Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Buddies, Challenges, and NANOWRIMO

Challenges and friends to write with are important when you're writing with a day job.

Humans seem to be, by nature, competitive beings. We are not truly happy unless we have goals and someone we can share them with. Minion and Maverick are among my writing buddies. We rail together, cheer together, laugh together and cry together. We work out small challenges for one another in order to keep us all going. This helps in a normal week to keep focused and keep on track with writing, especially with so many other things going on that otherwise might be put first. For some people, these writing buddies are a loose conglomerations of friends, like ours, but can be as organized as attending a full writing group weekly or monthly. It really depends on what works best for you.

NANOWRIMO is a whole other level of challenge from a the one presented by friends. It ups the ante. As Minion has said, it offers a freedom to be limitlessly creative and a challenge to do a high volume in only one month. While it's difficult for the first time NANOer and it never becomes a complete breeze, it gives you a reason for -- as they put it on their website -- “literary abandon” that normally you wouldn't dare try. Actually, I find it opens eyes to what's honestly possible for you to do creatively, even if you have your day job.

If you don't already have a group of writing friends to work with, ask around. Find a couple of people you trust and whom you work well with. Set challenges and goals for each other. I'd say that the following are the only real rules you need:

- Keep in mind some people work well with structure, some don't. Work with your friends to find a happy medium and create something that keeps you working creatively.

- Keep it simple. Different people have different restrictions on their time. Some people can't afford to spend much time during the work week, some can't afford to give up the weekend. Remember that if you make a challenge to difficult, no one wins and no one enjoys the game.

- Keep it fun. This is supposed to be something you all enjoy.

Until next time!

-The Odd Angle (20096 and counting)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

NaNo Stole my Life Week Two...

I am an unstoppable writing force.

Or so I have been chanting for the past week. I've been knee deep in the most dreadful, obsessive, and haunting story I've ever worked on. What started off as a paranormal lark had me in tears (mostly from exhaustion) earlier this evening when I came across a revelation about one of my characters and a necessary plot point.

I am not sure why I have become so addicted to NaNo this year. Last year I fell behind within the first week. This year I am well ahead of my targets and generally continue writing for the thrill of the word count. Everything I'm writing feels rushed and feverish and I know that in a month I will scratch my head in frustration at my sloppy writing and incomprehensible plot.

So, why am I foraging on? Why not just keep a more humane pace and produce a better quality of writing?

A very good question. The only answer I've come up with is that NaNo has created for me an urgency that I normally lack in my average writing life. Most of the time I aim to complete between 2500-3000 words a week. I have been writing about that much every day since NaNo kicked off. I have been befuddled with my own progress. I think NaNo has reminded me that it is possible for me to write an incredible amount in a short time. It has rekindled in me a passion that I haven't felt for writing in well over three years.

I think that's the secret to NaNo. NaNo reminds us (much like a recent election campaign slogan) that “yes we can”. Anyone can write a novel (I didn't say anything about the quality of the novel in question). All you need is staying power, a good (or bad) idea, and the time to devote to your novel. NaNo asks for one month, a mere thirty days, to be dedicated solely to indulging in your literary asperations. If you follow the timeline and writing guidelines you soon realize that you have a million hidden moments in your day that you can reclaim and turn into productive writing sessions. I find myself brainstorming on the train, plotting as walk down to the corner shop to get my lunch, and creating scenes as I wash my dishes. My creativity has been at an all time high this month, I think this is because I've been forcing myself to be receptive to all the ideas that have passed through my brain. While I am sure that one I had about jump roping unicorns will probably not see the light of day, the rest of my ideas are all jotted down in my notebook for a future day/plot/story. Ready for when NaNo ends and I have to return to a much more reasonable pace and may not be as receptive to my own creativity.

So, if I appear a little distracted or unfocussed this week I ask you to bear with me. Next week I will write about something non-NaNo related. I've already got a title for you: When to Go: A Minion's Tale. So bear with me for this week.

Yours Minion (21579 and counting)

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Novel is Like a Marriage

Writing a novel is like falling in love. First, you have an idea of a story--like you have an idea of a person you see from far away. It's love at first sight. You imagine those heady scenes in your mind--the stand-out scenes, the scenes where you and the person in question have an amazing romantic life together.

Then you set down the first few paragraphs. So far, so good. But after a while you realize this story isn't what you thought it was. It does things to disappoint you. It doesn't live up to all those expectations. Like someone you've been dating for a while, the rosy romantic glow wears off. Sometimes it's all you can do to drag yourself to the computer. Sometimes you just don't want to deal with him.

It happens around page 100 for me--and maybe around the first year of a relationship--when the romantic glow wears off. Sometimes, you realize your story (or relationship) just isn't what you dreamed it would be, and you move on. Other times you try to stick it out. You try new things. You spice up your sex life. You start writing in coffee shops, wrapped in American flags, just to feel different. You take your characters in whole new directions. You never know; it could work.

Once I walked into a room with a woman who read tarot cards for a living. She told me later she took one look at me and said, "she's not the marrying kind." I asked her what she meant and she said, "You're just too independent, honey. You'll never settle down." Maybe I'm not the kind of girl who finishes a book, either. To be honest, that keeps me up at night more than the other. Maybe I'm too flighty to settle down with just one book idea. Maybe, as with my relationships, I just can't handle being disappointed. I hate it when my brilliant idea comes down off the pedestal.

I've never married, and I've never finished a book. My aim is to do the latter this month, with a book I've been working on for a while. We haven't sealed the deal yet, despite repeated promises to myself and others that THIS one was the one. The one I'd finish. But I've stuck with it and I think maybe, just maybe, it really could be the book I've waited my whole life for--the one with an end in sight.

Maybe I'm the kind of girl who finishes a book after all.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

My Best Friend, My Writing Journal

The writing journal concept has been done by both Minion and Maverick before. But, for anyone with a day job, they're vital.

You never know when a thought or an idea might strike, which makes this an important tool for writers with day jobs. I'm rarely without mine, because trust me, you tell yourself you're going to remember that brilliant bit of dialogue that pops into your head while calculating expenditures or that idea to research strong female figures in Spanish folklore while you're in line at the bank. But you won't. It's gone like so much ephemera.

I wasn't much for journaling until college. I'll admit it. I was one of those kids that attempted to write diaries, but was never really successful. They, like my travel journal, were things I lost interest after a few daily entries before forgetting it altogether, and only picked up again after I found it moldering in some pile. But then, my life was certainly not as interesting as the stories I had in my head, and those I went about writing out other ways, but certainly not in a diary.

The professor who insisted on the journal as part of the class told us that once we were out in the "real world," we would "never have time to write the way you do now."

I didn't believe her until I was in the "real world" and a journal was a far easier way for me to keep hold of all those notes and ideas than endless pocketfuls of Post-it notes. Or, forbid, straight out remembering the idea. Not that there aren't loose pages and Post-it notes tucked into my current journal, but it gives me a place to put all that... well, stuff.

I write over lunchtime, on the side during meetings, or when a thought strikes throughout the day, my best friend, the journal, is there to help collect it all.

