If you want to write, if you love to write, if writing is central to your well-being, at some point you need to have a serious think about needs vs. wants.
I’ve talked about this before, but just in case anyone is still unclear, writers don’t make a lot of money. OK, most writers don’t make a lot of money. I’m going to talk more about my big picture thinking on this in Part Two next week, but for now, I’m going to share with you my list of needs vs. wants.
(Oh, and by the way, I’m stipulating to oxygen, food, sleep, etc. – definite needs).
- my family
- time to spend with my family as a family.
- time to read
- time to write (note sometimes I need to write more than I need to read and sometimes vice versa)
- time to run (I guess this means running shoes are on the needs list too!)
(are you noticing a bit of a theme here? Time, time, time. Never enough of it…)
- a place to live where I feel at home
- a (paper) notebook and (good) pen
- my laptop
- clothes that keep me either warm or cool, depending on the season, and that are comfortable
- my bike (this is borderline. I technically don’t actually need it but, since we only have one car, it sure makes my life easier).
- forms of exercise other than running, e.g. riding and skiing. I love doing these things and they enrich me but if I had to choose just one thing I would stick with running, hence these are wants
- my current house in my current neighbourhood. I’m lucky in that I already have this want but, realistically, we are very lucky and could certainly survive (and thrive) in a smaller house in a less expensive neighbourhood
- the ability to buy a new laptop, a new bike, etc. I don’t actually want these things now because I am very attached to my 20-year-old mountain bike and my seven(?)-year-0ld laptop but I like knowing I can replace them if I need to
- extra clothes chosen for colour, prettiness, etc. beyond those needed for basic comfort
- one take-out dinner each week from our favourite Greek place, also a lunch out every couple of weeks
- the continued ability to spend a huge chunk of our summer at the cottage
I’m sure there are more in each category and some kind of blur the lines – I think there’s kind of a “needy want” category and maybe that’s where my riding and my bike fit in.
Interestingly, most of the things on my “needs” list are free. Money-wise anyway. They may take a lot of time and effort but they don’t cost much. It’s the “wants” stuff that costs more in my particular situation.
How about you? What are your needs and wants lists? What do they look like? Don’t fudge or put things where you think they “should” go. Be realistic. What do you really need to be happy? I’ll talk about why I think this is an important exercise in next week’s post…Filed under From Tudor, Inspiration, On Life, Organizing our Writing Lives, The Writer's Path, Writing as Career | Comments Off
“I’ve decided to become a novelist.”
Cue several mental reactions from me.
(1) “Yes, and I’ve decided to perform an appendectomy.”
(2) “Oh, that was my mistake – I didn’t ‘decide’ to become a novelist.”
(3) “Shut up. No, really SHUT UP.”
Followed by actual reaction which is produce a forced smile and stay very, very quiet until I have counted to 10.
You’d be surprised how often people say something along these lines. Or maybe not. Maybe you’ve heard it too. Maybe you too have sought some sort of relevant education and / or training and have put in long hours at your keyboard / notebook trialing and erroring. Maybe you have sought out other writers’ advice and have read endless books in your genre. Maybe you’ve ripped apart your manuscript and re-written all 60,000 words of it, then ripped it apart again. Maybe you’ve researched the market, learned about query letters and bios and cover letters and partials and fulls and the synopsis; don’t forget the dreaded synopsis. Maybe you’ve jumped through seventeen hoops to meet all the submission guidelines of each and every possible agent and / or editor – “Page numbers in the top left hand”, “Page numbers in the top right hand”, “Indent all paragraphs”, “Don’t indent paragraphs”, “Write a 250-word synopsis”, “Write a 15-page single-spaced synopsis”, “Compile a target market evaluation of the genre you’re writing for and assess how your work will fit into it using comparisons to three other books currently on the market” (yes, I did that one). Maybe you’ve spent hundreds (maybe thousands but I don’t want to think about it) of dollars on ink cartridges and paper and envelopes and manuscript boxes and postage – don’t forget postage – to submit your work all over the great, wide, English-speaking world.
