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I woke up this morning, talking to myself.
It’s an affliction of drafting daily: I hear voices. It’s perfectly okay. I know whose voices they are; they belong to my characters. Weirdly, we talk about how the story is going as if I’m the stage director and they are the actors. I listen. Soon they’re taking places to act out the crucial scene. We step back and discuss it.
I’ve migrated from the sleepy warm bed to my office, conveniently outside my bedroom. I pace in my pajamas. The scene “we” are working on is the final climax. It’s the whole reason we’re here. I’m not ready to write this scene, but today I rehearse it and ask questions. It’s important that every other scene leads to the clarity of this one moment. So we chat, my characters and me.
Thought for Day Five:
“Plot is people. Human emotions and desires founded on the realities of life, working at cross purposes, getting hotter and fiercer as they strike against each other until finally there’s an explosion—that’s Plot.”
~Leigh Brackett, WD
Are you listening to the people you are plotting about? If they were to tell you the story of your novel, what would they say? Imagine having a cup of coffee with your characters. Talk out loud to them. Listen to what they say in return. Knowing them as intimately as waking up in bed with them will do more to fuel your plot than anything. Plot is people.
Do you talk to your characters?
Day Five: 1,811 words
Excerpt from Rock Creek
Then there were other wagon trains that espoused those who already knew hardship. Many of the women wore sorrow on their faces having to leave behind mothers, sisters, precious carved furnishings too heavy for even the massive Conestogas. One woman last week lamented that she had no fine china to receive the soup. Nancy Jane told her not to fret; that the beans weren’t worthy of fine china. Another woman asked if she was going to pass out those fine looking molasses cookies piled up behind her. Nancy Jane turned to look at the chips and told her those weren’t for supper. The woman offered to give her a copper for one, maybe two. The man behind the woman declared in a loud voice, “Madam, those are chips of dried buffalo dung and I don’t think those lumbering creatures eat molasses.”
Despite the delicate nose wrinkles many eastern wives gave the chips, Nancy Jane knew that once they passed the 100th meridian there would be no wood for warmth or cooking. Those women would come to appreciate the plentiful chips although they were not fit for eating. Nancy Jane tossed another chip on the fire and resumed serving beans until all had passed through. If the beans were not completely eaten, she’d used them to soak the next batch. The road ranch owner was particular about not wasting anything. At least he paid her once a week and she was saving up money for when the season ended.
Tending to children on the trail wasn’t easy and sickness was common. Nancy Jane had her own child on the way, but she wasn’t traveling, just serving beans or stew to those who were. She carefully watched for runny noses or feverish eyes. Often the cholera started with the very young or the very old. Sometimes it just started and took hearty and hale lives. One freighter advised Nancy Jane to boil her water even if there were no squirming worms in it. She didn’t want to get sick, mostly on account of Pa. It would do him in to lose another family member and who would watch out for him? He was working in the long barn with John Hughes, fixing wheel spokes or carving carry-all boxes. Irish John, as folks in Jones Territory called him so as not to confuse him with Welsh John Hughes, was a blacksmith’s apprentice. He could fix simple parts and made decent looking hooks for camp fire cooking.
Irish John watched Nancy Jane in a way that made her feel cornered. One day when she had gone into the barn to tell her Pa she was going to ride Hunk into the Blue River woods to shoot something better than what they had in the salt pork barrel, he pulled her aside and put his work blackened hand on her bump of a belly. “I know what you’ve done to get this, girl,” he said in a low, fierce tone, his brown eyes looking like a child who found a hard candy in the dirt.
“I know, too and this baby’s Pa is Russian cavalry and he knows what to do with a bayonet.”
It wasn’t an out and out lie, but somehow rumors picked up after that incident, claiming Nancy Jane was married to a Cossack. She was pretty sure she had heard Eustace say a few things that sounded like he didn’t like Cossacks, whoever they might be, but if it put fear in men like Irish Hughes, then she’d not correct the tale.
With both front paws, Bobo hits the metal door of room 206 at the Howard Johnson Motel; 60 pounds of snarling female dog. It’s been left cracked open for the barking canines inside, and for a moment, dog silence follows.
