And the Writing Path Takes Another Curve

I’ve actually known this curve was coming, for, oh….more than ten years. This is the curve I promised myself all that time ago, when it made sense–sanity-wise–for me to stop working as a tech writer and do the staying-home thing with my son. Yes, I kept busy, obviously. I wrote my fiction, and I did some freelancing, and–you know, wrote The Writing & Critique Group Survival GuideI always knew, though, that unless my writing really took off (and I mean really, as in something like being the next J.K. Rowling), I’d be going back to work.

Last Monday was the first day at my shiny, brand-spanking new job.

I’ve spent the last year doing volunteer development work for a local museum made up or an Art museum and a History museum. This summer, we all agreed that it was the right idea for me to transition out of volunteer and into employee, with–of course–more hours.

It’s time. I hadn’t realized until Monday how ready I am for this. I love my fiction, oh, yes, I do, and it’s not going anywhere. But I’d forgotten the energy of actually being busy from a deadline. From multiple deadlines. I’d forgotten that feeling of accomplishment as one task after another gets done and checked off the list. I’d really forgotten the feel of working with more than one person, face-to-face, rather than over email. I’ve been getting a taste of it for the past year, but it really hit full-force this week. In a good way.

Years ago, I was a docent at Ashlawn, James Monroe’s historic home in Charlottesville. At that time, I thought I’d come back to California and get a job in another historic building, but that didn’t happen. Closed-captioning and technical writing came along instead. The thought, though, has always been at the back of my mind. And now? I’m spending my work hours either in an old, adobe fire station or a mill annex, the first building in the town. Life comes in a circle, sometimes. And did I mention both buildings are less than 10 minutes from my house, giving me about the best commute I could ask for in the Bay Area.

Some things are still a bit surreal. How long eight hours really is, and how short a time it can be when you’re truly busy. How much older my back has become in the intervening years since my last “job.” As far as I can tell, I snapped my fingers, no time passed, but my back became suddenly much pickier about chairs. I’ve got yet another email inbox. The to-do list feels just a little bit like The Blob–expanding at an amazing rate. I’m home less and, with it being summer, seeing my son less. It’s a part-time job, which is working well, but still…this last week, it was him staying home and me going out. Yeah, weird.

And then, to be honest, yes: there is a bit of anxiety and panic about my own writing. It’d be easy to look at the last years and then look at myself and say, “Well, you didn’t really do much with that window of time, did you?” It’d be easy to look at the future and ask, “Exactly when/how do you expect to get your fiction done and published now, if you couldn’t before?” The Evil Editor has a twin: The Evil Life Planner. Well, my goal is to pay them both equal amounts of inattention. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that panic is pointless. Wait…picture it on an embroidery sampler: Panic is Pointless. I will write. And I will revise. And, somehow, I’ll fit it in with all the other things I need and want to get done. There’s been a bit of talk around blogs and Facebook lately about how the phrase A Writing Life has two, equally important, elements: writing and life.

And, frankly my dears, I plan to have them both.

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It’s All Good

I realized last night, when I took a breath to think about it, that I blogged only once last week. And didn’t realize it until the week was over.

When I named gave this blog its name, Moving Forward on the Writing Path, I may have naively assumed that forward always meant…well, forward. With no detours, no twists, no stalls. I say “naively,” because, realistically, we all know the writing path actually looks a lot like this:

Signs I know life is getting busy?

  • Yep, fewer blogs.
  • More to-do lists on my computer. (Luckily, I use StickyPad, which means the notes are virtual, not physical–they “stick” better, don’t look as sloppy, and are editable! Not to mention that, when I decide it’s time to STOP working, I shut off my computer, and I can’t “hear” the notes nagging at me anymore!)
  • I read and reread lighter books, comfort stories that I can dip in and out of without worrying about the characters or trying to dissect the plots. Latest choices: Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries series and Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family stories.

