Hopeless in Seattle: A Mythotherapy Commentary

hope

I woke up today, a beautiful sparkling day in Costa Rica, mad as a hatter. Then I just found myself crying into my pillow. My heart hurt and I had to wash my face, click on my computer and tell you why.

When I started this site nearly a year ago I had three inspirations: To encourage people to tell their stories, to help writers get published and to share what I know about writing, navigating the publishing world and most of all, to honor story as power in the world.

Most of my clients are first world citizens who enjoy many of the luxuries that most of the planet do not have the opportunity to experience: Clean and free water, electricity, watching a show before bed while eating Ben and Jerry’s, a bed, buying food on every corner, one or two Starbucks coffees in a day and money. I think it’s safe to say that my clients are mostly Caucasian, privileged in my sense of the word and writing is a luxury, sometimes a hobby and most of the time a story that is true in their lives and the telling of it will help others and heal the writer at the same time. All but one storyteller. This is who I want to speak about in this post.

Over the past two years I have been getting to know a young man in his twenties from Zimbabwe. He has a story to tell, passion for his people and his family, a large family that his mother is raising, and he has no vehicle to tell his story other than Facebook.   And in my mind the best writers are those who cannot help themselves and have to write, are roused in the night and must jot down ideas or begin a new chapter, dig into a new flash of insight or who have lived through the unthinkable and still possess a light in them and their story of triumph is the medicine the world needs. A writer who does not write as a hobby or a tangential part of life, but sees writing as their life, like breathing, is a very different animal. Emmanuel is one of those writers and storytellers. And he has gotten under my skin.

I grew up in a black and white world of the 50’s. Yes there were pink poodle skirts, bobby socks, diners, 38 records and then came the Beatles, the Vietnam War and chaos and cover-ups. But there was also growing up in the south where an African-American person was a “nigger”, when Brazil nuts were call “nigger toes” in my family, where I grew up with maids and drivers and black gardeners who pruned our hedges and clipped the grass around a four-foot metal lawn ornament of a black man holding a lantern and wearing a butlers outfit. This was my norm as a child. Then it all changed. I saw more sides of the black and white issue, as I became a teen.

My knees buckled as race riots were out of control in Watts. As front-page news was Selma and countless other towns and cities brutally murdering black citizens. I sat with my parents with our aluminum TV trays and Swanson TV dinners in front of a black and white television as JFK was gunned down and began hysterically crying as my parents sipped a vodka tonic and praised the conservatives and bashed the liberals. I became despondent when our government murdered Martin Luther King, and then the same people assassinated Bobby Kennedy. By 17 I was hopeless.

watts

The black and white issue began to eat away at my soul. Why? Because it was a human story for me. It was about people intentionally killing hope. From those days forward I was all about keeping hope alive. My hope, the hope of people in poverty, people who had so much less than me, people who had no future in our country back then because of the color of their skin. As for me I was lily-white, blonde, blue-eyed and wanting for not one thing in life.

Fast forward. I moved from hand writing letters to my congressman on stationary with my embossed initials at the top and mailing it to them by snail mail for eight cents to emailing those letters decades later. The KKK had gone underground and reappeared dressed differently. They were now corporate leaders, governing officials and not very interested in my emails. The Internet opened doors for all of us and there was a new power of the word birthing itself every day in cyberspace. Facebook shattered barriers and became a tool I would come to use religiously. Not because I wanted to simply dazzle the world with photos of my children or inspiring quotes, but because it connected me to stories around the world. I then started a Facebook page called Equilux, all about the dark and the light, all about the not so black and white issues we face. Then I met Emmanuel through Facebook and was instantly transported back to the days of my life at thirteen when life was becoming hopeless.

Emmanuel in his twenties, lives in a country in Africa that is a regime dedicated to keeping people from telling their stories, keeping people in poverty and powerless. Zimbabwe is not necessarily a black and white story though; it is a black and black story that is perpetuated by white values. Emmanuel is one of several children, the oldest, raised with the rest of them by his mother, living a life in a house with dirt floors and tiny brothers and sisters who dream of school and an easier life. Emmanuel is the only one to graduate school and who wants to go to college and follow a dream. His dream is not to get a job in IT and adopt empty western values, his dream is to go to film school so he can tell his story, his mother’s story and the story of his people. Emmanuel knows that is the only power of change for him and for his country; Words, stories and telling his truth.

If you go to Facebook and look Emmanuel Mazivire up, you will see him post photos of his family, his people and say things like “One kind word can change someone’s day” or “Do not judge by appearances, a rich heart may be under a poor coat”. He has not lost hope. So Emmanuel and I started to talk two years ago. He shared some of his writing of a story he wants to submit for a documentary on his mother and all the single mothers raising children in Zimbabwe. I posted about him and tried helping him get a basic video camera, which took six months to reach him because of how they monitor the mail in Africa. He still wishes to find a way to go to film school in the United States, still needs a video camera worthy of a documentary and is working on his writing.

So before the sun came up today I was roused by the part of me who after five decades of watching the black and white story, which is really the privileged and underprivileged story, the money and no money story, the entitled and not very entitled story and the turn a blind eye story because it is too inconvenient to know too many inconvenient truths, my heart hurt. Because Emmanuel is one in a sea of young people with stories to tell, dreams to live, love to share and who has very little means of doing so without help, without compassion, without others sharing the load. And like many I am not one to swoop into Zimbabwe on a plane with great video equipment and shoot a doc on Emmanuel and his life. Why? Because, no one can tell the story better than the person who is living it.

And I am one single mother in the world myself, privileged to live my dream, and not wealthy by a long shot. What I can do for and with Emmanuel is help him tell his story, be a voice along side of his, read his writing, coach him for free, share with people who are touched to help with a camera and support him on Facebook. But he needs more. He needs to have the flames of his hope fanned. What power each of us has to do that. He is pushing against all odds even in circumstances you or I would cry uncle to have to face. He needs a mentor, a documentary camera, a plane ticket, help for his mother, his siblings, his story. He needs to go to school, have a patron, get his video into film festivals. He needs me, he needs, you. I do what I can but as Emmanuel knows first hand…it takes a village. He is one person in a sea of stories. But as he posted last week:

few sincere words

So these are my few sincere words. There is an ocean filled with Emmanuel’s in this world, on every street corner, in Mumbai, Russia and New York City. Story is power. The power I chose to use in my world. We hold it in our hands every day and have a choice what to do with that story, sometimes failing to see that words are one of the most powerful tools we all have and only second to the power of the heart. Put the two together and we would all be unstoppable.

Note: If you are interested in knowing more about Emmanuel, helping in any way, running a Kickstarter Campaign to raise money for him, buy him a plane ticket, give him your video camera that is documentary worthy, or help me to help him please contact me personally at mayachristobel@gmail.com or write to Emmanuel directly at emmanuelmazivire@gmail.com and visit him on Facebook at Emmanuel Mazivire and send him your support. Become part of the global village.

emmanuel in school

 

Emmanuel doing some teaching.

Writer’s Block Demystified

garfield

Writer’s block “is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which a writer loses the ability to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges in difficulty from coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years.”

Now that I read this it sounds like some category found in the diagnostic manual for psychologists to refer to, like paranoia or phobias. Is writer’ block some condition that they just might be coming out with a new drug for? Surely not. But writer’s everywhere have a fear of the dreaded WB anyway.

I hear from countless writers that they struggle with writer’s block, wait for the moment it strikes like a migraine headache or simply live in fear that one day they will be in the final stretch of writing a novel or a story and be stricken down by the an inexplicable moment when there are simply no words. So I thought I would take a few minutes to debunk this mystery and myth.

I am not saying that this does not occur for many writers. But the writers it does not ever occur for are those who write from inspiration and passion. When a writer is not engaged with the subject or the story, then writer’s block may become an inevitability, just like boredom. Staring at the page with no words coming and then getting sweaty palmed is only a symptom that there is no creative edge happening, no inner fire pushing the words out onto the paper and that instead the mind is in analytical mode.

