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Writing and Publishing

This page is being built for those of you who are learning to write, those who enjoy the process and/or therapeutic value of writing, and even for the folks who write to have their work published. There’s something for everyone; from the step-by-step writing tips, to publishing books that will be printed or downloaded…including music books!

American Prison Writing Archive

https://apw.dhinitiative.org/

The mission of the APWA is to replace speculation on and misrepresentation of prisons, imprisoned people, and prison workers with first-person witness by those who live and work on the receiving end of American criminal justice. As of 2.18.20 they have 2323 titles in English and 17 titles in Spanish.  The books, papers and poems are grouped by Titles (A-Z), Authors, Author Attributes, Languages, Prisons and States. Search information is on the left side of the page.

archive

To submit your essay, book or poem, request their permissions questionnaire here:

The American Prison Writing Archive
c/o Hamilton College
198 College Hill Road
Clinton, NY 13323-1218

 

VOLUNTEER!   Help transcribe essays to enter into the archive!  Fill out the application here:

https://apw.dhinitiative.org/content/request-permission-transcribe-apwa-essays

Writing Tips 

by Kelly Patrick Riggs

Want to print them?  Click on the link below:

Writing Tips 5.26.2020

Mr. Riggs has generously donated these writing tips.  You can check out his many publications on our Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Authors page! and also online.

#1  JUST DO SOMETHING

This is the first and most important thing you’ll ever learn about writing. Writing is a career option that you’ll find can be accomplished anywhere you happen to be. Thus, you’re ultimately your own boss meaning that you work when you want to. Also know that because of that liberty you can put off starting just as easily as not. So it’s important to “just do something”, today and every day that you set aside to write. My suggestion is to write something as soon as you finish reading this tip. It doesn’t matter what you write just write something, get in the habit right now so you too will one day be able to write your own check.

#2 GET IT OUT OF YOUR SYSTEM

 Life often requires us to deal with particular issues before we can proceed to others. Writing is very similar in nature. I have a book to finish this month and I have set a strict schedule that if followed will help me reach that goal. But, this morning I woke up with a writing tip on my mind. Providing writing tips is something I pledged to do and is now an irrevocable responsibility. My problem is that this writing tip is on the forefront of my mind and mingles with the material for my new book. This is not a problem as long as I take a moment to re-organize my day, by a few minutes. It’s time to get this writing tip out of my system so I can get back on my schedule- which had time for things just like this figured into it. I’m writing this tip early because it’s fresh on my mind right now. Doing it now is how I clear my thoughts to make room for the task that was scheduled for this morning. So, always take the time to get back on track, sometimes you have to take the time to GET IT OUT OF YOUR SYSTEM.

#3 DON’T WRITE WHERE YOU EAT,

don’t mix business with pleasure, and I’m sure there are hundreds more variations of this principle. In its most basic form the idea is to create a separation between work life and home life. Even in the most simple environments you should define  some sort of difference between the two, to kick start your mind’s creative flow. I currently live in a concrete box that is eight feet wide and ten feet long, and every morning I get dressed, I drink my coffee, and I brush my teeth; before I sit at my desk to write. That’s correct, I get myself ready just like I’m going to work before taking a seat only four feet from where I sleep. I sit at my desk only to write, and I take my seat at seven o’clock sharp, every morning. So take a moment to define a difference, it will help you get your mind started.

#4 KNOW WHAT YOU ARE KNOWN FOR

I don’t care what you do in life, you will in one way or another be branded. Your brand is what you are known for and more importantly how you make people feel. It’s important to identify your brand and to keep it positive and consistent. You, just like me, will become known for something. But with some guidance, you unlike me, will recognize this fact and use it to your benefit early in your writing career. In simple terms your brand is the emotional effect that you have on the hearts of others-it’s what you are know for. So, identify your brand and keep it positive.

#5 BE INVESTED IN WHAT’S MOST IMPORTANT-

YOU. Writing often becomes an individual’s work of passion. And as with any passion, it becomes a love only when it is shared. Unfortunately when new writers start out, they rarely have huge promotion packages or unlimited budgets. They ordinarily must start from “Scratch.” Scratch, can be a very small amount and it still works. My favorite practice, even as a prisoner, is to add a facebook page for an individual book-don’t forget your brand as you put it together. Once the page is online I buy a promotion package through facebook for as little as $100. So if you’re just starting out, stop yourself from spending that first check, no matter how much it is, and invest a little of it in yourself with some promotion.

