Finding Inspiration Everywhere

If you haven’t yet, please subscribe at the new blog address HERE.

While I feel writing is my artistic outlet, there are times where producing actual writing is hampered, by real life, by other interests and responsibilities, by the lack of time. This happens to be one of those two week periods where finding a good, solid block of writing time is just not possible.

It’s not that I’m lazy – well, yes, I’m kind of lazy, although I’m trying to reform myself. It’s not like I’m lying around eating bonbons and watching daytime TV (which I guess is now NOT soaps and might be Judge Judy). I work – a lot, in fact, it’s a holiday and I’m taking a break from work right now (and the phone is ringing off the hook! Shouldn’t they be barbecuing or something?) I have a huge house and a bigger yard that I maintain on my own (with the help from the other half), and there are other commitments that eat into time. It’s not unusual, in fact, you could say that outside influences are a prevailing factor amongst us “struggling” artists. It’s a monumental struggle to create.

Still, you can find inspiration everywhere.

I force myself to do writing prompts. I’m currently doing 21 Moments (I’d link you, but this month will be the last set). Short writing prompts are the easiest. They take about 30 minutes to complete, perfect for those days where a block of three or four hours just doesn’t exist.

Even without the prompts, life gives you plenty of opportunities to explore your creative side. I have a huge vegetable garden, and have had to devote many days recently (thank heavens the days are sunny and clear!) to tending it.

At my age, I rather enjoy gardening. There’s something organic about the human hand digging in dirt, getting rid of the weeds, planting new material and seeds. There’s an order, a certain Zen about it. It’s the circle of life, and hopefully in a few months, I’ll be able to bring the fruits of my labor to the table. In the quiet of the early morning hours, I can entertain entire conversations in my head, play out plots and scenes, and think about the larger picture.

During breaks, I scribble down the meat of the moment. I’ll uncover it later, and use it in my writing.

It might seem strange, but I find cooking gives me a similar artistic charge. Many modern people think cooking is a bore, that it takes a lot of time, that you can nourish yourself a lot quicker through a drive-through or with ready-made meals. Not me. Home cooking takes a little forethought but it’s not difficult. There’s a care and love in making a meal, and the machinations always translate into tasty literary morsels. In fact, I’m working on a story with food as an underlying theme.

(I used to be able to write at work; unfortunately, things are more stressful now than they used to be.)

Art can be born of any action. The artist has to take a germ of an idea and go from there.

Any art takes a commitment. The artist has to be able to carve out time from the day to create.

It’s a daunting task, but you can find inspiration everywhere.

And Now a Few Words That Have Nothing to Do With Writing

I am currently armpit deep into a MS with a beginning and a middle but no end, and waiting on my Editor for Life to provide feedback for another finished novel. My head is full of [too many] words. So I guess I’ll just unleash a rant on a completely unrelated subject.

Equality and the Fairness Issue

For some reason, there’s been a lot of emphasis put on the “virtues” of being “equal” or “fair.” I really don’t get it.

I know. I’m old. I’m a freaking dinosaur. I’m definitely not hip. I’m so opinionated that I’m politically incorrect. I’m also busy with my own pursuits; I don’t have time to luxuriate in new (maybe imagined?) slights.

There seems to be some consensus that if only the playing field were level, people would be happy. If only minorities could get a special dispensation for being minorities, they could get into college. Or if only the Evil Rich One Percent would give away all their money, the poor wouldn’t be poor. Even our President and our Pope says we have to do something about income inequality.

If only we could get special consideration for our shortcomings, no matter what they are.

If only, if only.

(Let me say right here, right now, that I’m several shades of minority, I’m a woman, and I’ve been on the dole – for three months, the worst three months of my life. So I’m not an over-privileged white person who has never had to struggle.)

It’s not fair! *stomps foot* Remind you of something? Like a headstrong toddler who wants candy NOW or a defiant teen who wants a later curfew? As if demanding “fairness” will make the world right.

The world isn’t right; it was never right. It’s not going to be right, ever.

Life is not fair, so what?

I might be in the minority, but the purpose of life is not to get everything you want. The purpose of life is to work for everything you want. It’s to take your struggles, puzzle out a solution, and come out on the other side a better person.

The past might be a bad thing, full of heartbreak and injustices. So what?

