Wednesday, August 31, 2011

This is the end of daily blogging (at least for now). It's been fun coming up with content every day, but I need to cut down for a little while and replenish my stock.

But good things are coming in September, including weekly visits from Karina Fabian as part of her blog tour for Mind Over Mind. There will also be more advice, book reviews and whatever craziness I figure isn't too crazy to share.

Want to try daily blogging? Sign up at National Blog Posting Month and let loose. By participating throughout August, I saw an increase in subscribers and traffic.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How Networking Works…and Doesn’t

Successful networking is not like winning the lottery but more akin to a long-term investment strategy. If you start networking to find clients and make money, you don’t understand what networking means. 

Four successful businesswomen—Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Dotsie Bregel, Tracy Lynn Repchuk and Viveca A. Stone—share their networking experiences and insights. Be sure to take plenty of notes along the way. There won’t be a quiz, but no doubt you will be tested. 


Dotsie Bregel, founder of and the National Association of Baby Boomer Women: “I am a networker by nature and really don’t know how to go about life without it. I’m forever connecting people whom I believe can be of some type of encouragement/help to one another.” 

Tracy Repchuk, President of the Canadian Federation of Poets and author of The Poetry of Business: “Originally my reasons for networking were to meet people I could sell to. Over the years I realized this was one sided. Now I network to find out what other people are doing, are they happy, do they need help, maybe I can provide them with what they need. I listen to their needs, care about them, and hope that I am someone they would like to get to know better, and let me assist in any way possible.” 

Viveca A. Stone, founder of “Networking is the fastest, easiest, and most satisfying way to be successful and get ‘the job’ done. In school collaboration is generally considered ‘cheating.’ As the youngest child I grew up feeling the need to ‘prove myself.’ These two experiences stood between me and my networking success for many years. Originally I found myself in a job for which I was completely unqualified. It was technical, aggressive, and fast paced. To succeed I had to network and build a team. It took six grueling months for me to combine the right mix of buyers with the right mix of sellers. I plunked myself in the middle and treated them well. From there the business exploded. Now when I find myself returning to my comfort zone of going it alone—which also corresponds to overworking and an empty bank account—I recall that experience and refocus on what matters most—networking and building successful teams. Success is sweeter when shared and obstacles are so much easier to overcome when shared with a team.” 

Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of The Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won’t and founder of the Authors’ Coalition: “Networking equates with success. I once thought that if someone else gave me a hand that somehow diminished my own accomplishments.  Now the process of giving others a boost and allowing (yes, even sometimes asking!) others to give me a boost is the way I do business. By the way, business equates with life. It is part of one's life, after all.” 


Carolyn Howard-Johnson: “See above.”

Dotsie Bregel: “People will say no. I’ve yet to experience this.” 

Tracy Repchuk: “Misconceptions include: waste of time, boring, not the type of people for my product/services, things such as this.” 

Viveca A. Stone: “Networking kind of sounds phony to me. It makes me think of all those ‘networking’ events I attended in my twenties for which I was ill prepared. Was just listening into an interview yesterday about ‘Testosterone Free Marketing’ and the difference between men and women. Maybe those events felt phony to me because they seemed like distasteful social events—I didn’t go into them with the right frame of mind or objectives, i.e. I want to meet so and so and discuss such and such.” 


Viveca A. Stone: “I’ve made great friends and colleagues to work and play with. We all have different talents—some of us gather and build great networks—some of us inspire success ‘wind beneath the wings’—some of us are great at starting projects—some at ending them. My career would be nowhere without my friends, colleagues, and networks.” 

Carolyn Howard-Johnson: “There isn't a way that it hasn't. We may be captains of our own barks, but we always need a compass and a sail.” 

Dotsie Bregel: “I’ve grown two wonderful Web sites and met tons of incredible women who are willing to go the extra mile for one another. My approach is always ‘what can I do for you’ because I like to help others.” 

