Everything I’ve ever done in life, I’ve done my own way, usually depending on myself and no one else. One thing anyone who knows me can tell you is I’m persistent. When I set out to achieve something, I don’t stop until I do. It has been no different with writing. But I’m discovering that I need a little help with this endeavor.
I had an unpleasant experience with a student teacher in the English department as an undergrad, so just when I was beginning to learn that I liked writing and maybe English should be my major, I was soured on the whole idea by the feeling that the field was too subjective for me, and I chose to major in psychology instead.
But after I’d been out of college for a few years, I discovered not only that I had a love for the written word, but also that I had some talent for it. I started out writing poetry, which I’ve since learned, is not my strong suit, but even there, I don’t do too bad. I sold my first poem to Dusk & Dawn Magazine in 1996 for $5. Problem was, that didn’t even cover all the postage I had spent submitting, and I couldn’t afford to play the starving artist. I had a family to help support. There were others to consider. So, writing went onto a back burner, just simmering for about twelve years.
Then, I discovered the Internet and rediscovered my abilities for writing as new opportunities presented themselves. The rise of the Web actually changed the entire publishing industry over time, opening up all kinds of new opportunities for writers, including, but not limited to, self-publishing, marketing via social media, vanity presses, and content mills. As blogs and websites grew in number, more content was needed than ever before. Problem was, I’m technologically challenged. Slowly, over time, I have learned to use social media to my advantage a little, and I’ve learned to use many of the writing sites and content mills to make minimal amounts of money.
One of the coolest things happened in my writing endeavors didn’t involve any money at all. I had one of my poems featured in a painting by artist Mitch Barrett and displayed and sold at the Kaleidoscope Gallery in Battlesea Park, London. (There’s a lengthy story behind how this came about, which I may relate in a future blog post. Anyone who knows me is surely tired of hearing it.
As a freelancer, I became the Southern Colorado Literature Examiner for Examiner.com, which didn’t really pay, but offered opportunity to meet other writers, get free books for review and obtain credits for my portfolio. I also cranked out articles for other content mills which did pay, at least a little, which added to my skill set, diversifying my writing talents, and I was published in Freeman, which was a bit more profitable.
I thought I was quite fortunate when I was able to obtain a publisher for one of my children’s stories. After seven wasted years, it turned out I was not so fortunate, since my book still wasn’t published. But we learn from experience.
Still struggling to launch my writing career, I discovered the low residency MFA program for Creative Writing offered by Western State and I applied. Maybe I couldn’t do it on my own, but I would learn what I needed to know, one way or another. And I have learned a lot. I’ve learned about my own writing process. When I started at Western, I’d never even thought about it. I’m not even sure I was aware I had a process, but I did and still do. Now I’m just more aware of it. I learned how to craft my words to be pleasing to the ear. I learned how to read aloud in front of an audience, and I’ve learned that I do it well.
Last summer, I completed my emphasis in genre fiction and read from my thesis novel, Playground for the Gods: Book 1: The Great Primordial Battle. I’ve learned how to treat my writing as a business, at least in theory, although I’m still trying to get it off the ground. And I’ve learned how advances and royalties work, and that you have to sell a lot of books before you will ever receive royalties.
And I learned that screenwriting is where the big money is. When I took genre screenwriting for my out of concentration class, I also learned that it was fun, it came pretty easy to me and I was fairly good at it. So, instead of graduating, I stayed in school for another year to get a second emphasis in screenwriting. What I’m learning this year, is that there’s a lot of competition on screenwriting and it’s tough to get a break. You practically have to live in L.A. to get anywhere. Yet, I am determined to make all the money I now owe for my schooling pay off. I haven’t given up yet, and I don’t intend to now.
I’m currently shopping my thesis novel and two of my children’s stories, five short stories, and various poems. I’m also very close to finishing my western novel, Delilah. At Western, thanks to my instructor, Russell Davis drawing us out of our comfort zones, (and maintaining as much discomfort for us as possible), I discovered that I enjoy writing in the western genre, and although it is not one of the bestselling markets, I do it well. And I’m working hard, through this blog and social media, to build a writer’s platform and gain a following to make myself look more appealing to agents and publishers.
