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. 

No comments
Erick MertzWriter’s Conference – Jump Right In!
Read More

Writer Networking

Writer networking is as important as writing time.

Writing is a solitary pursuit. By nature, the craft is best executed in a state of near meditation.

To become a successful professional writer or ghostwriter though, you’re going to need to meet other people. I’ll wait for that shock wave to wash over you… but it is true. Your story comes by reaching down into you.

But your story also comes from reaching out to others.

This weekend is the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon. It’s the high holidays of my writing year, the beginning of my calendar. One of the premier writer networking gatherings on the west coast, this weekend is a golden opportunity to look at best practices on how to interact to get the most out of your time out.

Be Helpful:

People remember those who help them. Even if it’s just opening a door or helping a wayward soul find a conference room, be of assistance whenever you can.

I work volunteer for this conference for this simple reason. Sure, my time gets me a steep discount on admission, but having a task and a practical purpose helps with my anxiety.

Don’t Be “That Person”:

My favorite agent is here. So is my all time favorite producer. These are “the who” I need to know to get where I need to go.

But these folks are here working. They’re here to please their bosses and with that comes stress. Give your target people space. Let them breathe. If your tastemaker is in the lobby and they’re pondering a text, do not bombard them.

Don’t Be Starstruck:

The opposite of the above is also true… do not be intimidated by “the who” you are here to meet. They’re here to meet, mingle and make connections too. If your person is at the bar, don’t be shy. Strike up that conversation. Say hey.

Meet Everyone:

One of the key mistakes writers make is focusing ALL of their networking energy on agents and managers. Most writers forget the hundreds of other people walking around.

I work as an editor, so my fellow writers are a place to network for new business. That isn’t the extent though. The friends you make on the way up in the writing game are absolutely key. I could write a whole blog on this (and likely will) but writer networking makes it imperative to connect with your peers and make them colleagues.

To return to a previous theme. Help one another.

No comments
Erick MertzWriter Networking
Read More

Ghostwriter Talks Productivity

Professional ghostwriter talks productivity – Go do…nothing?

ghostwriter talks productivityNow, I’d like to talk about the power of… boredom?

If our culture is obsessed with anything, it’s obsessed with time. Your social media feed is likely teeming with articles about how we can master it, get more of it, and get more out of what we have.

But is the obsession with the effective use of time really all that effective?

A simple study of the habits of successful writers from across many generations and cultures shows a couple of common pass times. Walks and naps.

Walks? Naps?

Go read a writer detail their daily routine. Often their creative time comes after a nap. Or they return to their desk once they’ve taken a walk somewhere.

I could link to a thousand articles about how the human mind works, but for our purposes, it’s important to extract from those traits that a great many writers from history do a lot of their work while bored.

A walk puts the mind at ease. Naps are the mind in comfortable repose. By our strict cultural standards, those are not “effective” uses of time.

Writers need to understand that brainstorming (the mind in an overly active state) is only one single means of drumming up ideas. There is the brainstorming’s antithesis to consider as well. An under active state, the mind at its most sedate and passive.

Right now, I’m working on a novella. Each morning I sit down and spend a good amount of time writing out and developing ideas for the story. At a glance it looks like brainstorming BUT it is critical to note that a lot of the germs of those ideas came when I was doing other things.

Walking my dog. Staring out the window while drinking a glass of water. Listening to music.

Think of water. There is an image I’ll venture a step further on. Impede the river’s flow at any point and the pools downstream dry up pretty quickly. Sometimes you need to just let the flow go free.

We have a cultural aversion to boredom. Until the turn of the 20th Century though, a productive work day was a matter of life and death.

Daydream and the crops rot in the field.

Our dialect is full of idioms that chastise even an idle moment. Ever hear that the Devil finds work for idle hands. Of course you have but I’ll stick my neck out and say, let the devil in.

We have a cultural aversion to creativity as well (because dreamers make poor plowers) so maybe there is something there we can work with.

