Josh j Smith

High School Musical
October 3, 2008, 1:41 pm
Filed under: art

Will anyone else admit to watching the movie High School Musical (the first one)?  

Will anyone else admit to liking it?  

My high school experience was nothing like that of Troy’s, but watching the movie definitely forced me to reminisce about my high school years.  

Like most musicals, it was a social commentary exaggerated for our entertainment purposes.  For the most part the musical was bubbly and happy.  I admit was a bit giddy after watching it, which made it difficult to fall asleep.  

I like how they emphasized the characteristic of people breaking the boundaries of their stereotype.  The jock was a singer or baker.  The skater was a classical musician.  The geek loved hip-hop dancing.  

On a more subtle level, I did not like how the movie encouraged over commitment.  I call it failure to choose.  Disney subtly communicated that we can have it all, that a busy, overworked lifestyle is good.  Deep down I think we are all afraid to say yes because that means we are saying NO to something else.


writing for beginners | Post 5 | Getting Published
December 13, 2007, 8:05 pm
Filed under: art | Tags: , , ,

GETTING YOUR BOOK PUBLISHED for dummies.  Honestly I underestimated this book.  A friend who has been helping me through my journey in writing suggested that I get one of these books.  My reflections will include the format of the book, and a brief summary sprinkled with personal thoughts.


The format of this book is genius.  There are little icons for tips, warnings, nuggets of wisdom, points to remember, and for possible points of danger.  And they have designated areas that highlight and list important information.  They are not joking when they say it is for dummies – a grade school student could read this and comprehend it.  The book is by no means short.  It is a wide book, and all the pages are filled with information.  Therefore, the format makes this intimidating book approachable.  My advice, wherever you are in the writing industry the fifteen dollars for this book will probably be worth it.


There are a total of seven sections that move chronologically through the writing process starting with the idea and working all the way up to signing the deal with the publishers.  They cover a wide range of options.  For example, some of them are if you want to write fiction or non-fiction, whether you use an agent or not, or if you use a publishing company or self-published. 


For the summary, I will explain summarize the progression and go into further detail for specific parts when necessary.  Part one is the idea process.  I thought this section was extremely valuable as a first time writer because it inspires me to be or not to be a writer, nothing in between.  At this point I wrestle whether I have the qualifications or the experience.  The book describes how to make writing my profession.  Also, as I think of ideas I have to ask, “What can you offer readers that is worth their hard-earned $15 or $25?”  (Zackheim 2000, p, 21). 


Part two brings is finding and meeting the publisher.  Here the book helps us understand the difference between a book idea and an article idea, a good seller and a bad seller. 


Part three is a short section that walks us through the process of creating book proposals and query letters.  I was able to learn how to have a corner in the market through book proposals.  The next step, part four, gives strategic methods for getting my book proposal in the presence of someone who cares.  Here they explain the difference between working with agents and using myself as an agent, and types of publishers.  They are very generous by including detailed information of several publishers.  I learned in college from the way professors would talk about certain books that publishers are not objective.  Just like anything, publishers have a personality.  Depending on what you write about and what audience you are targeting will influence the publisher you seek and which publishers will be interested.  


Sign on the dotted line – part five, the offer, negotiation, and contract.  After this you are home free.  Part six and seven explain production, distribution, and sales.  Essentially this is the retail, but with a publishing/book twist to it.  Part seven was a section that seemed like they tacked on to give more tips and warnings.  It is a place for all the stuff that did not fit chronologically. 


As I said, the book is great.  It is well designed, easy to follow the progression, and highly informational.  I also appreciate the format to make it easier to use as reference.  So it can either be used as a guidebook to walk through each process of getting published.  Or, it can be reference book to provide helpful solutions for troubleshooting and preparation. 


I hope that my summary and thoughts provided some helpful or interesting information you have not known before. 

writing for beginners | Post 4 | Resources
December 8, 2007, 7:33 pm
Filed under: art | Tags: , , , ,

Christian Writers’ Market Guide is a beneficial resource for all writers.  It seems as if Stuart compiled writing resources and information in this reference guide for all writers, but included Christian information because other sources probably exclude it.  However bias or non-bias, it has proven itself as a useful resource. 

