Mining for Gold In Your Own Backyard

By Bex Hall

I’m not really certain why it took me so long to realize this, but I admit, somewhat ashamedly, that I have literally been sitting on a gold mine and didn’t have a clue.

For about eight months now I’ve been reaching out and networking with writers from afar. Participating in discussion lists and on message boards related to my book topic. My inbox is filled regularly with wonderful newsletters for writers that I devour upon arrival. I’ve been corresponding regularly with colleagues now who live thousands of miles away.

Then last month, I met a writer acquaintance while running errands. She told me about a local writing group that had an opening and asked if I’d be interested. After learning more about them, I applied, and was ultimately accepted.

The first meeting was an eye-opener, to say the least. Here I sat in a room with a local professor who had self-published a novel that was meeting with success. There was another woman who was shopping for an agent for her fiction manuscript, and yet another person who had been to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Which, from what I understand, is truly a Big Deal. I was humbled. The remainder of the group was comprised of writers who were at various stages in their journey for publication and honing their craft. I know I’m going to learn a great deal from our monthly meetings and interaction via the message board.

It was then that I began to wonder if there were others in our community who write or have been published. Google provided me with some interesting results. When I searched for “local, authors, published, [my city, my state]” I came across a gentleman who has been a freelancer since 1985. He’s written two dozen books, some that are well recognized, and his wife is an editor at our local newspaper. All I could do at that moment was pick my chin up from the floor and wonder aloud, “Here? In my little town?” I later shared this with my husband and he then proceeded to tell me that he had lived two doors down from the couple for seven years and that they were friendly people. I asked for an introduction.

I found the schedules of several other local authors who were doing book signings at, of all things (gasp), our local Borders bookstore. Sometimes I amaze even me at how obtuse I can be. My thirst for knowing more fueled my quest so I dug deeper. Apparently, our museum holds workshops for writers, I discovered. And to top it all off, our city holds an annual Festival of Books in November. I learned that last year our state capital, a mere hour long drive away, debuted a Book Fest event that was attended by over 7,000 people and that it’s being held again in October, complete with publishers, agents and nationally known authors. How could I have missed all of this?

I reason that it’s because I’m a writer first, marketer and networker, second. Better late than never, I rationalized. I also found that our state has an organization just for writers and I joined. They have an annual writing competition and while the deadline for entry was missed this year, I plan on participating next year as a new member. They’re holding a weekend workshop in June that’s designed to improve the craft, and my registration is already in the mail.

My search also revealed a seminar by Dan Poynter, the self-publishing industry guru, who was hosting the event only three hours from my backyard. I ventured forth for the day and met other published authors sitting in the audience. I also learned a very clever secret from one of the attendees about how to get reviews for your book cover. Well, it worked for him at least, and I’m sure going to give it a try.

It’s somewhat embarrassing to admit that I’ve been blind for so long to the goldmine in my own backyard. While it’s a good thing to network with those you may never physically meet, being face-to-face with other writers, editors, and publishers, I’ve learned, is priceless.

Not only for the encouragement and support one can receive, but also for the doors that can potentially be opened on a local basis. Developing these contacts and relationships will take time and effort, however, when the time comes to seek local paying freelance jobs or to promote the book once it’s published, the groundwork will have been laid.

Do you remember that commercial that went something like, ” . . . and they’ll tell two people, and then they’ll tell two people . . . “? If you happen to be in your late thirties, used a certain popular hair care product and you were concerned about others hating you because you were beautiful, then you may be familiar with it. If not, it exemplifies the concept of grassroots marketing and networking. Even though it may take time away from writing, it can ultimately lead to more opportunities to do so.

If you’re already out there in your own backyard, panning for nuggets, then kudos to you. If not, then get thee to thy favorite search engine and begin the rush. Who knows? You may even become richer from the experience.

Copyright © 2002 Bex Hall

Bex Hall is a published writer, a mother of two daughters and has remarried adding three stepchildren to the fold, all between the ages of 11 and 20. When she’s not busy applying to be on Jeopardy!, Bex spends her free time looking at life and watching what’s really going on amongst humanity. She then turns around and writes about it. In fact, her column appears weekly at Macon Area Online and on Bex Hall’s Website.

Don’t Wait: Associate!

By Amy Brozio-Andrews

Most writers have probably thought about joining a writers’ association at one time or another. Hesitant about what you’d actually get out of it in return for your hard-earned money, you’ve probably put it off more than once. Numerous organizations have been created to serve writers of every genre, and while most offer the usual perks (newsletters, directories, member-only web sites), the practical benefits some offer could change your life. (Health insurance, anyone?)

Almost all writers’ associations have annual conferences. Workshops, lectures and networking opportunities abound at these gatherings. In addition to these national events, most organizations have local or regional chapters that sponsor smaller workshops and networking opportunities. Writer’s associations also offer many members-only benefits, including: freelance job listings, exclusive web pages featuring advice and articles related to the craft of writing, web hosting, member directories, newsletters, listings of agents and publishers, critique services, mentoring programs, and email chats. These member-only benefits can more than justify the cost of yearly membership. According to Bob Finn, cybrarian at the National Association of Science Writers, the most important benefits to be gained by joining a professional organization are fellowship and networking with other writers, the discussion of professional issues, and the job board.

Some writers’ associations offer additional professional services in addition to the usual newsletters and workshops. For example, members of the National Association of Science Writers are eligible to participate in their group health/dental insurance, and prepaid legal assistance programs. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. offers its members a grievance committee and contract alerts to warn writers of unscrupulous publishers. The National Writers Union offers a host of free publications for freelancers to assist them in negotiating the legal and technical waters of freelance writing. The NWU also offers grievance assistance and contract advice.

In deciding which writers’ association to join, it’s most important to consider the focus of the organization. Are you looking for a non-judgmental environment in which to explore creative writing? Do you publish non-fiction articles and need more nuts and bolts advice about contracts and libel? For example, the International Women’s Writing Guild has a more holistic approach to the craft of writing. The website makes it clear that this is a place women can come to feel empowered and craft their writing in a supportive environment. The National Writers Union, on the other hand, take a more practical, professional approach toward its members, focusing on contracts, grievances, legal advice and professional development for writers. Depending on your writing style, your audience and your writing experience, the general benefits like newsletters and networking may not be as important as the association’s “culture” and professional development opportunities.

Most writers’ associations have been created to serve all writers of a particular genre, field or gender. While the advantage of joining a genre-oriented writers’ association may be clear, it’s important to highlight the potential benefits women may gain from joining a women’s writing organization. Sheri L. McConnell, founder of the National Association of Women Writers, believes it’s important for women writers to work together. “By joining an organization where the individuals share the same struggles, they are more likely to be inspired. If other women can attain their dream, then they will feel like they can also,” she says. “Since these women share the same struggles, dreams and pressures, I think their support is genuine and it is really helping a lot of women feel like they can become better writers and published writers.”

