Monthly Archives: April 2013
For the last couple of months we’ve been talking a lot about disturbances in your writing, from writer’s block to family to repetitive strain injury. It’s important to develop strategies for dealing with each of these obstacles, but in the end it all boils down to one thing: making sacrifices.
Today we are blessed that we can do just about anything we want with our time. We have literally millions of options. We can read or watch anything almost instantly with the internet. We can communicate instantly. We can also do everything that came before the internet: go for a bike ride, travel, garden, socialize at the local pub.
With so many options, everyone’s always busy. We fill up our time without thinking about it and forget to leave time for ourselves. We forget to make time for our craft. We get caught up in everything else the world has to offer and we forget the most important things.
It’s fun to party all the time or to spend all your time after work lounging in front of the TV. Even better, it’s easy. But if you want to turn this writing thing into your career someday, you have to make sacrifices. You have to turn the TV off. You have to close your browser. You have to say no to that party or at least go home early.
Making these sacrifices is hard at first, but it gets easier all the time, and without making the sacrifices, you’ll never become a career writer. If you can’t make the sacrifices, maybe this business isn’t for you. Perhaps writing is just an emotional outlet for you or a hobby. That’s fine. Just remember not to treat it like a hobby when you’re trying to turn it into a career.
To be good at anything, you need to practice. To practice, you need time. To create time, you need to make sacrifices. So make a commitment to your writing and make the sacrifice. You’ll know it’s worth it when you have that first publishing contract.
Next week I’ll be following one of my new rules for productivity–I will take breaks from Dianna’s Writing Den–so I thought I’d gather up some posts for you to read during the week I’ll be away. Today’s posts are all about writing fiction.
Circumlocation at it’s best or worst–at Live Write Thrive will tell you about the concept of circumlocation. Hint: It’s similar to overwriting.
Worldbuilding: Coming of Age Rituals and Coming of Age over at Marshall Ryan Maresca’s blog discusses the many different options for coming of age rituals.
Sci-Fi Deak Style is the first of a new series of posts on the Penumbra blog about “science that doesn’t work well in science fiction… But has to”. This post introduces the series and the conundrum many science fiction writers face when trying to write a great story.
Readers Owe Writers Approximately Zip-Nada-Zero over at Terrible Minds is an excellent post about what readers don’t have to do for writers. This is also one of my favourite blogs, but be warned, it’s usually very profane.
Hopefully this will keep you reading all next week. Have a lovely weekend and I’ll be seeing you on the 29th.
Last month, I became a published author for the second time. You’d think I’d feel successful, wouldn’t you? I have two books with prestigious houses, both of which received excellent national reviews; I’ve been anthologized and gotten awards, been flown by Random House on book tours and chauffeured around by media escorts, been interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air.
And yet, like every other writer in the world, I can name a thousand others who’ve achieved more. Much, much more—whether it’s money, fame, acclaim, awards, or a combination thereof, there’s always someone who leaves you in the dust.
Success, I learned with my first book, The Territory of Men, is a moving target that can cripple you with frustration. One day, for example, 75 people would come to a reading; the next week, in another town, eight might dribble in. I’d open my email one morning to find a great review in The Washington Post or USA Today, and an invitation to teach at a prominent conference. Then my inbox was empty for a month.
The longer your book is out, the more sporadic the attention; if you don’t publish another, it can fade away altogether, like a photograph of a fabulous event no one remembers.
Two years after my first book, I started a family, and for a long while, stopped writing. Meanwhile others continued to revel in success! For years, every Sunday morning I’d sit with my empty notebook while reading the steady cascade of achievement in The New York Times Book Review.
When my marriage fell apart, and I lost half custody of my son, I moved to an isolated cabin in the Sierras. For the next year I healed by walking in the wilderness and writing words on the page. Those pages became my next memoir, The Forest House. While I loved writing the book, I wasn’t looking forward to the publication process, and all the stress over whether it would succeed.
What helped was my peer, Alison Singh Gee, whose lovely memoir, Where the Peacocks Sing, came out at the same time. Even though we were ostensibly competitors, we were also friends who had much in common: we both teach college writing and are mothers of one young child. We even blurbed each others’ books. As reviews came in we’d “like” the links on each others’ FB pages; and we’d comment on the gleaming photos of our book covers. During our book tours we’d post promotional blogs about our respective events.
Yet over the months, we emailed and called each other privately. I knew her worry, understood her hopes and disappointment, and she knew mine. We’d both taken those long drives to bookstores on school nights—all the while wondering if more than a handful of readers would show up—and felt the same weight of the piles of ungraded papers and mounting chores waiting at home.
