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Monday, October 16, 2017

Reading Out Loud

I am an emcee for one open mic and a "regular" for another open mic, both in York.

I enjoy seeing the talents of many different individuals.

I also know that some of my prose readers get nervous joining the poets, magicians, comedians, and musicians on the stage.

But there is an audience for you, my prose readers.

And reading out loud as a prose author is so very important to author promotion. Even if you don't have a book for sale now, if you are looking at public sharing of your work, you are self-promoting. So here are some pointers to putting best pieces (and self) forward.

#know your time limit.
Do speakers get 2 minutes? 7? 20? Be familiar with the material you intend to share. You don't have to have it memorized, but have the sections selected in advance.

#you don't have to start at page one.
And it's better if you don't. Unless you are going to read the entire book, pick 2-3 compelling sections (depending on time limit) and practice them until you can look up from the page.

#look up
Do not hide behind your prose. Know your piece well enough that you can look up and connect with the listener. People WILL put their phones down and listen to you if you make and keep eye contact with them. The payoff is worth it.

#showcase dialogue
Of course I am going to say this. I prefer dialogue to monologue to descriptions of settings. But the only monologuing that I find people listening to is comedic. If your prose is not comedic, go for the drama.

#be selective
Some things read well and some things are spoken well. While some people could read us the phone book, other people are better off with more dynamic material. When giving a reading, you don't have to read every dialogue tag (especially if you differentiate voices and use dynamics). You don't have to say anything that you can reflect in your tone. While there is a difference between reading a story and telling a story, people would rather be told a story than read to.

#your best is not for everyone
And your best today may not be your best tomorrow. Keep getting out there, keep practicing out loud and keep writing. Sometimes the words you intend to share will miss their mark. But if you quit there, you won't find the words that you need to satisfy your desire to have written in the first place.

There is an exception to every rule, even (if not especially) when I am giving advice.

Join me at the next Open Mic:
  • November 9, 7-9 p.m. – GUSA by Victoria at 252 W Philadelphia St, York, PA (2nd Thursday each month), for walk-in spoken word and music performances
  • November (Saturday TBA), 12-4 p.m. – Rustic Cup Coffee Shop at 50 W. Maple Street, East Prospect, PA, for walk-in comedy, music, spoken word and magic performances, and more
I, Phyl Campbell, am a creative writing instructor and author in my own write (I mean right!) I am  creator and coordinator of the Make-a-Book classes for young authors held at GUSA by Victoria and Rustic Cup. Author of books such as A Muse Meant and I’m Not Writing a Book Today, available on and at i-ron-ic coffee shop (upstairs) in York City, or on Facebook to learn more about my writing – and how you can create a children’s book or chapter book yourself!
you can find me at

Friday, September 29, 2017

Writing, Publishing, Marketing -- Oh My!

How do I get started writing?

You can read this book on my website -- navigate to Phyl's Books/Children's Books/Weird Pie.

I get this question (about getting started) at least once a week, so I decided to make a blog post I can refer people to. Then, if I get ambitious, I might create new blogs that talk about the next steps based on answers to these questions and link them here. Comment on my FB page if there's a specific answer you'd like me to create for you!

Round one:
What are you going to write? Fiction? How To? Memoir? Poetry?

Round two: Do you keep a journal or have you created blog posts on this topic? Are you someone that writes an outline first, or do you write things as you think about them? What's the longest thing you have ever written before? What is your motivation for writing a book (money, sharing history/something to pass down, book is a bucket list thing, urge to write, sheer boredom, example for kids)? Will your family be supportive of your writing? Will you be able to write without their support? Are you a goal-setter? Do you have a time-frame for writing a book? If you're planning to make $1M selling your first book, know that you CAN, but few do this without a major investment of TIME and MONEY -- one professional did an informal study that showed that people making a thousand dollars or more a month in book sales invested $1500.00 per title in marketing, freebies, and other promotions in the book's first three months. And most of them spent six months before that setting up other marketing events and plans before the book was available. (I linked to her Amazon page. When she posted about her study, it was part of a FB group that is no more. But you should be able to learn more from her via her books or blog.) I am not looking to discourage anyone. But like running a marathon, joining a gym, going back to college -- knowing why you are going to do something plays a big part in how to make yourself successful at it.