#6  DO UNTO OTHERS…

NO! Do for others BETTER than you would do for yourself. One thing that I’ve learned over the years is that professional writers depend on how others feel about them. Bottom line is, if writers are stingy with their support and kindness then they can expect nothing different from those around them. As a writer you should always strive to have a positive impact on others. It’s never, too, late to adopt a win-win philosophy. This is simple, if you smile on others they are more likely to smile on you. If you want to galvanize this principle into your character, may I suggest that you take a shot at writing about something that helps others, at least once. And do be personal about it.

#7 KEEP YOUR GOALS IN CLEAR VIEW

 Don’t let anyone talk you out of loving the life of a writer. It may be tough in the beginning-let’s face it, you, like me, are not destined for greatness just because you picked up a pen. But, just like any other art writing is a skill that is acquired by experience and study. And you are already an artist if you practice writing as an imaginative art.

 So love like you have never been hurt. Let us practice as though voices of the negative are silent. Even your worst and earliest writing may one day serve as an example to those who will struggle to express their passions in the future.

# 8 MANAGE YOUR DISTRACTIONS

We’ve all heard about how we should manage our time, our habits, and our money. But how about our distractions? Distractions are probably one of the top ten killers of a writers productivity. Therefore, they must be managed.

Take care of unexpected problems and responsibilities before you sit down to write. Turn the phone off when possible and set some soft instrumental music to play in the background. Don’t get me wrong, things happen. They happen to me too. But I put my problems behind me as quickly as I possibly can. That way, I can get my mind back on my writing.

#9 GOOD WRITERS KEEP A JOURNAL

It doesn’t matter how good you think your memory is, everyone forgets something sooner or later. That goes for all classes of people of all ages, especially writers. That’s why I keep a journal. A journal is most often kept as a recording of the day’s events. A writer’s journal, however, should be a record of a writer’s thoughts.

Anybody in the world can have a great idea, and it happens more often than they think-and I do mean anyone. During a fifteen minute phone call my ten-year-old son, Tommy, he gave me a great idea for a new line of children’s books. It would be a shame for me to forget such a great idea, not to mention a disservice to my son’s future. As you can imagine I keep a journal.

A writer’s journal should be within arms reach first thing in the morning. The idea for one of my upcoming fiction novels, De-Ja Vu, came to me in my sleep. That’s why my journal is the first thing I touch every morning and it stays with me until the day’s writing is finished. If you want to be your best, keep a journal.

#10  BE A POSITIVE INFLUENCE

Writers have more influence on the world around them than any other group of people. It doesn’t matter what’s said, any suggestion that’s to be followed will sooner or later be written. This fact can be realized in every area of life, from religions that are thousands of years old, to acts of Congress, and even trends that are reported in the media. Therefore, writers above all other people have a responsibility to the words they share.

     The words you share are your influence on the world around you. I strongly advise that writers keep their words direct and positive. A good influence will draw people to a positive writer. If you want to be a popular writer be a good influence and share your sunny disposition.

#11 OUTLINE! OUTLINE! OUTLINE!

Yeah that’s right, your junior high school English teacher was right. I learned long ago that my mind tends to wonder. Because of that one inescapable fact I have learned that I must write down directions, instructions, and simple messages. So, how then could I possibly keep my thoughts together long enough to write a book? The trick is I outline. I outline not only my book ideas, but long chapters as well.

     When I write anything of significant length I outline it first. This goes for books, long letters, motions, petitions, and even some chapters. You want to be your best, learn to outline. You’ll be amazed how fast the end of your great idea will sneak up on you.

#12  STAY THE COURSE

Let’s face it, we all write for a reason. Some write to make a living, some write to advocate for others, and some write to change the world. Regardless of which category you fit in, things are not always going to be easy. That’s why it’s important to Stay The Course.  Take the good with the bad and stick with it. My personal motto is, “Just make it happen.” I suggest that you do the same if you want to be a successful writer.

#13  STAYING PRODUCTIVE

Writing is much more than a job, it’s a passion. But just as with any other passion, the desire to write can easily fade. When that happens your productivity can start to suffer. This problem is easily overcome by writing what you like-what you’re excited about-first.

     You would be amazed at how many times I have written chapters out of order, simply because I was more excited about one chapter than I was another. A good example of this is the book I just finished, and sure enough I wrote chapters three through seven before I wrote chapters one and two. By the time I got around to writing chapters one and two (the last chapters I wrote) I was excited about finishing the book. As long as you continue to love what you write, you will never be forced to work a day in your life.

     If you want to stay productive write the parts you’re excited about first. But of course, never forget to follow your outline.

#14  A GOOD SCHEDULE  

It’s easy to find several movies, books, and stories about eccentric writers, and I’m sure there are hundreds of eccentric writers out there. “Eccentric” is defined as deviating from a usual or accepted pattern, and now that I think about it, all the writers I know are eccentric in one way or another.

