A Writer’s Obsession(s)

Whether a writer or not, we all have our obsessions. Here are my top three:

  1. Striving to be a better writer
  2. Giving self-rewards
  3. Balancing writing with “real life”

The ways to strive to become a better writer is first of all read; read within the genre you write and read without. You may also watch; while watching shows, dissect plot or character inconsistences so you won’t. Watch Korean dramas (e.g., W – Two Worlds, or Goblin) to catch unexpected plot twists and characters who pull you out of this world and straight into theirs.

There are writers conferences, books, courses, webinars, writer support organizations (like SCBWI, RWA, NaNoWriMo, etc.), and critique groups. Go to them, join them. Learn, grow, read, make connections.

Of course, to become a better writer, the absolutely top thing to do is to write. A lot.

Giving self-rewards works for many writers. You may write to a word count or within a time frame or have a goal by a certain date. When you reach major goals (e.g., finished with first draft, or ready to send to agent, etc.), treat yourself to a rare and special treat for this milestone.

Balancing writing with “real life” is the trickiest. There may be obligatory events, which you do want to attend, but which take you away from writing, like with school or church or work. There may be children or aging relatives to attend to. Or when the grass climbs to knee-high, you run out of clean dishes to eat off of, or your editor returns your manuscript for edits the night before your vacation, saying she needs it back within the week (true story for me)…you need balance, and wisdom. Prioritize, but do not ignore the most important things to you. (For me, family trumps all, even writing.

Become a better writer. Reach for your goals. Balance your writing with real life.

TAXES (for and by writers) (You can do it!)

Two years ago I started my own publishing house because several writers I knew had done it and praised doing it. What they didn’t talk about was, well, lots of the pitfalls of owning your own business, but mostly no one spoke of…TAXES. (Da-da-daaaaah!)

Until last year, I’d never filed income tax in my life. Let me amend that:

Until I graduated from college, my daddy filed my income taxes; when I was single and teaching, I dumped all my tax info to a tax person who figured it all out for me; and when I got married, my husband filed our joint taxes. So it wasn’t until I was in my 60’s (!) that I filed taxes, by myself, for the first time ever, for my new writing business.

I have to admit that I dreaded the thought of doing taxes. I was terrified of it. What if I did something wrong? Would the government swoop down upon me and fine me for an error I missed or for something I forgot or for something didn’t understand? I mean, taxes on my earnings have been filed my entire life. It wasn’t like I was avoiding them (like some people nominated to political offices; oh, let’s not go there). I was just nervous about making a mistake. Yes, that’s true, but I was even more concerned that I was too stupid to figure out this government form which every American citizen needs to file, every year.

Guess what? I’m smart!

Even with all the record keeping necessary with running a business (buying and selling books, advertizing, traveling, etc.), filing taxes is more about time consumption than doing it wrong. With everything available on-line, tax time is good. Well, do-able. Just make sure you remember from year to year tiny details, like you want a Schedule C form for a small LLC business, not a Section C form for deporting aliens. It’s the tiny details which can confuse.

My tax filing suggestions for writers:

1) Keep accurate and records. I keep a monthly hand-written log of expenses and income and giveaways. I also have a zip-lock bag I keep for the year’s receipts — upon which I write what the purchase was for on the top of the slip before putting it into the bag.

2) Download the right tax form. 🙂

3) Don’t be afraid. Take a deep breath and focus on your task.

4) Read the line-by-line instructions, one section at a time.

Simple Writing Rules

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Rule #1: Writing is not simple.

Rule #2: Write; Finish what you write; Revise; Have it critiqued; Revise a few more times; Let it sit.

Rule #3: Read. Read. Read — read EVERYTHING you can get your hands on: books in your field/genre; NF research; books for pleasure; books so out of whack from your own writing genre that it would make your fellow writers blink to see you reading them; etc., etc..

Rule #4: Take another look at your story; Revise again.

Rule #5: Research agents and/or editors; submit it.

Rule #6:  Start writing another story.

Rule #7: Go out and play. (More grown-up authors might rephrase that to “Go out and live.”)

Well?

Why Write?

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There are two reasons to write: 1) for yourself; or 2) for others.