The door swings shut behind her.
Cars on the distant Idaho freeway drone; a truck door slams behind the neighboring warehouse; the room’s air conditioner mounted below the drape-drawn window hums and throws heat at my knees.
Looking down at the empty leash and collar in my hand, I think the lack of dog smack-talk means that the ones inside room 206 must be as surprised as me. I look at the other leash and collar still attached to Grendel, my second dog, who stands in a perfect heal. Bobo’s heal resulted in the perfect angle from which to withdraw her head.
No low growls; no positioning; no warning. It’s an all out dog fight and my dog is in a room with two strangers. And evidently no humans. Waiting mere seconds to hear shouts from inside, I start yelling from the outside. Speaking in tongues of fear, “Knock it off! Back off! Bobo, come here!” I push open the door, greeted by a dog not my own.
A white snout, perked ears and bared teeth stare back at me. “Bobo!” My shout pushes the other dog back, but inside my dog is at the foot of the bed, snarling at the bigger dog gnashing teeth at her from the wrinkles of a bronze coverlet. “Bobo!” The other two dogs stop barking. I yell “Come here!” over and over.
She does, slinking past the white dog still standing in the open doorway which I slam shut. My legs wobble, Bobo barks at the door again, triggering response from inside. We retreat to room 210 where I key the lock and shove her 60 pounds of tough-dog inside.
Grendel is still in a perfect heel as I collapse to my knees, safe behind a closed door at the Boise HoJo.
While the dog incident put me on edge, it gave me a ready example to use for the purpose of this post: constructing a Three Act Arc. Each act forms the legs of the W in a storyboard. It’s the foundation of a story, as simple as one, two, three. It’s the most basic story arc that exists, and arguably, the oldest. Before you finesse your details, make sure your scenes are built on a solid foundation.
Act I: The Beginning
The beginning isn’t always the beginning. There are many launching points I can use to make a story about the dogs. I can give you back story–why I’m in Boise, how another guest let his dogs roam for three days, what my dog did to get her head free. I can start at the end. I can use a different perspective–the motel maid hearing the ruckus, or a different point of view–maybe Bobo as a “stolen head” (because a dog can’t really be the narrator).
In the Three Act Arc, the beginning does indeed start the story. But when building that beginning scene by scene you want conflict. In fact, according to Mary Carroll Moore’s workshop on developing a book, the first two legs of the the W storyboard are scenes that show conflict.
Act II: The Middle
Conflict leads to crisis. It’s easy to get lost in the second act, so keep it simple–the middle connects the beginning to the end. What happens in this short leg is the result of the earlier conflict. If you are writing a hero’s journey, this is what occurs between a character entering the cave and transforming.
The motel room I had to enter in order to retrieve my escaped, intruding dog was my cave. Finding enough voice to retrieve my dog was transformative. The crisis ended with the retrieval although it wasn’t necessarily the end.
Act III: The End
The end is the last act and the final leg of the W. It’s the resolution. My ending to the dog story is simple–safe back in my own room. A longer story might show at greater length the change in your character. If the second act is a transformation, then what is the result of that transformation. Conflict can still occur, but it becomes a device to show how the character changed.
In the hero’s journey, the ending shows the character returning to his or her ordinary world with the gift of that transformation.
Keep it as simple as one, two, three. Think of the Three Acts as the bare bones of the storyboard. Place the details of your scenes to flesh out the storyboard, following conflict, building to crisis and leading to resolution.
The storyboard and the Three Act Arc also gives you an opportunity to go deeper, beyond scenes. Not only can you map the action–the outer story, but you can also map the character development–the inner story. How detailed you want to get with the inner story is up to you.
As you can see in the board below, an early draft of my novel listed the outer story/inner story to help me map the direction of my project. In my revision this key anchor scene is more developed. But that’s the beauty of the storyboard–shaping possibility with existing material and then revising in a way that follows an established arc. I don’t have to guess. I have a clear picture.