When you’re done reading this, go do… nothing. Don’t even think about your story. You’ll be surprised at how fast and furious the ideas will flood when you pull away the dam of so-called productivity.


No comments
Erick MertzGhostwriter Talks Productivity
Read More

Ghostwriter talks creative writing

A professional ghostwriter talks creative writing.

Don’t have the time to sit down and write this weekend? The work week got you down?

I contend that a lack of time is not the biggest obstacle to the creative temperament. The biggest obstacle is not properly feeding that imaginative urge.

Here are three things you can do that will keep the creative muscles flexed while you’re unable to write.

Ghostwriter Talks Creative Writing Tip 1: Play Hypothetical Games:

ghostwriter talks creative writing

I love this game. I call it, “What If?” I’ve been playing it since I was a teenager. Sit down in a crowded space. A cafe. An airport. A theater. Watch any person or group and create a little story about them.

What if those two are breaking up?

What if he’s just returning from a clandestine spy mission in Morocco?

What if they wrote the play?

The possibilities in this game are bounded only by your imagination. Flex those muscles. If you have to go to work or do errands instead of writing, stretch out a bit and push your boundaries.


Ghostwriter Talks Creative Writing Tip 2: Scenario Building

This exercise goes a bit further than the previous one. Create outlandish scenarios in everyday situations. This is an especially fun game to play with youngsters in tow.

What if the trunk of that car is full of clowns?

What if she has a parrot stashed under her jacket that’s telling her what to say?

What if that ice cream truck driver is actually an associate of James Bond? (Or Gru from Despicable Me if you’re playing with kids).

Sounds silly? It sounds silly because it is silly and that is OK.

We should never forget that, as writers, our core function is a type of play. We make up stories. And who does that better than a child at play? Watch your kid create an elaborate story line with just a toy truck at his disposal. Be like that. Be childlike.

Ghostwriter Talks Creative Writing Tip 3: Push Your Comfort Level On Judgement:

This may be difficult to stomach, but I believe a critical aspect of becoming a good writer is pushing your comfort level when it comes to judgments. You need to go a step beyond what is is easy for most.

I honed this ability over fifteen years in social work. Sometimes the scenario I encountered in the office forced me to be a tad judgmental. I had to simply say out loud, “that is not a nice person”.

I don’t think you should do it all the time and certainly not regarding people that you care about. But the rich array of characters in your story will include unseemly sorts. How best do you do that?

Be bold in your observations.

A writer needs to create realistic characters. People are disagreeable, devious and often unreliable… among a trove of other nasty traits. I don’t advocate cruelty or unfairness but when you’re crafting realistic characters, you may need to get to a level of judgment that feels uncomfortable.

That place beyond comfort is precisely what you’re looking seeking. Without it, fiction is flat.

Need more tips? Still feeling stuck? Give me a call. Together we can work out a strategy to get you back on track.

No comments
Erick MertzGhostwriter talks creative writing
Read More

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.

No comments
Erick MertzThinking like a writer
Read More

Will My Book Sell?

Will My Book Sell?

One of the constant struggles that writers find themselves embroiled in is the clash between craft and marketability. Often preliminary discussions about a manuscript, whether in the edit or ghostwriting phase, arrives at that very important question: After all of this work, will my book sell?

Any ghostwriter who pretends to have an easy answer to that question is sorely mistaken (or they’re overselling their abilities, we’ll tackle that later on). Even casual observers these days are armed with more marketing numbers and analytics than ever before, but still, we can never tell.

The element of surprise remains a strong part of the publishing game. No one knows what will hit and, consequently, no one can predict a miss either.

What I like to tell clients is that with a properly executed plan for their manuscript, we can narrow the wide range of outcomes. You wouldn’t build a house without an architect. You wouldn’t prepare a top shelf cut of meat without knowing cook temps and times.

Why would you attack your book publishing endeavor without a plan?

One of the pillars of a successful book is a properly handled manuscript. You simply cannot fool readers. Here is where the craft versus marketability argument becomes absurd.