What’s the busyness about? Taking first steps into a new writing area I’ve wanted to break into for a long time, hoping to add more non-writing work hours to my week, listening to all the stories in my head that want to be told. Yes, all good things. And you will hear more about them here, if/when they all get finalized and definite!

Still, if Jeeves showed up at my front door today, looking for a job, I wouldn’t say no. And I bet more blogs would magically get written, too!

Life and writing is about organization and management. And just when you think you’ve achieved that, change happens. Sorry…Change happens. Yes, with a capital C. Which is better than boredom and stagnation, but…it does put a few little hills and sharp curves into that path.

What do you do when new things come along? How do you weave them into a pattern that lets you settle into a rhythm and keep that forward movement.

A couple of links for you:

Gail Gauthier has started a series on time management for writers at her blog, Original Content. Check the posts out here.

And Debbi Michiko Florence has made this year her Year of Writing. You can find her series of YOW posts here.

And here’s to having it all…including sanity!

More Thoughts on Juggling and Balance

The Writing Path. That’s part of my blog title, but I haven’t mused out loud about it here for a while. There’s a thought, or a few semi-connected thoughts, that have been simmering in my mind for a while. I’ve put off blogging, because I don’t want it to sound like whining, but what the heck. I’ll just try and edit out the whine!

For many years, I thought my dream was to have nothing to do with my life but write fiction. Note, this was probably because what I was doing full-time was writing computer manuals! 🙂 I thought that, if we never needed me to work for another penny for the rest of my life, I’d be just fine with working on my fiction–and, of course, getting published–but that whatever they paid me would be enough.

Part of me still feels that way, but it’s tinged with some more realism. Fiction-writing doesn’t pay enough and never will. I’m ready to deal with that, as long as I don’t spend too much time figuring out what that means for my hourly rate! And, yes, if we won the lottery, it would make those numbers a lot easier to face. And, obviously, the day that someone comes to me and says, yes, we love, love, and want your stories…sign here, I’ll be whipping out my pen and coming back to this same topic, from a very different angle.

Today, though, the bottom line is that I want to write fiction, and I want to earn some money. Right now, our family is still at the point where it makes sense for me to be writing and editing from home, and sort of seeing where I can grow skills and connections to bring in more than I did the year before. In four years, my son will be going to college, and my goal for that time is that I can feel like I’m contributing enough from this desk that I don’t have to move my stuff into some other desk in a cubicle somewhere. I don’t know, right now, if that will be possible. And, if not, I’ll take the other step and keep the juggling going.

This goal, however, sometimes makes me feel like pulling out the magic telescope to look into my future, and see if I’m doing that juggling “correctly” right now.  (I know, not a question that can be answered.) Between my fiction, some nonfiction articles I’ve got going, prepping for conferences and workshops, and keeping on top of a bit of marketing, I feel as though I’m working full-time for the first time in years. (Hugs and kisses to my husband who made sure to tell me that I am.) I have to tell you, overall, it feels fantastic. Yes, stressful; yes, scary; yes, tiring, but…wow. I love being a mom, and I love my son, but short-term-goal-responses and rewards? Not a lot of that in parenting. Taking on a proposal, getting it accepted, and carrying it through to it’s end product? I always loved that feeling, even with those computer manuals, and it’s great to be getting back to experiencing it again.

And then you flip the coin and look at the money. Last year, I reached a point where the numbers got bigger than zero, and it seems like I may be on that stage of the writing path where I can see this continuing…even if, from day to day, I can’t see how or in what direction. Enough to feel like, in four years, this would be enough to really help with college and life? Um…no…Enough to feel like maybe, maybe, I’m taking the steps to get there? A bit.

