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Are You an Author?

How do you feel when you first open your eyes in the morning? Are you still sluggish and want to go back to sleep? Or are you one of those people who are ready to get up and go?

I wake up feeling like I’m in a hurry, even on the weekends when I have nowhere I have to be. As soon as I open my eyes, I feel like I’m already behind somehow.

Like most of us, I have a large to-do list, but that is not even where my mind goes first thing in the morning. Most mornings I want to write. Where the problem comes in is I feel like my responsibilities to my family, home, and others should come before my writing because I’m not making money with it. But I’ll never make money writing if I don’t make it a priority. Plus, it is one of the few things I do for me. I wonder how many unpublished writers feel this way.

There’s a great scene in the movie Sister Act 2 when Whoopi Goldberg hands Lauryn Hill a book and tells her, “I went to my mother who gave me this book…called Letters to a Young Poet. Rainer Maria Rilke. He’s a fabulous writer. A fellow used to write to him and say, ‘I want to be a writer. Please read my stuff.’ And Rilke says to this guy: ‘Don’t ask me about being a writer. If when you wake up in the morning you can think of nothing but writing…then you’re a writer.’”

Once I’m up, dressed, and walking the dog that’s the scene I remind myself of every day. To me, it shouldn’t matter if I’m published or not. I’m still a writer.

I was at a family event yesterday, and a distant relative was talking to my mother who is a published author. She then turned to me and asked me what I did and whether I was an author like my mother. I hesitated for a moment and then said, “Yes, I’m not published yet, but I have finished one novel that an editor is helping me with and I’m working on my second.” She then asked me what genre they were and questions like that and we had a short conversation. I had said out loud to someone who I hardly knew that I was an author and it felt amazing.

But there was still that little voice in my head saying, “But are you really?” And then I told it, “Whoopi says I am!”

Welcome Chloe Davis Smith

I’m the sort of writer that has a lot of notes written on scraps of paper. During school, I would jot down ideas on the corners of handouts and then tear the corner off and put it somewhere safe. I went through a post-it note phase where I covered the walls near my computer with quotes and information about my NaNoWriMo novel.

At some point, while procrastinating on the internet, I came across information about “Commonplace books.” Basically, a scrapbook where you keep all sorts of useful information.

I thought this concept would translate well into a “Writer’s notebook.” Where you keep all sorts of information regarding writing in general, or you could create one for a specific project.

Why not just use the internet?

These days everyone has a smartphone or a computer that is connected to the internet. We’re all perpetually browsing facebook, Reddit, Pinterest, Tumblr, whatever. There are a lot of great ideas on the internet. From Tumblr posts that have some great story ideas, to ridiculous facebook conversations, to the insane stuff you find on Reddit.

As excellent as these platforms are, it’s easy to get sucked into the distraction and never actually get any work done. These diversions are why I strongly recommend keeping your writer’s notebook as a physical notebook. It allows you to unplug and sit with your ideas without searching for the next exciting thing. Also, your brain processes information differently when you write it down by hand so it may help you get over any mental blocks you are having.

I have a physical notebook, but I also save a lot of stuff in Evernote. It syncs across my devices and allows me to keep whole web pages directly from my browser.

Choosing a Notebook

Stop! Do not run out and spend a ton of money on a brand new notebook. Especially since you probably have one lying around already.

Also, by notebook, I mean any method of storing paper notes in one location. You can use a binder, a file box, or “the notecard system.”

I recently got into Bullet Journaling, and since it has become popularized, you can find all sorts of information about different types of notebooks and pens online. Don’t be intimidated by the prettiness. The original system is incredibly straightforward and would create an excellent method for your writer’s notebook. Check it out.

Starting is the Hardest Part

I hate starting new notebooks. It’s so fresh and beautiful, and I don’t want to ruin it by writing something dumb and being forced to tear pages out. (This is why I love spiral bound notebooks, no one has to know I tore pages out.)

A great place to start is to pass your empty notebook around to people you trust and ask them to write some words of encouragement for you in the first few pages.

Next, copy down some quotes from your favorite authors. It’s like they’re encouraging you too.

Then write a little bit about yourself and why you started writing. What goals do you hope to achieve?

Make a “List of 100”

Making this list is one of my favorite writing exercises. It’s great for when you’re feeling stuck and just need to break through and get some new ideas.

I like to do “100 things that make you happy.” This exercise works best if you set aside time to do it all in one sitting. It seems simple, but it’s harder than it looks. Remember, you’re not ranking the items on the list just writing them down as they come to you. Don’t feel bad that you forgot about your pet until halfway through the list. You’re going to see patterns, and you will more than likely repeat some things; this is just a writing exercise.

When you get a little stuck about what to write, just pick something off the list and write about why you like it so much.

You can do this for other things to help you generate ideas. So if you need an occupation for a character you could make a list of “jobs of people that you know.” That way if you decide you have a character that’s a school bus driver you can email your bus driver friend and ask them questions and get real-life answers.

Fill Your Notebook With Stuff You Love

Lists
Ideas
Dreams
Memories
Stories
Occurrences
Quotes
Song Lyrics
Poems
Inspirations
Doodles
Pictures
Lies
Overheard Conversations

More on Lists

Lists are a great way to organize your thoughts and get things out of your head. Here are some great lists to include and work on when you don’t feel like working on anything else.