These are not mutually exclusive. These two aspects are actually symbiotic. Attention to craft is the first and most critical element of marketability.

The second pillar I believe is defining your audience. It isn’t enough to say, my book is for “readers” or “fiction lovers”. I would go so far to say that simply targeting “fantasy” fans isn’t enough.

The book market is a buyers market and readers are savvy — very savvy. Everyone who buys off of Amazon or browses the shelves knows their search terms. Your reader knows the difference between “high fantasy” and “urban fantasy” and there is no way around this reality: you need to know it too.

The last pillar of a successful plan is to think in terms of quality and not quantity. I know a publisher out there (that will remain nameless) and they sell themselves as an all in one book publisher and marketer. How do they market their client’s books? Everyone that has worked with them tells the same story: they send out a single email blast that reaches a few hundred cold emails (and probably gets a few undeliverable kick backs too).

This never works. Never works. A few hundred cold emails is (almost) as worthless as sitting on your book. Just like readers, buyers know exactly what they want. If your dream editor isn’t taking submissions, there is no point in sending them a query email. It’s just annoying.

Similarly, if an editor is looking for “romance” and your “high fantasy” novel only peripherally involves love, don’t send them a query. You will only make them curse you.

Believe me. Go get a drink with a submissions editor and ask them their pet peeves. Blanket submissions are close to, if not the top of that list.

So to the question – Will my book sell? – to give yourself the best shot at success, have a plan. Be realistic. You’ are not the only person out there with a great book. Be the only one out there marketing their great book smartly.

Another thing you can do to increase your chances is to let a professional like me help guide you through the process. Experience counts so don’t hesitate to get in touch!

No comments
Erick MertzWill My Book Sell?
Read More

How to edit your manuscript

How to edit your manuscript

Or not?

Recently, I wrote a post cautioning authors against the temptation to self edit your manuscript.

Although I stand by the idea that self-editing cannot replace the well executed professional development and content edit phase, I do think that the process plays an important role in the development of a successful manuscript. While you cannot fully develop a manuscript alone, you’re also working uphill if you choose to send material in without giving it your own critical read. Development is a matter of balance.

Here are a few tips on how you can self edit your manuscript to your best advantage.

Be Wise With Time:

This advice applies to every stage of the writing process, but none more so than here. A writer has to be wise with how they use their time. You need to make time to write. You also need time away from writing.

There is an important balance at play.

If your plan is to self edit your manuscript then take time away from it. Don’t edit a chapter the day after writing it. Don’t edit it a week after. Instead, allow the work time to breathe. Stand a step back.

Then when you’re ready, jump back in and make changes.

(Don’t) Be Hard On Your Work:

What I’m trying to get at is a measure of honesty. Be honest about the work. If your gut says it works, don’t overthink it and vice-versa. Trust your gut. If it doesn’t work on the page it’s likely time to make changes.

Again, it’s all about balance. Seems like we keep coming back to that theme.

If It’s Broken (Don’t) Try And Fix It:

This can be tricky for anyone. Creative people are born problem solvers.

The hope is that a proper self-edit will lead to the identification of problems. What do you do when you find a glaring plot hole in the story?

You fix it, of course. Get in there and get it done…

Not so fast though. Being hasty can aggravate a manuscript’s underlying problems. A quick fix is often just that. A gimmick. When your reader sits down with the book, they’ll be able to see a patch job.

Just because you identify the problem doesn’t mean you see the solution. These two are not necessarily linked items. Sometimes the solution takes a substantial amount of time to develop.

Give yourself that time. It’s worth it.

And when you’re ready, get in touch. You’ll be relieved that you followed all the right steps ahead of time.

No comments
Erick MertzHow to edit your manuscript
Read More

4 Truths About Rewriting Myths

4 Truths About Rewriting Myths

Rewriting myths can bring an end to an unfinished process. Read on so you can stay on track and avoid the pitfalls.