     Although writers tend to strike a different path, I highly recommend that all writers maintain a good schedule. The popularity of writers can easily be effected by their willingness to keep a good schedule. When writers keep their appointments they build confidence in everyone who is a witness. A failure to keep appointments can sow distrust in those who admire any writer.

     If you can’t keep a particular appointment let everyone know in advance. This goes for blog posts, emails, and returning phone calls, too. When people see they can depend on what you say, they are more inclined to follow your work. If you want to be a successful writer, keep a good schedule.

#15  KEEP A GOOD BACKLIST

This is an important issue even for writers who are just starting out. First, let me explain what a “backlist” is. A backlist is just what it sounds like, another ‘list’. This list however, is different, it’s a collection of what may one day be great ideas that are worth a lot of income, but for now are on the ‘back’ burner.

   In years to come, when most writers are just semi famous, they will be urged to write new material. Rather than spend hours and hours trying to come up with a new idea, well prepared writers will simply pull an idea out of their backlist and start the polishing process. A backlist is similar to keeping a journal, some writers keep a journal only as a backlist.

  I probably have twenty titles in my backlist, and I suggest that you start your backlist today.

#16  FOREVER BE A STUDENT

If I’ve never suggested it before, please allow me to suggest it now–continue to learn about the craft of writing. What’s most important to realize is that the world changes a little bit with every rising sun. Whether it be what the world wants to read or how writers express themselves from day to day, something changes just a little bit every day.

     It’s important for a writer to keep up with the changing of the times. To do that writers must continually advance their understanding of the world around them. It makes no difference whether a writer chooses to take a course at a local community college, hire a private tutor, or simply read the book of a new author; they should do something to expand their  mind on a regular basis.

     I recently read a book of quotes that listed the words of people from Socrates all the way to Bill Clinton. The one quote that got my attention the most went something like this: If at 50, you view the world the same as you did when you were 20, you have wasted 30 years of your life.

     Learn something every day, if you want to succeed as a writer.

#17  WHAT’S IN A NAME?

     As many of you know, I’m engaged in writing several fiction novels that complete the collection that relates to, my first published fiction novel, ‘Under Seal’. And one thing that I have found to be very important, when writing a book series, is to keep a reader’s attention focused from one book to the next.

     I’ve learned, from previous book lines, that reducing the potential for reader confusion is critical. And nothing can cause more confusion that being unable to recognize specific characters from one chapter to the next. My personal practice is to never use similar or identical names for two different characters. Likewise, I don’t use two different names for the same character without a clear introduction of both names.

     When introducing a character I give their proper legal name in the beginning. Then I make a big deal, that the reader can remember, out of the character’s nick name if they have one. I like to believe that I make a good example of this when I introduced ‘James Rhodes’, the main character, as ‘Rhodi’ in ‘Under Seal’.

     For those of you who have trouble thinking up names, like I do, take the initiative to get a book of names. You’ll even find some books that give definitions for, and factoids about, the names a writer can chose from. I use a book of names to make my life a little easier.

     If I’ve never suggested it before, please allow me to suggest it now–continue to learn about the craft of writing. What’s most important to realize is that the world changes a little bit with every rising sun. Whether it be what the world wants to read or how writers express themselves from day to day, something changes just a little bit every day.

     It’s important for a writer to keep up with the changing of the times. To do that writers must continually advance their understanding of the world around them. It makes no difference whether a writer chooses to take a course at a local community college, hire a private tutor, or simply read the book of a new author; they should do something to expand their  mind on a regular basis.

     I recently read a book of quotes that listed the words of people from Socrates all the way to Bill Clinton. The one quote that got my attention the most went something like this: If at 50, you view the world the same as you did when you were 20, you have wasted 30 years of your life.

     Learn something every day, if you want to succeed as a writer.

#18 THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS

     One of the greatest fictions I’ve heard is that, writing fiction is, too, hard. The truth is that fiction is nothing more than a creation of human intellect-a product of our mind. And believe it or not the human mind is busy creating thoughts day and night. What is hard for me, however, is keeping on track and keeping details in order. I keep my thoughts on track by summarizing my chapters.

     Summarizing the chapters is a lot like a little book report, on each chapter. I summarize my new chapters to provide a quick reference to certain critical details. I do this as I write a chapter as opposed to after I’m done. Summarizing helps me save time. I, like everyone else, tend to forget minor details. Thus, when I’m writing chapter 26 and can’t seem to remember a character’s hair color, I described in chapter 3, I can refer to my chapter summaries for that character’s personal details. In addition, keeping good chapter summaries will help you when you start the submission process.   You want to be a more efficient fiction writer summarize your chapters as you go.

