Part-time writers

Part-time writers

Writing is hard work. But if you want to become a writer you will become one. Nothing will stop you.

Dorothy Day – Journalist & Social Activist

Most aspiring writers also have a full-time job, which means that writing is their full-time passion but their part-time job.

Ideal writing place
Photo: Gabriel Beaudry (Unsplash)

As enthusiastic writers, we’d all love to get up in the morning, do some yoga stretches (or go out for a run), brew a wonderful cup of coffee (or herbal tea) and sit at our desks in our light-bathed studio facing the beach (or a trendy street in New York or Paris), where we would produce page after page of great prose for three or four hours a day. Then we would go for a walk, spend the afternoon gathering tons of wonderful ideas for new novels or articles and read by the fireplace in the evening enjoying a glass of red wine.

The reality, however, is pretty different. We wake up in the wee hours of the morning, grab a mug of instant coffee and open our laptops praying for an idea, any idea to make writing time worthwhile. We spend the next eight hours working in a job we don’t like very much only to arrive home too tired to do any revision or rewriting at all. We might be passionate writers, but we’re not very happy.

I wonder why do we keep showing up in our day jobs at all.

I keep my day job because…

Dilbert by Scott Adams.
I believe Dilbert is an undercover writer.

There’re many reasons —some would call them excuses—to go to that energy-sapping workplace every day. Losing my financial independence worries me because it means that I’m not able to make a living as a writer. Others are afraid of failing to support their spouses and children or worry about what their family and friends would say if they quitted their day jobs to become full-time writers.

And then, there’s my all-time favorite: I keep on commuting to that ****job because I don’t believe in myself as a writer. After all those articles and posts and books edited and written, I still feel insecure about my writing skills, I still hesitate for a moment before pressing the “send” button. Then I press it and everything turns out all right but that second of doubt is hell.

A dose of reality

bird-flying-from-cage
Fly from the cage…and have a tree nearby.

Dear newbie, amateur, enthusiastic writer, let me give you a dose of reality: writing is hard work, and it’s even harder when you are away from your laptop and your books for ten hours a day.

Am I telling you to resign and go home to write? No. Unless this is what you really want and you’ve analyzed all your options, it might be wise of you to stick to your crappy job and your even crappier boss for a while. Still, while you’re trying to become a full-time writer, you might very well make this transition easier:

  • Create a realistic writing routine: even half an hour a day will do if you show consistently.
  • Embrace a healthy lifestyle: eat well, sleep more, move around a little and don’t push yourself hard.
  • Accept your day job as a necessary evil: thanks to it you have food in the fridge and a roof over your books (you’re a writer —having a roof over your head is not so important).
  • Rest: take a day off your writing routine, take a sabbatical week, declare Saturday a non-laptop day. Go out and enjoy life.
  • Plan your day around your writing, not around your job. Writing comes first; then come pressing customers and demanding bosses.

You should be proud of every page written, every hour spent at your desk, every notebook full of ideas…because you’re doing it the hard way.

Do you have a zombie job? What are your reasons for not quitting? I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

 

 

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Writers, resist!

Writers, resist!

Where there is power, there is resistance – Michael Foucault

Paraphrasing Oscar Wilde, writers can resist everything except those traits that make them so special and unique. Being a writer usually means knowing what impairs your stories and your writing life —after all, we’re very reflective people— and still, having to battle day in day out with such circumstances.

As writers, we have to learn to fight our limitations and to resist whatever gets between us and the stories we mean to tell.

Writers must resist their own minds
“The Thinker” – Mats Erikson

The writer’s mind

Our mind is our first, and maybe the most important, antagonist. From the outside, writers are perceived as a happy bunch, always ready to sit at their desks and let their imagination pour a rain of characters, situations, settings and scenes with almost no effort on our part. The reality, however, isn’t so pretty:

  • We compare ourselves to other writers –past or present–, or to our colleagues –who obviously write better than we do… and publish much more.
  • We procrastinate to no end. In fact, we’re the original procrastinators. We say we love writing, but we’d rather do the laundry, or take our mother in law out to lunch than finishing that damned story.
  • We can spend hours talking about a novel that’s only in our heads, without ever writing a word because telling everybody how fabulous the story is, saps our creative energy.
  • And we can even stop writing altogether. Driven by our fears, we decide we’ll never be good enough and we start looking for a decent, nine to five job.

