Success for the Struggling Writer

key keyboard smaller

“This blessing reminded me that rewards for hard work sometimes come in the most unexpected, touching and wonderful ways.”

Writing is tough.   The actual writing part is hard enough, and then of course there’s marketing, which when it comes down to it, is how you become a financial success.   If you don’t know how to market, even through a traditional publishing route, you’re likely to not see the higher numbers.  Even though I don’t write solely to make money, it is one way of measuring success.  For me, as I’m sure it is for many of my colleagues, money from sales trickles in at a rate not even suitable for a five-year-old with a lemonade stand.   And if reviews were dollar bills I’d have just enough to rent a Red Box movie.

But this past week has shown me an amazing a blessing.  This blessing reminded me that rewards for hard work sometimes come in the most unexpected, touching and wonderful ways.  This blessing has some serious writing chops himself and  I’m proud to call that blessing my eleven-year-old nephew.   When the numbers aren’t there and you’re starting to question whether or not you have what it takes to make it, remember…you never know who might be paying attention.  I submit to you, this uplifting piece of wonder:

Keaton's Report about Sarah censored

 

Can’t quite make it out? The report my nephew wrote for school reads as follows:

Have you or one of your family members had a dream and followed it? My aunt has, she did not back down from being an author.  Someday soon she will have lots of published books.  As a young senior in high school, she read books like Harry Potter, Bridge to Terabithia, Chronicles of Narnia, The Princess Bride, and Holes, etc.  She has written Compulse, The Voiceless, The Christmas Beagle and Belinda Starr and the Metallic Enchantment.  These four books are only the start to her writing career.  

Sarah Eaton is my aunt’s name.  She lives in (city, state), taking care of my grandmother. She is married to Steven Eaton.  They both live in an RV with their dog Emmy Lou.  Sarah might look like any other woman you see, but she’s a fast thinker and is usually writing. If she’s not doing that, she’s reading or spending time with her family.  

My aunt is like the funniest, most interesting books you’ve ever read.  She loves animals and enjoys the outdoors.  As a young child, she was home schooled by her parents Judith and Donald Miniken.  Since there were only two channels on their TV, my aunt usually read out in their backyard/forest, or in their garden.  When she was bored, my aunt Sarah would play with sticks, pretending they were wands from Harry Potter, with my aunt Amanda.  

Thanks to my aunt, I want to become an author.  As her nephew, I’ve read her first chapter book, Belinda Starr and the Metallic Enchantment.  It’s a really good read! Wait until it gets published and you’ll maybe get to read it.   Don’t forget to check out her other books, like Compulse, The Voiceless and The Christmas Beagle.  Sarah got her inspiration for The Christmas Beagle from her dog, Emmy Lou. 

That’s all the reasons I chose my aunt as my role model.  I hope that she, as well as other authors inspire you to write a book.  When you want a dream you should never give up.  Whether writing a book or making a song, try your hardest like my aunt did.  If you try that dream is yours.  

I melted when I first read it.  Little else could remind me of my importance in such a meaningful way.  I am beyond lucky to have this kid in my life, and as though this homework assignment wasn’t enough of an honor, a friend and former college classmate of mine wrote a blurb on my Facebook timeline yesterday:

“Both Keith and I are feeling distracted tonight. We’re working on separate projects, both at critical junctures in the plot, and both of us are like squirrels. Or really excited dogs. Or something. And I was kind of getting down on myself for my lack of self-discipline when the thought occurred to me, “You know who knows what this is like? Sarah knows what this is like. And she doesn’t beat herself up, at least publicly. She knows it’s part of the process, and she sticks with the process till there’s a breakthrough. Okay. I can do this.” And that was a very comforting thought. And I thought I should tell you.”

Commitment speaks volumes to those around you.   Keep at it, writer.  Keep at it.   And while you’re at it, forward some of that encouragement to other writers.  It could be just the spring in their step they needed to keep at it themselves.

So, fellow writers, I wish you success.  I wish you writing friends who remind you that you are indeed making a difference. I wish you truckloads of cash and ample constructive reviews. I wish you fatty contracts, literary awards and film rights.  And, especially when you’re doubting your abilities, I wish for you a kid in your life. …A kid who has been paying attention to your writing habits, who looks up to you and has deemed you worthy enough to call you his role model.  To be called such is an incomparable measure of success.   It’s a reward worth more than any amount of money, and I think it’s one of the most important thing I’ll ever be.

Advertisements

Dogs VS Cats: Writing Companions

dog and cat smaller

Cats or dogs?

