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On Being a Writer

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Make NaNoWriMo Last All Year

Photo by Christopher Campbell © Unsplash

Every November, hundreds of thousands of people around the world do something that might break them spiritually, psychically, or psychologically — though probably not physically: they attempt to write the first draft of an entire novel in 30 days. The goal is to write a 50,000-word novel (175 DS manuscript pages, based on a count of approximately 300 words per page) in thirty days. That’s about 1,700 words (or six DS manuscript pages) a day. Besides training for and entering an Iron Man Competition, National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as it’s known to participants, has to be one of the most challenging and demanding tasks anyone can voluntarily give himself.

Participants are not supposed to publish the book they write during NaNoWriMo as is. The NaNoWriMo book is the first draft. Writers have to revise, edit, get feedback from readers, re-write, edit, revise more, have some coffee, then decide whether they want to Indie publish or attempt to get an agent and try for the traditional New York publishing route.

NaNoWriMo is not about getting published or about being an author.

NaNoWriMo is about being a writer.

If you participated in NaNoWriMo, you probably learned as much about yourself as you did about your novel.  Even if you didn’t manage to complete the requisite 50K, even if you only worked on an outline for your planned novel, you did something important. If you learned nothing more than how difficult it is to write full-time, then you learned the most important thing NaNoWriMo could ever teach you about being a writer. Here are some tips for helping you continue to write full-time, all year long.

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Pretend It’s Your Job

As I wrote in another post, some of the best advice I ever got about writing came from a friend when I took nine months off work to write my first novel — 9 months without pay, after having borrowed $11K from the bank (at 17 & ⅞% interest, for a total loan repayment of $18K). At that time, though I’d been writing regularly and been extensively published in literary and university journals for over 10 years, I’d only written when inspiration struck me, i.e., in short, intensive bursts every few months. I’d never been paid for writing, had never published a book, and had never done it every day, all day long, for an extended period. I’d also only written poetry, which is easier to write sporadically since poems are quite a bit shorter than novels.

After almost a year trying to write my first novel while working several jobs, I’d gotten the bright idea to borrow money from the bank to write my book. To my shock, the bank approved the loan, based on my extensive publications and literary prizes. During the first month of my sabbatical, I didn’t write anything at all: instead, I spent my time thinking about my novel, all day long, every day. When I realized how much it had cost me to think for a month, I panicked. That’s when my best friend suggested that I think at my desk, with a pen in my hand, holding my pen over a tablet of paper. Further, she suggested that I pretend writing was my job, which meant getting up, getting dressed, going to my desk, and writing at the same time every day.

Pretending that writing was my job changed my life.

Celebrity authors are not the only full-time writers in the world: all of us who eventually got published had to write for a long time before our books received contracts. Full-time writers, including traditionally published authors, almost always have other jobs: they rarely can support themselves and their families solely from writing income. Full-time writers are those who’ve made a serious and long-term commitment to writing, no matter what their day-job is, how long their daily commute, how small their writing or office space, how large their family, or how extensive their outside obligations.

A full-time writer writes like it’s his job, even if he’s never gotten paid for his writing.

If you want to make NaNoWriMo last all year long, treat writing as your job.

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Get a Calendar and
Schedule Writing Time

When you have a job as a writer, you don’t merely write the time you have already spent writing on the calendar: you write down the time you are going to spend writing. Like it’s your job. You know what time you have to be at your job, and if you have multiple jobs, as I’ve had almost all of my life, you write down where you have to be and the time you have to be there. When I wrote for that year that I took off work, I wrote down, in advance, the times I was supposed to be writing, and I continued that practice after I went back to my paying job.

That’s how I got into the habit of getting up and writing by 5 every morning. I scheduled [Name of Book] on my calendar from 5-7 every morning. That meant I had to be at my desk writing by that time, not just getting out of bed, or lying there hitting the snooze button. I did it on the weekends, too, but scheduled my writing for at least 8 hours on weekends and holidays. Since I was used to getting up and working by 5, it was no inconvenience to continue doing that after I went back to work at my paying job.

For NaNoWriMo, you planned in advance to write the entire month, and you planned to get a certain number of words written a day. To continue the NaNoWriMo experience, get yourself a calendar and schedule your writing time in advance, just as you would your job, your vacation, holidays, or any doctors’ appointments.

Keep that scheduled commitment and be there writing.

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Consider Writing Time
as Your Apprenticeship

You have to pay your dues in practically any job. Sometimes you have to do volunteer work in your chosen field in order to have experience. Often, people educated in a particular field have to complete an apprenticeship, internship, or residency to get sufficient practical experience to qualify for a paying position in the field of their choice. Being a writer — and eventually an author — is the same as any other field. Everyone puts in plenty of time writing without getting paid or having any guarantee of publication.

Consider any time you spend writing before publication as your own apprenticeship,  internship, or residency until you get really good at it.

If you are traditionally published after you finish your book, it is unlikely that you will get a large enough Advance to live on. You may become a bestseller, but, given how long it takes for a traditionally published book to reach bookstores after it’s sold to the Publishing House, you won’t get rich immediately. That means you’ll be writing your subsequent book with no guarantee of additional money or of another publishing contract.

Think of NaNoWriMo as the beginning of your internship.

Now extend that month of your writing internship for the entire year.

After you’ve published your first book, you will be an author, but all authors still have to write, and they write all year long, not just in November.

Photo by Andrew Neel © Unsplash

Choose to Write

You are not super-human, so you will have to make choices if you want to include writing in your life. For me, it meant delaying children because I needed all my time for college, grad school, teaching, retail jobs, and writing. If you really want to be a writer, writing should always be at the top of your list of priorities and commitments. If it’s not, stop reading this post and go do something else: you don’t want to be a writer bad enough.