I shared the disillusionment that comes from watching your Amazon sales rank ebb and flow, then ebb again. I’d also tasted the same bittersweetness of the mixed review.
It was as if this time, with Alison, I had a constant reality check. She helped me see through the smoke and mirrors of the author’s “glamorous” life.
Like travelers on an escalator we’d wave to each other as we moved up and down the fickle ladder of success. We both know there’s a place you have to reach—no matter what stage you’re at as a writer—where you feel that someone else’s success is your success. If you can get there, it’s a wonderful, liberating place to be—and from it your own work will soar.
And so when Alison’s book was praised in Entertainment Weekly and People Magazine, I was happy for her; and when I was asked to do a guest blog for The Huffington Post, she cheered for me.
What I’ve learned over the past decade is that envy can poison your creativity—it’ll stain your writing like blood spilled across a page. It implies not only deprivation—something is missing in our world—but someone else has what we don’t. Looked at so simply it’s not hard to imagine envy has its roots in childhood. My son is in the first grade, and I’ve seen the raw expression of envy in children’s faces: I want what you have—give it to me!
The ultimate antidote for envy, which comes from our basest selves, is gratitude—which comes from our highest.
For it’s only from a place of plenty that we have something to give. And that’s what writing is, in the end—a gift, one we have and one we give to others.
No, it’s not an easy solution. Like any good habit, gratitude takes work. I have to remind myself to do it, and then it’s often grudgingly at first. So I’m grateful to the writers who write such wonderful stories and poems and articles, who’ve enriched my world with a lifetime of pleasure and enlightenment.
I’m grateful to my friends like Alison who remind me that I’m not alone, that my best is good enough, and that most of all, the words I write are worth it.
Bio: Joelle Fraser is the author of the memoirs The Territory of Men (Random House 2003) and The Forest House (2013). A MacDowell Fellow, she has an MFA from the University of Iowa. She teaches writing and lives in northeast California with her son. Find her at http://www.joellefraser.com.
You can purchase a copy of The Forest House here.
I made this item the last on my list because it is the most difficult to deal with. While everything else can get in the way of your writing, most things won’t stop you dead in your tracks the way RSI does.
I’ve had RSI for about five years now. It gets better, then it gets worse. Sometimes it’s better for an hour, then it gets worse. Sometimes it gets better for a couple of months before it gets worse. Sometimes it gets consistently worse every day for a long time before slowly getting better. It never completely goes away.
Saying no to an extra assignment or night on the pub is challenging, but it gets easier. It’s also a good exercise as once you’re a full time writer, you’ll need to constantly defend your time against people who don’t understand that you’re still doing a job.
Writing through tears is much, much harder and isn’t any good for you when the tears are caused by repetitive strain injury. In fact, unless you have a do-or-die deadline in the morning, it’s probably a good idea to stop when you feel pain, especially if it’s a sharp pain.
If you have repetitive strain injury, your focus should be on preventing pain rather than working through it. If you don’t, you should be taking preventative measures anyway. Doing a few simple things can stop RSI from developing or getting worse. Ergonomic furniture and hand rests are great but can be expensive. I’ve created a list of simple preventative measures you can take with even the tiniest budget. Investing in your health is important, but these are things you can do when you just don’t have the money.
Stretch before writing. There are simple arm and wrist stretches you can do before and after you start writing that will keep the pain away. There’s even a website called Desktop Yoga that will give you a visual walk through of these exercises.
If you’re already suffering from RSI, it’s probably a good idea to also do these stretches when you first wake up and before you go to bed.
Take breaks. It’s a good idea to take a ten minute break every hour or two. Get up and make yourself a cup of tea. Stretch out your wrists. Go for a walk. Whatever you do, get away from your computer for a few minutes. Your wrists–and your eyes–will thank you. Those breaks might be enough to keep the pain away and ensure that you can keep working in the long run, so don’t feel guilty about taking a couple minutes away from your work.
You should also take a break the moment you start to feel pain and stretch your arms and wrists out. Often that will stop the pain from getting worse or eliminate it entirely. This is especially important if you already have RSI.
Buy a brace or tenser bandage. If you buy the latter, make sure you know how to wrap it properly. Keep one of these on hand and put them on any time you start to feel pain–and take one of those breaks I mentioned above. Stretch your arms and wrists when you take the brace/tenser bandage off, before you start writing.
Adjust your sitting and sleeping. You might not be able to get ergonomic furniture, but perhaps you could try working on the floor or in a different chair. You could try using pillows as wrist supports. Try different spots in your house until you find a way that you can work comfortably, pain free. If you can’t find or make one at home with your resources, check out your local library or coffee shop and see if you’re more comfortable there.
