Tags: Annette Fix, becoming sedentary, creative writing, follow your passion, gaining weight, it's never too late, Jack LaLane dies at 96, let our muse out to play, make exercise a priority, practice your craft, strengthen your writing skills, use it or lose it
“The only way you can hurt the body is not use it. Inactivity is the killer and, remember, it’s never too late.”
Jack LaLane, an American fitness guru, died Sunday afternoon at 96 years old and left behind a legacy, motivating millions of people since his first gym in 1936. This is a man who lived and loved his passion for health and fitness for more than 75 years.
So, how does his life relate to writing? I’m glad you asked. Because Jack LaLane’s “use it or lose it” and “it’s never too late” philosophies can be directly applied to your life as a writer.
Let me count the ways:
1. If you take care of your wellness by keeping an active lifestyle…
You live longer, with a better quality of life, and you can write more! This is something that has hit close to home recently. As I write this blog post, I can feel my back brace hugging my squishy muffin top. But that feeling, as restrictive and uncomfortable as it is, sure beats being flat on my back for a week, alternating between screaming like a wounded animal with every passing spasm and lying nearly comatose from a tablet cocktail of Motrin, Flexeril, Percocet, and Zanax. How did I end up like this? One word: atrophy.
Over the last ten years that I’ve been writing, my activity level has dropped considerably and I’ve become sedentary—hour-after-hour, day-after-day, I sit at the computer. At one point, I put on a pedometer, just to see how much I moved in a day. I discovered that on some days I walk less than 200 steps. What has that done to me? My weight has increased by 30 lbs. and my muscles have lost tone, strength, and flexibility. How did I hurt my back? I spent six hours in the mall doing Christmas returns. How embarrassing is that?! I wish I could say: While cycling during the eighty-seventh mile of a triathlon, my wheel came off my bike and I crashed into a tree. That would be a much better reason to be in a back brace.
Jack was right: Use it or lose it. I don’t have to train for a triathlon, but I do need to make exercise a priority and a regular part of my daily routine, not use it as a reward when I get my computer work done. Because it’s never done. There will always be another chapter/article/interview/manuscript to write/edit/publish/promote.
2. If you keep your mind sharp…
You can continue to write until you take your last breath. Ok, so obviously the body needs exercise, but so does the brain. While spending time in South Florida, a retirement landscape of aluminum walkers, I had the opportunity to people-watch in a completely different demographic than the helicopter-mom/Hummer3 set in The OC beach suburbia in California. And, after observing the locals, I can’t decide which is more scary: having a sharp mind trapped in a decaying, shrinky-dink body, or having an atrophied raisin-brain in an old, but functional body.
The thought of being in either condition in my golden years scares the crap outta me. I mean, I’ve had my share of raisin-brain days lately, but I think that’s because I’ve stopped doing something I’ve done every year for the last 20+ years: take classes to learn something new. I’ve always been an education and information junkie and in addition to countless craft-of-writing classes, I’ve taken classes to learn Photoshop, Tai Chi, kickboxing, archery, picture framing, knitting, bellydancing, henna tattooing, beading, tole painting, stand-up comedy, improv, American Sign Language, Italian, Zumba, and djembe drumming. Mental deterioration happens the same way muscles become atrophied.
Jack was right: Use it or lose it. I think it’s all part of finding balance in life—making time to learn something new, different, interesting. I used to sit down with a highlighter as soon as the community education brochure came in the mail and mark all the classes I wanted to take. It’s not a luxury, for long-term mental health, it’s necessary.
3. If you let your muse out to play…
She will continue to create. But if you neglect her, your creativity will weaken just as significantly as any other muscle. Sadly, this I know. I’m embarrassed to tell you how long it has taken me to write this blog post. If you guessed more than an hour, keep guessing (and multiply that hour by four). I’ve never been a fast writer. My internal editor edits and re-edits every sentence before moving on to the next. But when I was working on The Break-Up Diet: A Memoir, I’d get into “The Zone”—that place where my husband kisses my forehead in the morning and goes off to work, then returns later to find me unshowered, still in pjs, still writing, and I say, “Oh, you came home for lunch?” and he replies, “It’s dinnertime.” It’s been years since I’ve exercised my creative muscles (writing articles and interviews, editing and teaching don’t count to my muse).
Jack was right: Use it or lose it. The worst thing a writer can lose is her creative flow. It circles back to finding balance again. Move. Learn. Create. All three are equally important and need equal attention.