If you write for yourself, it could be as simple as needing to get words down. Of course, there might sneak in the hope of fame (recognition) or wealth (money), too. If you write for others, it could be for the pleasure of entertaining, or for recording history, or making connections. Why you write may be a weaving of all the above.

Why do you write?

Revisions!

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I am revising one of my stories now, and came to the conclusion that I find revisions both frustrating and wonderful. Frustrating, because I must find the time or force myself to sit down and DO them. Wonderful, because, my, what a better story I’ve written afterwards.

I have come to a second conclusion, that if I’m doing a whole-novel revision, I work best on hard copy. When I sit in front of a computer screen to do revisions, I don’t have the past scribbled pages next to me to show me how much progress I’ve made. On the computer screen, it all looks good, and so I plug away one line at a time without really seeing the progress. Doing whole novel revisions is similar to weeding a garden. If you just plucked five weeds daily, you may not notice much of a difference. But if you spend a couple of hours (or full day) weeding, and next to you is this pile of weeds to be tossed, there is greater satisfaction.

Keep writing, and keep revising! If you have only a few minutes a day to revise, keep plugging away. If you can read your hard-copy scribbles, keep doing those corrections. Which is your preference, or do you do revisions entirely different from these two?

NaNoWriMo Starts Next Week/ Next Month

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I know several people who will be participating this year in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writers Month). It is a great writing challenge and discipline. I’ve known about this group since its second year, and now this will be my second year participating. (My user name there is SandyCarl, if anyone wants to buddy me. Don’t forget to send me your UN as well, because it doesn’t automatically reciprocate.)

Last year I was more prepared for it, doing lots of research ahead of time. However, this year, particularly this month, I was working on finishing up a WIP before NaNoWriMo started, so my writing focus has been on that project. I’m afraid my head is still there in those revisions. I hope I can compartmentalize enough to work on two projects at once. I used to do this freely — work on two or more writing projects at once. I would switch when I got bored, or hit a plot block, etc. Lately, though, I’ve been focusing on getting one story ready to completion for submission before working on another.

Does anyone else work on more than one project at a time? Do you find it helpful or distracting? I’ve done it both ways. I’m sure either is a better way. Just keep on writing (and revising and submitting).

Good luck to all NaNoWriMo-ers! On your marks… Get set…

SCBWI-MI Fall Writers Conference, Pt 5

(Two conference speaker summaries today; I happened to have invited both these ladies to the conference.)

Speaker One: On Sunday, October 10, I participated in (listened in on) a group critique time with Tor Senior Editor Susan Chang. She chose five story outlines from the participants and gave each a fifteen minute critique about what worked and what didn’t. Here are the highlights from the five stories. The opening pages need to have action. Every chapter has something moving the plot forward or building the character arc. With more than one plots, each one must escalate the rising arc. A strong story foundation is needed. Shaky or thin plot problems collapse the story. Determine what your foundation is, and then if it is strong or weak. Make your characters believable, and make sure there are links between cause and affect, i.e., why is the character acting like this? Susan mentioned that showing while writing (v.s. telling) makes it more like a movie, and this is a good thing. She recommended the book MAKING GOOD SCRIPTS GREAT

Speaker Two: Amy Lennex, Senior Editor with Sleeping Bear Press in Michigan, spoke about who and what Sleeping Bear Press is, and things they publish. Amy shared with the group the publishing process. After the writer writes a story, and it goes through the revision process to become polished, an editor must love it. The editor takes the manuscript to the editorial group, and they must love it. It then goes to Acquisitions, and they must love it. A projected positive profit and loss statement is developed to determine if accepting this manuscript is a good investment or not. If it is, then a contract is issued, and the story is put on a pub schedule. The last step before publication, is the search for an illustrator. They listen to what booksellers have to say. What age group is this book written for? Will adults as well as children like this book? Is there a need for this subject matter, or has it been done before? Will this book have media attention? (i.e., is it timely?) Amy gave the example of FIRST DOG, which was written before President Obama gave a dog to his girls. The story was written, but since the illustrator didn’t know what kind of dog it was going to be, he left a blank doggie shape on each page, to be “revised” as soon as the dog type was known. Advice from Sleeping Bear Press authors: Love your book and promote it. Love words. Enjoy the process, and write every day. Those who attended the conference were given two colored stickies, one for each editor. It is to go on their submission envelope. Although Tor is open to submissions, Sleeping Bear Press is not. By attending the conference, attendees got a “free look” pass for their manuscript to be looked at by Sleeping Bear. I used up one of my colored stickies already.

