April 2010

We all know that computer spell-checkers can’t catch all of our spelling errors due to words that are spelled correctly but used in the wrong form, or words that should have been written as a compound word but were instead written as two correctly spelled words, etc.

But, have you noticed that even you don’t always catch your spelling errors–even after reading through your document two or three times? One reason for this is because your eye tends to rearrange the order of letters in words to see them correctly. When you just read through a sentence at normal speed, your eye will adjust letters and words, and therefore, you often won’t catch your own mistakes.

In fact, studies have determined that the only letters that are truly important when we read are the first and last ones, if they are forming a word that’s familiar to us. The letters in the middle don’t matter!

One way around this is to start at the end of your document and read it backwards. This forces you to look at every single word on its own instead of allowing it to form a sentence. And, it causes you to actually “see” the letters and not just skim through them so your mind will fill in the blanks. Not only will you catch spelling errors this way, but you’ll also pick up on grammar mistakes that you may otherwise not see.

Another use for backwards reading is for counting words. I often write my draft with pen and paper but still need to do a periodic word count. By starting at the end, I’m less likely to lose my count as I don’t “read” the words while I’m counting but rather only “see” them.

Another tip for catching mistakes is to read your work aloud. Your mouth moves slower than your brain (well, for some of us), and just the action of having to speak your words will slow you down long enough to find errors or to hear words and sentences that don’t sound right.

So, next time you have to proof your work, read backwards. Then read aloud. Just don’t try to do both at the same time!

Did you ever notice how some writers have a way of easing you from one paragraph to another with smooth transitions, interesting topic and final sentences that force you to keep reading, and manage to keep your thoughts organized–all at the same time? That doesn’t come easily. Writing powerful and persuasive paragraphs is hard work.

Here are some tips to get you started:

•  Think through your paragraphs before you write them. Think about your main goal and where you’re headed with each paragraph. Then consider how you will get from one paragraph to the next while maintaining a coherent train of thought for your reader. Outlining your paragraphs using main points and subpoints is very helpful for this.

• Choose your topic sentence wisely. Your topic sentence should tell your reader where you’re headed. Be sure it’s not too vague nor too narrow in scope. And make sure it covers precisely what you will be discussing. It is your vision statement for that paragraph.

• You must decide on a method of organization. Is the information you are presenting prone to being organized chronologically? Or, maybe step-by-step, as if you were sharing instructions? Or, perhaps it should be organized by problem then solution. Think about what you are presenting and which organization method makes the most sense for your information.

• After you decide how to organize your paragraph, write your subpoint sentences, making sure each one fully supports your topic sentence. If you find one that does not, delete it. To keep your reader tracking with you, your paragraph should progress in some orderly fashion with all sentences pointing back to your topic sentence. Do not permit any straggler, off-topic sentences to remain in your paragraph!

• End your paragraph with a sentence that either sums up the paragraph you just wrote or leads into the next paragraph. To write a lead-in sentence, either leave an unanswered question (which will be answered in your next paragraph) or omit some valuable piece of information that the reader simply must have and must keep reading to find out:

“After all, there is only one way to truly make it big as a professional athlete.”

• Use strong transition words to ease your reader into your next paragraph. The goal of transitions is that you don’t recognize that you’re moving to a new paragraph with a brand-new topic sentence and unique vision statement. You don’t want your reader to have to go back to your preceding paragraph looking for something they think they missed because you dove too abruptly into your new paragraph.

Words like therefore, thus, consider, again, or numbering in a sequence with second, third, or finally, work well as transitional words depending on your method of organization.

• Finally, check your sentences for varying length (all short or all long sentences are not effective), proper grammar, and readability. Make sure they flow well one to another. The best way to do this is to read your paragraphs out loud.

If you’ve been following my posts you should be a primary source finding expert by now! But once you find your sources in the way of experts, what do you do with them? Today, I’ll talk about how to interview your experts to bring legitimacy and flair to your story.

If you’re able to contact the interviewee directly it can help to email or write ahead of time and maybe even send a sample of your work so they can see your writing. I think having confidence when you approach someone and making them feel that they will really help add value to your story, will go along way to having them agree to the interview.

Many people believe that unless you’re doing a piece on the person you’re interviewing, you probably don’t need to meet them because you’re only interested in facts and not details about the person that you could only get from observing them. I’ve done all three types of interviews (in person, phone, and email), and I prefer in-person because I think you can come away with a depth that you may not get otherwise. But sometimes, in-person is not feasible, or the person may not be willing to do it.

The second best method is a phone interview because it’s more conversational than email and it helps you to ask additional questions or qualify answers immediately instead of going back and forth emailing each other.

