This blog isn’t just for me–it’s for you guys. It’s for the writing community, a community I love dearly. Friday forums are my way of fostering that community.
Some of you will remember this challenge. I’m going to ask you three questions, and if you respond you can ask me three questions in the comments section and I am honour bound to reply.
So let’s try this out. Here are your three questions:
1) What are you writing right now?
2) Do you know what your goals for this summer are?
3) Would you be willing to spread the word about Dianna’s Writing Den through your social media networks, and if no, why not?
Post your answers in the comments selection below. Put three questions for me in your comment and I’ll answer each and every one.
When little kids say what they want to be when they grow up, visions of star athletes, astronauts and pop singers usually flood their heads. Aspiring writers appreciate the imagination of these dreams, but they don’t want to dunk, sing or become an astronaut to live out their dreams. All they need is a pen and paper (or keyboard and computer). If they weren’t professionals, most writers would express their thoughts on paper, whether in a journal, blog or website. Luckily, writers have many avenues to make money doing what they love. Before you apply for a business credit card to support yourself, review these promising opportunities in professional writing.
Trying to make money writing feels as difficult as making it to the NBA, flying to the moon, or composing a hit song, but the reward is the chance to satisfy your curious spirit daily.
Freelance — The Tried and True Model
Few businesses need a fresh copy continuously. When they do need a writer to draft a website introduction, statement of purpose or any other piece of content, they’re reluctant to hire a full-time writer. That’s where freelancers enter. These writing vagabonds jump from job to job describing and depicting topics as needed. Young writers need not look far for their first freelance opportunities. Freeswitch.com is one of many forums that connect freelance writers with paying customers. Young writers unable to earn paying jobs can write for free to build their portfolios. Published clips are the key to a paying writing career.
Blogs — A Long, Rewarding Path
I know. I know. Everyone has a blog. Not everyone has the discipline, writing chops and stamina to maintain a blog that turns a profit. It may not put money in your pocket right away, but over time, blogs can become lucrative properties. Examples include Daringfireball.net, a tech blog, Incomediary.com, a financial advice blog and Caradvice.co.au, an auto blog. The common thread? A niche topic. General interest blogs are a dime a dozen. Tailored-specific blogs attract loyal followers. Visit Adwords.com to learn how you can turn traffic into income.
Even if, your blog doesn’t turn a profit, it can still benefit your writing career. A blog raises your profile as a writer and boosts your portfolio for freelance gigs. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky few who is able to blog professionally.
SEO Writing — The New Frontier
While print media are going the way of the buffalo, a new trend demand for content has emerged. Unique copy is a powerful tool to boost keyword rankings on Google and other search engines. Businesses are willing to pay top dollar to get on the front page of Google, so new writing jobs have emerged. A search for “SEO (search engine optimization) writer” on Simplyhired.com returns more than 2,000 positions nationwide. You may not be writing the next great American novel, but you’ll earn a paycheck improving your craft.
Self-Publishing — Why Not You?
Writers need an independent attitude to stand out. Self-publishing provides total independence and removes costly middleman. ebooks level the playing field for aspiring authors. Writers used to need distribution companies, and mass-production printers to publish. Now, authors can write, format, distribute and advertise their own work for little or no cost. Amazon offers direct publishers to Kindle devices for free. The “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy was originally self-published, according to Cnet.com. Self-publishing software removes the roadblocks that have kept you from following your dream.
If you’re feeling discouraged to make money as a writer, take heart. The industry may be changing, but the demand for quality writers isn’t going away anytime soon.
Photo by Flickr user rmarshall
Bio: Andrew Zimmerman Andrew is a bike enthusiast and freelance writer who lives in New Hampshire.
Please note that Andrew Zimmerman is a guest and I haven’t used any of the sites he mentioned, so I don’t know how good they are.
For the last couple of months we’ve been talking about disturbances in your writing and how to deal with them. We’ve discussed several types of distractions and strategies for each one, and two weeks ago we talked about making the sacrifice in order to have time for your writing. Today I’d like to wrap up the series with some final thoughts on distractions and how to deal with them.
There will always be things distracting you from your writing. We will always have families and friends vying for our attention, and we will always have laundry to do. There’s a good chance that you’ll always have either school or a job getting between you and your writing too. None of us gets to live in a bubble where we can write all day every day–unless perhaps you’re independently wealthy and have maids to cook your meals and wash your clothes.
