Monday, December 31, 2012

Why I Teach by Sue Viders

Why do I teach? 

Taped on my wall, to the right of my computer’s monitor, is a picture of a light bulb screwed into a white ceramic base. It has an off and on switch and a red twisted electrical cord coming out of the base which trails off into the distance.

It’s my Light Bulb Image. Grin.

Getting the light bulb to light is the reason I teach. I delight in seeing the glow that comes from a writer when they either say to me, if teaching on site, or write to me, if teaching online... “Oh boy, I get it! I finally get it!”

Socrates said:

“I can not teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.”

It’s that thinking that makes the light bulb turn on.

But how to get the writer to flick the on switch?

Teach them how to cook.

Teachers are master chiefs for they understand what ingredients must go into the making of a tasty and original dish.

For example let’s take how a writer learns plotting.

There are various ingredients that go into a plot such as who the character is going to be, what problem s/he is going to have to solve, the various conflicts that are going to arise on the journey through the story, whether or not there will be a villain that needs conquering and of course, will a love affair be needed.

Dump all these elements into the cooking pot called the brain, stir and let the gray cells simmer for a bit, and suddenly, out comes a plot. 

That’s what teaching is all about. Giving the writer the methods and pieces that when the student understands and thinks about them, s/he can “dream” up the plot themselves.

We, teachers give them the necessary materials for the writer to use, but in the long run, it’s up to the individual writer to write. It’s up to them to light the light bulb themselves. The writer, in the long run, has to reach out and flip the switch.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF A GREAT IDEA

 
 On Monday I started my story of how I came up with the idea for my Weekend Writing GuideLet’s see where was I?  Oh yes, building blocks.

As I built the pyramid on my desk, I envisioned some of the blocks (cubes) having numbers on them.

So I hunted up images of building blocks on the web and found the perfect image.  Coping it I simply changed the ABC’s on the blocks to numbers and then thought, let’s make this a puzzle for the reader.  Readers love mysteries.

I took all those ABC’s and changed them to a couple of E’s and S’s along with a D and of course a U and a V.  Right I scrambled them up, but if one looked carefully, the letters now spelled by name

Next I sent my sketches to my cover artist.  He bought the rights to the image. Cost. $10.00

Then he started re-working the image incorporating my ideas. I think, of course, that it turned out great:

 
Okay, the cover and the outlines were done.
Next came the writing. It just flowed. Using my notes from my classes I had plenty of material and within a few weeks I had over 12,000 words on 48 pages. A perfect size, if I do say so myself, for a short book or booklet or in this case a guide.

Now came decision time. How to get it up on the web? I looked at all the various places that offered formatting. They all cost money, not too much, but the big draw back was that the finished products looked so bland and boring. 

Formatting the book myself was simply not an option. I have enough trouble just getting the bullets in the right place.  And speaking of bullets, some companies won’t let you use bullets... sigh.

I was stuck. What to do? I needed input from those who knew what to do so I called my friend Bjarne.

Bjarne is a computer genius. Many times over the years he has come to the house and helped me with my computer. Of course, those were the days I had a PC which was always having to be re-programmed. My wonderful husband was getting tired of fixing it and finally bought me a Mac...

I love my Apple... in the four years I have had it, there has never been a problem.  In fact we recently upgraded to a larger monitor and the current software programs... I was a bit worried that all my files, which are now in Pages and not in Windows would be a problem, but Bjarne assured me all he needed was the raw file.

Hmm. Raw file. That means just what it implies. Simply a file. No page breaks. Just the file as you wrote it.  Perfect.

As you have guessed I had called him to see if he knew of anyone that could, for a reasonable cost, format my booklet. “No problem. I’ll do it for you. Just send it as is.”

Click. It flew through the air.

Three hours later it came back. Formatted. OMG, it was magnificent. All the bullets were indented correctly.  All the section headings were in color with a overall design pattern through the whole layout. Everything worked perfectly. Just click on a chapter and there you were. Just click on anything and it took you there.

And no double columns. Each page was a page. Very classy looking.

Okay. I had the first draft.  Next I had to go back in the proof it. To do this I had to add the software program Adobe Reader to my computer.

At first it was a mystery to navigate, but with Bjarne’s help I soon mastered the program... which I have to say is so much fun.  It’s set up so that if you want to change let’s say a word, a sentence or a paragraph, you simply overlay the section with the yellow highlight marker. 

Then, this is part I like best, you click on “sticky note”... it’s a yellow balloon, like the like you see over a comic strip character that is talking. The balloon appears and and you simple write in it what you want changed or deleted or added.

Then the proofed document goes back to the formatting person and the changes are made.  It’s so neat and simple. I love it.

Back to the cover artist and have him insert a new heading that will run across the top of the cover.  It will say in big letters...

The WEEKEND WRITER’S Guide To...

 
and then the name of the guide.

