School Visits and the JOB of being a writer

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A writer friend of mine — Ruth McNally Barshaw — was in my town last week, doing five school visits. Of COURSE, I had to both meet up with her and sit in on one of her school talks. I was not disappointed. I never expected I would be.

Ruth’s story is interesting. She sketched in journals all her life, but it wasn’t until she went to the SCBWI NY conference (sketching the whole way on the train and back), did an agent approach her and tell her about the new genre called graphic novels. Ruth found both her nitch and her dream job, and she’s good at it, too.

My former career was as an elementary teacher. I’ve sat through hundreds of school assemblies or special events. Some were awesome; some were utter flops.  I know what works and what doesn’t. I know how to be flexible and change things mid-stream (although there is always THE PLAN to rely back upon). After seeing Ruth in action last week, I made a startling discovery: I want to have that job. I want to write stories for kids, then travel around from school to school encouraging children to write (and read).

Oh. Wait. That’s what I’ve been trying to do for a while now. Ah. It’s all about the confirmation. Someday…

Simplicity, Complexity, My Life

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This past week I heard a sermon on spiritual disciplines. One of the suggested spiritual disciplines was simplicity. (Oh, ouchie, ouchie, ouchie. <– Picture me dancing barefoot along a line of red-hot coals.)

However did my life become so complicated? There was a time, driving three states away to my first teaching job, when I’d packed all my earthly possessions into my little Pinto.  Today, my husband and I agree that the only reason we don’t get divorced is the threat that whoever files for it, has to take all the stuff we’ve accumulated over 30+ years. (Well… maybe that’s not the ONLY reason, but whatever works.)

So how does all this relate to writing? The whole point of the simplicity section of the sermon was that with simplicity comes focus. (Oh, ouchie, ouchie, ouchie.) Simplicity is more than just throwing out that second lawn mower in the garage which no longer works. It is more than letting go of a time-sucking commitment. It is more than being able to work on eight different manuscripts “at the same time.”  It is a lifestyle.


A writing acquaintance posted on a listserv how she’s finished writing and publishing 500 manuscripts. Yeah and congratulations — seriously.

I wonder, though, if I were to die tomorrow (or today), which of my “500” unpublished manuscripts will ever catch anyone’s eye and make an impact?  (BTW, I have published about 150 magazine and newspaper articles, and have received positive reader comments. So perhaps it’s possible that I can make mini-impacts.)

A poll has shown that in every income bracket, people want to be on the average, 20% richer than they are. If they get 20% richer than they were, they may be happy for a while, but it is short-lived, as they then want to be 20% richer. I can relate that to publication, too. I will always want to be 20% more published.

Paul Goble was once asked at a library presentation I attended, what was the favorite of all his books. His answer: “Always the one I’m working on.” Brilliant. Simple. Focus.

Now… to go shred more of those checks from the 1980’s. Not to worry. I’ll throw them into my compost pile, then spread the further broken down checks around my flowers and veggies, then let their nourishment float up through the plant roots. Then I’ll eat them! Sounds complicatedly simple, right?

(Maybe I just need more sleep.)

My Scheduled Writing Time

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“Would you consider writing on your blog about how you schedule your time? How many hours a day do you devote to writing? Are they set hours? When you revise do you have a specific pattern you follow?” – Sharon Willett, 2-17-10

Sharon, I will answer the first of your “two” questions (“one” was on schedule, the other on revision), but not as an example of what you should do.

Personality tests show I’m unstructured task-oriented, but not too far off from the structured people-oriented point, because I do like being organized, and I like people. But when I discovered this orientation preference for me, guilt slipped off my shoulders and I could stand up tall and say, “Hey! I’m unstructured.” (I’d be a prime candidate for Manana Time or Indian Time.) However, I see unstructured as in the area of time, only, for, like I say, I like things (and me) to be organized.

How this interesting tidbit of personal information translates into my writing schedule is this: I have no writing schedule.

Having given a truthful answer to your question, I could stop this post now, but I don’t think you’d be satisfied, since you also now know I’m also task-oriented, therefore, inclined to get things done (e.g., first drafts and revisions).

So this is how I’ve made my tasks (manuscripts) get done (written and revised):

1) I’m in a critique group which pushes me to write and holds me accountable. (There’s my forced structure.) We also change and evolve as we writers change and evolve.

2) I’m a morning person. By about 1pm my brain starts getting lazy. By 3pm I’m ready for a nap, although I hardly never take one. By 6pm I’m on mundane routine automatic mode. After that, it’s rather downhill working towards total shutdown for the day. This all means, that I am most productive in the morning, so have chosen that/this as my time to think and write.

