I often joke that marrying into my husband’s family was the best decision I ever made for my writing career.
But don’t think that that hasn’t been painful.
The reason is this: the Makechnies are hyper-critical. Excuse me, I mean, master wordsmiths.
You make one misstep and The Professor and his posse will pounce like a snake on a mouse and swallow you whole.
The biggest disagreements between my dear husband, and me, is when I ask him to “quickly look something over.” What I’m really looking for is, “Looks great, honey. Brilliant, in fact!”
I’m still waiting for that utterance.
It took me a long time to accept the fact that proofreading my work is not something we, as a couple, can share.
And yet, I still test the waters occasionally. He now begins by asking, “Do you want me to edit this or just tell you I like it?”
Except he just can’t do that. And my sensitive feelers cannot handle it.
The Professor comes by the super-critical eye honestly. Both parents are superb readers, writers, and storytellers. As a child, The Professor remembers his mother, Heather, a precise grammarian, becoming incensed over poor sentence structure.
Grandma Heather has even taught my children well. When she asks a question like, “Who wants to go with Grandma to the beach?” Not one child in this house answers, “ME!!!!” Oh no. The correct answer is, “I do!” (not “Me want to go to the beach!”) You see the difference? Believe me, after almost twenty years in this family I know the difference.
All of my children have sat at Grandma’s feet as she taught with her stories and love of language. She dedicated her entire life to raising good children, and she loved her grandchildren with her whole heart. I marveled at the way she was able to reach into the soul of each child and fill them so completely.
Last summer Grandma Heather gathered the grandchildren by the ocean, pointing out to sea, at the Isles of Shoal off the coast of New Hampshire, telling stories of our ancestors. The woman could hold the attention of even the most squirrely child.
Here Grandma Heather used her words to comfort my boy, as he watched his sister sail away on a boat called Ocean Classroom.
When I started this blog, Heather was delighted! Mostly because her grandchildren were prominently featured. She laughed and commented at the pictures of baby poop and lipstick smears. But she also liked and encouraged this new hobby I was obsessing over: writing. Over time, I found I had procured an editor.
I would sometimes receive emails like this : “Wonderful! I could not be more proud!”
Other times: “This is not ready to publish. Go back and do some editing.”
Perhaps my favorite: “If you write the word YUM one more time I will throw myself out the window.”
I resisted using the word YUM for at least eight months.
Writers are often told to, “Imagine your perfect reader. Don’t worry about writing for the world. Write for your one person.” I have many perfect readers in mind when I write, but provided with such blunt and persistent feedback, Heather was always on my mind before I hit “Publish.” Would she think it was funny? Would my imperfect sentences drive her mad?
I’ve worked and reworked sentence structures and subject-verb agreement with Heather in mind, on consistent tenses, on pronoun agreement, and just the write blend of somber and humor.
Heather played the critic for me: an essential role for any writer. Oh, we sensitive writers need many things from many people. We need the constant and consistent praisers, but we also need the critical eye. Be wary if your critique group only loves your work – they’re not doing their job. You need someone to knock you down a few times if you hope to survive.
Heather’s praise was often glowing, but her criticism could sting. My skin has grown tougher. She was reading and I was learning.
A week ago today I sat in a church pew as Heather Hope Makechnie was laid to rest. Her death was a shock and has left us all bereft. It is words I am having a hard time coming up with. I hear her in my head, but I miss her voice.
I have turned to the words she wrote to me. Last summer:
How I miss my Cope, Nelson, Brynne, and Paige. I hear the echoes of their voices in the house. (Tennyson does, too.) I see their books and clothes and toys. I see the empty swing and slide. I watch the carrots and sunflowers grow toward the sun. But they are not here, and there is a tinny sound in the echoes. FORTUNATELY they are deeply seated in my heart, and the eternal love-light glows. I pray that you are SEEING, HEARING, TASTING, TOUCHING everything around you. I know you will come home with many memories, but I predict that the most powerful and lasting memory you will have is of each other. Semper commone.
I have not felt like writing anything at all. The void feels so big and vast I just want to lie down.
Avoidance came in the form of eating way too many brownies, spending too much money at Target, running miles, and cleaning the refrigerator (yes, avoidance takes extreme forms.) And yet, as always, I was drawn back to the computer. To make an attempt at words.
She was more than our storyteller, she was our family’s heart. And though she will not comment, email, or stop by for a visit to discuss the latest blog post, I like to think she’s still keeping tabs. I like to think she’s still my perfect reader – and making sure I haven’t resorted to using the word, “yum.”
Heather’s last comment on this blog was this: “OH, my heart! so much to love all in one place!”
In celebration of Independence week, let’s get to know two women who are livin’ their dream. If you’ve ever wanted to write novels and wonder how the process works and how two busy moms get it done, meet Dianne and Jessica. Dianne has several books published and Jessica’s first novel is being released today!
1. How do you find time to write? What are your habits?
Diane: I write whenever I can squeeze it in, and I’m lucky, because my family is VERY supportive. It helps that my daughters, at 14 and 17, are self-sufficient and have been for a long time. They’ve been packing their own lunches since they were in elementary school, and they’ve helped clean up the kitchen since they were old enough to reach the sink. They also do their own laundry. (Let’s clarify. I have to TELL them to do it, REMIND them to move it from the washer to the dryer, and NAG them to fold it and put it away … but they can perform those functions without my assistance.) When they were younger and needed me more, the best thing I did was establish ONE weekly writing block that was supposed to be untouchable. Every Monday night, from 7:30– 9:00, I went to a room by myself and was granted an uninterrupted writing block. Then at 9:00, there was an online chat at The Practice Room with other writers who also used that time to be productive. (Nowadays, I run the Practice Room session every Monday. Anyone who’s interested in joining, let me know!)
Jess: It’s definitely hard to develop concrete habits with small children around all the time (I have a one-year-old, a five-year-old, and two teenage stepchildren). I write “in the cracks.” I tend to make a lot of random notes on post-its and scraps of paper I find in my purse and then, when I get a good chunk of computer time, I just go after it, having a pretty good idea of what I want from a character/scene/chapter.
Unfortunately, I’m not a night person at all—my creative energy wanes after 3 o’clock in the afternoon and most days I’m in bed by 9:00. I’ve tried staying up, but the writing is never productive. So I get up at 4:00 in the morning some days, to thwart the pitter-patter of the wee ones. But in terms of my current habits? The only consistent one I can think of is that when I draft something new, I set weekly word count goals rather than daily, because you never really know when Life will intervene to either give you extra writing time or none. And I keep my goals low, so that there’s always a chance that I’ll exceed them, which always gives me a nice little boost.
