Friday, February 15, 2008

Citing Sources

Citing Sources

When and How to Cite Research Sources by Janie Lynn Panagopoulos

This is our last article on research sources. I am sure there are a few of you that are very glad about that. Now, down to business, the work of properly citing research sources for your writing varies, depending upon the source and how it is used.

First and foremost -- remember -- Citing a source gives credit where credit is due, not citing a source could lead you in the direction of plagiarism.

When should you cite your source? If you have quoted an author (including Internet authors) or have used any words or arranged words in a sentence that is not originally yours. Yes, I know, no words are originally our own, but if these words or sentences have been arranged to fashion someone else’s writing or if it “hints” at giving you credit when you have not preformed the original research, you are doing something illegal.

Cite a source if:

you restate an idea or thought stated by another author.
you are not the original person involved in the original source research.
you are using facts that are not common knowledge.

Types of citing:

Parenthetical (citing within a text)

Endnotes (explanatory or information at the end of your writing)

Footnotes (older form of citing placed at the bottom of page)

Information you need to collect (depending upon source):

Periodical: title of original publication, author of the article, title of article, date of publication, volume and or issue number, page number.

Book: title of book, editor, series title, publisher, publication date, volume number, article and chapter title (if needed) and authors name.

Internet: name of author, URL, name of Internet site.

Email: name of person interviewed, subject line in quotation marks, description of message that includes the recipient and date of message.

Panagopoulos, Janie L. “Re: IP Videoconferencing”. Email to You the Reader, 17 December, 2008.

Images: (any media) name of artist, name of individual image, when it was created, where it is currently housed or from what collection, URL (if on Internet), and date of posting.

(if on Internet)

Maps: name of location, where it was found, what year issued, and URL.

Formatting Sources:
List of citation usually appears at end of work on new page
Center title “Works Cited”
Double-space between title and first entry.
Begin entry at left-hand margin – second line – five spaces in
Alphabetical order of entries by author’s last name (if known) or first important word in the title, excluded “a”, “an”, and “the”.
Author with more than one work cited, do not repeat name, use three hyphens and a period in place of author’s name and cite work as above.
Double-space entire list and use a period at end of entries.
Underline titles of books, plays, poems, pamphlets, periodicals, and films.
These sites may be of help while creating your form

Easy bib:


Landmark’s Citation Machine:

Last comment, you might wonder, if you are writing a fiction piece, why is citing important? I write historical fiction that is categorized as “documentary” historical fiction, using factual people or events from history to build a story. I write for the 3rd-8th grade educational market and my books are used in schools to help teach Social Studies. For me, it is essential to have material available for teachers and readers to use as reference materials while using my novels in the classroom and it is also essential to provide documentation for editors when they ask for sources. So, getting in a regular habit of collecting and citing sources is a very important part of my work and it might also play an important role in yours.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Plagiarism – What it is and how to avoid it
Janie Lynn Panagopoulos

After gathering research information, purchasing reference books and reading through everything you have gathered, please be aware of “how not” to use the information you have found. Please know the words you write must be your own, if they are not your words and ideas, you must cite the sources or ask permission to use them.

Plagiarism is becoming a big issue today because of so many sources that are available to us to use on the Internet. Sometimes students don’t even realize they are plagiarizing; they are just putting down what they found. But if you, by chance, use the same words as the author without citing your sources, you are plagiarizing and it is illegal.

If you are a student reading this you might think, this is silly, words are words and there they are right in the open for everyone to use. Well, just because books and the Internet make information and documents readily available, it doesn’t mean you have permission (without proper citation) to use that information – word for word -- and turn it in as your own. That is cheating and considered fraud by the law. The term plagiarism refers to the unaccredited (uncited) use of someone else’s words.

But what if you accidently used someone else’s words? Well, that is illegal too.

As a historical fiction writer, one way that helps me not to use someone else’s words by accident is that I avoid reading fiction. I read only reference material or primary sources to educate myself and try to find the most unique way to present that information in a storyline.

Here are some tips to help you avoid plagiarism in your writing.
1. If you are not the original researcher on a subject, cite the source.
2. If the information is not common knowledge, such as information from a phone book, cite source.
3. Use quotation marks if you are copying the words of another author and cite the source.
4. If you copy information off the Internet, cite the source.
5. Do not use anything from the Internet, without permission of the author, especially if you see a copyright symbol on their work.
6. If you are using a book for research and you need to copy small portions of the information, word for word, cite the source.

