I am still chipping away at revisions for the book I have coming out at the end of this year. Once I finish with it, it will be sent off to my editor, and she will send it back with a million notes to tell me all the things that are wrong with it.
When you have someone like that, y’all, appreciate them. Not everyone is willing to be so wonderfully honest with you.
While I’m working on that, I’m also checking off the other thousand tiny tasks that go into getting a book published, including this lovely new logo.
I finished it last night. It’s perfect.
My book is being published through my business, Storynook Productions. The regular logo that I have, with my personal and business brand, is too complex for the spine of a book, so I had to come up with a similar, simplified version.
I think I managed it.
I’m excited about this, y’all. Getting a book from manuscript to finished product is an overwhelming amount of details, but I have been planning for this for years, and I am so ready to have it in my hands.
Plus, this is the kind of thing I enjoy. I mean, who doesn’t love seeing a dream come together?
They’re waking up when I come into town. Shopkeepers, housewives. A few beggars. This town doesn’t have very many—I remember that from the last time I came through. I’m not sure they like that sort.
I probably look like a beggar to most of them. My shoes are getting thin around the soles, and my jacket’s been threadbare for, oh, nearly a hundred years now.
They don’t make things like they used to.
I head for the pastry shop first. This town has an impeccable pastry shop, and if I remember rightly, it’s run by a very sweet young lady with a streak of gray in her hair. I don’t make many friends on my rounds through the country, but I’ve always counted her as one of them.
Her daughter answers my knock. Her daughter with the cold eyes and ash gray hair. Her mouth pinches when I ask about my friend, and she tells me that particular grave is more than a dozen years old.
I’ve been gone longer than I thought.
I mumble apologies—and my condolences—and buy three sweet rolls and a chocolate bun, although the smell in the shop isn’t nearly as heavenly as it was years ago.
The price of time, as they say.
The woman’s sharp gaze fastens on the pennies I’m counting for her, and the silver coins mixed in with the coppers cause her eyes to widen greedily. I want to laugh. I want to tell her that those particular silver coins won’t bring her any luck or happiness. They never have for me.
But I don’t. I pay for my meal and wander on, munching a sweet roll and studying the town. It looks worn thin. The streets are thick with dust, and the buildings slump wearily, although I’m willing to bet they’re not half so tired as I am. Nor half so old. I’ve been charged with bringing the life back into these places—this town and about a hundred others scattered all over the western coastline. I travel to them each in turn, leaving pieces of my soul behind, and they never used to get in such bad shape while I was gone.
I think I’m slowing down. Getting old.
A thousand years as a cursed man will do that to you.
Quite a few of the shops in the main square are empty and boarded up. People left, I guess. They must have gotten tired of waiting for the grass to grow and the flowers to bloom again. The fields around the town are nearly dust themselves, but that will change soon enough.
I sit down by the fountain in the middle of the square and finish my bun. I used to rush through the towns, when all of this first started. When I was a young, newly murdered conquerer, and the gods sentenced me to spend a thousand years undoing the damage I’d done to the western coastlands. I’d rush through the town without stopping, flipping my silver coin into the fountain as I passed by, somehow thinking that if I hurried, I’d get through a thousand years a little quicker.
I’m not in such a hurry these days. I’ve got time to buy a few sweet rolls, talk to a few drifters, maybe make a friend if a shopkeeper doesn’t mind my worn-out coat and whiskers.
They don’t last long, those friends. I learned that the hard way. I miss them when they’re gone, more than I ever missed anyone when I was alive. I don’t think I appreciated life the same way back then, but I’ve grown to treasure the moments a little better now.
A thousand years as a cursed man will do that to you.
I brush the crumbs off my coat and dig a silver coin out of my pouch, dropping it into the fountain before I head off on my way. It’ll be raining soon, probably before I get out of town, and before the week is out the trees will push out new leaves and the flowers will be blooming in the hollows again.
I can’t wait around to see it, of course, but it’s nice to know the trip was worth the effort. Maybe I’ll shuffle a little faster this time around, and get back before the last of the day lilies die out.
I have a friend who might like a few on her grave.
I am a full-time writer. I’ve mentioned that about a million times on this blog, along with noting that I run my own business as a freelancer. But today, I’d like to dive a little deeper into what that looks like on a daily basis.I’ll give you a hint.
I don’t actually spend my entire day writing.
Nor, strangely enough, do I spend my whole day in my pajamas, although I work from home and generally spend the majority of my time with my kitty and my newly acquired puppy. No boss checking that I’m meeting dress code here! Except for me, and I have my own policies about that. But, we’ll get into that. In short, this is what a typically day as a freelance scriptwriter looks like.