2. How have you gotten past all the rejections? And has failure been a good thing?
Dianne: Failure never feels like a good thing, but sometimes it is. Two unsuccessful R&R’s inspired revisions that helped me land a different agent. Two devastating rejections from my first publisher opened the door to a deal with a bigger publisher. And two rejections from a respected editor were followed almost immediately by the biggest deal of my career so far – with someone else. Every writer has to learn to live with rejection. Even after you get a publishing deal, you’ll have future manuscripts turned down. You’ll see other authors getting more attention. You’ll be told you’re not wanted at your publisher’s BEA booth. You’ll be overlooked in a PW article or – this happened to a friend – your book title will be mentioned and your main character will be listed as the author! Let’s not even talk about what people will say about your books on Goodreads!
Jess: If people had told me when I started my first manuscript that I’d have to write eight more before finding a literary agent and getting published, would I have continued writing? Sure, why not. Because I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the thrill of sending something out there and getting emails back (or physical letters, back when agents asked for those) despite them saying, “nope, sorry, not for me.” And there was always a chance that the email would be a request, which brightened up my stay-at-home-mom day like crazy. That’s a big reason I never gave up on querying—there was a constant sense of possibility.
I guess I didn’t really think of all of those rejections as “failure.” This may sound like a bad attitude, but I was kind of expecting them—anything that wasn’t a rejection was a great surprise. Sure, there was a feeling of, “Aw, man, that’s the third rejection today. Boo on Wednesdays,” but I didn’t let it get me down because the whole thing was a learning process. I knew going into it that there was a whole lot about writing that I needed (and still need) to learn, so I tried to think of it as a “hobby” (which goes against lots of advice that says you should think of it as a career from the get-go). My husband had golf as a hobby, which he’s constantly trying to get better at, and I had writing/querying. He’s always trying to improve his swing and lower his golf score and he has good days and bad days. He comes home excited when he’s found a new swing and says, “I think I’ve got it!” only to come home dejected a few days later. But does he give up golf? No way. Because he enjoys it and he wants to get better.
Likewise, I never gave up writing because I SO wanted to get better, and I wanted some sort of evidence that maybe I was getting better—at both the pages I included with submissions and the query itself. I found that when my concentration shifted wholeheartedly from “I really want an agent and a book deal!” to “I really just want to be able to tell a good story,” I started to improve. It happened gradually, with personalized rejections preceding requests, and many request rejections preceding an offer. I’m so grateful for my process. Personally, I would have been ill-equipped if I’d struck gold and got a book offer with my first effort.
3. What advice would you give to moms who want to write but feel so much resistance from all the demands placed on them?
Dianne: Do what I suggested above: Sit down with your family and work out at least ONE dedicated writing time per week that’s promised to you. You might be surprised to find how eagerly your family conspires to help make that happen. (“Shhhh … Mommy’s writing tonight.”)
Jess: Moms are, by necessity, queens of multitasking and sometimes our families just thinks that’s the way we are, instead of knowing what a huge mental effort it can be to keep up with schedules, driving, snacks, birthdays, games, yardwork, meals, toilet paper supplies, family cards, laundry, creative-activities, discipline, all while being a supportive wife, friend, and community member. It’s easy to have these demands all over the place and think that you can’t say “no” to anything, because people are used to you just taking care of everything. And it’s easy to be exhausted by the time you do find a smidgeon of time for yourself and not have the energy to actually write because creativity and motivation don’t always show up during your one hour of free time on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Start with ideas. Play with ideas in your head and develop them there (I know, there’s already so much going on there based on other people’s needs, but carve out a corner for yourself). I’ve heard some people say that a person who truly wants to be a writer would just sacrifice sleep and stay up to write, but getting sleep is so essential to me being able to function as a mom that I would never endorse that. I really think that brainstorming in your head—plots, characters, twists—and then making quick notes that you can use later is a great way for busy moms to be super productive during their actual writing time. And try telling your kids and significant other, “Hey, I really need your help. Can you please help me work toward my dream by giving me one hour a day?”
But I’m a mom, first and foremost and there are always times when I have to give up and push away from the computer at the tug of little hands and say, “Dang it, I’m just not going to get any writing done today.” Or, like this morning when I got up at 4:30 to start working on these questions and my five-year-old came running out of her room saying, “Mommy, I had a bad dream!” You have to be okay with children interrupting your stuff, even if you’re not happy about it. And when overwhelmed being belief and frustrated, listen to Patty Griffin’s “Heavenly Day” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVy4w6vq8y8&feature=kp) while thinking of your kids and family and have yourself a nice warm feeling about how you wouldn’t have it any other way J
4. Self-published or agent?
Dianne: I self-published back in 2007 before it was as accepted as it is now. Then, in 2009, I signed a traditional publishing contract un-agented. There were good points and bad points about both experiences, but I can definitely say that I would never have landed a 3-book deal with HarperCollins without my agent – and that has been the high point of my writing career so far.
That said, traditional publishing is s-l-o-w moving and full of disappointments. I sympathize with the desire to move more quickly with self-publishing. However, for anyone taking that route, I strongly urge you to research everything first and make sure your book is really ready to publish. (Once you think it’s ready, put it away for a couple months, work on something else, then take it out again and send it to more beta readers.)
Recently, I weeded an overgrown flower bed. I had spread wildflower seeds there, and among the more common plants I discovered beautiful, delicate poppies. Wanting to encourage their growth, I painstakingly pulled out the other plants that were choking them.
To my surprise, the poppies fell over flat on their faces. To compete with the other plants, they had grown too fast and too thin. They couldn’t stand up on their own. I have read a fair share of self-published books that felt the same way – full of beautiful promise, but published too soon because the author was in a hurry to compete with other books and other authors.
Jess: I have an agent, but both are great ways to go, especially these days when online marketing is possible. As a mom and somewhat shy person, I don’t have lots of extra time or natural skill with the task of marketing. For that reason, as well as the fact that I wasn’t in any particular hurry to get my work published, seeking an agent was the way to go for me. I never considered self-publishing because I know that doing it well takes a lot of time and marketing savvy that I just don’t have. I have a friend who LOVES marketing and she’s got a wonderful manuscript that I encouraged her to query, but she’s very excited to get her story into the world, so self-publishing is the way to go for her. I think a career can be forged with both paths.
5. What’s more important – hard work or talent?
Dianne: I think you need both to succeed – in writing and in almost any other profession. You need to be good at what you do and willing to work hard for a long time, even if the reward is deferred.
Jess: I think they’re both very helpful in getting published, but I have to go with hard work on a personal level. I got a similar question recently about whether writers are born or made and said this: There are writers out there who were born to write—the people who seem to innately live the written word and it pours out of them compulsively, whether they want it to or not. As for me, it feels like a return to something that always fit me well, but that never really registered as a possibility for a career. I’ve put a lot of effort into learning more about writing in recent years, but I still feel like a raw scrapper—more of a Rudy-type, who got really lucky with publication because of persistence, practice, love of books/writing, and the ability to take a lot of rejection without giving up, rather than because of a pure, natural skill.
