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.

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Preparing for the 2013 San Francisco Writers Conference – Yikes!

OMG. I just realized that in one short week, I’ll be packing to go. Am I ready?

Not really, and it’s not just because I realized when my wayward 7 By 7 (code for San Francisco) daughter came home for Christmas that her suitcase was bulging with MY sweaters (I was wondering where my sweaters ran off to…I dry clean them, so they couldn’t have gone the way of missing socks) and I really need to shop for replacements to fill the holes in my trendy, business casual wardrobe – retail therapy I don’t have time for.

No, it could be that my re-write on FINDING CADENCE still is not finished.

That’s because I’ve been tightening and deleting, and tightening some more. Then I had to reread what was left to determine if it all still made sense. I have to balance a tenuous psychological component with the fact that my antagonist is an attorney running for Governor,  so I’ve had to button down the legalities of my story. And I still need to exterminate at least 5K words, to take it from the scary, over 126K mark down to a count that won’t scare off an agent. (I’m fairly confident a little white query lie of 120K will petrify anyone in the biz.) Every once in a while, I drag out my query and take a stab at it. The art of the query is not my major forte. Honestly, it’s like trying to kill an opossum with a chopstick. It’s slow, I’m stupid, and it just won’t offer me a speedy demise.

And while I’m feeling super confident and open to any and all suggestions, I am suffering from the same stomach-trapped butterflies I found in my stomach five years ago – just before attending my FIRST San Francisco Writers Conference. When I was a newbie and afraid of not only agents and editors, but of fellow writers.

Now editors and agents don’t scare me anymore. They’re people, just like me. And fellow writers are the best! They are helpful and kind and many of them stay in touch after our weekend is over. While I’ve made huge strides in my writing, have learned, struggled, written a LOT, queried, even self-e-pubbed, there is still the lingering d.o.u.b.t. You know the drill. Am I good enough? Will my epic tale ever find a home with a good agent, one who has faith in me and my work? Will I ever sell more than a hundred books?

I recently learned I’m not a finalist in the contest this year, another semi-crushing blow (for a minute).

And the final, Big Truth moment? THIS IS MY FIFTH CONFERENCE.

Not that I don’t love it; I do. When I go, I get caught up in the enthusiasm and all the positive energy. I learn something new every year. The SFWC is what I need to drag me out of winter doldrums and writer’s slowdown. No, while the venue is heavenly, it’s just that one would think my learning curve might have improved over time. Over the span of five years (not counting the two years before that I spent on the first draft). Shouldn’t I have been scooped up by now?

Well, I have expended my twenty minutes of doubt and self-pity. It’s time to get back to the edit, and my Honeybaked ham bean soup. And my edit.

See you in San Francisco.

🙂

Regrets and Resolutions: A Writer’s End of Year

I honestly don’t understand how some published authors are so prolific. Especially mind boggling are those who have small children, businesses or day jobs, health problems, and the like. My life (especially the last few months) is at times so chaotic, it’s sweet relief to fall into bed at night. As a result, writing as taken a definite back seat.

Yet I try to squeeze out some writing time on a regular basis. I could be doing other things, like being more productive in my business(es) (totally boring), working out (uber boring), or maintaining my house and yard (not so boring, but time consuming). I could promote my writing more, but I’d feel like a huckster on a street corner peddling apples. Plus I’m too laid back (i.e. lazy) to do real promotion. I’m an artist: you either love my work, or you don’t. No hard feelings.

If I have one writing regret of 2012, it’s that I haven’t written MORE. Unfortunately, life threw me a couple of obstacles this year, and precious time was taken up by other more pressing matters. Maybe I was hoping the Mayans were right and I’d have no qualms about my absenteeism if I didn’t wake up on the 22nd.

Of course, that didn’t happen. The sun came up the next day.

2013 is starting early for me. Like TODAY.  My writing resolutions are as such:

1. Write more. I know. I say this all the time, but I need self-flagellation on a regular basis. Perhaps I should pencil that in on my calendar? While I’m throwing that idea on the fire, perhaps blogging more would be a good idea too.

2. Write more carefully. (Excuse my probably bad sentence.) Use what I’ve learned over the last few years to prevent writing mistakes before they happen. That way I won’t have such a heavy burden when it comes time to…

3. Edit more carefully. I’ve been working on Finding Cadence since 2007. I’m on my sixth edit, and I’m amazed to find errors and awkward phrasing even now. While I’m not exactly pleased as punch with Virtually Yours, the book served a purpose, mainly to remind me that editing never ends.