Many writers I’ve encountered have a furry companion, and most of the time it either meows or barks.  The majority of the time, however, it’s the feline friend writers prefer.  Ample writing time, coffee and cats is the recipe happiness for many a writer (throw in a few dozen good reviews, too).   Rarely have I encountered writers who have a dog.  As a dog owner, this was disheartening to me, but to each their own!  I love cats, too, but I’m allergic, and the allergens trigger my asthma.  Still, cats have their merit, as do dogs, and when I’m working on Belinda Starr, I like to have my sweet Emmie Lou right by my side.

Emmie Lou bed smaller

She’s a wonderful little beagle!  It just so happens there is a beagle in Belinda Starr, making Emmie the perfect inspiration for that particular character.  But not all stories have dogs, nor do all writers write about animals.  But even so, having a furry friend by the writer’s side gives her a sense of wellness she would be hard pressed to find elsewhere.  For example,

The dog companion:

dog glasses smaller

  • Lies at feet with a canine-brand loyalty.   This fills the writer’s writing room with good loyalty vibes.  This is a crucial concept when sticking to a writing project.  Writing takes loyalty, to yourself and to your work.
  • Cocks her head (hounds more than others, I believe).  This makes her an excellent conversationalist.  Writers often need to bounce ideas off others.  The head cock gives the writer the impression that they are being heard, even if they have to repeat themselves to the confused pooch.
  • Will let you know when it’s time for a break.  Dogs have bladders and stomachs, each with different functions.  One says “Hey, Ma, let’s go for a quick walk outside.  You can stretch your legs, get some fresh air, get a fresh perspective on that troublesome character, you know, the reason you’ve been banging your head on your desk for hours, and I’ll urinate on stuff.  Sound good?” The other says, “feed me!  Oh, while you’re at it, you need to eat too, remember?”   And then there’s the doggy mind, which needs stimulation, and will remind you it’s break time when it tells doggy to bring you the slobber-ridden toy.  Go on.  Step away from the computer for a while. You need the stimulation, too!
  • Snuggles close.  When you’re stressed, nothing says “I’m here for you, writer!” like having a dog nuzzle up to you and give that wistful puppy sigh.  ❤
  • Reminds you there’s more to life than writing.  Usually by wiggling her sweet face onto my lap and staring up at me with those doe-like eyes.  Makes me melt, every time, and convinces me it’s time to spend some time with her and my less-furry other loved ones.

 

The cat companion:

cat desk smaller

  • Purrs! One of the most relaxing sounds on the planet Earth!  When writer is going bonkers, writer can just pet the purring machine, and if it’s an automatic engine, then voila, stress-be-gone!  If it’s a stick-shift, the purring machine may take a while, and if it’s a tricky engine, purring may be replaced by swiping claws.  Stress-reducing results may vary.
  • Sits on shoulders.  While this may make it difficult to write, it’s nice to know that at least someone cares about your writing.
  • Also reminds you it’s break time:  Knocks stuff down, meows because food, bats at loose strings on your sweater, knocks stuff down, digs claws into shoulders, knocks stuff down, meows because, well, meow, knocks stuff down.
  • Curls up on your lap.  Cats are generally more compact than dogs, making it easier to allow them to situated themselves on your lap in that adorable little ball of cat they fold themselves into.  How convenient, when you need to stop typing and think for a while, there’s a kitty, all ready for your thinking-pets!
  • Gives you a bath.   Hey, writer.  You’re stinky.  You need to be cleaned. Kitty says so.  You’re welcome.

 

I love my writing companion, and when I’m working on Belinda Starr, there is none other like my little beagle, Emmie Lou. Who is your preferred writing companion?  Does it bark or meow?   Let me know in the comments below!

Guard Your Writing Time

 

shield

 

 

So, you’ve closed the social media tabs, tucked the little one in for the night and fed the dog.  Great.  Woo hoo!  You’re ready to write!  …Until your friend contacts you and asks you to (fill in the blank), and you will, right?  Because you can just drop everything…after all, you’re a writer.  Your schedule is flexible.  

The moment you decide to become a full-time writer, you must stop seeing it as a hobby.  Treat it as a career.  Writing is my career and I know I wouldn’t be able to write the 7-part middle grade fantasy series Belinda Starr if I didn’t treat it as such.  Even if you don’t plan on making money off of it, you did decide to start writing for a reason, right?  Maybe you just want the accomplishment of completing a novel.  Whatever your reasons, you still have a book to write, and the more you treat it like an afterthought, the more it’s going to be reflected as such in your results.

So, then.  This:  After you’ve prioritized (family needs, etc), make your writing schedule inflexible.  Ask yourself, if your writing time were time spent working another job, say, at a local deli or at a school as a teacher, would you be as willing to drop everything?  As a writer, you are your own boss.  At any other job, what would your boss say if your friend called and demanded “you need a break”?