If you don't believe me, I want you to give it a shot. One month. It doesn't have to be fancy. Small is good, something purse or pocket sized, but don't rule out a good old-fashioned composition book. Take it with you everywhere. Whenever you get an idea, instead of reaching for a napkin or a sticky note, grab your book. At least once a day, put something in it. Something creative. A list of character names. A plot idea. Keep it close and when you have an errant thought, get it down.

You'll find, just as I did, how invaluable that small book can be.

And if you're using it this month, for NANO, watch how much higher your word counts are with it than without. Without it, I'd never be able to work on NANOWRIMO successfully or participate in writing challenges with Minion and Maverick. But more on this next time.

Next time: Secrets to Staying With It: Buddies, Challenges, and NANOWRIMO

Monday, November 3, 2008

NaNo and Common Sense (mutually exclusive?)

Its the first week of NaNo, and unlike last year I own a computer. Which means that I am taking this writing experiment very seriously. Perhaps too seriously. This weekend I managed to write an overwhelming 5033 words in two days. This has been my reach goal for a full week period-- so to actually achieve it in two days is incredible. Its taught me that it is possible to actually achieve the word goals that NaNo has set out. Its also taught me why I don't write 2500 a day.

See, I have a full time job, a social life, and a patient husband who are all clamouring for my attention. Over the past few months I've been learning to put my writing first, which has been a very slow and arduous lesson. Firstly, because I had to convince myself that my writing was worth my time (and believe me, many days my writing is rough, raw, and full of craptitidue-- yes, I am now making up my own words). It took a few months, some very determined writing buddies, a supportive husband, but finally I started to put my writing in perspective. Now, I have a modest weekly writing goal, 192 pages of a novel, and a good healthy attitude towards my writing (even if I do still believe almost all of it is rubbish!). Which has made all the difference between an almost finished novel and another year of useless procrastination.

NaNo, offers you the prize of a nearly complete novel in a month. What's that catch? Forsaking all your friends, family, and spending all your spare time writing. I'm not saying that for everyone NaNo offers this sort of trade off, I'm just saying that for me, in order to get my word counts in I have to make severe cutbacks in my life. While I am still in the thrall of NaNo this sacrifice seems logical, sensible, even something necessary for my 'art'. However, as the month of November stretches before me I am thinking of my social plans, which will eat into my writing time and wondering how I will keep up the pace I've set for myself. I know that today I am a little bleary eyed and worse for the wear, but I'm also happy. Will I be able to trade off time with loved ones, out with friends, and sleep in order to produce a crappy first draft of a novel? Right now, I'm just not sure. I'm going to take things step by step-- and that includes getting back to my 'novel'. So, for a change I'm posing a question to you, do you have any advice for a sensible NaNo/Life Balance?

WritingMinion (5533 and counting!)

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Importance of Writing Friends

Just now, I got a package from my dear friend Minion. In it was a writer's survival kit: a cheesy romance novel, a bar of dark chocolate, and a mix CD full of songs to inspire writing. Just add a glass of red wine, and instant sanity.

I am going through a huge period of upheaval in my life right now. A relationship that has been absolutely pivotal in my life is changing. I've left a place where I was very happy for a future that's uncertain. Some days, writing is my only escape--and other days all I want to do is huddle in a corner and cry. My writing friends keep me sane--and keep me writing even through troubled times. Here are a few reasons why you need good writing friends.

They keep you grounded. A good writing friend brings you down to earth when you get caught up in your own mind. She reminds you that you rock when you're mired in self doubt. She convinces you that your dreams are possible when you're sure they're not. She keeps you from feeling overwhelmed with your own puniness in the face of your goals. A good friend reminds you that success happens one page and one word at a time.

They keep you inspired. A good writing friend shares her writing mix and her first drafts. She commiserates with you on your worst sentences and shows you work that keeps you going. She suggests readings. She keeps your mind on your writing even when you become uninspired.

They keep you on track. In my writing circle, we have weekly contests. Whoever gets the word count first gets a prize. It really gets my competitive streak--I'm committed to a word count every week, and I'm answerable if I fail. If you're having trouble being productive, a group of committed writing friends who care about your progress can be a godsend.

There's a cliche about writing being a lonely life--and in a way, it is. But a writing community is often essential to success. A group of reliable writing friends may just make the difference between another unproductive year and your first novel.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Long Way on a Notebook and A Dream

Hello. The Odd Angle here. Thank you Minion and Maverick for asking me to contribute.

I'm not in the industry, like Minion or Maverick. Like many a would-be writer, I live a life outside of the publishing world: A day job, if you will, to pay the bills. A home to clean. Family to juggle. Pets to care for. And on top of everything else, a need to create.

Writing is both a love and an obsession. And while I would love to be more in the "scene" or able to dedicate more of my life to it, I recognize that there are things that are closed to me, for lack of a better term. There really isn't much in the way of publishing where I am. No real freelance outlets either. And at my age, I think it might be a little difficult to get to where either Minion or Maverick are in their lives.

But would I want to publish other people's works? Sometimes, I admit I find the idea appealing. Sometimes, though, I don't think I could handle the responsibility over holding other people's fragile dreams -- or egos-- in my hands. And while I would love to be my own boss and write all the time, I don't know if I have the hutzpah to do what Maverick does -- give up the comforts provided by a regular job to forge my dream with my meager successes under my belt.

My interests include both academic and fiction writing, usually not at the same time. And I've been known to work on either type of project with gleeful and occasionally singular abandon when they strike me. I fill notebooks and writing journals with ideas, bites, and scenes. I bring my notebook-of-the-moment everywhere: you never know when and where an idea might strike. It's my tie to writing while I'm at work, on the bus, or waiting in the doctor's office. It's a lifeline to my dreams that I don't think I, as a writer with a day job, could do without. More on that next time, though.

Without the time or connections, though, what keeps me at it? Good question, but to answer it, I need to ask myself two others.

First: why do I write?

Because, I love it. For all of the other problems I have with my own writing, I just can't escape the fact that even if I didn't write it down, I would still be creating. I would still have this urge to tell stories. Humans are, to use an oft quoted phrase, storytelling animals. Its how we've created our societies, explained our boundaries, and imagined our futures. And I love the stories people tell each other almost as much as I love telling stories myself. Language, rich and strange, the construction of it to share hopes and fears, dreams and ideas is a beautiful -- and very human -- thing.

Second: what keeps me going in the face of all my other daily expectations of job and family?

Apart from the above? Faith in my own abilities (this includes the ability to amuse myself, if no one else), hope, and a little story I'll pass on to you.

In college, my mother's good friend was an aspiring writer. He was good, but my mother, ever the realist, would warn him that it was unlikely he'd go anywhere with it. Find a job. Drop this nonsense. But, he had faith in himself, hope, and a lot of dreams. He kept at it.

By the time I got to college, he was a bestselling author with several of his books on the New York Times Bestseller list and one book that has since been turned into a play on Broadway.

He kept at it.

He tried hard.

He believed that he could do it.

And so do I.

Even if I have a little of my mother's realism in my "don't quit my day job" attitude.

And, one day, when I finally publish I'm going to dedicate it to both of them.

-The Odd Angle

Next time: Writing for the Real World: My best friend, My writing journal

Monday, October 27, 2008

Welcome Back to Minion and Maverick!

