January 13th, 2011

A Call for Order in 2011; You Can Do It!

Please welcome my fellow writer and GLVWG member, Ruth Heil, who kindly agreed to write a guest post for me today. 
A Call for Order in 2011; You Can Do It! by Ruth Heil

Facebook posts, query
letter follow up, workshops, emails, events, audience building, manuscript editing, contest submissions, collecting debts.... how is a writer supposed to keep it all straight? I thought writing was supposed to be a dream.
We are creative people. We don't track market data, crunch numbers, document plans, or make lists. Or do we? If you and I want to increase our writing profits, we simply have to. We must operate like professionals even when the required tasks do not complement our primary skill set.
There is hope.
These things can be learned.
And after they're learned, you'll see they're not so awful after all.
First you must make a commitment. Like any worthwhile endeavor, you have to WANT to learn how to operate a business. Each of us has a motivating factor that we can use to trick ourselves into wanting to do something that our nature otherwise despises? If it's money that motivates you, recognize the value in the task; if its time, understand what efficiencies can be gained; if it's confidence, focus on stress reduction.
For instance, on April 15, you are going to have file a tax return. Would you prefer to get the most deductions and keep more money? Would you like to get it done as fast as possible? Would you like a clean return with few audit flags? Your best chance lies not with the cleverness of a high-priced accountant, but in the completeness of the information YOU supply to him or her, and that depends on your day-to-day process.
Accounting software (such as Quicken® or QuickBooks®) is a powerful tool that records both expenses and income, in real time, and then organizes and spits out line-by-line details for the IRS. But if you don't build in a routine for entering data into the program, the result will be a hodgepodge of incomplete information that is virtually useless and inefficient.
Hiring an assistant might sound nice, but it's up to you to tell that assistant exactly what you want done. He or she is not going to be a magic fix. The routine must still be defined.
The point is, once you take the time to build an administrative process, you'll immediately begin saving money, time, and effort. In the tax return scenario, the rewards will be revealed during those dreaded days leading up to April 15.
The fact is, stressing over administrative tasks causes us to expend far more bodily energy than the actual doing of the task. After you invest a little time and brainpower into learning what needs to be done, you soon see that staying organized is not all that difficult. You can hire someone to teach you, ask a successful writer for advice, or use online searches and software tutorials.
Every for-profit writer is burdened with unpleasant business functions. Is it more burdensome than a daily commute, corporate politics, and unforgiving time clock the average American has to deal with? Absolutely not. It's a small price to pay for the freedom of self-employment. You can chose to put them off, or you can chose to tackle them head on. Either way, they are eventually going to have to be done. A proactive approach places you in control whereas procrastination is more likely to control you.
Examples include:
Contact address books for recording prospective agents, other authors, sources, and fans.
Spreadsheets to track query letter submissions.
Task lists for both short- and long-term goals.
Logical filing structure for folders on the computer (or in a tangible file cabinet).
Procedural documentation and checklists so you don't have to remember every detail of every infrequent task.
A written business plan that forces you to identify your niche, your market, your core strengths and your goals.
Is any of this as fun as writing? Of course not. If it were, we'd be database managers, accountants, file clerks, or project managers.
So how do you start? Identify one goal. Then begin writing the story that is you achieving that goal. Research, outline, draft, edit, and polish. When you're done with that story, move on to the next.
Just as in writing, perfection is not necessary. And NEVER let anyone make you feel foolish because you had to ask. When someone reads your work, do you belittle him or her when they ask, "How'd you do that?" No. The ask is a compliment. Now go compliment an organized friend and ask for help.
Before you know it, you'll be back to the dream that is the writing life. 
Are you ready for a successful 2011? 

Ruth Heil is a freelance writer and former office management consultant.  Learn more at
www.thewritebeat.com or read her blog at http://thewritebeat.com/BacktoBasicsBlog/blog1.php

A quiet word with Renata Piper

Renata Piper (akalyonesse), one of the runners-up in last year's Meager Puddle of Limelight Award for Best Opening Line, kindly consented to brave some searching questions about her entry, "I measure damage by the milligram," and her other work.  

What’s the name of the story the opening line is from?
It's a poem in villanelle form, so the wordcount is thirty-nine lines. Its title went through several permutations; it started with "A Mentally Ill Individual Performs Daily Life Chores", became "A F**khead Feeds the Cat", and ended up as "Villanelle on Valium."

Tell us a little about it. Is it published? If so, where can folks find it?
i haven't sold it, nor is it in the little chapbook I'll be selling at my author table at Arisia, this coming Sunday, 3-8pm :) called "You Were Warned: Transgressive Tales of the Preternatural", though i suppose it could/should have been! I posted it to lj, though, and it can be found at this link:


(with original title intact!)

