Monday, August 31, 2015

Creatively Real: Cover Letters


Greetings everyone!
I know this is a fifth Monday, and we should be making up words.   However, something else has come to my attention recently that I wanted to share with you. 
Some of you have gone through this already, some maybe not yet.  Some of us, as writers will go deal with it repeatedly throughout the rest of our careers. 
Have you guessed yet?
It’s that dreaded introductory letter, or cover letter.  It doesn’t matter what for; your first book or last, a job, and internship; and it doesn’t matter how often you write it, it’s always a dilemma.
How long should it be?
The scholars say it should never be longer than one page; otherwise it’s tedious reading and the average time given a cover letter is 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
That’s what scholars say.  So I will pose a question:  the reader of that cover letter will be looking for certain information from you.  Can you honestly convey to them everything they want to know, both professionally and creatively, in one page, and still make that one page effectively set your cover letter apart from the others received advantageously?
                                              Although length is important, it should not be your focus.

Why?  and What? are your focal points as you begin a cover letter.
There was a time when students only needed to worry about their cover letters for college applications, scholarships, and internships during certain times of the year.  With online education becoming the thing now, this is no longer true and there really is no “Season” to stress the cover letter.   Are you writing yours for school?
Once you’re out of school, and drifting through the sea of adulthood, some companies have very strict processes for filling internships and jobs.  The cover letter is often step one, even before sending your resume.  Is your cover letter for a potential position?
                               What does the requesting party ask to know about you? 
It’s always tempting to tell them everything you can in the recommended one page; but they do not want your life history.  Their request for your cover letter covers specific points that they want to know up front. 
                                  There is a general five point rule for most cover letters:
1)      Basic stats—Name, location, contact information
2)      What position your cover letter applies to, and how you found out they have a position to fill.
3)      Relevant education to the position—Do you have the degrees and certificates they are asking for?
4)      Relevant skills and aptitude for picking up on the potential training for the position.
5)      Why you think you are the best fit for the position—What can you do for the company and what do you hope to gain from them.
Cover letters for schools and to present a book might vary from this list of information, in that they have additional questions to be answered and the basic five are asked differently.  
Then think about How? 
            Will you present everything they ask for in essay format or just bullet point it all?
            What about tone? 
Let’s talk about tone first. 
The receiving party of your letter will probably receive dozens, if not hundreds of letters; most of which will reflect the same information you have in yours.  Somehow, those facts need presented in such a way that the reader can almost hear you talking to them, and recognize your excitement at their opportunity.   Your delivery of the facts is the first point where you should insert just enough of your personal style to get and keep attention.
Decide how much of your own personal speaking and writing style you will incorporate into your letter.  Remember that it must present facts and be professional as well. 
Formatting is also a choice. 
 If you have not done many cover letters, it is safest to check out the templates for such in your computer software.  After you’ve done a few, and learned to adapt the template to your various needs and styles, open a blank doc in your computer and design one of your own.   I have three different ones for different needs.
Always keep a smooth flow in the text of the cover letter. 
Bullet points are ok, but they present a lackadaisical attitude, imparting the notion that you just don’t have time to structure complete sentences; and they make the letter choppy. Your cover letter should almost read like the hook and author bio on the back of your next published work. 
Start with an introduction that identifies the position you’re interested in and how you heard about it.  Your name will be in the header on the page and the signature portion of it, so avoid introducing yourself directly.  And avoid using the word “I”.   As writers, we can all come up with substitute phrasing to keep the focus on us without using the word “I” with every sentence.   You will need it; but don’t overdo it.
Then, from one paragraph to the next, with class and style, let that prospective reader know what they want to know.  Take the relevant education and tie it, with a clever phrase, into the relevant job experience.  Then make a paragraph on the types of skills you needed, learned, and mastered on the job.  Weave that into what you still need to learn, and your propensity to be able to learn it. Wrap up with the talents and attitudes you possess that make you THE perfect fit into their vacancy.  
Most computer softwares have a variety of styles for letters to choose from. 
They are themed, so as to print out, or show, borders or back grounds so that you are not sending a plain white sheet of paper with a bunch of black words on it.  Did you know that you can, in most programs, change the color scheme to fit your preferences?  Experiment with something that speaks to the person they will get to know once you are chosen for the position you’re aiming for.  Insert a picture of something that symbolizes you into the header.  OR, insert a watermark.  (I use my company logo or the cover of the book, depending on what the letter is regarding.)
All of these little details, once the body of  letter itself  is complete, will indicate initiative, pride and personality, attention to detail, and creativity not typed onto the page.  Let these things be the “I” you did not type into the body of the page.  Your body language on paper, if you will.