While the general benefits among most writers’ associations are comparable, it pays to “shop around,” as some organizations offer significant benefits above and beyond networking and job listings. Brief descriptions of several of the most popular writer’s associations are included below, including yearly dues information. However if, you don’t find what you’re looking for here, try checking with an Internet search engine, or talk to your local librarian.

Horror Writers Association

  • This worldwide organization was founded in 1980, and includes writers and publishers. Benefits include: bimonthly newsletter, e-mail bulletins, lists of agents, bookstores and reviewers, members-only website, members-only networking opportunities online, marketing assistance, and mentoring.
  • Individual membership: $55 (North America)/$65 (International)
  • Affiliate members must prove an interest in horror, the occult and dark fantasy; Active members must satisfy publishing prerequisites, and receive voting rights for the Bram Stoker award. The HWA Website has more information.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

  • According to its website, the SFWA is the only writers’ group to demand and conduct audits of publishers. The work of this association has brought about changes in contract language for its members.
  • Benefits include: quarterly bulletin, members-only directory, handbook, model contracts, grievance committee, legal assistance, writer’s resources, ergonomic advice, contract alerts, reading lists, and an author’s Bill of Rights.
  • Individual membership: $50
  • Both Active and Associate memberships have publishing prerequisites for membership. Junior memberships (under 21) are available. New memberships also have a $10 installation fee. See the SFWA Website for more information.

Romance Writers of America

  • Founded in 1980, this writer’s association boasts 8400 members and provides a wealth of information for romance writers, including sub-genre information, statistics about romance novels and the romance industry.
  • Benefits include: marketing assistance, book signing information, conferences and workshops, advice on contracts and royalties, monthly journal, networking opportunities, and local chapter meetings.
  • Individual memberships: $100 (1st year only, then $75)
  • General membership for those published in the romance genre, associate memberships available for those unpublished, or published in another genre. The RWA Website has more information.

National Association of Women Writers

  • A writers’ organization exclusively for women, the NAWW has no publishing prerequisites because as founder Sheri L. McConnell says, “I wanted NAWW to be an association that provides a forum WHERE WOMEN can UNITE TO WRITE– where they could encourage, teach, motivate, and inspire each other. To restrict those individuals who have not yet reached certain achievements seemed to defeat the purpose of NAWW.”
  • Benefits include: member portfolio available online, lists of agents, critique services, quarterly writers guide, eligible for participation in the members’ publication page, online writers’ resources, publisher information, and regional meetings.
  • Individual membership: $40 (if paid by check), $45 (if paid by credit card)
  • There are no publishing prerequisites for membership. Their Website is here.

National Association of Science Writers

  • Founded in 1934, this organization advocates the free flow of science news. Members include freelancers and science writers from most major media outlets.
  • Benefits include: a “Just for Freelances” section on the web site, quarterly publication, job opportunities, directories, email aliases, personal web space, eligibility for group medical insurance, prepaid legal assistance, annual conferences and mentoring.
  • Individual membership: $60 ($15 student)/$65 (Canada). See their Website.

American Screenwriters Association

  • A non-profit organization, the ASA works to support the advancement of screenwriters around the world.
  • Benefits include: competitions, monthly networking meetings, newsletters, advice for novices, selling tips, and low cost critique services. Online areas reserved to members include how to pitch scripts, consultants, and job listings.
  • Individual membership: $40/$50 (Canada)
  • There are no publishing prerequisites indicated for membership. See their Website.

International Women’s Writing Guild

  • This international women’s writing association provides an supportive environment for women to feel empowered and explore the process and craft of writing.
  • Benefits include: bimonthly newsletter, local/regional meetings and workshops, lists of literary agents, publishers and writers’ resources, group health insurance, and mentoring opportunities.
  • Individual membership: $45 (US and International)
  • There are no publishing prerequisites indicated for membership. See the Website.

National Writers Union

  • This union of freelance writers boasts 6500 members and can provide significant practical assistance to those working with American publishers.
  • Benefits include: professional development seminars, grievance assistance, legal assistance, eligibility for group health insurance, libel insurance, press passes, quarterly magazines and free writer’s resources.
  • Individual membership: sliding scale based on income—see Website for details.
  • Publishing prerequisites do apply; however, members will be accepted if they have written an equal amount of unpublished material and are actively seeking publication. See their Website for further details.

American Society of Journalists and Authors

  • Founded in 1948, the ASJA focuses on professional support for freelance non-fiction writers.
  • Benefits include: newsletter, industry reports and information, access to jobs through ASJA’s referral services, online resources, members-only networking opportunities, and professional development activities.
  • Individual membership: $195 (plus $25 application fee)
  • Publishing prerequisites do apply; see Website for details.

Canadian Authors Association

  • Devoted exclusively to Canadian authors, this group promotes Canadian writing and has regional as well as national activities.
  • Benefits include: networking, mentoring, conferences, newsletters, industry information, grievances and contract assistance, and personal web space.
  • Individual membership: $125
  • Published and unpublished writers are welcome to join. See Website for details.

Amy Brozio-Andrews is a freelance writer and book reviewer. She brings more than five years’ experience as a readers’ advisory librarian to her work, which is regularly published by Library Journal, The Imperfect Parent, and Absolute Write. Her reviews have also been published by The Absinthe Literary Review, ForeWord Magazine, January Magazine, and Melt Magazine. Visit her Website amyba.com.

Backwards and in High Heels: The Life of the Female Sports Writer

By Christine Davey

So you want to be a freelance sports writer! Great. After all, if you love sports, then it’s the perfect job. Just think—you’ll get to travel the world, bask in the sunshine, and sip cocktails by the water’s edge at the end of the game. You’ll experience the rich tapestry of exotic locations. You’ll meet sports stars who are considerate of your journalistic requirements and willing to answer your in depth questions. You’ll deal with editors who provide constant feedback on the brilliance of your writing. You’ll get paid oodles of cash just for watching a sport you already enjoy. You’ll come home to a ticker-tape parade, and your friends and family will praise your efforts. Back in the office, you’ll check your e-mails, only to find the next seven assignments waiting for you in the potentiality of cyberspace.

Now wake up and smell the lineament. Sports journalism is hard slog. It’s airport lounges at 4 a.m. and endless hotel rooms. It’s dirty washrooms and overdue deadlines. It requires a sharp business acumen and effective research-on-the-run techniques. Yes folks, this gig’s about as glamorous as a rainy day in Pittsburgh (not that there’s anything wrong with that). If you’re a woman, in this predominantly male domain, you can multiply the difficulty factor by plenty.

Just as Ginger Rogers had to perform the same dance steps as Fred Astaire—except backwards and in high heels, female sports journos face a similar predicament. We’re a rare species in the press box. We’re subconsciously “on show.” We often feel the need to work harder, look better, and earn our place in an area that has for so long been out of bounds. We sometimes have to deal with die-hard machismo attitudes. We may even find ourselves justifying our writing credentials. And, in many cases, we are excluded from the “old boy’s club” that has, for decades, existed in sports journalism.

