Tag Archives: Margaret Benison

Writing Anniversary


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A year ago today, I got published for the very first time. After years of doubting myself, thinking that I would never make it, and piling rejections that I was not yet equipped to deal with, one little letter gave me just the kick I needed to carry on and showed me that persistence pays off. Even though the achievement was modest, I still look at the publication of my short story November 13th as the beginning of my writing career. The story still gets web hits very often and remained on the website’s top mystery stories for months.

I kept writing short stories and submitting them to publications. The rejections that followed didn’t affect me as much—they were still painful, but I consoled myself with the thought that one publication ought to accept my work eventually. Sure enough, one did. Then another, and another… Soon enough, I had editors approaching me to write for them, which was a major ego boost for me, especially since English is not my native language.

Don’t get me wrong, I still get rejected. In fact, I’ve been going through a rough patch lately. I had more rejections than I care to mention in the past few months. Out of everything that I have been through this year, being rejected definitely ranks as one of the worst. However, after a year of ups and downs in the writing business, I can confidently say that rejections don’t bother me as much, or at least I don’t take them personally. Sure, it’s painful when your proudest work sits on the editor’s desk for six months and then a rejection appears in your inbox, or when one appears on the next day of your submission, or when an editor can’t even take Sunday off and decides to give you the piece of news that is sure to ruin your weekend. But all in all, I move on, my reaction to rejections is, “How can I improve this story?” and “Who else can I submit this story to?”

My proudest accomplishments this year were an article about Lebanon that was published in The Mantle and another article that was published in a leading Middle Eastern women’s publication. I always console myself by rereading those two particular articles; it makes me realize how far I’ve come in a short period of time and how far I still have to go. There’s also the fact that I finished writing the first draft of two novels this year. Before, writing a novel seemed impossible to achieve. Now, I know that writing a novel—as daunting and demanding as it is—is not only possible but also a must. I finish every piece of work I start.

I’m hoping that I could finish my memoir before New Year’s Eve, that way I could say that I wrote three books this year. However, if that doesn’t happen, I will still have written two books, several articles, numerous short stories, tens of poems, and blog posts. So, all in all, I did well this year, especially given the events that I’ve been through– being in Lebanon amidst the turmoil and other personal incidents that almost ended my life. I’m very much pleased with my little achievements and I hope to have many more to share with you in the future.

How close have you come to your dreams this year?

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Writing Process Blog Meme


Thank you Esther Newton for nominating me for this blog meme. Esther is an amazing writer and tutor. Check out her blog and new short story collection on Amazon.

I haven’t done the blog hops and nominations for a long time. But I felt that this particular post would be beneficial for fellow writers. I’m supposed to answer a few questions concerning my writing process, so here goes.

1. What am I working on at the moment?

I recently finished the first draft of the first book in a trilogy. I took some time off to unwind, so I will start editing that soon. Also, I’m working on a memoir. As for shorter work, I have a half-finished novella waiting for me to come back to it when I have time. Inspiration for poems strikes me when I’m half asleep, I write those sporadically.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I am a huge fan of thrillers, unforgettable tales, stories that keep me on edge and linger in my head for days after I finish reading them. My thrillers are different in terms that they are inspired by my personal experiences. My life is a thriller on its own. But there are chunks of my life that I extracted and developed into an idea for a trilogy.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I write because I can’t but write. It’s the only way I can remain sane and it’s a great way for me to vent. When I was younger, I lived in an oppressive household. Writing was my only escape and it still is.

4. How does my writing process work?

On a normal day– which I haven’t had in months– I wake up around 7:00 a.m., have breakfast, coffee and start working on whatever project at hand. Noon, I take a break, have a snack, check my emails and blog. Afternoons are for editing, research, and smaller projects. Nights are for reading.

I hope this post was informative. I am supposed to nominate a few people, but I follow a very small number of people who are all inspiring and phenomenal.

Thanks for reading and feel free to answer those questions in a comment 🙂

The End


Today, I achieved something great. I typed “The End” on the first draft of a manuscript. Just to be clear, this is not my memoir that I am talking about. In fact, one of the main reasons I didn’t want to begin writing my memoir is because I was still working on this novel, which is the first book of a trilogy.

