The Simplest Cure

sleeping babyYesterday my life was awful. I felt discouraged, stuck, overwhelmed and unlovable. Yet, nothing had changed from the day before, when everything was fine. Today, I’m upbeat, tackling chores and creative projects with verve, hope and confidence. Nothing in my life has really changed. So, what happened? For me, it’s a simple but all too often overlooked answer. Two nights ago, I stayed up till 2:00 AM talking to my friend and critique partner, Stephanie on the phone. So, only 4 hours sleep. Last night, I made up for it with 9 solid hours. So, my advice to all my writing and non-writing friends: GET SOME SLEEP!

Sometimes problems in our writing can also be fixed with simple but overlooked options. One of my favorites is this: Just leave it out. If you’ve reworked a sentence or paragraph repeatedly and it still feels awkward, jarring or doesn’t lead naturally to the next, if it’s out of place and you can’t figure out where it fits, well, can you just leave it out altogether? Do you really need it? Is there a scene that drags? If you cut it, will it be missed? Or perhaps reduce it to a sentence or two. At least stop fretting about it, let it rest and see if it looks or feels different tomorrow. “Rests” in music are part of the whole conception of the composition. They should be part of our lives and our writing as well.

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Sex, Love and Writing

hearts naturalWhen I was in college, the sexual revolution was just getting started. Woman still hid the fact that they weren’t virgins, if that was the case. Magazine articles still quoted sexually active college women anonymously. One quote said this: “you can tell how much sex a woman is getting by how much knitting she gets done.” This says that women who had no love interest sublimated their energies and filled their time with needlework. But it also hints at the reverse. That women who had a love interest or partner neglected their other pursuits. Yes, even schoolwork. I neglected schoolwork for a variety of reasons. One was I had no clear motivation for being in school, other than to get away from home. Two, I was more interested in acting in school plays, an extracurricular activity, than in doing the work for which I was actually enrolled. And three, I’d never really learned to power through anything that was hard or boring, which, let’s face it, describes a lot of college course work, at least for me.

So, what does this have to do with my writing life these days? This: I, myself, have a new love interest in my life. I’m all too aware of how this might draw me away from my writing goals, ambitions and vision. It’s happened before. I’ve been in previous relationships with men who drained my time and energy, distracted my thoughts, or outright sabotaged my work with criticism, competition, or a frivolous attitude towards my work. But not this time. This time, for some reason I can’t articulate, my new romance has fostered, enlivened, promoted my writing. He actively and vocally admires my efforts and respects my writerly needs.

At this stage of my life, I had vowed never to let another romantic entanglement get in the way of my writing career. I was willing to forego having a romantic partner, if that was the price I had to pay for a commitment to writing. Luckily, I don’t have to choose. We all want love in our lives, both to give and receive. Sometimes, for some of us, that means giving up something else. My wish for you, my fellow writers, is that you too can have both.

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Honestly, Once Would Have Been Enough

two gunsI was delighted when so many of my online writer friends got last minute holiday gifts in the form of acceptances in late December. It was the opposite for me. I got not one, but two rejections–for the same piece!!

 

How did this happen? The first rejection was a form rejection, common enough, no surprise. But then the editor, for some reason, didn’t like it that form rejections were sent out. Perhaps she felt potential contributors deserved better. Anyway, she took it upon herself to send out more personalized rejections. This was about a week after the initial rejection letter. When I saw the sender in my email, at first my heart gave that little leap. Aha, they realized they made a mistake and are accepting my piece after all! Well, no. Having been primed by the first rejection, it wasn’t much of a letdown. But, kind as the editor was to personalize bad news, seriously, I would have been fine with getting that news only once. Still, it’s a reminder that there are conscientious, hard-working editors out there. So, on to the next project.




 

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A Clean Slate

clean slateI got my last rejection of the year a few days ago. It was kind of refreshing. Everything else I had submitted had either been rejected or accepted. Now I can start a fresh batch of submissions from scratch. Sort of like cleaning out one’s junk drawer. (No, I don’t equate my work with junk.) Some years, on the first day of the new year, I’ll look back at what I’ve accomplished with my writing and try to pinpoint: what worked, what didn’t. Nah, not this year. I just want new ideas, new markets if possible, a new approach to creativity. Of course, the “new year” is totally a human construction. The trees, our pets, the universe doesn’t have any idea that this day is different from any other. And I also know people (only a few) who don’t see this day as any reason to take stock or attempt to make plans for the future. They truly live in the moment. I admire that, but haven’t figured out yet how to apply it in my own life. So, for now, I see today as a clean slate, a chance to start over with no leftovers from the year just passed. That is, I did, until my CP Stephanie, when I was telling her this, said, “But what about . . ” naming a piece I still have out that I had forgotten about. Oh, well. Clean slates aren’t always, and don’t have to be, perfect. Seems like there’s always some little thing left in the junk drawer that you can’t figure out what to do with. So, I’ll just go on doing the best I can. I hope all of you have a great writing, and personal, year.