And if you do feel the pain: stretch it, ice it, rest it. If your pain lasts a long time or is recurring, go to a doctor and see if they can do anything to help you. They might not be able to do much, but it’s worth a shot.
The reality is that we’re all human, and human bodies aren’t indestructible. In fact, they’re quite fragile. These things might not seem important right now, but once you’re in pain you’ll wish you’d taken more preventative measures. And if you have RSI, you’ll need to take more breaks and every once in a while you’ll probably have days where you can’t work at all, but if you take care of yourself you’ll be able to write more often than not.
So make a point of scheduling breaks and memorizing these stretches. Your wrists will thank you.
I mentioned last week that I realized I was over committed. The truth is, I’ve known it for a while, but I denied it. I wanted to be super woman, to be able to manage eighteen projects at once while still in school and even working. Unfortunately, I’m not super woman, and I reached a point where I couldn’t deny it anymore.
So I decided to create a plan. But it didn’t turn out to be like any other plan. Instead, it’s a list of rules. Some of it is taking my own advice from my series on finishing projects. I know how to finish a project. I’ve written over a dozen novels. Yes, editing is always slower work for me, but that’s no excuse for the pace I’ve been working at. My new rules govern how I spend my time, ensuring that I’ll have time for my important projects. Perhaps you could adopt one or two yourself.
My new rules
1. I will not work more than three days a week. This is at my part time job handing out flyers. As much as the money’s nice, I don’t need to pay rent right now, so there are much more important things than money. Also, considering that I don’t pay rent, I’ll still make a decent amount of money by working three days a week.
2. I will take breaks from Dianna’s Writing Den. I love blogging here at Dianna’s Writing Den, but it’s a huge commitment to post three times a week. From now on, I won’t be posting on holidays, and I’ll be taking one week off every month. The first of these breaks will be April 22nd-26th. Each post I don’t write is an hour spent on a different project, and right now I need all of those hours. I’m hoping this will allow me to not only put more hours into other projects but to bring you better content during the other three weeks of the month.
3. I will refuse any unpaid commitment requiring more than two hours of my time. Two hours is about the time it takes me to outline and write a guest post. I already have several unpaid long term commitments, and frankly, I need to guard my time carefully. I also need to focus on profits, so anything more than the smallest unpaid commitment is off the table.
4. I will not spend more than an hour on email on week nights. I get a lot of email. It’s actually ridiculous. Every day I get a few dozen awesome articles or blog posts in the mail along with essential correspondences. Making sure I don’t go over this limit means making sure I have time to work on other projects before bed. Playing catch up on the weekends isn’t a big deal either. Most of those emails can wait.
5. I will make progress on one of my main goals every day. This doesn’t have to be a lot of progress. I’m often exhausted when I get home, and I have to make sure that I’m awake on time for school. The important thing right now isn’t how much progress I make each day, but that I make progress each day. Even if I only edit one page of my book or write an outline for a guest post, that’s still a step in the right direction. If I take one step each day, sooner or later I’ll reach my goals.
These rules are designed to help me complete the projects that are important to me. They fit with the busy life I’m leading right now, and most are good advice at any point in a writer’s life. Once I’ve finished writing this post, I’ll be printing up this list and putting it somewhere prominent in my house. In a place where I’ll see it every day.
If you’ve been struggling to complete your projects due to a ‘lack of time’, perhaps you need to adopt some of these rules yourself. You’ll be amazed at how much a simple set of rules like this can change things–every minute counts, and a few hours of extra time a month can make a big difference.
Do you have rules around your productivity/writing/time?
Today it’s time for me to be accountable, to share my progress with all of you.
March has certainly been more productive than February was, but I’m not satisfied with my progress on most of my goals, and I’ve realized that I’m severely over committed. Falling behind on your projects is one thing. Staying behind on them is another, and it usually means one of two things: either you’re over committed, or you’re not really dedicated to the goals you claim to have.
I’ve realized that I’m suffering from the former problem and I’m currently working on a plan to address that, which includes some changes here at Dianna’s Writing Den. But that’s a conversation for next week. Today I’m going to show you why I need to kill some of my commitments by sharing my progress–and what progress I’d like to make in April.
Here goes nothing:
Finish editing Moonshadow’s Guardian– I edited about three chapters and added one chapter. It’s slow going right now because there are several scenes that need to be added near the beginning, but I’m making headway and I’ve put in more time on this during March. In April I’d like to edit at least six chapters, but I’m really aiming for ten. This means a bigger time commitment, but frankly, I need to finish this damn thing.
