Thursday, December 21, 2006

Down Time

No matter how much momentum I build up, no matter how much I resolve not to, my writing output always seems to grind to a halt around the Holidays.

There are several reasons for this (aside from my usual laziness, that is):

- It's dark. I do a lot of my writing on the bus, and around the solstice, good light is hard to come by.

- It's cold. True, the bus has lights, but they are not very bright on these dark mornings, and it is so cold right now my fingers would freeze up on the keyboard even if I did try.

- I'm tired. I don't just mean my usual laziness or procrastination; this time of year brings with it a bone-weariness that I find hard to work through.

You could helpfully point out that this is why I am an amateur and will never be published yadda, yadda, yadda, but as a Level I player, I might as well take advantage of the one perk I possess, which is, I'm not working against the clock. If I had a paid assignment I needed to finish, believe me, I'd find a way.

But for now, I think I'll just wait for Boxing Day.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Writing for Dollars

I've come to the conclusion I don't write for money, I only wish I did.

I've used the painter/artist analogy before but I'd like to alter it a little as I don't want to compare artists--meaning those people who operate on a different plain--with us normal people.

A person who can make a living at painting (or anything else for that matter) works at his craft and, when he's good enough, goes out and finds people willing to pay him to do it. In my scenario, the painter would canvass potential customers asking, "Do you have anything you want painted?" If they did, he could do it and they would pay him.

Only a stupid person would stay locked in their house, to paint a chair and then, when it was finished, go out and try to sell it. A stupid person, and one who isn't going to make any money.

To bring this analogy into my world, it is unquestionably easier to write an article for an existing market than it is to find a market for a completed article. Yet that seems to be what I am destined to do. I can't help it, really, that's the way I'm wired.

I have tried to learn this skill, but have never been successful. I put my failure down to laziness, a complete lack of market savvy and the fact that I make too much money.

I can see now how a freelance career, in the grand scheme of things, wouldn't really be that difficult to achieve with some dedication and hard work. But at this point in my life, I am not about to quit a well-paying job while I'm struggling to save for retirement and living in one of the most expensive countries on the planet simply for the chance of selling a 2,000 word travelogue for $25. It is simply not feasible.

On the other hand, I have the advantage that a journeyman writer does not have; I can write whatever I damn well please. No one is going to go without shoes or a hot meal because i couldn't sell my latest creation.

I'm not sure how I would want things to be in a perfect world, and I guess it's moot, at any rate. Things are what they are, I do what I do and nothing is going to change that.

With the possible exception of a juicy book deal.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Writer's Groups

Lately, mostly because I'm a bit lazy and these days, I've been hanging around Writer's Sites when I should be writing.

I've always harbored a desire to belong to a writing group, but I wanted to belong to a good one, which is why I am still on my own.

The actual, real-life writer's group I tried here in Sussex was a bit sad. It was little more than a group of people who periodically came together to applaud each other's efforts and self-publish their own books. I never went back.

On-line, there are lots of places for writer's to hang out, but in digging just a bit under the surface I am finding that many of the forum members who claim to be professional writer's with published books are actually self-published as well.

Self-publishing has it's place, but a writer is not (in my opinion) a published, professional author until he is paid for his efforts. Professional means payment, end of story. If you are paying other people to publish your stuff, or if you are still trying to get other people to pay you for your stuff, then you are, my friend, engaged in a hobby.

I guess I need to stop hanging around these non-author writing sites and get back to writing.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Short and Sweet

Been doing a lot of writing lately, which is a good thing. Over at Joe Konrath's blog they're talking about what keeps a writer on track, but of course that is a Level III writing blog and they are talking about published authors who do this for a living. Us poor schleps have to try to inspire ourselves with no real hope of gain. Or, at best, the faint hope of some small remuneration down the line.

Still, I managed to find some markets for my humorous essays and sent three out this morning. In addition to that, I sent out six queries for 'Postcards...' (two 'No thank you' replies and counting). In preparation for someone eventually asking to see the manuscript, I revamped the entire book and put the chapters in a more logical order. I think it's better for it; now I just need someone to have a look at it.

Preparing the essays for submission was interesting. These were lean pieces that, to meet the submission guidelines, had to be cut by 150 words. It wasn't easy, but the final products were more polished and, if anything, funnier than before. I have to wonder when the law of diminishing returns kicks in. Take my essay about battling a spider. How many words can that be cut down to? "Saw spider. Scary!" Or just, "Spider!"

Maybe that's taking things too far?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Hell-o . . . hell-o . . .?

Now that I can be absolutely certain no one ever bothers checking on this blog any longer, I can start updating again.

That was not my intention, honest.

Actually, I've been writing post all along, but never getting around to posting them. I suppose I could post them all in this edition, but to what end? I don't even remember what I wrote. Or why.

So the last week, I upgraded my blog to the new, improved Google Beta version which required creating a Google account (with yet another login and password to remember) and transforming the site into the new, improved version for—as near as I can tell—absolutely no advantage, except that I lost all my fancy fonts.