Few aspects of the writing life come with more ugly myths attached than the rewriting process. So often I hear writers give wrong headed views about what comes once they face a rewrite of their manuscript.

This post is aimed at writers who have a completed fiction or non-fiction manuscript, or screenplay, that needs a rewrite but who have been fed a lot of malarky about the process through the years.

Here are four real life truths about rewriting myths:

Rewriting Myth 1: Rewriting Means My Manuscript Is Bad:

On the surface, I can understand this fear. There simply is not a better word than “rewrite”.

I’m sure some readers have visions of other “re” words, like “remodel” which implies more radical process. Tear down. Strip bare. Start over.

Sometimes that radical process is the case. Sometimes we have to tear down a manuscript completely in order to find the book inside. That is only sometimes though.

Most often rewriting is a process of orderly streamlining. It’s more of a face lift rather than a tear down.

Rewriting Myth 2: That Will Happen Later:

Right… one way or another, you are going to rewrite your manuscript. Whether that comes after fifty slow arriving rejection letters or in preparation for fifty submissions is up to you.

The writing is on the wall. If you read the calls for submissions in trade magazines, publishers are seeking polished manuscripts from first timers.

You’ll see it in the description. Polished prose. Developed scenarios. No first drafts.

Don’t be the writer who tests that request. It never ends well.

Rewriting Myth 3: My Story Will Get Lost In The Process:

I love when a writer tells me that they are reluctant to rewrite because they are afraid to lose their story. This is such an unfortunate misunderstanding shared by all too many novices.

A first draft is simply a first draft. Core themes are often buried and obscured under what amounts to a writer’s search for meaning on the page. Often when I work with writers on their first draft we discover the most valuable elements under the surface and we work together to draw them out into the open.

Odds are a development editor will help you find your best story in the rewrite process.

Rewriting Myth 4: Editors Are All Out Of Work And Now They Need Money:

This is, at least in part, true… Big publishing houses do not staff editors like before. There is no longer a legion of ink stained and print addled editors agonizing over copy at your dream publisher’s office.

Those editors are not out in the cold freelancing world because their jobs were deemed irrelevant though. Those editors are out there because publishing houses are counting on you, the writer, to do more of the heavy lifting than ever before.

The truth is that editors are more necessary than ever because the competition to push through the slush pile is more fierce and cutthroat now than at any other time.

These myths are just that. The process of rewriting doesn’t have to be so painful but it is a necessary step in the evolutionary process that is your manuscript. I have helped many a nervous writer through the process and I know I can help you too. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you feel stuck at this or any other stage in the process.

No comments
Erick Mertz4 Truths About Rewriting Myths
Read More

DIY Publishing

DIY Publishing – One Way To Bring Your Work To Life

Amazon and other on-line publishing platforms have given rise to an exciting DIY publishing revolution. By many measures, we haven’t even seen the zenith of where this is all going to. Through a newly liberated publishing process, a new culture of fringe authors and publishing entrepreneurs can bring work to life.

For all of the do-it-yourself freedom that Amazon provides an air of caution needs to be taken. Simply because you can put your manuscript up on-line does not mean you are truly “book ready”.

The steps to a polished book are the same as through the traditional means. All that DIY publishing means in this instance is that authors are more liberated to undertake those steps on their own terms.

One of the ways new authors attempt to get around the editing process is to “self-edit” their manuscript. What do I mean by “self-edit”? Frequently, when faced with the prospect of cost and/or time, or the simple mis-perception that editing is an obstacle, a new author will try and edit/rewrite their book on their own.

I do some self-editing on my articles and manuscripts. After I write and re-write a chapter or a book section, I will often go back and make a few logical changes. I take notes on story elements that don’t make sense. I axe repeated words. I tie in dangling story lines that are either extraneous or underutilized.