Still undeterred? Terrific, because apart from the downsides, this job is rewarding, and those of us who take the challenge wouldn’t wish to do anything else. Here are ten tips to sort the fact from the fantasy, as well as make the transition from “wannabe to “bona fide” a little easier.

1. Be willing to start somewhere.

Where do I start? I can hear the yelling already. Sports freelancing is a competitive industry and every woman and her cat wants a piece of it, so start where you can. There are many sports web sites screaming for good writers. They may not pay megabucks, but will serve to help you learn your craft through constructive practice. If you don’t believe me, just type “sports web sites” into a search engine such as www.google.com and see what you find. I guarantee you won’t surface for days.

Find a site you like, contact the editor, suggest a story idea and off you go. Alternatively, contact your local newspaper editor and pitch some concepts. They key is building up a folio of good work that you can then submit to higher paying publications. Be aware of your femaleness in pitching ideas. Think of angles the guys aren’t touching. Is there a female sports star living in the vicinity? What about an interview with her and her mom for a Mother’s Day feature? The trick is believing in, and enhancing, your individuality as a female writer.

2. Be a good worker.

Once you’ve landed that first assignment, make sure you fulfill your end of the bargain. Meet your deadlines and word lengths. If an editor asks for 1000 words, don’t provide 1500. By overindulging, you’ve wasted your time and only succeeded in annoying the boss. Most publications pay by the word, so you won’t be paid for the add-ons. Check your spelling and grammar and don’t rely on a computer program. Use a dictionary. If you’re writing for overseas publications, make sure your spelling is appropriate to that country. Read your work aloud to judge the flow and pace. Make sure you meet the publication’s accepted house style, and if you don’t know what it is, find out. Most editors would rather answer questions than be given unacceptable copy. As a woman you’re more than likely used to multi-skilling on a daily basis, so take advantage of your powers.

3. Be a good marketer.

In this gig, possessing a genuine love of sport is not enough. To succeed you’ll need genuine self-belief. Statistics show that women find this more difficult than men. Embrace the challenge. Learn to market yourself and your work in a constructive way. Don’t rest on the laurels of your first few stories. The days are gone when a writer could sit in her garret and wait for the descending muse. Be motivated and energetic. Send out ideas constantly. Try for ten a week. Try goal setting (there are websites/books/professionals to help you with this). Try rewarding yourself when you’ve submitted those ten pitches. Chocolate is always a good option. Remember too, that you’re often working months in advance, so think of future sporting fixtures. There’s no point pitching an idea about the Athens Olympics in July, when the event begins in August. Contact editors and make yourself known. Be pleasant, but businesslike. Spell their names correctly. Send clips of past work and follow up with phone calls or e-mails. Scour the Internet for future markets. If you’re targeting a specific publication, make sure you read back copies, investigating word length, tone, format, and advertising.

4. Be a good business person.

Freelancing is about self-employment. Women often find it challenging to “go it alone,” in a business sense, and sports freelancing is writing’s equivalent of walking the tightrope without a safety net. If you feel you don’t have a good business head, cultivate one. Learn to balance books, keep track of receipts and factor in various taxes. Keep receipts for everything, from photographic equipment to paper clips. Freelancing may be a liberating career alternative, but it has its pitfalls. You can’t rely on anyone else to make the arrangements. All accreditation procedures, flight bookings, hotel inquiries– the nuts and bolts of the job—are your responsibility. If you don’t have a good accountant, phone one tomorrow. If you aren’t familiar with sports administration bodies, contact them immediately. If you’re not connected to the Internet, do it yesterday.

5. Be willing to say “yes.”

If an editor e-mails at 3 a.m. wanting a story by 5 a.m., say “yes.” You’ll be fine. After all, women have been performing short notice miracles for centuries. It’s amazing how adrenaline and the fear of failure activates the brain. Besides, saying “yes” also lets the editor know you’re a spontaneous team player. Chances are that editor will utilize your services in the future and that’s a win-win situation for everyone. More work means more payment, publication and profile, while the editor recognizes that you’re reliable.

6. Be adaptable.

Sports journalism has niche markets. It isn’t all about scores and statistics. Find the “otherness” of the story that is enhanced by being written from a woman’s point of view. Rather than treading on the well worn path—match play, or performance reports—investigate the saleable idea that is left of center. Perhaps it’s a pro footballer who writes poetry, an athlete who collects Barbie Dolls, or a basketballer who spends his Saturday nights boot-scooting. Whatever the “otherness” of the idea, it will make your story appealing to a wider audience, allowing you to target non-sporting publications. Again, rather than back away from the fact that you’re female, use it to your advantage.

7. Be a good traveler.

If your sport is international, chances are you’ll need to go with the action. You may be venturing into underdeveloped countries and for women this can be difficult. Remember you’ll more than likely be alone, so be prepared to learn about local customs, traditions, foods and dress codes. Not every country approves of women wearing bikinis in the hotel lobby. Before you go, research any no-go areas or dangerous sections of the town in which you’re staying. Do you need vaccinations? Are there social or religious elements you should observe? What is the caliber of Internet connection? Check how your editors wants copy delivered. If it’s by e-mail, carry floppy disks in case you need to send attachments. If it’s by phone, research international dialing codes and time zone variations. Get used to airports, strangers, long queues, customs officials and coffee lounges. Carry good novels, notebooks and music. Learn to love the wait.

8. Be a good researcher.

Keep up to date with trends, views, opinions and other peoples’ articles. Stay on top of past and present writings on your sport. The Internet is an indispensable research tool, but don’t forget newspapers, magazines, radio, television and word of mouth. Remember, you’re competing with every other freelancer, and as a woman you’re doing it backwards and in high heels, so you need to be informed. Subscribe to appropriate publications (keeping the receipts of course) and read, listen to and watch all you can on your chosen sport. Learn the correct pronunciation and spelling of the names of players, coaches and administrators. Keep track of rule changes, controversies and political elements affecting your sport. The more you know, the more you can adapt your stories, impress editors, and mix it with the “big boys.”

9. Be prepared for anything.

Sports journalism is like life; it’s the journey, not the destination that counts. Be mindful that it can also be tedious and isolating. Women who are used to having a regimented routine may find it frustrating and disruptive. You’ll have to write stories that don’t excite you. You’ll have to become accustomed to rejection. You can forget about a regular social life. You need to allow your family and friends the luxury of not understanding your career choice. You must place that sign on the office door that reads “do not disturb” and get on with the job. You even have to get used to sitting in front of the computer when everyone else is out partying. Yes ladies, prepare for the loneliness of the long distance sports writer.

10. Be persistent and be yourself.

If you’re still undeterred and sports freelancing seems a fabulous proposition, I wish you the best of luck. You won’t make oodles of cash. You won’t receive a ticker-tape parade and you definitely won’t have time to sip any cocktails at the water’s edge. But you will experience the benefits of a remarkable career. Freelance sports writing success depends on your individual persistence level, so keep at it. Keep pitching, writing, and improving the craft. Keep reading about your sport, playing it, investigating it from every conceivable angle. Most importantly, however, be yourself. No one can write like you, so don’t be afraid. No one can completely understand sports from a woman’s point of view except a woman. Find your voice, choose your sport and go for it. See you in the press box ladies, and don’t forget to bring the chocolate.

