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.

Avoiding Writing Scams

By Laura Bell

Let’s just get real for a second. There probably isn’t a way to get around them completely. As negative as this sounds, they are growing by leaps and bounds. The use of the Web in advertising writing jobs has just made it all that easier.

Here is the latest one that I fell prey to. I read about this new “citizen journalism” site. The story about the background of the founder, she had covered politics, impressed me. That was my first mistake. Frequently, you see promises of shared ad revenues. That sounded o.k. at the time. I went to work posting to get folks to read the work I uploaded. I was impressed with my numbers. I waited and then I waited some more.

There was an excuse about Google, the source of the shared ad revenue. Then there was talk about hunting for new financing. Then finally, there was an announcement late May that there would be a payout at the end of June. The timing was supposedly necessary so that June clicks could be included. Well, to my dismay, I got paid for, according to an email announcement, June earnings. Hmm, doesn’t seem to be what I agreed to.

Avoid sites that don’t specify when and how much you are going to get paid. I have another site acting as agent for my content. Every time he make a sale, he lets me know what my portion is; and, he sends me money when promised.

Print publications are not out of the running for having management deep into skullduggery when it comes to cheating writers. One of my goals has been to get my byline into a national glossy general interest magazine. I found a copy of this at Barnes and Noble years ago. The publisher running this was so good that she convinced Hearst, by use of a great “dummy,” to be her distributor. I got my desired byline, but never saw a penny. It was the first time an editor actually lied to me, saying that a check had gone out in the mail. I never got a dime; nor did any of the contributors. I found out later that nobody, including staffers, ever got paid. The publisher packed her bags and went to a new town and started again.

Then, there was the guy in upstate New York that managed to get many to write more with promises of later payment. He was successful in convincing about a dozen writers before he disappeared. I found out later it turned into a class-action lawsuit. He actually gave me a phony Fed Ex tracking number when telling me when to expect delivery. I spent days on the phone while listening for a truck that never showed up.

Getting Exposure

Many novices are dragged into these schemes because they are so anxious to see their names in print. My suggestion is don’t be anxious. It really and truly isn’t that difficult. There are hundreds of community newspapers throughout the country. What they never have enough of is content. Find one near you and volunteer. Stay long enough to get four or five good clips and then move on. There are also non-profits in every city who would be thrilled to get your help with one of their publications. All writing exposure for newbies does not have to be on the Net.

However, there is one thing that wouldn’t put you into the clutches of scammers, start your own blog. WordPress is easy. Learn how to get the word out on it. Editors are now accepting blogs as legitimate samples of your work.

Cautions that May Help

Any writing post that says “great way to get exposure” means run for the hills. Do not jump into any alleged opportunity that promises revenues or money down the road. There is a very good chance the publication or site will no longer be in business when it comes time for payment.

Join writers groups. Writers talk. Go to yahoo.com and click on the Groups link on the left side of the homepage. Type writers into the search blank.

There are professionals groups that still meet in person. Many now have web pages. You can check that out by using Google or your favorite search machine.

Use your email mailing lists (also known as YahooGroups) as a place to make friends with other writers. Start writing to a few off-list and make arrangements to meet in person when possible. Share your war stories.

Also, take advantage of writers’ newsletters. There are a multitude of them. Find them through your favorite search engine also. Many given warnings about publications and websites that haven’t paid or are paying late.

Team up with one or more of your writing pals and check out possible gigs together. If you are both dealing with same editor, then there will be strength in your numbers. I had this help many times, and we got out just before a couple of sites dissolved into ashes.

Check out www.well.com if you really want to have a gateway to writers and the ups and downs in their life. This ISP started out as a BBS and has been around since 1985. Its main core has always been writers, editors and artists. I have been a member since 1996. There are conferences for both editors and writers. You have a chance to hear the other side of the story.

One last thought on the subject, well at least for the moment—when checking out a print magazine as a pending market, check out the contributors. Have you heard of any of them? Just perhaps, you can find their email addresses with a little digging. I have used this trick more than once to find out if someone else was waiting on money.

Unfortunately, the publishing world is even harder than breaking into Hollywood some days. You have to learn how to look out for your rights. I guarantee no one else is going to do it for you. Amazingly, I still find there is more to learn after almost 30 years.

Laura Bell has been a published journalist since 1979. She has over 350 bylines to her name along with five years of self-publishing history. She has been a columnist five times and her work has appeared in: the Los Angeles Times, the San Jose Mercury News, Small Business Opportunity, the Los Angeles Business Journal, the Pasadena Star News and the Pasadena Weekly, to name a few.

