The first of the year is traditionally the time to reflect over the past year and consider the upcoming year.
For my writing, I never can wait for January 1st—or even December 31st. The holidays have so many distractions that I want my coming year planned long before the first day of the New Year.
Typically, I do the thinking part of my reflection throughout the month of November. After Thanksgiving, on the first Sunday of the Advent Season when I am appropriately grateful for all I’ve received, I create a written plan for the next year using a calendar, generating a series of deadlines for my writing from the beginning of the year to the end. (The plan is a little nebulous from the end of the Summer on, but I keep firming it up at the start of October and November and December.)
The first day of Spring is another good choice for reflection and planning. Spring is rebirth and renewal, the beginning sprigs of new growth shooting up from the newly warmed ground.
Others wait for Summer. Conditioned by many years of traditional public schools, they view May as an ending. June becomes an opportunity to re-launch.
Whichever time you select: Advent or New Year’s or Spring or Summer or even any other time of the year, Be Resolved.
The # 1 Resolution
This is your Resolution: I will think like a writer.
Author, poet, blogger, dramatist: all writers should have the same thought: “I am a writer.”
That’s the mind-set you need to snatch up and ingest so that it becomes part of your DNA, mutating through your being like a beneficial virus.
How do we change our view of our writing from mere hobby or escape to profession? Take three actions.
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” the commandment requires. This doesn’t mean that other gods ($$$, celebrity, bling, shopping, gossip, salacious viewing, etc.) aren’t out there; it means that nothing else comes before God.
We need to view writing with the same eagle-eyed focus. Be Devoted to writing. Don’t worship it, and don’t let petty distractions and time wasters get between you and your pursuit of writing professionally.
Keep your WORKSPACE professional.
Turn off all distractions: the BoobTube, Solitaire or Mahjongg, social media in whatever iteration currently distracts you, and email.
Do you really need to watch every minute of news or that reality show or house-flipping or soap opera? Have you noticed those shows repeat?
Do you really need to post that cupcake to Pinterest? Do you need to see every image of cupcake? Why are you even looking at cupcakes?
The twit who’s tweeting you can wait. Help him learn patience.
“But my email?” you protest.
Turn that off, too. You can answer anything that came in while you were writing after you finish the writing for the day.
For those of us holding down a full-time job, our crucial need is to avoid these distractions.
Social media has its place—for marketing your work. Make an appointment with yourself—once or twice a month or once a week—to spend the necessary promotional time on FB or twitter or Pinterest and others.
Nibbles & Families
By the way, FOOD is also a distraction. Clean out the candy, popcorn, chips, the incessant mugs of coffee, and the sweet drinks. None of that is helping your brain. They start up sweet cravings for more sweets (and remember that starches turn into sweets).
Giving into those cravings merely sets off a ticking bomb for a system-depresser that will implode in about an hour. We need to write, not stare at the screen or blank paper because our brains are befogged. If eating is essential, carrots and sliced cucumbers and apples will give the body what it needs and can use.
Basically, anything that interferes with the work of writing goes away.
PARENTS may have to squeeze writing time into their day: get up earlier or stay up later. Write sitting on the bleachers. Sneak ideas into a journal in 10-minute or 20-minute increments.
Make the SIGNIFICANT OTHER pull equal weight with household chores. By the way, the house doesn’t have to be spotless. Ironing is not a necessity, but clean clothes are. Rinse the dishes as you use them; wash them every other day or slide them into the dishwasher.
To think like a professional, observe professionals.
Observe professionals at the organizations they attend. Distinguish among the people who attend these meetings: professional, wannabe, and newbie. (A wannabe is someone who claims to write but never actually does. If writing occurs, s/he never actually finishes. Finishing is BIG.)
Only occasionally will professionals come out of the woodwork, primarily for seminars and special events (more about this behavior below). They will teach at these seminars; listen to them. Those of us who have been writing for years can spot the newbies and wannabes. These hobbyists and escapists ask obvious questions, and we cringe for them. They don’t cringe. They don’t even know they should be cringing. Here are more things that newbies and wannabes do.
know nothing about genre.
monopolize everyone’s time with what they do know.
lurk around professionals because—as everyone knows—merely breathing the rarefied air of the professional will lead to success.
claim to be writing the next bestseller, but they can’t state the theme in one sentence (or even 6).
show up for programs on children’s books then horror books then Christian books . . . and then tell everyone their book is a genre-bending breakout destined to be a classic.
tell us all how it’s done and been done and will be done . . . and haven’t published because only traditional publishers matter.
