The Art of the Interview

I should sit down one day and calculate how many people I’ve interviewed in the last nine years. It would be a large number.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Raymond King before he died. From the comfort of his La-Z-Boy recliner, he talked to me for thirty minutes about his life and his philosophy of giving back to the community. After the interview was over, he pushed himself up with a groan, grabbed his cane, and asked me to follow him into the back yard. He struggled to raise a garage door revealing an antique car—his pride and joy. He told me all about it. I have a soft place in my heart for sweet, old men, and so that day stands out in my mind.


I also think back to an interview with US Senator Lamar Alexander. He and I talked about nuclear power. I forgot I was working. I was so interested in the topic and in what Senator Alexander had to say, that I entered into a personal conversation with him. I wrote that article in record time.

I love those moments when I make an instant connection with the person I am interviewing. I love to see the world through their eyes, if even for just a moment. I had that experience when I interviewed the History Channel’s survivor superstar, Alan Kay, two weeks ago. I lobbed a beautiful question for Kay, and he knocked it out of the park.

I said, “I’ve heard that servicemen returning from combat often find it difficult to assimilate back into their routine lives when they return from a combat zone. After your fifty-six days alone on Vancouver Island, did you find it difficult to return home?”

There was a pause, and then Kay gave me what I was looking for. He talked about how his experience had deepened his awareness of life and purpose, and how he wanted to scream warnings to humanity when he returned. I can’t share his specific answer because the article won’t be published until October (Get Out Chattanooga Magazine), but Kay’s response was writer’s gold.

Here are some general tips for getting the most out of an interview.

  1. Do Your Research. Before you talk to the person you are interviewing, do some general research and draft a few warm up questions from your research.
  2. Minimize Yes or No Questions. I always try to form my questions so that the person will give me lots of meat on the bone. For example, instead of asking, “Did you enjoy your experience on Vancouver Island?” I asked, “What were two of the most memorable moments during your time on Vancouver Island?” Asking more open-ended questions will allow the person to elaborate beyond a simple yes or no answer.
  3. Make a Connection. Find common ground with the person you are interviewing and build from that common ground. For example, I recently interviewed volunteers who rescue dogs from a local shelter. After the introductions, I said, “I’m excited about writing this article. I love dogs, and in the past, I, too, have been involved with animal rescue.” Their faces lit up, and they opened up to me.
  4. Ask for the Story. Depending on who I am interviewing, I often have a lot of success asking the person, “So what’s the story here? Why should readers care?” I get lots of interesting responses to this question. I also ask them to tell me about a particular event or experience that can lead into the story—an anecdote—that will draw my readers in.
  5. Ask Followup Questions. Sometimes when a person has a really great answer to a question, I say, “Tell me a little more about that. Give me more detail.”
  6. Send Questions in Advance. Sometimes, I send my questions in advance. This allows people to check details and think about what they want to say and how they want to say it. I never send them all of my questions, but I send a few so that they won’t feel anxious about talking to me.
  7. Mine for Different Angles. I don’t want my article to sound like other articles, and so I often look for different approaches. As I was preparing to interview survivalist Alan Kay, I read many articles that other writers had already published. I was determined to present “a different story,” and so I focused on Kay’s survival tips and the psychological toll that living off the land in total isolation for fifty-six days took on him, and how he kept his sanity. My article is different than the other content, and that’s a good thing.

There are other tips writers use to get the most out of interviews. I invite you to leave a comment telling me what works best for you. As always, I appreciate your stopping by my website.

The Reality of Writing

Think you can’t learn anything from watching reality television? Think again. These six reality television shows offer lots of lessons for professional and aspiring writers.

In 2009, the ever-so-uncoordinated Steve Wozniak appeared on Dancing with the Stars, proving that with a little practice, anyone can learn to dance. With practice, anyone can learn to write.

Airs on ABC
I’ve only watched ABC’s Dancing with the Stars once or twice, but the lesson is simple: With practice and determination, even the most uncoordinated among us can learn to do the Tango. The same is true of writing. Few of us are born with the knowledge and natural ability to sit down and compose the next bestselling novel. However, writing can be learned and improved through the simple acts of writing and revising. Want to be a better writer? Practice, just like the celebrities do on Dancing with the Stars. Work on the elements of good writing. Study great writers and their works. Never give up. And always give it your best shot.
—Lesson from Dancing with the Stars: Practice, practice, practice!

