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The Greatest Challenges in Writing for Publication

The greatest challenge in writing for publication is word count. It’s set by the editor, it can’t be exceeded. A topic easily explained in 1,000 words becomes tremendously difficult given 250. A reader never knows your word count, only that you failed to be technically accurate, didn’t reference a particular work, or that you didn’t quote them extensively, even after spending an hour with them. So be it.

Producing ideas or queries (internal link) is perhaps next hardest. Big metro papers assign some stories but, generally, a writer must come up with ideas. Ten pitches to an editor may produce two assignments. Same thing with web writing. The company I work for has written, for example, on every aspect of Colorado divorce law, nursing home abuse, and slip and fall accidents. Yet, search engines demand continuing original content and these monsters must be served. Writing on exorcism and divorce probably awaits. Get more ideas.

Deadline may seem most onerous but not with newspaper work, web writing, or most magazine articles. Short deadlines focus. No time to wander. Short deadlines are more frustrating than difficult, as many people fail to respond in time. This leaves writing less full, less accurate, the reader less served. Long deadlines let work slip away, their length permitting life to intervene: hospital stays, death of friends, a family crisis.

A challenge to new writers is letting their writing go. Never fall in love with your writing. Words aren’t yours to keep, not when selling. Every editor edits. Don’t expect to see a newspaper article before it is published. Get ready for cuts, photo captions that make no sense, a missing paragraph and on and on. That’s the editor’s rush to deadline. Some magazines will check in before publication but don’t count on it. Only books dependably get an author involved in rewriting.

The last major challenge to writing might be photography, producing publishable quality images when a writer has no interest in doing so. None of us work for Nat Geo, photographers don’t get assigned to our articles. While most publications require but don’t pay for photographs, some do. My last article for Outdoor California paid more for the photographs than the article itself.

In the end, every challenge to publication is worth overcoming. Even if our work is reworked, we still have to write. A bird has to sing.

Eastern Meadowlark photo by Scott Helfrich:


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Try Another Translation

If you are tackling Tolstoy, Proust or Kafka, find a translation that reads well for you. I failed twice to read War and Peace before I realized what was happening. At a large used book store I got to browse several translations before finding one that was easiest to read. What a difference!

This advice is especially true when it comes to reading The Bible. There are dozens of translations, most stilted, one stupendous. I prefer the first edition of The Jerusalem Bible: Reader’s Edition, which came out in 1966. It was translated magnificently from the French and has a power completely lost in later, revised editions.

Unfortunately, most literature classes require a student to use the teacher’s favorite translation, which may be authoritative but unreadable. If, however, you are not on a deadline and reading on your own, getting the right translation can make all the difference.

There may be a problem with this. Tolstoy so impressed me with War and Peace that I dove right into Anna Karenina. What a disappointment. I’ll save you time and four hundred pages. Woman gets run over by a train. You’re welcome.


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Book Submitted!

I submitted my MS and related images to my publisher this morning. This marks 14 months of work but there is much to be done to turn a raw document into a book.

Over the next several months the editor and I will discuss revisions and additions and all manner of changes. The publisher’s design team will go to work and I may have to reshoot many images that I took. Their marketing people will also be getting involved as we all push toward an early 2020 release.

Posts here will now be more frequent. Thank you to everyone who has helped me so far and to all of those who will help me in the future.

New post at my book site! See shelves full of rocks. Tremendous excitement!


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Revising 60,000 Words One Paragraph at A Time

This paragraph took twenty minutes to revise, with the emphasis on reducing word count. While I have become better at revising over time, I have never been able to increase my speed.


Tucson’s downside is its overwhelming scale and tremendous popularity. The convention center’s parking lot is jammed on Big Show days. Side streets are filled, with constant traffic enforcement roaming the area. A visitor should put Uber or Lyft apps on their smart phone in case parking proves impossible at the Convention Center. Or, ask a desk clerk to call a ride. A smart phone at a signature event like this is one’s best communication, information, and navigation tool. Make sure, though, to get a conventional paper map of Tucson. It’s a better way to get The Big Picture than a three inch phone screen. 104 words


Tucson’s overwhelming scale and popularity results in tremendous traffic problems. Big Show Days jam the convention center parking lot. Traffic control roams every side street. The visitor’s best communication, information, and navigation tool in Tucson is a smart phone. Install a Uber or Lyft app in case parking proves impossible. Get a hardcopy map of Tucson, too. That three inch phone screen can’t possibly show Tucson’s enormity. 67 words.


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