A Salute to Carrie Fisher and a Lesson for Writers

What writers can learn from the life and career of Carrie Fisher

A Salute to Carrie Fisher and a Lesson for WritersOn December 26, 2016 my wife and I went to see the movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The next morning I learned that Carrie Fisher had died. Like most people I knew her for her iconic performance as Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise. Her obituary revealed so much more:

  • Worked steadily as an actress from 1975 through to her death
  • Author of several semi-autobiographical novels, including Postcards from the Edge
  • Wrote the screenplay for the film of the book
  • Starred in an autobiographical one-woman play
  • Author of the non-fiction book, Wishful Drinking, based on her play
  • Spoke about her experiences with bipolar disorder and drug addiction
  • Mental health advocate
  • Script doctor

All these items are impressive, but the last one caught my attention: script doctor. As the title suggests, a script doctor is someone who comes in to fix the screenplays of other writers. In short, when a screenplay is good but not working as well as it should, a script doctor reworks it to make it shine.

Carrie Fisher’s Wikipedia page says she was “one of the top script doctors in Hollywood.” Who would have thought? According to her Wikipedia page and her IMDB bio, here are some of the movies she worked on as a script doctor:

  • Hook
  • Sister Act
  • Lethal Weapon 3
  • Last Action Hero
  • The River Wild
  • The Wedding Singer
  • Coyote Ugly
  • My Girl 2
  • Outbreak
  • Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
  • Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
  • Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
  • Milk Money
  • Love Affair
  • Made in America

I’ve seen all but one of these flicks. In a lot of them she worked on dialogue or to develop a specific character. She worked as a script doctor for about fifteen years and said that at that time it was lucrative work (but apparently not so much anymore).

Carrie Fisher was known primarily as an actress, but she was also an author of books—both fiction and nonfiction—and screenplays, a script doctor, and an advocate. From her example, I have four takeaways for authors:

  1. Diversify our income stream. (She earned money as an actress, author, and script doctor.)
  2. Write in multiple genres. (She wrote fiction, nonfiction, and scripts.)
  3. Capitalize on our strengths. (She had a knack for dialogue and character development.)
  4. Use whatever platform we have to be a voice for what we’re passionate about. (She was able to use her popularity to talk about mental health issues and substance abuse.)

Thank you, Carrie Fisher. You entertained me and taught me about writing.

4 Tips to Deal with Writer Envy

Writers need to guard against making unhealthy comparisons to other authors

4 Tips to Deal with Weriter EnvyAs writers we read the work of others, we look at their books, and we notice their successes. Though this happens in any profession, writing is a more public endeavor, so making comparisons is harder to avoid. Yet we should strive to sidestep assessing our work in the light of others.

Two dangers lurk when we make comparisons. Too often we look at another writer and deem ourselves as less than. Occasionally we do the opposite and puff ourselves up. Both are unhealthy conclusions, but let’s focus on the first one because most writers struggle with it. I call it writer envy. Here are four prescriptions to overcome it.

1) There is Only One You: Though our writing isn’t like (fill in the name of any famous author), remember that no one writes as we do. No one can write like you as good as you can. Just as Stephen King is the best at writing like Stephen King, you are the best at writing like you, and I am the best at writing like me. There are no others.

2) Strive to Improve: Have the mindset that every writer can grow as a wordsmith. That goes for the beginner as well as the mega-bestseller, and it goes for you and for me. As long as we pursue steady development, our writing today will be better than our writing from yesterday, and our writing tomorrow will be better than our writing today. That puts things in perspective and reduces the urge to compare.

3) Don’t Copy: One reason to read widely is to learn how to improve, but we never want to imitate other authors. Though copying another writer flatters him or her, it does nothing to enhance our writing ability (remember tip #1).

4) Help Others: There are always people we can help. Usually they are a step or two behind us, but they can also be at our level or even a couple steps ahead. That’s why I have this blog and post something, that is hopefully helpful, every week. I also occasionally give presentations on writing. I used to worry when a more advanced writer would listen in. But I eventually realized they have an attitude for continuous learning (refer to #2) and hope to pick-up something from my words. I hope so, too. As a benefit, teaching something is the best way to learn it, so by helping others, we help ourselves.

Writer envy can overwhelm us or we can choose to improve despite what we see others doing. May we all be writers who move forward without so much as a glance at our fellow writers.

How do you deal with writer envy? What steps do you take to keep it in check? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Have You Ever Used Dictation to Write?

Have You Ever Used Dictation to Write?Last week we talked about the importance of knowing how many words we write per hour. I’ve heard experienced fiction writers who say they consistently clip along at 2,000 words an hour. They write four or more books a year. This boggles my mind.