Airs on ABC
During ABC’s Shark Tank, entrepreneurs and inventors stand in front of a panel of five millionaire sharks and offer them opportunities to invest in their budding companies. Though brief, these entertaining presentations are designed to wow the sharks and entice a few of them to make strong partnership offers. Each entrepreneur’s pitch covers what their product is, how they’ve sold it to customers, their profit margins, their sales volume, and their plans for future growth.

Shark Tank pitches are similar to the pitches I send to magazine editors each and every day through query letters. I start my letters with a strong hook paragraph designed to grab an editor’s attention. I outline why my idea is a perfect fit for their magazine. I define the word count of my article, what I will include in the piece, and when I can send them the finished product. I also include a little about myself and why I am the perfect writer to write the article. My letters are both professional and entertaining.

Want to amp up your pitches to editors, agents, and publishers? Watch an episode or two of Shark Tank and pay special attention to how each entrepreneur engages the sharks. Notice all the idioms they include in their presentations.
—Lesson from Shark Tank: Make your pitches both professional and entertaining.

Airs on Fox

William Hung? Not the greatest singer on the American Idol stage, but it didn't matter to him.

Remember William Hung? Not the greatest singer to perform on the American Idol stage, but it didn’t matter to him. Write because you love to write, and focus less on how well you write.

Actually, writers can learn two lessons from American Idol. We’ve all seen those contestants—those who can’t carry a tune in a bucket, yet they stand in front of the judges and belt out their favorite ballad as if they have a voice like Taylor Swift or Glen Campbell. Being tone deaf doesn’t stop these contestants from singing. They love to sing, so they sing. So the first lesson from American Idol is this: If you love to write, then write. You don’t have to be the next Harper Lee or Stephen King to find immense pleasure in writing.

The second lesson from the show comes from a phrase that is batted around on almost every episode: Make it your own. Some of the contestants have a knack for taking a common song and singing it in a way that makes it sound fresh, artsy, and relevant. In writing, so many of us have similar thoughts and opinions, but we have different ways of expressing our points. The key to interesting writing is to find and unleash your unique writer’s voice. Think about what you want to say and make it your own. But remember, when you put yourself, or your writing, out there for the public to read, some people will offer up judgement, and it won’t always be positive.
—Lessons from American Idol: Write because you love to write, make your writing your own, and learn to accept criticism.

Airs on the Discovery Channel
A film crew follows the daily lives of Billy and Ami Brown and their seven mostly-grown children, as the family lives off the land in a remote region of Alaska. For the most part, they live without the luxuries of electricity and running water. They barter. They build things. They hunt, fish, and forage for food.

The Browns work together to survive. They’re a cohesive tribe, and everyone seems to have a specialty. For example, Noah is the inventor of the backwoods bunch, and the other family members rave about his intelligence and creativity. Gabe is the powerhouse, and when the Browns face a task that calls for brute strength, Gabe is elected to take the lead. Bear climbs trees. Snowbird, the oldest daughter, is the sharp shooter of the family. They support one another and celebrate each other’s strengths.

Like the Browns, I, too, have found a tribe—a tribe of other writers. Some are authors and have books they actively promote, while others write poetry, daily Christian devotions, fan fiction, etc. A few of my friends are editors. And I even have a few writers in my tribe that freelance for magazines, like I do. We are all different with different goals, but we stick together, encourage one another, and help promote each other’s work.

If you don’t already have writer friends, I encourage you to find a tribe. Get out there and meet other writers. Join a local writers group or guild. Attend a writers conference. Network. Share experiences. Encourage one another. Offer your help. Ask for advice. You’ll find great joy and satisfaction in sharing, collaborating, and forming friendships with people who love and appreciate writing the way you do.
—Lesson from Alaskan Bush People: Find a tribe of writers and participate.