Tracy Repchuk: “Without people/networking, you don't have anyone to communicate to, work with, find out about, and help. Getting together with others is a healthy way to enjoy what you do, let others know about it, and meet some fantastic and interesting people along the way.” 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Writing in Absentia

Many things keep us from writing. Family. Friends. Work. Play. Distractions abound.

When it comes to blogging, we also have to contend with unexpected power outages from time to time. Such may (or may not) be the case today. Hurricane Irene (a doozy of a storm regardless of current classification) is making its way through eastern Canada. As such, I may (or may not) be without power right now.

Not one to let a little Act of God interfere with my commitment to daily blogging this months, especially with August so close to ending, I'm writing this on Sunday and scheduling it for Monday.

Does your blog service have a scheduling feature? Besides stormy weather, it's great for vacations, business trips and other absences. If your blog service doesn't sllow for scheduled posts, find a different provider.

PS: Now back to Carole Lombard in Twentieth Century (1934). John Barrymore already stuck his finger up his nose. I can't wait to see what happens next!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Off the Shelf: William B. Hamilton's At the Crossroads

William B. Hamilton loves to talk--about history in general and his books in particular.
I had the pleasure of speaking with him in 2004, in conjunction with the release of At the Crossroads: A History of Sackville, New Brunswick. We no sooner settled in at one of the Waverley Inn's breakfast room tables than he launched into a lengthy account of the background behind his book. By the time he finished, he already answered most of my main questions.
Hamilton's interest in history stretches back decades. Through teaching and writing, he believes in a "backward into history" approach that he first introduces in his 1974 book Local History in Atlantic Canada. In essence, one must "start with the local community then work out in concentric circles to the province, the region, the nation, the world" in order to gain a personal perspective on broader issues.
That approach is evident in At the Crossroads. The smallest of dots on the world map, Sackville nonetheless reflects numerous global events through its story. Hamilton deftly weaves accounts from the Age of Sail and two World Wars, among others, but he's the first to admit the task wasn't easy.
"How do you cover almost four centuries of European settlement, before that eons of Mi'kmaq inhabitation, and get it all in readable fashion and in form that the average person can muster?" he asks before diving into the answer. "Very early on I decided that I would not try to write a comprehensive history of Sackville. People try to tell too much. You've got to be brutally selective. So I hit upon the idea of three basic themes.
"One was the crossroads analogy beginning with the Mi'kmaq, the century of French/English conflict for the isthmus because of its strategic location, then you move into the later period with the establishment of the Post Road, the railways.
"Theme two is the marshlands and the impact of the marshlands. That's what brought the first Acadian/European settlers. By the beginning of the 19th century--I'm borrowing a phrase here from Harry Thurston--you have the largest hayfield in the world.
"The third theme starts in 1839 and it's the founding of the Mount Allison institutions. They came to Sackville for two reasons: one was location [and the other] was the Yorkshire Methodists. They were interested in education, they were literate, [and] they wanted to make sure that their future generations had an education. They also wanted a Methodist clergy."
Hamilton also believes that Canadians, contrary to popular opinion, are interested in their own history--you just have to put it in front of them. So he writes. From textbooks and guidebooks to columns and lectures, Hamilton puts our history before us and asks only that we read and understand.

Other books by William B. Hamilton:
Local History in Atlantic Canada (1974)
The Macmillan Book of Canadian Place Names (1978; revised 1983)
The Nova Scotia Traveller: A Maritimer's Guide to His Home Province (1981)
The Quest for a Regional Identity (1984)
One County One World (1992)
Place Names of Atlantic Canada (1996)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Unicorns & Roosters: The Good Old Days of Canadian TV

There was just something so Canadian about growing up in Canada in the 60s and 70s, before cable TV became part of our landscape. Sure, we had Sesame Street, just like the Americans, but we also had non-Henson puppets on Mr. Dressup and The Friendly Ghost. No one was cooler than Jerome the Giraffe grooving on his mouth organ.

The Forest Rangers provided plenty of adventure to balance out more educational fare. So what if the show propagated the myth that Canada was one big wilderness stretch? We tuned in each week to see what kind of trouble those brave kids would get into.

