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A Serial Committer

I'm a serial committer. Like Einstein, but without the astounding genius. What the heck is that, you ask? A serial committer is someone who gives themselves completely to what they're working on…until they move on to something else. Basically, it means I function best in a project-oriented environment.

I realized this about myself fairly early on, and sought to find jobs that demanded that type of temperament. Programming. Yep. Teaching. Yep. Manufacturing. Double yep. I even got my certification in Project Management.

The thing was, as much as I love moving every few years (you know, that pesky Air Force thing), it makes career advancement difficult. I didn't seriously consider writing until I quit my job, got bored, and remembered how much I liked crafting prose.

Turns out writing is a great fit (well, except that I'm not getting paid yet)–since it is by nature project-based–and even meets some of my other ideal career requirements:

  • Keeps my brain actively engaged and challenged
  • Requires me to constantly learn new things
  • Uses creative problem-solving
  • Career advancement is tied to performance and skill (combined with determination and a lot of luck)
  • I can work when I want, where I want, and wear what I want. (Like working 7-1 on your couch in pajamas? No problem.)
  • I work for myself. Like any self-employed person, I (will) have clients rather than bosses. Yes, you still have to give them what they want, but I'm in charge of when and how I do it, as long as I meet their requirements and deadlines.
  • It's fun, and I'd do it for no pay at all. (Good thing, since it could be a while. <g>)

What are your ideal job requirements? If you're a writer, what makes it the right career for you?

The Daily Squirrel: gum

The boy on the other side of the locker door stared her down and sucked in his gum with a series of loud pops. Kate flinched with each ear-splitting crack, but her gaze didn't waver in spite of her legs of jelly.

“Hand over the money, Four-eyes,” Dean said with a sneer.

Without looking away from him, she shook her head. “No.” The bullying had gone on long enough. Someone had to stand up to Dean and his gang. Fear prickled her neck, and set an erratic beat within her chest, but she stood firm. “No.”

Writing on the run

By nature, I'm stuck in a chair all day in front of the computer, or brainstorming on paper, but the irony is that some of my best ideas come while I'm in motion.

If I'm stuck on a scene, or struggling for new ideas, I've found the best way to open my brain is to go for a run. Other mindless activities work as well, but running is my personal favorite, and it has the added bonus of burning some calories.

I think part of the value is that while running, I can't focus too hard on anything. My mind wanders, and ideas flit in and out, but my subconscious mind is more active. I'm not “forcing it”.

The only drawback is capturing the ideas before they flit too far away. I use my handy iPhone recording feature, but I used to repeat the idea to myself all the way home, or try to spin it into something larger and harder to forget.

It works for me. What works for you?

Emotional intelligence

My CP is constantly harping and nagging…ahem, I mean gently reminding me about the need to infuse my writing with more emotion. And, she's right. In my head, the characters are going through such turmoil and angst, but I often forget to pour that emotion onto the page for the reader to see.

Some of this probably stems from the dominance of my left brain. Hello? Programmer/engineer here. I once looked back through an old diary that I kept sporadically in middle and high school. It read like a catalog of events rather than an emotion-filled life. BO-RING.

Fictionalized example: “XY [the boy I had a crush on for five years who never noticed my existence] started dating XX today. I broke my finger at soccer practice, and then we had lasagna for dinner.” Seriously? Aren't teenaged girls supposed to be the queens of drama?

Good grief. What am I, a robot? When I think back on those moments, many of them were very emotional for me. Why the heck didn't I put it on paper? I'm sure I could analyze the reasons for you ad nauseam (yes that's spelled right), but I'll spare you.

What my diary should have been like: “XY smiled at me yesterday when I loaned him a piece of paper in Chem. He's so gorgeous. I wish I was brave enough to flirt with him, but he only likes the popular girls. My heart cracked in two when I found out he's dating XX. I wanted to throw up because she's such a bitch and he deserves better than her.”

Sigh. All I know is that I'm now combing through Counting on You and Floater, looking for those important scenes where my writing fell flat.

My stomach is clenching at the thought, my head spinning with ideas as I eagerly scroll through the pages…

The Daily Squirrel: wedding ring

Mike pawed through the dresser drawer like a dog digging a fresh hole. The bride's ring had to be in there somewhere. Sweat dripped down his forehead and stung his eyes. Ben had trusted him for the first time in years, and he'd screwed it up. Again. Socks and underwear flew through the air, littering the floor and the bed as Mike dug deeper. Finally, his hand closed around a small, velvet box stuck against the back of the drawer. He let out the breath he'd been holding and collapsed to the floor, the box tucked tightly against his pounding heart. Even if he had to sleep with it, the ring would not leave his sight again until he put it into the groom's hand.

My first request

Today I got my first agent request for a partial (first 3 chapters & synopsis). Insert “woo hoo” and a happy dance here. Very exciting! The timing seems serendipitous since I recently blogged about revising the manuscript for just such an event. I didn't expect to have to jump into it today, but I was more than happy to tackle it. 😉

In the scheme of things, a request doesn't mean publication is imminent. I know plenty of writers who've been getting requests for partials and completes for years, and are not yet published. Still, I'm excited because my query letter generated some interest, and that's the first step.

Knowing that I'm doing my best to get in the game keeps me motivated to move forward, and forces me to do the hard work (like revisions). I learn more about the art and business of writing every day, and when the call does come, I plan to be ready.