4. Study more. I love the Savvy Authors web site. So far, I’ve taken two classes and found them to be most helpful. The support and feedback are wonderful.

5. Network more. While I don’t write genre romance (my work does have romantic elements) I belong to the RWA and the Greater Detroit RWA and I’m a terrible member. I need to attend more meetings. I might need to branch out and find a serious critique group.

6. And finally, finish all of the half-baked projects I have hidden on my hard drive. I’ve got excellent ideas and compelling stories, but they won’t finish themselves. Time is short; I am old. I really need to start writing as fast as I can. After all, if someone with children under the age of 5 can do it, I should be able to.

For writers, writing is life. It’s the air we breathe. We have to channel our imagination somewhere, or we turn into tortured souls.

Leaving now to find my source of oxygen.

Critique and Rejection

How apropos that this article from Query Tracker landed in my email inbox today. What do they call it? Kismet?

A couple of days ago, I received a critique on the YA story I’ve been working on forever. I had begged my Editor for Life for said constructive critique, as I had never written anything in the genre. (Usually, Mr. ED provides me with written direction as to development and an opinion on whether the story will fly, but not this time. This time, he and his fellow editor oohed and aahed and implored me to hurry up and make the changes and submit the novel to an agent, post haste.) But since I insisted, he passed my draft to a reviewer.

When the review came back, he prefaced the email by telling me a few things. One, he doesn’t agree with the assessment. Two, Nameless Reviewer reamed me a new “b***hole,” or two.

Still, I’m no shrinking violet. I encourage critique, especially if it is constructive. Plus, I asked for it.

And the review? Scathing doesn’t quite describe what I read.

And guess what? I survived it.

Nameless Reviewer brought up several good points. One being that my technology was dated. Yes, yes it is. I started writing this novel in 2008. That’s four long years ago. I rushed to complete it because I wanted to finally finish it. It was the one piece of work that I already had 50K worth of words and was closest to finishing.

There were other technical issues that I totally agreed with. She reviewed my first draft. My first drafts are typically horrible, if not downright obnoxious. Especially true of a first draft that took me four years to finish. And I tried too hard. When I wrote the beginning, I had ‘dumbed’ down my main character. Teenagers these days are rather savvy and more sophisticated than what my character exhibited in the first few pages of my book.

However, I have to disagree with her on the rest of it. She thought it was an unbelievable tale and that my character was unlikeable. I am in contact with 14 to 18 year olds all day long. I see what’s going on. My teenage character is rather spoiled and not very likeable. I wanted to portray her as such in the beginning, because in the end she finds her better self.

Plus I based the character and her antics on my Real Life daughter and her friends. My Real Life daughter can come off as 1. spoiled, 2. bitchy, and 3. not very likeable. But my Real Life daughter can be very compassionate, is fun, smart, and talented.

Why do I blather on about this?

Well, for one thing, I’ve sent out queries and I’ve been rejected. I’ve submitted my work for various contests and have had mixed results. Some people like what I write, and some people don’t. Similarly, I feel the same way about some novels. There are too many books out there, and I can’t expect to like every one, or to have everyone like my work.

I like what Jillian Medoff said about writing as an art. It is an art. Like any artist, writers build their body of work. They grow and learn new concepts; they build a gallery of pieces that (hopefully) show a positive progression of improvement. I’m thinking of a gentleman I know from the Michigan Silversmith Guild, who is holding his 50 year retrospective in Kalamazoo. He was not proficient at metals when he was a college student, but what he creates now is nothing short of stunning and amazing.

Critique is not meant to tear down, but to point out various avenues not apparent to the artist. This is my take. Rejection can only be felt by the beholder, not by the artist. If you feel torn down and rejected, it might be time to start working in earnest.

San Francisco Writers Conference Recap

WOW. That’s all I could say for three days. However, now that the conference is over and I’ve marinated overnight, I’m ready to post my afterthoughts on this great event. Even though I didn’t win the fiction contest, I was honored to have made it to finalist.

