8 Opportunities to Write About Something Great

This is happiness: to be dissolved into something great.

–author Rebecca West

It’s been said that opinions are stronger than armies. More than ever, our future depends on people’s  opinions, and it’s easier to influence people’s opinions and communicate with them than ever. Your ability to provide vision, understanding, guidance, inspiration, and entertainment gives you access to people’s minds and hearts. Whether you write long or short, for adults or children, prose, poetry, or scripts, you can make a difference.

How can you help answer the great questions that arise from the following statements?

1. What people want is enough to satisfy their needs and desires. How can your writing help us decide what enough is?

2. The present is full of conflict, complexity, and pleas for our help, while accelerating change makes the future impossible to predict. How can your writing help us lead authentic, harmonious lives?

3. Power, whether it’s social, military, financial, corporate, spiritural, political, physical, institutional, technological, or hierarchical corrupts. How can your writing help give people and organizations the power they need but prevent them from abusing it?

4. Institutions become part of the problem they exist to solve. How can your writing help organizations to renew and reinvent themselves?

5. Poverty, unjustified suffering, climate change, and resource depletion are intolerable in the global village that is home to the human family. How can your writing help create the means and the will to solve these tragedies?

6. The more needed or valuable the stakes, the easier it is to forsake principle for profit. How can your writing help make both equally important?

7. Politics and religion lend themselves to extreme, unyielding beliefs, based on family, personality, education, history, and culture. How can your writing help bring reason and justice to the world?

8. The players change but the competition for power, control, profit, influence, and resources endures. How can your writing help establish a satisfactory balance of conflicting interests that prevents the waste of resources and the use of force?

The answers to these questions that writers provide will help determine our future. The forces of war, anger, greed, control, consolidation, competition, development, globalization, and the relentless development of technology make finding answers urgent.

We can’t know when a mistake or provocation will set off a catastrophe. We can’t predict when pollution, rising sea levels, or changes in weather will reach a tipping point.

The lack of inspiring leadership, when the planet most needs it, has given you the chance to write out of what is best in you to what is best in all of us. As we free fall toward a fate we can’t predict or control, writers may be the largest, most powerful independent worldwide force for change.

What greater opportunity could you ask for than using your gifts to write about something great? Is there a New Year’s resolution you would like to make?

The Eighth San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / President’s Day Weekend, February 18-20, 2011 / Mark Hopkins InterContinental Hotel on Nob Hill / Keynoters: Dorothy Allison & David Morrell / Pitch your book to agents and editors from both coasts / More than 50 breakout sessions / 100 presenters / www.sfwriters.org  / [email protected] / blog: https://sfwriters.info/blog / free MP3s at sfwriters.info / open to anyone: a day of in-depth classes on Monday, February 21st

New! San Francisco Writers University: Where Writers Meet and You Learn, a project of the San Francisco Writers Conference / Laurie McLean, Dean /  www.sfwritersu.com

A Christmas Wish List for Writers

Dear Santa:

Writers who have the courage, creativity, and commitment to write the best books they can and do what they must to make them succeed are the new heroes of the business.  They need and deserve all the help they can get, so I hope you will bring them these gifts:

  • the vision to see problems as opportunities to grow and write
  • the books they need to read both to become experts on the kind of book they’re writing and to establish criteria for their books. As Ernest Gaines, the author of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, says: “You can only write as well as you read.”
  • the gift for making words sing
  • enough readers to spot every problem in their work and tell them them how to fix it
  • the support of friends, family, fans, other writers, and professionals in their field
  • goals that challenge their abilities and make them jump out of bed every morning eager to do whatever it takes to reach them
  • faith in their work, themselves, and other people
  • the ability to make decisions that serve their short- and long-term goals
  • the curiosity to learn more, understanding that someday they’ll be able to use their knowledget
  • the means to live but not so well it diminishes their drive for achievement
  • the gift for creating metaphors and titles that ignite interest in their books
  • the spirit of service to their readers, their families, and their communities
  • the dedication to sharing their work so it sells as well as they want it to
  • optimism. It’s been said optimists believe this is the best of all possible worlds, and pessimists fear this is true. But optimism is better for you. 
  • the desire to experience life, because as Philip Roth once said: ”Nothing bad can happen to writer. Everything is material.”
  • the most precious gift of all: the time to read, write, promote, and maintain the balance between them and the rest of their lives

I know I’ve asked for a lot, Santa, but, except for the books, these gifts don’t weigh anything or have to be wrapped. And writers need them to help them use the gifts they already have. Your generosity will inspire some of them to write about you, and you’ll be the hero of their stories.

