blogging · discipline · General Writing · goals · storytelling · Writing and Family

How to Write (or Get Your Writing Done)

My Dream

When I was a kid and decided I wanted to be a lyricist, I had to be inspired to write  a poem or song.  Inspiration usually came from pining over my latest crush, or listening to country music songs, or dreaming about being a famous songwriter when I grew up.  Most of my poems and lyrics were about love and heartbreak, except for the poem I wrote about my dog, Tippy. I wrote sad poems all through my teen years.

I took a break from writing in my twenties, but picked it up again when I was in my thirties and going through a divorce. I often would not write unless I was inspired by my own emotions. However, I was in my mid-thirties when I decided I need to find a way to practice writing discipline.

My lessons in discipline started when I signed up for creative writing classes taught by a published author. She told us that to be a writer you must write. We were required to submit 2,000 words each week, I believe, as well as participate in shared critiques of our work with classmates. This new writing routine was no easy task, especially for someone- me- who had spent some many years convinced that inspiration created the writing muse. I learned a lot while taking those writing classes.

Say Bu-bye to Inspiration

Inspiration is all in your head. It really is. Saying all those years that I could not write without inspiration was just another way of saying I was undisciplined, or maybe even  lazy when it came to my craft. While inspiration can motivate action, it was holding me back because I was allowing myself to write only when I felt like it. The bottom line is if you let that muse lead you, you will not get very much of anything done.

There is an old saying that inspiration has paved many roads to hell.  In the writing word, inspiration has paved many roads to  dead-end streets with garbage cans full of words that have been thrown away.

Say Hullo to Discipline

Treat discipline as a verb. This means taking action to  write in a way to ensure that your goals are being met. For example, if you plan is to submit stories to magazines, you need to sit down and write stories. If you want to find work as a non-fiction writer, you need to find magazines or paid sources to pitch to, and then write those articles.

A schedule is essential for a writer. whether it be a half hour in the morning, an hour in the evening, or every ten minutes on the hour throughout the day.  Go to your special writing space, shut out all distractions, fire your word processor up and start writing.  Just do it.

Create Goals

Once you have a schedule down, what are you going to do with all those words you are writing? I suggest creating goals, such as finding homes for the pieces you write. If you pen short stories, why not find magazines that accept your style of writing?  Duotrope is a great database to search short story markets.  Writer’s Digest offers this list, and  The Write Life blog lists 23 quality places to submit stories.

If you want make some or all your money from writing, then search out the writer’s job boards for projects that might be a fit for you. ProBlogger, Bloggingpro, and Freelance Writing are three job boards I like really well. Pick projects suitable for you, pitch your skills, and take a chance.

You can also find online blogs, publications, or websites that you would like to write for and do cold marketing. If you want to learn more about how to do this, I recommend The Well-Fed Writer (I saw Peter Bowerman speak a few years back, and he knows his stuff) and this blog by Elna Cain. There are many other blogs out there by people who make income from writing.

Stick to It

Once you have said goodbye to inspiration, hello to discipline, and created your goals, you need to stick to the plan. This does not mean you have to write every day, or be prepared to write at any given moment. It just means you need to treat writing as if it’s work.

If you have a nine-to-five job, then writing time might be a few hours a week, or three or four hours on the weekend. If you work part-time, then your writing time might be four or five hours every day. If you want to make income from writing, you need to make time to market yourself and get the word out about what you do.

So, no matter what you writing schedule is, or what you want to do with your writing, the important thing is to stick to the plan and get your writing done!

 

Change · General Writing

In the Middle of the Night

It is my fault that  I am awake at 3:18 on a Tuesday morning and here in my home office writing this article. I should have known better than to drink a mocha at 8:30 in the evening, and to allow my mind to get bogged down with “stuff.” I will undoubtedly go back to bed soon and try to sleep another few hours before getting up at six to get ready for work.  I am feeling plenty exhausted about now.

So, what’s keeping me awake?

Changes. Huge changes are happening in my life.

I opened the door to opportunity, my feet hit the pavement, and now the forward movement is happening with grace and the right speed.  This action is enough to keep me motivated but not to knock me off my feet.

It took me some time to get to a space where I was not fearing change.  For some time, I was allowing my confidence to waver because I was so busy focusing on what the end result should be instead of experiencing the moment.  In fact, a quote from The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe best describes how I was feeling for a while:

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.

My lesson is this; opportunity is not about the end result but about my footwork in working toward my goals. I don’t get to say what happens in the end, or how it happens, but I have complete control over the steps I take to get what I want out of life.

