Saturday, August 15, 2009

I''ve been struggling lately with letting go of my internal editor and just having fun writing, instead of always looking over my own shoulder. I think that self criticism gets in the way of much of the creative process. But, I just always worry that I'm writing something ridiculous and not-at-all clever.

Maybe that's not the end of the world, though.

So I bring you the most whimsical thing I've written in a while... enjoy. Or skip over it if it's ridiculous and not-at-all clever. I'm just trying to loosen up, you're not going to hurt my feelings.

“Write something,” the muse says.

The muse lacks sympathy. There is no point to excuses. But that never stops the writer.

“I had a long day at work.”

The muse rolls her eyes. “Oh. The suffering artist can’t escape the corporate drone. You should write a suspense novel. Do you think the artist would be thrown over a balcony or –”

“Some of us were up at six this morning, you know. Don’t think I didn’t see you sprawled across the walk-in closet, snoring, when I left for work this morning.”

“Well, maybe if you respected your muse and gave her a bedroom to herself, instead of having to sleep on the piles of laundry you never manage to hang up, you wouldn’t have to spend quite so much time vacillating on your writing.”

“Are you saying you’re holding out on me, muse?”

“I’m saying a muse needs a little respect. A good night’s sleep. Maybe a quilted duvet and a Serta to herself.”

“You never complained before.”

“I didn’t mind sleeping under your bed in college. We were poor – we ate Ramen – but we were brilliant together.”

“All the last-minute deadlines we beat,” the writer agrees. “The A’s we weren’t entirely sure we deserved, given the intermittent rambling that worked its way in around 3am in the library…”

“That was all you,” the muse sniffs. “After about your fourth Mountain Dew, I could never handle working with you anymore.”

“Fickle muse,” the writer says. But the tone is a little bit fond – how could it not be?

“No distractions. Write something.”

“But about what? Isn’t that your department?”

“I’m always here when you ask me,” the muse says. “And I’ve been throwing ideas out since minute one.”


“No one likes a poor writer, but especially no one likes a poor sarcastic writer.”

“We’re not going to fight, are we? I don’t like to fight.”

“No? That’s not what I’d expect from someone who practically disowned me in Venice.”

“The most romantic city in the world, except perhaps Paris – I haven’t been but I doubt it smells swampy like Venice does in places – and you couldn’t give me one air-kiss worth of inspiration.”

“Is that any reason to go ranting about your muse into the stereotypically dark and rainy night?”

“It was all the red wine I drank with my pizza.”

The muse is quiet for a second. “That was great pizza. With the egg on it?”

“We miss out here in America. No egg on our pizza.”

“Write something and I’ll buy you a pizza.”

“You don’t have any money, remember? You’re ethereal.”

“Is that your way of saying I am the most delightful figment of your imagination you have?”


“Then do me a favor and write something.”

“For the love of all that is holy and some things that aren’t, write what?”

The muse nibbles charmingly on the end of an eraser, then spits out little pieces of pink rubber in disgust. “Erm,” the muse says, before rubbing her tongue with the back of her hand. “Didn’t I already tell you?”

“No,” the writer says, wearily, remembering another conversation that went like this, just before the incident in Venice.

“Write about fighting with a lover in the most romantic city in the world. Write about eating pizza in a half-dozen countries across the world and what was happening around each meal. Write about being a poor, sarcastic writer that no one takes quite seriously – what does your mother think about this living, really? Write about eating Ramen noodles as the sun comes up, too enthralled in your own novel to stop and sleep. Write about being unkind to your muse. Write about what it’s like to be a corporate drone and a passionate artiste all at once.”

The writer thinks for a second. “Oh.”

“Yes, that’s right,” the muse says. “Oh. Now write.”

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

One of the books I picked up on my last trip for work was Linda Formichelli and Diane Burrell's The Renegade Writer: a totally unconventional guide to freelance writing success.

I really enjoyed this book as a look at the world of freelance non-fiction, but I think it's best suited as one of a series of books in a library rather than a stand-alone guide to the non-fiction world. I think it needs to be backed by at least two other books. One would be a good resource on writing queries, with plentiful examples (more on this in a subsequent post). And the other one would be a more, well, conventional guide to freelance writing, not to borrow too freely from the subtitle. Because I think a writer needs to really understand the rules in order to determine which to break.

