Saturday, June 27, 2015

What To Do When You Don't Feel Like Writing

This is not about Procrastination. We all know how to do that - Facebook, online games, updating blogs - ahem- and more.

This is about when you sit down during your Dedicated Writing Time and just aren't able to muster the muse.

By now, I have learned that I cannot just wait for the muse. Inspiration strikes somewhat erratically and unreliably. If you make Dedicated Time for writing, you are asking your muse to show up to an appointment, so to speak, and you are creating the space for inspiration to grow and flourish. Writing is a disciple, after all, and requires practice and effort.

Today, I came to my office at Starbucks to write. I love Saturday evenings at Starbucks - the place is usually quiet and my favorite seat is available. I took my seat, but two tables over was a couple. The woman had headphones on, but the man didn't. The man was playing an RPG game of some kind - WOW or whatever. He had a wireless mouse, which he was clicking at a rate of 8 times per second. Forever. I'm not joking - someday soon, another LMP is going to be faced with fixing his CTS, because that was half an hour or more of "battle" clicking.

Maybe I'm being too sensitive, but, in any case, it drove me mad. I pulled out my iPod, only to discover that the battery was dead. I moved to another table. That seat was less comfortable and closer to the loudspeaker, so the music was now intruding on my brain. I tried another table- too low. I sat on the floor, and the table was too high. I moved back to my original seat, and plugged my headphones into my laptop. Eventually, the man switched to something less clicky, and I was able to calm down...a little.

Already worked up, I could not get into the headspace I needed to be in to work on any of my current projects (one of three different memoirs/essays, all fairly emotional, require a sort of "method acting" on my part). I didn't have the time to go back to older fictions, and was pretty sure anything I rewrote in this state would suffer.

How could I still be productive? Submissions. I love the website Duotrope and I perused the calendar for current paid calls for submissions. I read through a few magazines and reviews to get a feel for their accepted pieces. I made notes for a few things I could work on to submit. I didn't submit anything, but I have time and I now know what I can send in and when it needs to be done by. I plan on running my essays by my writers group, rewriting, and submitting in the next few weeks or months.

Not entirely how I planned to spend my Dedicated Writing Time, but productive nonetheless.

And then I updated my blog.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Writing Submission Guidelines & Cover letters

Even when I am sending in an older piece for publication, it takes two hours.

  1. Choose a publication.
    I use the website Duotrope to organize my written pieces and search for publishing homes for them. I also use the Duotrope calendar to find calls for submissions, but that is another story...

    Be sure to read the publisher's "About Us" and some of their issues. You want to know if your work is a good fit for them before you submit.
  2. Follow the Submission Guidelines.
    The publisher should have these available on their website. If not, follow the basic manuscript format, which can be found online very easily, or in any good formatting book.
  3. Write your cover letter.
    This standard business letter should include your name, contact info, and word count at the top, followed by the publication editor's name and contact info. DO learn the name of the editor/s, and DON'T address the letter generically. In the letter, briefly describe your story (elevator pitch) and genre, followed by your own brief bio - previous publications, relevant education or occupation history, and relevant associations (i.e. Horror Writers of America).

    Here is an example.
  4. One Last Look!
    Read over your story and run it through spellcheck or another editor's eyes even if it has already been edited. A fresh look can often reveal a missed word here or there or an older version - be sure to rename new versions you save!

    Make sure your font is correct and your headers and footers are in place. (Name/Title/Pg#) Make sure your cover letter is correct. Make sure your name and contact info is correct and complete.
  5. Submit!
    If electronic, write your email. Make it brief and professional. Attach your cover letter and your story, separately. Make sure they are attached before you hit 'send.' Make sure you proofread your email, as well, before sending it.

    If sending a hard copy, be sure to only send what is requested. Check all publisher's websites for information regarding Unsolicited Manuscripts - even with short stories. 
Okay! That's the gist of it. I sent in a sci-fi short to a sci-fi magazine that promises a response within 30 days. I will, of course, let you know how it goes. 

Good luck on yours!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Writing Day! Making Time

Q: How do you "find time" to write?
A: You don't - you MAKE time to write!

I'm often asked this. Making time takes practice, commitment, and creativity. Everything else is just excuses!

  • I write a paragraph or a page in the fifteen or twenty minutes between clients I see at my massage office. 
  • I write on Sundays and Mondays at cafes.
  • I write on long lunch breaks.
  • On days that I finish work between 4 & 6 pm, I walk over to the coffee shop and write for an hour or two, instead of sitting in rush hour traffic.
  • I write notes on my phone - using EVERNOTE, check it out - whenever an idea strikes.
  • Other people may set their alarms get up thirty minutes early to write, or write while sitting in their cars. waiting for their kids after school.
    Got a busy home? Perhaps the kitchen table after everyone has gone to sleep (or before they get up). Maybe you can lock yourself in the bathroom for half an hour with your notebook or laptop.
    Make it regular, make it a ritual, make it happen!
I had a light work day today, a Tuesday. I used my Sunday for sleeping and my Monday for cleaning, this week, so here I am at Starbucks, now, writing. 

And what did I write today? Did I work on my novel? Or my other novel? Or a short story? A travel piece? An essay? Any of the aforementioned projects I have on various burners?


I wrote an article on Summer Health & Safety. I researched and wrote about sunscreen, drowning, pets in hot cars, and what Summer Solstice means.

