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Writing On The Side

More blogs about parenting & writing! This time the blog comes with a list of helpful tips for getting stuff down when you feel, as parents do, like there’s nothing to do but the very minimum.

S.B. Divya is an author and an engineer. She is married with children (and pets), and knows the unfortunate joys of homeownership. Her fiction has been published in “Daily Science Fiction” and “Nature.” You can find out more at www.eff-words.com.

 

Most of us wear multiple hats on a daily basis. We have a paid job (or jobs) that is our main way of earning a living. We have housekeeping duties like cooking, laundry, cleaning, and paying the bills. We might have additional responsibilities: to a romantic relationship; to pets; to children; to ailing parents. If this weren’t enough, some of us are willing to add writing to the pile.

Unless you hit some kind of jackpot (a best seller list, major book award, rich uncle, etc.), you’re probably not going to earn enough from your short story and/or book sales to live as a full-time writer. This goes double if you’re supporting a family. So how can you make it all work without losing your last shred of sanity?

I’m no expert (let me know if you find my sanity!), but I here’s what I’ve learned from my own experience.

  • Stake out your writing time daily for at least 30 minutes, longer if you can. Guard this time like Smaug hoarding his treasure.
  • Sometimes life gets in the way (like a pesky hobbit), and you will lose that time despite your best efforts. Fine. Roll with it and get back to it as soon as you can. The more days you slip, the harder it is to recover.
  • Outsource the child care. If you have children who are too young for school, lean on your partner to grab an hour to write on the weekends. Hire a part-time sitter for a couple evenings when you can stay an extra hour at the office – use this time to write!
  • That lunch hour? Is a great chance to read, or eat quickly at your desk and then write.
  • Outsource the crappy work. If you’re lucky enough to be in a high income household, hire help as much as you can.
  • If you have young kids or aging parents to look after, claim your writing time after they’ve gone to bed (at night or while napping). Don’t do the dishes until after you’ve sat down (with a timer if necessary) and done nothing but write for 30 minutes. Staring at your empty page also counts.
  • Take your leisure time – i.e., watching TV or playing games or reading a book – and divide it in half. Leave one half for leisure, and spend the other half writing. After a few weeks, you won’t miss it. You might even drop the non-writing altogether.
  • If you have older kids, do some writing while they’re at after-school activities. Alternatively, use this time for research or outlines.
  • If you have a long commute, use a voice dictation software to plan out a scene, record notes, or even generate a rough draft.
  • Keep a log somewhere, like an x-chain calendar or a spreadsheet, so you can see your progress. Watch the word count pile up (slowly…be patient) or watch the X’s accumulate (with gaps because life happens). Remind yourself that any number is an improvement over zero.
  • Find a buddy to keep you honest, or join a weekly writing group. Peer pressure and deadlines are great motivators.
  • Forgive yourself if you need to take a break. Every job should come with  time off. Writing is no different. Be a good boss, though, and don’t let your vacation turn into a leave of absence.

It comes down to this: You have to make the most of your time when you can get it. Unlike the days when you had no other responsibilities (if you were ever so lucky), you can’t wait for hours of free time to appear. They won’t. Nor can you wait until the muse strikes. Become the master of stealing time. Treat your writing like another job, not a fun hobby, and make sure your family does, too.

If this sounds hard, that’s because it is! But it can also be immensely rewarding, especially when you finally see your name in print.

If you are having trouble figuring out where to find that 30 minute daily writing time, I highly recommend trying something like Laura Vanderkam’s 168 hours log (http://lauravanderkam.com/books/168-hours/manage-your-time/). Once you see the patterns in your daily routine, then you can work on rearranging and/or spotting the gaps.

 

 

Writing & Children

Hey, blog. For the last few months, I’ve been managing a Facebook group for writers with children. It’s been a really amazing experience to hear everyone’s stories of both the enrichment they get from having children, and the ways they find time to write with kids. It’s also been refreshing to get support and give support to those of us who wonder (I’m one) if parenting and writing can be reconciled.

So, blog, I decided to feed you a bit with some guest posts from other parents/writers. Gareth Jones is an environmentalist, a father of 5, and a writer who has published over 40 publications in different languages. He was kind enough to share the following:

Writing, With Children

A friend of mine who’d just had his first novel published said that when asked, he told people he had time to write as he didn’t have children. He was amazed that I’d written a novel when I have five children. In fact I’ve now completed three novels, as yet unpublished. So how do I have the time?