 

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Being Famous on Social Media

Sharp, dead-on observations that are surprisingly liberating. Just MHO. Lida

The Art of Blogging

I already know what you’re thinking.

But what about all the influencers advertising all sorts of products on Instagram? What about the impact? The sales of their own products?

It’s almost a rule of the universe that as long as you’re being true to yourself, fame, fortune, and the latest Apple products will all be yours.

But the truth is not that easy. Not everyone who has a vlog and an over-the-top personality gets to win big. Not every guy who workouts six times a week gets to sell his programs or have his own brand of supplements.

For every Jackson Pollock, there were thousands of folks who were doing the same thing, yet never earned quite enough to make a living.

If only I could get noticed. If only I could get someone to read my stuff.

Yes, and I hope you do get thousands and thousands of…

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Pain

painEveryone who lives suffers, physically, emotionally, mentally. At least at some point in his or her life. But artists suffer pain that’s unique to us. If we are not creating, we are hurting. If we are not creating, it feels like our artist self is shriveling. I met a fellow at a party recently. He works in a combination of visual and electronic media. (Don’t ask me to explain, I haven’t actually seen his work.) He was radiating despair, a psychic pain that only artists know. His latest project had been complete for several months and he had no new ideas. He was a nice fellow with a lovely wife and child and surrounded by friends. Yet, he was lost in this valley of despond. For me, this is the absolute worst state to be in. I offered what advice I could. He already meditates, so that suggestion was not needed. I said, when this happens to me, one way I attack it is to remember a time in the past when I had a sudden flood of ideas and execution, and try to recreate the conditions that were in my life at that time. He didn’t seem convinced. When we parted, I took his hand and said, “I’ll be thinking of you.” Sometimes, maybe even most times, that’s all I can offer. I do believe that most artists eventually, somehow, find their way out of these fallow periods. I also believe that’s exactly what they are: fallow. They don’t mean we have lost our art or will never, ever have another idea again. Ideas, I believe, are like the old blues song says about street cars and men, there’s always another one coming along, even if we can’t see them coming down the dark street from a distance. I keep my eyes, my heart, my instincts, my mind always open, with hope and patience. I know there are writers out there who say they have so many ideas they could never live long enough to write them all. I’m not one of them. If you aren’t either, and for anyone else out there struggling with this issue right this minute, I’m thinking of you.

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A Writer’s Thanksgiving


TG5I’ve mentioned several of these before. But nearing Thanksgiving, I’m reminded of how grateful I am for the following:

 

 

 

Technology

  • Online submissions. Dangerous if you hit “send” too quickly, but mostly a huge advantage over the old days. And hey, a lot of snail mail submissions also went out with panic inducing errors. This benefit also often includes online submssion tracking.
  • Online thesauri and dictionaries.
  • Word processing software.
  • Editing software.
  • Writer’s guidelines and other information on markets’ websites. No more sending off SASEs for printed guidelines.

People

  • My writing critique partner, Stephanie
  • All the wonderful writing friends I’ve met online through forums and groups.
  • Writer’s conferences, like Bouchercon, where I can meet some of these people in person and also make new acquaintences.
  • All the established writers out there who are unfailingly generous with their expertise and encouragement.
  • Every one of you, my followers, readers, commenters and “likers.” You bring me joy. I wish the same for everyone during the holiday season and in all the days to come.

 

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Sine Qua Non

map and compassThere was a time when, like many folks starting out in life, I was struggling. Working multiple jobs, trying to get more education, fighting to keep the first home I had bought on my own. I was determined to hang on to the foothold I had on success and build on it, to do whatever it took. As part of that process, I developed what I now call my bottom line: what is/are the absolute minimum conditions I need to get me through the day. For me, those were: a clean head of hair and a full tank of gas. If I could secure those two things, I could handle whatever I needed to, whatever the day demanded.