Christine Davey is an Australian freelance sports writer who specializes in cricket (yes, that strange game which, according to Bill Bryson, is the only sport to share its name with an insect). She has written for national and international publications on everything from athlethics to swimming, and archery to volleyball.

Becoming Adept at Juggling

By LJ Dovichi

I’d always dreamed of becoming a professional writer but I was too busy working to take the time. Sure, I had free time, but I spent it doing things with my husband, not because I had to but because I wanted to.

Then I gave birth to our son and the luxury (first time mom, what did I know?) of being a stay-at-home mom presented itself. I figured it was the perfect opportunity to start my writing career. Well, actually it was more like after my son turned one and started sleeping through the night it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

I started juggling writing and mommyhood and being a wife easily enough. My husband worked all day, my son napped twice a day for a total of three hours, and he went to bed without fuss at 7:00 pm every night. I had plenty of time to spend a couple hours in the evening with my husband and still research, write, and submit articles. I even had time to write and illustrate multiple children’s picture books, a bevy of short stories, and write a novel. No sweat, I could do this, piece of cake.

Our son turned two years old and, as if on cue, he dumped one of his naps. However, he still slept for a guaranteed two hours in the afternoon and went to bed effortlessly at seven. So I continued to have time to write and also spend time with the hubby. My output didn’t really suffer—I still sent in submissions, wrote and illustrated more picture books, and started a quest to find an agent for the ones I had completed.

About that time, I found AbsoluteWrite.com. Eureka, an entire website dedicated to writers! I promptly signed on and not only learned more about my chosen trade but met some very wonderful people. While on the forums, I ran across other women juggling their writing with their families and I couldn’t understand how some parent-writers complained about having no time for writing. Obviously, I thought naively, they just weren’t managing their time properly.

When our son turned three, he decided he was too big a boy to take any sort of nap at all (notice a trend?). Overnight, our once sweet and cuddly little sleeper turned into the energizer bunny and bedtime became a battle of wills. We considered ourselves fortunate if the kid was in bed by 9:00 p.m. At which point, I was exhausted from having run herd on three-feet-of-fun all day. Now I was lucky if I had the energy to watch television with my husband, let alone sit at my desk and hammer out a short story or write on my current WIP.

Like all those other writer-parents, I put my energy into my family first, and my output suffered severely. Actually, it came to a screeching halt. Suddenly I understood and could sympathize with the others’ complaints about not having any time. The future was bleak and I worried I might have to put my dreams on hold until three-feet-of-fun started kindergarten. But that felt too much like quitting, which I found unacceptable.

So, I had to figure out how to juggle the three important aspects of my life: my son, my husband, and my dream. I talked to other writers and got some great advice. I also took a hard look at my schedule for any writing opportunities I was missing. Through trial and error, with successes along the way, I found some strategies that really work. I’m happy to report that I’m now a bona fide juggler.

Instead of treating writing like a dream, whim, or hobby, we now treat it like a part-time job (which is really the priority it needs to have). We figured if I worked outside of the home, my husband and son would have to fend for themselves, so why not incorporate that idea at home.

Day Strategies

Morning: My mornings begin at the god-awful hour of 5:00 a.m. and, like most kids, three-feet-of-fun just wants to curl up in a blanket on the couch and watch cartoons.

Before, I would sit next to him and zone out on educational children’s programming as I tried to wake up. Then I realized this was wasting writing time—I had a free hour while he watched his shows, I should be using it.

Now, when we get up, he chooses which educational cartoon he wants to watch and I get an hour of writing in first thing. (This works most mornings but sometimes he just wants to cuddle his mommy and I know this opportunity won’t last forever so I openly embrace it.)

Afternoon:
Now that three-feet-of-fun doesn’t nap during the day, I had to get a little more creative to squeeze in another hour of daytime writing.

During the time when he usually would be sleeping, I set an egg-timer for one hour and put it where he can watch it. I make a big production of telling him mommy’s going to work and he needs to be a big boy and play with his toys. I promise him when the buzzer goes off that we’ll play any game he wants.

I usually get about 20 minutes of writing in before he can’t stand that mommy isn’t at his disposal. This is a relatively new implementation, so I figure 20 minutes is a good starting place. Besides it’s better than not getting any writing done at all.

Evening and Weekends Strategies:
After the hustle and bustle of dinner, family time, baths, and bedtime rituals, it’s 9:00 p.m. This doesn’t give me a whole lot of time to write and spend time with my husband after our son has gone to bed.

But I’m lucky in the fact that my husband is both very supportive and a video game addict. So, we decided that five nights a week I’d write and two nights a week we’d do something together—watch a movie, play a video game, something.

Now, I have two guilt-free hours of writing most nights before I collapse into bed by eleven.

On the weekends, my husband entertains our son for four hours each day to give me a solid block of writing time. Sometimes my boys will go out and sometimes they stay in, but during that chunk of time, mommy isn’t there.

These strategies don’t work every day. Things come up—illnesses, vacations, holidays—somehow life always manages to find a way to mess up the best of intentions. This is why I have two secret weapons in my arsenal. These two, without fail, have been instrumental in my success and I can’t recommend either of them enough.

1.) I joined Club 100. Basically, you promise to write 100 words a day for 100 days. If you miss a day, you start back the next day at Day 1 and go again. Each person can choose how they set up their goals. For me, in addition to writing 100 words, if I line edit 100 words a day, or send one submission out a day, that counts for my daily goal.

Within three weeks I had formed the habit of not going to bed unless I had done one of the three options. Now, no matter how tired I am, I absolutely know I’m capable of writing 100 words. Before I know it, I’ve written at least triple that.

2.) I found a great support group at the Absolute Write Water Cooler (at AbsoluteWrite.com) on the Weekend Progress Report 2008 thread in the Humor forum. They are a great bunch of writers who offer constant support and encouragement to anyone who joins the thread, whether or not they actually write humor.

I’ve found that reporting my progress weekly really holds me accountable for having some output to report. Not to mention the feeling of accomplishment seeing my weekly output typed out gives me, especially when I thought I hadn’t had such a productive week to at all.

If you want to call yourself a writer, you absolutely must find a way to write, make sacrifices, give up sleep, whatever. It isn’t easy—I know I’d rather veg out at 5:00 a.m. instead of kick-starting my brain into gear. But by getting even just 100 words down before I really start my day, I’ve hit my goal, and everything else is bonus.

If I can do it, you can do it, too. Make your writing dreams happen, in the little bits of time you can, because no one wants to put their dreams on hold.

Lisa Dovichi lives in Novato, CA with her husband, son, and two cats. She is a freelance author and a budding novelist. Please visit her blog The Random Ramblings of a Neurotic Housewife.