Next week we return to the writing process and how to use NaNoWriMo as a tool, just as the storyboard is a tool.
It’s appropriate to begin a discussion on the hero’s journey by quoting the man we now equate with modern understanding of mythology. Joseph Campbell theorized: “all myths are the creative products of the human psyche, that artists are a culture’s mythmakers, and that mythologies are creative manifestations of humankind’s universal need to explain psychological, social, cosmological, and spiritual realities (Joseph Campbell Foundation).”
As a writer, I’m a mythmaker. My private dreams are the stories I want to tell, but I believe that if I can map my story to public mythology, those stories will resonate with readers. I believe that the hero’s journey (coupled with quality writing) is the difference between a mediocre book and a best-seller.
At its most basic explanation, the hero’s journey is a pattern of public dreams that Campbell recognized in myths across multiple cultures. In “Hero With a Thousand Faces,” he writes:
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
In 2011, I attended a retreat at the Franciscan Spirituality Center in LaCrosse, WI called, “Awakening the Soul of the Writer.” While the hero’s journey sounds perfect for fantasy or paranormal genres, what that retreat taught me is that we are all everyday heroes. The workshop leaders revealed at the end of our five day retreat that they intentionally led us on the hero’s journey. It was transformative.
The hero’s journey fits any genre, even memoir. But I struggled with matching up the cycle to my progressing novel, “Miracle of Ducks.” Every chart I could find was an arc, linear or a circle. This is the one I studied at the retreat (note that the graph is popular online and cited as public domain):
While it helped me understand how to shape my story, it didn’t help me understand my story’s shape on the page–or 400 of them. Then, in 2012 I quit my career, downsized my possessions and moved in with my eldest daughter and her husband. I was going to finish that novel and live where it was set in Bayfield, WI. As it happened, another writer’s workshop was offered on Madeline Island, across the bay from where I was writing. That’s where I met Mary Carroll Moore and her storyboard.
While trying to make sense of the “W” storyboard that Moore implements to develop a book, I realized that it was a navigable map to the hero’s journey. In fact, Moore teaches in her workshops and book, “Your Book Starts Here,” that the most successful books and films are those that use the ancient three act structure. Furthermore, the three act structure can be adapted to Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey.
Bingo! This was the storyboard for me!
So, keeping that diagram in mind up above, let’s look at my storyboard in its bare-bones stage:
Moore says that you can use poster board or even tape together multiple (6) pages as I did on Madeline Island:
The idea is to map your book according to three acts and the most significant scenes. We’ll discuss the three act arc more thoroughly in a few weeks. The most significant scenes correlate to the hero’s journey. They are represented on my permanent board as five circles or on my temporary board as blue sticky notes (there are two sticky notes to each circle which represents inner story and outer story which we’ll address with the three act arc).
Each circle, in order from left top, to bottom left, to middle, to right bottom to right top represents the hero’s journey:
- The call: the opening scene in which the hero is called out of the ordinary world. Therefore we need to see the ordinary world, there hero’s attachment to it and thus her refusal to accept the call. We also meet the character who will be the hero’s mentor or a supernatural aid.
- The test: here’s where you (as writer) develop conflict through tests, challenges, temptations, allies and enemies. It’s the beginning of the hero’s transformation.
- The cave: this is the crisis, the hero’s darkest hour where she falls into the abyss of her most extreme ordeal. It’s a place where it feels like the hero has met her end, but is reborn. Her own power or will to live is revealed and she crawls out of the cave.
- The transformation: having survived, the hero is changed and begins the journey home. There are rewards and resurrection as the story heads toward resolution.
- The return: the hero returns to her ordinary world, but is changed. We now see her with the gift or the elixir which is her knowledge of how she’s changed.
Do you better see the map on the W versus the circle? It gets even clearer as we then write scene by scene and place those scenes on the board. And that, will be for next week: Writing a Novel Scene by Scene. Here’s my significant scenes from “Miracle of Ducks”:
A closeup of the opening scene:
As a writer, you are on the hero’s journey. Let me leave you with this final thought from Campbell:
“Follow your bliss.
