Tag Archives: featured

10Feb/15

Maybe What You Love is What You’re Already Doing

Back in December, I made a list of things I wanted to do in the new year. I pretend I don’t make resolutions, but I always make lists of new things I want to learn. This year, I decided, would be the year I learned to draw.

Somewhere in my brain is the idea that I’ve always wanted to learn to draw, and just never had the stars align in such a way that I could. Sure, I sketch things for fun, but I’m not a skilled artist by any means. So I decided I’d learn. I checked out books. I started a new sketchbook and gathered photos to inspire me. Since January 1, I’ve managed to draw on 3 pages.

In the meantime, I had to buy my daughter a new sketchbook over the weekend, because all of her sketchbooks were full.

You see, my daughter loves to draw. From the moment she could hold a crayon in her tiny fingers, she was drawing small villages on her walls, on paper, on her own skin. Drawing has always been her ideal form of self-expression. If she’s mad at me, she draws about it. If she loves something, she draws it. Today, I brought home some new tissue boxes, but she didn’t like the design. So she drew Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon on there.

The girl must draw half a dozen pictures every single day, and has for most of her 9 years of life. She fills several sketch books a year. FILLS them. Drawings of her toys. Drawings of characters she likes. Drawings of hipster cats with glasses and moustaches.

And then there’s my son. I always talk about wanting to learn how to code. But I don’t. He does. He gets an idea for an animation or a game, and he draws his plans and then he sits down in Scratch, and an hour or two or a week or two later, he has a thing he made that is awesome. Funny characters. Fully animated versions of cell division. Life cycles of plants. He’s been doing this for years.

So what am I doing during those times? I’m writing. If I’m not writing stories or books, I’m writing emails and journal entries. If I’m not reading fine literature, I’m reading the marketing copy on chewing gum. There have been a few days in the last few years that I haven’t written a single word. Maybe. I can’t tell you what days they were. I was probably quite cranky by the end of them.

Because I’m co-owner of one of the largest writing communities on Google+, I see a lot of new writers ask for advice. “I want to be a writer! How do I start?” I’ve seen veteran writers tell them flat out, “You will never write a novel if you aren’t already writing.” I thought that was really harsh. But I think I see it now. Sure, you can start anywhere, but unless you’re doing it every day because you can’t NOT do it, it’s always going to be that thing you want to learn and haven’t.

There’s a saying: “Do what you love and love what you do.” I always thought it was super cheesy. It’s probably the most wishy-washy piece of business advice I’ve ever read. But at the end of the day, it has an echo of the truth, I think. But maybe, instead of trying to love something, it’s more about finding out what you’re already doing. Because most likely, that’s the thing you actually love.

Image from workisnotajob.com

Image from workisnotajob.com

So, friends, what are the things you spend the most time doing or thinking about every day, even when you “should” be doing something else? What are the things that just come naturally to you?

19Sep/14

How I Fight the Creative Resistance

The closer I get to finishing my book, the stronger the resistance gets. I am Frodo, crawling up Mount Doom, the weight of my precious book dragging on the ground beneath me.

I’ve been working on writing the ending. I’ve been saying this for the last several weeks. I’ve been saying it since the edited portion of the book was sitting at around 30,000 words, and now I have 50,000 words that are completely locked down. I honestly think I have 5,000 or less to go. I’m nearly done.

And when I’m done, I’m going to burn it.

Burning-book-001

 

This is the most common thought I hear whispered in my mind. Burn it. This voice has progressed in violence over the course of the 18 months I’ve been working on this thing. It started by letting me know the book probably wouldn’t get finished, but that was okay. Then it let me know that writing a book was really hard, and maybe I wasn’t cut out for it. Then it started in on some character defamation: Who are you to write this book? Why would anyone want to read something you wrote? And now, as I near the end of it, the voice is starting to have a high-pitched panic to it. When you finish it, you must destroy it.

I know I’m not crazy. I know this is all part of the whole creating gig. I know it’s because I’m afraid. I’m afraid people will hate my book. I’m afraid people will love my book. I’m afraid I wasted my time writing it. I’m afraid that it will get big enough that I’ll have to devote more time to it after publishing it. There’s a lot of fear in this thing. But that doesn’t mean I’m weak or helpless, because I also know that when the fears are big, my courage is big. So I keep hitting the page. I keep putting words, one in front of another, into the places they belong. And I’ve hidden all the matches in the house.

