How To Avoid Being Trapped

By Nancy Julien Kopp

Can a writer be compared to a jungle animal? Is a writer anything like the tawny leopard who pauses in a shaft of golden sunlight and lifts his regal head, nostrils flaring? He crouches low to the ground and proceeds toward his next sure meal. The leopard ignores all other aspects of nature’s bounty as the scent of a fresh kill draws him on. Without warning, he falls into a vast hole and lands at the bottom with a thud. Trapped! Caught with no way out!

Unsuspecting writers fall into traps, too. The scent of publication draws them through their own jungle. Sometimes writers forget to be cautious and tend to business, and they fall headlong into a different type of pit, trapped like the leopard. But a writer can find the means to escape and continue on his journey.

Writers are urged to write often, to write voraciously, to write, write, write. We know that in order to become better writers and win the prize — publication — there are myriad things we must do besides putting words on paper. Writing successes don’t arrive out of the blue, but are achieved in various ways.

Among them, reading about writing is foremost in our minds, so we go to the local library and bookstores. We borrow dozens of books that tell us how to plot, how to sketch characters, how to present a book proposal, and more. The books line our shelves, and we immerse ourselves in one after the other and absorb the lessons within. Certainly one viewpoint is too narrow. Let’s expand our horizons and read several.

It eats into our writing time.

Kathryn Anzak writes book reviews and nonfiction and is also working on a novel. She says, “Reading books does get in the way of writing. I get caught up in the learning and forget the application part.”

Read books about writing, but read fewer of them. It’s impossible to read every book written on the subject of writing. Select the ones you do read with care, and look for material dealing with the type of writing you do.

In addition to instructive books, the Internet is filled with writers’ sites presenting weekly or monthly newsletters. The editors offer articles to read and classes to take. They present markets and contests, writing prompts, and fun activities. Seldom satisfied with one of these newsletters, most writers subscribe to dozens. The newsletters do have some excellent information, but they take precious time to read. It eats into our writing time.

Once again, be selective. If you find yourself skimming through the contents of one of these newsletters rather than fully reading it, unsubscribe quickly. With a practiced eye, you’ll soon discern which are worth the time it takes to read them. You’ll figure out which ones offer solutions to problems or new markets, and which are forms of mindless entertainment.

We look for help other than what we find in books and on the Internet, something that includes other writers in a social setting. We find it in a personal, face-to-face critique group, which profits writers in numerous ways. Whether it meets weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, a local group like this can offer constructive criticism and perhaps praise for our work. It also eats into our writing time.

Before joining one of these critique groups, take a serious look at the time involved. Ask yourself if the time befits the benefit. Is it worth using precious hours you might spend at your computer writing a story? A writer can profit from an honest answer to this question.

Research provides another way to help craft a successful manuscript. Those who write nonfiction, historical fiction, and contemporary fiction often need to delve into investigative fact-finding. One thing leads to another, and the research takes far longer than anticipated. It eats into our writing time.

Jerri Garretson is the owner of Ravenstone Press and author of several books for children, including The Secret of Hidden Springs and Imagicat. Jerri says, “For me, the distraction is likely to be too much researching, way beyond what I actually need. I get to enjoying the process, and it feeds on itself.”

With practice, the writer can determine an appropriate amount of time given to research. A written list of facts and information to complete the story is helpful in deciding how much research is necessary. Adhere to the list rather than enlarging upon it as you go. The important thing here is to stay focused.

Writers’ organizations offer another opportunity to learn from others. If you live in a city that has a chapter of a national writers group, it makes sense to join. Groups like this can bring many advantages, but we can also become so involved that it eats into our writing time.

An author of adult fiction, who prefers to remain anonymous, says that she recently resigned from a group of writers because she got caught up in revising their by-laws, policies, and procedures. She says, “With all the apologies I heard from others at the meetings for not having gotten any writing done since the last meeting, I knew I was wasting my time.”

If you want to retain membership in a group like this, do so, but attend when you can afford the time, and don’t allow yourself to become embroiled in the operation of the group to the detriment of your own working time. It’s not easy to say no when asked to help, but learn to put your writing first and foremost. It’s the gold star item in your life if you intend to be a serious writer.

