Friday, February 27, 2009
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Thursday, February 19, 2009
_An old recipe for rabbit stew begins with this instruction: “First, catch a rabbit.” The writer of this recipe believes in starting at the beginning, and one can assume that she also referenced dressing and butchering before moving on to the cooking part. This recipe points up the necessity of determining the scope and detail of your article when you try to answer the question, “How do I make a rabbit stew?”
_Today’s cooks do not usually have time for a recipe that starts with an explanation of catching and butchering a rabbit. Some will already be proficient in those skills and want to get right to the culinary details. Others will only be willing to cook rabbit meat if it comes wrapped in plastic and clearly labeled “rabbit.” Likewise, any number of people may be interested in an article that tells how to refinish an old rocking chair, but only the novices in the group will need an explanation of sandpaper grades and varieties of wood cleaning chemicals. If you want to help people with minimal or no skills while retaining the attention of your experienced readers, explain how to catch rabbits or how to select varnish in separate articles. Writing a set of articles that educate people at various skill levels not only enhances your portfolio, but it also increases your credibility as an expert in the field. Every time you write an article about a new task, whether it is a recipe or a woodworking project, you can refer readers to your ancillary articles that constitute a complete education in your field of expertise!
_Every how-to article has the same basic elements:
_You can give the article extra zip by listing a few tips for success, but be sure the tips are truly related to the process you are describing. Sprinkle nifty tips for success through all the articles where you build your reputation for cooking or woodworking.
_When writing articles about cooking, a list of tools is not always necessary. Most people who cook already have saucepans and measuring spoons. However, as Alton Brown has demonstrated in his television program, you could make a career out of writing articles about how to select cookware. People who want to refinish furniture or repair a lawnmower are more likely to need a list of tools appropriate for the task, and novices will need guidance when purchasing their first tools.
_Whether you are teaching the preparation of rabbit stew or a good method for refinishing old cabinets, a list of materials is essential. The reader can use the list for shopping and for setting out all the materials prior to starting the task. Cooks consider this preparation so critical to success that they invented the term mis en place to refer to the value of having all the ingredients out and ready before cooking begins. Every skill benefits from the practice.
_If you really are an expert, do not make the mistake of thinking it will be easy to write the instructions. It is common for people experienced in any skill to say, “I could do this in my sleep.” This cliché encapsulates the truth that if you know a great deal about any task, you complete a lot of the steps without thinking about them. Write the instructions as a numbered list. Put it away at least overnight. Then try to complete the task by doing only what you have written on the list. As you discover gaps in the instructions, add them to the list. If you follow this process two or three times, you will give your reader a much more reliable guide to success. If you can persuade a friend to try following your instructions before you submit the article, you will have the opportunity to improve your article further.
_Any parent who has tried to assemble a bicycle on Christmas Eve will attest to the value of instructions that actually work. You can build a loyal following if your articles help your readers to achieve their goals. When writing “how-to” articles, the success of your readers builds your success!
(c) 2009 Katherine Harms
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Friday, February 13, 2009
How to Turn Personal Experience into an Article
-One of my first successes as a writer was an article about my experience learning to sail. The first time I ever sailed on a monohull sailboat, I was completely flummoxed when the boat heeled over. I thought sailboats sailed across the water the way a car travels on a road – upright. It took a few months and numerous experiences that bordered on terror for me to adjust. An article about my adjustment from fearful landlubber to giddy sailor garnered my first reader responses. It was the food of the gods.
-I got my first writing “job” when a friend decided to start a boating magazine. Based in Omaha, the magazine did not have a lot of subscribers who sailed. As a startup, the magazine could not afford compensation for its writers, but I yearned to find out if anyone would read what I could write. I wrote for love and for the adventure and just to see if I could do it. My second article, “Living on Tilt” incorporated my initial fear of heeling with a little humor and concluded with a testimonial to the pure joy of sailing. Readers responded with delight and asked if I would write more such stories. Would I!
-Personal experience can be the foundation of many great articles. A single adventure or personal trial may be the meat of the whole article. One of my best-liked articles told the story of how my husband and I learned the importance of knowing weather signs. The article chronicled our survival, confessed our mistakes, and summed up our lessons learned. In another one I told about the first time I cooked Thanksgiving dinner in a marine galley. I found my first paying market with an article about the way forgiveness heals in a family crisis. Humor and pathos are as valuable in articles as they are in novels.
