Margaret Atwood, the CON, and NaNoWriMo

All good things come in November, right? Even my birthday is only two days away.

Margaret Atwood spoke at the Englert Theater in Iowa City last night, which also happened to be her 75th birthday. She’s clever, concise, and funny. I might even have an appreciation for zombies after listening to her. After she spoke, there was a Q&A, then she signed books.

The questions were decent, somewhat – I’m going to ignore the best hockey goalie question because the guy was hunting for something she didn’t want to give. Still. One (expected) question was about advice for aspiring writers. Maybe aspiring writer is a different term to everyone who labels oneself with the term. However, this woman was 53 and had not finished a manuscript. (Ms. Atwood asked.) Her advice? Finish it. Then do something with it. Then write something else. That is a writer. And she’s right, of course. She also said if the writer was an adolescent, wattpad was a good, free opportunity to get words out there. Because, sure, writing for an audience of your teacher about a summer vacation is one thing, but having a real audience to give comments and feedback, even if it is just ‘more, more!’ is something that will make that person dedicated to the craft.

When she signed my book, I said I was also an aspiring author. She asked if I’d finished a manuscript, and of course I said I had. And it has been published. And I keep writing. And she said I’m not aspiring – I’m already there. Again, she’s right. Except I might still be aspiring. I want to reach higher- to find more audiences- and to always, always do better. She has a wonderful attitude, and I’d like to be like her when I grow up: in that I want to write the stories, share them, and have a humorous outlook.

Last weekend was ICON. (I suppose in this way, I’m different than Ms. Atwood. I do mingle with the science fiction community. Whenever I can.) I was so excited to go to Paradise ICON, which was the writer’s workshop piece. I didn’t do much with the CON itself. I did see my band, Wylde Nept, and I’m glad. I caught up with old friends, made new friends, and learned a few things that are still rattling around in my head trying to makes sense of themselves.

I’m in the midst of making new goals, trying new schedules to be more productive, and getting “out there” more. I’ve told several friends my focus after November will switch to editing. I know I need to force myself to do it, and with constant prodding is the only way I know to start that. (December 1st, hear me people?! Eleven more days!) Going to Paradise ICON helped. I need to spend more time in serious critique mode, too. Luckily I may have a new friend (or more than one) who will allow me to work on that with them. 

And NaNoWriMo! I love the writer energy in the air around this time of year, and I like to take advantage of it to push out a bunch of words. Greg Frost called what I am doing something like a Zero Draft, and I think I love that term. Plus it only emphasizes the amount of work in the future to resurrect it into something usable, sharable, worthy of the original vision in my head. But you can’t fix it until you get it out. I’m not sure how to describe this project, but it’s big. So I’m going to the end, and then I’ll define it. Whether I finish or not by 1 Dec, I will use that date to start editing my lovely pile of projects.

The other thing I will do (but not as much as editing) is put together another new schedule. Self-imposed deadlines. These I will also share, so everyone can keep me on task to make them. When I dream, I dream big. And I know I won’t achieve those dreams if I allow myself to let the deadlines slide too far. Like they have been doing. So thanks in advance for gentle nudges when I stall and encouragement when I falter.

I can and do own the writer label, but there are so many other labels that must be applied before one can become a successful author. So right now I will dream, schedule, plot, and implement until I make it there.

Blog like No One is Reading?

Seen on Twitter: “Dance like the photo’s not being tagged, Love like you’ve never been unfriended, Tweet like nobody’s following.” @postsecret from @bythebrooks (via @neilhimself).

Don’t you wonder what people have to say if they think no one will read it? Maybe that’s why some people quit blogging. If no one out there is responding, they’re not about to keep putting themselves out there. Blogs have great tracking features to tell you how many people read your post. Plus you can add feeds for subscribers to increase your readability.

But it doesn’t really bring in readers. What you write does. So is what you’re saying interesting enough to hold an audience? Only of people who personally know you? Not even then? Even if you have something interesting, humorous, or noteworthy, you might not capture the audience. Perhaps someone will repost one of your thoughts, but never come back again. [I am recently guilty of this.]

I just don’t read that many blogs. I haven’t yet found the time. It doesn’t mean I won’t find the time, especially if someone shares it directly with me, but my focus is toward writing: blogs slanted that way, books on the topic, books in genres I write, plus the writing and revision of my own work. It’s time consuming. I let it be that way.

Not that I don’t pay attention to my family. That’s where the rest of my time goes.