Basically, I like ths part of the path. I’m busy and happy, and I have a family who’s totally working with me on going through the changes. The trade-off? Well, you can probably guess. I’m not writing fiction full-time. In fact, some weeks, I’m finding it hard put to do the juggling that will get me that first hour-a-day-for-fiction I’m trying to commit to. I’m learning that I can get through pieces of a couple of projects in a day–with some time for checking off phone calls and appointments, runs to the grocery store, TIME WITH MY FAMILY, and maybe even some exercise. And when I look at it like that, I think I’m doing pretty well and it’s a sane way to be living. Last week and today, those two projects for the day were getting out some conference proposals and an outline for a magazine article (one they ARE paying me for!). For the rest of the week, I’m going to try and slide back in that hour-of-fiction first and do some more work on my WIP. And I think that’s good and okay and, again…sane.

I have a few role models out there, from people I meet on blogs and other social-networking sites. People who are juggling all this and more (usually with full-time jobs or part-time-out-of-the-house jobs or younger children). People who still manage to make forward progress on their ficton and do it beautifully. People like Jo Knowles whose books, if you haven’t read them, are testimonials to the idea of staying true and focused with your fiction in the midst of many, many other commitments. And Beth Revis who has written a book I haven’t read, but which I am impatiently waiting for, all while she was a full-time (and I’m guessing brilliant) high-school teacher. If I could even manage to teach high school, you can bet I wouldn’t have much time, energy, or imagination left.

And the lesson I take from these people, and many others like them, is that you just have to keep stepping forward. In some sense, it doesn’t matter how big or small those steps are, or if you know which way they’re taking you, as long as they’re heading out from where you are at the moment. As long as you aren’t standing still. I picture my writing path a lot like the picture at the top of this blog–a gentle path through soft green and brown woods. Except that along that path are doors–maybe instead of forks. I can’t see what doors are coming, or which ones will feel like the right ones–at any given time–to open and walk through. But I know they’re there, and I’ll get to them and be able to make some kind of choice…as long as I keep traveling.

There. Not too much whining, I hope. I’d love to hear from all of you how you feel about your path right now and the steps you’re taking.

Thankful Thursday: What IS a Writing Path (Part 1)

This month, I came up on my 1-year blog-versary for this website and blog. I’d been blogging at LiveJournal for a while longer, but started this site when I got the contract for The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide. I decided I wanted a blog that was more tuned into my professional self, a blog that might, hopefully, be a bit more helpful to other writers.

Since then, I’ve let go of the LiveJournal blog, because, well–TWO WAS CRAZY, but also because I realized I can’t really split off the personal and professional parts of my writing path. Not very well, anyway, and definitely not helpful.

Anyway…in mulling over what I do here, etc, I took another look at the title and thought, okay…what does that mean? I have a sense; we probably all have a sense, but I realized I’ve never talked about the title here and what it means to me.

Until today.

Off the top of my head, there are two elements to my writing path–the craft lane and what I call the profession lane (not much liking to get into success/non-success talk!). Today I’m going to talk about my craft lane. Then another day, maybe next Thankful Thursday, I’ll move to the other side of the road and talk profession.

Because, it is, for me, about being thankful. My writing, wherever it came from, is one of the biggest gifts I’ve ever received.

Here are some of the steps/stages I’ve taken on the craft path. See if any of them sound familiar to you!

