Balancing Your Writer’s Life

Ah. Writing. There are so many ideas, so many characters, so much internal and external conflict to wrestle with. I love getting my thoughts down onto paper or up onto computer screen (and drives). It feels wonderful to accomplish such a feat with so many other non-writing-related activities pressing in all around.

Wouldn’t it just be grand if writing was all there was to a writer’s life?

But it’s not all there is.

Of course, there’s the mental struggling with plot and character, and the writing it all down (or typing it). Writing is a very romantic career, and I don’t limit that to genre. There’s so much more. There is research, and revisions, and critique groups, and more revisions, and more research. There’s setting the story aside to decide later it needs a full rewrite. And checking your story word for word for silly little errors. Then you must search what to do with your completed story — agent, editor, self-publish, alternate, or trash it.

When your story is published, of course, you go on to writing your next story. That’s a given. While that happens, you also must coddle your already published toddler.

What does this coddling entail? Updating your website, being “visible” on social media sites, printing business cards for live encounters. There are book signings, speaking engagements, and follow-up, including evaluations, to all. To each of these coddling suggestions, I could write chapters.

My mantra has always been that family comes first. That said, it’s often difficult to find time to write when you have babies to care for, toddlers, work which pays bills, school activities, church activities, social activities, house, yard, etc. Surely, there are at least 33 hours in any given day, right? And who needs sleep? Yet, somehow, the writing bug wiggles deeply into people who work and have families and family activities.

Family always comes first, which means sometimes writing must be put on hold.

Writing demands discipline. You can finish stories one sentence at a time, or as Anne Lamott puts it, bird by bird–writing during your children’s nap times, and then compartmentalize it while you focus on other aspects of life, like your kids.

Discipline is also required for all the published book coddling. Organization of sales for tax purposes, keeping track of  your PayPal account with their automatic withdrawals, remembering to update your domain name each year (or every third), contacting places to speak, putting together talks and PowerPoint presentations for the various requests, making your author name and book title visible both on social media and face-to-face, advertising, press releases, media kits, updating everything and often…

Is there no end to what an author today must do?

The short answer is no. So prioritize your time and what needs to be done. Focus. Be a disciplined person. Write. Market and promote. But most of all, hug and spend time with your loved ones.

But Cessation — The Case of Too Many Buts

So…when I started in on yet another revision of a manuscript, I noticed I’d started a sentence with the word “But.” I acknowledge occasionally I begin sentences with “but,” but it’s not necessarily intentional or even voice. It’s just how I speak. My voice. But still, I know I shouldn’t translate sloppy speech into my writing.

So, I did a Find and Replace to discover there were too many buts in the manuscript to even list them. I’m not sure how many, but it sure must be a lot. So I started at the beginning. An hour later, the Find and Replace let me know there were 92 buts left in the remaining five chapters. NINETY TWO! But I didn’t let the large number daunt my but cessation. I was on a but mission. I continued to the end of the manuscript, deleting nearly every one, of course, leaving in a handful of someone necessary ones, for everyone ought to be entitled to a few if, ands, and buts. To my relief, I discovered I’d tagged on a second manuscript in the same file. So, huge sigh.

So, if you find, too, are a but addict, my suggestion is to use the Find and Replace to tighten your writing. So go get rid of your buts!

(One revision mission accomplished. So now I think I’d better go to the beginning and do a search for all the times I use “so.”)

Post Writers’ Conference Weekend Evaluation — The Punchline (i.e., Part II) – Intellectual Property

It’s now two weeks after the SCBWI-MI fall conference on Mackinac Island. It was time spent in a lovely location, thinking about my writing, learning new things, and networking with old and new friends.

One thing I used to do after each writers conference or listening to an author speak, was to share that experience and knowledge with others. That was intended to be today’s post. However, these days, more and more, intellectual property is flicking it’s finger on my temple letting me know that is no longer acceptable; that if people want to hear the speakers, they need to pay to go to the venu. So now I wonder what I can share outside of “I learned so much and I networked with fellow writers and illustrators.”