In the stratosphere of word counts, I’ve heard other writers claiming to push several thousand words per hour, which they do via dictation and speech-to-text software. In this way these folks claim to “write” 5,000 words an hour. I’m intrigued, partially as a writer but mostly as a technologist.

What they don’t say is how long they can keep this up. One person does this in bursts, which never approaches an hour, so his 5,000 words in an hour is a misleading outcome. Another admits that an hour is about all he’s good for.

They do say this requires careful prep work, but they don’t factor that time into their speed claims. It also requires cleaning up the recording since the software is only about 95 percent accurate at best. Again they also don’t factor this into their calculations. And, as with all writing, they still have the normal re-working, editing, and proofing to do. I wonder how much time they actually save.

This may work fine for writers who are also accomplished speakers, especially if they don’t require much prep work before they talk. Some people are like that; I am not. I also know that clear diction is key. That’s another strike against me. Plus my speaking style is opposite of my writing style.

In my first contract job I needed to write an hour-long presentation. Then I would have my presentation videotaped in a studio as I read from a teleprompter. The timeline was short and in an effort to streamline things, I made an outline of my talk and recorded me speaking from my outline. I paid for a transcription. Then I edited it. It required many edits. It seems I rewrote just about every sentence. It took hours. In the studio I kept stumbling over my written words. I couldn’t speak what I had written.

Though arduous, they must have liked the outcome. They asked me to do a second recording. They wanted me to write it the next morning. We would group edit it over lunch, and I would record it in the afternoon. I still made my flight that evening. In the end I spent far less time writing and editing my second talk then I spent on my first one where I tried a shortcut using dictation.

If you ever used dictation, what was your experience? Do you think you’d ever try it? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Press Release: Peter DeHaan to Speak at Grand Rapids WordCamp

Blogger Peter DeHaan to Share 12 Tips For Better WordPress Content Creation

Peter DeHaan: Author, blogger, speaker, changing the world one word at a timeAug. 12, 2014 – Peter DeHaan will speak at this weekend’s WordCamp in Grand Rapids Michigan. WordCamps are informal, community-organized events, put on by WordPress users for WordPress users, including everyone from casual hobbyists to core developers. Peter will share with attendees: “12 Tips For Better WordPress Content Creation.” Grand Rapids WordCamp is Friday and Saturday, August 15 and 16, with Sunday, August 17 designated as Contributor Day. It will take place in the DeVos Center on Grand Valley State University’s Pew Campus in downtown Grand Rapids, with tracks geared towards users, developers, content producers, and businesses.

“I attended Grand Rapids WordCamp last year,” said author Peter DeHaan. “It was a great experience, and I learned so much. This year, I’m excited to return as a speaker, allowing me to give back to the WordPress community.” Peter will address attendees at 3 p.m. on Saturday, August 16.

Peter DeHaan has been a magazine publisher and editor for the past fifteen years, a blogger for the past seven, and a published writer for much longer. The combination of Peter’s editing, blogging, and writing skills, makes him an ideal person to cover this topic. “I have multiple blogs and have written over 1,500 posts,” added Peter. “I’m happy to share what I’ve learned over the years with other WordPress users.

Grand Rapids WordCamp is an annual event put on by area WordPress enthusiasts and entrepreneurs, with each year being bigger and better than the year before. For 2014, the event expands to three days, with presentations on the first two days, while the third day is a time for attendees to contribute to the greater WordPress community. The cost to attend is an affordable $20. To learn about WordCamps in other areas around the world, go to http://wordcamp.org.

Why You Should Record Every Speech

Part of the writer gig is public speaking. You may aspire to this or you may shun it, but regardless, you the author will upon occasion be asked to make an oral presentation. When you do, be sure to record it.

Just as you need to save everything you write and keep all your edits, you should also record every speech and public presentation.

Here are the benefits:

  • You can listen to yourself and gain ideas on how to improve.
  • You might want to post your speech – or part of it – on your website, blog, or podcast sites.
  • It would be a great reference tool if you ever need to give that presentation again.
  • It might be the basis for a future work. Just transcribe it and your rough draft is done.

As a rough rule and depending on your rate of speaking, a one hour recording contains 10,000 to 15,000 words. If you use a speech for a future book, that’s a lot of words!

If the venue is recording your speech, then it is easy to get a copy. If they aren’t set up for that, you can do it yourself. Just buy a digital recorder from an office supply store and a lapel microphone. Before you get up to speak turn the recorder on, and when you are done, turn it off. You now have a digital recording that you can use as needed.

Even if you are in the majority of writers who eschew public speaking, know that it will happen and that you will be better for the experience, so why not record your words – you never know when they might come in handy.

