My sweet baby boy turns TWELVE today! I can’t believe it. I’m such a proud Mommy.
If you decide you’re only ever going to write one thing in your life, maybe you won’t need this post. Just kidding – you still will. Plus, who wants to only write one thing? That’s just plain madness. Writers are infected individuals – consumed with a never-ending need to to create. And once our creations are complete and polished, we have to send them out into the world.
Which is where things get complicated.
Now, I spoke about my passionate love of white boards already. Frankly, I don’t know how I’d live without them. But they have their limitations. While a quick glance over my shoulder tells me where my short stories are right now (and how long they’ve been there), the board can’t tell me everywhere they’ve BEEN. Markets today have strict policies regarding submissions, and woe-betide the writer that fails to follow the guidelines. One of the biggest is that, unless they specifically request a rewrite from you, they don’t want to see anything twice.
While I have a great memory, it isn’t perfect. There’s no way for me to remember where every story has been. I mean, there are currently nine stories listed on my board, with more being written all the time. Recall where each one’s been?
Asking my white board to do that is just as insane. (I’m not sure they make white boards that big). I also have personal essays, magazine articles, and novels to keep track of. While there’s some appeal to living in a house made of white boards, I don’t think my fiance’s is going to go for it. (Nor does he want to deal with the meltdown that would ensue if something got erased)
This is where Excel became my best friend. It took me all of five seconds to create a tracking spreadsheet. With one glance, I can see what genre a story is (newsflash: not every market takes every genre), the length, where it’s been, how long the response time was (helpful in case I’m considering holding out for a certain market), and my reference numbers. I never end up accidentally repeating a submission, I don’t accidentally send a simultaneous submission (some markets allow this, but most don’t), and I can see which markets have sent personal rejections over form letters. I log tons of valuable information for myself. All from a few minutes of my time.
And it takes no time to update!
Best of all, I keep a running list of markets. I know who accepts what, word limits, editor names (hint: never send a cover letter to “Editor” – use their name), and which markets are currently on hiatus.
Yes, setting up the Market tab took a lot longer. It’s worth it, though. I know when reading periods are. I know what restrictions are in place for various markets (i.e., must be clean, must contain a required science element, must have an animal, etc.). When I’m ready to submit one of my stories, instead of having to run through my bookmarks, hunting for a suitable match, I just consult the tab. (And, yes, I have the payment information right at my fingertips)
Wait – am I discussing organization again?
Of course I am! Organization is a writer’s best friend! You can definitely try to do everything by the seat of your pants. I wish you luck. When I first started, I just had file folders. And I wasted time combing through them, trying to figure out where a story had already been. I had to constantly read guidelines and search for markets. (Granted, this was also back when you sent submissions via snail mail) It SUCKED! I had to learn the hard way to be smart and make my life easier.
There are apps and programs available that do this for you, and you can definitely take advantage of them. Personally, I like Excel. I already own it, so it doesn’t cost me anything, and I can set it up however I want. As long as you find a system that works for you and keeps things on track, that’s what matters. You’ll be happy, I promise.
More to the point, the markets you’re submitting to will be happy.
When you’re in the midst of playing and run out of steam. So you park your butt in the sun to recharge your energy.
While there’s controversy behind the quote and the intended message behind it, Marie Antoinette was definitely onto something. When things are going haywire, and you feel like throwing in the towel, few things make you feel better quite like cake. (I’m not advocating eating cake to solve your problems, so don’t fuss at me) Guess what happens to be a part of most weddings?
Even in the insane, crazy times we’re currently living in, most bakeries are still in operation. That means wedding consultations (and, subsequently, wedding cakes) are still possible – a fun fact I learned this month. We put off trying to schedule our consultations until the state started reopening, assuming that consultations were impossible. Turns out, most of these bakeries were smart and found ways to adapt. Since take-out and pick-up have been staples for a lot of restaurants, they followed the same pattern. Pick up your chosen sampling flavors in the morning, and then you could have a phone consultation in the afternoon. Easy as pie…er, cake.