Please, plagiarism is easy to do; be careful, aware and responsible when you are writing. Make your work original. Write it in your own words, work hard to make your work your own. There is so much more satisfaction and pleasure making your work your own. That is how you become a real writer.

And, after all, if you are copying someone else’s work, you will always only be a second best writer to that person you are copying.

Next article will cover citing sources.

J. L. Panagopoulos, 06/02/2008 ©

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Paper Trail, Part II

Research: Following the Paper Trail, Part II

When visiting research facilities, make sure you have made a list of information, dates, names (proper spellings of course), and locations that are important to your project or reflect the information you are looking for. Don’t wait until you get to a research facility to “think” what it is you are looking for. It can be very embarrassing to go to a research facility, address a reference librarian with the fact you are doing academic research on a subject for a possible book project and have the librarian ask you a question on “YOUR” subject and you don’t have the information available to give.

Study and explore card catalogs, computer databanks, collection lists and ask the reference librarian for suggestions about where else you might find information. It is amazing how “on top” of a facility most reference librarians are. Most really know their books and their collections and love to search out information that is difficult to find.

Skim and scan over information you find. Can you photocopy this information? If you can photocopy the needed information, wonderful, you are in luck. If not, start recording by hand. Make sure you have a notebook with you ‘just” for this information. Record collection and acquisition numbers, box numbers, book title page, copyright, publisher, page numbers, and the information needed.

If you are photocopying information from a book make sure you ask the librarian about the “fair use” law that they follow. YOU CAN NOT PHOTOCOPY ENTIRE BOOKS – It is illegal.

When photocopying, first, copy the front insert page that will give you the title of book, the author, the publishing house and the copyright information. Make sure when putting your material in separate folders that this title page goes in the front of the folder for later citation. Also, on the outside of the folder, write down the name of the facility, the date you visited, and the cost of photocopying (for tax write-offs if your book gets published and make sure you receive or ask for a receipt for copying).If you have not brought along separate folder files to keep your copies neat and together, make sure you tab the ends of the sheets together or better yet, paperclip them.

If, at a library, you want or need the information in the whole book, just photocopy the title page and purchase the book to help build your own reference library. The best place I have found to purchase books will take us back to our computers, where you can purchase used books for a fraction of the cost of new ones. Also, when you purchase a used book, you don’t feel so bad if you find it necessary to highlight a passage or underline something you will need to investigate as you are reading and learning more about your research subject.

If you are in a rare book collection or archival collection and you find “just” the perfect piece of information, keep in mind, you can not photocopy these things. You must hand copy the information (don’t forget to copy the cover page for citation).

In some rare cases a book or file, even if it is a reference piece, “might” be available to photocopy a certain portion. This again is where it is important to get to know the reference librarian, archivist or curator, because if they believe in your project and can make it happen for you to get the information in photocopy format, they will give you their best. If they say “no”, however, the answer is “no”. Be respectful, thank them and start copying by hand. Keep in mind; you never know when you might need their help again.

In archival collections, if photocopying is permissible, the archivist or the assistant archivist, most often, would rather handle the ancient or fragile documents themselves and not risk having the paper the documents are written on be jeopardized by careless handling or soiling. In this case, you will select the documents and records you want copied and record what collection, box, file, number of pages, and page numbers you want, write this down for you records, also record on your copy the facility name, location, person helping you, date and time. Give a copy of your information sheet to the archivist. They will figure out the number of pages, and tell you the cost for their work and copies; you “generally” have to pay up-front for these documents, and so make sure you get only what you need, but everything in the file or box.

The archivist will ask for your address and tell you to expect it to take up to six weeks before you get the information. I know it can be time consuming but worth every minute of it as you now have original (copies) of documents in the original hand of the people or person you are doing research on. It is an incredible thrill when you finally get your copied originals in the mail and you sit down to “try” and decipher writings from a bygone era.

If you are at a visual research location such as a museum, check with the curator and ask if they have a museum library or a research book list on the artifacts you are looking at. This will help you create a reference list for you to look at and purchase reference books that will help you have a better understand of the things you are doing research on.