When it comes down to it, Jack LaLane was right. It’s never too late to take care of your body, mind, and soul. He has proven that if you take care of yourself and pursue your passion—both lead to a long and happy life.
Tags: civil rights movement, montgomery bus boycott, rosa parks, strong female characters, writing female characters
Don’t let your female characters be defined by weakness. Strong characters make history and enduring stories. Fifty-four years ago today, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white man. (You go, girl! Sit down for what you believe in!) Her action set in motion the Montgomery Bus Boycott, making Rosa an icon of resistance, and catapulting the Civil Rights Movement into the national spotlight. How’s that for driving the plot with deliberate character actions?
Sometimes it’s too easy let a character get whisked away by her circumstances. But, by letting her become a passive victim, follower, pawn, or the dreaded token arm-candy, you lose the opportunity to drive the story proactively from a uniquely feminine perspective and you risk creating a character that is unlikeable to readers because of her weakness.
Do you want your female protagonist wielding a machete against Jason Voorhees (scary Friday the 13th hockey-mask guy) or do you want her running and tripping through the woods drenched in her own fear and snot? Think strong. Write strong.
So, maybe your story doesn’t require your female character to go Rambette on Black Friday wearing a tubetop of AK bullets; you can still create a character who is smart and capable as well as flawed. Think multi-dimensional. No paper dolls allowed. You must give her something to believe in. Something to stand for. Something that comes from the core of her being. Something that will resonate with readers.
Character-Driven Plot 101:
- Give your protagonist a goal.
- Present her with obstacles to overcome.
- Make her take deliberate actions to reach her goal.
- Show the consequences of her actions.
- Allow her to grow (arc) from her experiences.
- Bring closure to her story by revealing the outcome (good or bad).
BTW, you get bonus points for making her a real superhero like Rosa Parks.
Dear Readers: What challenges do you have when creating your female characters?
Tags: 101 Best Websites for Writers, Annette Fix, article submission, freelance writing tips, how to write a great query letter, print magazines, submit to online magazines, The Break-Up Diet: A Memoir, WOW Women on Writing, Writer's Digest
For the last two years, I’ve been Senior Editor at WOW! Women On Writing, an online magazine written by, for, and about women in the publishing industry. During my editorship, WOW! was selected for the Writer’s Digest list of “101 Best Websites for Writers” in 2008 and 2009.
This month, I announced I’m stepping down from the position to focus on my own projects: marketing my book The Break-Up Diet: A Memoir, increasing my speaking appearances at writer’s conferences and organizations, and working one-on-one with writers enrolled in my workshops and coaching programs. (And yes, starting my next book.)
But I wanted to share with freelancers a few tips I’ve compiled after reading thousands of query letters that have crossed my cyber desk.
I’ve taken a couple questions I’ve been asked and used them to present my tips:
Q: What do you consistently see that bothers you most when reading submissions?
A: My biggest irritation is when writers query without taking the time to read the publication and familiarize themselves with the content. WOW! is very obviously a women’s writing magazine focused on the craft; yet, I received countless queries about health, beauty, and fashion. Don’t submit fiction and personal essays when you see WOW! only publishes how-to articles and interviews.
Freelance Market Research 101
- Study every section of the magazine to see what type of content they publish BEFORE you query.
- Check the word count.
WOW! articles are content rich and more like print magazines in length. The standard 500-600 word online article is about 1500 words too short.
- Request/review the submission guidelines of both online and print magazines to find out what the editors expect.
- Check the editor’s desk section or masthead for the name of the person you should address in your query.
WOW!, a publication FOR women, clearly run BY women, often receives queries addressed to “Dear Sir.” It’s an immediate pass because it shows the writer is lazy and careless.
Query Submission 101
- Run spell check, especially if you are sending an e-query. Don’t let the informal feeling of email keep you from sending a polished, professional query.
- Read your email query aloud before you send it. You’d be surprised how much the spell check misses.
Do whatever you need to do to make sure your query is clean—correct spelling, solid grammar, and proper punctuation. If a writer doesn’t take the time and effort to make sure her query is immaculate, editors know she’ll be just as careless with her submission.
- Bring something to the table.
WOW! often receives email from writers who say they would like to write for the magazine, but have no idea what they have to offer. Telling an editor you are a writer who wants to write is not the same thing as showing an editor you can actually do it. Know your expertise or figure it out, so you can bring something to the table. Editors are always looking for fresh voices, but you must be able to provide content that has value to the publication’s readers.