I’ll get to the cake in a minute. What I want to share is the amazing communion with a fellow artist. Now, I can barely get a boxed cake to work, and anything short of smearing frosting is beyond my capability. These bakers took our Pinterest images, pictures of our cake toppers, and our conversations about our wedding theme and ideas and came up with the most amazing designs. It was like watching magic unfold!
The excitement they had for everything, from colors to tiny details, was infectious (the good kind). For that short hour, we forgot what was going on. Forgot we were wearing masks (not everyone wanted phone consultations), forgot we had to ask about their plague policy, forgot everything else that was bothering us. We laughed, we smiled, we imagined our wedding day and what our cake was going to look like. Those awesome people took us out of the mess of the world and gave us a moment of joy.
There aren’t enough thanks for that!
Even the bakeries we elected not to choose (I mean, we only need one cake) – there’s just no way to express the appreciation for the solace granted. An hour’s peace? How do you reward that? It was beyond description. Artists, in every way you can think of to define the word.
And then there was the cake.
If you aren’t getting married, find someone who is and beg to go to the tasting. Seriously – find a reason to go. I mean, obviously make sure they aren’t going to one star bakeries first, but then beg to go. (Why would you go to a poorly reviewed bakery, though? That’s madness) Now, I’ll admit, some cakes were better than others. But you get to eat cake – in the middle of the day! You’re ENCOURAGED to eat cake! With frosting!
Okay, so you have to share it with your significant other, but…CAKE! It was awesome. We’re having cupcakes along with the cake, so we chose bakeries specializing in cupcakes. That meant getting to split cupcakes between us rather than a piece of cake. So awesome! I mean, the sugar crash wasn’t so great, but I regret nothing. Especially from the bakery we settled on: Twisted Sisters.
Think it can’t get better?
A lot of these small bakeries (we’ve intentionally aimed for as many small businesses as possible) have perks. We’re now enrolled in their loyalty program, which means (once we’ve completely paid for everything) a lot of free cupcakes. How do you beat that?!
So, yeah, things are screwed up in the world right now. But this month I got a few hours to smile. I got a few hours to laugh. I got to eat some amazing cupcakes. And I cannot thank the people involved enough for granting me those hours of mirth, joy, and peace.
Maybe it was their job. Maybe it’s something they do for every couple.
To me, it meant the world.
Water – so annoying and yet so very necessary. Without it, you shrivel into a prune and develop massive health problems. With it, you have to confront the necessity of stepping away from your computer for bathroom breaks. Kind of a catch-22, but I’m going to assure you the former is the better option.
Because you can only lose 75% of your kidney function before you have to face the reality of dialysis and needing a kidney transplant. That REALLY cuts into writing time. So drinking your 64 ounces (at least) a day of water is important. Your kidneys will thank you, and so will your body.
Now, I used to struggle with meeting that goal. It was just plain impossible – not only from a practical standpoint (my previous job made it impossible on a lot of levels) but from the fact that I just plain didn’t want to guzzle that much fluid. Have you ever measured out 64 ounces? It’s insane! Even broken down over 15 hours, it was too much. Well, I convinced myself it was too much. Plus, it was water. Water was BORING.
Then I got a kidney stone.
I cannot accurately describe the level of pain a kidney stone produces. That 1-10 scale they ask in the ER? I gasped out a 13 and meant it (okay, I meant a 236, but they rolled their eyes at my 13). After the stone was analyzed, coffee and tea fell off the list of things I was allowed to have (a lot fell off that list, but we’re discussing fluids). Do you know what it’s like to be a writer and be deprived of coffee?! (Side note: soda was already off my list due to other health issues – being me is fun!)
Water became my new best friend. And it turned out water wasn’t so bad after all. Kidney stones don’t like acid, so I added a touch of cranberry juice or lemonade to my water for flavor. Now the struggle was meeting that 64-ounce goal each day. It still felt like an insane amount to achieve during my waking hours. I mean, remembering to eat was difficult enough – now I needed to drink, too?
Parents to the rescue!
My parents bought me that big blue water bottle you see in the picture. It holds 64 ounces, so I didn’t have to keep track of glasses each day. (Yes, I tried that – it didn’t work) I fill it each morning, and it sits beside me on my desk while I work. That shade of blue is in the corner of my eye while I work – a nice subtle reminder. When I need to run errands or when I hit the gym, it’s a bit bulky. So I have my trusty Child water bottle for those times. That water bottle holds 20 oz. I either fill it from the big bottle or fill it separately and go for more than 64 oz. for the day.