Airs on the Discovery Channel
Each episode of Gold Rush follows three crews as they mine for gold. One of the crews is led by Todd Hoffman, a character known for his poor decision-making skills. He’s big, hairy, dirty, and broke, but still, I find Todd appealing. I’ve pondered this appeal for weeks, and I think I finally know why I love Todd: He’s an eternal optimist. In the second season, he missed a lease payment on Porcupine Creek and lost his claim to Dakota Fred. But instead of declaring defeat and heading home, Todd scurried and found another claim—Quartz Creek—and mined a respectable ninety-three ounces of gold from the ground. In the fourth season, Todd led his guys to Guyana, and after mining barely two ounces of gold and a dozen minuscule diamonds, he was forced to pick up and go home in shame. Still, Todd and his crew regrouped and returned this past season, more determined than ever.

Like God Rush's Todd Hoffman, good writers learn to "shake it off" when things are going to Hell in a handbasket

Like Gold Rush’s Todd Hoffman, good writers learn to “shake it off” when things are going to Hell in a hand basket.

My point is this—Todd Hoffman may find himself battered and exhausted at the bottom of a deep hole without a ladder,a rope, or a friend, but the following day, he picks himself up, makes one of his trademark motivational speeches, and claws his way back to the surface for the next round.

As a freelance writer, I encounter lots of setbacks and frustration. I go for days without a “yes,” a decent assignment, or a book sale. This rejection, along with the constant criticism and the low pay writers receive for their work, can be downright demoralizing at times. As I fall asleep some nights, I ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” But the following day, I channel Todd Hoffman. I get out of bed, make a cup of coffee, and face the day with new resolve.
—Lesson from Gold Rush: Learn to shake off disappointments and keep moving toward your goal.

Airs on CBS
For fifteen years, Survivor has captivated viewers with its recipe for certain disaster—throw a bunch of strangers from all walks of life on an island far away from civilization, starve them, make them compete in bizarre challenges, and watch as one man or woman outlasts the others. Many times, the strongest and the most competent of the contestants are voted off before the end. Sometimes, sane contestants have melt downs while the camera is running. It takes a lot to be a contender on Survivor. You have to outwit, outplay, outlast.

In my freelancing experience, I’m not always the best writer or the most experienced writer, but I am one of the hungriest and most determined. I keep pitching ideas. I continuously look for opportunities to work, promote my books, and sell my writing. Like the sole survivor, I outlast my competition. I stay in the game without letting the game break me, and you should, too.
—Lesson from Survivor: Outlast your competition and do what you have to do to stay in the game of writing.

Thanks for visiting my writers blog. I invite you to leave me comment. If you are interested in more of my creative endeavors, check out

A Novel Equation

Let’s face it—many of us are goal-oriented. I know I am.

I’m also a recovering math junkie. Indeed, before I re-invented myself as a freelance writer, I was an engineer who used equations, geometry, and algorithms in my daily work activities.

So when I started contemplating writing my first novel, I immediately sat down and drafted an equation to help me plan. It’s a simple approach but helps set writing goals.

I made one assumption. My equation assumes that a novel has approximately 64,000 words. I got this number from Amazon. It’s the mean word count for novels published in 2012.

Before you use my equation, ask yourself two questions:

  1. How many months do you want to spend writing your first draft? That’s your “x” value.
  2. How many days each week do you plan to find a few minutes to work on your novel? That’s your “y” value. Be realistic. Most people will not write every day.

Now that you have “x” and “y” values, it’s time to plug and chug. Here’s my equation:

Novel Equation14,769 ÷ xy = the number of words you must write each day to make your goal.

If you want to have a first draft in six months (x = 6), and you envision working on your novel three days each week (y = 3), then you must write 820 words each day to make your goal. That’s a little more than one page (12 font, single spaced) each day.

Wow! That’s not so bad when you break it down, is it? You can do that! Check out my table and start dreaming.BytheNumbers

Note that Microsoft Word has a function that shows you how many words your document contains. You can find this word count function under Tools -> Word Count. In Mac Pages, you can keep up with word count by going to View -> Word Count. The word count is at the bottom of the page.

So what are your goals? Leave a comment and tell me your novel’s working title and how long you think it will take you to get your first draft on paper.

And as always, if you enjoyed this post, please hop over to my other website and check out Project Keepsake ( And share my work with others. Happy writing!