At what point do you drop the past and journey into the present (and the future) on your own two feet?

One should build (positively) on the mistakes of others, instead of falling back on the negatives of the past.

And here, for my own personal rant of things that aren’t fair:

1. It’s not fair that my ancestors were Native American. It’s not fair that my great-grandfather had to take my grandmother (when she was a toddler) and hide her in the northern bogs of Minnesota to escape the Bureau of Indian Affairs and their plan to put them on a reservation. It’s not fair that for much of her life my grandma couldn’t vote, hold property, or drink alcohol because she was 1/2 Chippewa.

2. It’s not fair that the male members of my Greek grandfather’s family were killed by the Turks, and that he had to travel across the ocean all by himself to start a new life in America.

3. It’s not fair that my father had to join the Army to escape poverty. It’s not fair that after he married my mother, she had to wait in the immigration line for two years and accumulate 4 inches of paperwork to come here and become a citizen.

4. It’s not fair that I had to quit college before finishing my degree. It’s not fair that eating and putting a roof over my head became more important than my education.

5. It’s not fair that my health insurance is so high (even though for an old lady, I’m in fairly good shape) that I’ll probably have to work the rest of my life just to be able to afford it.

6. Speaking of that, it’s not fair that I’ve worked since 16 (actually 13, if you count the time spent working for my father in his gas station) and that I’ll NEVER be able to retire.

7. It’s not fair that I have to pay taxes. It wasn’t fair that my tax dollars couldn’t fund a decent school system and we had to pay out of pocket of our kids’ education, or that our tax dollars aren’t enough to repair the city-owned sidewalk in front of our house and we’ll have to pay for that ourselves. Or that we pay exorbitant fuel taxes to keep the roads up, but they’re still like driving on the moon. (I wouldn’t mind taxes, if I could see a return on investment that wasn’t lining some millionaire politician’s pocket with retirement possibilities.)

I guess I could throw a couple more trivial unfairness issues on that shit pile, ones that have to do with writing. It’s not fair that I don’t have unlimited time to write, or that I don’t have a wonderful agent, or that I’m not traditionally published, or that I’m not sitting on a pile of writing-related money.

*********This part of unfairness rant over. It didn’t feel good, so it was likely not worth it.************

My husband (who is very wise) says that for some the whole “fairness” issue is not one of leveling the field, but rather it’s borne out of jealousy. Whipping out fairness (or unfairness) is the easy fall-back explanation for everything not right in your world. It’s a way of blaming everyone else for your woes, instead of working toward fixing the problem on your own. You can give people whatever they want, but you can’t give them happiness, or equality. These things come from within.

As for me, I’m going back to doing what I do best: making my own world better, despite my shortcomings, my history, and my circumstances.

And I’ll be happy no matter how unfair life is.

 

 

 

 

Moving to This Shiny New Web Site!

I’m moving to this shiny new web site!

I have asked WordPress to move my email subscribers over, but if you haven’t heard from me in a week, please feel free to drop over to the new pad and sign up for email notices.

Meanwhile, I’ll check back here occasionally to see if I can round up any stragglers.

Happy reading.

The Indie-Trad Argument, From My Perspective, or Yes, I’m Self-Publishing

cadence coverThe cover for my new book.

If you want to be thoroughly entertained and crave a shower of fireworks on the Internet, one might be better served to stay away from the political realm and follow authors and agents embroiled in the brouhaha over self vs. traditional publishing (or as Barry Eisler would say, as he did during the 2014 San Francisco Writers Conference, the indies vs. legacy options). It’s a virtual shit show of information and misinformation, competing opinions, mud slinging, happy and less-than-happy endings, spreadsheets produced with dreamy algorithms, and nightmarish anecdotes. Both factions are passionate. Both have valid points. Both are loud and proud.

Beats TV. With. A. Stick. Yes, even House of Cards.

Even with the path fraught with pitfalls of evil operators (including some small presses) who want to drain the unsuspecting writer of every dime they can scrape together, indie publishing is an option that the modern writer can’t take off the table.  “Eyes wide open,” I always say. It is why I have decided to self-publish my next book, Finding Cadence.

It’s not just the successfully indie-published authors like Eisler and Konrath or the Create Spaces and Author Houses who think this way. I’ve spoken to plenty of literary agents, some of whom encourage self-publishing, for various reasons.