Here’s where you, my readers come in, because you can help. Without my readers, my writing just sits there on the page, not doing much of anything. You are my writer’s platform. You are my following.
Many people don’t realize that liking a link on Facebook, while cool, doesn’t really help the author grow their platform unless they actually read the post and subscribe by email. What does help, is if you’ll take the time to read the post here, on my Writing to be Read site, and subscribe to the blog. That’s what shows how large my reader following is, and it does my heart good to watch as it grows.
You can also like the post below it, with all the “share” buttons, but you must have a WordPress account. If you don’t have one, you can sign up for one, but then, of course, you will have a blog to maintain, so be sure you know what you’re getting into. I’m guessing that many people just like the link on Facebook to show their support, but they don’t actually click on the link and read the post. But, if you leave a comment, I’ll be able to tell that you read it, and if you subscribe, it will show you liked what you read. You’ll make my day.
If you’d like to show even more support, you can buy my short science fiction story, Last Call. If you like it, write a review on Amazon. And, you can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Pintrest. Help an old writer get a break.
Your support is always appreciated. Thank you for being a reader of my work. After all, for me, it’s not really about money. It’s about Writing to be Read.
My regular readers know that I just spent the last two weeks taking the first classes toward earning my MFA in Creative Writing at Western State Colorado University, in Gunnison. It was an intense two weeks. The first week and a half I put in time in the classroom, making my brain explore uncharted territory in order to learn about my own writing style and process, as well as reinforcing and renewing my knowledge of writing basics, such as dialog punctuation, story structure, plot and character. When not in class, I spent my time actually writing and reading the writing of my peers for critique the following day. The last three days, I attended the 2012 Writing the Rockies conference, as a part of my college credits. How cool is that? The intense pace didn’t really bother me until after I had returned home and gone back to work, but let me assure you that it did catch up to me. I have been exhausted all week, twice actually falling asleep with my laptop in my lap. I was that tired.
While considering whether or not to enroll in Western’s MFA program, there were many things to consider. Could I fit a two week residency in Gunnison each summer into my already bustling schedule? Could I commit the time that it would require to get my master’s degree and still fulfillment my obligations to my family as I have for the past thirty years? And what, exactly, did I hope to accomplish through seeking this degree? Did I think I would be magically transformed into a professional writer once I have that degree in my hand?
I had to do some sincere soul searching to find the answers to all my concerns. While I will surely have to do some rearrangement of my schedule to accommodate residency classes each summer, and I will have to forfeit certain activities that I enjoy in order to study and practice my craft and complete assignments, to me it will be worth it. My hope is that I will come away from this experience with credentials that will demonstrate that I’m not just someone who dabbles as a writer, but a serious author with at least one published book. I don’t expect this to happen through a magical transformation, but through hard work and lots of practice. In the end, it came down to one thing: I want to be a writer more than anything else in the world, so it would be worth whatever sacrifices I had to make to achieve that status. It is how I want to make my living, and I have played around enough at it. It is time to get serious and do what I aspire to do.
Now, with the first classes finished, I have to look at whether my expectations have been met, what I’ve already had to sacrifice, and whether it was worth it. In order to analyze all of this, I also need to examine what I actually learned, and evaluate its value to determine if the payoff is what I had expected. To that end, I thought I might share my thoughts and insights with you, my readers.
By looking at my current resume, you will see that I’ve already taken many steps toward my goal. I have written as the Southern Colorado Literature Examiner for the past three years, as well as keeping up this blog, Writing to be Read, for about five. In addition, I wrote gardening how-to articles for Demand Studios for over a year and a half, had two short stories published in Static Motion, an online publication, and a poem published in Dusk and Dawn magazine, where I made my first $5.00 as a writer, back in 1996. Another of my poems was featured by artist Mitch Barrett, in one of his paintings, Intimacy, which was displayed and sold at Kaleidoscope Gallery, in Batter Sea Park, London. My first children’s book, Heather Hummingbird Makes a New Friend, is scheduled to be released in October of 2012, by 4RV Publishing, as well. So, you see, I have a little bit of a head start on this writing thing, although none of it has paid enough for me to give up my day job.