Writing and Menopause

By Laura Lee Carter

Becoming a writer is made so much more interesting by menopause. Since I’m going through “the change”and changing everything else in my life (hair colors, houses, husbands, etc.), I decided to change careers too. Ask my new and unbelievably patient husband, Mike, who listens regularly to my sobbing fits in the midst of a career crisis turned career change at age 50. I continually rail against the injustice of it all: “How could those mean old editors ignore my valiant efforts to become a writer?”

I started out in libraries at 24, always with the understanding that I would change careers as soon as I discovered my true calling. I went through one husband and two master’s programs searching for the perfect fit. Then writing chose me. Soon after being laid off from my 25 years as an academic librarian, starting my own dating service and meeting Mike, I hired a career counselor to reveal to me my heart’s desire. She suggested writing a local column to market my dating service. The writing freed my soul. I now had no doubt. Writing was my passion. It came to me as easily as tracking down my soul mate, which is to say agonizingly slow! But, lucky me, I began working at my dream job, sleeping with my dream husband, and living the life I always dreamed of, the year I turned 50.

It seems I am cursed by the fact my father, a college professor, always loved his work. I now know that most people don’t love what they do for a living, but this very early propaganda raised my expectations of employment. I knew I didn’t love being a librarian, but I could never seriously consider becoming a writer. It all sounded so risky and irresponsible. Turning 50 and hearing on public radio that one of my writing heroes, Laura Ingalls Wilder never published anything until she was 60 convinced me it’s now or never.

Perhaps unconsciously I was waiting for life to bring me the proper “material” to write about. Yes, divorce, job layoffs, menopause, and all the other illustrious revelations of midlife do give one pause to think. And if you’re fortunate, even pause to write. So now I’m busily learning about clips, query letters, writer’s guidelines, and waiting impatiently for someone to buy my work, while suffering through hot flashes, memory lapses, crying jags, and various other forms of irrational emoting.

One element of the professional writing experience caught me by surprise. I had no idea how obsessive I could become with my work. Once I got the hang of it: latching on to a great story idea, researching it, finding a couple likely suspects to interview and writing the query letter, I couldn’t stop.  I just counted up more than 20 queries I’ve sent out in the past two weeks! At three in the morning, I wake up and immediately start ruminating:  “Am I taking the right approach in that story? Have I offended the editor? Am I crazy to even try to get into this business?”  I had to cut back cold turkey; it was starting to take over my life! This left me wondering if there are 12 step programs for new writers.

The good news is that I now finally know the excitement of “working in the zone.”  I sometimes get so wrapped up in my research, I actually forget to eat! Up until now, no job could distract me enough to miss lunch, or any other meal for that matter!

The bad news is the insufferable wait for responses. You would think that after 50 years of waiting to become a writer, I could wait a few more months for an editor’s opinion. Not so. I thrill in the process of getting excited about the story, the build up to writing the query, and sending it out. Then the serious waiting begins. In agitated anticipation, I wear a path to my mailbox and e-mail account everyday, trying to imagine the wording of that next illusive acceptance note.

I suppose the truth is, regardless of all those mean, thoughtless editors, I will continue to sweat and cry and write because I love the process of creating an entirely new story and sending it out into the world. In the midst of so much change, I feel fortunate to have finally found the two loves of my life, writing and Mike.

Laura Lee Carter has found some success as a writer after only one year of almost perpetual rejection notes from many editors!  You can find her books at Amazon. She blogs at Adventures of The New Old Farts.

So, You Want to be a Writer?

By Babs Halton

It was a winter’s evening. I lay sprawled on the sheepskin rug in front of a log fire.

“I want to be a writer,” I said.

My husband sat in his leather armchair, pen poised over a crossword. “Do you know another word for ‘spiny anteater’?”

Our youngest piped up. “I know, Daddy. It’s Echinacea,” she replied, her eyes never leaving the television. Her sister looked up from the book she was reading and laughed.

“That’s an herb—it’s not an anteater.”

“Well, I know it’s something like that and I know it’s not enchilada ‘cos that’s a real hot food,” she said smugly.

“It’s an echidna,” I replied. “Native to Oz; belongs to the porcupine family.”

“Wow! How did you know that?” Eyes still glued to the television.

“Because I did last week’s crossword and I looked it up.”

My voice raised an octave. “Anyway, to get back to what I was saying, I want to be a writer.”

“Oh! That’s interesting,” he said.

“Don’t humor me,” I snapped. “You don’t think I’m serious, do you?”