I thought, having a snazzy new blog might encourage me to update occasionally but I still managed to ignore it long enough to forget the passwords and new login names. Fortunately, I keep all my passwords and logins and account names in a database. These days, you need to. At last count I have 108 accounts to various sites and a corresponding number of passwords.

Which brings me to my topic: I think the web is beginning to become just a little bit too complicated. Every time I need to access a site—to book train tickets, buy a bottle of whiskey, check on listing for a specific BBC program—I am required to create an account. And then you're expected to remember them all.

It's a lot like store cards. Every store, it seems, has a loyalty card and if you want to avoid the extortion charge or earn valuable points, you need to bring it with you when you shop. I have enough trouble remembering to put a credit card in my wallet, let alone 50 random store cards for businesses I am not likely to ever visit again.

Lately, I've been checking out writing sites and forums. And every one requires an account, user name and password. The good (and bad) thing about most of them is they have the option to 'remember' you. This allows me to simply browse to the site and be automatically logged in. On the other hand, occasionally the sites 'forget' and then I have to hope I remembered to record the user name and password in my database.

But if you want to be a writer, you need to keep up with what's happening, and that means more logins and passwords. Lots of them.

So, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll pop over to Media Bistro to see if anything interesting is happening. If, that is, I can remember my login.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Real Vs the Imaginary

I've been taking this writing class for three weeks now. It has taught me some valuable lessons about idea generating, how to look for markets for those ideas and and how to target the proper editors at those markets. I hope, in the coming weeks, to learn about researching article ideas and slanting query letters appropriately for each market. The process follows a single article idea from inception (this was lesson #1) to querying. The thing I find curious is, I have done hours worth of work on my article so far, but have not written one single word of it.

I suppose there is a good lesson in that, as well. Writing professionally isn't all about writing. It's about marketing and promotion and contracts and all the rest of that boring business stuff.

Being an aspiring novelist is, in contrast, easy--you just write, every day, and keep writing until you make the manuscript into the best book it can be. This takes enough time to keep the business end of things at bay for, well, in my case, 40 years.

Back to work.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


My internet class started this week. So far, it hasn't made me that much more busy but I have had to think about the lesson, which took time away from other things I am trying to get done.

I thought it would be a good idea to try to encourage more traffic to my web site, so I started going back to some ExPat boards I used to lurk at when I first moved to England, and I'm surfing some ExPat blogs to see if I can find any worth linking to and posting comments on. It's incredible how much time this takes! I have to wonder about those freelance writers who juggle all those blog-pals and seem to post comments everywhere, then I have to remind myself that they have NINE EXTRA HOURS in the day that I don't have.

Of note: while posting to these blog/forums and linking to my web site in my profiles, I happened to notice that the huge, front page banner on my website has had 'Britain' misspelled since I first put it up in November of 2003. I'm not surprised I didn't notice, but you'd think someone else would have written in to complain.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

YouWriteOn Turns me Write Off

I've been checking out a new web service over the past few days. It's called YouWriteOn and is a sort of peer review exchange.

The idea is, you log in, review a chapter of a book someone else has uploaded, and receive one credit. Then you request another book to review. Review it, get another credit. You get the idea.

With your credits, you upload your chapters and make them available for the system to assign them to other members to review.

So far, so good. But . . .

The 'chapters' are a minimum of 6,000 to 10,000 words. That's a lot of reading. And let's face it, most of what you're required to read isn't very good.

The draw is the promise that the most popular chapter is shown to some high-powered publisher. And if you don't get your book excerpt sent to these high-powered publishers, there is always their self-publishing service.

The site smacks of hitting the lottery, wannabees desperate for publication uploading their work in the hopes they can short-circuit the traditional publishing process. This site has been advertised in Writer's Digest--they must have hundreds of thousands of members by now, do you really think you're going to become their 'favorite'? Personally, I think it's a front for their self-publishing business.

And think about it, here you are, a wannabee writer, passing your questionable efforts out to other wannabee writer's who are, like you, struggling to create passable prose, for them to evaluate. It's either going to turn into a group hug or a chance to vent pent-up anger at faceless peers.

I did one review, for research purposes. The story couldn't even hold my interest for the 10,000 words. I was kind in the review. I did not ask for another chapter to review nor did I upload any of my stuff. It just seems pointless.

Basically, it's just another web site designed to divert writer's energy from what they should be doing--writing.

That said, I'm going to have a beer and cigar on the balcony.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Stormy Weather

Anthony Horowitz stole my plot! Incredible as it sound, he came forward in time, found my as-yet-unpublished book on the bestseller shelf at Barnes and Nobel and based his wildly popular Alex Rider series on it. The first book, Stormbreaker (now a major motion picture), sets up the situation. The similarities are just too many to miss:

(By the way, I don't make a habit of talking about my works-in-process—as is only right—but I think this calls for an exception.)