In case you might be in the same place on a project you’re working on, here are a few things that have helped me keep pushing to the end:

1. Make a Promise to Someone You Care About

I wouldn’t have started this book if not for half a dozen friends who asked me to write it. One of them has continued asking about it every few months during this whole process. I keep her updated on my slow progress. As I’ve continued working, more friends have learned about this project. Now I have several people asking me about it. “How’s the writing coming?” If they ask in a large group of people, I’m suddenly the local celebrity who is working on a book, and now I have an extra dozen people waiting for it. Still, when it comes to writing the end, it’s because of my friend Sarah. It’s because she wants the book. Maybe she even needs it. I don’t know, but I’m writing it because I promised her I would.

2. Have Someone Else Set a Deadline for You

In my last post, I talked about the reasons to hire an editor. One of the best things that has come out of this decision for me is the deadline.

I love deadlines. I thrive on them. Rather than sending me into a swirling panic, they give me a laser-sharp focus. I know exactly what I have to do to meet this deadline. However, if I try to set my own deadlines, they don’t work. Last Fall, I told myself I would have the book finished by the end of the year. Did I? Nope. I did get the third draft done around that time, so it wasn’t all bad. My next deadline was in April. I was going to have it published. Did I? Nope. Not even close. Now, I have to have this book to my editor on October 1 to squeeze it into her busy calendar. Am I going to finish it? You bet your sorry deadline-avoiding tail I am. I wouldn’t let my editor down.

I’ve discovered there’s a trick to this: you have to be more afraid to fail the deadline than you are afraid of the book. And if you’re not afraid of the book, what in the world are you writing it for?

3. Celebrate Early

Now, this may not work for everyone, but I have this psychological thing about making stuff even. I don’t like to do things if I haven’t earned them (which explains a whole lot of my issues, but that’s a post for another day). I tend to be stingy with myself. However, I decided several months back that when I published my first book, I would get a tattoo.

That might not be what everyone else plans to do, but I had a little stick figure tattoo that I got during college that has needed to be covered up with something lovely. I had it in my head that I’d publish the book, I’d go out to celebrate, I’d have a drink or two, and I’d get some fresh ink. I’d even started asking around to find out where I might get it done locally.

Then an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime thing happened. A tattoo artist was coming to visit a friend of mine and had agreed to set up a private tattoo session. He only had a few openings, so if I wanted one, I had to get on the list, fast. This was a month or so ago. It was one of those moments, similar to the one when I booked my editor. “This is it. You have to take this opportunity.”

I got that tattoo done last Sunday. It’s beautiful. The artist was amazing. He gave me a full color rendition of the owl and feather quill my brother had designed for me. It’s a tattoo that declares I am a writer, and it’s big, and it’s colorful, and it’s not going away.

It’s also the tattoo I was supposed to get after I finished this book. So now I have this debt weighing over me, and it’s visible (and kind of itchy and peely at the moment). I have not finished the book, but I already accepted my reward. The world is out of balance. I must rectify this. I have to finish.

4. Tell Everyone You Know

This goes along with the first tip, but it’s a little different. The first one is about someone who actually wants to read my book. This tip is about all my friends and family who probably won’t read it, but love cheering me on anyway.

I hate being embarrassed. I know there are a lot of writers out there who don’t deliver. I know there are a lot of times I haven’t delivered. How many times have I told people I’m writing a novel or a screenplay? And I was! I wasn’t lying. But for the first time, when someone asks what my book is about, I can tell them. I can pitch it to them in a few sentences, answer any questions they have about it, and then accept any of their ideas or criticisms without feeling like I’m being a total poser.

This is the thought that keeps me away from lighters in the house. Because I know, thanks to the huge number of people that I’ve talked to, that this is a good idea. It’s a good book. It’s something people want. It’s something people might need. It’s from a perspective that’s a little different. And the more I talk to all of them, the more courageous I get about it.

So when I hear that voice telling me to burn it, I think about my friend, and I think about the fantastic editor I have waiting for me, and I look at that tattoo I got in advance of all of it, and I tell that voice to suck it. Because this book is going to be finished within the next week and then put out into the world where I’ll have no control over it anymore. I hope it helps people.

Really? Wouldn’t you rather play video games today?

Shut up, Resistance. You’re dumb.

 

02Sep/14

Five (Psychological) Reasons to Hire an Editor

redpen

 

Look at that red pen for a moment. Does the sight of it make you squirm? Are you having flashbacks to junior high, when a teacher handed you back the best paper you’d ever written with a hundred illegible scribbles all over it? Does the idea of red ink give you anxiety attacks?

Some writers see the word “editor” and freak out.

But if you are planning to make it as a writer, especially in the current publishing climate, I highly recommend hiring an editor. I’m not going to tell you all the great benefits of having your work edited. I’m sure you already know how typos and poor sentence structure can turn your 5-star plot into a 2-star dud on Amazon. I’m sure you understand that having someone else read your work can help you spot errors you couldn’t see, no matter how much you like correcting the grammar of others.