Now I’m a writer. I need a new bottom line. What is the bare minimum I need to allow me, to encourage me, to make progress on whatever project I have at hand? At this point, here’s what I believe I need: first, one, or at least one, clear, concrete, next step. And two, some word or sign of encouragement from a friend or my critique partner. Sometimes I think I’m a wimp for needing that second requirement. Heck, shouldn’t I have the inner fortitude, the self-confidence, the chutzpah, stubbornness, whatever you call it, to do it on my own? Maybe I should, but I don’t. I accept that and find ways to secure that positive input. And if I don’t have an initial first step in mind, I end up floundering around for too long.

Yesterday, my one clear step was finding out from Bowker why I couldn’t buy ISBNs online. (Turns out their online ordering system was down and I had to print forms, fill them out and fax them in.) My other need was filled by a thumbs up from my CP on my latest creation. So, today, off it went. As so often happens, once I get that first step out of the way, it leads to more steps. Getting the forms off to Bowker and my CP’s “yes” vote yesterday freed me up to blog today, which will free me up to work on the next WIP. So, that’s my take. Now, what’s your bottom line?

 

 

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Damn, I Did It Again

pauseI’ve come up with what I believe is a new phrase for writer’s like me: “sender’s remorse.” This is the condition I enter just after I have hit “send” and realize I should have added to, changed, or edited my work in some way. Someone once defined a “split second” as the time between when the light changes green and the driver behind you honks his horn. Sometimes for me a split second is the time between when I hit “send” and the  instant when I realize I forgot to change the title, spell-check, or add that most appropriate quote. After my latest submission, remorse didn’t hit until hours later when I was lying in bed at night. I suddenly remembered I had wanted to add a mere five or six words to the essay. But, stupidly, when I first thought of that slight change, which would have made a great difference in the tone of the piece, I neglected to jot it down on the manuscript. I thought, despite all past experiences to the contrary, I would remember to make the addition. Of course I would. Only I didn’t. Not that the essay isn’t pretty good as it is. But it could have been better. Yeah, I know we writers are always editing our work, constantly seeing new ways it could be improved, even well after it’s been published. But this was such an easy fix. And I had plenty of time. The deadline, which had been Oct. 31, had been extended for a month. I could easily have waited another day or two before submitting. But I was just so darn anxious to add it to my submission log. Too anxious. And I pay the price.

This is one of my worst faults as a writer. There are two writers of my acquaintance, not well known names, who don’t have this problem. They work many months on each piece. And it shows. Their writing is the most brilliant I have ever read. I told one of them, I’d give my “write” arm to be as good as he is. [yes, it’s a terrible joke]. But that’s not what it takes. Thomas Carlyle said, “Genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains.” I don’t know if I’ll ever learn–to pause, to give it time, to control my impatience.

The problem is that once the manuscript is gone, it’s gone. There are a minuscule minority of online journals that allow re-submissions of the same piece. I’m lucky to blog at WordPress, where, the instant I hit “publish” I can go back and “update” a post if I want to. But that’s rare. So, I’ll just have to hope for the best on this latest work, absorb the lesson if I can, and focus on “next time.”

 

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Befuddlement

befuddlementI’m in the process of bringing out a new edition of my poetry book, Fault Lines. The original edition was brought out by a micro press that is now defunct. That version was not available on Amazon (print or e-book) or on other e-book platforms. Honestly, I have no idea what I’m doing. Despite reading articles on how to do this, I’m still lost. No way in the world am I going to try to do it myself. My wonderful friend, Jo, recommended a cover designer/formatter that she used. Thanks heavens for Karen. I need a lot of babying and slow walking during this whole process, and Karen is patient, understanding and flexible. She answers every question with all the information and links I need. It’s a journey. It’s a learning curve. I try not to look ahead at all the stuff I don’t know/understand yet. Just do what’s in front of me that I do know how to do. I’ve had nightmares over this, from fear of failure, fear of making a mistake, fear of looking ridiculous. (And those fears are also ridiculous. After all, this is not my debut at Carnegie Hall.) But if I want it done, I have to keep moving forward. What I’ve noticed is that as I take each small step, the next step becomes slightly more intelligible. Like magic. And it’s a reminder that when I’m stuck, it’s okay, indeed mandatory, to ask for help. That takes humility. I have to admit that I’m not as far along or as tech-savvy as so many other writers out there. I have to admit that what looks easy for other people is a struggle for me. But nobody was born knowing this stuff and I’m good at lots of other things. Anyway, if you are looking for this kind of help, Karen is a good resource. “Karen Bangcot” karenuybangcot@gmail.com

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