Round three: Around what central idea are you going to organize the book? Do you have one, two, or three books (or more) in the works? (If you think you have more than one, write or heavily prepare three before launching the first one)
What are your credentials (for non-fiction book)? Who makes up your SUPER-SPECIFIC audience?

Answering these questions should make you excited to write and get your book out there. If this questionnaire makes you more anxious than excited, stick to blogging or writing in your journal for now. You're free to change your mind later, but having material to draw from is always better than thinking about filling 200 blank pages! Ultimately, know that you are perfectly valid in whatever decision you make!!

Happy Writing!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Don’t Eat Ice Packs (and ten other things Darwin doesn’t want me to tell you)

I often smile when I read warning labels. I can't help it. Perhaps I am perverse. I’m really not sure. But in light of some recent events, there are people who could use a smile, and I am nothing if not accommodating. So here is my list of eleven (number 2 counts as two) warnings that Darwin doesn’t want me to tell you. In the comments, feel free to add additional warnings.  And be safe out there!!

  1. Don’t eat ice packs.

  2. Don’t put sunscreen in your eyes to look at the sun. And don’t  look at the sun.

  3. Don’t blow dry your hair during your bath or shower. It really won’t save you time.

  4. Don’t eat toothpaste. Yes, toothpaste and space food both come in tubes. I’m fairly certain the similarities end there.

  5. Don’t eat cleaning products, full stop.

  6. Don’t run with scissors or sharp objects.

  7. Don’t leave an open flame unattended.

  8. Don’t drink hot coffee or sip hot soup until it has cooled enough not to burn your mouth.

  9. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet (or anywhere).

10. For the love of all things Darwin, don’t share this post with someone who actually needs this advice! 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Action is not the same thing as Plot

As someone who teaches writing, I see a lot of things. One recently is that the young people I work with try to add things that happen without those things adding to the plot. The result of this is somewhat comedic -- how much STUFF can a character go through in a day?

Plot should be action. You probably don't want characters who just sit around talking. You want them to get up and kick ass -- at least every once in a while. But that action needs a focus point. While there are things (like weather-related disasters) that happen for no good reason, the plot should center around the question: "What does this character WANT?" and then describe the path and the obstacles to get that character to that place -- or help the character deal with NOT reaching that goal.

Authors CAN beat the crap out of their characters. Life does this, too. Some of the most dramatic stories involve wondering how much more a person can take. But the story is not the events. The story is how the person dealt with the challenges.

A character's drive doesn't have to be flashy, either. Fault in Our Stars and Perks of Being a Wallflower were both incredibly well conceived stories about people not looking to be much more than ordinary. A character does not have to be a superhero to be a hero.

Elementary school students have led me on perfectly ordinary adventures about nighttime rituals involving getting that last drink of water before bed. Middle school students have led me on bizarre quests in search of the perfect golden Ticonderoga. School and home plots have plenty tension and drive without murder and mayhem of the macabre caliber.

So plot with purpose (I'm certain someone has trademarked that, I mean no infringement). Focus on what drives your character to get up in the morning and stumble through the day. Or why your character is so overwhelmed that the bed is a sanctuary. You can do a lot with plot, and actions do drive that plot home. But actions for the sake of filling pages will cause your reader to be confused, put down YOUR book, and reach for something else.

Phyl Campbell is the author of I'm Not Writing a Book Today, the so-called procrastination guide for writers and other dreamers, and a number of other books in various genres (available on Amazon). Books she has published for young authors can be found on her website. They are also available on Amazon under their own authors and titles. Campbell lives and teaches in York County, PA.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Find Your Voice to Fight Discrimination

Last month, two of my young friends were stopped and searched for "shopping while black." And that's not OK. Even worse, the store employee knew my friends' mother, who is a rising star in our community. So how many other people, especially young people, have been trying to enjoy their summers only to be accosted in this way? Maybe not by this employee. Maybe not at this store. But in esteem-damaging, unjust, and just awful ways, all the same.