So, did I come away with from these first classes with anything of value? I believe I did. For one thing, I gained insight into myself as a writer, aspects that I had never examined closely before. For instance, I discovered that I am a closet binge writer. I knew that I wasn’t much for planning, which is probably why I have not been able to make it beyond the short story format. Novels require planning and you have to truly know your characters to make your readers believe in them. Binge writers take an idea and run with it, and that is what I do a lot of the time. It seems that when I try to plan out what I’m going to write, it comes out flat and lifeless, as if the work were forced. So, this is one area that I definitely have to work on. That’s one thing that I learned.
I also learned many basic concepts that are sure to improve my writing style. In fact, they already have. Our assignment to write a novel excerpt in the western genre produced the beginnings of a story narrative, the likes of which, I did not realize that I was capable of. The class might be over, but my work to develop this story is only beginning. Two paragraphs in a genre we had never before written in lead to an epiphany about a YA story that I had written four or five years ago, which was missing something that I couldn’t put my finger on, so I had never done anything with it. The challenge to write in a new genre prompted me to try my hand at mystery, and it suddenly dawned on me that this story should have been a mystery to begin with. That’s what had been missing! The resulting two paragraphs featured the characters from the YA novel and read well enough to convince me it could work.
I gained knowledge about the writing business, as well. Some of the writing activities that I had engaged in, such as publishing with online sites that don’t pay, were cheating both myself and my profession. While I was glad just to have the writing credit, I could be setting myself up to have my work stolen, because it is out there where anyone can grab it. It may have been a mistake, but as a self-taught writer, I launched my writing career the only way that I knew how. I also learned that you really do need an agent, all the professional writers that we heard during class and conference agreed. The agent handles all the legalities of contract, which most writers are not qualified to do, unless prolific in contract law. The how of finding an agent promises to be revealed at a later date. And, I learned the differences between the large publishing houses and the smaller presses, and when to try for each.
In some ways, I had been doing the right things. I have always parked my butt in the chair and wrote, (a theme that had been reiterated over and over again during my brief educational introduction to the world of writing), blocking out the world around me for the sake of putting words to page. I found that although my dialog may set off alarms with spell check, it rings true and encourages reader “buy in”. I discovered that I had ability in areas that were previously untried for me, warranting continued exploration.
Above all, I learned how much I really don’t know. I look forward to exploring and discovering all that I still have left to learn, through Western’s MFA program. I can’t wait for my online classes to begin this fall. I think the payoff will be more than worth it.
To learn more about my work, visit my website at Kaye’s Literary Corner
I didn’t even consider that I would be humping up the hills of Western State College carrying my back pack, filled with my laptop and all my books, and my small, but well packed purse. Had I known, I would have trained to get in shape before I headed off to class. Getting to class wasn’t so bad, it was all downhill. However, this was a case of what goes down must go up, and it was all uphill getting back to the dorm at least twice a day, if not more. That hike to the dorm made my unprepared calves moan with misery every time. By the second week, my shoulders burned by the time I arrived at either destination. Next year, I will definitely take steps to prepare me for this.
The classes I am taking are a preparation of another kind. They are designed to get me in shape to be a professional writer, and the writing exercises and assignments that we’re given are mostly painless. They are designed to help us limber up the writing muscles of the brain and expand our literary horizons. In that, they were successful. Thanks to my Patterns & Paradigms in Mainstream & Genre Fiction course, I now have the beginning chapters for a Western Novel, the start of a chapter that I can use to transform a small collection of stories about two young girls growing up in Massachusetts during the depression into a YA mystery novel, and I’m looking forward to experimenting more with the horror genre, even though my first attempt was absolutely awful. (You guessed it. My area of concentration is genre fiction.)