Now I had his attention. “Why, of course, I know you’re serious, but . . . ”

“But what?”

“Well, it’s not like writing a letter, you know. It takes determination, stamina, and a thick skin because you’ll have enough rejections to paper a very large room.”

“So you’re saying my work will be rejected.” My voice sounded like cracked ice.

“Of course, bound to be—it happens to all writers.” He warmed to the subject. “Do you know how many books Louis L’Amour had rejected before he had an acceptance?”

“I don’t want to write cowboy stories,” I said miserably.

“Okay! So, you don’t want to write Westerns. I was just making a point.”

I never realized how much wanting to be a writer was about to change my life.

I threw myself into learning like a dervish. I devoured books—classics and trash at an alarming rate—hoping the more books I read the more words would emerge. I’m sure I became the fastest reader in the South Pacific but unfortunately when I began writing, both my stories and style left a lot to be desired (oops—cliché). I also used too many exclamation marks to emphasize a point (sometimes up to three—I was so carried away). I read that one famous author mentioned that if he felt like putting an exclamation mark after a word he would lie down until it passed.

And so, days, weeks, and months passed and I diligently attended workshops, courses, seminars, and lectures by professional writers, teachers, and rip-off merchants. I used masses of exercise books to report what each one suggested. Something I did learn was that with all the time (valuable) and money spent (ouch!), every one of the “experts” seemed to be at loggerheads.

“Forget the adjectives,” said one, a teacher of English literature at a university.

“In my opinion,” said another (this time an author with 100 short stories and seven novels published), “it’s foolish to forget adjectives—if you pare it down too much you’ll have nothing left.”

And yet another: “You can only break the rules of writing when you know them well enough to know which rules can be broken successfully.” (Huh?)

“Write only what you know—write from experience,” said a very successful fantasy and science fiction writer. (Alrighty!)

Confused, weary, and a teeny weeny bit irritated, I pondered. Did Agatha Christie really commit all those murders? Did H.G. Wells really step into a time machine? Was Ian Fleming really James Bond and did he really make love to all those women? Wow! Is there something here that I am missing?

I heard, “I like your story very much, dear. Your style is emerging beautifully.” Beautifully? I blinked and smiled agreeably (no one can say I lack a sense of humor). “But, do take out the fat man. I don’t like him, no, not at all. Ruined it, darling. He spoils the entire story.” The fat man was a “walk on” and uttered two sentences. A budding Hemmingway loved my fat man and if I threw him in the wastepaper basket, one of my most colorful characters would be lost to the world forever.

Tottering to bed at night my ears rang with “flesh out the characters, use body language, create tension, show-don’t tell, talking heads are a no-no” and my very favorite: “Don’t dangle those participles.”

I showed my teeth—but I wasn’t smiling.

Researching is supposed to be very interesting and the sense of achievement that one gets from it can be almost therapeutic (they say). So, away I went to research. You name it, I researched it. I became bogged down in history, religion, murder, love, and comedy. Thousands of pieces of paper surrounded me and to relieve tension I sometimes laughed out loud which sounded oddly like a demented parrot. My eyes crossed and swiveled alarmingly (Oops, sorry. It’s not politically correct to make fun of eyes– even if they are your own). My back ached from hours slouched in front of my computer. My neck stiffened and I needed my neck in good working order because it supported my head that housed masterpieces (which still hadn’t emerged).

And while all this was going on my husband was commissioned to write a manual on airport security and sailed through it as if he was out yachting on the Hauraki Gulf. My smile felt glued to my face (no one can say I lack a sense of humor).

If this is what happened when you wanted to write—Stuff it, I thought. I’ve had enough. I’m not playing anymore!

I stayed away from writing for about a month, seeking new interests. I tried to bring out hidden talents (there had to be some). I would be a great artist—have an exhibition of my paintings. Unfortunately my painting of a thrush looked like a cross between an eagle and Quasimodo. Eventually, I surrendered to the truth. I could only draw stick-men. My flower arrangements looked as if they had been tossed into a vase. Plants withered the minute I touched them. The last straw was my attempt to create tiny rosebuds for an iced cake. I really think my husband went too far suggesting I used concrete mix. Enthusiasm died. So, sulking or glancing longingly at the hideous metal monster which stared back at me (you’ve guessed it), I crept back.

This time I did things at a more leisurely pace. I wrote, enjoying it more and more. Everything became easier and I realized that I must have absorbed a lot of the teaching, retaining what was useful and discarding the useless. I relaxed, became less tense about my writing. Sensitivity was a thing of the past. I had acquired skin like a rhinoceros.