We've been on hiatus for a long time, but never fear, we couldn't leave our readers forever! Over the next few weeks you'll notice that we are welcoming a new blogger, The Odd Angle, our very own average Jane who talks about her writing, reading, and creative adventures outside of the publishing sector. We know that you'll love her honest wisdom and perspective that reminds us that we are all fighting a creative battle-- no mater where we are stationed.

Over the coming weeks we'll be updating you on our NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) adventures and our novel progress. This year I am taking a break from the chick lit novel I've been working on (I'm 186 pages in and a little bit smug as I've never written this much of any story in my life!) to write a paranormal romance novel about werewolves. Yes, it will probably be just a corny as it sounds.

I'm very much looking forward to telling you all about my adventures in British Publishing (some brilliant highs and some depressive lows). Its been a year or learning, growing, and big changes in this Minion's World. However, more on that a bit later.

For right now, I'd like to remind you that its once again National Novel Writing Month. So, for all you aspiring readers, get out there and get yourselves linked into NANOWRIMO. You can even watch my progress: Its NANOWRIMO's 10th Birthday, so let's all celebrate by getting our novelling groove on.

We'll be updating on a Monday/Wednesday/Friday basis, so stay tuned for more adventures.

Welcome Back!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Here we go again....

So, as you can see I've taken the summer off (and most of the Autumn as well). As we near NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) I'm all about getting this blog up and running again. I'll update you on all my writing and publishing adventures later this week. Until then, I'm just letting you know to watch this space!!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Back from the Brink....

As you might have noticed the past few months have been relatively minion-less.

I wish I had a good excuse for my lack of posting. I've been incredibly busy with work-- but then, when am I not? I've actually been creatively productive. In fact, the past three weeks have probably been my most creative spell I've had since college-- which is probably as pathetic as it sounds. Seriously.

I've had a lot going on with my family, job, and just the world in general. I've finally found 'solid ground' and hit it running! So, thank you for bearing with me. I promise much more minionly posts in the very near future.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Annoying Romance Novel Missteps

I'm reading a romance novel right now. A really, really bad one. I'm not naming the author; I'm not out to make enemies or hurt anyone's feelings. But I do feel compelled to talk about some things romance writers do sometimes that immediately make me fall out of love with the characters. If you want me to toss your book against the wall and stomp away in a huff, here's what to do:

Have more than one hero in a book. It's a big trend now for heroes from an author's past books to stop by and visit the current one, or to have a secondary character in one book who's going to become a hero in the next one. I know, I know it's a way to get readers interested in more than one character. I know it's common. It's practically endemic. It has to stop.

Here's why: your hero is supposed to be the handsomest, toughest, sexiest guy on the planet. And if there's more than one handsomest, toughest, sexiest guy on the planet, of them has to play second fiddle, or both of them are diminished. And second fiddle isn't sexy. As a reader, I'm not going to fall in love with two guys at the same time. That's not romantic. That's confusing. And I'm not going to buy into the second-fiddle guy in one book becoming the hero of the next book, or vice versa.

Even worse, sometimes the secondary hero seems more interesting to me than the one who's supposed to be the primary hero of the book I'm reading. Like the one right now. The real hero is kind of run-of-the-mill, but there's a secondary character that's much more intriguing. He's only in the book for a few scenes, but I'm finding myself wishing the author would just write a darned book about him. It's like real life, folks: if a secondary character is catching my interest, there isn't much spark between me (ahem: the heroine) and the primary hero.

Make hero and/or heroine unnecessarily obnoxious. I know the typical formula states that heroes and heroines have to despise each other before they get to love each other. But it's all too common for authors to make heroes and heroines overly mean in an attempt to up the chemistry, raise the stakes, and so on. Tthere has to be something to their exchanges besides a bunch of snarking--and the snarking has to be realistic. If it doesn't make sense to me why the heroine is such a bitch or why the hero is such a jerk, I'm totally going to fall out of love with them--and I'm not going to get what they see in each other at all.

Make the hero a wuss. In today's world, it's tough to come up with excuses as to why two people can't be together. It's the era of free love, and women no longer have to be virgins or marry people they don't love. Those barriers to love are needed to create tension and drama in a romance novel. Sometimes, in order to manufacture that barrier, an author will make it so that a hero doesn't want to get with the heroine because his friends wouldn't approve, or his daughter's still mourning his ex-wife, or some other dumb reason. Look: a hero is a seize-the-day kind of guy. He sees something he wants and he takes it. That's what makes him a hero. If he's the one trying to resist the heroine, it better be for a really compelling reason. Not a dumb, complicated, wussy reason that would trip up the rest of us.

Have the hero and heroine spend more time apart than together. This one romance novel I read has the hero and heroine getting together for a few months, then the heroine is kidnapped by pirates, loses her memory, gets kidnapped by a sheik and forced to live in his harem, and doesn't get back together with the hero (who is something of a milquetoast anyway) until the end of the book. Um...excuse me? Where's the romance in that?

Make the heroine or hero fall for someone else. I realize real life is complicated. And I realize you can find...ahem...carnal pleasure with lots of different people. But in the realm of romance novels, your body tells you who you love. If the heroine finds sexual satisfaction with lots of different guys, well...okay, that might be empowering or freeing or whatever. But it's not romantic. Same if either hero or heroine have romantic feelings for others in the book--in many cases, it dilutes their feelings for each other. Keep some focus, for god's sake.

Romance novels need to focus on the relationship at hand. The hero and heroine must both be larger than life, standing out from the others around them. If more than two characters are this big-as-myth stature, it dilutes everyone. It might sound overly simplistic, but that's why I love romance novels--and why a lot of others do as well.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Last Unicorn

The other night I was in a local video rental place and I found a real treasure--the animated version of Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn. It's the story of a unicorn who has not left her enchanted forest in a long time. She discovers she is the last unicorn left on earth--and she sets off to find the rest of her kind. In the hands of a Disney-type animation house this would become a treacly, kid-friendly story with a few knowing smirks at the adults, at least one overly-hyper sidekick, and unavoidable musical numbers. But instead it's a strangely compelling, haunting movie--oddly poetic, and oddly adult--without any annoying cultural references.

I watched it when I was very young--I don't remember when, but I was definitely under ten. I remembered scenes from that movie in a way that made me feel like I'd dreamed them. They were archetypcal, poetic and almost unfathomable in the way scenes are in the type of dream that goes all the way to the core of you, to a place that can only communicate with your waking self through deeply personal metaphor.

This story might be kids' fantasy, but it does not sugar-coat the truth. The friends the unicorn accumulates in her travels are flawed and damaged. The most compelling character was the villain--he might have been a campy, cackling figure in a typical Disney movie; in this one, he's a deeply tragic figure.

The animation is very dated and took some getting used to, and the music is definitely an acquired taste--I loved it; you might not. But overall this movie made me think about the type of fantasy movies we show our kids today. They're aimed towards both kids and adults, just as this one was. But the nods in our movies are meant to be funny--kids are never exposed to wrongs that can't be righted. In The Last Unicorn, the ending is bittersweet--the unicorn finds love and loses it.