 

Resist the urge to commit writing sins
Even Julio Cortázar had to battle with some “writing demons”. So do we.

When writing…

Even if we’re the champion of self-confidence, we’re sure that we’ll be awarded the next Nobel Prize in Literature (in ten years or so, because we’re optimistic but not stupid) and we possess that kind of iron willpower that has us up and writing at 6.00 sharp every morning:

  • We start writing without a plan, so we get lost; we have to start all over again…only to get lost for a second time before deciding that planning isn’t for losers after all.
  • We over research. We might not be writing a word yet, but we’re working like crazy gathering data. We are bookworms, sure, but are we writers?
  • We stop writing to pursue a competing idea. As writers, our eyes and ears are always open, and our mind is always active. So much that we get carried away by any new idea that crosses our path, even if it has nothing to do with the story we’re writing. So we end up having scores of notebooks but no book.
  • We overwrite. A simple, straightforward style looks so, well, simple, that we cram our stories with unnecessary adjectives and adverbs, or we use an obscure language trying to look intellectual.
  • We create loaded characters, extreme, suffering, agonizing, over-the-top types because what’s the point of writing about ordinary people in an ordinary style? As a result, our readers get tired of that unbelievable people, or we cause them a headache!
  • We edit on the go. Everyone’s favorite. I haven’t yet met a writer who hasn’t edited a paragraph or two before finishing the story, the novel or the article. However, early editing can only spoil a good page by overwriting it or –if it isn’t good enough– it’ll make us lose momentum, concentration, and inspiration by going over the same lines, again and again trying to polish them.

Yes, we’re writers and because we write we can all commit a couple of “writing sins” once in a while. The idea is to try and resist the impulse of doing so. We’re human, after all.

 

Writing Time, Sacred Time

Writing Time, Sacred Time

Art class was like a religious ceremony for me. […] The instruments of work were sacred objects to me.  Joan Miró

Wherever two writers meet, the time –or rather, the lack of it–arises. “I could write much, much more if only I weren’t so busy” –says June, the Day Job Juggler. “Oh, sure”, says Peter, the Perpetual Procrastinator. “The only thing I really need to finish my novel is more time”.

Time is the enemy to be defeated; the barrier between us and our stories.Time is a woolly ball inside our creative pipes that prevent our best ideas from flowing freely. For most writers, time is nearly everything but sacred.

People have lost their sense of what’s sacred. For most of us life is a chain of similar days, none of them particularly memorable. Without rituals, without ceremonies, it’s no wonder that time seems to us a swarm of identical moments, all flying by. It’s no wonder that life –and creative life in particular– seems so meaningless sometimes.

Writers have to learn to think about their writing time as sacred, as a time to be honoured and separated from the rest of their everyday tasks and worries. Going to our studies and opening our laptops shouldn’t feel like another line in our daily planners to be erased as soon as it’s completed, it shouldn’t feel like “Oh, dear, writing time again. Just right now that I have all this receipts to check, and I really need to take the kid to the park because he’s driving me crazy, and shouldn’t I phone aunt Peggy to check how she’s coping with her new hip?”

When we trivialize our writing time and it’s not sacred anymore, writing loses its meaning and becomes something we do, instead of being something we love to do, a beacon that bathes our ordinary days in creative light.

Sacred writing time
Sacred writing time lights your ordinary days up

Create a ritual

A writing ritual, one that suits your personality, will help you throughout your creative life. When ideas are flowing, and you’re in the zone, your ritual will fuel you; when your Muse refuses to visit, and writer’s block is looming over you, your ritual will reassure you. Only make sure that you feel comfortable with your practice. My writing ritual includes vanilla scented candles, binaural music (which is said to boost creativity) and sitting at my desk at the same time, every day. For you, it might consist on running 5 miles, doing yoga, drinking black coffee or handwriting your first draft on a yellow legal paper. Whatever it works for you, do it!