Writer’s who never experience writer’s block are those who are inside of their writing, channeling the words, the characters and the stories in ways they don’t even know where the words come from, with little concern for editing till the final draft. And the key being that the writing they are doing is not a brain job it is a heart song. Now that may feel foreign to those who write for a living and for other people as part of a paid job. There is little room for being personally inspired when you are critiquing a medical journal article or court reporting. But when you sit at the page simply because you are busting with energy to see what will happen, what scene will write itself, you anticipate which muse will take control and you allow expression to be the goal.  That is when writer’s block is not an issue.

Yet, for a writer to commit at this level, to allow intuition, passion and story to run the show and allow the mind to go on vacation for a little while, or at least till the final edit, miracles happen. Writer’s block is about only one thing: Not knowing what you are inspired and moved to write. When you locate that in your own intuition and act on it no matter whether you know the destination of your writing or not, you will write like the wind.

writers block

Do You Have a Writer’s Heart?

heartbrken writers

“A writer’s heart, a poet’s heart, an artist’s heart, a musician’s heart is always breaking. It is through that broken window that we see the world…”― Alice Walker

Author, Alice Walker changed the way I see my animals in life, especially my cats in her groundbreaking book, The Temple of My Familiar. That was back in 1989 when we were all enamored with polyester and pleather and she was weaving magic with words and pulling us into subjects that would change how we see the world. The Temple of My Familiar was an ambitious and multi-narrative novel containing the over-leaved stories of Arveyda, a musician in search of his past; Carlotta, his Latin American wife who lived in exile from hers; Suwelo, a black professor of American History who realizes that his generation of men had failed women; Fanny, his ex-wife about to meet her father for the first time; and Lissie, a vibrant creature with a thousand pasts. And, her quote lingers with me still.

norman rush

Mark Nepo, author of The Exquisite Risk writes about the same thing. About how the heart is the most critical part of writing. “Very quickly, when the heart is broken open, we are exhausted of our differences. We don’t try so hard to keep up needless boundaries and are forced to realize we are all the same, and this allows us to touch and be touched more directly. Things we thought that mattered don’t. I know once my heart is opened, I can find the courage to lean into the place where I am broken, to lean into that opening, letting life rush in and touch me there, even though that place is incredibly tender. I’ve discovered over time that the rush of life into the tender place where we are broken is the beginning of resilience.” It is also the beginning of an exceptional writer.

And it is just this relentless courage to write from our broken places that makes a writer stand out from the crowded writer’s circle. Those books, articles, poems and memoirs that stop you in your tracks and make you want to read one sentence, one page over and over again are not always about the writers talent to craft words. It is usually that they have taken a candle and allowed themselves to go deep into their own stories, feel their wounds, compile their learning and relive the pain. The very definition of courage for an artist.  They illuminate all of their own truth right there on the page for everyone to read. To write from these places assures the writer that they are listening to the most powerful muse: Themselves. This level of honesty and raw writing is a challenge for many writers. But without it, we skim over life on the page, we water down truth to something that mirrors our culture at a superficial level and do not allow for the mystery of our own lives and our broken hearts to lead the way for us as writers. When we can, each of us will feel the palpable difference in what words we craft, the depth of the stories we chose to tell and we find that once the plunge into the crack of our own hearts has occurred, we become the bravest writers possible.

sylvia plath

 

 

 

Making Money as a Writer

17 grants

Question:  How do you make money as a writer?

Writers write because they are compelled to, because they are  crazy, because they want to tell their story, feel that writing is their purpose, their passion and some write for profit.  Making money in a shapeshifting industry for writers is always a creative edge.  From simply paying the bills to making six figures, most people do not consider grants as coming to the rescue for getting your project off the ground.  Rebecca McCray (see her profile at the end of her article) did some serious homework for you so I am passing her article along to add to your file on how to get paid as a writer.

typewriter and champagne

“Writing may be incredibly satisfying, but it’s not a cash cow; most writers do what they do because they love it and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

When you find yourself with a big, time-consuming writing project to pursue, your love of words alone might not pay the bills. That’s when grant money can swoop in to save the day (and your budget).  Here are 17 great grants for writers. Ready to apply for money to fund your writing?

1. Leeway Foundation Art and Change Grants

These grants are available to women and transgender artists and writers based in the Delaware Valley region whose work emphasizes social change. That means “social change must be integral to the ideas, beliefs and goals that are woven throughout your [writing] and your process of creating and sharing your art,” and should positively engage the community.

Keep in mind that one key to success for this grant is securing a “Change Partner”: an individual, business, or organization that is connected to your work, and who will endorse your project.

If you are at least 18 years old and live in Bucks, Camden, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery or Philadelphia counties, you are eligible to apply. All genres are welcome. Applications must be received by March 1, 2015, and you can only apply once per grant cycle. Check out this page for all the details.

2. Artist Trust

If you are a resident of Washington state, this is the grant for you.

The Grants for Artists Program (GAP) awards up to $1,500 annually to 50 practicing literary and visual artists. Grant money can support the “development, completion or presentation of new work.”

Applications for the next round of grants will be available in March 2015; check out the details here. The organization also connects artists to an array of services, including career development, legal support, residencies and continuing education (just to name a few).

3. Bard College Fiction Prize

This writer-in-residence award is an amazing opportunity for an emerging writer over the age of 39 to devote a semester to a fiction project.

The recipient is required to give one public lecture on the campus and to informally meet with Bard students, but the rest of the time is devoted to their writing project. Bard College’s writing program boasts a talented faculty and a beautiful Annandale-on-Hudson campus in New York.

The award is annual, with this year’s project deadline having just passed on July 15, 2014; look for details on the 2015 deadline shortly. The application process is very straightforward; no lengthy FAQ pages here. Applicants should havepublished at least one book, three copies of which must be submitted with a cover letter explaining their next project and their C.V.

4. A Room Of Her Own Freedom Award

An especially generous grant of $50,000, this award is for a female writer in any genre with a true vision for her project. The application is a serious undertaking, but AROHO boasts that the process is a rewarding one, whether or not you end up with the big prize.

This grant period’s deadline has yet to be announced, so starting dreaming and planning now. Take a look at some of the past grantees and their work for inspiration.

5. Arts Writers Grant Program

If contemporary visual art is your writing area of expertise, you’re in luck. This grant funds writers who are passionate and knowledgeable about contemporary art and whose work will broaden the arts writing audience.

Good news for those who are trying to break into the arts writing field: emerging talent is welcome to apply. Writers can apply for a grant in one of five project types: blog, article, book, new and alternative media, or short-form writing. With prizes that range from $5,000 to $50,000, keep your eye out for the application period to reopen in spring 2015. Details are available here.

6. Sustainable Arts Foundation Award

This award of $2,000 or $6,000 stands out from the crowd by specifically supporting artists and writers with at least one child under the age of 18. The foundation strives to support parents who are trying to balance their creative work with the demands of child rearing.

Interested applicants should submit a sample of their work (maximum 25 pages), along with the answers to the questions found here. The fall deadline is September 8, 2014. Writers with kids might also want to keep an eye on this foundation’s work funding organizations that are trying to make their residency programs more parent friendly.

7. Creative Capital

If you’ve been working as a writer for at least five years, Creative Capital’s individual awards for “Artist Projects” might be for you. They aim to support working artists (in film, visual and performing art, emerging fields and literature) through funding and career development, based on a venture-capital model with the goal of helping grant recipients build sustainable artistic practices.

Projects receive between $10,000 and $50,000. Past literature recipients includeRebecca Solnit, Ben Marcus, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, and Alan Gilbert. Applications for Literature Projects will be accepted from February 2 to 28, 2015, and winners will be announced in 2016, so you have plenty of time to get organized.

Check out an online info session and this page for details on the application process. Note: applicants must also be over 25 years old, legal permanent residents of the United States and cannot be full-time students.