This type of research is an incredible education for a writer; everyone should do it, at least, once to really see what it is all about. It makes you feel like Indiana Jones of the book set.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Research: The Paper Trail, Part I

Research – Following the Paper Trail, Part I

We have covered some “basics” of Internet research, but remember there is a world of information beyond your computer in research facilities around the world. And if you travel to another country to do research, be prepared for language barriers, unless you are fluent in the native tongue. I had this happen in Italy and was totally shocked that I hadn’t taken this into consideration when I made my research plans. This was my first European research trips and the last one I made this mistake with. Researchers must be prepared for many different circumstances and all facilities are different.

Now, this type of research is back in my realm of working and it might be a bit more demanding but you might also find some ”little known” treasures that no one else in the writing field is aware of.

Resources for research include:

· Library catalogs/Libraries

· Books

· Periodicals

· Archival Collections

· Museums

· Rare Book Collections

· Internet databanks at research centers

Keep in mind, most serious research centers request the researcher to be at least 18 years of age and have a photo I.D. for them to hold while you are in their facility or to present to the security guard or person controlling the door. If you are under 18 and still need to do research, see if you can find an adult (over 18) to go with you but make sure you contact the facility first to seek permission. Some locations, if you check first and arrive with an adult, will allow you to do work there as long as you are supervised. Some locations will still refuse entry until you are 18 years of age.

Visiting a research facility is a unique experience for most writers. I have been at facilities where researchers have been turned away at the door because they were not prepared for doing their research, at some locations the guards are trained to interview you to make sure you are there for the right reasons. I have been in facilities where security guards have kindly escorted researchers to the door telling them to return when their research needs were more thought out. I have been at facilities where a security guard arrived at a study table with the curator and asked the researcher to leave because he was not using proper etiquette, during this incident the security guard also handed the researcher a city map with the local public library circled. Researching at a facility is for the serious researcher, not for someone who is “just” curious about a subject and doesn’t know what they are doing or how to act.

And remember, if you are going to a research facility, pack a bag – seriously -- you will need to bring things with you that are approved by the facility for research and will show the directors of the facility you are serious about your work and worthy to be there working beside other professionals.

Make sure you have a small briefcase, a soft-sided one works best because if you are doing research in an archival collect, museum library, or even some rare book collections you will most likely be asked to leave all personal belongings in a locker outside the doors you are about to enter. A soft-sided case will hold all your needs but can be bent to fit a small locker, too. And ladies, your purses are not welcome, along with backpacks or book bags of any sort. The lockers do have locks to protect your belongings while working. The average locker will cost you .25cents which is “generally” returned to you at the end of the day.

Bring along a notebook, plenty of pencils with erasers, pens are not allowed, tissues (no gum), a magnifying glass and possibly a pair of white cotton gloves, if you are going to be handling artifacts or very old documents. Another thing to bring along is a bagged lunch (leave in the locker). Most facilities are notorious for not being located close to any restaurants, but they do “generally” provide a lunch room where you can purchase boxed sandwiches that have been on display for only a few months. It is better and safer to bring your own lunch and not be surprised or made ill because of overlooking this fact of research facilities.

This is the end of Part I, read tomorrow for Part II.

Part of the joy is the search for knowledge!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Research - Search don't Surf

Research – Searching the Web not just Surfing…

The use of the Internet can be a valuable research tool for writers and there are many different ways to use it.

Surfing the Web is just one and is often a random, time consuming job. Surfing the Web is simply browsing without direction, like looking through stacks of books at a library without any specific one in mind to check out. Now, searching randomly, you might stumble upon an interesting book that can help you, eventually, on the other hand, why not simplify and use your energy in the right place with some direction.

If you want to narrow down your search, you might consider using one of these search tools to help you.

Directories: What is it and how do you use it? A Directory on the Internet is best used for searching through subjects and finding quality Web sites that might help you in your search.

Directories list categories for Web sites, using your research time more effectively. The people who create Directories are the ones who decide in which category a Web site should be listed. Directories include fewer Web sites than basic Search Engines because they have sorted out the sites that, in their minds, don’t apply to your KEYWORD search.

On your computer, under SEARCH, simply KEY in Open Directory to get started with your introduction to Directories.

