Just two weeks ago the publisher of my novel, The Gate House, closed its doors. It was a difficult decision for the group who have worked so hard over the last few years to keep a small company afloat, but consequently, I am looking for a new home for my novel. I have completed a sequel, and also have a half-finished manuscript of a prequel. I hope that the entire package will interest another publisher.
In the meantime, I am writing, writing, writing. I hope to keep my readers’ interest through short fiction and some memoir pieces of the odd experiences in my life.
Hang in there with me.
For all of us who still have a “day job,” it is often difficult to take oneself seriously as a writer. As much as we might say, “I am a writer,” it is easy to shunt the writing tasks off to the end of the day, after work, household tasks, family, shopping and even exercise. After all, I have to take care of myself to be a good writer, don’t I?
I sometimes exhaust myself with multi-tasking. I try to find time to write and revise throughout my day as a substitute teacher. I respond to emails at my laptop in the kitchen while my husband does the dishes (Bless him!). But it all often leaves my exhausted to the point where I think, “Why am I doing this?”
But I keep doing it, and occasionally am rewarded by publication, nomination as a finalist for an award, or a request to join a mystery writers’ panel.
I am fortunate that I can take a day off now and then to catch up and recharge my writing batteries.
How do other people do it? How do you keep up on the demands of your life, and still take yourself seriously as a writer? Is it all about money? Do I have to be making money at it to call myself a writer?
I am a writer. I get up in the morning and think about which of my projects I will work on today, since I always have several projects I am balancing in various stages of development. Currently, I am working on revising my latest novel, which is tentatively titled Lydia’s Story. And I will be using my creativity and skills to draft a query letter to prospective agents. I am finishing up my third book review for Suspense magazine, a fun project that includes free books delivered to my door. I am finishing a short story I plan to submit to a midwest literary journal. Although I live on the east coast now, I grew up on a farm in southern Illinois, and like to return to those roots now and then. I am also “resurrecting” a short novel I wrote before my first novel, The Gate House, was published.
Although my present projects are all in the revision or revisiting phase, that is not to say I am not being creative. As a writer, the most fun part of what I do is when I am in the flow of a story, and I am able to allow the creative ideas to jump out, often surprising me.
Revision and revisiting are still creative activities. I look at them as getting dressed up to go out and meet the world. They must be at their best, and it is my job to polish them, take away what is superfluous and make them brilliant in their own way. I love this process because I have a chance to show that I care about what I write. It is different from the original flow of ideas, but not tedious. Every creative effort needs refinement: a cook improves a recipe, a musician practices, a film maker shoots a scene over and over. And a writer revises. It’s not that we strive for perfection, but we strive for our best.
I am currently reading: Dewey by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter. This is the story of the library cat in Spencer, Iowa who canged a town and became a world-wide celebrity. I am about three quarters of the way through it, and am finding the story of the autor, who struggled with her own personal problems, as fascinating as the story of the cat. It is light reading, kind of a “rest book” between more challenging fare, but enjoyable.
Some people read a few books a year, some about one a month, and some, like me,
devour books like they are daily nourishment, which they often are.
If you are a writer, you know the time, effort and sacrifice it takes to get the book in front of the reader, just like the effort of putting a good dinner on the table.
And just like you thank the cook, or compliment the chef, how about thanking the author? This is especially true of less well-known authors. I can tell you it is pure delight to receive an email showing appreciation of my writing. I feel like sitting down at my computer and getting right back to creating more enjoyment for my readers.
I am developing the habit of sending a note to authors whose books I enjoy. It is easy to find an e-mail address on the author’s web site. And I have received some lovely notes back in reply.
So thank an author; you will make someone’s day!
I am always wary of giving my books away for free because, of course, I want
people to buy them.
