Monday, June 13, 2011

10 Lessons Learned In 10 Years As A Writer

Ten years ago, I left a stable, successful, stressful career to became a freelance writer. I wanted to do something meaningful. Something flexible. Something that didn't keep me awake at night worrying about employees and politics.  Looking back over the past decade, I'm not sure if I was crazy or visionary.

I'm still learning my current profession, but continuous learning goes along with being a writer. I've never met a writer who felt she knew it all, and I'd be mighty suspicious of anyone who claimed she did.

I have picked up a few things during my time behind the keyboard, however. Many of the lessons I've learned are more about self-employment than writing. Eliminating unnecessary adverbs is easy compared to bidding jobs properly.

Are you thinking about plunging into a writing career? Here are 10 things I've learned during my 10 years as a writer—things I wish I'd known:

  1. Life goes on, no matter when your deadlines are. Death does not care if you have something due.
  2. Publishing is not the only goal of writing. For the most important kinds of writing, it's not a goal at all.
  3. Changing from a person who loves to write to a person who writes for a living is hard. Damn hard.
  4. If you want to be a published writer with an income, learn to write well and fast. Then learn to write faster.
  5. If you want to write for your family and friends, accept that they may not like what you write.
  6. Everyone has a story. Getting published isn't about how great your story is. It's about how you tell it and if you can sell it.
  7. The greater your need for uninterrupted silence, the greater the number of phone calls, arguing children, and sick animals.
  8. Persistence and flexibility are both gifts and curses.
  9. Don't expect anyone you know to understand that working at home actually involves working.
  10. Technology is changing the way we write and read. Writers who ignore this are forgetting that we also had to move beyond carbon paper and mimeographs. 
What lessons have you learned as a writer?

Photograph courtesy of James/Ellesmere FNC at Flickr

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Picture Prompts - A Policewoman & More

We've all heard the saying: a picture is worth 1,000 words. In the case of today's photo prompts, who knows how many words you may write? Take a look at today's pictures and perhaps you'll be inspired to write a story, article, essay, or poem.

Name of photo:  "One of first US Policewoman"
Other info on its flickr page: The picture was taken in 1918.
Photo courtesy of Ruslan

Name of photo: "Crash Turkish Airlines TK 1951"
Other info on its flickr page: "Crash site of Turkish Airlines flight TK 1951 at Schiphol, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. February 25, 2009; Copyright Fred Vloo / RNW"
Photo courtesy of Radio Netherlands Worldwide

Name of photo: "Light and Noise"
Other info on its flickr page: Lots of comments about the composition, especially the light.
Photo courtesy of Paul Falardeau

Name of photo: "Annoying Noises Prohibitted [sic]"
Other info on its flickr page: "You know you're in the south when the word 'holler' appears in a county code," plus a wealth of funny comments.
Photo courtesy of BarelyFitz

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

How the Digital Age is Changing the Way We Write

My son recently asked me, "Do you have every book you've ever owned?" If you look around my house, it's easy to see how he could come to this conclusion.

"We would have to have a much bigger house if I did," I said. The last time I thoroughly cleaned out my book collection, I needed a hand truck to haul my donation into the library. That was about 12 years ago, so I’m due. If I ever convert to a Kindle, a Nook, or an iPad, I could conceivably ditch my entire book collection.

The digital age is doing more than revolutionizing the way we buy and keep books and magazines. It's changing the way we write.

Writing is shorter and snappier. No one wants to wade through long introductions. No one has time to wait for the key points of information. No has patience for run-on sentences. Fragments, however, are okay.

Paragraphs are smaller. Remember how you learned in school that paragraphs should have at least five sentences—and that they should never be only one sentence? A five-sentence paragraph is too long for digital media. And the one-sentence paragraph is here to stay.

Bullets, lists, and headings are vital. Watch people reading on their smartphones. They don't read thick chunks of material. They keep scrolling. They're looking for the things that stand out—the stuff in bold or with numbers next to it.

White space is important. Because of the fast-paced, scanning-style of reading that is becoming the standard, a layout that includes plenty of white space is important. Material that's too dense—tiny print, skinny margins, squished paragraphs—is hard to read on a computer or digital device.

Word counts are getting smaller. An average blog post runs about 350 words. I do my best to keep posts under 500. When I was doing regular articles for print media, the word count was 1,500.

"But I'm not writing for the Web," you may say. "I'm working on a novel, and I want it to be published in the regular, old-fashioned way, dead trees and all."

No matter what format you're aiming for—print, blog, ebook, papyrus scroll—chances are at least some portion of it will wind up in digital media.