Next on your list of priorities, put your paying job since you have to support yourself and your writing, which costs money even if you don’t Indie publish. Put your family or permanent relationships after that. Anything else can be considered superfluous and can be eliminated.

You need to make choices in life, especially if you want to be a writer: it is such a time-consuming career. If you want to be an author, which is a published writer, you will still have to write.

If you want NaNoWriMo to last longer than the month of November, you have to establish your priorities and make conscious choices that will guarantee you have sufficient writing time.

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Be Ready to Open the Door
When Opportunity Knocks

To unpublished writers, being traditionally published is like being in the Garden of Eden, but nobody wakes up already in Published Author Paradise. You must always be writing, revising, editing, writing more, completing your books, improving your craft, searching for agents, submitting your work to editors and agents, and writing even more. That way, when the Getting Published Opportunity knocks on your door, you’ll be qualified to answer the door with (at least one) polished, finished book in hand.

NaNoWriMo gives you a taste of what being a writer is like.

If you want to be a published author, use your NaNoWriMo experience to continue being a full-time writer, whether or not you have another paying job. You’ll be writing more than one month out of the year, and you’ll also be finishing your books so that you’ll have something to publish when your opportunity to become an author arrives.

Photo by Christine Roy © Unsplash

Don’t Expect Fame & Fortune

As any artist in any field can readily tell you, there is a very small number of celebrities in any field who are well known to everyone, get any job they want, make most of the money, get all the attention, and make most of the money.

Don’t expect fame. Don’t expect fortune. Those things cannot be controlled.

The amount of time you spend writing is the only thing that can be controlled. Expect, therefore, to write, write, write. And then to write some more.

If you’re lucky, you might get some prizes, or a big Advance from one of the traditional publishers, or an option on your book that actually leads to a big movie deal, but don’t expect or plan on any of these things because that’s just not the way the artistic world works.

Expect to be a writer.

You experienced that during NaNoWriMo, so you already know what it’s like to write.

Now, go write.

Photo by Christopher Campbell © Unsplash

Take Care of Yourself
Spiritually, Emotionally, & Physically

Writing is a taxing business. It’s much harder than any job you leave behind at the workplace when you clock out at the end of the day. For that reason, you need to exercise, eat healthily, and should probably do some form of meditation daily.

You also need to keep negative people away from you: there’s enough rejection in this business. You don’t need negative people “rejecting” you as a writer in your personal life as well. Eliminate the negative people in your life even if they are family members, friends, or spouses. Surround yourself instead with loving and supportive people who encourage you to be a writer. Additionally, find writing-support groups, reliable beta-readers, and good editors.

Rest when necessary.

Don’t forget to play.

After all, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to write.

Photo by Raw Pixel © Unsplash

If you truly wish to be a writer, you can’t just write when you feel like it, or when inspiration hits you, or when your muses are singing to you, or when it happens to be convenient. You have to make a commitment to writing. You have to make conscious choices to have the time to write. Despite NaNoWriMo, which I think is a wonderful idea, you cannot spend only one month a year committed to writing as a priority in your life.

Writing has to be your life.

And you have to take care of yourself emotionally, spiritually, and physically so that you can continue to write. That way, NaNoWriMo can last more than a month: it can last all year, every year, for the rest of your life.

Related Posts

Creative Writing

Urgency in Fiction: Part One

Urgency in Fiction: Part Two

No Demons, No Saints:
Creating Realistic Characters

Writing Effective Dialogue

Who’s Afraid of Point of View?

Myths About Point of View

How to Write a Novel Without an Outline

Publishing & Writer’s Life

How to Pitch Your Book

Long Day’s Journey Into Publishing My Second Book

A Week in the Life of a Writer, and a Peek Inside my Office

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Filed under #WritingTips, Authors, Creative Writing, NaNoWriMo, Real Life of a Writer, Writing, Writing & Revising

Long Day’s Journey Into Publishing My Second Novel

I was 40 years old before I became an overnight success,
and I’d been publishing for 20 years.

Mary Karr
The Liars’ Club

When my first novel was accepted by HarperCollins — the HarperCollins, formerly Harper & Row, publisher of so many authors whom I adored — I thought that all my days of rejection were over. When my book began to be sold to foreign publishers via Harper’s Foreign Rights division, earning out the HarperCollins Advance within 6 months of acceptance, i.e., earning out its Advance before the book was published, I thought I was on the road to full-time writing. When the pre-publication and publication reviews for the first novel started pouring in — all good, and some absolutely stellar — I thought that all my years of hard work and ceaseless rejection had finally earned me a somewhat easier writing life.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The subsequent rejections started almost immediately.

With my editor.

Despite all her claims of loving my work, of wanting to be my editor for the remainder of my writing career, of wanting to publish all my books, etc etc etc, my editor did an abrupt about-face when I submitted my second novel to her.

Though my first novel was on the Holocaust, my editor found the second, on serial killers, “too violent.” She rejected it based on the violence.

If you know my work, you know I don’t do graphic violence. I was briefly hurt, and I wondered where all the “love” for my work had gone, but resolved, on my agent’s advice, not to take the rejection personally.

Despite the fact that my agent loved the second book and didn’t understand the editor’s rejection, we couldn’t take the book anywhere else because Harper had an “Option” on my next book, meaning that they had the right of first refusal. Further, if they rejected the book and another publisher accepted it, Harper had the right to match the other publisher’s offer on the book.

I’d thought the Option clause was a guarantee of future publication by Harper, but it was really just the publisher’s hedge against the ever-unknown-and-unknowable market. If the book did well financially, the publisher would have its own guarantee of publishing my next book. If the book didn’t do well in sales, the publisher could simply reject it and be legally free of any future obligation to me and my work.

Oh, the things you don’t know when you’re new to traditional publishing.

Because my agent loved my second book (though not the title), I assumed that she would simply sell it to another publisher. Granted, it might become my third book published instead of my second, but that didn’t bother me. I was already working on my third novel, so it didn’t matter to me which order the books were published in. I asked my agent where she would be sending the second novel.

