(The winners of the VW#6 giveaway will be announced after noon EST today, so there's still time to enter if you haven't yet.)
I. A Day in the Life
You get up early one day, dress in old, ratty-looking comfortable clothes and grab a cup of coffee before you go to work. Before you leave, you apologize to your spouse, who says nothing, or complains, or makes a snide remark about your job.
At the office, your boss stops in to tell you the product you've just spent the last six months working ten hour days creating isn't right. The boss hands you a list of things to change, half of which you don't agree with, that will take at least a month to alter properly. The boss gives you only a week to fix them. Meanwhile, some stranger wanders into your office, looks at the finished products on your desk, spits on them, and wanders back out. Your boss shakes his head and leaves.
You work on the product. Payroll calls you to say another product you finished two years ago has made a little money, but they're going to hold your pay in case any customers return the product. You should get paid your share in oh, say six months or a year from now. If someone doesn't forget to process the check. Or loses the request for the check. Or whatever. Payroll is busy.
Another stranger wanders into your office, climbs on your desk, squats, and urinates all over it and the work you're trying to do, wipes their bottom with your nameplate, and wanders back out. You say nothing and try to keep working, but the smell makes it hard to focus.
You go to lunch with a couple of friends who commiserate and assure you that your products are solid and will sell well. Some co-workers stop by your table to congratulate you on your most recent sales. One mentions how inferior your product is and that he deserved the sales more. A stranger interrupts your lunch, demands to know if you and your friends are talking about her, and throws a tantrum when you say you're not. You go back to work, taking a break only to call the spouse, who complains about how useless you and your job are.
Another stranger kicks open the door to your office and starts waving a hatchet and screaming at you. You're not going to get anymore work done, so you walk around the stranger, dodge the hatchet, and head for the exit. You go home, feeling exhausted and a little defeated, to find your spouse has invited over your in-laws for dinner.
Over dinner, the in-laws observe how tired you look, how ridiculous your work is, and how much better things would be for your spouse if you would just quit and get a normal job. Your spouse asks if you got a paycheck, and when you shake your head, stomps out of the room. Because you feel guilty, you clear the table, wash the dishes, and entertain your in-laws, who think you're an idiot and spend a good hour telling you why. Finally you get rid of them only to discover your spouse has locked you out of your bedroom. You're couched for the night.
You try to get some sleep because you have to get up an hour earlier tomorrow to get into work and get more of those changes done. Your last thought before you go to sleep is that this wasn't a particularly bad day. You didn't get into a fight with the boss. You didn't let the various strangers get a rise out of you. You've got some money stashed away so you can make it until the next check comes in. You've actually had days that were a lot worse.
Why in God's name would you work a job like this? Because it's all you can do? Because a couple of other product-makers have been wildly successful, and you're hoping for the same? Because of how much it feeds your self-esteem? No, the truth is you work the job because you love making the product. Being a professional product-maker is the job you've dreamed of having your whole life. You never wanted to do anything else.
But if this is how your average work day goes, how long can you last before you lose your temper, get fired, or go nuts?
II. The Working Writer
If writing a book was the same thing as building a diesel engine from scratch, we would have a great big pile of story parts out in the garage to show for our efforts. We'd be covered in plot dirt and setting grease. We'd be hammering on lines of prose with power word tools and hoisting sagging characterizations with emotional chains. If writing were a tangible, visual occupation, it would be viewed as a legitimate job. To most people, work is only work when it can be seen.
Unfortunately about 90% of the writer's job takes place inside the mind. The most labor the other, non-writer people in our lives see us do is sit in front of a computer and rap on the keyboard, or print out a dozen pages. They might catch us reading a research book or editing a hard copy with the red pen. But the sad fact is that the non-writers around us never see what's going on inside our heads. They have no concept of how much work we do inside. And, unless they become working writers, they never will.
If you want to be a professional writer, you have to consider what that means. Very few people can do your job, so very few will understand what it entails. Unless you live with other writers, you probably won't get a lot of support or understanding at home. Writing pro means putting your work out in public and possibly subjecting it to the harshest criticism you can imagine from anyone who feels like cutting it to pieces. Odds are you and your work will be stomped on repeatedly; some of this will be fair, and some of it won't. You likely won't make any money for a few years, and if you do manage to hang in until you've built a decent readership, you'll face every-growing competition for your job. There will always be writers who are better, smarter, faster and more marketable than you.