If you do follow your bliss,
you put yourself on a kind of track
that has been there all the while waiting for you,
and the life you ought to be living
is the one you are living.
When you can see that,
you begin to meet people
who are in the field of your bliss,
and they open the doors to you.
I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid,
and doors will open
where you didn’t know they were going to be.
If you follow your bliss,
doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.”
“You should take Mary Carroll Moore’s class on developing a book.” A newly published author offered me this advice in 2012 when I told her I was quitting my day job to finish writing my novel. She took this workshop, published and won a literary award.
Moore teaches in NYC, Minneapolis and on Madeline Island. Of the three places, I actually lived in Minneapolis, but along with quitting my marketing career I was downsizing and moving in with my eldest daughter and her husband. They lived in WI six miles south of where my novel, “Miracle of Ducks,” is set.
Together we would move out west where I’d rejoin my husband who had taken a contract earlier in Idaho. My kids were headed to grad school in neighboring Montana. So I had a blessed but small window of time to actually live where I had imagined my characters.
As serendipity would have it, that setting included Madeline Island. And, Moore was offering her book development class while I’d be living in the area. Of all places–so yes, with my final “real” paycheck, I paid for the workshop.
In order to get to Madeline Island, which is the largest of the Apostle Islands that buffer Chequamegon Bay from Lake Superior’s inland sea, you have to take a 30 minute ferry. The ferry lands at La Pointe which is a significant place to my novel’s protagonist and an ancient community first settled by Ojibwa, French, British and finally American.
Madeline Island School for the Arts (MISA) is about three miles inland from La Pointe. For five days, I ferried my car and drove to MISA while other attendees stayed in cabins. Most were from the East Coast; a few from the Twin Cities; one from England and two from WI. And I was close enough to commute.
Writing workshops are nothing new to me. Like most writers, I value classes, workshops and conventions to learn and meet other people. And, like many writers, when I had a full-time day job I took at least one extended weekend a year to focus on writing. My favorite was in Lacrosse, WI at a Franciscan Spirituality Center where I studied the hero’s journey by living it in a guided retreat.
But, at the rate I was writing, I’d finish my novel in 2050. This leap of faith, this deliberate switch in focus, the whole idea behind quitting a good career, was to remedy that drawn-out process. I couldn’t afford to live on a dream, I had to work it into a reality. So I was trusting that earlier bit of advice to take Moore’s class.
My first day was disappointing. Of 20 attendees I was one of two who had not taken a previous class or joined one of Moore’s online writing communities. I felt like I was the starving writer surrounded by a bunch of rich groupies who could afford to hang out on a remote resort island for a fab lit retreat.
But I was wrong. Yes, these were highly successful people–lawyers, college professors, pilots, business owners–and they were mostly (except for a handful) published authors. I went from feeling like I was the studious writer to feeling last-in-class.
Yet Moore, from what I learned, had no patience with such feelings. She was not like the approachable workshop leaders I had met previously, she was the real-deal: a multi-published author who worked in the industry I hardly knew anything about. I shoved my feelings of inadequacy aside and began to learn what this group already knew.
Moore knows how to develop a book.
If you can’t take her class, buy her book, “Your Book Starts Here.” What I can tell you is that by the end of five days I knew how to write “Miracle of Ducks.” I learned more from this workshop in five days than I did in four years earning a degree in writing.
And it’s all in the storyboard. Now, a storyboard is nothing new. It’s Moore’s understanding of how employ both linear and non-linear thinking, using the storyboard. For me, I knew it was “my” storyboard when I learned that her process mapped the hero’s journey. No matter the genre or topic, I believe that the best stories follow the arc of the hero’s journey.
So this is my back-story (you know, the thing they tell you not to do in a novel). But I felt you needed to know why I believe in this process, how I used it to write my novel and how I’ve adapted it for revision. In fact, I spent my weekend revising the storyboard as a tool for my revision process and I’m excited by the results.