5:30 – 7 AM: My alarm goes off stupidly early. My husband sets it for me every night, usually because I’m already buried in my blankets and stick my head out to ask if he will. He’s a good sport. I like to get up before the sunrise to get a start on my day before the rest of the world is awake and jostling for my attention. It gives me some space. Now that we have a puppy in the house, I take her out on her leash to use the bathroom, then walk over to my parents’ house to jump on their rebound mini trampoline.
People always laugh at me for the jumping thing. They can’t seem to figure out why I do it, and it weirds them out. Simply put, this is my time. I stick my headphones in, and I work on my books. Stories don’t just show up, you know. You have to plan them. You have to make space for dreaming and talking with characters and imagination, and this is my space. If I don’t have this time, I don’t have books. Period. You might say this is one of the most important parts of my day as a writer.
7 – 8 AM: When I get home, I clean. Obsessively. I find it very hard to be creative if the dishes aren’t done or the floor isn’t swept, so before my day really gets started, I make sure that all the little chores are well and truly finished. This is also when I get dressed—no pajamas here. I’ve learned through a bit of trial and error that I feel 100% better if I’m dressed for work and have done my hair and makeup. It’s the little things.
8 – 9 AM: I study Spanish with Duolingo. This is one of my weirder habits—it has nothing to do with my career, probably won’t be relevant to my daily life anytime soon, and as much as I enjoy it, I probably will never become a fluent—or even competent—Spanish speaker. But it’s something new and different for my brain to do, and it keeps me sharp.
9 – 12 AM: This is my first big ‘chunk of work’ for the day. I generally have meetings during this time to discuss scripts, casting, story problems, or just provide updates for deadlines and revisions that need to happen. When I’m not in meetings, I’m writing. Depending on the day, I might be throwing together an outline for the team to approve for a script, or drafting a chapter for one of my two books in progress, or writing dialogue for a script. This is all usually accompanied by a cup of tea, trips outside with the puppy, and my kitty attempting to crawl into my lap to get the love and attention she deserves.
12 – 2 PM: Lunch, another trip outside with the puppy, and maybe if I have time, I’ll walk over to my parents house to see actual human people and jump. Another brainstorm session helps get me back in the game for an afternoon of writing.
2 – 4 PM: More writing. Afternoons are hard, y’all. This is when I start falling asleep. Music generally helps, and sprints with my writers’ group over text. When we’re all working, it always encourages me to get more words in. If I’m working on books that particular day, this is also where I will switch projects. 1000 words in the morning for one book, 1000 words in the afternoon for another. We don’t always hit that, but we try.
4 – 6 PM: I’m prepping dinner, listening to crime podcasts or an audio book, and taking the puppy out for a good romp before the husband gets home and we eat together.
6 – 9 PM: This is supposed to be free time. It really, really is. But if I’ve got a tight deadline on a script that I’m trying to meet, or if I happen to be feeling particularly inspired, I’ll curl up on my couch with my computer and get in a few hundred extra words. My cat usually sits on top of me, and my husband plays video games next to me, so it’s all very cozy. Or, if my writers’ group is up for it, we’ll toss out a few prompts through text and free write for a while—which is always good for creativity and opens up dozens of interesting doors.
There you have it! This is what a typical day as a freelance writer looks like—at least in my neck of the woods. This was an enormously long post, but if you’ve ever wondered what a writer actually does in a day, now you know!
You know what’s crazy about being a writer? Especially one with a full-time job?
The worlds I visit.
When I first started writing, I had one story.
I had fragments of others, of course. But one ‘project’. One world that occupied all my time. The characters that whispered over my writing desk and tugged words out of my poor tired brain all belonged to a single story, and I liked it that way. It helped me focus. I knew what I was working on, I knew when to work on it, and I could devote my entire attention to one lovely, blossoming story that was growing bigger every day.
That was eight years ago.
Eight very long years.
Now my life is very different. My single world has split into many. I have a half a dozen stories sprouting up at my full-time job, all in different stages. Some are seeds of ideas, still needing a little sunlight, a little love before they’re ready for other eyes on them. Some are outlines, not quite blooming yet but sprouting up hurriedly, with lots of leaves and stems that will need trimming. And some—some have flowers.