– KELLY PATRICK RIGGS –

PenPrisons Foundation

2512 Virginia Ave. NW, #58043
Washington, DC 20037

http://prisonsfoundation.org/

 If you are a prisoner who has written a book, or would like to write a book, we want to publish it. All books on any subject are welcome. There is no charge to you to publish your book and no charge to anyone who wishes to read it. You retain full rights to your book if you later wish to place it with a literary agent or commercial publisher. Placing your book on our website is in fact a good way to bring it to the attention of agents and larger publishers (and protect it under common copyright law). (Even bestselling author Stephen King had to self-publish and give away his first five books, which were eventually picked up and published by commercial publishers after he was “discovered.” ) When we receive your book, it will be scanned in its entirety, just as you submitted it to us…even if it’s hand written.

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Click here for the BOOK SUBMISSIONS GUIDELINE information.

 

They also offer inexpensive Dictionaries (Webster’s) and Thesauruses (Roget’s) – in larger print.

If you purchase either book alone, the cost is  $3.95 + $2.75 shipping.

If you purchase both books together, the cost is $7.90+ $5.50 shipping, plus you will receive a free bonus book.

To purchase, send your full mailing information to:
PRISONS FOUNDATION
2512 Virginia Ave. NW, #58043
Washington, DC 20037

Accepted payment: unused postage stamps, check or money order. The books can also be ordered on the website: www.prisonsfoundation.org

…                                                                             …

SYCWP

SO YOU CAN WRITE PUBLICATIONS

https://sycwp.com/

920-821-3006     home4writers@sycwp.com 

So You Can Write Publications is a publishing company designed to assist writers with their writing works. This company has a reputation built off good faith and character, we believe in making our clients feel at home during the publishing process. It is our greatest duty to provide ongoing services that meet the needs to each writer’s individuality. Helping our community build vision by understanding the talent that’s within. Your dreams are reachable!” (Formerly-Incarcerated-Person Owned)

About the owner, Kendrick Watkins:

“When I was released from prison in 2010 I had a vision and goals: to be free and become successful. Just because I have a prison record doesn’t mean my life is over.  Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and remove the people, places, and things that do not bring encouragement to the new you! I started writing because it brought peace to my world. I was hurting from childhood experiences, but I begin to heal myself mentally and emotionally through my writing. I encourage writers to write because it heals the very soul you must take care of.”

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Strategy for Writing While in Prison

Shared by an incarcerated author

I have often heard people in prison say that they want to write a book.  The number of people who have accomplished this goal still remains relatively small and I believe that this may be because they lack a strategy for effective book writing.  The following is the strategy that I use for writing my books while incarcerated.

  1. Think Big, Write Small Most people look at a book’s length (usually around 300 pages) and think that they could never write that many pages.  But look at it from another perspective: Most people can write one page (about 250 words).  So concentrate on writing one page per day.  At the end of the year you will have 365 pages.

  1. Just Do ItDon’t stop or lose time worrying about grammar, punctuation, etc.  Just write as ideas come.

  2. This is called brainstorming.  After a while you will have enough material to complete a chapter or maybe even the whole book.

  1. Know Thy Subject – Thoroughly research your topic.  When I was writing my urban fiction book (“hood novel”), I did not know much about the “drug game” so I spoke to people who had been extensively involved so I could provide an authentic experience for my readers.  Even if you have extensive knowledge about the subject, research will allow you to learn other perspectives from a wide range of people.  This makes writing easier because those perspectives can be incorporated.

  1. Make the Time – Set aside a specific time or range of time each day to concentrate on writing (whether brainstorming, researching, and/or writing).  I find that having a set schedule keeps me focused and motivated.  Generally, my writing time is in the early morning after I complete my daily workout (running the track helps me come up with ideas).

  1. Read, Read, and Read Some More – The more you read, the better your writing will become.  Read a variety of material (books, magazines, newspapers, etc.) on a wide range of subjects, to increase your vocabulary.  Learn to identify and emulate the writing style of your favorite author(s).  As a side benefit, you can spend many enjoyable hours lost in a good book.

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PROSE & CONS Writing Tips
By Josh Wells, incarcerated poet

1. Always listen for the music in the words — everything, even prose, is, to some degree, poetry. Play with the language. When you use tools like alliteration, assonance, etc., utilizing the affects of long and short vowels, soft and hard consonants and so on, your writing will come to life, and your readers will not only hear but also feel the words. That’s what music in the words does. Put another way, think like a lyricist.