Taking Care of Business

Many people jump into the freelance writing world without realizing that it is 60 percent business and marketing and only 40 percent writing and creativity. Many writers hate the business side of writing. So, if business bores you, you may want to consider an occupation other than freelance writing. In my “Freelance Writing” class, I cover some aspects of the business side of writing. I’ve listed a few relevant business topics below for aspiring freelancers who wish to work with magazines, newspapers, and businesses.

—BUSINESS CARDS—yes, you need business cards to hand out. VistaPrint allows you to go online, design your own cards, and order large quantities cheaply. They can be delivered to your door in a few days.

—WEBSITE—not absolutely necessary, but good to have. I post writing clips on my site and direct editors to the site to view a variety of topics I’ve written about. Try to keep it up to date. And consider blogging—it’s a form of “giving back” to other writers and readers.

—EMAIL SIGNATURE BLOCK—under your name, add your phone number, an email address, your website, and other items of interest that you want the public to know (awards, books coming out, scheduled appearances, etc.) You would be surprised to know how many people actually click the link to my websites from my signature block. It’s a great marketing tool.

—WHAT TO EXPECT—think in terms of your time, expertise, and payment. Typically, smaller magazines pay less than larger circulation magazines. Online writing usually pays less than hard copy. For an idea of what your writing is worth, check out the Writer’s Market. As a freelancer, you probably won’t make much at first, but your pay will increase with time. Plus, you will get faster at turning projects around and will be able to write more and more each month, thus, earning more money. You will also form relationships with editors who will give you more work. Finally, you can resell old ideas and articles by reprocessing and updating them a bit.

—AGREEMENTS AND CONTRACTS—an email message from an editor agreeing to pay you for your work is contractually binding. Make sure that the editor tells you when the article is due, how much he or she will pay you for your work, and any specifics, before you reply saying that you will take the assignment.

-GETTING PAID—there is typically a lag time between the time that you turn in an article and your payment. It varies. Some magazines send you a check upon acceptance of an adequate article. Others send a check to writers during the month the article appears in their magazine. In freelancing, it isn’t uncommon to go for a couple of weeks (or more) without seeing a check.

—REPEAT BUSINESS—write a great article and turn it in on time and with few or zero mistakes. Then, immediately pitch another idea to that editor while your name and performance are still fresh on his or her mind.

—WORK OUT PROBLEMS—a few months ago, I wrote an article for a national magazine comparing mobile phone apps. A few weeks after I turned in the piece, the editor asked me to contact each of the app owners and get a release from them. It took a lot of time, but I did it. The article turned out great! And who knows? Maybe I’ll write for them again one day.

—INVOICING—some magazines pay automatically while others require you send an invoice. An invoice is a dated document that outlines what you delivered, the terms of the agreement, your address, your contact, and your fee. Make sure that your invoice is professional and attractive. Save the document as a pdf and email it after the editor accepts your work.

—INCOME AND EXPENSES—remember, earnings are taxed—quite significantly. You are required by law to report any income to the IRS. Get organized early and use a folder in your office to keep all receipts and pay stubs. You may include expenses such as paper, computers, books, magazines, office supplies, gas, cell phone, internet, business cards, office chair, professional memberships, fees for workshops, etc., but you must establish that you are in the business of writing. Also, some magazines will send you a Form 1099 and some will not. Always include all of your income on your tax returns—even if you don’t get 1099s for your work. Finally, if the word “taxes” makes you uncomfortable, hire an accountant.

Reworking my eBook Cover

Last year when I published my first eBook, Southern Exposure, I quickly designed a book cover incorporating blues and browns and an old photo of my siblings standing with my mother in the parking lot of Rosemary Primitive Baptist Church outside of Metter, Georgia. At first, I was happy with the cover. It served its purpose.

But in the last year, eBook cover designs have changed dramatically. They seem more professional now, and many authors are hiring graphic designers to create covers for their projects. Amid these snazzy eBook cover designs, my eBook cover looked blah and primitive, like an ugly website design from the late nineties.Southern Exposure by Amber Lanier Nagle

I took an online class in December that pertained to Internet writing markets. The instructor of that class discussed eBooks, their evolution, and their covers during one of her sessions. For cover designs, she suggested stretching a large, relevant photograph across the cover and using dark, sans serif text on a light background to complement the artwork. “Simplicity is the key,” she said. “You don’t want the cover to look cluttered and confusing.”