Have I scared the daylights out of you yet, or do you still want to be a pro? I'm guessing door #2, so let's talk about how you can do this job and not crack up.
III. The Writer You
Author Susan Elizabeth Phillips gave me some valuable advice once. She said, "Above all else, protect the work." After ten years of working as a pro in the biz, publishing 40+ novels, and in the process being subjected to some of the worst experiences I've had at any job, ever, I think I'm qualified now to add something to that: Protect the Writer.
We constantly think about ways to protect the work, but do very little to protect ourselves. How many times have we seen writers quit or self-destruct because they couldn't handle the competition, the workload, the demands to do more than simply write, or any of the other ten thousand pressures involved with this gig?
How well you protect the writer you is directly related to how well you treat the writer you. Think about how much of your real life that you share with the writer you. The writer you sleeps in your bed, wears your clothes, eats your meals, reads your books and uses your computer. But where else is the writer you allowed in your life? Unless you're writing for a living, probably not at your job. How about with your family? Does the writer get to tell them all about the latest WIP over dinner? And how about when you're at a party with friends, or visiting relatives, or taking that dream vacation cruise? Is the writer you allowed to join in and have fun, too? Or do you stick the writer you in that little lock box in your head and pretend s/he doesn't exist?
If you the person and you the writer are leading completely different lives, and the writer's life sucks, you're not protecting the writer, you're hiding them. You probably do apologize every time you go to write. You're doing the same thing an alcoholic does when he stashes bottles of bourbon around the house. No wonder your family treats your job like it's something you should be ashamed of -- you're behaving as if you're ashamed of it. When was the last time your spouse or partner apologized to you for going to their day job?
Your writing is important to you, and you need to communicate this to your family and the people in your life -- not only by talking with them about what you're doing, but by regarding writing as you would any other job. A job is not something you ever have to apologize for. It's something to be proud of, from the time you write your first story to the first bestseller list you hit.
The writer you doesn't belong locked up and hidden away and apologized for like a shameful secret. If you don't want to be treated like a doormat, stop acting like one.
IV. Positive Charges, Negative Drains
Protecting the writer also means maintaining a productive writing life. Writing requires all kinds of energy: mental, physical, creative, practical. For the writer you to be at the top of your game, you need to keep all your energy levels high. Your mind should be clear, alert, and active. Your body should be in good condition and getting regular exercise. Your muse should be bugging the hell out of you all the time. Your writing skills should be sharp and always improving.
It would be great if we could take a writer vitamin that supplied us with all the energy we need to do our jobs, but until they invent one, we have to find alternative energy sources. We also need to guard against anything that drains our energy to the point of making us incapable of doing the work.
1. Mental Energy
An energetic mind is clear, disciplined and easily focused. It doesn't block the flow of energy we need for writing; it provides the open conduit from thought to page. Negative thoughts and emotions clutter the mind, and make it harder to concentrate. The writer you has to find a way to first clear out the existing blocks, and then keep the conduit open by keeping out anything that creates new ones.
The causes of negative thoughts and emotions are innumerable and all around us. The U.S. economy is taking a slow swan dive, and we're all paying for it. Politics are once more dividing the country. People are losing their jobs, their homes, their hope for the future. Taking Prozac is becoming as popular as drinking a Pepsi. Things in the Publishing industry aren't much better.
It's hard during tough times to fight depression and keep your spirits up. How can you be happy when everyone around you is worried, or complaining, or taking out their frustrations in a negative fashion? You'd have to be a stone not to be affected by what's happening in the world and at home, but creative people tend to be hyper-sensitive to their environments, so it hits us twice as hard.
I can't give you a solution to all the problems in the world, but I can tell you how I keep them from intruding on my writing life: meditation. Each morning I spend a minimum of thirty minutes outdoors in silent meditation. I think about what's bothering me, I accept what I can or cannot do about it, and then I let it go. Sometimes I'll finish meditation with a prayer, and ask for a little help from the Almighty, which also helps me get a good start on the day.
If meditation or prayer aren't your thing, try something else that clears you head. It may be taking a walk, listening to music, or relaxing in a hot tub; whatever it is, make a habit of doing it before you sit down to write.
