Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Neither rain nor sleet nor snow ... nor the UPS guy

The Postal Service may have their own carrier’s oath, which goes something along the lines of “neither rain nor sleet nor snow will keep your mail from getting to you.” Writers have their own oaths, too, which goes probably runs along the lines of “neither hunger, nor poverty now bad Internet connection will keep us from writing.”

For me, it’s more like “neither hunger, nor poverty nor the UPS guy catching me in my pajamas at 10:30 a.m. will keep me from writing.”

And I had to EARN that last part!

I’ve written before about how this happened when I was deep in the throes of writing my TIPS book. I lived, breathed and ate writing that book – what writer doesn’t when they’re “in the zone”?? It’s all we can THINK about: Writing that book. There were many times I’d be vigorously typing away at the computer, still wearing the same sweats I’d slept in (one item on the list of Things I Sleep In), and at 4:30 p.m. the UPS guy showed up to find me barefoot with messy hair and sweating in my sweats.

But it’s not always a book that will have me “in the zone” or going without sufficient sleep, proper nourishment (or ANY nourishment, for that matter), a social life and fresh air; it’s writing work that I’ve got deadlines for. Until that deadline gets met, meeting it pretty much takes up most of my attention. Oh, sure, I’ll E-mail people in between working on them and I’ll field the occasional curve ball life seems to enjoy hitting me with. But for the most part, I’m a “writer at work” until my article gets turned in and my editors are happy campers.

Take this morning, for example. After only 6 hours of sleep, I logged in to my E-mail account with a funny feeling I had something important waiting for me. Sure enough, a contact in London e-mailed me saying to go ahead and send her my interview questions “sometime today” before she left town for the next few days. And all I could think was: It’s a good thing I logged on now when I did, because it’s 4:30 p.m. over there and I can catch her before she leaves!! (What is it about 4:30 p.m., anyway??) So there I sat, in a raggedy old, torn sundress that I’d slept in (yet another item on my list), typing out my interview questions then hitting Send.

Then my sister in California and I started chatting and sending family pics back and forth. In between our chat, I spent the time trying to get a hold of two other contacts for another assignment, using both E-mail and phone.

Then the UPS guy showed up. And it wasn’t even 4:30! Actually, it was 10:30.

Oh, well. Good thing I don’t sleep in lingerie.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

A lesson from Stephen King

I am not an early-riser but I woke up this morning at 5:30. It wasn’t my daughter climbing into bed that woke me up; it was a dream I just had. A dream in which I knew something very bad was about to go down so I got myself outta there.

In the dream, I was in a motel room, watching this show on TV. The show was an interview with Stephen King, where he talked about how he got the idea for his book The Shining and pretty much how he ended up writing it. He said that while he and his wife were staying at this hotel, he got the idea so he just sat down and wrote it. No reservations, no agonizing over what to name the characters, no wondering if it would sell. He just sat down and wrote it.

Yeah, I’ve read the story about how he wrote The Shining. But I never really paid so much attention to it until now, mainly because there’s so many ideas my Internal Editor keeps crumbling up and tossing into the mental trash can. Take yesterday, for example. I looked out the window next to the desk where I do my writing at and saw a car. I suddenly had the mental image of a character standing next to the car and there was something very wrong with him. Couldn’t put my finger on whatever it was – and I didn’t even try! I just let it go. Let the idea fade from my mind because I thought it wouldn’t turn into much of anything.

I have written unpublished novels before. And short stories. One thing I know is that, once you start writing and getting into a story, it takes on a life of its own. You can’t help but keep writing as the story unfolds in your mind, making your fingers fiercely continue typing as the words just start to “pour” through your skin.

Well, that’s what happens with me when I write fiction, anyway. I get “into the zone.”

But lately I keep throwing out ideas, thinking they won’t be any good, I can’t do anything with them, they won’t sell, etc.