One of my friends spends a lot of the conference time in her room, writing. It is quiet time away from family and her busy lifestyle, surrounded and inspired by fellow writers. My goal was to speak at the conference and help others understand the pitfalls and successes of self-publishing and ePublishing, and to do island research while there.

When a big name speaker talks mostly about him- or herself, I tend to get a bit ho-hum-y. I could read about that information elsewhere. I’m at the conference (paying the big bucks for their intellectual property) to find out what’s current in the book industry, what works for them, and if they are an editor or agent, what tickles their fancies so if I have a story I think will match their likes which I can submit to them later. Mostly, I think success in this industry is a matter of luck — of outstanding writing, of course, but also luck. Constantly develop your writing craft, and be lucky.

I did learn things at the conference, but since I’m unable to share this information, I’ll let it marinate for a while and perhaps it will be tweeked and transformed someday into Sandy-speak.

Or maybe I’ll just write. There are always three or more stories I have in progress at any moment.

Whether you are able to attend a conference or not, keep on reading about craft; keep on bettering your writing. Every six months you should be a better writer than six months earlier. Read. Write. Learn. Wishing you each the best in your writing endeavors.

Post Writers’ Conference Weekend Evaluation — The Set Up (i.e., Part I)

It’s been a week since the SCBWI-MI fall writers’ conference on Mackinac Island. The day after the conference, life swung immediately back into normal mode. So now, one week later, I need to evaluate what went on.

My husband thought it best to make the 4.5 hour drive a day early so I’d be fresh going into the conference (v.s. leaving home at 3 a.m.). I took advantage of the alone time by stopping at Hartwick Pines State Park for logging photos (for Logging Winter) and at McGilpin Rock (for Tales of the Lost Schooner cover shots). I bought my ferry ticket that Thursday evening to avoid the rush the next morning, then drove over to the International Sky Park for sunset over Lake Michigan and a view of the galaxy plane (a.k.a., Milky Way). I returned to the motel room where the owner and I chased a big grey bat out of my room. (It was huge!) And then I slept. I think.

Friday morning I found I ‘d been successful in avoiding the ferry rush to Mackinac Island, for I was the only passenger on board for the 8 a.m. trip. As I couldn’t check into the conference hotel until 4 p.m., I decided to do some research. I’d written a MG story eight years ago, set on Mackinac Island, and thought to revive the story by renting a bike and seeing the inland spots I’d only seen photos of. At Crack-in-the-Island, in the middle of the woods, on one in sight, the chain fell off my rental. I wasn’t too worried. You can’t really get lost for long on an island with an eight-mile circumference. Still, it took me 45 minutes to find another human, during which time I discovered that when a chain if off a bike, not only can’t you pedal forward, but you also can’t brake. Did I mention I was near the top part of the island? My 1-hour ride turned into three, but upon my return I still had an hour before conference registration, so I mingled with the other early conference folk.

From Friday, 2 p.m., until Sunday, 1:30 p.m., the SCBWI-MI writers’ conference hosted speakers like editor Arthur Levine, editor Christy Ottaviano, and agent Jodell Sadler, along with a host of Michigan speakers and writers including yours truly.

The 3 p.m. ferry was the earliest post-conference way off the island. By 4:00 I climbed into my van on the mainland. Four and a half hours and three cans of Red Bull later I pulled into our driveway.

(Stay tuned for Part II of Post Writers’ Conference Weekend Evaluation, as in the actual writers part of the weekend.)

One Week From Writers’ Conference

Next week at this time I’ll be on an island in northern Michigan for our SCBWI fall writers’ conference along with Arthur Levine and Jodell Sadler, just to name-drop a couple of speakers. I also will be on a panel discussing non-traditional publication and epublication. No pressure.

It’s a five-hour drive up there, a ferry ride across to the island, and staying in a hotel twice as expensive than what I’d normally spend. Will it be worth it? Every minute and every penny!