Yes, drinking regularly means peeing regularly. I’ve made my peace with that fact (seriously – is it THAT much time out of your day?). Mostly because I’ve noticed other benefits from meeting my water intake each day:
- My skin looks amazing
- My hair isn’t falling out or breaking anymore
- My lips don’t chap as much
- My weight stays on an even keel
- I don’t wake up parched
- The blue bottle has some heft to it, so I get an arm workout every day
It’s your call, really: stay healthy enough to continue your writing, or sacrifice your health and lose time you could be writing. Personally, I hate hospitals, so I do everything I can to avoid them. If that means I have to step away from the keyboard a few times a day, I’m willing to accept that.
Besides, no way in hell am I going through another kidney stone!
“The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.”~Neil Gaiman
I plan out most of my posts a month ahead of time; this gives me plenty of time to ruminate on what I want to say while also making sure I have some kind of structure for this site between my work assignments. This post, however, was not on the schedule. Instead, it’s a spur-of-the-moment decision prompted by an encounter with a complete asshat who felt the need to spout words I really despise:
“These are the rules for writing/publishing.”
Let me make things very clear for everyone – especially if you’re just starting out in the writing world and trying to get your feet under you:
THERE ARE NO RULES!
When I first started out, I felt victim to plenty of similarly-minded idiots: people who felt the need to rattle off lists and lists of rules I needed to obey if I was ever going to be successful. And I believed them, chasing my tail in circles until I was cross-eyed, exhausted, confused, and getting absolutely nowhere. Why? Because it was absolute crap. In fact, it took talking to people in the industry for me to learn it was crap, and then I felt embarrassed, humiliated…and finally, really angry.
Some of my favorites? You have to use “said” for every dialogue tag. Utter bilk. Are you supposed to bust out the thesaurus and use a different tag for every line of dialogue? No, that’s asinine. However, you can use a sprinkling of other tags without a problem, or you can omit tags altogether and let the dialogue stand on its own.
You can’t kill off a main character. Now, you better have a good reason for doing so, but why can’t you? If it drives the plot forward and contributes to the character development of other characters, execute the bastard! Just be prepared to have readers get mad at you.
You can’t use adverbs. Ugh, this debate kills me – mostly because I’m guilty of overusing them and have to edit mercilessly. There are often better word choices available, but saying that adverbs should be avoided 100% is crap. The adverb was created for a reason, and it does have a purpose. If you’re reading your work (aloud is best), you’ll catch the ones that don’t belong and change them. I refuse to follow the adage that they should be omitted en masse.
Write what you know. I don’t know what moron came up with this one, but they deserve a flogging. Research exists – has always existed – and it’s one of the most valuable tools available to a writer. If you have an interest in something, then write about it! Immerse yourself in it, drown in everything you can lay your hands on! If you only ever write about what you know, you are going to become stale, boring, and people are going to complain that everything you hand them sounds the same.
You’re not [insert author name here]. Follow the rules. I really hope you’re not so-and-so; you should be trying to be YOU. No one else can write like you. No one else has your voice, your tone, your view on a story. Why would you want to be that other person? Don’t you want YOUR books on the shelf? YOUR stories told? If all you want is to be someone else, go write fan fiction (note: I am NOT bashing fan fiction).
The ONLY rule that matters is to write well. Yes, you need to spellcheck and use proper grammar (sad but true), but otherwise, forget the rules. Tell a great story your way – it’ll be a way no one else has done before, and THAT’S what matters.
Want to write something completely devoid of dialogue? Go for it! If you can pull it off, someone’s going to love it.
Want to rack up a higher body count than George R.R. Martin? (First, good luck) So long as those bodies are justified (slaughter for the sake of slaughter is not a good reason), then write it.
Tell the story that is burning to get out of your brain. Write what inspires you. Make it the best possible story, whatever that looks like.
The next time someone spouts rules at you, go look at the books on your shelves. I guarantee that you will find examples that break those same rules.