Another tool, Search Engines, are large sites such as Yahoo, Google, AltaVista, HotBot, and AllTheWorld. that have massive listings of Web sites and each Search Engine lists sights in different ways. If you do a Yahoo search and get 1,000 Web site listings on a search word, you might want to try Google or AltaVista and put in the same search and you will most likely get 3 or 4 thousand more sites that go with your search word. Don’t just use one Search Engine to do your KEYWORD search, use them all and view a larger selection of information that might help you discover what you need for your writing.

Metasearch Engines, these are best used for comparing search results from common Search Engines. Metasearch Engines will take your KEYWORD and broadcast it to a selection of Search engines and give you a mixed search result from all the Search Engines they have available. When working with a Metasearch, make sure you keep your KEYWORDS simple and record them, also make note of the Search Engines that are being used by the different Metasearch Engines. Some of the better Metasearch Engines include: DogPile, Ixquick, Metacrawler, ProFusion, and Savvy Search. Any of these engines will be of help to you in your research.

Portals are another way to do research on the Web. Portals give you access to more contemporary information. They are doorways that lead you into a maze of facts and archival groupings. Most include a basic, on-site, search engine as well as a search directory. Recommended Portals include: Excite,, Lycos, NBCi.

When you are searching from site-to-site, keep with you a check list that will help you verify a legitimate site that you can use for your research.

Your check list should include these questions. If you can’t find answers to all these questions at the site you are searching, you probably shouldn’t use that site for your research.

Look for and record:

  • Author’s name or Institution (from the site)
  • Author’s title or position
  • Author’s contact information
  • What is the URL address? Record it!
  • Date of Web page creation
  • Title of Article/Document you want to use/Where did the information come from?
  • Date you visited the site
  • What is the bibliographic citation for the site?
  • List specific facts you are planning on using
  • What other sources are you using to confirm the accuracy of facts listed? (should have 3 sources)
  • What bibliography sources are listed on site for you to draw from for more information or checking information?

    All of the above information is very important to your note taking if you are using the Internet for your research. Make sure you record all of the above for citing your sources.

    I know what you might be thinking, “I’m not doing a research paper, I am writing a novel or a short story.” But let me remind you, nearly everything you write MUST have a "ring of truth" if you want your audience to trust and enjoy your work. If you have questions, believe me, so will your readers.

    I will continue on with research and citations in my next blog postings.

    Digging for research is half the fun of writing!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Internet Research

How to Research on the Internet

Write what you know… Here we go again! No really, write what you know. If you don’t know about what you want to write about, do the research.

Today, all you who are just breaking into the field of writing have got it easy. I started writing professionally over 32 years ago and guess what; there was no technology to help me out.

If I needed to learn about the fur trade, I had to drive to Quebec to the International Fur Trade Conference and pick the minds of experts. If I needed to look for information in the history of lumbering, I had to call around to different university libraries and track down the collections archivist and ask what they had in their holdings that might give me insight. I would talk, they would listen and explain they would have to check their collections list and snail mail me an inventory list (generally taking 7 to10 days of waiting). After that I would have to travel to the location ($$), no matter if it was in a different state or country, stay in a hotel ($$), no matter how long it would take to preview, read and hand copy the information from the documents in the collections, return home ($$) and hope and pray I “found” the best source from the best collection, to base my writings on.

All this took months and years. My average mss took me 3-5 years of on-sight research. It was a fabulous, time consuming, expensive way to learn and do research. Thank God that today, because of the Internet, it is so much easier and cheaper.

When I first started doing research online, I was lucky to find a university library that listed what was in their collections. Generally, the only thing listed was the time and location of the facility. Now, not only is it the time and location, I can find the collections list, the rare book list, and the archival list from most any institution and in most cases those facilities are now putting their documents online to read, print, and use for educational purposes. It is amazing. There is no excuse today for sloppy research for story ideas.

Word of warning: whenever you are using a source from the Internet, be positive it is from a site you can trust. Not just a Web site created by someone who has an interest or an imagination concerning the topic you are looking for. Please note: anyone can write anything they want and post it on the Web. Look for trusted, reliable professionals and well known collections to help you in your quest.

In research, you must first figure out what you will need. Ask yourself: “What do I already know?” “What do I need to find out?” (Make a list!). Next, ask yourself: “How do I refine what I need?” (Who the audience is will determine the refinement.)