Q: After a day spent delving into the slush pile, can you tell us what compels you to accept one piece of writing over another?
A: At WOW!, there isn’t a slush pile. All queries and submissions are given equal attention and considered on their own merit. No matter which publication you query—online or print, you will be competing with freelancers who have queried on the same topic. The writer who best conveys how she will execute the proposed idea gets the assignment.
Questions an editor asks herself during your query evaluation:
- Is the topic of interest to our readers?
- Does the freelancer have the chops (expertise/ability) to write the article she is proposing?
- Does she have a great hook and a fresh spin on a familiar topic?
- Has she fully fleshed-out her idea with an overview or outline of her intended article?
- Has she listed her sources, or prospective sources for quotes?
- Does she have a strong voice?
- Has she come up with a unique title?
The magazine may choose not to use the title of your submission for the published article, but if it’s memorable—like “How to Hog-tie an Agent”—it keeps the query on our minds, rather than it getting lost in the mix with all the other queries titled: “How to Get an Agent.”
Queries should include clips or some sort of writing sample. At the very least, a link to a blog post written like an article. If you are serious about freelancing, you should have a blog that showcases your writing ability and includes a page of links to your published clips.
Show us that you know how to structure an article for the web:
- short paragraphs
- bullet lists
- content-rich article with no excessive wordiness
Don’t send out anything less than your best work. If you expect to get paid, make sure what you write is worth the money.
Tags: Annette Fix, grammar mistakes, grammar tips
When it comes to grammar, word usage, and the finer points of writing (or speaking) the English language, there are so many rules to remember—and so many opportunities to make mistakes.
Here are a few basic tips to help you understand the more frequent causes of slips, trips, and face-plant falls in your writing.
Lie/Lay/Lain and Lay/Laid/Laid
This is one of the top 10 most common mistakes.
INCORRECT: I like reading more than laying around watching TV.
CORRECT: I like reading more than lying around watching TV.
PRESENT TENSE Lie/Lay
Lie means to rest. (The dog lies in the yard.) It’s an intransitive verb and doesn’t need a direct object. You can’t lie something; however, you can lay something.
Lay is a transitive verb and means to place or to put. Use lay when you can substitute the word set. (She lays the book across her lap.)
PAST TENSE Lay/Laid
The past tense of lie is also lay. So, this is what those sentences would look like in past tense:
The dog lay in the yard.
She laid the book across her lap.
PAST PARTICIPLE Lain/Laid
The past participle of lie is lain.
The dog has lain in the same spot in the yard for a week. (Yes, she’s still alive, it’s just her favorite spot.)
The past participle of lay is laid.
She has laid the book across her lap at 3pm every day since Sunday.
The best way to avoid making a lie/lay mistake is to memorize how the two verbs function:
I want to lie on the beach. I lay on the beach last Saturday. I have often lain on the beach.
Lay the book on the table. She laid the book on the table. She has laid the book on the table many times.
Subject – Predicate(Verb) Agreement
There are 12 different rules of subject/predicate agreement, but I’ll only cover the most common rule that trips many writers.
INCORRECT: The cost of basic necessities such as gasoline and groceries have risen exponentially.
CORRECT: The cost of basic necessities such as gasoline and groceries has risen exponentially.
It’s common to mistakenly pair a plural predicate with a singular subject (or vice versa) when the subject and predicate are separated by a phrase containing singular and/or plural nouns.
In the sample sentence above, the cost is the subject that has risen exponentially. Always keep your eye on the subject.
Who vs. Whom
INCORRECT: Whom shall I say is calling?
CORRECT: Who shall I say is calling?
This rule is easy to understand when you take a minute to mentally rearrange the sentence and exchange the who with she and whom with her.
Who = she
Whom = her
The correct choice is who because she is calling.
It also works with whoever/whomever.
INCORRECT: Tell the story to whoever you want.
CORRECT: Tell the story to whomever you want.
Whoever = she
Whomever = her
The correct choice is whomever because you want to tell the story to her.
Between You and I vs. Between You and Me
INCORRECT: Everyone overheard the disagreement between you and I.
CORRECT: Everyone overheard the disagreement between you and me.
The first sentence may sound correct, but between is a preposition and prepositions must be followed by an object. (Remember the preposition tree from grade school? A preposition can be in a tree, on a tree, near a tree, under a tree, over a tree, for a tree, etc.)