And now this dream is our dear Mr. King reminding me that I shouldn’t worry about things like that so much. I should take my idea, sit down and start writing it! Forget about what kind of story it’ll be; just write the thing. Get it out of my head and onto paper. And even if it doesn’t sell, at least I will have written it. I didn’t throw it away; I wrote it.

I’m thinking once we writers get into the habit of passing on our ideas, it becomes a stable part of our workday. That Internal Editor suddenly gets on our payroll, ready to field each idea that appears. And that’s not exactly a good thing to happen! What we need to do is use our ideas and just write them down. Even if it goes nowhere, so what? Writing them down will tell us, without a doubt, whether or not our idea is a keeper.

And as for the bad part of the dream? I’d been standing next to an opened doorway. A shady character, an unshaven man with dark hair and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, came up to the door then motioned with his chin that I should follow him. My first thought in a situation like that would be to close and lock the door, grateful the guy didn’t come tearing through it with a knife or something. But now that I don’t even know what would’ve happened next in the dream, maybe I’ll take King’s advice and write it down.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Leveling the paying field

My first writing job was just that: A job. Meaning I got paid for it. This type of luck doesn’t come easy to every writer. In fact, a lot of writers started out writing for free until they have a decent C.V. But I got lucky. Despite having a few stories appear in my local paper, I didn’t consider this to be my job. I was a journalism student at a community college and wanted to try my hand at real-world newspaper reporting. That stint was considered “practice.” The minute I ended up being on somebody’s payroll, with a deadline to meet each week, that was when I called myself a “working writer” with a J-O-B.

And you would think that this meant only bigger (and better-paying) jobs would follow. Alas, this hasn’t happened. Sure, I’ve made the occasional sale where I earned more on one article than I got from a week’s pay, but I have yet to keep this type of income improvement a stable part of my writing career. Any check I receive from SIGNews also means a financial improvement, but on the whole the rest of my writing income (or lack of one) deserves scrutiny.

What I’m getting at here is writers who work and write for free, AFTER they achieve a degree of success.

With anything a writer starts – newspaper writing, greeting card writing, screenwriting, copywriting, etc. – there isn’t going to be any big paychecks coming in at the very beginning. Actually, for some, there won’t be any at all. The reason for this is because of the universal understanding that when you start a new kind of writing job (such as copywriting), some pro bono work is in order. This is only meant to garner you some testimonials which will, hopefully, make your business appear legitimate.

That’s all well and good for the writer brand-spanking-new to the writing field of choice. But what’s to be said of the writer who’s been at it for a while, then opts to do some freebying?

Freebies aren’t actually too much of a bad thing. Used effectively (and in the right market), they CAN do a writer some good: Advertise their business, tempt readers to buy their books, get themselves listed at a popular site, etc. But if your freebies are going to an unpopular market, aren’t bringing in any sales of your books AND you’ve got a kid who needs braces, that’s when it’s time to stop and ask yourself if doing the freebie thing is right for you.

I have been freebying here and there. Heck, this blog is even a freebie. Nobody’s paying me to write this stuff or to keep a blog (though I have heard of job opportunities for writers which involve as much). And I have been known to slip an occasional original article into my E-zine. But there are times I can’t help but wonder if doing too much of the freebying, with some pretty lengthy articles and likewise-worded material getting bought, is hurting my career more than it is helping it. I haven’t had any book sales recently, even after I had an article appear in a print AND electronic magazine, and nobody has e-mailed me about anything on my site. (Maybe that’s a good thing?)

I’m not making this point to whine. My only point here is that I wonder if there’s a time when freebying can get a little out of hand, even mishandled. I try to SELL something every week but it seems I have better luck when I send something in to the nonpaying markets. Sure I’m happy about yet another publication credit to add to my C.V., but some small part of me wonders about what this unpaid credit does to my writing career in general. Other writers can pretty much figure out I sent it to a nonpaying market; what does that do to their opinions of me and how seriously I take myself as a writer? The same goes with editors and publishers.