8. Arizona Artist Research and Development Grant

Arizona writers who are “pioneering new works” may want to try their luck with this grant, awarded to 10 to 12 artists across disciplines each year. The grant’s amount goes up to $5,000 depending on funding, though last year the average award was $3,500.

Applicants whose projects emphasize the “new” — new methodologies, new strategies, new ways of engaging readers — are primed for success. Writers should also explicitly state in their applications how their project will impact not just their own artistic practices, but also the larger Arizona community. The application has numerous demanding parts, so be sure to give yourself time to delve into the guidelines and meet the September 18, 2014 deadline.

9. Table 4

In honor of New York restaurateur Elaine Kaufman, the Table 4 Writers Foundation offers funding to New York City-based fiction and nonfiction writers.

Kaufman was known for opening the doors of her Upper East Side restaurant to established writers as well as those who were waiting for their big break, sometimes even picking up the tab when they were low on cash. The grant upholds this spirit by supporting promising writers aged 21 and older with grants of $2,500.

Applicants must provide an unpublished writing sample that somehow addresses New York City and an explanation of how the grant will further their latest project. Take a look at past winners and details here. The 2014 deadline hasn’t been posted yet, but last year’s application was due in October.

10. Minnesota Artist Initiative Grant

Minnesota-based writers of poetry and prose should keep an eye on this grant in 2015, awarded in amounts of $2,000 to $10,000. If you’ve been a resident for at least six months and are 18 or older, the Minnesota State Arts Board will consider your application for this grant, which supports the “career building and creative development” of Minnesota artists across mediums.

Public engagement is key for successful applicants; all projects must include a community component such as a reading or open workshop. Find the full details of the application process here.

11. Spirit of Writing Grant

If your writing project involves or serves a team, this grant may be a good fit for you. The Crystal Spirit Publishing grant supports writing projects that benefit a group of people rather than just an individual writer, particularly projects that tackle a designated problem head-on.

Expect to explain the problem in your application and how your work will address it. There are two application cycles per year; this year’s deadlines were in January and July, so you have time to prepare for 2015. Winners receive grants ranging from $500 to $2,500, but keep in mind the larger sums will likely go to organizational entrants as the grant is open to both organizations and individuals.

12. Kansas City Inspiration Grant

Kansas City writers may be awarded between $250 and $2,500 for professional development and budding projects. The regional arts council notes that the highest priority for the grant is to fund projects that significantly advance career development or an artist’s capacity to complete their work — not to fund “business as usual.”

Interested applicants can submit letters of intent, the first step, in March, July and November. A full proposal, which includes six samples of work, is only submitted after an applicant passes this initial phase.

Note that if you request more than $1,000 for your project, matching funds may be required. Check out the Inspiration Resources page for more information.

13. RISCA Project Grants for Artists

As with most other state arts council-based grants, this Rhode Island grant is available to writers who ultimately plan to share their work with the public through a reading, performance or other open event. The emphasis on public value is strong with the RI Arts Council, so this grant will best serve socially minded writing projects.

Submit applications twice per year, on April 1 and October 1. Individual applicants can request up to a whopping $10,000, but be mindful that more realistic requests are more likely to be granted, and if your request is especially sizeable you might consider providing proof that other organizations or individuals have invested monetarily in your project.

Note that applicants to this program must contact the director, Cristina DiChiera, before submission. Find her contact information here, along with all the application details.

14. Arts Council Grants for the Arts

Writers of fiction and poetry in England are eligible for this grant opportunity. Some nonfiction options exist for particularly innovative applicants, but theguidelines explicitly exclude screenwriting.

Public engagement and significant professional development are key for successful applicants, and writers should be able to demonstrate the support of an objective third-party such as a publisher, editor or literary organization that also supports their work.

One of the great things about this grant is that the funding can be applied to a broad range of resources, including residencies, mentoring, research or simply time to write.

15. Wyoming Individual Artist Grant

Awards of up to $500 are available for Wyoming writers of prose, poetry, scripts or screenplays. The Wyoming Arts Council notes that many applicants who receive the grant use the funding for travel or to build a professional website.

Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, but should be submitted at least six weeks prior to the anticipated project start date. The application process is delightfully straightforward; take a look here for more information.

16.North Carolina Regional Project Grant

North Carolina writers at any stage in their careers are invited to apply for grants to fund new or existing projects, with awards ranging from $300 to $5,000.

Application procedures and deadlines vary depending on your county, so make sure you reach out to the office designated on this page for specific regional details. The guidelines are fairly open-ended, which is good news for writers who want to use the funds for a variety of professional development needs.

17.Awesome Foundation Grant

This grant is as awesome as it sounds. Winners receive $1,000 with “no strings attached” to pursue their incredibly awesome projects, and the foundation and its donors have no say in the finished project.

Chapters of the foundation organized by region or subject review applications and select the grantees. The process is almost unsettlingly simple (the website boasts it can be completed in 15 minutes), but don’t be deterred — this really is a great opportunity.

Looking for more great grants and funding options? Check out C. Hope Clark’s fantastic list of opportunities at Funds for Writers.”

 

Rebecca McCray is a New York-based writer who covers social justice, criminal justice reform, and whatever else catches her eye. Check out more of her writing here. .

Rebecca McCray | @rebeccakmccray

Dana Sitar

FEATURED

30 Books to Read by 30

 

books

Some books are best read at a certain age. Even the novels and memoirs you might consider timeless — Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye or Joan Didion’sThe Year of Magical Thinking — can serve a special purpose if consumed during a particular phase in your life. That particular phase is, of course, your 20s.

The much celebrated, sometimes maligned, decade is an undeniably impressionable one. You’ve happily exited your teens, slowly freeing yourself of the weighty angst you carried throughout high school. You might have one foot in college and the other in a career, even if you’re well beyond graduation, nestled comfortably in a new job — maybe even a relationship. But you’re probably not settled — financially, emotionally, spiritually, artistically. You’re aching for a philosophy, for a template for adulthood; anything that will anchor your constantly evolving life to solid ground.

Cue the 30 books you should read before you turn 30! From Alice Munro to Ralph Ellison, these are the books that are best read in your 20s, when you’re restless and hungry for new ideas. Whether you’re just starting the decade or about to leave it, you’ve still got time to put a dent in this literary bucket list. Enjoy:

1. Lives of Girls and Women, Alice Munro

At long last, Munro’s short stories have been given their due acknowledgment as some of the best crafted by a living writer. Her characters are humble, witty, relatable; her tales read like conversations with an old, self-aware friend. Her novel, too, is among the best coming-of-age stories. Following young Del Jordan on adolescent adventures with her Encyclopedia-selling mother and her best friend Naomi, the interwoven tales are set in a small town, but will remind almost any reader of their own first encounters with isolation, lust and ambition. -Maddie Crum

munro

2. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

In this hauntingly elegiac book, Woolf evokes the painful inevitability of time’s passage. The Ramsays are enjoying a summer on the Isle of Skye; the children, husband and guests are all effortlessly entertained by the bewitching Mrs. Ramsay. Time passes, and we revisit the house, but it’s empty and left open to the elements. Losses have been suffered that could not have been foreseen in the idyllic days documented in the first section. To the Lighthouse captures the agony of loss contained in growing up, and reminds us all, hopefully, to be grateful for the blessings we may often overlook when we’re feeling young and invincible. -Claire Fallon

lightouse

3. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion

Didion’s memoir begins when, one evening, just before dinner, her husband unexpectedly suffers a heart attack and dies. What follows is an honest and impassioned story of the author’s first year without him, from the fallacious thoughts saying he’ll return, to the small daily rituals that will never be the same. Grief is not often talked about in detail, but this book captures its essence. -Priscilla Frank