We heard plenty of music, too, thanks to Tommy Hunter
, Don Messer and The Carlton Show Band. Whenever the Irish Rovers, "Them unicorns looked up from the rocks and they cried", I cried, too. No matter how many times I heard "The Unicorn Song," I prayed for a different ending.

Over the past few years, we've started seeing a resurgence of Canadian programming. Da Vinci's Inquest
proved that a successful Canadian show could be set in Canada, and Flashpoint has continued that premise and gained a strong following south of the border.

That's good. But none of the new shows can recapture the magic of watching Rusty the Rooster pull a library out of his bag.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Becoming a Writer

I became a writer when my thoughts became too personal for a diary. No surprise, since my parents did not believe in privacy for children. And they saw me as a child, even in high school. Instead of acting out like so many my age, I learned to craft the illusion of fiction.

My early poetry read like encoded diary entries. I could write anything and, if questioned, claim I made it all up. Blooming crushes and broken hearts echoed inside me, growing to such a cacophony that I had no choice but to release them. Disjointed thoughts turned to rhyme, and the din to rhythm. The world made a bit more sense against a white backdrop.

Not that I really thought of myself as a writer back then. That distinction belonged to the professionals. I assumed that making a living at writing took all the fun out of it.

So I plodded ahead, untrained and untried, churning out one insipid poem after another. My friends got hooked, coming back for regular doses of Harlequinesque poetry. But I knew I could do better. At least I hoped so.

Maybe that's when I truly became a writer--the moment when I thought to reach beyond my limited experience and into the unknown. It wasn't enough that I should learn to write. I had to learn about everything. A dollop of psychology. A smattering of sociology. And plenty of field work.

I discovered a fascinating world outside my imagination, full of fabulous characters just waiting to be penned. Like the man on the bus who shook out his hat every three minutes. And the woman with pencils sticking out of her coifed hair. I dubbed her the street geisha. A few of my silent friends found their voices in poetry, like the swarthy man in black who loped past my appointed spot at the coffee shop. Others spoke out through fiction. "Sweetapple" was my favorite, another patron of the Metro Transit system. He looked worn out by living. I wanted to know why, so I invented his biography.

A different sort of reality hampered my creativity several years ago. Faced with corporate downsizing, I chose to make the leap to a new employer and more challenging work. Climbing the learning curve left little energy for writing. But the words inside my head wouldn't stay bottled up for long. I returned to my first love, poetry, then branched out to short essays, knowing that fiction would return in its own time.

When did I become a writer? It's been an ongoing process, full of fresh insights and challenged perceptions. Writing is a lifelong education. If I ever think I've mastered the craft, then I'll know I missed a step along the way.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Build Your Next Website with Promo Divas

I wanted to let you know about my friend Lori's new business. Promo Divas offers web design with promotion. The Promo Divas will work with you to get your website set up and you can participate in regular promotions through the site for no additional charge. The rates are quite reasonable, and they've sweetened the deal with introductory discounts. 

Promo Divas does websites for: 

*Wedding galleries

No adult-oriented or rated-R sites, please. 

I can earn $10 if you sign up and use my name and e-mail. (Even better, you can pass on the word and earn $10 as well.) Just go to and check out the packages. Sign up and, during the checkout process, put the following information in the "notes" field: 

Betty Dobson

After nearly 10 years with the same web host, I'm planning to make the switch to Promo Divas myself. The features are appealing, and the price is right! 

If you have questions, you can e-mail Lori through the website. Thanks so much!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cooking Up a New Career

The secret to happiness, it seems, lies in finding your passion. But sometimes, if you're lucky, your passion finds you.

I'd like to say there was a certain air of expectation hovering over the boardroom table that day in 1998, but I'd be painting the past with false colours. As the fund-raising committee geared up for another year of activities, I had no way of knowing that one of those activities would trigger a major change in my career aspirations.