6. What’s more important – “platform” or concentrating on just writing?
Dianne: If by “platform” you mean branding yourself to one audience or genre, forget about it. Many successful authors write across audiences and genres these days. If by “platform” you mean participating in social media like blogging and Twitter, then it depends on what you do with it. If a writer is using social media only for promoting themselves – sending out 30 “Buy My Book” tweets a day – they’re wasting their time.
However, if you use social media to make connections with other people, it is invaluable. Your writing can only improve by interacting with others, learning from them, getting ideas and inspiration from those crazy things that cross your feed … But to make it work, you have to give at least as much as you hope to gain.
Jess: For fiction writers, particularly children’s fiction writers, I think writing is always more important. An agent will never fall in love with a manuscript and then decide not to offer representation just because you have no social media presence. They may ask you to get a little more involved once they sign you (aka, have you start a blog, get on Twitter/Facebook/Goodreads), but they might not. One of my agent’s clients still has no blog, no Facebook, no Twitter, and that’s absolutely fine because she writes beautiful, wonderful books. I don’t have a Goodreads account or a personal Facebook account, and neither agent nor publisher has told me I need to remedy that. THAT SAID, keeping a blog and getting involved in the blogging community through contest involvement (like Miss Snark’s First Victim, Pitch Wars, etc.) and things like AbsoluteWrite (the Query Letter Hell and Kid Lit forums are supportive and full of learning opportunities) was integral to my becoming published. Not only did I learn so much craft-wise, but I found friends and submission opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise found.
Following blogs, following agents on Twitter, and attending WriteOnCon, a free online conference that’s held each August (make sure you sign up this year), are all things that I consider to be part of my education process. Kind of a Stay-At-Home-Mom MFA. I also think having a blog or trying to get some sort of story/article/post published online is helpful because it’s great for an agent to be able to find out something about you with an internet search. When my agent sent me an “offer of representation” email, she mentioned that she’d been around the internet checking me out. I was very glad that I’d sent an open editorial letter to the Denver Post that got published, because she saw and agreed with it and it gave us an immediate point of bonding.
BUT AGAIN, it’s all about the writing. Don’t get sucked into spending all of your precious writing minutes on social media, which is very easy to do.
7. What is your definition of success?
Dianne: Well, it would be awfully cool to make the New York Times best seller list! But in the meantime, I’ll have to be content with defining success by emails such as this one: I wanted to let you know that my daughter Mia has been reading “The Eighth Day.” She says it’s the best book she has ever read (she’s 9).
Thanks for having me here today, Amy! I hope this was helpful! (it was!)
Jess: I think about this a lot, mostly because I feel very lucky in my life. Life comes in seasons, and the last year has been an extended autumn for me (my favorite season). I think, for me, success in life comes from feeling as though I have goals that I’ve accomplished as well as goals that I want to pursue. There’s nothing more invigorating than having a goal and trying hard to accomplish it. A quest, if you will. And part of that quest for me is finding contentment and happiness within the life that I have, rather than saying, “if we only had __, ___, and ___, then life would be great!” It sounds like a simple, almost boring word, but contentment is something that I think can get overlooked in the frenzy to be “successful.” Success is finding that contentment by embracing the blessings that your current life offers while also pursuing a passion.
Jessica Lawson is a mother of two young children and the stepmom to two teens. She writes a great personal/writing blog Here. You can find her first novel, The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher at Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, or your local indie bookstore. Here’s the LINK! Release date is TODAY! Jessica’s official author website is Here.
Congratulations, Dianne and Jess. Thank you for being here today – I’m really excited for you both!
Looking for more author interviews? Check out this popular interview with mom and writer Katrina Kenison.
Seven years ago I sat down and wrote the ending of a real-life story. It was dramatic, heartbreaking – and exhilarating. It was an ending and the beginning of everything.
I put the story away. A year passed. I had my fourth child. The story kept coming and I knew – I was going to write a book.
I didn’t know the first thing about writing a book, but Stephenie Meyer had done it; had a dream about vampires and then wrote a bestseller while her children frolicked at swimming lessons. It emboldened me: mothers could be “real writers!”
For three months after baby was born, I wrote every nap time, evening, and early morning I could. I finished my masterpiece. The next step according to Meyer, was to find an agent. But first – I had to know if it was any good. I gave it to two amazing writers to read and critique. I wanted the truth. If they said it was terrible, then I’d forget about such a silly dream. Little did they know how much power they held in their hands.
A few days later, my manuscript was handed back. There were three words at the top of the very last page: “This is wonderful.”
The other person looked at me with tears in her eyes. “You have done it,” she said.
Granted, this was my mother-in-law and my mother. But whatever, I went with it.
That was seven long years in Tibet. I mean, seven long years ago.
My experience was not exactly like Ms. Meyer’s. It’s been said that getting an agent is as likely as riding bareback on a great white across the Pacific.
Rejection is frustrating and feels soul crushing. But I also feel lucky to have found something I want to do for the rest of my life: write.
Julia invited me to share my writing process with you this week. Funnily enough, she too was inspired by Stephenie Meyer and is now in the querying stage with her first novel (aka riding bareback on a great white.) We wish her luck!!!
So here we go…
What am I working on?
After I began querying my first novel (women’s fiction,) I was antsy to write something else. I’m now querying a second novel I wrote after being inspired by a real-life love story. It’s told from the fictional perspective of a 10-year-old whip smart girl who sets off to find a missing farmer, prove Gaysie Cutter’s guilt, and bring her damaged mother home.
Now I’ve totally switched genres and started writing a children’s book about a very respectable and dignified nanny who is trying to civilize six unruly children. This proves to be extremely difficult for the nanny (since he’s the pet dog.)
I’m always writing a blog post or querying a magazine or pitching a story on-line, but I know I need to focus more and stop spreading myself so thin. But it’s hard for me to focus because I want to write everything!
Why do I write what I do?
I am inspired by real-life and emotional events that make me want to laugh, cry, or run like Tom Cruise in any of his movies since 1980. My first two novels were completely based off real life. Characters are based off people I know and then spiral into their own. I’m an optimistic person, but my stories often hinge on sadness. I’m very much rooted in contemporary and realistic fiction. There is no sci-fi in me. Not at all.
How does my writing process work?
Hahaha! It’s always changing and I’m constantly trying to be more efficient. I used to just sit down and write it all down and then come back to sort out the mess later. Now I outline a lot more. For blog posts I like to tell stories by pictures.
For articles I’ve learned to write the title and bullet points first. For my latest novel, I focused on the chapters I wanted to write, who the characters were, and what the big quest was. Larry Brooks and Storyfix changed the way I see novel structure. I try to write in three stages after the outline is done. The first draft is fast and furious. Second draft is getting rid of terrible first draft and is much slower, getting all the details right. Third draft is refining the language. Then, it gets sent to my wonderful first readers (Lisa, my sister, my mom, and Kate) who tell me what’s up.
