Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Supporting the Writing Life, Part 6

It's the final installment of advice on supporting the writing life!

As Tanya Egan Gibson says: "You don't have to be a good networker. You just have to bring yourself to the table." Whether you network in person or online, be yourself. Just like writing a job or school application, think of what you have to offer rather than what the other person can give to you (even if that's your hope, intention or goal to get something back). Most people like to talk about themselves, and the world lacks good listeners. Show your sincere interest, but don't be a doormat. Use your strengths, be they humor, great storytelling or even giving quiet attention. Think of networking as just making connections, finding common ground and helping one another. Create an "elevator speech" and keep your business card handy.

For a long time, networking was a scary word for me. I've never been a big schmoozer. In fact, I felt paralyzed at parties and can still dread the prospect of milling in large crowds. Report cards in preschool urged my parents to get me to speak more; by college one professor began my written evaluation with "though she spoke not a word in class..." I have found, however, that having a forum helps. Whenever I was teaching, the role of 'expert' gave me a platform from which to speak confidently on a topic (vs. blushing and heart racing whenever I speak out randomly in groups). Now, the more I practice approaching individuals at a social gathering or a professional conference, the easier (and more fun) it becomes.

What tips do you have for in person or online networking?

Write every day. That's what my writing instructor said each week last semester. By the end of the 4 months he'd finished the first draft of his novel (with another on bookstore shelves and reviewed by the NY Times just last week)! I have yet to take this advice to heart, but I've heard it said many times that writing discipline is made from simple habit. I expend so much effort resisting the writing, but find when I sit down to do it I'm always amazed at how much can get accomplished step by step.

My first writing assignment for the spring semester (starting tonight!) is to write a 2-page proposal explaining the project or projects, comprised of three chapters or nonfiction stories we want to work on over the next 15 weeks. I've found that choosing and refining the focus of a few essays helps give them shape before I write them. Similar to a query letter to a book publisher or magazine editor, the professor's given guidelines include:

  • The language should be effective and dynamic – an example of writing used in the story.
  • Get the reader’s attention in the first paragraph.
  • Indicate why this project matters and is interesting to a reader.
  • Make clear in the first few paragraphs what your character needs or wants to gain.
  • If not character oriented, make clear right away why the subject has grabbed you.
  • Explain early on what sort of conflict you will dramatize.
  • Indicate the nature of your research: where will you go for the story? What will you read? Whom will you talk to?
What writing projects are you working on? How do you approach them? What is your proposal?

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