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Breadcrumbs for Beginners
Following the Writing Trail
By SHERRY L. MEINBERG
Balboa PressCopyright © 2013 Dr. Sherry L. Meinberg
All rights reserved.
I know, I know. The world doesn't need yet another book about writing. There are seemingly tons of books telling the would-be author how to write. I ought to know, having bought well over one hundred through the years. My problem was that I read them with interest, and happily highlighted and underlined to my heart's content, but I never did the suggested activities, nor did I actually put pen to paper. Afterward, I stashed the books on a high shelf for easy reference (next to the ceiling, where I couldn't even see them, much less read the titles), where I promptly forgot them. And there they sat, undisturbed, gathering dust, for decades.
Every morning, I take my meds and vitamins (15 pills in all), along with my orange juice and toast, after which I throw all the crusts and breadcrumbs to the birds. In the same manner, I am offering you the experience of a trail of breadcrumbs to follow, as a beginner writer.
The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. —Eleanor Roosevelt
Breadcrumbs for Beginners: Following the Writing Trail is for those individuals (like me), who have long dithered about their big, fat, juicy, writing dreams, but somehow, life always got in the way. It is written for young students, who yearn to write, but haven't a clue as to how to start, as well we those individuals who are young at heart, but slightly older in other places, who have learned something of importance over the years, and want to share that hard-earned knowledge with others.
True teachers use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create bridges of their own. —Nikos Kazantzakis
We older people are living treasures—a part of history—who need to tell our stories. As a student teacher supervisor, visiting in a history class, I was dumbfounded to see my entire lifetime included in high school history books. On one page, the text said that the Women's Movement was over. Standing up, I begged to differ, showing my membership cards to NOW—the National Organization of Women—and the Feminist Majority Foundation. Both groups still work for educational, social, political, and economic equality. We need to share what we know.
My breadcrumbs are meant for those who have the dream of a book inside them, and are now ready to make the decision to actually write it.
If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we will never begin. —Ivan Turgenev
It is said that a doctor is a shortcut to health, a coach is a shortcut to peak performance, and a teacher is a shortcut to knowledge. So I am here to share with you some things I have learned over the decades.
This book is a practical and entertaining once-over-lightly glimpse into the World of the Writer. It is intended to cover the writing process—from first just thinking about writing, to actually putting pen to paper, and then, much later on, a discussion as to what to do with your completed manuscript to get it published. I am here to give you the gift of my experience, providing an overview, some practical advice, and a few useful tips along the way. Before we get started, let me remind you:
There is no perfect teacher ... The point is to make a sincere effort to become a perfect student of an imperfect teacher. —Issho Fujita
Let me also warn you up front, that some of what I say might be considered provocative, controversial, or even off-the-wall. So, just use what you agree with, and drop-kick the rest. For, as Todd Michael says, "Expressing reasonable skepticism is the mark of someone who is thinking clearly." Consider the following words by a well-known writer:
If I had to give young writers advice, I'd say don't listen to writers talking about writing or themselves. —Lillian Hellman
On the flip side, however, are the words of another famous author, whose words have lasted since the days of Ancient Rome:
Believe one who has tried it. —Virgil
Take your pick.
You shall listen to all sides and filter them for yourself. —Walt Whitman
TIP: The first tip I offer you is: Writing is just talking on paper. Write the way you talk.
Writing is a way of talking without being interrupted. —Jules Renard
It is often said that everyone is unique, everyone is creative, and everyone has something to say. That bears repeating: Everyone is unique. Everyone is creative. And everyone has something to say. You can do this! (Don't think you're too scared, too self-conscious, too proud, too embarrassed, or too shy. You can do this!)