  • Writing what I read.
    I’m not talking here about writing in the genre we love, but rather that all-important first step of mimicry, flattery-by-imitation, derivative work. For me, this stage started when I was young and mostly took the form of starting a different fantasy story every week, pretty much based on whatever novel I was immersed in at the moment. You can see more about that here. This is a stage I think most writers go through, at some point, and it’s not a matter for embarrassment or shame. It’s part of learning the craft.
  • Writing for assignments.
    This is what I did in school. I chose a college that had a concentration in Creative Writing and I wrote short stories and novel chapters and poetry. A teacher would assign a topic, and I would write. This was the stage in which I found out about writing for deadline and writing on task, and when I learned that I could do that. Creatively.
  • Committing to a project.
    For many, many years I was a mystery writer. I was writing a mystery. I started it when I was living in Los Angeles, brought it with me when I moved to the Bay Area, added a toddler character after my twin nephews were born, and dumped that character when they were teens. I took this mystery to critique group, I revised and rewrote, and I honed my skills on writing scenes, developing characters, planting clues, and creating tension. And then I got a better idea.
  • Falling in Love.
    I took a workshop from April Kihlstrom about writing a Book in a Week. While I was there, I was jotting notes about a new idea, a kids’ mystery with a hero and a sidekick that kept interrupting my focus being inspired by April, and telling me to write about them. Which I did. That book got written and revised and dispatched to look for a home.
  • Stretching and Growing.
    Up until this stage of the path, I was a one-idea writer. I had one idea, I wrote about one idea, and I pushed down the panicky voice telling me that this limit said something bad about my creativity/my ability as a writer. Then, I got a chance at nonfiction, a young woman told me she HAD to have a fictional role in a certain historical moment, a mythical creature said it was finally time to put him into a picture book, and that old fantasy love reared its sweet head again. And I find myself wondering not just when I’ll fit it all in, but–more importantly–about where on the craft part of my writing path all these projects will take me.

Because I do believe that I could not be taking any of these steps without the ones that have come before. Maybe path isn’t the right word. Maybe bridge would be better. (I’m SO not changing the site title!). As much as we want the superhero cape and powers that would let us leap those tall buildings and smash through the brick walls, we don’t have those. Thankfully, though, we have brains–incredible tools that grow new synapses and zap out new electrical connections and let us grow in ways that are, frankly, unbelievable.

Think back. What have you done that’s led you to today? What steps on your writing path have brought you to this curve, this fork in the road that you’re just starting to peer around?

To quote one of my favorite heroes, “The road goes ever on and on.”  Thank goodness.

How Many Balls Should You Juggle…and Which?

Last year, I guest-posted over at Shrinking Violet Promotions about the pluses of saying Yes. I believe firmly that it’s a much better word than No. Especially when you’re talking to yourself.

But how many yes‘s can you handle? As you move further along your writing path, opportunities are going to multiply.  Here are just a few things you may want to jump into as you get deeper into your writing and your writing community:

  • Writing on multiple WIPs
  • Taking writing classes
  • Going to some writing conferences
  • Volunteering at a writing club or conference
  • Writing a blog
  • Getting out onto Facebook and/or Twitter
  • Contributing to a newsletter
  • JOIN A CRITIQUE GROUP 🙂

And there are 24 hours in a day?

How many times can you say yes without feeling like those balls you have in the air are transforming into chainsaws and unhappy cats? How do you pick which things to say yes to, without a crystal ball to tell you how it will all work out.

You listen to your gut and accept that Baby Steps can win at “Mother May I” just as well as Giant Steps.

If something sounds fun or you really think it’ll help your writing (craft or career), say yes. If an opportunity has a sour “taste” to it, think twice. Or thrice. Either way, though, if you decide to go for it, remember you can go slowly. You can start with one class, not three. You can pick a local, one-day conference, not a four-day event that requires two days on a plane and another for recovery. Ask your conference coordinators if they can use another person at the registration desk, the day of the conference, instead of offering to handle catering for the entire event.

If you inch forward, even several inches at once, you get a chance to try things out, to test your gut with the reality, not just the picture your nervous imagination is painting. You’ll see what you enjoy, what you’re good at, and what makes you feel like you’re moving forward…versus hitting a dead-end.

You’ll be doing more and you’ll be enjoying it.

What about you? What yes’s are you considering this fall?

Taking Risks…Come On, Just a Few

I am by nature an extremely cautious person. I’m also not so good with change. 38 years later, I’m still not so sure my family needed to sell our smallish tract home and move to the much bigger house, on the top of a hill, with an ocean view and a bedroom for each kid, that my parents had designed and built just for us. Really.

