Friday, November 14, 2014

Nothing is coming out—pass me some dynamite!

This impromptu post is in response to a Facebook query all about dealing with blockages. No, not the kind you treat with prunes and high fiber cereal, but the sort of blockages writers get. Not that prunes and high fiber cereal are such a bad thing, because, after all; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So we're going to be exploring all the ways to keep your butt on the seat and your fingers on the keyboard that don't involve playing Candy Crush on an I-Phone while tying up the john. This is about mental constipation in writing, and how to keep the words flowing freely. You can get plenty of info on physical ailments by reading Web MD, but don't blame me if you find out you have all the symptoms of some obscure disease.

Just please don't use writing time to look it up, okay?

First of all, let it be known that I am primarily a fiction writer, and I'm not yet making a living at what I do. Heck, I can't even pay the cable internet bill for a month on what I earn a year. That said, writing of any kind is indeed hard work, in the sense that you must buckle down and produce something for the time invested, and all work sometimes sucks. I really love writing, but there are days when not much gets written no matter how hard I slave away at it, and I want to toss the monitor out the window and go crochet or something. 

So it's okay to have an off day, as long as you are making an honest effort to get something on the page. If you start having off weeks turning into off seasons... well yeah, you're in trouble.

Usually I have at least a little something to show for the time invested, and I can tell you from experience, all those 'little somethings' add up over time. I just finished a novel and turned it in, but it took me 5 days short of 9 months to write. That doesn't seem like such a long time until you consider that this one topped out around 68,400 words, and that should translate to somewhere well under 200 pages—basically a small book. The funny thing is, the novel and my latest grandchild-to-be (it's a girl we have been told) were competing to be born over the same 9 month period. The book won the race, but not by much, since my DDIL is due on the 22nd of this month. They both got bigger in small increments as the days turned into weeks and then months. The only difference is DDIL just got more pregnant looking over time, while I was busy every writing session, trying to squeeze out a little more story. Picture a 9 month pregnancy, where you're in labor every time you sit down at the keyboard. Ugh!

Yeah, that's too much like work, but that's how it's done. I have a feeling that's a good part of what's behind a lot of cases of writer's block. This writing stuff is hard and sometimes downright painful. You need to be able to concentrate and sometimes push the thoughts out of you. Some days not much happens. You learn to accept that and keep trying, because the idea is to stay in the groove so that when the ideas do reappear—and they invariably will—you've developed good enough work habits that you're already getting them down on the page.

A lot of that book I worked on was written on days when I had maybe an hour or two to get something done. I chose to write, because its important to me (and I hate housework). I could have been napping or watching TV, playing an online game, maybe even reading something for pleasure. I'd rather be writing, because I still cling to the dream of someday making enough money to hire a housekeeper to do that other stuff I'm ignoring. 

My life is incredibly busy these days, and I've had to give up the majority of my writing time to do other things that can't wait—like babysit my grandson. He just turned 1 year old on the first of September, and he climbs, crawls fast, and is learning to walk. Yeah, even when he's in the play yard, no turning your back on him or he's stacking toys to stand on and reach something, or bombing the dog with big plastic blocks. I write when he's napping, and after he goes home, providing I can keep my eyes open long enough. Some days I go to his house, and write when I get home, if it's not too late. That novel was lucky to gain 300 words in a session. Many times it was 40-50 words and I just couldn't get any more done. That's still 40-50 more than it had when I started. They do add up.

Even without babysitting, my vegetable garden, and the usual family gatherings and crises that make life interesting in a wonderfully perverse sense, every day has its own distractions. That touted empty-nest bliss I figured to be in once the boys were grown and on their own has somehow eluded me. There are people in my life that I love and adore who need me, and things in my real world that pile up and threaten to go critical (laundry and dishes, I'm looking at you) if I don't take the time to deal with them. Working from home has its advantages to be sure, but it has its handicaps too. 

People, for whatever reason, tend to think that it's perfectly all right to interrupt me every 15 minutes or so to report the progress on the big, ugly, hairy spider hunt, or what all the crazy politicians said now. I work in an open floor plan kitchen and dining area in the ell on our house, where foot traffic comes in the main door behind me all the time, and folks want to congregate (mainly because the fridge is in here, and half the interior of the rest of the house is torn apart). I am at ground zero for impromptu entertainment, which gets even more likely as the weekend approaches, and those with 'real' jobs get to kick back and relax. Unfortunately, that is also the prime time for me to work, when there's not a high demand for my chief cook, bottle-washer, and babysitting services. So I either put on headphones with some very loud music and try to tune it all out, or I give up and resolve to find a later time to make up for the lost opportunity. 