How many times did you change the opening line before you settled on "I measure damage by the milligram?"
Zero. I got that one in my head, I wrote a villanelle. it went pretty smoothly; this is one reason I enjoy formal poetry. That was a line I thought could stand up to repeated use, so I went for a form in which the whole line would be a repeton. 

What’s your preferred genre/wordcount?
Magical realism, or realistic magic; I often can't tell the difference (that said, see below about my work-in-progress!) I go all the way from little bitty four-line doggerel poems to the 200+kword werewolf novel, so I can't say I have a preferred wordcount; I like to let the form or the story dictate that.

What’s your current WIP? 
A hard-sf first-encounter piece of erotica, which I expect will come in around 55kwords. That's different! but it's going along very sweetly, so I'm cool. 

Are you a pantser or an outliner?
Much with the seat-of-the-pants. though if I know something's coming, I will write it down and then go on until I get there and work it in. and when I write formal poems I might write a line or two, fill in the form, and then go back and write in the less-structured parts.

What are your long term goals as a writer?
To write and damn well like it, and to be read.

Tell us about your very first sale.
This isn't quite the same, but....when I was ten, my mom and I collaborated on a piece of scientific research ("The activity of New Jersey women physicians on hospital staffs and in organized medicine"), which passed peer review and was published. *That* was a total high. I'm still in science (I'm a neuroscientist), and in a lot of ways peer-reviewed publication still means more to me than paid-market ones do. That said, I think my very first *paid* sale was a romantic little sonnet called "The Beast in December", part of a cycle i was writing about secondary characters in myths and fairy tales -- this must have been twenty years ago; I was in grad school. I got about twenty bucks for it from a literary magazine. I took myself out for sushi :) 

As a reader, does a good opening line make a difference to you?
Not so much, as it goes by so fast. when I'm book-shopping I usually read randomly from the middle rather than starting at the front. so I can't say that before this contest I'd ever given first lines a lot of thought, except just as lines.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever heard?
From David St John, a poetry prof at mine from my undergrad: Every line should be good. Each line should be liftable from context and worth reading on its own. If it isn't, leave it out, or rewrite it until it's better.

What’s the worst?
To think of the "publishing marketplace" as the highest of goals. I know some excellent writers who've nearly been driven from writing entirely by that idea. I'm not anti-publishing -- I love being read, and I like getting paid! -- but any goal that impedes the process is a failure in my book, as it were.

What was the last story/novel you pitched/submitted?
I sent query letters to two agents about the werewolf novel. but it's too long for the market in current form (225k words), apparently, and besides which I don't think I write good "BUY MY BOOK, IT GOES LIKE THIS!" letters. I am trying to revise it down (I never wrote a four-word sentence when an eleven-word one would do), but I have no idea if it'll ever see publication outside of my local collaborative press (MOON THIEF -- table at arisia, sunday sunday sunday, 3-8pm :) I did also successfully get an extension on the first-contact piece (entitled "The One Who Changes You") and expect to be submitting it to the requesting publisher (Circlet Press, which has published my short fiction before), and hope to turn that in next week.

What was the last story/novel you read?
I just finished The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Marukami. I loved it :)

Do you belong to a writing/critique group? Why?/Why not?
Nope. not hanging out with anyone who's into that right now, I guess. I have in the past and really enjoyed it, but it takes a lot of commitment from a bunch of people. I do have an lj-filter for people helping me out with the werewolf-novel revisions, but that's just all about me me me :) 

Where can readers find your work?
Sunday, Sunday, sunday, at arisia, authors/artists alley, table 6, 3-8pm,
Moonthief Press table! I'll have some werewolf novels (come hell or high water!) and a bunch of "you were warned" chapbooks available (to adults or young folks with parental/guardian permission), as well as sculpture (i work in feathers, bones, plush...) and a poster with a prayer to the moon.

or, umm, ask me. a lot of my poems show up in this journal, actually.

My last sale was lesbian-werewolf smut and you can find it at amazon as part of a circlet collection here:

(I should point out it has one review, a complaint from somebody that a lot of the hawt hawt action is same-sex. sorry, wacky monosexuals, this one may not be for you.)

Where on the web can you be found?
There's a placeholder page with a mailto at www.moonthief.com. Ii should really flesh it out, but doubt I'll do so in the next few days, as i have SUNDAY, SUNDAY, SUNDAY to prepare for :) 

What do you know now, that you wish you'd known when you first started writing?
That I can write about absolutely anything.

Is there’s anything I didn’t ask you, that you want to answer anyway?
Will I answer other questions in comments? sure! :)

Who do you think would win in a fight, astronauts or cavemen?
Astronauts, who typically come out of the military. cavemen tended not to specialize, and one of our species' amazing abilities is to *not* fight all the freakin' time; this is what made cavemen into people.

Renata Piper (aka lyonesse) minored in writing seminars at Johns Hopkins University, where she edited a literary magazine there for three years. She has published poetry, short fiction, engineering articles, and hard science. She also has a pony, and laughs too much.

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