Tuesday, July 29, 2014

About Writing: Steph's Boot, Session Four


This week's session can be fun.  We'll talk about finding time and space for doing our work. Virginia Woolf made a strong case for every writer needing a room of one's own.  Many, many others have addressed this topic.  No doubt you have discovered for yourself through your own experience that you cannot work if you don't have time and space dedicated to the cause.  

Let's talk about writing space first.  Having a dedicated space for one's work can make scheduling time for the work much easier.  If you are trying to write at the kitchen table while your children and significant other watch TV in the next room, you are likely to be distracted.  If that kitchen table is the only space your home has to offer and writing outside your home is not feasible, you may be forced to work mornings before anyone else in your home is awake or nights after they have all gone to sleep.  If your best option is writing in a public place that will afford you a reasonable amount of privacy without interruptions (library, coffee house, diner, public park),  you may have to schedule work time when the public space is available and when you are not committed elsewhere.  

I am lucky enough to have a room dedicated to my work.  I use this room for more than just writing; I paint and do crafts here too and, when we have guests, it sometimes serves as a make-shift guest room.  It does not matter that the room is multi-purpose.  What matters is that it is mine and mine alone.  No one comes in when the door is closed.  My family has explicit instructions not to knock unless there is an emergency that involves blood loss, vomit, or fire.  If someone is really desperate to speak with me when I am working, they can send me an email which I will see when I feel like checking email.  As you can see, my office is nothing fancy but it serves its purpose adequately.




I was not always blessed with the luxury of space.  My first full length play, Mothers' Days, was written in two locations:  the dining room table of the home in which I worked as a nanny and a table in a coffee house close to both my home and my job.  There was a time when I wrote mostly in a study carol in a public library and, for a brief while, I had a desk in a large closet. One does what one must.  

Where will you write?  What are your options?  

In last week's session, I encouraged you to make a schedule for your work and to start living that schedule.  I hope that went smoothly, but chances are it did not, especially if this is the first time you have attempted to claim time for writing and its associated tasks.  I sometimes envy my partner who goes off to an office every day where no one will ask anything of him but that he do his job.  I realize he does not always see his nine hours a day for uninterrupted work as a gift and I certainly don't want to suggest that people with more structured jobs than my own have it easy.  I wouldn't choose to trade places with them.  

I love the freedom and flexibility that comes with being self-employed.  I also recognize that productive self-employment requires stringently self-imposed structure.  It is not always easy being your own boss.  Hard as establishing structure for self-employment can be, it is even harder when when one bears the additional burdens of  another "day job" or a family to look after.

I used to cram my writing hours into what few hours of my day were not filled with my other jobs, the ones that actually demanded my presence at the convenience of others.  The result was that I was always exhausted and often found it hard to motivate myself to work at writing after a day of working for someone else was over.  When I forced myself to do it, I was always glad I had, but it was not easy.  I went through long sallow periods during which I wrote nothing at all.  I didn't beat myself up for it...well, not much anyway.  Sometimes other priorities, like paying the rent and raising children, take priority.  

Now, writing is my full-time job.  I am my own boss, which is both good and bad.  I am very lucky to have my home to myself (except for the cat, who is happy to sleep in a window while I write) on weekdays and to have a family that values what I do enough that they honor my needs for time and space if they are home when I am trying to work.  

Can you carve out time for writing and its associated tasks?
Will the folks who live with you support your work by 
allowing you uninterrupted writing time?  
When will you write?  

Hint:  At this point, when you are just establishing a work routine, consistency is far more important than quantity of time.  If you can only give it 30 minutes a day while the kids are napping or on your way home from the office, so be it.  30 minutes every day is more than 182 hours per year.  You could write a LOT in that amount of time.  

Homework:
  1. Decide where you will write daily.
  2. Decide when you will write daily.
  3. Write daily.  





Monday, July 28, 2014

A Poet's Diary: Retreat!

The time has come for me to schedule a short writer's retreat for this summer.  I know it is time because I am starting to have trouble focusing.  I know what I want to do.  I know what I need to do.  I am easily distracted.  Time for intentional retreat and refocus.

Later this summer, we have a brief vacation planned.  Now, I plan to extend that by taking a cheap room somewhere not too far from home and holing up to write and work on illustrations.  My plan for that time is to avoid social media contact.  No FB, G+ or Twitter.  No blogging.  No Virtual Worlds.  I will write and read, do yoga and swim.