Finally, never just end the letter on a statement of fact or a “proper” conclusion. 
You have an objective, a favorite saying, or a moto that you live by.  Everyone does, some people just don’t know it until they actually stop to think about it.   So do that.  Take a minute to consider one statement that sums up a life philosophy that is relevant to the position you’re aiming for. 
Between the actual conclusion of the letter and your closing, type that sentence into the letter.
Close your letter. 
This is your last opportunity to make an impression.  What word will you use?
Try not to be redundant with the usual “Respectfully”, “Sincerely”, “With Gratitude”.   This closing will need to be respectful and professional.  Pull something different out of the arsenal.  Use a Thesaurus.  Look through letters you’ve received, or something a parent has received.  Give them one last word that keeps their attention before you attach your signature. 
Then: make your signature the final “POW”.  
All of you published and professional artists already understand the significance of your autograph or your mark on your work.  Anyone who has something of yours with an autograph or your mark also gets it.   Those who have not reached that point yet, it’s time to prepare for that moment.  Use a piece or two of blank paper and play with your signature until it’s something YOU think is spectacular and that speaks to who you are.  Then add that final zip to your cover letters. 
Cover letters are supposed to present facts. 
Some of those facts are blatantly asked for, others are facts that the writer imparts unintentionally as they write the letter.  ALL of the facts found within the structure and text of the letter are considered when read.   It is possible to be creative while keeping it professional and real.  The key is to view every detail of the over letter you’re working on deliberately and to make everything in that letter intentional.  Remember the whole while that it will affect a real outcome.
Until next time, keep it creatively real.

Friday, August 28, 2015

R.U.E. in Your Writing

I hadn’t really planned to share another editing-related article so soon, but this topic has been on my mind lately (from an online writing seminar I listened to last week!), so … I hope you don’t mind two in a row! Have you ever thought about how writers and readers form a team? One desires to give information and the other desires to receive it, usually in the most pleasant way possible. Though writers carry the burden of responsibility, they can rely on readers to help. After all, readers want to understand the writers’ points just as much as writers want to convey it. And readers are intelligent, too.

Therefore, we must give our readers credit for being intelligent. R.U.E. Resist the Urge to Explain.



When I first learned this principle (in the book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, which I would recommend except for some unfortunate choice of language and examples), it opened my eyes to all sorts of ways I could improve my writing.

Attention spans are short, and readers are searching for stories that thrill them and tell them things they don’t already know. When we bog down our narratives with information readers can infer for themselves, we cause some of the enjoyment they could have had to leak out … we bore them and make them subconsciously feel talked down to. The problem is not in lots of detail (strong, descriptive writing is essential!), but in the wrong kinds of details.

Consider these examples:

Wet footprints patterned the kitchen linoleum. Marla wondered how many times she had warned Tony about wearing his shoes in the house. She thought she’d better warn him again. Stomping into the den where Tony was, she growled, “Tony, if I have to tell you one more time to take your shoes off outside...!”
Vs.
Wet footprints patterned the kitchen linoleum. That boy...! Marla stomped into the den and growled, “Tony, if I have to tell you one more time to take your shoes off outside...!”

