Writing ResourcesAs a writer, you need to know your market. Are you writing an article, a book, or a screenplay? Is it fiction or nonfiction? Is it for adults or children? There are many questions you need answered before you are ready to submit your work for publication. What you write will determine who wants to read it, how it will be published, and how you will profit from it.
An important part of the writing experience is preparing yourself for your career. You need to understand your own expectations, where you can find editing assistance, how to know when your manuscript is ready for submission, whether you want the services of an agent, what follow-up is appropriate, how to handle acceptance or rejection, and many more issues.
Editing HelpsIf you use a computer, you are undoubtedly familiar with the "Spell Check" and "Grammar Check" programs that come with your word processor. These are great aids, but unless you are well-grounded in spelling and grammar to begin with, they can lead you astray. By all means use them, but do not use them exclusively. Many errors survive (and can be caused by) spelling and grammar check programs. The most egregious is perhaps Microsoft Word's pre-2007 preference for the phrase fragment "I is."
If you cannot afford a professional editor, at the very least have someone who knows grammar well edit your work: a good English teacher you had in the past, a relative or friend who has a good grasp of the language, or anyone else you can find who can help you put the finishing touches on your manuscript. If you can't think of anyone, consider calling your local university or college to see if any of their instructors would be willing to work with you. If not, they may be able to refer you to a student or associate who has outstanding grammar skills. It is also very important to ask as many people as possible to read your work and give you their opinions on content, flow, accuracy, and comprehensiveness. It takes a lot of eyes to catch all the errors and inconsistencies inherent in most articles and manuscripts.
Elements of StyleYou can improve your writing ability with a little hard work. University creative and/or technical writing classes are a good place to start. They provide you with hands-on reviews of your work, not only by the instructor, but by the class as well. Organized writing groups — online or off — are another resource.
If these resources are not available to you, there are many books on the market that can assist you. William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White wrote a great little book called The Elements of Style. On the inside cover of the book, Mr. Strunk states, "Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts." The cover blurb goes on to say, "Making 'every word tell' is what The Elements of Style is all about. … It will show you how to cut the deadwood out of your sentences; enliven your prose with the active voice; put statements in a positive form; approach style by way of plainness, simplicity, orderliness, [and] sincerity."
Noah Lukeman has written a number of books geared at helping writers improve their craft. One national best-seller is titled, The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways To Bring Fiction To Life. In this book he covers such topics as characterization, suspense, conflict, context, transcendence, and "the journey" of writing a book. He further points out that one of the purposes of his book is to inspire writers with new ideas. Another of Mr. Lukeman's books is titled, The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile. Among other things, this book instructs readers on how to "avoid common manuscript errors" and "attract the attention of agents and editors." His latest book, A Dash of Style, deals with "the art and mastery of punctuation."
Your local bookstore or Amazon.com can provide you with many other good books on style. But all these resources can only give you a good start. Once you have the tools of your craft well in hand, you are off on your own imaginative journey.
Illustration and Graphic Art ResourcesHow do you find a good illustrator or graphic artist? A good place to start is the Graphic Artists' Guild. The GAG has lists of qualified artists and illustrators with a wide variety of styles. The site also has information about hiring artists and standard practices.
Typing "illustrators in (name of state)" into Google will also bring up a wealth of information right at your fingertips. It will provide names of individuals and companies in the selected states, and even samples of their work. Most of the sites also break the search down by cities. It may take a little surfing through some of the larger states, but it is all there. So if you don't have a gifted artist in your family or among your friends (and I mean "gifted," mediocre doesn't cut it with the public), try some of the sources online. Also, don't forget the yellow pages. Professional illustrators and graphic artists will be listed there as well. Just be sure you check them out before you sign on the dotted line. Get references. Look at a lot of their work. Is the quality consistent? And among other things, understand what they charge, how they want to be paid, and whether they can meet your printing deadlines.
Plagiarism and Legal IssuesThe meaning of plagiarism is fairly obvious: you cannot use someone else's material and claim it as your own! Merriam-Webster defines plagiarism as follows: "to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own: use (another's production) without crediting the source." In other words, plagiarism is lifting text from one book and using it in another book and not citing the resource or giving credit where credit is due.
There was a much anticipated 17-year-old writer who received a $500,000 advance for three books. When the first book came out, the very first thing the critics noticed was that there were sections of the book that were obvious rewrites of a book by another popular author for teen girls. Again, this is plagiarism: taking a well-worded concept from someone's book and rewording it in your book, even though it is obvious where you got the idea. Frankly, if you were to write a story about a swashbuckling swordsman in the future that saves a damsel in distress from an armored black knight and an evil emperor, people would tell you that you had just written the book Star Wars. And that would be plagiarism.
When you write, you also have to be concerned about the issue of legal liability. You can't just say anything you want about someone or something. In the movie Born Yesterday, actress Melanie Griffith sang a song based on the twelve days of Christmas. The song helped her remember the amendments to the Constitution, and each stanza ended with the phrase, "And just say any crazy thing you like." But that's not the nature of the First Amendment's freedom of speech. You can't say "any crazy thing you like" without incurring legal repercussions. If you are going to make an accusation, it has to be based on fact or you will be sued for slander. Keep in mind; you have the moral obligation to be responsible for the things you write.
Here is another concept LDS writers need to consider. If you write a contraversial book about Church history, the prophets, Church leadership, or the dogma of the Church, you may be penalized. Free speech does not mean free from consequences. People can't say "any crazy thing they like" without substantiation, and the Church has the right to respond to any allegation. It brings to mind a time in the 1970s and early 1980s when some members of the Church were excommunicated for publicizing the undocumented concept of a heavenly mother. Because there is little doctrine or and no scripture on this subject, the authors felt the leaders of the Church could not disagree with their beliefs. But it is the right of the Lord's latter-day prophets to establish the doctrine and dogma of the Church and to defend the Church from violations of its integrity. Our prophets speak in the name of God. Therefore, whenever you write a book for the LDS market that promotes a certain lifestyle or doctrine, and you cannot back up your assertions with fact, scripture, and/or the words of the prophets, you need to be aware that your book may be declared invalid by the Church.