At that point I'd been working for the same employer for more than thirteen years and had contributed my efforts to raising money for one of the company's preferred charities, the local children's hospital. That usually meant selling fifty-fifty tickets and co-ordinating weekly jean days. The cause was worthwhile, but the activities were starting to lose their appeal--at least for me. But I stayed because I'd been a patient at that same hospital in my youth and felt I owed them something in return.

Volunteering also helped break the monotony of what had become an unsatisfying work life. I spent my days sending form letters in response to unsolicited job applications and managing internal transfer lists. My nights were devoted to pursuing a university degree in English and Creative Writing. Of course I dreamed of getting published someday, but I had no illusions about earning a living that way.

"Most people spend their lives working at jobs they don't enjoy," my mother once said. "What makes you think you deserve better?"

I wanted to scream, "Because I know what else I want to do!" But that would have been rude, I suppose. And I was never one to be rude. I didn't stand up for myself or cut in line or ask for seconds. I always waited to see what might be offered or left over after everyone else had a turn.

Foods That Make You Go
That day in 1998, after all the usual moneymaking ideas had been discussed and assigned, something wonderful and unexpected happened. Two of the committee members pitched the notion of publishing an employee cookbook.

I don't remember much of what was said after that. I do, however, remember that I fairly flew across the boardroom table to offer my services. Finally, someone had come up with a fund-raising idea about which I could get excited. Not that I could have expressed my reasons then. I'd never really considered publishing as a career option. But there was just something about the words "publish a cookbook" that made my brain ignite like a Canada Day fireworks display. "This is what I want to do," I told a friend right after the meeting. "I'm going to be a publisher."

Tastes of the Tantramar
That humble little cookbook--complete with clipart graphics and sorely lacking an ISBN--led to another, somewhat more refined cookbook later that year. Buoyed by those early experiences, I started my own publishing company. And I waited. And I learned. And, little by little, I worked. I worked for experience. I worked for exposure. I even worked for varying degrees of money! I tackled anything that might lend itself to making me a better publisher.

Now I have a few books in my company catalogue, with many more planned for the future. I'm still writing, of course, and my own work has appeared in a handful of books from other publishers. They each hold a place of pride in my personal library alongside my own publications. First and most prized among them will always be that unexpected little cookbook that brought my passion to me.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Acts of Creation

NOTE: I wrote "Acts of Creation" in 2002 during a fellowship at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, New Mexico. The essay was later published in Bylines 2005 Writer's Desk Calendar (I have a few extra copies, if anyone's interested).

I see the first glow of morning over the flat roof of my neighbor's cottage and the trees that lie beyond. The world is still and half formed at this time of day. Magpies warm up for their morning aria. The odd car passes by. Even the wind still sleeps. 

I've been up all night again, giving the tranquil hours over to acts of creation. Only now do I pull back the curtains and let the world creep inside. 

My desk lamp shines on, confident that I can't yet live without its light. The computer groans, being far less resilient, and would yawn if it could. The phone sulks on the corner of the desk, a muted instrument whose only connection to the outside world answered to a higher purpose. It sits next to the tissue box, at least. 

A borrowed dictionary has become fast friends with my travel-weary pocket diary. Between the two, I'm sure to find the right words at the right time. 

If ever fatigue threatens the creative urge, I have my bottomless coffee mug and two bottles of water standing guard nearby. Muscle relaxants linger for moments when my body seizes over the page, and Wite-Out for moments when the words follow suit. 

When all the night's work is behind me, yet my mind continues on, I have only to clip and file my nails while awaiting my next inspiration.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Canada's National Bird: The Common Loon

For most Canadians, the haunting cry of the Common Loon is a familiar sound, heard at lakefronts and on our television sets. The unmistakable sound is often compared to a yodel or a laugh.

The loon is equally striking in appearance: an elongated black bill, red eyes, shiny black head, white throat band, black and white checkered back and wings (the latter are white underneath), and white underbelly. The may also be distinguished by the way they ride low in the water and by their hunchbacked profiles while in flight.