There's nothing in today's big animated features that is seminal enough to have imprinted itself indelibly in my consciousness, the way the images from this movie were so long ago. Most animated movies today are all show and no poetry, with the exception of movies like Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle. I believe that our kids' imaginations would be better served by movies that don't sugar-coat reality. Fantasy might be considered primarily a children's genre, but it is also, like dreams, an excellent way to communicate deep truths through compelling metaphor.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Keeping Inspired in an Uninspiring World

Inspiration is something I've learned to live without. When it's there, writing is effortless. Ideas and words come streaming out of me as though from another place; stories take fascinating turns and they always wind up being the right turns; things fall into place as if by magic. If I could stay inspired all the time, I would have dozens of books under my belt.

Unfortunately, inspiration is undependable. It comes and goes. And I've come to terms with the fact that if I want to be an author, sometimes it's going to be work. Writing without inspiration is why I need outlines, why I procrastinate, and why each word sometimes feels like it's being pulled out of me with tweezers. People who rely on inspiration alone never get off the ground. Still, it's nice to have it--it makes things so much easier. Here are a few things that work for me in finding inspiration.

Read books in your genre. Reading works in the genre I'm writing in never fails to get me excited to write. When I'm writing fantasy, I revisit some of my favorite fantasy authors from childhood--Robin McKinley, Tolkien, David Eddings, Neil Gaiman, and even a little Steven King for the scary bits. When I'm writing romance, I revisit my favorites from Judith McNaught, Joanna Lindsey, and Karen Marie Moning. If it's a book I've read before, it doesn't matter--seeing those old characters is like visiting old friends again, and they always inspire me.

Make a collage. Look around in magazines and papers for images that remind you of your mental picture of your story. A house that looks like your main character's; a living room or bedroom that reminds you of the place where your hero seduces your heroine; a scenic vista that reminds you of your setting; or pictures of people that remind you of your characters. Make a collage and hang it near where you usually write. Just looking at it will get you in the mood.

Make a mix. Go through your playlists and pick out music that reminds you of your story. Think about the soundtrack to a scene that stands out to you; the theme songs for certain characters; or the song you'd play in the credits if your book were made into a movie. Play this mix whenever you sit down to write, and you'll feel instantly transported.

For me, getting inspired isn't about taking walks or even writing in new and novel places. It's about keeping my imagination focused on the world I've created. The more clearly you can create it--in sound or pictures--the more real it will be to you when you sit down to create it in words.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

How to Survive on a Salary that's Sad

Amazingly enough, when I took my first job in publishing my salary was actually an increase from my previous job as a part-time stage manager and full-time box office manager at a non-profit theatre. I was pretty sure that surviving on $26,000 a year would be easy peasy-- I was sorely surprised when I started apartment hunting in Manhattan and realised that $25,000 a year was the maximum income you could make and still qualify for government subsidised housing. Eventually, I found an apartment share with two other room-mates in Queens. Both of my room-mates made over twenty thousand dollars a year more than me and were living in Queens to save up money to buy their own properties or pay off their debts.

My current salary is an increase from my crushingly small stipend in New York-- I wont discuss what I now make, but its considerably more then my last job. While I graciously ate my ramen in my apartment in Queens I consoled myself with the following truths I've learned about pay in the publishing industry.

Everyone in Publishing Starts at the Bottom
Its true. Everyone starts as a lowly EA (editorial assistant), MA(marketing assistant), PA (either a publicity assistant or personal assistant to a VP or company director). There's no real short-cut to the top. At least, I haven't met anyone who's had a short-cut to the top not in New York or London. Everyone puts in their grunt years at the bottom. The big difference with publishing is that some people have their lifestyles subsidised by their parents, boyfriends, lovers, sugar daddies (or mamas) while they go through these lean first years. Sadly, I wasn't and am not one of those people-- thankfully, I've got a very generous and patient husband who's helped me to continue a career in publishing.

Part-time jobs are pretty standard
While I lived in Queens I worked at the local Gap in our mall and I tried to get as many freelance writing gigs as possible. My bosses at that time had both worked as waitresses and Barnes and Noble booksellers to supplement their salaries. When I advised my bosses that I would have to find additional work to help pad out my income I was (amazingly enough) given a small cost of living raise (about $1,000 a year) which was a wonderful gesture, but not quite enough to keep me from folding jeans during my spare time.

Complaining wont change anything
To be honest, everyone knows that publishing jobs are underpaid and whinging about it to your co-workers, boss, or family members isn't going to change it. Most people either suck it up (I know, its horrible) and work through those very lean first few years or they find another profession. Most of my friends who I worked with at my first publishing house have gone onto other more lucrative non-publishing careers. Jobs in publishing are seen as 'love' jobs, meaning you work in publishing for the 'love' of working with books. These jobs are very much in demand and this is how employers get away with paying you next to nothing. In a perfect world if all the minions stood up and demanded better wages we would then be able to create a labour revolution and reform the industry. This isn't going to happen-- sorry folks. Mostly because there are about five people fresh out of university lining up for your low paying job.

So, the next time I'm going through a lean time or one of my existentialist delimas of 'where is my career going', I'll calmly remind myself that everyone goes through this. Which is somewhat reassuring, no matter how grim.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Are You a Real Writer?

I wrote a post that touched on what makes a real writer on one of my other blogs. This has been making me think lately, and I'm not sure why I'm not done with this subject yet. But I've been thinking about people's perception of writers, the idea out there that "anyone can write," and the barriers some writers set up to separate themselves from people who, for whatever reason, they consider posers. On the one hand, I think it's elitist to say that one person is a "real" writer and another isn't. On the other, if someone tells me that they're a writer and then they show me their writing and it's juvenile, badly-written poetry about their grandmother--well, I'm going to disagree. Privately, of course.

Here are four "you're not a real writer unless..." assumptions I'm familiar with--and my responses to them.

You're not a real writer unless you get published. Okay, I can see why novelists consider this important. And I think a lot of novelists are so under-paid that they take on the idea that, well, at least they're real writers because they're published--as if the legitimate title of being a "real" writer is somehow adequate compensation for...well, inadequate compensation. But what about well-known authors who make a living at it--everyone from Salman Rushdie to Danielle Steele--before they were published? Were they not "real writers" until the moment their books hit stores? But they wrote manuscripts before they were published. Why should something essentially out of their control--i.e., whether a publisher accepted their first novels--define their existence as writers?

You're not a real writer unless you're not commercially successful. On the other hand, there is a sort of elitist attitude among some literary fiction writers--particularly at MFA programs--that says some bestselling writers aren't "real writers" because they sell out and write popular fiction, or their writing doesn't measure up to some standard or whatever. A lot of literary types don't think genre fiction is "real" writing. I think it is; I think you can find great writing, gripping characterization, and stunning language in romance, science fiction, crime and any number of basically formulaic genres. I also feel that a lot of literary short fiction today leaves me empty and bored.

You're not a real writer unless you feel the burning need to write all the time. I remember talking to some visiting writer at some point who said that you know you're a real writer if you can't not write--if you feel compelled to write all the time. I've written on this topic before, and I feel it's a bit cruel to say this to young writers who will experience ebbs and flows in their writing compulsion, as everyone does.