Still, that’s no excuse for not getting things done. Yes, many of these distractions can’t be avoided altogether, but they can be minimized. As we’ve discussed over the last two months, for every distraction there’s a strategy you can use to get back to work. We must protect our own writing time. Nobody can do that for us. In fact, most people will detract from your writing time–often without realizing what they’re doing.
It’s your job to protect your writing time. This is why I cancelled my plans today. I realized that I’ve let too many things cut into my writing time lately, and that my plans for today weren’t essential. Now that I’m working for DJiZM, I have almost no time for my personal writing projects. This has led me to cut back on my socializing time. I’m still not perfect at protecting my writing time–odds are I never will be–but I get better at it all the time, and that’s the important thing. Slowly but surely I’m cutting away the non-essential things to make more time for my craft.
You don’t have to do it all at once. Commit to minimizing one distraction at a time. You’re not perfect, nobody is. You’re not expected to cut everyone out of your life, and you’re not expected to eradicate all these distractions at the same time. Take it one step at a time, one day at a time.
Most importantly, don’t make it a chore. Writing shouldn’t be a chore. While it’s important to create and defend your writing time, you shouldn’t do this at the expense of your enjoyment of life. Life is too short to be unhappy because of decisions you’ve made. So when you’re asked to do something that cuts into your writing time, ask yourself–in a year, in five years, in ten years, will I regret not being there? Or will I regret not having finished my book?
Don’t allow yourself to live with regret. Do the things that truly matter to you–and if you discover that writing isn’t that high up on the list, that’s fine too. You don’t have to pursue a writing career. You can write occasionally, you can skip the editing and just move on to the next piece–just make sure you’re doing it with the intention of remaining a hobby writer. If you want to make this a career, you will have to make sacrifices.
It’s up to you–and only you–to decide whether or not writing is important enough to make sacrifices are. I’ve decided that my writing is definitely important enough to make sacrifices for. You might decide something different, and that’s fine too.
How much are you willing to sacrifice for your writing career?
April’s been a pretty exciting month for me. I got a job writing, editing and promoting blog posts for DJiZM Disc Jockey Services and I’m thrilled to be working with them. I’m also working on becoming a paid contributor to a large Canadian music blog, but I can’t reveal too much about that yet.
I’m still behind on my personal goals, but I did make more progress in April than I did in March, so let’s take a look:
Editing Moonshadow’s Guardian– I ended up only editing four chapters of Moonshadow’s Guardian this month instead of six, but I am making progress. I’ve now created a concrete plan to make more time for writing, both personal and professional, and I’m hoping to actually do six chapters in May.
Write twelve guest posts– depending on what you mean by ‘guest posts’, I might have made a lot of progress this month. I had three posts published on the DJiZM blog published in April and I’ve got more scheduled in May. This isn’t a blog for my target market, so it’s of limited value in terms of bringing me readers, but it’s certainly looking good on my LinkedIn profile, so I consider this a success. This would put me at seven posts for the year, which is pretty awesome. I do still need to get into more blogs aimed at my target market.
As you can see, while I originally set myself up with several goals for the year, I’ve only been making progress on one or two of them each month. Since the seasons have changed and it’s warm outside, I’ve decided to re-evaluate my goals and make a plan for May involving as many as possible.
Here’s the plan, goal by goal:
Query 12 Articles– I’ve decided that this exact goal is going to be scrapped. Instead, I’m going to alter this goal to ‘Make at least $5, 000 from my writing and writing-related activities. I’ve already made over a hundred dollars through my writing this year, and not only am I working for DJiZM and negotiating with one other company, I’ve also gotten ideas for articles I’d like to query to different magazines because of these jobs. This may seem like a big goal, and as someone who’s only ever made a couple hundred dollars here and there, it is, but I still think it’s totally achievable.
My income goal for May? $650. That’s a little bit less than I need to make each month to reach my goal for the year, but I’m planning to do a lot more writing work this summer.
Launch 10 Commandments– this project has been put on hold, but really all it needs is an intro, some exercises, and a conclusion. I’m probably going to be working on that a lot this month.
Launch an email newsletter– I’ve decided to hold off on this project as I’m having difficulty choosing how I’m going to run it and I’ve got a lot going on right now. I might come back to it this year, but for now it’s off the table.