“Nowhere,” she said, matter-of-factly. “Harper has the Option.”

Publishers don’t usually want books under an option clause with someone else, she informed me, because no matter how much the new editor wants the book, if he makes an offer, it’s likely to be “taken back” by the publisher that has the option. Though the first editor didn’t like the manuscript originally, most have a tendency to change their minds the moment another publisher makes an offer.

The Option clause in practice seems to work something like this: Editor 1, who is at the first Publishing House and who bought the rights to publish your previous novel, doesn’t think the next book you’re offering will sell, so Editor 1 rejects the manuscript. Editor 2, from the second House,  thinks the book will sell, and he makes an offer on your new book. Editor 1 now thinks that Editor 2 sees something she missed. Editor 1 then “re-evaluates” the book by simply buying it — for whatever price Editor 2 offered — hoping that Editor 2 was right about the book’s potential market.

Does that mean the book ends up with an editor who doesn’t really like the book?
That’s exactly what it means.
So why does the editor who originally rejected the book then accept it?
Money.

As in, the money the editor believes the book might earn despite the fact that she didn’t like it enough to buy it originally but which the second editor did think the book might earn.

What a convoluted process, and what a headache for the author.

My agent didn’t want to “shop the second novel around” because of the Option clause, but she had yet another reason not to shop the second book around: my first novel hadn’t even been published yet, so we had no sales figures. Further, no reviews had come in, not even pre-publication reviews.

That’s how early we were in the publishing process when this rigmarole was happening. The first novel had just been sent to the printer (about 3 months after acceptance, since the printing took about 6 months in those days) and no galley copies were available to send out to reviewers, who usually want the books about 6 months before the book’s publication date. We had no reviews or sales figures. My agent suggested we wait and see how the first book did before we shopped the second novel around. She suggested that I continue work on my third novel, which I did, erroneously assuming that the second novel would soon find a home.

Meanwhile, HarperCollins still had the Option clause on my “next” novel.
I was floored.
Hadn’t they just rejected my second novel?
Why was the Option clause still in effect?

“Because we don’t want to hurt the editor’s feelings,” said my agent. “If she doesn’t get a chance to publish the next novel you write that she’s madly in love with, she’ll be hurt, then angry. We don’t want an angry editor.”

I wasn’t happy about putting my second novel in Limbo, but what could I do? In traditional publishing, authors are not the ones with any power. Only bestselling authors have any power, and they only have it as long as they remain bestsellers.

It’s the traditional publishers who have all the money for Advances, so their editors have all the power. The agents earn their livelihood by pleasing the editors and bringing them books that they want to publish. No one in the traditional publishing system is going to buck the system.

Especially not 25 years ago where there were no other viable options for writers who wanted to become authors.

I returned to work on my third novel, assuming that, since it was not about serial killers, my editor would once again “love my work.”

She didn’t.
She liked the book.
Or, rather, she liked the idea of the book.
She thought the book itself needed some work.

“What kind of work?” I said, since she was talking directly to me about it, rather than through my agent.

“I found Claudia’s childhood scenes somewhat unnecessary,” said the editor. “Can you cut all of them out?”

I didn’t think Claudia’s childhood scenes were unnecessary, which is industry jargon for “boring.” I thought the childhood scenes were an important part of her character, her interaction with her husband, etc. I talked to my agent, who agreed with me about those scenes, but suggested I delete them anyway, to make the editor happy.

“After all,” said my agent, “she likes the book, which is more than we can say about the other novel.”

I agreed to the revisions without a contract.

What did I know?

Though I’d been published in prestigious literary journals and University magazines, I’d never had a book published. And lest you think that there were a great many options in those days, let me make it clear that there were no other options for writers to become authors 25 years ago.

There weren’t even any viable options as recently as 10 years ago. My last traditional publishing contract was issued in 2007, for my collection of short stories, which won the Grand Prize in an international writing contest, and that contract had no “electronic book” clause because ebooks hadn’t been invented yet, and without ebooks and portable e-readers, there was no way to self-publish and get your books in front of an audience. Period.

So, I spent another year revising my third novel, taking out all the childhood scenes involving the protagonist. My agent liked the new version of the book. She told me that she missed the protagonist’s childhood scenes but said that if she’d never read them in the first place, she might not have noticed that the book seemed “a bit less good than the original version.” She happily sent it to the editor, anticipating an offer.

My first novel had been published by then, and been out of stock for 6 of the first 8 weeks it was in print due to unanticipated demand. Editors were the ones who decided print-runs in those days before print-on-demand publishing, which means “print the books on demand” when the bookstores or consumers want them rather than trying to anticipate how many books need to be printed and warehousing the printed books until the bookstores order them.

After sending my newest version of the novel to my editor, my agent was happily preparing her negotiating stance, anticipating getting at least the same Advance for the second novel as she’d gotten for the first.

The editor promised to get back to my agent by Friday of the week she received the novel. Since the acceptance for my first novel had happened relatively late in the day, I waited all Friday to hear from my agent. When I called her around seven in the evening, she said she hadn’t been able to reach my editor all day.

“Not to worry,” said my agent. “I’ll get her first thing on Monday morning.”

Then, on Saturday afternoon, I got the letter from my editor.
Rejecting the second, substantially revised version of my third novel.

“I was wondering if you could do a bit more revision,” she wrote, “and put in something about Claudia’s childhood.”

“WTH?” I said, although that phrase wasn’t widely abbreviated at the time.

First thing Monday morning, I called my editor, certain that she didn’t mean what she’d written.

She did.

I reminded her that she’d been the one who’d asked me to delete all those scenes. I read her the letter that she’d sent to my agent, rejecting the novel the first time I’d submitted it to her. She told me that she remembered not liking the childhood scenes but that, upon reading the new version, she found herself “wondering what Claudia’s childhood had been like” and realized that she “missed those scenes and wanted them back.”