Get up at five in the morning to write. I think it was the same person who mentioned various poets who held down day jobs and got up at five in the morning to write several poems in a zen-like state before going to work. The implication was that if you don't feel the burning need to get up early in the morning to write, you just don't have the drive to make it. I think this works for some people and not others; I never had the ability to focus on creativity early in the morning, and for a while I thought that made me somehow less of a writer. It's a ridiculous idea.

You're not a real writer unless you make money from your writing. Okay, I do think there's some merit to this one. I do think there are a lot of future novelists and other excellent writers out there right now who don't make a cent from their writing; I'm not questioning their legitimacy. But I do feel as though, when I'm talking to someone at a party and they tell me they're a writer, I usually assume they mean it's their job. If I question them further and find out they keep a journal and they wrote their own wedding vows, I'm not really going to think of them as a writer--unless they show me their work and it's fantastic.

Here's the thing. When you tell people you're a writer, your writing better back you up. I remember getting a snarky comment about this on my other blog about how the person in question didn't get paid for his blogging, so he (sarcastically) said I must think he was a "fake" writer. Not necessarily. But I do think you are a "fake" writer if you think you can write, and you can't. There are plenty of sensational writers who write excellent blogs or even poems about their grandmothers that nobody ever sees. I don't think every good writer out there gets paid--but I do think if you get paid for your work, it's an indicator that you're at least decent at what you do--and ergo, you're a "real" writer.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Last to Know

This week I'm reading The Last to Know by Melissa Hill. After I finished Skylight Confessions I've vowed off of reading Alice Hoffman books for at least six months. I thought that Skylight Confessions had some haunting characters, but the overwhelming feel of the book was so melancholy and filled with such loss that I just can't bear to read anything else by Hoffman. Skylight Confessions is a moving book of love and loss through three generations. What begins as a chance encounter between a man who gets lost on his way to a party and asks for directions from a beautiful stranger in the mooonlight turns into a story which charts the destruction of an ill-fated romance. What engaged me about this novel was the illusions to fairy tales and the clever work the author does making each character's story relate to the larger fairy tale theme that dominates the novel.

So, this week I've moved onto something lighter-- hopefully. One of my friends was raving about this book. I'm about a hundred pages in and so far it feels lighter than my last reading selection-- so with any luck this will snap me out of my melancholy funk (which has settled on me after finishing my last book).

I'd also like to take this moment to mention that as I'm on holiday for Easter break I'm going to try to get a few blog posts ready to go so that I can be more consistent in my posting! Phew!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Skylight Confessions

This week I'm reading Skylight Confessions and I'm a little bit in love with it. It's typical Alice Hoffman fare-- a fairytale for grown-ups with some stunning language and beautiful imagery. I've kind of fallen for the whole 'living in a glass house' and being destroyed by stones themes. I'm not sure if I will feel the same way when I finish it-- but I'd love to hear what other people think.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Six Reasons Why Your Novel Isn't Getting Written

Lots of people talk about wanting to write a book. But how many people actually do it? The truth is that you may consider yourself an author-in-waiting; may think of yourself as a writer; and may see yourself as a professional. But if you're not writing, you're still among those people who say it and don't do it.

So if so many people want to write books, why don't more people do it? I may know a thing or two about this. I have procrastinated, raged at myself, procrastinated, despised myself, procrastinated, wrote a sentence, and then procrastinated some more for years. This year I'm finally getting organized about writing my novel--and I really think this time it's different. Here's why for six years I didn't write a novel--and why you still may be stuck in that bookless rut.

You're too tired. Let's face it, we're all a little sleep deprived lately. If you're getting up early for work and going to bed late, you're not going to have enough mental clarity during the day to be open for inspiration. You're going to be run-down, headachey, grouchy, and have trouble concentrating. That's no condition to write a book in, or even a poem.

The easy solution, of course, is to get more sleep. Sometimes that's easier said than done. But in the meantime, you can use your sleep-deprived state to your advantage. Keep a dream journal and write down the striking images and scenarios you experience in your dreams. When you're woken up from a deep sleep, you're often jolted awake in the middle of a dream--which means that you may be able to recall your dreams vividly and with more accuracy than if you woke up on your own. So write those dreams down, and use them for inspiration.

You keep getting interrupted. Virginia Woolf once said that in order to produce creative work, a woman must have a room of her own. I believe that both men and women need a space of their own and some uninterrupted time to produce creatively. You need to be able to carve out that time and place in your life. Talk to family and tell them that between five and six (or whatever time works for you), you must not be interrupted. Turn off your cell and unplug the phone. Make sure everyone around you knows that you're serious about your writing time and respects your space.

You have too much on your plate. If you don't have time to write, you can't. It's that simple. But you'd be surprised at the stolen time you can find during the day. Take a notebook with you and write during your lunch break. Commute by train instead of driving, and write on the way to work and back. Keep a small notebook in your purse and write down ideas, lyrical lines, and striking images that occur to you while you're grocery shopping or sitting in a meeting. Take back that free time that occurs while you're out doing something else, and you'll be more productive than you think.

You don't have the technology. My good friend Minion didn't have a computer at home for a long time. She wrote during work, which is dangerous--you never know when your boss is peeking over your shoulder. But you don't need a computer to write. Go back to basics and fill a notebook with character descriptions and plot outlines. You may find that when you have it in hardcopy, it's more solid and real--and you're more inspired to stick with it.

You're scared. I get this a lot. I think my novel has to be perfect, and whatever I write invariably winds up being flawed and much less than I'd thought it would be. Don't let that stop you. Give yourself permission to write a crappy novel whenever you sit down to write. Say to yourself, "Self, what you will write here today might suck. That's fine. Just write it." Remember, writers are practical people who get things done the best they can. Perfectionists wind up being critics--not writers.

You're relying too much on inspiration. I did this for a long time as well. I had a great idea. I typed and typed and typed. I gave birth in a rush of creative ecstasy. But I never quite got the whole baby out. (That's a pretty gross metaphor. Sorry!) Anyway, the problem with inspiration is that when it abandons you, you often don't know what to do next. It's great while it lasts, but it's not dependable. To keep from being left high and dry, write a careful outline and stick to it.

Writing a novel isn't easy. But people do it. Some authors crank out a novel every few months. There is no reason why we all can't do that. Take a hard look at yourself--what's holding you back?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Writing Prompt Wednesday

Emily leaned out the second story window and watched the papers drifting to the ground far below. Michael's body lay in a heap, one leg tucked oddly beneath his body and his neck at a grotesque angle. She knew she would be sick if she kept looking at him. Still, she didn't look away.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Progress Report: My Big "Client Project"

So, I wrote in January about landing my "biggest client ever"--myself. In the wake of NaNoWriMo, I decided I needed to look at novel writing the way I approach client projects: with a detailed outline and a schedule I can stick to. I wrote an outline of my remaining story, detailed in places and general in others. I set a schedule. This is a big change from the way I used to write, mainly by the seat of my pants. So far, it's been a resounding success in the past month. Here are some of the things I did wrong in the past--that I'm doing right now.

I've learned that the outline is absolutely necessary. I have to admit, I'm not always on the same mental page when I sit down to pick up a narrative thread as I was when I left off. Sometimes I forget where I was going before, or what the point of that scene was anyway and what I wanted to do with it. Other times I'm just in a different mood and that can affect where I want to take my writing. With an outline, I can check back to see where I was in the narrative and what the scene I'm currently in will lead to--I can keep myself on track. I cannot stress how important this is.