The Daily Squirrel: goodbye

The ballpoint pen left ink blots on the paper as she wrote out words of goodbye. Or badbye. If badbye were a word, that would more accurately describe this parting. Badbye to the angry outbursts and sarcastic remarks. Badbye to the forgotten anniversaries and birthdays. Badbye to the whole damn waste of three years. Her heart lifted and she smiled. “Badbye, Gary.”

The End is just the beginning

Most non-writers believe that once you type “The End”, you're done. Hah! Far from it. I can't begin to tell you how many times I've revised Counting on You (a.k.a. COY) since I “finished” it.

The first couple of revisions were based on things I'd learned (through workshops, books on writing, and experience) since starting the book. When I let a few trusted people read it, I got feedback about plot issues and unanswered questions. Back to the keyboard.

Later, I found a critique partner, entered a couple of contests…more (very helpful) feedback. Back to the…well you get the idea.

As much as I love my story, and mostly agree with the feedback I've received, the writer in me has moved on. I'm about halfway through Floater. That's where my brain is focused, and where I want to spend my time.

On the other hand, I'm hoping to get a request for the complete manuscript of COY from an agent or editor one of these days. If I do, I won't have time to go back and fix it then.

Should I be lucky enough to get a publication contract for COY (hey, one can dream), the editor will surely require more revisions. Truly, to be a writer, is to be a re-writer.

If I want to be a published author, I have to figure out how to deal with this now. The more experience and feedback I get, the better I am at avoiding the amateur mistakes from the beginning, but even the best writers–yes, even Nora Roberts and Ken Follett–have to revise their work before it's ready for publication.

I guess it's just a fact of writing life.

The End…for now.

The Daily Squirrel: composure

Standing behind the curtain, she cursed her shaky hands, the adrenaline flooding her veins, and the sweat trickling down her back. She should be used to this by now, but it never changed. Once on stage, she'd be fine, but the minutes leading up to her speech were pure torture. Finally, the emcee called her name. She took a deep breath, stood up straight, and smiled. Cool composure settled over her like a veil, and she walked onto the stage with her head held high. If only her parents could see her now.

The written word…without Word

You're probably intimately familiar with some sort of word processing software, especially if you're a writer. But, while Microsoft Word and similar programs are great for formatting a finished manuscript, business letters, and other documents, they may not be the best software for writing a story.

There are several programs out there for writers, and there's a good reason for it. Traditional word processors force you to write linearly, or cobble together multiple documents if you don't.  Good writing software can free you to write in the way that works best for you.

At a friend's suggestion, I tried Scrivener (UPDATE 1/13/11: Which now has a Windows version in the works) and ended up buying it well before the free trial ended. Each writing project is organized as a collection of files, all accessible from the same screen, much like being in Finder (or Windows Explorer).

I can write a scene–or an outline of a scene–when inspiration strikes, and save it for later (see Unused Scenes below). I can easily move scenes around, create scene cards for them, search for terms across all scenes, search by keywords, keep project and scene notes, import research documents and web sites, and so much more. I don't know how I ever lived without it!

I use the Resources section to hold links to research web sites, a file where I keep track of my daily productivity, a character list, photos of places or character inspirations, character questionnaires, and most important of all, a folder called Unused Scenes, where I store cut scenes to scavenge for useful bits, and potential future scenes.

For those who are easily distracted, Scrivener even offers a full screen mode. And, in the end, you can export the whole project to Word, or another program, either fully formatted, or ready to format.

If you're serious about writing, consider switching to software that works with your writing style, not against it.

The main writing screen…


Resources Section…


Happy Writing! (No Daily Squirrel today, this post is already long enough…)

Need more help? Sign up for an online class, read more Scrivener articles, or schedule a private training session. If you don't already have it, you can download Scrivener here.

An idea whose time has come

My ideas usually come not at my desk writing, but in the midst of living.  ~Anais Nin

People often ask writers where their ideas come from. I even find myself wondering the same thing after I read a great book. The answers? Everywhere, nowhere, hard work.

We get them from things we see in our daily lives, that is, everywhere. Places we go, people we meet, new stories, and personal experiences all have the power to generate the seed of an idea. Many authors become intrigued by the “what if?” and pursue that until they have a story.

But, they can also come out of nowhere. For example, I often think of storyline bits, or plot ideas right after I wake up in the morning. I'm not actively trying to work on anything, it just comes. I keep a pen and paper by my bed for this reason, because if I don't write it down, I'll surely lose it.

Sometimes, a writer just has to work at it. There are all sorts of techniques for generating new ideas. I even wrote about one of Einstein's creativity methods for the Southern Magic blog a while back.

For me, often the key is to give myself permission to let the ideas flow. I sometimes have this sense that ideas are waiting for me if I would just stop whatever I'm doing and let them out. At those times, I sit down with plenty of paper, and start taking notes.

No matter how a writer generates ideas, the real trick is to put in the time, day after day, writing them down. Some will turn into a story, some won't, but all the best ideas in the world won't make you a writer if you don't put fingers to keyboard and write.

The Daily Squirrel: nose

Amelie stared at her nose in the mirror. The purple bruising had turned more green and yellow over the last few days, but at least the swelling had gone down. She touched it gently and winced. Stupid John and his flailing racquet. That ball had been hers. She knew one thing for sure: she was never going to play doubles tennis again.