did

4. In Persuasion Nation, George Saunders

Saunders packages together satire and sci-fi so adeptly, in short and digestible spurts, approaching everything from contagion to commercialism. And he doesn’t shy away from the horrific future he seems to feel is just a stone’s throw from our own era. It’s a dose of unreality everyone under 30 (and over, for that matter) should experience. -Katherine Brooks

saunders

5. Ulysses, James Joyce

This hefty, heady masterpiece about a single day in Dublin revolutionized the modernist literary scene. Read it to ruminate on perception, to relate to the father-searching angst of young artist Stephen Dedalus, or just to remember how much you experience in 24 hours. Investing in a companion book (or college course) would not go amiss. -Colton Valentine

ulysses

6. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen

Ah, the catastrophic voyage from youth to adulthood. Nobody seems to capture it as accurately, if sarcastically, as Franzen. Three siblings each attempt to navigate the rough waters beyond their hometown, where things aren’t so stable lately, either. Egotistical middle kid Chip has dismayingly been barred from academia; career-driven Denise is caught up in affair (or two); seemingly stable Gary has been feeling drearier than his pristine home will have you believe. At the very least, The Corrections is a smart, funny break from your own quarter-life or midlife crisis. -Maddie Crum

corrections

7. Middlemarch, George Eliot

Eliot’s great gift as a novelist was her breadth of empathy, which stretched wide enough to cover spoiled society brats and humble farmers alike. In Middlemarch, we see the emotional education of a varied cast of young people — naively idealistic Dorothea, selfish Rosamond, ambitious Dr. Lydgate, goodhearted rake Fred Vincy, and more — as they take the first steps toward shaping the rest of their lives. Eliot deftly impresses on readers the need for personal maturation, and the possible consequences of making poor choices early in life, but all with a warm understanding that acts as a balm to those of us still struggling toward adulthood. -Claire Fallon

eliot

8. The Sabbath, AJ Heschel

Heschel’s compact gem explores the history and significance of the Jewish tradition of Shabbat. Yet even for the non-religious reader, the book offers a gripping and timely meditation on the holiness of time, as relevant as ever in today’s space-dominated world. Whether or not you’re practicing or Jewish at all, this book will show the immense import of a day of rest. -Priscilla Frank

sabbath

9. A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara

On the surface, Yanagihara’s prose follows four friends fresh out of university, fitted with romanticized character arcs that intersect and detach in familiar, post-collegiate ways. But beyond the glamour of making it to — and flourishing within — the fantasy world that is Manhattan, the author picks away at our ability to understand grief and depression, challenging the reader to be more and more empathetic. And your 20s is a better time than any to hone the oft-overlooked trait of empathy. (Bonus: The books is physically hefty at over 700 pages, but ravenously readable.) -Katherine Brooks

life

10. The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison

A wake-up call for any young adult on how race and gender burrow deeply into (adolescent) psychology. The novel’s treatment of endemic prejudice is frighteningly applicable to 2015, and it hones your ability to pick apart the ways that prejudice manifests in our supposedly pure sense of beauty. At the same time, Morrison manages to coat even the most appalling actions in impossibility gorgeous words. Her style is purple prose done to perfection. -Colton Valentine

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11. My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante

The first in a mysterious Italian author’s series about the intertwined lives of two female friends, this novel not only brings to life the pleasures and difficulties of intimacy, but also the stubborn nature of fate. As narrator Elena and her childhood comrade Lila attempt to escape the violent, patriarchal strictures of Neapolitan life through education and romance respectively, they learn that doing so would require much more than objective success. -Maddie Crum

elena

12. White Teeth, Zadie Smith

White Teeth crosses generations, following two war buddies, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal, and the cultural struggles faced by them and their families in a rapidly changing England. Jones’ biracial, brilliant daughter and Iqbal’s rebellious sons form close friendships and blossom in different strengths, but their paths to adulthood are strewn with pitfalls — like a profound longing for acceptance that any young person, and any immigrant, can likely relate to. Adolescence is awkward for most of us — even girls, so often presented as nubile and lovely in art — and Smith takes the fumbling insecurity, physical self-consciousness and shifting identity and unflinchingly lays it all on the page. -Claire Fallon

whiteteeth

13. I Love Dick, Chris Kraus

I Love Dick is part diary, part theory, part fiction, part autobiography, part confession, part manifesto. Kraus’ story begins when she and her husband embark on the strange, erotic exercise of sending love letters to the man Kraus wants desperately to sleep with. Kraus’ book urges women to be exposed, paradoxical, desirous, even destructive — anything but quiet. -Priscilla Frank

dick

14. Kurt Vonnegut: Letters, ed. Dan Wakefield

Reading a compilation of letters so specific and intimate, spanning decades of one person’s life, gives a 20-something (or me, at least) a sense of the passing of time. Vonnegut’s collected correspondence offers readers a glimpse of the rougher sides of his experience as a professional writer; the balancing game of maintaining relationships with loved ones and friends, colleagues and critics. Most importantly, it proves in one way or another that real life, the stuff of nonfiction, propels forward, even after the most unmanageable moments of anguish. -Katherine Brooks

kurt

15. The Symposium, Plato

A gorgeous examination of beauty, love, and education told in a series of speeches (“encomia”) by Greeks who become increasingly intoxicated as the night goes on. It’s both a dose of idealism and a reminder to never take anyone, even Plato, too seriously. Recommendation: read in one Starbucks sitting, then walk outside and prepare for transcendence. You might just enter the world of forms. -Colton Valentine

plato

16. Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill

On its face, Offill’s slim novel is a sparse reflection on infidelity — the forces that bring people together, and the forces that wedge them apart. But the author’s magical command of language infuses her story with scientific metaphors, lyrical observations about what it is to be human, and hilarious anecdotes about yoga pants. -Maddie Crum

offill

17. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

Every now and then, you’ll read a book that will pick up your worldview and shake it like a Boggle board, leaving everything in a somewhat different position that before. Invisible Man is one of those books. And it’s great to shake up your worldview as soon as possible rather than go through your life playing the same letters. (Right?) Invisible Man excavates the psychological damage inflicted by racism, as well as the economic and physical toll, as its increasingly bitter narrator endures countless betrayals and indignities both in his native South and in Harlem, where he ultimately moves. The unseen trauma festers into a rage that saturates his every fiber, leaving us questioning the structures of our society and the hidden causes of seemingly inexplicable pain. -Claire Fallon

ralph

18. Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah is a love story, following two teenagers in Nigeria as they grow up and leave their country of origin. But more importantly, it’s a sharp and raw portrait of contemporary race relations, depicting just how different an experience it is to be African in America and to be an African-American. Adichie’s hilarious, sparkling prose make her characters so true to life you’ll learn big lessons about relationships and gender dynamics without even trying. -Priscilla Frank

americanah

19. Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng

In the moment, Ng’s book is a thriller, one that tells the story of a high-school girl’s abrupt death amidst the rumor mill of a 1970s-era college town in Ohio. The story lingers as a familial portrait, though, one that reflects on the roles our parents, siblings and children reluctantly play in order to keep the nuclear unit afloat — and the impact of the secrets we all keep from each other. While the novel is just over 300 pages, it packs a punch, spanning the early murmurs of feminism as well as the racial biases of 20th-century White America. Overall, it’s a stunning glimpse into the generation that preceded Millennials. -Katherine Brooks

everything

20. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

“To understand just one life you have to swallow the world,” says protagonist Saleem Sinai. The novel charts a group of children endowed with magical powers who were born just before midnight on the eve of India and Pakistan’s division. Its scope is massive — reaching through generations and decades of political intrigue — but it focuses the telling of history in the tragedy of individual lives. Rushdie’s novel is an exceptional introduction to postcolonial writing. It asks us why we tell stories the way we do, and then proposes a some fantastical alternatives. Be prepared to swallow its world. -Colton Valentine