Before, I would rely on inspiration to carry me--and sometimes it would carry me quite a ways before abandoning me, lost, in foreign territory--but it would always abandon me eventually. I've learned that yes, inspiration and imagination are key--but I have to use them within the framework of an outline, not rely completely on them. They are undependable, and my writing needs to be regular if I ever want this to be my job.

I also build flexibility into my schedule. My schedule is 2500 words per week. I don't say "per day," I say "per week." I can do them all in one sitting, or I can spread them out throughout the week--as long as I make my quota, it doesn't matter. I've been successful at setting aside a few hours each week, once a day, to work on the novel. I've found that within those few hours, I can usually get more than 2500 words easily. But if I don't, it's okay to do a little more later.

Before, when I set schedules, I'd be very harsh with myself: I must write 1,000 words a day, or I am Not A Real Writer. If I didn't have time one day or just didn't have the energy or inspiration, I would feel like I was doomed to failure. This would make me so discouraged I'd eventually give up on writing at all for a while. With this schedule, I have the flexibility to allow life to intervene--which it always will. It doesn't matter, I still get my work done.

So far, this experiment has been going great. For the first time, I really feel like I'm doing something sustainable. No, I don't feel like I'm being carried away by inspiration. I'm not convinced I'll like my book when I'm done; I'm pretty sure it sucks. The difference now is that my outline is keeping me on track and I'm finding it much easier to resist the delete key--because I have a plan. It's less easy for me to talk myself into believing that if I just start over again from a different place, the whoel thing will be better.

Will I wind up with a full-length book in less than a year? At the rate I'm going now, you bet. It's an exciting thought, but I'm not getting too excited yet. I don't want to jinx anything. Right now, I'm content to just plod onward, one step at a time.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Being a Good Writing Partner

Every year, a few of my friends and I get together for a writing critique group that lasts as long as we can keep it up before our lives take over. We're scattered across the globe at the moment, but we exchange and encourage through e-mail. As our latest round starts up, I've started thinking about how I can be a better critique-er (is that a word?). Here are a few things I know I should remember to do more often.

Stay encouraging. Sometimes I get so focused on how to make something better that I forget to think about how I sound to the other person. Remember that the piece you are reading is near and dear to the writer's heart, and make sure that you stress the good things about the piece as much as the things you think should change.

Give useful suggestions. It's not enough to make general comments like "I don't really like so-and-so as the main character" or "I don't think your character development is strong enough." Give specific examples of the things you're pointing out, and offer suggestions they can take to make the situation better. Negative criticism isn't useful unless it comes with specific steps to take to improve.

Even praise should have a purpose. Saying "I love this story!" is great and writers appreciate it--but why do you love it? What's working for you? General positive praise might be less damaging than general negative comments, but it can be just as useless. When offering positive feedback, tell what you like about the story and why.

Don't nit pick too much. I always go through everything with a fine-toothed comb in search of grammatical errors, awkward wording, and other nit-picky details. While this can be extremely useful, remember that in the first stages of a draft, that sentence you're agonizing over will probably get changed anyway. In the early stages of a story, what's more important is theme, organization, characterization, description--all the larger issues that can make the difference between a so-so and a truly great piece of writing. Don't forget the forest for the trees.

Writing groups can be a big help, but they can also tear down a piece of writing before it has a chance to bloom. Remember that as a critiquer you have a lot of power--and make sure you use it for good, not evil.

Friday, February 8, 2008

My Apologies

Normally, I'd write you a lovely Friday post-- but today I'm afraid I'm out of time. Its been an incredibly stressful week and unfortuantely, I just haven't been able to get a proper post up for you. You'll have to forgive my obvious lack of planning and I promise that NEXT week I'll give you some proper food for (blogging) thought.


a (very) overworked Minion.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

My Romance Novel Experiment: Writing With a Buddy (Update One)

Right, so here I am on Ash Wednesday, glumly accepting that I've given up shopping for the next 40 days (don't know HOW I'm going to handle that). I'm not really religious, but for whatever reason ever year I find myself giving up something for Lent. I think its for this reason that I've decided to take on the task of working on two romance novels this month. One is a contemporary chicky/lit novel and the other is a real adventure in every aspect of the word.

I'd like to happily report that my romance novel experiment is going quite well. Over the weekend I began work on a novel that I'm writing with my darling friend, Amy. Normally I don't enjoy writing as a team. In fact, I detest it. I used to protest so strenuously over 'group writing assignments' that I'm sure my professors were convinced that if they assigned me one more 'group writing task' I'd stage a violent coup...and that's putting it mildly. However, when my friend Amy showed me the scenes she'd crafted off of a writing prompt I'd posted I thought-- this stuff is fun, its got potential. So, I wrote to her and said, 'Can we try writing this one together?'. Treating this whole project like a witty game we've embarked into the land of romance noveling, and I have to say, its been a hoot.

Whenever I can't decide if our main character should be ravished by pirates, cheat on her lovely (if a little bland at this moment) boyfriend, or throw her grief stricken heart into the sea-- I get to pass the plot over to Amy. Amy, who's wit and humour put mine to shame, always manages to create another improbable and delicious scenario that allows me to enjoy seeing her name pop up in my mailbox. In fact, working on this project has reminded me of all the fun I have writing. Long after I've sent my portion of our novel off to Amy, I plug away at my computer-- inspired to dwell in my made up worlds a bit longer.

Now, I don't know about you, but if working on a project that makes you happy and reminds you of WHY you like writing so much isn't a worthwhile venture, than frankly I don't know what is!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Characterization: The Backbone of Good Fantasy

Fantasy novels share a lot of features. They deal with a simplistic "good vs. evil" world view; coming-of-age themes; and the power of friendship to triumph over great odds. This last bit is crucial, because more than any other genre, fantasy novels are about friendship. The best fantasies center around a core group of characters who team up to take on whatever evil is threatening the world, and it's how these characters interact that can make or break the book. Here are some guidelines that work for creating a memorable cast of characters for your next fantasy novel.

Everyone should have something distinct to offer. Fantasy is the only genre I can think of where more characters are better than fewer. Tolkien had his four hobbits instead of one; Robert Jordan had a veritable flock of female love interests and three (not one) small-town boys destined for great things; and Eddings had dozens of sorcerors, knights and thieves who drifted in and out of the core group. But even though you have a lot of room to go crazy and create as many characters as you can invent names for, you must find a way to make each one matter.

The core group in a good fantasy novel is bigger than the sum of its parts. Each character brings a crucial skill or outlook without which the group as a whole couldn't succeed. So whenever you create your characters, ask yourself: how will they work together? What unique skill or quality does each character bring to the table?

Internal conflicts and romances are key. Does one member of your core group hate another? How does their relationship grow or change over time? Is there a love triangle going on? How does that change the group dynamic? Adding internal conflicts and unions between characters adds texture and interest to your group, and gives you a fantastic opportunity to spin sub-plots. Instead of creating characters who are just there to do a job, let them gang up on each other, form alliances, and fall in love. Then let them slowly grow to trust one another over time. This will make your group a stronger cohesive unit in the end--and let you make your characters more three-dimensional.