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely do want to spend time with family and friends when they are available. I just can't seem to get them to grasp that they're standing around in my office right now, telling jokes and asking me about the ball game when I'm supposed to be at work. Try that at your day job for a couple weeks and see how much you accomplish.

That's enough to constipate your mind and send you out to look for a 9-5 day job with a weekly paycheck and benefits. If you want to write from home for a living, you better get creative with your time and tough with the people who just don't get it that right now, you really are at work.

Now the original poster on Facebook said he had great ideas and thoughts for his non-fiction writing, but couldn't seem to get them onto the page when he sat down to work things out. I find that happens to me too, and it's why I have paper and a pen near me at all times. That way I can just jot something down as it comes to me (good for grocery lists too, BTW). Those wonderful ideas always come at the most awkward moments, when you're up to your eyeballs in some messy situation, just about to fall asleep, or driving down a busy highway. Maybe a small recording device would work better for some. Bottom line is: Note those ideas somehow now, and then when you sit down to actually write something, pull them up and try to connect the dots. A lot easier than spending an hour trying to recall that fabulous idea you had Tuesday after lunch.

If it's actual writing skills that are lacking, a community college refresher course—even if it's creative writing—might just be the ticket. If you think about it, even non-fiction writing is trying to sell an idea, product, or service via words. So you must learn the basic concepts of making prose sentences come together in coherent and interesting ways in order to get your point across. You need to be able to spell, use appropriate punctuation and grammar, and have fundamental editing skills. A good course will cover all the basics to writing coherently as it focuses on how to turn ideas into stories. Hey, even advertising copy tells a very short story. Extra practice can't hurt and it's not a big investment in time or money. If it does nothing more than get you to use your time wisely and shows you where to go to find alternate ways of expressing yourself in words, you're ahead of the game. 

Just for the record, I am a two time high school dropout with no college level education whatsoever. Because I gave up the job I had when I was first married to stay home and raise my kids, I decided to explore my options for a later life career. When I settled on writing as that goal, I took two correspondence courses while my sons were very young. They are now both in or near their 30s. The rest I learned on my own, mainly from being an avid reader and practicing my writing skills on a regular basis. I still use ideas I learned and habits I developed based on what those courses taught me. I didn't as much learn to write from them as I did learn to work hard at writing on a regular basis in a somewhat organized fashion. 

When I sit down at my desk, I know I am here willingly to accomplish something. I have a whole set of little ritual things I do that tell my mind we are now in the work zone and must get to it. It's a tough business and often not rewarding, but I feel good every time I complete a project. That's my motivation for tackling the next one.

You learn to build on that sort of thing. I kept picking away at that novel, which is in a sub-genre of adventure fiction that I always loved but had never tackled. I can't say more than that right now, but I can tell you that it required a copious amount of research to make it sound even passably authentic, as there is a historical backdrop of sorts. That meant lots of time and energy in Google searches and reading articles, and occasionally turning to a reference book for facts or inspiration. There were entire weeks and months where I utterly despaired of ever learning a 10th of what I should know to tackle it. Yet over time, I began to understand the distinct jargon involved, and I would recognize things when I saw them in print elsewhere. That translated to progress, and the last 1/3 of the book got written far faster than the previous 2/3 had been. Along the way, I learned some interesting facts too. How can you go wrong if you also broaden your general knowledge base?

When you're writing with the hope of someday being able to support yourself doing that, and weeks and months go by with little feedback and no fat checks in the mailbox, it can get discouraging. That can make it hard to find the motivation to sit down and get something done. If I was just in this for the royalty checks and the fan response, I would have quit writing a long time ago. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate every cent my publishers have sent me, and I hang on every word my fans and reviewers take the time to share—even the negative stuff. But when I sit down here to spin a yarn, my main concern is: Will this be a story I can be proud of, and would I have enjoyed reading if someone else had written it? 

When I close the files and walk away for the day, it's with the sense that I just created a brand new scene or three never before read. That's something special in a world where machines stamp out plastic copies by the millions, and television and movies serve up rehashed programming based on what worked for someone else. That thought makes writing worthwhile to me.