Write 12 Guest Posts– This goal I actually made some progress on, with one guest post published at Girl Seeks Place. I also made plans for a second guest post which I’ll be writing today. Once it goes live I’ll be at three guest posts for the year, so I’m doing pretty well on this one. I’ve got a list of other potential blogs and a few people I need to follow up with. With any luck, I’ll be able to pull ahead this month by getting another two guest posts.
At the beginning of the year, I set several goals for myself. In the last month, I’ve only put serious effort into two of them. One of them is intended for much later in the year–writing a novel during Nanowrimo–but the others have accidentally fallen by the wayside.
This month my main goal is to reorganize my life to make time for the goals I’ve set for myself. Those goals are focused on what will build the foundations for my writing career. Since my time is limited by school and working outside the home, I need to focus on making sure my time at home is spent on activities that will build my career.
In previous years I spent a lot of time making goals, but I didn’t spend much time evaluating how I progressed each month. This year I’ve started analyzing where my time goes more carefully. Now that I’ve figured out the patterns, it’s time to create a concrete plan of action. It’s time to decide what stays, and what goes.
It’s always important to analyze where our time is spent and to make sure the majority of our activities contribute to our long term success and happiness. Next week I’ll be unveiling my plans, knowing that if I fail it will essentially be in front of all of you, hoping that I’ll inspire you to create a similar plan to increase time spent working towards your writing goals.
With any luck, we’ll all be able to say April was a productive month.
How much progress did you make towards your goals in March?
by Jordan Clary
Travel writing might conjure up images of exotic resorts, luxury cruises or riding across sand dunes on a camel, and while, travel writing can, indeed, open up some of amazing experiences, it’s not necessary to travel far or even travel at all to write and sell articles. You can start with your own city, neighborhood or even backyard to find ideas for travel stories.
Every place is a destination for someone and you are the best expert on your area. Learn to look at your own town with new eyes. What might a visitor like to do? What are the local products? Are there any specialized niches you can fit into?
Most of the ‘rules’ for travel writing are the same as for anything else. A well-written, compelling story will always have a chance of finding a home. Readers want to smell, taste and feel a place through your eyes.
But there are a few things specific to travel writing, and one of the main ones, is learn how to use a camera. Unless you’re lucky enough to only get gigs with big glossies like Condė Nast Traveler, and most of us aren’t, you’ll want to learn how to take decent photos to sell with your articles. It’s too bad, in a way, because the two are different skills, and some photographers feel slighted by all the amateur photographers selling pics with their pieces, but that’s the reality of the market. Most places will want photos and article as a package deal.
And, who knows, maybe you’ll find you have a knack for photography. Since words have always been my medium, I was actually opposed to learning to use a camera. I felt it separated me from the experience and if I concentrated on writing a description, it would be so much richer. But to my surprise, photography doesn’t separate me. It helps me see things from a different perspective. I’m much more aware of light and shadows than I ever was before learning to take photos.
Seeking to place your articles in well-known travel magazines is probably not the best approach. Those markets are saturated with submissions and highly competitive. However, many magazines, including trade magazines, would be open to a travel article if it was within their scope.
As an example, take your own backyard. Look around. What types of plants grow? Do you know what the native plants in your area are? Many botanical societies have their own publications, and while most of them concentrate on the plants in their own locale, a carefully crafted travel piece introducing a new area from a botanical point of view might be welcome.
For several years, until it went out of print, I freelanced for Colored Stone, a trade magazine dedicated to colored gemstones. I was living in China at the time and broke into it first with a query letter, and then with an article about China’s South Sea pearls. I developed a niche writing travel articles about gemstones, including ruby mines in Vietnam, blue zircon in Cambodia, and smokey quartz in Mongolia. The pay wasn’t bad, although it pretty much just covered my traveling expenses, but they were among the most fun and interesting pieces I’ve ever done.
A thorough look at your community will surely lead you to ideas for trade magazines. Is there a railroad museum in your town? There are many magazines dedicated to model trains. Even magazines that don’t lend themselves immediately to travel ideas based on their trade might welcome an article. In this case, you’ll want to point out the advantages of travel to relax and de-stress. Doctors, businesspeople, lawyers, teachers all like to take trips.
So if you are interested in breaking into travel writing, start with what’s familiar, and you’ll soon find yourself with enough ideas to keep you busy for a lifetime.
Many writers speak of writer’s block, an inability to create new work or to finish a project. They discuss a mental wall stopping them from reaching the creative part of their brain. Hundreds, probably thousands, of articles have been written about writer’s block, what it is and how to cure it.