The Working Mom’s Tricks to Writing a Novel in Your Free (!) Time

By Alina Adams

Got kids? Got a job? Got a life? Also got a burning need to write a novel? Yeah. Me, too.

Got a problem? Yeah. Me, too.

In the two years prior to the birth of my oldest child, I’d published three romance novels, dozens of magazine articles, and a non-fiction book on figure skating, while working a full-time job. In the four years since the birth of my oldest child, I’ve published one romance novel, one non-fiction book on figure skater Sarah Hughes, and one mystery novel . . . although it’s certainly no mystery why my output has dropped so precipitously.

It took a lot of trial and error (and crying over spilled breast-milk on a computer keyboard) before I even began to figure out how to balance the mothering with the mystery, the toddler with the typing, and the wailing with the writing.

However, four years later, I can honestly say that I’ve managed to work out a few “Working Mom Tricks For Writing a Novel in Your Free (!) Time,” which I am eager to share with those interested in forgoing trivial matters like eating, sleeping, and the facade of sanity, all in order to indulge that elusive muse and squeeze a satisfying writing side-dish on to an already overflowing platter.

Trick #1: Think First. In Stanley Kubrick’s film “The Shining,” aspiring writer Jack Nicholson goes ballistic when wife Shelley Duval interrupts him with the excuse, “I didn’t hear you typing, so I thought you weren’t working.”

“Just because you don’t hear me typing,” Jack roars back, “Doesn’t mean I’m not working.” (And then he goes on a killing spree. Just ignore that part.)

The homicidal lunatic has a point.

“Writing” is the act of actually sitting at a keyboard and tapping keys to produce words that might one day form sentences and then actual, coherent thoughts. “Writing” is an act that can and often is interrupted by someone wanting to sit on your lap and visit, “Noggin.com, please!” (one would hope that’s your child and not your boss), as well as by someone asking you to watch his phone while he pops out to lunch with his latest girlfriend (one would hope that’s a co-worker and not your husband).

“Working,” on the other hand, consists merely of thinking about what you’re going to write, and thus can be done while driving, washing dishes, doing laundry, making beds, giving baths, standing in line at the grocery store, packing lunches, showering, breast-feeding, pushing a carriage, standing on a subway platform, cooking, and even while reading “The Cat in the Hat” for the umpteenth time, since you probably can do the whole thing on auto-pilot by now.

The best part is, “working” works. You don’t have to be in front of a computer to think about a scene, to decide what you want it to be about, where you want to set it, how you want each character to approach it, and where you need it to lead. Remember reading “The Cat in the Hat” until you can trill it by heart? Playing the same scene in your head over and over again, polishing the dialogue, tightening the structure, picking just the right word to describe a key plot point makes it much, much easier to maximize your precious computer time once you do get the squatters off your lap.

Trick #2: Skip Lunch. And on-line solitaire. The law mandates that every employee receive a one-hour lunch every day. The law does not mandate what you can or should do with it.

Look at that computer on your desk. It can be used for reports and spreadsheets and schedules. It can also be used for writing your book. In your free time.

What free time? Well, there’s lunch for a start. A good hour to sit in  relative silence and get your thoughts together — on paper, no less!

Plus, let’s be honest, here: Lunch aside, how much of those seven other hours at work do you use for getting the job done, and how many are spent playing solitaire, surfing the web, chatting with co-workers and forwarding e-mail jokes and petitions?

That’s all prime writing time. No one is suggesting shirking your duties and risking your job. But if you’re going to take breaks anyway, why not get your high from writing instead of caffeine?

Trick #3: Write Longhand. Even the most lightweight laptop is a tricky thing to schlep to the playground or Gymboree. However, a notebook and pen fit easily into the most crowded diaper bag (strong suggestion: Attach the pen to the notebook or you’ll loose both in the Desitin Depths). Write longhand while you’re sitting on a bench at the playground. Write longhand while you’re standing and rocking a stroller with your foot. Write longhand while breastfeeding and while waiting for your pasta to boil and while waiting outside of “My First Karate Class.” The best part is, entering your text into the computer later will give you the chance to revaluate your work with a fresh eye, fix those mistakes made on the first go around and, best of all, also counts as an official second draft (i.e., you’re that much closer now to a polished manuscript!).

Trick #4: Get Your Kids into the Act. Experts say that reading to your children is the best thing any parent can do to bond, raise IQ and otherwise earn their Mother-of-the-Year stripes. Sure, toddlers and up would probably rather hear “Winnie the Pooh” than “Mommy’s Work in Progress.” But, can an infant really tell the difference?

Nothing gives writers a better idea of whether a scene, especially one featuring lots of dialogue, is working, than reading it out loud. It can be an ego-crushing experience as you realize that the brilliance you heard in your head doesn’t quite match the drivel you seem to be articulating now, but that which does not kill you gets you ready for more editorial rejection later on. And that’s a good thing. Probably.

So grab that baby and that manuscript and read it out loud until the prose finally shines. Or your infant is old enough to start requesting a different title.

Then start again with the next book — and the next child.

Alina Adams is a New York City-based working mother of two boys (a four-year-old and a newborn), the author of four romance novels, two non-fiction books, multiple magazine articles, and her first mystery, Murder on Ice (Berkley Prime Crime 11/03). She is usually exhausted, and doesn’t really recommend her lifestyle to anyone but the most writing-obsessed. Alina Adams has a website

Working at Writing

By Moushumi Chakrabarty

Making a commitment to yourself as a writer often falls into the waiting traps of washing machines, meals and procrastinations — specially if you are a work-at-home type of person. I am. Corporate chit-chat is definitely not what turns me on, writing-wise and in other ways. So when I quit the entire “going-out-to-work” lifestyle, it seemed like a wise decision. Now I was going to do what I really was best at — writing, and full-time, at home.

Ulysses set out with less baggage than I did on this quest. I had pre-conceived notions about how a writer’s life should be. I got myself fancy software, installed favorite writing-related quotes on the notice board in front of my Ikea desk, bought a whole bunch of colored stationery — in short, did everything a writer is supposed to do, but write.

Every morning, after the kids and husband had left, I would sit at the computer, surfing the Internet. I called it warming up. Who wouldn’t, with a cup of steaming coffee and last evening’s doughnut beside them?

I’d then open up a blank document after the cup was drained and think, “Okay, now to write.” But a subject and its handmaiden, language, refused to join me. I typed out a long string of letters (“m,” for instance), hoping for some inspiration. Next, a walk around the garden, thinking disconsolately that the zinnias were blooming divinely unlike my muse. Then it would suddenly strike me that it was almost noon and I hadn’t made lunch. The kids would be home soon.

With something like relief, I’d rush into the kitchen to start preparing a meal. Midway, the laundry would call out; piles of unwashed clothes wallowing in the basement. Running up and down the stairs leaves me tired and all too soon, the day is done.

