Giving Thanks

I’m avoiding the insanity of shopping today. Sure, I might miss out on a “good deal” or two, but who cares?

What I will do today is spend some time thinking of all the things I am thankful for this year. And most of all, I am thankful for writing. I’m thankful that I have the ability and the time to spend putting words on paper (or the computer screen). I’m very thankful that with all the options available, my readers choose to read my blog. And I’m thankful to all my fellow writers who write interesting and thoughtful blog entries and books and emails that inspire me every day.

Writing has changed from a pastime for me to a full-time occupation. It would be stretching the truth to say I’m grateful that I hurt my back even if it did put me out of work and give me the time to spend on my writing. But I am grateful for the opportunity to really focus on what I love to do. The past few months have made me realize there are many ways to write that I had never even considered before.

Today, I’m focusing on my gratitude for all of the above in a way I had no time for yesterday, what with cooking a turkey and all.

Thank you to all my readers and followers here on my blog and on Twitter or Google +. I appreciate you every day.

Bad Writing Days

First, a big apology – this should have posted yesterday, but I somehow managed to schedule the post for a completely different date. I blame NaNoWriMo – and by the way, my NaNo Novel is at 51,600 words as of yesterday!

Bad Writing Days. These are the ones where you find yourself in front of the computer at 3PM in food-stained pajamas with a bottle of scotch and no glass. Your characters flatly refuse to do what you tell them to, which is totally not fair because if it weren’t for you, those characters would still be dancing around in the dark cobwebbed recesses of your brain and not taking on the strange reality of being a character in a novel.

Just thinking about Bad Writing Days gives me chills. Or maybe that’s just the draft from the window by my desk.

Sometimes on Bad Writing Days, you write a lot, but it all sucks so much that you delete it later. I’m not a big fan of this approach. I prefer to believe you can always edit and revise shitty writing, but you can’t fix a blank page. So maybe you save one word out of ten, and that word was “the” but it’s still one more word added to your work in process and your complete body of work.

Bad Writing Days are hard to fix, with you mopping your tears with toilet paper (because you ran out of Kleenex two days ago) and all. But it can be done. First, put away the bottle of scotch. Second, shut off your computer.

Take a walk or a nap. If you’re having a Really Bad Writing Day, do both.

Find a book that you detest because it’s poorly written. My personal pet peeve is a “floating” point of view where you’re never quite sure who is thinking the thoughts the author put on the page. Open it at random and read a bit. Pissed off yet? Good.

Rewrite the scene that you just read until you believe from the bottom of your heart it’s better than what was written by the bestselling author of the original version.

Now, take the sense of satisfaction you gained because you now believe you’re a better writer than (insert bestselling author’s name here) and go back to your writing.

Feel better?

Good Writing Days

Every writer loves Good Writing Days. You get up early and knock out 1500 words on one cup of coffee, but instead of getting up for more coffee, you just keep writing. Nothing distracts you, for on a Good Writing Day you are a creative writing animal (thanks to Athena Shultz for the “creative writing animal” phrase). Nothing distracts you, you’re in the zone, ideas fly at you so fast you actually have trouble keeping up with them. The words flow effortlessly and when you read your work later, you marvel because it’s pretty damn good!

I wish I had more of those days. If I did, I would have NaNoWriMo in the bag already, and it’s only the 22nd.

On Good Writing Days, you proudly declare yourself A Writer, and announce that you will be a writer forever.

You feel so good on Good Writing Days that you fearlessly send your work off to competitions and agents and editors, because why would they NOT want to reward/work with an awesome writer such as yourself? Your inner editor is suspiciously absent, and you can actually get on with work without his idiotic input about your writing process as well as the material you are producing.

On a Good Writing Day, I wrote an entire business plan for my writing (fiction and freelance) and actually started to follow it.

Good Writing Days are good for revisions, too. You look at the rough draft you are about to attack with a machete and flame-thrower and realize, hey, this has some merit. I think I’m going to…and then you’re back at the keyboard, making life worse for your characters.

If I could create a pill that would cause an instant Good Writing Day, I would do it.

