Wednesday, January 06, 2010
I recently had the opportunity to interview writer, blogger, Packers fan, and poet Cherie Burbach.
Cherie knows a thing or two about making the most of her writing time and about promoting what she has published. I especially liked her advice to aspiring writers (below). I am grateful that she took time away from her many writing commitments in order to chat with me.
You juggle many writing jobs: books, freelance projects, blogs. What are some of the time management techniques that allow you to tackle multiple projects at ones?
I try and focus blocks of time toward certain projects. For example, in the morning I focus on my personal blogs and answering email. Then I dive into freelance work.
When I blog, I try and "cluster post," which means that I'll try to write a group of them and post ahead. Since writing today often involves posting online, I set aside time to write a bunch of things, rather than write and post (and write and post). I can save time if I can just keep writing. Then I tend to post, look for pictures, and do social networking and promotion.
When it comes to books, however, I usually take some time at night or on weekends to write. If I'm really having trouble focusing (or have a deadline) I will close out everything but the project I'm working on. So I'll shut down email, Internet, etc. and just write.
You maintain or contribute to many blogs, including Working Writers, Blisstree, Every Joe, and The Dating Blog. How has blogging impacted you as a writer? What advice would you give to someone who is considering becoming a blogger?
Blogging is definitely a different type of writing. It involves a more personal writing style with topical subject matter. When I was freelance writing for magazines, I would get an assignment, research, write, and turn in my copy. With blogging, all of that is required to move a bit faster. Not only that, but blogging generally means coming up with the subject matter yourself, rather than getting assignments. Your expertise and personality are part of what make a blog interesting to read. So in a way, blogging allows you to be yourself. I think my blogs have allowed readers to get to know me a little better.
You have written poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. What process do you use to determine what project to work on next?
I try and work on all of them at once! (Ha ha!) But each is very different.
For nonfiction books, I usually have a subject that I want to explore further. For the dating books I've written, it was a matter of getting asked a lot of questions from readers. People comment on my posts or email me, and sometimes there is a consistent theme where questions are concerned. I wanted to fill the need of answering those questions and providing more information. For the diabetes book, I saw a need for people to understand the personal side of the disease.
For nonfiction articles, I usually get inspired by something, receive a question from someone, get an assignment, or just feel the need to explore a certain topic.
The first two poetry books I wrote were really from the collection I had built over the years. The themes relate to young woman and girls, because many of the poems are from that time frame. The third poetry book, Father's Eyes, is the first one that had a story to it and theme. I knew I wanted to write the story of growing up with my alcoholic father in poetry. The poetry focused a lot around Chrisitianity and faith because that is a big part of my life.
I still write poetry often, but the poetry has changed as I've gotten older. I always, without exception, write my poetry in longhand in a notebook. I carry notebooks with me everywhere in case I get inspired or thing of something I want to write about. I usually let the words roll around in my head for a while before committing them to paper. Then I'll revise (still in longhand) and rework it until I'm satisfied. I never type out a poem until it's completely finished. The next book may center around the theme of love, because I've been working on several with that subject matter. (An aside from being a dating writer perhaps?)
Fiction is a whole different ballgame. The process begins with a story concept. I usually have an idea for the beginning and end of a story. In some cases I even have the ending line in my end. The journey of writing is then connecting those two things. I write using the computer, primarily, but adding thoughts written from a notebook. I usually write a (really bad) first draft, then use a combination of the computer and pen to edit. I love editing with the pen, however.
What was your first paying writing job? What about it was the catalyst that made you decide you wanted to make writing your career?
I think my first paying job was about 15 years ago. I wrote a short article for a magazine and thought it was the coolest thing ever. After that I would write occasional pieces for the local paper or magazines. I kept working full time, however, and didn't transition to full-time writing until a few years ago. After I work my first dating book, I started receiving offers to write other dating-related pieces. I then worked part time and did freelance writing part time.
What words of advice would you give to an aspiring poet? Would your advice be any different if you were directing it toward an aspiring writer of prose?
For any type of writer I would simply advise them to write. Write often. Write when you feel like it and especially when you don't.