I’m not really under delusions about how many people read my blog. If I were WordPress would definitely burst my bubble. It’s not about what I’m trying to tell someone else, but it’s an expression of something I want to say. I think a blog ought to be something you want to do. I originally started one because it seemed like the thing writers do – they blog. Some do and some don’t. Some are successful and some aren’t. There is no one way to label a writer or a blog. The expert opinion is to do it if you like it, but that there are plenty of ways to reach an audience other than blogging if that’s the author’s preference.

It’s a long way to say: if you’re reading, thanks. It’s nice to know someone wants to read it. I’d probably still be blogging anyway – but it makes me happy.

Writing Habits

A writer is one who writes. For many, it becomes an ingrained habit with practice. Somehow it starts with an innocent scrap of paper to overcome many notebooks and writing files. Even through the rest of the activities of writing and life, writers are encouraged to write every day. Sometimes they’re called morning pages, but not everyone manages to get them out every morning.

Do you write at a specific time every day? What do you write? Do you consider blogging writing? Do you just work it in when you can in your day, or do you allot specific time to do it? If you miss that time, does your day feel off? Under what circumstances can you not write and still consider yourself a writer? How many missed days before you feel like it’s too far out of your niche to pick up the pen again?

Morning pages happen in the beginning of the day. One big reason behind making them morning pages is the parts of your day that are prioritized are more likely to happen. For many it’s far too easy at night to say, oh, I’ll do it tomorrow. After work and family and all the other commitments, it can just be too much. If there are reasons you allot a different time of day to writing, it has to be a priority in order to make certain it gets completed. Since my toddler is much more of a morning person than I am, my pages tend to be during naptime.

I consider blogging separate from writing. I struggle to always turn out fiction, though. Sometimes I make it about fiction or my goals, especially if I’m deep into rewriting something and the distraction to write something new will carry me away from the project that needs to be finished. But I know I have trouble finishing projects. It’s why I have rough drafts lying around taunting me to polish them. One day I’m going to catch up – I swear…

All right. Not today or anytime soon.

I miss writing when I haven’t for a space of a few days. It doesn’t happen often. Rarely a few other priorities try to raise their ugly heads and get some attention. I hate it when that happens.

How sacred is your writing? Do you maintain morning pages or some other form of daily writing activity? I’d love to hear what you do to get back on track when the inevitable derailing occurs.

Strong Points

Have you noticed, as a writer, there does not seem to be a lot of separation of tasks? I mean, sure, we write, we rewrite, we edit, we polish, which all supposedly falls under the umbrella of writing. The writers I know often seem to be better at one side than the other as far as the writing and the editing go. Some people race through rough drafts with the ease of a knife through butter, and others can polish a sentence to the shine of a mirror in one pass.

None of that goes with the rest of what the writer has to do – be visible. Does it take an awesome writer to gain visibility? Answers may vary, but the short answer is no. You can say all you want about what makes a great writer, but those talents are not the same as the ones to get you noticed by your audience. All of that is about publicity.

Publicity takes different strengths entirely. You can’t be afraid to be noticed or to have people look at you. It’s silly because most of the writers I know are fairly shy people. A lot of them wouldn’t mind at all if you locked them in a tower and bounced their manuscripts off to be published somewhere – but it doesn’t really work that way.

Once you gain some notoriety, then there are both good and bad ratings of your work. Well, this gives the sensitive writer something else to be shy about. One always hopes there will be something good to say about the work in question, but someone out there is always willing to dash your hopes.

There are published books out there about the rejection letters other writers received. I think these books are supposed to be inspirational, but how much rejection is one supposed to take? Once the book comes out and an author waits for reviews, they might be good and might be bad. Plus, even financial success and movie deals won’t stop an amateur or even a non-writer from saying how the book could have been better or saying that the author isn’t good.

Do you ever stop and say, really? First, they tell you not to go into the field because it’s cutthroat. Second, they tell you to expect you’re getting better if you get a hand-written rejection. Third, even getting a book deal with a major publishing house and sharing your vision of character and plot with all the readers and getting your name to be recognized and you still need to deal with the naysayers? Does anyone know when s/he’s reached success?

I know if I believed everything they told me I probably wouldn’t keep writing and submitting my work. Part of why I do it is just to share them with people who would like to read them. In keeping with that goal, I’m posting a story on this site for free within the next week or so. Ironing out the last few kinks in the electronic formats with a copyeditor friend of mine. Don’t be afraid to comment whether you like it or not – partly I want to know that you’re reading it. If you want to send me feedback, please do so to my email. I would dearly love to hear from all of you.

