I signed up for NaNoWriMo again. National Novel Writing Month. You have probably heard about it. Participants strive to write 50,000 words of fiction in the month of November. They post their words online each day, and if they get to 50,000, they win the challenge.They also have the first draft of a novel. Doing the math, 50,000 words comes out to 1666 words a day if you write every day. If you write Monday through Friday like me, reserving weekends for church, family and real life, you need to produce 2,500 words a day. That’s 12 double-spaced pages. Am I insane? Can I do it? Do I want to do it?
Actually, no. Since I wrote that paragraph, I had a talk with myself and decided to switch to NaNonFiWriMo, National Nonfiction Writing Month. This challenge will allow me to concentrate on the book I’m already writing, but at a faster speed with the support of other writers doing the same thing.
Compared to NaNoWriMo and NaNonFiWriMo, the poem-a-day challenges I’ve done and the A to Z blog challenge I did earlier this year are easy. Plus Thanksgiving happens this month. Also, Christmas is coming. Cards, gifts, parties, when will I write? First thing in the morning. Then I’ll worry about the other stuff.
NaNoWriMo is the original November writing challenge, but there seems to be one for whatever genre you want to write. The possibilities include:
Poem-a-Day challenge, http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2014-november-pad-chapbook-challenge-guidelines
National Playwriting Month, NaPlWriMo, https://www.facebook.com/naplwrimo
National Blog Posting Month, NaBloPoMo, http://www.blogher.com/blogher-topics/blogging-social-media/nablopomo
National Nonfiction Writing, Month NaNonFiWriMo, http://www.writenonfictioninnovember.com
There are more. Google “November writing challenges” for a list, but these are the biggest and best.
Challenges force you to write, offer a community of other writers to share the misery, and make you accountable. You have to do the writing to be able to post your results. Two hours on Facebook or an hour playing games won’t get it done. If we could put that kind of energy and focus into our work without an official challenge, imagine what we could accomplish.
Some of my best poems were born during Poem-a-Day challenges. I have written more poems during those challenges than at any other time. Many of those poems would not have happened if I hadn’t gotten out of bed knowing that I had to write a poem, that I couldn’t just say, “I don’t feel poetic today.”
It isn’t necessary to wait for the November challenges. You can set up your own challenge at any time. If you don’t trust yourself to stick with it, enlist a friend or a group of friends to join you. Challenge each other. Tell them “I’m going to write X number of words every day” and report your word count at the end of the day. Plan a celebration for when you achieve your goals.
My students often tell me they need a class to get them writing. They say they can’t write without assignments and deadlines. Days, months and years pass, and they just don’t get around to putting words on page or screen. Many writers long for wide-open days with nothing to do but write, but when we get those days, we’re overwhelmed by all that time and wind up wasting a lot of it. Sometimes an assignment, a deadline and limited time are the best inspiration.
So I’m getting ready to write, write, write. How about you? What kind of challenge do you need to kick your writer self into high gear?
November starts this weekend, but why wait?
Go write now.
I looked up after Christmas and realized it was almost THE END OF THE YEAR. Oh no! Suddenly my newsletter is due in a couple days, I have to pull my financial records together for my writing business, and if I don’t use my free lunch at Georgie’s by Tuesday, I’m going to lose it. Plus I have all my regular work to do and bills to pay when all I want to do is take a vacation, preferably someplace warm. My teacher friends have another week to relax, but I’m a writer and a musician. That means I’m self-employed and need to get my act together for a new year.
If you’re a writer or any kind of artist, you’ve got some work to do, too. It falls into two categories: closing out the old year and planning for the new year.
Closing out the old year:
Finances: If you make any money with your writing, you need to report it on your income tax. You can offset that income with your writing-related expenses, but only if you’ve kept track of them throughout the year. I hope you have. If not, start now. It doesn’t matter whether you do it by hand in a notebook, put the numbers in a spreadsheet, or use a program such as Quickbooks, but you need to keep records and keep your receipts. That way, if the IRS questions your return, you have the paperwork to back it up. While you’re at it, take a look at what you earned and what you spent. Is it out of balance? What can you do better next year?