Email can have its advantages though. Sometimes, that may be the only way you can contact someone, especially if they’re a big name. And, your response time of getting questions answered may be much quicker than if you have to wait to set up a phone interview. Also, if you just need something quick from someone to back up research or provide a short quote, email can be the best way to go.

If you do decide to conduct a phone interview, you may choose to use a recording device so you don’t have to take frantic notes. This can also work for an in-person interview. If you do, be sure to ask permission first before heading into the interview. Also, test your recorder before you start just to make sure it’s in working order.

Once you know you can contact the person and have decided on how you will conduct the interview, prepare as well as possible by learning all you can about your interviewee and their field. This will help you to be more confident and develop better questions. Then, create a list of questions you need to have answered. You may want to number them based on priority in case your interview gets cut short. Spend some time practicing actually asking the questions. It’s your job to make the interviewee feel as comfortable as possible and to want to give you information, so make sure you’re not coming across as an interrogator. Your interview should be as conversational as possible.

In the interview, start with the basics of the correct spelling of their name and job title. Do that right away before you forget. Then ask a couple general questions just to get things rolling. This will also help you see what kind of interviewer the person is. Make sure your main questions are specific enough to get the detailed information you need. And keep in mind that not everyone is a good interviewee so there will be times where you’ll have to do some teeth pulling to get your information. You may also want to have some follow-up questions, asked from a different angle, prepared in case your first attempt doesn’t get you very far.

Some, however, love to ramble on and on, especially about themselves. If this is the case, your job will be to keep the interview focused and to learn how to politely transition from one question to another.  You should be doing most of the listening while your interviewee does most of the talking.

Make sure your interview doesn’t come off like a bunch of rapid-fire questions. Let the person’s response help create your next question. Allowing the person to share additional information aside from just answering your question usually ends up giving you your most valuable information. After the question has been sufficiently answered, pick another question from your list that seems to flow well with what you have just discussed. This will also help keep the conversation moving smoothly.

When you’re wrapping up the interview, don’t forget to ask for referrals. Chances are the person will know other people you can talk to, and now you’ll have a name to use to get to that person. And ask if you could get a mailing address where you might send the person a thank-you card. And be sure to do so!

I love to hear from anyone regarding funny interview stories or maybe interviews gone bad if you’d like to share!

Thank you to Darlene Franklin for taking time from her busy, busy schedule to join me on my blog  (April 8 and 12) for a brief interview. God has really guided her through a lot and set her on a wonderful writing journey!

Today, I’m going to finish with the final installment of my three-part post on primary sources. So far I’ve talked about historical sources and how to locate them, offering a lot of resources and links to turn to for help. Now, let’s switch to contemporary sources, namely experts, and discover how to find them so they can be interviewed.

If you truly need an expert to bring solid facts to your story or article, there are several ways you can find one.

• Search out professional or trade organizations or associations related to the field you need to research. A good source for this is the Encyclopedia of Associations. Once you locate an organization you think may be helpful, call or email them and ask if you could speak to an expert or person of authority on your particular subject. Larger organizations typically have identified people who are willing to do interviews, so they may have people ready for you.

• Contact colleges and universities. First, check with local colleges to find professors  teaching on your subject, that way you can possibly interview them in person. If not, look at larger universities’ course listings for undergrad, graduate, and adult classes. Contact the school to find out how to reach the professor if there’s no contact name listed with the course.

• If your topic deals with products, manufacturing, or business, try public relations departments at corporations. Keep in mind that the companies may be biased toward their own products, but if you’re strictly looking for facts, this could be a good place to turn for experts. And, if it means some PR for the company, you may find executives willing to grant you an interview.

Network with who you know. Ask around with your friends, people at church, your co-workers, etc. Tell them what you need and who you need to talk you, and they just may know of someone. Or, they may know someone who knows someone! Also, when you do find an expert to interview, ask that person for a referral. People tend to be well networked within their own field, so it’s always worth asking for referrals.

• Research book sources, to help you start your expert search. One is called Dial-an-Expert: the National Directory of Quotable Experts, which comes out annually. Another is Who’s Who, which lists professionals in all lines of work and their contact information.

• Use the Internet. The internet is an easy way to search for and target companies or organizations in the field of your subject.  There are many websites geared to helping you find experts. One of the most popular is  ProfNet. Profnet started as a resource specifically for journalists but has since opened up to anyone who needs an expert. Once on the site, you’re allowed to ask questions that are then directed to experts in that particular field, who email you back. You can search by category and country.

A similar website is called All Experts. Here you can search by category and previously asked questions. Another is HumanSearch. The way this site works is that you search their database for questions they’ve already answered, to make sure yours hasn’t been asked before. If your question’s not there, you submit one and it is searched out. You get your answered emailed back to you in the form of websites to go to as well as direct answers.

