writing like a junkie

Hair dressers’ kids always have the shabbiest hair, or so my darling Desiree tells me as she whirls about me in her spinning chair. Empathizing, I tell her I haven’t updated my blogsin the manner I exhort my clients to, and I know that’s the cardinal sin. I mean, why would you come back when it’s the same dated, tired post about DlP’s last launch?

Junkie (novel)

Junkie (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, you wouldn’t and you don’t, and neither do I for blogs I like. There’s too much content out there to stalk a writer who doesn’t let you know what’s up. Following is one way to solve – you don’t have to check in like a love-sick teenage boy, but your sweetie shows up seemingly unbidden and like a total surprise in your inbox for you to ignore to click as you will. By all means, do follow. It’s like crack for bloggers when you do.

And it’s not for want of ideas. Seven times a day I feel the glow of the lightbulb in my heart and think “I gotta write about that!” But there are the three copy projects I’m behind on and our darling Samoyed

English: Future pet

English: Future pet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

needs a walk, there’s a project I’m trying to support into independent flight at the ambulance service where I used to medic, there’s the darling hubs and a friend who is moving too many miles away, the other who… well, you get the idea.

 

What will my clients think if they see I’m writing on my own blog, while they anticipate their next dose of sparkling goodness?

And so, I save up inspiration, hoarding it like a dragon on her hoard until some of it begins to smell and the organic-ness of some of it evaporates into the dank dragon cave air. Until.

Until a morning like this, when I’m so far behind I no longer have a plan for catching up (which is actually when I really will) and my own need to write for writing’s sake, out of my own heart and mind and need to express the truths of my life right now build up so mammothly that I become a monolith of focus, hunkered down at our kitchen table (where I don’t do work for clients) writing like I’m a drunk on  a bender. Some of it will show up on blogs, some of it will be scheduled for later, some will go the way of deleted electrons and the rest will go under “journal” in the cloud for future fodder.

And it occurs to me: would I be behind if I did this more often? Would I feel the metallic taste of craving abated as the words spill waterfall-wise out my fingers if I allowed them to seep when they arise?

But would they be as meaningful (at least to me) or as satisfying without the blood iron taste of word-lust sated or the massive buildup of mojo behind them?

But what about that mojo? Why do I dam it behind words unwritten? And is that the source of unfulfilled writing? (Duh-doy)

What if mojo wasn’t mysterious and rare feeling? What if I could live in the mojo and let it be a familiar mystery? What if I could write for my own blogs, heart, words like I do for clients and write for them, too, with less worry and more ease? What if I let myself need this like I need water, coffee, yoga and longing looks from Dear Hubs across the kitchen table in the hubbub of everyday business?

Odd how the very thing you thought you were doing turns out to be what you’ve built walls against. When I began writing for hire, I thought I was feeding this need. And I’m closer than I’ve ever been. But the galling magic and beauty of creative life is that there is always something we are keeping for later, hoarding for ourselves, making other. The fine pointed artistry of knowing when the incubator has done its job and giving independent life to those ideas, having the resource, attention, time and stamina to follow that organic logic – and to kill some ideas before they compete, and recognize what will not die – is always in progress.

I thought about making Sunday my day for writing, but routine is never food for my muse. I thought about writing before I walk each day, but again with the routine. Less prioritizing and more listening, less dictating and more responding, less thinking and more writing. That’s my plan for recovery.

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Your Big Beautiful Book Plan

Today is Danielle LaPorte‘s birthday! Happy Birthday Danielle!

Danielle Jade

Danielle Jade (Photo credit: mlwhitt) IS THIS YOUR BOOK?

She’s throwing her own party, ’cause that’s just how she rolls. She’s a generous, knows-what-she-wants-and-how-to-get-it gal. And you can benefit.

She co-authored Your Big Beautiful Book Plan with Linda Siversten to give the benefit of their and others’ experience to you in getting your voice and bigness and gorgeousness out and into the world – where it can do some good.

And for her birthday, she’s holding a “Pay What You Can Day!” – TODAY ONLY (5.25.12, um, her birthday, if you hadn’t caught that already.) THROUGH SATURDAY 26 MAY, TIL THE STROKE OF MIDNIGHT!