I enjoy the camaraderie that writers give to each other. Why, only the other day I listened attentively while another writer went on about how her characters had a life of their own and did what they wanted to do.

“I can’t do anything with them, my deah,” she gushed. “They refuse to listen to me. Do you get the same problem with yours?”

I thought about the years of learning, of trying to understand everything that had been thrown at me. The struggle, trying to remember everything. Writer’s block. Tears.

Critiques that stung like a sharp slap. Critiques that winded me.

And then I thought about the help, kindness, support, and best of all—praise.

“No—I get very little trouble with my characters. They do exactly what I want them to do.”

I smiled. (No one can say I lack a sense of humor.)

Babs Halton is the author of two children’s books and has published a book of poetry. One of her stories has appeared the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly and she has won awards for local competition entries. Now writing a novel (thriller), she hopes to have it completed by early 2006.

Promoting Your Prose

By Mary Emma Allen

Promoting Your Books At Writers’ Conferences

When I mentioned to a colleague that I’d sold eight of my writers’ resource books and another on Alzheimer’s at a writers’ conference, she remarked that she didn’t know writers could do that. It all depends on the conference, but these are good places to network and to let others know about your books even if you’re not one of the speakers/teachers.

You’ll find that writers’ conferences vary. Some don’t have this opportunity available to attendees. Some allow only members of the organization coordinating the conference to sell books at the members’ book table. Others only sell the books of workshop teachers and keynote speaker.

Check Out the Possibilities

However, when you’re planning to attend a conference, check out the possibility of book sales and opportunities to sign books. Inquire whether they have sales and signings and who can participate.

Also, check to see whether the coordinating organization takes a percentage of the sale. Some offer this as a service to those attending and don’t take a fee. Others will ask for a 10% to 20% donation.

If you don’t have a book to sell or aren’t allowed to sell your book at a conference (some simply don’t have space for book sales), inquire whether there’s a table where you can leave literature and business cards. Most conferences like to have freebie material for the attendees to pick up.

I frequently get requests from conferences for literature about my books and, when I published a newsletter, guidelines and information about it.

Types of Books

It’s difficult to determine what type of book will sell at a conference. However, at writers’ conferences, I’ve found that my Writing in Maine, New Hampshire & Vermont is popular, along with my manuals for writers.

When I give talks about Alzheimer’s at conferences or nursing homes, When We Become the Parent to Our Parents is the book attendees pick up. However, I have sold these, as well as my anthology of children’s stories, at writers’ conferences.

If you’re one of the speakers or workshop teachers, just about all of your books will be of interest. However, if you’re speaking on a particular writing topic, anything you’ve written about it usually will be more popular.

Working at the Book Table

Volunteering to work at the book table enables you to meet the attendees, answer questions about your book(s), and autograph your books. Also it’s fun. I enjoy meeting the other authors as they check their books at the table.

This also gives me an opportunity to network with more of the attendees, to meet them, and to make newcomers feel welcome at the conference.

Inquire About Guidelines

Whenever you’re registering for a conference, check to see if they have a book table where you can display and sell your books. Then inquire about the guidelines.

*Who is hosting the book table?

Committee members or a local book store? At one conference I attended, a local book store checked in the books and took care of sales. A couple weeks later they mailed me the check for my books sold.

*How many books can you bring?

Limited space often restricts the number of titles an author can display.

*Do you bring change for sale of your books or does the organization make change?

Let them know whether you’ll take checks from individuals purchasing your books.

Even if you don’t sell many or any books (and it’s difficult to predict beforehand how many and what types of books will sell), you’ll have an opportunity to let more people know about you and your writing. Have order forms to leave on the literature table so that if someone cannot buy your book the day of the conference, they can order it later.

Explore the possibility of selling and promoting your books at conferences. It’s also an enjoyable way to network and meet more writers, editors, and publishers.

© 2002 Mary Emma Allen

Mary Emma Allen, an author of books for children and adults, also offers a workshop, “Marketing Your Books & Manuscripts.” She teaches writing classes online, at a local college, and in elementary and high schools. Visit her blog Mary Emma’s Potpourri of Writing.

Travel Writing: Be Prepared

By Roy A. Barnes

An old saying goes “People don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan.” Not being prepared is one of the biggest detriments to fulfilling one’s dreams.