Because I’m revising the next few months, I need a bit of structure. My structure, I hope, will benefit you, too. Each Monday my tip for writers will be about this storyboard process and I how I’ve used and adapted it. This is what you can expect over the next few months and it all involves the storyboard:
- Mapping the Hero’s Journey
- Writing a Novel Scene by Scene
- Finding the Gaps
- Creating a Three Act Arc
- Using NaNoWriMo to Create or Complete Novel Projects
- Novel Project Versus a Novel
- Levels of Editing: When and Why
- Self-Editing, Beta Readers and Professional Editing
- Mapping Revisions
- Annual Progression of Projects
Roughly, this is my documentation of process. Feedback, questions and comments about your process are encouraged. We can all share in the learning together as we write our way to our goals.
Some inspiration from MISA 2012:
Writing a full-length fiction manuscript is a new target for me as a writer. It stretches everything I’ve learned about writing in my freelance and business career. And sometimes it paralyzes my draw.
Feeling paralyzed–as in, not knowing what to do next–can happen to anybody when he or she has stepped outside of what is known. For instance, get me talking about marketing, branding or how to use stories to engage people, and I can flow like a river spilling spring run-off from melting snow. But ask me about the revision process for 70,000 words and I might just shrug.
Thus I’ve found that I’m not even drawing my pistol, let along shooting at my target. If I don’t shoot, I won’t know how bad my current aim is. Even if I miss the target, I can see where I over shot, high or low. So instead of reading about targets and aiming, I decided to just shoot.
So how does this analogy translate to you as a writer? Here are some pointers that I’m learning from the process:
- Do something different. We all know the definition of insanity, right? It’s doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results. If you want different results, try a different approach. If you are struggling with character development, stop and work on a different scene or go back to your storyboard (or outline).
- Do something. If you aren’t even struggling with your revision, having set it aside and taken an interest in cleaning out the barn, or reorganizing your pen collection, or endlessly reading funny memes, you’ve become distracted or paralyzed. So do something. Sit down and speed-revise for 20 minutes, challenging yourself to read your pages. Or go write flash fiction, something unrelated to your novel (hint, hint, join me in writing flash every Wednesday). Do something that involves your writing, your craft, your voice.
- Examine your aim. Missing a shot can tell you much about your aim. First of all, know your target. Define it for you; not for your friends, your spouse, your colleagues. Know what are you aiming at in the first place. Then shoot that direction. When you miss, don’t turn critical because missing can give you valuable information. It can inform and reinvigorate your writing.
- Practice. We might hit the target shooting from the hip, but not consistently. Know what you are aiming at and practice. Writing flash can help you craft a creative idea in just a few words. Submitting short stories to publications and contests can help you practice the same elements that go into writing a novel. Commit to something like a writer’s workshop or National Novel Writing Month to practice the craft of noveling.
- Hang out with the right posse. Your great-aunt Tilly might love your writing, but think about getting involved with a productive writer’s group. Find one that fits your needs and your time. Or hang out with other social media writers who are also practicing craft or publishing books. If you want to publish independently, build a posse of Indies. If you are revising a mystery novel, build a posse of other mystery writers. Take a look at their shooting techniques. Share and learn from one another how to aim better.
Bottom line is this–if you are going to write, then write. Don’t talk about it, do it. Pay attention along the way and if you feel stuck or need to get to that next level, just shoot.
Yes, I’ve been talking out loud and no one but the dogs are in the house with me. You might think I’m suffering from cabin fever here at Carrot Ranch–after all, it has snowed, rained and spit ice-balls over the duration of a week. According to my smartphone, I’m in for another seven days of breezy with snow, sun and snow, chilly with snow, followed by a chance of snow.
It’s dull, gray and squishy-wet.
Which leads me to the thought that I don’t want my website to be dull and gray like the late winter weather in the northern Rockies. So, I’m talking to myself as if you were all here with me because when we write, we never write alone. We write for an audience.
Who do I think you are? Well, mostly I think you are writers, dedicated to your dreams and determined to see your writing come to fruition. Some of you might be bloggers or content writers looking to connect. A few of you might be reading because you need a business writer (my hand is raised for the job, if that’s you).