Since it is a 600 page reference guide, I did not read every page and give you what I think are the best resources.  I skimmed a couple sections and published what I thought was useful for where I am as a writer and what would be useful for bloggers. 

Enjoy surfing the internet today or whenever, there are several cool things to check out.


  1. The Authors Den – this site is loaded with writers – authors, bloggers, poets, story tellers – and lots of information on events.  The events page is filled with every kind of event – tv shows, free ebooks, deals, seminars – that are beneficial to anyone, but particularly writers. 
  2. Backspace – this site has everything the Authors Den has, but with a valuable addition – forums.  There are numerous forums that help connect writer through weaknesses and strengths.  Have a question?  Ask the experts. 
  3. Christian Writers Group – This member based group allows you to choose to be an obsessive member or subtle member through Yahoo Groups.  I did not join, so I am not sure of all the benefits, but it might be worth looking into for Christian Writers.  Christian writing, I assume, is a different machine than all other writing. 



  1. The Chicago Manual of Style – this seems to be a great resource for anyone who works with words.  They provide an extensive index that provides information on manuscript preparation, grammar, punctuation, proofs, etc. 
  2. Elements of Style – by William Shrunk Jr.  an online book available for us to reference and learn from. 



  1. Read Print – if you are the type to read books online – this site offers free books by various authors.  Also, they provide a coupons page beneficial for anyone, even non-writers. 
  2. Fetch Book – this site is very practical for finding the best price for all your books.  Just type in Title, Author, or ISBN, select the book and click on Compare Prices. 
  3. Writers Write – there are several links that help the writer with resources, contests, coupons, blogging, marketing, graphic design, etc.  It seems if you wanted to publish a book you could do it through this site alone. 


Writing for Beginners

  1. Once Written – this site has an indie feel by providing content and opportunities for independent writers to emerge.  Take advantage of this site if you are want to move from beginner to intermediate, to professional. 
  2. First Writer – a similar site that might lead you down another path you prefer. 
  3. PWC Writers – I went to this webpage and opened the “Procrastination or Preparation.”  this excerpt made me feel at home as a procrastinator.  I am sure the other excerpts speak truth for the lies we conjure. 



  1. Google Tools – need a definition type “define:word” no spaces and the google defines the word for you.  Also, check out translation tools for different languages. 
  2. Oxymoron List – “Largest List of Oxymorons Ever Collected Online!” Some of them are very comical. 
  3. Slang – a slang translator. 
  4. The Verb – “An Active Guide to Better Writing.”  This article is worth subscribing to and reading what writers are doing and learning. 


Search Engines

  1. Google Print – What doesn’t Google do?  Now we can Google books. 
  2. Google Tips – there is more to Google than what meets the eye.  Check out this site and learn the Google way of life. 
  3. Google Blog – search blogs through Google.  I was so happy when I typed the title of my blog and it came up on the first page. 



  1. Personalized Google – customize your own search engine for your webpage visitors.
  2. Wilson Web – learn how to promote your site.  
  3. Workz – website maintenance tips.  

writing for beginners | Post 3 | Conversation with an Author
December 2, 2007, 10:38 pm
Filed under: art | Tags: , , ,

Being a writer has never crossed my mind, even writing as a hobby.  I blogged because it was cool, not because I thought I could write.  In fact in college I almost failed my basic English courses because I was unable to meet teachers’ expectations of an average writer.  I wrote paper after paper and failed each time.  I passed the class because I met Laura– a really smart junior who nurtured me to average writing.  I passed.  The sequel to that class I passed as well, but the experience was not as redemptive.  I suffered through the whole class.  But it was more because the professor was not inspiring and did not like me. 

Five years later I am sitting on a porch with an author eating exotic fruit – I later discovered that it was at my local grocer.  We chitchatted about writing and our lives for a few hours.  We talked about knowing whether I am writer, audience, and agents.

