From The Dishwasher Froths Success

By C.S. Paquin

Success as a freelance writer has come from the dishwasher— no, not via a lucrative commercial-copy gig bubbling with the attributes of a kitchen appliance, but from the old dishwasher installed in our new apartment.

The state of my kitchen defines my professional success and pre-dishwasher, chaos reigned! Last night’s dishes piled high don’t auger well for a productive morning, but once those counter tops sparkle, well, I’m free to tackle whatever chore is next. The only problem is, I hate dishpan hands, and in avoidance, it’s easy for me to waste an entire day—in fact, the task only takes on a sense of urgency when it’s time for dinner. This disorganization sounds the death knell for my writing career—haphazard working hours, staying up too late to make deadline after hours of procrastination, and working fitfully amidst the laundry, vacuuming, and errands—all impatiently demanding attention once I’m done in the kitchen.

But now, the delight of dealing with dirty dishes without delay, has sparked a catalyst. Each morning, after my daughter goes to school and the baby to the sitter, I tidy the apartment and throw in a load of laundry while the dishwasher sings its sloshy song. By 9 a.m., cappuccino time, I’m opening the mail, and with the rest of the place clutter-free, it’s prudent to keep my desk as pristine and file my papers and pay the bills. I’ve discovered, too, that if I balance the checkbook every few days, then it takes just a few minutes, and I even remember what I bought.

By 9.30 a.m., in disbelief at how early it still is, I switch on my computer and check for looming deadlines. I have regular editing jobs, a small column for a regional magazine, as well as sending out queries to new markets. The difference is, I’m really writing the queries and mailing them. Pre-dishwasher, I’d sit and dream about it, because with a brimming sink, I couldn’t possibly start the query process. So, with my attention not distracted by the chores, I set up and conduct interviews, write and edit what needs to be done, and send in work not only hours, but days before deadline. Ticking off the tasks on my list is addictive and the more I check off, the more inspired I am to find and complete new projects.

Within a few weeks, my flailing career takes new shape—more gigs appear, and checks trickle in. “Aha,” I think to myself, as I add regular banking to the task list: Self-discipline does pay!

This revelation chases away the nagging suspicion that haunted me—that I’m more in love with the idea of writing, than actually writing. These days, as I see my reflection in the shiny plates, I say to myself quite proudly: “I am a freelance writer!”

C.S. Paquin is a nationally published writer in a variety of genres—from news writing to humor. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Journalism, and dreams of being a best-selling author. Her first writing love, however, is creative nonfiction and personal essays.

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.

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 Silence of Night

By Anika Logan

I have a very odd schedule; I admit it. In fact, my schedule is practically the opposite from most of the people I know. The majority of people I know work regular daytime hours (nine to five, eight to four—you get the general idea). I, on the other hand, do not. My schedule goes something like this: two weekday mornings I baby-sit two sweet little girls, two weekday mornings I professionally proofread (for local authors), four evenings a week I take the bus into the city and work at my part time job (as a library clerk) and every weekend I am also at the library. This leaves me with a couple hours in the afternoon to run errands and do chores (that sort of thing) and only one day off a week—Friday. Believe me, Friday has become my favorite day of the week because I can use that day to relax, enjoy myself and recharge my batteries. So then when do I have time to write?

When I was in college, studying and researching my butt off, for reasons unbeknownst to me, I did my optimum work and could concentrate the best in the evenings. Little has changed, only now I do my best work even later than evening hours—I work best during the dark, silences of the night time. Not the wee hours of the morning, oh no! Certainly I need my sleep, as does everybody, and I admit I love slipping between my covers for a long, restful night’s sleep. It is the quiet in my neighborhood that draws me in and fuels my creativity.

I return home from work around ten thirty, and after a little down time unwinding from my work day, I settle in to write, re-write and generally let my mind (and my pen) take me wherever I want it to go. I take the old fashioned route towards writing, I suppose. I always (well, almost always) write my work out on paper first, my left hand feverishly moving across the page.

I change this, move this, add in little arrows and stars, insert things, and put lines through things I don’t like. I really believe this is the way to go. Also, I suppose I should admit (shamefully!) that I’m a writer who doesn’t particularly enjoy typing. Perhaps it is because I taught myself to do it out of necessity. I never learned to type the proper way; you know the way professional secretaries’ do—those amazing individuals who can type incredibly fast, their eyes not so much as needing even once to steal a glance at the keyboard. I am not one of those people. Yes, I have to admit that typing on a computer is much easier (and looks more visually appealing in my opinion) than typing on a typewriter but I still don’t enjoy it all that much. I’d rather spend my time creating new pieces of work and leave the typing to someone more capable than I. Maybe someday I will be able to afford to hire my own secretary but until then my laptop and I remain joined at the hip.

I think I’ve gone off on a tangent, back to the topic at hand—the nighttime writing thing of mine. There is something about the rest of the world around me sleeping that makes me feel very much awake and alive. My senses are attuned to every sound, every movement that is beyond my walls. Sometimes I look for inspiration out my windows as I peer into the black of night and at other times it is just there, stream of consciousness takes over and voilà—I am on my way!

One night last week I was up to two am because I had a story that started to take shape and just wouldn’t let go. I find some pieces are like that. The closest thing I can compare to it is a book that is so good that you can’t put it down, you go from chapter to chapter and page to page, everything around you recedes—only the book and its contents have relevance. You know you should go to bed because it’s getting late and you have to get up early in the morning but you have to read more, and more, and more! It won’t let you put it down. Some of my writing (most of the time, fiction pieces) is like that and I love it! Seriously, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

This is not to say that I can’t write at any other time of the day. I write whenever I have a free minute. I carry pen and paper with me always. My home is filled with pads of paper everywhere. After all, who knows what I might be doing when an idea comes to me? Better to be prepared than to have to store up all those ideas in point form in my brain until I can get to some paper. I have pulled my car over to the side of the road to write something down that struck me while driving; interrupted dates to run to the ladies room to scribble down something on a notepad that I took from my purse; and even jotted notes while sitting on the bus, lunching with friends or standing in line to buy movie tickets or groceries, whatever the case may be. What can I say? Writers write, that’s what we do—whenever and however. We always manage to find a way.