But as much as I love seeing those half-dozen stories grow and flourish, they’re not the only worlds I live in. I have others too, books that are out in the world, books that are hopping back and forth between my editor and myself, books that are still trapped on my computer. Some of them are half-finished, others need a few chapters cut here, a section rewritten there. These stories get my love after my ‘official’ work is done for the day. When I can steal ten minutes or two hours out of a busy schedule. When I have a day off or a weekend free. When I can hide away, I grab my computer and add something to the growing pages. Five hundred words, or two sentences, a new character outline. Anything I can conjure up.
These projects grow very slowly. So slowly that sometimes I worry that I’m not making any progress at all, that I’ll never reach the end.
But I will. One day.
I have two stories like that just now. One with multiple books connected to it. Two stories. Two more worlds on top of a half-dozen others.
Then, there are the stories that live nowhere but in my head. No documents, no updated notebooks, not even an outline.
The stories that will be. The worlds that haven’t been created yet.
I have a dozen of these. Some of them are small still, just ideas. Some are completely fleshed out with characters and settings and plot lines that have never yet seen the light of day.
And they won’t.
Not yet. Probably not for years. When it’s time, I’ll dust them off and write that first word. That first chapter.
Until then, they’ll live on in my head. One more world to visit—when I have the time. When I can steal the minutes.
I live in a dozen different worlds at one time.
Occasionally I visit my own world too—although maybe a little less often then I should.
What kind of worlds have you been escaping into lately? Tell me about it in the comments!
Last week we started talking about things writers can do to move their careers forward when the next step seems impossibly far off.
Sometimes ‘making it as a writer’ seems like it’s full of huge, gigantic leaps forward: finishing a book, finding an agent, getting published, working full-time as a writer, earning this award, being asked to speak there—the milestones seem impossibly far apart and way too difficult to accomplish.
So, I think it’s time to start talking about the small steps.
The little things we can do every day to deepen our understanding of this craft.
Time to pay attention to the little things, my friends, because believe it or not, those milestones aren’t the building blocks of your career. Sure, they look fancy and they’re fun plaques to have up on the wall. But there is a whole lot of in-between steps before you can reach them.
We’re here to talk about the in-between. The practical.
And today’s practical?
I’m not here to tell you to read War and Peace or 100 books in a year. But as writers, we need story. Not just our own stories, because we all know how we get caught up in the complexities and frustrations of our stories, and, unfortunately, we all have our blind spots.
Writers need story. I write for a radio drama. I spent all Sunday last week binge-watching The Mandalorian. I listen to audiobooks on a regular basis, I’ve watched movies specifically for work to better understand story structure, and I have started to be able to predict what comes next in the movie theater simply because I know where we are in the story.
Writers. Need. Story.
We need to analyze story, we need to pick apart our favorite books and movies and video games and graphic novels and see what makes them tick. We need to be that irritating person in the movie theater who leans over and whispers, “Yep. ‘All is Lost’ moment. Right on cue.”
I am not a fan of dictating exactly how anyone needs to ingest story. Books, movies, TV, video games, radio. It doesn’t matter. But as a writer, you need story. Not to listen to mindlessly, but to analyze, dissect, learn from.
So next time you want to take another step and or do the next right thing, watch a favorite movie. TV show. Pick a story, and grab your notebook. Find the ‘All is Lost’ moment. The quarter mark, where the upside-down world begins. The catalyst. Pick the story to pieces and see how it works, what theme the writer used. Write a pitch for it.
The more you devour story, the better you will understand it.
What are some of your favorite stories? Tell me about them in the comments!
I wrote a post recently about doing the next right thing.
Since that’s my version of a New Year’s Resolution, I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot.
I also went to go see Frozen 2 over the weekend with my younger sisters. In case you were wondering, it was fabulous. I loved it. But it was also about doing the next right thing. And it started me wondering.
What is the next right thing when you’re a professional writer?
Sometimes, that can be a pretty difficult question. Especially because it varies person to person and day to day. Sometimes the next right thing is to write a page, read a new book, or spend an hour or so journaling with your characters. Other times it can be completely different: spending some time away from your computer, going for a walk, or setting up a social media page to connect with other writers and potential readers.
Unfortunately, there is no formula. Everyone is on their own journey, and no one can simply snap their fingers and say, “This is what you need to do today to take a step forward in your journey.”
If only life were that simple.
However, sometimes it really is so, so hard to know what the next right thing is supposed to be—especially when you’re a writer. Getting a book published or finding a job in your industry can seem impossibly hard, and sometimes it feels as though, instead of a long road to walk, there’s a gaping chasm that you have to (somehow) jump over. It becomes a leap of all or nothing, right now, instead of a journey with definable steps.
Writer, I promise that isn’t true.