When I die, I will leave a trail of unique fiction behind me. Hopefully those books and stories won't die out as easily. Maybe they won't change minds and hearts, or inspire needed revolutions, but no matter... we can't all be movers and shakers. I am content to have offered someone else a chance to escape from the pressures of the real world for a while by reading them, as I did when I wrote them. If even one other person finds some peaceful entertainment via something I wrote, then I haven't wasted my time. Maybe my example might encourage another person to spread her or his wings and try writing too.

The biggest motivator for me is knowing that no matter what I do, life will go on. I'll get older and eventually pass from this world. So I've written a lot stories while I am still alive, and filled entire books with them. That's something many people talk about doing, but few ever really get to. I did, and I still am. I'll be pounding keyboards into dust (this is my third keyboard in 4 years) and bearing down to bring all those weird and wonderful ideas to life on a page, until the day they haul my lifeless carcass out of here. I figure there's far worse things I could be doing.

So pass the dynamite, and get ready for a huge, earth shattering kaboom...

Write On,

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Getting The Word Out...

I'll tell you, I am far from an authority on how to sell books. In fact, I'm probably the worst self-promoter you will ever meet. I really don't spend half the time I should in plugging my writing. Some of it is because of my crazy, hectic life; and some is because I just really shrink from the marketing end of writing. I'll talk to you all day about what I write, why I write, how I write, when and where; but I just can't seem to push myself to make a consistent effort to actually hawk my wares. I'll get the word out whenever I have a new release, and then just kind of crawl back into my writer cave and go put some more words on pages.

Now and then though, an opportunity presents itself in some unique circumstances. For instance, a couple weeks ago I finally made it to a local craft store that had been open for months, and took a leisurely stroll throughout. Ten years ago, other than our local Walmart, if I wanted art and craft supplies, I either had to go to a downtown shop that caters to professionals (a lovely shop but I feel lost there) or drive over 30 miles to get to a chain supply place that caters to us dabblers. So I was delighted when a chain store set up at our little local mall. But I never had the time to check it out.

Well finally I did, and I had a ball for an hour or so. I am an all around creative person, and craft supplies for me are like chocolate covered donuts filled with crack—I can't get enough of them! Mindful of what I could afford, I went up and down the aisles leaving trails of drool, and cherry-picked a bunch of odds and ends to get my fix. One of the things this particular chain has that I find irresistible is a line of detailed plastic figurines by Safari LTD, many of which are fantasy based. Yeah I know; total geek stuff! I was looking at dragons and knights and such things and talking to myself when I spotted the following Pegasus figure on a higher shelf. Just seeing it there took my breath away...

You see, I have this anthology that came out recently, titled THE WINDRIDERS OF EVERICE that has a flying horse on the cover, and that artist's rendition is just so similar. That's exactly the way I described Skytamer, the first of the Windrider line. I am sure the crazy middle aged woman squealing and cooing to herself in the 'toy' aisle must have made a few shoppers avoid me like I had Ebola of the brain, because it seemed like for a while I was the only person in my end of the store. I had a coupon for X-amount off my highest priced item, and so while it did put me a couple dollars over budget that day, I proudly wheeled my carriage up front when I was done. I never thought twice how anyone else would view a 57 year old woman's strange little purchase. 

The line was moderately long, and so I had to wait for an available cashier. I got a nice, friendly woman maybe 10 years older than me, and we chatted a bit. She told me she had carefully wrapped my 'flying thing' and put it in a discounted basket I'd bought. All of a sudden it hit me how weird that must have looked, because here I had the basket, some yarn, paper, beads and charms, and a toy flying horse. Yeah, that makes sense.

Now I am babbling like an idiot about the Windriders book cover, and how this 'flying thing' is going by my computer when I get home. Her eyes light up, and she asked me if I was an author. Shucks yeah! So I pull Lee over (writing pal Lee Houston Jr. is my designated driver and generally ignored voice of reason) and I'm telling her all about our writing and where you can get our books, and she's yanking out register tape to jot down our names and pertinents because she has a Kindle and her husband is a big reader. Now I have a fan in the making who wants to see that book cover that matches my plastic flying horse. They are cheerfully waving people past us in the line because we are now local celebrities. 