For me, the dream of being a published travel writer took many years of preparation. When I was a youngster of about four years old, I found myself fascinated with the road atlases in my house. I would draw the outlines of states over and over until I got them just right. When school wasn’t in session, I would often accompany my father on the road in his semi-truck. Still, many years passed before my dream of being a paid travel writer would be realized. That, and a lot of travel-related jobs, trekking overseas, plus the willingness to finally take the leap of faith that my writing could make money.

We all have taken different roads in life, but here are some preparedness tips that are applicable to all aspiring travel writers:

  • be prepared to sift a number of your personal experiences and hobbies as fodder for travel-related articles. Draw on work pursuits. If you travel for business, or do volunteer work away from home, your experiences and lessons learned are ingredients for a number of travel articles. My first sale as a writer came about because of my volunteer work in Spain. If you are just visiting the in-laws in a town you’ve been to a million times, a future travel article awaits because every venue has a story. Explore the town’s facets, thinking of the activity as a sort of temporary “respite” from the relatives, especially if they are driving you bonkers! When reading a book, realize that settings for them and the hangouts of the authors’ past are places people like to visit. For night-lifers, think of the hot after-hours nightspots in your area or another city that could be made into a sellable article. For those of you who are passionate about food, relate that with a travel experience because the culinary and travel connection is a constant theme in publications.
  • be prepared to follow up on subject matter that tugs at your curiosity or your heartstrings, especially if it’s not gotten a lot of coverage. Such subjects can capture the interest of at least one editor. I had become fascinated about odd airport codes like ORD for Chicago, MCO for Orlando, and MSY for New Orleans. I followed up with research and found many great stories for the strange ones. After a lot of rejections, I found an editor who really liked the article and published it. Since then, that article has been re-sold multiple times all because I acted upon my curiosity.
  • When you get a rejection notice, be prepared to honestly re-visit your work and see how you can improve it. Seek out other writers in writing groups for their input if you aren’t getting anywhere or want feedback before you submit the work initially. Others can see things in your writing that you may be blind to. Find another market to submit to so you are taking positive action instead of feeling sorry for yourself after getting a rejection notice.
  • If you really believe in your writing, be prepared to stay the course. I understand that The Chicken Soup For the Soul creators were rejected by scores of publishers, but kept on submitting. Now, as many Chicken Soup titles exist as chickens themselves due to the authors’ persistence!
  • If you’ve only got published clips from non-travel themed publications, but are submitting a query or a finished work to a travel editor, be prepared to show your non-travel-related work (even unpublished works if you don’t have any published clips) via an online link, PDF format, or photocopy because editors will see what scope you write from. They may even want to use your article(s) as a reprint or it could spark editorial ideas about a future travel article tie-in with the subject matter you’ve already written about. This happened to me, but it was the opposite scenario.

    To illustrate my point: I had written an article about how I came to own my cat, and sent it to an editor of a regional publication in Canada. He didn’t like it, but one of my published clips about a South African experience of mine caught his fancy, so he offered to reprint it. I never imagined the editor would’ve even considered that travel essay for his publication after reading his medium. By showing this editor the spectrum of my published works, I fatefully snatched an acceptance out of the jaws of rejection!

  • be prepared to set up your first and best clippings in PDF format. Many online sites don’t archive content forever. And if a site happens to fold up, then you are out of luck, too, if you haven’t PDF-formatted your works. PDF articles have a professional look to them, and are easy to format. Go to www.pdfonline.com for more information on getting your articles formatted for free.

  • be prepared to sell your articles again after they’ve been published if and when you have the rights to resale your work. You may have to rework them, but given that many publications buy reprints, this means the potential for more money. Any extra tweaking/updating will help you to improve your writing skills. The value of a good piece of writing is that it can keep on touching the lives of readers. Crafted words are the literal gift that keeps on giving.

I’m still paying my dues and learning the travel writing trade. The most important thing in pursuing any dream is to decide to “just do it” and to be persistent, because anything of value in life will test you. How prepared are you to deal with those tests???

Roy A. Barnes is a life-long Wyoming resident and a past contributor to Absolute Write. Besides travel articles, he’s crafted writing-themed and literary works for The InkSpotter News, Writing for DOLLARS, The Fabulist Flash, e-clips, Poesia, and Breath & Shadow. You can read his travel-themed works at such sites like Transitions Abroad, GoNOMAD.com, Literary Traveler, and Live Life Travel.

Backstage: De-average Your Writing Life

By Radika Meganathan

You always wanted to be a writer. Back in school, you won prizes and competitions in creative writing and storytelling. Why, you have even had few articles published. Still, you aren’t exactly loaded with assignments. There are no surprise checks in your mailbox or even returned manuscripts. You do not know what is stopping you from having at least an average writing life, if not a busy one.