This time, I was furious.

I didn’t care how important an editor she was or that she was in line to become a VP at HarperCollins. I called my agent and told her about the rejection letter and the phone call with the editor. My agent was stunned: she hadn’t even heard from the editor though she’d called several times that morning (apparently, while I was on the phone with the editor myself).

My agent insisted that I fax her a copy of the third rejection letter: I don’t know if she was more upset about the rejection or about the fact that the editor had written to me directly instead of telling my agent that she didn’t want the book.  All I know is that my agent was livid.

My agent also wanted me to send her copies of the first two rejection letters from the editor: the one for the serial killer novel, which mentioned the book and its characters by name, and the letter for the first version of the third novel, which mentioned the characters by name and asked me to delete the protagonist’s childhood scenes. The newest rejection letter again mentioned the characters of the third novel by name and suggested that I put all the deleted childhood scenes back in.

My agent was going to break the Option clause.

“Now we have three rejections, in writing, of three different manuscripts,” said the agent. “That’s the end of HarperCollins for you.”

And, unfortunately, it was.

Though HarperCollins had put my first novel into its HarperPerennial line, the book was taken out of print shortly afterward.

“Apparently, Harper doesn’t understand the definition of ‘perennial’,” my agent said.

I always thought my first novel was taken out of print because my agent revoked the Option clause.

And the first novel was taken out of print about a month before Patrick Stewart optioned the novel for film.*

To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.

It was another three years before my third-written-but-second-published novel was accepted, in part because my first agent had her first child (at age 49) and took an extended maternity leave: when she returned, she would no longer be representing literary fiction. Instead, she was going to “concentrate on nonfiction only” because she could get Advances for her authors based on proposals (novels typically have to be completely finished before traditional publishers make a decision).

My second agent, who was recommended to me by my first, sold my next novel (with the protagonist Claudia who, by then, had all of her childhood scenes restored along with a new title for the book) and then proceeded to attempt to sell that publisher my serial killer novel.

The second publisher insisted on an Option clause on my next book…

But that’s another story, for another post, though the story is almost the same as this one except for the fact that the younger, less politically powerful editors loved the serial killer novel and wanted the publisher to buy it, but the older, more politically powerful editors, though they were “awake all night reading the novel,” felt it was “too scary” to publish “because nobody would read it” (despite the fact that they themselves had been unable to put the book down), and the younger editors who loved the novel didn’t have the political influence necessary to push the novel through the negotiations…

Oy, vey…

Nevertheless, I did learn some important things from all these torturous negotiations and editorial submissions and rejections of my second novel, and I want to share them with you (please don’t think that you have to learn these same lessons from my experiences).

  • There’s no end to rejection in a writer’s life, even after he becomes an author.
  • I don’t want Option clauses. (Even Amazon’s traditional publishing imprints include Option clauses in their contracts.)
  • I won’t substantively revise any novel unless it is already under contract. (Most publishers won’t even offer a contract if the editor wants substantive revisions.)
  • “Moles” operate at both traditional publishers and agents offices: moles surreptitiously pass manuscripts on to Hollywood and get paid for sending them those “stolen” manuscripts. (That’s how my serial killer novel, which was rejected by the HC editor, got pirated, including entire plot, scenes, characters, etc, by a very famous director/screenwriter and made into a film that so closely resembled my book that I found out about the theft of my novel from my friends who saw the movie and said, “OMG, that’s Alexandria’s novel…” My serial killer novel also got stolen by at least two others who made it into less “artsy” film versions of the exact same story, even including some of the actors who’d appeared in the art version, forcing me to revise my own novel so that Hollywood couldn’t say I stole it from them… but that’s another blog… and a seriously angry rant, lemme tellya.)
  • Having a book copyrighted, even with a registered copyright, doesn’t stop piracy of Intellectual Property, and it costs an unbelievable amount of money to hire an IP attorney and get a Cease & Desist against publishers or others who have pirated your work.
  • Traditional publishing, though it depends entirely on writers for its existence, doesn’t give a fig for writers or even for previously published authors because there are so many writers out there who’d literally give their books away to traditional publishers just to see the books in print.
  • Authors should never, ever give up.

Of course, now that authors have the option of publishing their own books at very little cost, as opposed to the previously very expensive and career-killing option of self-publishing, I don’t even think I would want to return to a traditional publisher.

Okay, maybe I’d try traditional publishing again if I was offered a big Advance, but it would have to include a humongous Advance since I never made any money in traditional publishing beyond the initial Advances. Until that happens, I’m happy putting all my out-of-print books back into print myself and doing my new books through the small publishing House I started after I retired from University (originally intended only to help other literary authors get published, not to put my own books back out into the market).

The main thing I learned from all the rejections by HarperCollins after it had accepted and published my first novel is that rejection never ends. Ever.

So get used to rejection, concentrate on writing your books, and never, ever give up.

Because, really, who would have predicted ebooks and the way they transformed the entire monolithic publishing industry?

Related Posts

Writing

Urgency in Fiction: Part One

Urgency in Fiction: Part Two

No Demons, No Saints:
Creating Realistic Characters

Writing Effective Dialogue

Who’s Afraid of Point of View?

Myths About Point of View

Publishing

How to Pitch Your Book

 

* Though the film was fully funded, it never got made… sigh… and authors only get paid when the film gets made… more sighs… (back to post)

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Filed under Agents, Authors, Books, Indie Authors, Memoir, Real Life of a Writer, Traditional Publishing

A Week in the Life of a Writer (and a Peek Inside My Office)

I’ve wanted to be a writer all my life, or, at least, from the age of 6. By the time I was 12, I was writing stories, making covers, stapling them into little books, and offering these limited editions for sale for 25¢. Unfortunately, I had no buyers (or readers, for that matter), and those rare first-and-only editions have been lost. As an adult, when I switched from writing poetry to writing novels (and non-fiction books), I quickly learned that I couldn’t write only when inspiration dropped down out of the heavens. I needed to write as much as possible, preferably full-time.