Files: If you’re like me, the paper piles up and so do the computer files. Now is a good time to sort through it all. Put current projects close at hand. File or toss the rest. Clear the desk for a fresh start. It’s also a good time to purge unneeded emails and computer files.
Year-end report: Unlike big companies with stockholders and boards of directors, writers are not required to report to anyone about our year’s accomplishments, but it’s still a good idea to look back and see how you did. What did you write? What did you publish? How did you progress in your writing career? If you kept writing all year, consider your year a success.
Planning for the new year
Finances: Now is the time to buy a new ledger, start a new spreadsheet, or open a new file in your computer program to record your income and expenses for the new year. You might want to set a budget and income goals. Think about what you can do to spend less and earn more.
Setting writing goals: As you start the new year, what do you hope to accomplish in your writing in 2014? Will you finish that novel? Submit more articles? Start a blog? Take a class? Write it down and give yourself deadlines, then post your goals where you will see them every day.
Then . . . Go Write.
I have updated my resources page with more books and more links. Click on “Resources” above. If you find any errors or have additions to suggest, please let me know in the comments or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jan. 2 is the deadline to sign up for my online classes, listed under “Classes” above. I’m offering courses on blogging, columns, opinionated writing, and writing and selling freelance articles. If I don’t have enough signups by Thursday, the classes will not be offered this term.
Happy New Year to one and all!
It’s October, the beginning of the fourth quarter of the year. Three months left. What have you accomplished this year? Are you ahead, behind or exactly where you want to be in your writing?
This year has gone quickly, hasn’t it? Soon it will be Halloween, followed by Thanksgiving and Christmas, and then 2013 is over. The weather is changing, the hours of daylight are decreasing, and there’s a real temptation to slack off, to coast to the end of the year. But I have a better idea. Let’s use those last three months, 90 days, to finish the year with a flourish. If we were football players running behind or only one touchdown ahead of the other team, would we relax in the fourth quarter? No way. We’d go all out to score some serious points. The game isn’t over until the last second ticks away.
Maybe this fourth-quarter push is why so many writing challenges occur in November. The most famous is NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, in which people engage in marathon writing sessions in an attempt to write a whole novel in a month. There are also several Poem-a-Day contests, the most famous of which is run by Writer’s Digest’s Robert Lee Brewer. Engaging in one of these contests is one way to cram a lot of writing into a short time. I’ll probably do the poetry challenge again because I do get more poems written than I would otherwise.
But maybe you already have something else you need to be doing with your writing. Have you been working on a project that you’d like to get done by the end of the year? Is there something you’ve been meaning to start and haven’t yet? Did you really hope that you would sell more articles and earn more money this year? Sit down and have a staff meeting with yourself. You still have three months, one quarter of a year. What can you do in that time and what is your plan to get it done?
What’s our fourth-quarter strategy to win the writing game for this year, to approach New Year’s Eve knowing we’ve done our best?
If you’d like to tell us your plans in the comments, we’d love to hear them. Sharing your intentions may help you to follow through.
I still have a few copies of Freelancing for Newspapers available for just $10, including postage. Part of my fourth-quarter game plan is getting rid of excess book inventory. If you’d like a copy, email me at email@example.com.
Once a week I am offering three quick tips that you can take and use right away. For those of us who would rather be writing than reading blogs, this is a place you can grab something useful and get back to work. If you have suggestions, please share them in the comments section.
Everyone who writes and/or teaches about freelance writing offers the same basic information, how to find ideas, write queries, do research, write, revise, yada, yada, yada, but the Renegade Writers tell you the stuff the rest don’t tell you. Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell, who have turned one Renegade Writer book into a collection of books and blogs, offer advice, free e-books, e-courses and other goodies at http://www.therenegadewriter.com.
You guessed it: The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success, now available in print and as an e-book, will tell you all the good, bad and ugly about freelance writing. And don’t stop at this one book. They have others, including The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rock: The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Selling More Work Faster and A Renegade Writer Kick in the Ass: 30 Riffs from the Renegade Writer Blog to Help you Bust Your Excuses, Light a Fire Under Your Butt, and Become a More Motivated & Productive Freelance Writer.
