Unification News for March 2003

Writing Tips

Paul Carlson
March, 2003

This article is about writing. Whether itís with a quill pen or a computer keyboard, itís all about expressing oneís thoughts.

I want to thank everyone who responded to my recent "Writers" article, by email and in person. Seems that many Unificationists hope to become writers; some as reporters, some as essayists, and others as fiction authors.

Unificationists hail from many nations. Here, I am only going to address the English language and American style publishing. If English is not your native language, never fear. Many immigrants soon become more literate than their American-born neighbors!

Stories

Many people love to write, and the lucky ones get paid for it. Others yearn to share their ideas with the world, but havenít yet gone about it. Some people have complete manuscripts in their sock drawer, and have not quite summoned the courage to show it to anyone.

Tens of millions of people feel they have a story to tell. Most often itís their own life story, which makes their proposed work a memoir. These can make great novels, just be aware that itís very hard to sell them. Not everyone can write an Angelaís Ashes.

So then, how to proceed? The challenge for all hopeful writers is to organize their thoughts, write them down clearly, and then get published. Letís take this in stages.

The first stage is usually the easiest, as it can be done, so to speak, all in your head. Note that most professional writers create outlines first. Itís also important to do research. Accuracy is very important. Factual errors distract the reader, and eventually wear away the authorís credibility.

Readers of historical fiction, for example, are meticulous about every little detail, regarding any personage, location, or time period.

The second stage is writing everything down, and properly. Sorry, but unless youíre a famous, eccentric author, quill pens wonít do. A decent longhand copy might work, but a typewriter is better.

These days, virtually all writers use a computer and printer. This allows for easier corrections and proper formatting. They also have spell checkers. These are handy inventions, but do not rely on them too much. If you insist, just remember, eye tolled yew sew!

In the past, Iíve often bashed the public schools in this column. Having delivered books to countless schools, I now have a deeper appreciation for the efforts of teachers and school staffers. Their job could hardly be more demanding, or important.

However, as the leader of an online writerís group, I still have to deal with the results of an American public education. Prospective members come to the group brimming with self esteem. Almost every week, someone assures me what a great writer they are. Sometimes, itís true.

The Basics

Most of the time, these newbies are, shall we say, a work in progress. Usually, we end up critiquing pages filled with errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Even medical and executive professionals often display these difficulties. Our hope is that, buried somewhere under the mess, a compelling story awaits. (My online group only handles fiction, but the rules of writing apply everywhere.)

"That canít be me," you say. Based upon the most common errors I see from new writers, letís do a quick review.

Iíll start with some basic points.

Letís be clear about the correct use of: its and itís.

How about dialogue? Itís comma, quote mark, then tag. New speaker means a new paragraph. For example:

"Hello," said Bob.

"Nice day," Theresa replied.

Was that too easy? Letís crank it up a notch.

Do you know the difference between: effect and affect? Please define: sight, site, and cite.

Got it? Then letís make it a bit harder.

Compose sentences with: ensure, insure, and assure. Properly change the commas in the dialogue above to question or exclamation marks.

Okay, letís say you got them all correct. Good! I expect to see your first draft on my desk within a month. (Just kiddingÖ or am I?)

Authors

Hopefully these technical points will be mastered by someone just as they get busy with writing. If not, we can only hope that their ego can handle the bad news. The serious folks pause for reflection, and then get back to work. My writers group has seen people totally rewrite 100,000 word novels!

Authors are artists, and they share many well-known attributes.

Some writers (especially women) are very self-depreciative. They apologize for every paragraph, and hardly believe the praise they do earn.

Opposite this, some writers (usually men) have Golden Words syndrome. They pity us for not recognizing their genius. Critiques that have to correct their every sentence are shrugged off, or worse, met with anger.

Serious writers chart a middle course, and suffer their lumps. They learn as much as they can, everywhere they can. My earliest columns here in the UNews were, frankly speaking, a mess. I apologize for the errors that still creep through.

After a writer masters the basics, they still have to construct a great text or story. Nonfiction needs a good structure, citations, and examples. Fiction needs an interesting plot, clear descriptions, and sympathetic characters. This is where talent comes in.

Sheer talent can, in part, make up for a lack of skill. Some authors quietly depend on book doctors, and even ghost writers, to polish up their work. One very famous author told my group that he sends off his rough, first draft pages, each and every day -- and lets his editor take it from there.

Some authors have so much technical skill that their merely average talent is forgiven. Certain specialized texts are agony to read, and yet, few people in the world understand enough about the subject to write it themselves.

In science fiction, mind-bending concepts and fantastic alien worlds often make up for a novelís Ďcardboardí characters. It has been said that the universe itself becomes a character.

Publishing

And now to the third point. One must get these polished words before the public! If youíre a specialist in a very obscure discipline, perhaps a university press will publish a few dozen, very expensive, copies of your tome.

If you have a good contract with a publisher of romance novels, you can toss them off by the dozen, following a standard formula -- and take your cut from the millions of paperback copies that are sold. All you have to do is keep your editor happy and the readers satiated.

If youíre well off you can self-publish, in old or new ways. If youíre broke you can post your writings on the web. Either way, they will join millions of other obscure titles, but who knows? These days, with email, something new can catch on in a big hurry. ĎBlogsí have become the newest rage.

It is usually best to work with an agent. Thatís a tall order because the good ones have a full client list, and the brand-new ones have little experience and fewer contacts. Even so, itís worth finding one. Send out dozens of well-crafted query letters. If you can afford it, attend some big writerís conferences.

Please be aware they there are dozens of ways you can get ripped off. Be very careful, and get advice and confirmation from multiple sources. Subscribe to Writerís Digest or a similar publication.

If you have time, find and join a compatible writers group, locally or on line. They all have different styles and rules. Ask at the library or a university English department.

If you have enough money, you can take college writing classes, or even hire a personal editor (a sort of writing coach).

Conclusion

Because Godís Providence is going forward, many Unificationists have very amazing stories to tell. Defeating evil means exposing its secrets to the world. Also, the Principle lends a unique perspective to all fields of interest and, potentially, to any fiction genre.

That makes this sharing all the more important. Get writing!

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