There have been many occasions where I’ve woken myself up at night to write some earth shattering idea down (at least at the time it seems earth-shattering to me!). And yes, true to form I do have a pad of paper ready for me when I wake with a start in the night. Inspiration does seem to hit me at the weirdest times indeed! It drives me crazy at times. It’s like a psychic who has a vision when he/she least expects or wants it. These intrusions in my life, these bursts of “aha” are moments I truly am thankful for. I really wonder what my life would be like without them.

I am a nighttime writer and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Perhaps when I marry and have children my husband will have something to say about that (hmmm) but until then I will continue to be a writer who enjoys the solitude and silence of the ending to a day.

© 2002 Anika Logan

Anika Logan holds a degree in psychology and sociology as well as a diploma in Fitness and Nutrition. She divides her time between her part time jobs and her greatest love—her writing. A number of her short stories and poems have been published on the Internet. Her work has appeared at Widethinker, The Sidewalk’s End E-Zine, Killer Flamingo, and most recently the website Seedfusion. Three of her short stories will be coming out in anthologies later in the year. Anika resides in Eastern Canada where she is at work on her next project.

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.

I.M. Free

By LaShawn M. Wanak

I don’t do much online chatting anymore, which is a shame because I like shooting a quick message to my husband or saying hi to a friend. But ever since I started writing seriously, I just can’t do it anymore. Yes, I understand that IMing during my writing time should be a big no-no. For a stay-at-home mother like me, however, it’s not that simple.

One afternoon, I get a call from my husband at work. He wants to talk about some errands he wants me to do later, then tells me to open my chat program so he can IM me.

“Why can’t you just tell me over the phone?” I ask.

“It’s easier on IM,” he says.

“You couldn’t do this earlier?”

“I was busy. This is the only chance I have to talk to you.”

I glance at the clock. 3:00 p.m. I just put my son down for a nap a few minutes ago. Surely he’ll keep it brief because he knows it’s my writing time. So I click open Yahoo Messenger. We spend about 15 minutes typing back and forth, then, as I’m about to sign off…

Call your dad. Call him. Now.
What?
your sister wants you to call him.
My sister?!?!
she’s IMing me. She says she wants you to call him. NOW!
Why is she IMing you instead of me?
just do it!

I look at the clock. It’s 3:20. I need to start writing, but my sister has a knack for predicting when our reclusive father decides to appear in the land of the living. I sigh and call him up.

“Hey, Daddy.”
“Hey, girl! Your sister wants to get together this Saturday.”
“That’s cool. Where you wanna go?”
“I don’t know. Let me talk to her, then call you back.”

Knowing my father, I probably won’t hear from him again until April 2009, so I tell him to hold on, then I open up a chat window to my sister.

Hey, it’s me.
yo
I got daddy on the phone.
ask him what he want me to bring. ^-^

“You want us to bring anything?
“Are you talking to her now?”
“Yes.”
“On the computer?!”
“Yes.”
“Ain’t that somethin’!”

After bringing my father up to speed on the miracles of the Information Age, we work out a meeting time on Saturday. My father hangs up, and my sister and I finalize things over IM.

Maybe we should invite some other people to come to. What about Nina?
she won’t come
she’s pregnant again
WHAAAAT? WHEN THAT HAPPEN?!?!
where have you been? That’s old news.
it happened few weeks ago…

In short bursts of text, my sister and I discuss the merits and pitfalls of our family. Until I happen to glance at the clock and—

Oh crap! I gotta go!
Where?
I gotta write!
Okay. Call me later . . .

It’s now 4:15. Any minute now, my son’s going to wake up from his nap. Quickly, I pull up my work in progress and start writing furiously, but then the IM window pops back on the screen.

Did you talk to your sister?
Yes!
Did you talk to your father?
Yes…yes…can’t talk. Gotta write.
Okay. I

I? I what? I wait for him to go on, but the chat window remains hovering over my writing, still and silent. Come on. Finish the sentence. What are you trying to say to me? I love you? I think you need to calm down? What were you about to say?!

At that moment, my son wakes up, crying.

I’ve since banned the IM program during my writing times. It’s just too much of a distraction. If people really want to get a hold of me, they can leave a voice mail. My husband also knows not to call unless it’s an emergency—now he sends an e-mail if he wants me to do something. In making myself unavailable, I’m sending out a message that I’m taking my writing seriously, so they should, too. It’s beginning to work—I’m finally getting productive work done. The only interruptions I get nowadays are from telemarketers, but I ignore those anyway.

Now if there was a way to insure that my son takes two-hour naps every day until he’s eighteen, I’ll be completely fine.

LaShawn M. Wanak is a stay-at-home mother of a two-year-old boy. She has published short stories, essays, and poetry, and is currently working on her first fantasy novel. Visit her at the Café in the Woods.

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

By Alina Adams

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

Got a problem? Yeah. Me, too.

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

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

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

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

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

The homicidal lunatic has a point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Working at Writing

By Moushumi Chakrabarty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now go and have that éclair.

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

Writing Between Diapers

By Mayra Calvani

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

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

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

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

The Right State of Mind

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

Good Physical Condition

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

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

A Well-Planned Schedule

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Determination

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

Do it. Start today. Now.

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

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