Saturday, June 27, 2020

Advice for writers

I received a very sweet comment on a blog post on the subject of writing from last February as follows:
Hi Mrs. Lewis, do you have any home school tips for a 14-year-old who wants to earn money as a writer? As in how to get from typing at the dining table to a paycheck in the mail. :) I comment on your blog often but always anonymously because of trolls. I respect and admire you very much!

Sometimes it's hard to believe I'm a writer. After decades of hoping and submitting and rejection, I can now legitimately make the claim that I'm a writer. Wow.

To learn just why this concept still blows me away, allow me to direct your attention to a blog post I wrote nine years ago entitled "Writing for God."

Go on and read it. I'll wait.

(insert elevator music)

Now you might understand why being a writer still amazes me.

Those years of rejection weren't wasted, as it showed me how the writing world works and taught me a great deal. To that end, I'm delighted to offer some advice to my young reader. Some of this advice applies to non-fiction writing, and some to fiction writing.

• Read. Very few writers are also not voracious readers. My grasp of grammar is appalling, but I've picked up the understanding of what makes compelling writing by reading compelling writing.

• Write. Duh. I know this is obvious, but a surprising number of people who want to write just never get around to it. They read about writing, they attend workshops and seminars, but they use every excuse in the book to avoid putting the seat of their pants in the seat of the chair. As Chris Baty (founder of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo) said in his excellent book "No Plot? No Problem!", "If there's one thing successful novelists agree on, it's this: The single best thing you can do to improve your writing is to write. Copiously."

• Don't expect to get paid for your writing, at least right away. While there are exceptions, most people have to go through the grunt-work of building their writing credits, which often means giving away their writing for free while they build a platform and an audience. I've written my weekly WND column since 2008 for free. My "pay" has been training (I had to learn to write columns) as well as slowly building a readership. Look for opportunities to write for free, and use those opportunities to build your résumé.

• Where should you look for unpaid writing opportunities? Start with offering guest-pieces to online sources in your area of interest. Launch a blog. Write newspaper op-eds. If you write fiction, do some indie-publishing. Anything to demonstrate you can write.

• Learn what you're doing wrong. Get your ego out of the way, and listen to (and act upon) constructive criticism – especially if it comes from editors. However, be wary of offering your work to be critiqued by amateurs. Sometimes this can be more emotionally damaging than helpful.

• Write what you know. If you're writing non-fiction, it's helpful to begin with stuff with which you're already familiar. In the case of this young reader, the obvious subjects are homeschooling and whatever her family situation is like (her family's line of work? her passions and hobbies?).

• Start small and work your way up. This is part of the "building your résumé" side of things. Unless you have a staggeringly unique story, the big magazines and publishers just aren't interested in an unknown writer. That's why it's important to get writing credits wherever you can.

• Develop an online presence. I am social-media-phobic (with the exception of this blog), but most younger people don't suffer from this affliction. Keep your online presence squeaky-clean and begin to build an audience.

• It never hurts to ask. Smaller magazines, guests posts for bloggers, newspaper op-eds … it never hurts to pitch something at a publishing opportunity. The secret is to phrase your pitch in a way that explains why your contribution would be useful to the publisher's readers. What benefits will readers gain by reading your article? What will they learn? Why is the information important or useful?

• If someone pitches, pitch back. If you're fortunate enough to have something accepted, never hesitate to follow up with even grander possibilities. One of my earliest publishing breakthroughs came with Countryside Magazine. When they "pitched" by accepting my first article, I "pitched back" by proposing to expand the subsections into separate stand-alone full-length articles, which resulted in nearly three years' worth of articles published, which were later turned into an ebook. Remember, it never hurts to ask. All they can do is say no. And your willingness to do extra work will be remembered.

• Be professional. Meet your deadlines, meet the word count requirements, and make sure your copy is clean and error-free. Those three things alone distinguish the professional from the amateur.

There are many fine books on writing available. I hesitate to give book recommendations for novice writers because I don't want to distract them from the process of writing. That said, I have two recommendations for fiction writing that should be in every writer's library:

GMC (Goal, Motivation and Conflict) by Debra Dixon. Possibly the single-most useful and helpful analysis for building a compelling fiction plot, and a classic in its field. It's a bit pricey ($20) but worth every penny. Scout around and see if you can find a used copy.

The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes by Jack Bickham, author and writing instructor at Univ. of Oklahoma (now deceased). This is an older book (1991) but it's one of the best I've ever read for pinpointing common fiction-writing errors. I've given writing workshops based on this book, it's so good. Amazon has several used copies.

Now, dear readers, it's your turn. What additional advice can you give our novice 14-year-old writer who wants to earn some money through her word craft?

Thursday, June 25, 2020

One of the (many) reasons I love Idaho

I came across a link this morning entitled "41 Maps That Put Different Things About The U.S. Into Perspective." Some were bizarre (breaking down U.S. governors by eye color?) which makes me think someone had too much time on their hands.