In Fantasy, splitting up is a good thing. Want to develop your characters further? There should always be a time when the group splits up. This will allow your reader to get to know each character on a more individual level, and let you showcase each character's skills and personality in more detail.

Each character should have his own agenda. Why is each character in the group? If they're all there for the same purpose initially, it can be boring. Let one of your characters be out for revenge or justice; another for wealth and riches; and a third to win someone's heart. Give each a strong motivation that may put him at odds with the group occasionally--even though it causes them to work together most of the time. As your story develops, each character might come to the realization that they want the same thing. But again, let that grow--don't put it there from the beginning.

Fantasy novels are all about that core group of characters. If your group isn't well developed, your novel will flop. If it's strong and well-conceived--and if you use the novel to develop your characters as you advance the plot--you're more likely to write something memorable.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Eureka! I want to write a Romance novel....

Right, so this week one of our readers sent me a hilarious opening to her story based on one of our writing prompts! I've never felt so proud-- or really, laughed as much! Its brilliant, funny, and reminds me of why I adore writing (and reading for that matter!).

Lately, I've been in a writing rut. I've been zipping my way through books and really getting my reading groove on, but I haven't been able to sit down and get into my own stories. Which is fustrating (to say the least!) and has made me feel really cross with myself.

You see, the thing is, I've got a secret ambition-- to write really crappy romance novels! I know, shocking! Its not that I don't adore writing literary fiction (I do). I know in a lot of ways that literary fiction is one of my strengths. I really enjoy crafting a beautiful and moving story that makes me see the world differently. The thing is, Romance novels feel like so much more FUN to write.

Maybe I'm just tried of the depressing weather, biting cold, and winter slump--but the idea of being ravenged by pirates, rescued by a prince, or seduced by a dark handsome stranger all seem like very appealing topics for me to write about. (Thankfully, I get to go home every night to my dark and handsome husband.)

Don't get me wrong I love the children's book I'm working on. It's just that I've got these super high standards for it and I think that's crippling my progress. As far as my literary fiction homefront, all I can think about are really dark (and somewhat depressing) stories, which are emotion heavy, and very thin on plot. I know I'm weird, but I'm really useless at writing unless I've got my plot all fleshed out.

So, this weekend, I'm going to go home and work on a 'romance novel' and on Friday I will update you on my progress.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Writing Prompt Wednesday

Right, this week I've been a bit obsessed with the sunrise/sunset patterns in the winter-time; or more particularly when its finally going to be light when I leave my office (which has no natural light and sometimes reminds me of the inside of a pinata). On that note, I give you this little (and hopefully inspiring) prompt.

When I left the decrepit building I looked up at the grey and heavy clouds. Only, here's the thing-- those clouds weren't there. In their place were white fluffy marshmallows broken by glimmering beams of sunlight. I blinked, once, twice, then smiled. I had never been so grateful to see the sun.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Career in Writing: Four Things My College Education Didn't Teach Me

Like a lot of freelance writers out there, I have a degree in English. When I was in school, I remember a lot of people saying things like "So what are you going to do with it--teach?" and "Hope you don't mind starving!" But I never planned to give up food in trade for a career--and as much as I respect teachers, I never wanted to be one. All I ever wanted to do was write.

I loved earning my English degree. I loved reading different authors from diverse cultures and time periods. I loved writing, loved talking about writing like it was the one thing on earth that mattered most, loved critiquing other people's work. I think that my writing degree taught me a lot about writing as an art--and practically nothing about making a living at it.

I think that many liberal-arts schools fail students who study the arts. The cliche of the "starving artist" is so prevalent that a lot of schools don't expect more of their arts students than to continue their interest in art as a hobby. The tragedy is that so many humanities graduates leave school with thousands of dollars in debt and no idea how to have a meaningful career. Many of us wind up taking jobs outside of our interests out of necessity, and these can turn into a lifetime of work that feels meaningless and unfulfilling.

But for some of us, writing on the side just isn't good enough. We've got the talent--we see the pros at work and we think, "I can do that." But it takes more than just talent to make a living, and a lot of writers don't realize this until they get out of college and have to figure it out for themselves. Here are four things I wish my professors would have told me before I graduated.

It's not just about your creative talent. It's also about your self-promotion skills. Before I graduated, I thought that if I wrote well, opportunities would naturally come my way. But that's not really how it works. There are thousands--maybe millions--of people out there who want to be writers. Even if only a small percentage actually wrote anything worth reading, that's still a great deal of competition to deal with. When you're a professional writer, you'll be competing with other writers for the attention of agents, publishers, critics, clients, and readers. Many of them will write worse than you. Many will write better.

When competition is this fierce, you have to be able to promote yourself at every stage of the game. To succeed as a writer, you have to hone your self-promotion skills as much as your writing skills. I never took any classes on marketing in college--no general business marketing courses, and no specific courses on marketing myself as a writer. In my opinion, it should have been a required part of the curriculum.

Want to do your creative work on the side? It's harder than you think. When I was in college I just assumed I would have some sort of job, and I'd work my writing around that until my "real career" came through. After I graduated, I found that the reality was somewhat different. I worked full-time at several different companies, and I found that my employers didn't care about my outside interests: if the company needed me to stay late and come in early, I had to do it. I often felt too drained after a long day's work to put much time into developing my outside interests into a career I could live with.

Many people assume they will find fulfillment doing what they love outside of work. But unless you have a very undemanding job, it can be tough to find the spare time you need to truly live up to your creative potential. And when you have other outside responsibilities to deal with--like kids, for instance--the time you have to pursue your passions can quickly dwindle into nothing. I didn't realize how important flexibility would be to me until I lived without it for years.

There are plenty of ways to integrate your talents into a career that works for you. When I was in college, I assumed I had two choices as a writer: novelist or journalist. Nobody told me anything different. No helpful career counselor sat down with me my senior year and talked to me about career options that would let me use my writing skills. I talked to a career counselor, but they didn't really know what to do with me--I didn't want to go corporate or be a teacher, like most English majors.

I wish someone had talked to me in college about careers for writers--jobs like the one I have now. If you're artistic, you don't have to shove your talents into a dark, unseen corner of your life while you labor away at something you have no interest in. You can craft a career as a consultant or freelancer doing practically anything. Performance artists can become public speaking experts. Visual artists can become graphic designers. Writers can become copywriters. You can work for a company, or you can run your own business.

Business isn't as scary as it looks. I never considered running my own business as a college student. I thought that "business" and "creativity" were two extremely different, unrelated categories. I didn't see how businesses need--even thrive on--creative people. I just saw lots of people with conservative suits on and seas of drab cubicles, and I assumed I would never really fit in any business environment. I had classes that taught me to think like a creative person--like an artist.
But now, my "business environment" is my laptop. And business isn't just about wearing a boring suit and working in a boring office. It's about making your dreams a reality.

When I was in college, I had a very different attitude--and I faced a steep learning curve as a result. It took me years to come around to the fact that I'd have to be business-savvy in order to thrive. If I had had classes in college that taught me to think like a businessperson--and to use business principles to get what I want in the world--I might have had a plan right out of college. I might have been able to hit the ground running.