What is amazing about this novel is that I had not only applied all the lessons I learned throughout my journey in writing to it, but also that it echoed with the tension, drama, and emotions from my personal life, upbringing, societal background, and current situation. It is one of the projects that lingered in my head for a long time before I started it. It grew inside me and consumed the nutrients in my brain, just like a child would. And when it was ready to emerge, it put me through a long and tedious labor. But the result was worth it. And even though it’s going to take a lot of editing and polishing before it’s ready to be presented to people, I know that a large weight was lifted off my shoulders.

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There is a strange feeling I have about this novel. I was actually happier when I finished this book than I was when I finished writing my first novel back in March. Mainly, I believe this happened because I got more involved emotionally with this project.

My life lately was filled with turmoil and agony. But I always told myself that I cannot make excuses when it comes to writing, that’s not what professionals do. No matter what happens in my life, I sit on my computer and type word after word, pouring my heart on the blank paper, smudging those emotions with my hands and soiling my face with them.

The first book I wrote still sits in my virtual drawer, waiting for me to find the will to edit it. However, this book will not miss me for too long. This is a book I want to polish to perfection. It’s a book I would be proud to present to an agent and, most importantly, a reader. Here I’d like to take the opportunity to thank all of those who have been following my journey. You give me so much strength and your support means the world.

Thank you!

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Now, I’m off to have a glass of celebratory wine. Cheers 🙂

Why Read What Potential Markets Publish


Why do magazine editors tell writers to read a few of the magazine’s issues before submitting to them? It’s because they want to increase their sales or website hits, right? Wrong—well, partially right. But did you know that reading what your potential market publishes is more beneficial to you, the writer?

Writers love to read—or at least they have to read. Most of us have no problem reading novels. But if someone asks us to read a magazine or a literary journal, we need to stop and think about it for a long time before we decide we don’t need to. We think that if we read mystery thrillers, then we are fully capable of writing a short story fit for Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen. Well, I used to think that way, until I read one—yes, only one—issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s magazine. I realized that the story I wanted to submit for that market was not a great fit. And after reading a few other issues, I realized what I needed to do to fix it.

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“But, why?” you ask.

Because it’s that simple. You need to get the general feeling of a magazine before you can successfully submit to it. You need to know what subjects have been dealt with so you don’t repeat them. You also need to pay attention to certain details, especially in fiction, like the degree of violence, swearing, sex, etc… I’m not suggesting that a magazine is a monotonous mastermind that only publishes one thing or the other, after all, several authors contribute to every issue, and each one of those authors has his own style. You do need to be familiar with what the editors like before you send them your “masterpiece”. Your story sometimes is too much for a market—too good, if you want to believe that. You owe it to your story to get it published in the most suitable place, where your story’s counterparts are just as good as it is.

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Think of reading issues of your potential market as going out on a date. There are different types of personalities, but even similar personalities have disparate likes and dislikes. If you like outgoing people, it doesn’t mean that you are going to be compatible with every outgoing person you meet. Every conversation with that date of yours will reveal something about their personality. After a while, you will have enough data to determine whether you want to continue seeing this person or not. Similarly after reading a few issues of a magazine, you will be able to determine whether your story is a good fit for it, if you need to tweak your work, or submit it somewhere else.

Hope this helps. What magazines are you reading?

My Article in Sayidaty Magazine


If you happen to stop by Lebanon, Egypt, UAE, or any other country in the region, you might like to pick up the September issue of Sayidaty Magazine and read my new article Have More While Spending Less. I’m proud to be published by Sayidaty, one of the leading women’s magazines in the Middle East region, and I hope some of you will get a chance to grab this month’s issue and let me know what they think of the money-saving tips I suggested.

Happy writing!

Four Questions Every Novelist Needs to Ask Himself


Everyone wants to write a book. Everybody has thought about it at one time or the other. People have different motives for doing it (fame, telling a story, money…). The truth is, however, few succeed. The number of people who manage to write a novel is scarce, much less is the number of those who publish one. Therefore, before writing any book, a novelist needs to ask himself several questions.

Creative business

1. Why Do I Want to Write this Book?

“Why?” is one of the most important question a person can ask himself prior to doing anything at all. In this case, knowing why you want to write a novel puts things in perspective. Are you in it for the money? Fame? Love of the written word? Or are you trying to prove something to yourself?

Knowing why you want to do something helps keep you motivated all the way till you finish that book. And, if the motivation is strong enough, it will help you power through the editing process and the long wait for an agent’s or publisher’s reply.

The key here, however, is to be realistic. Tone down your expectations and focus on your book. Writing a novel is a great learning experience; however, it may not be a great “earning” experience.