Also ask: “What sources of information is available to me?” Because I come from a different learning in research, I always recommend a trip to the library. Of course, I know you access the library on the Internet. So, if it is the Internet, make a list of Keywords that relate to your search. You might even want to go to the University of South Carolina to check out “Searching the Web” for some help.

Always remember: Anyone with a computer can create a Web site… Not all sites are created equal. There is no complete list of Web sites. There is no one "person" who checks for accuracy on Web sites. New sites appear and disappear everyday and therefore so does your cited information.

To help in your research you will probably want to check Directories, Search Engines, Metasearch Engines, and Portals. I will cover more on these locations the next few blog postings.

How to evaluate “general” Web sites:

  • Ask yourself: Who is the author and what credentials do they have on the subject? (Should be listed on the site under FAQ or Biographical Sheet)
  • Are there professional organizational links that lead you to primary source materials such as archival collections or libraries?
  • Any pop-up advertisements on the site? Beware!
  • When was the last update? When and where does the information come from?
  • Is the information based on facts or opinions? Facts only with research!
  • What is the quality of the site? The information? Check for grammar and spelling.

Now, with this type of information you can begin your Internet research.

In the next few postings I will dig deeper into research and collecting information, both on and off the Internet.

Write what you know!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Know thy Genre

After being on the road for a couple weeks, it is always nice to get back to my office to write. Know Your Audience
Writers write what they know or so the cliché goes, on the other hand, how could you or why would you write about something you are clueless about? Unless, of course, it is simply for amusement and silliness, and sometimes that type of writing can serve a purpose too, but your readers should know and understand “what” and “why” you are writing. A writer should also know the needs and wants of his/her audience.
If writing “just” for writing sake or for practice, it is probably a good idea you limit sharing this type of writing and put it in your personal journal. If, however, you are writing for a specific purpose in a specific genre, you must know your audience (the reader) and give them what they want. Understanding genre is a way to help you know and give your audience what they want.
Genre (kind or type) was originally created by publishers to help categorize published literature into a system to make it easier for customers to purchase a particular genre (type) of story. If a customer enjoys reading fiction, what type of fiction do they enjoy? Perhaps they enjoy a focus on science or history. Do they enjoy a romance, an adventure or a fantasy? Or do they enjoy a combination of them all? This helps the book dealer and publisher find books and writers that directly give the reader what they want.
Genre, although a simple idea created to meet a simple need, is often difficult to understand. If you put the reader or audience first, however, it will help you as a writer have a clearer understanding. Start first with the age of the reader that you are writing for. What are their needs?
If writing for children, you must always remember vocabulary, description and content. Age groups for this type of genre usually break down: 0-5, 5-7, 7-11 and sometimes 7-9 and pre-teens. Each group has its own vocabulary level and its own content level that must be appropriate or else a wise parent or teacher will discover your work and make sure it is no longer made available for their youngsters to read.
Writing for children does not mean dummying down your work or simplifying, it is often more difficult to write for children because children “learn” when they read even though they might be reading to be entertained. Be careful and responsible when writing for this level of reader (as with all levels of readers) as an error in judgment for this audience can sometimes ruin a writing career. Be mindful of age appropriate vocabulary, storylines, settings, and characters. A young reader, if they are to like your stories and request them over and over again, must identify with the story, even with limited life experiences (and their parents must like the stories, too).
Writing for the Young Adult age level is a slight bit easier as there are fewer limitations to this category. Generally, these types of short stories or novels portray a teen main character, rather than an adult or young child. The storylines typically reflects the age and experience of the main character, but after that, most YA stories cover nearly every level of fictional genre.
Adult fiction covers all genres, and there are as many genres and styles of writing as there are writers, books and categories. Adult fiction is thought to be, of course, more sophisticated with a developed use of words, vocabulary, settings and storylines. On the other hand, I have worked with publishers and editors who have reminded me to make sure, even if I am writing for an adult audience, to keep my writing level and vocabulary to an understanding and age limit of about a High School graduate. If too sophisticated, you lose readers. The simpler the better is often their motto. I personally disagree, but the publisher/editor does have the last word in all purchases and sales.
My best advice to writers: know your reader and their needs before you begin writing your story.

