“What do you do?”

the-writer-february-2017This past week, I read in the February 2017 issue of The Writer an article about how to deal with that often terribly uncomfortable question. Writers who also have day jobs don’t always feel discomfort at that question because they can simply cite their day job as what they “do.” But what about the freelance writer who works fulltime at it? Or the creative writer who’s able to write fulltime because of decent book sales or a large inheritance? How do you answer this question?

The freelancer who wrote the article began with his answer and how he’d crafted it to show how successful he was at writing on a freelance basis. In other words, if you’re financially successful as a writer, flaunt it. If you’re not, talk about something else. We all know writers get no respect, not like doctors, lawyers, dentists, and just about anyone else who works for someone else. Of course, if you are employed by a magazine, newspaper, television or radio station and your job is writing, you’ve somehow managed to make it into respectability.

When someone asks me what I do, I usually say I’m a writer. The next question usually is, “What do you write?” Now, I could reply a lot of different ways here, because I write a lot of different things. But I usually take the intention behind the question is to find out if I’m a published and known writer vs. unpublished and unknown. When someone asks a doctor what he does, they usually don’t ask what do you doctor?  They don’t ask a lawyer how she does her job, although they might be interested in the type of cases she takes on. But with artists, there is this question of legitimacy, and what confers legitimacy? You got it!  Money, usually via publication.

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A couple years before my father died, I made my annual Christmas visit to my parents’ house. I had quit my fulltime job with the intention of changing careers, and I’d already realized that I wanted to write. When my father asked what I planned to do, I told him. “You can’t write,” he responded. I almost laughed. As if he truly knew what I could or could not do or had some sort of control over what I did. A few days later, my older brother enlightened me. “In the family, we view writing as a form of prostitution.” Ah, so that’s it. And this from a family of book lovers and readers.

I went on to earn money as a freelance advertising copywriter while I also wrote fiction. But my family never accepted my writing or that I was actually doing it well and gaining valuable experience. What they said to me, though, prepared me for what other people would say — my family showed me the worst right away. So, when someone asks me what I do, I’m happy to tell them I’m a writer, that I’m published, that I write a lot of different things, and yes, they can read my work online. After that, I mention my other job in an office, working for someone else.

My "Office"

My “Office”

Revision

A-hand-writing-with-a-pen-006The last week or so my writing work has been focused on a nonfiction piece that’s ready for revision/editing. An interview in a Q&A format, a first for me. It’s too long for one thing. I want to preserve its current flow because it’s an interview, which means any editing cannot change the original meaning or the unique voice of the person interviewed. This mountain of a job will give my revising and editing muscles a real workout. Where to begin?

Sharpening Focus

In any conversation, whether an interview or not, the direction veers off on tangents, circles around and back to the topic, and veers off again. The first task of editing my piece is to identify everything that isn’t an answer to the questions, i.e. identify the tangents. Next, I ask myself: does this (or that) tangent illuminate a point the interviewee is making? If not, out it goes. If it’s an example of the interviewee’s point, I then weigh how good it is or how many examples he gives for this one point. Maybe he’s given 3 or 4, so I try to choose the best one.

Sharpening focus for the answer to each question is probably the most important part of the editing process. It takes the longest because it requires some thought about the question as well as the answer. Editing the question for length also comes into the process. I’ve discovered ways to strengthen the questions by tightening them.

Waiting

The next step, after the first revision, is to put the piece away. This part reminds me of the fermentation process. It’s really crucial to put it away and wait for the fermentation to take its course. I often continue thinking about the piece, though, and this interview is no exception. And I’m on deadline for it, so the fermentation period needs to be shorter than I usually prefer.

fermentation

fermentation

With one piece put away to ferment, I’ll work on some other writing project, read, clean house, go to the part time job, or anything else on my to-do list. Today, for example, I’ve been working on business chores, cleaning out e-mails, working more on my very late holiday letters, house chores, researching a talented young French pianist that I discovered over the weekend, and running errands. All my watches have stopped — is this the Universe trying to tell me something? — and I need to take them in to get new batteries for them this afternoon. And I’m finishing this blog post that I began last Saturday afternoon.

More Revision

The next step after fermentation, is another round of revision. During this round, I’m checking for grammar issues, typos, spelling mistakes, and syntax issues. I’m also looking for more ways to tighten, to cut, to get the piece down to the word count I want.

If I have enough time before the deadline, I’ll repeat the fermentation-revision-fermentation-revision process several times until I cannot find anything that needs attention. I’ll read the piece aloud during this process also to check for the flow. I’m also checking any links I’ve included, and I add photos if necessary. In the case of my current project, only one photo will be included, that of the interviewee.

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Finishing

When I’ve arrived at a place with the piece where I’m feeling comfortable that it’s ready for publication, I’ll do one last read through with an eye to anything I may have missed. Dropped words and misspellings are usually caught in this round. I then submit it to the publication.