With the amount of money a college education costs nowadays, I feel colleges owe a little more to their humanities graduates. They owe them a solid education in their chosen field--but they should also take them seriously as future professional artists. Many creative types don't need a degree to succeed--nobody cares what Susan Sontag, Pablo Picasso, or Ian McKellan majored in. But we do need guidance in how to make a living at what we love. Give us that, and a college education will be more than worth it.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Surviving the 'Most Depressing Day of the Year'

I'm feeling good this morning (well, nearly afternoon now), mostly, because it’s Friday and I am faced the prospect of two days off, and the end of a very stressful week. Also, I'm very happy it’s no longer Monday the 21st of January; which has achieved cult status as being the ‘official the most depressing day of the year’. So, at least this past Monday I had a very good reason to be a little bit 'under the weather' and frankly wishing I was curled up under my duvet reading something very light and fluffy.

The 21st Of January signifies for many people a sad reality check that even the best resolutions get broken, that those bills from the holidays will not disappear (no matter where you hide the credit card statements), and that your big pay rise isn't likely to materialize this year (or at least not this month). All these mitigating factors lead many people to become depressed. However, they've led me to one overwhelming sense of purpose-- to actually work harder to keep my resolutions. So, c'mon 2008, I'm ready! Let’s make this a wonderful (and productive) year!

Since I've clearly decided that I need a big change, here are my compass points that I will use to gauge my success. Hopefully, at the end of this year I'll be able to update you with my blinding success-- or at least with news that I've broken through the realm of mediocrity.

Cultivate my writing routine.
Since I left University I've found that I really lack structure in my writing habits. Before I went to University I had a fabulous writing routine that enabled me to get loads of writing done in the evenings after school/work/swimming. I'm not sure how as a fairly busy teen I managed to get more work done creatively then as a young adult-- but something about work seems to drain me. However, I've been using this excuse for far too long. I believe in small achievable goals, and currently my goal is to get myself into a very good (and somewhat structured) routine.

Write 500 words a day (or at least 2500 words a week). My cohort Maverick posted a wonderful post about treating working on her novel like its work for a client. I can't agree more with her sentiments. My novel(s)/short stories/poems/etc are just as important as work that I do for my ‘day job’; because my writing is a job. I'm very organized, goal driven, and detail orientated in my ‘day job’. I never miss deadlines at work. In other words, I take my ‘day job’ very seriously. Its time I started treating my 'night job', my writing, the same way. Crafting a story is work (as well as an enjoyable process). If I want to succeed at writing I need to force myself to put the time in and meet my deadlines. The only one I'm cheating is myself (and my poor long suffering characters).

Post and maintain this blog more regularly. I think my slacking off speaks for itself.

Submit stories/poems to competitions/magazines. As a teenager I had a lot of success winning competitions and getting published in magazines geared for teens. I'm not sure why this was-- but believe it or not, this early success has terrified me as an adult and caused me to fear submitting to anything, period. I think this is because I'm scared I'll get rejected (over and over again). However, if I never try, I'll always let that fear cripple me. So, this year, I'm looking forward to my slew of rejections and hoping to do something creative with them--maybe I'll use them to make a paper mache lobster piƱata that I'll burst when I finally get an acceptance? I'm open to suggestions on this one.

Work on creating a freelancing profile. It’s not secret (at least not to me!) that I'm clearly meant to have a career in writing. I adore working in publishing and want to stay in this industry for as long as possible (my whole life!) but I would also like to spend this year growing as a freelance writer and gaining experience in the world of freelance copywriting. Before I got married I had been actively writing articles for a beauty website (which is ironic as I never wear makeup). Now that I've comfortably settled into married life I would really like to resume freelancing again. So, I'm going to take a deep breath and jump back into the hectic world of freelancing.

Join Writing Group. For me this will be a very intimidating experience. It’s been a long time since I was in a writing group (over a year now) and while I enjoy the support and critiques of a group, I'm very private about my writing and find it hard to pass my work along to others. I'm not good about letting my words go off into the wide world. However, now is the time of year to change all that.

Monday, January 14, 2008

NaNoWriMo: The Fallout

I'm a freelance writer by day. And I've just landed a new client. While I usually don't write about freelance writing topics on this blog (I have another blog for that purpose), I feel there's enough spillover on this one to make a post here justified.

My new client wants me to write a paranormal romance novel. She's given me the spec--a brief description on the topic, similar to a dust jacket description; lengthy character descriptions; and about 37,000 words of writing. My job? To outline the rest of the book, see where it's going, and then finish it. Luckily enough, our writing styles are similar enough to be nearly indistinguishable, and I feel confident I can write a seamless middle and ending to her more-than-a-little-muddled beginning.

I love my new client. She's very writer-friendly. She can't pay me up front, but she can promise me a healthy cut of the royalties. 100% of them, to be exact. Yep, she plans to let me take it all--although I have to let her use her name as the author. Even better, she loves my work. I've just finished the outline, sent it to her, and received a response later today: "Oooh, BRILLIANT!! I especially loved the bit about the talking space unicorn!"

That's hyperbole, of course. There is no talking space unicorn. It's really more of a zebra, with antlers.

Okay, I have a confession: My new client is me. NaNo has come and gone, and while I didn't finish my book, I did get a healthy start. And I've also decided to do something a little different with my writing. With NaNo, I struck off blindly, letting my fingers fly as fast as my imagination would take me. That's great for pure inspiration, but I'm slowly learning that it's not enough to sustain me through a whole book project. I keep getting lost. And when I get lost, I start over, thinking that if I only start in the right spot, I can finally make it to the end.

But here's the thing: I also write professionally. And I've easily written enough in the year and a half I've been in business to fill several books. With client projects, I'd never dream of setting off without a thorough understanding of exactly how I'd get there. So I've decided to do something a little different: instead of relying on sheer imagination and inspiration to get me to the end, I've decided to treat this book project as I would any other freelance writing project. I've written out a basic, 300-word teaser description (which I've found keeps me very focused), then constructed an outline. It's not the most exhaustive outline; I didn't write a detailed overview of each scene. Some areas are more fleshed-out than others. But now I know what will happen from beginning to end, and I'm hoping my inspiration and imagination will carry me through the areas that are not as detailed.

My new client is very lenient. She is allowing me free rein to finish this, as long as I follow the outline I've agreed on. She approves of my writing style and has a great deal of faith in me. The only thing is this: she is intolerant of missed deadlines. She insists I keep to a schedule of 2500 words per week. I can go over some weeks if I want, but I may not go under. That's fine with me; I never miss a deadline for any of my clients.

It's time to treat my creative writing as seriously as I take my freelancing. It's time to have a detailed plan and follow it, and not to skip my deadlines. Ever. For any reason. This may be the most important client I ever work for.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Writing Prompt Wednesday-- 2008!

Hi All,

Amazingly enough its 2008 (where did 2007 go?). So, in sticking with my new resolutions (my writing ones will be posted later) here is your writing prompt for today.

Clara looked down at her toes, sucked in her stomach, and sighed. She hated the sight of her long and bony toes, but not as much as the sight of her bloated stomach. She took her left foot off the scale and let her breath out. I've got to try better this year, she thought. I can't take another year of this.