Part of surviving the writing business is knowing where you’re strong and emphasizing those points. I’m not the best at promotion, but I am learning as I go and definitely figuring things out. Enjoy the freebie. I haven’t decided if I’m going to make it a regular thing, but that is definitely something I wouldn’t mind doing if the response is good. [A good response being a lot of people want to read it, not just a lack of death-threats for me to stop writing in my inbox.]

Happy reading.

Stay-at-Home Mom?

I read a lot about SAHMs. For a time, I might even have been one. It’s just an interesting term because, in my experience, one rarely stays “home.” I suppose you could, and many do, but there’s only so much to do in the house.

So how do you decide if you’re staying at home or not? Does it count if you pack up the kid and take her with you at least five days a week? Does it matter if we’re headed to the gym or a playgroup or just out grocery shopping? Yes, that would be a lot of groceries, but it’s a place to go. Don’t forget the pool and the library to mix in with the other errands that should only take 5 minutes each, right?

Some of them used to take 5 or 10 minutes, before I started dragging the munchkin with me. If it isn’t her meandering path that takes three times as many steps as we’d need, it’s someone else stopping us to talk about how cute she is or how old she is. It’s not that I mind the attention or begrudge her the exploring time, but nothing takes 5 minutes anymore. Except things that used to take a minute or less, like climbing the stairs.

Assume that it’s going to take half an hour when I stop somewhere, and I’m a lot closer to reality. I grab a diaper bag and the toddler and pack them in the car, along with my purse and keys. Still haven’t figured out the best way to keep my stuff and her stuff in one bag and have it organized and useful, so I carry two and keep the bare minimum in both. Then the garage door goes up, because she’s excited enough about going outside that I can’t open the door before I pack her in the car. So I wait, then back out. There’s five minutes or more already, depending on how cooperative she’s feeling about going wherever we’re going.

That kind of activity just keeps going, in reverse for getting her out. Sometimes I can direct her to go where she’s going, but most of the time I make sure she’s last out of the car so she doesn’t wander off without me. It hasn’t happened yet, but there’s no reason to let the first time be in traffic.

I have been thinking that not working full-time means I’m a stay-at-home mom. So I try to say that with an introduction, but then I keep addending it. I mean, I’m also a writer. While that may not be a paying gig most of the time, I do have paying jobs in tutoring math and teaching yoga. Both of these are part-time, but it still means I need to go somewhere at a specific time and place for a specified duty.

Which of those parts means I’m not a SAHM? I’m not exactly sure, but I think the answer is a little of all of them. You can find me outside the house nearly every morning (Sundays being the exception) and between two and four evenings a week. Suddenly it doesn’t feel like I’m at home that much.

I have made it a high priority to be home during naptime, or if not with me then let the little girl rest with someone I trust. She’s much less cranky when she gets her scheduled nap. I also put her to bed at a specific time and she generally wakes within a few minutes of the same time every day. I can’t say it’s the best for every kid, but I know it works for mine.

I know all mothers are full-time mothers, but I wonder if I’m not the only person who tries to define the quality of staying at home by whether or not the mother has a full-time job. There has to be a different way. What do you think defines a SAHM?

Editing

Every writer needs an editor. It’s not about how technically correct the writing is. It isn’t even about how great the story is.

A writer needs someone to look over the work. How many times have I read the big authors talking about how their spouses read over what they wrote for the day? So many talk about the editors of the old days who worked with writers to improve their works.

I listened to an author speak about a year ago, and one of her classmates from her MFA program read everything she wrote. It seems a natural pairing, an editor and a writer – even if the editor in question has no training.

Why? Well, no matter how many times I look at a manuscript, there always seems to be something I miss. Too close is usually the reason. I think that’s true of many of us, though all writers get to different points on their own before enlisting outside help.

But I think just about every writer I know does enlist outside help, an editor or whomever, at some point.

Becoming a “Real” Author

I know I said a couple days ago that getting a royalty check would help me feel like a real author, but it is difficult to know what will make me stop forgetting that.

The Art of Science was accepted for publication near the time “Qui’s Contract” was, creating a major impact on me.  I’d just turned thirty. I had been focusing on my writing much more in the previous year. Those two successes made me feel like I really was good enough to call myself a writer.

But I have learned one other thing on that journey. (Truthfully, I’ve learned tons, but one relevent to the topic.) Writers write. It’s what they do. It isn’t about finding time or ideas. If you have to do it, you do. I don’t mean anyone putting a gun to your head or anything, but a major piece of yourself is missing if you don’t do it.