My PRO reasons are many, including this brief Cliff Notes version:

1. I have a story to tell. In recent days, I’ve picked the brain of many an artist, including visual artists and musicians. My informal poll shows most artists want their work OUT THERE. Sure, they want gallery time and recording contracts, but reaching that level does not confirm (in their minds anyway) the fact that they are artists. Example: If you create a painting and it sits in your closet, or if you write a song and you never play it in public, is it art? Probably. But art is meant to be enjoyed. If it’s not being enjoyed by a wider public, is it worth the effort?

2. I have limited time with which to get my story out. I’ve read some very depressing stories of late of writers working for twenty years or more before they received a traditional book deal. Twenty years? In twenty years, I’ll be dead, no probablies about it. I’d just as soon begin the next WIP and worry about my next story than to spend that time wishing and hoping and praying for lightning to strike me.

3. The technology is there, why not use it? Back in the day, hell, only ten years ago, e-pubbing and self-publishing books weren’t even options, or they were limited in scope. Aspiring authors had to send out queries, and wait, and wait. And go to church and make offerings to the literary gods. It’s different now. Most people (even dinosaurs like me) are Internet savvy, and if they’re not, there are other people in the world who are. Even after paying for help, in the form of editing services, book cover design, and file conversions, you realize it’s not going to drain the bank.

4. The process is quick. Instead of taking two years from agent deal to finished product on the bookshelves, the indie author can complete the job in two months.

The CONS? There are a few:

1. The stigma of “vanity.” Yes, we’ve all heard the term. Self-publishing equals “vanity” publishing. Vanity publishing calls to mind anyone with a pen (or word processing program) who hastily writes a book and puts it out there for the world to see. Vanity publishing was often full of grammatical errors and/or sported horrific covers. However, the new breed of indie author is different. They’re excellent writers with great stories, and they realize that the finished product reflects on them and the sales of now and future work.

2. It’s nice to have an agent on your side. Yes, having an agent working for you is great validation, and I hope to be on the agented bus soon. Scoring a literary agent is just the first step; next comes selling to a major house. And even though you might have landed an agent, that doesn’t leave you, the writer, to sip scotch while you’re pounding out the next novel. You’re expected to market your work as well. (And remember, days of BIG advances are long gone.)

3. The expenditures of time and money, or “you should get paid for your work, not the other way around.” Yes, it costs a little to self publish. Yes, you’ll be pulling the hair out of your head trying to imagine marketing ploys that won’t leave you looking like a common shill. Yes, writing checks or begging people to buy your book is less than pleasant. I know agented authors who sell 100 books and think this is a good thing. (Yes, it is.) They don’t make enough from writing to quit their day jobs.

4. If you self-publish, you’re just adding your drop to an ocean filled with books, and no one will see your work. Yes, and if you don’t self-publish, no one will have a chance to see your work, EVER. (BTW, the traditionally published authors suffer that same predicament now, competing with a tsunami of books, some of which are interesting and just as entertaining as those traditionally published.)

This is my take: I’ve been writing online for nearly ten years. I’ve gotten paid for some of it, and I’ve not been paid for the rest. If you look at PRO reason #1 above, you’ll see that I’m not writing because I’m thinking I’ll make a windfall from my words. I write because it’s my art of choice.

Does this mean I’m going to stay an indie publisher?

Hell, the no! I’m going to always write, and I’m still going to query what I’ve finished writing. In fact, my dream agent would be Donald Maass and my dream publishing house would be Simon and Schuster. In the meantime, I’ll choose a parallel path and keep to my goal. As long as there are viable options, I might as well explore all of them.

Hunting and Bagging the Elusive ‘Write’ Time

It’s Monday, and my Real Life plate runneth over. Our office survived four days of painters, which is no easy task.  (Think trying to paint around an explosion, and you’ll know what the painters had to deal with.) Today’s enrollments are way up (must be between sport seasons, or the fact that the snow is finally melting – now everyone wants to drive). It’s a payroll week. Last Thursday, we got our curriculum approved by the state (finally), so I’ve spent the last three days making manuals – through the obstacle course that was my office full of painters. The house hasn’t seen a thorough cleaning in I don’t know how long, which caused my husband to dust my bookshelves yesterday. It was either that, or the spider building a high-rise cobweb condo was going to make his digs permanent.