Make time

The famous creativity coach, Dr. Eric Maisel says that people who want to create, make time. If you really want to write that novel, that poem, that story you’ll find the time. Maybe you don’t have three spare hours every day, but I’m sure you have 30 minutes right before lunchtime, or once your kids are safely in bed. I’ve been writing all my adult life and I’ve discovered that one hour a day is my minimum to feel like I’m moving forward with my writing projects while managing my business and my private life at the same time. All I have to do is blocking that hour (from 6.00 to 7.00 a.m.) every day in my calendar. After 7.00 I move on to other tasks, but I still feel I’m a writer.

We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. 

Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 

DIY Writing Retreat

DIY Writing Retreat

I have a healthy appetite for solitude. If you don’t, you have no business being a writer

 Will Self

Have you ever wanted to go to a writing retreat? Maybe one of those supercool ones, hold in a boutique hotel and hosted by a famous writer? I bet you have because I have. If you are anything like me, you love to write but life has a surprising ability to get in the middle, and you find it very difficult to set a few hours aside so you can focus on your story.

For newbie writers it’s usually even worse because writing competes with a day job, family and friends needs, and a tendency to procrastinate because they haven’t yet developed the writing discipline that pros have.

I’ve been there too, and I know how hard can be carving some time for ourselves, without interruptions, to work in our stories. However, those moments are precious to any writer, because solitude is essential to relax and let our creative juices flow.

When I was trying to come up with a system to get more “quality writing time” I found an article on a women’s magazine about turning our bathroom into a “spa area”. The bell went off: since writing retreats were out of my reach, what if I planned my own?

Writing Retreat
Give your writing a few “creative spa” sessions

If you need some focused time to research your book, work in your story or simply to read, daydream and mull over new ideas, you’d love holding your own writing retreat.

Why is a writing retreat important?

Please, don’t think about a retreat in terms of productivity. Of course, if your book goes forward that’s great, but the rewards of solitude are deeper, and shouldn’t be measured in terms of words written only.

  • Working alone equals to focused writing, without the usual distractions, so you’ll be able to concentrate, to generate new ideas or to get unstuck.
  • It frees you from routine. You’ll be doing things in a different place, at a different time or in a different way. Take this chance, and use it to get rid of any unwanted habit that might be impairing your writing.
  • You’ll be more motivated and committed to your writing. You’re going to be working like a pro, so it’s a perfect chance to see if you have what it takes to become a full-time writer.

Before you start

A writing retreat is an adventure trip, so it’s a good idea to do some preparation before you close your home door and take to the road. Make sure that you’ll have a pleasant, fulfilling experience by:

  • Setting a goal: What do you want to achieve? What are you going to use this time for? Write your goal down and stick it where you can see it to avoid using your retreat time for things other than writing.
  • Having realistic expectations: Retreat time won’t save a novel that started badly, but it can help you to find out what to do with it. It won’t instantly remove your writer’s block, but you can come across some new ideas worth exploring. Enjoy this quiet time alone. Don’t push yourself too hard.
  • Scheduling it: Write it on your calendar and, most important, tell your family and friends that you’re attending a writing retreat. Make sure they understand that you won’t be available. Writing time is for you alone.
  • Taking your office with you: Collect all you might need (laptop, charger, pen, paper, inspirational or instructional books, your favorite music…) and keep it at hand.
  • Having a time-management system: You’re going to write like a pro, which means knowing when it’s time to write, when you’re going to have a break, or when can you check your smartphone or your e-mail.

Take that first step

A DIY writing retreat must suit your needs and taste. Do you feel like seeing people and eavesdrop a little? Go write in a coffee shop. Feeling literary and inspired by the masters? Go write in a beautiful library. Write at home, in a picnic area in a nearby park, in hotel lobbies, wherever you feel comfortable and inspired.