However, after some serious thinking, I’ve come up with some tips to combat this dreadful lack of discipline.

  1. When you meet someone and they ask you, “What do you do?,” leave out the tremor in your voice when you say, “I’m a writer.”

  2. Keep introducing yourself in the mirror. Practice assertive talking: “I’m a writer.”

  3. Every morning, when you are about to start, borrow a leaf (or bone) from Pavlov. The trick is reinforcement. Tell yourself you will have an extra éclair after you’ve written a page.

  4. Do not go on to the Internet. Save that for later. It’s like a maze; you keep getting into pages of information that may be fascinating, but that you can do without.

  5. Start with writing prompts if you don’t know what to write about. Or just pretend you’re James Joyce and do a stream-of-consciousness.

  6. Keep a journal. Like a word processing program or pen, this is an essential tool for the writer. Write about yourself, or nature’s beauty, or your husband’s snoring which hardly gave you sleep last night or how you could strangle the neighbor’s dog. Start your writing day with an entry in your journal. Think of that as your warming up exercise.

  7. If you like poetry, keep a book of poems on your desk. Look up your favorite poem. A poem can be like dipping into a clear lake on a hot day, it refreshes and energizes so.

  8. Tell yourself you will sit in front of the empty page for half an hour, even if you don’t write anything. You have allocated it to be your writing time. That’s what it is. You are not going to do anything else but write. Soon you’ll find boredom is a great stimulator. You’ll start to write just to keep from staring at the empty street.

  9. When you manage to write something, make a tick mark on the calendar with a bright red pen. The ritual is to have these tick marks on at least five days in a week. The thought of not having a tick mark on a particular square makes me write without fail.

  10. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Even if you write a few lines, pat yourself on the back.

Now go and have that éclair.

Moushumi Chakrabarty is a writer/poet based in Ontario, Canada and has been writing since she was a child. Some acceptances and some rejections later, Moushumi still carries on her liason with the muse. Moushumi Chakrabarty has a website.

Writing Lesson

By Barbara G. Francisco

I know I can write. In school days, my star shone brighter than the others when the gauge was writing compositions and winning essay contests. But ten years after college, I am nowhere near the status that famous writers enjoy.

More than a skill, writing is an art. It is unlike the medical or legal profession where you earn the title by going through years of study and practice. Writing is unlike a smooth highway but rather a road always unpaved. I have learned much, and yet I have learned very little.

A few written pieces does not make one a writer. Even now, I cringe at the implications of calling myself a writer. It is a big responsibility. I hold on to only one thing—the passion I have for writing. There are no published works and bestseller books I could speak of; what I have so far are lessons learned in pursuing this art.

Discipline

I have in my hard disk the text document of fifteen (yes, 15!) different subjects all waiting to see completion. Three short stories have beginnings and endings but no connections in between. One biography awaits the interview notes and integration of a sociologist’s viewpoint. Still another needs research to substantiate its medical background. The rest are either in need of editing or further input. All need time.

If I have had the discipline to give it time, to write a line or two a day, perhaps, the oldest article which I started exactly six years ago would have been completed exactly six years ago.

You may tell me this is a case of entertaining the writer’s block and I shall plead guilty

“Thou art guilty of not giving your craft the attention it needs to grow.”

It does not exonerate you that you have a very busy schedule and that work gets in the way like when you’re really fired up to tackle a piece but then the phone rings and you have to speak to the person on the other line who happens to be your boss telling you to proceed to the conference room for an impromptu meeting. It does not exonerate you that you cannot add a few paragraphs to that take-home assignment because the dishes have to be done and the clothes need ironing. It does not exonerate you that the pages of your notes remain white because traffic takes up so much of your time and you have to hit the bed pronto to catch up on sleep or struggle getting up tomorrow again. It does not exonerate you that the piece stays untouched because, over the weekend, a friend comes over to visit or a TV special should not be missed

There will always be a thousand and one things that will demand your time and attention. If you let them.

All these, you see, are excuses. Bounce back. Return. Keep the goal in sight. Stay focused. Write!

Truth and Accuracy

Unless your genre is fiction, truth and accuracy matter most. You owe it to your readers to tell it as it is. Did your protagonist actually wear bell-bottom pants and elevator shoes or you just assumed he did because it was the dictates of fashion back then? Say “he must have” or “perhaps he did” if you have to, but do not claim words of certainty.

Even the subject of your piece could give the wrong information, or omit a vital detail. In one interview, my subject related the story of his cancer-stricken daughter. His spoken words implied that the daughter died in the hospital. Later on, I learned from the daughter-in-law that the daughter died at home, not in the hospital. What did I do? I deleted the dying part. There was no way I could let that pass.

Another example. I have a friend whose article about a movie star remains unfinished nearly a year after she interviewed the subject. All because a published article about the same movie star contradicts the data she was given. Nothing will make her finish the piece unless the contradiction is verified and settled.

You cannot possibly gain all information about your piece, especially if it is a broad subject, but be it a sense of duty to exhaust all available resources you can get. A well-researched piece is the foundation of a well-written piece.

Honing Your Craft

The road to writing is always unpaved. It is thus essential to keep alert against bumps and turns. Arm yourself with the necessary tools.

One book on writing tips strongly suggested owning important references. It did me proud to realize I have almost all of the tips’ list of essentials: a dictionary (mine is a 2-volume encyclopedia edition), a style and usage book, a book of quotations, a thesaurus, and of course, the Bible. The encyclopedia and the atlas are always available in public libraries. And yes, thank God for the Internet!

So, by acquiring these books over the years, I’m on the right track after all. If you’re serious about writing, five or ten years from now, you’d likewise find yourself proudly possessing these books.

Occasionally attending writing classes or workshops is another. This is more expensive but necessary. Had I not join a creative writing class two Christmases ago, I wouldn’t be as intent as I am now to finish this piece. From that short 4-day course, I gained much. I met other writing enthusiasts and we bonded together. There are no better people to understand your writing and understand the thoughts and emotions that grip your writing than writers themselves.

We do critique sessions, unmindful of the time. Once, I looked at my watch to find it was already twelve midnight and we were still in the heat of discussion about the right word to use in completing the sentence about the grave digger placing the marker to seal a tomb. Should it be placed or shoved or pushed?

Everyone gets the chance to attack everyone’s piece. “What’s your point? You sound ambivalent? Think of your readers. If you exclude this viewpoint, it will appear as self-serving? It’s just your ego getting in the way” (Ouch!). ” Hair has no plural word, right?” ” Yes, hairs is incorrect.” (Ouch again!) “I think this paragraph should precede the last sentence on page 4.”

Over cups of coffee or tea, bottles of mineral water and glasses of ice-cold coke with pizza or spaghetti or cookies or corn chips on the side, we let each other grow. “So, how was your interview?” ‘Your third draft is so much improved.” “Have you read Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg?” “Look, I just bought a copy of Philip Gerard’s Creative Non-Fiction.” “I’ll send you my comments through e-mail.”

