Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Can you trust your source?

Recently, a reader pointed out a mistake I made in one of my articles. Apparently, I mistook a region as being part of South America, when in fact it was part of Central America. I was red in the face after I double-checked this info and, sure enough, I saw right there on the map that it was NOT part of South America.


Nonfiction writers do try to make their work as accurate as possible, and my mistake was in trusting a source to be reliable when, in fact, I should have double-checked what my source said.

For one thing, a source cannot be 100% credible because humans are, by nature, imperfect. We can't ALWAYS be right about something and, sometimes, we make mistakes. Fatigue, distractions, incorrect impressions and ideas, stress and lack of research can all contribute to a source providing incorrect or insufficient data.

For another thing, a source cannot be 100% credible because they may be the wrong source. Maybe they are not really the right source to use or they're not as much of an expert on that subject as they seem to be.

In my case, however, I trusted the wrong source. I used message boards and Yahoo Answers to gather the information I needed for that article. I thought that since the person answering the question actually HAD an answer, it was the right one. I thought, maybe they were speaking from personal experience.

In other words, they were not the right source for my article. I had no way of knowing if they were indeed speaking from personal experience or if they knew their geography enough to give a solid answer.

In light of these facts, I should have double-checked their answers. I shouldn't have assumed they were the right source to use. (You know what they say about when you assume something!) If a source is iffy, I should not use that source. And even then, if they are, I should have gone somewhere more credible to verify the accuracy of what they were saying.

I am currently reading the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. The book contains a section on checking the credibility of a source. The pointers they offer writers are this:

*The material has been reviewed by an editor or editors. The editors themselves have credentials which ensure they are serious editors who scrutinize and evaluate the material being published.

*The material is published by a company or site that has proven itself to be trustworthy. Additionally, it is endorsed or recommended by another reputable agency.

*Experts have backed up what is being said. (Or, in some cases, someone who can personally relate to the topic agrees with what is being said.)

* The source is recognized as someone with credentials to back up their knowledge and information.

*The material has been peer-reviewed.

I will have to be more diligent with the information I collect from sources in the future. This is why I use several sources for the information I need for my articles. Still, I must keep in mind that if there is no way for me to determine if a source is a credible and trustworthy source to use, I should find a better source or double-check the information being offered.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Keeping the door open

When you are about to embark on the path of writing a nonfiction book, there's no telling what you will experience on this journey. It'll be a series of ups and downs, highs and lows, a test of patience and a challenge to your organizational skills.

One thing I have learned in writing nonfiction books is that you can't really close the door to new information. Even when it seems like you don't need anything else for a chapter or a section of the book, it still doesn't hurt to be open to what new information may come up with that topic.

For me, I thought I was all full for the fiction section in the Revisions book. I had plenty of quotes, interviews, book excerpts and short how-to pieces for the end-of-the-chapter material. But after I started to see that there are fiction writers out there who have good information and experiences not covered in the book, material that could still be quite useful, I decided that I'm not going to close the door to that new information. Why not include it? One more quote or idea about revising your fiction won't hurt. Same goes for the rest of the sections of the book: Poetry, nonfiction books, articles, etc.

At first, I was concerned that there was just too much material in the book. Too much stuff in certain chapters. It would create information overload for readers! If not the writers using the book. But I was chatting with an Acq. Editor who is considering the proposal for this book, and she said, "The more, the better." She explained how the excess of good, helpful material would assure the reader that theirs was money well-spent on this book. It made me think of all the info in this book that I'm so anxious to share with other writers. The contributors have provided some excellent, solid advice and suggestions for revising your writing, and I'm so pleased that this will be available to the reading public soon. (This is just one reason why I love to write nonfiction books. I'm getting new, helpful and inspiring material out there to the reading public!)

In a FOB article I submitted to Writer's Digest Magazine, I suggested to writers who have completed and submitted books to keep that door open for new information. Don't close the door to news and ideas on the material you've written about. Besides, if the book gets rejected, you can update your information with this news you have come across. Keep that door open and allow the news and information about your topic to keep coming in.

Martha Jette and I may have finished the haunted houses book, but it's not like we don't stay active in the paranormal community or shut the door to news and ideas about haunted houses. (As it is, I HAVE to stay active in the paranormal community, on account of the OTHER paranormal-themed book I have coming out next year.) And I may have finished the Tips book some time back, but I'm still devouring everything that has to do with writing. I read magazines and newsletters, TRY to participate at AW, and network with other writers.

And, finally, I may have finished a book on deaf parenting, but now I'm adding new material based on new events. I'm reading news items related to deaf parenting and deciding on how that news and recent events should be reflected in my book. (I don't think we writers ever "finish" books!)

My point is, we should keep that door open to new ideas and new information relevant to the topic our books cover. Whether it's a chapter, a sidebar or the entire book itself, I think it's important to "stay in the know" and keep our fingers on that pulse. Who knows? The new information about your topic just may make what you've written stand out even more.

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

And the winner is...

In the last blog post, I asked readers to vote for their favorite pic of me to go on the back cover of my book of love poems.

After allowing readers enough time to view the pics and vote, we have a winning photo! Yay!

The winning photo is........



Thank you to everyone who took the time to vote, on here, Facebook and MySpace. This was the photo my daughter liked best, and even my husband voted for it.

Thank you to my fellow bloggers for voting:

Dallas Franklin
Gifts of Divinity

The semicharmed Kind of Life,,,To be continued

My Sphere of Domesticity

Lillie Ammann
A Writer's Words, An Editor's Eye

Tara McClendon
Eye Feathers

Angie's Desk

You guys rock my world.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Please vote for your favorite pic!

Last night, my sister, Millie, and sis-in-law, Allison, got together to get a photo shoot done for the love poems book. Millie and Als did the hair and make-up, as well as take turns shooting several photos.

It was a great time. We had a lot of laughs (especially after Als started making faces and Millie was playing around with the lamp!) and it was cool trying various poses and throwing around ideas for theme, lighting, clothes, etc.

After the make-up was done, I was stunned with the face I saw in the mirror. That certainly was NOT me! All this time, I have stressed that I'd rather go for a natural look. I talk so much about how I won't wear some "mask" (as in, put on a face that is not mine) or cover up my burn scars with make-up. I am not ashamed to be a burn survivor! All the same, this was a special occasion. I wanted to go for it and get all dolled up for this photo shoot. It was, after all, for my book, and so I decided, why not? Still, I was a little taken aback by how different I looked. I'm just glad I don't usually wear make-up because I prefer the natural look over that stranger staring back at me in the mirror.

So we had a bunch of pictures taken. The theme we were, um, "shooting" for is romance. In the end, we decided on 3 different possibles for the book. I tried to break this tie by letting my daughter decide on the picture to use, but even with her choice, I was still unsure. Then we decided to let the publisher pick which picture to use.

These are the three candidates:

Millie and I liked the first one, Allison and my daughter liked the second one. We all thought the third one was good, too. I'm starting to lean towards the third one. It has a more "romantic" feel to it. (Maybe because of the dim lighting and red??)

I am hoping I can get some votes on which picture would work best in my comments. So please let me know which one you like best!

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