Friday, March 23, 2007

Mulling Memoirs

What made you decide to turn your experience with your friend’s death into a novel, rather than write a memoir? I’m working on a memoir project, but I keep wondering if it wouldn’t be a better read as a novel based on my experiences. It might be a cop-out though, because then I could change names to protect the guilty.

Funny - I never once considered writing my life story.

For several reasons: 1) my life story isn't that interesting. These days, memoirs have to have a very strong hook to them to sell. Sure, everyone thinks they have a story to tell, but it's sort of akin to how you think your dreams are totally interesting and weird, and then when you relay them to friends, their eyes glaze over. Publishers aren't interested in your memoir unless you're like, the person who discovered the cure for AIDS in her basement or something. 2) I have no interest in putting my friend's struggle with cancer up for public consumption in the way that a memoir would. Really, that's her story to tell, and I'm not the one to tell it. And, getting back to point A, losing a close friend to cancer isn't such a unique story that I think publishers would be chomping at the bit for a memoir. At least, not as I could write it. Maybe if I had a more exotic life, and this was just one facet, then sure, but not as of now. 3) These days, you better be damn sure that every last word in your memoir is truthful (see: Frey, James), and I wasn't at all interested in telling a factual story. What I love about writing fiction is that I can pull something completely out of my imagination and find a way to make it work. I get to breathe in experiences through my characters that I've never had the opportunity to explore in my real life, and for me, that's exhilarating. The "creating something from nothing" is probably what I enjoy most about the process of fiction, and since writing a memoir offers none of this, I ain't interested. should would be fun to run fear into the hearts of my ex-boyfriends when the project was announced. On second thought.... :)

So, what say you readers? Why do you choose fiction over memoirs or vice versa?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Cream of the Crop

Why do you think it is that some magazine writers, are more successful than the majority of magazine writers, both financially and career wise? Whenever I read about professional writers doing well, I find myself grabbing one of my cats and weeping with envy into their fur. Or I have to go and do something drastic, like weed the garden or clean behind the cooker, to get rid of my angst at not being able to be a successful writer. Throw into that, I live in the UK (horribly low pay rates) and it's enough to make the management track at the supermarket look tempting. :) I know the usual advice is 'ditch the not-so-profitable mags and go for higher paying ones' but how can you do that when you need the former to pay the bills? Is it just lack of faith on my part? A lack of faith that the bills won't get paid if I ditch the low-profit mags? Or that the more profitable magazines will take one look at my work and say: 'get back to the trades honey, you ain't cut out for this world.'

Okay, this is a big, sweeping question that I'll do my best to answer, but I'm not sure that there are indeed concrete answers to it. And that's because there are a lot of intangibles that lead to success in this business, in my opinion, not the least of which is luck. Yep, luck. Look, I'm not going to dispute that I can write a kick-ass article, because I can. And yeah, I think I'm a decent fiction writer too, but I'm not so pompous as to assume that part of the reason that I've had more success than some other writers isn't due to dumb luck. I landed a big ghostwriting gig right at the start of my freelancing career (The Knot Book of Wedding Flowers), and yes, arguably, it was my writing skills that landed me that gig, but it was also timing and sheer luck. That I happened to be getting married at the time they were looking for a writer. That I happened to pitch them a story idea at this very same time. That I'd previously happened to be hired to ghostwrite for some celebrities and the Knot wanted someone who was interested in weddings, as well as who had ghostwriting experience, etc, etc, etc. So they hired me. And from there, I landed my first national story in Bride's. It was one of my first pitches, actually. So yeah, I definitely think that some of this was due to sheer luck. Lucky me.

Now. There are many who will argue that you make your own luck, and I am among those many. (This, incidentally, is a big theme in TDLF.) I'm not sitting at home rubbing rabbits' feet, hoping that good things will happen to me. I'm going out there and creating every. possible. opportunity. in order for some of this good fortune to come my way. That means querying, querying, querying. It means being open to opportunities that you wouldn't necessarily originally be interested in. It means admitting that there might be room for improvement in your writing and seeking out classes or critique groups to bolster you.

One of the underlying commonalities that all successful writers share, I believe, is that they're a) persistent and b) unsinkable. Which means that no matter how often they're rejected, they'll keep at it, and they don't let all of these dings to their armor get them down. There's no crying in publishing. Okay, that's not true. There's plenty of crying in publishing, but there's no drowning in your tears. Because there are too many other writers who won't drown, and no one will miss you if you do. Rejection is a matter of fact in our industry, and the writers who make it are the ones who don't take it personally and who use it to push themselves higher.