Wow, from slightly kooky nobody to slightly important somebody in 30 seconds; all because of a whim purchase that gave me a chance to explain my passion for what I do. I know not everybody has what it takes to write a book, but I guess I've done enough writing now that the magical part of the tale spinning fades behind the actual work of getting it done. All I know is that for one golden moment that afternoon, I remembered how impressive that all seems. Seeing what I do through someone else's eyes reminded me that once I was dazzled by the idea of making a story come alive on the page. 

I will go back there eventually, and if I do find the same cashier on the counter, I hope to heck she remembers me. But more importantly, I hope she or someone she cares about got to read one of our books and found it enjoyable. That's really what it's all about. No amount of self-promotion matters if people don't like what they read. So maybe I'm not doing so badly after all, if just the excitement I feel for what I'm writing is enough to get someone's attention. 

I was thinking about that today when we were having a great time during a family get-together. We had extended family from out of state visiting, something that would not have happened had my cousin not taken the initiative to bring us all together. We are both grandmas now, she and I, but I remember very well when we were kids playing together. We want to pass on our love for the better things in life to the next generation. She got to meet my grandsons and DIL for the first time, and I got to send her home with autographed copies of each of our two COMPANION DRAGONS TALES releases, A Familiar Name and Finding Waxy

Her granddaughter is a little young yet, but they are fun books, so I have no doubt that they will be read, and hopefully enjoyed. In the process, this little girl will learn something about family that she might never have otherwise learned. 

My grandma's cousin is a writer!

Those sort of things don't seem important until you sit down and think about how many times in life we say we'd love to do this or that, and then never really get around to it. Life is just so short, and we're all so busy. Yet now and then, you find this passion for something that just won't let you rest without at least making some attempts to learn how to do it. So it has been with writing for me, because when I first began to seriously dabble in that, my presently adult sons were very young boys. Now one of them has kids of his own. My kids grew up with this crazy imaginative mother who read them stories about dragons, fairies, elves, and heroes of old, and then sat down and tried to write her own tales. My grandchildren will grow up with a grandmother who is actually a published author.

I guess you could call my way of getting the word out kind of backward, because I'm not using the conventional wisdom of where and how to do your self-promotion. The more important thing here though is that someone who is actually intrigued and far less jaded than the average online site visitor actually got to learn about what I do with my time and energy besides cooking, cleaning, gardening, and babysitting. Maybe—just maybe—that might start a small groundswell of interest. One can certainly hope!

For now though, I will keep on doing what I'm doing; which is using my gradually dwindling time to focus on writing the best stories I know how to produce. Letting my work speak for itself might be one of the slowest ways to boost sales, but it's what works best for me. While it's true that I don't have the sales figures and rankings constantly at my fingertips, I also have far less stress about the business end of writing. That allows me to focus mostly on getting things accomplished rather than how many places I should post online to promote myself—many of which are populated heavily by other writers attempting to sell their books.

I'm always open to opportunities though, so if someone asks a question or makes a comment, I'm ready to talk about what I do. Writing fills such a big career void in my life, it's hard not to be thinking about it. Even on my rare days off.

Writing on,

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Lest We Forget...

I wrote this poem on September 14th, 2011, and have posted it on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the US somewhere every year since.

They Did Not Die In Vain

All humanity sighed
As souls left the earth
Lives taken swiftly
Unjustly so
They died not in vain
For tears and remorse
Wash clean the blood
On the crumpled edifices
Of steel and concrete
That makes civilization grand

But buildings do not define us
Within we are human
Warm and alive
Full of stories
Martyrs they became, oh yes
But so much more
Every last one
A living testament
To faith
And the greatest force on earth

We watched in horror
Over and over again
As the events were replayed
And reactions were given
Stunned looks
Terror in the streets
Angry oaths
Silent sobs
Open weeping
Our brethren were stoic
Or they cried and pleaded
They were dead heroes or victims
But they were all alive
Just moments before
Without any foreknowledge
Of their place in history
Etched on our minds
Engraved on our hearts
For eternity

I wept with them
The ones who died
The living left behind
The shattered hopes and dreams
Like the rubble in the streets
Made us all stop and think
That could be me!
I watched stunned
And vowed as did others
We will overcome this
We are one people
We are humane and caring
This cannot be!