I leave you with the remainder of Neil Gaiman’s rules for writing (the quote at the top is Rule #8) – they’re the best ones I’ve ever come across:
- Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
- Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
- Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
- Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
- Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
- Laugh at your own jokes.
Tonks hissed at Firefly this morning (he had surgery yesterday, and she doesn’t like that he A) smells like the vet and B) has a cone of shame on), and so she got yelled at for being mean to her brother. As punishment, I wouldn’t let her on the desk. She’s since compromised by curling on my lap, very sad and apologetic.
This might be a first for cat kind. It’s definitely a first for this little demon!
Everyone has their own preference for a working environment, and no one is wrong (okay, scratch that: standing around gossiping about people and not actually working is wrong).
Much as it drives me insane, my fiance’ likes to have the television on while he works, despite the fact that it isn’t even in the same room as his office; the noise reaches his office and provides sound.
Some people require absolute silence and make me question how in the world they function (seriously, what is wrong with you?!) How you don’t go insane with nothing but your own internal dialogue and buzzing of your surrounding electronics (or worse – the scratching of your pen) is beyond me, but if that’s your modus operandi, more power to you.
I’m a music afficiando.
Regardless of what I’m working on – contract work, speculative fiction, or even personal essays – I have music going through my speakers. Music keeps me from tearing out my hair, greases the wheels on my creativity, and even manages to loosen stubborn plot knots. (It also blocks the sounds of the television, but that’s a different story)
What I decide to put on depends on what I’m writing. Contract work tends to flow best with hard rock. Why? I think because it’s what I usually listen to, so the lyrics don’t distract me as much. If the assignment is particularly difficult, I switch over to Disney and show tunes. Again, I have those lyrics down cold, and the familiarity is soothing on my brain. There’s the slight chance of my getting distracted with the need to perform, though, so I have to use those playlists sparingly if I actually want to stay on schedule.
When it comes to my sci-fi and fantasy work, it really depends on what I’m writing. My novels DO have playlists, and I’ll leave them on endless loops when I get into writing/editing jags. I think by now most writers have playlists for their novels – assuming they don’t fall into that silent category (the very idea of writing an entire novel in silence makes me want to climb the walls – and not in the good Ghost-Spider way).
And, yes, songs cure writer’s block.
I can’t explain how or why, exactly. I’ve had lyrics supply me with words I needed. I’ve also just had instrumental bridges strike the right chord (I know, I’m hilarious) in my brain, and an entire scene has bloomed under my fingers. If something isn’t working with one type of music, I change playlists for another. Tempo, rhythm, tone – the variety is pretty much endless, and it can provide whatever emotion I need at the time. These days, there’s also no shortage of streaming services available. You aren’t even limited to music from your country; the entire world is open to you. Some of my favorite musicians hail from Norway, Spain, and Japan.
Music really is universal.
My work gets done, my writing becomes richer, and I don’t have to sit at my computer in complete, utter, sanity-zapping silence (I really have to know how you work in silence. Have you never heard music?). Since my taste in music encompasses just about everything (except Country – do not bring that twanging mess in here), I also get to incorporate a wide variety of emotion into my work. My writing is better for it, and so is my mental well-being.
Just give it a try, especially if you’ve been staring at the screen for more than 5 minutes without a thought of how to proceed. Pick a song – even at random – and see what comes of it. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Being a freelance writer involves a TON of work, most of which people don’t really get to know about since it isn’t glamorous and never makes it print anywhere:
- Marketing yourself (I personally HATE this task and have to constantly work at selling myself and my skills)
- Adapting your writing to fit into templates requested by clients
- Adjusting your style/tone to fit requests of clients (not always – sometimes you get to keep true to your tone)
- Waiting to find out if a new client is going to like what you submitted
So when a client comes back with high praise and tells you they love what you did (or extend you a contract), your little writer heart does the happy dance, and you feel like you scaled a mountain. Maybe not Mount Everest or Mount Kilimanjaro, but a mountain all the same.
Today, I got to scale a mountain, and my writer’s heart is happy and grinning a big, sappy smile.
“You can’t take my sass.
You can’t take my talking.
You can kiss my ass.
And then keep on walking.
Nothing you can take from me was ever worth keeping.“