I’m still pretty new at this though; I had no idea what I was doing the first two novels.
I carry around a notebook to write down thoughts but have been known to record details on receipts (my paper system drives my husband crazy). I have an iphone but putting pen to paper solidifies a lot in my scattered head. I’m getting better at streamlining and have recently begun using The Notecard System for future projects. I’m considering Scrivener.
My writing process completely changed when all of my children were in school full-time. It’s amazing how much work there is still to do, but my goal is to hit 500 words every morning. The results have been tremendous.
I’m starting to think about self-publishing. I’m tired of the No’s. But I’m taking baby steps because I’m very scared of not having a traditional publisher to validate me.
So there you go! Thank you, Julia, for inviting me to talk all about myself 🙂
I wanted to also introduce you to other mothers who are not only amazing moms, but who are also flinging their writing to the world. They inspire me so much. Go ahead and check them out – you might just be inspired to write your own story…
Julia is a mom of four and writes middle grade and children’s.
Melissa is a new mom to baby O. She’s juggling the newborn phase.
Kate was my first real critique partner. She kept me going in the early days.
Lisa is juggling four, and is one of the most creative people I know.
Nina started out writing novels, but discovered she like blogging more.
Sarah writes a personal blog that makes me laugh bc she has such a good attitude, and her kids are adorable and mischievous in the best way!
All women being creative. I love it.
And now…drumroll…tomorrow is going to be fantastic as I’ve interviewed two published authors who are also mothers. Go ahead and hit that subscribe button on the right hand side just to make sure you don’t miss it!
Yes, this is my desk. The laptop, the writing stand, the corrected manuscript. All the cords, the timer for forced productivity. The scissors? Perhaps I was cutting out horrible plot lines. The pencil, the sharpie, the hundreds of sticky notes. Even the calculator had its purpose. The idea notebook, the filing trays. That poster? It’s Mary Carroll Moore’s three-act structure, of course.
And then there’s all that other stuff like a tin-can robot because as a mom, that’s where all the other family stuff gets dumped, too.
As horrendous as it looks, I look fondly at this picture taken two years ago. It represents so much hard work. It represents an achievement I never thought I was capable of, and many tears.
It represents all those days I scurried to the study during a child’s nap time, all the late nights and early mornings with little sleep, all those small moments I took to write a sentence when I could have been doing something else.
You write “The End.” It is done. You’ve done something remarkable. You’ve written a story. And then what? What do you do with this precious piece of yourself? Do you actually try to – publish? After all, that’s what novels are for!
Here’s the gut wrenching part: No one might ever want it.
All the love, years, emotions, hope, and energy…there are just no guarantees. Statistically speaking, it’s actually very unlikely that it will ever sell. I’m sorry to write that. You might send it to a hundred different literary agents and not one of them will say Yes. You will get a No over and over and over. And then most will just give up. What’s the point of writing if no one wants it?
You must stink.
Nay. That’s actually not what it means at all.
Writing is a business. Frustrated, writers took matters into your own hands.
The self-publishing industry was born. And so were stars in the literary world. Now, Indie publishing is HOT and it’s changed the way writers can do business. They write. They publish.
They Stop Waiting to Get Picked.
Most people in the world would like to write a novel. Are you one of them?
Will you try to go the traditional publishing route with a literary agent or self-publish? There are huge pros and cons for each.
I have an acquaintance who sold 40,000 books last year going the self-pub route. She uses multiple pen names to protect herself. If you’d like to read a lively discussion on the subject, head over to 4 a.m writer, a terrific writer and friend who has edited, encouraged, and pushed me along the last six years. It’s likely that this is a discussion you’ve never heard before. Is it sleazy to use a pen name? head on over and see what you think of “Sheba”!
And whatever you do, keep writing. Don’t ever, EVER give up.
I’ve got the guts to die. What I want to know is, have you got the guts to live? -Tennessee Williams
When he was 21, Tennessee Williams (born March 26, 1911) was a struggling writer with a job he hated at the International Shoe Company. Determined to succeed, he wrote a story every single weekend for three years. (Goodreads)
How is your new year going? I’m a little shiver-me-timber!
It’s been an exciting (and frustrating) process to convert this blog from Blogger to WordPress. May I suggest that if your tech understanding is anything like mine, you ask for HELP. My dear sister-in-law, Cassie, did the hard labor, working long and hard on multiple header options, pages, pull-down menus, fixing broken links, installing plug-ins, and Mailchimp. WordPress is far less friendly to the girl like me who sees programming and HTML as code for RUN. Cassie and I were texting and emailing all through December, Christmas Eve and even Christmas day trying to get the new blog to look right pretty. I could not have done the switch without her. No really, It wouldn’t have happened.
Sometimes I wondered if the entire process was worth it, but I have been drooling over the versatility of WordPress for years. And now you must impart plug-in advice, wise ones.
We installed Mailchimp, an email subscriber list service that gave me a headache, but hopefully will be ever so easy to understand…once I understand it. Sadly, some of my blogger list didn’t convert, so please please Subscribe again even if you already did on the Blogger blog. Lost subscribers are a travesty!
And if you have not subscribed, well I would be pleased as punch about that as well.
I still have work to do adding pictures and links on the sidebar. Like the cows. Do you miss them?
I interviewed myself for the About section. That was rather liberating. And peculiar.
I mulled long and hard on the evolution of this writing place. The elusive “they” say that bloggers should have a “niche.” One theme, one focus. But whenever I decided on one niche (allowance?running?writing? the show donkeys next door?) I felt a great loss. If I wrote exclusively about health, what about the hay field? If the niche was writing, then what about that Little House on the Prairie moment?
Oh dear. Is it a focus problem? My scattered brains jumps like a cat from this to that. Perhaps it is a fixation on moderation.
I love it all, so I decided to keep it all. I hope you won’t mind.
So we move forward and it’s an exciting prospect. The best way to see how far we’ve come is to look at where we were a year ago. There’s much progress! and things I want to do better.
To ring in the new year we once again burned our Christmas tree. It was very Lord of the Flies minus the pig head on a stick.For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t quite ready to let go of Christmas. I’ve missed the Christmas carols constantly playing, the white lights, the break from real life, and that special feeling that envelops a home for the holidays. The kids are basking in the last days of Christmas vacation, though they sure aren’t basking in the sun.
It’s gorgeous, but it’s COLD. We tried to go sledding today. For a full two minutes. One run down the slope, one blasted snowball to the face, and there was more than one child crying.
The chickens eggs freeze more quickly than we can gatherAnd if left too long, the eggs freeze and crack, and the chickens begin to peck peck peck. Savages.
Though I’m not looking forward tromping through deep snow to collect eggs and refill water bowls, I do look forward to fresh eggs with dark yellow yolks.