Okay. Let us approach this in a logical way.

What would you say if I gave a concert without practicing beforehand?

Nightmarish, isn’t it? Not only to me, but to the audience and organizers as well. Even if I am more talented than Beethoven, I am sure I would be covered by egg yolks and rotten tomatoes by the time I escaped backstage.

Yes, backstage. The place where we train and sweat and become familiar with the details, before we perform on the d-day. Same goes for the writing industry, too. If you are clever enough to think of a few things before you leap, you might just make it to the top. To save time and effort for both you and others, here are primers on what you should do before you decide to submit.

Study Magazines

It is a universal lament of editors— please study the magazine before querying. Reading magazines is one thing. Studying them is another. How many of us really look at a magazine, other than to read the content of it? As a writer, you now need to look at it a little more carefully. When you buy a magazine, observe the look and style of it.

Study both the visual and structural layout of an article. Look at how the writer has dealt with the content. Find out what catches your eye and what bores you. Note the style of writing and structuring of the former and note the mistakes and faults in the latter. Remember all these points when you write that article.

By studying the content and style of the magazine, you would be able to decide whether you can handle that magazine’s caliber (or the lack of it), whether you have enough experience and skill to even query the publication.

Keeping track of various publications and being familiar with their content updates your knowledge in the commercial field, thus giving you an edge over amateurs.

Store Your Ideas

There is no hard and fast rule that you should research for an assignment only after a go-ahead from the editor. You might have been thinking about a story for a long time or you might have been strolling in the park and suddenly wondered about the mechanism of park management —at times like this, it is best to research and do your homework a little early. Talk with the people there, do a little library study on your way back, anything to give a strong form to your idea and angle. The great thing about storing your ideas is that you are never without a theme at hand to write about.

After developing your idea with input from the concerned people and study, prepare a list of future articles as back up and store it in a separate folder. When you find the right market or the time for it, just open your query template (you do have one, don’t you?) and mail it to the editor(s). I always have a folder named “ideas” where I tabulate ideas and whatever research I had done on them in separate documents. When I get an “yes,” I just open it and start working on it, with my background work already done. This is particularly great, if you queried during a festive season and had tight deadlines.

Invest Wisely

Be reasonable about spending your time and money. Subscribing for paid newsletters like Writers Market (www.writersmarket.com), Writer Find (www.writerfindjobs.com) or Freelancing for Money (www.freelancing4money.com) is definitely worth more than cyber-searching forever for new markets. Joining an online writing workshop or course can definitely improve you writing prowess and open your eyes towards new horizons.

Sometimes your work can be rejected if it doesn’t look professional enough. Invest in some stationary supplies&mdas;a bundle of good quality A4 bond sheets, stamps, quality envelopes and covers and if possible, a simple letterhead. I find that a hand-held recorder is very valuable—much more versatile than the little notebook and costs around 50 dollars at the most. You can always point it under somebody’s nose and start asking questions, wherever you are, whatever you (or they) are wearing. You will be able to play it later and compare notes.

And don’t forget your health! Investing in an ergonomic chair or an ant-stress monitor save you from developing eye or spinal injuries. Browse www.healthycomputing.com or http://ergocise.com for more details.

Be Systematic

Writing is a profession of self-discipline. Start by finding time in your schedule that can be allotted strictly to writing, and then discipline yourself in following that without fail. Learning to plan your time is a good start to becoming a professional.

Buy an appointment book and schedule time for researching, writing, and editing. In your organizer, mark your commitments and workload. At the end of each week, verify what you have completed, sent, or left unfinished. If you have problems finishing what you’ve started, then stick to one work at a time and don’t jump to another until you have completed the first one. This way, you will have more time and energy to deal with deadlines and assignments.

Being systematic also means making friends with your system. It is appalling to realize how many writers don’t even have the basic knowledge of computer hardware, considering the fact that they handle all their work in it. Believe me, it saves a lot of time, money and even reputation to know a little more than booting, typing and saving a file (really, a lot of us know just enough to take a print out of the finished manuscript).

Go on in for genuine components for your computer—they will save you enough money in the long run. Antivirus software will minimize virus threats and regular servicing will increase both the efficiency and longevity or your computer. And do peep in the sites that have a lot of free content that educates you about the computer. It is never too late to start learning about the digital world, and consider this: if you just happen to be good at this, you have a new market.