Now to make room reservations.  

Friday, July 25, 2014

Countdown Love Poem

Countdown Love Poem
by Stephanie Mesler © 2014

I have  ten reasons for sticking around.
The first isn’t that I love you still,
even after forty years and
three daughters, four sons, several
pets come and gone, jobs lost,
loans paid off through sweat
and sacrifice.
I am not
in love
now.

It’s not the money bound up together
in joint accounts and shared collections
of books and boats, crystal carafes
or even the time spent on
making a home to be
envied by neighbors
and relations
so distant
they don’t
care.  

You might think it’s sex that keeps it alive
in the years after things start to sag.  
Or maybe the promises made
before witnesses back when
we believed such things count
more than betrayal
or boredom or
anger or
lukewarm
lust.

Some women stay because God says they should,
others because there’s nowhere to go.
But I am not them, I am me.
My reasons are more obscure.
I remain because it
keeps you on your toes,
wondering always
if today
will end
us.




Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Poet's Diary: Overcoming Ipage and Microsoft

Yesterday was one of the more productive I have had recently.  Not that I haven't been working.  I have, but way too many of my working hours in the last few weeks have been taken up with tech problems.  First it was the nincompoops at Ipage that never did resolve my problems there and precipitated my move back to blogger.  Then, it was two weeks of computer software problems caused, of course, by Microsoft, finally fixed by the very competent folks at Hewlett Packard.  

Yesterday was the first day in ages I have worked unencumbered by technical difficulties other than my own lack of experience.  The result is that Sizzle is ready to be published on August 1 and Under The Sheets is about to be in layout.  Yesterday, I decided Bette and Lizzy does not belong in Sheets.  It is just too different from the rest of the anthology.  It will be published on its own in October.  

Today will be layout and work on a new poem, possibly a short drama.  I have a couple of small projects in mind that need trying, just to see if they have legs.  Later today, I'll be leading the regular Thursday Promptly Erotic Workshop in Second Life.  More about that can be found HERE.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

About Writing: Steph's Boot, Session Three



Last week, we considered the myriad tasks it takes to write and get your work on the market.  I gave you a list of the tasks necessary to my own work.  Did you think of more?  If so, add those to the list and ask yourself the same questions I asked you last week.  Will you complete these tasks yourself or seek help?  

For most of us, seeking help is an impractical solution.  Hiring help costs money, which indie writers cannot afford to spend, and "borrowing" help requires that we have associates with the skills we require as well as the time and the interest in helping us.  It is also possible to barter some work, but that might require as much time and effort as doing one's own work would have, thus negating any advantage to the trade.  

I have opted to hire help with three tasks:  proofreading, because I don't trust my own eyes and ears with the job; illustrations, because I am not an artist and some of my work needs more complicated illustrations than I can create myself; social media marketing, because I hate it and because it is very time-consuming.  Are there some tasks from the list started in Session Two you have decided to delegate?  If there were, these are not the tasks we'll be worrying about in this third session of Steph's Boot.  

I am always working on several projects at a time and you may multi-task as well.  For the sake of this lesson, however, you will choose one project you can commit to completing and putting on the market.  It can be a larger work, like a novel or play.  It can be a shorter work like a short story or article for a magazine.  

Focus on that one project for this session.  In fact, I am going to ask you to focus only on that one writing project until it is completed.  I have found that the most important factor in actually completing a project is giving it the attention it needs.  I had to learn to do that by...well... doing it.  I started with one project, a poem.  I committed to finishing it and to having it published and performed.  I didn't start another project until that one was completed.  It has taken several years to get to the point where I can balance the requirements of several projects at once. Even now, there is only one larger project (alongside several smaller ones) on my plate at a time.  I know what the next larger project will be but I won't touch it until this one is done.  
What is your one project?  
What can you commit to finishing and publishing/performing? 

How quickly you can reasonably expect yourself to complete your writing project? The answer to that will be affected by many factors.  Do you have small children in your home? Aging parents who require your attention?  Are you getting married or planning any other big event?  Do you have a day job other than writing?  Can your body tolerate long hours planted in front of a computer screen?   Do you have any limitations on the amount of time you can commit to completing your project?  Be realistic here.  Optimism is not your friend if it causes you to set unrealistic goals.  
How many hours, days, months will it take to complete your goal project?  
Is your projection a reasonable one?  