While you can find general experts at these sites, with a broad knowledge in business, writing, politics, law, and other fields, there are sites that are more specific to a certain niche. Media Resource, for example, is strictly science related. You may also have some luck with a general internet search if you put in “expert+subject” in the keyword search.

Yet one more way to utilize the internet for finding experts is to join forums, groups, listserves, or blogs where your experts may hang out. If you need to research hot air balloons, for instance, search “hot air balloon forums or blogs” and see which ones look like there’s people on there who know what they’re talking about. You can always post to them, and ask members to help you locate an expert in hot air ballooning.

Have fun searching for experts! Next week we’ll learn how to interview them once we find them.

Welcome back! Today I’m finishing my interview with Darlene Franklin, author of several books in the historical romance, devotional, and  cozy mystery genres. Darlene has been writing for nearly 20 years now and had her first book published in 2005.

Darlene has been through many personal struggles as she’s been writing over the years, and  today we’ll learn how God has taken her through her journey as well as hear her advice for others who may find themselves in challenging situations.

Darlene Franklin

Darlene, how has God’s hand led you through your writing journey?

I’m usually most aware of God’s hand after the fact. For instance, when I was fretting over the lack of income since I began writing full time, I was contacted about writing two more books. And it hit me: in the seven months since I had taken that leap of faith, the number of book contracts had doubled from seven to fifteen. So I know the money will come … and God has made it clear to me that I have made the right decision.

In 2001, after a decade of writing, I wondered if I should give up. So much effort, so little to see for it. The answer I received in that period of searching was that I didn’t have to know whether God wanted me to write for the rest of my life. I only needed to know whether God wanted me to write at that time. And I had a story on my heart that I felt compelled to write (and no, it hasn’t sold.)

I know you’ve recently been through some personal struggles. What advice can you give to other writers when they find themselves in a crisis but the writing must go on?

My first book came out in 2005, my second not until 2008. Since then I have written seven more books and novellas.

During that same time period, my daughter committed suicide, I had major surgery (out of work for three months), moved out of state, and this year my mother has died.

I tell your readers that, not for sympathy, but to say it can be done! When you face challenges:

  • Use your writing as an escape. In the darkest days after my daughter’s death, I could immerse myself in the fictional world of Grace Gulch (featured in my cozy mysteries) and have fun with my wild and wacky heroine.
  • Use them to deepen your writing. After the fact, I realized that I had given two minor characters in upcoming books dementia and a stroke—issues that my mother was struggling with. And I can’t count how many devotionals I have written out of the lessons God has taught me.
  • If you can’t write … don’t. And don’t stress about it!
  • Run your manuscript past a critique group—always a good idea, but even more important when your mind keeps wandering to your personal problems.
  • Enlist the support of prayer groups such as the prayer loop on American Christian Fiction Writers.
  • Know that editors are willing to work with you on the deadline, unless you make a habit of it.

As far as how, I set daily writing goals, ones I know are achievable, and then I add in extra days (you can read more about my process at thebookdoctorbd.blogspot.com) so when a day (or a week) comes that I don’t meet my goal, I have extra time to work on the project. I schedule my priorities around that, including my quiet time, family, office job (when I still had one), church … and I’ve dropped a number of worthwhile activities.

I hope you’ve  enjoyed hearing from Darlene and her writing journey. She has a lot more to share on her blog. And, don’t forget to to stop by and leave her a comment for a chance to win a free copy of one of her books (your choice!).

Thanks for joining me in my interview with Darlene Franklin.  Later this week I’ll continue  my series of posts on primary sources and will look at how to find contemporary sources, such as experts, to interview for your story or article.

For today’s (and next Monday’s) post, I’d like to introduce you to fiction writer Darlene Franklin. Darlene has only been writing for a few years and has had some devastating personal challenges along the way, yet in that time she has written several books as well as short stories and devotionals. I talked to Darlene about her writing career as well as her advice for getting through tough times while you’re trying to write.

Here’s Darlene…

Darlene Franklin

First of all, Darlene, how did you break into writing, and how did you find your current niche?

I was fortunate to have a short devotional published after I’d been writing for two years. After that, publications were fairly few and far between until my first book, Romanian Rhapsody, came out in 2005.

As far as finding my niche, let’s just say that romance found me. At first, I wrote about personal struggles. I’ve never had much success selling personal experience stories–only a few. Then I tried my hand at fiction, a prairie romance; and I discovered my natural voice. I give the credit to God; the only insight into human love this divorced mother has comes                                               from the God who loves us!

I’ve tried a lot of genres, but romance (contemporary and historical) and devotionals seem to be the best fit. That’s been mostly a matter of trial and error.

What, to date, has been the most rewarding part of your writing career?

Well, I love getting paid to make up stories! I also love teaching other writers. I have had a few special reader responses as well.