Plan Ahead

Probably the best advice I can ever give you is to have long vision. Planning ahead puts you ahead in the race. It is a jungle of freelancers out there, steadily increasing everyday, and you need to have a solid map for a smooth ride.

Start maintaining a file on possible local and national/overseas markets, their guidelines for writing and addresses/email ids. This will prove very helpful when you are in a rut and looking for new assignments. Every writer has the “silly season”—the time period between the submission and paycheck.

Develop a lot of seasonal queries and ideas during this break. Editors love to work with freelancers who have the forethought not to query for an article for Valentine’s Day on New Year’s Eve. Think about re-selling your pieces to non-competing, overseas publications and do your research accordingly. Or just research for more markets.

In a field where the number of paychecks is directly proportionate to number of accepted queries, the only way you can carve a niche to yourself is by planning ahead. Of course, there is no guarantee that you are going to land all those assignments, but then, some planning is always better than none.

Network

A sure way to land freelance jobs is to search for them on the ‘net. Have you ever typed the words “freelance writers wanted” in search engines? You will be surprised by the amount of results that are displayed. Learn the art of using the right words in search engines. Every time you give different words meaning the same thing, you get different results. Browse through various writing resources or simply type “writers needed,” “freelance writers location anywhere,” “freelance wanted,” etc. in www.google.com.

To my sorrow, I find that majority of these jobs need writers located in and around the States (I live in India) but that is obviously good news for those living in USA. Even otherwise, you might come across jobs in other countries as well. Two good job boards offering information about jobs are Sun Oasis (http://www.sunoasis.com/)and Craig’s List (http://www.craigslist.org).

As they say, slow and steady is the magic formula for writing success. Successful writers are don’t become so by heredity or influence, but by sheer practice, consistent research and updating. Just don’t be impatient or disappointed about your writing status—things almost always change for the better, but only after you do.

© 2002 Radika Meganathan

Radika Meganathan is a final year architecture student and eclectic writer based in Chennai, India. Apart from freelancing sporadically for magazines and e-zines, she is currently involved in publishing her free newsletter for beginning writers, ‘The Budding Writer,’ by New Year’s Eve. To learn more, visit her webpage at http://pages.ivillage.com/jwaala or go to http://www.topica.com/lists/buddingwriter.

Persistence

By Mark Terry

A long, long time ago (in what occasionally does seem a galaxy far, far away), I decided I wanted to be a writer. This was toward the end of my college career, between, I believe, my junior and senior years. I was majoring in microbiology and public health and not doing a very good job at it. My girlfriend (now wife) had graduated and moved back home where she was working nearby, and my college roommate (Andy) took an internship for the PASS network in Detroit, so I was living alone, working full-time in a mailroom of a veterinary laboratory at Michigan State and not doing much else.

I picked up a book of essays about Stephen King and he had written an introduction called something like “The Making of a Brand Name,” which was all about how he got started. I was struck, naturally, by the paperback reprint sale of Carrie for $400,000, but I was hit even harder by the idea that a writer was somebody who wrote things and sent them out to editors, who did or did not decide to publish them and pay the writer for the privilege. I started writing.

It’s been a very long and often twisting road, but I’m happy with where I’m at. It took talent, but I can’t define it let alone identify it. It took persistence. A lot of it.

Did it take luck? I can honestly say, I don’t think I’ve been all that lucky in this writing gig. My second manuscript almost got picked up by St. Martin’s Press. My first book contract was with Write Way, and they went out of business before the book got published. I signed a contract with another small press, and they disappeared into the night, their website replaced by—I kid you not—a site for a veterinary incinerator. I’ve had three agents. The first was this kind of fly-by-night outfit in L.A. The second was a good, well-established agency in New York and my agent there tried to sell stuff of mine for six years without success before I moved on. In my efforts to get another agent—the one I have—I sent out nearly 100 query letters.

I kept writing. I branched out, often not intentionally, into nonfiction. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote.

This could have been a faster process. I could have networked more. I could have gone back to school and gotten a journalism degree.

I could have given up and gotten an MBA or whatever.

I didn’t. So where am I now, in the spring of 2006, versus the summer of 1985, when I started this path of folly?

I make a full-time living as a freelance writer. I make a decent, even good, living. I have published two books, one self-published (not recommended), one by a small press. I have a two-book contract for two more, the first of which is coming out from Midnight Ink in October 2006. I’m very busy. I can pay my bills. Clients come to me with work.

Is it talent? Yes, some.

Is it luck? If you keep being persistent, you’ll get some luck; you’ll be in the right place at the right time because, frankly, you’re always working.

