Choose your words carefully

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Ever since my kids used the word “epic” to describe superlative events in their lives, I’ve paid attention to how people show emphasis. Now those same kids undercut their statements of wonder and awe with words like “sick” and “ill” to show backhanded emphasis (particularly effective in surfer/boarder/stoner monotone).

It’s challenging to stay on top of the linguistic zeitgeist, even when you’re plugged in all day.

language is as vast and quickly-evolving as our understanding of the solar system. Embigbangenate yours today!

language is as vast and quickly-evolving as our understanding of the solar system. Embigbangenate yours today!

I’m no linguist, just a writer and language hobbyist. When marketing I occasionally worry that dated phraseology unhelpfully underscores a long-gone era of reference: “fresh” is no longer fresh, you know, and if you’re not on top of the word or phrase of the day, it will show. “Edgy” is now dull, but do we have to delve into street slang to show we’re hip–er, what’s the current translation? And exactly how old is that intern screening incoming pitches?

Since I saw the word “embigbangenate” on a Facebook post about the solar system, I’ve been fascinated by how quickly our vocabulary changes and humbled by those who are on the cutting edge. It makes me wonder about novelists and the choices they make about everything that goes into a story, not just what technology to reference in their books (telephones? Computers? When will “bluetooth” be forgotten?) but the language choices that may put a decent story on the “uninformed” list. It’s not enough to write a good plot and description anymore is it?

(I wouldn’t suggest anyone use the word that caught my attention today, pinsploded, unless they want to forever be nailed to this moment in 2014 when Ohio housewives used a rainy day to update Pinterest with epic fervor.)

It must be the apex of cool to birth a whole new word and witness its journey around the world. I launched one yesterday, the word “bibliovore” that my family used to describe my daughters’ incredible appetites for reading. Scholastic “favorited” my Tweet about it; I guess now I can just sit back and wait for the royalties to roll in?

Sometimes I wonder what our grandparents said before there was an Internet to virally share new vocabulary. From what I remember in college that generation borrowed from foreign languages spoken by immigrants and music lyrics to pepper their daily speech. Pity the poor shlub whose parents couldn’t afford a phonograph.

 

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Don’t waste your time — or their’s

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Rejection: you have to embrace it if you’re going to last as a writer. Or, you can get better at avoiding it.

I find it so interesting that writers — often very sensitive, exacting people who invest their whole beings in each submission — are rejected routinely as part of their careers. Does anyone reject the work of Joe the mechanic or Tony the baker who turns out dozens of pizzas a day?

effective emails are as important as good prose

effective emails are as important as good prose

Today this essay about rejections (by an editor) popped up on my screen. My kneejerk response was to pick it apart for the writer’s insensitivity and sarcastic tone.

…we accept under one-third of one percent of submissions that come in. Given those numbers, rejection letters are necessary, and they are, unfortunately, unexceptional. In fifteen years in publishing, I have probably written more than two thousand rejection letters.

Then I realized that we writers have to accept rejections as a part of doing business, or avoid it by writing better proposals and better emails.

Your book proposal or published book may be a gem but if you can’t get anyone to review it your audience will never know what they’re missing.

This professor says:

You have 1.54 seconds, based on your email subject line alone, to convince the target consumer to open your email, according to Lon Safko, author of The Social Media Bible. That’s less than two seconds to convince your potential customer to read your sales message! It probably took you longer to read that last sentence.

Assuming that your fabulous headline convinces the consumer to click the email open, you then have less than 5 seconds to lead your consumer from that initial click to the action you want them to perform.

Your target’s decision about whether to respond favorably to your email marketing campaign happens in 5 seconds – start to finish.

They key, she says, is immediately stating the stakes, what she calls “What’s In It for Me.”

If you send dozens of emails without getting a response perhaps you need to revamp your approach. Try cutting the message down to a few actionable sentences.

And always, always study the publishers and review outlets you’re approaching to make sure they’re a match for your subject matter. It will save you a lot of time and frustration (see rejection section above) if you’ve honed in on those most likely to be interested in your topic.

Even if you create the algorithm that will churn out guaranteed best-selling books (as described in this scientific study) they’re only as good as your pitch to publishers and bookstores.

You gotta take something for that

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Are you sniffling, groggy and lacking energy? Do you sit at the computer all day and just stare at the screen?

It may be a bad case of writer’s block.

What can you take to get past it, to get the mojo flowing again?

hard working author Anita Diamant

hard working author Anita Diamant

Plenty of writers have suggestions. I like this one from Hemingway, who said to stop writing in the middle of a good part, when the words are flowing, so you can just jump into that mode again the next day without losing momentum.

Charlie Jane Anders provides some fantastic, in-depth advice in this blog post, which may help you identify and overcome the source of your issues. For instance,

“6. You’re bored with all these characters, they won’t do anything.
You created these bold, vibrant characters, and now you’ve written dozens of pages… about them brushing their teeth and feeding their cats. …

The good news is, sometimes writing a few dozen pages of nothing much happening can be super valuable – you’re getting into the world, and you’re working out for yourself what these characters are about. It’s entirely possible that once you’ve done that, a conflict will present itself, or one minor character will suddenly start looking like your protagonist. Just be prepared to toss out all these pages after that happens. (As you probably will with almost everything in a first draft, anyway.)”

There’s also whether you BELIEVE in writer’s block. I’ve had the benefit of writing on deadline and writing nonfiction — so either the story is there or it isn’t, I’m not waiting for my imagination to kick in and provide the heart-racing climax. When I can’t produce a compelling lede in my first five minutes on the keyboard I just keep writing and eventually come back to it.

A wonderful writer friend told me the analogy of “islands and bridges” style writing rather than trying to sit down and pound out a story from beginning to end. It made perfect sense.

I always thought writer’s block was a fiction-writer’s thing. But then I met Anita Diamant, author of The Red Tent and Good Harbor. I was profiling her for my magazine and asked about her writing muse. Her answer surprised me:

“I don’t have a muse,” she said. “I have an ass-in-chair work ethic.”

She doesn’t seem to believe in writer’s block, I guess.