This is your chance to enjoy your passion for writing, so take your time. No need to rush. Take small steps, daydream, stroll, and live slowly. Be open to creativity and surprise. Let the words flood you.

At the end of your retreat you’ll have learned something about the craft and, most important, something about yourself as a writer. Trust me.

Echo: Pleasing and Writing

Echo: Pleasing and Writing

Writers write because we love it, because we can help it, we write for pleasure and to relieve the pressure, we write for ourselves but, in the end, we expect others to read what we write. We want some echo.

Have you ever written an article or a post and got no response from any reader? I have. I know that cricketing sound, the tumbleweeds roll-roll-rolling in the empty halls of my head when I get no comments and no feedback. When there’s no echo, even lack of self-confidence might come creeping and crawling: “Am I a good writer? Do I have what it takes to keep on blogging, pitching my stories?” We have all felt this way.

We all want to be read, we want to know that our thoughts, our stories have an impact on somebody else, that there’s people out there who like our style, our voice and our words, and that’s that. We get no echo and we start to feel uneasy. It’s natural, but it shouldn’t be that way.

The “pleasing” game

There’s a lot of information out there advising creative writers to use all the tricks and shortcuts that the advertising and marketing industries have developed: visualize your audience, pick up a single reader, stick a photograph of your “ideal reader” to the wall, know him inside out…All very well when you’re a copywriter but creative writers have no such thing as an “Audience”.

Readers are unique
Juan Gris-The Reader – 1926

Out there, there’re a lot of different people, with different moods and tastes. People who might love our novels and dislike our short stories, people who’ll enthusiastically comment on our posts about healthy eating and ignore our articles about meditation.

We, creative writers, have no “Audience”: we have readers, we have editors and publishers, all of them whimsy and unpredictable – just as we are. We don’t have to please them at any cost…we have to entertain them.

If we try to guess what this or that reader or publisher would rather read, we’re in for a big disappointment. They don’t know what they want to read until they read it. Just like us.

Whom are you writing for?

This a basic question with a simple, basic answer: writers write, first and foremost, for ourselves. To increase our chances of being heard and cause echo – and no crickets – when we put our article or story out there, we’re the ones to please, to convince and to entertain.

Successful writing is a socially accepted act of egotism. We write what we want to read, it’s all about ourselves. There’s nothing like writing about a topic we love: we lose track of time, we immerse ourselves in our thoughts and our writing goes forward much like a good skier descends a slope: with balance, grace and ease.

Please yourself as a writer
Stephen King: writing for himself. Then, for all of us.

Relax, then, and say what you want to say. Be clear, be precise, be accurate and, most of all, be yourself. Whether you’re writing a fantasy-fiction story or an article about poisoning mushrooms, you’re the one to please. If you feel satisfied, there’ll be readers who’ll read you with pleasure. There’ll be others who’ll think you’re a bore, sure, but, who cares about them? They won’t buy your books, anyway.

Featured image by Miroslav Sunjick: https://miroslavpencildrawing.wordpress.com

 

 

Aromatic Memory: Use your senses

Aromatic Memory: Use your senses

Nothing revives the past so completely as a smell that was once associated with it

Vladimir Nabokov

I remember aromas and fragrances long after I’ve forgotten people and places. Aromatic memories always play a part in the way I write a description. If I had to tell my readers about that guy I used to date when I was at university, I wouldn’t be able to remember all the details about him, except that he smelt of Davidoff Cool Water. Now that I think about it, there must be some memories tugging at me from my twenties, for I’m using again Carolina Herrera’s Classic eau de parfum… the one I wore back then.

This is not a piece about travelling down the memory road, though; nor has this blog turned into a fashion & beauty one. It’s about writing compelling descriptions.

It’s difficult to write descriptions that are both evocative and cliché-free. We all want our characters to be memorable, and our readers to “feel as if they really were” in the places we describe. Unfortunately, we tend to focus on how our characters look, or on the geographical features of our settings.

Movie makers are lucky guys. They have microphones and cameras to help them show everything about a character or a place. Writers only have words, but words let us show our readers more than how the world looks or sounds: we can show them how it smells, feels or tastes.