We’ve explored numerous ways we attempt to become better writers but not all of them are beneficial. As we’ve seen, some of them lead us into a trap. Frank Kryza, author of The Power of Light/cite>, gives some excellent advice. “Very few writing projects can be completed within a short planning horizon, so you just have to be committed to writing every day, whether you want to or not, and the best teacher will be your own (self-discovered) mistakes.”

This advice is plain and simple and leaves few, if any, traps to snare us.

Kate Reynolds has completed one novel and is working on another. Kate, too, has some good suggestions. She says, “Years ago, I read an article that listed ‘The Five Essential Steps To Publishing.’ I typed them into my computer and printed the page. It’s dog-eared and coffee stained now, but I keep this list by my computer and read it every day to keep myself focused.”

Kate’s five steps are:

  1. Write
  2. Finish it
  3. Do not re-write endlessly
  4. Send it to someone who can buy it; not friends or relatives
  5. Go to step 1

Don’t be like the leopard and let the scent of publication lead you into one of these traps. You can maintain a healthy balance of the tools of the trade available to a writer. Review your writing activities occasionally to make sure you aren’t falling into one of those deep pits again. When you are producing fewer and fewer pages, it may be time to step back and assess the reasons why you are writing less. To make writing a priority takes the same kind of commitment as saving money. Financial experts advise clients to take the savings out of the paycheck first. Writing is no different — those thousand words a day must take precedence over all other writing-related aspects of your life. You know what the traps are, and by practicing self-discipline, you can avoid all of them and become a better writer.

Nancy Julien Kopp’s writing reflects both her growing-up years in Chicago and many years of living in the Flint Hills of Kansas. She has published stories, articles, essays, children’s stories and poetry in magazines, newspapers, and online. She is a former teacher who still enjoys teaching via the written word. You can find her at Writer Granny’s World.

Career Smart Writing

By Ursula Vogt

The most important work any writer can do will never see an editor’s desk. It doesn’t make any difference what you write, where you publish, or even if you’re watching the mail for your first acceptance letter; the few pages you write for yourself can build a new career, or take an existing one to a much higher level.

If you’re looking for professional writing success, you probably use the one basic plan all writers have in common. Write. Submit. Cash the check. When the plan fails, and it will, a career smart writer survives while the rest talk about when they did a little writing once. For a lucky few, the basic plan works, but it’s not sophisticated, not focused enough to build a future. At some point, you need to write a career plan. Not just a general list of goals, because most of us have one of those, too; I mean a plan to reach those goals. It’s the best way to insure you have a career rather than a hobby.

Immediate gratification is priceless in our world. We want new ideas we can put to work right now, so let’s take that approach with a writing plan. Consider this a writing assignment from the toughest editor you know–yourself. Be realistic, but don’t be afraid to dream big. If you take it seriously and give it your best effort, your career plan will start producing usable results in about ten minutes.

Success Is A State Of Mind

Start by being clear about what success is for you. Everyone has a different definition, but the one thing most have in common is that you need to keep proving yourself. If you buy into that thinking, you’re giving someone else control of your career. Writers tend to focus on their lack of accepted submissions, their rejections, instead of focusing on their writing success.

Rejection letters are a big part of a writer’s life. You’re going to get them and sometimes your writing will deserve them, but notice I say, your writing deserves them, because rejection letters aren’t personal. Writing groups and chat rooms are full of that discussion, so don’t kid yourself into believing rejection letters are the reason you aren’t achieving goals. You might be a good writer who needs to polish up the submission and marketing skills, or one who needs to improve grammar and punctuation. It may be that the editor is shoulder deep in the same kind of thing you write.

Try a proactive approach that puts you in control. If you have successfully published before, you can do it again. If you haven’t—wonderful. You won’t make the mistake of starting out with the hit-and-miss approach. The key isn’t proving yourself; the key is training yourself to be the best writer you can be. Make it one of your goals to spend time improving your craft, and if you think you don’t need to learn anything more, think again. The markets change daily.

Despite our best efforts, eventually, we all pace the floor, coffee cup in hand, wondering what to write, where to submit, or considering real estate as a better career option. It’s a given that you will still have dry spells, but that isn’t a measure of success either. If you know where your writing is going, career dreams quit being dreams and become attainable goals. Dry spells stay dry, but they’re much shorter and they won’t take control. You will.