But recently I received a handwritten note in the mail from an elderly cousin of
my father, who had heard about my book from someone in the family, and wanted
to know where she could buy one. She is eighty-eight years old and I didn’t know
if she uses the internet, so I broke my own rule and mailed her a copy as a
Today I received a message from her granddaughter who had seen the book, and
proceeded to order a copy for her Kindle and read it in one night. So the gift
led to a sale. Or maybe it’s an example of what goes around comes around, but
there are times when giving away a book is the cool thing to do.
Sometimes the memory of a favorite childhood food is better than the reality.
My mom used to make something that I, as a child, dubbed “cookie candy.” It is baked in a square or oblong pan and consists of a cookie layer topped with a meringue and brown sugar mixture and baked all together.
I remember the large oblong pan of this treat, setting on the kitchen counter cooling for dessert. When it was finally served, I relished biting into the two layers and letting the flavor combinations, mostly of sugar, explode in my mouth.
A couple of weeks ago, I pulled out the recipe and baked a small pan. First I forgot to beat the egg whites seaparately from the brown sugar for the topping, so it did not come out as thick as it should have. Second, I did not spread the topping all the way to the edge, which caused the cookie layer to sink in the middle and emerge from the topping around the edge of the pan. And last, my tastes have changed. As a ten year old, sugar was probably my favorite flavor. As an adult who tries to eat healthful food most of the time, “cookie candy” was just too sweet for my taste.
I may try the recipe again, and maybe not. Maybe it is better in my memory, or maybe my mom just knew how to do it better.
Here is the recipe, in case anyone wants to try it:
½ c. shortening
1 c. granulated sugar
½ tsp. vanilla
½ c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Mix in order given. Spread ½ in. thick in shallow pan.
1 egg white
1 c. light brown sugar
½ tsp. vanilla
¾ c. walnuts, chopped
Beat egg white. Fold in sugar, add vanilla. Spread over first layer. Sprinkle with nuts. Bake in moderate oven (350˚) about 30 min.
Illicit Cultural Property: Shame on Sam Brownback: “‘Tragic Prelude’, John Steuart Curry, in the Kansas Statehouse States which are not always able to lure arts organizations and touring com…”
“Where do you get your ideas?” is a question writers are often asked. And while ideas burst into life anywhere from family stories to personal experience to newspaper articles, an idea does not become a piece of writing without silence and time to daydream.
Just like a seed, an idea needs to be left alone to germinate before it will grow. It is not so much a matter of figuring out the direction for a story or even a poem, as it is a matter of allowing the story to bloom on its own.
From childhood I have entertained myself by making up stories in my head. I amused myself this way while riding the school bus and doing chores on our family farm in southern Illinois. I have always enjoyed long walks, and I have daydreamed on walks in Chicago, Costa Rica, Colorado and London. There is something about the kinetic movement that stimulates imagination.
Lately, however, I find that I often have to purposely unplug myself to let my imagination go. I leave the iPod at home and I turn off the radio in the car (with the exception of the classical station). I avoid having the TV or radio on at home “just for background noise.”
Quiet time is essential for any artist, and this includes writers, because we are artists.
If you really are stuck for ideas, try some writing prompts. Every Friday, Mary Jo Campbell posts some great ones on her Writer Inspired blog. Other resources are The World’s Newest Writing and Creativity Portal.
Play a game of pretend with your children, and stimulate their imaginations as well, with the TV turned off, of course.
Daydream – and it will carry over into your writing.
I am constantly starting over, regrouping, reorganizing and trying to simplify. This applies to to writing as well as my life in general.
This morning I drove to my substitute teaching job, only to be told that the district had decided to close the school for students, meaning no work for substitute teachers.
I returned home with an unexpected opportunity to work on some of the micro-steps I have been thinking about. Since I work at a local high school most days, I need to break up my writing tasks into small manageable chunks. Finishing a “chunk” gives me a sense of satisfaction and the motivation to do more.
This morning I finished the first draft of a book review for Suspense Magazine. Ka-ching! Job done! I worked on a task from Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way, to spark my creativity. Ka-ching! I wrote some more on a short story I am working on based on my memories of riding the school bus when I was growing up. Ka-ching! Not a bad morning’s work!