Actually, people often ask me and my wife how we have time for anything, or how we cope with five children. I guess to someone with one child or none, five seems a lot, but the fact is it doesn’t seem that many to me; that’s what we’re used to.

The fact is, whatever your circumstances, people find time for what they want to do, whether their hobby is watching TV or doing something more productive. Writing is a solitary endeavour though, so on the face of it, it’s not really something the family can join in. It’s also something that requires concentration, so it’s not easy to write while the TV is on or children are playing under your chair or needing help with homework.

This means that writing time is valuable, as it is for all writers, so I need to spend time thinking about my stories when I’m doing other things that don’t require much brain power, so that when I sit down I can get on with writing 1000 words an hour. Or, more likely, writing for a 10 minute block. Most of the writing strategies I could talk about are common to all writers, so what is there I can say specifically about writing with children?

A lot of writers have daily, weekly or annual writing goals. I have none. I don’t ever expect to get much done, so I’m pleased with whatever I’ve written. Most writers have a schedule, while I can easily go for days and sometimes weeks without writing anything. I keep involved by editing a bit, submitting stories, keeping up with my on-line writers group. And I write when I can.

It can be easy to get frustrated and resentful, and that’s not something I want to feel about my family. So I view writing as a hobby. In ten years I’ve completed 3 novels, and over 100 short stories. I’ve had over 100 story publications in 25 languages, written over 100 book reviews, written a TV screenplay and several comic scripts. I don’t measure output though. I enjoy my writing, and my children join in too. My stories are suitable to read to children, though not necessarily anything the younger ones would understand. They all like writing their own stories, and the older ones help me brainstorm ideas. My oldest son had his first story published in a podcast recently, and the 2 girls had stories selected for a school anthology.

If I ever happen to sell a novel and sign a deal to write a novel in a year, I’ll have to come up with a new plan. But for now I am enjoying writing, with children.

As Years Go, This Was More of A Month

Sometimes, you think you’re just about done processing January 2014 when you realize the whole darn year’s gone. That’s what this last year was like.

As a child of the 80s, 2015 has always been THE FUTURE in big capital letters. Hoverboards and flying cars and all that, yes, but also an old Marty McFly with a broken hand and Flea getting him fired. By fax. (That’s scary, knowhumsayin? I might get fired by fax this year.)

This was a hell of a year. We bought our first house one week before the start of 2014. I spent the year ignoring various issues with the house, including mildew and a sump pump. I have now paid the price, for I have scrambled around under a house fixing a pump, and I have chopped out hideous rotting carpet. Much like Calvin, I suspect I built character, and I loathe myself for it.

I started a new job this year. For years, I’d been teaching English full-time at Argosy University Online, a job that was flexible, but not really challenging, and not much in terms of long-term prospects. The world is teeming with online English teachers, and unexpected unemployment could be dangerous. When the local tribal college, where I was also teaching part-time, had an opening for E-Learning Coordinator, I went for it. It’s been fun, and exhausting. I went from feeling bored to feeling a little too useful, as I run the online program, design and teach online classes, and coordinate our videoconferencing classes.

The new job seems to be good for the writing, and bad for it all at once. I wrote not one, not two, but (almost) three novels this year. Each one clocked in under 70,000 words; one barely topped 50,000. I decided to consider this an unintended personal victory.

(This is not the same as when eating fifteen cookies is an unintended personal victory.)

In high school, when I wrote a novel, it topped out at over 200,000 words. For years, my comfort level with my big robberclobbering fantasy tomes has been somewhere between 140,000 words and 200,000 words. For those who don’t count the teeny little words, that’s between 600 and 1000 pages. So writing short novels feels good! Just imagine, if I had actually sold a novel by now I might not have learned this skill. Yay?

Of course, the job has taken over a lot of the time I had for things like blogging, managing submissions, thinking… but I did manage to put out quite a few interviews and articles on Bleeding Cool this year. I’m quite proud of the one with G. Willow Wilson, if you can’t decide where to start.

Just about every year I wonder whether I can make this the big “My Year,” in which I hit some writing-career-defining milestone. I think I did more writing and submitting in 2014 than I have in a while. I got a story in F&SF, another in Every Day Fiction, and have one forthcoming in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Still, I don’t think I’ve had “my year” yet. 2015, you are the Future. Are you also My Year? Tell me, but not by fax.