Be a renegade writer yourself. Close your eyes and picture your byline on the one thing that will make you feel like a successful writer. It could be a book, an article, a short story, poem, script, or song. Now open your eyes and write for at least 30 minutes about what you need to do to make it happen. The word “can’t” is not allowed.
Now Go Write
Sometimes the more I want to write, the more life gets in the way. This week, for example, I had to pick up a prescription, take the dog to the vet and attend a special meeting for my day job. The job is only part-time and usually just nights and weekends, but sometimes we have these meetings right in the middle of my writing time. The ideas are flowing, the words are coming, and the clock tells me I’m 10 minutes past when I had planned to get dressed. So now I’m debating with myself. Can I do five more minutes if I don’t wear makeup? Can I wear these jeans to work? Do I really have to stop for gas?
Eventually I curse, hit save, and go to my meeting, but my story is still running around in my head and I’m tempted to blow off my job so I can write.
Even worse are the writing groups I’m involved in. The critique group helps me write better, and the other groups help me connect with people who can help me sell what I write. They also ease the isolation of writing alone, but the meetings eat into my time so that I feel as if I never finish half as much as I want to. Or course, eating and sleeping get in the way, too. One can’t work 24/7.
But that’s the life of a writer. We’re always trying to balance the need to work on our writing with the need to deal with everything else. I’m lucky that I usually have at least two uninterrupted days a week and two or three hours every morning. I have those times because I have done everything I can to save them for writing. When the doctor’s receptionist asks if I can come in at 10 on Monday morning, I say no, I can’t. When a friend wants to meet for brunch on a Wednesday, I say no, I’m sorry, I’m working. Sometimes I take the phone off the hook and block the Internet while I’m writing. Do I feel guilty about these things? A little, but if I had a regular job where I had to punch a time clock, I would not be available during working hours. I may be at home, but writing is my job.
Your situation may be different. You might have to work all day. You might have kids, a spouse or parents depending on you to take care of them. But if you want to write, you need to find at least an hour on a regular basis that you will guard like gold. Maybe it’s not every day. That’s okay. Just schedule time for yourself to write. Make an appointment. Put it on the calendar. Then keep that appointment. If a flitterbrain like me can do it, you can, too.
A familiar frizzy-haired woman walks into the auditorium. I stare at her, trying to get her to look my way. But she hurries to the other side of the room, pretending not to see me. We have a few minutes before the readings start, so I walk across to where she is.
She looks up, guilt in her eyes. “Hello.” Then she blurts out her sin. “I haven’t written anything since I took that workshop with you.”
It’s happening again. Whenever I get within speaking distance of my former students, they start confessing. “Bless me, teacher, for I have sinned. It has been 43 days since I last wrote a complete sentence.”
The class is over. It’s their business whether or not they write anything, but they seem to expect a lecture, so I oblige. “Shame on you,” I exclaim, preaching the gospel of the good writer one more time. “Thou canst not be a writer if thou dost not write. Just one page a day will give thee a whole book in less than a year.”
Edith nods. “I know, I know. I’ll try to do better.”
“Good.” I attempt to change the subject. I tell her about my latest writing project, talk about the authors who are reading tonight, invite her to sit with me. “No, that’s okay,” she says, “I want to sit in the back.”
I know she secretly wishes I would go away. I am the walking, talking, writing embodiment of guilt. I told her to go forth and write–and she didn’t.
Just as the lights dim, another former student slides into the empty seat beside me. I feel a big envelope land on my lap. “I wonder if you could take a look at this for me,” Jerry whispers, staring at me with the same intentness I see in my dog’s eyes as she watches me eat meat loaf.
“What is it?” I whisper back.
“Something I’ve been working on. I just want your opinion.”
“Shh,” hisses the old lady sitting in front of us.
“I’m sorry,” I say, focusing on the author at the podium as if he were Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mount. At intermission, I’ll skim the pages, gush over how prolific Jerry is, and encourage him to keep at it–whether it’s any good or not.
Wanna-be writers, like children, won’t write unless you prod them, won’t keep at it unless you laud them. Real writers will keep at it, no matter what.