Here’s the situation–a year ago, I thought you were all potential clients for my contract work. What has changed is my game plan. I thought it would be another year or so before I reached the point that I’d be more interested in building my writer’s platform than my freelancing business.
Don’t get me wrong, I still need my client gigs to butter my bread (and at the ranch, this buckaroo likes real butter). But my writing has significantly shifted toward my creative goals. Thus it was time to make changes to CarrotRanch.com.
Whenever you make changes to your platform, you need to talk out loud and justify those changes. If the audience talking back to you is different, then, yes you do need to change. Yet, keep this in mind. What you change in one place must align with all your social media.
Here are some tips for when you have justified the need to make any updates or changes:
- Have a game plan. When buckaroos round up the herd they don’t just ride off into the hills. They map out where the springs and meadows are located, knowing these to be likely spots for range cattle. Likewise, as a writer you need to plan for the best places to write, when to write and how to progress your writing. For some of you, this might be a vision and for others, it will be a written strategy.
- Establish goals. If you have a game plan, the goal is to win, which means something different to each of us. The buckaroo wants to gather all the herd and you want to herd words into a publication. Set goals that are specific and have a deadline. What do you want to win? Answering that will help you forge your goals. I want to build a rock-solid, fully-engaged writer’s platform by the end of 2014.
- Know the impact of changes. You see, without a game plan and goals, changes don’t impact much because you are just roaming around the hills expecting cattle to come to you. Reality is that you need to be strategic with your writing if you want to win something. This means that changes you make will have an impact. Know what they are before you commit to the changes.
- Maintain consistency. You as a writer are your own brand. Be aware of making changes that impact your brand. If I get tired of horses and buckaroo analogies and suddenly change my header to pink pandas, there’s going to be a huge disconnect. It would be like changing the genre of your book mid-way through the writing. That would be weird and would disrupt reader continuity. So think about your brand, always.
- Proofread. Anytime we alter our static pages, we run the risk of making a mistake, including typos or word omissions. Always take time to read over your changes. Sometimes errors get through and the next day our eyesight improves. I always come back and re-read my changes after a day or two. The beauty of online is that corrections are easily made.
So, what changes did I make? Since my game plan has changed, so has my target audience. I thought about what would be useful to change, delete or keep. My home page, “The Ranch” is revised. It offers a brief background so that you know I have a credible history and I’m not just writing about writing. It also includes my two key blog elements (“Tip for Writers” and “Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction”). It also keeps a call to action for any potential clients, but shifts to my creative writing emphasis.
Speaking of creative writing, I renamed the vague page “Inspired.” Now it’s clear that the page and its corresponding tab read, “Creative Writing.” The last changes were to update my “Credentials,” including my photo to match the one I’m using on other social media sites. That’s tightening my brand consistency. Nothing changed about my services or client preferences so those remain. Neither did I change the “Legend of Carrot Ranch,” which is just a fun way to brand my own story about me as a buckaroo writer.
Are you thinking about making changes? You can leave a question or comment. Discussions are welcome.
Writing is the easy part. Revision is where the work resides and in order to slog through it with grace, you need to have a strategy. That is, you need to plan your approach otherwise you are just poking at words with a stick.
Start with a big-picture view of your manuscript and work down into the details. There’s no sense in fussing with punctuation and word omissions if your novel is not yet structurally sound. Be prepared to rewrite your book–my college professor used to tell his students, “It doesn’t begin to sing until at least the thirteenth rewrite.”
If that terrifies you, hang on. Let’s pause to do some math. First you had your idea. That counts. One. Maybe you outlined your chapters or developed and arranged scenes. Two. You wrote, word by word, scene by scene. Three. You rearranged your draft, added some research. Four. You renamed your character, changed his hair color, added his Meyers-Briggs type and gave him a quirk or two. Five. You shared sections with your writers group or took your first ten pages to a workshop. Six.
Even if your writing path has taken a different trail, chances are you have been tweaking your novel. You’re half-way to a singing manuscript. But now it is time to stop tinkering and start strategizing a revision plan. This is what mine looks like:
- Read for gaps in the big picture. Research missing details. Write missing scenes.