Aspire to inspire before you expire. —A church newsletter
TIP: The second tip is that you make it a point to not talk to others about wanting to be a writer. Everything is easier said, than done. You can think about writing all day and all night, but keep your longing to yourself. It will simply bore your friends and family, and the subject will soon become tiresome to them. Instead of being supportive of your goal, they may simply ignore you, or you may receive negative remarks, and outright laughter. Or they may simply dismiss you, with discouraging words about "pipe dreams." It will sap your energy, your will, and your faith. You have to believe in yourself when no one else will. Surround yourself with a serenity shield of some sort, and let their comments easily roll off your back, or bounce harmlessly off your armor. Understand that most of the population is content to just snooze along, simply going through the motions, operating mostly on autopilot. Stay away from those naysayers who belittle your ambitions (those who say, "What you're doing is five-star dumber than dumb," or "You're just wasting your time." You must become your own cheering section.
We must not allow other people's limited perceptions to define us. —Virginia Satir
And know that, if you are born into a family of nonreaders, they will not appreciate your efforts in this regard. Even when you finally start writing a book, keep the details to yourself. To do otherwise, is to weaken your work. Professional writers know that the more you talk about something you're planning to write, the less likely it is that you'll ever write it. Keep in mind: Less talk, more action.
Jane Austin secretly wrote while she sat on a sofa in the drawing room. She always kept some sewing material nearby, to toss over her writing, just in case someone came in unannounced. (So you, too, can start writing on the sly, if need be.)
Gertrude Stein became most upset upon hearing that one of her brothers was critical of her work. In response, she announced, "Very well, then, I will write for myself, and for strangers."
Your writing needn't spark a family squabble. Don't worry about what others think (especially family and friends who may be concerned about seeing themselves—with all their warts—in print). Protect yourself by keeping your work close to your vest. Don't allow anyone to step on you're dreams, or clip your wings.
I think it's bad to talk about one's present work, for it spoils something at the root of the creative art. It discharges the tension. —Norman Mailer
ELIMINATE THE WORD "CAN'T":
When someone tells you that you can't do something, perhaps you should consider that they are only telling you what they can't do. —Sheldon Cahoon
At the outset, you are to erase the word "can't" from your vocabulary. Don't run yourself down, thinking that you can't do this, that, or the other. Dispel the idea that you can't write, because you're so different from everybody else. Get rid of the herd mentality. Stop trying to walk in lockstep with the majority, with everyone thinking, saying, and doing the same things. Anybody can be "normal." As Jody Foster says, "Normal is not something to aspire to, it's something to get away from." Count your blessings that you're a little off-center. Be yourself.
Know that you're never too old, and it's never too late. Besides getting older, you've been getting better, and you've been getting wiser. Liberate yourself from old patterns and behaviors that hold you back.
Don't try so hard to fit in, when you were born to stand out.
Pen names are masks that allow us to unmask ourselves. —Terri Guillemets
So, moving on, with names in mind, let's take a minute or two at the outset, to think about pen names or pseudonyms:
Authors sometimes use assumed names to disguise who they are. You may find it useful to have a pen name, and often it is a smart thing to do for privacy purposes (strangers knocking on your door at all hours of the night, stalkers, and so forth), but be sure your reasoning is sound, to offset any drawbacks.
Thousands of authors throughout history have used aliases. Check out the Internet for particulars. It's mind-boggling. Theodor Geisel had three. Lawrence Block had six. Ray Bradbury has had many (three published in the same magazine issue). At last count, Dean Koontz had eleven. Then again, Samuel Clemens had only one, but it's among the most famous (Mark Twain).
If you decide to use a pen name, pick one that suits you. You should be called what you want to be called; one that feels comfortable and right. You might choose a pseudonym because:
You may dislike your name, like the man who was named James J. James. (Can you guess what his middle name was? Right: James.);
SIDEBAR: The population of Iceland stands at 320,000 now, and Lawrence Block says, in Hit Me (2013) that they all descended from five Viking men and four Irish women. (All?) That makes me wonder if perhaps, with such a small population to begin with, their last-name conventions made sense: the boys take their father's first name and add "son" to it, and the girls do the same with "dottir." The traditionalists give their sons both the father's first name and last name, such as Magus Magnusson (author, translator, journalist, and TV presenter). How interesting.
