Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Charity Requests Reminder

Lately I'm seeing a bunch of charity-related requests landing in the blog comments approval queue, so as I'm deleting them I thought I'd also post a reminder that I don't allow them on the blog. The main reasons for this are:

a) I don't have time to chase down all the associated links and make sure they're legit

b) In the past every time I have supported a big charity they've pestered me for years afterward to make more donations, to the point that what they pay in postage to ask for more money exceeds the sum I originally donated.

c) I can't support health charities that incorporate inhumane and unnecessary animal experimentation as part of their research, which is more of them than you probably want to know.

d) If I post one charity request I am ethically obligated to post them all, and eventually all you'd be reading here would be charity requests.

Please understand that I'm not anti-charity. Every year my family and I donate to worthy causes in our community, including the public schools, the no-kill cat shelter and the food bank. I donate lots of books to our public library and a children's charity. I also make at least one quilt or quilted project every year for a charity auction. So while it may seem like I'm being stingy, I actually do my part in private.

Thanks in advance for understanding.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


One of my clients has booked me to ghost write full-time for them until the end of the year, which takes care of all my job-seeking stress and free work time until the end of 2016. This is a freelancer's dream come true, and it has the extra delight of being for the client who has the most interesting projects, allows me the most creative freedom, and is a pure joy to work with, always. If I was given the job of quality control manager at the Hershey's chocolate factory, I couldn't be happier.

Unfortunately this means I have to say Adieu to my tentative plans for summer, and joining NaNoWriMo in November. Regarding the latter, as I do every year on the blog I'll still shake my pompoms, nag incessantly, and post anything I think can help for those who do take the leap.

Booking jobs this far in advance isn't always possible when you're freelancing, but when you can it takes a lot of the pressure off you. Having that income to look forward to allows you to focus more on the work, which is the ideal situation when you're trying to deliver your best. If you do reserve your time for a client, be realistic about your productivity. You can say you can write ten novels before the end of the year, but can you really knock out 200K a month without stopping until December? Do the math first. You should also consider any holidays or vacation time you might want to take off from work.

Some other suggestions:

1. Talk to the client about their schedule, and make sure they're going to be at least available to contact while you're working should any problems arise. If the client plans to be on vacation or offline celebrating the holidays, mark that on your calendar as a reminder.

2. Discuss kill fees (aka what you will want to charge if any future project is cancelled) upfront so the client is clear on the cost of cancellation. My philosophy is that life happens, and finances can get tight without notice, so I don't charge them (note that it's also pretty easy for me to land a freelancing job now, so I have a bit of an advantage there.) I do ask my clients to give me as much advance notice as possible so I can line up new jobs to take the place of the cancelled project.

3. Find out as much about your future projects as you can from the client. This is just common sense. If you hate writing NASCAR romances, three months down the road you don't want to find out you have to write a series of them.

Always be grateful to a client who asks to reserve your time, too. Even if you turn them down, you've just been paid a very nice compliment.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Coach Not

Over the course of my career I've been asked by a bunch of people to be a mentor to a struggling writer they know. 75% of the time this is their son or daughter, so it's a touchy situation. It's generally because the parent wants a writer in the family (why? search me), or the kid wrote a poem, a short story, or something that won a contest. The other reason is the parent is an expert at getting their kid coaching from a pro, the way a kid who plays baseball is sent to an exclusive summer camp or training school run by some former major league player. Either way I get a phone call or an e-mail or a message via a mutual friend asking for help. There was a very inventive lady who even tried to use my kid to get to me for her kid.

I like kids, and consulting with an experienced professional writer in person in this area means contacting me or a guy who writes travel books, who I imagine gets all the nonfiction-related requests. It's not amazing how often they manage to hunt me down, as I'm fairly well-known to teachers, librarians and indie bookstore owners around here. Here's a typical encounter:

1. The parent initiates contact by telling me how lovely it is to meet me. Even thought they've never actually read any of my books, I'm assured that I come highly recommended as a really decent writer. I am polite.

2. The parent then admits they would rather be talking to Stephen King, as he's much more successful, but he never replies to their calls/e-mails/mutual friend messages. Then, very casually, the parent asks if I know Steve. They phrase it like that, too: "Do you know Steve?" like they already do and we might have him as a mutual acquaintance, but what they really hope is that I do because I'd represent one more shot at getting to him. I say no, sorry. I'm not sorry, but again, it's polite.

3. The parent launches into a roughly 85 page single-spaced synopsis of how they discovered Junior was meant to be a writer, how well Junior writes, what makes Junior different from and superior to every other kid in the world who writes, the last thing Junior wrote, etc. I listen to this and some wildly unrealistic expectations on all the great lit Junior is going to produce, if only someone in the biz would share their insight/wisdom/fairy dust and somehow magically compel the kid to write. Let me translate this for you: that would be me. Tragically, I fail to take the hint.

4. At this point I almost always receive a copy of Junior's poem, short story or contest win, which the parent asks me to honestly critique. What they really want is to hear how brilliant it is, so I always refuse. Very politely, too. This is their child's creative work. The Hope Diamond is not as valuable to them.

