THE AUTHOR RECYCLES

New Creations From Old Work

 In past blogs I’ve talked about examining your previous work as a writer.  Not only does this allow you to measure your progress, it also provides a pool of sources for new directions in content and style.  I am a member of the National Writers Union and the local chapter recently asked me to be their featured speaker at a monthly meetingOften, their speakers read from current projects, but since I’d help to fill in the previous month with a reading of both the Prologue and Epilogue from PROSPECT FOR MURDER [the debut title of the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery series], I decided to give a talk on how I’ve recycled parts of past projects.  While there’s nothing novel in this concept, I thought that in detailing how I’d used pieces I’d created during my years in Arizona, I might stimulate my listeners to consider the ways in which they might draw upon works in their own files…

Wordsmiths Don’t Fall into a Single Demographic Description

When you look around any gathering of writers, you’ll find that we’re: Young and old; formally educated and barely literate in the grammatical sense; gifted melodious speakers and hoarsely halting readers; technical prodigies and flawed yet persuasive explorers of every topic imaginable.  The breadth and depth of our compositions are as varied as we are.  And usually, if we’re old enough, such variety will be found spread throughout our individual bodies of work.  

In projects of both fiction and non-fiction, I draw on a background in business, education, and the performing arts.   As might be expected, there is no consistent pattern to my output—except for the decades of public relations, marketing, and design consultation I’ve performed for executives and their profit and non-profit entities. 

Forms from the Past…

In preparing for my talk, I looked over previous work I had drawn upon for recent print, audio, and Internet projects.  Not all were inspirational gems of form, content, or style, but each item I had chosen to re-purpose fulfilled a specific need.  With every new project, I contemplate how the assignment fits within the scope of my professional history.  Not only do I look for concepts, data, and text that may yield something I can reuse, but also the bits and pieces that should be moved to the recycle bin.

…Reshaping for Today and Beyond

This year’s springtime file pruning produced some of everything.  I found business cards, ads, and brochures that could be used for marketing workshops. As I continued my file and closet clearing, I eyed posters and signage that could be augmented with a large artistic label for some future event.  I quickly dismissed them as ineffective for a speech delivered from a podium.  There was, however, one item I could share:  a copy of Stephen Covey’s famous matrix of time and productivity management.  The gist of this true jewel of philosophy is that if we focus on aspects of both our personal and professional lives that are important but not critical, we’ll be better prepared for challenges that may arise.

After a brief introduction of this principle to open my talk, I noted how elements of past writing had been folded into my writer’s blog [for samples, please visit https://www.Blog.ImaginingsWordpower.com].  From project inspiration to background research, through the phases of writing and editing, production, and marketing, I discussed how I select issues that may be of interest to other authors and artists.  In addition to mentioning a few of those blog topics, I provided examples of material I’d chosen to use in recent book projects.

~  When I joined with five other authors to publish UNDER SONORAN SKIES, Prose and Poetry from the High Desert,  I contributed both fiction and non-fiction.  With new and as well as re-shaped pieces, we all expanded our repertoire.  Knowing that publication of  Prospect For Murder was approaching, I included its prologue.   I also featured historical articles such asThe Holidays in Tucson, 1878,” which I read at the NWU meeting.   

~  In  Murder on Mokulua Drive [the second book of the mystery series], I’ve drawn on notes from my studies in history, plus a series of oral history interviews I conducted many years earlier.  This has allowed me to mention the first woman registered to vote in the Territory of Hawai`i in 1920, and to place a major scene in the historic and ecologically significant site of Kawai Nui Marsh.  

~  The compilation of the oral history interviews, Conversations with Caroline Kuliaikanu`ukapu Wilcox DeLima Farias has indeed proven to be an invaluable resource.  Carol was a dear friend seeking to preserve her family’s history, library and other artifacts.   Descended from Hawaiian nobility, her recollections of life in upcountry Maui in the early twentieth century and dancing hula in Waikīkī on December 6th, 1941, delight both readers and listeners.  In reshaping the layout for a book of the seven interviews and an audio edition comprised of the original recordings, I described how this resurrected project is benefiting from the comprehensive glossaries I’ve constructed for the Hawaiian and other non-English vocabulary included in the Hawaiian mysteries. 

~  Finally, I referred to the fourth mystery, A Yen For Murder, for which I examined promo materials I wrote for Highland Games and the Hilo International Festival on the island of Hawai`i during the 1970s.  This led to having Natalie reminisce about hearing a remarkable young woman play the Japanese koto at the Festival…and decades later having that woman, then a Buddhist priestess, become the victim.