 

Winning Scholarship!

I’m very glad to announce that I’ve received the Jay Lake memorial scholarship to the Paradise Lost writing workshop in April. PL is a workshop for “neo-pros,” meaning those who have completed a major by-audition workshop or published short stories. It was originally established as a soiree for graduates of Viable Paradise, hence the name.

VP was an amazing moment in my life where I got a much-needed kick in the pants and learned a lot about writing. I’ve been wanting to do the Paradise Lost workshop for years, this year especially, because I would get to hang out with the crass and craft Chuck Wendig.

So I’m grateful. More than that, I’m honored, because the scholarship is in the name of my much-missed friend, Jay Lake. (Who the hell is Jay Lake? If you remember that, yay.)

For the five people in the world who didn’t know him, Jay was a writer who wrote copious amounts of science fiction, and also blogged through his cancer in excruciating detail. (The “who the hell is Jay Lake,” for those who don’t know, was one of his con giveaway pins, playing on the fact that it was impossible not to know him.)

Jay was a friend from the time I met him. He was always encouraging. He remembered the few pieces of my writing that he had read and when we talked about writing, he would emphasize my strengths based on what he remembered. I was one of thousands of writers he was at least a part-time mentor to. He was never fake—he was friendly and complimentary and available. He preached persistence and he lived persistence. Despite cancer, he continuted writing like crazy, battling through the depression and anxiety that came with cancer, caring for his daughter, cooperating with his ex-wife, and maintaining a robust dating life, especially for a sick dude.

I am honored to have this scholarship in his name, and maybe to contribute a little bit of good to the world in his name.

Writing, Media, NaNoWriMo, Braaaains

I am not a natural fan of zombies. I came to zombies late in life, through The Walking Dead (the comic, not the show). Most of my life, if I had been inclined to use the term “zombie,” it would have been in Stan the Man’s verbiage–I was a Marvel Zombie from my rotting brain to my rotting feet.

Zombies are a really good symbol of capitalism, globalism, the torrent of information–an apocalyptic wave eating our brains. Who hasn’t felt that way on eBay? I want to stop looking at guitars. I don’t NEED need another guitar. But unlimited window-shopping is such a wonderful time-killer. Unlimited Facebook feeds in which my friend from high school got a new dog and people are reblogging articles about news and philosophy and science.

And so that brings me around to my favorite/least favorite time of year, NaNoWriMo. I’ve done it most of the last few years, with a break in 2012. This year I’m not really sure if I’ll do it. I registered and came up with a novel and then came up with a better one, but I’ve never, not once in my life, been this busy at work, and my competitive nature makes NaNo exhausting.

I love NaNo for this reason: who thought the Internet could make writing feel like a party? It’s the ultimate misanthropic activity and NaNoWriMo makes it into a giant marathon–people cheer and make you feel great for what is, really, a questionable personal choice.

Salon hates NaNoWriMo. I think they miss the reasons why NaNo is a phenomenon.

We all need more actual books, I’ll give them that. Read more books. Read fewer Facebook feeds and interesting articles and message boards.

NaNoWriMo, though, is part of a collective battle against that zombification. In order to deal with the tidal wave of information coming from the Internet, writers of the generation that has embraced NaNo–and most of the NaNos I know are in college–take a month to frenetically reaffirm the value of a story they can tell. It’s a kind of shout against the darkness. A valiant defense of our own brains.

In Which I Missed It!

Oh my gosh, well, color me silly. I totally missed that my story “Talking Animals” went up on Every Day Fiction!

It’ll only take you a couple of minutes to read it. So go read it!

Now that you have read it.

This is one of my very favorite pieces I have ever written. It fell out almost completely perfect, and referenced a lot of my favorite books. I really enjoyed thinking about a twisted version of anthropomorphic animal stories, since those were always my favorite books as a child. I also enjoyed blurring the lines between fantasy and reality as I wrote about the ways the rats–are they real? are they not? you don’t know!–destroyed the other animals.

The final line was originally “and cheered for NIMH.” I love that line still, but after enough comments about the specificity of the reference, I decided it needed to be “the rats.”

 

 

Wrap-Up!

This was meant to be a post for the end of the Clarion Write-a-Thon. Ha. BUT. I’ve been writing like crazy.