One big warning though: if you decide to organize or join a critique group, be sure you can take criticism (and I mean criticism!), and still face up to the challenge. Our group has had its share of valedictory speeches (read “quitting”) not to mention the cancelled meetings and unmet deadlines and lazy bouts.

The road to writing is always unpaved and you can never say when the end is in sight. Even this piece can grow to as long as 15 pages or more. There is much to be said.

So, what happens to the 15 unfinished pieces in my hard disk? I’m working on them. Sometimes, time is necessary to gain more lessons, get extra insights, and grow in understanding. Then, when you get back to writing, your writing will have the necessary substance, the desired depth, the intended meaning.

Remember, the road to writing is always unpaved.

You can reach Barbra at fossil AT i-next.net.

Writing Between Diapers

By Mayra Calvani

Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.
—C. G. Jung

After a bad night of hardly any sleep, you’re sitting at the computer staring at the blank screen. You wonder if you’ll be able to do it—inish that article, short story or novel that you started months ago. The urge to write is overwhelming, yet you freeze. Not only are you exhausted, but the baby, whom you put to sleep less than half an hour ago, is whimpering in the crib. Your four-year old has just barged into the office and is tugging at your elbow begging for a snack, even though he had lunch an hour ago. This is hopeless, I may as well quit, you say to yourself while trying to suppress a scream. To your horror, you suddenly find yourself sympathizing with those animals that eat their young . . .

Don’t despair. Calm down. I’ve been there and know perfectly well what you’re going through.

The truth is, you can write, but you need to have four things:

The Right State of Mind

Before you plan a schedule, putting your mind in the right frame is the most important think you’ll do. Remember your kids will not stay small forever. Time passes quickly (I assure you it does!) and soon they’ll be old enough to go to school. Until that magical day arrives, though, you’ll have to “steal” time to work on your project. Wanting to finish a whole novel in one month at this point in your life is unrealistic. Don’t focus so much on the “end product” but on doing a little bit of that “end product” at a time. Little paragraphs are what articles, stories, and novels are made of. The important thing is steady progress, and as long as you take steps to follow the road, you’re on the right track. These tiny bird steps, however small, will give you a sense of accomplishment and keep you guilt-free to enjoy your life and family.

Good Physical Condition

You might think, “Good physical condition? I thought this was an article about writing.” Well, you bet it is. Let’s face it, moms who care for small children are always tired. And tired people don’t particularly like to sit at the computer and write; they want to collapse on a bed. Moms urgently need to raise their energy levels! A good diet and a little exercise can do wonders to raise energy levels. Eat high-protein foods and lots of fruits and veggies. Stay away from white flour and sugar, as well as junk food. Go for three meals a day with one light healthy snack in the afternoon and one before you go to bed. Stay away from those high energy bars, though. They are so high in carbs your sugar levels will sky rocket and then plummet, making you feel even more tired and hungry than before. Low fat cottage cheese and a couple of almonds with a bit of fruit are a great choice for a snack. Drink plenty of water! Scientists have found that dehydration is one of the main factors in making a person feel tired.

Finding time to exercise may be difficult, that’s why it’s a good idea to do it with your child. If you have a stationary bicycle or other exercise machine, do 15 minutes while the toddler watches the Teletubbies. You don’t have to exercise a full hour. Even ten minutes will do the trick. Take your baby for a walk in the stroller at least three times a week, preferably in the mornings when it’s fresh and quiet. It will calm your nerves, rejuvenate, and even inspire you. Your baby will love it, too. Not only will he/she enjoy the “sights and sounds,” but it will probably make him/her tired and eager to take a longer nap later in the day—just what you’re after!

A Well-Planned Schedule

Okay, so you have the right state of mind and are eating well and exercising. What next? A well-planned schedule that fits your lifestyle and plays around your strengths and liabilities is a must. But keep an open mind and don’t be unrealistic. If your baby naps in the afternoon, don’t set your writing time in the mornings, or vice versa. How much time each writing session will last depends on your lifestyle and children’s habits. You may choose to write half an hour each day or one hour every other day. It’s up to you. The important thing here is to keep it approachable and to stick with it.

There’s one thing I strongly advise: If you can manage it, don’t take more than two nights off from your project. Not only will it stall your momentum, but it will give your brain too much time to come up with self-doubts and excuses for procrastination.

You may be asking yourself: But how do I get rid of my children ?

If your children are old enough to go to nursery school, your problems are solved. Just set your writing schedule during those hours. For those of you whose children are still at home, there are other possibilities:

Write early in the morning before your children awake, during their daytime naps, and after they go to sleep at night. (See why you have to keep yourself in good physical condition?) I have a friend who wrote two books this way.

If you can afford a babysitter—maybe your neighbor’s teenaged daughter—to look after your child while you write on the next room (that way you can keep a close eye on them) then go for it!

Write while your toddler watches his favorite video movie. He wants to watch it again? Go ahead! This is not the right time to consider the effects of too much TV on children.

Go to the local library and write while you and your child listen to story time! Almost all libraries, and even bookstores, schedule story times for children. Take advantage of these.

If you have a writer friend who is also a mom, enlist her as your “writing partner,” take the kids to Mc Donald’s and write while your kids play in those weird game tunnels. “Hey, wait a minute!” you think. “You said to stay away from junk food.” Nice try, but even McDonald’s now offers a good selection of salads and fruit cocktails. Besides, I never said one hamburger once in a while would kill you. You might even reward yourself with a hamburger . . . after you’ve fulfilled your writing quota for that day.

Invite your writing-partner mom or moms for a “writing morning” at your home and write while your children play together. You may take turns with your homes. Also, as a group, you can consider hiring a sitter for these occasions. Writing with a support-group of people who are in the same situation as you is usually very rewarding and productive. Plus it’s a lot cheaper when each of you contribute to pay for the sitter. You may even want to start a club and meet once a week.

Determination

None of the above will prove helpful if you lack the determination to stick to a schedule. Think about it. Do you want to reach the age of seventy without having accomplished your goal—that masterpiece of a novel that will land you multiple contracts, fame, and fortune? You’ll never know unless you take the first step. Family, and especially your children, should always come first, but don’t use your children as an excuse not to write. The truth is, life is so hectic there never will be a “perfect” time to write. I assure you, if not children, later you’ll come up with something else as your procrastinator. It may be difficult to follow the schedule at first, and you may need to modify it, but eventually you’ll be glad you did. Otherwise you’ll live with self-guilt, self-loathing, disappointment, and frustration.

Do it. Start today. Now.

Don’t forget: Frustrated writers are frustrated moms. Frustrated moms are unhappy moms. Artistically fulfilled moms are happy moms who can give themselves to their loved ones without reservations.

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Mayra Calvani has a website. You can find out about Mayra Calvani’s children’s books here

No Time to Write?

By Sherryl Clark

It’s a familiar complaint. Everything else seems to get in the way—family commitments, work, sports, the need to sleep—and nowhere is there time to sit down and write.

