WMBTSG Day Twelve…a little late (Comment to this post to enter the drawing)

Welcome to day twelve of the Writer Mama Back-to-School Giveaway. (Yes, I fell asleep at that wheel, sorry!) Today’s giveaway is Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds by George Singleton, illustrated by Daniel Wallace. How exciting, another new title this fall from Writer’s Digest Books!

Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds
Indispensable Wisdom and Cautionary Advice for Writers

Written by George Singleton; Illustrated by Daniel Wallace
Writer’s Digest Books, 2008
ISBN 978-1-58297-565-8
$16.99 hardcover, 256 page

About the Book
Toddlers—and drunks—bang around hitting walls, tables, chairs, the floor, and other people, trying to find their legs. Writing fiction is a similar process. Sometimes it might take a while before the story gets some balance and moves forward. Sometimes the story takes off as if motor-driven, then crashes into something not foreseen or expected. Learning to be a writer is all about finding your legs, and doing your best to convince onlookers that you know what you’re doing and where you’re going.

In Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds, acclaimed Southern story writer and novelist George Singleton (The Half-Mammals of Dixie, Work Shirts for Madmen) serves up everything you ever need to know to become a real writer (meaning one who actually writes), in bite-sized aphorisms. It’s Nietzsche’s Beyond Good & Evil meets Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It’s cough syrup that tastes like chocolate cake. In other words, don’t expect to get better unless you get a good dose of it, maybe two.

Accompanied by more than fifty original full-color illustrations by novelist Daniel Wallace (Big Fish, The Watermelon King), these laugh-out-loud funny, candid, and surprisingly useful lessons will help you find your own writerly balance so you can continue to move forward.

About the Author
George Singleton has published four collections of stories (These People Are Us, The Half-Mammals of Dixie, Why Dogs Chase Cars, Drowning in Gruel) and two novels (Novel, Work Shirts for Madmen). He’s published over 100 stories in magazines and literary journals such as The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Zoetrope, Playboy, The Georgia Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and Shenandoah. His work has been anthologized often. He’s taught on the secondary, post-secondary, and graduate levels, and his students have done well.

About the Illustrator
Daniel Wallace is the author of four books, including Big Fish (1998) and Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician, which was released in paperback this summer. His illustrations have appeared in the Los Angeles Times and Italian Vanity Fair. He lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with his wife, Laura.


Today’s question: Give us a pep talk about one aspect of the kind of writing you do most often. For example, if you write nonfiction, give us a pep talk about how to get started. If you write for pleasure, give us a pep talk about writing for pleasure. (You can’t give us a screed because that means a long, tedious piece of writing and you only get 50-200 words.) Thanks in advance for the pep talk!

If this is your first post in the giveaway, please read “Da Rules.”

You may post your comments until midnight PST on September 12th.


24 Responses to “WMBTSG Day Twelve…a little late (Comment to this post to enter the drawing)”

  1. 1 Laural September 12, 2008 at 9:36 am

    In mountaineering, you don’t go out without the ten essentials (things like a little extra food and water, a map and a way to keep warm). In being prepared for writing, I find it essential to go out into the world with a little notebook. I can jot down ideas, make notes about the smell of the neighbor’s honeysuckle or the sound of walking across snow before sunrise, and pull from them later.

    I write about outdoor adventuring, often with kids, so I get to be active and then write about it. As long as I can remember the details. Don’t know if it is a pep talk, but I’d say have fun and then write.

  2. 2 Elizabeth September 12, 2008 at 9:42 am

    I get to write advertorial for homes and real estate. The one thing to keep in mind is to don’t sweat the small stuff. Find some small details to humanize your subject (read: house) but don’t sweat trying to get the architectural name of every nook and cranny. Keep it real. That’s what your readers want. That’s what they will respond to. So, go out there and find some houses to tour and write, write, write!

  3. 3 elizaj September 12, 2008 at 10:38 am

    Find poetry in everything. I mean ev. er. y. thing! (trying to stretch this out to make 50 words!)

    If nothing else, I’ll write on receipts. paper napkins. end papers from books. I know when a flash in the pan idea comes along I need to capture it before it flits away. I will NOT remember it when I get home or wake up in the morning.

    I’ve captured a one liner while on the go that turned into a full fledged poem when I sat down with it. That’s happened several times. Talk about an adrenaline rush! It gives
    huge incentive to keep on writing with ears and eyes open!