salman

21. The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

Barnes’s Booker-winning novel is a short, emotionally demanding read about nostalgia, and how we process and make sense of our wending memories. Middle-aged protagonist Tony has allowed himself to become comfortable with his life as a cordial divorced man, until an unexpected letter forces him to rethink his friendships of yore, especially his connection with the intellectually serious Adrian Finn. In doing so, Tony — and Barnes — sheds light on the relative nature of time, and how we determine what we value most. -Maddie Crum

barnes

22. Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson

Every reading list should have some Robinson on it. The pre-30 years are a particularly apt time to read Housekeeping, her first novel and the only one not set in Gilead, Iowa. The tale is narrated by Ruthie, a young girl who, along with her sister Lucille, is left with an itinerant aunt after their mother takes her own life. An aura of the uncanny hovers over the lives of the threesome, as their aunt struggles to stay in town to care for the girls despite her wanderlust and obvious disconnect from society. Housekeeping makes vivid a sense of displacement and identity confusion that will cut right to your soul. -Claire Fallon

house

23. Delta of Venus, Anais Nin

Nin’s collection of short erotica is one of the first from a female perspective. They were originally written for a private collector, who directed Nin to leave out the poetic language and focus on the sex. However, Nin’s evocative voice sparkles throughout in the bewitching and nasty tales touching on themes from masculinity to incest. -Priscilla Frank

nin

24. Lesabéndio: An Asteroid Novel, Paul Scheerbart

Written in 1913, Lesabéndio is equal parts philosophy and science fiction that mines an eternal debate: what is more valuable, construction in the name of science or creation in the name of art? For those pondering a professional future beyond their humanities educations, Scheerbart weighs the importance of technical discovery, aesthetic progress, and collaboration between artists and scientists. Bonus: Lesabéndio is one of the most original alien characters out there. -Katherine Brooks

lesa

25. On the Genealogy of Morality, Friedrich Nietzsche

Perhaps the most polarizing philosopher on record, Nietzsche outlines a controversial ethical theory that will leave you well-equipped to spar with pseudo-intellectuals. His writings inspired a great deal of 20th-century thought — and a lot of late-night dorm conversations. So even if you hate him, it’s worth working through his ideas to articulate why. Spoiler: it’s actually far more complicated than “God is dead” nihilism. -Colton Valentine

niet

26. Leaving the Atocha Station, Ben Lerner

Lerner, most recently of 10:04 fame, forayed into novel-writing from poem-crafting (much to the delight of story lovers!) with Leaving the Atocha Station. Narrator Adam is a poet living in Spain on a fellowship, but more than writing he spends his time wandering around museums, smoking, and pursuing women. Comically self-effacing, Adam is restless youth personified. Aware of his flaws and shortcomings but unable to correct them, he instead invites the reader to witness his wanderings and musings firsthand and unfiltered. Lerner manages to make a potentially self-indulgent story a delicate portrayal of youthful idealism. -Maddie Crum

lerner

27. Persuasion, Jane Austen

If you get to 30 and haven’t read any Austen… well, for shame. One of the creators of the modern novel, Austen isn’t just historically important; she’s acutely observant, laugh-out-loud funny, and full of timeless truths. Any of her major novels would be valuable reading, but don’t miss Persuasion. Her final completed novel, it lacks some of the vibrant hilarity of her earlier hits but makes up for it with its hopeful spirit. It’s a quiet story of youthful impressionability, living with regret, and finding second chances, full of wisdom for those of us suffering life’s first knocks and looking back on our first big mistakes. -Claire Fallon

persuasion

28. The Painted Word, Tom Wolfe

If you hate modern art, you will love this book. Even if you love modern art, you’ll probably love it. Wolfe’s irreverent takedown of art-world bullshit will make you feel so much better about your lukewarm feelings for Damien Hirst. Even if you disagree with Wolfe’s overall cranky message, it’s the best way to learn a lot about art while also laughing very hard. -Priscilla Frank

wolfe

29. Girls to the Front, Sara Marcus

Music nerds, assemble. No one should leave their 20s without understanding the impact of riot grrrls on contemporary culture, be it art, music, or feminism in general. Read this book, listen to every band mentioned, and relish in the DIY, “Rebel Girl” ethos of Kathleen Hanna and her ilk. -Katherine Brooks

girls

30. Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett

A stark tragicomedy featuring two characters that wait and wait and wait some more. Language and relationships break down, hope fades, and we’re left wondering whether Godot is a mere symbol for the absence of modern spiritual salvation. Beckett may not offer much hope for your 20-something uncertainty, but at least his work reminds you that the rest of the world is also waiting for something miraculous to happen. -Colton Valentine

beckett

Tips for Writers on How to Price Their Work: Social Media

money from sky

How to charge for something you contribute as a writer is always a bit of a question for writers starting out as freelancers.  I had someone write me today about Social Media writing and how to charge for everything from Landing Pages to Blog Posts.  This is a great article that cuts to the chase, by a site called The Content Factory.  You will find their website at the end of the article.

I will make it my business to find the best answers out there for ghostwriters, freelancers, article writer to children’s book writers since there is no need to reinvent the wheel when so many great sites are up and running to help answer these questions.  This article helps those wanting to HIRE a writer and how to price their projects.

Next time I will talk about ghostwriting a novel or a screenplay.

The Content Factory On Writing for Social Media:

Judging by the popularity of our blog post about how much social media marketing costs, people are very interested in how much agencies and freelancers charge to manage social media. In fact, that post is currently ranking #1 in Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) for a variety of keywords associated with that phrase. So, we decided to write a post about how much professional web content writing costs. This pricing guide has been updated for 2014, and will tell you how much it costs to outsource landing pages, blog posts, press releases and other web content – both for our agency and in general. We did quite a bit of research, so you won’t have to!

Side note: if you just want to know about The Content Factory’s web content rates,click here to review our generic proposal that outlines everything we do and how much it all costs. PR, social media marketing and content marketing is also included in our larger packages.

There are many different types of web content writing, each with different price points. Most of our web content writing services involve one of the following:

  • US_Dollar_banknotesLanding pages — Involves writing content like you see on our home, about and services pages. They should have distinct calls to action, include the SEO keywords you’re trying to target and be somewhere in the range of 250-450 words long (depending on the design of the site). The purpose of landing pages is to convert browsers to buyers, and having amazing content can make a huge difference in your conversion rates. Poorly written content can seriously affect your sales. Landing pages are the most difficult to write out of all the web content, which is why they’re so expensive.
  • SEO blog posts — SEO blog posts (also known as SEO articles) are one of the easiest ways to increase your website traffic. They drive SEO, fuel social media marketing campaigns and are a good way to introduce people to your brand. Blogs give people a reason to visit your website, and once readers are there they tend to click around a little. In a directly indirect way, blogs drive sales.
  • Mini blog posts — These are the same as regular blog posts, only e-mailed to the client as a Word file. Most of our clients have us post the posts directly to their websites (we include relevant tags/categorization, social bookmarking and other extras), which saves them time and costs them more money. Choosing the mini blog post option takes the client a little more time, but saves them some cash. Toe-may-toe, toe-mah-toe.
  • Linkbait articles — These are like standard SEO blog posts, only twice the length and hyped up on awesome. Designed to go viral, linkbait articles tend to be provocative in one way or another. There’s a huge amount of effort and talent involved in writing linkbait articles, but the traffic payoff is often worth the per-word rate.

So, how much does all this web content writing cost? It’s hard to say, because most companies don’t advertise their prices. Here’s what we were able to find out, though:

How much do landing pages cost?

Landing page content is where you want to drop your money, since it acts as your website’s silent salesman. If your web content is coming off like a sweaty and desperate used car salesman, it’s not going to convert and your sales are going to suffer. Who cares if you’re getting a ton of traffic if none of it is converting into actual sales? With that said, how many Benjamins should you expect to throw at your website copy?