Maybe you’ve done all that, and you still aren’t published, and somebody has walked up to you and said they’re unfulfilled with their career and it’s not all that and they need a change and “I’ve decided to become a novelist.”
And, if all that is true, you’ll know how I feel when I hear it.
So, please don’t say it. Just please, not that. You can try “I’ve decided to work on my writing,” and you can even try “Do you have any suggestions?” To which I will smile – genuinely this time – and say, “Yes, start writing. Put pen to paper. Then come back and talk to me after your first 10,000 words.”Filed under From Tudor, On Life, The Publishing Industry, The Writer's Path, Uncategorized, Writing as Career | Comments Off
This post is a bit of a round-up of mid-summer news; stuff you might want to know.
(1) I still don’t think I’ve managed to process this one completely. Which is kind of nice because every now and then I take it out of the compartment in my brain where it lives and I have a fresh look at it and get newly excited. I found out late last week I was a finalist in the Writers’ Union of Canada’s 15th Annual Writing For Children Competition. This news, in and of itself, is very gratifying and exciting. For some reason I keep getting hung up on the fact I made the shortlist from 680 entries to 118. That alone seems incredible. I still haven’t really zeroed in on the getting to the final 12 bit. What I am extremely pumped about (extremely!) is this part, “the Union will submit the winning story, together with the stories of eleven finalists, to three Canadian publishers of children’s literature for their consideration.” Oh. My. Goodness. What an opportunity. After years and years spent slogging it out on my own, doing the submission thing all by myself, this just seems like heaven to me. Wow.
(2) I’m teaching a workshop! Probably. And maybe even two. It’s all based on enrollment (as in there has to be enough) but the Ottawa Catholic School Board has agreed to my proposal of holding a workshop to help writers enter writing contests and are adding it as a new course in their Fall continuing education catalogue. It’s going to be a two-hour workshop and, I think, pretty affordable at $21.00. Once the course is open for registration I’ll post the details and I encourage anyone interested to sign up, as well as passing the info onto others who might also be interested. I’m pretty pumped on the benefits of entering writing contests these days (see item #1) so can’t wait to share what I’ve learned with others.
(3) Changes are looming for Two Writers Talking. Peggy and I will be giving you more information so stay tuned for that. Can’t say more right now, but will very soon.
In the meantime hope you’re all enjoying your summer!Filed under From Tudor, On Life, The Writer's Path | Comments (3)
I’ve found another reason to like my Kindle.
Revision is something I do a lot of. In fact, my life is pretty much in a constant state of revision. The majority of it goes on within the confines of my laptop as I write and re-write and chop and change. This is one reason I really like Scrivener. As I explained before, it definitely helps with the on-screen revision process by making it more visual and making it easier to move stuff around and see what I’m doing.
However, there comes a point in every manuscript where I need to stop seeing it as a work in progress and see it as a nearly, sort-of, could-one-day-be book. In the past the only way to do this was by printing the entire thing off. My manuscripts range in length from 220 to over 300 pages so you can imagine the paper and ink going into that effort. Even printing on the back of used paper and reducing the ink to 50 per cent grey, printing off a manuscript just for myself to read seems like a huge waste. It’s good for one-time only. As I read it I’ll mark it up then, as I make changes, I’ll highlight the marked-up bits and it will never be any good for anyone ever again.
Being at the point where I now want to give one of my manuscripts a “proper” read before submitting it, I was contemplating this dilemma when my beady eye alighted on my Kindle. Surely I could do something with that…
And, yes, I can and did and it was easy and free. One quick e-mail of my Word doc to the good folks in the Kindleverse and my document came back to me in a Kindle-ready format. My manuscript is now loaded on my Kindle and the most amazing thing about it is it looks like a real book (well, a real e-book anyway). It’s beautiful! It’s also easy to read and is sufficiently booky that I’m able to give it a good read-through with flow, unlike the choppy reading experience I get on my laptop.