Stormbreaker: Alex Rider's uncle, an MI6 agent, was recently killed in the line of duty. The dead agent's MI6 minders ask Alex to assist them in an unofficial capacity—Alex's uncle has been training Alex in spycraft since he was little so he is well qualified for the job. Alex does not want to do it. They use the expired visa of his American friend and housekeeper, Jack Starbright, to blackmail him into it.

My book: Alex's husband, an MI6 agent, was recently killed in the line of duty. The dead agent's MI6 minders ask Alex to assist them in an unofficial capacity—Alex is an ex-CIA agent, so she is well qualified for the job. Alex does not want to do it. They use Alex's expired visa (she is an American) to blackmail her into it.

Uncanny, huh? I'm still trying to figure out how he did it.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

With Friends Like That . . .

I was going to do a regular post this morning but got waylaid by Joe Konrath's blog. Again.

MJ Rose is doing her own version of the Rusty Nail 500 but in a manner not quite as insane. She's doing it on the virtual highway of the Internet, trying to get 500 blogs to link to her site and her new book's site, The Venus Fix at myspace.

She's donating $5 to charity for every link, so it's for a worthy cause (although that's only £2.50 in REAL money).

Unfortunately, the rules say, "Please send permalink to to be counted"

Permalink? WTF???? I'll have to do a bit more research on this, but right now I have to run for the bus.

Also, she may be safe at home instead of out in the wilds of America, like Joe, but she still better watch her back. When I visited the site, her "MySpace friends" consisted of a young lady dressed in black draped over a sofa who wanted to be naughty AND nice, a guy from Oregon who apparently likes to pose naked in front of his webcam and a few other ladies with humongous boobs.

MySpace, virtual trailer trash.

Friday, June 30, 2006


I decided to quit writing yesterday.

As the precious little time I have for writing drew to a close yesterday, all I had to show for it were three sentences. I must have written better than a thousand words over the course of the day, but I kept deleting them because they were crap.

As the realization that I has sweated blood all day only to make no real progress sank in, I thought, "This is ridiculous. I'm going to quit."

I held onto that thought for a while; it gave me a bit of comfort, but only for a while.

My wife and I had dinner and then took a stroll to the park where we sat, she with her book and me with my cigar, enjoying the day. As I contemplated my recalcitrant novel, I realized the reason I was making no progress was that the scene was all wrong. I needed to go back and bring it forward in a new direction. After that, everything fell into place and I began stinging an article together in my mind about how I had planned to quit writing.

Writing about not writing; that's got to be a sure sign that you are an incurable writer.

On other fronts, I'm planning to take a course in article writing and marketing. It all keeps going around in one, big circle:

I started out writing articles, but couldn't sell any because I'm crap at marketing; I wasn't getting rejection letters, I wasn't even able to find markets to send anything to so I could get rejection letters. So I decided to write a book, based on the idea that at least I would have places to send it. Now that I am shopping my humor book around, I am finding I don't have any credentials. I'm not convinced that is the kiss of death, but I can't believe it would hurt. Nor would learning some marketing skills.

So I'm checking out an on-line article 'how-to' course to make sure it is legit and all that. If I don't grow cold on this idea, I'll be starting school with the kids this autumn. I wonder if I'll need a school uniform.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Note To Self

Never stop writing at the end of a chapter.

I managed to put a cap on the chapter I have been struggling with for the past few days, and am now staring at a blank page with 'Chapter Seven' written across the top. Because of the way I restructured and broke up Chapter Six, this will be entirely new; no editing of what is already there.

I'm finding the short (one hour each) bits of time I have not adequate for such a daunting undertaking and would love a chance to sit for about four hours working this out.

Just a few months ago I was struggling to fill 5 hours a week, and now I'm finding that 15 isn't enough.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

It Can Be Done

I just happened upon JT's blog.

She has gone from Level I to Level III in just three postings over 17 months. Her first post was a moan about how difficult writing was, in her second she had an agent but the agent couldn't sell her book so she wrote a second one, and in her last post, she had sold a three book series to a major publishing house.

See, it does happen, and when it does, it happens quick.

Joining the Club

To state the obvious, there are countless communities within the overall blogsphere. There are blog communities about Irish step dancing, cigar smoking, miniature airplane enthusiasts and nudists (I checked). The one I'm concerned with, naturally, is writing.

More specifically, I'm concerned with blogs by writers who are still struggling to finish and sell their first novel. I was hoping to find a bit of camaraderie, inspiration or, at least, commiseration. Oddly enough, there aren't very many.

Upon reflection, this shouldn't have surprised me. Who wants to hang out, even in cyberspace, with a bunch of losers who haven't even sold anything yet?

I call these Level I writing blogs, and no one pays any attention to them (like this one). And why should they? Are you going to glean any nuggets of wisdom from a blog like that? The person may be very talented, and may break upon the publishing scene like a bright comet, or they may be a dedicated person who just doesn't have it and should be taking a night course in gardening instead. But you will never know until and unless they sell a novel.

This is a Level II blog--dedicated writers who have finished a book and found an agent to represent them. If the agent eventually sells a book and they become published, their blog makes it to Level III, the blogs whose authors have sold one or more books and are now mostly concerned with promotion and longevity.

