Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Friday, February 25, 2005

If you can't do the job well, don't do it at all.

I thought I couldn’t write because of my major personal problem. I thought that I would NOT be able to get the job done. But as I am slowly recovering from this problem (which I would call trauma except for the fact that, aside from needing counseling because of it, it wasn’t as bad as most of these cases are), I feel my muse slowly coming back to life again. Little by little, I’m able to get back into the writing game, mentally preparing things I have to write, structuring leads and pondering interview questions.

The thing of it is, though, I’m not yet out of the woods. Part of me is still “messed up” because of what happened. It’s just not over yet and I suspect it’s going to be a while before it is truly over.

I bit the bullet this week and told my editors that A) I might not have Internet access for a while because I was leaving my home (with my daughter, of course) and B) A basic summary of why I was leaving. My editors were very understanding to my situation and invited me back once I got settled in the near future. Another editor inquired if I still wanted to send in an article that had to run in April and since it was a timely topic, of course I said yes. I wouldn’t be able to do it later unless I reslant it and I want to give readers a chance to get the heads-up on this annual event before it occurred.

Later, though, I found I was indeed able to submit in time after all: I would have the computer and everything to use. I notified my editors and, to my big surprise, one of them instructed that I take the time to recover from this problem and that they would always be there and ready when I was 100% better and able to submit my next article to them.

I pondered this. I really wanted to keep up with work on that end but, at the same time, I just couldn’t completely put myself into the job of writing the best article I could. And it was kind of a good thing my editor allowed this break, because I ended up getting really, really sick (I had NO strength to even stand up and my head felt like a bomb went off in it) and couldn’t do any kind of writing, anyway. (My mom is convinced I got sick from stress but I really wonder.)

I shared my dilemma with the gang at the Absolute Write Water Cooler. This is the thread I started for it:
http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=8366 One person made a comment that really put this into perspective: “Start producing crap however, and it's their necks on the line too - their bosses swing in, Changes are made, and you could well have blotted your copybook for life.” This comment floored me. It really is true. If I tried to still do my job even when I was allowed time off and when I couldn’t even think straight, the writing will suffer.

And you can’t let the writing suffer!

This reminded me of a saying I heard once: “If you can’t do the job well, don’t do it at all.” And I swear I never ever thought about this at all during the time I pondered whether I should heed my editor’s advice or try and be macho about it (even though I’m not a man! Hmm, I wonder if there’s a “Macho Woman” song....). Of course part of me screamed, “Listen to your editor!” While the other part could only ask, “What about your readers?”

It’s the second part I struggled the most with. One job is an article series. I never mentioned how many articles I’d be doing in this series (although at present I have 12 to cover the whole year) but, you know, the regular readers might be expecting the next installment. And if that next one doesn’t show up, they might start to lose interest, unsubscribe, wonder if I’m out of ideas or decided to quit. Of course, they might also think it just got interrupted, but part of me is expecting all the bad stuff.

But if I’m writing for my readers, then it is the readers’ expectations I need to keep in mind. And the very first thing a reader expects is a well-written article. They want something that was worth their time to read. And given the state I’m in right now...I just don’t think I have it in me to give it to them. Not at this point, anyway.

And so, for my readers’ sake (and not so much for my editors’), I will take some time to recover from this problem. I will try to get myself back together and, hopefully, get myself to write again. I don’t know if I can say when that will be but hopefully soon. After all, I got a book to get typed then finalized for a publisher (who doesn’t know of what all has been going on but I don’t feel I need to share it with her, too). I will take some time off. Maybe I will turn to journal-writing to help me cope with this thing, maybe I won’t use writing at all. I’m definitely going to get some counseling, though. And, hopefully, I’ll soon be on my way to being back in fighting shape.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Cracking under deadlines.

I admire the writer who can write when faced with any kind of emotion or situation. Pain, grief, lust, confusion, fear … dazedness. When there’s an earthquake or loss of life. And I tell writers to do this, too. Because even if you can’t write when you’re going through any of these emotions or situations, there’s a way around it if you need that way.

Of course if you can’t write, and don’t want to, nobody’s gonna put you down for it. You might put yourself down, but nobody else will. You can write if you want to, or not. It’s your choice.

But when it comes to being a writer with deadlines, you HAVE to write. No matter what you got going on, YOU CAN’T MISS YOUR DEADLINES. You just can’t. That is non-negotiable.

Myself, I’ve got three deadlines on the horizon: One for the end of the month and the other two the first week of March. And my editors rely on me to meet those deadlines.

The thing of it is, though, I had a MAJOR personal problem going on almost all month. It didn’t have anything to do with my writing life but everything to do with my personal life. I’ve had the good fortune of my online friends being there for me, to help me through it. And I may only know them through the Internet but they have proven to be such good friends who have really, really helped. I don’t think I could’ve gotten through this without them. Sure I had my mom and a couple of sisters to talk to in person, but these big-hearted souls opened their hearts and arms to me and it really helped me a lot.

