Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Monday, October 27, 2008

Write to live, but live to write

Many writers will tell you how important it is to GET OUT THERE and experience the world. Live life, try new things, see new places and have new experiences. It's all grist for the mill. All of the things we do in life helps us to be better writers and write about those experiences more realistically. As much as I throw myself into writing, one thing I try to do is also throw myself into life. Sure I'll beat myself up over missing a day of writing or working on a book, but sometimes, I'll purposefully put the brakes on the writing routine just because I want to stop writing and start living. Even when writers are not writing with our hands, we are writing with our minds. And this is what I was doing when I went on vacation last week. I was writing with my mind.

With everything that happened on my vacation, I got new ideas for scenes and characters and experienced how certain things felt. New attitudes, new emotions, new thoughts and new perspectives.

I also got new story ideas!

When we got lost in the mountains and my phone died right after I informed my sister, thus hurting my chances of getting directions, that became a story idea. The panic, fear and anxieties I felt were so real, something I would not have experienced otherwise. Also, when my husband got a better map from a business up there and told me the better map had roads on it that his map did not, that only added to my story idea.

When one of my sisters made a comment about one of the presidential candidates, that was a story idea.

When we were at this abandoned gas station and I saw a man walking around smiling, with a dog following behind him, and how he just hung out in front of the gas station store that wasn't even opened up yet, that was a story idea.

When I was in awe and breathless over the sight of Lake Shasta, that was a story idea.

When I saw an interesting name of a village, that was a story idea, too.

But I didn't just have story ideas resulting from this trip. I realized that the things that happen in life are like doors which open to writers, inviting them in to try new things, see new things and have new experiences. And all of these new experiences can help us write about them more realistically. The more we do in life, the more we have to write about. And the more we can add to the richness of the lives that we live.

I read a book on my way to and from California. It's called The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists by Andrew McAleer. It's a very good book! There's a quote by Hemingway in this book that goes: "Live it up so you can write it down." And if anyone knew a thing or two about living it up, it was Hemingway!

Sometimes, we NEED to pull ourselves away from our writing, as hard as that is, to get out there and live life. This is the only surefire way to write about life. Getting out there and living it. I know writing is important and that going without writing is like going without water to sustain ourselves. But, there are times, I think, when we just need to do this. We need to stop writing, start living. Start soaking in all of the experiences and goings-on around us. Take time to look, feel, touch, taste, listen and learn. Write about how these things make us feel. Be more in tuned with the thoughts and insights gleaned from these experiences. Keep tabs on how these experiences are so that these notes, recorded from the front lines, can be used in the writing. To put a new twist on an old saying, "Write to live, but live to write."

We will all be better writers for it.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Writing nonfiction with fiction on my mind

"Your nonfiction is really good. Why don't you just keep writing that?"

This is a line I came across in a book I just finished reading: The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit by Elizabeth Lyon. This is something the author was asked in her critique group. It is, unfortunately, something I can relate to. I have been doing so well with nonfiction, but fiction is a whole 'nother story!

I interviewed Elizabeth some months ago for Write From Home. At the time, I was aware that she was VERY prolific with her writing -- particularly, the nonfiction writing. I visited her site and was amazed at just how prolific she has been. The amount of books she has had published just floored me. Yay, Elizabeth!

Here is her site:

One thing I noticed, though, was that the bulk of her book credits are NONFICTION books. In fact, all of the books listed on her site are nonfiction. This doesn't mean, however, that she can't write fiction. She has, and does. Actually, in her book, she talks about how she DID NOT give up on her novel. She saw it through until the end. But I do not see them listed on her site. Still, this doesn't make me think that Elizabeth will just stick with nonfiction books and shelf her novels. On the contrary, I have a feeling I will, indeed, be seeing novels written by Elizabeth published in the near future.

Because I have a feeling that, like me, she will definitely keep getting her fiction manuscripts out there. And work to get them published.