When I tell people I write, they wonder how I can squeeze it into my day. I can firmly attest that it’s not easy. Making time to write is like going on a safari. There’s only so much time to get things done.

Writers write. Dreamers talk about it. ~Jerry B. Jenkins

As a writer, you have to do more than WANT to write. That part is easy. The hard part is sitting your butt into a chair and making it happen.

You don’t find time to write. You make time. It’s my job. ~Nora Roberts

The thing I’ve learned since beginning to write again: Writing is a commitment. It’s a flower you have to water, it’s a pet you have to feed. That means daily, people. I find if I skip a day, I feel terrible, like I forgot to breathe.

If you don’t write the book, the book ain’t gonna get written. ~Tom Clancy

Unless you are fabulously wealthy and have gobs of money to live on while you write, you’ll have to work. This means there must be a conscious effort to carve out a niche for your “write” time. For example, I’m doing it right now. I’m taking a half hour break from the disaster that is my life to write this blog post.

A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit. ~Richard Bach

Your “write” time doesn’t have to be hours. You can find it in shorter segments. Right now, I’m doing the Writer Mama 21 Moments, because right now, 250 to 400 words a day is all I can spare. I find myself looking forward to the prompts each day. The upside is that my little moments are shaping up to be the basis of my new novel.

Technique alone is not enough. You have to have passion. Technique alone is just an embroidered potholder. ~Raymond Chandler

It’s true that the more you write, the more you write. I’ve spent the last year in a massive edit. There was an urgency to finalize my work. At first, it was hard to commit to an hour or so (or more) a day in order to see to the end of my goal. With practice, exercising your mind on a regular schedule is much like exercising your body. It gets easier. You get an adrenaline rush.

Writing is hard work; it’s also the best job I’ve ever had. ~Raymond E. Feist

The best thing that a writer, like any other artist, can do is to fill your time with creativity. I’ve given up on most TV. I don’t have time for it. I’d rather fill my head with my own creations, or the creative works of others. If you’re serious about writing, you’ll keep your eye on the prize. Use whatever precious moments you might have to hone your craft. And if you need a word of encouragement, reach out to other writers. Yes, even me!

You’ll find putting yourself on a schedule will be time well spent.

Writing: On Which I Yield to the Idea of a Muse

A long, long time ago (holy cow, five years ago!), I wrote this article about kicking my muse to the curb.

Thanks to a workshop at the San Francisco Writers Conference this year, I have changed my mind.

When I first started writing – back in the day when dinosaurs ruled the earth – I subscribed to the idea of a muse. My muses would invariably take the form of human beings. Most likely, they would be human being males that I was romantically involved with, or were men I longed to be involved with, or were guys who had snubbed me and therefore I wrote as a way to beat down my enemies with the power of my words. I’d never really puzzled through the fact that my relationships (i.e. muses) were somehow compelling me to write, that they were responsible for my thoughts. All I knew is that I was most prolific in times of conflict and angst.

As a writer, it’s nice to have a fairy godmother muse to sit on your shoulder. She can tap you with magic dust whenever you need her and voila! you begin to type as though your keyboard is on fire and you only have twenty minutes to get it down before it spontaneously combusts, Mission Impossible style.

Yee-ahhhh… That might work for some people. I happen to be more pragmatic. If I don’t cattle prod myself to write something everyday, I’d never have completed three novels. Which is why I decided back in 2009 to kick my muse to the curb and set a schedule.

Five years after writing that article, I wandered into a SFWC workshop totally by accident (because the workshop I’d wanted to attend was standing room only and I really needed to sit down) with Lisa Tener regarding writing in the zone. She insisted that we must find a muse, and went about describing other writers’ various muses: mice, insects, old men, young children, birds, etc. Dictionary.com’s definition is the goddess or the power regarded as inspiring a poet, artist, thinker, or the like.

Our first task was to close our eyes and imagine ourselves going down a path in the woods toward a house where we would then introduce ourselves to our muse. We’d ask for direction and guidance.

(You can imagine here how I reacted. With total skepticism. And with horror, as I had killed off my own muse a long time ago. If I revived my muse, I feared he/she would probably kick my ass in retaliation.)