I was a Professor at the time, and I was already writing full-time during the summer — during which teachers do not get paid unless they divide their 9-month salary over the entire 12 months of the year — as well as on holidays and weekends. I’d been trying to write my first novel on those holidays, weekends, and summers, and it took me an entire 9 months just to get the first chapter done.

I needed to write full-time.

But how was I doing to do it?

I got the brilliant idea of asking the bank for a loan. I lived in a small village where there were lots of artists, writers, musicians, professional singers, etc., so I thought the manager at the local branch might be more likely to approve a loan that was going to support a local artist.

When I applied for the bank loan, I’d been writing poems and non-fiction articles — and getting published in prestigious literary and University journals — for almost 15 years. My Vita of publications was already quite impressive, even though I had not yet published any books.

The bank manager knew who I was, apparently, and had heard that I was a good writer. With a letter from my University saying that I would have my job after I took 9 months off, without pay, and after putting both my house and my new car down as collateral, the manager approved the loan.

I borrowed $11K at 18 ⅞% interest, totaling over $18K for nine months off work. (I couldn’t take an entire year off because borrowing my entire year’s salary would have made the monthly payment out of reach on my budget. I settled for 9 months off work, which was technically a school year, and took off from March to December.)

Of course, once the bank approved the loan, I went home and promptly threw up, cried for a couple hours, then hyperventilated for a few hours more. I guess I never really believed anyone would actually let me borrow the money to take a year off work and write.

I was scared out of my wits.

I’d already signed the papers, so there was no turning back. I deposited the money, made out a budget, and then took off work to write full-time.

You know what happened next?

The first month of writing full-time, I didn’t write a single word.

Not a one.

Instead, I spent the entire month just thinking about the book I wanted to write.

Four weeks later, after I realized that it has just cost me $2K to think about writing for an entire month, I began to really and truly panic.

My best friend listened to me whine and cry and panic, and then she gave me some excellent advice: “How about you think about writing while at your desk,” she said, “with a pen in your hand, poised over a piece of paper?”

I never once thought she was being sarcastic or non-supportive. She loved me and wanted me to succeed. Furthermore, what she said made perfect sense.

“Pretend it’s your job,” she said, “because, for the remaining 8 months, it is your job. Get up at the same time every morning, get dressed, be at your desk, ready to write by, let’s say, 9:00. Work until noon. Take half an hour for lunch. Go back to work until 5:00, at least.”

That’s what I began to do: treat writing as my job.

My full-time job.

At the beginning, I was writing (starting with an outline) only about 2-3 hours a day. The rest of the day, I was exploring my characters and doing additional research (it was a novel set during World War II and The Holocaust).

About six months later, I was actually writing 10-14 hours a day, forgetting to eat, waking up from sleep with new scenes in my head, and getting up to write those new scenes.

It was a wonderful 9 months, if only because I proved to myself that I could actually write full-time — with no assurance of any reward whatsoever from the outside world. All my reward came from the writing itself during that sabbatical. I learned, without any doubt, that writing full-time was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Unfortunately, the finances of traditional publishing didn’t work out in a way that permitted me to become a full-time writer even after my first book was accepted and published by HarperCollins and sold to foreign publishers around the world. I won lots of awards and got a great deal of critical attention, but I was not a bestseller. I had to keep my University job, even while I was writing virtually full-time on my subsequent books.

I constantly kept thinking that, with the next book, I could quit my University job and write full-time.

It was a lovely dream.

One that, unfortunately, didn’t come true until I retired, after 31 years of being a University Professor.

Still, it finally happened, and since the present is the only time we ever really have, the only important thing for my life is that now I do write full-time.

My writing does not support me: it doesn’t even pay the cost of my writing supplies, let alone pay the cost of software, computers, etc. (Full disclosure here: I made $604 from my books last year.) I actually live, very frugally, on my meager retirement income. (I paid off all my debts the last 10 years that I was teaching so that I could afford to write full-time.)

And that’s the important thing: I am writing full-time now, at last, for the rest of my life.

It’s not glamorous, it’s not easy, it’s sometimes frustrating trying to keep up with all the technological changes in the industry, but it’s what I always wanted to do. Writing full-time is the hardest work I’ve ever done in my entire life, and I absolutely love it.

In case some of you would like to know what it’s like to write full-time, and not as a best-selling celebrity author who can afford to hire marketers, managers, publicists, etc., I thought I’d give you some insight into a typical week of writing for me by posting this week’s writing schedule. (I think it’s dreadfully boring, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

I get my reward from the writing itself. If you want to write full-time, that should probably be the only “reward” you expect, too, since it’s the only one over which you have any control.

In any event, without further ado, but with one last warning that the rest of this post might put you to sleep, here’s what a typical week writing full-time is like in my life.

Some of the milk crate bookcases, from floor to ceiling, on three walls of my tiny office

Monday

5:30-6:30 a.m.
Give cats and doggie their breakfast (canned food — dry food out for them all day), give cats who are on medication their meds, meditate, do T’ai Chi, make coffee, have coffee with my guy

6:30-7:30  a.m.
Answer all Mentions and Notifications on Twitter while walking on the treadmill in my office. (Obviously, I’m using my laptop.)

7:30-9:30 a.m.
Participate in #MondayBlogs. This is one of my priorities on Mondays. Most weeks, I write my own blog all day on Sunday so that I can devote myself fully to the blogs I’m RTing on Monday. I read every blog that I pass along to my followers, and I try to be on Twitter on and off all day on Mondays, so I don’t miss anything important. I eat my homemade breakfast bar and have my coffee while reading and RTing #MondayBlogs.