Having answered that question, double your estimate.   
This allows time for the many tasks beyond writing that go into getting your work out into the world.  It also builds you a cushion, a buffer between you and self-created stress due to a looming deadline.  I find that deadlines, even self-imposed deadlines,can be a writer's best friend.  Stressing over deadlines is not helpful though, so double your time estimate and thank me for the suggestion later.  

I use Google calendar for scheduling big deadlines and  Remember the Milk for scheduling daily tasks I must complete to achieve those larger goals. I like Google calendar because it sends me reminders if I ask it to.  I like Remember The Milk because it allows me to make and use lists, which is one of my most effective organizational techniques.   You can use whatever calendar(s) please you.  
On your calendar, mark the day you want to have completed and performed, published, or begun submitting your work for publication.  

The next step is to go back to that list we made, the list of the tasks it takes to get your writing from being just a twinkle in your mind's eye to printed or performed literature shared with the world at large. Which of those tasks are necessary to your project?  
  • How many hours per day and days per week can you commit to writing?  This needs to be a commitment taken as seriously as wedding vows.  Don't over-commit or you may hate yourself in the morning.
  • It will definitely need to be proofread. (I cannot stress enough how valuable it is to get a second and third set of eyes for this task.)  
  • It will most likely need to be edited and revised.  
  • Will it need illustrations or a cover?  
  • Will layout be an issue?  (Hint:  Layout for drama and poetry  can be picky.  Layout for DIY publishers like CreateSpace, Lulu and Kindle is demanding.)  
  • Will you be publishing this work yourself?  
  • Printing it yourself?  If so, you need a plan for that labor intensive process. (Been there, done that!) If not, you'll need to know what your printer requires with regard to layout. 
  • Will you do your own PR?  
  • Are there other writers who will support your work?  If so, you will need to support theirs and have a plan for doing so.  
Mark all of these tasks in your calendar.  
What are your  target dates for completion of each task?  

Again, be realistic about this.  If you have never done layout before, allow more time for the task than you think sounds reasonable.  If you are planning to create your own books, allow more time than seems reasonable for that too.  Pad your plan with ample time to complete each task. You can pat yourself on the back if you finish early, but it is no fun at all to feel like you are missing your own deadlines.  

Your final step in creating a practical plan for getting your project finished is scheduling your work time each day.  Mark your writing time on your calendar.  Then, mark the time you will devote to tasks associated with writing and getting published.

How much time are you planning to spend on your work every day? Notice, I did not ask IF you would work on your project every day.  The truth of the matter is that you will need to work at this each and every day in order to develop the habits it takes to be a professional writer.  It took me years to learn that lesson.  Once I accepted that being a creative person is not an excuse for sloppy work habits, I started producing consistently good work worthy of being shared.  This does not mean you need to devote 12 hours a day to writing, only that you must write consistently every day.  If you actually schedule that time, you are far more likely to demand that time for yourself and meet your own goals.

Following are two examples of a plan for completing projects.  The first is a plan for a major project, a novel.  The second is the plan for a short story.  I include these so that you can see how all this calendar marking and list making works.

Example 1:  One of my own major goals is to publish my planned book, The Ballad of Donny Granger , in hard copy, ebook and audio formats August 15, 2014.  That is almost a year away and I have another major project to complete before then. so I am not yet facing reminders for the tasks I will need to complete for Ballad.  I will begin actually writing the book (For the second time.  This is a resurrected project.) in November of this year.  I know I want the book illustrated by a real artist and have already begun considering illustrators for the project.  I will need to hire an illustrator by February 1.  I will need to get the completed book to my proofreader, editor and beta readers by June 1.  That means that between November 15, 2013 and June 1, 2014, I will need to write the book.  I will spend three or four  hours a day on the actual writing until that is done.  While the book is with the proofreader and beta readers, I will create the book's cover, title page and copy right page, dedication, table of contents and notes. When the book comes back from the proofreader and beta readers, I'll do the book's first revision and begin the layout process.  I will need to complete that by July 9 because that's when the book goes back to the proofreading editor for his final round with it. When he sends it back to me, if there are revisions to be made, I will have about a month to complete them before uploading the book to CreateSpace for publication and distribution. (I will upload around August 8 to allow a week for dealing with any problems that arise in that process before my August 15 publication goal.)   Immediately following (within 24 hours), I will adjust the layout for kindle and upload the book there for distribution and publication While the book is with my editor that last time, I will be spending five to eight hours each day creating the audio book so that it is ready to upload to ACX for publication and distribution within a day or two of the hard copy and ebook, so somewhere between August 6 and August 10.  I will begin PR for this project in June 2013.  Long before Ballad hits the market, there will be twitter and FB posts, diary entries on this blog.  My friends will share these posts as I have shared theirs.  I will create the content of these posts but my social media manager will deal with scheduling them. When the book is released, there will be launch parties, public readings, LOTS and LOTS of PR. There will also be promotional giveaways and a whole lot of glad-handing for free PR and product placement.  All of that  will be in my schedule too.  