What else am I not looking forward to? Breaking Bad. Finally, after all the great reviews and “it’s the best show I’ve ever watched,” I watched the first two episodes and decided it just wasn’t meant to be. What was it? Hmmm, the moment when Skylar…never mind, I can’t even write that. Was it the body being eaten by acid in the bathtub? Maybe the bloody heart and intestines crashing through the ceiling? Or perhaps it was Walt’s whitey tighty underwear? I just can’t decide. I was rather fond of Walt despite the you know, meth thing. Do you have an opinion on the matter?
What I am looking forward to? a spring marathon (salt lake city???), more queries (I finished my manuscript finally!), beginning a new story (a middle grade read), photography and photoshop, more health-related quests, purging the house of stuff, and of course…Downton Abbey. Here is a read on what we can look forward to here. Cope vowed to never watch it again after the HORRIBLE HAPPENED. But alas, the DVR is SET.
And now you must tell me what you are NOT looking forward to. And the good stuff too!
I love writers. I love that they put their heart and soul into something that might never see publication, yet they do it anyway because they just have a story to tell. When publication actually happens, (it’s true, it can actually happen!) we must clap very loudly. Leave a comment at the end to win a book! Today let’s clap for THE CAGED GRAVES, a young adult novel by Dianne Salerni:
“The year is 1867, and seventeen-year-old Verity Boone is excited to return from Worcester, Massachusetts, to Catawissa, Pennsylvania, the hometown she left when she was just a baby. Now she will finally meet the fiancé she knows only through letters! Soon, however, she discovers two strangely caged graves . . . and learns that one of them is her own mother’s. Verity swears she’ll get to the bottom of why her mother was buried in “unhallowed ground” in this suspenseful teen mystery that swirls with rumors of witchcraft, buried gold from the days of the War of Independence, and even more shocking family secrets.” Doesn’t that sound good? And it was! Isn’t “Verity” a great name for a protagonist? I “met” Dianne through her blog, when she and Marcy critiqued the First Page of a novel I’m STILL working on. I’m very intrigued by writer’s habits and Diane so nicely accepted an invitation to chat. Here’s Dianne, with an exclusive author interview!
Hi Dianne! Were you always a writer?
Absolutely. I was writing stories even before I could write – or at least I drew them and got my parents to write the words for me. I kept notebooks full of stories throughout my childhood. In fact, the only time of my life when I did very little writing was when my children were babies and toddlers. Parenthood diverted my creative energies into scrapbooking for awhile.
How in the world do you find time with a full-time job and family?
My children are 13 and 16 now and quite independent. My husband and my daughters support my writing habit and do whatever they can to help – cooking dinner and cleaning up most nights so I don’t have to. I get time to write after school (I’m a 5th grade teacher.) and in the evenings. I also write on weekends – and like a madwoman during all school vacations.
What is your process: Drafts? Writing group? Computer? Notebook?
I write on a computer. The only time I resort to paper is when I’m stuck in a faculty meeting and write notes for a story while … um … pretending to take notes on the meeting.
I don’t outline. Any story I try to outline comes out lifeless and dull. I work best starting with a premise, a beginning, an ending, and a few plot points in between. That’s not to say that the first draft doesn’t become a painful ordeal, because it does!
Two critique partners, Marcy Hatch and Krystalyn Drown, read my chapters as I write – and I do the same for them. They keep me on target during the torturous first draft. My husband also reads the first draft. He has a keen ear for dialogue and lets me know anytime a character starts talking “out of character.” In addition to the CPs, I also have a number of beta readers I call on for later drafts.
Why do you write YA? Do your students give you ideas? Do they think it’s cool you are a published writer?
We Hear the Dead, was the first YA novel I’ve ever written. I chose to write that book for YA because the main character, Maggie Fox, was 14 at the beginning and 23 at the end. Then I continued writing for YA, which eventually led to my second published book, The Caged Graves.
My first published novel,
However, when I submitted a YA contemporary fantasy to my agent about a year ago, she immediately saw that my premise would work better for MG and asked me to lower the age of my main character from 15 to 14. The book promptly sold in a 3-book deal to HarperCollins, but that same character had to drop to age 13. So, now I’m a MG writer, too!
My students think it’s cool that I’m a published author, and yes, they help me. When I needed a new title for my first book, which was originally called High Spirits, I threw idea after idea at my editor to no avail. I shared my dilemma with my class, and one of my 5th grade students came up with the title, We Hear the Dead.
Last year’s class was there when I got the email about the HarperCollins deal. (I was unable to function the rest of that class period.) They lived through several editorial letters with me – and complained more than I did about the revisions I had to make! They got a sneak preview of the cover, and HarperCollins actually changed something based on their reaction. Knowing how invested they were in the book, my editor gave a thumbs-up to my listing the whole class in my Acknowledgments.
Do you have any advice in the face of rejection?
My biggest successes have come after moments of devastating rejection. One double rejection was such a blow that I considered quitting and never writing again except for my own private amusement. It was only a few weeks later that I received an offer of representation from the most wonderful agent in the business, Sara Crowe.
And my biggest book deal to date, the 3-book deal with HarperCollins, came immediately after another double rejection of two manuscripts from a publisher.
Rejections are horrible. But if you let them stop you in your tracks, you’ll never find out what might happen if you keep going a few steps more.
Was your trip to Wales this summer mainly for research? Tell us about your latest book.
When my family was planning a trip abroad, Wales came up for discussion because my daughters wanted to visit the Doctor Who Museum in Cardiff. I realized I could combine Doctor Who (and a BBC studio tour) with King Arthur research in south Wales, and Cardiff officially went down on our itinerary!
My next book is the first in a series of MG contemporary fantasy adventures with a King Arthur connection. Here’s a blurb:
THE EIGHTH DAY:
When seventh grader Jax Aubrey wakes up to a world empty of people, he does what anyone would do: assumes it’s the apocalypse, ransacks the local Walmart, and fortifies his guardian’s house against zombies. When he wakes up the next morning to a normal Thursday, Jax wonders if he’s lost his mind. But his 18 year-old guardian, Riley Pendare, also experiences Grunsday, an extra day squeezed between Wednesday and Thursday. Jax learns that some people exist only on Grunsday, including the girl who’s been hiding in the house next door for the last 35 years — her life skipping over seven days at a time like a stone skimming across a pond.
A mysterious girl who knows nothing of the regular world? Jax can’t think of a better way to spend his extra 24 hours than trying to befriend her. But Evangeline is the key to a 2000 year-old spell with its roots in Arthurian legend. Jax’s guardian is her reluctant jailor, sworn to keep her out of the hands of those who would use her – and kill her if he can’t. When Jax accidentally leads a pack of human bloodhounds to their door, it comes to a terrible choice: face a real apocalypse or sacrifice Evangeline.
Do you have any strange rituals or interesting quirks?
Well, I’m definitely strange and quirky. I talk to my characters a lot, and they talk to me. My family knows when they catch me muttering to myself, I’m usually talking through a piece of dialogue, testing it out to see how it sounds. That’s not to say that they don’t make fun of me. They do. But at least they don’t call for the men in the white coats.