In the future, I anticipate giving talks on the authorship process, for which many of these examples will be useful.  Of course, there will also be samples of flawed book covers, changing email addresses, and evolving reviews to reference.  How does all this relate to your work?  Well, I wonder what awaits you when you dive into your own files.  Will you choose to build on your dramatic successes?  Or will you determine that what was once viewed as a failed project may rise to the realization of full and positive fruition?

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

To learn more about Prospect for Murder and other writing projects, please visit my author’s website at Https://www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.  For more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit: Https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com

The Value of an Index

Making Non-Fiction Text User Friendly

Empowering Your Words
In both fiction and non-fiction projects, there are many aspects of the art and science of writing that can go unnoticed in the creative phase of composition.  I heartily concur with the idea that as writers we need to focus initially on capturing our inspirational thoughts prior to addressing details of the editorial process.  Nevertheless, it is good to have the overall design of a literary project on the edge of our consciousness whenever putting pen to paper.  And, when we do don our editorial caps, writers need to be cognizant that that work empowers the words already set down.  Regardless of the target market, readers have expectations, and the skills of a wordsmith determine whether those expectations will be met.

During the publication of the anthology Under Sonoran Skies, Prose and Poetry of the High Desert, I was pleased to receive positive critical attention for my comprehensive index.  As the artistic director for the project, part of my authoring strategies was to ensure that future as well as current readers would find the work user-friendly, as well as an enjoyable read.  Despite my vision, some of my five co-authors have been less than enthusiastic about the value of indexing.  In fact, one of them was involved in another anthology for which an index was deemed irrelevant since including one would have reduced the number of pieces from one of the book’s prolific authors. 
Significance of The Lack of an Index
When I examined that book’s table of contents, I realized the work had frequent references to historical events and high-profile people.  Unfortunately, the lack of an index precluded a reader’s ability to analyze the work fully.  This was especially true if a reader wanted to compare text provided by multiple authors on a particular subject.  And, with the passage of time, even someone who has read the book and is familiar with its topics would find it difficult to re-access specific references—at least in hardcopy.  And it is true that reference searches in material in electronic format can be facilitated by utilizing a find or search command.  But to accomplish a comparison of various authors’ views, the reader would have to create a separate listing of those citations that pertained to their interests.

Since one can never know how a work will be used at a future time, I believe there is one simple argument for indices in non-fiction:  If it is logical that some reader may wish to locate a specific reference, there is a need for an index Even when a book’s contents are directed to a specific audience, future developments within the field under discussion—let alone the unfolding of history—may yield an unexpected group of readers for whom an index will be invaluable.

Structuring an index usually begins by listing proper nouns contained in the work—meaning all people, geographic locations, and events of sufficient worth to have been named.  Most word processing programs can help you gather and list such terms, even if they lack an actual indexing feature.  Another tactic for refining an index is analyzing terms included by other authors addressing a parallel subject.

As you delve into your indexing project, you may find topics requiring in-depth analysis.  In looking at the nouns you have initially listed, consider related names and topics that can be grouped under a general category.  For example, a discussion of lions, dogs and parrots suggests that a general topic of animals would be appropriate.  Of course, some words may not have such an obvious association.  One area of complexity is persons of varied professional accreditation.  If you lacked sufficient numbers of therapists, physicians and dentists to provide these individual categories, you might use a comprehensive term such as healthcare professionals.  Consider the terms highways, access ways, and trains.  While they do not all relate to forms of roadways, they might be listed under a general heading of transportation

If you tire during the indexing process, consider returning to your analysis of the work of colleagues.  For although you may have accessed the works of many authors during preliminary research, you may not have closely examined their indices.  This semi-final exercise may not only reveal an approach to indexing you have not considered, but it may also reveal gaps in topics or subtopics within the body of your own work.  Even if you decline to broaden the scope of your piece, you may wish to consider some additions to your afterword or bibliography.

Before I leave the topic of indexing, I should offer one cautionary note for avoiding a mammoth appendage to your actual composition:  When in doubt about including a general category, consider whether you have a minimum of three words to list within it…

The art of communicating with readers requires diligence in refining your skills.  It is as demanding an element in non-fiction as in a fine work of fiction.  So, beyond indexing, what other tools of wordsmithing could enhance your reader’s experience?

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

To learn about Prospect for Murder [the first book in the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery series] and other writing projects, please visit my author’s website at Https://www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.  And for more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit my website: Https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com