I is a subject/nominative pronoun (as are he, she, we, and they).
Objective pronouns: me, you, him, her, us, and them follow a preposition.
INCORRECT: Everyone overheard the disagreement between you and they.
CORRECT: Everyone overheard the disagreement between you and them.
Me vs. I
I know… You thought we covered that confusing usage in the last example. Well, not quite. Some people automatically assume that if the sentence sounds more formal, it must be the correct word choice. Wrong.
INCORRECT: He brought pizza for Angela and I.
CORRECT: He brought pizza for Angela and me.
Again, think about the preposition tree. In this sentence, Angela and me are direct objects. (Hint: Remove Angela, keep the pizza for yourself, and the correct word choice will be obvious.)
Another grammar slip often occurs in sentences when than or as is used.
INCORRECT: She is smarter than me.
CORRECT: She is smarter than I.
In a comparison using than or as when the last portion of the sentence is dropped, just tack on the missing words and the proper word choice will be obvious.
She is smarter than I am.
With a little practice and a true love for the written word, grammar really can be fun!
I had an early start. On Saturday mornings, in between my favorite cartoons, the 1970’s Schoolhouse Rock! commercials took my Generation-X mind on a musical grammar train with songs like “Conjunction Junction,” “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here,” and “Verb: That’s What’s Happening.” As a matter of fact, I remember having quite a crush on Verb Man.
But I’ll save you from listening to me reminisce while singing the lyrics; instead, I’ll share a list of 31 random writing tips emailed to me by a fellow scribe. I’m sure it’s making the rounds like the urban legend about the tourist’s missing kidney.
1. Verbs HAS to agree with their subjects.
2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
3. And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.
4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
5. Avoid clichés like the plague. (They’re old hat.)
6. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.
7. Be more or less specific.
8. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.
9. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
10. No sentence fragments.
11. Contractions aren’t necessary and shouldn’t be used.
12. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
13. Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
14. One should NEVER generalize.
15. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
16. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
17. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
18. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
19. The passive voice is to be ignored.
20. Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.
21. Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.
22. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
23. Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth-shaking ideas.
24. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”
25. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it correctly.
26. Puns are for children, not groan readers.
27. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
28. Even IF a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
29. Who needs rhetorical questions?
30. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
And the last one…
31. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.
Now, get on that grammar train!
And for a fun grammar resource, check out Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips Blog.
Tags: Annette Fix, writing about sex
You see it portrayed everywhere—magazines, television, and billboard advertisements for clothing, perfume, and items like cars and hamburgers. Movies, television shows, and even children’s cartoons and video games are full of sexual images and allusions. American society has more sexual references than any other country in the world, and nowhere else will you find such mixed messages.
Adult films are bad. Erotic literature is good. Exotic dancing is bad. Nude modeling for art is good. Sex with someone you love (outside of wedlock) is bad. Sex within marriage (even if you can barely tolerate your mate) is good.
How do these mixed messages affect the characters in your story and the story itself? No matter which direction you choose to go and what specific choice you make—in language, imagery, and character motivation—you are likely to offend someone’s moral sensibilities.
Where does an author’s responsibility lie? With the organic nature of her story and voice of her characters? Or with protecting the sensitivities of the reader?
How much, as writers, should we censor our content?
Tags: Annette Fix, choosing a book title
For some writers, when it comes to choosing a title, the perfect title either rings out loud and true like a single gunshot, or the various possibilities give off faint snaps, crackles, and pops like a bowlful of milk-wet Rice Krispies.
No matter how the idea comes to you, you can never underestimate the power of a title. Think of the book “Gone wIth the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell. Would the title have been as epic and metaphorical and perfectly suited to the book if it were “Those Damn Yankees,” “Plantation Blues,” “That Man is Making Me Nuts,” “Georgia Lost,” or any other conceivable title? Of course not. The title and the tone of the content should be in harmony.
Titling a book is not a science. Unfortunately, there is no exact formula that will result in the perfect title for your book. For me, it’s visceral, driven completely by a feeling. My titles are born in the exact moment the book idea is formed. For other writers I know, the book can be completed, revised, edited, and ready for publication, and still no title has made itself known.
When that happens, there are a few tips to help the process along. Start by brainstorming any and every idea that seems to fit your story. Consider the characters in your story. Is your book about “The Godfather,” “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” “The Joy Luck Club”? Think of the metaphor in your story. Is your book about taking life “Bird by Bird,” or the path not taken in “A Thousand Country Roads”? Examine your plot. Is your story about “The Hot Zone,” “The Caine Mutiny”? Is there a particular line of dialogue or narrative that stands out in the story? “Catch-22” anyone?