Playing Office

Have you ever had a day when ideas poured from someplace deep, someplace you didn’t recognize? It was so good you felt guilty for putting your name on it, because surely, creative elves visited your desk during the night?

The next day usually turns out to be one of those dry days we were just talking about. In the absence of a creative downpour, you start organizing file drawers and alphabetizing sticky notes, looking for that writer’s high. You can’t recreate that feeling any other way than by writing. Playing office is the ultimate denial. You can organize all day long, a few days like that are actually necessary, but if you don’t write, you won’t achieve the level of satisfaction we all look for.

Go ahead and use the dry time as effectively as you can. Maybe reading through old notes and files will jog the muse to life, but recognize it for what it is. Try writing, even if it turns out to be the most creative grocery list at the market.

Write The Plan

Once you are past the success crisis, it’s easier to be realistic about what you really want to achieve. Do you want to write a book? Good, write that down. How about a specific number of article submissions a month? Add that to your list. I have a conference I want to attend that requires submission of several chapters, two months in advance. It’s on my goals list.

Take an honest look at your desk. What do you have that needs work? What potential story dried up? What market possibility sits there unexplored? Maybe your desk is empty. Add, find potentials to the list.

The Daily Check

I have four or five questions tacked over my desk that I apply to everything I write, and I should be able to answer yes to at least one, and preferably all of the items on the checklist. Feel free to use mine or tailor it to your own goals, but keep it positive. Keep moving your career in a forward direction.

  1. Will today’s project improve my writing skills?
  2. Will this expand my knowledge base?
  3. Is the submission to a well-researched market?
  4. Will the publication be a good addition to my writing resume? If not, is there a strong reason for submitting it anyway? Sometimes volunteer work is a reason of its own. Maybe you just like the publication enough that your resume isn’t the goal. Allow yourself these rejuvenating writing projects, they’re important.
  5. Does it define me, as a writer, in a positive light?

Your list may contain things like targeting particular markets or specific genres. Maybe it moves you toward finishing that book and learning to market it.

If a project doesn’t fit the plan, don’t pitch it. File it away for another day when it can be tweaked to fit. As you expand your knowledge base, you may find one of these ideas to be perfect in the future.

Not Just Another Plan

The most important aspect of a career plan isn’t the actual writing. Have you ever wondered why simple writing goals weren’t met in the past? There’s a good chance the reason is that a goal was set, but no solid plan to achieve it came next. What makes your plan a success is that by developing the checklist, you commit to action every day.

Another crucial follow-up is to treat goals like you would any assignment. Show up at the desk ready to do your best. Go an extra step by scheduling time to evaluate your progress, adjusting either the plan or your approach, and be flexible. You may need to fill in gaps, or slow the pace if you’ve over-estimated.

Take a few minutes to write three pages today, and you’re less likely to give up on success tomorrow. By following your own plan, you spend time improving your writing instead of getting caught up in the hit-and-miss approach. Achieving the smaller goals will add up to a successful writing career instead of a writing hobby.

© Copyright 2001 Ursula Vogt

Ursula Vogt is a freelance writer whose work has been published in Writer’s Digest, Chronicle Online, The Writing Parent, Parenting Today’s Teens and Writer’s Exchange. You can find her at UrsulaVogt.com.

Ask And Ye Shall Receive (Most of the time)

By Sable Jak

A few days ago I got an email from an editor asking me if I was available to take an interview with a well-known screenwriter. I made a couple of phone calls to rearrange my schedule and became available.

As I was interviewing the writer about his latest work, I touched on something else he’d done. The “something” was a favorite of mine and we talked about it briefly, within the context of the interview. That was the end of it.

But all day after the interview I kept thinking, “I really have so many other questions.” I had been given the opportunity to talk to someone whose work I admired. I now made a new opportunity and emailed him asking him if he would be interested in granting another interview, this time specifically about the piece of work on which we’d touched so lightly. I assured him it would be an email interview so he could answer the questions at his leisure. The tone of his reply had a distinct “delighted” feel to it as he agreed to the new interview.

