Writer’s Conference – Jump Right In!

When you go to a writer’s conference, the back corner of the room might feel safe but it won’t do you much good to hide there.

There is a lot to be said about participation trophies. For a writer though, there are no trophies without participation.

It’s Sunday morning at the Willamette Writer’s Conference. I’m beat. Even the best of us, those who have chastely avoided the lure of the Sheraton bar, remained hydrated and eaten well are tired.

Three days of extroversion leave me exhausted.

But even on a bedraggled Sunday morning, the script for success remains the same. Get in there. Get your writer hands dirty. Go to that class.

If you are given the opportunity to do so, participate.

I was never much of a joiner. I’ve changed some. Even now though, I’m a more likely wall flower and bar fly than I am a genuine jump in with both feet kind of guy. It is key though to see past what you may tell yourself that you “normally do” or continue the self-limiting talk you have rehearsed for ages.

You came out to the writer’s conference. Not enough. Jump in with both feet.

On Friday night I served as emcee for a hilarious event/ “Pitches Against Humanity” was one part game show and one part parlor game, and an overall riot. I have never emceed anything before. Ever. Yet, once I was given the microphone and the written on the fly rules… it was on. A new guy stepped out. People have been stopping me in the hall ever since to shared a bawdy laugh from the pitch game.

Make yourself known.

This morning, I took a filmmaking class “Getting It Done In Portland” taught by Martin Vavra. The energetic head of local Galaxy Sailor Productions had the task of teaching a bunch of drowsy faces the basics of making a movie?

How better to teach it than hand a bunch of conference goers a role and a camera.

Take a look at what we produced.


What’s the bottom line here?

You got in the car. You boarded a plane. You called out of work in the interest of attending a writer’s conference. You’ve gone pretty far. Keep going though. Learn to bet on yourself. Learn to take a few more risks.

*Special thanks to the actors in the above films: Nancy Long and Steve Bourne performed the gruesomely riveting interrogation from Seven, and Nathaniel Fox and Jack Cary re-enacted my favorite scene from Raising Arizona. 

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Thinking like a writer

Learn to start thinking like a writer even when you can’t actually write.

Thinking like a writer - notice the details in everythingWriter’s magazines often set out to tackle what they see as the biggest elephant in the room: lack of time. How do I find enough time to get my creative work done?

I won’t attempt to tackle that topic here, or anywhere else for that matter. For one reason, any answer that I give you would not be an original. I don’t want to recycle. There are literally hundreds of blogs, magazines and books that give writers advice on how to steal 10 minutes to an hour to get some writing in.

The second and most important reason I won’t tackle the subject though, is that I believe having enough time is not the main obstacle in transitioning from unrequited desk jockey to literary provocateur.

While time is a frequent barrier, the biggest challenge most writers face is their mind set.

How do you start thinking like a writer and in turn acting like one? Here are a just few very easy techniques you can use to think and feel like a writer when you can’t write.

Listen To Dialog:

Unless you live and work in a monastery, you are surrounded by people talking. If there is a consistent area of feedback on new writing it’s this: the characters sound like they were written.

Sit down at a bar. Put down your phone in the line at the grocery store. Use your imagination in the next share holder’s meeting you are forced to attend. These are your characters.

Listen to how they talk. They’re telling you how to write them.

Describe The Scene (In Details):

I do this a lot. It sounds silly, but I walk into a room and describe the scene I encounter in various terms. Kitchen. Newly remodeled kitchen. Newly remodeled kitchen with a retro feeling.

I don’t often do this exercise aloud (unless I’m alone). If I did, I think the people in my world would assume I am much crazier than they already do but finding the myriad of ways and access points to describe an ordinary space and seeing the details contained broadens descriptive powers that every writer needs.

About Details:

Find them. Everywhere. Leave no stone unturned.

Good writing sees the surface but great writing delves deep and churns constantly. Colors. Ornaments. Textures. These create the rich tapestry that readers love.

How do you do this? What color is the tie on the man across from you? Does the woman’s coffee cup beside him show lipstick stains? What does the clerk at the store do while you search for exact change?

The power of observation is a necessary skill. Become a master of all those small things. Your readers will thank you when your bored housewife character does the little things they can relate to.

Form An Opinion:

Maybe you sit down at the end of the day and relax with a TV show. I do. Often. In many of my previous blogs, I proudly reveal TV as a major point of reference for writing and character development.

Don’t watch passively though. Instead, make comment on what works. Ask the person you’re with. What works for you? Why this and not the other thing?

Why do people gravitate to watching Glee like my wife is right now? I’ll advance a theory: it is not simply because of the songs. Form an opinion about what works in the shows, episodes and scenes you watch. That critical eye will go a long way in discerning what works on the page when you finally sit down.

Simply paying closer attention to the details in your everyday can help you start thinking like a writer. You may be reading this either because you’re at an impasse or ready to take the next step. Either way working with a professional ghostwriter can help you and your writing get to the next level.

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Elements Of Setting In Writing

The Elements Of Setting In In Your Writing

Tips from a pro to help you incorporate appropriate elements of setting to make your story come alive.