These are the blogs I lurk at. I used to try to join in by commenting on posts occasionally, but no one really took notice, I'm not published, I'm not in their club. And I wouldn't want it any other way.

What good is a club if there isn't an entrance requirement? When I was an Irish dancer and hung out with Irish dancers, we didn't include anyone in our 'club' unless they were, oddly enough, Irish dancers. And just coming to a class didn't get you in, you had to prove your dedication and commitment, join in a few recitals and win a medal or three at an official competition.

The writer's aren't any different. I can say I'm a writer and sit myself down in a circle of published authors, but until I actually have a contract and a book on the shelves at the local Borders, I'm just another wannabe with a dream.

So, I'll keep my Level I blog, looking forward to the day when I can move to Level II and, hopefully, Level III.

Then I'll revisit those blogs and post some more comments.

Man Without a Country

I visited a bookstore yesterday and found it simultaneously inspiring and depressing.

There were so many books; people everywhere, it seems, are publishing books, so it must be possible, there must be a way to achieve this seemingly impossible dream as people do it every day.

There are so many books; many of them good books that I want to read, but they keep coming out faster than I can buy them let along read them. Will you people stop it for crying out loud, and let me catch up?

I suffer from the additional burden of being an American living in England. Many of the great books I want to read are by American authors and I have to buy them on-line. But then there are dozens of books by British authors that I want to read as well. If I was anchored in just one country, I wouldn't have that problem.

And my writing has the same difficulties; is it for an American audience, or a British audience? Where should I try to market it? My Postcards.. book I'm sending to American agents, but the novel, I think, might have a better chance in England. And my articles don't seem to have a market at all. Who wants to read about an American talking about what it's like to live in Britain? The Americans don't care, and the British already know. Even the Bill Bryson-type slant and humor I inject into the pieces doesn't seem to help: he was a long-time resident and had worked on many British newspapers; I'm simply an interloper without the credentials for commenting on the British way of life.

I've tried to overcome the national ambiguity problem in my novel by having it set in Britain with an American heroine. Maybe it wall work, or maybe I'll be trying again with another novel set totally in one country or another.

Blog? What Blog?

Oh yeah, I have a blog.

I seem to have forgotten that for a while; I was too busy writing, and updating my REAL website, and reminding myself that no one reads this anyway so it doesn't really matter. But here I am again, sneaking in a few updates at once.

You might ask yourself (or, more to the point, I might ask myself) "Why does a guy with a private journal, continually updated website and a novel on the go need a blog anyway?" The answer, of course, is: he doesn't. This blog has been little more than an afterthought since I started it, something I have to remind myself to update, and a place I found I had nothing to say (can you believe that?). This was supposed to be about my journey toward publication but I didn't feel that journey was worth talking about much.

That seems to be changing now as writing is beginning to take up more and more of my life. I've managed to increase my daily productivity by over 100% and, more and more, my day revolves around writing. I even started jogging in the mornings, not because I'm out of shape and need to get fit (which I do, but that's another story) but because I felt it would help get my brain working and make me less tired. And it has.

Now I get up at 5 AM instead of lying there for 20 minutes thinking about getting. My 'run' only last 15 minutes, just enough time to get out and get the blood pumping, then I get ready for work and sit down at my computer with a cup of coffee by 5:45, or at least 6:00 ready to get on with it.

Where I really make up time, however, is on the bus ride home. I am no long so tired I can't do something productive. Even if I don't feel up to writing, I can always read my writing books.

So things are moving now and, even though I can't see any progress in the shape of a published book, progress is being made, and each day is one step closer instead of one more day of marking time.

And that's exciting, and worth writing about (besides, this helps me keep the momentum going).

I just wish blogger would allowed me to back-date some of these posts so it would look like I've been consistent with my updates instead of doing it all at once, but I can see why they don't; otherwise, people could post predictions after the event and pass themselves off as the new Yuri Geller.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Over the Hump

I'm finally making progress on chapter four.

The problem, as I always suspected, was the inability to edit effectively on the AlphaSmart Dana. Even with the bigger screen it was difficult to (no, impossible) to view large sections of text and scan up and down through the pages.

The eventual solution, which I had discarded out of hand early on because I had decided it was impossible (even though I had never actually attempted it), was to use my laptop.

While I'm not enamored of laptops--they are fiddly, difficult to see, unwieldy and have abysmal battery life--I have to admit this works well enough. I just have to keep the laptop charged up (which isn't difficult, it's plugged in all day) and leave it on 'sleep' mode. I also started carrying it in the document pouch instead of strapped into its rightful place. That way, I can just take it out, open it up and start typing. Well, almost. But close enough to actually get some work done, and that's all that really matters.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Lower Rungs

These days, I spend more time than I'd like to reading other writer's blogs. For those of you keeping track, that's about 45 minutes a day. I know that may not seem like a large investment, but it's time, I could argue, that is better spent writing.