So far we have finished:

  Three guides for the nonfiction writer

  One on plotting

Semi finished in that the outline and some of the writing is done:

  The final three in the nonfiction series

  The two guides for writing a memoir

  The outline for the villain guide

  The outline for the flaws book

Under consideration:

 
  A guide on scenes

  One on inspiration

  One on character driven plotting

  Our plotting wheel

  One on conflict

Still in the beginning “thinking” stages:

  Voice

  Beauty and the Beast

  Queries

  Pacing

  Editing

 
Not only am I excited about this new venture, but everyone who is writing with me is thrilled. I’m hoping this WEEKEND WRITER series will be to the writers, what the “Dummies” series and “Chicken Soup” is to the general public.

Wish us luck and... of course, wish us a boat load of potential writers who want to be both better writers and eventually authors.

Should you have any questions or ideas at any time, send me a note at sueviders@comcast.net

And I hope you'll leave a comment on what you think of this new idea..


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Growing an Idea


by Sue Viders

How do projects and books get started? Does the idea come to you out of the blue, in a dream, from reading a story, watching a TV movie or just from a conversation with a friend?

Several months ago, during a breakfast meeting, one of my writing friends challenged me to write and get a book up on Kindle by the end of the year. We had been talking about the fact that suddenly my royalties from Random House were getting larger. The sales of one of my books, Heroes and Heroines which has been in print for almost ten years, was suddenly double. When I checked it out, I found that the publisher had turned it into an e-book. Imagine my surprise. And although the print book was still doing well, sales were great electronically.

So we were talking about what we could write that we could get online. Since I had written several nonfiction work books for both my college and online classes I thought a book on how to write nonfiction would be a snap to do in a couple of months.

Over coffee we made a “pinkie pledge” we would start writing with the goal being to have a finished book up on the web by the end of the year.

As I began organizing my notes, lectures, hand-outs and workbooks on writing I quickly realized that I had piles of files that I had saved over the years. Way too much for a regular book.

I stopped.

First things first. I had to see what was already out there.

Putting all the notes on a worktable I began my research. What was my competition? What did their books look like? Soon my Kindle had over 20 books on how to write a nonfiction book. Over the next week, eight more print books arrived from Amazon on writing nonfiction.

As I read through all of them, I was discouraged. They were all pretty much alike. Pages and pages of text on how to write. Boring. Really boring.

I am dyslexic. Reading large pieces of text, long paragraphs and page and after page of solid text is not for me. I have trouble understanding heavy copy. And although there was a lot of good solid information in all these books, I really found it hard to “grasp” how I could use it in my own writing.

Day’s later as I was reading through my files they looked like all the other books.
Shoot. How did this happen? I was doing what everyone else was doing. Disturbing.

I needed to think up a different way of presenting easy to read, easy to understand and easy to use ideas for the beginning nonfiction writer.

Back to the worktable. What to do with all this stuff?

I began sorting -- put this file on marketing in one pile and these three pages on how to do an interview into another pile, and I noticed that I had five distinct piles. Each pile had loose pages, files, handouts and hand written notes from my lectures in them.

It quickly became apparent that I had several small books and not one great big book.
Good news as short books are easier to write than long books.

Now exactly how many books did I have? Hmm, at least five. There was one on how to do research, one on organizing, one on writing, one on marketing the project after it was written and of course one on how to get the main idea of what to write about.

Five books.

Another hmm... five books.  No, probably five booklets as I didn’t want them to be too long as today’s writers, like readers, need short, to the point, easy to grasp bursts of information that are easy to assimilate.

Sitting in my office, at my desk, looking at the blank monitor I literally had no idea of where to start. Getting a cup of tea, I picked up the small 2 inch cardboard cube I kept on my desk and began tossing it from hand to hand. I loved this cube. It is my “thinking” cube. Tossing it around frees my mind and lets it wander and ponder on the “what-to-do-next” problem.

The cube.

It has six sides.

I had designed it for my art marketing classes I taught many years ago. I stopped and looked at each side. There it was... the six concepts I taught to artists about making and marketing their paintings and prints. The six ideas were: Product, Price, Place, Perception, Promotion and Persistence.

Ah, the old gray cells snapped to attention.

I could take this idea and apply it to the writing books I was contemplating.

Yes! After much thinking I came up with six sections, six books, no, six booklets for nonfiction writers. They are:

 1 - Ideas
       •  How to find a great idea
 2 - Purpose
          Deciding why you want to write this idea
 3 - Knowledge
          Research for the project
  4 - Mapping
          Organizing your material
  5 - Writing
           Deciding on the platform and style
  6 - Marketing
            Promoting your project

As I grew more excited about this idea, I contacted the artist I had worked with before and he created a cube for each of the six booklets.

As I printed out the final design of each cube, I began fiddling around with how I might color it or print it on different colored paper when, it seemed like over night, I had a dozen or so cubes on my desk.

Ah, what fun. I built a tower and then a pyramid. They tumbled over like a kids first attempt with a set of building blocks.

OMG. Another light bulb went off.

Building blocks!

And the idea was off and running... 

(to be continued on Wednesday, so please come back! And feel free to leave a comment now)

Sue
sueviders@comcast.net


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