Yours for the Write Way to Live,

A Hero Worshipper

The Eighth San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / President’s Day Weekend, February 18-20, 2011 / Mark Hopkins InterContinental Hotel on Nob Hill / Keynoters: Dorothy Allison & David Morrell / Pitch your book to agents and editors from both coasts / More than 50 breakout sessions / 100 presenters / www.sfwriters.org  / [email protected] / blog: https://sfwriters.info/blog / free MP3s at sfwriters.info / open to anyone: a day of in-depth classes on Monday, February 21st

New! San Francisco Writers University: Where Writers Meet and You Learn, a project of the San Francisco Writers Conference / Laurie McLean, Dean /  www.sfwritersu.com

The Big Bang Theory of Writing, Publishing and Technology

The new frontier lies not beyond the planets, but within each one of us.

–Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Biodynamics

Civilization is a movement and not a condition, a voyage and not a harbor.

–historian Arnold Toynbee

There are three basic skills that students need if they want to thrive in a knowledge economy: the ability to do critical thinking and problem-solving; the ability to communicate effectively; and the ability to collaborate….[We need parents who] elevate learning at the most important life skill.

–Thomas Friedman, New York Times (11/21)

Critical thinking, problem-solving, communicating effectively, and collaborating; all essential skills for writers as well as students. And if learning is the most important life skill, writers have to be perpetual students as well as teachers.

Technology’s Gifts to Writers

The ability to string words together that have the desired effect is a gift as well as a craft. Writing that delivers the value the author intended is a gift to readers worth more than what, if anything, they pay to read it. But technology is also giving priceless gifts to writers, among them the opportunities to

  • learn about anything on the Web instantly.
  • keep up to the minute on new developments.
  • write about more subjects. 
  • making your work immediately accessible to readers around the world.
  • find agents and publishers.
  • promote and profit from your work and your services in a grow number of ways.
  • communicate in the media your audience prefers.
  • collaborate with people around the world.
  • create and maintain communities of writers, fans, and people to help you.
  • accomplish these things without leaving your desk.

How to Thrive in a New Universe

The advent of technology was the Big Bang of a new universe that continues to voyage outward at an accelerating rate. Nobody’s in charge of it; no one knows where it’s going; and no one understands what it means. Publishing is a rapidly spinning planet in the media galaxy of that universe.

What does this mean to you as a writer? How can you plan a future that’s as full of uncertainty as it is opportunity? What do you need to do and have to thrive as a writer?

You need to

  • develop the crafts of writing, storytelling, and communicating online and off.
  • have literary, publishing, and financial goals that keep you passionate and motivated.
  • be a contentpreneur who keeps generating new work, balances commerce and creativity, is responsive to the markeplace, and takes responsibility for your success.
  • keep figuring out the fastest, most productive ways to use technology.
  • build the communities you need.
  • build your visibility while test-marketing your books.
  • promote your work and yourself.
  • stay committed to your future.

What an exciting time to be alive! Discover your future on the frontier of your unexplored potential. Find the stories and ideas that you must share with your unique voice, and give them to the world. And endowed with the gifts technology provides, you will thrive in this amazing new universe.