When I see something I want to change I make a note. Granted, this doesn’t change it in the file – I still need to go back into the document and do the edits – but in some ways I think that may be a good thing. Constant revision is one of the things that gets in the way of a good read-through on the laptop. The Kindle takes away the temptation to fiddle and makes me simply read. The ability to make notes is a happy compromise.
So, to sum up, doing my read-throughs on my Kindle saves the earth, saves me money (I figure each manuscript print-off uses about half a cartridge of ink which comes out to $20 easy), is more portable and actually looks more like a book than the old reams of paper held together with an elastic band.
Don’t get me wrong – my long-term goal is still to have a physical, paper, bound and printed version of my published story one day – but as part of the journey to getting there, the Kindle is a valued player (and, at $20 a read-through, it’ll pay for itself before long…)Filed under From Tudor, Organizing our Writing Lives, Tips and Tricks | Comment (1)
Fresh off last night’s Game Seven, I was inspired to ask this question.
Because no matter what you thought of the series and the game and the stuff that happened after the game (and, oh my goodness, I have some strong thoughts about that, many of which start with “what would your mother think of you now?”) there was some pretty transfixing TV viewing to be had last night.
I’m talking about the moments just after the game when the Bruins – the huge, hairy, sweaty and probably very smelly Bruins – were floating on air. Skating on clouds. Shaking hands and smiling and laughing and hugging. Lifting up the Cup and kissing it (and I kept wincing and thinking “ooh, don’t drop it!” because that’s what I’d do if I had to carry something that heavy while wearing skates).
It was a moment. You could see it. You could feel it. It wasn’t staged – you couldn’t stage something like that. It was the culmination of all their professional hopes and dreams and their hours and years of effort. It was IT.
I loved seeing that.
I, personally, have no desire to ever win the Stanley Cup – which is a very good thing. I also have no desire to summit Everest. Or to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I don’t want to win a major award – I’m not saying I wouldn’t enjoy winning some type of award but it’s not a goal of mine.
No, what I want is to nail a publishing contract. I want to know my book is going to be published. All the stuff after would be great too; the first time I got to see the book. The first few sales of the book. The first time I saw another person reading my book. Those would be nice but what I really want – that moment I’m really after – is just signing the contract.
That’s my Stanley Cup. What’s yours?Filed under From Tudor, Inspiration, On Life, Writing as Career | Comments Off
Sadly, I am here to tell you there is no such thing. Not in the writing world, anyway. There is not even such thing as a reasonable-amount-of-money-for-the-actual-amount-of-work-you-put-in. No, I’m afraid the closest you’re going to get is to receive a not-insulting-sum-of-money-that-is-fair-given-market-conditions-and-that-gets-paid-to-you-on-time. That, my friend, in the freelance writing world, is pure gold. That’s also why your parents wanted you to go to med school or law school – or pretty much anything but j-school…
Speaking of j-school - I graduated in 1996 and freelancers were getting paid more then than they are now. So did I pick a winner or what?
This little lesson on writing and money comes courtesy of one of the spam comments the blog received this past week (spam central we were, around here). Here’s the comment:
We need internet writers desperately. After checking out your website, we want you on our staff. We pay out $35-$50 hourly. Our top writers are pulling in over $90K a YEAR, writing part-time. Please stop by and see us.
I am here to tell you this is hogwash! Pure, 100 per cent, complete and utter hogwash (I would use a stronger animal reference here but I’m making an effort to clean up my language). This statement is simply not true.
There are lots of sites like this out there telling you they need you, and you can make lots of money in your spare time, and you just have to register with them (oh, and pay a small fee) and the work will roll in, pour in, deluge in and you’ll be able to pick and choose your assignments and then lean back in your chair and eat pitted cherries all day while you peck out your stories and the cheques also roll, pour and deluge in.
Really? You really think this is going to happen? I’m not asking if you wish this would happen or if it seems only fair and right that this would happen but I’m asking if, deep in the recesses of your heart and mind you believe this to be true. If the answer is still yes then I’m here to tell you you’re wrong.