2. Can I write this book?

This is not meant to question a writer’s physical ability to type 55K+ words. It is, however, meant to help a writer take an honest and realistic approach at his or her ideas. Many people are struck with ideas that seem brilliant at first. Sometimes the ideas turn out to be ridiculous when reevaluated; other ideas still seem genius. However, there is a difference between a good idea, a great idea, and an idea that can be developed into a novel.

The difference is simple. It lies in the plot, characterization, and the subplot. Yet, many writers make the mistake of assuming that a good idea is all it takes to write a good book. Wrong! Ask yourself, can I write this book with the mere idea I have in mind? Can I stretch this idea for 300 pages and still make it interesting? If the answer is no, don’t give up. Simply spend more time plotting.

3. How Much Do I Know About the Subject?

Another important thing is to be sure you have enough information about the subject. A book, like any other piece of writing, requires extensive research. What does your protagonist do for a living? Is he a detective? Do you have enough information about how detectives work? And I don’t mean information you learned from watching movies… Researching sometimes requires traveling to the location of your story, interviewing people in the same line of work as your characters’, and reading several fiction and non-fiction books.

So before you tackle that novel, ask yourself: do I have enough information about the subject I’m writing about? If the answer is ‘no’, then do more research. The better you research your book, the less time it will take you to write it, and writers’ block is less likely to catch up with you.

 

4. Can I Commit to It? 

Like everything else in life, the flare of the new dims after a while; that’s why it is best to write that novel as quickly as possible. That, however, doesn’t mean putting pressure on yourself to write it in a month. It just means that you need to commit to your project.

This is easier than you think. Pick a time in the day when you are usually not working, cooking, or taking care of your children. No matter how little time in the day you think you have, believe me, it’s enough. An hour spent effectively is better than eight hours wasted staring at a screen.

During the day, think of what you’re going to write, let the plot progress in your head, and take notes so you won’t forget. When the time comes to write, take a quick look over the notes and commence typing.

Writing a novel is a BIG project. Like any other project, it takes motivation, planning, knowledge, and commitment. Chances are, if you have the motivation and commitment, you will find a way to achieve the other two. The most important thing is to take your time with the process. And remember that great things take great sacrifices.

Photo Credits:

http://nlpworks.com/what-motivates-you/

http://mag.uchicago.edu/alumni-books

http://emmamwhittle.wordpress.com/2009/11/18/committment-issues/

The Benefits of Writing a Terrible First Novel


 

As some of you may know, I recently completed a novel for the first time. After two failed attempts to complete manuscripts before, just the fact that I wrote “The End” was an accomplishment to me. I took some time away from the book in attempt to return to it with a fresh perspective. What I saw upon my return, however, shocked and disappointed me. My finished book, the one I spent three months writing, was not worth reading. Many find it difficult to admit this about their own creations – believe me, it took me a while to accept the fact myself. In spite of how disappointed I was by the first draft of my book, there are invaluable lessons that I learned throughout the process.

Many might say that I shouldn’t put so much pressure on myself, a first draft is never as good, and it was only the first novel I ever completed. However, when I finished writing the manuscript, my writing substantially improved. Editing didn’t take as much effort as it used to – even though there were still times when I had to rewrite a piece seven to eight times before I became satisfied with it. Therefore, when I got back to my novel, I noticed that it was written below my own standards. What I noticed, hence, was the first advantage of writing a terrible first novel: it made me a better writer.

When I started writing my book in January 2014, I had a clear idea of how the story will begin and end, the genre, and the main conflict of the plot. However, other than that, I had not much more to build on. I started to discover my characters as I went along, and the plot changed as well depending on what I had written before. It wasn’t planned, and it looked like it. Therefore, my second lesson was to pay more attention to plotting and characterization.

Initially ,I only began writing the novel just to prove to myself that I was able to write one. I was eager to finish the book since I had already failed twice at that, so the most important part of the manuscript was the final chapter. When I started reading my first draft, I could tell that I had rushed through writing it. Even in the places where I thickened the plot felt uninspired to me. The third lesson I learned was to take my time.

Research is invaluable, I came to realize. Even though the subject I tackled was familiar to me, had I not had the knowledge about that subject, writing that novel – as modest as it turned out to be – would’ve been impossible and would’ve placed the novel at an even lower standard. In fact, the most appealing part of the manuscript, in my opinion, was my description of society and places.