This is one instance where it’s difficult to tell what companies really charge for landing pages. For example, at The Content Factory, we only write landing page copy. We don’t develop or design websites — instead, we specialize in writing the words that go on the pages and outsource the design aspect to one of our agency partners who (surprise!) specializes only in designing amazing and functional websites. Many web design businesses roll the cost of the content writing into their design fees, and then scratch together the content themselves. This is why so many websites have such crappy landing page copy.

There was a really interesting forum discussion about it, though — and some professional landing page writers quoted $1,500-$25,000 per page of content.

Now, I’m not going to argue that there isn’t a ton of time involved with creating landing pages that convert. But $3,000-$4,000 per page still seems excessive. When you consider that you’re looking at five or more pages per website, the actual cost of content comes to $15,000-$20,000about the cost of a new compact car.

Here’s the argument these and other people use to justify such expensive fees: if you pay more for content, you’ll get a better conversion rate and the extra sales will make up for the obscene per-piece rate. That may hold true for a luxury car dealership, plastic surgeon’s office or home remodeling company, but only because they make so much money on each transaction — and the truth of the matter is that most businesses don’t. The majority of the people who come to us for web content writing services make less than $500 profit on each sale, or are fresh startups that don’t have that kind of capital. For them, that argument just doesn’t work (especially not in the short-term).

At The Content Factory, we bill for landing pages by the word — $1 per, with a project minimum of $750. On rare cases it may cost slightly more, depending on the complexity of the subject and research involved. Our landing pages are usually around 250-500 words and most clients need five pages of content written, which means thatthe average 5-7 page website content project costs between $1,500 and $2,000, including all edits.

For that price, you get pretty sweet copy — the copy on our site features a certain tone that we find preferable, but when we write for clients we do so with their preferred tone. We’ve written content for large law firms, real estate agents, adult e-tail sites, startups and everything in between. Everyone wants something a little different, and we can modify our writing style to deliver exactly what the client wants.

How much do SEO blogs cost?

For our regular SEO blog posts, we charge between $80 and $750 each, depending on the length and how many you want (we give bulk discounts). If you want a 2,000+ word in-depth article that features interviews from industry experts and thought leaders, it’s going to be on the higher end of the spectrum. Our rates include posting the content to the your website, using proper tags/categories, formatting, etc. If we have access to your analytics, we’ll even target our topics based on the popularity of past posts. If you’re looking to save some money and know how to publish the blogs yourself, we’ll e-mail the Word docs and let you take care of the posting and promotion. We call these “mini blogs” and charge $60 per. Plus, we give bulk discounts for orders of 10 or more.

Another thing that isn’t really outlined is the most important: content strategy. Before you can execute a successful content marketing plan, you need to know:

  • Everything about your target audience
  • Which keywords to target, to target the target audience (is that enough targeting?)
  • How difficult the keywords will be to rank for
  • Which keywords your site currently ranking for
  • Which keywords the competition is ranking for
  • Which keywords are more likely to convert
  • If your site needs any tweaks on the back-end for better optimization (we useSEOsiteCheckup – it’s free, fast and VERY easy to understand, even if you know nothing about SEO)

This all takes quite a bit of time, knowledge and experience – along with a dash of A/B testing. It’s unclear if strategy is included in these rates, but at TCF we complete comprehensive keyword research and competitive analysis for $1500. This also includes coming up with a content strategy to target keywords, while also appealing to your target audience in a way that will get the keywords searchers to convert into paying clients or customers. It’s something we’ve done with great success for our website, and we’ve helped clients achieve similar goals.

How much do linkbait articles cost?

Linkbait blog posts take much more time and talent to write than a standard blog post, although some of our posts turn out to be linkbait anyway (we can’t help it, sometimes our writers submit incredible work). The whole point of writing linkbait articles is to get as many sites to link back to you as possible, which boils down to getting more site traffic.

Linkbait takes a lot of time to write and even more time to edit — but it won’t cost you as much as a new Honda Civic. We weren’t really able to find too many  prices for linkbait articles, which I’m guessing is an indication that other content writing companies aren’t as hip and with it as we are. Christopher Angus, alleged SEO expert (he has a very nice haircut and a black and white headshot, which makes me trust him immediately), seems to think they cost $2,000 each.

Our linkbait costs around $500 each. Do we guarantee that each one will get you hundreds of backlinks? No…but nobody else can, either.

Other writing services:

There are a couple of other writing assignments that we get in on a regular basis:

  • Press releases — A professional press release writer knows how to format the damn thing correctly, which is the hardest part. Well, at least the second hardest part, since coming up with a catchy headline isn’t as easy as you’d think. Press releases should be written from a semi-objective viewpoint, so that journalists can copy/paste it into their articles and blogs.
  • E-mail newsletters — A good e-mail newsletter writer knows how to create a subject title that boosts open rates. Once the readers are in, it’s up to the writer to hold their attention and get them to click through to the website (or some other action). Great e-mail newsletters are hard to come by, which is why so many end up in the spam folder.

There are all kinds of BS prices listed online for e-mail newsletter and press release writing. You can find somebody on Craigslist to write either for less than $15, or you could pay $2,500 with a fancy online PR agency. We charge a flat rate of $1500 per press release, which includes writing, editing, distribution and promotion.

www.contentfac.com

 

The End of Books?

books on the street

The End of Books
By ROBERT COOVER, NYTimes, 1992

“In the real world nowadays, that is to say, in the world of video transmissions, cellular phones, fax machines, computer networks, and in particular out in the humming digitalized precincts of avant-garde computer hackers, cyberpunks and hyperspace freaks, you will often hear it said that the print medium is a doomed and outdated technology, a mere curiosity of bygone days destined soon to be consigned forever to those dusty unattended museums we now call libraries. Indeed, the very proliferation of books and other print-based media, so prevalent in this forest-harvesting, paper-wasting age, is held to be a sign of its feverish moribundity, the last futile gasp of a once vital form before it finally passes away forever, dead as God.

Which would mean of course that the novel, too, as we know it, has come to its end. Not that those announcing its demise are grieving. For all its passing charm, the traditional novel, which took center stage at the same time that industrial mercantile democracies arose — and which Hegel called “the epic of the middle-class world” — is perceived by its would-be executioners as the virulent carrier of the patriarchal, colonial, canonical, proprietary, hierarchical and authoritarian values of a past that is no longer with us.” Published in the New York Times 1992

You might think that this article above was written recently but look again. The debate over books becoming obsolete began when my daughters were seven years old and the computer had just become a household option.

Now, 23 years after this article was written by Mr. Coover, much of what he says is true, but what is even truer is that the function of the book, the memoir, the novel and the poetry collection has been given new delivery systems and in small sound bites to fit our changing brains and lifestyles. As with the web series which is rapidly replacing the movie, texting that is replacing most of our oral tradition (like calling and having a long chat with your mother on Mother’s Day), E-Cards replacing that Hallmark cry your eyes card with a personal signature from your loved one, who may have taken the time to compose a poem or say something personal, now we let technology speak for us.
There is something very specific about a physical book and the story it contains. Books are like a treasure chest full of secrets as you move  from one page to another and even the font can be a thing of beauty. A book is something that is irreplaceable. There is a bit of magic in perusing Barnes and Nobel, even if most of the books are geared to romantically starved women and coming of age teens who cannot get enough vampire literature. The dimensionality of a physical book, the texture, the smell of the pages, the graphics, turning pages until the book slumps down on your chest before the night light is out, is brain food that technology cannot replace. Brain Food!

Much like writing with a pen or pencil verses typing on a computer, our brain needs proprioceptive input to fully function and to retain what we are reading or writing. Sensory data is necessary for our imaginative centers of the brain to light up. When we type on a computer there is minimal sensory data and we can simply zone out and skim life. As a result, our attention span withers and is not only shortened but so is retention and general interest: enter the need for the “soundbite. With texting, three-min videos, web series, and even Kindle, being fully engaged in writing or reading a book or story is reduced significantly.