For poets especially, I would recommend getting feedback on their writing from people they can trust. Not just someone like their mom that will tell them "it's good" (although that's nice to hear too), but someone who will give them honest feedback. Listen to what people say, and if there is a lesson in it, then go ahead and follow the lesson. But if you can learn more about your writing from the critics, then use it to improve. The flip side, of course, is never taking any feedback (good or otherwise!) personally. If someone likes what you do, be grateful and humble, and move on and keep writing. Don't ever change your writing to try and be like another writer. Instead, improve what you write so you can be yourself. Not everyone will like everything you do, and that's okay.
You’ve written several non-fiction books, including Internet Dating is Not Like Ordering a Pizza and 21 Things You Can Do To Help Someone With Diabetes. What is the best writing tip you can give to a writer about to tackle a non-fiction project?
Try and make your titles shorter than mine! (Ha ha!)
Seriously, I would say to make sure there is a need for the nonfiction project you are going to write. Figure out, even before you put pen to paper, what you want readers to take away from your book. It's okay if there are other books out there on the same subject, but try and distinguish yours somehow. If you have a unique take on things or can provide a different perspective, that might be enough to make your book sell. Nonfiction, especially, should fill a need. Figure out exactly what that need is so you can determine your market. Then, write to that market.
If you could spend a week in the company of one writer that you admire, who would it be? Why?
This is possibly the toughest question I have ever been asked! I could spend time with writers 24/7.... so.... just one?
I'd LOVE to meet Maya Angelou one day. The things she's been through in life... wow. She's a beautiful poet and her words are inspiring. Plus, I've heard she's an awesome cook. So maybe she would make me dinner while I just sat and listened to her stories. Have you ever heard her speak? Her voice.... it draws you in. If I could hear her read one of her poems live.... well that would be about the best thing ever.
How do you approach marketing your books? What do you think every successful author should know about the publishing and marketing industry?
It depends on the book and genre.
If I'm marketing nonfiction, I start making up a marketing plan even before writing the book. I do this in part to determine who my ideal buyer will be, so I can write something valuable for that sect. After I finish the book I usually try and get some reviews so other people can determine if the book is right for them. I think bloggers are a wonderful way to get the word out about your book. They are honest and can relay information in a casual way directly to their readers.
For poetry, I see if my book has a theme and if there is a logical group that might be interested in reading my work.
For fiction, I try and determine similar books on the market and who is reading them, and use that as a way to figure out my ideal reader. Then, I try and figure out where my ideal reader hangs out. Does she read blogs? Which ones? Would she look up books that interest her on Amazon? Once I determine the ideal reader, the marketing plan follows.
If you could see into the future and all your writing dreams came true, where would you like to be as a writer three years from now?
Oooh, I'm so glad you asked about three years from now instead of ten. Ten is too hard to imagine! But three? Three years from now it would be great to have my first and second novels published. I would like to do more fiction and less nonfiction as the years go on.
If you weren’t a writer, how would you fill up your days?
Before I was a full-time writer, I worked in marketing. I still wrote on the side but worked long, long days in the marketing world. However, my dream job would probably be a professional organizer. I love putting things back together in a logical way.
What are your three favorite things about the Green Bay Packers? If you were guest coach for a game, what would your strategy be? Furthermore, what exactly does a “Packers tree” look like?
Like every fan, I think I know a ton about coaching when I'm sitting on my couch watching the game. Oh, how easy it is to be a know-it-all then! In reality, I would probably be terrible at it!
However, if I were a guest coach for a game, I would definitely focus on the defense. I'm a girl that likes a defensive match (one reason why arena football wasn't as fun to watch, in my opinion) so I would study films and devise a defensive strategy that exposed the weakness of the opposing offense. I love the blitz, so I'm sure I would include plenty of plays centered around it. I would probably read up on Fritz Shurmur's COACHING TEAM DEFENSE or COACHING THE DEFENSIVE LINE (because let's face it - the man was an awesome defensive strategist). I like a defense that goes a step beyond. For example, not just tackling, but stripping the ball. Not just blocking a ball, but leaping for the interception. Not just reading a play, but knowing exactly where the first-down markers are. Then, I would hire Chuck Cecil to be my assistant because he's my favorite player of all time.
Here is a photo of the famous Packer tree! A good Packer tree has not only Packer-related ornaments, but things that represent the team as well. We have a block of cheese and mug of beer in addition to player and fan ornaments. I have a Chuck Cecil trading card as part of an ornament. A few homemade ornaments. The pinnacle is the topper - a mini-helmut complete with a light up "G." Go Pack!
To learn more about Cherie Burbach, her writing, and her other projects, visit www.cherieburbach.com.