On the other hand, if I want to be part of this business, I need to get to know this business and keep up with what is going on inside it, and writer's blogs are a very good (and, as a bonus, often entertaining) way of going about this. Unfortunately, I see a trend developing--much of the discussion now is centered around marketing and self promotion. Not a bad topic, but I'd like a little variety.

Of the 'reasons for not self-promoting' that Joe Konrath puts forward, the one that resonates with me most is, I simply don't like being a salesman. I hate it, actually. But then, I'm thinking of sales in the traditional sense, and promoting your book isn't (or shouldn't be) thought of in the same way.

If you have a good book, and you believe in it, there should be nothing standing in your way of telling people you have a good book. Or a great one. I'm sure I could do this. When I was dabbling in stand-up comedy and bringing in a second income as a folk-singer, I did a fair bit of self-promotion. You have to, or you go no where. Joe is right on this.

So, if I had a great book, I don't think I would have trouble with the marketing quite so much. I think I would have no problem e-mailing, writing or looking an agent in the eye and saying, "I have a great book, you should publish this." The problem is, I don't have a great book.

I have a book. It isn't great. It is even good. And while I'm pleased that I have learned enough to know that, all the marketing in the world won't help me turn a poor book into a good book or a good book into a great book.

I'm not struggling with marketing concepts right now, I'm struggling to rewrite my novel and, I'm afraid to say, making quite a hash of it.

My goal (my initial one, anyway) is to publish a book. I'm still way down the ladder from that, however. The rung I'm trying to reach is labeled, 'Write a good book.'

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Back to Basics

It's time to admit that things are not going very well.

True, I have a completed novel and my non-fiction manuscript is out looking for an agent but the novel is seriously stalled and I have no confidence in my agent querying method. Plus, I'm suddenly and inexplicably negative about the whole writing thing. I can't seem to figure out how to rework my novel, I don't know what, if anything, is wrong with my query letters, I have no enthusiasm for writing new, humorous articles and I can't even seem to get around to updating this blog.

My writing target for this fiscal year is six hours a week. That's out of a possible fifteen I have set aside (I get up at 5AM and supposedly write for an hour, then I have an hour on the bus going in to work and another hour coming home). I managed five hours and forty-five minutes last week and that was mostly by working on my web site and writing in my journal. This week is about shot and I've only managed three hours, and that includes updating the blog.

I don't know what's wrong other than I feel washed out and fatigued both mentally and physically. For the past week, in the evening, when I'm supposed to be writing, I end up surfing the web and then, realizing I'm bored with it, I sit and watch TV, which leaves me feeling guilty. The idea of quitting writing has even occurred to me; after all, I'm imposing all of this on myself, no one is making me do it, I don't need the money, so why am I torturing myself? The problem with that is, if I do stop writing, I know I'll feel even worse.

My web-surfing this morning at least had a purpose. I managed to find a few useful writing web sites that I hadn't stumbled upon before. There were some interesting articles and links to books on writing. I printed out the articles, book marked the site and ordered six books. They cover a variety of subjects--query letters, novel plotting, agent advice--and will, hopefully, enable me to re-lay the foundation of my writing 'business.'

At the vary least, reading them will give me something to do with that spare fifteen hours a weeks.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A New Year

I'm entering the fourth year of my efforts to treat writing as a job; I'm glad it's not an actual job or I would have been fired long ago.

My decision to start in April had more to do with the time of year that the idea occurred to me than with the fact that my real job's fiscal year starts at that time (hence my lack of postings over the past few weeks--this is a very busy time for me).

I'm not concerned that I haven't made any money yet--most businesses don't make any money in their first years--but I am approaching that 7-year break-even mark and I'm currently about £1,000 in the red. It has not escaped my notice that I made more money when I was operating in a more haphazard way (even writing sporadically I managed to sell articles to some local and regional publications) but having a focus has helped shaped my business plan, so to speak.

What prompted the decision in the first place was the fact that I used to sell the odd article when I was living in the US but couldn't seem to duplicate that success in the UK. So in Year One, I continued to write humorous articles on British life and attempted to find markets for them.

By the start of Year Two, I had learned that no one in the US gives a shit about life in Britain and the people in the UK already know about it. The discouragement came, not from the number of rejections, but from the lack of them, due to an absolute dearth of markets for the type of articles I write. So I decided to try novels again, on the assumption that I could at least find agents and publishers to send them to once they were finished.

At the start of Year Three I had the first draft of a novel completed and had amassed enough humorous essays to make into a book.

Now, as Year Four begins, the book of essays has been compiled, re-worked, polished, re-worked, polished again and is currently making the rounds. Five rejections so far; a good start. The novel is undergoing a long-overdue re-write and I'm striving to up my word-count and 'time on the job.'

Thanks to Joe's recent challenge to submit a story within the week, I have had it driven home to me yet again that there are no markets for my articles, essays or stories, which is why I switched to novels in the first place.

So I am starting year four with one manuscript (that I am rather pleased with) in search of an agent, and another (that I am not) undergoing major surgery to see if I can salvage anything from it, even if it's just the opportunity of learning from my mistakes.