Which one moves faster? Which one gives more information—or do they give the same amount? Which one is more enjoyable to read? If we see Marla reacting the way she does, we don’t need to be told what she’s thinking before she does it. And if she goes to the den to reprimand Tony, we can infer that Tony is in the den. And if we’re in Marla’s head, we don’t need to be informed that she “wondered” something or that she “thought” something. Free indirect speech or italicized thoughts will do. (Free indirect speech is when a character’s thoughts are part of the narrative without an accompanying “she thought.” “That boy...!” in my example is indirect discourse.)

R.U.E. exists on many levels. It’s part of the show-don’t-tell principle, where you show a person’s anger by describing his raised voice and what he said instead of explaining he “spoke angrily.” Resisting the urge to explain, along with showing-not-telling, engages a reader’s imagination and sucks her deeper into our stories. It gets us, the writer, out of the way and puts the reader in the middle of our characters and their experiences.

Here is one more example that falls under R.U.E. If you’re describing an object or a process that everyone’s familiar with, be careful. If someone unlocks his door, we already know he’s taken his key out to do it. You don’t need to explain, “He took his key from his pocket and unlocked his door.” (Unless this action is, for some reason, highly important to your story!) If someone shrugs, you don’t need to add “her shoulders.”

What other unnecessary explanations should writers avoid in their fiction? 

Kelsey Bryant is an author, blogger, and copy editor who loves the Lord. She revels in many things: the beauty of God's Word, the music of English, the wonder of nature, the joy of creativity, the freedom of motion, the richness of literature, the intrigue of history ... and much more. To learn more about her, visit her website or blog 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Where I've Been...

Hello, dear readers! I fondly presume you have wondered where I have been. 

If you follow me on my personal blog, you will know what has kept me so occupied this summer. But if not, my quick update is that I've been...

...working at Apache Creek Deaf and Youth Ranch for the better part of the summer
...I've been occupied with my sister's wedding
...and my sweet fiance proposed to me two weeks ago! 




What have you been up to?

__________________________________________





Alicia A. Willis is a home-school graduate, published author, and avid historian. She is a firm believer in the principle that one can accomplish anything by substantial amounts of prayer and coffee. Visit her at her blog or Facebook to view her historical-fiction novels and all the goings-on between writing!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

One Worth Following

Guest post. Thank you for sharing, Kenzi!

One Worth Following
Kenzi Knapp
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Can you imagine a writer without a role model? I sure can't. Our role model is the mirror that reveals the truth about where our writing is now and where we hope it to be upon completion. It is our North Star guiding us through the dark seas of the unknown. Considering how much influence our role models have on us, it's vital we choose them carefully.

In my own quest to find an author I can model, I've found only one who single-handedly sums up all I dream for my own pen. The plot of His dramas are so engaging billions around the world can't put His book down. His work has stood the ravages of time and change, yet His words continue to spark violent love and violent hate in the human heart. The characters represent the best and worst of humanity and though their unique story lines span time, space and cultures, every one mingles together in perfect harmony. Most importantly, this book answers mankind's deepest questions with grace and truth. The author: Jesus Christ. His book: the Bible.

Now this is where it's easy for we as Christians to say, “Oh yeah, the Bible. Of course it's the best book.” But is this truly what our actions say? How many Christian publishers advertise writing courses based on the Bible? Where are the believing writers who study the Bible for writing tips as eagerly as they study bestselling authors? This goes beyond weaving scripture and biblical principles in our stories, though I'm an avid advocate of doing those things. But what if we looked to the Bible to also learn HOW to write and craft our stories? Let's take forming personable characters – the make or break factor for so many authors.

Have you ever considered how the Bible makes King David seem so real we feel like we personally know him? His faults and moral failings are told with unflinching truth, yet his heart for God is so vividly revealed, he himself is a role model to many. What an example of a memorable character who still influences thousands around the globe.

Of course, it would be arrogant to say our writing could ever be like the Word of God. Since it is inspired by God it is the anointed sword and lamp that bears power no other book will ever know. But isn't this what role models are all about? Do we follow our favorite authors because we think we can out do them or because we want to be like them. No one is ever going to out do the Bible, but we can strive to learn and imitate it as much as possible. The more I study the Bible as a writer, the more convinced I am that it is the Master Instructor for anyone who desires to write powerfully and effectually. Just think what might happen if we trusted God's Word as our infallible writing guide?