However, The Renegade Writer was informative and clearly written, with enough anecdotes from the writing business to keep it fun. I thought I'd tell you a little about the contents to help you determine if this would be a good addition to your writing resources:

Breaking in by breaking the rules: even new freelancers can be renegades. I thought this was really helpful -- it offered a lot of tips for the so-to-speak freelance noob to enter the industry and then parlay initial assignments into a career. Linda and Diana laid to rest some of the rumors that make newer freelancers worry they are about to destroy their careers before they can even begin through one misguided query, suggesting that it's OK to start with shorts, it's OK to write for newspapers and it's OK to write for free -- you just have to know when these things are helping your career and when it's no longer advancing your particular set of goals.

Cranking up the idea factory: bold thinking leads to countless ideas. Loved this section, which is about nurturing and developing non-fiction ideas, but the general concepts apply across the board. One tip I liked is similar to shopping in your own closet (which would be easier if the mall did not offer Cinnabons and chick flicks as well as new tops): go through old writings and look for new life. Recycling is in, people!

No fear querying: now turn those ideas into assignments. Here we address the always controversial topic of SASEs, whether or not to read back issues before submitting (and if so, how many) and whether or not it's ever acceptable to call an editor. They also have a pre-query checklist. I like checklists.

Signing on the dotted line: renegades get fatter, fairer, safer contracts. Contract negotiation, because writing is a business, not just your hobby. I will admit, I was too over-the-moon about my past publications to worry much about the contract I signed, but I am an older, wiser writer now. Well, I'm older and less excitable, anyway.

Mining for information: a little digging can turn up info gold. This chapter is about finding sources to flesh out your great idea - finding the right source, getting them to talk to you.

Talking the talk: renegade interviews get the story, and then some. How to get folks to open up and give you the real story. As a mildly introverted person, I don't find myself squeaky with excitement over this prospect, but it was good information.

Putting pen to paper: yes, renegade writers even break grammar rules! I didn't really need these chapter. I've been breaking grammar rules since I discovered the English language. Seriously though, this chapter has some useful info about story length for delivery, when to alter quotes and how to do it so you don't get sued, and how to keep your grandmother from reading your "91 ways to shock to him tonight" article in Cosmo.

Getting the green: don't be shy when it comes time to collect. Ah, money. As practical as the focus was here, I just found myself day-dreaming about the day when I'm cruising around in a Lexus, thinking of great stories on my way to the beach.

The renegade attitude: Your success often depends on your mindset. All about turning from that freelance noob to the career writer, through saavy business skill to match your killer writing.

Thriving, not just surviving: don't settle for anything less than reaching the top. And once you've become that career writer? Here's how you keep it going.

Like I said, I wouldn't use this as my sole resource, but The Renegade Writer is packed with great information. And it was a really engaging read -- very nice if you're going to be stuck in the Denver airport (or that may have been Chicago, I honestly lost track) for four hours on a misbegotten layover, as I was. Overall, I'd give this book a solid 8 out of 10 points -- I'd be interested to read anything else the writers have on the market, and I plan to keep this book on my shelf for a long time to come.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

I just came back from a hellacious business trip (including a return flight home where my originating flight was delayed, I missed my connecting flight, and United tried to tell me the first flight home would be in the morning. After I bullied them into flying me out that night, they lost my luggage).

However, there were some positives to this trip. Notably, I was in lovely Oceanside, CA (well, parts of it are lovely, anyway), and I was able to visit my fave local bookstore, Fahrenheit 451 in downtown Carlsbad. It's two blocks away from the ocean, and conveniently located across my favorite bar and my favorite sushi place. Mmm. I miss California.

Anyway, I headed in there one day and ravaged their fiction and writing sections for half off cover price. Borders just cannot compare. I picked up some new novels: Sittenfeld's latest, "The Man of My Dreams", Emily Gilbert's "Stern Men", and Jodi Picoult's "Vanishing Acts". Those saved my sanity during my long and disasterous day of travel on Friday!

But best of all, I picked up some books on writing:
  • The Renegade Writer, by Formichelli and Burrell
  • Follow the Story, by James Stewart
  • The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches & Proposals, by Moira Allen
I'll review each of these in the weeks to come as I work my way through them. They have a more non-fiction focus than usual, for me, but I am interested in expanding my writing horizons (and making more money). And, as we count down the days to closing on our house (assuming our short sale works out... we'll see) I find myself day-dreaming about turning one room into a study, with a shelf full of writing books to reference.

Ah, I'm a dork. But that's nothing new. :)