Resources for WritersThe only way to become a writer is to write! There are many free resources available to assist writers in their work, and most of them can be accessed on the Internet. (Once you identify sites that you use often, be sure to add them to your "favorites" or "bookmarks" so that you will not have to hunt them down each time.) Some of the more popular sites are:
There are many other sites on the Internet that may assist you with your writing. Do a little "surfing." As marvelous as the Internet is, however, be sure you have the essential reference books in your library: a good dictionary (we've already discussed this); a good thesaurus (The Random House Thesaurus College Edition is great, as is Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus in dictionary form); and multiple grammar books. Some of the grammar books we like are the New World English Grammar Handbook, by Webster; Handbook for Writers, by Prentice Hall; and for quick look-ups, the 21st Century Grammar Handbook, edited by the Princeton Language Institute and Joseph Hollander. Rhyming dictionaries also come in handy at times, especially if you write poetry.
Technical WritingWe are addressing technical writing in this book because there are many members of the LDS Church who may have the opportunity to make a living with this form of writing.
Technical writing can be quite fulfilling, but it is very different from fiction and traditional nonfiction. It is used in ad copy and marketing, and in everything from a user's manual for a particular product to writing marketing materials for the product's sale and distribution. Manuals describing careers, employment, policies, and procedures are all written by technical writers. This form of writing may comprise something as short as four pages of operating instructions for an iron or be hundreds of pages long for a very complicated software product.
To be a good technical writer, you need to comprehend the jargon of the industry you are writing for and the explicit nature of its products. You need to understand how people are going to perceive those products so that you can write clear, concise descriptions of the products. use and operation. Technical writing is all about comprehension, but not necessarily about education. It has to help you learn how to operate a piece of machinery, not teach you why the piece of machinery operates. However, if the owner of the product wishes to go into that type of detail in a separate publication, technical writing would be involved with that too. The only thing the two types of writing have in common is that they both help the reader understand something.
Courses in technical writing are taught by most colleges and universities and even some high schools. Online, organizations such as WorldWideLearn, the University of Phoenix in some locations, DeVry University, rgilearning.com, and The American Management Association teach courses in technical writing. You may also want to learn about the Society for Technical Communication.
Writing InstructionYou can learn a lot from books. Even author Stephen King has written a book on how to write. Here are some suggested books that you may enjoy:
You can also learn a lot about how to write from the Internet. Check out the following sites:
PseudonymsIf you are tempted to write under a pseudonym, carefully weigh the benefits versus the consequences. Modern readers consider authors to be celebrities; they want to meet and know their favorite authors. On the other hand, your subject matter may be controversial to such a degree that your personal safety is in jeopardy. There are cases when a pseudonym makes sense — but those cases are rare, and pseudonyms should generally be avoided.
Pseudonyms became popular in the 1800s as talented female writers vied for recognition and women became a substantial consumer market. As consumers, women wanted to read books written by women — but at the time, most books were written by men. As writers, women were not considered marketable, regardless of their talent. These issues were overcome through the use of pseudonyms. For example, Jane Austen chose to go by the title "A Lady" when her first novel was published, and George Eliot (author of Middlemarch and other classics) was a pseudonym for Mary Ann Evans. Charlotte, Anne, and Emily Bronte also went incognito as the brothers Currer, Acton, and Ellis Bell. It was generally an all male world in those days, so a lot of female authors (especially in the romance market) wrote under pseudonyms. It wasn't until the 1960s and 1970s that women were regularly recognized in their own right and by their own names. Today, the situation has reversed; men are writing romance novels under female pseudonyms to compete with the many successful female authors in the genre.
On the other hand, author Salmon Rushdie showed a lot of intestinal fortitude by not writing under a pseudonym when he produced Satanic Verses. He undoubtedly anticipated that once his book hit the streets, death warrants would be issued for him — but he chose to stand behind his words with courage.
The problem with pseudonyms is that they either complicate or limit the publisher's ability to promote an author's book. Usually a pseudonym is used to hide the author's identity, which means the author is unavailable for personal appearances such as interviews and book signings. Reporters and interviewers dislike dealing with people they do not and cannot know. This substantially limits a publisher's promotional options.
The advantages of a pseudonym are primarily branding. For example, few people know Bob Keeshan, but most people recognize the character he played for many years on television — Captain Kangaroo. Brand recognition substantially improves book sales. In this case, the pseudonym represents a real persona. Members of the media would not be interviewing Bob Keeshan, they would be interviewing Captain Kangaroo.
An uncommon but usually acceptable use of a pseudonym occurs when a popular author begins to write in another genre. An example of this is Bob Mayer, an author of military and espionage novels who entered the world of science fiction with his series Area 51. Rather than jeopardize his military novel fan base, or taint his potential science fiction fan base with his military novel reputation, he chose to write the novels under the pseudonym Robert Doherty. Generally, a publisher will only take this risk (due to the difficulty of marketing the book) when the book is well enough written that it can stand on its own. This is a privilege usually reserved for experienced authors.
Simply put, an author (especially a new author) should advocate the use of a pseudonym only if there is a very good reason. Death threats and brand recognition are both very good reasons. The romantic notion of writing under a pseudonym or the desire to not be known as an author are not. You are trusting your publisher to use his or her best effort to make your book a success — insisting on a pseudonym when none is needed jeopardizes that effort.