FAQ: Focus

no photography, please

Q. When I write stories for the company’s e-newsletter and blog, I feel lost in all the details I have gathered. It’s so hard to figure out what it means. Advice, please?

A. Your experience is common. Every writer faces this dilemma sometimes.

First make certain that you have all the information you need. Then write 3 words that form the focus, the nub, the heart of the piece. Three words: subject + active verb + object. For example:

• Company announces layoffs.
• New building will house trial-advocacy programs for law school.
• Physician-in-chief receives astonishing national award.

That doesn’t work? Try these other tricks:
• Imagine that you are at a coffee shop. Your friend sits down and says, “What story are you working on?” What will you answer? Make that your focus.
• Focus on the one thing the reader must know.
• Focus on the novelty in this story. (Even if it’s dull, try to find something interesting.)
• Focus on the reason you care (or your manager cares) about this.
• Focus on the emotions that touch you.
• Visualize how the story will end, and you might find clues to getting there. Focus on that.

If all else fails, put away your notes. Write as fast as you can and see if logical patterns of meaning emerge.

Good luck. As I said, it happens to all of us.

8 great tips for creating writers’ contracts

pencil slanted

Q. Can you please show me a writer’s contract?

A. Sure.

I use a contract or a simple letter of agreement that clarifies who will do what, my fee, and payment terms.  No lawyers involved. No big words. Here’s a sample contract with a client to ghost-write an article for an (imaginary) professional magazine.

Thank you for inviting me to write a 500- to 750-word article about investing in real estate for Private Asset Management.

  1. You will give me a bulleted outline of the sub-topics. You will answer my questions in a timely manner so that I can meet your deadline. You will send me links to sources of additional information, if appropriate.
  2. I understand that the information you give me is confidential and of great value to you. I will respect your intellectual property.
  3. The names of Ms. A and Mr. B will appear as the authors of this article. My name will not appear.
  4. I agree to write the article for delivery on or before DATE. I will provide one major revision and any minor changes before DATE.
  5. I will charge an hourly fee of $400 (don’t I wish), and I anticipate that this project will require 4 hours.
  6. If you decide to change the scope or subject of the article, we will consider that a rewrite. If that happens, there might then be additional fees and/or an extension of the delivery date.
  7. We will consider the assignment “accepted” when you approve it, regardless of whether the publisher decides to use it.
  8. You agree to pay me on or before DATE, upon accepting and approving the article.

Susan Perloff

Now write one of your own.

What brand computer should I buy?

typing smaller

Question: What brand computer should I buy?
Answer: That depends on your needs.

American homes and offices have 260 million laptops and desktops. 86 percent of American computers are PCs. Apple users are fanatical about their computers.

Apple computers

• More Mac users than PC users are satisfied with their computers.
• Apple computers cost more.
• If you have important clients who use Mac, buy a Mac.
• You may have to buy Microsoft Office separately.
• Best for creating graphics, charts, visual art.
• You can find support at a “genius bar” in an Apple store.
• Computer hackers who create viruses do so almost exclusively for PCs.
• PCs come with more memory than a Mac of the same cost.
• If you need more memory, you need to buy it.

Windows computers

• If you have important clients who use Windows, buy Windows.
• If Microsoft Word is your primary software, choose a Windows PC.
• Word for Windows is far more sophisticated than Word for Apple. Source: Substantial personal experience.
• You can find support through the manufacturer.
• Most Windows computers cost less than Apples. The better your purchase, the less you need to be concerned about security and reliability.
• Computer hackers who create viruses do so more frequently for PCs.
• PCs come with higher memory than a Mac of the same cost.

Write about your expertise

hay & taxes

Q. I am a one-person shop. How can I promote my business by writing about it?

A. If you are self-employed or own a small business, use your website, blog and all available social media to promote your expertise.

  • Add relevant copy to your website and blog.
    • Write about your proficiency in your industry, not about yourself.
    • Divulge a good idea or 2 to show that you really know your stuff.
    • Be specific in your advice so that readers can actually take a step you recommend.
    • Limit your content to your experience, capabilities and expertise. Skip your pets, travels and rants.
  • Post your writing on other people’s blogs.
  • Prepare one- and two-minute presentations (for elevators and formal meetings) about your capabilities and qualifications.
  • If you cannot write well, invest in a professional writer (not a hungry English major).

Write evergreens

Q. What’s an evergreen?
A. In botany, an evergreen is a plant that is, uh, always green.
In writing, an evergreen is an essay that you write once and can bring to life again in future years.

Grand Canyon evergreen

Grand Canyon evergreen

Plant a tree. Watch it grow. If you plant a Japanese maple or Northern red oak, you can appreciate its life during spring, summer and fall. But if you want to watch a tree flourish all year, every year, plant a gold arborvitae or a densiform yew.

Write evergreens.

* Every Valentine’s Day you wonder about flower-delivery people. How do floral recipients react to a delivery of 2 dozen red roses? Does anyone actual kiss the person handing over the sterling vase with 3 long-stemmed roses? Do men or women tip more?

To report this story, get yourself a one-day gig delivering for a florist near you. Write the story immediately, while it’s fresh as a daisy. Then file it until February 1 of next year, when you can pitch or send it to a local daily or weekly. If you have a monthly in mind, tell your calendar to remind you to ship the piece before Labor Day.

And the following year, assuming you have retained copyright, sell it somewhere else. You can revive many essays for years to come.

* Every year, on the second Sunday in May, you regret that you haven’t written that Mother’s Day article that’s been percolating. TIP: Write it now. Send it to your favorite – or desired favorite – editor on, say, April 20.

Several of my essays, published ages ago, have seen new life as evergreens in digital media. These days, with online payment at zilch, publication with links to your website are nearly worth cash.

Happy Bosnian emerald arrow pine to you.