So, change, continue coming into my life because I’m ready for you. One hundred percent ready.

 

General Writing

The Calling

This week, I found a faded manila folder containing my writer dreams. There were a few ugly form rejection slips, but also numerous personalized no-thanks notes.  Sometimes I was invited to submit more work, but I often did not follow up because I had allowed each rejection to infect a self-created wound of feeling not enough to be published.

As I dug deeper into this folder, I came across a treasure that I remember very well.  Small-town Cloverdale, California had decided to throw their first annual Dickens Street Fair in 1996, and the Chamber of Commerce was looking for a local writer to create a promotional piece. I jumped at the chance and, being a self-proclaimed poet at the time, penned a Dickens-style poem.  The Chamber of Commerce loved it and made it into an official invitation that was sent by snail mail to all 4,000 plus residents.  This gig made me no money, but it brought me notoriety because my grandmother made sure everyone in town know who wrote the poem.

The next year when I was commissioned to create a new promotional flyer for the second annual Dickens Street Fair, I asked to be paid my work.  I thought $20 for my work would suffice, but they refused and said they did not have money in the budget. It was at that time that I decided to walk away with the conviction that my writing skills had value.

I decided to do whatever I could to become a better writer. I took three semesters of creative writing classes at the local college. I enrolled in the paralegal program at the university, graduated, and then earned my B.A. in Liberal Studies. I excelled in all three programs because they were light on testing and heavy on writing.

Today, I get paid for my writing skills as a paralegal. I write articles that I am compensated for, and I have been awarded money for winning a few short story contests.  I now have another calling to expand my writing skills and become more available for freelance work.

Always follow your calling and do whatever it takes to make your dream lucrative for you.  Never allow yourself to be boxed in by conventional expectations. Make yourself available so that people who need writers will get to know you and your specialty.

Remember, you do not have to become a Stephen King or J.K. Rowling to be a writer because there are many ways to utilize your writing skills.  Do your research, create your platform, become available, and be patient.

Oxfrod Comma

To Go Oxford….or Not

Do you use the Oxford comma or do you not? Some grammar sages say to make your own choice, unless omitting the Oxford comma will make the meaning of the sentence unclear.  Others tout that not using the Oxford Comma is a sin punishable by twenty lashes with a…well…wet comma.

I believe that the only rules are to be consistent your use of the Oxford, and always use it when your series in sentences are not clear.

There is a recent court case in Maine where the failure to use an Oxford Comma resulted in an ambiguous law. Even though this legal mishap was all over the news, I researched the Maine statute.  Title 26 of the Labor and Industry, section 664(F), says that overtime pay does not apply to (notice the bold text):

F.   The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing,
packing for shipment or distribution of:
(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.

Notice the bold portion above.  I can see how this law is ambiguous because we don’t know if overtime is not allowed when it comes to “packing for distribution or shipping,” or if packing for distribution is separate from shipping.  Because of the lack of a comma, an employee won his suit for overtime pay.

If the usage of the Oxford comma is so serious when it comes to the law, then it must be taken seriously when we write our articles and our stories. We want clear and concise writing. Does this mean that we should always use the Oxford comma?

Personally, I believe this is a personal choice.  The most important thing is to make sure our writing is clear and concise.

This week as your write your wonderful story, grueling article, or fantastic legal brief, your priority is to create sentences that do not confuse the reader. How you get there is completely up to you

 

General Writing

Everything is a New Perspective

These last seventeen months have been ones of overload leading to renewal and a fresh perspective, and what feels like a new lease on life. My partner recovered well from his heart surgery. Late last spring, I changed law firms and now walk less than sixty seconds to my office. To celebrate all of our good fortunes, my partner and I spent a beautiful week during September 2016 in Rockport, Massachusetts with his family. Sometimes we visited castles, museums and islands, and other times we sat on the front porch eating snacks, sipping beverages and talking about memories and experiences.

I wish I could share that I have gotten plenty of creative writing done this year, when in fact my attention has been focused on writing articles for the Reap Record, the newsletter for Redwood Empire Association on Paralegals. I also, upon invitation, wrote an article on construction defect for our local Bar Association journal.

My creative writing has been on the back burner for too long, but now I am pushing myself to submit a short story to our local anthology.  I am exactly ten days away from the deadline and about 500 words in, with the story allowed a maximum word count of 2500.  All stories submitted for consideration must be about Sonoma County.  Two of my characters are from the late eighteen-hundreds who lived a small town in the northern part of the county, and my main character is from the same town in the mid nineteen-seventies.  In fact, if you were sitting in my office right now, you would see the pictures of my characters pinned to my bulletin board, along with photographs of that small town that burned down years ago.