If you belong to a critique group or an online discussion board, run your list of book title ideas by the members and ask for additional suggestions. Narrow your list down to the top five and then approach your local librarians and book store employees for their opinions. This process may not cure your book title indecision, but it may help bring you closer to the perfect title.
In the end, it is still like naming a child. And you should choose the name wisely for that is how your book will be known.
Now, just for fun, I’ve added a list that was forwarded to me in an email of “Children’s Book Titles That Never Made The Cut”:
1. You Are Different and That’s Bad
2. The Boy Who Died From Eating All His Vegetables
3. Dad’s New Wife Robert
4. Fun four-letter Words to Know and Share
5. Hammers, Screwdrivers and Scissors: An I-Can-Do-It Book
6. The Kids’ Guide to Hitchhiking
7. Kathy Was So Bad Her Mom Stopped Loving Her
8. Curious George and the High-Voltage Fence
9. All Cats Go to Hell
10. The Little Sissy Who Snitched
11. Some Kittens Can Fly
12. That’s it, I’m Putting You Up for Adoption
14. The Magic World Inside the Abandoned Refrigerator
15. Garfield Gets Feline Leukemia
16. The Pop-Up Book of Human Anatomy
17. Strangers Have the Best Candy
18. Whining, Kicking and Crying to Get Your Way
19. You Were an Accident
20. Things Rich Kids Have, But You Never Will
21. Pop! Goes The Hamster…And Other Great Microwave Games
22. The Man in the Moon Is Actually Satan
23. Your Nightmares Are Real
25. Eggs, Toilet Paper, and Your School
26. Why Can’t Mr. Fork and Ms. Electrical Outlet Be Friends?
27. Places Where Mommy and Daddy Hide Neat Things
28. Daddy Drinks Because You Cry
Of course, those silly titles are all intended to be tongue-in-cheek, but any of them could actually be a good title for a humor book.
So, tell me, how do you choose your titles? Is it easy or difficult?
Tags: Annette Fix, elements of fiction, how to have a best selling novel, The Writer's Little Helper
There are certain things readers want when they invest their precious time reading a novel. So many things compete for their leisure time and attention: family and friends, other activities like watching television and movies, participating in sports, tending hobbies, and traveling. It takes something special to make a novel stand out and propel it onto the bestseller lists.
But what is the key to making your book a bestseller?
Give readers what they want.
So, what do they want? And how do you go about giving it to them? Fortunately, James V. Smith Jr., the author of The Writer’s Little Helper, has the answers and provides a comprehensive list to help you unlock the secrets of successful fiction. He explains how you can start by analyzing and understanding the 21 key traits that exist in current bestselling fiction:
Appeal to the intellect. To you, the writer, these keys refer to how you research, organize, and structure your story. These are the large-scale mechanics of a novel.
- Utility (writing about things that people will use in their lives)
- Information (facts people must have to place your writing in context)
- Substance (the relative value or weight in any piece of writing)
- Focus (the power to bring an issue into clear view)
- Logic (a coherent system for making your points)
Appeal to the emotions. These are ways you engage the reader to create buzz. Do these things right, and people will talk about your novel, selling it to others.
- A sense of connection (the power of personal involvement)
- A compelling style (writing in a way that engages)
- A sense of humor (wit or at least irony)
- Simplicity (clarity and focus on a single idea)
- Entertainment (the power to get people to enjoy what you write)
- A fast pace (the ability to make your writing feel like a quick read)
- Imagery (the power to create pictures with words)
- Creativity (the ability to invent)
- Excitement (writing with energy that infects a reader with your own enthusiasm)
Appeal to the soul. With these traits, you examine whether your writing matters, whether it lasts, whether it elevates you to the next level as a novelist.
- Comfort (writing that imparts a sense of well-being)
- Happiness (writing that gives joy)
- Truth (or at least fairness)
- Writing that provokes (writing to make people think or act)
- Active, memorable writing (the poetry in your prose)
- A sense of Wow! (the wonder your writing imparts on a reader)
- Transcendence (writing that elevates with its heroism, justice, beauty, honor)
Now, that you have all the keys, it’s time to unlock the doors to fiction success and give your readers exactly what they want from your novel.