People often say to me, “How do you find the time? You’re so prolific.”

Well, no, ‘m not. A lot of the time I feel guilty because I don’t spend as much time on writing as I could. Notice that I said could, not should.

Should is like the stuff we got told as kids—you should eat your veggies because there are starving children in Africa. If we think of writing as a should task, where is the incentive to do it? You’re trying to work out of a sense of created guilt.

I say could because I know that I waste time. And even more importantly, I know that I procrastinate. Why? Because of fear, I think. Fear that I will have nothing to write and I will sit there for hours producing zilch. Or more often, fear that anything I will produce will be terrible. Despite all I know about rewriting, and how the first draft is nearly always either bad or just not what you wanted (because you wanted to create that miraculous story in your head, and what happened to it between your brain and the page, darn it?), I still have to convince myself anew every time that all I have to do is sit down and write.

Usually I get there by telling myself that I only have to do one page. What’s one page? Even if it’s an awful page, just write one. And eventually I do. And most of the time I write a lot more than one. But I still have to talk myself into that first one.

How do I waste time? The way everyone does. I read, do housework, e-mails (they’re a time killer), catch up on paperwork, do class preparation (because I teach), talk on the phone . . . you just add in your favorites. And it’s always time in which I could be writing.

How do we solve this problem? I doubt we can do it by beating ourselves over the head with a heavy dictionary, or any other implement. That’s the road to more guilt and shoulds, and it’s best to avoid those.

Cover of Kristi Holl's Writer's First AidI like an analogy I read in Kristi Holl’s book, Writer’s First Aid. A professor shows a large jar to his class and fills it with rocks. He then goes through a process of asking them if the jar is full. Each time, he demonstrates that it’s not. To the rocks, he adds pebbles; to the pebbles, he adds sand. Is the jar full now? No. He then adds water. Many of us assume this analogy is about how much we can cram into our day. Kristi says no—think of the rocks as your writing. They have to go in first, otherwise you will never fit them in with the other stuff.

How many of us put writing first? Really and truly? We fill our days with all that other stuff and then try to cram writing into the odd half an hour once a week.

There are some people for whom life is just too chaotic and busy. You might have five kids, plus an ailing mother, plus you have to work part-time to help feed the family. I see these people put aside their writing, month after month, and yearn for the chance to write.

Then I read stories about writers who have all of that and more to cope with, and they still find half an hour a day to write, even if it means getting up earlier or staying up later. In half an hour you can write one page. In a week, that’s six pages (you may take Sunday off!). In a year, that’s 300 pages. A novel.

Am I preaching? I guess so. I know that I finally became totally serious about my commitment to writing after I had been to the US for a two-week writing workshop. Every day I wrote in class, I workshopped my own and others’ writing, I talked writing non-stop. And at night, in my little room (alone—bliss!), I wrote. In two weeks I wrote 7,500 words. I wrote every night because I figured that’s what I was there for and I wanted to make the most of it.

But when I arrived home, I realized that I could do it anywhere. I hadn’t been writing in my room for five or six hours—I’d been working most nights for an average of an hour. I think what changed was that I understood it was the rhythm of writing which had worked for me. Regular stints, instead of trying to write for a whole day every once in a while, because, especially with novels, you’ve got to spend a lot of time rethinking your way back into the story. It was the “showing up at my desk every day” that worked.

I was always thinking about my writing project; even if it was in the back of my brain somewhere so I wasn’t conscious of it, something was simmering, simply because I knew that sometime that day I would be doing more writing. And when I sat down to write, I was ready. Out came the words.

I’d like to say I have continued this marvelous work routine ever since, but I’d be lying. However, I did continue it for four months until I finished (and rewrote) that novel. I still retain that feeling of “living the writing” and am convinced that short, regular periods of writing will get me there a lot faster and more effectively than saving up for rainy writing days.

This was doubly confirmed for me recently when I attended the Chautauqua children’s writers’ workshop and listened to Linda Sue Park speak about her writing. She made a commitment to write two pages per day, no matter what. She had to make herself stick to this every day for three months before it became an ingrained habit that she couldn’t stop, but it worked for her, and it will work for you.

So—where and when are you going to write each day? You only have to find half an hour. Are you convinced half an hour won’t be enough? Block out three one-hour sessions per week. In your diary. Call it “Writer’s Meeting.” Call it anything you like, but make sure you’re there, backside on the chair, ready to write.

You don’t think you have three hours? Try these remedies. Turn off the TV. Don’t even look at your e-mails until you’ve done your hour. Take the phone off the hook. Get the family to help with the chores, and don’t accept any excuses or arguments. Put a sign on the door to say “Keep Out!” And mean it.

Mean it for yourself. Do you want to write? Really and truly?

Then do it.

Sherryl Clark teaches professional writing at Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia. She writes children’s and YA books, short fiction, and poetry. Her website is at www.sherrylclark.com.

No Rules, Just Write

By Jeanne M. Fielding

1,000 words a day or more? You’ve got to be kidding!

As if writing a story wasn’t daunting enough, published writers have killed many a tree imparting the “writing is a discipline” mantra. You must commit to writing five gazillion words a day—no matter how long it takes you.

My reply when I read these diatribes is, “Pshaw! As if!”

Perhaps this is why I struggled for so long to consider myself a writer. I hold a full-time job, co-own a home with my husband, and am the mother of one three-year-old boy. I think my plate is quite full, thank you. And yet, two years ago, I found a way to carve out fifteen minutes for myself to write every day.

You read me correctly—fifteen minutes.

For a wife and mother who also works outside the home, fifteen minutes seems like a lifetime! What working mother hasn’t wished for two seconds to rub together without a child crashing in, a husband calling out or the boss breathing over your shoulder? When a friend suggested that I give it a whirl, I scoffed at the idea. At the time, I didn’t even bathe alone, so how was I about to find fifteen minutes to sit down and write?

I thought about it. And thought about it some more. Until, sick to death of being badgered by my friend, I took a break at work, opened up Word, and wrote whatever came into my head. For about fifteen minutes.

The next day, I did it again, only this time, I picked up where I had left off.

After a week, I actually had the beginnings of a story. After a month, I had the start of my novel. In six months, I had a finished manuscript in my hands.

87,000 words.

The world didn’t end.

My baby is still fed and clothed and loved.

My husband hasn’t left me.

I still didn’t consider myself a writer.

Why? Because I averaged only about fifteen minutes a day. Some days I wrote for an hour, some days I didn’t write at all. When I did write and I was getting somewhere with my story, I was addicted. Other days, I couldn’t put two words together to save my life—usually because I was exhausted after having been up every few hours all night long with my son.

It wasn’t until another friend of mine took up writing that I found myself telling her that it doesn’t matter how much or how often you write. Heck, it doesn’t even matter if you have a project to work on. Find a few minutes each day and write a letter to a friend, jot down some thoughts about the weather, vent your feelings about the guy who cut you off on the thruway. It doesn’t matter what it is.

Just write.