Peter DeHaan Gives Keynote Address at SNUG Convention

Peter DeHaan, publisher of Connections Magazine and TAS Trader, gave the keynote address at the recent SNUG (Startel Network Users Group) convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which was held March 11-14. Peter focused his address on the theme of “how to get the most out of this convention.” He encouraged people to share ideas generously and receive information graciously, which he summarizes as “Peter’s Law of Reciprocity.” With that as the focus, Peter then continued his address, expanding on this premise by adding his thoughts on “how to get the most out of your business and your life.” His presentation was well received, garnering enthusiastic and appreciative comments from attendees.

On the convention’s second day, Peter gave a subsequent talk entitled, “The TAS Industry: Preparing for the Future.” In it, he shared eight areas of consideration for the telephone answering service (TAS) industry to address if it is to be well situated for the future. Despite all the rapid changes in the TAS industry, Peter is optimistic about the future prospects – providing that business owners and managers are willing to make strategic and well-informed changes.

“The SNUG group is a great association – with some progressive ideas – and I was honored to be invited to speak at their convention,” stated Peter DeHaan. “Being around industry leaders and innovators is exciting and invigorating – and I was privileged to be part of the collective discussion.”

Peter DeHaan is a veteran of the call center industry and president of Peter DeHaan Publishing Inc, whose publications include Connections Magazine and TAS Trader.

For more information, go to Peter DeHaan’s website.

How Big is Your Platform?

A few years ago literary agent Amanda Luedeke quantified what constitutes a “solid author platform.” Frankly her numbers are overwhelming:

  • If you have a blog or website you need 30,000 unique visitors a month.
  • Your Twitter and Facebook needs to have 5,000 followers each.
  • If writing for e-publications, 100,000 people a month need to read your work.

This is daunting. Even more disconcerting is knowing that the number of blogs, websites, Twitter accounts, and Facebook pages is growing much faster than the number of people who visit, follow, and view them. This means that on average, everyone is going to have fewer visitors, followers, and viewers.

Regarding other platforms, she noted:

  • If public speaking, it must be 30 times a year to a total of 10,000 people (which equates to 333 people per speaking engagement.
  • If writing for print publications, the number is 100,000 per quarter. (The seeming implication is that print has three times the platform impact as online.)

How discouraging.

However, the emphasis seems to have shifted since then. Sheer numbers mean nothing without engagement. The number of friends, followers, and visitors account for little; it’s the amount of interaction that matters.

I’ve recently heard that an engaged audience of 1,000 is a start. Even a couple hundred really loyal fans can make a difference.

The old view was quantity; the new metric is quality.

I can do that. So can you.

The Error in Asking “How Did I Do?”

As I learn more about the business of writing, I am becoming increasingly aware of what I somewhat facetiously call “the dark side of writing,” that is, the imperative need to promote one’s own work.

I am a writer, not a marketer; I enjoy humility, while abhorring self-promotion. Yet, I know if many are to ever read what I write, I must embrace the requisite step of personally getting the word out.

One such method is public speaking. Yuck! I write because I prefer it to speaking. Yet for the love of my craft, I will pursue and persist in this personal form of torture.

Once after speaking to a local group, I was disappointed and discouraged over how things went. I resorted to a tactic that I knew was unwise and emotionally unhealthy, fishing for a compliment from the person who scheduled me. His sage response put things in perspective.

“Whenever I wonder how I did, I just ask God what he thinks – and that’s all that really matters.”

I have since followed his advice when I speak — and when I write.

My Friend, the Author

Do you ever read a book and feel the author is your friend?

This can be especially true if the book includes self-disclosure, as in a memoir styled account. After reading this type of book, I wish I could sit down and talk with the work’s creator: asking questions, sharing observations, and nurturing the budding relationship that germinated as a result of his or her words.

If I happen to see the author in public, I flash my best smile and wave enthusiastically. I have an impulse to run up and say “hi,” offer a handshake, or even give a hug. To me, I am reconnecting with a valued friend; to them, a stranger is accosting them – or a stalker, attacking.

The problem is our relationship is one-sided. I know the author, but he or she doesn’t know a thing about me – or that I even exist.

This also happens with public speaking. Audience members connect with the speaker, forming an emotional connection, but that is again, one way.

While I am usually on the admiring side of these situations, in a few instances I have been on the admired side. It’s disconcerting, and I’m often taken aback. Since it happens infrequently, I’m still learning how to best respond, but I want to respond well. My fans are precious, and I want to respect and honor them. And who knows, a two-way friendship may emerge.

Has this ever happened to you? What author or public speaker have you really connected with?