As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the LORD is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him. (Psalm 18:30)
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Kenzi Knapp writes about the reconciliation of all things through the blood of Jesus Christ. A homeschool graduate currently enrolled in God's Great Course of Faith, Kenzi lives with her family on an Ozark homestead and can be found writing about life skills for the Christian young woman at her blog, http://www.honeyrockhills.com/

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Save Time for Writing: Use a Password Manager

Greetings all,

John J. Horn here.

Do either of these scenarios describe you?

1. You use one or two passwords to login to all of your accounts.

2. You constantly forget passwords and have to reset them, wasting valuable time.

I used to fall into both of those camps. No longer!

Today's writing tip is very simple, and it's just one more way to save time so that you can spend more time writing books.

Use a password manager such as LastPass to keep track of all of your passwords.

I'm able to use strong, unique passwords without killing brain cells trying to remember them or constantly wasting time resetting passwords. Between my job and my personal life I have several hundred passwords to keep on top of, so LastPass is literally a lifesaver.

Do you have any quick time-saving tips?

John J. Horn is a Christian author from San Antonio, Texas. Learn more about John and his Men of Grit series and sign up for his newsletter at johnjhornbooks.com.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Keeping a Travel Journal




I remember the first time I tried to keep a travel journal. I was still in southern Africa, and had purchased an A6 notebook to keep a log of events on a road-trip. With a pen and my notebook, I felt like a pretty good writer—after all, not many of the other eleven year-olds on the trip were going to write about our epic adventures!

Folding open the brightly illustrated cover, I wrote the first heading. A while later, one of the other young girls asked to see my notes. I handed the book over, proud of my riveting work. (If I had been older, I might have thought it comparable in majesty to Journey to the Center of the Earth.) “Agh,” she mumbled. “It’s a bit boring. All you’ve got is facts. You don’t say anything about the animals we passed.”

I was deflated and a little indignant. Facts are important, aren’t they? You don’t always need animals! Heeding her counsel, however, I added a few details. “We saw all sorts of dams and trees. We saw donkeys, cows, pigs, and kudus.” (Living in England, I now realize how special the kudu antelope are.)

The A6 notebook is blank except for exactly two pages. I finished Day 1. The rest of the trip is relegated to memory and photographs.

This little story serves to remind me of the difficulties of keeping a travel journal—first, the quality of rough notes may disappoint the chronicler; second, the chronicler can get bogged down in too much detail for the pace of events; third, the chronicler may get too caught up in the excitement of events to feel like writing.

From then on in life, cameras took the place of travel journals, and photography was a much quicker medium of capturing moments anyway.

It was for our trip to Barcelona (link) that my family was given a travel notebook, and the idea of writing while on a vacation presented itself again. Since the experience was going to be part of book research (really, what isn’t potential book research?), I decided to give it a try.

A few tips came to my attention.

~ Travel with your senses on overdrive. This will help you to describe things later when writing in the hotel-room / tent / tree-house / igloo / whatever else.

~ Take lots of photos. You can’t possibly remember everything, and having a visual reference can jog memories like smell, sound, and taste.

~ If your trip is crammed with activities, make a quick list of what you do each day. You can write proper entries when you have time—like when your flight is delayed.

~ Bring back souvenirs. When you finally get to Day Six in your journal, you may have forgotten the taste of that bread or what those stones felt like. You may be able to bring some things home and describe them at your leisure.

And of course, if you want to, mention the animals you pass. :)

Do you have any extra advice for keeping a travel journal? What is the most enjoyable trip you’ve made this summer? Did you take, or would you consider taking, notes as you go?

  
Caitlin R. Hedgcock is a Christian author who aspires to use storytelling for God’s glory. She lives with her family in England's picturesque county of Hertfordshire. Visit her website or Facebook page to find out more.