My first question for him was, “How do I know if I am a writer?”  To be honest I expected a simple answer like, “Your only a writer as much as you want to be a writer.”  I underestimated him.  He taught me a system to figure out what type of person I am.  This test gave me the letter combination that unlocked my dreams of publishing a book.  He said these type of people make great writers.  Then he went on to drop names of his friends who were authors of books I read that had the same combination. 

Next he drew a simple chart that demonstrated the variety of audience.  The extremes were slackers and pioneers.  Right in the middle is the largest group of people because they are common people.  I call this the moneymaking audience.  If you want to write to make money, write a New York Times Best Seller for the common person and you will make a lot of money.  But if you want to bring change and clear trails for the rest to follow – write a book for the pioneer, and don’t expect the big bucks. 

While we are talking about money, he advised me to get an agent.  The means is for money; the end is marketing, which is the popularity of the message being written.  For example, he explained, if you walk into a publisher with a partial draft and they like what they see, they will work with you to publish it for $10,000, which is only ten thousand copies sold in the first year.  That amount of money, he told me, is no risk for average publisher.  Therefore, they are not taking a risk on me as a writer.  In other words they are not investing in me as a writer, in marketing the book, in marketing my name as a first time author.  But an agent is able to fight for a bigger investment.  A bigger investment from the publisher means the harder they work to get return on their investment. 

Finally we edited my paper.  He warned me that he was going to make a lot of marks.  I sat there with him as he explained his marks. I left critiqued, overwhelmed with how much work there was to do, yet never felt a deeper desire to write. 

Being able to work with a known author on a measly assignment I wrote for school was very exciting and redefined the craft of writing for me.  For the writer the word processor is the canvas where words, sentences, and paragraphs are shaped to compose a work of art.  Editing is drawing.  Deleting is painting.  Words are the sculpting clay. 

As the sun settled the mosquitoes emerged and our conversation was interrupted with redundant smacking from trying to annihilate the pesky bugs.  So, we moved inside to conclude our time together and talk about my follow-up from we talked about.  I left his house comparing my English teachers who are not published, and my time with an author.  He was able to tap the desire to write out of who I am, rather than making me think I need to become something in order to be a writer.  That is why it was not merely a conversation with an author, but with a friend who saw the good.  Yes, he had to look hard to find it, but it was there and he erased doubt that polluted any hope of being a writer.   

writing for beginners | Post 2 | On Writing Well Reflections
November 25, 2007, 8:26 pm
Filed under: art | Tags: , ,

On Writing Well is a great book for those of us who need the words to find the words to write words.  Honestly, I approached this book with very low expectations and perhaps that explains my appreciation for it – how good can a book on writing actually be?  I’m convinced Zinsser is a good writer because he published a book on writing.  But he does not merely give strategy and tips, but inspires and challenges our framework for what writing actually is. 


Zinsser teaches literary art and has us wrestle with language.  Literary art is not to use language to communicate.  Art is to use language for story.  For fiction it is another world beyond this one.  Non-fiction is the world we live – a true story.  As writers we have the ability to mold words and sentences into images, emotions, experiences, and action.  A good writer does not merely entertain, but is able to link the story written with the reader’s story being lived. 


The task of becoming a good writer is not simply accomplished by reading my reflections, or reading Zinsser.  But understanding the ideas expressed in this book get the aspiring writer to perform the task.  Three themes from Zinsser can help us with the task of writing for art – clutter, momentum, and voice.  


We are not writers because we have a lot to say, but because we can say it with less.  “Clutter is the disease of American writing” (Zinsser 2001, p, 7).  Zinsser communicates this theme by encouraging us to edit frequently, to master the English language, and to cut out unnecessary word usage.  There is a myth that long is good.  Very few teachers challenge students to communicate complex ideas with little and less words.  In the beginning, teachers create writing to be a sluggish, cumbersome monster that causes more evil than good.  This is where Zinsser completes his task.  He deconstructs writing systems only to reconstruct.  He does not deconstruct only to leave us to be overtaken by our own monsters that we reconstruct from his demolition pile.  