Sounds like my kind of lady!
Bio: DIANNE K. SALERNI is a fifth grade teacher by day and a writer by night. She’s the author of YA historical novels, We Hear the Dead (Sourcebooks) and The Caged Graves (Clarion/HMH), and a forthcoming MG fantasy series, The Eighth Day (HarperCollins 2014). In her spare time, Dianne is prone to hanging around creepy cemeteries and climbing 2000 year-old pyramids in the name of book research.
#7 – Jesssaid…This post in itself was such an inspiration~ I can imagine the books are even more powerful 🙂 As a mother, I teared up more than once while reading this. Thanks for a fantastic interview!
#13 – Chelsea said…Sounds like a book I could use! Thanks for the interview and insight!
Please email me so we can send you a book: amym (at) proctornet.com. I always feel bad when not everyone wins the book 🙁 But if anyone has one to pass along, let me know how I can help!
Thank you so much, Katrina, for the wonderful interview. And thanks to all you readers who got your social media on to promote this book. Thank you, awesome ones.
What other pages have I been turning? A few reads the last couple of months:
It’s been a long time since I read a fiction book that I could not put down – love when that happens! Except that I read far too late into the night and am a crabby mess in the morning…just one more chapter one more chapter. This book is about a woman who wakes up every morning and doesn’t know who or where she is. It’s right up my ally with the whole psychological thriller/brain trauma. S.J. includes some language, especially the F word, but he’s from London and most British/English authors seem to be very free with that word. Why is that? But, I did enjoy it. And I’m glad I know who I wake up to every morning. (That would be Paige, the stealthy ninja warrior who sneaks into my bed every night.)
This is a fantastic resource for fiction writers. I like the textbook and I like the workbook format, where I can take notes about what I need to fix in my own stories. Donald Maass, literary agent extraordinaire just knows what he’s talking about and I learned A LOT – tension on every page!
This is the book that got me hooked onto Katrina Kenison. Every page has a mark, underlining, or a star. Quote:As mothers today we are faced with a daunting list of responsibilities. How easy it is to simply rush headlong through our lives, slaves to our daily obligations, and in the process race our children through their childhood. But there is a better way…
YES there is! (I’m trying, really trying.)
Brynne, my 8-year-old really likes CLEMENTINE. Hmm, I’m trying to figure out the ages of middle grade lit. This was cute even though I didn’t actually finish…
I have a friend recently diagnosed with ALS. A friend of mine recommended this read, written by Phillip Simmons who also lived with ALS. He writes of living and finding joy. After all, we’re all terminal, right? It’s wonderful and heartbreaking and a good read for any living human being. I’m almost done with this one…
Delly Peterson tries to be good, but it’s just so hard! Delly made me laugh out loud and looks for supresents (surprise + present) What’s it called when two words combine to make one? I can’t remember, Julia! Delly is the master of this little trick. This book was a little over my 8-year-old’s head – but I loved it! Again, the span of middle grade lit seems to span a long ways. The narrator is whip smart and keeps things light and funny, but serious regarding a sad and serious subject.
I skimmed this a little – but it’s a quick and fun read about a pretty amazing woman who encounters and swims with a lost baby dolphin. Made me want to swim in the ocean!
I’m late to the party on this one, but after Julia’s recommendation, I finally read this Young Adult book. Oh my goodness, what took me so long? Who wants to read a “cancer book”? You want to read this one! The characters are so smart, so funny and witty and really make you think – “What mark do I want to leave on the world?” This book will make you laugh and make you cry, and want to fall in love all over again. Couldn’t put this one down either. Gregor loved it and raved (huge), then my mother read it and raved and cried. Yes, read it. Loved it. Thanks, Julia!
Here’s Augustus, age 17:
“The real heroes anyway aren’t the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention. The guy who invented the smallpox vaccine didn’t actually invent anything. He just noticed that people with cowpox didn’t get small pox…. What else? She is so beautiful. You don’t get tired of looking at her. You never worry if she is smarter than you: You know she is. I am so lucky to love her, Van Houten. You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices. I hope she likes hers.” I do, Augustus. I do. – Hazel Grace I wish I had more time to read; there are so many great books waiting to be devoured. It seems I only make time to read at night after the kids are in bed and I’m dead tired and about to fall asleep. Stephen King says he writes three hours in the morning and reads for three hours every afternoon. Doesn’t that sound dreamy? Okay, what’s next friends? What have you been reading? Whatchu got for me? Happy Friday! Hope you have lots of reading on the weekend schedule.
Today marks the debut of a new blog series entitled,
Fascinating: A Charming and Captivating Person Who Piques Our Intellectual Curiosity by Making the World a Better and More Beautiful Place.
And today, friends, is a our lucky day (including books to give!) Fascinating Person #1 is mother and author, Katrina Kenison. Katrina is one of my heroes. She is a wise and deliberate mother who champions living with purpose. Oh, and she can write. Imagine my extreme delight to discover that not only is Katrina publishing a third book, but also lives in New Hampshire – I had to find her! In between Katrina’s book signings and tour, she said yes to an interview. Yes, I am very honored to have her here.
Katrina is the author of multiple books, including,MITTEN STRINGS FOR GOD: REFLECTIONS FOR MOTHERS IN A HURRY and THE GIFT OF AN ORDINARY DAY: A MOTHER’S MEMOIR.
Katrina’s most recent book, MAGICAL JOURNEY: AN APPRENTICESHIP IN CONTENTMENT recently hit #1 at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, New Hampshire. Katrina, thanks so much for taking the time to be here today. Your books are very, very wise. Can you tell us how you went from being an editor (with John Updike!) to an author and champion of motherhood? I spent many years ushering other writers’ works into the world, and I loved doing it. It wasn’t until I had children, and left my job in publishing to raise them, that I began to write. And really I wrote as a way of working toward becoming the mother I aspired to be: fully present in my life, not rushing, not overscheduled, not so caught up in the “doing” of each day that I missed the simple pleasure of “being.” Writing was a way to slow down and pay attention. It was also a way to capture the fleetingness of life while we were living it, and the more I wrote the more aware I became of the beauty of each ordinary day. Motherhood gave me my subject, the spiritual work of mothering became both my challenge and my theme, and with each book I’ve become more open, more willing to trust my readers to venture with me even into the dark places. It must have been very rewarding to have your book, THE GIFT OF AN ORDINARY DAY be so successful and resonate with so many mothers.