As a parent, as a teacher, as an adult, as a white person -- I want to fix things. And that isn't always practical. I can't always be where my young friends are. And sometimes adults try to fix things for young people when they should (we should) be helping young people fix problems for themselves. Even if it isn't the way we (adults) would do it.

As a writing coach for young people, I (like to think I) understand that better than most. And after talking to my friends' mom, realized how I thought I could help.

Find Your Voice (to fight discrimination) is a twice-monthly workshop where young people age 12-20 can gather in a safe space and talk and write about their feelings and reactions to discrimination they have experienced. Racial discrimination sparked this, but all forms of discrimination may be addressed by young people who need a safe space to do so. I can never know what it means to be black or brown, but I still experience discrimination as a woman and as a fat person. We have an administration that has come out strongly against anyone with a minority label - color, nationality, gender, orientation. It isn't right, and we need to resist it. I also remember being watched more carefully as a teen -- people didn't trust me because I wasn't an adult. It wasn't right, and it wasn't fair. Now I can help others work to change it.

I'm going to sponsor the group and help in any way I can, but students are going to be in charge and tell me what they need instead of the other way around. If they want to learn how to write OpEds for the paper, I will help them from the writing to figuring out how to submit to an editor. If they want to be on TV or the radio, I will help them navigate that process. If they want to start a literary magazine at their school, I will help them do that. And if all they want is a safe space to talk and write, I will respect that, too.

Find Your Voice will be held the FIRST and FOURTH Thursdays of the month at GUSA by Victoria in downtown York, WECO district (252 W Philadelphia Street), starting August 24th. In addition, FYV members (as well as the general public) are invited to open mic 2nd Thursdays, also at GUSA, emceed by yours truly!

Phyl Campbell is the author of I'm Not Writing a Book Today, the so-called procrastination guide for writers and other dreamers, and a number of other books in various genres (available on Amazon). Books she has published for young authors can be found on her website. They are also available on Amazon under their own authors and titles. Campbell lives and teaches in York County, PA.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Publishing Pathways

In a FB group where I am a member, lots of questions get asked about whether to self-publish, spend time on an agent, obtain an MFA, or what is the best Return on Investment for a writer with stories to share.

I speak a lot about the importance of privilege and various meanings of success in any career or lifestyle. And when I wrote a reply to one person in particular, I knew I had a blog post I wanted to share with MY audience.

So here it goes:

Privilege is definitely an issue, and a lot depends on how much you can bring to the table. If you can get the funding for an MFA -- and there are some scholarships and awards for older women, POC, single-parent (if that applies to your situation). I don't know if enough of them can be stacked to get your MFA for free or at an affordable rate, but an MFA might be cheaper than the full price of a number of writer conferences. And if you approach the MFA like an extended conference -- getting the work done, but really using the time back in school to network, network, network -- you might be able to create the platform(s) and do the other things that will help you publish successfully, whether through the University Press, with an agent-in-training, or some other connection any professor you have might be willing to help you establish.

These are the reasons to do the MFA. I still haven't done it. I went the self-pub on a SHOESTRING route.

Unlike other self pubs who pay (who afford) editors, publicists, cover artists, formatters, and Lightning Source ISBNs, I belong to a few writing groups and have some BETA readers. I use free ISBNs and modify Create Space templates. I don't market the way I should or the way I hope I would if my bills depended on it. I'm a teacher by trade and used my published works as a portfolio to show I know what I'm doing and can teach others through camps and workshops. Nearly all my students outsell me.

Other writers self-pub and make more money. Many spend more money to publish. If they have the money to spend, and they are happy with the result, more power to them.

If you are able to market your own books, if you have friends and family who sell 31 and jamberry nails and all those other products, then you might find it in your best interest to publish for yourself, market yourself, or partner with someone who sells their widgets well.