Another perfect example is the sand box.  Or should I say the absence of the proverbial sand box.  It used to be that the sand box was a canvas for the imagination.  Tunnels and towns, wet-scaped mountains, Tonka Trucks and little plastic figures made stories unfold and engaged the body the mind and the spirit.  Building and creating was the mission of the sand box.  Now we have video games.  Enough said.

A story is interactive, and a book should be a relationship you are having for several hundred pages. When did you last have a 500 page barn burner and not even get out of your Jammies or comb your hair all day? Please don’t say Fifty Shades of Grey!

The advent of the television series in the 1950’s, whether it was a half hour sitcom or a one hour crime drama like Dragnet is how we have become accustomed to a story one a piece at a time. Most of the time we are cooking, eating or texting all the while the story is unfolding on the TV. What we miss, what we are not giving ourselves by sitting with a real book, a well written and imaginative story, is priceless. But more than that it is essential for health. No longer indulging in the pricelessness of reading a book, finding that perfect story at the bookstore, and savoring our own imagination is part of why there is so much illness in our country. We fail to take downtime, to focus our creative energy, the have sensory input by writing with a pen or by turning pages. We fail to really read with our whole being and allow our imagination to take us into…the depths of ourselves.

We have replaced this essential relationship between reader and author with a hurried technological life that in fact may be more efficient and more can in fact get done in a day but we have traded a kind of neuro-stimulation of our brains, our eye hand connection, our imagination and creative centers for….expediency.
That is a costly trade since our body depends on all the brain firing that goes on when we are fully engaged. Not only fully engaged with ourselves, our book, our writing project, our characters but with each other and not our phones or Xbox. It is time to rethink how in fact technology is dumbing us down and freezing our brain from our own limitless passion and imagination.

Essay Guidelines and Your Red Mittens

vision can change the world

I promised to post some guidelines for those who are writing an essay to win a contest, especially the Inn in Maine.  Although I will be personally working with ten people on this contest I have had so many inquiries that I thought to help the best I could by including on my blog some thoughts for writing a 200 word essay.  There is wisdom included in the guidelines below from writers other than myself who have learned a few things about writing a short essay of this kind.

Feel free to post questions and please feel free to send me a bit about your story to share with my readers.  We can all use inspiration.

Dreaming big is what we should all be doing and without restraint.  I hope this helps to dream even bigger.

Essay Writing Information From Maya Christobel

Here are some tips on approaching writing your essay. Over the years I have gathered lots of great advice and experience, which I will jot down for you to help you launch your essay.

 

  • Short is all that much harder than long, but don’t worry. Write as much as you want and then you will slash a burn what is not essential.
  • Do not hurry. Allow the muse to whisper in your ear. If you hurry your mid will be in the driver seat and that will not make for a great essay.
  • Pay attention to what you might be afraid to say, what you were dreaming the night before you work on your essay, pay attention to your intuition and instinct and particularly pay attention to the visual images you have in your mind.
  • This is not a test. Write instinctively first, not like an English major taking a test. Thinking you need to do it “right” will never help you “write”.

 

Tell a story about you and about your dream: Be specific: The more personal the better. Think of your own experience, work, and family, and tell of the things you know that no one else does. Find the unique points of your dream and focus on them. Instead of saying something about loving your parents and wanting to help them run a B+B, say more than that: Say why you love them, what makes them so special and the perfect people to realize their dream. Your story need not be heart-warming or gut wrenching—it can even be funny—but it has to be real.

 

Be personal: Write in words and phrases that are comfortable for you to speak. I recommend you read your essay aloud to yourself several times, and each time edit it and simplify it until you find the words, tone, and story that truly echo your belief and the way you speak. In fact take your iPhone or a recorder and simply tell your story and then play it back many times. This will help you focus on what feels right, what stands out and what may not fit.  Tell your story first to a best friend and see what she or he is moved by.

 

Consult your Heart: When you are limited to 200 words, which is not quite one page you will be doing a lot of thinking about what you need or want to write. My advice is to please write from your heart first. Do not focus on grammar or spelling or word count. Make sure you are answering the following questions:

 

  • Why does owning this Inn inspire you?
  • How would it change your life AND others.
  • What particular experience do you have that helps you run an Inn.
  • Why are you the best candidate? What makes you Unique?

 

Then Lead Your Essay with a Good Hook, this is most important.

When it’s time to start writing your essay contest entry, remember that the first sentence is the most important of all. If you can start with a powerful, intriguing, moving, or hilarious first sentence, you’ll hook your readers’ interest and stick in their memory when it is time to pick winners. Remember you are competing against 7500 other dreamers so that first sentence needs to stand out.

Write Your First Draft Essay

Now is the time to get all of your thoughts down. At this stage, it’s not necessary for everything to be perfectly polished; you’re just setting down the bones of your final essay contest entry. Try to hit the points you most want to communicate. If your essay is running longer than the word count limit, don’t worry about it at this stage, I will help you trim the fat.

 red mittens

Keep an Eye Out for “Red Mittens”

This is something I learned along the way that has been indispensable. The “red mittens” idea has to do with making sure you have something so unique and visual in the essay that they will remember you out of the crowd. It is like planting an Easter egg in the bushes. Here is a great piece of information.

Excerpt from Sandra Grauschopf: Contests & Sweepstakes Expert

“In her fantastic book, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, Terry Ryan talked about how her mother used “Red Mittens” to help her be even more successful with contest entries. To quote from the book:

“The purpose of the Red Mitten was almost self-explanatory — it made an entry stand out from the rest. In a basket of mittens, a red one will be noticed.”

Among the Red Mitten tricks that Evelyn Ryan used were rhyme, alliteration, inner rhyme, puns, and coined words.

While Evelyn Ryan mostly entered jingle and ad-type contests, the Red Mitten theory can be used to make any essay contest entry stand out. Your Red Mitten might be a clever play on words, a dash of humor, or a heart-tugging poignancy that sticks in the judges’ minds.”

 

Then Revise Your Essay for Flow 

Once you have written the first draft of your essay contest entry, look it over to ensure that it flows smoothly. I will be helping you all along the way to make sure that you say what you need in compelling ways and that it flows. Is your point well made and clear? Does the essay flow smoothly from one point to another? Do the transitions make sense? Does it sound good when you read it aloud? Remember this is a final piece of writing and at the beginning you just need to get all your feelings and thoughts on paper even if it is five pages.

At this point you and I will cut out extraneous words and make sure that you’ve come in under the word count limit.

In Stephen King’s book which I believe is one of the best out there, On Writing, he talks about a rejection notice he once received that read: “Formula for success: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%.” In other words, the first draft can always use some trimming to make the best parts shine.

 

Now Put Your Writing Away

When you have a fairly polished first draft of your essay contest entry, put it aside and don’t look at it for a little while. If you have time before the contest ends, put your essay away for at least a week. Let your mind mull over the idea subconsciously for a little while and see what else bubbles up.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sent in an entry and then thought of something that I should have added to make it perfect. Letting your entry simmer in your mind and heart gives you the time to come up with these great ideas before it’s too late.

 

Finally, Revise Your Essay Again and Again

Now is the time to put the final polish on your essay contest entry. Have you said everything you wanted to say? Have you made your point? Does the essay still sound good when you read it aloud? Can you tighten up the prose by making any additional cuts in the word count? And let people you know read it. They will have great ideas. You don’t have to use them but you may want to.

If possible, this is a good time to enlist the help of friends or family members. Read your essay aloud to them and check their reactions. Did they smile in the right parts? Did it make sense to them?

And ask a friend to double-check your spelling and grammar. Even your computer’s spell check programs make mistakes sometimes, so it’s helpful to have another person read it over. I will do that with you but you will want to have another person in the wings that is great at this sort of thing.

The Magic Bullet: The Power of Your Intention

What I encourage you to do is to not focus on winning but focus on learning more about yourself, your dream, more about listening to your “deep voice” and allowing yourself to be vulnerable and honest. You can do that with a tiny story, with humor or with a quote.