I had turned one opportunity into a second one.

One of the zines I write for didn’t have anyone in Seattle covering a yearly event. I don’t think anyone’s ever covered the event for the zine. I wondered if I could, and decided to follow my daddy’s advice “You don’t ask; you don’t know.” I fired off an email asking if I could cover the event. The editor agreed. The event offers many more opportunities to people willing to grab them while attending.

As you can see, I’ve had one opportunity lead to another, which leads to another which—you get my drift. The funny thing is, when a writer I know asked me what I was doing, and I told him, he said, “Gee, how’d you get those gigs? Wish stuff like that would happen to me.”

Well, “stuff” didn’t happen to me. Months ago I submitted an article to an editor, then another. Next I proposed an idea for another article and another. When the ideas were accepted, I delivered. And, most importantly, I also made myself available for other gigs that might lead to more opportunities. I’m not saying that opportunities don’t just “happen,” because they do. More likely, however, they happen because the people who get them have been busy setting them up. If you don’t believe me, think about some of the “opportunities” you’ve been presented. Weren’t most of them the result of something else? Weren’t they, in some small way, the result of a prior set up that you may, or may not, have set up?

Just how is an opportunity set up? That’s easy, by asking. For instance:

Several of my latest articles in Scr(i)pt ezine are the result of me asking if I could write them. I had an idea for an interview with a tax attorney. After all, a writer’s taxes can get rather sticky and who better to ask about tax stickiness than a tax attorney? Also, a woman I know had organized a rather extensive advanced screenwriter’s retreat. I thought it might make a good story and I asked the editors at Scr(i)pt if I could do an interview with the organizer. They said yes.

And if they’d said no? So what?

So what if they would have said no! Would I be worse off than I was before I’d asked the question? Oh, there’s always the possibility my ego would have been wounded, but Billy Keen pretty well wounded that for all time when he refused to kiss me in the cloakroom back in second grade. The fact is, no, I wouldn’t be worse off than if I’d never asked. As a matter of fact, even if they’d said no, I might still be better off. Why? Because, by suggesting articles, I’m (hopefully) showing that I’m willing to take on more work.

It’s a fact: you don’t ask, you don’t know. What will anyone do to you if you do ask for something? Cut off your hands? Scream at you? Turn you over to some secret organization that puts a black mark on your permanent record? (Wait, that permanent record was used back in the second grade too, wasn’t it?) The worst thing that anyone can do is say, “no.” In which case, once you’ve been given a “no,” you simply ask another question, or put together a question that can’t be turned down.

Once you’ve got a few of your own opportunities finished, relax and let all sorts of new “stuff” happen to you.

Remember, writing is a solitary activity shared by many.

Sable Jak is a screenwriter who is still questing after the secrets of screenwriting. She loves Celtic art and finds a correlation between its mesmerizing intertwining lines to both the craft of screenwriting and the business of film making. You can find her at her Website, sablejak.com

Five Ways to Beat the Waiting Game

By S. W. Vaughn

One of the many unavoidable facets of the writing life is the waiting. Writers wait until their prose is polished to perfection. We wait for feedback from writers’ groups and trusted readers. We wait for weeks, months or years for responses to our queries. Even when the ultimate goal of publication is achieved, we wait for galley proofs, cover art, reviews, bookstore releases, and signing tours. And sometimes—oh, the horror—we wait for the next idea to seize our writing muscles and spur us into action.

If your writing career is beginning to seem like an endless stretch in a crowded doctor’s office—only to find out the doctor is on vacation and won’t be back for a week—you are not alone. Other than listening to the Muzak of your internal communication system while you’re on hold (which often sounds like this: Why did I query that agent—she doesn’t even read thrillers! What if a wild dog ate my manuscript? What should I change my name to when the New York Times rips my debut novel to shreds?), what can you do to hold on to your sanity and stick it out until your sorely tested patience pays off?