    There. 107 words. I’m better than I thought! 😉

  4. 4 Cara September 12, 2008 at 11:20 am

    I sit, pen hovering expectantly over the fresh page of my spiral notebook, waiting for the brilliant idea that is going to propel me to write the fiction story to end all stories for the annual alumni fiction writing contest sponsored by my illustrious alma mater.

    I turn to my 18 year old daughter. “What do you think I should write about honey?”

    “Write about what you know,” she promptly replies. I’ve trained her well I see.

    “Yeah, but that’s what I always do,” I protest. “I need something with a little more pizzazz. What are people writing about these days?”


    “Vampires?” I echo, dubiously.

    I sigh. This is going to be harder than I thought. A quick internet search of what’s selling these days in fiction reveals a heady mix of thrillers, sci-fi and fantasy, liberally peppered with mayhem, massacre, murder, and yes, even a few vampires. I guess I’ll just stick to what I know best after all. Call them slice-of-life stories, memoir, personal essays, or creative non-fiction, it’s what I live on a day to day basis. What they may lack in excitement, they make up for with their intrinsic honesty!

  5. 5 Mary Jo C. September 12, 2008 at 12:10 pm

    I’d like to add to the “write what you know” tip that we are all so familiar with: Write what moves you! Sure, I could write about the inner workings of an auto repair shop, but I’ve already experienced 7 grueling years of that and I’m not so inclined to relive it through my writing!

    But, if I’m already touched and inspired by a co-worker who lost her young child to cancer and still manages to crack sarcastic jokes, let alone function at all, well, there’s a story I need to tell the world. Not from my perspective or “I’ve lived it”, but from a third party looking in. Writing down what I notice, taking note of the emotions bubbling under my skin and then transferring that feeling to my readers.

    P.S. Cara: try the Twilight series – you’ll get a taste of that vampire addicition!

  6. 6 Meryl K. Evans September 12, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    Oh, let’s see if I can do this cheerleader thing.

    Gimme a W!
    Gimme an E!

    OK, OK, I’ll stop, but let’s give a shout out to “web content!” Yeah! In writing Web content, you get to enjoy seeing your words live on for a longer time than say… a magazine article. A magazine article appears in an issue and it’s forgotten by the next month.

    No web site is going to want to change content on a regular basis (not counting the blog). You tell stories, persuade, encourage visitors to take action. You give personality to the company.

    Oh, now I’m about to break in song… “Personality…”

  7. 7 Amie H September 12, 2008 at 1:17 pm

    So you want to write a personal essay? You have a great idea. It is poignant and funny. It will make your father laugh and your mother cry. The New York Times will love it. But it isn’t written yet. It’s still all in your head. You’re hands are suspended above the computer keyboard and the only thing that you can think about is the Krispy Kreme “Hot” sign and whether or not it’s on right now. And in how many places is it on across the universe at the same time? And how many aliens prefer chocolate iced crème filled to original glazed? And …

    Stop. You have a severe combination case of writers block and snack attack. Get up from your chair. Do 25 jumping jacks. Grab a glass of water. Sit back down at your computer. Put some headphones on and play one of those classical baby brain boosting CDs. Focus. You’re almost there. You only have 800 – 1000 words to go.

  8. 8 Angie Goodloe September 12, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    When I write about plants I like to do it right after I have worked with them (either making plants medicine, harvesting or just sitting and enjoying them) this is when my feelings are fresh- I hardly ever remember all the details if I wait until the next day.
    Am I the only one who has thought about keeping an erasable sharpi pen in the shower so you can just write directly on the walls? (note to self; maybe I will get one of those scuba diving rescue note pads to write on while I’m in there) I swear I get some of my best ideas in the shower- I have even ran naked to the computer and typed away, my long hair dripping wet, reaching for a towel left over on the couch from the laundry that has not been finished from the day before (wondering if my neighbor saw me through the window- but this idea is too important to care)- eyes still clued to the screen, one hand still on the key pad, fumbling around- Or, jumping out of the shower feeling around for my note pad- soap in my eyes, hands still wet, dripping all over the note pad causing the pages to go from flat to wavy and the ink to smear.

  9. 9 Sarah K. September 12, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    I write because I love to. It never ceases to amaze me that by just sitting down with a pen and paper and a blank piece of paper something beautiful, or just funny, or kind of sad, (or unfortunately sometimes not so great) can be created. A story can be shared, a love expressed, or a memory saved just because you took the time to write…why not start now?