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Word Fitly Written

Recently my dad, an English honors student in high school, was lamenting “the deterioration of the English language.” That prompted a discussion at our dinner table. To my family it appears that a much richer vocabulary was in use decades ago than today, and fewer people today know what all these beautiful, precise English words mean.

Some writing advisers tell us to use simple language in our stories. Readers don’t want to be taxed by having to stop and think, Now what does that word mean? It would interrupt the flow of your tale. This advice does have a point … but if every writer used only simple words, I would think all writing would start to sound the same. And people’s vocabulary would shrink.

How important is a wide vocabulary? Well, every time you learn a new word, your knowledge of the world expands. You’re introduced to new concepts you never heard of before, or at least you learn how to use a convenient handle on a concept you never knew had a handy word. Language is tightly knit to knowledge. Writing that uses a rich vocabulary benefits readers’ minds, preparing them to learn challenging things.

Some readers love writing that makes them think, others just want to be told a tale that doesn’t require pondering, while everyone else spreads along the spectrum between them. So, you have to decide what satisfies you as a writer and what kind of readers you want to appeal to. In my experience, reading a story told with stronger vocabulary and lyrical writing absorbs me more than one that’s not, so I try that in my own stories.


Drawing from a deep vocabulary well and using varied words doesn’t mean flowery or obscure writing. In fact it often helps curb wordiness, a goal in good writing, through precision in language (using less words to say the same thing). It contributes to “economy of words.” When I rewrite, a search for the right word (and it’s typically a quite normal word, just not one that immediately jumps to mind) is often rewarded when I can eliminate two or three words in its place:

He walked down the hallway sideways.
He sidled down the hallway.

Precise words also paint more striking images. Generally, words that have lots of different meanings and uses are weak, because they show up everywhere or don’t describe something clearly enough for you to see it. Examples include turn, come, go, see, do, and make. Sometimes these are irreplaceable, but other times a stronger word, which actually paints a picture, can be used instead. Consider turn. Turn has many different meanings, but here are just three representatives of words to replace it:

Marla turned when the door opened. Marla pivoted when the door opened.
The car quickly turned left at the intersection. The car veered left at the intersection.
The prince turned into a frog. The prince morphed into a frog.

Does the second sentence of each example seem more interesting than the first?

I love that quote by Mark Twain (one of the best writers to ever put pen to paper): “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

Do you prefer a style that uses only the simplest words? Or do you like precision and varying your language?
Do you think it’s okay to put in a word now and then that a few readers may have to look up in a dictionary?
What words do you tend to overuse, or that you notice others overusing? What can you substitute in their place?

Kelsey Bryant is an author, blogger, and copy editor who loves the Lord. She revels in many things: the beauty of God's Word, the music of English, the wonder of nature, the joy of creativity, the freedom of motion, the richness of literature, the intrigue of history ... and much more. To learn more about her, visit her website or blog

Monday, August 10, 2015

Now Where Did That Come From?


I pray everyone had a good weekend, and that August being almost half over doesn’t surprise or frighten anyone.   (The older you get, the more you’ll wish we could control time with a remote control.  The pause and rewind buttons would be my favorite.)

So, over the course of the weekend, I started working on a short story.  As I began putting it together, I wondered where the idea came from. 

As every other writer on the planet must, I end up walking away from the work to manage daily affairs.  I must walk the same path through the property dozens of times a day.  It was during one of those strolls that I realized where the main prop of the story sparked the idea of the story.

So, have you ever had a time when you began working on a piece and just stopped and wondered, “Now where on earth did that come from?” ? But you can’t stop the project. And you can’t prevent yourself from the research.  Don’t fight it.  Finish the piece.  Eventually you’ll find your answer. 

The questions I would ask you are these:  How important is it for you to know what sparked the idea for your work?  Why do you need to know where the idea came from?   Do you need to know?

As a writer, I would answer that we all need a basic idea of where the work was born.  If we do not, giving the piece proper life will become difficult at one point or another.  Often we find ourselves setting a really great poem or story aside because it just suddenly dies at our fingertips.  That can be because we never knew what sparked the idea for it; or we have forgotten as the story progresses. 