A section of my Google Calendar in agenda form.




Example 2:  I plan to complete a short story in the next two weeks.  I started it a few days ago and will complete the first draft on or before September 27.  After a cursory revision of it, I will send it to my proofreader/editor for input from him by October 1 and he will return it by October 8.  Then, I will do a final revision before sending it back to him on October 15 for one more read-through.  It will be published by public performance on October 27 and in printed form as part of an anthology in September 2014.  

Homework:  

  1. Complete the calendar and/or list-making tasks above.  
  2. Set up reminders if you use an electronic calendar.  Make notes to yourself if you don't.  If it's a paper calendar, put it where you will see it each and every day.  
  3. Now that you have a plan, start living it.  Tomorrow will be the first day under a new writing regime, one you have designed yourself with your own realistic expectations.









Monday, July 21, 2014

A Poet's Diary: All About Heat

It's HOT in Florida these days, but oddly not as hot as it often is in places further north.  Maybe it's the ocean breezes that keep us from completely melting.  It might also be the almost daily rainstorms which cool us off at least while the rain is falling and, when we are lucky, for an hour or so after it stops.  I remember days in Ohio when I really thought the heat would kill me.  Those were days when the mercury soared over 95, sometimes breaking 100.  It rarely passes 100 here.  In fact, I don't think it has in the 3+ years since I moved back to Florida.   Still, Florida summers can be rough, mostly owing to their length.  Seriously, summers here last for more months than a season.  You can count on the heat setting in sometime in April and lasting until sometime in October.  By "heat" I mean temps over 85.  Not that we don't sometimes have a summer day below 85 -- we do.  But they are rare and serve to remind us that, when the temps drop even a little, Florida really is Paradise.  

Speaking of heat, I believe there will be a poem soon about personal summers.  If you don't know what I refer to there, you are either a man or a women still young enough to have been spared first-hand knowledge of the the phenomena.  Let's just say change of life is changing my life in ways I could never have predicted. I think it needs a poem.  TMI, fellas?  You'll survive.  

And in other heat related news - Sizzle is soon to be published.  Layout is done.  I await corrections from one author and a head shot from another.  The lit mag will be ready to fly on August 1.  I am really, really excited about this publication.  Great stories and poems, fabulous art work, and a new layout in goggle drive. I hope you like it as much as I.  

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Poet's Journal: Focusing On Balls Already In The Air

A Poet's Progress is soon to publish Sizzle!  I am very pleased with the art, poems and stories it will contain. There are contributions from Eve Merrick-Williams and Amanda Z., to name just a couple of the folks involved.   I am in the final editing stages and will begin layout in a day or two.  Watch this page starting August 1 for more information.  

Sizzle has been a major focus these last few days.  So has Under The Sheets.  Illustrations have arrived from Vicki Barnes.  I am slowly doing what I believe will be the penultimate painstaking read-through of the text for the book.  So is my proofreader.  When she and I have finished this round of editing, I'll dive into lay-out.  Then, if all goes as planned, we'll do one more revision before publishing the book in mid-September.  It is a collection of short fiction, poetry and drama for the haunting season.  You can find some early recordings of some of the pieces included in Under The Sheets here.

In the last week, I have completed two new poems, Golden Mourning, and Boy Browsing at Paradise Beach, which will be included in Sizzle.  I am not writing any fiction at this time because I am trying like all heck not to have too many balls in the air at once.  That is one of my more frequently made mistakes.  I need to focus for a few months on getting these next three big projects published:  Sizzle, Under The Sheets, and Escape From Pig Hill.  All three are currently on schedule, even with a major change in the plan for Escape, but it will be a great relief to have them in the can, as it were, so that I can move on to the next big thing.