I could go into lots of details and give you all the good reasons and logic as to why things that seem too good to be true really are and also remind you there is no such thing as a free lunch (unless your mother makes it for you and then you still have to listen to a diatribe on your good-for-nothing cousin and the mistakes he’s making with his good-for-nothing life and, pretty soon, you wish you had just paid $5.99 for the deli special). Anyway, I could do all that but one of my most favourite bloggers of all times – the wise and mysterious INTERN – has already done a fantastic and funny job of it here so I invite you to read it for yourself.
Of course, in the interests of maintaining a fair-minded and egalitarian blog, I definitely invite you to write in if you can prove me wrong. If you really have pulled in over $90K a year, writing part-time, by all means let me know and I will happily bathe in hogwash.Filed under Contests, Markets & Events, From Tudor, On Life, The Publishing Industry, The Writer's Path, Writing as Career | Comments Off
There is no answer. No right answer anyway.
I think lots of people are out and about Googling away and reading blogs and, a lot of the time, they’re looking for an answer. The answer. The right way to do something.
While the internet and all the experts it contains can give you lots of answers – it cannot offer you THE answer that’s right for you - at least not with regards to things like writing and philosophy and generally running your life (and not parenting; especially not parenting). I totally give you that the internet may be able to give you the definitive answer about how to get a red wine stain out of your white tablecloth – or then again, maybe not because some people swear by a name brand you buy in a store while others recommend you mix two parts baking soda with some vinegar and add eye of newt and the spit of an ailing bullfrog.
At any rate, in my writing world I’m often conscious of the “rules”, the “rights and wrongs”, the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts”. Here are some examples:
Example A: Resume clients will often tell me they’ve heard a resume should only EVER (on pain of death) be one page. Or, someone else has been told, also on pain of death, it can only ever be two pages. Or, someone has heard keeping it short is so old school and you should always make it at least five pages just to show you’re non-conformist. So what’s the answer? The answer – or at least how I work – is I write the resume as best I can and see how long it is. It almost always ends up being two or three pages which, I believe, is quite reasonable. However, I always tell my clients, if the job posting asks for a one-page resume, you’d better cut your resume down to one page and if it wants 10, you’d better do some padding. There is no one right answer. I tell my clients the only people they should be suspicious of are those who tell them there is only one answer.
Example B: In dealings I had recently with another writer, I was told I “should” have an online portfolio. Now, since I already know I should be making my yogourt from scratch and I should iron my t-shirts and I should drink less Diet Coke, the idea of having to find time to create an online portfolio was kind of freaking me out. And then I thought harder about it and realized because this particular writer is very much an online creature with social media being the main focus of their work, yes, certainly that writer definitely should have an online portfolio. Me? I’m not so sure. I’m certainly not convinced enough to take the time needed from revising my manuscript to build said portfolio. Maybe when my kids are in university and I am a successfully published author and, in theory, I have more time. But by then I probably won’t need to promote myself anyway right?
Example C: Writing in general. I break rules all the time. I just did with my “writing in general” sentence. That’s not a sentence is it? Word definitely doesn’t like me when I use sentence fragments and spell things with Canadian spelling and write long, fun, rambly run-on sentences. The rules! The rules! screams Word in red and green, with its little lines of code all wrung up from the confusion and tangle of dealing with rulebreakers like me. But if we all followed the rules exactly, all of our writing would sound quite, well, similar. Some would probably be better for it and some much worse and - I bet you anything - no two people would agree on which was better and which worse. Because reading, like writing is subjective.
Now, don’t get me wrong, even though I love my sons and think they are brilliant writers, when they write Mother’s Day cards telling me they love their mother because “elle don mwah des clashions” (aka “elle donne moi des collations”, aka “she gives me snacks”), I do realize they still need to learn a few writing rules. I believe firmly in learning the basics, walking before you run, learning the rules before you break them (Mary Kole has a great post on this).