The aroma of seawater
“Instantánea” by Joaquín Sorolla

How could we describe the woman on the beach? We could write about how fragile and mysterious she looks, hidden under her big hat. We could also write about the golden sand, and the frothy water but what about how the cool, early spring breeze feels on her face? Why not mention the smell of seaweed, the salty taste of her lips? I imagine her wearing a sweet gardenia perfume that clings to her clothes and her hair.

You get the idea. When describing a person or a place, engage all your senses. A description written using a sense other than the obvious one might surprise and delight you and your readers.

Some time ago, I wrote a short story about a boy attending a concert. The orchestra was playing Ravels’s Boléro and all the story was a visual description of the performance. No “sound” was used, only the body movements of the musicians as they played their instruments. Still, when I asked my friends what piece they thought was being played they nearly all guessed it.

Hear the sounds; smell the hay
Van Gogh – The Siesta

Can you describe your first flat only by the way it smelt? Can you write a scene about a woman eating a cherry pie using only the sense of touch, without mentioning the taste? Can you convey the calmness in Van Gogh’s painting by the sounds that surround the sleeping couple? Go. Try and see where it takes you.

Featured image by Kristina Saiyan at http://www.fineartamerica.com

Are writers born or made?

Are writers born or made?

Few questions raise such a hot debate among writers as whether a writer is born or made.

Jack Kerouac wrote an article on this subject in 1962 where he clearly sides with the born ones. Others like Stephen King, believes that writers are made, that becoming a writer is the result of the person’s will.

I am not a determinist, and I find it difficult to believe that individuals are born with some special features that will push them in one direction or another in life. The idea that only those who are born with the “literature genes”, or the “math genes” will stand out in their fields is disheartening and untrue.

Every artist was first an amateur – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Newbie writers ignore many elements of the craft, and so do long time writers. A writer is always trying to learn something new, to improve his writing skills.

Writing, as Mr King, says, is first and foremost a matter or will, then a matter of time, then a matter of work and last a matter of talent.

You say you want to be a writer, right? Then, let me ask you this: “how much do you want to write?” Writers want to write badly. They want to write even when writing becomes a chore, or when their words look and sound all wrong. Writers are willing to get up early in the morning to write an hour before they commute to their stupid day jobs. Writers are willing to lose sleep because they have to jot down an idea they had in a dream. Writers have that kind of will. 

Now, how much time will you invest in your writing? I’m not speaking about finding an hour every day, or writing on weekends, but about the time you’ll have to devote to the craft, learning new skills, honing the ones you already have, patiently editing your manuscript, waiting for a publisher to accept your novel, and dealing with rejections that will happen again and again. Writers don’t resent the time invested in their writing because it might pay off in the end.

writers are made
Ernest Hemingway becoming an even better writer… by writing

 You have the will and you have the time but how hard are you willing to work? Writing is hard and that’s that. I have never met one of those “natural” writers, full of the ideas that seem to flow towards them from nowhere. I don’t know any writer who doesn’t need to review, and edit what has written…many times. No real writer is free from brain racking, procrastination or self-confidence issues. The truth is that, for most writers, not writing is easier than writing. Going to the gym, watching TV or having a couple of beers with your buddies is easier than sitting at your desk, looking at the screen and realizing that you have nothing to say. Real writers, however, pull themselves together, roll their sleeves up, and do the hard work, because the results might be amazing.

Last of all comes talent, that special ability that allows someone to do something well. I won’t deny that some people have a knack for playing music, or for mixing colours, or for putting words together. Michelangelo, Mozart, Doris Lessing or Margot Fonteyn are all considered exceptional artists, but did they settle for the talents they were born with? No way! They learnt, and practiced, and improved their arts and crafts until they became the genius we all admire.

If you ever doubt about your ability to become a writer, don’t worry. As long as you have the will, the time and the energy to work hard, you’ll be a writer. If you’re also talented, you might become a bestselling author.

Featured image: http://sunvic.blogspot.com.es/2010/08/random-sketch-1.html