I am aware, however, that this process of self-editing can only go so far before it works against me. I know what my character is supposed to look like and feel like. The settings are vividly laid out in my head, so I am able to fill in the gaps, allowing my descriptions to convey that picture. Even when I read dialog or internal monolog out loud, I tend to change the natural flow, adding inflection to words and phrases to ensure that they capture the meaning I want them to. In a sense, self-editing keeps an author in the echo chamber of their own voice and vision at the expense of broadening appeal.

I cannot be as honest with myself as a professional can be. And editing is your manuscript safety net. If something doesn’t work on the page, I need to know.

A writer needs that second set of eyes… and more of the time, a third and a fourth too. Self-editing can catch basic mistakes, errors and repetitions… but bringing a manuscript up to book level? Not very likely.

I am a firm believer in Ira Glass when he says that people get into creative work because they have a heightened sense of taste. If you are already far enough into your manuscript that you are thinking of publishing it, you very likely have read enough to know what you like and what is good.

Don’t fall into the trap, however, that you are an objective arbiter. A writer is a person whose imagination exceeds most, if not all, other personal attributes. When it comes to improving your manuscript however, don’t let your imagination get in the way of improvement.

And don’t make the mistake of DIY Publishing an unpolished work – Instead hire a professional to objectively help you uncover all the necessary edits that your imagination may have obscured.

No comments
Erick MertzDIY Publishing
Read More

Use Of Setting – Ghostwriter Pro Tips

The use of setting can have a powerful emotional impact in your story. But mastering the use of setting to enhance certain elements of the plot can be a difficult process. As a professional ghostwriter, I regularly work with writers whose use of setting falls short of delivering the impact that renders critical moments unforgettable. So let’s take a look at same particularly good writing to expose a few secrets of how to achieve this.

An examination of the use of setting in the Netflix series “Master Of None” eventually leads to a look at Season 2’s penultimate episode. In “Amarsi Un Po” the season’s lone hour-long installments, Ansari and his writing team essentially flip the use of setting from previous episodes.

For the better part of Season 2, “Master of None” thrived using a series of mostly intimate settings. Restaurants. Night clubs and taxi cabs. Apartments. Streets. The show is in large part about a young man’s private interior moments and Ansari found creative ways to bring that to life in Dev’s everyday.

Season 2 tells the story of Dev’s growing love for Francesca and of her ever dwindling ability to believe she can continue on with her boyfriend. That love thing between them is growing out of control and in “Amarsi Un Po” Ansari and his writing team finally use some of the grand settings New York has to offer.

The first act culminates in one of Manhattan’s most recognizable locations, Washington Square Park. After a nice dinner, Dev and Francesca walk and talk, seemingly carefree. This is a seemingly ordinary scene we have seen before, only now it is taking place by the night time glow of the white stone Arch which stands at the park’s northern gateway. Although the conversation between Dev and Francesca is familiar, we get our first sense that something much bigger is in store.

At the episode’s middle point, Dev rescues Francesca from a day alone and escorts her to the Storm King Art Center in upstate New York. Again, the two lovers are simply walking and talking, but now they find themselves amid wide open fields, weaving their way through massive abstract sculptures. Although no one has said as much, setting tells the story that things are quickly getting complicated between them.

Finally, Dev can take no more. He has to say something to Francesca and we get a sense that she is finally ready to listen. When her boyfriend ditches her (again) Dev comes to the rescue (again). This time they take a night time helicopter ride around Manhattan. They circle over the city, taking in a bird’s eye view of one of the grandest cityscapes on planet earth.

And of course, it’s in that helicopter that Dev confesses his feelings for her.

The lesson we take from “Amarsi Un Po” is that sometimes a writer simply must think big. While using grand settings such as these too often can weigh the story down, setting critical moments of large emotional impact in iconic places can enhance their impact.

Ansari could have set these conversations in similar places and still been successful. The writing in “Master of None” is that good. These three scenes are the most pivotal in the series though, and setting them in iconic locations with sweeping views takes those critical moments and makes them unforgettable.


No comments
Erick MertzUse Of Setting – Ghostwriter Pro Tips
Read More