-Sometimes you will find that numerous personal experiences deftly illustrate a theme you want to explore in an article. Everyone knows that communication is critical to the success of a marriage, and when I decided to write on that topic, I was able to share numerous illustrations from my experience sailing with my husband. By using illustrations of the way failure to communicate interferes with successful sailing, I presented the destructive effects of poor interpersonal communications with a lighter touch.
-It is important to remember that people are not really interested in your family, your friends and your opinions. They are interested in stories that engage their emotions, entertain, challenge or even teach them something. A memorable article might be set in Yellowstone Park during last summer’s vacation, but it won’t be memorable if it is a simply a diary of your daily travels. Just as a novel needs a plot that piques the reader’s attention, an article must continually make the reader ask, “then what?” Readers will snooze before finishing the first paragraph that begins, “Day 1 – we pack the trunk.” A story that starts with a bear at your tent door when you wake up will be more intriguing. That great story could lead very naturally into an article that elaborates on the role of bears in the environment, or strategies for hiking and camping in nature preserves, or the National Park policy for managing the bear population.
-Your life is a treasure chest of memories and great stories. If you use your best writing skills to share your adventures, the treasure might add up in your bank account.
© 2009 Katherine Harms
Katherine Harms lives and writes aboard the sailboat No Boundaries in Baltimore, Maryland. A liveaboard sailor for the past 8 years, sailing provides a lot of material for her writing life. She and her husband have cruised the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, the Atlantic coast between Delaware and Maine, and the Caribbean. Future plans include cruises to Nova Scotia and the Amazon.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Dr. Judith Orloff: Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life.
Discussion and Book Signing
Dr. Orloff is coming to Baltimore! Her incredible, pioneering career using energy work and intuition in her psychiatric practice, has made her one of the top authors, teachers and speakers in the country. Her previous bestseller, Positive Energy, is a classic.
The new book, Emotional Freedom, is called "Absolutely brilliant" by Caroline Myss. Christiane Northrup says" It's loaded with nuggets of practical and profound healing wisdom."
Off-site event at The Bolton Street Synagogue.
Books for the signing must be purchased at Breathe Books, either before or at the event. Call Susan Weis at 410.235.7323 for more details.
Monday, February 2, 2009
When countless hours are poured into creating a story, not to mention the immeasurable amount of thought, emotion, and even prayer that is invested, it’s nearly impossible to put a price on it.
After a story takes shape, and a writer has an emotional attachment, a manuscript is often referred to as their "baby". It takes a lot of courage to let their baby leave the nest when it is sent off to a publisher. Even though it seems a writer’s whole life hangs in the balance waiting for word that their book has been accepted, its value shouldn’t end with how much an editor or publisher thinks it’s worth.
Every writer should consider their manuscript as priceless, therefore great care should be taken to insure that it’s the very best it can be. A book is a reflection of the author who parented it, so don’t simply write a story, proof it yourself, and send it on its way. Give it the proper care and attention it deserves. A good parent wouldn’t dream of sending their child out on his or her own without the necessary guidance and instruction, so why would an author send a manuscript to a publisher without first polishing it up?
Authors typically hire editors to proof their work, but this is expensive. Most authors just starting out don’t have the resources to hire an editor, but in order to have a fighting chance in an extremely competitive market, it takes money. So, what’s an aspiring writer to do?
Join a critique group.
I found a group through an online writing organization I’m a member of. There are six of us in my critique group. Once a week we each submit a chapter to the group so each member can read and critique it. I have the benefit of having five other eyes looking at my spelling, grammar, flow, and structure. Instead of paying for this invaluable service, I reciprocate by critiquing their chapters. It’s a win-win situation.
Critique groups are a great alternative to editors when you’re short on funds. After you establish yourself in the writing community, and are making more money, then by all means hire an editor. Some critique groups may lack the expertise a respected editor has, but for new authors, I can’t say enough about a humble group of writers who just may be in the same boat you are. They want to succeed like you, and after you get to know your critique partners, you’ll find you’ve made some new friends and your very own cheering squad as well.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
810 W 36th Street
Susan L. Weis, proprietress
On February 8, Dr. Amit Goswami will talk to us about his scientific findings that God exists. Goswami became a celebrity when the film What the Bleep Do We Know was released in 2004.