  10. 10 Celestial Goldfish September 12, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    I’m not a wallflower. I’m the wall itself. In public, I’m like a ghost, drifting through space where everyone seems oblivious to my existence. I sat in a college classroom every day for months, knew most of my peers by name and face, only to be asked the week before the semester ended, “Are you new here?”

    In my fiction, just as in life, I sit back and observe. I see the details no one else finds of consequence. There are advantages to being invisible. I know everything and everyone, and what I lack in knowledge I fill in with imagination. I can make the pieces fit together – just give me a saw and some duct tape. The editing will make it look pretty, I swear.

  11. 11 Tricia Grissom September 12, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    Bad things happens to us. Our hearts are broken. Loved ones get cancer. The house burns down. We get divorced.

    And as a writer, it’s all material. That strange bump on your head? A medical piece. The tantrums your three-year-old throws? An excuse to research solutions and share them with other moms. Want to cry because you can’t match socks? Write about it.

    So no matter what happens, good, bad or ugly, we can use it. And sometimes that makes life a lot easier to take.

  12. 12 Cathy September 12, 2008 at 3:49 pm

    You know what’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys? Finding the humor in the world around you! So if your son, the college graduate, is making burgers instead of dollars, smile! That’s a humorous column. When you’re canvassing the make-up counters, looking for a combination of acne medication/wrinkle filler, rejoice! That’s a humorous column, too. And don’t forget the added benefit of writing a humor column: you’ll never run out of material. Because the world is full of so many wonderful, horrible things, you have to laugh to keep from crying. But write about them first. Then go outside and celebrate your earnings by swinging from the trees. (The neighbors will surely talk about you…and you’ll have another humorous column!)

  13. 13 Laura September 12, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    So, you find yourself feeling hopeless one day. That article that you poured yourself into, many hours of work, the article that’s your first more-than-one-page, hey-this-has-real-potential, well, that article you find out you cannot even submit (for reasons not important here). It’s dead. You find yourself wallowing in despair.

    Stop. Yes, you invested yourself a lot in one piece, but it’s time to move on. The important thing to remember, the one thing that gave me the urge to keep writing, is that you have something unique to say, something no one else can. You need to keep writing. Pull out that other piece or begin something new. Keep writing, keep trying, and keep going.

  14. 14 rowena September 12, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    I’m going to pep talk about the kind of writing I am the most avoiding lately. Novels.

    All you need to write is one word. Then follows the next, and the next. All you need is one sentence, and then on to the following sentences that flow from that. You only need to know the one picture you can see before you. That’s all. You don’t need to know the whole novel. You don’t need to know everything about the characters. You don’t need to know everything about writing or even everything about yourself.

    All you need to do is sit down.

    And write.

  15. 15 Karrie September 12, 2008 at 7:30 pm

    So… here’s what I did this week that really inspired me. First, I stretched myself and drove to Seattle for a writer’s meeting after teaching a full day and without knowing anyone there.

    After that, I heard writer after writer stand up and tell us of their latest publication deals. That gave me hope that it really does happen.

    Then I heard an associate editor from Simon and Schuster speak to us about literature and how she works with authors. Not only was her material interesting but she was very engaging and personable.

    Finally, I went home late and tired but jazzed for my next meeting when I will stand to say where I have been published.

    To sum up here’s a recipe for pep:
    1. Take a risk and do something you’ve never done.
    2. Get yourself in the good company of other writers.
    3. Celebrate the accomplishments of our profession.
    4. Listen to what editors have to say as our partners in reaching our readers.
    5. Let all of those feelings drive your writing forward.

    Bake at 350 and serve:)

  16. 16 Amber September 12, 2008 at 7:47 pm

    Okay… Writer! You. Yes, you. Let me tell you something important.

    It’s all fodder.

    Don’t shake your head like that. It’s true. Your parents’ divorce… your fear of flying… the lawyer neighbor down the street that parks on the sidewalk in front of your house… use it. You know heartache, loneliness, broken dreams, fear and the thrill of doing something bad when you know you shouldn’t. Write it all down. Make sure you change the names, though.