What about you? Did you ever 'decide' to be a writer or has it just crept up on you? Do you have a business plan or do you just write and hope?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Persistence; How Much is Too Much?

If we're trying to publish, persistence is the key. But how much is too much?

I once read an article by a published author (I don't recall his name) who said that during the writing of his first book, his wife left him. He shrugged it off by saying that, "at some point, the novel takes you over, and everything else has to go."

I used to be an entertainer—singing, stand-up, all strictly low-key—and almost all of us in the group I associated with eventually wound up divorced, including myself. It's nice to have ambition and believe you are destined for great things, but how much are you willing to sacrifice for it?

Like all of us, I need to carve time out of my day to satisfy my writing fix. But should I allow my paying job to suffer, risk getting fired, lose my house and my current wife? I like to think I'm doing as much as I can yet still maintain a balance, but I could get my novel finished quicker if I worked in the evenings as well as the mornings, and if I devoted my weekends to studying the markets and writing queries. And, no doubt, I'd find myself alone before too long.

Understanding spouses, partners and friends are essential to the writer, and I suppose you could say that if they don't understand your devotion to writing then you are better off without them. But would you expect the same devotion if you were spending as much time fishing or bowling?

I'm not questioning the need for devotion and persistence, or hinting that my marriage is in trouble (believe me, it is not) I'm just pondering the need for balance. After all, a healthy family/social life is necessary for a writer, unless you want to be the type of writer who writes about writers because they don't know anything else.

Lawrence Block once told a story about a friend of his who thought he might give this writing thing a try. He started a novel and, about three weeks into it, decided it was going pretty well, so he quit his job. Not long after, and not surprisingly, his girlfriend left him. He persisted and turned out a totally horrible book. The second one was awful, too, but the third one was better and the fourth one sold. In the end, he became a successful writer, but at what cost?

These thoughts were prompted by a discussion going on over at Joe's blog about persistence. I think it's certainly a requirement, but I also believe balance is just as important. Otherwise, your success may be hollow, and you may find yourself on top of the mountain all by yourself.

How you do feel about your writing life? Are you willing to take the chance of losing your family, friends or mental health over it?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Trying to write and hold down a full time job isn't easy. But if what I'm reading in these blogs is an accurate reflection of the profession, that's what most writer's do (not unlike actors). According to the advice I read as well, as common sense, carving out a portion of your day to dedicate to writing is a basic and necessary step in being a writer.

I've said before that my day automatically includes up to three hours of writing time, but during busy periods (i.e. the end of the fiscal year) I am on site more often than I am in the office. This involves getting up at 5AM and leaving immediately (I am allowed a shower and a change of clothes, however) for my client's offices. I often don't return home until 6 PM and then have more work to do to prep for the next day. Last weekend, I was up at 5:30 on Saturday and worked straight through until 10 PM. I worked Sunday afternoon as well and, these days, breakfast at the Little Chef en route to the client site (where I used to be able to pull out my AlphaSmart for about 45 minutes) is taken up working on reports and documents for the project.

This is, thankfully, a temporary situation, but it still means two or three weeks where I literally do not have a free minute to do any real writing.

Right now, I'm looking forward to Saturday when, fingers crossed, I shouldn't have to work and can spend the day catching up on my novel instead.

What do other full-time job/write when you can authors do to carve out writing time when life conspires to take it all away?

Gotta run, now. It's 6:30 and I'm late for the office.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Query Phase

Interesting to be out of the re-writing and polishing stage and into the query phase.

Writing the query and synopsis was a grind but now, at least, I can send it out without wondering if it could be better (although I have already thought of some tweaks for future mailings).

Postcards... is in good shape, so I don't have to worry about that, either. If (when) an agent agrees to see it, I won't have to worry about that, either. It's a good, polished manuscript; it just needs a chance.

I'm still in the early stages, sending out queries to those agents who accept them via e-mail. The advantage of that is I can be rejected on the same day that the query goes out. Modern technology; you gotta love it.

The overall best thing about this is I am no longer divided. My novel is now the only thing on the front burner and the time spent polishing Postcards... helped put Chapter Four into perspective. Time to get back to work.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Into the Unknown

I was just over at Joe's blog and he was equating writing while not knowing what you are doing (i.e. not having an outline) to being shoved into the outfield while having no knowledge of baseball.

Boy, can I relate to that. Not because I don't use outlines (I do) but because I spent a lot of time in high school standing in the outfield with borrowed glove on my hand wondering what the heck I was going to do if the ball came my way. The bad part of that story is, I never got any better at baseball; I hope that doesn't hold true for my current activities.

With the writing and polishing and tweaking of Postcards . . . suddenly behind me I find myself in the awkward position of having to market it and I really, really suck at that. No, really, I do.

I did manage to find about 50 agents I can send it to, but I want to send a good query/proposal/synopsis/manuscript and not come off like the amateur I am. (I'm not sure how to pull that off when I can't point to other books I have published; it's like not being able to get a job because you don't have any experience but you can't get any experience until someone hires you.)