Ironically, my students think I, published author and teacher of writing, write faithfully every day, sell everything I write, and know all the answers to their questions. If only. We all face the same blank page or computer screen with the same fear that the words won’t come to us.
Sometimes what the teacher really needs is for her students to accost her at the mall and ask, “Well, did you write anything? And if you didn’t, what are you doing here?”
But they never ask. Thank God. They’re too busy running away.
Now, let’s turn off the Internet and go write.
NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, in which participants challenge each other to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. DigiWriMo, born here at Marylhurst University in Oregon, challenges writers to pen that many words for online outlets, such as blogs and web publications. PAD is Writer’s Digest’s Robert Lee Brewer’s Poem a Day challenge, which he offers in both April and November. Unlike so many writing activities, these do not cost money. Although the sponsors would love donations, there is no fee to participate.
All of these challenges push you to write, write, write. They let you post your progress on-line and offer various publication possibilities. NaNoWriMo has turned into a vast community with online forums and in person “write-ins” in many communities, including even my own Newport, Oregon. You “win” if you write the desired number of words. It’s a lot of words—approximately 1666 every day–and if you’re sticking by the rules, they all have to be fresh writing, no revising or adding to something you wrote before. It takes a great deal of dedication to reach the goal. I honestly have never gotten past the first week on this one.
DigiWriMo is new to me, but I plan to try it this year. Again, it takes a lot of work, but you’ll be cheered along by your fellow participants, and the sponsors promise to offer lots of prompts and exercises and ways to collaborate with other participants. [Note: As I’m posting this, I’m having trouble making the link work. Try @digiwrimo on Twitter to connect. ]
I have done the Poem a Day challenge several times. Although I missed some days, I had other days when I wrote more than one poem, so I came out with a nice batch of new poetry. Robert Lee Brewer, who publishes poetry prompts every Wednesday the rest of the year, offers a new prompt every day of the challenge and encourages poets to use them to write a poem and then post it online. He frequently offers contests for the best poems of the challenge or challenges poets to create chapbooks out of their PAD poems.
There are other challenges, and not just in November. Occasionally smaller organizations will challenge their writers to write toward a goal together, literally or at the same time in their own spaces. Search and you will find them.
All of these challenges have one beneficial effect: they give you an incentive to write. The one drawback (besides wanting to ignore your family or your job) is that sometimes you are driven to write garbage just to achieve the desired number of words. But out of that garbage, you may find some gems.
I urge you to consider a writing challenge. Simply working toward a goal with other people helps smash whatever blocks keep us from committing to our work. However, I also offer this suggestion: You can adapt the challenge to your own needs. Maybe you’re halfway through a project and just want to work on that. Maybe you just can’t do weekends or you’re going away for Thanksgiving. Work around it. Use the official goals and times to work on what you need to work on. Challenge yourself.
We still have more than than two weeks before November starts, but if you sign up now, you can get in on the pre-challenge discussions and planning.
I invite you to comment here on what you plan to do and how you’re doing. I’ll be doing DigiWrimo and the Poem a Day challenge.
Ha. 613 words. At this rate, I’ll be done in 83 days. But wait. It hasn’t started yet. I’m just warming up. How about you?
Did you know that writing is big business? Not actually writing itself but selling stuff to people who want to be writers. I don’t think anyone could count all the services and products being marketed to wanna-be writers. So many. They’ll help you sell your stories, publish your books, build your platform, get organized, jump over writer’s block, and tell you how to write. They all seem to promise that if you just buy their products and follow directions, like baking a cake, you will have the books, the fame, and the money. But they can’t guarantee it. Most of the people who buy these things don’t get all the goodies. They don’t become full-time writers. I don’t want to discourage you, but what you really need to become a success writer doesn’t cost a lot of money but it does take effort, time, and faith.