Looking at how Aziz Ansari uses elements of setting in his clever Netflix series Master Of None shows why it matters where your scenes and stories take place. In fact, the buzz around the little show that everyone is talking about may be as much the product of setting as it is chemistry between characters.

Master Of None is a program with many predecessors. The protagonist is young. He is a dreamer. He is desperately trying to figure things out as he lives life. As charming as he is, he is unlucky in love.

While the subject matter is nothing unique, Ansari utilizes a fresh approach to tell this familiar story. Take “The Dinner Party” the fifth or middle episode from season two.

It is no spoiler to reveal that Dev (Ansari’s character) has recently returned to his native New York from a cooking internship in a small Italian village. At the end of season one, he left his NYC problems behind to learn the art of making pasta by hand amid romantic locations steeped in ancient history.

And, as all love lost protagonists do, Dev also befriends Francesca while overseas and they hit it off.

But Dev and Francesca can only be friends because she has a boyfriend. In “The Dinner Party” Dev invites Francesca, who is visiting the states, to a Manhattan soiree put on by one of his new buddies, a producer for the cooking network where Dev works as a host. This is the place to be. Everyone is going to be there and the party is so posh that John Legend gets up and plays piano at the behest of his host.

Writers Ansari and Alan Yang expertly utilize what amounts to a simple apartment setting. One of Dev’s oblivious actor friends happens to be at the party too and he’s constantly interrupting their banter. When they do get to talk, Dev helps Francesca overcome her stilted use of English with loving charm. Of course, it’s a foodie party, so passionate opinions about the myriad plates of food crop up between them. No one can simply like or dislike a dish. They have to argue about it. As the evening wears on, Dev opens the debate on flavor notes in a glass of wine (which Francesca charmingly describes as tasting like shoes). When the moment is right, the flamboyant host butts in and upstages Dev’s humor.

Five obstacles to Dev’s goal of Francesca. All of them arising naturally out of the elements of setting in the episode.

“The Dinner Party” is about how two people can be so close yet remain far away from one another. In order to accomplish that goal, Ansari and Yang had to create an organic setting that provided ample interruption. What better than a dinner party? How about a dinner party put on by professional foodies?

The episode culminates in the two characters sharing a cab after the long evening. This is the episode’s (and maybe the series’) golden moment. Dev is charming as always. Francesca listens to him and laughs at his little quips but… they just cannot execute the kiss they both so plainly want from the other. There is a genuine love between them but after an evening of missing they cannot get where they need to go.

Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love. Girl proves elusive. The formula is stock. Ansari is not content to write out a cliche he knows will work. Instead, he freshens the bittersweet story line using setting.

Give me a call or email me if you want to talk about how you can leverage my skills and experience to make your story come to life. It can make all the difference in the world!

 

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Work With A Ghostwriter

Ready to work with a ghostwriter?

Think you’re ready to work with a ghostwriter?

Unfortunately, there is no checklist or online quiz readily available to determine your readiness, but in my experience critical moments arise that may mean it’s time to make a call.

First way to know you’re ready to make that call is simple. You have a story that needs telling. A narrative that haunts you. A life experience you can’t put down.

Obsession is fodder for good story telling. When Alice Sebold sat down to write her breakout 2002 novel, The Lovely Bones it was because indeed Susie Salmon’s voice was so visceral that she had to write it. You don’t need to reach the point that you’re being kept up nights by your story but if you can’t put it away, it may be time to investigate how you can work with a ghostwriter.

The second way is the age old friend advice: you should write a book. Since I started out in ghostwriting ten years ago, I have lost count of how many times a client came to me off of that very spark of advice. They were out at a party, or at dinner, and after telling a life story, some well meaning friend leaned over and whisper those words.

Some might argue that’s just a friend doing what they’re supposed to. There is another, more critical way to view that moment though. That friend is your first audience. When you question whether that story is worth ghostwriting, think of that friend as your first proof of concept.

Another critical means of knowing whether it’s time to write a book is, you recognize your story is unique. It may be hard to believe but there are stories that have not been told yet. I’ve met numerous clients whose stories were one of a kind, or took a unique view on history.

Publishers and editors have bottomless appetites for untapped stories. If you have something unique and want it told well, be bold and realize, looking into how you can work with a ghostwriter may be what allows you to bring that story to life.

If you’d like to share your ideas with a seasoned professional who knows the ins and outs of the writing business, get in touch with me and let have a conversation!

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Building A Story – Mentoring From A Pro

Building A Story

A professional writer offers guidance.

Building a story is not like building a house. There are no codes.

Every writer comes with their own bag of tricks for fleshing out story. While I would venture to say that while there is some natural overlap, no two bags are going to be the same.

One of the places I like to begin development is through character. Whether or not you are writing a piece of commercial fiction or screenplay, your personal memoir, or a business book, character is the driving force behind your manuscript. Building a story is almost always about someone.

Character is a dynamic entity. Interesting personalities are rarely vague. There are critical elements that enhance a one dimensional figure into a dynamic character that can sustain an entire book.