I decided to humor her and play along, but when I got to the house (invariably located in Golden Gate Park) and opened the door, instead of a room, I walked onto the large plain of Ocean Beach.

I mentioned this, and Lisa said, “Yes! That’s good. Water can be a great muse, and the ocean is vast.” Whodathunkit?

Later on, as I was sorting through my handouts of the day, I thought about using the ocean as a muse. Haven’t I been doing it all along? Isn’t that why I return to San Francisco on a regular basis? To stay by the beach, walk near the water, fight a biting wind, collect my thoughts? Isn’t this where my stories are born? My attachment is so great, I’ve used the photo of the Richmond, taken from the beach, on my blog. This photograph has been enlarged and framed and hangs over my bed, so when I feel a need to connect to Ocean Beach, I can look at it whenever I want.

I might have wanted to deny my muse, but I will no more. After all, it’s been there the whole time.

Sparks Fly During The San Francisco Writers Conference

It had to happen.

After weeks of Internet back and forth on the self-publishing versus traditionally publishing options (which kind of blossomed into WWIII), with articles like this,  and this, and this monstrosity of a blog post that took me three hours to read and that time was spent on the post, not counting the comments, you’d figure that some of that fiery emotion still lingered in the air.

The keynote speaker for the 2014 San Francisco Writers Conference was Barry Eisler, renowned writer of thrillers. He is also an engaging and charismatic speaker. While the ensuing address wasn’t exactly a s*** show, the sparks were definitely flying, mostly because Mr. Eisler gave a spirited speech on the current state of publishing. He listed toward the side of self or indie publishing, giving his own personal experiences and the reasons why he decided to go that route, while acknowledging the fact that there is still a place for an author to choose the traditional publishing route of gaining an agent and then a Big New York Publishing House. (I’m not going to rehash his words; you can click on any of those above links to get the gist of the debate.)

Keep your eyes wide open and make a decision based on gathering all of the facts. That’s what I got out of this address. Sage words for everyday living, wouldn’t you say?

I observed a wide range of reaction in this crowded room of 500 attendees. Keep in mind that the room was not only full of wannabe writers who have never published a word either on their own or with assistance, but it was also filled with authors, agents, editors, and those who make their living on the “legacy” model. In between the green with a freshly completed manuscript and the greenest at the top of the food chain were people like me, who had attended the conference before, or who had some success in self publishing, or who had started companies specifically designed to make the self publishing experience easier. By the end of Mr. Eisler’s speech, some were nodding in agreement, some were visibly blanched and upset, and others experienced a light bulb moment of “Oh! I can do that?”

At the end of the address, Michael Larsen came up and gave a just as spirited counterpoint to everything Barry Eisler said.

sfwc

I don’t know Barry Eisler. I’ve never read his books, as they’re not in the genre I like to read for enjoyment, but I might buy one of them to throw on the To Read pile that I can now build a small house with. To be honest, I don’t know any of the authors who have broken away from the traditional publishing model. I know the most visible ones write great books and have strong followings and they’re all immensely wealthy as a result. I do know that what works for one might not work for another.

On the other hand, I know agented authors with published works who haven’t seen book sales rise over 100.

I’m the kind of person who doesn’t believe in leprechauns or pots at the end of the rainbow. I buy lottery tickets, but I’m pretty sure I’m never going to win. I missed out on the eBay and Martha Stewart IPOs, and totally missed the bitcoin boat altogether, which means I will work like a dog until I drop dead.

Economic success is a combination of creating a viable product, brilliant marketing, being at the right place at the right time, finding a loyal niche and consistently delivering. There’s also a bit of serendipity in the way the cards fall; all the stars have to be aligned perfectly, especially in the writing world where a book is a work of art and the art of gatekeeping is a subjective (i.e. artistic) one. Not everyone can find that level, if it were that easy, everyone would be rich and famous.

The reason why I attend the San Francisco Writers Conference is that it consistently provides a wealth of information on the writing world, in craft, in marketing, in giving the opportunity for writers to briefly touch those in the publishing world. Michael and Elizabeth have been generous in allowing all points of view, thereby giving the attendees many options.

I go each year, because by mid-February, I need a recharging badly.

And it doesn’t hurt at all when the sparks fly.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 276 other followers