More Than You Think… The Writer

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For years I hid the fact I’m a writer. It was too difficult to explain what it is I actually do. Most people seem to think I sit down at my desk, type a few pages and go about my day. But like many others, my life isn’t like that. My life is rather exhausting. I have a full time job, a family and some  dogs who, for lack of a better description, bother the hell out of me while I’m concentrating. I don’t have the luxury of secreting myself away for days on end until a piece is done. I try to carve out chunks of time to get done what needs to be done. Sometimes that ends in success – others are epic failure.

So what is this “being a writer” thing?

It is first and foremost being a goal-setter. It doesn’t matter if you are writing for newspapers / magazines or writing a novel. You have goals in mind that must be met. Whether it’s writing four articles a month or if it’s writing two pages a day, it’s still a goal.  I have found I have a better shot at achieving my goals if I am held accountable by letting my critique group know what I plan to do. Others have success by writing them down in a prominent place. A sticky note on the bathroom mirror is great for this.

So how do you set writing goals? You need to remember the SMART mnemonic often attributed to Peter Drucker.

  • Specific – how many words, pages, what kind of writing (Fiction/Non-fiction)
  • Measurable – find a way to show you are making progress whether it be word count, number of pages or chapters.
  • Assignable – who is responsible for what? As the writer, you are assigning the goals to yourself.
  • Realistic – this is where most goals fail. If I’m writing a 120k word novel, there is no way I can do this in 30 days while taking care of a family. Keep your goals within reach.
  • Time-related – deadlines are important. Give yourself one. Someday your publisher will and you need to know how to work under deadlines and the associated pressures if you have never done so before.

 A writer is also a thief of sorts.

Yes. I just said that. I seriously doubt any of us will be convicted in a court of law (unless we are plagerizing); however, we steal all the time. We filch bits of conversation from unsuspecting people around us. We gleen ideas from news articles, other books, names, places, and events. We take inspiration from the tales told to us from others and someone else’s moment in time becomes our own.

Writers are expected to be excellent story-tellers.

Strangely enough, this is not always the case.  One may be able to write brilliant and earth-shattering prose, but cannot tell a story to a group of friends in order to save a life. However, as long as they can deliver on the page, that’s all that really matters, eh?

Writers are notoriously private.

I tell people all the time I’m “anti-social.” Their eyes widen and mouths open in shock. Maybe it’s because I’m fairly friendly and outgoing, which sounds like an oxymoron to being private. But many writers don’t open up to people unless they are really close to them.  When you start talking about being reserved or dare I say clandestine, many people may think about authors such as the hermitic Orwell, Woolf and Plath who suffered from madness, or Nietzsche who preferred solitude and was also a bit mental.

Today, writers/authors have to have a “public face” if they are to be successful. Their writing will speak for itself, but marketing & book promotion will include book signings and interviews. Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets are becoming more expected from authors. The public wants to connect with you. This does not mean that you have to detail every thread in the fabric of your life. But you do have to make accommodations you might not want to.

A writer is so many different things to so many different people. I describe what I do as: I’m an analyst, researcher, creator and wordsmith wrapped in a cloak of thievery and mystery out to transform the universe for but a moment in time.  But… maybe that’s the madness speaking.

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7 Things Writers Need to Know

This is NOT a game of Solitaire

Unless you just feel like being an anti-social boob, there is no need to think you are in the writing game alone. By joining critique groups (with constructive criticism), online writers’ communities and forums and writer’s organizations, you will develop connections who will help you develop your craft and make your piece the best it can be. Plus networking with other writers helps you in the publishing game as well. Every career path has an “it’s not what you know; it’s who you know” aspect to it.”

 

Skill vs. Talent

Only a small minority of writers are naturally born with the ability to spin tales of intrigue and fantasy without so much as a backward glance. They weave convoluted tales with the single stroke of a pen and leave us breathless and begging for more. Then there are the rest of us who labor for hours and finally give birth to our creation – an often bloody mess in dire need of editing. The good news is that even if you don’t have so-called talent, you can develop the skill you need to be a successful writer.

 

We Just Don’t Care… about your creative writing degree.

I was first published in a literary magazine as a teenager and have published articles, poetry and the like since then. At no time has ANYONE ever asked me where I got my creative writing degree from or even if I had one. What people want to know – can I write and write well? Can I provide them with writing samples? Can I show them I know how to produce what I say I can? 

 

Turtles travel at the speed of light compared to how quickly your novel will get to publication.

The movie “Limitless” shows the main character completing his promised novel in four days after a lengthy period of writer’s block. My word… if wishes were horses. But alas… the rest of us mere mortal men and women spend what feels like an eternity on our work. It then goes through editing and re-editing, galleys, proofreading, pre-publication marketing and research, publication and finally you have something tangible in your hands.

 

G-Sharp – It’s YOUR Voice. Use it.

There are so many other authors and writers who pen their work in a voice that is unique and inspiring. I couldn’t write like them if my life depended on it. If you try to write like someone else, your work will ring false and people will put the book down wondering “why” you would do such a thing. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but your voice is your own. Find it. Use it.

 

Starter, Quitter or Published?

There is nothing so scary or exciting as sitting down and staring at an empty screen or blank sheet of paper. Then comes the reality that I actually have to write something. Gah! Please not THAT! Ah, but yes. Indeed.

There are three categories of writers.