Yet there are also hundreds, if not thousands, of writers who don’t believe in writer’s block.
I take the middle ground on this one. Writer’s block could be anything. It might be all in your head, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real. Often it’s a symptom of other issues in our lives or the story we’re working on. Other times it’s just an excuse for not wanting to write. What’s important is moving away from the term “writer’s block”. You have to figure out what your specific issue is and deal with that. By figuring out the underlying issue, you can overcome it and eliminate your block.
I’ve created a list of possible causes for writer’s block and how to overcome them. Even if you’re not suffering from “writer’s block” now, figuring out what usually causes your creativity to stop flowing allows you to create systems to stay creative. So take a look at this list and figure out what you can do to overcome your “writer’s block”.
Possible Causes/Treatments for Writer’s Block
Cause: story flaws– sometimes the cause of writer’s block isn’t you, it’s the story you’re working on. It could be that your story isn’t structurally sound. It could be that you’ve chosen the wrong viewpoint character. You might need to do more research to flesh out one of your ideas. There are all kinds of reasons why you might get stuck on a particular story.
Treatment: figuring it out– the first thing you have to do is figure out whether or not your main problem is a story issue. Analyze your story. Are all the events in the right order? Do they all belong to this story, or does one of them stick out like a sore thumb? Is your viewpoint character the right one to tell this story? Or are they unsure of what’s going on or just plain irritating? Have you done enough research to write about these issues/in this time period properly?
Read through what you’ve written so far and ask yourself these questions. Once you’ve figured out the issue, there are many ways to solve it. You might take out a scene that sends your story in the wrong direction, switch viewpoint characters or take a day to do research. Sometimes a story is just not meant for you and you’ll realize you can’t write this story at all, or that you can’t write it now for various reasons. It’s okay to put these stories away and move on to something else. I personally have a four book series perfectly outlined that I probably won’t write for another ten years. The important thing is that I kept the notes and that I’m always working on other projects.
You can always come back to it. If the story is really causing you heartache and you don’t know why, maybe it’s time to move on.
Cause: perfectionism– perfectionism is creativity’s worst enemy. Often we get bogged down in our desire to be “perfect”. Millions of dollars are spent on perfection, but the irony is that there’s no such thing as perfect. For one thing, nothing can please everyone, so even if it’s perfect to you, it won’t be perfect to the next person. Besides, people are imperfect, and thus our creations are imperfect.
Treatment: give yourself permission to write crap– and remember that you don’t have to show it to anyone if you don’t want to. Remember that first drafts are always crap. Second and even third drafts are usually crap too. Some people spend twenty years editing one book. I’ve already spent seven working on one, and I know that the draft I’m working on is still imperfect and always will be.
Perfectionism can not only stop you from writing a draft, but it can stop you from submitting. Admit that at some point you need to stop editing and start submitting. I personally know that I have almost reached that point with Moonshadow’s Guardian. I’m working on a submission package and preparing to let it go, knowing that it is not perfect now and that it never will be.
Tell yourself it’s okay to write crap. Know that nothing you create will ever be perfect and instead focus on making it the best you can make it. Write a note to yourself explaining that all first drafts are crap and that it will never be perfect, and tape that to your desk. Every time perfectionism slows you down, remind yourself: you’re not perfect and you never will be. Your work will never be perfect. Neither was Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter wasn’t perfect. Twilight definitely wasn’t perfect. You don’t have to be perfect for people to love you and your work, so stop trying so hard to reach this impossible ideal.
Cause: burnout– at this point in my life burnout is the most common reason for me to feel uninspired. It’s caused by doing way too much and starting way too many projects. This is getting more and more common as people work harder and longer hours, as we are constantly expected to be available via smartphone and to take on more responsibility in order to keep our jobs which never pay enough. Sometimes burnout is caused by a demanding boss, but often it’s ourselves who cause it. We take on too many commitments. We underestimate how long things will take us. We don’t give ourselves time to recharge.
Treatment: relax– sometimes all you need to do is take a break. Go for a walk. Take a hot bubble bath. Read a book purely for entertainment. Start saying no to unnecessary commitments. Take regular time for yourself. Sometimes all you need to get creative again is a little me time. In today’s busy world, it’s hard to carve out time for yourself, but nothing could be more important for a writer.
Make yourself–and your creativity–your first priority. If you don’t care for yourself, who will?
There are all kinds of real issues that writers call “writer’s block”, but the important thing to remember is that all of them can be overcome. All you have to do is figure out what your problem is and get to work.
What usually causes your writer’s block? How do you overcome it?