And so, I spent a few minutes yesterday revisiting my book cover. This time, I used a photo of the old tobacco barn at the Lanier farm, where my grandparents raised my father and his four siblings. To me, the photo signifies my roots and screams Southern. I feathered the edges a little to make it look a bit dreamy. I used simple fonts for the title and the author—no drop shadows or special effects.

The cover is better, I think. What do you think?

Available through the Kindle store here. Available at the Nook store here.

Creative Endeavors (in Writing)

I’ve tried to write in a journal many times in the past, but I always lose interest after four or five entries. But I like the idea of capturing moments that make up a life. Earlier this year, I decided to document a few events of 2013 with very loose poetry prose. Here’s my first try.

No, I’m not a poet, nor do I wish to be a poet. But I like this exercise. It flexes part of my brain that I don’t flex often.


Gene called.
“The weather service has detected rotation in the clouds,” he said.
A pulse of fear. Helplessness.
“I’ll stay with you on the phone until it passes,” I said.
I looked at the technicolor radar map on my computer.
Blasts of red and yellow in a sea of green.
“It’s on the ground,” he said.
The sound of shoes and paws rushing down basement steps.
The waiting.
No sirens.
Closer, closer, closer.
“It’s moving south of you,” I said.
Reports of overturned cars.
Loss of power.
But Gene was safe, this time.

Two days later—the aftermath.
A congregation of 500.
“Wear this orange vest,” they said.
“Do only as you’re told,” they said.
We walk.
Then, suddenly, we saw.
Tangled heaps of debris.
Piles of rubble.
Once mighty oaks—some toppled, some limbless.
Cleaning Up After Adairsville Tornado
Where to start?
A preacher paces outside his tattered home.
An invitation to his small, crippled parcel of land.
We began to unscramble the mess.
Roofing shingles.
Twisted lumber.
Tin panels.
Shards of plastic.
A three-legged lawn chair.
A dented frying pan.
A box fan.
A shower curtain.
A sealed electric bill.
A wet baseball card.
All into a large roll-off trailer.
And then into a dump truck.
And another dump truck.
And another.

“Wait,” the preacher said.
“Please look for photos of our son,” he said.
We searched for mementoes of a child who passed.
But found nothing.

A family drained.
A land torn asunder.
A community in crisis.
We pulled together and kept moving.
Into the future.

Stream of Consciousness

As I listened to the Grammy Awards performances blast from the Bose speakers positioned throughout our house last night, I immersed myself in a stream of consciousness exercise designed to help me identify and record a bounty of words and phrases to use in an article I’m composing today about five luxury seaside resorts. Much like brainstorming, streams of consciousness are simply categorized words, idioms, and phrases that come to mind in a continuous, uninterrupted flow. Simply prompt your brain with a word or idea, and write all the relevant words and phrases that pop into your head.

My prompt was the word, seaside. Here’s my flow: beach, ocean, sand, water, sparkling, warm, breeze, sun, sunshine, bathing suit, wet, wild, flip flops, beach towel, poolside, toes in the sand, toes in the water, sand between my toes, powdery sand, sugary sand, white sand, vanilla sand, gold sand, shimmering sand, coast, coastal, coastline, soak up the sun, sunsets, sunrises, tide, waves, foamy, powerful, churning, crashing waves, white-crested waves, tumbling waves, wild waves, sea gulls, sea food, the lazy days of sunbathing, nap, siesta, escape, destinations, salty air, beach-bound, emerald waters, cerulean blue waters, turquoise waters, azure sea, crystal clear waters, slice of paradise, seashells, scour the sand for seashells, sand dollars, sharks’ teeth, conch shells, starfish, walk the beach, lose yourself, float, swim, umbrella, boat, sail, sail boat, body surf, surf, sun, sunny, shore, sunglasses, shades, lounge chair, lounge, footprints, stroll, sea, seaside, tan, bronze, bombshell, rest, relax, beach is beckoning, gulf coast, sand castle, buried in the sand, lost treasure, sea oats, palm trees, tropical, where the water meets the land, summer, summertime, take a dip, vacation, sandals, bare feet, go barefoot, reef, coral, ship, boat, jelly fish, deep waters, wade, snorkel, splash, dramatic eastern panorama, western panorama, picturesque, oceanscape, seascape, sandscapes, beachscape, watercolor skyscapes, waterfront, idyllic, island, under water, aqua, aquamarine, pristine shore, paradise, sunsational, sun-kissed, sun-drenched, sun burned, brilliant beachfront, a day at the beach, serenity, tranquil, peace, solitude, loll on the sand, slice of beachy paradise, breezy, beachy, beach lovers, beach combers, view, room with a view, vista, striking, deep-sea diving, diversions, overlooking, boardwalk, pier, Margaritaville, party paradise, touristy, driftwood, paddle, saltwater, pebble on the beach, offshore…

