Sekou Sundiata on Writing, Poetry, and Music

E. Ethelbert Miller interviews Sundiata on ‘The Writing Life.’

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Seldom Discussed Everyday Activity

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Writing is the representation of language in a textual medium through the use of a set of signs or symbols (known as a writing system). It is distinguished from illustration, such as cave drawing and painting, and non-symbolic preservation of language via non-textual media, such as magnetic tape audio.

Writing most likely began as a consequence of political expansion in ancient cultures, which needed reliable means for transmitting information, maintaining financial accounts, keeping historical records, and similar activities. Around the 4th millennium BC, the complexity of trade and administration in Mesopotamia outgrew human memory, and writing became a more dependable method of recording and presenting transactions in a permanent form. In both Ancient Egypt and Mesoamerica writing may have evolved through calendrics and a political necessity for recording historical and environmental events. The oldest known use of writing in China was in divination in the royal court.

Read more at: Wikipedia

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The Joy of Books

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Jen Adams’ “The Books They Gave Me” is evidence that books can change everything.

“Books preserve our knowledge and accomplishments, and passing a beloved book along to another is a shortcut to emotional and intellectual connection.”
–Jen Adams, Editor of “The Books They Gave Me”

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Why Selling Yourself First Matters

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As an aspiring writer, you’re far from being alone. In fact, you’re really just one voice saying “pick me!” in a chorus of thousands. Not the greatest odds, huh? Still, people turn them in their favor all the time by marketing themselves well enough to entice publishers to their cause.

It’s proof positive that selling yourself first matters. Keep reading and keep the following in mind and you can magnify your voice, too.

1. You don’t have an audience.
Veritable unknowns are a publisher’s worst friend. Their low sales potential makes them a huge risk to undertake, and whenever one shows up with a book in hand and a smile on their face, the publisher’s first instinct favors rejection. You fall into that category, and without an audience of your own (no, your network of family, friends and colleagues won’t fly) you might never overcome its obstacles.

Those who roll up their pants and wade into the deep waters of their target market to sell themselves first, however, have much more luck charming the contract out of a publisher.

2. Your competition is more noticeable than you are.
There are bunches of people out there who are trying to write to the same audience as you are. Some of them are already well-known to their market, too, hosting popular blogs, frequenting key forums and making names for themselves. Oh, and they’re quite possibly pitching their books to the same publishers and agents you’re pursuing.

Now, would you sign the writer who is noticeably present or the one who you’ve never heard of before?
Exactly. By selling yourself first, you will earn the upper hand over your competitors.

3. Your book can only build a certain amount of momentum on its own.
Books aren’t magical money makers. They can only sell so much on the merit of their contents before you have to infuse them with a few extra doses of momentum. Try to do that without a loyal audience and you’ll find yourself falling well short of your goals. Why? Simple. You need people to carry the marketing torch for you and nobody’s going to do that for a total stranger. Loyalty matters so, so much and the best way to earn it by selling yourself early in the writing/publishing process.
In the end, writers will never sell as well as personalities do. Become a personality before you’re published and you’ll be writing yourself as the loveable, supportable protagonist of your story.

Reposted from ‘Books and Buzz.’

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Writer’s Block

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Writer’s block, we’ve all suffered its limitations. Any number of things can cause it. Often, it’s caused by anxiety: feelings of not knowing where to begin, not having a clear scope of the project, or other unknowns that create anxiety. You can develop strategies or techniques to get started on your writing.

Here is a standard formula:
1. State your thesis.
2. Write an outline.
3. Write the first draft.
4. Revise the draft.

A second strategy is to answer several questions about your chosen topic. Let’s say that your topic is study abroad:
1. Why should you write about this topic, and why should anyone read it?
2. Do you want the reader to consider study abroad or do you want to discourage it?
3. Do you want to compare study abroad programs based on quality or cost?
4. Do you want to analyze study abroad programs based on the selected destination and in-country opportunities to learn and experience the culture?

A third strategy is brainstorming:
1. Write down every idea related to your topic that comes to mind, no matter how bad or good it is.
2. Consider the questions that your readers might ask. What would they want to know?
3. Talk to friends and family about your topic. What questions do they raise?

If you find yourself jumping back and forth between these strategies, you are on the right track. Some strategies will work better at different stages of your writing process. Take a break and let your ideas percolate. Summarize what you’ve come up with and then tell it to someone in three to four sentences (this could be your thesis).

Write your first draft knowing that it will need serious revision later, not now. Just write. If you can, put it away for a day or two. Then read it aloud. Figure out what needs to be changed, added, deleted, or expanded.

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