Create Dear Diary Workbook– I’d really love to get this done this year, but I’m not sure if I’ll have the time, seeing as how behind I am on my edits for Moonshadow’s Guardian. Still, I’d like to get it close to done, so my goal is to write at least one page of this book every month until the end of the year.
Edit Some Secrets Should Never Be Known– This will get started as soon as I’ve finished editing Moonshadow’s Guardian, which seems like it will be an eternity. I’ll probably end up working on this during the summer.
Write one new novel– this is for November, but this month I’d like to figure out what the basic premise of my story will be. I might end up using November to do a full rewrite of the second half of/sequel to Moonshadow’s Guardian. I don’t know yet.
This month I’ll be buckling down on my time. No more distracted procrastination for me. I’ve already started carving out more time for myself, but by the end of this month, I’d like to make sure I’m spending at least one hour every day on one of these goals.
What are you doing to reach your goals this May? How did you do in April?
Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat revolutionised my writing–or rather, my storytelling. It’s primarily a screenwriting book, but the principles apply just as well to fiction. My favourite part is the Beat Sheet: a list of elements making up the classic Three Act Structure.
Snyder is quite exacting about the timing of these elements, down to the script page number. A story can be more flexible than a film, but this still provides a great sense of timing. Your Act 1 doesn’t necessarily have to finish at precisely 25%, but if it finishes at 72% it’s a good indication that your pacing is off (or your story needs to be a lot longer.)
Some writers find the concept of structure constricting, but for me it was liberating. I would often find myself with cool characters in an interesting scenario, and then sit there wondering what should happen next. Keeping the Beat Sheet at the back of my mind helps me realise what HAS to happen next. It provides a natural progression for the story.
Snyder’s 15 point Beat Sheet can be found here: http://www.blakesnyder.com/tools/
The blog section of the site also provides some fascinating breakdowns of films, which are well worth a look. Once you know it’s there, you start seeing this structural skeleton everywhere–it’s like having X-ray Vision.
I use a 12 point adaptation of the Beat Sheet, and it’s served me very well–even for very short stories. To show a working example, my dark fantasy Never Leave Me, recently published at Daily Science Fiction (free to read here: http://dailysciencefiction.com/fantasy/magic-and-wizardry/michelle-ann-king/never-leave-me) is only 1,280 words long–but the Beats are still there:
Normal World: MC’s current struggles, in their current environment.
The opening paragraph is a reference to fairy tales, both to set the tone for the story and to introduce Katrine’s problem: the reality of her ‘happy ever after’ hasn’t matched her expectations.
Inciting Incident: An event caused by the Antagonist that changes the situation.
The Antagonist here is Aron–even though he doesn’t know it. He provides opposition by not being the kind of husband Katrine really wants. He sets things in motion by going hunting and leaving her behind.
The Challenge: MC debates what this means & what to do about it.
Katrine makes Aron swear not to leave, but it’s not enough–she’s not satisfied. She wants to guarantee it.
Start the Revolution: MC takes action towards achieving their goal.
Katrine goes to the village witch for help.
Reactions & Progress: MC learns info, gains skills, discovers problems.
Katrine learns that the spell she wants does exist, but the witch won’t perform it for her.
Midpoint of No Return: A game-changer, risk or revelation that raises the stakes.
Katrine kills the witch and takes her magic.
Setbacks & Complications: Antagonist fights back, MC is demoralised.
Aron is horrified by what she’s done. Their relationship sours.
All Is Lost: Defeat. The Goal looks lost.
The marriage breaks down completely: Aron no longer loves her and Katrine no longer wants him to stay–but the spell keeps them together.
Bonus Whiff of Death: an image of rotting fruit.
Dark Night of the Soul: Emotional reaction to the All Is Lost moment.
Demonstrating the flexibility available to a short story, the whole beat here is contained in a single line: Katrine wept, and he did not comfort her.
The Comeback: MC decides to give it a final go.
Katrine tries to break the spell.
Final Battle: MC fights the Antagonist.
Unable to loosen the magical binding, Katrine attacks Aron and kills him.
New World: MC in their new situation.
In Never Leave Me, this beat is not actually on the page. It’s still in the story, but it takes place totally in the reader’s mind–which is probably why people have found it so haunting. As is so often the case, the scariest monsters are the ones you don’t describe.
Michelle Ann King writes SF, dark fantasy and horror from her kitchen table in Essex, England. Her stories have appeared in various venues, including Daily Science Fiction, Penumbra Magazine, and Untied Shoelaces of the Mind.
