Freelancing For Moneymakers

flcfmmYou’ve taken the plunge. You have given up other employment and are now, officially, a full-time freelance writer.

Take a morning to revel in the free part. Linger over a second cup of coffee and the morning paper. And when you’ve read all the editorials, most of the comics and jeered at the want ads, put your mind to the lance.

Unlike the tool of a mercenary soldier of the Middle Ages, the lance for us isn’t so much our equipment, but our writing and organizational skills. As with itinerant soldiers of old, most of our job is keeping the lance and ourselves in condition to hit our targets.

Setting Up Shop

Begin with arranging …