Tag Archives: writing life

Writing Life: Present Beauty

A fellow poet once said to me that he admired another poet friend of ours, because he genuinely lived his life, and looked at life, through the eyes of a poet. Which means, he stayed in the present. Writing (and other art forms) focuses us in on the present moment.

As human beings out in the world, though, we are often inside of our heads, fretting about the past or future, rather than where we are right in the moment. I’ve been in the practice lately of trying to catch myself when I am not present, when my thoughts have carried me elsewhere. I stop and look around the room or bus or sidewalk at the other people to see where they are. I note what’s around me. The colours and shadows, the expressions and tones, the way someone moves, or how they’ve dressed. I notice what the birds are doing. And what kids are up to.

Sometimes we don’t have 2 hours, or even 1 hour, to write in a day. But we can still create in these fleeting moments. We can still make stories up, collect images, notice shapes and sounds and conversations. We can use all the time we are not writing as “research.”

Every time I walk through the cemetery, I notice the tree that looks like a wolf. Some day, that tree is going to end up in a story or poem of mine.

So, while standing in line at Starbucks, stop drafting that email in your head and look around you. There’s a little girl licking the whipped cream out of a mug while her mother yells into her cell phone. Someone is painting christmas stockings on the window and it’s not even Thanskgiving. The elderly lady in line speaks with an Eastern European accent and has a rebellious streak of pink in her hair.

All of these are useful beautiful moments. All of these make life’s background fuller and richer. They are life images you can glean from as an observer and recorder of life.

My WEEKEND WORKOUT this Friday will be about using these present images in a written piece. So, notice as much as possible this week. Not only will it keep you out of your head and in the present moment, it will be a creative database for later use.

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Filed under truth and beauty, writing life

Authors of Indie Presses #3: Money is Good.

Many years ago, when I was a young poet, I adopted a “starving artist” mentality. To me, there was something romantic in it all. Creatively stretching small amounts of cash and haunting thrift stores. Running poorly-funded literary events and holding potlucks during the holidays.

I realized later that having money isn’t evil, that it can breed its own kind of romance, and, in fact, can be pretty useful. Money is the flow of energy. It’s thanking someone for their work, their time, their skill. It’s being able to treat the ones I love to our little luxuries. It’s buying creative time.

I live a fairly low-maintenance life. I have my simple luxuries (good food, good wine, staying on the beach on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast). But every once in a while, it feels good to really take care of myself and others. To pay for a gourmet meal. To get a fancy haircut or a massage. To buy some high-quality clothes and shoes.

I began to enjoy being in the money flow. To be able to hand it to another artist (whether their art is cutting hair, designing clothes, or massaging bodies) to say THANK YOU for providing me with something of value.

rag

art by Michael Manalo

Because I never followed a traditional job/career path, I’m used to the fluctuation of money in my life. I think this prepared me for the Writing Life more than those who have a traditional 9-5 dependable paycheck kind of job.

The thing about following a career path in writing is that one may not see any substantial money for a while. A long while. One could write for years, developing her talent and product without a sale. When she finally gets an advance, it could be small or non-existent. When, years later, that novel is published, the sales probably won’t rival those of J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, or Suzanne Collins.

To both create a Writing Life and maintain the flow of cash, I’ve had to be creative about how I earn a “living,” balancing teaching and writing and story editing and performing and working on film sets as a studio teacher.

I love my full and unpredictable life. I love waking up at 5:30 AM to write before going to my film job. I love when my job ends and I have the luxury of time again.

Knowing how to go with the flow of money and time has made me much less stressed as a writer. And much more grateful when the wins come in.

More from this series on tips for Authors of Indie Presses:

Authors of Indie Presses #2: Bookstore Reading Reality

Authors of Indie Presses #1: Public Appearances

Seen in the blog-o-sphere this week:

J.D. Munro’s most excellent tear-inducing post on being the mother of a bully.

Writer/Photographer Chris Fink-Jensen’s brand spanking new blog.

And this is just cool: Eco friendly houses set in the trees. (they are so magical I was instantly inspired to use one in a science fiction story)

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Filed under Tips for Indie Authors, writing life

Coming Down for a Landing All Over the Place (AKA Peek-a-Boo What’s Up With You?)

Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello.

I feel completely out of touch with anything outside of my immediate reach. I know more about what’s going on in my imaginary world then I do in the “real” world.

A whirlwind came, and when the whirlwinds come, things get “back burnered” because let’s face it, we can’t do it all.

This time it was the blog on the back burner while I gallivanted through my days of full-plateness. Hello, again, you! How have you been?

I’m experimenting with how language affects mental state. I used to say I was “overwhelmed,” but I’ve recently changed that to “whirlwinded,” because that sounds a bit more pleasant. Like, “Oooh, my European book tour was a whirlwind of activities!”

Overwhelmed sounds oppressive. When we feel “overwhelmed” we forget to, or can’t, look at all our activities individually and enjoy them in the moment.

~     ~     ~

Recently, I took my computer to the Genuis Bar at the Apple Store. My Internet browsers have been crashing because my operating system is too old. I was informed that my laptop is officially “vintage” (circa 2006!) so they can no longer work on it.