I have only one novel to my name. It was published by a co-op publisher -- something which, at the time, I was not aware was a bad thing. I was 19 and just one year into trying to get a manuscript published. Get myself that coveted "author" title. I didn't know it was bad to sign with a co-op and I was not as educated about researching publishers as I am now. I thought I finally "made" it and that my book had passed the tests. Little did I know that I was doing something considered "Very Bad" in the publishing industry. This has, unfortunately, continuously haunted me and maybe even hurt my writing career, but I will never give up. I want to reach that pinnacle of writing success. I want to get signed with an agent and have novels published by the big houses. That is my ultimate goal as a writer. My one dream. But, for now, I am writing nonfiction. And at the same time, I am still trying to get SOMEWHERE with my fiction.

I have come across so many nonfiction authors who bemoan their success with nonfiction and failures with fiction. One writer even talked about it on the Absolute Write Water Cooler, saying that with nonfiction, everybody wants it! But with fiction, it's rejection after rejection.

This, too, is my plight. I got started in writing with poetry then that lead to writing fiction. I wrote a million stories and novellas before entering the world of writing nonfiction. Fiction was my first love and today it continues to be something I am passionate about. I still love writing stories and, even though I'm getting rejections from agents from left to right, I will continue to write stories. It is a burning desire which cannot be denied. I guess you could say I am a "born storyteller." I just can't stop telling stories!

I know that it's good to make strides in the world of nonfiction writing, Publishing clips are good to have, regardless of whether those clips are fiction or nonfiction. Still, I'm not giving up on my dream of being a career novelist. This is my utmost desire as a writer. To have published novel after novel after novel.

But for now, I guess I have to settle for nonfiction books until I sign with an agent and finally make that dream of being a career novelist come true.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

And that is how you do THAT!

I am in shock. I have actually done something I didn't think that I could do.

I edited a 557-page manuscript in less than a week. Six days, to be exact.

And I can't believe I did it!!

Not only did I edit the manuscript, though, but I also interviewed people and wrote up a new chapter for this book. A chapter which I hadn't thought about including at the beginning, but definitely about something that SHOULD be in this book.

I can't believe it. I DID IT!!!

Now 'scuse me while I go somewhere to collapse in exhaustion. (As it is, I only got 4 hours of sleep last night. Finished the whole job at 2:15 a.m. this morning.)

Of course, pulling it off wasn't easy. At the very beginning, I suggested to my husband that I rent a laptop for this job. Aside from the laptop having a better OS than the computer, it would free up the ONE computer we have in this house. (Yeah, we're a Stone Age family. LOL!) But he said, "Why should I pay $175 for something we can do for free?" Still, he ended up being UNHAPPY about not being able to use the computer as much. (He ended up watching a lot of TV.) He was also unhappy about me not doing as much housework as usual or making nice dinners like I have before. (Well, at least the kids were clean and fed!) My daughter also was not a happy camper about the computer thing, but nevertheless, she WAS a big supporter over the whole thing. In addition to both of them having to wake me up when I fell asleep at the computer (and that happened a lot -- some of the documents got mangled when I fell on the keys! LOL), she was very excited about her mommy getting a book published.

It was a time like this I was grateful that I don't work outside of the home. Granted, I was a LOUSY homemaker during this time (and I had to keep reminding hubby that this was ONLY temporary -- while at the same time wondering why HE didn't do the dishes or vacuum the floor. Gah!), but this really stood out as just what it's like when you make writing your "career." Just as people put so much time and effort into their jobs, authors have to do the same thing. This is what it's like. We're putting our time and our energy into making the books we write the best we can.

Of course, I do realize that there are people who are writers who HAVE to work part- or fulltime jobs, and would resent that I don't and that I DO have the time to invest in "showing up" for my job as a writer. And I won't fault them for that. But as for me, I was grateful that I didn't have to worry about that. In addition to everything else....