2. Physical Energy
My biggest challenge as a writer is my physical condition, which is not great. My arthritis has forced me to change and adapt my writing habits to accommodate my physical limitations, and there will be more changes ahead. But despite that ongoing battle, I still do whatever I can to maintaining my physical energy. I stick to a healthy diet, exercise as often as I can, and take a holistic approach to medicine whenever possible. People often scoff at something as simple as drinking a glass of orange juice every day, but despite having a suppressed immune system (a side effect of my arthritis meds) I haven't had so much as a head cold for years.
Because writing is mainly a desk job that doesn't involve a lot of physical activity, writers tend to be overweight. I battle this problem, too, although as I've gotten older I've stopped worrying about the numbers on the scale and focus more on eating sensibly, getting daily exercise, and keeping my cholesterol level down, which is important at my age. By working with a nutritionist, and eliminating from my diet all the foods that aren't heart-healthy, I was able to shave 43 points off my cholesterol level in less than six months (as always, before you make any changes in your diet or begin an exercise regime, consult with your doctor.)
Many famous writers were alcoholics or used drugs, and there is still a certain creepy admiration for writers who are substance abusers. I never bought into this myth, and neither should you. Substance dependency and abuse is a terrible drain on your energy, your body, your loved ones and your life. If you're having a problem with drugs or alcohol, don't tell yourself it makes you a better writer. It doesn't. Get some help.
3. Creative Energy
I think the most common cause of writer burnout is caused by draining of our creative energy. No matter how powerful your muse is, or how deep your creative well goes, they can be flattened and emptied -- usually by something that has absolutely nothing to do with the work.
Because writers rely so heavily on their creative energy to do the work, it's the one that affects us the most when it's tapped out. Without creative energy, we run down. The writing that we love becomes an exhausting chore we hate. It can get to the point where the writer becomes paralyzed and unable to work (more commonly known as writer's block.) And no matter how long we've been writers, no muse is invulnerable, and no well is bottomless -- it can hit anyone at any time.
A creative energy drain can be something very simple, like constant distractions when you're trying to work: noise, phone calls, people popping in and out, etc. Few things test my patience more than being interrupted when I work. Every writer needs a writing space, and I believe that this space has to be sacred. Unless there's an emergency, no one should intrude on your writing space while you're working.
Talk to your family and ask them to respect your writing time and space. It takes a bit of training, especially if they've been distracting you for some time, but if you're firm about it they should get the message. If they can't or won't respect your space, consider writing somewhere away from home. Most public libraries have quiet rooms where you can work. I've often taken my laptop to a park during the week (they're usually deserted) and done my writing at a picnic table. Or, if you don't mind a little noise, hit the local bookstore cafe.
Another, more significant drain on creative energy is spending too much time on the internet in the wrong places. It's almost irresistible, having this incredible resource we can tap into any time -- but along with the resources come a lot of trolls, flame wars, hatchet jobs and author baiting. We've all seen authors who run around Googling themselves, searching out every review of their books and lurking around critic and hen party sites trying to see who's saying what about them (or worse, arguing with something that's been said.) You can almost see these authors pouring their creative energy down the internet drain.
An author does attract attention on the internet, especially if they become a success. Where you go will either charge or drain your creative energy. Most of the people you meet online are decent folks; readers and writers who just want to hang out, discuss books and talk shop. Then there are a few who for whatever reason are only interested in trashing you, baiting you, or doing whatever else they can think of to get a rise out of you. For them, negative attention = validation.
Whoever you decide to interact with, I think the best way to manage the creative drain potential is to limit your time on the internet. I work mostly offline, so I restrict myself to an hour a day, in 6 ten minute sessions -- and I use a kitchen timer every time I log on so I don't forget that rule. One bonus is that you really can't get into a lot of trouble in ten minutes.
4. Practical Energy
I think practical energy depends both on how willing we are to learn and how often we make an effort to improve. There is no such thing as a writer who can't learn something new, only one who won't. A writer who doesn't want to grow is destined to stagnate.
I'm always looking for ways to boost my writing, so I spend a lot of time reading books, articles and blog posts about writing. I experiment with my work to try out new ideas and concepts, and to push myself past my comfort zones. The more I learn about writing, the more knowledge I acquire, which translates into the practical energy I need when I try something new, or different, or risky.