Loons generally live 15-30 years in the wild. They nest across most of Canada and migrate to coastal regions throughout North America during the winter. One pair will dominate a small- or medium-sized lake and share a large lake with few others, each pair maintaining dominion in distinct area such as a bay.

Contrary to popular belief, loons do not always mate for life. New pairings occur when the original pair cannot breed successfully.

Beginning in the 1960s,
Hinterland Who's Who broadcast 60-second Public Service Announcements featuring a fascinating variety of Canadian wildlife--including such classics as Beaver, Moose, and Woodchuck--but none stuck in my mind more than the PSA on Loons. Today, the PSAs are back in abbreviated form (30 seconds each) but the originals are still available for viewing in the Vintage section of the organization's Video and Sound Clips Library. If you want to take a trip down memory lane--or simply learn more about the loon--why not take a few minutes and pay them a visit?

In 1987, the Royal Canadian Mint introduced the new one-dollar coin, the back of which featured a finely rendered image of the Common Loon. The image, combined with initial public resistance to the idea of replacing the paper dollar, led to the coin being called a "loonie." The public soon embraced the coin, however, and the "loonie" became a lasting tribute to a national symbol.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Opening a Seasonal Branch Office

If you're running a home based business, summer is a great time to set up a branch office -- in your back yard. 

I take advantage of having wireless Internet and work on my deck when the weather is nice. The change of scenery is nothing less than refreshing. After all, wouldn't you rather look at blue skies and listen to bird songs (or even an irate squirrel) than be stuck inside? 

If you don't have wireless capabilities, you can still "branch out" this summer. All you have to do is schedule your outdoor work around tasks that don't require internet access. In my case, I could read submissions and edit manuscripts, saving things like email and web searches for evening hours and rainy days. 

Summer's way too short (and, in many locales, just getting started), so make the most of every outdoor moment -- even when work can't wait.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Time to Stop Writing!

How many times have you heard the expression “Writers live a solitary existence” (or words to that effect)?

The fact of the matter is, most writers need to be alone in order to write. A quiet place, free of distractions from well meaning family and friends, is one of the most important tools in a writer’s arsenal. But what about when you’re not writing?

What writers also need is to find lives beyond their desks and computers. After all, fresh experiences feed the creative process. If we do nothing but sit at a desk all day, staring at a blank page or a flickering screen, we soon run out of ideas.

Here are just a few ways you can rediscover the world beyond your desk:

1.    Pick up a new skill by taking a course--and not online. Sign up at your local community college. Learn to make crème brulée or find out what an f/stop is and how it’s used.
2.    Go for a walk in the park, taking your time and taking in your surroundings with each step. With each visit, you’re bound to find something new.
3.    Make a lunch date with a friend. Try a restaurant that neither of you has gone to before. And order a dish you’ve never tried before, either.
4.    Join a bowling team or a book club or some other social group. Shy around strangers? Drag a willing (or even slightly unwilling) accomplice along for moral support.
5.    Now here’s the really scary option. Go on a date! If you’re married, make a date with your spouse. Just give yourself permission to take the evening off and have some fun.

The best part is, you don’t have to write about any of it when you get home.  But you can if you want to. Better yet, repeat any of the above and/or make a new list of things to do. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination--as a writer, you have plenty on which to draw.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Buying Solo

When you're a single woman over 40, buying your first house seems like a good idea. 

What else are you going to do? Wait for some man to come along and whisk you off to suburban marital bliss? 

You might as well ask for the moon by noon. 

Consider the facts. You made it this far on your own, earning a living and paying the bills all by yourself. You even managed to invest enough money to slap down the minimum five per cent and start calling yourself a homeowner. After all, you're faced with another 40 plus years--knock on wood--so it's time to put down some roots. 

But what happens after you move into your new dream house? 

Suddenly, you're dealing with a new set of monthly expenses. Throw out the budget that carried you through the last few years; it's time to build a new one from scratch. 