Still, even when I was getting their support, advice and “shoulder to cry on” during this problem, I was still very torn and very upset. At the end of the day I’d be sitting on my bed, sniffling and wondering how I was going to put myself back together again. And it affected me on so deep a level that I could hardly write. At all. I did manage to write and submit an essay or two, but for the most part, I just couldn’t write as much as I used to. Not even in my blog, even when I HAD something to write about. I couldn’t do it.

But I knew I couldn’t let this continue, because my next deadline was right around the corner. I had people to interview and topics to research. Putting all of that off because I was feeling too depressed to do it just wasn’t an option for me.

So, this is where a bunch of catchphrases came in handy. The words “just do it” and “write on” repeated in my head, over and over. As well as the words, “Just write it.” The same advice Terry McMillan’s agent gave to her when she had doubts over her story. “Just write it.” So I dutifully sat down at the computer, barely feeling that familiar creative fire I normally have when I’m writing as I typed one interview question after another. And even when I didn’t care if there were any typos or if I spelled somebody’s name wrong, I checked, anyway. I had to. There’s always that “must remain professional” cloud hanging over me. I hated it, because I don’t like working when I’m forced to, but I told myself that I was only interviewing and researching. This was only the small nudges to get back into writing mode. I don’t know yet if it’s working, but at least my interviews got done.

I am not yet completely over my problem but I do know I’m slowly getting there. I’ve still managed to work towards meeting my deadlines and I’m hoping I’ll be able to write my articles with satisfaction as well. At least I’m not alone on this road to recovery. I am so grateful to all my friends for helping me get through this and for being there to talk to. A lot of them are writers, too, so maybe they’ll be able to give me the push I need to get my articles done come Deadline Week. At least by then some of those cracks I’ve endured will start showing some signs of healing.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Houston, we have a problem.

Some years ago, an editor wanted to know if I was psychic. Her curiosity stemmed from my having pitched the very same article she was looking for AND figuring out when she wanted another stream of articles I later sent her way. And while I laughed and commented that no, I’m not psychic, sometimes I really wish I was, like when I’m looking for an agent for my novels or trying to figure out what story to pitch to a magazine.

Or when it comes to working on a steady basis with an editor! One thing is definitely for certain: Being psychic would definitely help the at-home writer working as a freelance journalist!

For the more than one year I’ve been writing articles for SIGNews, my editor, Katie, and I would often wrestle with the timeliness of certain matters, like contracts, news pieces and deadlines. Deadlines have ultimately been the biggest challenge of them all, because even though this newspaper is a monthly, stories get tossed around more than lettuce in a salad. At one point, a story will go into the April issue. Then something happens in the Production department and there’ll be no room for it so it gets bumped to the May issue. As far as meeting deadlines on my end goes, there’s been problems since I’m stuck here at home and without transportation or a telephone call to help out (though at some points I’ve been able to “save the day” through last-minute telephone interviews through the relay service and was surprised at how accommodating my sources were no matter how early/late I called them). For the most part, calling in an interview isn’t always possible because A LOT of people have qualms in taking relay calls. This is when it compromises my deadlines. Still, a lot of sources have just been too busy to take time to answer E-mail interview questions (I guess all that experience I had trying to interview high school students for my local paper in the length of 5 minutes was for nothing!).

And when problems arise during the time I’m spending trying to meet my deadlines throughout all of these roadblocks, that’s when I have to send a heads-up to Katie or ask her input on something. She usually responds to my E-mails in a timely manner (time enough for me to get the job done, anyway), but there are times this just doesn’t happen. For one problem, for example, I didn’t hear from Katie until a week later, when she told me their computer had been infected by a virus and she lost all of her E-mails. Then there was the time her basement got flooded and I didn’t hear from her for 2 weeks.

If I was working at the office, these kinds of things wouldn’t happen. But I’m not (and I don’t think I’m ready to move to South Dakota, anyway), so I’m stuck in this roadblock limbo wondering just what the heck to do. I’m sure this is a problem lots of writers working from home face and I can’t help but wonder how they deal with it.

One of my sisters recently introduced me to a pager which you can use to send E-mail. (I can only assume this E-mail can also go to another pager?) I’m all too familiar with the Blackberry Sidekick pagers that the deaf community raves about (and also which SIGNews regularly advertises) and I even wrote in a recent article how one deaf teen stays connected with her family when she goes out thanks to her Sidekick. Still, the technology was way too unfamiliar to me and as my sister recently demonstrated how it’s used (and as I sat there mumbling over how it took too much typing just to get one word), I’m starting to think maybe they’re not so bad at all. It definitely might be worth considering since I can’t pick up the phone and call my editor anytime a problem arises (I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve tried calling there without getting an answer). It’s something to discuss with my editor, at least.

And it definitely beats checking my E-mail every 5 minutes to see if she’s replied yet.