A small but significant drain on practical energy are running into the rule-makers. These are people who have such a rigid attitude about some aspect of writing or the biz that they immediately instill doubt in you, especially if you're already doing something different.
Very often our writing instincts will throw up a warning flag about this sort of thing. If someone offers you an idea to try with your writing, you'll probably feel curious or interested. If someone tells you how you should be writing, you'll likely feel defensive or a sense of doubt.
To my knowledge no one has ever been named the absolute authority on writing. Until God appoints a paragon to this position, no one can tell you how you should be writing (including me.)
Another threat to your practical energy is when you compare yourself to other writers. You read a great book, but instead of enjoying it you compare your latest work to it and feel inadequate. Or, you see another writer you don't think is as talented as you are, but they're more successful than you've been. It all comes down to envy, the most efficient vampire in all of Publishing.
It's human nature to envy what we can't or don't have. It's why I've always wanted to be a tall blond -- because I've always envied my older sister, who is. In some cases, it drives us to achieve more with what we do. But in writers, envy is never a good thing. It poisons the joy you take in your work, and the satisfaction you feel for what you do accomplish. Nothing is ever good enough because someone else has more than you do.
I can't get rid of all the industry awards, the bestseller lists, or the blog traffic counters, so I'll give you the next best thing: narrow the field down to one. If you really want to compete with someone and have a chance at beating them, go look in the mirror. There's your competition looking back at you. That's the only writer you should be trying to beat. And when you do, you both win.
V. Living the Write Life
I thought being published would make me wildly happy, because that was always my dream -- to see my name on the cover of a real book. I believed meeting other writers and becoming part of their community would put an end to my loneliness. I thought if I kept working hard and trying to improve that eventually I would get the recognition I deserved for my efforts. I was so sure that writers would be as wonderful and noble as the books they wrote. I bought into every single unrealistic ridiculous expectation a writer can have about the writing life.
Publishing can be very efficient about some things, like squashing silly expectations. After three years of working this amazing job I'd worked so hard to get, I was unhappy, lonely, ignored and pretty much friendless. I wanted to quit, and I almost did.
My mom says you have to make your own happiness, and what has always made me happiest in my writing life is the work. I knew I was supposed to do this; I just couldn't do it the way I was being told to. So I began making serious changes in my writing life and quit doing everything that made me unhappy. Which was pretty much everything I was doing.
Instead of going to cons, which I hated, I went on research trips, which I loved. Rather than buy a lot of useless promotional junk for my books, I wrote free stories for my readers and gave them away. I stopped expecting the industry to discover my genius and present me with awards, and bought books to help me with my writing, and better computer equipment to work on, and set up a proper home office. Eventually I forgave Publishing for not living up to my expectations and found personal satisfaction in doing what I could to make things better for the next generation of writers.
Along the way I began journaling and teaching online, and found new friends who didn't care that I was just a nobody midlister. I worked for different publishers and soaked up as much as I could from each experience. Whenever I could, I talked shop online with people who really cared about the quality of the work. Before I knew it I was living the writing life I'd always wanted.
However you live your writing life, remember this: the only person who can make it better is you.
Today's LB&LI giveaways are:
1) A lapquilt, sewn and signed by me, along with signed copies of my novels Omega Games and Twilight Fall
2) a goodie bag which will include unsigned copies of:
Quicksand by Iris Johansen (hardcover)
The Ruby Key by Holly Lisle
Steal the Dragon by Patricia Briggs
Wild Hunt by Lori Devoti
Power Play by Dara Girard
Pleasure Unbound by Larissa Ione
The Way He Moves by Marcia King-Gamble
Always a Knight by Wayne Jordan
Unleashed by Kristopher Reisz
Satisfaction Guaranteed by Charlene Teglia
Through the Veil by Shiloh Walker
plus signed copies of my novels Omega Games and Twilight Fall, as well as some other surprises.
If you'd like to win one of these two giveaways, comment on this workshop before noon EST tomorrow, August 4, 2008. I will draw two names from everyone who participates and send one winner the goodie bag and the other the lapquilt and books. Everyone who participates in the giveaways this week will also be automatically entered in my grand prize drawing on August 5, 2008 for a brand new AlphaSmart Neo. All LB&LI giveaways are open to anyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.