2. Get rid of any and all unneeded “flat” and “filler” words and phrases. Things like “that”, “the”, “as”, “for”, etc., or “so we see”, “whereas”, “because”, and so on, are often nothing more than written “ummm”‘s, things we use during mental pauses. Prepositions and conjunctions are necessary evils, but should be treated as enemies nonetheless. Use as few as possible. If you can use a word or phrase that gives flavor or color, don’t use one that’s flat. If you can say it in two words, unless it’s intentional, don’t say it in three. Always look for fat to cut from your writing. I promise, it won’t change your voice, it will make it stronger and clearer.

3. Edit. Edit. Edit. Rarely is the first write a finished product. Personally, almost never does anyone see or hear my work until at least its second rewrite. One professional poet said, “To write is human, to edit is Divine.” Stephen King, in his book on the craft of writing relayed one of his early mentor’s wise advice: “Write with the door closed (that is, for yourself); rewrite with the door open (that is, for others).” He also advises a writer to “kill your babies”. We all put phrases and lines that we love, that sound beautiful, at least to us, into our writing, and that’s fine. But when it’s for others to read or hear, the phrases, lines and words that get in your message’s way, have personal meaning few others would get, or simply don’t belong, they need to go, painful as the cuts may be. Trust me, your writing will be better for it.

4. Constantly listen for music, writing forms, styles, and genres outside your comfort zones. There are tools you’ll never master if you simply stay in the lanes you’re comfortable in. Don’t like rap or hip-hop? Find the poets of the genre and listen for why their music works. Don’t like folk? Start listening and learning. Stuck on writing freestyle? Try mastering a sonnet, haiku, or some other structured form. Used to writing prose? Try poetry. Uncomfortable with writing fiction? Master it. Folks, you’ll never grow in any area of life if you always insist on comfort.

5. Read. A lot. In lots of genera’s. Old and new alike. Great writers are, and always will be, without exception, great readers.

6. Learned this one from one of the greatest lyricists I’ve ever heard: eavesdrop and intentionally mishear. Yeah, I know it sounds weird, but it works. For example, “You can’t judge a book by its cover”, misheard, becomes, “You can’t judge a look by its cover.” Get it? The mishearing trains the mind to hear things in creative new ways. Which leads to the next tip:

7. Avoid clichés. Truistic as they may be, lines that may have been fresh at one point (long, long ago) fall flat and detract from your point when they become trite and overused. If you must use them, as sometimes you must (they are truisms after all), at least find ways to make them sound fresh. For example, “a pregnant pause”, might become, “a pause waiting for its pregnancy”. Or you might use a cliché in an obviously ironic or tongue-in-cheek way. But generally it’s better to just avoid them altogether.

8. The word “but” is a negating word. It tells your reader that most of what you just wrote is about to be voided. Use that word judiciously.

9. Your best writing will always come from the gut, because it’s the place where the subjects, issues, and topics that matter to you on the deepest level naturally flow out. I had one guy comment that the poetry he laboured and even wept over for weeks never came out as good or as powerfully as what he composed during “10 minute prompts”. My response to him was that the difference was, those pieces he wrote in 10 minutes were things he had laboured and wept over for years. Try this: find a phrase that hits home with you, maybe from a book, a song, or a poem. Sit down with pen and paper and give yourself only 10 – 15 minutes to write. And write whatever comes out. You’ll be amazed at the strength of your work. That place where you’re so busy writing from the heart, you don’t have time to over think the words? It’s the writer’s sweet spot. Don’t worry about getting it right in that first write… That’s what editing is for.

10. Trust your reader. Don’t over-describe. If the picture is that of a tablecloth covered table with a candle on it, and it doesn’t matter how big the candle is, whether or not the table is round, or what kind of tablecloth covers the table, leave that to the reader’s imagination. Show, don’t tell. Don’t tell me she’s sad, let me see the tear in her eye or hear the crack and quaver in her voice. If you tell, I know, if you show, I feel.

11. Finally, remember, there’s no such thing among humanity as perfection. Do the work. Do your best. Write from your heart. Use every tool in the toolbox to make your reader feel your words. Edit until it’s almost painful. Then, after all Tate, let the piece of writing go. Strive toward perfection in your craft, but don’t insist on a perfect final product or you’ll never get anything out for another to read.

I know this is a lot, but I hope it helps. The craft of writing is what I do, what I study, and what I love. My hope is that these tips help others in that craft, be it a poem, an essay, a story, a sales pitch, or a resume. I’m fully convinced everyone has a poet, a storyteller, and a writer in them. Hopefully these hints help draw them out.