A Writer’s New Year’s Resolutions

Some of my friends and family members are in denial. They say, “I don’t make resolutions.”

I nod politely and think to myself, “Oh please. Of course you make resolutions…”

Everyone sets goals and adds projects to their imaginary to-do lists—especially around the end of one year and the beginning of the next, and so, everyone makes resolutions, whether they make them consciously or inadvertently.

I always set a few goals for the upcoming year—read more, write more, love more, laugh more, give more, forgive more, grow more flowers and vegetables in my gardens, and make better use of my time here on earth. I just can’t resist making a few, thinking about them, and working toward them.

I think that most writers make a few resolutions related to their writing each year, too. If you haven’t made one or more writing resolutions yet, there’s still time. Here are a few of mine you may want to consider:

Resolution 1: I will start the novel that I’ve been talking about for years.
Sure, I always have writing projects and assignments on my desk, but I’ve always felt that there are at least four novels inside me. I’ve been talking about two or three for years now, and people close to me are tired of hearing about them. So, let’s do it—let’s start our novels in 2013, and note that I didn’t use the words, “finish” or “complete.”

Resolution 2: I will actually smile and say, “I’m a writer,” when people ask me what I do.
I don’t know why answering this particular question is so hard for me. I’ve been freelancing since 2006, but it still throws me off balance when people ask me what I do for a living. I love talking about my transformation from engineer to writer with some people, and I love reciting the long list of magazines that have paid for my words, photography, and features. I love conducting workshops and helping others learn the craft, but still, the words, “I’m a writer,” feel awkward leaving my mouth. And so, I resolve to boldly answer the question in 2013. I’ll say, “I’m a writer! Hell yeah!” And I’ll throw my arms high in the sky like I’m signaling a touchdown.

Resolution 3: I will try a different type of writing this year.
In my world, this resolution is related to my first writing resolution. I have always written nonfiction—that’s my comfort zone. However, in order to start writing my novel, I must try my hand at writing fiction, and this thought kind of, sort of, terrifies me. I also plan to write a few poems. My friend, Jane Starner, writes beautiful poetry that inspires me, and so, I resolve to write a few poems in 2013, too. I believe that focusing on other types or styles of writing will make me a stronger writer overall.

Resolution 4: I will try to sell my writing in a different market this year.
Since 2006, I have written for magazines, newspapers, and personal clients. When the economy weakened, some of the magazines that I wrote for folded. Others dramatically reduced their pay rates. I’ve watched as other freelancing friends have jumped into online markets, but I haven’t made my move yet. I spent the last six weeks taking an online class designed to help me understand and find applicable ezines, webzines, and other internet sites that purchase content. Some of the information was overwhelming and will require that I investigate further. Yes, I need to jump in the water and learn how to swim in the online writing sea with today’s freelance writers. I don’t want to be left behind.

Resolution 5: I will mix and mingle with other writers more often.
Two years ago, I was a regular member of a memoir writers group in Chattanooga. I loved going to the group meetings one evening each month. I got so much out of listening to words written by Karen Phillips, Marcia Swearingen, Jane Starner, Ginny Minniger, and the others who attended, but I stopped going. Why? Because I hate to drive long stretches on the interstate at night wedged between speeding tractor trailer trucks. But in 2013, I need to get involved again. Being part of the Chattanooga Writers Guild gives me such a sense of satisfaction—a sense of belonging with others who love to write as much as I do. I enjoy having lunch with Jane, Sharon, Janie, Barbara, Phyllis, Wayne, and Coleen and hearing about their writing projects or their efforts to market their books. I enjoy keeping up with Renea and Carmen on Facebook. I learn from our conversations. Yes, I need to do more mingling with writer friends in 2013.

