Tag Archives: The Writing Life

Sharpen Focus

Image from Pixelstalk.net

Happy New Year to all my loyal readers and followers!  We have finally left 2017 behind and begun a new year full of promise and the unknown. I don’t know about you, but since January 1, I’ve felt bombarded with everything but what I want to be bombarded by, i.e. ideas for stories and ideas for solving problems with the stories I have already going. The actual bombardment has been about current events, dealing with a new job search, trying to figure out what I’ll do for medical insurance going forward, getting caught up with the piles of things to do that I’ve put on my living room floor (like filing), and then dealing with what I hope will turn into a minor rather than major health crisis.  When do I get to write?

As any professional writer knows, the push-pull of making money vs. making art is constant. Bills need to be paid, food bought, chores done. I am happiest when I am writing, but I am also easily distracted when I know that a job needs to be found to pay the bills or the bathroom has just gotten disgusting and needs to be cleaned. I don’t know how many times in my writing life I have wished for someone to come in and take care of cleaning, cooking, laundry, bills, etc. so I could concentrate on my writing which makes me the happiest. The reality of life in America in 2018, however, is that being happy isn’t what pays the bills, being responsible is.

So as this new year begins, I find myself once again re-examining my life and how I’m structuring my days. I want to sharpen my focus on writing in order to get as much writing done as possible before I return to a fulltime job. At the same time, I need to conduct a productive job search. I can say that this past week in that regard I have accomplished what I wanted to accomplish and I applied for three jobs. But I’ve only been able to work a little on the Aanora story. The job search really ate up a lot of time. Working on my writing needs to be in the same category as the job search because if I can finish more stories and get them out to paying markets, maybe I could also earn some money. Writing is as much a job for me as working in an office for someone else. Unfortunately, the rest of the world doesn’t see it that way.

It’s tough, and I am not alone in this. What surprises me is that this frustration keeps popping up. It affects every area of my life, and can make me depressed. And this frustration feeds into my envy of writers or other artists who have produced a lot and I am still struggling to produce a couple short stories and my second novel. I remind myself that every writer is different. Just as every person is different. Each has his or her own challenges in getting their writing done. Finding the way to overcome those challenges is unique to each writer. I just haven’t yet found the way to overcome my current challenges. What I am thinking about now is that the job search and the writing, of equal top priority, need to split my time 50-50. I’ll figure this out…..

What are your challenges as a writer in getting writing done and how do you overcome them, or not?  How do you “remain calm and carry on” when frustration threatens to consume you?  Any tips, suggestions or sharing will be welcome and appreciated!

 

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Filling in the Holes

It’s been a tough month and a half in life. But this past week I’ve had more time for writing fiction, and my mood has improved greatly as a result.  I continue to work on the Aanora story with building excitement.  The rough outline is done up to the moment before the climax, and I know the very last scene.  But that climax has me stuck.  I’ve put my characters into what seems to be an impossible situation, and I haven’t a clue – yet – how they’ll get themselves out of it. At this point, I tell myself, “trust the process.” My imagination will come up with something plausible.

In the meantime, I’ve been writing this story in a way I’ve not done before, i.e. I’ve been skipping around…a lot. I’ve been writing scenes as they come into my mind.  In the past, I’ve usually written straight through from beginning to end, then I’ve gone back and rearranged scenes as necessary.  I’ve also not outlined the plot points as I’ve done with this story.  So, this story has demanded from the start that I take a different approach.

I call it “filling in the holes.” I write skeleton scenes, or write one scene in a section and leave it to skip to a different section. The next time I can work on the story on my computer, I write another scene or two, and then return to scenes I’ve written earlier and edit, add details, or fill in dialogue and action. My imagination tells me where it wants to play and I go there.

As a result of this approach, I’ve discovered that I’ve had a significant number of false starts, action that turns out not to work, and scrapping whole scenes to start over. At one point a week ago, it hit me that I hadn’t made the stakes high enough for my characters and that’s when I figured out what the villain wants and how it conflicts with what the protagonist wants. For me, this is a particularly strange way of working. In the past, I’ve laid down a first draft, printed it out, and then gone through it carefully, asking questions about what each character wants and what he or she will do to get it, if the action, dialogue, scenes are moving the story forward or not, what the purpose of each scene is.

And another thing I’m doing differently with this story: I’ve broken it up into sections and each section has a title. Now I realize that my imagination wanted it this way to have playful titles — yes, I am using the word “play” a lot in one form or another because this story has been all about playing — playing with the characters and action, and playing with my imagination more than anything else. Playing with a detail, an action, a block of dialogue, to see what will work best. The sections make it easier for me to write in short bursts, as has been necessary with my current work schedule and life, and to write something in one section, then leave it to write in another section without losing track of the story.

Play.  My imagination has prescribed for me the perfect medication for the serious stuff life has been throwing at me lately. I’m happiest when I’m writing fiction, and being able to play with the Aanora story recently has been a respite and sanctuary, as well as lifting my mood. The serious life stuff will always be there, and in its way, it feeds my creativity by giving me life experience. But I love the way working on the Aanora story has given play back to me.