Pay the dues to belong. Professionals give back; contribute where you can. Be helpful, not overbearing. The people you advise and counsel and critique may become your audience.
Professionals also keep business and personal separate. Hobbyists and escapists funnel everything through their personal accounts.
Separate your email accounts: apps abound that amass all email accounts into one place. When you reply, the reply leaves the app as if it’s coming from the email it was directed to.
Separate financial accounts. If the writing $$ can’t support a separate account, at least keep a ledger to track financials separately.
The local writers’ group may have 2 or 3 active professionals (pursuing writing and getting paid for it—even if only in small increments), so join it. If it has no professionals, then drive the distance necessary to get to an organization with active professionals.
The reason many professionals only occasionally emerge at an organization’s meeting is that they are WRITING. We need to be writing, too. So ask, “Do I need to attend this meeting?” Now this is a balancing act: supporting an organization takes time away from writing.
Focus on the writing, and this focus should include the people who see the first “public” version. Hobbyists and escapists have friends as First Readers (they call them Beta Readers). These friends gush about how great the writing is. Nope. These are NOT the first readers that you need.
Before I talk about the readers you do need, one word: Be nice to all of your First Readers. Don’t give them the Beta version. Beta developed as a term for software that still had a lot of known bugs; give your First Readers a polished manuscript (MS), not one with bugs you know about.
While professionals want to hear the MS is great, they would rather their First Readers were “mean”. Critique partners should look for ~~
Lack of Suspense / Pacing
They will mark all errors they see.
When they hand the MS back, be grateful and acknowledge their assistance in your published MS.
If it’s the critique you need, you may want to cry or scream or burn it or all three at once. Avoid the last. And learn from the mistakes they found as you correct them.
One of the hardest part of any professional career is maintaining a high interest level. The Resolution to “BE a WRITER” is hardest at this point.
Writing is the most difficult of jobs, primarily for its very isolation. Humans come with two wires: amiability and curiosity.
Family, friends, colleagues, and organizations both social and professional charge up our amiability wire. Keeping our curiosity charged is not so easy.
New projects entice us, yet before long our piqued interest fades. How can we maintain our curiosity when we know our characters and the plot and the setting and the outcome and the twists?
When a MS is getting you down, take a break from it. Add in a new character—or a new twist or new invention. Try something new. Tinker with it whenever the primary project is driving you crazy or deadening your senses.
And stay physically active. It is amazing how much physical activity drives intellectual activity. Move the body; energize the brain.
It’s a Business
Finally, Being a Professional means that some days we just have to slog through the mud and grind the work out. That’s okay. We can always re-write it.
After all, we’re writers.
~~ M. A. Lee
For questions, comments, and philosophizing, contact us at email@example.com
NANOWRIMO, the National Novel Writing Month, is the internationally infamous writing challenge to churn out 50,000 words in a month, and writers do it with deadlines.
This yearly challenge is the opportunity to create a new life for ourselves, a writing life. NANOWRIMO is a time to stop thinking of writing as a hobby and resolve to turn it into a profession, to create a New Advent.
WHO Needs to Participate?
The challenge provides a great exercise for all writers. We should participate at least once in our writing life. If we feel burned out, the white-hot drive of creativity will recharge us—after it drains us. For the total newbies, NANOWRIMO forces us to work past what we think is our stopping point and teaches us how to do that.
This opportunity is especially helpful to writers stuck between hobby and job. It’s not limited to fiction; bloggers can benefit. Through constant deadlines we must push to achieve, we learn self-discipline. NANOWRIMO also touches on the many areas needed when writing stories.
WHERE to Start?
Consider these 4.
Characters :: get to know the primaries. How are they going to collide?
Situation :: understand the remote and near causes and effects of major events.
Plot :: How will you pace the story? Many writers talk about scenes and segues or the III-Act structure. Basically, you should know the start and the end and 5 twists between (Plot 7). These will get you going.