She has worked as a mortgage underwriter, supermarket cashier, makeup artist, tarot reader and insurance claims handler before having the good fortune to be able to write full-time. Find details of her stories and books at http://www.transientcactus.co.uk
Today I was going to wrap up my series on disturbances in your writing, but then something very exciting happened: the number of people subscribed to Dianna’s Writing Den reached three hundred and fifty. In fact, it reached three hundred and fifty-two.
Usually I don’t make a big deal of these markers, but three hundred and fifty seems like a really big deal. So today I’d like to say a few things about Dianna’s Writing Den.
The first is that I appreciate every single one of you, and that I’m thrilled to be forming such an amazing community of writers here at Dianna’s Writing Den. I’m really proud of the work I do here and I’m glad to be helping all of you. I hope you’ll stay with me on this journey and that someday when we’re all famous authors we’ll be able to have a big party together, sipping tea and talking about the early days of our journeys.
The second is that I’ve learned a lot from you, maybe even as much–or more–than you’ve learned from me. I know a lot of my subscribers are also wonderful authors who I’ve interviewed or who have written posts for me, and I learn a lot from these interviews/posts. I’ve also learned about what the most common challenges for writers are, and you’ve taught me how to foster an amazing community. Again, I thank you.
The third is that I’d like your help. Inspired by hitting three hundred and fifty subscribers, I’ve thought of a big goal. That goal is to reach 400 subscribers by May 20th. It seems lofty, but I know with your help I can do it. What do you get for helping me? Well, if I hit 400 subscribers by the twentieth, in exactly two weeks, I’m going to host a giveaway. I’m not sure how big it will be as I’m still working on prizes–if you’re an author and you’d like to donate a book, shoot me an email(email@example.com)–but I do know that it will involve something special: a small ebook I wrote myself, full of advice for writers. And at least one issue of Penumbra, so if you’ve wanted to check it out for a while, now’s your chance.
I haven’t decided what this ebook will be about yet. I might use the Ten Commandments project I’ve almost finished, but I thought I’d ask you first: what would you like this ebook to be about?
Let me know what you’d like to see in the comments–and don’t forget to spread the word about Dianna’s Writing Den over the next couple of weeks.
For the last couple of months we’ve been talking a lot about disturbances in your writing, from writer’s block to family to repetitive strain injury. It’s important to develop strategies for dealing with each of these obstacles, but in the end it all boils down to one thing: making sacrifices.
Today we are blessed that we can do just about anything we want with our time. We have literally millions of options. We can read or watch anything almost instantly with the internet. We can communicate instantly. We can also do everything that came before the internet: go for a bike ride, travel, garden, socialize at the local pub.
With so many options, everyone’s always busy. We fill up our time without thinking about it and forget to leave time for ourselves. We forget to make time for our craft. We get caught up in everything else the world has to offer and we forget the most important things.
It’s fun to party all the time or to spend all your time after work lounging in front of the TV. Even better, it’s easy. But if you want to turn this writing thing into your career someday, you have to make sacrifices. You have to turn the TV off. You have to close your browser. You have to say no to that party or at least go home early.
Making these sacrifices is hard at first, but it gets easier all the time, and without making the sacrifices, you’ll never become a career writer. If you can’t make the sacrifices, maybe this business isn’t for you. Perhaps writing is just an emotional outlet for you or a hobby. That’s fine. Just remember not to treat it like a hobby when you’re trying to turn it into a career.
To be good at anything, you need to practice. To practice, you need time. To create time, you need to make sacrifices. So make a commitment to your writing and make the sacrifice. You’ll know it’s worth it when you have that first publishing contract.
Next week I’ll be following one of my new rules for productivity–I will take breaks from Dianna’s Writing Den–so I thought I’d gather up some posts for you to read during the week I’ll be away. Today’s posts are all about writing fiction.
Circumlocation at it’s best or worst–at Live Write Thrive will tell you about the concept of circumlocation. Hint: It’s similar to overwriting.
Worldbuilding: Coming of Age Rituals and Coming of Age over at Marshall Ryan Maresca’s blog discusses the many different options for coming of age rituals.
Sci-Fi Deak Style is the first of a new series of posts on the Penumbra blog about “science that doesn’t work well in science fiction… But has to”. This post introduces the series and the conundrum many science fiction writers face when trying to write a great story.