Besides the incredible amount of knowledge intake from an event like this, there are the reunions with writers and illustrators I haven’t seen for a while and the networking and meeting of new comrades. The excitement builds. So do my worries. Even a seasoned conference-goers like myself has some concerns. Will I make the right travel connections? Will the travel weather and the island weather be lovely, horrid, or not matter?  Will I bring too much, too little? Will I be able to speak without having a cotton ball throat, even to greet people, or want to hide in my room?

I therefore share two important things to know when attending a writers’ conference: 1) It’s not about you; and 2) It’s all about you.

For the first point, it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing cute shoes. Really. It doesn’t matter that you feel insecure about a thousand things. Only you will know that. Every other honest person would admit the same. You will need to step outside of worrying about the way you look or speak or act, and try to set yourself free for the weekend. Breathe deeply. You are there for your written words (or illustrations). Quit looking in a mirror. Straighten up. Stand tall. Remember, it’s not about you.

For the second point, it really is all about you, or rather what you represent. You are at the conference not only to learn, but also to connect with others in similar positions as you. The world of writing and illustrating for kids is a wonderful avocation/vocation with dynamic people who care — care about fellow writers and illustrators, and care about our readers. We’re all in this together. Reach out to others. Talk. Share. Reflect. Take home ways to better your craft  and to proceed into a lifetime of this twisting and changing and wonderfully spinning career choice. Remember, it’s all about you.

Mackinac Island SCBWI-MI 2014 Conference, look out! Here we come!

 

WAR UNICORN, tween fantasy by S.L.Carlson Release Date Today!

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DEAR Readers

My tween fantasy, WAR UNICORN, is now released for publication today by MuseItYoung, available at MuseItUp, Amazon Kindle, B&N Nook, and several others. I’ve been answering author interview questions this past week to be posted over the next couple of months with various blogsters. So, I thought I’d do an author self-interview to get the ball rolling.

*I also have three eCopies of my book to randomly be given away to the lucky three picked from those leaving a comment here. Good luck!

Sandy: So, S.L., welcome to my blog. When I think of unicorns, I think of cutesy mythological animals who are calm and lovely. Whatever made you think to make a unicorn into a warrior animal?

S.L.: Good question, Sandy. And, by the way, thanks for interviewing me on your blog today.

Sandy: My pleasure.

S.L.: To your question, that is the whole point behind my story. (Was there a pun there?) I was thinking of various fantasy creatures and thinking what twists I could give them. Then it struck me to give the loveliest of all animals, the unicorn, a very different twist.

Sandy: Hence, War Unicorn.

S.L.: Hence, War Unicorn.

Sandy: I’m aware that you’ve self-published several historical fictions for middle graders — all of which I’ve enjoyed. Tween fantasy is for a different age and a different genre. Are you finding that difficult to separate the two?

S.L.: Actually, no. That is the very reason I chose to use my initials for my fantasy books, to separate the author name with age group and genres. My middle grade historical fictions go by my common name and my tween fantasies go by my initials, S.L. Carlson.

Sandy: Did you intend to let it slip that you have other fantasy books in the works?

S.L.: Ha. So you caught that, did you? Yes. I actually have a middle grade fantasy out already called Star Opening, which was the first full story I wrote decades ago, revised and rewritten many times of course. I’m working on two other tween fantasies, one, the sequel to War Unicorn, and the other a collaboration with my son John.

Sandy: I’m glad to hear there’s going to be a sequel. And a collaboration with your son? That sound interesting.

S.L.: Thank you. The collaboration is indeed interesting, rather like two books in one…or three.

Sandy: I’ll look forward to those. Thanks again for coming onto my blog today. Please let us know when your other interviews come out, and especially when your next tween fantasy is available.

S.L.: You can count on it.

Sandy: Readers, don’t forget to leave a comment below for your chance to win a free copy of War Unicorn by S.L. Carlson. Contest ends September 7 at midnight.

You may purchase your own copy at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MV8VDYG among other places.