Still, I was kinda bummed I had to postpone our vacation to California. There was too much going on on top of this deadline, so we decided it was best to postpone, anyway. And my sister was REALLY supoortive and understanding about that. Which I am grateful for. But we're DEFINITELY going to make up for that "lost vacation" soon enough. :)

It bothered me that I had to spend so much time working on it and neglecting the house and other writing projects. But I just kept telling myself, "This, too, shall pass." It will end eventually and I had to keep going to get to the end. I just kept at it and kept at it. Every moment I had to work on the manuscript, I was working on it. The temptation was there to just glean over the pages, but a part of myself REFUSED to do a poor job. I had to catch EVERY typo, make sure EVERY quotation mark was there, double check facts and revise where needed. Of course, I kept in touch with my co-author a lot. We were e-mailing each other back and forth every day! I kept her updated on the progress and discussed certain things with her concerning the material. Some of the work was tedious -- like the parts I had to add to the bibliography -- but I just kept going and going. Every day, every night, I was working on the edits.

I didn't blog, except to update the DC blog after the offer for the copywriting seminar ended. Didn't log in at MySpace. Didn't play any computer games, hang out at message boards, write something else (though I WAS tempted!) or do any freelancing. I didn't go out, didn't exercise, didn't visit with friends, send or answer personal emails or yak my head off on the phone (or, should I say, "type my fingers off for the relay calls").

I did have to put up with some migraines, wrist pain and stiffness in my back, shoulders and neck. Eventually, I started to occasionally take breaks to stretch, walk around and relax. I also drank LOTS of coffee and kept my chair in a comfortable position so I wouldn't be hurting my back. (I even tried drinking one of those energy drinks to help me stay awake -- but I STILL fell asleep!) I did get a little eyestrain but after some rest, my eyes were okay again.

I am SO GRATEFUL to the people who just really invested their time and energy to help me get the new chapter written up in time. That really meant a whole lot!! I am thankful they were so readily available to answer my questions, share their information and get pictures to me so quickly. That REALLY helped!!

I am also grateful that I didn't miss my baby's first steps when I was so busy with the edits. He is VERY close to walking and he DID take 2 steps before plopping back onto the floor. And he has stood up without help for all of 10 seconds. But no walking yet. I'm glad I didn't miss that!

One thing I often do is test myself. I give myself a challenge, just to see if I CAN do this thing or to improve a skill. But I didn't "give" myself this challenge; my co-author threw it at me! And, of course, I was willing to do it. :D I WANTED to do it. I had to see if I could edit this MAMMOTH manuscript in the span of one week. At first, I aimed for 3 days, but that was NOT possible. So I set it to a week. I got it done in LESS THAN a week! Yay!

Most of these challenges teach me important lessons and I did learn valuable lessons about being a working writer from all of this.

I learned just how important persistence is. To JUST KEEP GOING!

I learned how to work fast, and that I should ALWAYS try to work fast.

I learned that it's okay to let little things go -- and NOT BE ANAL with the edits! (Keep the tone casual and not so academic. Watch out for overuse of commas.)

I learned just how VERY true it is that "two heads are better than one."

I learned how to keep my cool even when I'm cranky, tired and just overstressed.

I learned just how important to me this writing career is me and how important it is to be able to do this stuff (work on my books for a publisher).

I learned the importance of KEEPING THE FOCUS on the project at hand. So many times, my mind would wander, even when I was deep in a project. I would write other things, work on other books and research other projects. This would slow down what I was working on RIGHT NOW. I kept wondering if one publisher would be interested in a novel I have or if another publisher wanted a children's book manuscript I have. Then I just had to pull myself back to the present and just FOCUS. Work on the CURRENT project right now. Save those thoughts, those worries and those tasks for later. When I am working on THOSE books. Right now, I had to work on THIS one.

And as it is right now, I just MAY be working on another book! A lady I interviewed said she was looking for a writer to help her with a book and I said I was looking for just such a writing project to take on. We have been talking about working together but FIRST I'm keeping the focus on THIS book. And then, after all is said and done, the fopcus will be on the writing book. Then after that, who knows? I just may be working with her on her book, or challenging myself to write something else.

One book closes, another will open.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Book acceptance and blogging quietness

The haunted houses book I am co-authoring has been accepted for publication. Woo-hoo! I haven't updated this blog because I have been VERY busy working on the book edits in order to meet the deadline. Once that's done, I'll post an update and get back to commenting on others' blogs. I'm REALLY excited about the book getting accepted, though. YAY!!! Now if only I could get signed with a literary agent for my novels....

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