First of all: write what you love and love what you write. Many writers say they are writing because “they have to” or some other noble cause (I was one of them), but really what writers do is write to entertain. They write to reach out, to connect to readers. That’s right, we write for totally selfish reasons — we want people to listen to us. Some writers think they can write for money. I suppose that is true in some cases, but not true in most. If traditionally published, a good run would be considered 3,000 books over ten years. That’s not a whole helluva lot. If you are going to write, make sure you love your words and make certain those words are fabulous. Don’t look for the magic pay off or the slot machine win, because that will likely not happen.

Second: keep learning. That’s right, you can never attain the pinnacle of knowing it all. For example, I attended a workshop this weekend on how to run a critique group. Now I’ve been a member of a critique group for about a year, but I had yet to know how to critique. In fact, that’s one of the things I find myself lacking. I’m poor at critiquing other people’s work. Now I know how. (Duh!) You can learn from books, true, but you can also learn online. Get on Twitter and follow a few writers and agents around. Click on their links when they post them, and read carefully. Better yet, join the San Francisco Writers University — it’s free, it’s going to be the Facebook for writers, and there’s all kinds of useful information to be had.

Third: keep the lines of communication open. Writers are quite a chummy set of people, even though many of us are introverted to an extreme. Reach out to other writers; you can learn so much from them. Last year, I learned how to write an appropriate pitch from four ladies who gave mine a thorough going-over. Make friends with other writers — you never know what they will have to offer to help you on your journey. This weekend, I found two writers who will give me a line on an illustrator for my cover.

Fourth: if you are a writer and can only attend one conference a year because of time constraints or expense, GO to THIS one. I belong to the Romance Writers of America, and would love to attend their conference because I hear it’s fabulous, but I can’t. One, it’s in July when my day job is uber-busy. I can’t get away. Two, I can only afford one conference. And Three, I really don’t write romance. The San Francisco Writers Conference covers many genres, many aspects of the writing process. This is my third year. Every year I wish I could attend every workshop offered, but of course, I’d have to be cloned.

A caveat: I have already registered for next year’s conference. If you’re interested, you must act quickly. They limit attendance to 300, and often reach full capacity like they did this year.

I want to see you there, not on a waiting list.

What Does a Real Writer Look Like?

(Still in San Francisco.)

I love it here, mainly because it’s San Francisco (duh!) and who wouldn’t love to be here? The history is rich, the views are amazing, the people are friendly, the food is to die for and of course, there is the ocean. The ocean is the one attraction I am most drawn to. There is something calming about Ocean Beach. In the early morning when I like to go out, it’s cold, wet, misty, quiet. It’s also deserted. It’s so far removed from the rest of the city, very rustic and wild, it’s almost like being on another planet.

I gather a lot of inspiration from the beach. Take a long walk with nothing but sand on one side and the roar of the waves on the other and a person’s head can clear easily. I write a lot when I come here, but I also write a lot any time I’m away from home and Real Life.

Let’s face it, Real Life is no casual walk on the beach. It’s tedious and scary. I think that’s why it takes so long for me to unwind from Real Life in order to sit down and write. I’m getting better, thanks to Write or Die and an occasional little self-flogging.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the past blaming my abilities (or lack of them) on Real Life. I imagined Real Writers sitting in coffee shops in Paris (or San Francisco) with their glasses of wine or demitasses of espresso, chain smoking Turkish cigarettes while penning the next best seller between spirited conversations of politics and love with other like souls. I would love nothing more than to take a little apartment here and work six to eight hours a day after my morning walk along the beach.

Unfortunately, I’ve got to work for a living.

The truth is that most Real Writers are not romantic personalities sitting in dark cafes. Most Real Writers have Real Lives.

One of my recently published internet buddies is a Real Doctor. He has a family and other pursuits, including playing mandolin in a bluegrass band and regular games of golf. How he found time to write a book, I don’t know. (Yes, I do.)

I know others who are Real Young Mothers. I was a terribly pre-occupied young mother. There was no way I could write with small children in the house, or maybe that was me then. I might have changed in twenty years. These published Real Mothers manage to crank out books all the time, even in the chaos.

A Real Writer plugs along, picking up knowledge, making the craft better along the way. The best path to becoming a Real Writer is to tell yourself you ARE. I take a jewelry making class and the teacher calls all of us Jewelry Artists. Not students, not wannabes, but Artists.

Set the bar and get there. Make it Real.