What is your deepest fear?

Dark Demon by ChrisCold

Writers deal with fear everyday. We fear success.  We fear failure.  We fear submitting our work to strangers. We fear hearing from those same strangers after submission. We fear the blank page.  We fear our own humanity and that we are inadequate to the task of writing and telling a story others will want to read and enjoy. Have I about covered it? Do you have a fear that’s different?

Fear is a tough thing to fight because it’s tenacious.  Just when I think I’ve gotten the better of it, it sneaks up and grabs my throat, sending my stomach into a tailspin, and sending me back into the darkness.  I’ve been one of those people envious of people who can be fearless. Either they fear nothing or they hide the fear very well. And I suspect they have a totally different perspective on the world.

When afraid, the human body goes into a flight or fight mode and certain hormones are released to help us deal with the danger. Those hormones can be damaging to our bodies if released all the time. So being fearful for long periods of time is not only bad for the psyche, but also bad for the body. Years ago, I used to meditate every day for at least half an hour. It worked wonders. I don’t remember now how I got out of that habit. Then several years ago, I began practicing Falun gong, a movement meditation from China based in Buddhism. I loved this practice.  I always felt so centered and strong after it. I got into the habit of doing this practice every day for 30-40 minutes (the first 4 movements), and I felt great. Then I had to have surgery and I stopped the Falun gong.

Falun Gong Exercises

Recently, I’ve been trying to return to Falun gong as well as adding a yoga practice to help with improving balance and strength. I’ve run into the same problem with this wonderful plan that I have with writing — I leave the house at 6:50 every morning during the week and return between 6 and 6:30 at night.  In order to get at least 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep, I’m in bed by 8:30 every night to get up at 4:30 the next morning and start all over again. I’ve been trying to fit writing into this schedule with little success. There’s just not enough free time. I’m now thinking of taking some writing to work with me and working on it over my lunch hour.

Feeling centered and strong physically can really help in fighting fear. But it doesn’t really address the cause of the fear. That’s usually in the mind. Maybe a writer has been told over and over as a child that he doesn’t have the smarts for intellectual pursuits, and writing falls into that category for him. Or she’s been told that her purpose in life is to marry and produce children, to exist for the benefit of those children and the man she married. Going outside of expectations creates fear in the mind.  Low self-esteem can also produce fear in the mind — I’ve struggled with this one myself for years.  Isn’t it sad when parents cannot celebrate their child’s uniqueness, her intelligence, imagination, and artistic abilities? My parents’ reaction to my artistic pursuits was “Can’t, can’t, can’t.”

Anger can be an effective counter to fear. That’s how I was able to pursue music and writing in spite of my parents’ messages and expectations for me. I still did not enjoy any support from them for what I was doing or what I accomplished. I realize now that most of my fear comes from them — the fear that they passed onto me when I was too young to understand and internalized it. Knowing this, understanding my own mind’s fearfulness helped me not only to play music in college and then to write, but to be able to understand a fictional character’s fears and where they might originate.

It’s worth it to figure out where your fears originate. They won’t just go away if you choose to ignore them or to develop tricks to get around them. But I want to end with a quote I read recently from Marianne Williams, author of A Return to Love:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”

 

Writing in Pieces

Yesterday, while cleaning out e-mail (I am forever cleaning out e-mail! Who isn’t?!), I found a blog post by a blogger, Lindsey Gendke, I’ve been following for several years now. She’s a writer, a mom with 2 pre-schoolers, and published author. Her blog post that I read yesterday was from October 23, and she wrote about how to get unstuck when stuck in the mud of writing and life. She suggested writing ideas on index cards. I confess, I’ve done this at times. Not to come unstuck, but just to organize projects.  It’s a good way to keep up with idea generation, though — carry a pack of blank 3×5 index cards and write one idea per card.  Then the ideas are preserved for later scrutiny and development.  After dutifully turning back my clocks and watches last night, I went to bed.

This morning I woke up thinking about writing in pieces.  Using index cards is one way to write in pieces.  It’s the method I used for keeping track of research for a paper in school, and it’s something I’ve done occasionally to map out plot points. Although I think the index cards idea triggered my thoughts about writing in pieces, it’s not what I mean when I say writing in pieces. I mean breaking a writing project down into manageable pieces to work on.  For a novel, that might be chapters, or even sections of chapters. Or scenes, which I did when I was writing screenplays — I wrote scene by scene (usually handwritten on a legal pad).  Prose fiction can also be broken into scenes. And they do not necessarily need to be written in order.

My work this past week on the Aanora story involved a lot of thinking about several different scenes (Monday through Friday), and then yesterday working on the rough outline to capture my thoughts about those scenes. I’m surprised at myself, actually, that I’m fleshing in an outline before I’ve written very much, but it’s helping me organize my thoughts, reveal what I need to research, and helping me see just how viable the story idea is, i.e. well worth developing and writing. As I was working on the outline, I realized that I was starting to break the story up into pieces that did not necessarily relate to plot points but involved 1-2 scenes for each piece. So when I woke up this morning thinking about writing in pieces, I realized that this was the way to go for the Aanora story, and perhaps I could write on it during the work week as a result rather than waiting to the weekend.