Once you have a new budget, start saving like you plan to buy a second house in a few years. You're going to need all that extra cash for things for which no budget can truly prepare you, such as repairs, renovations, and interior design--necessarily in that order. 

Repairs come first because you need to fix whatever is broken. Did you get a great deal on a handyman's dream? Did you stop to consider whether or not you're handy? Also, don't forget that appliances, heaters, furnaces, and oil tanks have a habit of breaking down at the least convenient times, schedules and finances notwithstanding. 

Before you even think about redecorating your new house, take a hard look at the layout. Is there something you want to change? Maybe you want to knock out the wall between your kitchen and dining room. Maybe the master bedroom needs a bigger closet. 

Put down that sledgehammer. Common wisdom says you should live in your house for at least a year before making any major changes. Use the time wisely and coordinate your renovation and design plans. 

When it comes to interior design, your plans could be as simple as a fresh coat of paint or as complex as choosing decorative wall sconces that complement your new living room furniture. Either way, you need to make the right choices so you don't have to do it all over again in two years when you're tired of looking at peach curtains and throw pillows. 

Scared yet? Don't let that stop you. A little fear keeps you on your toes, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy living in your house. 

If you ever have doubts about the money you're throwing into mortgage payments, just ask yourself one question. Would you rather go back to paying that much to rent an apartment? 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Writing in 3-D: Discipline, Dedication & Drive

Want to know what it really takes to be a successful writer?

Talent doesn’t hurt, but talent alone won’t take you far—unless you throw in healthy doses of discipline, dedication, and drive.

There’s more to discipline than writing every day. You also have to spend time on the less exciting aspect of the writing business, like market research, submissions and queries, follow ups, promotion, networking, and research.

Are you tired yet? Just wait until I start talking about the financial side of things. You know, the bottom line. If you want to get truly serious about your writing, you have to treat it like a business. That means keeping track of revenue and expenses, sending out invoices, and filing your taxes. (Who doesn’t love taxes?)

This is where dedication comes in. If you’re not committed to your writing career, the business side of things will wear you down over time. It’s especially difficult to watch your profit margin ebb and flow throughout the year. Will you end up in the red again or finally cross over that magic line into turning a small profit—at least on paper?

If you’ve got the drive, you’ll press ahead through the financially lean times (a.k.a. years). Periodic financial dips will only spur you to work that much harder. One month’s loss is another month’s gain, after all.

Just remember, words on the page might be two-dimensional, but your writing career should be 3-D all the way.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Writer Who Edits Herself...

I think you can fill in the rest. 

One of the worst mistakes you can make as a writer is doing the final edit on your own work. Frankly, you're too close to the material. You've slogged away over your precious sentences for hours, days, weeks, months and ‐‐ you poor soul ‐‐ even years. Not only have you formed an attachment to every word, you're also bound to see what you expect (or want) to see. 

A certain level of stupidity sets in after prolonged periods of writing. Just as we're feeling our most brilliant, turns out our brains are quietly failing us. I'm not talking about a misplaced comma or a misused semi‐colon here. I mean total logic breakdown. You could sail the Queen Mary into any one of those plot holes, but you're pushing the engines to full throttle ‐‐ kind of like a bad scene from Speed 2 (as if there's any other kind). 

Bite the bullet, swallow your pride -- just don't choke on the bullet) -- and admit you need help. If you don't already have a writing partner, find one. You're probably on a few mailing lists for writers. Post a request to one or more lists and choose the best fit from those who respond. The key is to share your raw work with another writer whose opinion and editing skill you trust. Should they happen to feel the same way about you then you might be on to a good thing.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Top 10 Things Every Writer Needs (in no particular order)

1. A leakproof pen.

Whether in your pocket or on your pad, a leaky pen creates a messy distraction that few writers can afford. After all, we're so easily diverted from the task of writing. What could be more appealing than rinsing out an ink stain or searching for a better pen‐‐even if it means a quick trip to the store? 