9:30 a.m.-12:45  p.m.
Writing: Right now, I’m working on revisions for the 2nd edition of one of my books. I’ve actually finished writing the revisions themselves (that took three months), and I’m typing them in, proofreading, updating Index, getting pages correct, proofreading again, etc.

12:45-1:00 p.m.
Lunch, pet all the cats, pet doggie

1:00-1:15  p.m.
Read and answer most important email. I can’t get to it all every day: I get about 2K emails a day.

1:15-7:00  p.m.
Writing: working on revisions for 2nd edition of book

7:00-7:15  p.m.
Eat dinner with my guy

7:15-8:30 p.m.
Read and RT more #MondayBlogs

8:30 p.m.
Say “goodnight” to all the cats, the doggie, and my guy

8:30-9:00  p.m.
Meditate

9:00 p.m.
Bed

My printers (b&w laser jet for manuscripts, color laser for making covers for books), on the edge of my writing desk: an 8′ solid wood door, on file cabinets. I’ve had this desk since I was 22

Tuesday

5:30-6:30 a.m.
Serve cats and doggie breakfast, give cats their meds, meditate, do T’ai Chi, make coffee, have coffee with my guy

6:30-7:30  a.m.
Answer Mentions and Notifications on Twitter, while walking on the treadmill

7:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Writing: working on revisions for 2nd edition of book

3:00-7:30 p.m.
T’ai Chi class and Kundalini Yoga Class

7:30-8:00  p.m.  
Dinner with my guy

8:00-8:30  p.m.  
Meditate

8:30  p.m.  
Bed

A few of the reference books I keep on the end of my writing desk, opposite end of the printers

Wednesday

5:30-6:30 a.m.
Serve cats/doggie breakfast, give cat meds, meditate, do T’ai Chi, make coffee, have coffee with my guy

6:30-7:30  a.m.
Answer Mentions and Notifications on Twitter, while walking on the treadmill

7:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Writing: working on revisions for 2nd edition of book

4:00-5:00  p.m.  
Answer Mentions and Notifications on Twitter

5:00-7:00  p.m.  
Scheduling posts in my social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Google+) with Buffer app. I read every blog post or article before I put it in my feed

7:00-7:30  p.m.  
Dinner with my guy

7:30-8:00  p.m.  
Meditation

8:00 p.m.
Bed

One side of my writing desk, with journals, in which I write long-hand, my current work-in-progress. (My published books [US versions only] are in the upper left corner)

Thursday

5:30-6:30 a.m.
Serve cats/doggie breakfast, give cat meds, meditate, do T’ai Chi, make coffee, have coffee with my guy

6:30-7:30  a.m.
Answer Mentions and Notifications on Twitter, while walking on the treadmill

7:30  a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Writing: working on revisions for 2nd edition of book

12:30-1:00  p.m.  
Answer Facebook notifications, Twitter Mentions & Notifications

1:00-1:15  p.m.  
Lunch

1:15-5:oo p.m.
Writing blog post for Friday

5:00-5:30  p.m.  
Dinner with my guy

5:30-7:30  p.m.  
Research for my upcoming #MondayBlogs post

7:30-8:00  p.m.  
Meditation

8:00 p.m.
Bed

The opposite side of my writing desk, with my laptop, and currently, with financial paperwork (for taxes)

Friday

5:30-6:30 a.m.
Serve cats/doggie breakfast, give cat meds, meditate, do T’ai Chi, make coffee, have coffee with my guy

6:30-7:30  a.m.
Answer Mentions and Notifications on Twitter, while walking on the treadmill

7:30-8:30  a.m.
My Writing Friday on Twitter

8:30-10:00  a.m.
Answer Mentions & Notifications on Twitter

10:00 a.m. – noon
Researching artist for this week’s Art Saturday on Twitter

12:00-12:15  p.m.  
Lunch

12:15-6:00 p.m.
Research for my upcoming #MondayBlogs post

6:00-7:00  p.m.  
Answer notifications and Mentions on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter

7:00-7:30  p.m.  
Dinner with my guy

7:30-8:00  p.m.  
Meditation

8:00 p.m.
Bed

A few of the reference books I keep on the end of my writing desk, opposite end of the printers

Saturday

5:30-6:30 a.m.
Serve cats/doggie breakfast, give cat meds, meditate, do T’ai Chi, make coffee, have coffee with my guy

6:30-7:00  a.m.
Answer Mentions and Notifications on Twitter, while walking on the treadmill in my office

7:00-9:00 a.m.
My Art Saturday on Twitter (a different artist every week)

9:00-10:00  a.m.
Answer Mentions & Notifications on Twitter

10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Research for my #MondayBlogs post

1:00-1:15  p.m. 
Lunch

1:15-7:00 p.m. 
Research for my #MondayBlogs post

7:00-7:30 p.m. 
Dinner with my guy

7:30-8:00 p.m. 
Meditation

8:00 p.m.
Bed

My computer desk, in front of the window that looks out across the porch, down Big Rock Candy Mountain into Valley: I’ve always had my writing desk in front of a window

Sunday

5:30-6:30 a.m.
Serve cats/doggie breakfast, give cat meds, meditate, do T’ai Chi, make coffee, have coffee with my guy

6:30-7:30  a.m.
Answer Mentions and Notifications on Twitter, while walking on the treadmill in my office

7:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Write my own #MondayBlogs post

5:00-5:30 p.m.
Dinner with my guy

5:30-7:30 p.m. 
Mentions & Notifications on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter; start RTing #MondayBlogs on Twitter

7:30-8:00 p.m. 
Meditation

8:00 p.m.
Bed

More of my milk crate bookshelves (this wall is fuschia since I ran out of white ones)

Wowza. How incredibly dull my typical week is.

It looks even worse than I thought it would now that I’ve written it all down.