My first strategy is to ask, what do we know about this person?

It’s amazing what we take for granted in describing a person. Usually though, we know a basic defining characteristic of that lead character. He’s a Dad but he’s also a science teacher. She’s a cheerleader but she’s caught between two men. They are a US Navy Seal but he has a family back home.

Even basic descriptions allow a ghostwriter to narrow down the range of possibilities. No one is as basic as those descriptions. Dad and science teacher doesn’t seed a dynamic element.

There are other shades we need to cast on those characters and those come in brainstorming.

To get there, next, I go the other direction… what do we not know about this person?

Is our main character just a Dad and science teacher as we assumed? Or does he go to sleep each night pondering what might have been? Does your cheerleader harbor a secret life?

A US Navy Seal at the end of his tour is an entirely different character than one just earning his stripes. Take that a step further, you can portray him as a soldier deciding whether to re-enlist for another tour. Now he is caught between obligations and loves: family and country.

The difference between the first character assumption and the second might seem like a small one, but in truth they are enormous. That difference is the one between memorable and forgettable.

That Dad who pines for what he missed is Walter White from Breaking Bad. Our cheerleader with a secret is none other than Laura Palmer from Twin Peaks. That Navy Seal? Chris Kyle from American Sniper.

If you’ve seen any one of those stories, the driving characters don’t need further elaboration.

The question of what we know and don’t know is only a basic development tool. You can see though, how answering even the basic question opens doors wide for crafting memorable characters and building a story.

Effective ghostwriting is about evolving that character concept beyond assumption.

If you’re reading this article and would like my professional input, don’t hesitate to contact me. Whether you’re stuck in the process or need an editorial set of eyes on your manuscript, I can help you reach your writing goals.

 

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NaNoWriMo And Your Ghostwriter Consultant

“Do you do NaNoWriMo?”

This is one of the first questions people ask me when I tell them I am a writer. My answer? No. I’ve never done NaNoWriMo but I am all too familiar.

For those unfamiliar, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. Taking place every November, the project helps new and aspiring writers write a novel in a single month.

50,000 words. 1,667 per day. Every day. A daunting task.

NaNoWriMo is as much about support as productivity. The umbrella site organizes local groups. It encourages writers with positive words. On almost every social media platform NaNoWriMo groups post daily word counts and sprint together under hashtags.

On one hand, it is one of the most inspiring times in writing.

Our culture is fascinated with marking off processes with chunks of time. Consider the RPM challenge, which is an album written and recorded and released all in February. In April there is a monthlong script sprint. The shelves of every bookstore in America are teeming with books in which an author takes a period of time to abstain from or indulge in something.

Sometimes I wonder whether anything takes on its natural process anymore.

As a ghostwriter, I am particularly fascinated by NaNoWriMo for a couple of distinct reasons. For one, it gets people thinking about writing. Anything that accomplishes that makes me happy. Another aspect is the sheer audacity. Asking participants to wake up on November 1st and produce 1,667 words when they likely have not produced a single line of fiction in their lives is crazy, perhaps dangerous. Would you encourage the guy in the cubicle next door to run a 26.2 mile marathon without training simply because he wore tennis shoes on Fridays?

Writers are readers and readers buy books. The sheer act of staring down 50,000 words raises the bar for everyone in the business. When I am asked, I usually caution writers who want to take part in NaNoWriMo to perhaps consult with a ghostwriter or manuscript consultant first. Get an idea of your story. Flesh out some of the uncertainties. Give your concept a much needed test run and see if it works out. Not everyone wants to do that with their mother or wife or a brother who are likely going to be nice no matter what you have.

Get in shape first. The advice applies to marathons and NaNoWriMo. Bring on a ghostwriting professional to bring it into shape before you try and bring it to life.

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How To Lose A Ghostwriting Job (Before You Even Get It)

Working As A Ghostwriter Is Filled With Ups and Downs. Here Are Just a Few Of The Ways Your Gig Can Go Sideways.

Erick Mertz, How To Lose A Ghostwriting JobOh the ghostwriting stories I could tell. Sometimes I believe that my real breakthrough book is destined be all about the many clients I worked with throughout these years.

Almost more interesting than the books I have written, are the books I’ve almost written. Ghostwriting is a numbers game on all sides of the equation. As a writer for hire, you must cast a net and I mean cast it widely. Some prospects cross your path to get a bid too. They’re playing the numbers game too in the form of a little price shopping before they decide whether to go elsewhere. As I’ve previously written, it all adds up to a curious way to make a living.

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Five Things To Consider (When Pricing A Ghostwriting Job)

ghostwriting, ghostwriter, erick mertz, portland, oregon

Coming up with a price for ghostwriting jobs can make a writer feel like it’s back to the lawless wild west days again. Arriving at agreeable cost (and payment structure) can often serve as a breaking point between client and writer.

Arriving at a good rate doesn’t have to leave you high and dry though. If you keep a few key factors in mind you and your client can find a happy medium between affordability and getting paid adequately for your talents.

Here are five things to consider when pricing a ghostwriting job.

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