Who dares challenge that right?
To live free and open lives
To send fear into our hearts
And sorrow of the most profound
For after all is said and done
Nevermore will we trust
With the heart of innocents
That we are safe and protected
In this womb of our building
In this fortress of our sovereignty

Will the swords of justice
Smite down the aggressors
And bring us peace and redress?
Or just a sense of revenge
I do not know
But I do know this
They died not in vain
Who gave their lives for freedom
And to help their fellow man
For as the tragedy struck
And lives hung in the balance
Or were snuffed out
I saw birds rise from the buildings
Sun on their wings
Angels of nature
Reminding me that there is a better place
Where there is no grief or pain
And no thoughts of war
May they live there forever
Those poor wretched souls
Till we join them again

And amid all the rubble
The twisted beams of steel and concrete
The dust and the fires
Papers fluttered to earth
A poignant reminder
We once lived and worked here
Do not forget us
We live on in your hearts
We did not die in vain
If the world becomes a better place
Because we once showed you
How to care about your brethren
And to value all you have
No matter how small it is
Or how rude and humble
Life is a gift

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Hey there's news on the COMPANION DRAGONS TALES blog!

You need to go right over there and see what just got released! 

Saturday, August 30, 2014


I have been so busy writing, baby sitting, and putting up vegetables for the winter, I've neglected to update for a while. Well tonight, I have some time to play catch-up, so here goes.

First of all, I have a special announcement! For just this weekend alone, Pro Se Press, which is one of my publishers, is having an E-book sale! Twenty of their best selling books, including two of mine, will be only 99¢ on for the Kindle. This is a time limited offer, so you don't want to miss out! Details below... 

For Immediate Release-

Pro Se Productions, a leading Publisher of New Pulp and Genre Fiction, announces its first PRO SE PRESENTS: THE SALE! From August 29 through September 1st, 2014, select digital titles, regularly prices $2.99, will only be 99 Cents at!

Read the best Authors in Genre Fiction! Explore Action, Mystery, Horror, and more in a variety of stories that only Pro Se Productions can provide! 20 novels and/or anthologies, every one less than a dollar!

Thrill to the following Pro Se Titles-

A Week In Hell by J. Walt Layne -

Badge of Lies by Jason Kahn-

Ravencroft Springs by Logan L. Masterson -

Vionna and the Vampires by Chuck Miller -

The Bone Queen by Andrea Judy -

City of Smoke and Mirrors by Nick Piers -

Companion Dragons Tales : A Familiar Name by Nancy A. Hansen-

Dramatis Personae: Public Domain by Joseph Lamere-

Fortune's Pawn by Nancy A. Hansen-

Just the Facts: True Tales of Cops and Criminals by Jim Doherty-

Monster Aces by Various -

Project Alpha by Lee Houston, Jr. -

Rabbit Heart by Barry Reese -

Savage Noir by Greg Norgaard-

Sensible Redhorn by Tim Holter Bruckner-

Snatched! A Kate and Craig Suspense Story by Charles Boeckman-

The Adventures of Peabody Rich by Donna Smith -

The Bishop of Port Victoria by D. Alan Lewis-

The New Adventures of Jim Anthony, Super Detective: The Death’s Head Cloud by Joshua Reynolds-

Young Dillon in the Halls of Shamballah by Derrick Ferguson-

The Best in Heroic Fiction can be Yours for 99 cents each through September 1, 2014. Pro Se Presents: The Sale!

Advertisements created by Logan L. Masterson

Next I've got to update you about my current releases. Both are from Pro Se, and are multi-author anthologies that I have a story in. 

The first one was an anthology called TALL PULP, which was released back in late July (I told you I was behind). 

My story in this volume combines a legendary Connecticut/New York vagabond called The Leatherman with an adventure involving a freedman in trouble for doing the right thing at the wrong time. It's set during the era of slave hunters and the Underground Railroad. Lots of goodies in here to read,  so you don't want to miss it! 