The secret, I suppose, is not worrying about the areas you can't do anything about (i.e. not having a list of previously published books) and concentrate on those areas you have control over (e.g. query letters, presentation, manuscript).

And there is no secret to that; there are dozens of books in the stores and lots of helpful advice in the blogsphere. It's mostly a matter of studying up on what you need to do until you know how to do it. Easy as snagging a fly ball.

I'm doomed.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Fear of Success

My new PC is finally up and running and ready for 'work' (it only took about 16 hours). I managed to polish up the Postcards manuscript and print it out for a final re-read last night. I already have a list of agents to send it to, gathered during the last round of submissions. I never sent the mss to them because it was coming back from the ones I did send it out to with alarming speed.

This prompted a re-read followed by the painful admission that the manuscript just wasn't good enough. It was funny, but it wasn't hilarious. It's probably still not piss-your-pants funny, but it is better.

So now I hesitate? Why? Fear of failure? No, I'm used to people telling me my work is shit. What I think I'm afraid of is someone actually liking it and taking it on and perhaps, gulp, selling it. I really don't know how I would deal with that.

It's supposed to be the dream, the ultimate goal, and it is that, but it also means a lot of work and more deadlines. All things I'm ready for, I think, but it will mean a change.

I've been a pre-published writer for so long I've become comfortable with the idea. My writing schedule is established and is, frankly, not very strenuous. If I do 'break in' I will have to devote a LOT more hours to writing than I do now, and the free and easy way in which I write will be replaced with deadlines and contract obligations.

Again, I believe I am ready for that but, if and when it does happen, my life is going to be a lot different than it is now.

Fortunately, I don't think I have a lot to worry about right now.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Now What?

I finished the rewrite of Postcards From Across the Pond yesterday. I didn't mean to. I was happily editing along, comfortable with my routine of getting on the bus, pulling out the AlphaSmart Dana and trying to make one or two of my humorous out-of-my-element articles funny, or at least more humorous. There was a vague notion that, once this process finished it would be back to searching for agents and writing queries but I didn't really believe it would happen.

Then the words 'The End' came in sight. They didn't need editing, so I turned off the Dana and thought, "Now What?"

I guess it's time to start gathering agent addresses again. This task was supposed to be done in parallel with the editing but, as I said, I really didn't expect to finish, at least not so soon. And what about the bus? What do I do there? Maybe I can actually work on the novel. I tried that on the bus and it didn't work out very well but perhaps after all that practice with Postcards . . . it will work out.

But for now, a polish for Postcards . . . and it's back into the wild.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Writing Tools

I just bought a new computer. My current PC is five years old and slower than Jade Goodie trying to think of, well, anything. But I digress. What struck me was the difference in buying this new computer as opposed to PC purchases of the past.

The machine I eventually bought was a cheap, low-end Dell with as few bells and whistles as I could manage. In the past I always bought high-end computers to handle systems programming and heavy graphics. These days, however, I'm only interested in writing and wanted a computer that could handle word processing. Anything more would not only be a waste of money but a potential distraction.

In fact, I really don't do any writing on my computer. I use that for editing and managing my web site (and, of course, downloading porn). For putting one word next to another, I use an AlphaSmart. I first bought one when I was living in the States. They are brilliant, dead easy to use and practically indestructible. Don't let the fact that I managed to ruin mine put you off (it involved a sticky key, a can of WD-40 and the fact that I am still in need of adult supervision), you can throw them in a back pack and take them camping or to the sea shore or mountain climbing in Peru. They get 700 hours on three AA batteries and hold about 100 pages of text without having to off-load.

When I decided to begin taking my writing seriously, I ordered another AlphaSmart. Over the next two years I wrote my novel, dozens of articles and the Postcards . . . manuscript, all during the morning commute to my office.

Now that I am in rewrite mode, I bought a Dana, the next step up from the AlphaSmart. It's a bit more fiddly and gets about a tenth of the battery life (only 70 hours, compared to 7 minutes on a laptop) but it's still rugged and easy to use.

Both the AS and the Dana are instant on, and I like that. Press a button and it blinks on, not only to the document you were working on but to the very same place you left off. I consider them indispensable for my writing, as I rarely have the luxury of writing at home and I much prefer to write when and where the opportunity arises.

I didn't mean to turn this into an ad for AlphaSmart, it was supposed to be a discussion about writing tools and how, for a writer, less is usually more. So, I guess my point is, if you're thinking of buying a computer for writing, buy a cheap one, and use the money you save to buy an AlphaSmart.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Laying Bricks

I was just over at JA Konrath's blog and his most recent post was about advancing your career. He likened it to a marathon, and I think that's as good an analogy as any.

The main thrust of his post was, "what have you done today to advance your career?" That is the central question, isn't it? If you have a goal, any goal, every thing you do should be aimed at bringing you closer to it. Unfortunately, publishing a novel isn't the only goal I have, so my activities are not always as focused as they might be, especially when the realities of life get in the way.