I'm not my name. My name is something I wear, like a shirt. It gets worn. I outgrow it, I change it. —Jerry Spinelli
When my son was born, we named him Jerald Jon, but within a couple of hours, we realized that it took too long to say his name. So we tried Jerry Jon, which still took too long. Then we started calling him J.J., and it stuck, right from day one. We called him J.J. throughout his infancy, and I never thought to inform him that he had a different legal name. When he entered kindergarten, it became a major problem. His teacher was old-school, demanding that he answer to his formal first name Jerald—which he didn't even know about, and thus, never responded to. As such, he was always in trouble, and experienced an identity crisis of sorts, which negatively affected his attitude toward school for the next twelve years. When he was in high school, he decided to legally change his given name. I informed him that he had a whole world of names to choose from, and he gave it a couple of weeks consideration. He finally decided to move from Jerald and J.J. to just plain Jay. Whew! We filled out the forms, paid the money, and it was finally official. And, he's been called Jay ever since.
My friend absolutely hated her given name, and refused to tell anyone what it was. She only whispered it once to me, and I wasn't sure what she said, as she mumbled it so fast (something on the order of Hildegard), but she refused to repeat it. Once was enough. When she was a youngster, and for years thereafter, she idolized a high school girl, by the name of Pat Joseph—who was beautiful, smart, and talented. She wanted to be just like Pat Joseph. When my friend was in kindergarten, her grandfather always walked her to school. He affectionately called her Pet, but the children misheard him, thinking that he called her Pat, so that's what they called her. As such, she was known as Pat to everyone throughout her school years. After graduating from high school, and moving to California, she became a hairdresser in Long Beach, working for the prestigious Bob Joseph Salon. In time, she married her boss, and she legally became known as Pat Joseph—who was beautiful, smart, and talented. Talk about obtaining a long- term goal!
Maybe your name doesn't match your personality, and you want a closer representation;
I have known three women named Barby, and none were blonds. They paid no attention whatsoever to their bodies, clothes, or appearance. In addition, I know two women named Joy, and a colleague named Gay, who were also obviously unhappy with their given names, and worked hard to distance themselves from them—with perpetual frowns and constant negativity. On the flip side, a woman named Mona Lisa was always smiling and laughing;
Perhaps a well-known politician, actor, sports star, TV personality, or historical figure has the same name as you have (John Wayne/Marilyn Monroe/Tom Cruise/Peter Jennings/George Washington);
It may be that a well-known comic book or cartoon character has the same name as you (Clark Kent/Pebbles/Ziggy);
Consider a change if your name is hard to pronounce.
One high school teacher had such a long and difficult name that he went by Mr. K. The nameplate on his desk announced him as Mr. What'shisname);
You may have an unusual or foreign sounding name (Evan Hunter was born Salvatore Lombino);
Lolita is famous, not I. I am an obscure, doubly obscure, novelist with an unpronounceable name. —Vladimir Nabokov
If your name is a huge distraction, you may see the need to change it:
One couple had the same last name—Morrison—so they didn't have to make any name changes once they became married. However, both were police officers, and both were detectives, in the same city. Confusion reined, until they moved to another city, where he became the Chief of Police. It is now easy to tell them apart.
When my neighbors got married, her first name was Averil, and his last name was Averil, so she became Averil Averil. And then, of course, there are other names similar to Johnny Cash's song, "A Boy Named Sue."
The famous Olympic skier Picabo Street (Pee-ka-boo), is now a nurse working at an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in a large metropolitan hospital. She is not permitted to answer the hospital phones any longer. It caused too much confusion when she would answer the phone and say, "Picabo, I.C.U."