2. A small notepad.

Writing is more than a job; it's a lifestyle. No matter where we go or whom we're with, we're always writing, if only in our heads. Random thoughts‐‐brilliant or mundane‐‐will never amount to more than flashes in the brain pan unless we record them as they occur. Once we write them down, however, we have the luxury of waiting for them to evolve into greater works. 

3. At least one honest critic.

Let's face facts. An honest critique is hard to find, especially among family and friends. If you find at least one person who'll always tell you the truth, no matter how painful, count your blessings. A person with some literary sensibility would be nice, but someone who simply enjoys a good read will do. 

4. At least one morale booster.

Who couldn't use a steady supply of positive affirmations? We're only human, and our egos love to be fed. Your supporter could feed you a varied diet, including glowing reviews and reminders of past successes‐‐whatever it takes to keep you in the writing game. 

5. A computer with Internet access.

Like it or not, we're living in a wired world. Most publications have an online presence, and many of them will accept queries and/or submissions by email. Even those that persist in using postal mail usually promote themselves on the Internet. Besides, you can become part of a community of writers and lessen the solitude that often comes with this craft. 

6. A day job.

The ongoing use of postal mail by some publishers means writers need to make copies of their stories and letters. Not to mention little things like food and shelter. Unfortunately, writing doesn't always generate lots of revenue. The truly creative writer knows how to reap the non-salary rewards of holding down the obligatory day job. If you have to give up one third of your writing time in order to pay the bills, why not throw in a few perks? 

7. A quiet retreat (or two).

A retreat can be as simple as a separate room in your home or as exhilarating as a seaside cottage. All that really matters is removing yourself from the demands of partners, children and pets whenever possible. Consider it a gift to your loved ones. As long as you get the time you need to write, they won't have to endure your fits of frustration. 

8. The fellowship of other writers.

Birds of a feather. Peas in a pod. Most people, regardless of their pursuits, enjoy the company of like‐minded individuals. Other writers understand us unlike anyone else. We don't have to explain that staring out the window is part of the creative process or justify our latest late‐night writing binge. 

9. A collection of great writing.

Everyone needs heroes. Whose writing do you most admire? Whose career do you most covet? Keep their works handy and refer to them often. Re‐read a favorite passage as often as it takes to fire up your tired brain. Give yourself over to the masters, and they will guide you through the creative journey. 

10. A selection of lousy writing.

Not every published writer is a master of the craft. If a particular story makes you shake your head in disbelief, clip the story and tack it to the wall over your desk. Whenever you feel your talent is gone and no editor will ever buy your work, look at the clip. If that hack could get published, what's stopping you?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Money in Words

In the smoky confines of a Legion bar, my newspaper editor scrawled on a paper napkin with a black Sharpie, slid the napkin across the table and folded his hands on his lap. 

“There’s no money in words!” the black letters announced. 

As much as I wanted to argue the point—due in no small part to the warming beer in my hand—I had to agree with his assessment, at least partially. 

Writing is sometimes referred to as a thankless task. On that point I disagree. There is generally more than enough gratitude and appreciation to go around. It’s the money that’s in short supply. 

There seems to be a misconception among non‐writers that words throw themselves against the page in the perfect sequence without any effort on the part of the writer. Writing is easy. If you’re good enough, and fast enough, you can dash off 500 words in fifteen minutes and make the $5 fee seem reasonable. 

If you think earning $5 for 500 words is ludicrous, you’re right. But try telling that to prospective clients. There’s more than enough of them out there, hanging out on sites like Guru, where freelancers bid on work and hope the clients place more value on quality than on the lowest bid. 

I’m not knocking Guru or any other job site. In fact, I just renewed my Guru membership, and I will keep on bidding. I just won’t be telling prospective clients what I think of their budgets anymore. (I did that once and got a rather stern warning from the site administrators. My comments, as it happened, were deemed “derogatory” under the Terms of Service. Oops!)

The key to bidding on work is to have a realistic view of your abilities. Can you work within the client’s budget and still earn a respectable wage? You might be a slow, meticulous writer but a super‐fast editor or proof‐reader.