SCBWI-MI Fall 2010 Writing Conference, Pt 4

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On Saturday, October 9, 2010, fantasy writer Cinda Chima spoke at the SCBWI-MI Writers Conference on “Engaging a Middle-Grade and Young Adult Reader.” She stressed the importance of drawing the readers in with your first line. She said to open during a change, or with an interesting character, or an interesting setting; to open with humor, or with atmosphere and suspense. She gave several examples of first lines of novels.

Cinda said that writers need to make a promise to the readers about the story in the very beginning, and then keep that promise at the end.

Use conflict and action to keep the readers reading. Story happens when character and conflict collide. She encouraged us to “write cinamatically” with our delivery, like screenwriters.

New world-building slows the pace of a story, so deliver information on a “need to know” basis. To help speed the pace, use dialogue with the scene, use short paragraphs and sentences, and use simple sentence structures.

Cinda suggested printing out your story, then highlighting in different colors the narrative, the action, the dialogue, and “the exciting parts” to see where the story drags.

She spattered her talk with quotes, one from Alfred Hitchcock: “Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.”

SCBWI-MI Fall Writers Conference, Part I

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Our SCBWI-Michigan Fall Writers Conference is going on this weekend. I am commuting since it is: 1) close to where I live; 2) cheaper than staying there; (Those reasons should probably be reversed, but I’d sound too cheap if I wrote it out the other way.) and 3) I get to see my husband, and sleep in my own bed, actually sleep during  conference! Nice.

Our speaker for Friday was fantasy author Cinda Chima. She spoke about fantasy. (Surprise.) She directed us to: Why write fantasy? What are the categories of fantasy? And, what is magic? To greatly summarize her talk, she said that the elements of fantasy are character, setting, plot and magic, with magic being why it is fantasy, and the first three elements being the reason why others would want to read your story.

I do enjoy live writing conferences. It has been wonderful (as I anticipated) to see all my writing friends whom I only see at conferences, and some I’ve only known via the internet. I was also able to eat dinner with spot-on author-speaker, Darcy Pattison. Words flow from her mouth like diamonds. I was in a workshop with Darcy several years ago, and have her Novel Metamorphoses book, and get her Fiction Notes. Since I’d invited her to this conference, I didn’t expect anything less than diamonds.

Last night, I also had to privilege to introduce myself to Tor Senior Editor, Susan Chang. I was the one who invited her, too, to the conference, so naturally, I was looking forward to meeting her and listening to her pearls of wisdom. I’d heard many wonderful things about Susan pre-conference. Face-to-face (even for a minute) has been a thousand times better. First impressions are very… impressionable. She is gracious, knowledgable, reasonable, an excellent listener, quite charming, and (I’ve been told) humorous. (No, I am not buttering her up! She truly is quite nice.) I look forward to her talks today and tomorrow.

My guess is that I will not post again about the conference until Monday. Need to focus. On to the writers conference.

Darcy Pattison’s Random Acts of Publicity, Part I

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This week (7th-10th) is Darcy Pattison’s Random Acts of Publicity, a week she invites authors and illustrators to publicize others.

However, is it really a random act if I plan it, which I have done. But renaming it to Sandy’s Planned Acts of Publicity might be a short cry to the plagiarism police. To me, random would be to go blindly into a library or bookstore or to one of my own bookshelves, and without knocking too many others down or otherwise insulting them, reach out and pick a random book to review.

So, what’s this all about? For four days, September 7-10, 2010, Darcy has sent the word out for us writers to be intentional about giving book reviews on Amazon and/or blogging about them. Brilliant idea, Darcy.

So, readers of this blog, consider this the prologue blog for Sandy’s Planned Acts– I mean, Darcy’s Random Acts of Publicity — which starts tomorrow.

(Oh, whom to randomly choose? Whom to randomly choose? So many fantastic books and awesome authors and illustrators. Just for four days? Focus, Sandy!)