First, you have to write well. Not only must your writing be grammatically correct, with proper spelling, but it has to say something original, something that is not just a copy of everything already published. It has to touch or help people in some way. It has to have substance, details, more than just what you pour out of your head. A million would-be writing coaches tell you to write every day, but they don’t tell you what to write or how to write it. You need to learn and practice the craft of writing. Take classes, read books, join a critique group or find a friend who will tell you the truth about where your writing works and where it doesn’t. And keep writing, even when you don’t have somebody prompting you to do it. That’s what makes you a writer.
Start with an idea, add information and thought, write it out, and revise it, revise it, revise it.
And yes, you need to market, to offer your stuff to appropriate editors in appropriate formats over and over again. Sure, there are books, magazines and blogs that will tell you how to do this, but it’s all the same information. Once you have learned the process, you just have to keep doing it. You will be rejected more often than not. Revise it again and send it back out.
Writing is like dieting. You can’t do it for a week or two then go back to living on burgers, fries and Coca-Cola. It has to become a lifestyle. No one can guarantee that you will become rich and famous. But if you write well and keep sending your work out, you will have some success. You will be published. You will be a writer.
Every time somebody offers to sell you something to help you be a writer, be suspicious. Ask yourself if you really need it and if they’re just in it for the money. Sometimes a product or service can help you work better or inspire you when you’re feeling blocked, but in the end what you really need to be a writer is hard work and persistence, something you can’t buy.
End of sermon. Go write something good.
That’s the question revered nature essayist Kathleen Dean Moore asked at last night’s Oregon Coast Willamette Writers meeting. It’s a good question. Moore’s talk was as much a work of art as her essays. This author of numerous wonderful books told us she’s struggling to figure out whether her job at this point is “to savor the world or to save it.” If one’s writing is all pretty pictures, what good does that do in a troubled world, but if it moves too much into advocacy, then it becomes hard to read. So what’s a writer to do?
Maybe our work is to bear witness, Moore suggested.
This struck home for me. I have just released a new e-book called Childless by Marriage. Of course I want you to all buy it, but this post is more about bearing witness. The book started as journalism and morphed into memoir. Here’s the teaser from the sales material:
“First you marry a man who does not want children. He cheats and you divorce him. Then you marry the love of your life and find out he does not want to have children with you either. Although you always wanted to be a mother, you decide he is worth the sacrifice, expecting to have a long, happy life together. But that’s not what happens. This is the story of a how a woman becomes childless by marriage and how it affects every aspect of her life.”
Okay, catchy, a little glib, but wait a minute. That’s my life. The book tells about my sex life, my fears, my failures, my selfishness, my stupidity. I’m exposed on the page and screen for strangers to see. Why do that?
To bear witness. I want people to see what it’s like for the women who never have children. I don’t believe most people understand how different my life is from that of women who are mothers and grandmothers. I am hoping they will begin to understand, to be more compassionate, to make wiser life choices.
Do I want to become rich and famous, too? That would be nice, but I think our role as writers, no matter what genre we write in, is to take notes so that what we observe and experience can be saved and shared with others who do not have the gift of words.
What do you think about this?
In the next couple weeks, I’ll post about the process of turning this manuscript into an e-book and later into a print book. It’s time consuming and a little nerve-wracking but not difficult. You can do it, too.
2010 is almost over. We have a few days before the beginning of 2011 to take stock of the old year and make plans for the new one. So take some time this week to look at your freelance business.
What have you accomplished this year? Go ahead and make a list. If you have written but not published, that counts, too. Think of it as sowing seeds for future harvests. If you have published, have you organized your clips so they’ll be handy when you seek future work? Have you safely backed up all your files?
What do you want to accomplish in the coming year? Now is a good time to set goals. What will you do by this time next year? What do you need to do each month, each week, each day to make that happen?
What about money? Did you make money or lose money in 2010? Either way, if you’re freelancing for money, you need to report it to the IRS. If you have kept records all year, that won’t be hard. If you haven’t, set up a system this week that you will use starting on Jan. 1. I just signed up for QuickBooks to better organize my accounting. You can use any kind of computer program or write it out in a notebook, but you must keep records. On Jan. 1, write down the mileage in your car. You’ll need to know what the odometer says.
All the best to all of you for the new year. May it bring much success and happiness.
Have you purchased your copy of Freelancing for Newspapers yet?