Research :: Special settings. Special elements (steam machines, zeppelins, etc). Know how the things work.
If you haven’t done any of this, if you don’t even have a story prepped, just start writing and go. As scenes develop, put them where they need to be in the sequence. This sounds like the free-est possibility of all. Make yourself have a deadline of the Plot 7 by the tenth of the month.
WHAT to Do?
The continuation of this original blog post from 10 November 2016 can be found in the publication Think Like a Writer: 7 Tips to Change a Hobby to a Profession, by M. A. Lee.
The true key to any communication is awareness of what interferes with the message.
Communication depends on clarity.
Approaching any message, word-based or graphic image, from the stance of “What can go wrong?” seems backwards. However, any longtime writer will confess that is the question constantly in mind as they prepare to write.
From Business to Athletics to the Arts
“Begin with the End in Mind” is the mantra of any endeavor: business, sports, arts, religion :: the customer,
the win, the performance, Heaven . . . or Hell.
Once the idea is in place, all impediments are then removed. As the idea progresses to reality, impediments are continually removed until the idea becomes tangible reality.
If businesses don’t start by creating smooth pathways for customers, then customers will leave. So they should begin by identifying the blocks that will impede or frustrate their customers.
Few inventions begin with someone saying, “Great idea.” Most inventors want to devise a better method.
Athletes create regimens by removing what interferes.
Artists don’t start painting their visions on blank canvasses. They prep their canvas to remove any imperfections. Then they begin.
Writing begins with idea. Removal of impediments begins next by determining characters and GMC, plot situation and structure, and setting. We refine as we process, adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing.
The End is Not the End
When we all come to the end of our goal, we haven’t reached the end of our task. We’re still putting on final touches. And we’re thinking of the next goal that we want to communicate to our audience—even if that audience is just ourselves.
And we constantly look—beginning, middle, end—for impediments to our message. We want those impediments gone!
Especially when those impediments are glaringly obvious.
Grammar Mistakes so Bright
Throughout this series of blogs since January, we’ve talked about grammar checkers and readability stats, mis-used words (“Vial Trolls”) and sentence subjects being lost (“Pesky Trolls”). We’ve covered fossilized verbs and MisMods & DangMods (Sept. 15 and Oct. 15).
We’ve offered ways to create emphasis (June 15 and Aug. 1) and ways to add interest (July 1 and 15).
We’ve had side excursion to baseball (May 1) and book trailers (Sept. 1 and Oct. 1).
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed these trips.
Clear Pronoun Reference, part 3 of 3
Pronouns cause problems when our audience cannot quickly determine the nouns they refer to.
Oscar waved to his coach as he came down the escalator. >> Who is on the escalator?
Oscar met up with Mike after he saw Julio yesterday and said that he had the gear. >> Who has the gear? We have 3 choices. Who exactly saw Julio yesterday? 2 choices.
Before the gate could fit the opening in the fence, it has to be made smaller. >> What needs to be smaller: gate or fence opening?
Awareness of the problem helps us avoid it, just as we noted above: Begin with the End in Mind. If you know you make certain errors, you will learn to spot those errors more quickly.
CPR for CPR
When proofreading, touch every pronoun back to the noun immediately preceding it. If too many nouns have inserted themselves between your pronoun and its antecedent, divide the sentence to conquer the problem. (btw: ¶ = paragraph)
Oscar met up with Mike. ¶ “I saw Julio,” Mike said. “He said he’s got our gear. We just need to pack it up.” ¶ “When can we do that?” ¶ “Well, yesterday.” (grin)
As a rule of thumb, nouns should be in the same ¶ with the pronoun. Repeat the noun when entering a new ¶.
FICTION follows a slightly different rule: In training through a situation, several ¶s will occur. Restate the noun occasionally and in different positions within the different types of ¶s.
¶ types vary greatly: some narration, some dialogue, some exposition, some action.
Read aloud for flow and continuity and pronoun reference.
Take Off the Shades
This is our last Grammar Blog for the year. We’re launching into a New Advent in November, coinciding with the NaNoWriMo. Check back November 1st for our “royal we” take on the internationally infamous writing challenge: 50,000 words in one month.