So what does all of this add up to? Keep at it, keep at it, keep at it. What's your other option? Quitting? If quitting is an option, then I'd say - and I don't mean this rudely at all, only as advice to people who waver in this industry - that writing probably isn't a career for you. Because there are too many other things for you to do and be good at and be happy at than to bog yourself down in a writing career that you'd be okay walking away from. I once had an acting teacher tell me the same thing: if can think of anything else you want to do with your life, then do that, not this, and I think the same thing applies to writing. And if you can't think of anything else, then hang in there! Timing, persistence and skills will often pay off in the end.

So readers, what do you think separate the successful writers from the rest?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Motivation vs. Procrastination

I still don't get how you can freelance full time, write fiction, have two kids, maintain a house, promote your book, have a social life, go to the gym...and not go insane. I'm incredibly bad at time management. Do you think about time management or do you do this stuff effortlessly?How do you keep yourself motivated? Keep yourself from procrastinating?

Aw, thanks, but I'm really not a superhero or anything. As I've mentioned before, I'm hyper-organized. But I also know my limits, as well as how long things will take me. This took a long time to figure out...there have certainly been points in my career when I felt overwhelmed (or bored) because I put too many (or too few) eggs in my basket. And I think this is knowledge that can only come from experience - you have to test your own limits and see what washes out.

How do I not go insane? Well, I have fabulous child care to begin with. Again, not to repeat myself here, but I treat my job the same way that a mom who goes into an office does, and in that sense, I have a nanny Mon-Fri. Now, I spend a decent amount of that time with my kids anyway - for example, the baby can't go with my son to some of his classes, so I chill with her during those times...that's the beauty of working from home, but there's no doubt that during most of the week, I can peel off to "go to work" and get stuff done. There is NO CHANCE I could be as productive as I am without good child care, and I make no apologies for that. I also liberally employ the use of the word "no." This is something that a lot of women struggle with, and you know what? I've just come to realize that my time is too valuable, so I now say "no" to plenty of things, both work and social, that I might have begrudgingly dragged my heels to (and on) in the past. I highly recommend it - it's freed up a lot of time and mental space.

And to be honest, my social life isn't that rocking. :) I have my girl's (or is that girls'?) night dinners once a month (which are so much fun, it's like being back in college), and my husband and I have dinners out with friends or on our own over the weekends, but other than that, it's emails and occasional phone calls with friends. But I think that might be more a symptom of having two young kids than anything else. I'm sure that other parents out there can relate. I mean, given the choice, which would I rather: go out and drink a cocktail that will inevitably only make me sleepy or just go to sleep, period? I think you know the answer.

How do I stay motivated? I'm not always, to tell you the truth. Sometimes I'll just blow off days entirely because I can't seem to click away from But what really helps is changing up what I'm working on. As I said last week, I've adored magazine writing in the past, but in the past year or so, I've found myself less interested, and thus my motivation to both query and write these pieces was really flagging. So, knowing this, I've taken the past few months to refocus on fiction, as well as my promotional work for TDLF. As with any job, switching up your tasks often helps relight your fire. And yes, I do procrastinate. But what helps is setting time limits for myself. Saying, "Okay, you can surf celebrity gossip sites until 10:30 AM, but then you have to write for an hour. After that, you can go back to surfing." Living by the clock really helps me - sort of like dieting - it allows me to "cheat," but also forces me to get back to business.

So what helps you guys stay motivated and kick your rears in gear?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Examining Essays

WIP Update: Yahoo! I wrapped up the first half of my WIP yesterday and fired it off to my agent, who said she's going to read it asap. I'm in the fortunate position of being able to query publishers on proposal, so she's going to read and we'll then talk strategy - if she likes it, we'll assess when to send it out, etc. Yay! So relieved. How are your WIPs coming along?

I have been freelancing for my local newspaper for more than 5 years. I've also had approximately a dozen articles published in The Indianapolis Star. (See links below for a few articles.) I would like to advance to the next level, magazines. I am a medical assistant in a group practice and I have nearly 25 years in the health care field. I have been considering personal essays in mainstream magazines and/or articles for trades. What are my chances? How should I proceed?

I've discussed essays in the past (so you might want to search the archives), but it's tough to make a living on essay writing alone. There just aren't a lot of outlets, much less well-paying outlets for them. And whether or not you place an essay is so subjective, you'd really be leaving your career up to a lot of luck and chance.

That said, you obviously have writing chops, so I'd recommend two things: 1) using your medical background to pitch service articles to magazines. You'll probably get steadier work this way, especially since you have a certain expertise. 2) Send out essays because, really, you have nothing to lose, but don't count on them to become a primary source of income. Again, there are thousands of essay writers out there, and so few places that essays run that the math just isn't in your favor, in terms of landing multiple and frequent assignments. That said, of course, someone has to land these slots, so give it a shot!

So, what say you readers? Are essays as hard to place as I think?