Tall Tales. Stories of larger than life characters, heroes who stand above everyone else and perform great feats. From digging the Grand Canyon to reversing the flow of the Mississippi River itself, there are figures woven into American history and lore that seem ready made for the classic Pulp magazines of yesteryear! Now, todays best and brightest writers of Genre Fiction take those classic legends and shine a new light on them. Pro Se Productions proudly presents TALL PULP. Thrill as characters like Jim Bowie, Joe Magarac, Anne Bonny, and Mike Fink come to life in two fisted action adventure tales! Learn of the mysterious Leatherman and thrill to his wild adventures! And discover a whole new take on the concept of Paul Bunyan! Authors D. Alan Lewis, Gordon Dymowski, Nancy A. Hansen, Phillip Drayer Duncan, David White, and Greg Daniel take characters, both historic and fictional, and give them a treatment like no other. TALL PULP from Pro Se Productions

My latest release is a story in the Pro Se Press anthology THE NEW ADVENTURES OF THE WHIRLWIND. This was another of Pro Se's 'PULP OBSCURA' compilations, which take a well known classic pulp writer's characters and puts them in brand new stories by today's authors. This is the second story I've done with a western twist; in this case Old Spanish California is the setting, and the tales are reminiscent of Johnston McCulley's most beloved character, Zorro. This is El Torbellino—not Zorro, but you will thrill just as much to his adventures. Another story that was a lot of fun to write as well as a challenge to capture the original author's flavor. 

Johnston McCulley, the author responsible for Zorro, also created the mysterious avenger known as The Whirlwind. A young man leaves behind a life of wealth and privilege in Spain and journeys to california. He builds a new life with a new name, Pedro Garzos. As he settles into his new home, the man known as Pedro discovers tyrant, bandits, and other dangers that threaten the weak and powerless! Rising to the challenge, he assumes one last alias and dons the mask of El Torbellino- The Whirlwind! 

The Whirlwind now returns and continues his crusade for justice! 

From out of the past comes new tales of the Wily Whirlwind! Pro Se Productions in conjunction with Altus Press presents a new volume in its Pulp Obscura line! 

Bringing adventures and heroes lost in yesterday blazing to life in New Pulp Tales Today! Exciting new stories of blazing justice and heroic adventure from Teel James Glenn, Nancy A. Hansen, and Allan Gilbreath! 

Join the Whirlwind as he takes on new adventures with his friends, Juanita Lazaga, daughter of Carlos the innkeeper, and Friar Marcos, as they fight for the people of Old California! 

Pulp Obscura Proudly Presents The New Adventures of the Whirlwind!

Just a reminder that most, if not all of my Pro Se books are available on as both paperback and Kindle, Barnes & Noble online as both paperback and Nook, and Smashwords in just about any E-format you can imagine.

Oh and while we're speaking of Pro Se, keep an eye on this blog's sister site, COMPANION DRAGONS TALES. I should have some kind of announcement coming up shortly. I'll have some interesting news to share there too. 

With this year's release of BETRAYAL ON MONSTER EARTH, which I unfortunately don't have a story in (I'll be back folks!) the Mechanoid Press crew and alumni were interviewed about just why it is we love writing stories with big stomping monsters in them. The interview just went up, and you can read it here

These books are a whole lot of fun to read, so you might want to check them out. I do have a story in the first one. Look for MONSTER EARTH on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Not too long ago received one of the most wonderful compliments a writer can ever expect. One of my publishers is Airship 27, and they were set up at a recent convention, one that the company has attended for multiple years. A regular customer came by and bought several books from their display, and then asked if they had anything by me! By name even! Fortunately, I had written one short story for a Sinbad anthology I was invited into, and they happened to have a copy on display. 
Available on the AS 27 site, through Amazon and B&N
That sold immediately, because the buyer was familiar with my Pro Se work. Which just goes to show you that the more writing you put out there, the better off you are. Not only did that make my day, but I was kindly asked by Ron Fortier of AS 27 to please write more for them. You bet I will!

These are the things that keep you going, when the words don't come, the time to write is scarce, and things just go haywire. We all have days of doubt and frustration. What gets my butt in the chair and my fingers tapping keys is thinking about the next story I'm going to write. What keeps me there is the feedback. That's how I know I'm being read. So talk to me folks; what is it that you like to read? You must be here for a reason, because this blog does get hits regularly.

I know you're out there, I can hear you breathing!
Till next time,

Friday, July 25, 2014

I bet you thought this was easy!

I'm sure that to some of you, being a writer seems like an ideal way to live. I do spend my days in my own home, doing nothing but household chores, gardening, caring for family, and of course... writing. After all, the title of this blog is WRITING FROM HOME, isn't it? I'm betting some of you must be envious about what a peaceful and idyllic life I must lead, and would gladly trade places to get that kind of tranquility.