So my task today, after I finish this post, is to figure out the specific pieces, open a separate Word file for each, and then see if I can figure out how I get from the place I managed to outline to yesterday to the ending I have outlined. I’m very close. And I realized also this morning that this is the first story I’ve written in which the main character really doesn’t get what he thinks he wants, but he gets something better.  That was a surprise to me, a happy one.

The Aanora story is gaining momentum, folks! And I’m feeling quite happy about that.

The Cost of Being Independent

The May 2017 issue of The Writer is chock full of helpful and interesting articles! Since I’m working to pay off debt incurred from e-publishing Perceval’s Secret, I was particularly interested in the article, “Going Rogue: Is Self-publishing right for you?” In this article, Kerrie Flanagan compares the traditional publishing model and the self-publishing/independent model, covering all aspects of production, publication, marketing/promotion, and distribution. I recommend this article highly, highly, highly — especially for anyone who believes it doesn’t cost much at all to self-publish.

It depends, of course, on what you want. If you just want to publish an e-book, your costs may not be that high compared to a paperback or hardcover.  I took the advice and suggestions of others, some were writers I knew who’d been successful with self-publishing, and made certain that I found a good-to-excellent editor and a collaborative cover designer for my e-book. Editors can be expensive, anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 depending on what you want and who it is. Shop around, but also shop local if you can. I’m fortunate to live in a literary urban area full of colleges and writing resources. The cover design for me was actually the least expensive cost. I went with a designer who’d done a friend’s book covers. There are writers who are talented in design also, and they can design their own covers, saving money there.

My next expense was to turn my Word document into ePub and Mobi files for Kindle and other e-readers.  For me, this was a painful learning experience. Fortunately, I found an excellent and very patient formatting company, BookNook.biz. Because I had not cleared my Word document of all icky formatting glitches, and Word is notorious for them, there were all sorts of issues with the electronic formatting that cost me more to fix than it would have if I’d cleared the Word document at the beginning. I didn’t know. I paid for my ignorance.  It won’t happen again.  Some writers know a lot about formatting or aren’t scared off by the conversion process. They will save some bucks by doing the conversion themselves.

Flanagan doesn’t go into the cost of ISBN numbers, registering your novel with the US Copyright Office, and marketing/promotion costs.  The last can cost you significantly more than producing the book, depending on what you want, of course.  I worked in advertising at one point in my life and know a bit about marketing.  The most important thing about marketing that you need to know is that unless you are famous or have an irresistible platform, it’s going to be very difficult making yourself heard in the cacophony of promotion at any given moment. In the US, at least 50,000 books are published every year. You’ll be competing with all of them for readers’ attention and hard-earned money. Adjust your expectations for sales accordingly.

With traditional publishing, the writer has no up front costs as with self or independent publishing. The writer also doesn’t have the control that she has as an independent publisher. Traditional publishers take over all the production, with some limited input from the writer about covers, titles, and then proofing galleys. They will also provide very limited marketing and promotion, but are honest with writers that they depend on them for the bulk of this work. It can take up to 2 years for a traditional publisher to publish your book.  If you do it yourself, it can be done in 3-6 months. Perceval’s Secret took 8 months because I slowed the editing and revision process at the beginning.

Photo: aliyasking.com

There is one important thing that traditional publishers (and literary agents) do that writers cannot really do on their own. That is: tell a writer if a book is in publishable shape or not. Even before I contracted to work with my last editor, I’d already been through several edits including a really close line edit. I knew that there would be no major changes or issues for that last edit. There was polishing, however, and that is an important process also. In the last few years, I’ve been asked to read self-published books on occasion. I love helping out a fellow writer, especially if a book is truly worth the attention my review might be able to get for it.  But in all cases, the books were in such terrible shape with grammar, language, sentence and paragraph construction, narrative structure, and in one case, checking facts,  I was shocked. How could a writer allow their work to be published like that? So I’d caution anyone thinking of going the self-publishing route to be absolutely certain that their writing is the best it can be, and do not depend on self-publishing services to provide competent editing for you.  Find your own professional editor.

As I mentioned at the top, I’m still paying off the debt I incurred for publishing Perceval’s Secret in digital form.  I’m coming up on the end of the promotional period on July 1 for the 0% interest rate from the credit card I transferred the debt to (it was originally on another credit card with high interest). I set up a GoFundMe project to raise the funds to pay off this debt, so if you’d like to help out, every $10 or $20 will be a big help. It’d be great if I could raise another $600 in the next couple weeks.  The GoFundMe page is here.  Thank you!  Or please buy Perceval’s Secret at Amazon or B&N, and leave a review there after you’ve read it.

Taking Perceval to the Next Step GoFundMe Page