But I’ll tell you what. It’s always, always related to persistence.

I grabbed a tiger’s tail back in 1985 and didn’t know how to let go. I didn’t even want to let go, although I definitely had some low spots where I wondered what the hell I was doing. But I knew I loved writing and I could never quite give up the dream of being a novelist (still can’t).

There’s no advice here, really. It’s just that, yes, if you persist—probably persist past any norm of common sense—you can probably succeed at some level.

There’s this brutal story about a master violinist who, after a concert, was approached by a young man who said, “Master, will you listen to me play and tell me whether there’s a future in music for me?” The maestro nods and the young man plays and the maestro shrugs and says, “You lack the fire.” The young man abandons music and goes on to have a successful life in business. Years later he runs into the maestro and tells him the story and asks, “What did you hear in my music?” The maestro shrugs again and says, “I wasn’t really paying attention. I never do. If you’ve really got the will and ambition— the fire—you won’t listen to anybody who tells you to stop. Nothing can make you stop if that’s what you’re meant to do.”

I really don’t advocate destroying your life in pursuit of anything, actually. I think there’s a lot to be said for “getting a grip,” and deciding what things are worth to you, and deciding what’s important. Writing, for me, is a passion, yes, but it’s also a job, and I don’t think I should wreck my marriage or alienate my kids or ruin my health over a job.

Cover of Stephen King's On WritingStephen King, again, wrote a lovely essay about this subject and comments on how do you decide when to quit. He suggests that if you quite after three or four or six tries, it’s too early. But if you’ve received 1,000 or 2,000 rejections, rejections that NEVER say anything like, “Pretty good, try again,” or have no other encouragement, then it’s time to re-evaluate your time.

My guess would be most people can decide long before that 1,000 or 2,000, but it depends on what you’re doing. If it’s journalism, unless you’re a total hack who can’t string words together at all, I think you’d get an article published long before you hit the 500 mark, let alone the 1,000 or 2,000. If you’ve gotten 2,000 rejections from agents or book publishers, there’s something wrong, not the least being that there just aren’t that many markets.

But it’s your life. Only you can decide what’s important.

Mark Terry is a full-time freelance writer, editor, and novelist. You can read more about his books at Markterrybooks.com.

Absolute Write’s Tribute to Inkspot

You might wonder how the staff at other writing websites feel when one of our “competitors” goes out of business.  Are we glad?  Do we rub our hands together with glee and cross out a name on our list of businesses to annihilate?

Hardly.

The online writing community has always been just that: a community.  You’ve probably noticed by now that many of the most involved players in the online writing appear on each others’ sites.

For example, I often write for e-zines like Inscriptions, Script, Scripteaser, Screenwriters Utopia, and, yes— Inkspot. I sell my book through Writers Weekly.  Before we merged (through WriteRead), I wrote for Writer Online, and the editor there helped me find a terrific columnist for Absolute Write. I’ve interviewed Moira Allen Bev Walton-Porter (Inkspot staff) for this site, and many writers’ sites (Writers Review, Writer’s Exchange, etc.) have interviewed me. Why?  Because I really like all of their work, and we all have a great respect for one another’s efforts to help writers.

What it comes down to is that, even if there is some level of “competition” between us, it’s a very family-like community.  We help each other, we give to each other, we celebrate each others’ successes, and we grieve each other’s losses.

Such is the case now.

When I first came online, Inkspot was one of the only writing communities on the Internet . . . and it was wonderful, even back then. It kept growing and growing, and became the inspiration for many other writing sites. Inkspot was a terrific place for writers to learn, network, make friends, find work, and get support. It was a friendly spot, and it was quite obvious that the staff was always looking for new ways to help writers. While I didn’t know Debbie personally, she has always been a role model to me as I set out to create Absolute Write.

That’s why we’ve all had such a strong reaction to the news that it will no longer be there.  It’s like losing a good friend.

I’ve gotten lots of letters from writers who were shocked and upset to hear the news, and many have asked if we can somehow “save” Inkspot’s staff. We’d love to, and we welcome the chance to work with the writers and editors of Inkspot. We will try to serve the readers through PubWeek, WriterOnline, and Absolute Write, bolstering our efforts to make up for this gap. Feel free to write to me if you have suggestions for how we can best do that.

So, this issue of Absolute Write is dedicated to Inkspot. We appreciate all they’ve done to bring online writers together, guide us, and help us through the years, and they will be sorely missed.  We wish them all bright futures, and we certainly expect that we haven’t heard the last of them yet!

Jenna Glatzer
2001