Still, I managed to lay a few more bricks in this wall I am building.

Monday I worked on my novel. The opening of chapter four again. I have been a that thing for weeks and still can't get it right. Then, on the bus, I worked on Postcards . . . until my Dana shut down for no particular reason.

Tuesday I was on the road, but still managed a solid hour on Postcards . . . as well as some work on my next web post.

Wednesday, still on the road, I was up at 6 AM but an emergency at the office kept me busy until 9:30. After the meeting with the client I drove 5 hours and arrived home at 8 PM. I didn't write. Call me a wimp.

Thursday I drove to the office early to get some writing done before the day began but my day started the second I walked in the door. I took the bus home, however, so I managed a little time with my writing.

Today is Friday. Five days, 15 hours potential, 2.5 actual, so far.

I guess it's time to take another whack at chapter 4.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Another Chance

A new week, another chance to move my manuscripts ahead, or another chance to slack off.

I've been stuck on this one scene in my novel for about three weeks and I just wish I could get through it so I could being editing the rest of the book. I don't know why this section is taking so long but I am beginning to panic, thnking the entire book is going to go this slowly.

That being the case, I should finish sometime around 2056.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Virtual Community

Should writers bother with writing groups?

I've read conflicting views on the subject. Some successful writers have called them a waste of time and others say they would never have been published without them.

I lean toward the 'waste of time' argument.

Writers write. And all the while they are sitting in a circle congratulating each other on how good their writing is, they aren't producing any writing. All they are doing is contributing to a mutual admiration society.

But that's just my opinion.

I joined a writer's group once. It was painful. There were quite a few members; they were all enthusiastic but many of them plowed their energy into self-publishing and winning awards and talking about what they had 'published' and what awards they had won. The evening couldn't end soon enough. I never went back.

So what's a writer to do? I think the new technology favors us. Blogging, and being part of a blogging community is, in my opinion, as valuable as being in a writer's group. More so.

In the time I have been lurking about and sampling the blogs of writer's both published and unpublished (let's call them prepublished--yeah, I like that, I'm a prepublished author!) I have gleaned valuable advice and insight on both the craft of writing and the business of becoming and staying published.

The other thing I've noticed is, unlike an actual writing group, this virtual community interacts by writing. How perfect is that? I get to start the day reading a few writing-specific pep-talks and priming my own pump by composing a quick post.

That shifts me into writing mode quicker than listening to Mary read a poem about her petunias.

Real Life

Everyone's busy, but if you want to be a writer you need to make time to write. That's a fact.

My own writing schedule is fairly ambitious: up at 5 AM, check blogs, post, start working on my novel rewrite by 6 AM. Knock off at 6:45 AM and catch the bus to the office. Work on my 'Postcards . . .' manuscript from 7 AM until 8 AM. On the return trip, I have another hour to tidy up whatever I was working on in the morning, compose an article for the web site or just read. Still, on a good day (allowing for some slippage), that's two and a half hours of quality writing time, or 12 1/2 hours per work week.

So how many hours did I clock over the past seven days? Three and one quarter hours.

How did I become such a slacker?

Every day seems to provide an excuse, an emergency or (in one case) dead batteries with no backups (doh!) that conspire to keep me from writing. But that's just bollocks! If I want to finish the novel and the manuscript, I have to work on them. End of story.

The only good news is, my output for this year is more than last year, and that was more than the year before (I don't slack off all the time) and each day provides a new opportunity to hit the mark.

But not today, I've got a report due, and I need to e-mail some friends and . . .

Friday, February 03, 2006


Another day, another writing session spent tinkering with the blog. At least I'm still moving forward with the Postcards . . . manuscript. The editing for that, because it's accomplished one article at a time, doesn't seem quite as daunting as editing my novel.
Also, I've started a new article for my web site, so that helps me feel more like a writer than an editor. Last year I did nothing but sling words on paper, now, with two complete manuscripts, I'm doing nothing but shuffling words around. I don't feel like a writer, more like an editor.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Tidy up

I've spent the time I was supposed to be writing tidying up the blog. Now I remember why I got rid of the prototype.

Hopefully, the links and style will now satisfy me and I'll be able to simply post and get on with life (i.e. writing).


Friday, January 06, 2006


For some time now I've been trying to find a way to work a blog into my web site, mostly because I wanted to play with a blog. I never found a satisfactory way to do it; I always felt the blog link seemed out of place on my web site and was not convinced that anyone who likely my site would like anything I had to say in my blog. My proposed blog was to be about the writing process but, aside from not being of any interest to the aforementioned web surfers, my postings always sounded forced and awkward, not breezy and conversational, as I had wanted. I attribute this to the fact that I knew (or thought I knew) I was writing for the people who read my site.

Last night it occurred to me: my web site shouldn't be a conduit for my blog, my blog should be a conduit for my web site.

This leaves me free to write the sort of blog I originally set out to write, a blog about the journey from enthusiastic amateur to paid professional.