The Eighth San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / President’s Day Weekend, February 18-20, 2011 / Mark Hopkins InterContinental Hotel on Nob Hill / Keynoters: Dorothy Allison & David Morrell / Pitch your book to agents and editors from both coasts / More than 50 breakout sessions / 100 presenters / Indie Publishing Contest / www.sfwriters.org  / [email protected] / blog: https://sfwriters.info/blog / twitter: @SFWC /
facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/San-Francisco-Writers-Conference/112732798786104 / free MP3s at sfwriters.info / open to anyone: a day of in-depth classes on Monday, February 21st

New! San Francisco Writers University: Where Writers Meet and You Learn, a project of the San Francisco Writers Conference / Laurie McLean, Dean /  www.sfwritersu.com / [email protected]

Unleashing your Muse: Writing Drunk, Editing Sober

If you want to get to the top, you’ve to start at the bottom, same with anything.

–Keith Richards in the number one New York Times  bestseller Life

Three cheers for National Novel Writing Month! Anything that convinces aspiring writers to churn out 50,000 words in a month deserves huge thanks from booklovers. According to an article in the New York Times (11/14),  NaNoWriMo (www.nanowrimo.org) has inspired writers around the world to produce almost 200 million words.

The words of the French noir poet Charles Beaudelaire in his poem “Get Drunk” have seduced millions of college students. He advises them to get drunk and stay drunk on anything–wine, poetry, virtue. Every November thousands of writers get high on turning out more than 1,600 words a day for thirty days without taking the time to edit them.

Agents and editors are wary of the event, because on December first, writers,  eager to sell their “finished” novels, start contacting them. New writers aren’t always aware of the difference between writing and typing. Putting words on a screen is admirable and perhaps the beginning of greatness, but it is only the first step.

At a recent Netroots conference for progressive organizations (www.netrootsnation.org), Eden James, managing director of the Courage Campaign (www.couragecampaign.org), advised writers to “write drunk, edit sober,” to unleash your imagination and creativity run wild when you’re writing your first draft.

But after your right brain has unleashed your first draft, it’s time for your left brain to kick in and do as many drafts as needed to make sure every word is right, and your work has the impact you want it to. The first readers to share it with are those who can help you ensure your work is ready to submit. Check out the list of readers to enlist at www.larsenpomada.com. Join or start a critique group, online or off. Try www.meetup.com to find a local writers group.

NaNoWriMo has produced one bestseller, Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, but not in thirty days. When your trusty band of readers tell you your work is ready, test-market your book with an ebook, a podcast, and print-on-demand copies. Ask for feedback.

Writer and editor Nina Amir offers the same challenge in November for nonfiction writers. So if you’ve been yearning to let that memoir spill out of you, there’s your chance. For information, visit www.writenonfictioninnovember.com.

But since you missed this November, why wait for a year? Invite your muse to sit on your shoulder. Ask a friend to join you or at least encourage you and get high on writing. If winter has you stuck indoors, give yourself the gift of time and let it flow, let it flow, let it flow. You may be starting at the bottom, but your outburst of prose may lead you to the greening of a career.

The Eighth San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / President’s Day Weekend, February 18-20, 2011 / Mark Hopkins InterContinental Hotel on Nob Hill / Keynoters: Dorothy Allison & David Morrell / Pitch your book to agents and editors from both coasts / More than 50 breakout sessions / 100 presenters / www.sfwriters.org  / [email protected] / blog: https://sfwriters.info/blog / free MP3s at sfwriters.info / open to anyone: a day of in-depth classes on Monday, February 21st

New! San Francisco Writers University: Where Writers Meet and You Learn, a project of the San Francisco Writers Conference / Laurie McLean, Dean /  www.sfwritersu.com

Anything is Possible: A Cause for Thanksgiving

There are only two ways of telling the complete truth–anonymously and posthumously.

–author and economist Thomas Sowell

A writer on a science fiction panel once observed that after Philip K. Dick died, the sales of his books shot up, so for him, death was a good career move.

There’s a trend toward shorter books with shorter chapters because they’re cheaper to buy and more important, faster to read. So what chance could a 500,000-word, 736-page, four-pound, $35 autobiography, published by a university press and written by a dead man who had never done anything heroic or barbarous have to succeed? Enough if the man was Mark Twain, who insisted that the book not be published until he was dead for a century.