3) I work best in uninterrupted time chunks – 3-5 hours at a stretch.

4) Now that I’m no longer in the paid work force, there are many times when I decide to write when my husband is at work, i.e., I work while he works, even though I’m not paid (yet). This gets to be a problem when I have meetings and errands and cooking and housework building up like behind a beaver dam which must be torn down.

5) I never write on vacation time, nor when family visits, nor when my husband gets a day off. Family always comes first.

On a sidenote for number 3, lately, I’ve been wondering how these long writing times are affecting me, physically. So, every once in a while (like, once a month or so) I try to play “the writing games.” Like, I’ll set the kitchen timer for an hour. When it goes off, I leave the computer and go toss in a load of laundry while hopping around like a bunny and woggling my head from side to side, go up and down the steps a couple times, grab a glass of water or pop, then get back to writing.

Regarding writers’ writing schedules, I have always been jealous of James Michener’s – go to some exotic place you’ve never been, spend all morning writing or researching and all afternoon exploring the lay of the land and the people, then relaxing in the evening with your spouse. Very nice.

In the end, you must find what works best for you. Hope this helped. I’ll save the revision question for another day.

Whole Book Critiques and Not so Alone in the Ocean

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I’m three days early in adding this post, but simply can’t help myself.

This year my on-line critique group is doing whole-novel critiques. We just finished critiquing and discussing Donna’s book. It has been a wonderful experience, for, as Donna pointed out, we all chose her chapter 2 as the chapter we least liked or saw whole-book purpose to. Yet, she reminded us, when she passed the chapter through our group while we were doing one or two chapters at a time, we all liked the language, chapter arc, etc.

We’ve been learning that we can be great writers, but miss the forward-moving action of a great story. It’s an eye-opening discovery.

It can get very lonely and discouraging, waiting to hear back from editors or agents.  This past Christmas I heard from two long-time writers friends who decided to pour their creative energy into other-than-writing stuff — Aaron is in theater and Meridee now does pottery. They’re both great at what they do. I’m glad they’ve found contentment.

Sometimes I feel like I’m splashing around in an ocean, clinging to a life ring, waiting to be rescued. I feel some hope as I kick together with another writer, also on her life ring, or a group of us (networking, it’s called in the real world). I let the theatre and pottery boats pass me by. I sometimes rest a while on a magazine or web boat. But I aways end up back in the water, kicking and hoping and waiting. Some day I know that agent-editor boat will pass and rescue my weary bones. Sometimes at the crest of the wave, I imagine I see land… but I’m not sure.

Keep on kicking, you faithful writers. Either ship or land is bound to come our way sometime.

Family v.s. Writing Time

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One of my critique partners made several suggestions for writing during the holiday times. She asked on her 2009/12/27 blog ( How do the holidays affect your writing habits? Besides being a friend, she’s a mind-reader, for I was thinking of blogging about the same thing. So… hey, what do you know? Here I go and do it, anyway, post-holiday.

I have always made family a priority. To me, nothing else (except my faith) could rate higher. If I were to spend so much time writing that I ignore my family, could I live with that decision? Family time these days is precious and wide-spaced in the year. I will never regret giving up “my writing time” to eat and laugh and play games and eat and tell family stories and eat some more, whenever they are present. It is not a hard decision for me. Besides, even in the best of times, with all my other commitments, I tend not to put in a 40-hour writing week. It is all about priorities.

So, in answer to my friend’s question, during the holidays, I take the time off writing to be with family. Then, when it’s all over (i.e., they leave), I go back to feeling guilty about postponing my writing for so long, take one last look at my company-clean house, and then plunge back into my normal, haphazard, unstructured (but productive) writing schedule.

(And now there’s a question for curious minds: Can a schedule be haphazard and unstructured?)

Day 24 — NaNoWriMo — Thanksgiving Priorities

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Company’s coming tonight for the next 5 days. I haven’t written anything on my NaNo novel the past two days. Today’s not looking too good, either. I wish I could snap my fingers and house cleaning and  food preparations could be done in an instant. Or maybe I, as a writer, just need to get over caring if I have guests who use mildewy toilets, or if I serve  peanut butter and jelly sandwiches v.s. hors d’oeuvres and turkey and scrumptious pies.

Okay. I’m not really grumbling about family coming in, nor about feasting out. I adore my family, and cherish each moment we get to spend together. Family ALWAYS takes priorities over writing, or anything else for that matter.  And food — well, need I say more? And celebrations are worth looking forward to, participating in, and remembering.

But see? I take a few minutes out between grocery shopping and laundry loads to blog that I don’t have time to write today.  Silly Sandy.