As with any type of training, you must tone up the basic muscles to be used before you try mastering the more difficult stances, or executing some of the more complex maneuvers. In the aforementioned course, I also toned up the basic writing muscles. My dialog punctuation was a little flabby, but learning the proper way to exercise this muscle group should have my character exchanges shaped up in no time. I learned the basic elements of the novel: plot, character and setting; methods to create character; and how the “mono-myth”, or hero’s journey works; and techniques to set the pace and tone which will help to create a tight, shapely narrative. And I learned that I often have a case of, what the course instructor calls, “adverb-itis” in my writing; using adverbs to describe things that don’t really need to be described. Flexing those stagnant writing muscles has already improved my writing.
Just as my calves will require continuous workout to remain toned and build more muscle, I must continue to work those writing muscles every single day. No doubt, I will be in better shape next summer, when it comes time to do this again. I will have a better idea of what lies ahead and will be better able to prepare. Certainly, I will need to exercise my muscles, both the writing ones and the physical ones, so they will be prepared for the extensive two week workout I now know to anticipate on both levels. I may not be ready to run the 10K by then, but perhaps I’ll at least be ready to start planning my thesis.
Last week was the first week of classes for me, in my quest to obtain my MFA in Creative Writing at Western State College. It was an eye opening experience, to say the least. After thirty years, I found myself back behind a student’s desk, concentrating on the words of two extremely talented writers, whose job it is this semester to educate me and the others in my class. It was amazing! It was a little uncomfortable, being in this new element, so of course I was nervous and it took me awhile to get into my “zone”, as one of my fellow students is fond of saying, but once I settled in, awesome things began to happen.
My instructors, Barbara Chapaitis and Russell Davis are like the yin and yang of the writing spectrum, but both are just bursting with creative energy that I could feel transcending over to their students. Russell Davis is a very nuts and bolts kind of guy, whose job, for these two weeks, at least, is to teach us the basic elements of writing a novel, and that’s what he gets right down to business doing just that. His basic philosophy on writing is, “Sit your ass in the chair and write the damn book!” While Barbara Chapaitis, is a binge writing, free spirit, who is interested in the writing process and helping us to discover how that works for each individual writer. For her class, we sang, we howled, we meditated, we observed a spectacular lightning storm, and we did some free writing exercises to grease the writing wheels and get the ball rolling.
Russell believes that part of his job is to make his students as uncomfortable as possible. He writing assignments are aimed at getting us to write outside the genres that we are most comfortable with and experiment. To that end, last week I wrote a segment of a YA mystery, which I have plans to use to revive a book that has been dead in the water for about five years, and I started on a western piece, that isn’t turning out too bad. I also took a segment of that western and turned it into a horror story, but we won’t talk about that.
At first, I wondered what all the wild things Barbara had us doing had to do with writing. It soon became apparent that she was trying to get us to think about our own processes and be aware of what they are. She talked about the difference between being a planner, who outlines and plots out all the little details before sitting down to actually write the book, and being an organic writer, who gets an idea and just runs with it. Barbara is without doubt an organic writer, who locks herself in her writing space, allows no interruptions, and writes until it’s done. I wondered how she could do that. After all, life doesn’t just disappear while we are writing. She emphasized that the process is different for each one of us and encouraged us to explore our own. I discovered that for me, I’ve learned to write around life, grasping any time that makes itself available to write whenever and wherever I can. As our home is small and I have no closed door to lock myself behind, I have turned my recliner and a small coffee table into “my writing space”, and I have learned to block out the television and other distractions in my environment and immerse myself in the word that I am putting on the page. I have also learned to make whatever space I am in, “my writing space”. I can write on my breaks at work, sitting by my son’s grave, or in the car, while we are on the road, since I commute. (Thankfully, my husband does most of the driving.)
That’s my week in a nutshell. There is so much more that I learned and discovered over the past week, but I must keep this post short, because I have homework. That Western excerpt is due Tuesday; I have to critique the work of my peers, and I have to prepare for the Write the Rockies Conference next weekend, which I will also be covering as the Southern Colorado Literature Examiner. I’ll let you know how it goes.