Today, I’m going to tell you why your writing will improve from hiring an editor before the editor ever touches your work.

 

Reason #1: It’s a Confidence Booster

self-confidence

I hired an editor in mid-June. I had been waffling about the idea for months. I knew what editor I wanted. I had been following her for some time on Google+ and knew that she worked on books similar to mine. She has a great reputation in the editing world. She’s the type of editor who sleeps next to the Chicago Manual of Style and geeks out about etymology. For many months, I knew that if I was going to hire an editor, she would be the one I wanted to work with.

For all those months I wished she was my editor, I never felt that I was good enough to be one of her clients.

One day, I saw a post by her that said she only had  two open slots left for all of 2014. This was back in June, when there was still half a year left to go. I knew I wanted to get my book finished by the end of the year. Suddenly, I had a choice to make. If I was going to have her as my editor, I needed to book one of those slots, and I had to do it fast.

When I contacted her, she seemed just as excited to work with me as I was to work with her. She had been following my progress, knew I was working on a non-fiction book, and said she looked forward to working with me. Well, then. That’s nice, isn’t it?

If you have an editor in mind to work with, don’t be shy about contacting them. They might be looking forward to working with you, too.

 

Reason #2: You Get a Built-In Deadline

I’ve been working on this book for 18 months. I have friends who expected a copy last summer, then at Christmas, then in the spring. But all you writers know what it’s like. I’ll write a book! Sure! Then you get sucked in to the black hole of YouTube, and you haven’t written a word for weeks.

catmarshy (1)

 

Maybe you’re more disciplined than I am. Well, good for you. I freely admit to needing some outside assistance.

Since my editor is booked through the end of this year and into the spring, I know my October 1 deadline is fixed. I know I don’t get to smudge this one. I know this is my one shot for this editor for this book. And you better believe I’ve spent every free moment working on my book since then. Well, beyond writing blog posts and dorking around on the internet for breaks, I’ve been working.

 

Reason #3: It’s Proof You’re a Real Writer

Up until now, you’ve told people, “I’m working on a book.” Neighbor kids think that’s the coolest thing ever (until you tell them what the book is about). Some of your friends might think it’s nice that you’re working on a book. But if you live in Southern California, like I do, and you tell people, “I’m a writer,” they say, “Oh, me too!” Everyone is a writer. It’s kind of nice, really. But at the same time, there’s this longing to be “a real writer.” Sure, I have some short stories published (doesn’t everyone?), but that’s as far as those conversations usually go.

But in this case, I have an editor for a specific project that I am completing in less than a month. And for some reason, I feel less defensive about trying to convince myself that I’m a writer now. Your threshhold for being a “real writer” might vary from mine, but being able to mention “my editor” in a conversation is just the kind of name-dropping I need to feel validated. Is that evil? Possibly.

 

Reason #4: You Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

willyWonka (1)

I’ve been writing as a serious hobby for over five years now. I’ve written four rough drafts of novels, three screenplays, hundreds of flash fiction pieces, and a dozen short stories. Some of them have been published. But I still feel weird when I talk to anyone who says, “I’m writing a book.” See #3. Sure you are. We all are.

By hiring an editor, I’m putting my money where my mouth is. I’m saying, “Not only am I writing a book, but I’m finishing a book, paying someone to help me clean it up, and then publishing it.”

This is the furthest I’ve been on this journey so far. It’s a stretch. I was happy to just be writing a book for all those years before. Now, I want people to be reading the book. Hiring an editor is the next step on that journey.

 

Reason #5: You Have to Step Up Your Game

Before I even considered hiring an editor, I was halfway through the 4th draft of my book. It started as a mush of disconnected thoughts that became coherent over two complete rewrites. I knew this would be one of my final drafts when I came to it, and I’ve been working on it with a polished final draft in mind.

However, knowing the caliber of editor I’ve hired and the other clients she works with, I realized I needed to step it up. Good enough isn’t good enough anymore. This better be my best, right now. For me, that’s not a paralyzing feeling but an encouraging one. I know I can do better. I know that I was slacking a bit before I hired her. I also know what I’m doing now is the best I can do right now. And I’m excited to see how my editor will help my work become even better.

 

There you have it. Five reasons to hire an editor. I still have a month left to finish this book and get it to my editor, but my work and my confidence levels have already improved just from making the step to hire her.

If you’re nearing the point of needing an editor for your work, and you have someone in mind, I highly recommend you contact them to talk about how you can work together. And if you’re not quite there yet, I bet you will be if you keep working. Happy writing!