Please pardon me while I laugh uproariously.


OK, I got that out of my system.

No, it's not that simple, or peaceful, or anything like what you'd expect, though I really wish it was. Working from home can be a real pleasure, but most of the time its a royal pain in the butt. People outside the situation don't easily understand that just because I'm not commuting to some other building every day with a boss to report to, that it's really impossible for me to concentrate on what I'm doing if I have frequent interruptions. I've had to be rude at times in avoiding visits or refusing offers of outings, and cutting off long-winded conversations that eat into my working hours. I avoid lengthy correspondences online until my writing is done for the day. My time is very limited right now by a number of factors both in and out of my control. I have to cram in writing wherever I can manage, and a whole heckuva lot less is getting done than what I was accomplishing a couple years ago. So every moment counts.

Next, let me burst your bubble about how lucrative this writing life has been for me. Unless you are J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Nora Roberts, or George R. R. Martin, you're probably not making enough money writing to hire household help, a gardener, secretary, chauffeur, etc. So I'm still cleaning the toilet, planting potatoes, cooking dinner, opening my own snail mail, and wishing I could afford to travel to conventions. Big fat advances and regular royalty checks don't come my way. I answer my own phone, and personally update my social network sites and blogs. I get very little in the way of fan feedback, other than the occasional kudos online—which I am always grateful to see. There's nothing any author loves better than to know her work was read and enjoyed. Or at least read! We work so hard for that very reason.

Writing takes up a lot of time so I've had to prioritize everything I do. For instance, I have a vegetable garden, a big one, and have for decades. It produces a lot of food that my family and friends enjoy and depend on. I've stubbornly refused to stop gardening on that scale, even though we can afford to buy what we need for produce, but I can no longer take the time to raise my own seedlings, so I buy plants. I won't give up gardening, because there's something very therapeutically calming about getting your hands into the soil and encouraging green things to grow. I try and spend time out there as often as I can during the warmer months. Some days, when the words won't come, I have to get away from that evil keyboard and go touch the earth again. If I'm really frustrated, pulling a few weeds and squashing a couple of beetles tends to help. There are a lot of benefits to gardening, because it's gentle exercise and you soak up some extra vitamin D, plus you get to harvest and eat things like tomatoes, beans, and corn. Those items are perishable of course, and have to be cooked, eaten, given away, or otherwise preserved before they go bad. Which is another reason I'm so busy. My kitchen table right now has a bag of cucumbers and another one of summer squashes just waiting for me to notice them. My refrigerator has big bags of broccoli and cauliflower which need to be put up for the freezer. We have tomatoes and peppers in there to eat as well. If you grow it, you better do something with it afterward or it's a waste of time and effort.

I am a grandmother! It's a wonderful thing to be, because it means my family has grown beyond my children's generation, and my genetic legacy to the world is secure. As of this writing, I have a ten year old grandson, an almost 11 month old grandson, and a granddaughter due in November. I love those kids to pieces, and I have been helping out where I can, mostly by babysitting the little boy with the 6 tooth smile and a 10 word vocabulary, whenever I am needed. Since his parents both work days, he tends to be here right in the midst of what would normally be my most productive writing time. There's a lot of trouble a baby that age can get into, so he has my complete and undivided attention. He requires lots of loving, to be fed and changed, and someone to teach him things and stimulate his little mind while he's here. So I don't write at all while I spend time with Zack, because babies don't stay little forever. Those hours fly by, but I don't regret a moment of it. Family always comes first, and they have always been my inspiration.

There's a lot of other stuff going on too, because I have my elderly mother over here most weekends, and we have other family and friends who stop in. Holidays and special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries tend to pop up. I get regular phone calls from friends and relatives who want or need to talk, and I can't always say no or I'd soon be isolated and lonely. Bottom line is, it's getting harder and harder to find time to write. So what do I do?

I write anyway. I write in snatches whenever I can grab a few minutes. I jump on any chance to bow out of an activity I have no interest in and use that time to write. I've given up a lot of television, crafting, shopping, reading, and online cruising time to focus on simply writing. Newspapers, magazines, Facebook posts, books, emails, and online newsletters sit unopened and unread. I haven't picked up a crochet hook in months or a guitar in years. Housework and cooking are at bare minimum and I delegate when I can. I might have had to scale back writing time, but I refuse to eliminate it. It's just too important.