Michigan Signs (for the balance)

After my post about British Signs and Street Crossings, I started thinking how someone from another country coming to upper Michigan would react to some of our signs here. For example…

There is the infamous Michigan no-brainer: “Do Not Pass When Opposing Cars Present,” a sign I always go by too quickly to whip out my iPhone for a shot. It is for a two lane road opening to a three land road on a hill. The third central lane is for passing coming up the hill. But if no one’s in that lane, feel free to go into it to pass your slow downhill car in front of you.

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There’s the caution sign that the road ends…before you drive into Lake Michigan.

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There are the “Icy Bridge” or the newer “Bridge freezes before road” signs.

Hotels up north warn to be on the lookout for falling icicles (even in summer?) or instructing guests to not use hotel towels to wipe down sleds, or no snowmobiles allowed through the parking lot.

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A central Michigan truck company placed this sign on the back of their truck:

IMG_9156  But you had to drive up real close in order to read it.

Is this sign for a zoo? Or to be on the lookout for mating wildlife (X-ing)? Or is it a misspelling and polite way of indicating a nudist camp crossing ahead?

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Other states have their own peculiarities. When we lived in South Dakota there were official signs like, “Next Rest Area 365 miles” or “Do not cross road when flooded” or my personal favorite, a series of old pickup tires hung on fence posts in the Black Hills with the white words painted on them: “No Hunt.”

In defense of signs in England, we’ve all got our own local signs which may bring a smile or questioning look to outsiders. Mostly they’re used to keep us safe, I suppose, or on the flip side, not get sued.

So when you are writing your real or make-believe worlds, be aware of your region’s culturally different signs intended to help or guide, not confuse people.

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British Signs and Street Crossings

Before we headed to England for our first time this summer, Friend Mary who frequently travels there, told us when crossing the street in the UK, do the opposite. American rule: Look left, then right, then left again. British rule, she said: look right, then left, then right again. As we would depend on foot or public transportation for the entire stay, I felt it an experienced and helpful suggestion. Or so I thought. It only took me that first day walking in crowded-busy London to realise her rule needed some modification. Sandy’s 4-part rule for crossing London streets: Always use the crosswalk; look all four ways before stepping out onto the roadway; keep on looking as you cross; and watch out for that occasional driver in his mega-expensive car to run the red light or spin around the corner. And for a self-reminder, every time I crossed a road, I actually pointed my arm out at a 45 degree angle to the right. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. Using my method, we only nearly got run over about forty-five times — not bad for a 10-day stay. There were also the safety islands in the middle of busy streets, and the squiggly lines painted on the roads. Look 4 ways and point to right (except when you’re on one of those safety isles, when you’d point left).

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Signs in Britain are different from in America, too. When we arrived at Gatwick Airport, “Toilets” was a welcomed if somewhat blushing sign to spot, but then there was this running man on a green background with an arrow to a white rectangle.

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My mind ran some possibilities: fire escape route (with up-pointed arrow), hallway to bomb shelter (with down-pointed arrow), or maybe “Run for your life! There’s a tiger loose in the terminal!”

I’ve always felt the best thing to do when you can’t conveniently look things up is to ask questions of a living person.

“Way out,” came the answer. I must have blinked as I went through my mental files, because he quickly added, “What you would call the exit.”

I hadn’t even said I was an American!

A sign of a white man going down steps on a blue background and the word “Subway” did not mean to public transportation, but a way to cross the street underneath the street: stairs down, cross beneath, stairs up.

There was one sign near St. James’s Park in London which took me a day later to figure out. Of course, when you’re in a hurry to get across the street, looking all ways, and pointing, and then look up and notice this sign — the only one I’d seen like it in our then-8-day stay —  you don’t really have time to think what it means.

I wonder, if you hadn’t had this set up in the blog post, given just one second of time, can you figure it out?

 

 

 

 

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Little England. Big America.