In general, this is the revision process I follow whether I’m working on nonfiction or fiction. It can vary a little from piece to piece depending on how much time I have for it or what the purpose of the piece is. I’ve learned, however, that even when I’m working on deadline it’s important not to rush the revision process, to slow down and savor it, really use the mind and imagination to make the writing the best it can be.

 

Updates:

Image from Pixelstalk.net

Image from Pixelstalk.net

The last day of 2016. The prevailing feeling online is “good riddance” to this year. No doubt about it, 2016 has been a challenging year in many ways. Right now, I’m in a strange place because of the election. Back in June, I wrote about the election in terms of my work on the future world in the Perceval series. Now the election results have brought America maybe one step closer to the America I envisioned for 2048. Let’s hope not. It’s challenging me as a writer, thinking about protesting against the actions of the Trump administration through my writing, and realizing that I probably will not be alone in this. A friend recently asked me if I were prepared to be arrested. Wow. I never thought anyone would ask me that in America because I’m a writer.

My last writing update was in June of 2016. Time for another:

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Perceval Novels:
No new reviews at Amazon for Perceval’s Secret since June. I continue to search out book reviewers.  Sales continue to be slow at Amazon, and none at Barnes & Noble or Kobo.  If you have not yet bought your copy (only $2.99!), please do, and give it a read.  The reviews continue to be good to excellent!  I’d love to hear from readers through reviews at Amazon and B&N, or at Goodreads.

As for the other novels in the series, last spring I pulled out all my files for Perceval’s Shadow, the second novel in the series. My plan was to revise it during the summer, then move on to finish the first draft of Perceval in Love, the third book (I have half the first draft done already).  I did not accomplish this goal because I became caught up in the part-time job and a job search for a fulltime job, and I didn’t sit down and figure out when I’d be working on the novels. I hope to do better in 2017. I know that I feel much better physically and psychologically when I’m putting words on paper.

Marketing:

I continue to work as hard as time allows on marketing and promo for Perceval’s Secret.  I continue also to research free marketing and promo, especially online.  I need to talk more about the novel and hand out the postcards for it far more than I do.  Still need to utilize the marketing/advertising tools at GoodReads, LinkedIn and Publishers Marketplace.  Time has not been kind to me.  I continue to promote the novel on Twitter and Facebook.  I’ve been writing more posts at the Perceval Novels Facebook page, too.  Please go and like it, and visit often for updates on the novels.

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New Novel Project:

As a result of reading a couple of gothic romance novels this year, I’ve hatched an idea to transform a screenplay I’ve written, Over the Rainbow, into a novel. I love the story, the main character, and the potential of it, so I’ll be doing some foundation work on it in 2017.

Indiegogo Project now GoFundMe Project:

The one change I made in this area was the website I’d use for this project. I’ve had experience with GoFundMe, and I like the option to have ongoing fundraising rather than a deadline. All the rest is the same: I continue to pay off the credit card debt I’d been carrying from production, publication, and marketing expenses that I incurred to publish Perceval’s Secret as an e-book.  I’m now paying off the principal rather than having the interest eat into my payments, and I continue to pay more than the minimum each month.  I hate asking for financial help through crowd-source funding, but I don’t have the resources to deal with this all by myself.

Short Stories:

I completed a short story, Into the Woods, taken from some of my early work on Perceval’s Secret, and submitted it to a contest. I continue work on the science fiction short story, Light the Way.  For 2017, I plan to work more on short stories to get more of my writing out there for people to read. Short stories do not take quite as much time as novels to write.

Essays:
I continue to write posts at the Eyes on Life blog (as Gina Hunter) and here at Anatomy of Perceval.  My focus at the Gina Hunter blog has become a bit fluid: I continue to write “The Successful Patient” posts, but in addition I’m writing about the experience of being one of the Working Poor, so it’ll be about economics, money, working, etc. I think., and more about politics and how it affects the Working Poor. I hadn’t planned on getting into politics, but it looks like I’ll need the outlet for my outrage.

Paid Gigs:
I’ve written essays about my personal experiences with classical music for ClassicalMPR.org this year and I continue to pitch ideas to them. I’m presently working on an interview with a young composer for them.  I continue to search for other places that will pay me to write about subjects that interest me (or that will pay for fiction).

Yager Editing Services:
After dealing with the scammers last spring, I decreased my marketing and promo activity for this small online business. As a result of my Publishers Marketplace page, however, I received an inquiry for editing a novel last month. This put me face-to-face with something I hadn’t thought about before: the need to be 100% in support of the book in order to spend so much time editing it and in order to be fair and objective. The inquiry involved a book I could not be 100% behind, so I declined to work on it. I need to write something at this website that will clarify my position on what interests me and my need to be 100% behind the book in order to be an effective editor of it.

The Successful Patient:
Nothing has changed on this project — still on the back burner.

Part-time Job:
I continued to work part-time at the customer service job and the receptionist position. A raise in July was most welcome but wasn’t enough to offset my expenses. A good friend stepped up and offered a no-interest loan to pay my rent so I wouldn’t get evicted, and I accepted. I began looking for a fulltime front desk receptionist position and have had several interviews but still haven’t clinched the job for me. Since my financial situation is so precarious, I’ll be working harder at selling my possessions as well as promoting my writing, and my editing services.

