Getting ready to write

How do you prepare for a day’s writing? It seems there are as many ways as there are writers. Where, what and how you write makes a difference. When I worked at newspapers, I didn’t have much time for messing around. Deadlines loomed, and the guy in the next cubicle was concentrating on his own writing. I’d lay out my notes around the  keyboard, type a heading, and then go to the bathroom.

Wait, what? Go to the bathroom? Yes, for two reasons. I didn’t want to have to run to the ladies’ room once I got rolling, and I needed a minute to organize my thoughts. Often my opening lines came to me in that three-minute trip.

It doesn’t have to be the bathroom. One could go down the hall for coffee, or, if working at home, do what I just did and put away some stray clothes and start getting dressed. I was putting on my pants when I decided what to write about. Some people do yoga, some pray, some knit, some go for a walk. It doesn’t matter what you do to prepare to write, but your brain has to be free to think. No media, no talking, no texting. I have closed my Internet connections, opened a fresh screen on my computer, and placed hot tea on the warmer beside me. I’m ready.

I don’t have a deadline today, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need to write. I have plenty of half-finished projects and lots of notes scribbled on scratch paper that I can expand into stories or poems. I can always outline a new article or a query to get myself an assignment.

Writing muscles need regular workouts. You’ve all heard the advice to “write every day.” Actually it doesn’t have to be every day. Maybe you’re a Monday, Wednesday, Friday kind of writer or just weekends. That’s okay. Set a schedule and stick to it, whether you do it before work, while the kids are at school, or when everyone else is asleep. People rarely understand when you say “I have to work” or “I have to write.” Do it anyway.

Like an athlete, a writer needs to warm up. Creativity gurus Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg and others recommend “morning pages.” Just write whatever’s in your head. Don’t worry about whether it’s beautiful or correct or publishable. If you can’t think of anything, you can even fill a page with “I can’t think of anything to write.” But honestly, there’s always something. Write about what’s bothering you. Write about something you read or saw on TV. Describe something that happened to you yesterday.

One exercise I’ve been doing this week came from Poets & Writers’ series of prompts. They credit this one to poet Linda Gregg. Every day for a week, you briefly describe six things you see each day. They can be absolutely ordinary things to which you usually don’t pay attention. At the end of the week, pick two of those things and write a poem about them. I have been amazed at how many things there are to notice in my house, especially my living room. I can already see that I’m going to write about more than two and it won’t necessarily be poetry. There are essays, articles and short stories in those things I’m seeing, things like the flute I never play, the tambourine I bought in Portugal, the stained carpet, or the dog sleeping on her smelly blanket on the floor.

I’m never going to run out of things to list. If I exhaust one room or even my whole house, I’ll simply change location. Meanwhile, having filled several pages of my journal, I’m warmed up and ready to tackle the day’s writing project. As soon as I go to the bathroom.

Get comfortable and get started. Write.


The Joys of Birthing a Book

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When all I can think about is the book I’m currently producing, it seems logical to write about the birth of that book.Childless by Marriage has been on my desk and in my heart for decades. I started interviewing and researching childlessness about four books ago. It has been so long that some of the people I talked to have died and others have had babies, making them no longer childless. Many of us have gone through menopause.

Why has it taken so long? Selling books is a crazy business. I have submitted variations of this manuscript to agents and editors by mail and e-mail and pitched it at numerous conferences. An agent took it on and offered it to all the major publishing companies. The result was always the same: She writes well and it’s an interesting topic, but I don’t see a market for it. To which I wanted to scream, BUT I DO. I know there are people out there who will read it, and I can tell you where they are.

When I started working on this book, e-books/aka electronic books did not exist. “Vanity” publishing was a shameful option and the fledgling print-on-demand industry, which would house your book as computer files that were only printed as books when orders came in, wasn’t much better. The type of self-publishing where you hired pros to set up and print your books cost too much for ordinary people.

Times have changed. Now readers are walking around with Kindles and iPads, and you can publish an e-book for free. That’s right, free. All it takes is a little time. And, with the advances in digital technology, most of us can afford to publish a print book, either through one of many print-on-demand companies such as Authorhouse, Lulu or CreateSpace, or working with a printer on our own. We can download programs to format our books at our own computers. It’s not free, but it’s doable.

Publishing your own work does not have the same stigma it had even 10 years ago.A little over a century ago, self-publishing was common. With the industrial era, big companies took over publishing books to make a profit, and they became the only acceptable option. But now, with the big publishers refusing to take on anything except guaranteed blockbusters and with so many other options, we can take our careers back into our own hands.

That doesn’t mean we all should. Publishing a book does take a lot of effort—they should have Lamaze classes for author-publishers. Trying to get page numbers where they belong makes me crave an epidural for the brain. If a traditional publishing house wanted to take this job away from me, I’d be happy to let them.