My computers are like my cars. I ride them until they are blissfully journeyed out. I’d never trade in my computer for a younger, blingier model just for the newness of it. I’ve poured too much into this relationship just to chuck it on a whim. I’ve created and destroyed, budgeted and bled, photoshopped and worded and thunderbirded, built worlds, recorded songs, deleted embarrassments… we’ve traveled far.

well loved computer

keeper of secrets, lies, and dreams

(Fortune from cookie: Look for the dream that keeps coming back. It is your destiny.)

She’s been to Italy and on three book tours. On trains and planes and automobiles and bikes. On film sets and in classrooms. Her keys are so worn, I have to sharpie on the letters (for my students, I know my keys by mind and heart). She’s like my old Toyota FX with its cracked windshield, my favourite worn pair of boots with the broken zippers, my own slightly-damaged soul.

The Genius’s news was thus: she has about 6 months to live, and with the last upgrade she can endure, she may live for 3 more. I have been told I should prepare for the end. And so it is; and so I do. It is a good time for renovation and renewal.

~     ~     ~

It seems I’m not the only absent blogger of late! Kelly Barnhill posted this lovely I’ll Show you Mine if You Show me Yours asking everyone to share what they’ve been working on. (which is a great idea for a meme, methinks).

So, What’s Up With You? I want to know.

Tell me something interesting that you did, learned, discovered, watched, read, wrote, etc while I was away!

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Filed under writing life

How do authors make a living? (or, approaching the middle class of writerdom)

It surprises many people to learn (people not in the industry, anyway), that the majority of authors do not make a living off of their writing. Not exclusively, at least.

I’m not saying it’s impossible, or that it doesn’t happen, or that it won’t happen for you. I honestly hope it does! Between advances, royalties, and options I’m sure Stephen King doesn’t have to consider whether to take that editing job or not.

I think it’s good to be aware, though, that most authors are in what Cory Doctorow refers to as “the middle class of writerdom.” i.e. they have day jobs. Same goes for every kind of artist: dancer, actor, musician, painter, etc.

Below, in an interview with Bill Kenower, Doctorow speaks of having been surrounded by “working authors” when he was young, which gave him an appreciation for where he is today.

Even though I have quit my day job, and I earn quite a good living writing, I never take it for granted, and I never assume that all writers will do it or that it’s just hard work and talent. I understand that what I’ve got is the combination of, yes, hard work and talent, but also a lot of luck.
~Cory Doctorow

I know authors who have gotten sweet advances, who have become self-published successes, who have optioned their books as movies, or who write 3 books a year and consistently end up on the best seller list. And those I know who live solely off of their writing work extremely hard to do so (they’ve also become marketing machines, which truthfully is time not spent writing, but part of the game these days).

But mostly, I know authors who are teachers, librarians, microsoft workers, A/V workers, and accountants. And I know other artists who are dog-walkers, bartenders, and event producers. As long as they find time for their creativity, they’re not going crazy.

Some people, like my husband, get panicky at the thought of not having a regular paycheck every 2 weeks, while the idea of having a 9-to-5 job makes me short of breath. For the past 20 years I have primarily lived my life contract to contract and pieced together a living for myself. My finances have always fluctuated.

Yes, I still fantasize about that mega hit that will keep me afloat for years to come, but in the meantime, I’ve created my own “writer’s life.” It all depends upon your level of comfort and if others are financially dependent upon you. If you prefer the consistency of a 9-to-5 job, by all means, stay there while you carve out your writing life.

But I do encourage you to take risks. I believe if you reach toward a writing life, and allow space for it, if you’re willing to get creative with your lifestyle and career, you can do things that are related to your art and may fulfill you more than just another “job.”

My other two loves are teaching and performing, so I’ve been fortunate to be able to incorporate those into my career. Below is a list of all the things I’ve done to earn money to supplement my income since my first novel was published:

ESL tutor
creative writing tutor
story editor
script reviewer
studio teacher
creative writing instructor
school author visits
book club author visits
convention instructor / speaker

Other than ESL and studio teacher, everything else has been related to being an author, which makes me happy. If you assess your skills and passions, I’m sure you, too, could create a satisfying life that supplements your writing.

What have you done to create your author life? How have you gotten creative around your work?

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Filed under behind the scenes, Reviews and Interviews, writing life

Going through SPLAT

ink-splat-05

I’m in the middle of a rewrite for Book Three of the White Forest series. Last week I wrote a whiny note to a few of my author buddies that said right now I hate book three. okay, hate is a strong word. but it sucks, it sucks, it sucks. I’m stuck in the middle of my rewrite. it’s so different from my original vision that I can’t follow my outline any longer. i’m procrastinating working on it. i want to work on anything else. bleh.

My friend Sara wrote back and said You’re going through SPLAT!

I laughed and had to agree. “Splat” was a term used by one of our screenwriting instructors Stewart Stern when Sara and I were in the University of Washington screenwriting program together. He actually borrowed the idea from a B.C. Cartoon strip in which one of the characters had to go through a big SPLAT in one panel to get to the last panel of the cartoon.