First, my soft underbelly: I post fanfiction related to James Roberts’ Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye comic series (NO SHUT UP IT’s ART OF THE HIGHEST CALIBER) at Transfans.co.uk under the name bumblemusprime. Get the comic series, then read my sticky fan tribute!

I swore off fanfic in 1994. See, after reading Mossflower to pieces, I wrote my own Redwall novel, and, with no Internet to guide me, sent it to Brian Jacques. He sent back a note saying “Your story is well written, but you need to think of your own ideas and characters!”

I vowed to heed him; sorry, Brian Jacques, but the MTMTE series is that good. Vow broken.

PS: Brian I not-so-humbly submit that my novel, at the age of fourteen, was fourteen badgers’ worth better than The Bellmaker. You phoned it in on that one.

Ahem.

I reached my Write-a-Thon goal earlier this week. I completed a short novel at 51,000 words, which is pretty good for me, considering my typical novel runs around 150,000 words. Life goal achieved: be brief!

I cooked on this novel. On high heat. Broil, lots of salt. Extended food metaphor here.

When I cook my prose quickly, I don’t cut and rewrite. A crucial character needs a whole new plot and arc, but I just wanted to get through to the end and so I limped him along as a passive whiny brat.

I learn from writing badly, in theory. Well, I learn but it’s hard to say what at this point… which also comes from writing quickly, because one ends in a stunned daze, a few pounds overweight, sucking chocolate and coffee like a babe at the teat. Usually I can see the cracks and the poor judgment and the curdled milk in the cake at the end of a hot, hard session (METAPHORICAL, you pervs)(the cake is a lie, too).

I’m not sure that I improve by writing fast. I produce, though! Afterward I’m a bit too dazed to really find the good heart of a piece. Herein lies a great critique of NaNoWriMo: that in its heart, each NaNo is a bucket of diarrhea. Whaddya think, dear readers who are writers? When you charge ahead, heedlessly vomiting words, saving any self-analysis for revision, do you learn? Or do you, yes you, right there in the corner, excise and revise?

There is a comment section–use it! The ghost of Brian Jacques is watching.

Going Dark

I am going dark for a bit on social media.

“No!” you gasp, gasping for more gasps, “why, the horror?”

Because the world doesn’t deserve any more sentences as bad as that one. Among other things. I’ve got a project I’d really like to finish. I needta update my Clarion West Write-A-Thon goals to reflect completion of this project, a space opera, rather than the historical novel I was working on, which I’m setting aside to percolate for a bit.

So I’m taking a week off, and hoping just to write through the week.

Wish me luck, and chocolate.

Having A Moment

I am having a moment.

I have pro’d out, as they say, from Writers of the Future. My fourth pro-rate short story is coming out soon (stay tuned!).

TL:DR for the link: it’s a quarterly contest, with respectable pay, for new science fiction writers who have not published more than three stories at “pro” rates (5 cents a word or higher). Multiple Honorable Mentions and Semi-Finalists per quarter, ten Finalists, three winners.

I always thought I’d place or win the contest. I got two Honorable Mentions back about 2005 or 2006.

I was a finalist twice in 2007. Two times in a row. I came close and lost twice over six months. That is a very special pain. I often wonder where I would be as a writer if I had won. (Don’t get me started on how I was shortlisted for Octavia Butler’s last year at Clarion.)

After 2007, I went for a few years submitting ever single quarter, and got nothing. My stories, which had once been loved there, even embraced, were just flung right off.

I got discouraged and angry at them. I’d never gotten any guidance (like they gave other finalists) and besides, a couple of exposés had been published on the high-level Scientologists running the place and their links to cases of institutional abuse. I’m willing to give Scientologists the benefit of the doubt as individuals, but I’m not crazy about organized religion.

After hearing from Anaea about the experience of winning, I’m both relieved and sad. Relieved because it sounds like things are a bit weird. Sad because… I really thought I would win one day!

My wife used to point at a particular dress in a shop window and say “I’ll get that when you win Writers of the Future.”

We used to say “we’ll travel when I win the grand prize in Writers of the Future.”

I am having a moment.

 

EDIT: So, I’m still not pro’d out, with no word on when the new Beneath Ceaseless Skies comes out, and just for kicks, I entered the contest. (Okay, not just for kicks. I really need to earn something off these short stories that have piled up over the years.) I doubt anything will come of it, with my history of heartbreak, but hey… I would love for this post to be proven wrong.