And I encourage you to do the envisioning that will make your intention to win the Inn a reality. Cut out a photo of the Inn, paste it above where you write. Do a daily visualization of you owning the Inn, people coming, joy happening, you feeling successful and happy. This is your most powerful writing tool

Happy writing!

I have a dream

My Modern Day Parable

parable

parable is a succinct, didactic story, in prose or verse, which illustrates one or more instructive lessons or principles. It differs from a fable in that fables employ animals, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature as characters, whereas parables have human characters.

parable is a type of analogy.

A Modern Day Parable

By Maya Christobel

I was at the usual bus stop staring at my watch and impatient to get to work. “Crap, I won’t have time to get a coffee”, I thought. Then she caught my attention. Her unruly and disheveled hair flew behind her in the wind as she bolted past me. Her green eyes were wild with expectation and her gate was long and certain. She was on a mission. She pulled me out of my worry and I set my briefcase on the bench. I could not help but follow her as she weaved in and out of unfamiliar streets as her long sky blue robe swayed behind her, threatening to get snagged on a lamp-post or caught in a passing bicycle spoke. Her arms pumped fiercely as if she were in a race.

 

When she passed a dog tied tightly to a bicycle rack on the corner of Park Street she stopped momentarily and slipped off the chain collar, then scooped up the brown-eyed beagle into her arms and continuing on as if she had expected him. I could not keep up with her and began to fall behind as she continued to rush somewhere I imagined to be very important.

Suddenly, a boy with his skateboard and then a large blackbird and some strange old man sitting near the park joined her and now there were many people following her. She turned down an alley where a homeless man living in a cardboard box watched her come near. She stopped, her face a breath from his startled eyes as she smiled a smile that nearly knocked him to his feet. Then she took his hand and pulled him up and without a word he joined the growing crowd of children and old people and animals that become a wave of energy pulsing through the streets. The growing mob of unlikely people started climbing up to the top of the small clearing overlooking the city.

By the time I could catch up I was breathless. There she was perched out on an outcropping of cinder blocks that rimmed a small off-road parking area, the city carpet below her. She was deathly still, standing quietly overlooking the smog and hazy hidden buildings below. Everyone became quiet, waiting for her to speak, to say something important, to tell them what to do, to levitate, to combust, to break down weeping. Suddenly she turned as if surprised by the throng and with a deep and haunting laugh said,

‘What fun life is. Thank you for joining me”.

 

A short story can pack a punch. There is not need for long chapters, details or perfect prose. A parable is rich with imagery, with feeling and with a great outcome: It leaves us pondering life. This is what a good story should do if it doesn’t make us weep or laugh or want to punch the door out first.

Jesus was said to be one of the best storytellers around and through his parables, whether you are Christian or not, lessons on living have seeped into the culture of everyone’s life in one-way or another. He told parables which always had an “Aha” to be learned. He told parables about the ten virgins, the Good Samaritan, the lost sheep and the Prodigal Son. We’ve all heard about the mustard seed and a grain of sand or hiding your light under a bushel. In the end these short, visual, descriptive lessons on life can be a great way to start writing your story.

Once upon the time there was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Perhaps,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “What great luck!” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Perhaps,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“Perhaps,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“Perhaps,” said the farmer…

From a Zen Koan

Most writers are crippled and start sweating at the white, empty page staring back at them like a challenge. Most of the time there is a book to be written, all 300 uncertain pages. When a book is looking over your shoulder it is typical to simply say…”oh I will write ten pages today” and then start sweating all over again. Oh the pressure we put ourselves under.

I have been writing what I call “morning pages” for ten or more years. Just a free-flowing stream of consciousness that starts without any intention and always ends up somewhere I never intended to go: A poem, a confession, a rant. Lots of times I rant. But, more often than not, it is a story in the making. A little seed of an idea that I can come back to. It is in this uncharted territory of unexpected words where a story is born.

When I was living up in Crested Butte, Colorado in my “let’s open an art gallery and sell contemporary art to people who want cowboys and buffalos”, I was watching the news about a couple stranded in a snowstorm and living in their car for several days. I was seized by the need to make that into a great movie. I researched the couple, outlined the story idea, and then sat down to start writing a heartwarming screenplay about love, loss and redemption (since that’s what all movies are about in the end). By page 12 the story demanded to go in another direction and no matter how hard I tried to pull the story back into formation it wandered outside the lines of my own psyche and turned itself into a 120 page paranormal thriller with Jeremy Irons and Jodi Foster. I was captive to the story…it would not let me go and in the end the screenplay won several screenwriting awards. But it was not even close to what I had set out to write.

What did I do wrong? What did I do right? How did my idea morph into something so totally a product of my relentless imagination? Or was it that the story itself is energy that exists outside of my idea of time and space and was just waiting to be born?  I have learned that this is truer than you might think.

The story was able to take me somewhere unexpected simply because I was not attached to the outcome and I just showed up each day, punched on the computer, got my cup of tea, put on my headphones to listen to movie soundtracks while I wrote and in the end allowed the muse to take the characters where they needed to go.

Working this way is exciting and is a bit like tracking an animal in the woods. Most of the time you think you are following a deer and in the end you find out that it is Bigfoot.

So start with a seed. With a sentence from how you feel about a photo, use a line of a poem and take off…see where it leads you. You just might have a whole lot of fun!

 

leap and don't look down
leap and don’t look down

 

 

The Story Of My Life

“One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.”

Helen Keller, The Story of My Life

This was a frequent phrase around my home growing up: “Holy Moly, story of my life”. If I got a collections letter in the mail, or I hear that a great guy has a secret wife, that my brand new shiny car needs a transmission or that in fact I really didn’t win the lottery after all…” story of my life”.   A handy phrase to describe something quite familiar. But what’s in a phrase?

We each have one story that repeats itself over and over again throughout our lifetime. It is like we got handed a script upon leaving heaven and incarnating that acts like a blueprint for our lives.  I promise you, one central ever-present and every changing “story of our lives”. The casts of characters change but they fundamentally play the same role in our lives, year after year. Every new love, new boss or new dog is just like a mother, brother, father, betrayer, helper, teacher and is the best of ourselves or the worst of ourselves. The place, the reasons, the motives, the fears, and the outcomes seem to remain similar as well.

So, if you were to just pluck out of the sky a scenario that you recognize as so familiar that it is a “repeat story” in your life, what would it be? Would the themes be endless hope, deep despair, betrayal, running away, lost love and fighting for what is right, or would it be, men leave, women love you but die, or maybe the all too often, am I good enough, can I prove myself, or that there is never enough money or time or money or love or money or food, nourishment or support?  Could you be in Groundhog Day like Bill Murray where over or over again you love the wrong person, you lose everything you have and need to start again, you never feel smart enough or have enough, or ultimately are loved enough? Does the white knight turn into the villain or are you the one who rescues and heals the world? We all have one story.  The trick is identifying what the story is.

If we take the time to identify this story, which repeats itself over and over again for our learning and growth, then we have abundant power to change the story, but not before we look it square in the eye and say “Yes” this is MY story. For most authors who are seized with a story line and write until the days are a blur and who forget to eat or take a shower, most likely the book or story being written is a mirror of the writer’s psyche.  The soul gets wind that there is a supreme opportunity to work out some kinks in life if only the writer would hop too it and let it rip, fantasy or no fantasy.

Most writers have to cop to the fact that writing is therapy. Writing is sanity. Expiation. Transformation and atonement. Most writers on a good and honest day will say that the story they think is pure fantasy is really from their own life, their own fear, their own desire to be a hero or heroine and to rewrite what went so wrong, so long ago. It is a powerful moment when you can write a fictitious character that is not you in reality, so that this character can do all the things that you only wish to have done or said or experienced in your life. Why else do we write?

And when we can fess up that our own story is driving the bus, we can not only heal our lives but we can write a story that touches the collective nerve. That is what makes a bestseller.

In the end….the story will write you.