The important thing, though, is that I’m writing full-time, and that’s what makes me happy. I spend about 8-10 hours writing every day, either on my books or on my blogs, and that doesn’t count any of the time I spend on social media. That’s more than 40 hours a week, so that’s writing full-time.

When I’m actually writing a new book, or revising it the first few times, as opposed to updating a new edition of a book that’s already been published, I spend a bit less time on social media and a bit more on the actual writing (which I usually do by sleeping less).

And in case you think that social media has taken writers’ time away from them, that time was previously spent telephoning/emailing editors, agents, and publicists, and marketing your books locally (traditional publishers don’t do that).

My treadmill, in front of more of my bookcases in my way-too-crowded and tiny office

What do you think, my Lovelies?

Still want to be a full-time writer?

If you do, then just start following a serious writing schedule on your weekends and during any vacations. You’ll be writing full-time on those days, even if not all year ’round, and you’ll get to see what it’s really like.

Please do let me know how it goes.

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Filed under Authors, Blogging, Indie Authors, Memoir, Real Life of a Writer, Self-Published Authors, Tweeting, Writing, Writing & Revising

Things That Have Never Been: New Year’s Resolutions 2017

And now we welcome the new year.
Full of things that have never been.
Rainer Maria Rilke

Last year was the first time I ever thought of actually writing down my New Year’s resolutions, let alone sharing them with other people. Resolutions have always seemed like a private thing, something you were somewhat ashamed of, if only because you hadn’t been doing it all along. Since, for the first time, I don’t have to rely on memory for what I’d resolved to do in the previous year, I decided to revisit that list — to see how many of the resolutions I’d managed to keep — before I made my list for 2017.

Of course, some things on my annual New Year’s lists are perennial, like losing weight. Even when I weighed 123 pounds (far too thin for my 5’8″ large-boned frame, I assure you), I made resolutions to lose more weight (I wanted to look like a model, and maybe I did: people were always telling me I looked like a skeleton). Some things have been in my lists of resolutions annually, but only once I began seriously writing, with the intention of becoming a published author, and that was when I began college. Other items on my lists of resolutions began to appear as I got older: stay healthy, remain intellectually active, stay current with popular culture.

Here’s the list of my 2016 Resolutions, followed by my notes on progress, before I present my list of 2017 plans.

#1: Write More
#2: Lose Weight
#3: Write More
#4: Walk More
#5: Write More
#6: Spend More Time With Those I Love
#7: Don’t Forget Tom
#8: Read More
Final Resolution: Write More

Write More
Numbers 1, 3, 5, and 9 on last year’s list was Write More, by which I meant spend more time on my blogs, blogging more consistently, as well as spend more time on my books. I did succeed in blogging more consistently, thanks mostly to my participation in Rachel Thompson’s (@RachelintheOC) brilliant #MondayBlogs.

My readers seemed to like that I was blogging more often, as well as to like what I was actually blogging on: films and TV shows. From May to December 2016, The Alexandria Papers registered  over 720K unique views, for which I thank my readers and fans most sincerely.

I don’t recall when I realized that my readers liked the Entertainment Reviews more than anything else, but once I switched over to doing those sorts of blogs about 90% of the time (with the remaining 10% reserved for Things Wondrous Strange), I seemed to have hit my blogging stride. Despite the hard work of researching and writing the blogs, I love doing it.

Besides blogging, I did write on my books more often in 2016, working primarily on the revised version of Mastering Fiction and Point of View. It was originally scheduled for publication in Dec 2015, but I didn’t make the deadline. In traditional publishing, that kind of thing can void your publication contract, but my editors generously moved the anticipated publication date to Dec 2016.

Unfortunately, I didn’t make that deadline either, if only because of another 2016 “goal” that I wanted to achieve but hadn’t known about in time to put it on my list of resolutions. This goal made me so wretchedly ill and miserable, I often couldn’t write — or do anything else — at all.

Getting Off A Prescription Drug
I didn’t plan to spend most of 2016 getting off a prescription drug that had recently been linked to a possible increase in Alzheimer’s dementia, but you can bet I was wholeheartedly in favor of getting off it once I heard about those studies. My physician was very supportive: he set up a plan for me to get off the drug, which had been prescribed over 10 years earlier to help me manage panic disorder. According to his plan, it would only take 9-10 months to withdraw from the drug completely.

I was in shock. 9-10 months to get off a prescription drug? I never heard of such a thing.

To make it even worse, that was a “short” withdrawal plan: some patients were taking a year or two to get off the medication. Apparently, some prescription drugs, like benzodiazepines, are so dangerous that they affect every cell in your entire body, whether you are aware of it or not.

Stopping the drugs suddenly can literally kill you.

Getting off them slowly is no picnic, I can assure you.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Syndrome can cause anything from hallucinations and migraines to seizures and suicide. Obviously, I didn’t commit suicide — fortunately, I never even thought of it — but I’d say I had about 98% of the side effects of withdrawal, including almost incessant hemiplegic migraines — related to epilepsy and which can themselves cause seizures — as well as seizures from the drug withdrawal itself. I guess about the only benzodiazepine withdrawal side-effects I didn’t experience were feeling suicidal, feeling homicidal, and losing a lot of weight.

Around June of last year, I slightly accelerated  the withdrawal schedule, after consultation with my doctor. By that time I’d spent almost six months suffering from migraines, seizures, insomnia, electric shock sensations, depression, depersonalization, and super-extreme irritability and anger (which I kept inside, not wanting to subject my guy Tom, our furry babies, my friends, or complete strangers to the withdrawal-induced non-target-specific anger).  After my last dose of the drug — 29 June — I still had to wait a few more months for it to clear my body completely, as well as for my body to heal itself before the withdrawal side effects would stop.