Conquer Your Fear

Several years ago, a friend and I were eating lunch and talking about writing—more specifically, we were discussing the small mountain of rejection letters I had received for a book proposal I was pitching to literary agents. At one point, my friend leaned forward and said, “Wow, I’m not like you. I’m not used to failure. I’ve never been a failure.”

Her words stung, and I thought about them for days. For weeks. For months. For years.

The truth is: there are only a handful of professions where rejection is just par for the course, and writing is one of them. In the writing world, rejection is not necessarily a sign of failure. It is more a simple milestone in the journey to get a work published.

I grew up playing softball, and I remember how nerve-racking it was to walk up to the plate in front of all of the spectators—especially when the game rested of my shoulders—so I often use a softball/baseball analogy to convince aspiring writers to try to overcome their fear. I tell new writers, “You can’t hit a home run unless you stand at the plate and swing. You won’t even get on base if you don’t try. If you strike out, so what? Will the world end? No. So step up to the plate.”

It is this fear of failing that holds so many great writers back. Fear of rejection—fear of failing—exists in every aspect of a writer’s everyday life. We fear facing writer’s block. We fear editors’ candid rejections when sending queries, proposals, or manuscripts. We fear that no one will show up for our book signings. We fear that no one will clap at a book reading.

Fear and the ever-so-common rejection do not define us as writers. It is the way we approach and respond to fear and rejection that makes the difference between those of us who publish, and those of us who don’t.

In my freelance life, I’ve received dozens of “no thank you” letters. But I’ve also received dozens of messages accepting my ideas and hiring me to do what I love—write. Don’t let fear paralyze you. And when you are rejected—and trust me, you will be rejected—grin, know that you are in great company, keep your eyes on the prize, and forge ahead.


NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, an intensive, online writing project that challenges participants to produce a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. Chris Baty launched the month-long literary marathon in 1999—shepherding 20 friends through four grueling weeks of high-octane noveling. Since then, the project has grown and gained popularity with a whopping 256,618 participants in 2011. That’s right—thousands of writers conceive and give birth to novels during the month of November.

How do they do it? I’ve always been curious, so I recently read Baty’s book, No Plot? No Problem and other online resources to learn the art of 30-day noveling, and I think that I am ready to take the plunge. Here are six tips I’ve learned from my research.

1. Do a Little Planning—In the weeks leading up to NaNoWriMo, develop the idea for your novel including characters and plot. Use a brainstorming technique such as bubbling or mapping to expand your idea prior to November 1.

2. Consider Your Writing Schedule—Will you write Monday through Friday, or do you intend to write seven days per week? What hours during the day have you set aside to write your novel? I’m contemplating a NaNoWriMo writing schedule from 6:30—8:30 a.m on week days. I find that my brain works more efficiently in the mornings before my phone starts ringing and the emails start rolling into my inbox. And I may work on my novel a little on the weekends, but those times will be bonus hours.

3. Set a Daily Word Count—Divide 50,000 words by the number of days you plan to write during NaNoWriMo to get your daily word count. To make my goal, I will need to write 2,500 words each day—that’s an aggressive 1,250 words each hour. This hourly word count scares me a little. I’m not a fast writer, so I may need to add more time to my schedule. And don’t forget to keep track of your word-count progress as you write.

4. Type Frantically—When you sit down to write, let your thoughts feed your fingers and just type, type, type. Try to reach that magical place that I call writer’s nirvana.

5. Don’t EditNaNoWriMo is all about output—a month in which quantity trumps quality, so you must resist the temptation to tweak and edit your sentences as you write. Again, the goal is to finish a 50,000-word draft in 30 days. You can edit your work in December.

6. Network with NaNoWriMo Writers—Join an online forum or a local group of NaNoWriMo writers so that you can draw water from the well when you need support and encouragement. As part of your every day November routine, consider posting your word-count score on one of the dozens of NaNoWriMo message boards. Finally, consider establishing a NaNoWriMo account on the official website at