On most mornings, I do a very quick run through email, local news & weather, and social sites while I am eating breakfast at my PC. Takes me less than half an hour, because I skim and don't read everything. Then I get down to work. Depending on how well I slept the night before and what time I got up, as well as when the little guy gets here, I usually have 2-3 hours to put into a project. If the weather is inclement or too hot and humid to be tolerable (it's currently summer), or I'm dealing with some pain issues (chronic arthritis and a bad back = ouch!) I might spend whatever is left of the day after he goes home until evening back at work. That generally gains me a couple more hours, and by then my eyes have had it. On days when I have all the daytime hours to myself, I chain myself to the desk, only getting up for quick bouts of housework, refreshments, and bathroom breaks. All the while my mind is mulling over where the current story is going next.

Because my thought process gets interrupted so often, it takes a while to get my brain back into the writing zone. Lately I've had to content myself with daily word tally numbers in the hundreds rather than the thousands, like they used to be. I do have breakout sessions and days where there's no babysitting involved, and believe me, I make the most of them. Those are balanced by the times when I babysit at the kids' house all day long, and other days filled with appointments, shopping, and errands; which I tend to cluster into one trip. Weekends I leave open to whatever comes along. If I have a chance to write, I do. If not, I cope. Overall, it kind of balances out.

No, this is not the writing life I pictured years ago, but then, what fanciful notion ever turns out the way you dreamed it would? It's the life I have, and I'm making the most of it. I have learned to be flexible and self-disciplined, so yes things are getting done, albeit at a far slower pace. So far this year I've still managed to get several manuscripts finished and moved into editing, have written over 2/3 of a brand new novel, and have contributed to or written a few short projects. I've cut the editing I used to do way back, but do a little now and then for those friends who return the favor. I've written a monthly column for over a year now for our town newsletter without missing a single deadline—in fact I'm always ahead of schedule. So yeah, I still write, because I make sure to grab whatever time is available.

Still think this is easy? It's not. Writing is actually a lot of work, not something you do because you don't want to work. The stories don't fall out of your head onto the page, you have to scrounge for them, and stick with it even when you can't for the life of you figure out what comes next. There's often research involved, and tons of rereading and redoing entire sections. If I get stuck on one story, I save my day's work and go onto another one. 

I see results because I approach what I do as conscientiously as I would a job where I would have a boss to report to or a time clock to punch. Those little posts I make online at the end of a day are my incentive, as well as a statement to the world that I actually accomplished something today. I currently have two pages of work on Amazon that I have authored or contributed something to, and that makes me very proud. Others might have done more writing in less time, but I don't let that bother me. I'm not in a horse race, I'm trying to build an audience of my own. 

Writing is like any other profession; you have to learn your craft, pay your dues, and get your chops by actually doing it. You need to continually update your skills as you go along. You can't expect any big breaks or favors, you need to take whatever feedback you get and keep going. I don't spin my wheels wishing I had more time, I make the most of what I do have. Some writing is better than none at all. It is a rewarding pursuit in those scattered but precious moments when the words flow, the scenes emerge like mushrooms from the forest floor, and someone sighs happily over what you put on the page—hopefully taking the time to let you know afterward. I live for that, and I write for it too. That's why I'll willingly give up time for other things I enjoy to instead wrestle with an uncooperative muse for the next paragraph.

What I've shared here, and what I post online daily on Facebook and Google+, debunks the romanticized notion that writing is some mystical art practiced by only the most elite and talented of natural wordsmiths in some hidden garret where the real world never intrudes. Seriously, most of us everyday hacks learn as we go and do our writing around all the other things that put demands on our time—jobs, family, household chores and responsibilities—and we do it sick or healthy, early in the morning or up half the night, on the bus, during lunch break, or while the spouse is sleeping. The magic is that the ideas do somehow come floating down to us, that the words pile up on the pages like snowdrifts, and eventually build into a glittering new story. It's not the place, the time, the special hat or lucky pen; it's the will to get that writing done that makes books go from a daydream to a tangible reality. When I look at my own contributions to fiction, I see hours and hours dedicated to getting the right words on those pages. I really worked at it.

That's what successful writing is about—it's not hocus pocus, but good old-fashioned work ethics. 

Well... maybe just a little magic is involved...