I’ve heard people talk about writing as if it were easy and anyone could do it. Those statements are deceptive. While anyone might be able to do it, very few have the will and ability and drive to make it the kind of priority it takes to be good. I have the will, but still learning so much.

Writers on writing…

I should be writing.

That’s the name of the site and the podcast by Mur Lafferty. I listened to this podcast in the car yesterday, and I learned a bit about podcasting through the interview with Scott Sigler. The website has more information – a great resource for budding writers.

Scott Sidler was adamant with his last contract about wanting to give away his novel for free. But, wait, we’re authors for a living, don’t we need to make some money? He talks about the younger generation wanting things online, and he gets our feet wet with podcasting, for free, a chapter a week. His point is that although some will wait for the entire novel at that rate (3 or 4 months), others will go out and buy the book that is already available in the bookstores. He’s increased his audience that way.

Made me think about that novel I have coming out. With a Young Adult audience, it’s very likely that could spread the story to places I can’t travel to or otherwise might not reach.

It’s something I think I will look into and discuss with my publisher.

Books and Movies for 100

My husband and I watch a lot of movies. He doesn’t read, but if it’s a speculative fiction novel I generally try to read it before we see the movie.

Of course we have our favorites, and each has quirks. I find little things annoy me when they change them for no reason in movies.

Like Eragon, did they have to make Arya into a human, rather than an elf?

I remember being very upset that they combined characters in Jurassic Park.

Harry Potter seems to one of the few who escaped major edits in the movie business, but that doesn’t mean they put everything from the story in there. Now and then Hermione gets one of those know-it-all lines that someone else actually said in the book and I shake my head still. Especially if it’s a character who could have been in the scene like Seamus.

As a writer, I’d like to think I’d have the ability to stick up for my story when (okay, IF) it transferred to the silver screen. Novels are difficult because we say so much, but they have a limited time for screenplay.

Is it only writers who are so picky about these things?

Meet Suzanne Leiurance

How do you set about promoting your books? How many hours a week do you spend on book promotion?

I promote my books in a variety of ways. Mostly through school visits and speaking at writers’ conferences and other events, plus through my websites and blogs. However, I probably spend more time every week promoting my coaching than I do promoting my books. Nowadays, I seem to be a coach who also writes, even though I started out as a writer who also coaches. Still I love to make school visits. And I love to talk to other writers about my books and their books.

Which element of historical fiction writing comes more naturally for you-plot, characterization, description, dialogue? Which one gives you the hardest time?

Characterization comes easiest for me. I have to “feel” what the character is going through in order to write about this person. But I can generally do that. Description is sometimes difficult with historical fiction because every detail about the time and place must be accurate even though the actual events are not all true.

What draws you to historical fiction?

Well, you know what they say, “Truth is weirder than fiction.” So with historical fiction, I get the best of both worlds. I get to take some period and incident in time that actually happened and then create my own character who lived through this event. It’s interested to do the research needed to make the character come to life. And about halfway through the manuscript I really get caught up in the story.

What advice would you give to aspiring children’s writers who are trying to break into the field?

First, take a course or workshop to learn the basics about writing for children. Next, join or start a critique group for children’s writers and be sure there are at least a few published children’s authors in the group. Third, read, read, read all the children’s books you can. Finally, write, write, write!

Can you tell us more about your radio talk show?

As for Book Bites for Kids, I started that show because I wanted a way to help children’s authors promote their books and I wanted a show to tie in with the National Writing for Children Center. The most challenging part of having a talk show like that is not what to say during the show. The hard part is keeping guests booked for the show. Since the show airs live 5 days a week, it’s a constant battle to keep up with booking guests, reading their books, etc. But I really love doing the show. And I get so many wonderful, appreciate comments from listeners.

Biography:
Suzanne Lieurance is a fulltime children’s author, freelance writer, and The Working Writer’s Coach. She teaches children’s writing for the Institute of Children’s Literature based in West Redding, Connecticut, and is the founder and director of the National Writing for Children Center.

Lieurance is the author of 20 published books and has written articles for a variety of magazines, newsletters, and ezines like Family-Fun, Kansas City Weddings, Instructor Magazine, New Moon for Girls, Children’s Writer, and many others. She hosts a talk show about children’s books, called Book Bites for Kids, every weekday afternoon on blogtalkradio.com.

Lieurance offers a variety of coaching programs via private phone calls, teleclasses, listserv, and private email for writers who want to turn their love of writing (for children and/or adults)  into a part-time or full-time career.

Links:
The Working Writer’s Coach
Suzanne Lieurance, Children’s Author Website
National Writing for Children Center
Build Your Business Write
Book Bites for Kids

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