  17. 17 Beth@MommyComeLately September 12, 2008 at 7:57 pm

    Writing in 3 Easy Steps:
    That sums it up, whether you’re a non-fiction writer like me or a fiction writer–and, wouldn’t you know it, I’ve caved in and am listening to the voices?
    If you want to really see your writing improve, “Write-Rewrite-Repeat” in a critique group. Let others tell you why that lead paragraph is dragging or point out how you wandered down a writing rabbit trail in the middle of your article.

  18. 18 Rosemary Lombard September 12, 2008 at 9:28 pm

    Most often I write nonfiction, for it is the way I am driven to communicate about my research. One of its expressions is the nearly daily journal descriptions of my animals’ behaviors, dating back decades. There I have disciplined myself to write clearly and precisely, without figurative language or overinterpretation.
    The outgrowth of these journals is my book-in-process. As it is for a general audience, I need to return to a more literary style. What works for me is writing poetry—for practically the first time in my life—paying extra attention to the sounds and rhythms that enhanced poetic sensitivity can add to prose. A previous life as a singing and conducting musician helps, too.
    Try playing with the styles and influences from the other kinds of writing and performing in your background. Expand your reading of others’ work into styles that are peripheral to the kind of writer you think you are. We keep learning when we expand our sights and pay attention keenly enough to internalize emotions, rhythms, the world of sound, and points of skill into our main body of work.

  19. 19 Christine Silva September 12, 2008 at 9:28 pm

    Writing nonfiction is easy because inspiration is all around us. Anything from taking a shower to driving errands to washing a pet can be the beginning of an article. If something catches your interest or makes you wonder then chances are other people have wondered the same thing but haven’t bothered to do the effort to find the answer. And nonfiction writing can be easy to sell because there are so many outlets of various sizes and the market is in constant turnover. Magazines, newspapers, nationals, regionals, parenting, trade magazines, and on and on. And since magazines are always looking for more material they are willing to look at new talent. And since magazines are always looking to broaden their markets and appeal to various readerships, there’s bound to be a magazine willing to publish your unique perspective. The opportunities are out there. All you have to do is pursue them.

  20. 20 Karen September 12, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    I write non-fiction, science, how to get out kinda-stuff. Without organizing my articles first, I’d get nowhere. Non-fiction doesn’t mean I can skip that awesome lead or the powerful closing, it just means that when I outline and craft the meat of the article, the first and the last seem to fall into place a whole lot faster than if I sit there and wait for the most incredible entry to the article to appear. On the surface it doesn’t sound magical or particularly creative, but shining through the hard, practical work is where the magic happens.

  21. 21 Jen September 12, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    Before my little ones came along, I was a writer for a national trade mag. It was easy to sit down and get started. I was long on time, energy, and ideas.

    “Should I begin the piece with that witty comment or that wild scene?” I’d ask myself as I sat down to my own desk in my own office.

    “That anecdote is priceless…maybe I should start there. This may even end up on the cover; I think it has a good shot!”

    How do I get started now?

    “Think, think!” I tell myself as I sit in front of the laptop in my walk-in closet.

    “The kids will be up soon! Hurry! The topic is about new mothers! You can’t come up with a story for that? Okay, try this one over here—they’re calling for stories about stay at home moms! Come on! You can do that one!”

    I finally find my lined notebook and a favorite pen, sit on the couch and write as if in a journal. The pressure wears off and I feel less panicked. Soon, I have the start of a story worth taking to the computer to finish and eventually send off.

  22. 22 Terri Elders September 14, 2008 at 10:36 am

    When I was in college, back in the late ’50s, a creative writing teacher told us that if we didn’t think we were Shakespeare, we shouldn’t be writing. He said we should strive for genius, and not settle for less. I skulked home and thought about throwing my little Smith-Corona portable typewriter in the trash. Shakespeare didn’t have to worry about me rivaling his reputation.

    Then I took a deep breath and remembered that I loved the novels of Rona Jaffe and the humor columns of Erma Bombeck. I would never be another Shakespeare, nor even a Fitzgerald or Hemingway. And neither would my creative writing teacher, by the way.

    But I could write travel articles, pop psychology, grant applications and personal essays for anthologies. So I did and I do. So can you. Don’t reach your seventies and think “coulda, woulda, shoulda.” Do!

  1. 1 WMBTSG Day Twelve: And the winner is… « The Writer Mama Riffs Trackback on September 13, 2008 at 3:21 pm
  2. 2 WMBTSG Week Two Giveaway Sponsors: Many Thanks! « The Writer Mama Riffs Trackback on September 23, 2008 at 10:17 am
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