So if you’re in the middle of a book, contemplating a book, at the end of a book, despairing over your book, overjoyed about your book – check it out. Be generous. To others and to yourself. And finish your book!

[Tell me what YOUR book is about in the comments here! We can write together :)]

Candles spell out the traditional English birt...

Candles spell out the traditional English birthday greeting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lessons Learned

Casper

Casper (Photo credit: Jessicamulley)

Today we’re not necessarily talking about blogs. Many of you, though, are freelancers and as a freelancer I’ve recently had an interesting experience. The assignment wasn’t for a blog, but for an article. When I was invited to look at the job (on Elance), I was so excited! It looked interesting, fun, right up my alley and the proceeds were coming at just the right time to fund a little upgrade I’ve been contemplating, and then some. I was so excited I overlooked the most important fact: the timeline was insane and would require completely re-arranging my home AND work schedules for the next week. The lessons I learned (and some were from previous experiences and road tested well) apply to life as a writer, no matter what you’re format.

  1. Don’t go changing your plan and re-arranging your perfectly awesome life (or blog) just for something shiny.
  2. If someone seems like they’re lying, they are.
  3. Ghost writing should be more like Casper and less like a character in a Stephen King novel.
  4. Freelancing is a lot about taking chances and having boundaries.

If you execute perfectly on that  last one, you won’t do the first one. But balancing intelligent chance taking with boundaries requires a lot of experience, zero flexibility in a few right places and tremendous flexibility in all the others. (Much like yoga – you can read about that here, at my yoga blog. Back to the writing thing.)

As a freelancer you become used to odd, last-minute requests and persnickety clients. Par for the course. You learn to set boundaries. You learn to say “No,” compassionately, but clearly. (Or you don’t last very long). Sometimes a job comes in that is so intriguing you forget the first rule about not re-arranging your perfectly spectacular life. This can go really well – really, really well. However, One reason to avoid it is that it doesn’t allow time for the usual back and forth that’s part of vetting your clients. Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes… well, let’s just say there are some crazy people out there. And they don’t come with tags.

So when you break one of the rules, or flex where in retrospect you should have stood ground, or become rigid when you wish had flexed, you lose time. You put yourself behind perhaps. You lose money. These are all reasons to have reserve, even a little, in both time and money. Give yourself the ability to come to screeching halt when the investigative nose you were hired for ends up tracking the stinky smell in your client’s er… direction.

When possible, and especially with new clients, go through a reputable third party. I like Elance. They hold payment in escrow, so you know it’s there and you won’t get a runaround. They can mediate if there are problems. They’re like the nosey neighbor who you wish would stop watching your house, but you’re incredibly thankful for when some creep follows you home and you need a witness.

Don’t take payment up front, and don’t work hourly. There are a ton of good reasons not to work hourly . By fronting any supply fees and arranging for payment after client satisfaction you are essentially guaranteeing the client their money back if they’re not satisfied or if the arrangement falls through. This is good, clean boundaries. You’re working for yourself until you turn in the copy drizzled with awesome-sauce that only you can create.

Ghost writing is writing in someone else’s voice for pay, either because they don’t have the confidence, access, talent or time. It isn’t a creepy, sneaky relationship. If it ever starts to feel like that, that’s one of those signals to stop cold. Put the pen down and the notes in the “experience bin.” It’s not trash… it’s a really good lesson. Be a fast learner.

What are you worth?

Most people begin by looking around to see what others charge for the same service and set their own rates at the low end, or even under, thinking that clients will be attracted by the deal.

Creativity

Creativity (Photo credit: Comicbase)even under, because they think clients will be attracted to a deal

Consider: Do you want the clients who will be attracted to your playing small?

What if you looked inside rather than outside and did some research. How long does it take you – inclusively – to do what you do the best you can do. The prep, the cleanup, the fathing about. You know you do it, don’t squirm in your seat. It’s part of the creative process.

My first editing job was for my Ph.D advisor (whom I may have disappointed by leaving before I wrote the dissertation – sorry about that. It was a good choice though.) He hired me to edit his book.  Ever a teacher, he delivered my first freelancing lesson: write down and charge for the time you pace, the time for making tea and the time for sharpening your pencils (we used those back then).