Suggested reading:
Teaching Genre by Tara McCarthy
Writing and Reading Literary Genres by K. Buss & L. Karnowski
Passport to Genre by Debbie Connolly

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Blog will resume 01/20/2008

Currently, Janie Lynn Panagopoulos is out of her office on tour in Michigan, USA until
01/20/2008. She can be reached through the Internet at:

Her blog site will resume after her return.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008



Writers write what they know and if they don’t know something, they find out. Research is a key component to all writers who hope to gain an audience.

Good research today is easy compared to just ten years ago, where it was not unusual for me to travel 10-12 thousand miles a month just to visit libraries, museums and archival collections on a quest for knowledge.

Today, the wonderful tool of the Internet has really opened doors to writers and there is no excuse for not doing your research work correctly and professionally.

Now, let me explain, I am not talking about just getting on your Internet Browser and surfing for information in a random way. That is what the general public does. The Internet for writers is not a play thing, it is a work tool, and it should be treated like that.

I do have surf time “just for fun,” snooping around and looking for new and interesting sites, I am not talking about that. As a professional using the Internet you will need to set aside time to “surf” and have fun, which is also part of the “wonderful world of the Internet.”

Real research is NOT just putting in a KEYWORD in the SEARCH and searching through all the web sites. That is what a young person might do to find information and often times the information they come up with is incorrect.

Also, something else that is not research, I work with Yahoo “Ask an Expert” program on the Internet and I am always getting writers asking me questions about research they themselves should be doing. They ask questions like, “What was life like in a certain period of time?” So they can write their book. They ask “What type of punishment was used during a certain period of time?” So they can write their book”. “What type of food was eaten or money used”… Give me a break! That is NOT Internet research, asking someone else to do your work for you is not research and it is a lazy habit to get into that will send you in the wrong direction of learning to write and research properly.

I am talking about learning a skill by using your own writing outline and research notes to search out information that will answer questions you might have and that will help you write an accurate, concise article, story or book.

How do you get organized to do this?
1) Make sure while reading or researching locally in museums, libraries or archives that you keep a note pad “just” to jot down questions you might have concerning what you have read or learned. As you put your story outline together, before you begin to write, have you found there are places where you need information to fill out the story? Factual information that can only be found by research, make a note of it. What about when you are in the middle of writing something and you discover that there is some confusion in your information, it doesn’t make sense and you need clarification. Make a note.

2) Set a specific period of time aside everyday, usually first thing in the morning so the questions aren’t hanging over you when you are trying to write, and dig deeply into your notes researching the subject using the Internet.

3) First key in REFERENCE, you will find many sites listing dictionaries, encyclopedias, universities, libraries, museums, and archives… This is more like it. If you are going to do any surfing for research, go where you will find the primary sources (original material) or academic reference material that will help you build your stories on fact not fiction. Remember: nearly all fiction is based on a factual foundation and you must discover that first.

4) Once there, NOW, key in REFERENCE, (and the subject you want to learn more about). From that point the search engine might direct you to a university archives, a museum collection or a library that holds collections that deal specifically with the information you are looking for. If what you are looking for isn’t listed, check your notes again and keep keying in words that mean the same thing as what you are looking for. Sometimes finding what you are searching for is just a matter of using the same academic word that is used in the collections catalogue. If you still can’t find what you are looking for, do you know the name of someone that was involved in the specific incident or information you are looking for, key in their name, did you get the spelling right?

Try the National Archives site if you are looking for diaries or primary source material, they have an incredible collection. Don’t be afraid of international searches, you will be amazed how many places have sites that have a translation code that allows you to find the original documents, research, diary/journals that has been translated into any number of languages making it available worldwide.

These are just a few suggestions to help you on your way to discovering information that will make your writing “alive”. Remember “specific” information is descriptive in your work; it draws readers in, but also remember, when using factual information, don’t stuff it down the reader’s throat, give your characters the information and let them share it as the story unwinds.

If you are using the information for an article, make sure you gather all the “citation” material from the site you are using to cite the source. You will need the Internet address, location (site) name, collection name, primary source listing, collection, location… All of this is important, even for a fictional piece, because “just in case” your editor, teacher, reader, asks you where you found this information you can be professional enough to have it on hand to send to them immediately.

Good luck!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Where do I get my ideas?