Then I take this into consideration: I’m working on broadening my writing wings. I’m getting ready to launch a writing business which doesn’t have anything to do with freelance writing but everything to do with business writing. This is why I started freebying in the first place. (Well, that and to clear out a bustling inventory of unsold and unqueried work.) So for this reason, maybe it’s not such a terrible thing for a fellow writer to see that I placed an article on how to write a query with a nonpaying market or that I had an essay appear at another nonpaying one. My general rule is, if I can’t sell it, freebie it. And maybe considering that I don’t need so many paid credits to fluff my freelance C.V. with anymore, that’s not such a bad rule to follow.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Got something to say?

Why keep a blog if you don’t have anything to write about? Good question. My answer is, of course, that there is ALWAYS something to write about. At least, in my case, there is. There have been many weeks that have passed by undocumented here not because I didn’t have anything to talk about but because I didn’t have a CHANCE to write about them here. Oh sure, I explored these topics in my mind, talked about them in a writer’s forum and scribbled out notes here and there, but there have just been times I couldn’t sit down every Friday night, the day I decided would be my “blogging day,” to write about them. Sometimes I’ve posted on Saturdays (and even a Sunday), but I always put things off for Fridays.

That will now change.

Some of the topics I wanted to write about here concerned current news items. And because news has that “news today, history tomorrow” thing going for it, I couldn’t post certain things I wrote here come Friday. And sometimes, I just didn’t have a free minute on account of parenting. Now, though, I’m going to post here any chance I get AND whenever I have something to write about. And not just news or stuff going on in my writing life. I WILL keep this a blog for writers and journalists, but now it’ll be more flexible.

This is also a grand idea given that I’m the parent of an overactive, thrill-seeking toddler!

I have also been offline mainly because of an out-of-state move. I was ready to crawl out of my skin after one week passed me by without working online, then another and another. I did manage to keep myself busy as a writer during this time, though, but everything I’ve been doing online – working on stories for SIGNews, submitting work, reading poetry for Skyline, putting together the next issue of my E-zine (it seems I can NEVER stop working on that thing!!) and doing interviews for my Shadowlands articles – had to wait.

Even without the Internet, though, I still got some stuff done.

If anything, the Internet has certainly helped move along my writing career. It was the Internet that landed me my first weekly paying writing gig, an Internet sale that helped me overcome my fear to write and experiences on the Web that gave me ideas for writing projects. However, I managed to maintain my sanity (and confidence) by working offline. Now not only did I have an arsenal of material to come "back to work" with, but it also kept me involved with other projects I've got going on. I also had a little help from my mobile device, which enabled me to log in to my Yahoo! E-mail account.

Here's what I did while I couldn't work online:

*Worked on book reviews. Slowly but surely, those stack of books got tackled and one review that I was NEVER satisfied with had a chance to get operated on.

*Read Steven Manchester's novel, PRESSED PENNIES. Steve's lucky; his book reached me before I hit the road. Now reading a book with a kicking, screaming toddler at your side for side for 20 hours is NOT gonna be a day in the park! But I still managed to get it done (add to this the 11 days I lived in a motel) and I used my mobile device to e-mail him my blurb.

*Wrote some poetry.

*Worked on a novel that's been languishing on my hard drive.

*Worked on some other unfinished writing projects.

*Organized all of the documents on my hard drive.

*Did research for a current nonfiction project using my mobile device (it's a Blackberry) and books at a local Borders.

*Worked on the outline for another nonfiction book.

*Read Carolyn Howard-Johnson's E-book, THE FRUGAL BOOK PROMOTER http://carolynhowardjohnson.com/ . Carolyn kindly sent me the E-book after I ran her poem in my E-zine. First we were talking about an ad trade then the next thing I know, her E-book was sitting in my E-mail account! This book is awesome and I plan to give it a push in my "shoestring book promotion" book.

*Organized all of my writing papers, projects, etc.