Did I submit it for publication? went into my monthly massage newsletter.


My customers and colleagues read it (one-fourth to one-half my mailing list - send me your email to be added), and talk about it. It's good for my community connection, and I have considered compiling the articles for small publication, so we'll see where that leads.

Okay, here is how today's timeline went, after appointments:
  • 2:00 Began online research for article
  • 2:45 Called Sprint to deal with phone and billing issues
  • 3:50 Called City to report stolen Recycling Bin & a dumped couch and dresser by park
  • 4:00 Ordered coffee at Starbucks
  • 4:05 - 6:45 Continued reading and writing for article, put together and sent out newsletter
  • 6:50 - 7:20 Wrote this blog
These things needed doing, but at the same time, I missed the creative writing window... But, despite my small disappointment in not getting to some of my projects, I feel accomplished at what I did write.

If you want to be a writer, you have to write.

  • Journal every day. This sorts out your brain, and separates the wheat from the chaff.
  • Take notes, collect inspirational stories, photos, art, ideas, bits of overheard conversation, etc. Keep them in a file folder or in a cross-device app, like Evernote, mentioned above.
  • Carve out what time you can, be it ten minutes or two hours, regularly. At least twice a week.
  • Be persistent!
If only I was able to be more productive at home - but the cats, lighting, lack of a good chair, television, and other distractions make that difficult. Those are my excuses... because, even as others tell me how prolific I am, I feel like an under-performer! I would love to write an hour a day, with two or three days of two to four hour sessions, each, but I do what I can.

How about you?

Are you an aspiring author/writer? Or maybe you want to spend more time painting, or making comics, or learning a foreign language? 
  • How do you make time for writing? Or, how could you do so?
  • Where do you write (or create or learn) best? 
  • Make an appointment with the page. Sit down to write (or paint or whatever) and be open. Write crap. It will cleanse the brain palate and lead to ideas. 
  • Invite your muse to the appointed meeting but start with or without her - muses don't live by human clocks. But if you keep a regular schedule, the muse is more likely to start coming around!
Concentration, focus, comfort, discipline... these are all important factors to writing productivity.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Working Up A New Novel...The Long Way

Working on my 1920s Novel

I’ve just finished reading a book called “Wit’s End: Days and Nights of the Algonquin Round Table” by James R. Gaines, written and published in 1977. It was the May-June selection for my Dorothy Parker’s Vicious Circle Book Club, where we read exclusively books by and about the writers of the Algonquin Round Table of the 1920s. Up ‘til now, my interest in the era has centered around Hollywood, and while I have aspired to read the works of the writers of the day, I have been, for the most part, unsuccessful. I’ve read half of Hemingway’s work, a handful of Fitzgerald, a smattering of other random writers, and that’s it. I joined the book club to rectify that, particularly because I am gathering research to write a historical novel of my own, set in the era.

My proposed book, as of yet, has no plot. The protagonist is sketchy, at best – I am basing her on a MC from a short story I wrote last year, who in turn is based on an amalgam of Clara Bow and Lois Long, with a pinch of Dorothy Parker and Thoroughly Modern Millie thrown in. She was a World War I widow, moved from rural Pennsylvania to Manhattan in 1921. She became a modern – cut her hair, got a job, changed her life, became her own woman. She is still young, and searching for her destiny. I think I will see parts of her in my book’s MC, but not totally.

The real women of the Algonquin writer’s scene are starting to live inside me. I am drawn to the artist, Neysa McMein (pictured right, in the self-portrati entitled, "The Lady Seldom Smiles". She often used herself as a model, and can be seen upon most magazine covers of the day), and the independence of Edna Furber. I would like to learn more about the ambitious Jane Grant. And then there’s the Hollywood connection, of which I have always been enamored. Helen Hayes, Tallulah Bankhead, and Ruth Gordon…whom I was surprised to see in this book. I had always liked her as an actress and a personality, but had no idea she had been involved with this group in New York.

I am still drawn to the tragic life of Clara Bow, and she was born, raised, and discovered in the slums of New York. She was far from the lives of these writers in fashion and the arts, so I am still unsure how to connect them. I think I will have a Clara Bow type MC who falls in with an ART crowd. That will allow me to explore a lot of themes around education, classism, wealth and poverty, and how talent gets ahead (or not). I will probably not have my MC be the victim of incest by her father, like Clara Bow, though, because ugh.

I feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of names in Wit’s End. They are, for the most part, completely unknown to me, except for Dorothy Parker. I may have heard the names of Benchley and Woollcott, for sure Edna Furber and Edna Millay, but that doesn’t mean I know them or have actually read them. It was a swirl of names to read this book. I had to restrain myself from falling down the rabbit hole of google and youtube while reading, and my Amazon Wish List has grown by an entire page. I am most excited to read Ruth Gordon’s memoirs, of which there are three, but her life was so much in television and film that it won’t be completely relevant… or will it? I’d love to build a character similar to her.

In any case, I am glad to have read it. Now, we are on to the collection of early Vanity Fair articles, to be read and discussed in July and August.

P.S. Some of you may know Ruth Gordon from her many iconic roles in her later years, such as Rosemary's Baby, Harold & Maude, and more. So you may be as surprised as I was to see her in these photos of the Roaring Twenties:

 Ruth Gordon with her then husband, Gregory Kelly.