You also have to practice the fine art of negotiation. Is the client willing to combine a smaller upfront fee with a percentage of earnings? Include that idea as part of your proposal. If the client is still interested, you have some room to manoeuvre, whereas a straight forward bid within budget will leave you stuck at a lower than acceptable price tag. 

I won’t tell you what to charge for the work you do. That’s up to you, your clients, and whatever the market will bear. Just don’t give it away. And remember that your price tag should grow in tandem with your experience. 

So my editor was, as I say, partially right.

There’s no money in words—unless you’re willing to fight for what you deserve.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Keeping a Journal

I’d like to say I still have every journal from a lifetime of writing. After all, I poured so many thoughts into those pages, secrets I couldn’t even share with myself.

My childhood diaries, however, have gone the way of my baby teeth. Just as well. Some things are better left forgotten.

More recent journals are scattered about my home: stacked on the floor, stuffed into the back of shelves, and hidden in boxes in the closet. I wouldn’t be surprised if some are propping up second‐hand furniture.

Does this mean I’m indifferent to the contents of those half‐remembered tomes? I prefer to see them as buried treasure. How much more poignant the words will seem when unearthed years from now. And perhaps their value will have grown during the passing years.

Consider the following description written during a morning free write at an oceanfront cottage:

     The way the foam dances ahead of the wave,
     it looks like nimble fingers on piano keys.

The line stayed in my head for years and eventually evolved into the following poem:

     water washed over
     cold crescent shore loosely keyed
     pebbled concerto

The basic concept is still there but expanded to include more concrete imagery. If I hadn’t captured the description in the moment, however, the poem never would have come about.

Journaling is a valid aspect of any writer’s life. Recording your observations on a daily basis provides practice and discipline. Try it for a week—just one page per day—and see if you’re not convinced.

You just might realize that there’s more to “keeping” a journal than choosing its storage location.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Rejection Lessons

My writing teacher warned me this would happen. One rejection letter after another piled on shelves and shoved into filing cabinets. There’s enough paper to cover my office walls—and ceiling and floor and some of the hallway. Well, that’s one solution. There has to be more to the rejection letter than dust collector and object of scorn. 

Most writers will say that the best way to handle rejection letters is to read them, file them and send the rejected piece off to someone else as soon as possible. It’s not bad advice, but it’s not good enough. Take a long, hard look at that letter. Has the editor tossed you a crumb of hope? Given you even the slightest chance to hang on to your confidence and self-respect? 

Yes, it’s a form letter—the same terse, soulless letter they send to every writer who doesn’t make the grade—but what else? Amongst all those stiffly typed words, is anything other than the signature handwritten? Quite likely. Editors like to add quick notes to writers who show some promise. If you can decipher the scrawl—editors are as inscrutable as doctors when it comes to penmanship—pay attention to the words. If you’re lucky, the editor will compliment one or more aspects of your story—then tell you exactly where he or she thinks you went wrong. 

Take the comments seriously but don’t take them to heart—unless they all start saying the same things. If nine out of ten editors say your ending falls flat, it probably does. Don’t sulk. Don’t get angry. Fire up your computer (or uncap your pen) and get back to the business of writing. Tuck your original version away—just in case—and start making changes. Use the suggestions you like. Dream up a few of your own. Throw away the rest. After all, it’s still your story. You can only make so many changes based on outside commentary before it becomes someone else’s story. 

Thicken your skin by joining a writers’ workshop (either online or in person). Everyone submits their work for critique. It won’t take long for you to realize that a single story can generate critiques that run the gamut from “this is absolutely wonderful” to “better luck next time.” Whether you’re hearing from fellow writers or detached editors, don’t take the comments personally. Except in rare cases, critiques are aimed at the story, not at the writer. 

Finally, accept the fact that—for most of us—the rejections will far outweigh any successes. Writing is a subjective art form. Standards of quality shift from person to person and from moment to moment. Remain as true as possible to your original vision. Somewhere amidst all those publications is an editor who sees life as you do—or at least appreciates the way you present your case.