Another person or author may have the same name as you;
A blues artist named James Milton Campbell dropped his first name entirely, upon learning that he had a half-brother with the same name. He took the stage name Little Milton, so there would be no mistaking who was who.
My brother has the first and last name, and middle initial as another author, and they both wrote similar books. He thought he'd fix the problem by simply omitting the period after his middle initial, but everyone just thinks it is a printing error. That little change didn't help matters. Now he has left out his middle initial altogether. I still don't see that as much of a change.
You may write two different kinds of books: serious books under one name and comedies or romance novels under another name; or maybe children's books under one name, and shoot-'em-up thrillers, soft core sex, or horror books under another name. (Like Evan Hunter who wrote serious books under that alias, and the police procedurals of the 87th Precinct series, using the name Ed McBain);
You might have a lackluster or common given name (Tom, Dick, or Harry), or a surname (Smith, Jones, or Brown—which is most common surname beginning with the letter B), and want to use a more unforgettable name;
Maybe you don't want to use your married name because it might tarnish your spouse's good name or family business reputation. (A Blues artist, Bobby Rush, changed his name—from Emmit Ellis Jr.—because his father was a preacher);
Or perhaps you are married to a published writer, and prefer have your own identity (like the Kellerman family: husband, Jonathan Kellerman, and wife, Faye Kellerman. They have four children; the oldest son, Jesse Kellerman and the youngest daughter, Aliza Kellerman, are also writers). Consider the fact that if you ever got a divorce, your names would forever link you together;
You might want to disguise who you are because of your day job.
Excerpted from Breadcrumbs for Beginners by SHERRY L. MEINBERG. Copyright © 2013 by Dr. Sherry L. Meinberg. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Author's Note.................... vii
The Writing Process....................
The Publishing Process....................
The Promotion Process....................
Writer's Helpers.................... 389
End Remarks:.................... 419
About The Author.................... 447
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Replete with details spanning all aspects of writing, publishing and marketing a book, Breadcrumbs for Beginners is an invaluable tool for beginning authors of any age. The book is peppered with quotes from well-known authors, sidebar tips, and writing prompts. The reader will benefit from the encouragement offered and will smile at amusing anecdotes from Dr. Meinberg’s experiences. The author’s enthusiasm for writing leaps off the pages as in this quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne. “If God told me I only had six minutes left to live, I wouldn’t brood. I would type more quickly.” Are you itching to write a book, but feel daunted by the process? As a published author, I can sympathize with you, but must say I learned many things from this book I never knew before on my publishing journey. Writing topics within the book include choosing your genre, creating characters, dialogue, research, structure, setting the scene, grammar, and punctuation. The breadcrumbs trail in this book, however, extends much farther than honing the art of writing. Understanding the publishing process, such as how to approach publishers, writing effective query letters, self-publishing and eBooks are covered. An entire section is devoted to promoting your book via free publicity vs. paid publicists, marketing, book signings and interviews. A special treat is a helpful and often overlooked discussion on how writers can maintain a healthy holistic approach to their life and craft. Dr. Meinberg’s credentials (she is the recipient of seventy awards about print media) alone might prompt authors to seek her advice. That being said, the practical advice within the pages of this informative book is the real draw for beginning authors. Read, read, and read some more is the author’s advice as opposed to taking writing seminars. The author states, “My breadcrumbs are meant for those who have the dream of a book inside them, and are now ready to make the decision to actually write it.” Do you have a story screaming to be told? Breadcrumbs for Beginners will help you every step along the way. A well-structured Table of Contents introduces the book. A helpful Bibliography, Index and Credits are in the back. The print is rather large, a bonus for the visually challenged reader. The sidebars often interrupt the flow of the author’s advice, but a careful reader will find them useful. The book doesn’t claim to be a magic writing pill, but following its breadcrumb trail will make any author’s journey easier. Quill says: Take the headaches out of writing, publishing, and promoting your book by using Dr. Meinberg’s wise umbrella approach.