Talk a little about Beacon of Love and how that book came about. What was your inspiration for it?

In Beacon of Love, a doctor afraid of the water and a lighthouse keeper’s daughter fight to keep the light burning throughout a hurricane. It’s the first book of three historical romances set in Rhode Island; the three books are being repackaged this summer as Seaside Romance.

I’m a native New Englander, and in fact my parents lived on the Maine coast for almost 30 years. So when I read about a lighthouse destroyed during the Great Gale of 1816, I knew what I wanted to write about!

Where do you see yourself in the future as a writer? What goals have you developed for yourself?

My immediate goal is to have enough books in print and under contract to make a full-time living. That includes moving into writing trade-length books.

In the future, I’d like to be both a recognized writer (not necessarily best-selling, although that would be nice) and someone who helps train the next generation of writers.

Next Monday, I’ll be discussing with Darlene how God has guided her through her writing and her challenges to get her where she is today. Please stop back!

In the meantime, you can get to know Darlene better by visiting her blogsite. and, I understand she is having a book giveaway contest during the month of April for anyone who leaves a comment on her blog!

See ya next time!

In my last post, I discussed what primary sources are, how they differ from secondary sources, why writers need them, and then gave some examples of both historical and contemporary primary sources. Now, I’d like to talk about how to find some of these elusive sources. First, I’ll start with historical sources, then when I continue with this series, I’ll look at how to find contemporary sources.

When it comes to finding most historical primary sources,  your options will include        digging through a good library for archives, diary or letter collections,  and speech indexes,  using online government or other public document sites, or physically tracking down historical societies, national archives, or museums that have what you need. There are various ways to attack each of these.

While at the library (preferably a university library), search for your subject along with “dairies,” “correspondence” (for letters and such), or “speeches.” You will end up with collections based on era, event, or person, among other potential categories. Also, look through the archive collections for any newspapers, magazines, or old interviews. And, don’t forget to look at secondary sources, such as books, encyclopedias, or biographical dictionaries where you can gather primary sources from the author’s bibliographies or notes.

If you want to conduct most of your searching online, one good place to start is GALE research, which has hundreds of databases on just about any topic imaginable. If you’re looking for newspapers that give firsthand accounts of events or people, there are some internet sites that, for a fee, will let you view scanned newspapers. Some sites offer a free trial period before you have to subscribe. One site is Classic Newspapers. Another is Newspaper Archive. Both of these have a vast collection of historical newspapers.

A primary source you may need is photographs. To keep your costs down, try to go to museums or historical societies, which will be cheaper than commercial sites to copy an image. If you do need to use a commercial site, a couple good ones to check out are Picture History and Smithsonian Images, both of which have a nice collection of historical images.

There are several government sites which are particularly useful for finding primary sources. One is the Library of Congress, which has numerous divisions online for searching just about anything. Other good sources include firstgov, which contains information for local, state, and federal governments for a variety of topics, as well as listings for government libraries and contact information for government officials. Another site is archives.gov. This site lists national archives centers throughout the U.S., and you can view copies of U.S. historical documents right from their website.

A final online source I highly recommend is called “100 Terrific Sites to Find Primary Source History Documents.” This site has links to all of the major U.S. libraries, museums, art history storehouses, birth and death records, newspapers, various government sites, and lots more. This is an excellent starting place for primary sources.

Even after all of your library and online searching, however, you may find that you still need to actually visit some locations to get the original sources you need. Before you go, there are some great directories out there that can help  guide you in the right direction.

If you need to visit a museum, a couple helpful books are the “Official Museum Directory,” which is exactly what it sounds like. This book lists thousands of museums and discusses what’s in them, how to contact them, what publications they put out, and so forth. A similar book is called “Museums of the World.”

If you’re looking for historical organizations or associations, there are books on that subject, such as the “Directory of Historical Organizations in the U.S.,” and the “American History Sourcebook.” The sourcebook lists places all over the country, like museums, universities, archives, and so forth, where you can find all kinds of primary sources.

For searching for government documents or organizations, you can start with the “U.S. Gov’t Manual,” which lists various government departments along with their contact information and what exactly the department does. You can also find out about government websites with a book called “U.S. Gov’t on the Web.”

If your library doesn’t have the books or directories you’re looking for, search online at Bookfinder. Or, if you don’t know exactly what book you need, look at the “Subject Guide to Books in Print” and that will help you narrow your search.

Well, that’s enough searching for one day! When I continue this series post, I’ll discuss how to find contemporary searches, such as looking for experts to interview.

Check back on Thursday when I will post part 1 of my interview with “cozy” mystery and historical fiction writer Darlene Franklin. I guarantee you Darlene has used some of these avenues before when searching for her primary sources!

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