Writers, are you changing the way you write because of blogs, social media, smartphones, and e-readers? 
Photo courtesy of Rin Zebram├Ądchen

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Trash Can & Other Writing Prompts

  • An overflowing trash can….
  • Do you do any volunteer work?
  • What's your favorite period of history?
  • The wilted roses….
  • She said, "I should have…."
  • Use this quote as inspiration: "There are no secrets better kept than the secrets that everybody guesses." --George Bernard Shaw, from "Mrs. Warren's Profession." 
If you've never used a writing prompt before, you may want to read my sidebar note, "What is a Writing Prompt and Why Would I Use One?"

Photo courtesy of Jason McArthur

Monday, March 21, 2011

Rolling the Dice & Other Writing Prompts

  • Andy rolled the dice. . . .
  • Are you afraid of insects?
  • The last time she called. . . .
  • In 1936. . . .
  • Amy said, "I've never liked. . . ."
Image courtesy of Alan Cleaver

Type A or Writer?

I was reading Anger Management For Dummies-- don't laugh too hard -- it was more of a research thing than an attempt at self-help. But since I knew everyone at my house would like to see my alter-ego, the Deadline Ogre, driven out of our village, I kept reading. 

The more I read, the more I wondered if being a writer is a one-way ticket to being a Type A.

I racked up an impressive five out of seven on the "Do you have an aggressive personality?" quiz, for instance. Competitive, impatient, intense, demanding and forceful in pursuing goals. And the problem is. . . .?

Then I hit the chapter on Type A personality and this heading: "Focusing on who you are rather than what you do." Uh oh. A few pages later, I was advised to take the "tombstone test"--you know, how you want your epitaph to read. "Wrote a best-seller that was so fabulous Oprah returned to doing a talk show just to interview her" was not on the list. I suspect the author would have filed my preferred inscription under a scarlet A.

But, hey, I could do the rest of the how-to-get-over-being-Type-A suggestions. I can play games without having to win. I don't wear a watch. I do my best not to be in a hurry all the time. And the section on finding the right work environment--heck, I work at home! No problem there, right? "Type A's...tend most often to seek out places to work that are hard driving, time pressured, frenetic, competitive, and full of deadlines." Well. So much for that theory. You can't be a writer without deadlines, sorry, and all of those other adjectives as well.

After the Type A chapter, I became skeptical about my chances of transforming to the (desired) Type B personality while still being a writer. I kept reading, noting that I was already on track with most of the suggestions about being tolerant, forgiving, and responsible for my own actions. When I got to the chapter about adding balance to your life, this sentence got me: "Is your personality too one-dimensional--work, work, and more work?" Of course I work all the time. Are there professional writers who don't?

Ideas and deadlines don't stop at 5:00 p.m. If I didn't like what I do, that would be a problem--but my work is the most fun I have all day. Most of my writing is travel writing, which means that not only do I get to read and write about fun stuff all day, I also get to go do those fun things on a regular basis--and that's "work" for me. Yes, I'm constantly on the computer, or taking pictures, or reading, or scribbling notes--and that's way more fun than cooking dinner, doing dishes, or pretty much anything else I can think of.

Does my single-mindedness make me a Type A? Probably. But I think I did something better for my Type A personality than futilely attempting to change it. I elected to change my career to something fulfilling and meaningful to me. Call me Type A if you want to, but I think I'm just a writer.
Photo courtesy of Denis Dervisevic

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Broken Cup & Other Writing Prompts

  • The cup broke....
  • Pets are....
  • Use this quote for inspiration: "Be the change that you want to see in the world." --Mohandas Gandhi
  • My family....


Photo courtesy of Michael Hashizume

Friday, February 25, 2011

Just Write Group Meetings Discontinued

"If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story." --Orson Wells

After an interesting eight years, I've decided to stop facilitating my weekly writing group.

When I started the group in 2002 at the Northwest Senior Center (a City of Las Vegas center that is now closed), I had a partner: my mom. We planned a six-week class, but the writers who showed up during that first meeting captivated us. They inspired us. And so we stayed.

Over the next eight years, we moved from being a class to being a group. We lost some members; some moved, some drifted away, and some passed away, including my mom.

In 2008, the Just Write Group moved to the Derfelt Senior Center at Lorenzi Park after the Northwest Center closed. It's been a bumpy few years since then. Like so many Las Vegans, I've had to focus more on work than on soul-enriching activities. Late last year, I put the group on hiatus, hoping it would be temporary, but this week I decided it was time to end the Just Write Group.

While I am going to miss the weekly meetings (honestly, who else other than a group of writers cares about apostrophe abuse?), I will be posting prompts, links to interesting articles about writing, and the occasional observation about the writing life. I welcome ideas and guest posts from JWG members. Who knows? Perhaps cyberspace will expand our little group.

One thing hasn't changed since that summer day in 2002: the writers I know still captivate me, inspire me, and encourage me to be a better writer. For all that, I thank each and every writer who has been a part of our group.
Photo courtesy of Stephen Nakatani