To avoid staking out your mailbox, checking your e-mail every fifteen minutes, or haunting your Amazon listing hoping for a boost in your rank, try these tips to get off the waiting train:

  1. Write something else. If you’ve just sent out half a dozen carefully targeted, well-worded queries to your dream agents or editors, resist the temptation to sit in a lawn chair at the end of your driveway and ream out the mailman for delivering you grocery store flyers instead of used SASEs. Plant your butt right back in front of the computer and start something new. You may find yourself so caught up in your new project that you miss the mail for a day or two—and discover a pleasant surprise waiting for you when you return.
  2. Do something non-writing related. Even writers need a break. Sure, we all knew going into it that the word “vacation” would soon retreat from our vocabularies until the memory of it became an urban legend. But there is no rule stating you can’t take a few hours to do something you enjoy. Go for a long walk, read a great book, have lunch with a friend you haven’t seen in weeks (because you were immersed in the final stretches of revising your manuscript for the hundred and eighth time), or take up a new hobby. Know that your writing will still be there when you come back.
  3. Do some research that will further your writing prowess. As a writer, you no doubt have a score of ideas that have been percolating on the back burner while you slaved over your work-in-progress. Now that you’ve begun the excruciatingly long process of delivering your baby to the world, choose one of those ideas and flesh it out. Dig up as much information pertaining to it as you can online, and then head over to the library to find out more. If you don’t have anything specific in mind, you can simply start reading up on something that interests you. You’ll probably find the kernel of an idea in your research that will spark a whole new project, and soon you’ll be stabbing blissfully away at your keyboard with thoughts of important e-mails clogged in spam filters and evil, query-eating postal employees behind you.
  4. Learn a new language. You are in the business of words, after all, so what better way to bulk up your business than to expand your cache of raw materials? You don’t have to write your next novel in Swahili, but your life—and your writing—will be enriched with your understanding of a whole new culture.
  5. Vent your frustrations. Write a nice, long letter to a fictitious editor at an imaginary publishing house (or a real one if you prefer— just make sure you don’t actually send it out!) and tell her how all this waiting makes you feel. Reveal your insecurities, question her methods, or accuse her of using the pages of your manuscript to line her hamster cages. This can also help to deal with the pain of rejection. Confidently assure this fictitious person that you are an excellent writer, and won’t they be sorry when Berkley offers you a million-dollar advance and a three-book deal while she’s sitting on your manuscript for months on end.

Writers wait. It’s a fact of life. You can drive yourself crazy mentally listing the what-ifs and the should-haves during your on-hold times, or you can get out there and improve yourself and your craft. Instead of viewing the wait as a specialized form of torture created to punish you for making the stupid decision to try and be a writer in the first place, take action. Learn to see these interminable, unavoidable waits as opportunities to grow.

Most important, keep this in mind: somewhere out there, an editor or agent is waiting for you and your writing. Don’t disappoint them!

S. W. Vaughn is a novelist and freelance writer who is waiting for something at this very moment. You can read about S. W. Vaughn’s House Phoenix novels or follow S. W. Vaughn on Twitter.

Thoughts on a Bicycle Going Nowhere

By Susanne Shaphren

My boring black bicycle traveled over 1500 miles last year without ever leaving the house

Day after day, I pedal furiously only to wind up in exactly the same spot.

The daily routine of well-disciplined writers is alarmingly similar to that bicycle going nowhere. Day after day, we write, revise and cross our fingers as we complete that last round of proofreading. Submitting online or stuffing manuscripts into neat brown envelopes with an expensive array of stamps is the beginning of a journey that ends all too often right where it started with nothing but rejection to show for the trip.

Perhaps the similarity between the bicycle going nowhere and the pursuit of a writing career is more symbolic. No actual distance is conquered by the exercise bike, but muscles are tightened and calories burned. At the end of the ride, I’m a bit more in shape.

Every day at the typewriter or computer accomplishes some small improvement too. We travel a bit farther down the road to proficiency by more clearly defining a character, constructing a sentence a bit more effectively, surprising the author as well as the reader with a wonderfully clever plot twist.

Before the exercise bike was uncrated, I’d decided that promptly at nine each morning, I would mount up for my daily quota of exercise. No matter how firm my resolve, it seemed Fate had other ideas. The dog couldn’t possibly get tangled in the fence at a more convenient hour. Friends I’d not spoken to in five years suddenly called. Neighbors just happened to drop by with freshly baked coffee cake or small emergencies that couldn’t wait.