It’s all a part of  the process and you must respect and take care of your awesomeness if you expect it to be there for you. It’s not a perpetual motion device, it’s a part of a human psyche made of longing, observation and study and it can wear out. Take care of it. So count it all and come up with something you can live with. How many of those packages do you have to sell and complete to eat this year? How about to go to the south of France? Figure it out, do the math, both internally and externally. Here’s my A to this Q, listed on most of my rate sheets. I think you’ll know what I mean:

Q: Why don’t you have hourly rates? I don’t work by the hour because a lot of the awesome I give you happens when you’re not looking. I’m walking Oso (the Samoyed– he’s our big, white fur ball of a dog) or in the bathtub or chopping tomatoes and the three things I’ve been turning over about that lovely thing you suggested all collide in an avalanche of sparklers, angel

Deutsch: Samojedenrüde Teddy

Deutsch: Samojedenrüde Teddy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

voices and gushing waterfalls and I simply must stop and draw a shape on the chalkboard that encompasses it all and will later translate into words. That is what you really pay me for, not the words. It looks deceptively the other way around, doesn’t it? But think: you’ve paid other people for words, haven’t you? Yeah, that’s not what you’re paying me for.

Nuff said? Get really aware of what you put into your craft, put a number on it, see how the number compares to the other numbers in your life, roll one out and test it. Give it 3 months, you can always revise. Life is an experiment and you are the scientist of your mind. Wait, this isn’t my yoga blog. Here’s the bottom line:  do some math, create a structure and start owning your worth.

Self-publishing

Play the Right Thing

Play the Right Thing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today is the last day of this year’s Nonfiction Writers Conference, and Mark Coker of Smashwords led the way with clarity and brilliance. When I’m not resuscitating other people’s blogs, I teach yoga and write about yoga and do yoga. I mention this because I have an Introduction to Yoga book that I’ve been wondering how to share with the world. I’ve been digging into options for about a year now, and had dismissed Smashwords early on. Boy, was I wrong!

Coker’s exposition and download of wisdom was so clear, generous and inclusive, I now understand the options, processes and best practices. I’m glad I didn’t just decide early and go with my first ideas, because I could’ve created all kinds of problems for myself. In the last hour, I’ve figured out which of my works I’ll offer free, which to charge for, how to offer and how much to charge! Again, the best seventy-five bucks I’ve spent on my business, probably ever, registering for #NFWC (I did register early).

Ok! Gotta run. Dvorah Lansky just started her talk on how to hold a virtual book tour!

Oh! One more thing: I’m tweeting the conference if you’re interested to check out the play by play. Being there is tops, of course, but if you’re seeing this after the fact or just want to check it, I guarantee you’ll find some nuggets of wisdom there. Not mine, just the mouth piece – lots of direct quotes and some awesome references. Let me know in the comments if you check it out!

Nonfiction Writers Conference #NFWC

Day two of the online Nonfiction Writers Conference is rapidly drawing to a close, and I’m absorbing a download from  blog guru and mentor, Bill Belew – The Traffic Professor and remembering sitting around that big table in Panera at Mathilda and El Camino in Sunnyvale, CA. He is representative of the authors and experts on this yearly teleconference in that he is beyond generous, crazy experienced, passionate and on fire to help other authors – who are willing to work.

Murphy Street, Sunnyvale, California. This str...

Murphy Street, Sunnyvale, California. This street in downtown Sunnyvale is the closest thing that the city has to a Main Street. Photographed by user Coolcaesar on August 24, 2005. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is hands down the best seventy-five bucks I’ve spent on education, connecting and social media ever. These are experts with integrity and depth, who are willing to answer questions offline and offer tremendous support. For the online writer, this conference is solid gold. The sunny gold of community, support and camaraderie. Check it out. There’s one more day right now, and talk of this becoming monthly, and if nothing else, keep an eye out for next year’s schedule.