There is a chapter that is worth buying the book and reading it on its own.  It is a chapter that needs to be read repeatedly.  It is a chapter that needs to be meditated on.  Chapter 10, titled “Bits and Pieces” has numerous tips that involve parts of speech, punctuation, and the act of writing.  This chapter is filled with useful sound bites that are loaded enough to teach a course.  Some of the sound bites are:

       “Most adverbs are unnecessary” (Zinsser 2001, p, 69).

       “Most adjectives are also unnecessary” (Zinsser 2001, p, 70). 

       “Prune out the small words that qualify how you feel and how you think and what you saw: ‘a bit,’ ‘a little,’ ‘sort of,’ kind of…”  (Zinsser 2001, p, 71).  It shows that we are afraid to commit.  I am not somewhat of a writer.  I am a writer.  Or, I am not a writer. 

       “Many of us are taught that no sentence should begin with ‘but.’  If that is what you learned, unlearn it – there’s no stronger word at the start” (Zinsser 2001, p, 74). 

       “Surprisingly often a difficult problem in a sentence can be solved by simply getting rid of it” (Zinsser 2001, p, 80).

       “Rewriting is the essence of writing well: it’s where the game is won or lost” (Zinsser 2001, p, 84).

Clutter is obviously a soapbox for Zinsser.  But it is a soapbox that is worth the time and appreciation.   


It is valuable to know that clutter, momentum, and voice are here communicated as separate themes, but they are co-dependent for their execution.  Clutter ruins any possibility for momentum and communicating with a clear voice.  Likewise, momentum cannot co-exist with clutter, and the reader is sure to be confused trying to listen to the ebb and flow of any writing.  


Therefore, there is not much to say about momentum that is separate from clutter.  Zinsser said, “Make sure every component is your memoir is doing useful work.  Write about yourself, by all means, with confidence and pleasure.  But see that all the details – people, places, events, anecdotes, ideas, emotions – are moving your story steadily along” (Zinsser 2001, p, 135).  This is true with all writing.  Unnecessary information only adds to the deadening of our voice. 


I remember the scene in Finding Forester when Sean Connery (Forester) has his protégé copy something that he has already written.  I remember when I was learning to teach I would listen to other teachers and try to copy their style.  Some critiqued and said that I sounded like Rob or Jason.  But soon I discovered my own voice through copying others.  “Imitation is part of the creative process for anyone learning an art or a craft” (Zinsser 2001, p, 238).  So let’s imitate the best that we can.  Copy excerpts of our favorite writers for practice (not publication) and soon our voice will emerge.  It is like the daughter imitating her mother’s cooking.  Time brings experience and liberates her to add and delete elements to give it her personal touch. 


My reflections on clutter, momentum, and voice cannot take us where we want to go with writing; neither can Zinsser.  But the advice from this post and even more the wisdom of Zinsser can help us in the task of writing.  Art does not just happen; it emerges from messy and embarrassing mistakes.  And the key is becoming embarrassed because if we are not embarrassed than we have not realized that our writing can be better.  Zinsser takes us to that place of embarrassment and gives us the map to find our way out.    

writing for beginners | Post 1 | Preface
November 21, 2007, 5:55 pm
Filed under: art | Tags: , , ,

I am a beginner.  I have only published an article in a church newsletter and posts on my blog.  My writing has never graced the presence of an editor.  I am an average person who is starting this journey in learning the art and business of writing.  Therefore, I write on writing from a non-expert point of view with an amateur style that will hopefully progress. 

What to expect from this series of posts


       Reflections for On Writing Well by William Zinsser

       Reflections for Getting Your Book Published for Dummies

       Resources found from Sally Stuart’s Christian Writers’ Market Guide

       Conversations with an author – journal

       2-4 posts on a particular subject that will serve as a draft for an article to get published where your thoughts, critique, and opinions will help me get published.  

I look forward to your comments.