Thursday, September 28, 2017

If you've ever had wanderlust, you know what it's like to want to share those experiences with the world. But how can you get paid to travel, and to write about it? We've caught up with Ellen Ryan to learn more about this possibility. 

She's teaching a six week Wednesday night masterclass on this very topic:

Starts October 11th, from 7-9:30PM.

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The Writer's Center: How did you get started in travel writing? How do you propose that others do the same?

Ellen Ryan: Like many writers, I fell into travel writing by accident. An editor paid for me to stay at a bed-and-breakfast, then paid for a review of the place. What an introduction! Around Washington, travel writing is easy: Think how many millions of tourists come here. You don't have to go to them.

TWC: What's the most fun place you've traveled that you've gotten to write about?

ER: Off the beaten path on a Greek island, we glanced through an open window and saw a woman operating a loom by hand. Turned out she was one of only six hand weavers left in Greece, and she wove beautiful and practical creations based on ancient designs. That led to an article in the Washington Post.

TWC: Do you also take your own pictures, or is that best left to the professionals?

ER: Usually anywhere tourists go will have photos to offer, but it's good to learn how to set up your own--for reference and for possible sale. My companion and I have sold photos to several outlets, and we're not professionals by any means.  

TWC: What's the hardest part about travel writing? How do you break past it?

ER: I'd say honing a salable idea and connecting it to the right market. Travel markets have narrowed, but they're still out there. Creating a niche is important. It makes you more of an expert, and editors come to depend on you. We'll discuss that in the class.

TWC: What's your dream vacation and why?

ER: The best vacation I ever had may have been two weeks driving the back roads of Kentucky, discovering tiny towns from Bee Lick to Dog Walk to Oddville. I'd love to do something like that again. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

What Is Your Mission?
by Katherine Pickett
Defining your mission as a writer is a powerful exercise. It’s not enough to have an idea of what you want to accomplish with your book or other writing. You need to be clear with yourself, and the sooner you can get that clarity, the better.
In the past I have thought the act of writing down a mission statement was needless work. I knew why I plugged away at my editing company. I knew what my business goals were. I knew why I was writing a book. Why should I go to the trouble of writing it down?
But my attitude has changed.
After reading a fellow freelance writer’s argument for why mission statements are so important, I decided to give it a try. I suppose having it come from someone I knew gave it more weight. I wrote up a mission for my editing company and placed it on the homepage of my website.
I was blown away by the effects. Writing down my mission forced me to give my company the attention it deserved. In return, it gave me direction I didn’t know I needed. I also began getting clients who were better suited for me.
That was for a business. What about a mission statement for a book?

When it came time to write the proposal for my book Perfect Bound, I thought a mission statement would make a good marketing tool. Agents would love it. It would make my proposal stand out.
Well, I never found out what agents thought of it. What I learned instead was that having a mission statement gave me clarity and direction. I had a concise paragraph stating what I wanted to accomplish and why. That influenced how I wrote my introduction, how I presented myself at public events, how I approached my website, and more.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of a mission statement for a book, here is one example:
My mission in writing Perfect Bound, as it has been throughout my career, is to help aspiring authors achieve their dream of publication. Armed with the knowledge contained in this book, authors will be more confident in their approach to book publishing in general and the book production process in particular. Further, they will save time and money when they avoid the common pitfalls every author faces.
Importantly, this mission statement is particular to the book I was writing and is concrete in naming what I really hoped to accomplish. It is outward-facing—that is, I can share it with my readers—yet personal, so that it has meaning for me too. The statement appears on my website, and I have often referred to it when I needed encouragement.
In one of the exercises in my class Choose Your Best Book-Publishing Path, I walk students through the process of crafting a mission statement. I provide a simple formula to get you started, and we generate ideas for how you can make yours meaningful to you.
Ultimately, however, what you put in your mission statement isn’t as important as the act of writing it down. Publishing is a long road. When doubt starts to settle in, a writer’s mission statement is a touchstone that reminds them why their book is worth the struggle.

Katherine Pickett is the owner of POP Editorial Services, LLC, where she offers copyediting, proofreading, and developmental editing to writers and publishers across the country. She is the author of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, winner of two book of the year awards, and Freelancing as a Business: 7 Steps to Take Before Launch Day. Find her online at

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Finding My Voice

by: Carol Westreich Solomon
The Writer's Center's
2016 Undiscovered Voices Fellow

Seven years ago, on the first day of my retirement from teaching, I sat on my patio with
a glass of wine and began to write creatively after a 40-year hiatus. What I started that day
evolved into a self-indulgent teaching memoir revisiting my professional life. Though valuable
as a spiritual transition to my new life, my teaching memoir had an audience of one—me. I
wanted to write for a wider audience, but my creative skills had rusted, and the writing world
around me had changed.