I’ve been both honored and humbled by the response. When I was writing, I often wondered if anyone would read it. I feared people would say, “Why does this woman need 300 pages to work through her feelings about her kids growing up and leaving home?” So it was a great surprise to start hearing from readers, many of whom said, “I was sure I was the only one who felt this way.” I am definitely a word-of-mouth writer. My books make their way in the world because of women who read them and then wish to pass them on to other women. To me, there’s no higher compliment than a reader who buys five or six copies to share; who says to a friend, “Here, I’m sure you’ll like this, too.” And now, with Magical Journey, I am hearing from many women who say, “I’ve been with you all the way, ever since I read Mitten Strings for God when my own children were young.” I never planned it this way, but I’ve written my way through the seasons of a mother’s life – and now there is this body of work, something to speak to a woman whether she is parenting small children, or contemplating her empty nest. The most rewarding thing of all is realizing that these three books have cleared a space in which women feel safe sharing their own stories and their own feelings. They are popular book group books, and I think that’s because they foster a sense of connection between women. One thing I’ve learned is that even though our lives may look quite different on the outside, inside we are all more alike than different, and we have a lot to share with each other. Why a memoir versus a “how-to” book for mothers? I am not comfortable giving advice, or saying, “Do it my way.” And how much better it is to learn to trust our own hearts, to honor that quiet inner voice that resides in each one of us, rather than to constantly seek the wisdom of “experts.”
When I read your books, they feel very “quiet” and yet the message is very bold for this day and age. Is slowing down such a novel idea? Slowing down can feel extremely radical. Almost counter-cultural in this fast-paced world we live in. It’s not that it’s a novel idea; I don’t think I say anything that hasn’t been said before. We all know, already, that if we race through lfe, we miss it. And yet this seems to be a lesson I need to learn over and over again. Perhaps that’s true for all of us. So we turn to the books that speak the truth we already know. We commit to practices like yoga and meditation and walks in the woods, to keep us grounded and on the path we wish to travel. We seek friends who support us in our desire to be present. And then, moment to moment, we make our choices. Life can’t always be simple, some days are just crazy busy. But we can build in interludes of quiet, of rest, of reflection and repose. We can learn to take care of our own souls. And in doing so, in taking time to replenish our own depleted reserves, we discover we have more to offer our loved ones, too. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by running ourselves into the ground. And so much to be gained by claiming time that is just for us, time to stretch and wonder and rest and heal. On Motherhood: When you had children at home, was there one moment when you realized you needed to enjoy the “ordinary” or was it more of an overall gut feeling? It was really my dear friend’s cancer diagnosis that served as a wake-up call for me. My friend once said, “My greatest wish is to wake up one morning and not have the first thought that comes into my head be the fact that I have cancer.” Those words seared themselves into my heart. Because of course, I suddenly realized that I took for granted the very thing she wished for more than anything. I couldn’t write about my friend’s journey in The Gift of an Ordinary Day, because she was in the midst of it as I wrote that book, but the title came directly from that realization that every day is a gift. Each morning we are lucky enough to wake up and swing our legs over the side of the bed and put our own two feet on the floor is cause for gratitude. When my friend realized she wasn’t going to have her miracle after all, and that she wouldn’t see her daughter graduate from high school, or her children get married, or ever meet her grandchildren, I resolved to live my own life from the awareness that it could all turn on a dime. Suddenly, even a task like folding the laundry became infused with grace, because I realized that any one of us might be next, and that life’s great tragedy is not death but the fact that we so rarely appreciate what we have until it’s taken away from us. Did you act on that instinct right away or are many of the lessons in your books something you wish you had done but didn’t? Awareness isn’t something that we can nail once and for all. Like gratitude, it is a practice, something we can choose to cultivate in our lives. So the answer is, I learn it, and then I forget it — over and over again. But I keep coming back: to that choice of being present, being grateful, living in the moment, rather than regretting what’s over or worrying about what might happen next. You strike me as a mother who never loses her patience ☺ I find it’s definitely easier to be patient when I’m less hurried and “Busy.” Did you have that experience? Of course! I have definitely had my parenting “lows” – just ask my kids. We all lose it sometimes. Fortunately, our children are resilient, and willing to forgive our transgressions as readily as we forgive theirs. There’s a great opportunity, as parents, to model the beauty of a heartfelt apology, to use words like: “I’m sorry. I lost my temper. Let’s start again.” Feeling overwhelmed and being impatient go hand in hand. So, yes, we have a much better shot at being the kind of parent we aspire to be when we aren’t overscheduled, when we are rested, when we have taken good care of ourselves and meet our own needs. Everyone benefits! Many mothers (including myself) recognize the need to SLOW DOWN, but we still don’t do it. Why do you think that is? Fear? I think it’s easy to fall victim to a nagging fear of falling behind in some great nameless, pointless race. “The race to nowhere” is a phrase that comes to mind. We set a pace and then we start running, afraid that if we jump off the treadmill, the world will just pass us by. Well, of course, I think the opposite is true. But it takes a certain amount of faith and courage to say “stop” when everyone else is saying “go.” Did you always work part or full-time when you had children at home? I did. I had a great job I loved, editing The Best American Short Stories series, which I did for 16 years, all through my sons’ growing up years. It was part-time and flexible and a way for me to have a steady income and a professional identity while still making motherhood my top priority. I was incredibly lucky and I knew it. And then, out of the blue, I lost that job, during a time of reorganizing and budget cutting at the publishers. It was devastating. But I don’t think I would have written these books if I hadn’t suddenly found myself out of work. So now I can look back and say it was all for the best. Would you do anything differently? I would have worried less. When your kids were younger, you made a conscience decision to cut out a lot (birthday parties, extravagant crafts, even TV!) How did you say no? My husband and I were a team on this, and what we were attempting was not to say “no” so much as to create a way of life that felt good and sustainable and joyful to us. We chose to do the things that gave us true pleasure, rather than the things that everyone else was doing. And I read enough about the negative effects of TV and media on young, developing imaginations to make that one a no-brainer. There is a wealth of information about the impact of media on children; it all made sense to me. I felt that the greatest gift I could give my children when they were young was to build protective walls around their early childhood; to give them time to play and time to get bored, time to develop their own inner resources. It was a challenge, but I knew I’d rather have my sons playing in the backyard or putting on a puppet show, then sitting in front of a computer screen or the TV. We weren’t fundamentalist or punitive about it, we just worked hard to create a life that was rich and full without those things, knowing of course that the time would come when we wouldn’t be making those choices for them anymore.
Quote: “Ours is a society that places high value on achievement and acquisition. The subtle rewards of contemplation, quiet, and deep connection with another human being are held in low esteem…as a result, mothers are constantly pulled in two directions:” The idea that we can have or do it all is a fallacy. I love, instead, the notion that what we have is enough. That who we are is enough. That our children are enough. That our lives are enough. The best thing we can do for our kids is figure out how to be content ourselves. For some moms that means a career outside the house. For others, it is staying home with children. And for some it’s a juggling act of both. Well, there is no one right way. There is a way that’s right for YOU. And so, again, this is where listening to your own heart comes in. I am a homebody by nature, so being home was deeply satisfying for me. I’m not saying it was better, it was just better for ME. A note about why Katrina wrote, MAGICAL JOURNEY: An APPRENTICESHIP IN CONTENTMENT. I began this memoir as a way to wrestle with some of my “what now?” questions as my sons Henry and Jack came of age and I left home. I missed them terribly and, even more, I missed the day-in, day-out tasks of motherhood that had given shape to my days for decades. Writing was a way for me to meet all sorts of midlife challenges – grief at the death of a dear friend, changes in my marriage, even the realization that although old dreams and roles may be outlived, new ones can be slow to take shape. My hope, of course, is that by sharing some of my story, I’m also giving voice to others’ experiences. “No longer indispensable, no longer assured of our old carefully crafted identities, no longer beautiful in the way we were at twenty or thirty or forty, we are hungry and searching nonetheless.”