  • The starters are the ones who start project after project, but for whatever reason can’t seem to finish one.
  • The quitter stops before he even starts. He’s the wanna-be. With grandiose goals and statements like, “If I only had the time…” He quits before he even begins.
  • The published ones are the rare breed. Fewer than 1% of works submitted are actually published. As a general rule of 1,000 manuscripts a publishing house receives, 10 are actually published. The odds are not in your favor, but you can do a lot of things right to increase your chance of getting in the top 10%.

It’s NOT about the writing…

Don’t look a me like I’ve become a Chimera. I swear I’m right on this. It’s not about the writing. It’s about the emotion and what an individual feels when they pick up your piece and read it. It’s about the genuine, deep-in-the-dark-reaches-of-the-mind emotion. If you can make them FEEL, then you will have done your job and they may put you on a best sellers list. N’est-ce pas? Just some food for thought.

Tools of the Trade

“Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.”
― Stephen King

Stephen King is a prolific writer and gifted storyteller. I have to admit I’m partial to his earlier works. I find when talking about the tools of the trade, Stephen’s quote is essential.

The Thesaurus. Most writers will use one at some point in time in their writing life. I freely admit I will use one as the moon turns blue, but it’s not to search for the “right word.” I use it to break up word echoes within my writing. In writing fantasy, I have a sword – a blade. But within a page how many times do I want to write those two words? I may throw in weapon. I may change it to the type of sword (katana, broadsword, foil, rapier, scimitar…) or I may use the word “brand.

The thesaurus is sometimes used by writers who are not avid readers. I’ve found if you are an avid reader, you absorb the words you read and bolster your vocabulary.

The Dictionary. There is never a reason to use the wrong word. When I am reading a story and find someone has misued a word it dulls the experience and makes me call into question their experience and ability.

This goes beyond the “they’re”-“their”-“there” issue (which should never be an issue with someone who is looking to be a professional.) I am talking about someone who misuses words such as “irregardless.” It’s NOT a word people. You may mean irrespective or regardless. But irregardless is irresponsible. Use a dictionary. Look it up.

Books on Writing. There are good ones. There are bad ones. And I’m not going to give you recommendations (though I have read MANY) because what my needs from one of these types of books are may not be what your needs are.

These are books I do recommend for several reasons:
1) Subject Matter. If you have problems with plot, dialogue, characterization or world-building, there are books to address each of these issues. Advice in these areas aren’t gospel, but helpful if you are trying to figure out how to solve the problem you have.
2) Naming. Books regarding names are essential. Names have meanings and that subtle impact of the “right” name – including surnames makes all the difference in the world.
3) Story Starters. Don’t go nutso with these. However, one or two of these books are most excellent for breaking writer’s block, clearing the mind and finding new ideas.

There are some other considerations for writers – tools that can be helpful.

Every writer needs tools in his/her tool box.
Every writer needs tools in his/her tool box.

A small blank notebook. You never know when ideas / inspiration will strike. It’s helpful to be able to jot it down on a moment’s notice. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. You just don’t want to have to look for receipts in a purse or use napkins or dollar bills to scribble your ideas on.

A voice recorder works equally as well for many people. Some smart phones these days have this feature. But if you don’t have either available, call yourself and leave a voice message. Don’t lose a good idea because you can’t write it down.

Writing Implement. For all that is good and pure and holy in the universe. I LOVE pens. I’m rather a pen kleptomaniac and have had to learn not to just snag someone’s writing utensil. With that said, a good pen or pencil is vital to any writer. It also corresponds nicely with the aforementioned notebook.

Computer / Software. I prefer to write on a computer using a standard word processing program. I also utilize a writing program for my novel needs. It rather depends on what I’m doing at that moment. There are many different types of software designed for writers and I have several I have used in the past. I’m currently trying out Scrivener. I’m not sure yet if I like it or not. We’ll see.

The publishing world has stepped into the digital age and truly, even if it’s an older computer. I believe that some sort of computer with a word processing program is a tool that cannot be overlooked.

I know much of this sounds like common sense, but sometimes we, the writers, lose our common sense when crafting our work and also forget to eat… which reminds me. I forgot breakfast again.

What’s Better Than Smart A$$

“Some feel that to court a woman in one’s employ is nothing more than a serpentine effort to transform a lady into a whore.”  ~ Leopold, from “Kate & Leopold” (2001)

In today’s world, it’s so easy to come up with a crass comment or put-down; however, there is something to be said about thinking one’s words through in order to have the most impact. The aforementioned quote from “Kate and Leopold” is a prime example of setting someone in their place without specifically calling someone names or challenging them directly. It’s beautifully written and something to think about next time you wish to utilize the art of “speechfare.”

Related side note: Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman are a perfect casting combination and make for a lovely couple in this movie. Liev Schreiber, who subsequently worked with Jackman in the 2009 movie X-Men Origins: Wolverine – starts off as a cad and becomes completely likeable. This movie has some brilliant cinematography, sharp and snappy writing and Jackman’s charm makes this a romantic comedy worth checking out.

Welcome to My Happy Home

As well as the adventures and misadventures of everyday life, I plan on sharing with you my love of writing, some of the pieces I have written, works in progress and my thoughts on both books, screenplays, movies and even songs. Many of these are written in such a way that the turn of a phrase captures the heart and mind. At the end of the day isn’t what moves us really what our individual universes are really about?

Please, grab a cup of joe and come along on this merry adventure. I think the ride will be worth the price of admission.