Story ideas... Where do I get them? Edit
How do you find ideas for a story?
Finding an idea for a story is unique and mysterious. It is a very personal thing. It has to do with you, your style, your interests, and your desire to share. Finding an idea for a story can be very difficult or as simple as having something unusual happen to you.
I always recommend keep a “writer’s journal” to record unusual everyday events that you happen to stumble on as you live your life. From your journal you might discover something that draws you in from the past.
I always recommend that a writer should be a keen observer, watching closely the things in life around you. A certain walk someone has, an unusual incident you have witnessed, a particular event that is taking place around you. Observe; watch carefully things that interest you in life. Ask yourself: "Why do I find this interesting?" "Would anyone else find this interest?" Why/Why not?
Read, read, read and read some more… I only read non-fiction reference material and I find incredible pieces of factual information that I use to build my stories. I write what is called “Documentary Historical Fiction” (based on primary or secondary source information).
DO NOT read the writing of other people and steal their words. You can read writings of other authors and discover ideas that can take you to your own place in your imagination to write a story. ( You can’t copyright an idea.) But DO NOT copy their words. Make all writing your own because, if not, you are plagiarizing and you can be taken to court, sued and even go to jail.
Remember: If you copy someone else’s work you will only ever be a second best someone else.
Look for fresh and new ways to tell old story ideas. There are lots of authors out there today that retell stories such as: tales, legends, myths. Remember, if you get your storyline with plot and characters from someone else, you are not really creating, you are copying and you MUST give credit to the original work such as… The Legend of ____ Written by _____ Retold by ________ . Also, give credit in the acknowledgement section of your book along with an explaination who you wanted to retell the story. Not giving credit where credit is due is giving yourself credit for something you haven’t earned and is as bad as plagiarizing.
When you write or start to organize your story ideas, always look for the most unique pieces of information (usually something someone else has never heard of before).
Make your characters unique or unusual by giving them “just that little extra something” , that makes them unforgettable. How many times have you watched a movie that you have enjoyed but can’t remember a character’s name… But I bet you didn't forget the limp, the scar, the accent. Make sure none of the other characters in you story share the exact same uniqueness and if so (like accent) make one of the characters “incredibly” unique. (Take it easy on any accents, they are editing nightmares.)
Make your setting unique. Make it believable and visit the area you want to write about, even if it is historical. Go there, if you can, and take in the atmosphere. Look for the uniqueness.
Make your plot unique. Don’t follow a formula unless you have Writer’s Guidelines from a publishing house and they insist you follow their formula rules. All plots have certain rules you must follow but give your story an interesting twist a uniqueness all its own. If you find it interesting, perhaps your readers will too.
To find an idea to write about, don’t look for the common place, look for something unique that shares with the world what type of person/writer you are. It is you and your style that will gain an audience.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Write Everyday

The importance of writing everyday…

I am often asked by those who want to become writers, if there is one thing I would recommend to help them and what might that be. My answer is there is never any “one” answer to that question but I do have a couple suggestions: read everyday something that makes you think and keep a writing journal.

The importance of filling your brain with stimulating information is essential for you to always have thoughts, ideas and words in your mind that stimulate and excite you into wanting to express yourself. A writer writes only about things they know about. (If they are a good writer and they are writing for an audience.) So to know about “things’ you must research and be educated about “things.” Also, reading the words of others that have made it into publication helps you to see what it takes to become a published author. In a good book the words dance off a page, the sentences have style, pace, functionality, the grammar and punctuation is impeccable. The many different things your mind learns and picks up while reading a book, if you are reading like a writer, is immeasurable.

The other recommendation that I think is important is that you keep a writing journal. Start in the morning and kick-start your brain by writing in your journal. Write down what you need to do that day or plan on doing. Write down things that happened yesterday or didn’t happen and how you felt about that. Start you day writing words. Let them flow, here is where you can write for yourself, you can free-form your writing with no one else’s concern about structure, spelling, grammar. Just put words, your words, to paper and exercise that part of your brain where the words spill from.

During the day, don’t be afraid of picking up your journal and jotting down notes of observations, like the car accident on the corner, the dead cat you nearly stepped on while taking your walk or the beautiful and fragrant garden you had an opportunity to visit.

Don’t forget conversations you have been part of or overheard. Each person is unique and if you, by lucky chance, happened to overhear someone expressing themselves in an
uncommon way, remember and record the incident.