On the other hand, if I had too many Good Writing Days, my characters might stop being weirdly psychotic and become bland, generic, and interchangeable, like those of a certain bestselling author whose name I will not mention. I love Good Writing Days, and I would like to have more of them.

Next step? In Monday’s post I’ll take a look at Bad Writing Days and share a few tips on how to make those days better.

Strange Habits of Writers

This month, I’ve been making an effort to join my local NaNoWriMo group for group writing events. It’s been fun, though I do feel I’m more productive when I write on my own. Because of this experience, I would like to share a few strange habits I have observed.

Strange Habits of Writers

  1. We leave our computers for a drink of water much more often than biologically necessary.
  2. This requires us to take lots of bathroom breaks.
  3. We like the kind of snacks that make us thirsty (see numbers 1 & 2).
  4. We’re easily distracted.
  5. Sometimes we don’t accomplish as much as we hoped (see numbers 1-4).
  6. We have families, friends, and pets who don’t see our writing time as sacred (see number 4).
  7. In spite of all this, the words add up and we complete blog posts, essays, articles, novels, and pretty much any other writing project imaginable.

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Capturing Opportunities

As some of you may know, I was a home health aide until this past July when I suffered an injury. Since then, I have been able to move writing to the top of my to do list. Although I do have medical problems that I still need to contend against, I am trying to look at the events of the past few months as an opportunity given to me so I can focus on what I love most – writing.

Although I have been writing since I could hold a pencil, I had never considered freelance writing as a career. While I have been out of work, I have time to read all those articles about freelancing in Writer’s Digest and The Writer as well as online. Suddenly my brain lit up and it dawned on me that I should take the chance and make writing my new career.

Naturally, this got me thinking about opportunities for writers. The number of paths to a writing career are infinite. I have also discovered how important it is to be ready to take advantage of opportunities that come your way. Even more important is to go looking for opportunities. Recently, I looked at the overstuffed manila folder full of short stories in lengths from 500-word flash fiction to 40-page novellas and wondered why I haven’t done anything with them. Next step: researching short story contests. Then the harder step – actually sending my work out into the world to be judged by others.

The 3 biggest lessons I learned from this are:

Record your ideas – That means they will be available when you need them. Develop each idea to the best of your abilities. If you are like me, you will have more ideas than time, and that’s great. You don’t need to develop every single idea as it occurs to you, but you should keep a file of ideas for the future. The ideas you do develop into stories, essays, articles, and you name it are building your body of work.

Take advantage of opportunities that come your way – Don’t lock yourself into one project to the exclusion of everything else. You can write a number of articles or do corporate writing at the same time you are working on a novel. I’m not advising you to throw your dreams aside, but there are many, many ways to earn money as a writer. For example, although I have never considered being a writing coach, I have recently been asked to coach a friend of a friend who is beginning her first novel. My first instinct was to say no, because I am in the middle of NaNoWriMo and a course on copywriting but I thought, why not? I enjoy helping other writers and the process nearly always teaches me something about writing. Work on the things that are nearest and dearest to your heart, but if you want a writing career, be open to other projects.

You have nothing to lose – It’s normal to be nervous or even terrified when you submit your work. I put a lot more of my soul into an article about coupons for a local magazine than I put in to helping customers when I sold window treatments at J.C. Penney. It hurts to be told that your writing needs more work. But many times a rejection just means that your work is not right for that editor at that publication. Move on, revise your work as needed, and submit somewhere else.

Species Description: Writer

One of my favorite writing books is Rochelle Melander’s Write-A-Thon: Write your book in 26 days (and live to tell about it). I read it earlier this year when I was doing a full court press to complete my novel, Catch a Fisherman. It’s packed with advice on how to produce good-quality writing at a breakneck pace. It’s also very encouraging and contains a few laughs. One of my favorite exercises from the book is to create a field guide to assist you in your Write-A-Thon.

Since I am now participating in NaNoWriMo, I thought I would share my modified version of the field guide. (For you legal-minded types, Rochelle does give permission for this in the book).