Readers Owe Writers Approximately Zip-Nada-Zero over at Terrible Minds is an excellent post about what readers don’t have to do for writers. This is also one of my favourite blogs, but be warned, it’s usually very profane.
Hopefully this will keep you reading all next week. Have a lovely weekend and I’ll be seeing you on the 29th.
Last month, I became a published author for the second time. You’d think I’d feel successful, wouldn’t you? I have two books with prestigious houses, both of which received excellent national reviews; I’ve been anthologized and gotten awards, been flown by Random House on book tours and chauffeured around by media escorts, been interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air.
And yet, like every other writer in the world, I can name a thousand others who’ve achieved more. Much, much more—whether it’s money, fame, acclaim, awards, or a combination thereof, there’s always someone who leaves you in the dust.
Success, I learned with my first book, The Territory of Men, is a moving target that can cripple you with frustration. One day, for example, 75 people would come to a reading; the next week, in another town, eight might dribble in. I’d open my email one morning to find a great review in The Washington Post or USA Today, and an invitation to teach at a prominent conference. Then my inbox was empty for a month.
The longer your book is out, the more sporadic the attention; if you don’t publish another, it can fade away altogether, like a photograph of a fabulous event no one remembers.
Two years after my first book, I started a family, and for a long while, stopped writing. Meanwhile others continued to revel in success! For years, every Sunday morning I’d sit with my empty notebook while reading the steady cascade of achievement in The New York Times Book Review.
When my marriage fell apart, and I lost half custody of my son, I moved to an isolated cabin in the Sierras. For the next year I healed by walking in the wilderness and writing words on the page. Those pages became my next memoir, The Forest House. While I loved writing the book, I wasn’t looking forward to the publication process, and all the stress over whether it would succeed.
What helped was my peer, Alison Singh Gee, whose lovely memoir, Where the Peacocks Sing, came out at the same time. Even though we were ostensibly competitors, we were also friends who had much in common: we both teach college writing and are mothers of one young child. We even blurbed each others’ books. As reviews came in we’d “like” the links on each others’ FB pages; and we’d comment on the gleaming photos of our book covers. During our book tours we’d post promotional blogs about our respective events.
Yet over the months, we emailed and called each other privately. I knew her worry, understood her hopes and disappointment, and she knew mine. We’d both taken those long drives to bookstores on school nights—all the while wondering if more than a handful of readers would show up—and felt the same weight of the piles of ungraded papers and mounting chores waiting at home.
I shared the disillusionment that comes from watching your Amazon sales rank ebb and flow, then ebb again. I’d also tasted the same bittersweetness of the mixed review.
It was as if this time, with Alison, I had a constant reality check. She helped me see through the smoke and mirrors of the author’s “glamorous” life.
Like travelers on an escalator we’d wave to each other as we moved up and down the fickle ladder of success. We both know there’s a place you have to reach—no matter what stage you’re at as a writer—where you feel that someone else’s success is your success. If you can get there, it’s a wonderful, liberating place to be—and from it your own work will soar.
And so when Alison’s book was praised in Entertainment Weekly and People Magazine, I was happy for her; and when I was asked to do a guest blog for The Huffington Post, she cheered for me.
What I’ve learned over the past decade is that envy can poison your creativity—it’ll stain your writing like blood spilled across a page. It implies not only deprivation—something is missing in our world—but someone else has what we don’t. Looked at so simply it’s not hard to imagine envy has its roots in childhood. My son is in the first grade, and I’ve seen the raw expression of envy in children’s faces: I want what you have—give it to me!
The ultimate antidote for envy, which comes from our basest selves, is gratitude—which comes from our highest.
For it’s only from a place of plenty that we have something to give. And that’s what writing is, in the end—a gift, one we have and one we give to others.
No, it’s not an easy solution. Like any good habit, gratitude takes work. I have to remind myself to do it, and then it’s often grudgingly at first. So I’m grateful to the writers who write such wonderful stories and poems and articles, who’ve enriched my world with a lifetime of pleasure and enlightenment.
I’m grateful to my friends like Alison who remind me that I’m not alone, that my best is good enough, and that most of all, the words I write are worth it.
Bio: Joelle Fraser is the author of the memoirs The Territory of Men (Random House 2003) and The Forest House (2013). A MacDowell Fellow, she has an MFA from the University of Iowa. She teaches writing and lives in northeast California with her son. Find her at http://www.joellefraser.com.
You can purchase a copy of The Forest House here.