You may not even commit said drop because you’re “such a good friend”.  Be honest.  You just might be looking for a distraction…an excuse to not write.  If you’re reading this and you have an author friend or one in the family, pay attention: This writing thing they’re doing…?  It’s important to them.  My family and friends have, for the most part, been pretty respectful of my writing time, but their minds aren’t wired like that of a writer.  Home time to them is free time. Home time to me, more often than not, is writing time.

Now, writers, if you’re headed for a burn-out, then by all means, take a break.   And what’s more, being a full-time writer doesn’t mean your whole life should revolve around writing.  Make time for other things.  As difficult as it is for me at times to tear myself away from Belinda Starr, I do have other things going on in my life. Don’t neglect your relationships and your health. Find a good balance (I recommend a break every hour or so to get up AWAY from the computer/desk and do something else for ten minutes, a short walk, fold a load of laundry, etc., but then get back to it!)

Point is, when it comes to writing, you need decide your schedule, and sometimes, you won’t know if your schedule is doable until you try it on for size.  Tweak what needs to be tweaked, but find a schedule that works for you, and then stick to it. Solid.  Inflexible.  Remember, this isn’t just a hobby.  This is your career, or it’s at least something you want to happen.  Make it happen.

 

Finding the Right Valve

water 2

 

A lot of people have been asking me variations of the same question…why is it taking me so long to finish Belinda Starr and the Metallic Enchantment?  (Read: I mean, good grief, Sarah, you’ve been working on this thing for years!  No more drafts!  Just finish it already!)  Let’s see if I can tackle this one with an analogy, and since I’m sitting here writing this while smacking my lips, yearning for a glass of ice water, I’ll make it a water analogy.

Picture, if you will, a giant reservoir of water.  Oh, and you’re thirsty.  …Really freaking thirsty.   Attached to this reservoir are several pipes with valves, but you have to try several wrong pipes before you can get to the right one, the one that will spout out a glorious rush of sweet, perfect water.  Some of the pipe valves are rusted over and only produce nasty rust-colored water.  Other valves are difficult to turn and by the time it finally budges, only a trickle of water drips out for your parched tongue.  Some of the pipes produce an okay flow, but it just tastes…off.   …Like your husband’s been making tea in it and the tea bag is his balled-up sweaty wool socks.

I hope this analogy gives you a taste of why I’ve been working on my first novel for almost three years.  If you’re a writer or have ever taken on a project this big before, you might not need such a picture painted for you.  You’ve been to the museum.  You know what’s up.  You know what I mean when I say that never have I done anything so exhausting, so daunting, so maddening…and yet so central to my livelihood and well-being.  It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever loved doing.  I didn’t have to work half this hard to get my BA.  Yup.  That’s right—in case no one’s told you, writing a novel, especially an epic fantasy, is hard.  Six drafts of “Belinda Starr” later, I’m still hacking away at the dirt clump, trying to find the fossil of story beneath it (reference Stephen King).

When I started “Belinda” in 2013, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted, I just knew I wanted to write a 7 (or 8) part middle grade fantasy series.  I completed the first draft of the first book, and as a rough draft does, it stunk.

Months later, the second draft was born.  It was…eh…okay, but it still had the stinky, rusty remnants of the first draft.  I was not pleased. I went back and forth between polishing drafts, producing new ones and taking long, antagonizing breaks, where I plugged away at other projects, all while pining for my dearest Bel.  I wrote a few other stories. I honed my craft.  I became a better writer.  I set deadlines.  Some of them I met.  Others laughed at me as they went by, cackling like some sort of malicious time monster.

Sometime last year, I threw most of “Belinda” in the trash, because try as I might, I couldn’t get those “bits of rust” to disappear.  Most of the characters were mundane or weak.  The plot was far-fetched and too complicated.  It had a few good characters and some exciting action sequences, but it was just not up to par.  In the following months, I watched a lot of Brandon Sanderson lectures, read other middle grade fantasy novels and “how-to” writing books as well as countless articles from writing blogs such as “Writers Write”.  I started over, and no, not completely over, because even though I pulled up a new blank word document, the heart of Belinda, most of its characters and the feel of the story, was still waiting for me in the reservoir.  I just had to find the right pipe.

Last December, I took a good long look at what it is that I, Sarah, actually want to write.  I listened to my squishy insides, and it told me a story.  I listened.  I went back to the drawing board.  I nixed a lot of stuff from the original drafts that while cool in a sense, were just not working.  I killed my darlings, as King would say.

Last month, I started to write the “Belinda” manuscript again.  As of today, I am two chapters and one vague outline into the seventh draft, which in a lot of ways, is first draft.  It’s a first draft with bits of soul from the first six resting in its newborn body.  And while I can’t promise anything, I have this really amazing feeling that I’ve at last found the correct pipe.  I’ll let you know.  I’m still turning the valve.