Species name: Working Writer

Description: Varies, but resembles a human being

Appearance: Varies. Frequently appears hunched over a computer while wearing wrinkled pajamas. Hair may be in disarray and may or may not need to be washed.

Preferred habitat: Varies, but some usual habitats are a desk at home, in coffee shops, on the couch, at the kitchen table, and sometimes in bed with the laptop.

Distinguishing habits: Rapid typing, mumbling to self, surrounded by books and magazines that writer refers to as “research materials.” Usually over-caffeinated though has been found drinking alcohol in the afternoon. Aversion to house work, phone calls, and errands that may cut into that thing Writer calls “writing time.”

Often confused with: Online gamers or the mentally unstable.

Preferred food: Varies, but usually food high in calories and low in nutrition like pizza, chips, crackers, and ice cream. Preferred beverages also vary, but many Writers enjoy coffee, tea, hot chocolate, red wine, and occasional hard liquor, depending on the status of the Writer’s “work in process.”

Thrives on: Support, encouragement, lively discussions, exposure to weird people who will later become characters in Writer’s work.

Practices that endanger the Working Writer: Interruptions, talking to Writer, looking over Writer’s shoulder, offering advice, and loudly wondering when Writer will shut off the computer and cook dinner. Writer is also endangered by accidental data loss from computer crashes or viruses.

Cautions for approaching the Working Writer: Shield and body armor recommended. May wish to offer a bribe, such as cookies. Do not approach Writer from behind as this will startle Writer and cause it to swear loudly, losing its train of thought in the process, which will likely cause it to swear again.

Have you seen one of these in your neighborhood? True home range of Writer is not yet established by science.

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A Day Without Writing

Starting NaNoWriMo has made me realize something. I write nearly every day, but I don’t write every single day. Some days I write fiction (almost every day), and other days I work on nonfiction/freelance writing. Mixing up my projects helps keep me fresh. But there’s nothing quite like taking a day off. No writing for a 24-hour period.

The most important thing I can say is: choose your days off wisely, so they benefit you instead of keeping you from reaching your writing goals.

There are benefits and drawbacks to taking a day off from writing. I am so keenly aware of the drawbacks that I try to take only 2-3 days off per month, depending on what projects I’m working on and whether I’m more interested in my projects than having a life.

I believe in good news first, so I’ll start with the benefits:

Recharge creativity – Giving your creative mind a rest from time to time will help you keep your enthusiasm for a project. This is especially important when we think we don’t have time to take a day off. And maybe that’s true, especially if you’re working on several projects. This month I have a copywriting class, my NaNoWriMo novel, and those never ending query letters for freelance work. I have deadlines, but I need a day off.

Physically rest – Your fingers get sore from typing and your eyes need a break from staring at the string of words appearing behind the cursor. A day off gives your body a chance to recover.

Explore, have new experiences, and gather new ideas – Whether you visit the zoo or just read something interesting, new experiences spark creativity. This will make a difference when you go back to your project. Maybe during your adventure, your subconscious discovered the perfect plot point.

And the drawbacks:

A day off likes to turn into days off – You take one day off with no ill effects. You didn’t miss writing all that much, and you are tired, plus you’ve been working hard, so you take the next day off as well. This could, potentially, continue for years. Be careful!

Deadlines – I hate deadlines, but they’re a fact of life for writers. Obviously it’s best not to choose to take a day off when you have a project due. If you must, due to an emergency, don’t just blow your deadline. Call your editor and explain. Maybe he or she can work something out. After all, editors are people too.

Your inner editor wakes up – If I write a lot in a short period of time, my inner editor gets bored and wanders off because I’m clearly putting far too many words on the page to pay attention to his antics. My inner editor is named Teegan and his motto is “don’t bother.” So trust me when I say the inner editor loves it when you take days off. He will tell you not to go back to work because your writing isn’t any good anyway. I say get back to writing ASAP because that’s a slap to your inner editor’s face.

We’re not machines – we’re writers. We should never feel guilty about taking a day off. But we do need to be careful to prevent our day off from taking us from being a working writer to a wanna be writer who sits around saying “I’ll get back to that novel some day.”