However, in spite of my knowledge in the subject, I felt that it was of no more interest to me after a while. Many may tell you to write about what you know; however, I learned that I needed to find a subject that flares a lasting interest in me. Writing one novel could sometimes take years. If a writer’s interest in the subject he’s tackling fades, what’s the point of writing? Sure enough, the reader will lose interest just as well.

There’s not enough time in the world to learn every tip and trick to write a great novel. Everybody has to start somewhere. Armed by the lessons I learned and the experience I gained, I continue my writing adventure. All I can do is write, and learn as I go. I wonder what I am going to learn today.

What are some of the lessons you learned in your early experience as writers?

Finding the Balance: Between Writing and Building an Author Platform


I’m one of those guilty of neglecting one aspect of my life when the other gets hectic. For instance, I ignore my friends when my job gets demanding, and stop exercising as long as my jeans fit. As a writer I unintentionally create an imbalance between writing and building a platform. Though some argue that writing is far more important than the platform itself, finding a balance between the two is critical. I know this post is directed to writers, but anyone else looking to start a career or a business can relate to this.

First of all, let’s talk about the importance of building a platform. When writing, you work your brain’s muscles to the limits to come up with a piece of art. However, after the creative work is done, writing becomes a business, and the writer becomes a businessman who needs to pitch and sell his creations. That is when building a platform comes in. It’s like creating a market to sell your product to.

Creating this market can be performed through several venues: blogs, twitter accounts, Facebook’s personal and fan pages… All are important and efficient. However, the most important of all is timing. For instance, if you wrote a novel (or developed a product), found yourself a decent publisher (or investor), your book hit the bookstores, then you decided to start building a platform, then you are a tad too late. Not that no one will buy your book if you arrive late; the thing, however, is that you need to build a lasting connection with your readers.

Purchasing a book, like any other purchasing decision, undergoes a certain cognitive process that transports the consumer from the point of awareness of his need to point of purchase and beyond. To arrive at the purchase point, the customer needs to believe that the probability that he will regret the purchase is minimal. That’s when their familiarity with the writer (or any other professional) comes in handy. Your customers need to trust and be familiar with who you are as a writer and a person before they put money out of their pockets into yours. “[Trust] plays a vital role in almost any commerce involving monetary transactions,” says Dan J. Kim in his paper Trust and Satisfaction, Two Stepping Stones for Successful E-Commerce.

Also, many publishers (as well as investors) examine the size of your platform before they sign a book deal with the writer. Not that any book had been rejected due to the size of an author’s platform (unlike many business deals that get rejected if the entrepreneur doesn’t have a solid market platform). A decent following, therefore, is a major advantage in the eyes of investors.

Now that you know a couple of important reasons why building a platform is important, let’s talk about the balance between creating and selling. First, I’m one of those guilty of neglecting my blog on several occasions, especially when I’m too busy with writing. However, I discovered that staying active on social media was easier than I thought.

In you free time, write a number of posts for the coming week or so, and place them in a folder. Sure you will have time to post them online during the afternoon. There are also features on WordPress that helps you schedule your posts to appear at a certain time. That way you can remain active even in your sleep! In fact, this post you’re reading was scheduled to appear on your timeline from the night before. This feature can also be applied using an application like Tweetdeck for Twitter.

It’s important to know that staying connected is not just about posting, it’s also about interacting with your audience. Mingle with my followers by reading their posts and commenting on them from time to time. It’s a way of showing that you care and of saying: You’re not just a prospect buyer to me. At the end of the day, people who genuinely care about you are the ones who would support you the most. So strive to build lasting relations with those around you — even virtually.

How do you maintain a balance between doing your business and building your business’s platform?

Connect with me on Twitter: @MissBenison

Heads up: I’m changing the domain name for the blog soon. So if my posts stop appearing on your home page, then you probably need to un-follow then re-follow the blog. This is going to cost me a lot of followers, but I think it’s worth it to take my blog to the next level. Meanwhile, you can subscribe to my blog via email and stay updated.

Photo Credits: http://jarvismarketing.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/social-media-tips-for-2014/

A Lament for the Independents in Lebanon — An Article


Since my last post about the Lebanese elections a couple of months ago, Lebanon has been dwelling in presidential void. I always talk about the chaos and corruption in Lebanon, particularly in its political system. Recently I wrote an article that is now published in The Mantle talking about these issue and more.

Please follow the link to read it: http://mantlethought.org/content/lament-independents-lebanon

Do let me know if you agree.