Reading:
I met my 2016 Reading Challenge at GoodReads! Not yet certain if I’ll sign up for another in 2017. It has been helpful in giving me incentive to read more than I was. But I want my primary focus in 2017 to be writing fiction. I’ll continue to read, but perhaps not as much as I return to journal writing, for example, and work on fiction in the evenings.

Health Update:
Autoimmune fatigue continues to challenge my schedule every day.  My very slow taper off prednisone continues, and the lower the dose, the more I experience joint pain with occasional tiny flares of my other autoimmune issues. So far, I’ve been able to control it all. I’m also working on getting off some other medications. Dealing with my medical insurance company takes more time than I’d like, and I have to say that they definitely do not make it easy for their customers. I’ve begun my favorite stair exercise (to music) and plan to move my body more through walking, yoga, and Falun gong practice in 2017. Since writing is such a sedentary activity, it’s important to get up and move on a regular basis.

Chillin’ Out

Alpha Centauri - the brightest star to the left

Alpha Centauri – the brightest star to the left

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I struggle through the month of December and don’t feel truly normal again until January 15. It may have something to do with being told from a very young age that a mean elf sat above doors and watched my every move. I don’t know. Or maybe it’s my aversion to the commercialization of the Christmas holiday especially. It used to be far more of a holiday instead of a spending money extravaganza. And the expectations!

Anyway, I love hobnobbing with friends during this season and the holiday is a good excuse. We talk about books we’ve loved this year, movies we’ve loved, TV shows that impressed us, and laugh at the human absurdities of the past year. For me, it’s also important to have my solitude, and this is how I spend December 25th — in solitude for most of the day. It’s amazing how rejuvenating silence can be! My holiday traditions now focus on doing what pleases me, not what is expected.

I would like to wish all my loyal readers peace in 2017, and a festive holiday season, celebrated in the ways that bring you the most pleasure! May your lives be full of music, literature, and love. Thank you for your loyalty, your astute comments, and I hope to see more of you in 2017!

Image from Pixelstalk.net

Image from Pixelstalk.net

Thinking About my Creative Process

holly-and-bellsIt’s the holiday season, that time of the year when it’s next to impossible to get away from the noise, activity, crowds, and craziness that accompanies it. When I was a child, I loved this month, loved snow storms, loved the anticipation and school vacation. I read like mad during school vacations. A vivid memory was reading John Hersey’s Hiroshima on New Year’s Day, with only a break for a holiday dinner, and sneaking holiday cookies I’d baked called Berry-Berry Bons Bons (cranberry orange walnut cookies that melted in the mouth). I miss those times.

The holidays are more for extroverts than introverts with all the parties, gift exchanges, Secret Santas, and traveling. They’re not conducive to introspection, solitude, or writing. I find myself feeling frustrated most days because I haven’t been able to even think about the writing project I’m working on. This makes me cranky and snarky, and I’ve caught myself taking it out on people at my part-time job. It’s not their fault. But this time of year is always difficult for me. I recall once searching for a place I could go where Christmas was not celebrated, and never did find one.

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Out of all of this Sturm und Drang has emerged the realization that maybe I needed to think about my creative process, i.e. how I actually go about doing my creating. That takes me back to almost 10 years ago when I was working on the first drafts of the 2nd and 3rd books in the Perceval series. I established a work routine: after breakfast, I did my stair exercises to classical music and thought about what I’d write that day. Then I’d go over my notes before plunging right in to writing. I wrote for hours with no break except for lunch. Toward the end of the afternoon, I’d often work on other writing, research, or run errands. I was so very fortunate to have been able to work on my writing fulltime back then. I miss that time now.

The truth of the matter is that I’ve been struggling to find a new work routine, a way to preserve my creative process. When I exercised to classical music, that opened up my mind to my imagination — I resolved so many issues during that prelude to writing. When I sat at my desk, I then found myself already working in my mind and it was only a matter of getting the words on paper (screen). I had the freedom of time before, now I don’t. I write when I can — blog posts, short stories, holiday letters, essays for online publication. But I’m not feeling creative. It feels like drudgery. Although there have been times when a particularly neat word has popped into my head and I’ve felt like dancing.

There’s a saying that you can’t miss what you’ve never had. Well, I’ve had a creative process that worked wonderfully for me, a structure to my writing work day, so now I miss it because it’s gone. That doesn’t mean I can’t find a new writing routine again to enhance my creative process. It just means that during this crazy holiday season when I swear everyone goes a little insane, I am wishing for something that only I can give myself — time.

How do you survive the holidays? Does your creative process suffer during the holidays?  If you work part-time or fulltime, I’d love to hear how you schedule writing time into your days in the comments section below.  Thanks!

Photo: cutewithchris.com

Photo: cutewithchris.com