Thank you so much, Katrina! You are a beautiful and wise writer and I’ve learned so much from you.
Giveaway! Please leave a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of Katrina’s newest book, Magical Journey. Two winners announced FRIDAY morning, March 15th. Will you share the Katrina love with me? Authors share their words through us, the readers. Word of mouth is the most effective way to help an author. Thank you!
All of Katrina’s books are for sale on Amazon. Her newest book, MAGICAL JOURNEY: AN APPRENTICESHIP IN CONTENTMENT is for sale on Amazon, HERE.
I’m a mom. That’s my job title, my most important “career” move. But I’m a writer, too. And as my children are moving on in the big, brutiful world of kindergarten and high school, Mama has more time for…house cleaning! That is a big fat joke. I get to write more! This is a very exciting step forward. Freelance writing is a terrific job for mamas. We can interview, research, and write while at home; much of it during school hours. But like any job, we want to be efficient and work the least amount of hours to earn the most amount of money. I’m a relative newbie, but I hope some of what I’ve learned will help you, too: 1. Write for Free. You will likely not see this advice from others. You are worth something, right? Then act like it – you don’t work for free! Agreed. However, it’s how I go my start. Through the networking grapevine, (my spies) I heard that Deseret News was looking for news articles from contributors around the world. I went for it. Without any article experience. Or pay. Why? A national publication. A reputable news source. My name in print. Resume building. Experience. A by-line linked to my blog. No brainer. For over a year I worked with several editors, pitched stories, wrote queries, revised articles. It was like my own internship from home. Was this really something I wanted to do? I had to find out. I could work as much or as little as I wanted, formed relationships with editors, learned how to format an article, how important word count is, and most importantly – gained confidence.
Some of those articles, will always be favorites. A year later, will I write for free? Rarely. There are still times for it though. Recently “The $100-Dollar Allowance” written for Powerofmoms.com was read and shared by thousands of women. More confidence, more validation that we can do hard things and be successful.
I am very grateful for free writing invitations given to new writers. It pushed me into the arena. 2. Learn How to Pitch an Article and Find Assignments. Editors are so busy. Write killer queries to get an editor’s attention. The best advice I’ve found is from Carol Tice, Linda Formichelli, and Chuck Sambuchino – all on-line, and all free resources. Know the publication before you query. Your article might be great, but if it doesn’t “fit” with the publication, then you are wasting your time and setting yourself up for a “NO.” Don’t know where to look? Writer’s Market is an awesome site (and book) for finding great assignments and the web is full of advice on how to land the gig. 3. Accept Assignments. Like, duh? Once an editor likes your work, she/he will often assign you articles. That’s what happened with Kearsarge Magazine. After pitching one article, I was given five more contracts. Score. Pitching articles takes a TON of time. It’s far more advantageous to have them come to you. 4. Be Assertive. Ask and you shall (hopefully!) receive. For instance, for Kearsarge Magazine, I have to travel. It’s been fairly local, but one assignment was 80 miles round trip. I asked for travel reimbursement and the editor said, “Of course! I forgot to tell you – it’s $.40/mile.” Make sure the assignment is worth your time. Know what to charge by learning from the pros. 5. Pull Out That Camera! As a mom, I take A LOT of photos. I wondered if I could take quality pictures myself instead of the magazine sending out a photographer? The editor loved the idea because it saved the magazine a lot of money. Pay was good; $75 for pictures/per article. I can now justify that photoshop/lightroom software (yes!) right, honey? Photo pay can be a huge bonus, especially with bigger publications. 6. Look Professional. Dress the Part. Right after my first baby, Cope, was born I had a friend’s mother declare, “She looks like she’s 12!” I suppose that now I should be fond of my youthful appearance, but while interviewing, I don’t want to look like I’m Doogie Howser on assignment. I dress for the interview; some subjects are more low-key (like the water buffalo article) while others need more pizazz (like the upcoming celebrity chef article.)
7. Gear/Thinking Ahead. What are you going to do with your coat when you get to the assignment? Are you going to write notes, record the interview, or use your computer? Do you already know what questions you need to ask? Are you going to hold your camera, pen, pencil, coat, bag, phone, all at the same time? Know how you’re going to juggle all your “stuff.” Make it easy. I have a messenger bag that I can slide pamphlets, business cards, my notebook, and pen into when I’m taking pictures. This was unfortunately learned through personal experience and dropping something every five minutes.
8. Be meticulous about details. Be able to prove everything you write. Your name and reputation is in print! When your subject says, “I went to The Massachusetts School of Fine Arts.” Did they graduate or did they just go there? Is that the official name of the school or did they mix up the wording? I learned this the hard way. When interviewing, clarify everything your subject says. You can say, “Do you mean…” or repeat back what you think you heard which will help them clarify what they meant.
Some publications have you “vet” your article before publication, meaning your subject sees the article before publishing. I haven’t had to do that, but one of my editors actually follows up with a phone call to make sure all details are perfect. It’s embarrassing if it’s not.
9. Learn the Craft. Writing is like training for a marathon. You get better the more you train, the more you write. Study the craft. Essay writing, article writing, short stories, and pitching all require different skills. Which one is your focus? Then, go practice. There are SO MANY classes to take, books to read, blog posts to devour. All of these things will help you (they’ve helped me!) become a better writer. I subscribe to a number of excellent websites and blogs, subscribe to Writer’s Digest, listen to free webinars, and am always trying to get better. I have Strunk and Wright on my desk and Webster’s Dictionary on my bedside table. I have a notebook with me at all times for inspiration.
10. Passion. Do you love writing? Do you like traveling? Do you enjoy meeting new people and learning about their passions? Are you disciplined enough to work alone? If not, this isn’t the thing. The freelance life is like any other job; it’s work. It’s hard. But right now, it’s working for me. I have novels in the works, but they might not ever sell or take years to finally be ready. Freelance is a great way to practice writing, improve craft, and earn mortgage money (at least groceries, right??) It’s also FUN, and like a shot of confidence every time you see your name in print. You’ll say, I wrote that? Wow. I’m a mom (or dad or grandma or auntie,) but Maybe I am a writer, too.
Got some more advice? How can we do it better? Got a National Geographic contact? I’ll be right over!