I guess what I’m trying to say is, yes, there are rules which have developed for good reasons. But this world – the writing world, the world of relationships, the world of etiquette and so on – this big world we live in is full of shades of grey so I think you should seek out resources, gather advice, weigh it seriously and then follow your heart. Because maybe the critique partner who tells you she dislikes your run-on sentences just simply doesn’t understand them. Maybe her critique partner is always warning her about her fragments.
I’m not saying ignore advice – especially not if the same advice comes from many different corners – but I am saying, in the end, it’s up to you how you write.
Then again, having said that, it’s up to other people whether you get published but that’s another discussion for another day…Filed under From Tudor, Inspiration, Language & Usage, On Life, Organizing our Writing Lives, The Writer's Path, Tips on technique | Comments Off
I know I said I might make this week’s post about alliteration but then I realized in last week’s glosa post I talked about stanzas without exploring what they actually are.
Most of us prose writers probably know stanzas as the paragraphs – or maybe even the scenes or chapters – of the poetry world. I’d actually be interested on the feedback of any poets out there as to what stanzas mean to you; are they paragrahpy or chaptery or does it depend on the poem?
At any rate, according to M.H. Abrams’ A Glossary of Literary Terms (of which there should be a dusty copy on the bookshelf of every English Lit major), stanza is the Italian for “stopping place”.
Mr. Abrams goes on to say many interesting things about stanzas but, for the purposes of this post, I’m going to stick to the different types of stanza. Here we go:
1) First you’ve got your couplet - two rhyming lines equal in length. Easy right? However there can also be octosyllabic couplets (lines of eight syllables) and iambic pentameter lines that rhyme in pairs are decasyllabic or heroic couplets (ten syllables). Abrams points to Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” as a good example of the use of octosyllabic couplets.
2) Tercets, or triplets have – surprise, surprise – three lines, usually with one rhyme. The lines can be the same, or differing, lengths. A type of (very difficult, if you ask me) tercet is terza rima in which tercets are joined one to the following using a pattern such as aba, bcb, cdc, etc.
3) Now for the quatrain (four-line stanza, of course) which, apparently, is the most common. When written in rhyming iambic pentameter, this type of stanza is called an heroic quatrain.
4) Stanzas of other lengths include a seven-line iambic pentameter stanza called rime royal, the eight-lined ottava rima and the longer, and more complicated, spenserian stanza which is nine lines long with the first eight in iambic pentameter and the ninth in iambic hexameter.
This is by no means a complete list of types of stanzas, however, I’m exhausted just thinking about all these different types. I have a particular admiration for poets who devote themselves to not only writing creatively and beautifully but to following all these rules…
I don’t think there’s any escaping Iambic Pentameter as next week’s post do you?Filed under From Tudor, Language & Usage, Poetry, Tips on technique | Comments Off
I was waiting to see how it all went, but now I can tell you I found out in March that I was a finalist in the National Capital Writing Contest, and the Awards Ceremony was May 10, and I went and received an honourable mention, and it was a very lovely evening.
My younger son turned to me the next morning and asked “Did you win?” and I said “No,” and he said “I knew you wouldn’t.” Hmm – it would have been nice if he had told me and I might not have worried so much about my hair.
Although, every single finalist was called up on stage and we all received very nice certificates and had the judge’s comments about our work read out loud, so I guess it was good I fixed my hair (which my older son had warned me earlier “didn’t look very good” – I suppose we’re honest in our family).
My husband kept emphasizing it was an honour just to be recognized and it 100 per cent, truly was. Except, you see, it felt like a bit more of an honour when we were all in it together; a small group of people all chosen from the greater pool of entries. Once some won and some didn’t the honour of being recognized dulled just a tiny bit.
I want to emphasize, however, that I am not complaining and I wouldn’t hand in my (very beautiful) Honourable Mention certificate for any reason and, as a bonus, an anthology has been created - a real live book anthology with an ISBN and a price and everything and my story is in it, along with the stories of all the other finalists and so, I suppose I have now had my second piece of fiction officially published, and in a book which I now own (or, more precisely my husband owns as he insisted on paying for it) and so, all in all a great experience.