So how do we figure it out and keep track of the origins of our ideas?

Write it down.   When the first few sentences; or paragraphs; of your piece put the idea into place, write the main prop, location, or idea on an outline.   I know, most writers start with outlines and/or agendas and  journalized research.  But we ALL have those stories or poems that just happen, and we rush to get it on paper before we lose it.  It’s these impromptu pieces I’m talking about.

Retrace your steps of the day the idea came to life.   Something in your path or in your activities of that day gave birth to your piece.  Retracing your steps and chronicling the day will help pinpoint the origin of the idea; and provide a foundation for research that may be needed as the story grows.

Picture it. Once the trigger for the idea is discovered, if possible, take a picture of it and its surroundings.  Keep the photos for it by your work space, to help maintain your focus.  As you look at the photos while the piece progresses, you’ll feed your story with little things you didn’t see the first time; when the idea was born.  There will be story matter in the surroundings of the story’s trigger. 

Research the trigger.  We all know that every prop, every place, and every person has some sort of history.  Find it.  It does not matter how fictional your story, it has to have its tidbit of reality.  {We talked about that in my blog from July 13, 2015; here at WordPainters.}   Once you have the reality, it doesn’t matter if the reader recognizes the prop or the place through your embellishments of fiction.  But knowing the history of the story’s main focus helps you know how to work it into your finest work yet.

Never let it die.  Even if the idea seems to be fading and becoming old or stagnant as you work it, something made it a good idea to get the piece started. If you set the work aside, make it a temporary thing.  Go back to it later, but never let it die.

A writer’s stories become a chronicling of their life.  As the ideas come, keep record of them.  Somehow, each idea that is meant to be a story or poem will find a way to become one.  The only thing that stands between the inspiration and  the completion of the narrative is you.  And when you get in the way of the work, you impede the progress of your own quest.

Sometimes it is easier to figure out and define where an idea came from than we let it be.  Just take a step back, move out of your own way, and let it reveal itself.

What is the current quest in your chronicles?  Where did it come from?  And where will it lead you?

Let God light your way as you fulfill the quest at hand.

Until next time…

Monday, August 3, 2015

Joyously Accomplishing the Word Out for August


GREETINGS EVERYONE!
It’s hard to believe that July is already over, and the year is 1/3 of the way complete.
Today being the first Monday of the month can only mean one thing:
                             It is time for the monthly Word Out!
Last month I told you about the terrible incident with the spider and we worked to come up with words to describe reactions to such a thing.   My illness did not end with the spider bite remedy, and I continue to struggle physically.  We are not going to dwell on the struggle, but on the positives that have come from the struggle. 
Think of a time when you’ve been super busy, sick, tired, or just overwhelmed and you can’t seem to catch up with the little things.  The chores begin piling up and then… overwhelmed again.
                               UNTIL…
Determination helps you make a plan.  You act on the plan.  And SUDDENLY things begin to get done and you have started to feel unusually happy and accomplished in each little task that finds completion.   
Create a word that states your elation, relief, sense of accomplishment, and gratitude for the process.   My word for this isn’t really fantabulous, so a little help re-working it would be greatly appreciated.  Refer to the Scripture verse included in this blog for inspiration.
As you put the thought into this Word Out challenge, you might find yourself listing those little chores that you were grateful to have gotten out of the way so you could focus on the larger tasks.  Those little ones count as much, if not more than, the HUGE ones. 
Remember that nothing is too big or too little for God; and it all matters. 

Phillipians 4:4-7 {KJV}
Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say,  Rejoice.  Let your moderation be known unto all men.  The Lord is at hand.  Be careful for nothing; but in every thing, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.  And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. 
My word is:  Joycomplation!  (Joyous accomplished elation)
I know it’s a bit lame, and I’m sure you can all do better. 
Have fun with this month’s Word Out challenge; and don’t forget to share your new word with us in the comments to this blog.
Pay attention to the Son, even when skies are grey. 
Until next time