Why didn’t the doctors who originally prescribed the drug warn me about the horrific side-effects of long-term use, which is considered anything longer than 3 months? Did they not know? Did they not care? (I’m quite certain that one or two of them wouldn’t have cared if they had known, but that’s probably the subject of another  blog post.)

I did the withdrawal at home, and I’m grateful for that: my doctor didn’t think it was necessary for me to be hospitalized, especially given my terror of hospitals stemming from the horrifying abuse my Munchausen’s by Proxy mother inflicted.

So, one of my 2016 resolutions became getting off a prescription medication that I’d been instructed to take over 10 years earlier, and which is now considered dangerous. I got off it, despite the vicious withdrawal symptoms, and I can only hope the damage it did to my body will heal eventually.

Lose Weight / Walk More
Despite my best efforts, I didn’t lose any weight. It’s exactly the same today as it was on 1 Jan 2016. My guy Tom thinks being the same weight a year later is a significant achievement. I think it sucks, honestly, and don’t understand why I didn’t lose any weight. I ate healthy foods, drank plenty of water, walked a lot (almost every single day, despite withdrawing from medication, since I was hoping the walking would help with the withdrawal side-effects), and did other exercise, too. I continued classes in Kundalini Yoga, which I’ve been doing for about 2 years now, and I also began T’ai Chi classes early in 2016. Encouraged by one of Lydia Schoch’s blog posts, I also began lifting weights again.

No weight loss, however.

Years ago, one of my physicians encouraged me to “get healthy” rather than to concentrate so much on losing weight. I guess I’ll just have to continue to keep that in mind: I’m getting healthy. I’d still like to be about 20-25 pounds thinner while getting healthy — I just want to go down one pants size, for heaven’s sake — but I’m guessing I’ll concentrate on getting a bit thinner in 2017, as opposed to losing weight.

Read More
I love to read, so it wasn’t too difficult for me to keep that 2016 resolution. I decided to read some books that I’d previously neglected, including some popular series of books that weren’t necessarily written for people my age. I read the complete series of  The Hunger Games, Twilight Saga, Harry Potter, and Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children. I also read almost all The Saxon Tales (2 left to read in that series, but they just came out at the end of November, so I just received them in the last couple of weeks).

I read dozens of New York Times bestsellers by authors I’d never heard of before, as well as Indie authors’ books, and some of the classics that I’d previously avoided, like Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (5-volumes, about 700K words).  

Thanks to Rachel Thompson’s @MondayBlogs, I found wonderful blogs that I read almost daily in 2016. I share their posts regularly on Mondays on the twitter, but also on my FB Author Page whenever I find them. You’ll just have to check out those accounts to see all the blogs and bloggers I like since I don’t have room to list every single one here. These are just a few of my favorites.

Rachel in the OC
by CSA survivor and advocate Rachel Thompson, (@RachelintheOC) on surviving, preventing, and spreading the word about Childhood Sexual Abuse (#CSA), providing forums like her website and twitter’s Sex Abuse Chat

Bad Redhead Media
also run by Rachel Thompson, (@BadRedheadMedia) with an emphasis on helping writers and other small business owners master social media, or, as Rachel says, “Helping You Help Your Damn Self”

Lydia Schoch (formerly On-The-Other-Hand)
by @TorontoLydia, one of the best blogs with an amazing variety of topics, from anything dog-related to becoming a Canadian citizen, from the Zen of medical tests to her weekly Suggestion Saturdays, which feature blogs and websites that are fascinating

Mimi Matthews
written by @MimiMatthewsEsq, who got a multi-book contract last year based on her marvelous blog on all things Victorian Era, from clothes and pets to personalities and other authors who write books and blogs on the same time period

Anne R Allen
written by author @AnneRAllen, with an emphasis on posts to help writers with everything from writing the first draft to revising to marketing

Barking Up The Wrong Tree
by Eric Barker (@bakadesuyo) with posts on living your life better with the principles of meditation, Stoicism, mindfulness, and more

BrainPickings
one of the most diligently researched blogs I’ve ever found, written by Maria Popova (@BrainPicker), it covers writers, artists, books, and all things wonderfully intellectual and artistic

Raptitude
by David D Cain (@DavidDCain) who writes about meditation, awareness, mindfulness, and things like whether or not there’s something wrong with you because you (think you) read “too slowly”

Spend More Time With Loved Ones (and Don’t Forget Tom)
I have to say that this was one of my priorities in 2016, especially after I began withdrawing from that prescription drug and feared it was going to kill me. I spent more time reconnecting with friends who are far away, and spent as much time as I could with friends here. With Tom and our furry babies, I pretended that each day was going to be my last, and I wanted it to be full of love. It was. I don’t regret an instant of the time I spent with my loved ones.

New Year’s Resolutions 2017
So, what are my resolutions for 2017? Many are the same as last year, but I guess it would be good to list them, if only to make it easier to refer to them throughout the year. I was going to list things like Clean my writing desk and Not upgrade to any new iPhones, but I think I’m going to slightly change the way I make my New Year’s resolutions.

Instead of setting yearly goals, I’m going to plan some things I think I can do on a daily basis.

Write
Read
Exercise
Eat Healthy
Meditate
Spend Time With My Loved Ones

I’m going to try to keep it simple and attainable this year; after all, now that I’m writing them down and actually sharing them with others, it’s important to bear in mind that I’m going to be held accountable for the resolutions I make.

I’m off to a good start: it’s the first day of the year, and I walked for 45 minutes, did T’ai Chi, meditated, had coffee with Tom before he and SadieDoggie went off to work, and wrote a blog post.

Now I’m going to gather the #GangOfSeven Rescue Kitties and read some of my favorite bloggers’ posts, some of which are already posted for this week’s #MondayBlogs.

What are some of your resolutions are this year, my Lovelies, and  which resolutions from 2016 you managed to keep?

 

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Filed under Blogging, Memoir, New Year's Resolutions, Real Life of a Writer