‘Cause you know, why swap out the old for a new? Why take the chance, when where you’re headed might be worse than where you are?

Well, obviously, because it also might be a lot better. Or just really, really good and mesh in beautifully with the happy life you already have.

The last few years, I’ve taken more risks. Nothing huge, from a lot of people’s perspectives, but from Little Miss “Okay, Mom, I’ll get nine books I’ve already read from the library and one new one,” some of the choices I’ve made have been a big deal. And they’ve gotten me to some very good places, including the writing and soon-to-happen publication of The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide.

So, this week, with school starting, more time to focus, and a year ahead in which I want things to be different, I’m putting myself out there. I’m digging deeper into my WIP, reminding myself how important this story—and my fiction—are to me. I’m working on a couple of basic pitches for two nonfiction projects, to send to my agent. I sent an email off for some consulting work. I’ve got a list o children’s nonfiction-book publishers that I’m going to contact.

You can see where the risk comes in. These are all projects I’m qualified to do, and they’re all things I really love doing. But, yes, it’s a lot. The old me would say I was insane, diving head first into all these options, instead of maybe sticking a toe (or just the tip of a toe) into that water. The new me takes a look at the possibility of insanity and does some reassuring. Here’s what I tell myself:

  • You can do these.  You can. [Sigh.] Yes, honestly.
  • None of these are sure bets. To be realistic, some—if not many—are longshots. The odds of you getting to do all of them—get real. You’re not that good. (Yes, sometimes, a big of ego-deflation is actually necessary these days. When did that happen?!)
  • They won’t all happen at the same time. Projects take weeks, months, even years to come to fruition. You’ll probably be bored, waiting for anything to do.
  • A full, exciting life is better than a quiet, dull one.
  • “Yes,” is better than “No,” much of the time. And for your writing path, just about all of the time.

Do I still get nervous? Of course. Do I let that stop me, as it would have when I was young, from reaching out, from stretching myself for the things I really want. Not any more. I may not race ahead and grab it at full-speed just yet. I do, however, hold out my hand and say, “Please.”

What about you? What risks have you taken, or are you facing, that can add to your writing path, bring you more of the happiness that it already gives you?

Julie & Julia: A Cooking AND Writing Life

I just got home from seeing Julie and Julia. I LOVED this movie. I have to say, until a few years ago, I was not a Meryl Streep fan, but I am SO glad she started doing comedy. Amy Adams was fantastic, and–well–I’ll watch Stanley Tucci in just about anything. I had seen previews and heard friends talk about the movie, and it lived up to all my expectations.

And it surprised me.

Because nobody told me about the writing/publishing thread. In which, I may say, there are many lessons to be learned.

By a writer’s FAMILY.

Here are the things I think the members of a writer’s family or, frankly, anyone in their support-system should take away from this film. (Perhaps MINOR spoilers involved.)

  • Always tell the writer that their book is important, a work of genius, and that it will “change the world.” I don’t care if their book is a novel, a cookbook, or a dictionary.
  • Support the writer in any and all research they must do to write their book–everything from buying MORE books to traveling to Chicago (Thanks, Honey!) to participating in the mass slaughter of several large lobsters.
  • Be polite, tactful, and respectful as the writer works toward publication. Recognize the moment, however, when it is not only appropriate but OBLIGATORY to swear forcefully, in response to a rejection letter.
  • Learn the dance of joy, and be prepared to perform it, in tandem, with energy and enthusiasm–if necessary, in public.
  • Do the dishes.

I think this is an important movie for us ALL to take our family to. Tonight, the theater population was at least 90% women. My husband and son were kind enough to join me for my birthday outing, and they were laughing and smiling right along with me.

They were also, I’m sure, taking copious notes.

In all seriousness, go. The movie, even without the agonies and joys of Julia’s publishing path, would have been delightful. With them, it was a reminder of how hard we all have to work to “get there,” and how worthwhile it is that we are doing so.