Record using your senses, write down the most interesting or stimulating things of your day. How did it make you feel, what did it taste, smell, look like? Make sure you write with details because this is what you are trying to savor and save until another time when you might need this information. It is also training you eye and mind to pick-up on things that are different from the everyday life.

Writers are recorders of life. Perhaps, someday, a few hundred years in the future, your writing might be what helps the people of that day and time to understand who we were as a culture and society.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Real World

Living in the real world…

To be a professional in the writing field takes balance. It isn’t like the cliché of the “Good old days,” when the black and white movie scripts showed a tortured and talented young writer struggling to pen just the perfect words for the perfect sentence and hoping, beyond hope, that someday he/she would be published.

Today, writing is all about balance. It is knowing that this is a career, a real career, with real hours and real deadlines. When you live in the real world of writing there are very few variables and very little time to wait for the writing muse to come join you at your desk.

In reality, the romantic charm of writing has snared many a young novice into believing that, that is exactly the type of life they want to lead. I see many writing instructors in all grades K-C encouraging children or young adults to write or become writers. I, for one, did the same thing for many years until I started receiving manuscripts from hundreds of young writers asking me where to take their work to be published.

After wading through “barely” legible prose about talking cats, suicide, boyfriends and first experiences, I discovered what an injustice I had been doing encouraging everyone
to write for publication. Not everyone can nor should.

To be a professional in the field, it takes a fine-tuned balancing act or a good friend in the publishing house. Writing is not just sitting down and letting the words flow, unless, of course, you are just doing it for fun or are writing to relieve stress. Writing is work. It takes focus, brutal self-discipline and a willingness to be an outsider in nearly everything you are researching to be able to have a non-judgmental opinion on the events you are learning about.

Writing takes a person outside of themselves and outside of most of the world. You have to learn to stand back and watch, not judge, but absorb what is going on around you. You need to have feather sensitivity, where when you brush up against an idea, you know what it is you are experiencing and can see or not, the glimmer of a possible story. (To be that sensitive in the rest of your life, when you are not writing, can often get you in trouble.) You also have to be able to really ponder what you have learned, experienced or discovered and digesting what has gone on around you, spitting it back up into words on paper.

I always recommend before you write, “Why is this information important?” “Who will benefit from it?” “Will it add an understanding to others or take away?” These questions demand serious thought in this field as writers also take on social responsibilities for what they are sharing with others.

And, on top of all this is the professional side where you have to fight and negotiate for contracts, biding wars, argue with editors and beg for promotional tours. You go from having to have all your senses living on your skin to wearing battle armor.
Professional writing is sometimes no fun, it is work, it takes great effort and social responsibility and it also takes a hard-nose business approach to be successful. So in the real world of writing – be careful what you wish for.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Ready to Write?

What Do I Need to Write?Over the years, I have meet lots of people who are interested in writing a book, an article or even a story. I always ask if they are prepared to write. Meaning, have they done their research? But the would-be author thinks I mean: do they have the best computer, writing software, perfect paper, a great location to write, and the list can go on-and-on. This always baffles me why they would think, I would think, they need all these things to write. What I have discovered is that nearly everyone that is preparing themselves for a writing project gets nervous and feels unprepared. So, it must be those things they can control: the right computer or desk that must keep them from placing words on paper.I believe it is our mental mind-set that causes the trouble. We just simply get nervous so we don’t know what to focus on and know what it is we are to do next. Also, if we focus on never being fully prepared to write because of not having the objects we need… We will never be prepared and will put off “starting” the writing process forever.You don’t need a computer to write, to submit or publish, yes, but not “just” to record your information and thoughts.Some of the best novels are still written by hand on a legal pad and set to type only after the story is completed. Actually, this type of writing practice isn’t so bad because you edit and revise as you put the actual story into type.Don’t look for excuses to write. You will never have the perfect pencil, paper, computer or anything else because if you did, you would still find something wrong and a reason for not getting down to the writing practice.Just write. Do some free-writing first. Keep a journal and write everyday to “jumpstart” your brain and put you in the "writing mood". Read interesting books and articles that stimulate your mind and give you ideas. Reach out to the real world in front of you and observe and get involved. Have a passion for the things around you and make life rich and if you really are a writer, you will want to start sharing those passions and deep feelings with others from the personal setting of your imagination.Just Write!