8 things no one tells you about freelancing

Harry Worth

Image via Wikipedia

By a Word Harlot and Writer for Hire

  1. You will underbid every project for a month: this will have the effect of filling your calendar and making you feel quite professional (see no. 6) at the same time it tempts you to put out work before a final read through because you’re just so darned busy.
  2. You will run through all your acceptable addictions like plague through a rat colony: your house will be clean, the dogs walked, your schedule will be filled in, and all your blogs sparklingly well maintained. Oh,  and you’ll renew your gym membership. Remember how you loved the steam room?
  3. You will find that you don’t know as much as you thought you did: reference no. 1. At least one of those projects you reeled in by charging as if you were a lemonade stand will be on a topic you research like you were a graduate student. Didn’t you say you’d never slave like that for someone else’s research again?
  4. You will undertake more internet research than you need to: see no 3. Turns out, you didn’t need to know that much anyhow, but have a deep-seated need to feel mastery before turning in your writing. Don’t worry, this will wane.
  5. You will become a slave, a harlot, to lining up the jobs: Why? Because this is the easy part and wards off two things: real work and finishing a job without another lined up. When that does happen…
  6. You will discover the root of all your self-worth…. and judge it vapid: Your entire identity as a writer, freelancer, person of worth and merit, worthy of sucking oxygen so arduously generated by trees is contingent upon the streams of text that show up when you move your fingers in concert with your mind. When this stops, you choke. Corollary:
  7. You will measure your self-worth by responses to your bids: how dare they turn you down saying your bid was too high?! Oh, gosh, was it??? You knew you shouldn’t have… oh, wait, here comes another response… see! Someone knows your worth!
  8. The things you thought were fascinating, oddly not after you’ve done them three thousand times. And here is where we discover that even though you can show up at work before brushing your teeth and in your flannels, you can pet your dogs when the words won’t come and have lunch in your own kitchen every day, some things are always the same. Work is work, and we love what we love despite the repetition and familiarity. Or is it because?

Obstacles, drafts and edits: Do you dig or let sit?

Long-tailed Weasel 5

Image by -will wilson- via Flickr

Are you a digger or a sitter?

You know how some dogs just can’t help themselves? Left alone and unobstructed with all the yard in the world, they’ll dive in like it was Christmas, paws flying, and tear the place apart until you could film a moon landing there.

Others have their favorite spot for meditation and gravitate to the small depression they’ve made with their body weight and ritual circling, happy as Christmas morning just for being able to look up and watch the sky go by, the occasional ear twitching as they size up the arc of bird flight or squirrel jump.

meditating Matilda

Sit!

Habits grow around what works, organically with our processes. Knowing the direction of our habitual grooves might lend us comfort, but it can just channel our frustration into a deepening rut. The antidote is knowing that the habit is a vein of truth intertwining every moment in front of the page or screen and every word we spill or wrench from our body mind and heart. Knowing our habit means we have a thread we can tug on when we need a bit of unravelling.

So are you a digger or a sitter? When you’re waiting for the next word, sentence, image or inspiration, do you tinker and spill, just let the juice keep flowing even if it’s dirty brown regurgitated juice, just to keep the pipes open? Do you take the “opportunity” to go back and place the commas and capitals that didn’t come through as the words spilled from your hands? If so, you’re a digger. Your habit is activity and running out and through and connecting and dissecting and…. and, and, and.

How much of your time is spent fingers hovering or resting on the keys, eyes roaming over formless space watching contours of ideas emerge, allowing them to sink through and then emerge from fingers, shaping the screen into the forms the mind sees? When you write, do you occupy both worlds for a while, the world around feeding color, shape and sound without form while the world you’re creating bubbles and starts and stops and becomes form itself? You, like Matilda our beloved, loving pitbull, are a sitter.

Whatever your habit, tugging at the edges a bit when you face an obstacle is an uncomfortable, rich and revealing endeavor. If you’re a digger, this means pulling back instead of diving in. Physically remove your hands from the keyboard. Put the pen down. Sit on your hands. Just read. Ignore anything your attention tries to linger on. Yes, this exercise requires you guide rather than follow your attention. See what comes up. Still nothing? Leave. Go get tea, coffee, water, yoga, jumping jacks or pushups. Don’t get involved in an epic project or conversation – you’re still working. Act like it. Just change your body and mind for  3 minutes. Now, come back and Go!