Since it can be so hard sometimes to know what the next right things are, I’m going to devote a series on this blog to look at some of the next right things that have gotten me where I am today.
Starting with Save The Cat.
Before I started working as a full-time scriptwriter, I hadn’t read very many books on structure or style or anything else. Let’s be honest, there are about a million different books out there, everyone has their opinion on how story works. Some are great and some are not so great.
I could never figure out which was which.
But when I started my job, my manager had some very defined tasks for me to develop my writing skills. One of those tasks was to read Save The Cat, by Blake Snyder.
I still have that book on my desk. As well as the two followup books.
And yes, I still pick them up when I’m stuck and need inspiration, instruction, and a direction for my scattered thoughts.
It is a detailed, understandable guide to structure and story, written by a screenwriter who worked in Hollywood for many years and made more money in this industry than I will ever manage. His writing is clear and concise, and his advice is solid good sense.
So when I’m stuck, and I don’t know what the next right thing could possibly be, I reach for Save The Cat, and give my understanding of structure a boost, because I know that will do nothing but move me forward.
What is one thing you do for your writing when you’re not sure how to move forward? Tell me about it in the comments!
I should tell you something about me, in case we ever meet in person.
I always—always—have a story going in my head.
Every day. It never stops. It might be pushed to the back burner in my brain, I might be able to smile and talk to you and be totally engaged in our conversation. But in the back of my mind, my characters are waiting. Lurking. Ready to jump out and surprise me with a new plot point, a bit of dialogue, or sometimes a new friend they discovered while I wasn’t paying attention.
Now that I’m working full time as a creative writer, I’ve found that this hasn’t changed. I think almost as much about my work on the way home—or at home—as I do at the office. I clock out and have my best ideas when I reach the end of the driveway.
“Passion will move men beyond themselves, beyond their shortcomings, beyond their failures.”
~ Joseph Campbell
Passion gets me through the hard days. The days when my outlines come back full of notes and with the dreaded ‘trash it and try again’ notice. The days when I have to choose between gas money and rent. The days when I sit staring at a blank screen for an hour because I’m drained creatively but have so many deadlines looming that I have to get some words out.
Passion gets me through the hard times so that, when the good times come, I can enjoy them.
Tips to Cultivate Passion.
1. Admit that you have more than one passion. I love writing. I also love to travel, cook, go hiking, and be a mentor. I spend most of my time writing, crafting stories, and building my platform, but when I am burned out, I know where to turn. A writer whose whole life is on the page is a writer who is headed for creative burnout—maybe permanently.
2. Know where you want your passion to take you. Are you a hobby writer? Someone who just wants to see their story on the page? Or are you looking for a career and a publishing contract? The approach for these two is very different. You have to know what you want. Hobby writing won’t get you a career. You’ve got to get serious if you want to live on your words.
3. Remember that passion isn’t always a feeling. Sometimes you’ll sit down to write and not care so much that it becomes a physical sensation. This happens to me more often than I would like to admit. And as a career writer with a full-time job in the writing industry, it really, really doesn’t matter whether I feel like writing or not. I still have to write. I still have deadlines and people waiting for outlines and stories to create. Just because I don’t ‘feel like it’ does not mean I can stop writing.
4. Stay focused. Passion, especially for writers, has to be there for the long haul. Set goals, know what you want, have a rhythm for yourself, and be hopeful. Passion isn’t fluffy. It isn’t pretty, or gentle, or easy. Passion is rock hard, cold steel determination that fights through the worst days because it is resolved to be there for the best days. Passion is learned and earned, and you develop it the same way you develop your muscles. By working hard, pushing through, and showing up when you don’t feel like it.
Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.
Can I ask you a question, just between us writers and anyone else who happens to swing by my blog and see this post?
What are you hoping for?
When you sit down to write, where do you see your book going? Or, rather, where do you want it to go?
What are the big dreams in the back of your mind that you’ll never tell a single soul and definitely not admit to yourself because c’mon. That’s crazy! You don’t even have a completed manuscript yet. What right do you have to dream about that fulfilling career and personal endorsement by your favorite author in the whole world?
I’m going to tell you a secret.
You are allowed to make your dream as big as you want it to be.
When I was first getting started in my career—and I mean first getting started, a total baby author who hadn’t even finished a single book—my dream was not just to be a good writer or to have a finished book, which would have been a stretch anyway, but to be an amazing one. One of the greats. The elite.
Writer, when I was dreaming that, I was not great. Honestly? I wasn’t even good. And I have old manuscripts to prove it.
But that wasn’t the point. I didn’t have proof this could happen or a five-year plan. I had a dream.