But the ones I found most interesting have to do with population density, and highlights why I love Idaho:

And of course, I'm sure you've all seen the NASA photos showing the U.S. at night from space:

Yep, I love Idaho.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Becoming anti-fragile

In an interesting American Thinker piece entitled "How to Fight the Woke – and Win," the author included a piece of advice called "Become Anti-Fragile" as follows:
In war, you must always secure your supply lines. One of the Woke's most powerful weapons is economic pressure, so take that away from them as much as possible. Grow some of your own food, start a side business, or form a self-supporting tribe (like a church group that financially supports itself in case one member gets fired by the Woke). Being anti-fragile will allow you to stand firm when you need to speak the truth.

I found this to be an interesting point. One of the reasons we're seeing widespread capitulation of the Marxist anarchists wreaking havoc across the country is fear. As Tucker Carlson put it, "Suddenly your opinions qualify as crimes. Dare to say what you think at work, and you'll be fired in the middle of a recession. Write what you think online, and you'll be silenced immediately by the big tech companies. So you keep your views to yourself. You have no choice. A lot of Americans are doing that right now: staying quiet. That’s the point of censorship: to keep people isolated and alone – to prevent a consensus from forming that challenges the people in charge. If you’re forced to shut up, they can do what they want to you and your country."

(The headlines below can be clicked to read the articles.)

In other words, it's hard to fight back when doing so could destroy everything you've worked for – your job, your business, your home, your family's security. To this end, I believe it's important for everyone to become as "anti-fragile" as possible.

(This is reminiscent of some advice by Thomas Jefferson, who believed America was incapable of true democracy unless 20 percent of its citizens were self-sufficient on small farms. This would enable them to be real dissenters, free to voice opinions and beliefs, without any obligation to food producers who might hold their survival at stake.)

In a blog post entitled "How do you Prepare for a Revolution?", Daisy Luther (the Organic Prepper) offers excellent advice on becoming less "fragile," to wit:
"You prepare for a revolution by simply continuing to prep. Specifically, consider prepping for the following:

- Supply chain disruption and shortages of food
- Supply chain disruption and shortages of material goods
- Civil unrest
- Disruption of utilities
- Disruption of services"
If you can make yourself immune to the problems associated with the above criteria, you're miles ahead of the curve. This can include living in a place where you can see the enemy coming, and defend yourself (or retreat) as needs be.

As this sobering piece on the anatomy of an internet witch hunt demonstrates, the gloves are off when anarchists have you in their cross-hairs. They won't hesitate to use the lowest, cruelest, vilest means possible to destroy you.

Here are some of the strategies we've adopted to make ourselves less "fragile":

• We have cultivated the "many irons in the fire" approach to income. Our income is not dependent on a single source that can be attacked and disrupted by threats.

• We keep our income sources as "in house" as possible. Again, this reduces the chance of disruption. (I pity the business owners in Seattle's CHAZ area. The anarchists won't let them operate.)

• We don't have smart phones or other tracking devices.

• We live an all-cash lifestyle as much as possible (less chance of hack attacks).

• We have as little debt as possible. The more debt you have, the more vulnerable you are to income loss.

• We have whittled our expenses down to the bone, which in turn makes us less vulnerable to income loss.

• We try to grow or raise most of our food. This is suspended to some extent until after we move, but we have the knowledge, skills, and tools to fully resume when we relocate.

• We're prepared to live without power in case of grid-down.

Those who think we're paranoid for living this way must not be following the news (real news, not fake news).

But don't think we're deprived by the choices we've made. On the contrary, we enjoy our outside-the-box lifestyle. It gives us a much greater peace of mind.

What are some of the steps you've taken to become less "fragile"? Share them. Let's help everyone out.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Wildflower bonanza

Now that we seem to have broken the back of winter (this has been, what, the second-coldest June on record or something?)...

...we're seeing wildflowers blooming in abundance. I took advantage of a rare sunny day last week and photographed some.

Here's my inventory.

Last-gasp holdouts of arrowleaf balsam root. These are definitely early spring flowers, so their time has come and gone.

Also a few last-gasp arnica, another early spring wildflower.

Daisies. Early summer is daisy season around here. I love this flower so much I had it in my wedding bouquet.


Lots of clover.

Sheep sorrel (genus Rumex).

Ninebark. This time of year we have frothy bushes everywhere. Very lovely.

Triteleia, sometimes called Fool's Onion.

Wild roses. They smell as sweet as they look.


Tufted elk weed.

This is neither groundsel (note the leaves) nor St. John's wort (note the flowers). My flower ID books are packed away. Thoughts?


Orange hawkweed, prettier cousin to the much-loathed invasive yellow hawkweed.



Nine-leafed biscuit root.

Pearly everlasting, not quite fully bloomed yet.

(Its leaves.)


Wild strawberry.

Big-leaf avens.

Thimbleberry. This relative of the raspberry is perfectly edible, but very bland.

Wild mustard.



Western blue flax.


Creeping buttercup. Lovely to look at in the forest, but NOT something I like in the garden. It can be very aggressive.

So that's our wildflower bonanza so far. Next to bloom will be the beautiful oceanspray. Yep, we're living in paradise.