Things That Make Me Happy
Mental Images From My Childhood
Jobs I’ve Had
What My Summers Have Consisted Of
Sports, Hobbies, Activities, and Clubs
Trips, Journeys, and Adventures
Secret Places Only I Know About
Things I Believe In
Lessons I Have Learned
Things That Make Me Laugh
Things That Make Me Cry
Ways I Can Help Others
My Accomplishments
Places I Would Like to Visit
Things I Carry With Me at All Times
Things I Would Like to Carry With Me at All Times
Expectations I Have For Myself
Things I Do Well
Things I Love/Hate About My Family
Beautiful Things
Good Books I have Read
Fun Things to Do
Special People In My Life
My Skills
Hopes for the Future
Things I’m Afraid Of
Things to Do Before I Die

Chloe Davis Smith has a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing from Southwest Minnesota State University. She currently works as a retail drone and occasionally blogs about “How to Be An Adult” at www.thepurplebug.com.

New Year’s Goals

 

Did you make New Year’s resolutions? How about writing resolutions? Did you make any goals for your writing or your business as an author? If not, let’s do that now!

The thing I do first is I look at my calendar and see if any significant dates are affecting my writing coming up in the next few months. These can include contests, conferences, or events like NaNoWriMo month or camps (more on that in a bit if you don’t know what they are).

So, for me in January, my primary task is to prepare for the Oklahoma Writer’s Federation Incorporated (OWFI) contest. I have been a member for three years but never entered the contest. This year I am planning to enter five categories:

  1. Blog post
  2. Short story – horror
  3. Short story – sci-fi/fantasy
  4. Novel – romance
  5. Novel – mystery/suspense

The deadline for those is February 1. I hope to have all five ready by then, but I guess that’s why it’s called a goal, right?

Also in January, I’m taking two classes. One is a four-week writing class by the brilliant Alicia Dean on how to polish and edit your writing. The other is called the 10K Traffic Challenge which teaches about social media and marketing strategies. Both are already helping my writing and my business as an author.

On an online author’s group, we are doing a Valentine’s Day challenge where we are giving each other prompts and then writing stories that will be delivered into Valentine Boxes on February 14th. Much better than little store-bought character cards, don’t you think?

In April and July are the NaNoWriMo camps with the main NaNoWriMo being in November. If you are not familiar with this, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. In November, the expectation is that you will write a 50,000-word novel. In the camps in April and July, you can set your own goals. It can be a word or page goal or whatever you want. One year I used it to edit my previous year’s NaNo project. It is also a great place to find other authors and get support which I believe every writer needs. If you want more information about NaNoWriMo, message me, and I’ll let you know all about it. I’ve participated since 2007.

Some general goals for the year that I have set are:

  1. Make giveaways and a newsletter (and figure out how to use MailChimp to send them out, lol)
  2. Post weekly (at least) blog posts
  3. Get A Massage to Die For under contract
  4. Finish Whitewater

So, what are your goals, personal or writing? Let me know in the comments! Let’s hit them together!

Sending your book to kindergarten

Pitching a book is such a strange phrase. It sounds like we are tossing the manuscript into the publisher’s lap. Which symbolically, we are. Pitching a book to editors and publishers is an interesting exercise. It is kind of like the first time you send your kid to kindergarten. You know they need to go, you think they will be OK and that the teacher will be friendly to them, but you still go back to your car and cry. I think for a lot of us that is what pitching a book is like. We are hoping that agent, editor, or publisher will be gentle with our little baby of a newborn book and we know we cannot get it out into the world without doing it but we still go out to the car and cry.

If you only self-publish, maybe you get to skip this step. Obviously, there are other challenges; I’m not sure. I will probably look into that route someday, but I’m currently learning the road to traditional publishing.

I have done one pitch in person. It was one of the most frightening things I have ever done. I had a presentation prepared. I had watched YouTube videos on what to do and what to avoid. A publisher friend of mine had helped me write my pitch. I had a folder with me with my cover page and my first chapter just in case. But when I sat down in front of the editor, all of that planning went out the window. The speech I memorized flew out of my head. Luckily, the woman was very kind. She told me just to describe the story and not to worry about a formal presentation. We simply had a conversation about my book. She asked some questions to clarify some things I didn’t explain enough and then she asked me to submit it. I got fortunate that she helped me through the process.

 

I’ve also done a Twitter pitch session. My mother does these all the time. You pitch your book in 140 characters or less. Here is my pitch for my book A Massage to Die For: “Molly is shocked when she finished a massage, and the man is dead. Molly and Detective Damien Gordon discover secrets in the salon that include embezzlement and sexual activities. Their suspect is dead. Did someone kill them both or did a second killer just emerge?” You get to pitch every hour, and different publishers and agents are watching the feed. If they like it, they click “like,” and you contact them about submitting the manuscript. It is a fascinating way to try to sum up a 50,000+ word story in 140 characters.  I didn’t get “liked.” But it was still a good experience.

I think most authors I know would agree that writing the pitch and the synopsis of the book are often harder than writing the book itself. We spend so much time, energy, and love on this manuscript that now means so much to us and we have to boil it all down to a few paragraphs on paper and a minute or so in front of a stranger. But like our real-life children, if we want them to be able to have a life outside of ourselves in the world, we have to let them out and into the hands of someone else. And most of the time, it turns out fine. The kid runs off and goes to play. The editor calms you down and helps you through your pitch session. And then you can go to your car and cry if you need to, but they can be happy tears.