Friday, March 4th, 2011

Writing Prompt – Write Your Own Obituary

When you get hired at a newspaper, one of the first things you’re asked to do is write your own obituary.

This serves two purposes: while your co-workers are grieving, they’ve got a story in hand which should need little editing and can be run immediately. It also gives you something to do if there’s no immediate news to go chasing after.

Writing your own obituary also saves your family members the trouble…and you get to say the things you want to be remembered for, instead of what someone else thinks. (Mom’s proudest moment of you, might not jive with your own.)

Your obituary should be accurate, lively and memorable. It is, after all, the story of your life.

At a minimum, an obituary serves only as a death notice, containing the barest of facts: your full name and birth date, your age at death, where you lived and your place of death. It may or may not include how you died. It may or may not include information about a service.

A longer obituary (still, really, a death notice) will include service information. It may include the name of your spouse and children, your parents (noting if they predeceased you) and perhaps information about a memorial fund, scholarship or donation to a cause you support.

A true obituary will contain much more, and that’s what we’re striving for here. It will include all of the above information, as well as the details of your schooling; degrees, awards and other recognition; your marriage(s); military service; employment; and life note: stories, satisfactions, hobbies, interests, charity, fraternal/political/other affiliations, positions held, achievements, etc.

Here’s a good obituary template. Note the information included, but re-write it in a style that suits your life.

Tips for Writing Your Obituary:

  1. Make Sure the Document is Accurate – check your dates against official records, if possible. Make certain names (including those of schools attended and home towns) are spelled accurately.
  2. Celebrate the Life, Not the Death – even though an obituary is a death notice, focus on what you accomplished, rather than on how you died.
  3. An Obituary Can Be Humorous – Death is sad, but don’t let grief overshadow life, especially if you’re a funny person. Let us in on the joke.
  4. Show, Don’t Tell – (I’ll bet you weren’t expecting to see this on the list.) Were you a strong supporter of your community? Don’t tell us that. Show us by describing that you knitted hats for preemies for all the local hospitals, picked up trash on Main Street every summer weekend and still coached little league, even though your kids have moved away and have kids of their own.
  5. Avoid cliches and abbreviations.
  6. A Quick Note About Identity Theft – This is less of an issue for the deceased than it is the living, even though it’s possible to be scammed after death. If you’re writing your own obit (or that of someone else who is still alive) don’t publish it on the internet. Maiden names, birth dates, hometowns and team mascots are among the most often chosen for passwords. Be safe.
  7. Here’s Your Prompt: Write your obit. If you’re uncomfortable seeing your own death notice, write the obit of a fictional character, but use your own life’s information. If you still can’t do it, write the obituary of a deceased relative or friend.

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

To Do/ To Bring When Attending Writing Conferences

Things are a bit crazy around here as I’ve bit the bullet and signed up for a writing class with mega-agent Don Maass on the 24th of this month.

Don is considered a top-tier agent, and he represents quite a few fantasy writers I love to read, so I’m pretty stoked about him teaching local enough (4-hour drive) to attend his seminar.

It’s a day-and-a-half workshop, to which I’m required to bring my completed manuscript. (No problem, as all my faithful readers will know that I’ve got one ready to send off to agents and have planned to do so this year.)

But I’m a bit angsty since three weeks doesn’t seem like enough time to get ready for the seminar, which is attached to the Write Stuff Conference hosted by the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group.

Luckily, I’m prepared. I have a routine I follow when I’m off to a conference. I’ve actually presented this material to writer’s groups, so if it sounds like I’m lecturing…it’s because I am. 🙂

Here’s what I recommend:

Before the Conference

  1. Think about your expectations. What do you want to get out of it? Knowing your expectations helps you plan what you’ll do while you’re there. Do you want to meet other local writers? Do you want to pitch your novel to an agent? Or do you want to learn about craft, careers and the industry? You don’t have to choose, you can do it all…but scheduling of panels may prohibit this. So, prioritize your goals and plan accordingly.
  2. Get an advanced copy of the conference schedule and look over your desired sessions.
    Highlight and number where you want to be, the time and the room numbers, or copy this information to your planner. This will save you time at the conference, allowing you to network, join impromptu sessions and, maybe, get some writing in, too.
  3. Will you be able to pitch your book to agents and editors? Do you want to do so? If so, research the available candidates. Will there be someone present who represents the genre you write? Prepare a pitch according to that agent’s specifics.
  4. Hit the social networks to see if any of your online acquaintances will be going, too. Tweet, blog and post to boards and arrange a meet-up.
  5. If you’re going somewhere non-local: research the area: what restaurants are available? Are there any local landmarks or monuments you could visit? What about hiking, skiing, or other sportly adventures? (You could make this trip all about the conference, but hey, if you’re going somewhere new, you might as well learn a little about the area. Consider it research for your next book.)
  6. Check your writing “gear.” Make sure everything you need is in the bag you’ll take along: laptops and cables, a thumbdrive, your favorite notebooks and pencils, gum, mints, etc. (Check even if you’re meticulous about putting everything in it’s place–you never know.) If you’re attending any writing sessions, add a thesaurus and/or dictionary and your current work-in-progress. If you’re meeting up with fellow writers, you could also take a finished work you could use in an impromptu writing session.
  7. Formulate a list of questions you’d like answered. These could be related to the panels you want to attend, about presenters at the conference, about writing craft, about pitching your book, publishing in general (or specific), about, well…anything. Write them down and carry them with you so that you won’t forget to ask.

What Should You Bring?

  1. Your printed list of questions.
  2. Any research material you accumulated about the conference or the location.
  3. Business cards.
  4. Something to take notes with: your laptop, a notebook and pen, etc. (I always carry both: there will be times when a laptop will be inconvenient.)
  5. If you’re pitching, bring whatever the agent or editor prefers (and in the style they prefer it in): your query letter, a synopsis, the first five pages of your novel, etc. It’s doubtful you’ll need your entire novel printed out: no agent is going to want to lug an entire manuscript (times 100, or how many writers he meets) back to his office. If an agent is interested, he’ll give you his card and tell you to mail it.)
  6. Bring any giveaway table items that you can leave in designated areas: (book marks, flyers, brochures for writing-related services or your local writers group, etc).
  7. Any personal items you can’t live without for a few days or which will make your hotel room your home away from home: MP3 Player, cell phone, teddy bear, photo of your spouse, etc.)

Next time: What to do at the conference.