U.C. Press did a first printing of 50,000 copies, an ambitious number, considering the state of the business. But Autobiography of Mark Twain reached the number two position on the New York Times bestseller list. An article in the Times (11/20) noted that even with 275,000 copies in print after six printings, booksellers couldn’t get their hands on all the copies they wanted. UC Press has its printer turning out 30,000 copies a week to try to meet the demand.

Women buy, read, edit, and agent more books than men, but one reason for the book’s success is that it’s an appealing gift for men that makes the giver look good. The book is at the happy intersection of history, biography, and autobiography, all wrapped up in the life and times of one of America’s greatest writers. Advance publicity and excerpts in magazines helped as did Twain’s wit, insight, and relevance.  Also, it’s a nonlinear book readers can dip into and read as much of as they have time for.

It’s reassuring to know that anything is possible, that the unexpected can still happen. And when a book merits its success, it restores my faith that if a book is good enough, it will find its audience no matter how it’s published. For the second of the three-volume set, maybe UC Press could get Twain to tour and Tweet. Now that would really be a good career move. 

I hope you have enough reasons to keep writing and to have a happy Thanksgiving weekend.

The Eighth San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / President’s Day Weekend, February 18-20, 2011 / Mark Hopkins InterContinental Hotel on Nob Hill / Keynoters: Dorothy Allison & David Morrell / Pitch your book to agents and editors from both coasts / More than 50 breakout sessions / 100 presenters / www.sfwriters.org  / [email protected] / blog: https://sfwriters.info/blog  / free MP3s at sfwriters.info / open to anyone: a day of in-depth classes on Monday, February 21st

New! San Francisco Writers University: Where Writers Meet and You Learn, a project of the San Francisco Writers Conference / Laurie McLean, Dean /  www.sfwritersu.com

10 Things Hollywood Looks For in Your Book (Part 2 of 2)

John Robert Marlow is a novelist, screenwriter, editor and script consultant.

When deciding which books to option or adapt, Hollywood studios and the production companies that team with them look for very specific things. Picking up where the last post left off…

A REASONABLE BUDGET. In the book world, the publisher’s cost-per-page remains the same, whether your characters are playing checkers or blowing up a planet. This is not true of film, and the less costly your project is to film, the more potential buyers you have.

LOW FAT. Because of time and budgetary constraints, there’s little room for anything not absolutely essential to the onscreen story. Novelists can burn ten pages describing a room. A screenwriter might do this in a sentence–and going on for more than a paragraph will mark him or her as an amateur.

FRANCHISE POTENTIAL. If a film based on your book can be endlessly sequeled, that’s a big point in your favor. If the first movie hits, it’s a safer bet to release a sequel to your film than it is to risk vast sums on something new and untried. There are eighty-six movie sequels now in development.

“FOUR QUADRANT” APPEAL . Studios divide the moviegoing public into four large segments, or quadrants: young male, older male, young female, older female. The greater the number of quadrants your project appeals to, the better. Titanic and Avatar are four-quadrant films.

MERCHANDISING POTENTIAL . Film studios make more money from film-related merchandising than they do from the films themselves. A lot more. Films with low or no merchandising potential continue to be made, but the tidal wave is moving the other way–favoring projects with strong merchandising appeal.

This article is a condensation of  “What Hollywood Wants: 10 Things Studios Like to See in Adapted (and Original) Scripts.” John also writes the Self Editing Blog http://selfeditingblog.com.

The content of this article is copyright © 2010 by John Robert Marlow.

The Eighth San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / President’s Day Weekend, February 18-20, 2011 / Mark Hopkins InterContinental Hotel on Nob Hill / Keynoters: Dorothy Allison & David Morrell / Pitch your book to agents and editors from both coasts / More than 50 breakout sessions / 100 presenters / www.sfwriters.org  / blog: https://sfwriters.info/blog / free MP3s at sfwriters.info / Also available: A day of in-depth classes on February 21st

New! San Francisco Writers University: Where Writers Meet and You Learn, a project of the San Francisco Writers Conference / Laurie McLean, Dean /  www.sfwritersu.com