- Read for flow. Map the action. Read dialog out loud. Rewrite scenes to improve continuity and clarity.
- Cut. Ouch, yes, but necessary. Cut every scene, line and word that doesn’t serve a purpose. Be brave; cut your words. What you don’t say is as telling as what you do say.
- DIY corrections. Read for correctness and not just grammar–check your story for flaws. To be credible in fiction you need to be consistent with your details.
- Assign beta-readers. Review feedback. Make final changes.
- Hire a professional editor to proofread.
If you try to “revise” in one grand sweep, you will overlook too much. What editing publications has taught me is that you have to break down the process. When editing “This is Living Naturally,” the first read is simply for fit. Does the article fit the tone and message of the publication? Next I edit for clarity. Will the readers understand the story? Next I edit for correctness. Is the study cited accurate? Is that a comma splice? Did the writer mean “there” instead of “their”? Finally, I pass it off to a proof-reader because one set of eyes is not enough. And after that, I read it to to catch any omissions or errors in the final proof. If I tried to do all that editing in one sitting, I would either miss problems with structure, typos or facts.
No matter how big or small your writing project, you need to develop a strategy. It doesn’t have to look exactly like mine, but it needs to begin with the big picture and end with the smallest details. You also need to invite extra “eyes” to help see what your eyes have missed. Let your novel sing!
Insider Tips to Submitting Your Resume
If you have been seeking a career change or looking for a job, you are in good company. It is a competitive market for jobs. As former senior management, I’ve seen first-hand the mistakes applicants make. I’ve even reviewed over 300 resumes for a single job posting, but only selected 20 for consideration.
First of all, so many of the resumes sounded alike. If you are following a formula for building your resume, use it as the foundation. Be able to express how you are different from 300 other people applying for the same job. Also, many applicants made mistakes that they weren’t even aware of making. Here are five tips to help you stand out and avoid common mistakes:
- Follow directions. This seems simple enough, but cannot be overemphasized. If your first mistake is to submit your application any other way than specified by the hiring company, it will often be your last mistake. Applications or resumes submitted incorrectly often are never even reviewed. Read the directions when applying, and follow them specifically. If you have trouble making sense of the directions or difficulty with uploading documents, ask a friend or job service employee for help. A different perspective often helps. Calling the company will not.
- Proof before you send. Imagine the response your resume will get when you state that you have an “attention for detale.” Spell-check can help you proof on your computer, but some application systems do not offer spell-check. You can always copy and paste into Word for a quick review, however, some misspellings and word omissions will not be detected that way. When writing or changing your resume, print it and then proof it. Better yet, let someone else look at it for you, even your spouse or a friend. A second set of eyes will catch what you missed.
- Please PDF. As someone who has perused hundreds of resumes, it physically hurts my eyes when formatting is lost on a resume and I have to try to read garbled lines. On your computer, in your version of Microsoft Word, your resume looks beautiful. But not so in a different operating system. A PDF file will maintain the structural integrity of your resume.
- Know yourself. Some people are humble and have trouble naming their achievements. Others are not so humble and have trouble understanding their own flaws. The truth is that we are made up of both strengths and weaknesses. The key is to know what yours are. Your resume is the place to state your strengths. Even two people who have had the same job for the same number of years will have different strengths. This is how you can stand out. When interviewed, you may be asked about your weaknesses or failures. Counter those with honesty. Focus on how you overcame with your strengths. Ask your local job service if they offer any strengths finder tests or have books on the topic.
- Know the company. If you really want to land the job, be sure you learn all you can about the company offering the job. Company websites often have pages dedicated to who they are and what the culture of their service is like. Take a clue from repeated words like “pride” or “community.” If it fits who you are, it will be easy to stand out in your resume as a person who would fit in with the company. Tell them what your “pride” of workmanship has been or how you have served your “community” over the years.
If you are interested in having your resume reviewed, contact Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications. My services are professional, strategic and affordable. Let me help you take your career in a new direction.
Phone or in person coaching available: firstname.lastname@example.org or 952.686.4532.