And that, by the way, is where I learned about a glosa because the first prize winner in the poetry category had written a glosa and it was beautiful.
I have had many thoughts about this evening and stemming from the evening and, like the glosa post, no doubt many more posts will be spawned as a result.
I would say, based on this alone, the Year of the Contest has been a success and so I urge you to think of what you really want to do, make a plan and do it because you never know what may come of it.Filed under Contests, Markets & Events, From Tudor, On Life, Organizing our Writing Lives, Tips on technique | Comments (3)
Nestled in the middle of the mundane you will sometimes find some magic and this is exactly what happened to me as I was doing my mandatory, annual, half-hearted clean up of our filing cabinet.
Taxes; nothing much more mundane than those. Every year I have to tally up all my living expenses to be able to claim “workspace in the home” deductions and so every year I rifle through Bell and Hydro and Water bills and add them up and then shred the ones from three or four years previous so that (in theory) our filing cabinet will not overflow.
This year I got a little more adventurous and decided my “nanny” file could go since she worked for me for nine months in 2003 and I have no plans to ever hire another one. Then I thought maybe the brochures we collected for our honeymoon of places we ended up deciding not to go could possibly also be recycled. And so on. I got on a bit of a roll and came up against a file labelled “Personal” in my handwriting. Hmmm…
A quick glance revealed university transcripts, photocopies of my results in the National Capital 10K as published in the Ottawa Citizen, a picture of me and six friends with all our moms, etc. What was also there, though, was writing. Lots of bits and pieces of unfinished writing. Three paragraphs here, 300 words there, printed off on the back of letterhead from a job I held 14 years ago. A poem scribbled in red ink on a scrap envelope. And, nearly filling an Algonquin College 160-page spiral-bound notebook in my own neater-when-I-was-younger printing, a story. A long story. I still don’t know how complete it is as I haven’t had time to read it.
Bizarrely, although many of the short bits and pieces jog my memory, I can’t remember writing this long story. Oh, and wait, looking through it now I’ve found a loose piece of paper with an outline written on it. An outline. So strange.
So, it appears I have some sort of novel on my hands. Useable? I have no idea. To be honest, I’m afraid to get into it. At the moment I’m teetering on the edge of finishing the first draft of my third YA novel and I really want to press forward with that. I’m also trying to stay on course with my year of the contest. I also have life to consider – you know, feeding, clothing and nurturing my family. I’m afraid if I read this now it will be one too many things to think about – afraid it will take over the small part of my brain reserved for running all the rest of the stuff I have to do and I’ll stop getting anything done at all.
I am using the small bits of writing, though. I already adapted one for a contest and there are several more that I can probably work on. The infuriating thing, though, is that most of them just introduce an interesting idea and then fade away to – what? Who knows. Probably I had to go call a client or write up some marketing materials and never came back to my first thought. Just easier to start a new one next time I had some creative writing time. Now it’s up to my older (and busier) self to do the hard slog of pulling everything together into a coherent story.
Here’s an example of one of the short beginnings:
Lucy had always been great at giving advice but her skills in this area had tailed off considerably since she had fallen in love. Where her recommendations used to come short, sharp and vehement, she now tended towards a sort of optimistic sympathy. She had developed a theme of “I’m sorry about it but everything will get better.” She was distracted by love; made softer, gentler, dreamier by it.
She was aware of it too, and had told Avril, “I feel less quick; not as sharp, less smart I guess, but infinitely wiser.” Love had made her into a rational creature; one who moved through the day with a buffer around her. Her primary emotions were saved for Jeremy while secondary ones filtered out to those around her.
It wasn’t that Avril wished her friend hadn’t achieved this state – after all, it was one she aspired to herself – it was just that she wished they could have arrived there together.
I read this and think who on earth are Lucy and Jeremy and what was going to happen to Avril? I wish I knew. If anyone out there thinks they know, by all means tell me!Filed under From Tudor, Inspiration, On Life, Organizing our Writing Lives, The Writer's Path | Comment (1)