We learned that there is no getting around splat. Splat is where our characters have to go because only on the other side of it will they find redemption. Sure, they could turn around and walk away. You can try to make it easier for them. But the story will suffer for it (or you’ll have a tragedy on your hands if splat swallows your MC alive).

We humans live through our own splats, big and small. When we want to get that degree, start that career, repair that relationship, make that life change we have to go through splat to get there. We have to face our fears, doubts, and whatever else stands in our way that is uncomfortable, messy, painful, or scary.

When our characters come up against splat, and they are standing on the edge of choice, staring at IT, what do we have them do? Do we have them turn around and walk away? No, we want a more satisfying resolution.

Do you see that same satisfaction after propelling yourself through your own life’s splats? Some days I take splat head on, other days I can only dip in a toe. But I know, I know the other side is a much more interesting place.

 

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Filed under Rewriting, writing life

Blogging Life: How do People do it?

How do people do it? How do they maintain a reliable blog with interesting information and loyal followers?

I know bloggers who blog almost every day and I’m constantly amazed by this. Over the years, I have struggled to maintain regular blog posts. So many things pull me away. Sometimes it’s just not a priority.

I know at least two things necessary to maintain a successful blog. One is that you have to post regularly. The rule of thumb seems to be 3 times per week, but I think 2 will suffice if you are consistent.

The other is to be part of the blogging community. I think you have to become part of a conversation. I’ve heard people complain that they’ve created a blog, but no one visits it. I think that unless you are already famous, if you build a blog, it doesn’t necessarily mean people will come. You have to participate, and the best way to do that is to find bloggers who share your interests, who interest and excite you, so that you don’t see it as a chore.

What is the point of blogging as an author? It can’t be solely for marketing and tooting your own horn. You must give to the community of bloggers something special, something original, some part of yourselves that they can relate to and have a conversation around.

The biggest things that get in my way are time and perfectionism. There never seems to be enough time in my schedule to post three times per week AND participate in the blogging community. As well, I tend to edit my posts several times. This can turn what should be a 20 minute post into an hour long exercise.

What are your secrets? Or what secrets have you been given by other bloggers? I would love to hear tips and advice on maintaining a successful blog.

Do you plan what you write in advance? Do you edit or keep the posts rough?

Do you have themes on certain days? Do you participate in themed communities (i.e. like Middle Grade Mondays)

Do you write first thing in the morning, getting up early on blog days? Do you put blogging tine in your regular schedule?

Do you think there are particular days of the week or times of the day that are better times to post? I’ve heard weekdays are better than weekends.

How do you maintain relationships within the blogging community? Do you have a plan, list, or schedule for visiting other blogs? Do you build that into your blogging time as well?

Do you write your posts in advance and “time release” them?

What value do you find in the blogs you visit? What do you think keeps readers coming back for more?

And on a more personal note:

What about my blog keeps you coming back? What are the things that I offer that you value? Is there anything in particular you’d like to see more of?

I enjoy blogging and reading other writer’s blogs. I would really like to be a more consistent, reliable, active blogger. Is it simply a matter of being committed and making it a priority?

I’m all ears!

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Filed under blogroll, writing life

Campaign Kickoff – Building Platforms

For the first year, I have decided to join the blogger writers, or writer bloggers, in Rachel Harrie’s Writers’ Platform Building Campaign.

From Rachel’s site:

The Campaign is a way to link those of us in the writing community together with the aim of helping to build our online platforms. The Campaigners are all bloggers in a similar position, who genuinely want to pay it forward, make connections and friends within the writing community, and help build each others’ online platforms while at the same time building theirs.

The campaign lists are conveniently divided into genres and age demographic. This way we can zero in on like-minded people and see what they’re up to.

I’m sure there are many writers out there whose eyes glaze over when they hear the words “you’ve got to build your platform” or “you need to build your brand.” I’m sure most of us would rather spend our time writing. But we must face the truth: that we are being asked, as writers, to do more and more in terms of self-promotion, and it’s pretty noise out there and tough to be heard.

After listening in on a panel of established fantasy writers at FaerieCon this past weekend, I feel a little more motivated and inspired to do so. Instead of thinking of it as (whine) something I HAVE to do, I’m doing what Steampunker Deborah Schneider calls “Taking Responsibility” for my writing career.

What I like about this campaign is that it’s a community and it’s collaborative. Something that novice bloggers need to consider when they start blogging and don’t understand why people aren’t coming to visit their blog.


In Jeff VanderMeer’s excellent book BOOKLIFE: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer he talks about the need to participate. Being a blogger is having an extended conversation OUT THERE. Because, really, who wants to hang out at a party with a person who simply talks just to hear herself talk?

If you write post after post about your struggling writerly life, but don’t reach out to connect with others, you’ll most likely be ignored. (Unless you’re already a famous writer. I doubt Neil Gaiman has to worry about people reading his posts and tweets.) And I’ll probably be one of the ones ignoring you. I’m not saying that to be mean, I’m saying that it’s tough to have a relationship someone who has no interest in participating in that relationship.

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Filed under 2012 Platform Building Campaign, writing life