In this business, like any other, it takes money to make money, so to make money, you will have to be making an investment of some kind beyond writing the manuscript. Then you have to decide what your budget (time, effort, money) is and what you can afford, what ROI you want and the path you are going to take to get there.

I can't tell you what to do, but I can hope that you find all the success you seek. What does success mean to you? What advice would you give someone in your field?

Phyl Campbell is the author of I'm Not Writing a Book Today, the so-called procrastination guide for writers and other dreamers. Her books are available on Amazon. She lives and teaches in York County, PA.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

NYC, NY and Lessons on Life

Sunday my family and I went to NYC, NY to meet some friends.

Like a lot of best made plans, the HOPE was that we would meet them, and for more than five minutes between subways. Unlike many of those plans, we actually DID manage to meet and even share a meal together.

Before we met our friends, my family toured NYC via ferry. If you want to see a lot of the city while ignoring people, do it by boat. I liked our tour guide, but wished I could have turned down his volume. And I definitely felt like the video and the audio did not match, because I could never see the things he was pointing out to us (except for the bridges).

The big deal for me on this ferry tour was seeing the Brooklyn Bridge, which for nearly twenty years had been my symbol of all things big city and fashion over function. Things I was over. Things I was not. And even though I saw it from behind the windows of a ferry, and maybe it would have felt different if I had been walking across it, I don't know, but it was right there and I still wasn't impressed.

The piece I wrote about it as an undergrad,  Lecture Notes: the Brooklyn Bridge is not something I have published or that has been widely read, even among my peers and BETA readers. Despite that, it is the essay that has meant the most to me, defined me, and been my mission statement (of sorts) over all this time. A little over a year ago, when my husband's job opportunities might have landed him in the five boroughs instead of Athens, Georgia, I had a massive panic attack. In Pennsylvania, three short hours from NYC, I have not recovered. There are too many things from Lecture Notes that I don't feel I have lived up to. And I hate disappointing anyone.

So I was having this experience that was not easy for me to explain or understand. The lack of awe-struck experience with an old bridge was almost as breath-stealing as a profound experience might have been. I can't help but think of the bridge architect as someone who built a casino for you-know-who and thought he was going to get paid without being screwed. He knew better. I might have warned him, had I known him. But he thought his outcome would be different.

What would move me, on the other hand, would be stories of all the workers who died because their literal choices were between working to death or starving to death. Still I wonder why they collectively could not have picked up the blasted architect and tossed him over his damn bridge. People would get to that point. Labor unions and better working conditions and women's suffrage -- all hard fought battles people lived and died to obtain. And I sit in the AC -- breathless, helpless -- thinking about how far we have and have not been able to come.

I had always believed that a college degree would assure my comfortable life. I don't know why. My parents both had college degrees and were both overworked, underpaid individuals. Their lack of financial success in no small way provided the complete funding of my undergraduate degree. So to look from my parent's experience to that of my college professors who gave the class from which Lecture Notes was born, I just figured it had to be something my parents did wrong. How could a student who wasn't even 20 recognize the boatloads of privilege that separated her professors from her parents? I would learn a lot that year about privilege. Nothing compared to what I know now, which will be nothing compared to what I will know in the next five, ten, or twenty years down the road.

Since I left Arkansas, I have really been thinking about privilege. How one side has used it. How one side can't group together to overcome it. How easy it is to get stuck in one place, unsure whether that place is a safe landing or merely a ledge gripped with sweaty fingers.

New York has many things going for it. Tons of tourism opportunities. Lots of museums. Plenty of offices and skyscrapers. But for my money, I want to do one of two things upon my return. One, I have more friends in Brooklyn and Queens. They know the lay of the land and I would learn a lot from them about their experiences as city dwellers. Two, I would just hop from taxi to taxi, going wherever the drivers took me, learning their histories and making sure they got their daily quota of fares.

Where have your travels taken you? Or where has lack of privilege prevented you from visiting?