5. The now frustrated-but-hiding-it parent tries to set up a play date for me and the kid so we can meet and talk about Junior's future in the Publishing industry, or they ask me to contact the kid via phone or e-mail with some encouraging thoughts, which I must again very politely refuse. I am not much of a play dater. I used to do the contact thing, but after an editor's kid tried to sell my encouraging words on eBay I admit, I got a little jaded.

While all this is going on, I'm always thinking the same thing: Thank you, Mom, for never doing this to me. I don't say that, though. This is what I say:

1. I think it's wonderful that Junior is so talented. (Always praise the kid first. It's a nice thing to do.)

2. I don't mentor other writers because I barely have enough time to do my own work and take care of my home and family. (Always true, never believed. Like when I tell non-writers that I don't make millions off my books.)

3. I recommend things like online resources and free writing classes, NaNoWriMo, and the few books on writing that I think are worth the cover price. Oddly I never recommend Stephen King's, which I think like most of his stuff is really more of a memoir put through a wood chipper on acid. I usually mention James Scott Bell and Sage Cohen.

The end result: 99.9% of the time, the parent thanks me in the same tone I use to tell telemarketers to stop calling my house. I then never hear from them again. I'm guessing it's because I should have flung myself at this marvelous chance to browbeat their budding writer into the next Stephen King.

Seriously, I do understand how parents can get their hopes up, but I really don't know how mentorship can turn anyone into a writer. Then again, I'm self-taught in nearly everything I do outside of cooking and cleaning. Since turning pro I've picked up a lot from some older/wiser authors who chose to share their experience, opinions and advice with me. I've gotten some great stuff from new and inexperienced writers as well. I listen, but mainly I rely on myself, self-study, trial and error, and a lot of practice. I share what I know about writing here, but it's mostly me talking shop because I love to talk shop. Also, I'm not holding a gun to your head to make you read it. If you stop in and like it, great. If you don't, you won't come back to read more, great.

If you have a child or a family member who loves to write, there is a lot you can do to help them. First, don't look for ways to push them -- be supportive instead. You can provide them with the tools they need by taking a more practical approach. If they need writing supplies, buy them. If they need time to write, or a dedicated space to write in, arrange it for them. Take them to the book store and buy them a new journal or how-to writing book. Get them a library card. Let them have your old laptop. The key is to provide them with what they really need to write: writing stuff.

No one in my family really believed I would end up being a professional writer. Back then it simply wasn't something girls did. Do you want to know what I consider the greatest thing my mother ever did for me as a writer? She got me a secondhand Royal Academy manual typewriter, on which I wrote my first novel. Until she did I wrote everything in longhand. I think having a typewriter that could keep up with my thoughts is what really got me hooked on writing. So there you go.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Off Yet Again

I'm unplugging for a couple of days to do some writing for the clients, so there will be no Just Write this weekend. See you on Monday.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Art of Paper

Watch the delicate, beautiful and painstaking art of hand-making paper in Japan (background music):

Making of Japanese handmade paper of Kyoto Kurotani from Kuroyanagi Takashi on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Weekly Op

If you're up for entering a weekly writing contest, you can find some very interesting challenges over at here. Here's the current challenge:

"Prose Challenge of the Week #23: Write a haiku about deceit. The winner will be chosen based on a number of criteria, this includes: fire, form, and creative edge. Number of reads, bookmarks, and shares will also be taken into consideration. The winner will receive $100."

From what I see on the website you must first register and join their community to enter a challenge, but there appears to be no fees involved. Entries are posted on the website, along with the number of entries received, so you can read all your the competition before submitting your own (here are all the entries for the current challenge.) There are also challenges posted by the community as writing prompts, and most of those looked quite inspiring, so it appears you'll be hanging out with a very creative group of writers.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Summer Planning

My favorite season of the year starts on June 20th, and along with family stuff I'm now planning my writing schedule. I'll finish up my latest ghost writing series project on June 30th, so that comes first. I also have a client who has me on retainer and keeps me busy year-round. I intend to continue writing the weekly installments for Twenty-One, but unless the other clients on my list ask me to work for them I will have a sizable chunk of time to use as I please.

The options:

1. Write something new. Always the first thing I think of, the big shiny ooooh option. I have this character dancing in my head who wants his story written, too. I'll finally pry him out of my brain and onto the page. I could manage a new idea novella in a couple months.

2. Find some more/new clients. Always the financially wise option, although as I head into my third year of freelancing I've managed to produce steady, reliable income from the clients I already have (all of whom are pretty fabulous to work with, too.)

3. Take another step toward my first self-publishing venture. Gulp. Assuming I can stop waffling and make some production decisions, maybe.

4. Use the time to do something other than writing. Since I had my eye surgery I haven't taken any long road trips, and my guy wants to see Maine. I think that's a bit far for my first jaunt, so I'm thinking a couple days in the Tennessee mountains.

5. Hand-quilt a huge quilt top I made over the winter. Summer is the best season for my arthritis, and at the rate it's affecting my working fingers this may be the last quilt I stitch by hand.

I might go with a combination of 1 and 3, and negotiate a long weekend to do 4. Which means I can't get sick, but none of the options are musts, so if something happens I can always opt right back out of them. I might also start 5 and work on it through the fall and winter, but that depends on how well the hands are functioning. I'm also thinking about NaNoWriMo and whether or not I want to do it this year; if I do decide to jump in I'll have to start planning in August to feel ready by November.

What are your plans for the summer? Share them in comments.