Just like a not-so-instant replay of my humble beginnings as a writer. I’d set my alarm for the crack of dawn, vowed to swallow one quick cup of coffee and head for the typewriter no matter what. Had I but known the infinite variety of no-matter-whats, I might never have gotten out of bed!

Developing a schedule that was rigid in terms of total time but flexible about specific hours made all the difference in the world. Deciding that 30 minutes of bike riding would be enough, estimating a minimum of five hours at the typewriter, never failed.

If everything went perfectly, I’d ride my bike in the early morning when it was cool and save my writing for late evening when the phone seldom rang. But I was no longer a slave to the clock. I could turn on a portable fan and ride in the afternoon, take advantage of the answering machine and write any time of day or night. On really rugged days, I divided tasks into easily managed segments. A mile or two of bike riding between errands. Five or ten pages while the laundry dried.

My original goal of ten miles a day evaporated into frustration after the first mile made my out-of-shape muscles scream. Equally impossible was my novice’s dream of turning hours a day into a best-selling novel by the end of the year.

Setting more reasonable goals made all the difference between sticking to the task and giving up completely. So I couldn’t ride ten miles that first day. I could do one. By the second day, it was a bit easier and by the third . . .

The mere thought of that novel was enough to panic me into contemplating a career as a factory worker, but there was nothing scary about one or two pages of polished prose.

Something like the proverbial bird told me when it was time to upgrade my goals. No doubt about it, I was cheating myself by doing two miles when I could probably do three. Surely, it was time to leave the comfort of letters to the editor and plunge into the icy water of genuine competition.

I’ve worked up to the point where ten miles a day is fairly easy, but that daily ride on the bicycle going nowhere is boring, so dull I’m often tempted to just forget it. Stubborn pride prevents me from giving up. I quickly reach for a brand new issue of my favorite writing magazine, a crisp paperback, any traveling companion to keep me going that extra mile.

Many would-be writers have switched to “easier” professions like skydiving because of the boredom of daily routine. Fortunately, there are ways to combat the problem.

Something as simple as changing font color on all those preliminary drafts no editor sees may do the trick.

Working on a project short enough to complete in a single session does wonders for your morale. So can stretching out and immersing yourself in something long enough to allow the luxury of richly developing characters and ideas to their full potential.

A sure cure for boredom is taking a safari into an entirely different market area. If you make your living writing history texts but devour Ellery Queen for sheer pleasure, why not try your hand at creating a mystery short story? Is fantasy your bread and butter? Think about a solid piece of non-fiction for a change of pace.

Even a three-year-old knows better than to pedal his tricycle backwards. Can’t get anywhere that way. Why then do so many of us waste time agonizing over rejection? Forward. On to take advantage of editorial comments that might make the manuscript fare better at its next destination. Out to the next market on the list. Full speed ahead with a brand new project.

Years of dealing with rejection taught me that the more manuscripts making the rounds, the less pain caused by a single, “Sorry, this doesn’t quite meet our needs.”

No matter how many thick brown envelopes in your snail mailbox, how many “Sorry” emails, there should always be a few potential masterpieces on editors’ desks.

Is a published manuscript the only true measure of “success?” Not in the long run. Even the total failure you banish to the back of the file cabinet teaches you valuable lessons that will help you tackle the next project.

Developing a workable schedule, setting reasonable goals, battling boredom and refusing to be intimidated by rejection make your daily writing sessions more pleasant and profitable.

Anyone willing to invest time and effort can’t possibly stand still  . . whether pedaling a bicycle going nowhere or pursuing the craft of writing.

A slightly different form of this article was published in Freelance Writer’s Report.

Editor’s note: Susanne Shaphren passed away in 2009. She will be missed.

The Art of Revision

By Sherryl Clark

Writers seem to fall into two categories: those who hate the first draft and love the slow, detailed pleasure of revision, and those who love the rush and excitement of the first draft and hate revision.

Many of us balk at revision. I’ve heard writers vow that their work comes out so well the first time, they never need more than one draft. None of those writers are published, by the way!