“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me . . . Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.
~ Shel Silverstein
Now, I am not claiming to be one of the greats. In fact, my dream is still so far out of my reach that at times I lose sight of it completely, and I have a lot of work left to do before I get anywhere near that goal. But it’s still my dream. And I am slowly making steps forward to reach it. Instead of an unfinished manuscript, I have written eight books. Instead of nannying to support my dream, I—against all odds and to my own great surprise—was hired out of more than a hundred other applicants to work as an apprentice scriptwriter for a radio program I happen to love.
Dreams happen. They happen when you have hope and when you move forward step by step and don’t give up.
Tips to Cultivate Hope.
1. Know what you’re hoping for. Do you want a published book, a career as a writer, and a place on the bestseller list? Or do you, for now, just want a finished story and a character that cooperates with you? What are you dreaming about and hoping for? Is it wild? Is it a little crazy? Does it bring you joy?
2. Don’t punish yourself for hoping. I used to do this. All the time. I told myself I was being silly, that I was being prideful. Now I just let myself dream because I’ve started to realize, without those crazy daydreams and wild hopes, I start to give up. I lose sight of what I want, and my attention wanders. Hope keeps me centered, and it keeps me moving.
3. Write your dream down. Repeat it to yourself when you’re alone. Keep it somewhere you can go back to, especially on the days when life feels all kinds of impossible. You’re going to need that spark of hope. So keep it alive.
4. Don’t share it with everyone. Let it be yours, just for now. People are quick to shoot down ideas they feel are ‘impossible’, or to come up with ten different reasons why you’re crazy for even trying. Nothing kills dreams faster than someone else trying to be realistic for you. So, for now, keep your hopes a little sacred, and let your work speak for itself when you finally reach your goal. ‘I have’ is much harder to argue with than ‘I will’.
Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.
I’m going to make a crazy statement to start off today’s post.
Are you ready?
Here it is.
The most talented writers will not necessarily be the most successful.
There. I said it. You can lynch me now.
Are you shocked by my crazy pronouncement? I don’t take it back. In fact, I stand by it. You know why?
Because I meet talented writers all the time who . . . just . . . don’t care. They have other ambitions and their writing takes a backseat. Kind of a, ‘I’ll get to it when I have time’ mentality.
The problem with this is that no one gets to it when they have time because no one ever has time.
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
~ Thomas A. Edison
The sad fact of writing is that, unless you make it a priority in your life, it will never get anywhere. Everyone wants to write a book, but very, very few people are willing to put in the kind of work that is required. They write a few chapters, hit a bump, and it sits on their desktop for the rest of eternity, plagued by added sentences and guilt.
So I’ll say it again. The most talented writers will not necessarily be the most successful.
But the writer who works the hardest? The one who makes time when there is no time? The one who cares when no one else does and keeps going after everyone else has left off? The one who catches at every opportunity and makes writing their job, not their hobby?
That’s the writer who will end up with books on the market and a career that sustains them.
Tips to Cultivate Work Ethic.
1. Be consistent. Have a rhythm to your writing and show up for it. Yes, we are creatives, we are the people who wake up in the middle of the night to work because we have a good idea. But we are also entrepreneurs and business owners, and we need to show up at the desk too. Until you take yourself seriously, you’re going to find it impossible to get anyone else to treat you seriously. Especially agents and editors, who can tell when you’re toying around with your ideas.
2. Write a little every day. My goals for my stories—even though I am working 40 hours a week—is 700 words a day. 200 in the morning, 500 at night. I don’t always hit that, but I do what I can. Writing something every day keeps your skills sharp and your mind on track. It also teaches you to have ideas on demand—which, believe it or not, is possible. I do it every day at my nine-to-five job. Not all the ideas are good ones, but there are always golden nuggets among the duds.
3. Be determined. Know your goals, know what kind of writer you want to be and the kind of books you want to produce, and go after it. You are the only one who can make it happen, and the only one who is brave enough and crazy enough to dream big. Be that one insane, ridiculous person who has goals like their story reaching the big screen, being interviewed on a talk show about their books, or having book signings that are booked in advance. Be that person that dreams big, and the one who works a little bit every day to reach your goals.
4. Know when to rest—and when to get back to work. I am a huge advocate for resting when you need to rest. I have burned out too many times to laugh it off and say push through, you’ll be fine. When you are worn out, rest. Please. But know when to start again. Know when resting becomes procrastination and procrastination becomes abandonment. Life goes on, dearest writer, but if you want a career in writing, you have to drag your writing along with it.
Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.