Other LB&LI Workshop Links -- new links are being added every day, so keep checking the list for new workshops (due to different time zones, some of these will go live later in the day)
Worldbuilding with a Wiki by Sandra Barret -- Architecting your world using a free wiki.
Brainstorming by Jove Belle -- A discussion on brainstorming.
E-Courtesy by Joely Sue Burkhart -- Simple ways to protect yourself with courtesy on the internet.
The Anatomy Of Sex Scenes by Jaci Burton -- Writing sex can sometimes be the most uncomfortable part of writing the book. But it doesn't have to be. A few key pointers that may help charge up your sex scenes and drag the writer out of their 'discomfort' zone.
Creating Great Beginnings - the Why and How by Sherryl Clark -- If your beginning works, the rest will follow. We're going to look at why it's crucial, what is the contract with the reader, Dos and Don'ts (and why/why not), story questions vs hooks, situating the reader, and writing backwards. I'll also invite readers to send in their first 200 words for feedback.
Look for the Music--assess your prose by LJ Cohen -- a week of workshops using poetry and poetic techniques useful for novelists (tune in each day this week as LJ presents different poetic tools with examples of how to use them in your own writing.)
Gender Differences for Writers by Cheryl Corbin -- Male and female body language, speech and thinking differences.
Research for Writers by Bianca D'Arc -- a librarian/writer's view of where to find the best information and strategies for how to use it.
Marketing on a Budget by Moondancer Drake -- How to make the most of marketing your book on a limited budget.
Writing Effective Description by Karen Duvall -- a week of workshops on how to write vivid description using all the senses, covering one for each day of the week.
WRITING PROCESS: Conceive, Develop, Write by Jamal W. Hankins -- An overview of my writing progress from story concept to actually writing a story.
The Voices in Your Head by Alison Kent -- When discussing "voice," where and how do character voices fit in?Also: All Authors Should Be Wordsmiths
Voulez vous écrire avec moi, ce soir? (Working with foreign languages in your writing) by Kristi -- A technical discussion of features you can use to make non-English text read correctly in your writing. Mainly focused on features in Microsoft Word, with a few resources that can be used regardless of platform.
Everyone has to Edit by Belinda Kroll -- Five steps to edit: putting the first draft away, being brutally honest, showing not telling, telling not showing, and focusing on those nitty gritty details.
Balancing Motherhood and Writing by Dawn Montgomery, Kim Knox, and Michelle Hasker -- How to write a 1000 words in the zen of toddler meltdowns. Motherhood is a full time job and holding a family together is only half the battle. How do you find *your* time to write without losing your mind?
Self-Editing by Emma Wayne Porter -- The things your editor secretly wishes you'd do before submitting, and how to survive Track Changes afterward. Checklists and Stupid Word Tricks included.
Not Going to Frisco Workshop by Joan Reeves aka Sling Words -- Writing Biz Reality
Hitting the Wall by Larkin Rose -- tips on overcoming writer's block.
Cover Art: From Form to Finish by Mandy M. Roth -- Tips and tricks for filling out your cover art forms, the steps and stages a cover goes through, the finished product and a walkthrough on using your cover to make your own static banner ad.
Getting Started—Keeping Going by Darlene Ryyan -- Finding the time and the words to start writing and keep on writing.
When Only the Right Word Will Do by Shannon Stacey -- Using word choices to add humor, help you show instead of tell, strengthen your voice and heighten characterization in deep POV in your second draft.
Hey Fatty (Or Does Your Character Need That Flaw) by Amie Stuart -- I’ll be blogging about Characterization, flaws and motivation all week, using TV, movies, books and my own writing for examples.
Astronomy for Writers: Look to the Sky
by Suelder -- Alpha and Omega: the Beginning and the End, The Big Bang, The Expanding Universe, The Collapsing Universe (the fifth in a five-part workshop series on basic astronomy and how to think about it from a writer's perspective.)
Time Management by Charlene Teglia -- the third in Charlene's workshops this week on the business of the business.
Short Stories & Novellas- Workshop Day II - Characterization by Shiloh Walker -- the second in a series on writing short stories and novellas.
VOICE: The Magic Behind The Words by Sasha White -- Advice to help you discover and strengthen your personal voice and style, and show you the way to the magic behind the words.
Workshop is in 5 sections. A new section each day this week.