Also, the reason self-publishing has had such a negative reputation for so long is that if anybody can publish a book, there’s no guarantee it’s any good. You have to weed through the garbage to find the good books. But if your book is good and you can get people to read it, the word will spread.

Let me be blunt about self-publishing. If your book isn’t well-written and professionally edited, with an eye-catching cover, and professional-quality layout, don’t do it. If you have no idea where or how to sell it, don’t do it. If you’re not ready to put in a lot of work with details such as headers and footers, ISBNs and platform-building, don’t do it. If you are not sure you can trust the company you’re thinking about working with,  don’t do it.

If you’ve never published anything else before, don’t do it, at least not yet. Spend some time building your career first. I wouldn’t dream of self-publishing a book if I didn’t have a long track record.

That said, if you feel that you’re ready, you can publish your own book.

The publishing world is full of advice for self-publishers these days. I’m not going to repeat it all. Visit the writersdigest.com website. Jane Friedman’s No Rules blog,  is loaded with practical self-publishing advice. There’s more at The Writer and Poets & Writers. Google self-publishing and prepare to be overwhelmed with information.

Or, you can purchase a skinny book that tells it all in plain English. I won Katie Salidas’ Go Publish Yourself! last month in a Goodreads giveaway (www.goodreads.com). It wasn’t the book I really wanted, but it turned out to be the book I really needed. I’ve got a shelf full of fat self-publishing books, but they’re complicated and go out of date before I can read them. Everything I need is in Go Publish Yourself!, with lots of practical advice and links to resources that will help you produce either an e-book or a print book.

Which should you do, e-book or print book? Well, I think one should do both. I don’t plan to publish any more books without making an electronic version available. Amazon is selling more Kindle books than print books these days. Why should we leave out all those readers who have stopped going to bookstores because they’d rather read on the Kindle? Or the Nook? Or their iPad or smartphone?

But what about those people who prefer traditional books? And what are you going to sell at book-signings, talks, festivals, in the stores, or out of the trunk of your car? In my opinion, it’s best to have both. Remember, producing the e-book is free. Also, you can take it offline and revise it anytime you want. So, if nothing else, do that and see what happens.

Again, I don’t want to repeat the advice you can find all over cyberspace and the print world. I’m just saying that with the changing times and countless revisions, I can now present Childless by Marriage to the world. Ten years ago, it wasn’t ready. I’m glad those editors said no. The e-book came out on Mother’s Day. You can get it for $2.99 at the Amazon Kindle store. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the Kindle reading app on whatever you do have.

Three of my previous books, Shoes Full of Sand, Azorean Dreams, and Stories Grandma Never Told, are also available as Kindle e-books you can download and read today. How cool is that?

The print version of Childless by Marriage is getting a pretty new cover, and I’m almost done wrestling with page numbers, headers, typefaces and such for the inside. I’m thinking it will be out in July, August at the latest.

Come back here for weekly discussions on the various aspects of this book-birthing process and other topics for writers. You can keep up with the latest on the new book at http:/childlessbymarriageblog.com. Blogging is another thing I never dreamed of when this book first started. Who knew? It’s a great new world.

But, beware. All this talk of publishing can distract us from the most important thing. Without the writing, there’s nothing to publish. So, go write. Write now.


Northwest poets converge

I never heard so much poetry in one gulp as I heard last weekend at the third annual Northwest Poets’ Concord in beautiful Newport, Oregon. Approximately one hundred poets gathered to read their poems, write new ones, share techniques and sell books. I came home with drafts of several promising poems, some new books and some new ideas about this business of being a poet.

We all know, or should know, that you can’t make a living writing poetry. Only a few literary magazines and journals pay actual money for poems. Most pay in copies of the publication. You can make some money winning contests, but most charge entry fees, so if you don’t win, you’re actually losing money.

If we can’t make money writing poetry,  why write it? Because it communicates in ways that nothing else can.  It crystalizes experiences, ideas and events into word jewels that can be savored in one sitting and collected in book form like strings of precious beads. The average American probably doesn’t read much poetry, but it’s out there to be enjoyed.

There’s no reason you can’t write poetry while writing other things for money.

A world of resources exists for poets. Let me just give you a few today.

Poets and Writers magazine and website, http://www.pw.org. Poets and Writers offers tons of listings for contests and places to get published, along with lots of great information and an online forum to keep in touch with other writers.

The Poetic Asides blog, http://www.blog.writersdigest.com/poeticasides. Robert Lee Brewer, editor of Writer’s Market and its sister Poet’s Market, blogs here about poetry, offering interviews and information, weekly prompts and bi-annual poem-a-day contests.

Poetry.org, resources for poets, http://www.poetry.org

Poems.com, a new poem to read every day, http://www.poems.com

Happy poeming!