Sitter? Don’t re-read, go over, wander or list. As a sitter you have two options for guiding rather than following your attention: move your mind or move your body. Either drive those finger like they were on a treadmill, writing, writing, writing, doesn’t matter what comes out, what matters is the motion, minimum 250 words. Has to be words (or word-like strings…. misspellings shouldn’t slow you down) but don’t worry about the meanings or connections or even relation to the intended topic. Don’t stop until you’ve reached 250 or 500, then go back and read. No change, don’t know what to do next or where to go? Do it again. Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat.

Or maybe  you’re up for an oil change. Change your body, change your energy, change your mind. You get one minute of jumping jacks or pushups (start by doing them against a wall – easy does it, it’s a minute and it won’t go as fast as it does when you’re staring at the screen). Or two or three, depending on your fitness level.  Pump not primed but out of breath? Then it’s time for letting the fingers fly. Just go. Start with the word pushup or jumping jacks and let it go. Think of yourself as a wind up toy: the exercise is the crank and the fingers do the dance. Find the fun in the play, and let it re-arrange your mind.

If opposing your habitual response to obstacles doesn’t reveal the solution to your editing dilemma, then it’s time to ask for help. Ask your friend, lover, enemy or guy at the next table. Hire a writing coach. This is the best possible situation, though that’s not likely what you want to hear. If your obstacle is stubborn enough to require more than transient application of change principles, it’s a valuable and rich one and will yield exponential return. Smile and embrace the stuckness, it’s drawing your deeper to your core. 

The Pointless Story: Direct Your Tale

 

Standard left hand draft course

Image via Wikipedia

 

Is any story ever pointless? Yes, and no. Every story has at least one point, but too often we include stories in our writing that leave the reader wondering which point we were actually trying to make and if we couldn’t have just told them more simply.

You don’t want your reader wondering why you included  your story, or whether you were illustrating your motivation or your opponent’s misfortune. There are two basic ways to direct your tale: either tell your reader up front what you’re illustrating, or create a tale with a structure that directs your readers’ attention to the point you want them to find. Ideally, do both.

For most of us, we’re making a specific point, or maybe two, with a given story. Maybe the story is the entire piece, or perhaps the story is part of an essay, supporting one of the premises. Either way, which details remain and what order and language they wear is determined by the point the writer means to create.

In order to direct a seemingly meandering, rambling or otherwise point-seeking story, write it however it comes out at first. Often, the first telling is chronological. That’s fine, however it comes out. When you return a few days, or even hours, later, underline possible themes, important words, images and feelings. Then, practice pruning: delete anything not related to the major theme you picked. It’s okay if it becomes smaller and smaller, the material you’re editing out isn’t disappearing into some inescapable void. This part is just to find the center of your story, the fine nub you’ll then embellish with selected details.

The crux of this method is choice. The first draft allows you to get all the moving parts out onto the table. The next step is to put aside the gear that’s the exact perfect size to turn all the other cogs, and then add the cogs back in sparingly and artfully, in a way that illuminates the working of the tale.

Next time: Structure and Function – How to Create Maximum Impact with the Fewest Moving Parts

What I… What I really… What I really Mean!

Desire - 08Feb05, New Orleans, LA (USA)

Image by philippe leroyer via Flickr

Instead of focusing on your meaning – because that will arise organically when your structure supports your content – focus on what you really want. Desire drives intent drives meaning.

The magic of writing is that by doing it you find out more about yourself and your message as you actually do it. The paradox that seems to be created is this: If I sit down to write something in particular, I already have a point to make – a meaning – before I start. How, then, can the process reveal new things?

When you sit down, you have a desire: to communicate, to land a job, to reveal something, to land a place in a program, to reveal your heart, to remember something lovely or poignant – there are myriad underlying goals, but what they have in common is desire.

If you connect to what your deepest driving desire is, you won’t stop until you’ve explored it sufficiently for your task, and you won’t be deterred by playing small. Remember that until you get to a late editing stage, this is truly yours and will be best served by you getting it all out an onto paper.

Let the meaning reveal itself. You focus on revealing yours.