Now that I am back in action mode, I have decided it’s time to set some goals:

  1. This week I will complete my short story and submit it before the deadline.
  2. This weekend I will work on my tax returns.
  3. Next week I will complete my article on family law for the Reap Record.
  4. During the coming weeks, I will do the necessary footwork for a mutual project in the works.

Finally, it’s time to get devote at least an hour a day to sitting in the chair and working on my stories. At some point, I will also decide whether to permanently shelve my novel, or refurbish parts into a new story.

Happy writing all, and always allow words to empower you.

Coffee · General Writing · Grammar · storytelling

Grandma’s Coffee Mill

 

Grandma's Coffee MillKrups, who I often called K, was my best friend for twenty some-odd years. From the day we met, we were inseparable. The whir of her bladed heart made me smile.  Every morning she ground aromatic java beans, and some evenings she even convinced me I needed Hazelnut or caramel decaf. K didn’t just hand me perfect coffee, but she made sure my flax seed and almonds were finely chopped just the way I liked them.

Then, one day a few months ago, K died. No warning, no goodbye, she just didn’t wake up one morning. With tears in my eyes, I broke the news to Don.  In an effort to soothe me, he suggested we bring his friend Cuisinart in the fill K’s spot, but it was too soon.  I had found K dead less than ten minutes earlier and needed time to grieve.

As I wallowed in grief, Don came up with another suggestion.  “Hey, what about your grandmother’s coffee grinder?

“Huh?”  I said, unsure of what he was talking about.

Then, my gaze fell on the old crank coffee mill—Goodwood, or G.W. for short—that had been living on the countertop for several years. G.W. never moved or made a sound, and he certainly never complained about all the attention K got.

That same morning after I laid K to rest in the recycling bin—she had been so giving that I was sure she wanted her parts donated—I put G.W.to the test.  I loaded his portal with fresh coffee beans and cranked the handle, around and around, and smiled as he revealed his deep bass voice.  He worked hard to produce a good java.  However, because  he was older and a bit cranky, it took him longer to get the job done.

I still miss K and think of her often, but G.W. has proven to be a wonderful friend as well. Over time, his joints have loosened a bit and he is a bit more spry, always eager to grind my beans to perfection. Too bad him and K never noticed each other when she was alive. They would have made perfect companions.

Writing and Family

New Year and Renewed Goals

I always look forward to the New Year because it means Thanksgiving and Christmas are done until the holiday season gives birth again ten months down the road.

The fall of 2015 was particularly trying for me and my partner of 10 years. First, there were three fires in Lake County California, the Valley Fire being the worst because it rampantly swept through Middletown, Cobb, and Hidden Valley. Three people died and almost 2,000 structures, mostly homes, were destroyed.  We saw our friends’ homes destroyed, to where whole communities were desecrated and people lost everything and were forced into evacuation shelters.  While my partner’s home survived, he started having breathing problems.

Over the next month or so, my partner’s breathing problems intensified.  On October 4, a middle of the night emergency room visit resulted in him having open heart surgery on October 26 for an aortic valve replacement. Thank goodness, he came through with flying colors and was released from all restrictions five weeks later. Now, he is going full speed.

What these experiences were devastating and stressful, they were heart opening and life changing. I felt so much compassion for friends who had lost their homes, but joy that their individual spirit and lust for life continued on.  I experienced the strength of the entire county as people came together in community and helped each other out in all ways imaginable. During our medical crisis, people whose homes had been affected reached out to offer support to us.

These experiences also put my priorities in place. It was as if my problems were minute in comparison. I began to examine my own mortality and what I really want to do with the rest of my life, and especially how to rekindle my writing.

For several months I had been working too much overtime at work, which took away from my writing. In the fall I cut way back on overtime, and then in late December I decided I would not do any unless absolutely necessary. Finally, in January my boss changed our overtime policy, at which time I decided I would not ask for any further extra work because I wanted to spend that time on my writing.

I have been working on my novel more and now have a critique partner.  I would like to finish this work and submit it to an agent. I will be looking for freelance assignments and I will start submitting short stories again. I will make time to write every day and work on creating and building my freelance business. All this because writing is my passion.

I have never had such a dose of reality in life that has put my priorities right where they belong.

Happy New Year, and happy writing!