It was only upon our return to the United States that I realized how big America is. I mean, I knew ahead of time that England was about the size of the state of Michigan, but everywhere I looked on our return was . The driver’s lanes here are wider. The sidewalks here are wider. Even the wastepaper baskets and toilets are bigger. In England, it was obvious who were Americans by their big (loud) voices. Yards, if they exist, are tiny.  Distances between major cities are shorter over there. Semi trucks are shorter in the UK, and even on the motorways for several days, I saw no doubles or scary triples like in the USA. And upon our return, I was surprised to notice how physically big Americans are. I guess my eyes had merely overlooked that fact before, or been adjusted to the sights. But coming home, it seemed that every store I entered, I found big people — big compared to thin Englanders. (Of course, you can find some skinny Americans, and you can find some plumb Brits.)

Therefore, it’s my casual observation that England is little and America is big.

Relating this information to writing…what is the feeling of your setting? Is it large and roomy or elbows-tucked-in small? How would your main character respond growing up in a roomy land v.s. a crowded one? Or feel visiting one the opposite type of setting?

Play with your characters. Play with your setting. Write, rewrite, tweek.

Tower of London, London, England

We are now back in the States, but our trip to England for the first time is still in processing mode. One of the last places we visited in London was the Tower of London. Very stupidly, I’m embarrassed to admit, I used to think that the Tower of London was Big Ben. I never saw the big deal that people made of climbing this tower. Oh, silly, ignorant American!

Our first plan was to see the Tower of London on a day when we were touring seven other London sights. But by the time we arrived there, we only had an hour to see it, and since it wasn’t just a tower, we didn’t think that would give it justice. We decided to spend our one “flex day” entirely at the Tower of London. I am so glad we did. It’s not your hour tourist stop. We spent four hours there and still didn’t see everything.

Even though it’s a museum (and so much more), it is not a free museum like most museums in England. There is a cost, with lots of tourist shops nearby.

We followed Rick Steve’s advice and bought our tickets near the tube stop instead of at the gate, saving several pounds by doing this. I don’t understand it; it’s just a fact. By stopping by the establishment the day before, we knew it was going to be crowded. In fact, ALL of London is crowded. But we figured if we got there right when the gates opened, it might not be quite so crowded. It was a good choice, but by the time we left, I felt downright claustrophobic.

The Tower of London is not a single tower as I used to think. It is a fortress with history and numberous buildings, and today there are actually people living within the walls. This is the land of the Yoeman Warders, a.k.a, Beefeaters who are dressed in black tunics and hats, although today their biggest role is opening the gates, giving tours, and locking the gates. There were also, however grenadier soldiers (in red uniforms and tall, fuzzy hats) on the grounds, standing or marching in front of two buildings. They carried heavy guns, similar to AK17s. One grenadier guarded the building where the crown jewels are kept; the other was at the Queen’s House. These are not toy soldiers to please tourists. The are true soldiers with real weapons protecting both the royalty and riches of the country.

You cannot take photos inside the building where the crown jewels are kept, and to get a close-up view of it in its glass case, you step onto a moving walkway. Look fast! I was impressed with the giant diamond rock, fist-sized, no: larger. But I was also impressed in an entirely different way with the four-foot golden alter plate for serving holy communion at the coronations. There were lots of sparkles in this building of the Tower of London, but as a fantasy writer, I was actually more interested in the White Tower with its 500 years of armor inside the White Tower (a separate building within the Tower of London). Why there was even a 15′ tall dragon made of weapons, armor and shields.

Prisoners are no longer kept in the Tower of London, neither is the armour used. But there is something about the grounds which caused me to know this was not a normal tourist stop. I felt quiet, respectful, even a bit scared. Perhaps it was the serious guards with their modern-day weapons. Perhaps it was from the ghosts of the many who were beheaded within those walls. Perhaps it was because of the legend of the ravens staying on the grounds (or England would fall). Or maybe, as I stood on the wall and overlooked Tower Bridge (often mistakenly called London Bridge), I knew hundreds of years of history and millions of lives passed right over the very stones and bricks upon which I trod. I was in the ethers of history itself.