I first ventured into creative writing instruction at the DCJCC Writing Retreat under the
direction of Michelle Brafman and Faye Moskowitz, both of whom provided tremendous
encouragement and pointed, constructive suggestions. Later I joined the DCJCC Writing
Workshop, in which participants critiqued each other’s work in three-hour sessions, but soon
the limitations of 900-1000 words read aloud chafed. I could craft three or four pages that
worked, but what about the structural issues of a full story or even a novel? Three of us in the
workshop created our own separate writers group focusing on longer works, and I thrived with
the critical commentary of my colleagues, producing a couple short stories that were published
in print and online.

However, after years of working with the same writing group, I needed a fresh critical
audience to identify different areas of concern in my work. A friend suggested The
Writer's Center, and I enrolled in Aaron Hamburger’s novel writing class. His detailed criticism
of a large chunk of my YA novel provided valuable feedback, as did the commentary of
classmates. As a result of substantial edits, my self-published YA novel Imagining Katherine earned a 2016 Notable Book Award by the Association of Jewish Libraries.

In Fall 2016, when I learned The Writer's Center, had named me an Undiscovered Voices Fellow, I was thrilled! With unlimited financial support to enroll in workshops, I knew my writing could continue to grow rapidly. I decided to focus on short fiction, taking John Morris’ workshop “Writing Short Stories,” Julie Wakeman-Linn’s “Write Off the Map,” and her extended workshop “Fiction II.” I also did literary cross-training with the dramatic format in Richard Washer’s single-session playwriting classes. John and Julie’s comprehensive written feedback, offered with encouragement and tact, led me to question assumptions about my writing and modify techniques.

One year later I have finished Echoes of Love, a compilation of short stories, many
written or substantially edited during the past year. But just as important, my teachers at The Writer's Center, as well as Michelle Brafman and Faye Moskowitz, have taught me
how to marry passion with technique. Now I’m ready to find a wider audience for my work.
Thanks, Julie, John, Richard, and the fabulous Writer's Center!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Meet the Instructor: Meg Eden

Meg Eden is one of the most beloved and prolific writers in the DC area, and brings a special flare to the literary community. She is known for her online workshops, and can make an online experience feel more personalized than many can in the classroom! We caught up with Meg to talk about her new book, Post High School Reality Quest.

TWC: What was the inspiration behind your book? Do you have a personal connection to the subject matter?

Meg: I think it started with me playing with friendship dynamics in my life, and what it looks like when we transition from high school to college. I struggle with change, and I think writing this book allowed me to process my struggles and cope with them in a healthy way.

TWC: Your book is pretty popular with gamers. If this was intentional, what was it like writing for a niche audience?
Meg: I'm a pretty niche-y person with unusual tastes, and often struggle relating with mainstream media.  I often struggle to find protagonists whose perspective and experiences I can relate to, so I tried to write a book that and experiences I can relate to, so I tried to write a book that I would want to read. I didn’t want to worry about audience while writing, and as I edited, I definitely did think about the gamer audience. For me, writing for a niche audience is freeing because it allows me to be myself and not really worry if the “mainstream” will like it or not. It creates a space for me to just be me.

TWC: What was the most fun part of writing? Inevitable next question: What were the less-than-fun moments?
Meg: The most fun part was when I was doing final editing, knowing the characters and knowing the plot, and writing a few new scenes to accommodate changes. I knew what I was playing with which let it be more fun than some of the earlier stages, where I was still figuring so much out. Everything that involved playing with writing the perspective of a video game was fun too. The harder part was going back and editing, especially when my editor wanted me to cut a character. I’m a very character driven writer so this was like asking me to cut my arm off! 

TWC: How is Post High School Reality Quest unique among your writings?

Meg: I’ve written quite a few novels, but PHSRQ is the first one to get published. It’s the only one I've written in second person, and the only one using the text adventure form. If I tried writing anything like it again, I think it would come off as gimmicky.

TWC: What do you hope the reader is left with after finishing the book?

Meg: In whatever I write, I hope that it makes my readers think about the world around them, and interrogate their own worldviews and assumptions. I know every time I write, I’m constantly interrogating myself. I hope that readers will walk away with the message of redemption—that even though Buffy made choices she later regretted, there were opportunities for her to make
a new path and do things differently. Even if we can’t re-spawn at save points in our everyday life, there are always opportunities to start over, change and grow.

TWC: Any advice for aspiring novel writers out there?
Meg: The best advice I can give is to read, write, and submit! I have done thousands of submissions to get my relatively few acceptances. Keep reading, keep writing, keep sending, keep editing. Go to local readings and conferences. Learn about literary magazines and presses. Don’t be afraid of mistakes, and don’t be afraid to declare what you have done. Also: Publish smaller work before sending out a full novel. In high school, I sent out my poems and short stories to literary magazines.

Then when I queried an agent, I was able to mention places I had already been published.
I think this helps a query letter stand out.  It says that you’ve already been vetted as a writer, that what they’re about to read is probably pretty good, and can get them excited about reading your work.