If you’re serious about getting your work noticed by editors, the revision stage is where your work will truly reach its full potential. The problem is how can you approach rewriting so that it becomes constructive, enhancing, and problem-solving? It’s part of your craft, so it needs a coherent strategy.

  1. You have to read critically that means read other published work. Books and stories in your genre or form, books outside your genre, any book that might give you a great or bad example of writing. Any book that does a good job of something you struggle with (at the moment, I’m working on deepening character how to do this with a character who has a very hard outer shell). Read to see how accomplished writers work with words, with character, with plot, with theme. Stop reading just to put yourself to sleep at night and start reading as a writer. Learn from it. If you can’t see what makes a great novel great, you’d better study it some more.
  2. Find out how you can put distance between you and your writing. That might mean putting your story or novel away for a week, a month, a year, until you can look at it with a critical eye, and not fall in love with your own words again. It might mean reading it out loud to yourself, or onto a tape. It might mean psyching yourself into another mental realm and pretending that the novel wasn’t written by you. Whatever works for you, whatever leads to you being able to cut ruthlessly or see where there are gaps and shallowness.
  3. Learn to separate the stages of revision. Understand that there is structural revision (the big picture stuff) and revision on a paragraph by paragraph basis. And then there is line editing, on a word by word basis. That’s where most people trim and tighten. Understand the difference between re-visioning and revision. Re-visioning means re-imagining your novel, seeing it in a new light, seeing other possibilities for it. That’s where distance helps. It’s also where mental space helps it’s almost a re-dreaming of your story, and that’s not going to happen in half an hour, crammed into the end of the day.
  4. Acknowledge to yourself, no matter how hard it might be, that fiddling around the edges and changing a few things here and there is not rewriting. True rewriting is retyping the whole thing from scratch, writing it as a new piece of work. You may refer to the original– some people don’t even do that.
  5. Only give it to a trusted reader or critique partner/group when you are sure you have done everything you possibly can, or are capable of at this point, to make it the best you can. Don’t ask people to critique something that you know you can still work on, or something that is OK for plot but you haven’t done the line editing. Why should they spend their time on your punctuation and grammar? Think about what you want or need from the critique. If you want to know if the voice works, say so. Ditto for plot, character, pacing. Make the best use of your critique person’s time and energy.
  6. Take your critiques seriously. Don’t say, “Oh, they weren’t good readers, they just didn’t get what I was trying to do.” If that’s the case, that’s your fault, not theirs. Take heed of all comments, consider them seriously. Some may be of no use to you. Most should at least raise the question of “Did I do that well enough? Why has that comment been made?” Don’t take any critique personally. It’s not about you, it’s about the story.
  7. If you have revised and revised and revised, learn to see when enough is enough. Do you want to revise again because you’re too scared to send it out? Or do you really think another revision will help? If you are up to Draft 15, ask yourself what you are doing. Have you really done 15 drafts, or 15 “picking at the edges”? If the story isn’t working after 15 drafts, you need to work out why not. You may have to abandon the story. It has still taught you an immense amount along the way. If you have to, let it go. Don’t hang everything on one manuscript. Write more. That’s what writers do.
  8. If you revised a bit, sent it out, and have 20 rejections, you have to make a decision. It’s probably not publishable in its present state, but maybe only 100 rejections will convince you how honest are you being about it? Is it fabulous? Is it a manuscript that sings? Or is it competent? Does it need another big revision? Suck it up. Do it. Or start something new. Note: If it’s a story that just won’t leave you alone, you probably need to keep working on it. Otherwise it’ll give you nightmares, interrupt your daydreams, and intrude on your other writing.
  9. How do you know when your revision is finished? Obviously, when it is accepted for publication (but then your editor will want more revisions!). Often you will get to the stage where you know in your heart it is the best you can possibly make it. If you’re still not sure, put it away again for at least a month, then re-read it. How does it make you feel? Are there still bits that niggle at you, however much you try to deny it? Or do you feel totally happy with it?

Revising is a large part of the craft of writing. If you tackle it the same way you tackle learning to write better, you’ll take a huge step towards your publishing dream.

Sherryl Clark is a writer of children’s and adult fiction and poetry. She teaches professional writing at Victoria University in Melbourne. Sherryl Clark has a website.

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.