Tag Archives: Writing

I’m Not Retired, My Husband is, HELP!

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Last month Patricia talked about the “r” word and how frustrating it can be when others who know you work from home think you are retired. This month I’d like to take that one step further and talk about how frustrating it can be to work from home when your husband retires. I speak from experience.

I left a good job to pursue a career in writing. For years I worked from home while my husband hopped into his truck and drove to his place of employment. For years the hours between 8 and 5 were mine and I could arrange them any way I wanted to to meet deadlines, conduct interviews, and write. But that changed when my husband retired. The days suddenly became “ours” and I had to learn to adjust to having someone else in the house.

Instead of soft music in the background to inspire my writing, I had the TV blaring non-stop with all the bells and whistles of game shows and the banter of Judge Judy. While trying to concentrate, I’d get a blow-by-blow description of the Ellen DeGeneres show until in frustration I’d turn off the computer. I’d wait until my husband went to bed before I tried to do any serious writing. Or, I’d write in the mornings before he woke up. I tried to adjust my schedule to his, which was, of course, no schedule at all.

At first it was pretty bumpy. Excited about new freedom and opportunities, my husband woke up chattering. “What are we going to do today? Want to run over to …. and look at ….?”

I always wanted to say, “Um, no, I’m supposed to be writing.” But truth was, I wanted to go, too.

I found myself frustrated and wishing he’d go back to work. I didn’t suffer from “retired husband syndrome” but there were days I wanted to shoot him. I even considered an office away from home and often went to the library just to write.

After years of having the house to myself, I had to do some serious thinking. Did I want to retire too? Did I want to sit in the house alone while he was off playing? No, I wanted someone to share life’s journeys, not sit in the corner and watch while I worked. I had to realize that he wasn’t the problem, I was.

So I readjusted my thinking. I would scale back my working hours. I would spend more time with my husband, and be glad that he still wanted my company.

Now, a year after his retirement, we’ve settled into an agreeable arrangement. Monday and Tuesday he volunteers for local businesses. Wednesday he golfs. That leaves me three days to get my work done. Then I can play, too.

Writers can become obsessed about their writing routines. But life is about more than how many books you can write or how many stories you can tell. Life includes lunches with your spouse, walks on beaches, and new adventures, all of which make your writing better if you relax and let it. Juggling writing with a newly retired spouse can be tricky. But it can work if you remember that this is a big change for them, too. Learn to compromise and set play dates. Be flexible and stop taking yourself so seriously. Learn to let go and enjoy the journey.

-Bonnie Dodge

 

 

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Waiting for a query reply? Don’t wait. Write

Waiting is painful. Forgetting is painful. But not knowing which to do is the worse kind of suffering.

Paulo Coelho

I remember the first time I got a request for a manuscript. I thought this is it, man. The big time. Money. Fame. A Charlie Rose interview.

I sent off my manuscript and then I waited and waited and waited. It was worse than meeting a cute boy when I was younger, giving him my phone number and then waiting for the call, which never came.

Now when I query, I don’t wait. I write.

If you want to be published and your last name isn’t King, Grisham or Patterson or some of those other people on the Amazon bestsellers list, the reality is you’re probably going to have to wait. Like waiting for an agent to decide whether he or she will represent you, or for a publisher to get back to your agent or you. The great thing about the industry today is that you don’t have to wait a week for your letter to get where it’s going. There’s email. But that doesn’t necessarily speed up the wait. (Although it is a bummer to get a rejection email five minutes after you sent a query. It’s like Ouch!)

This all takes time so don’t let it get to you. Don’t check your email ten thousand times a day because it will only increase your angst. In many instances, you may not even get a reply because agents and publishers are busy and get a billion queries.

Forget about anxiously awaiting for snail mail. Only rejections end up in your mailbox if you get one at all.

If you focus too much on waiting, then the painful self-doubts rise up like an El Niño storm. As your grandmother once uttered, don’t put all your writing eggs in one basket.

My advice is that once you send your manuscript, immediately start work on another, if you haven’t already done so. The best way to forget you are waiting is not to wait, but write. Use the days productively. We only have so many, after all.

If you are fortunate and your work is accepted for publication, that takes time, too. Sometimes up to two years to get your book published. The same advice holds when it comes to waiting.

Don’t wait. Write.

Patricia Santos Marcantonio

I received some great comments on this, especially C.S. Wilde’s. Thanks for your comments!

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Writing takes as long as it takes

When I was a reporter facing a deadline, I had to learn to write well, accurately, and fast. I had to see the story in my head and do it.
As a fiction writer, I’ve kept that mode. That doesn’t mean I don’t research, edit and rewrite, and rewrite and edit. But often, I felt bad that could write so fast because aren’t all writers told it takes years and years if your project is going to be good. Of course, some of my projects did take years. But some didn’t and that made me feel like a hack. Writing was starting to feel like work, which it is, but it should also be damn fun and fulfilling or why the hell are we doing it?
Then at a conference, authors Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch spoke about how they write quickly. And they are successful writers. Indeed, they have great credentials.
To me this was one of those ah-ha moments that made me extremely happy.
It was okay that I wrote quickly. But writers still wrestle with this.
Recently on the Stage 32 network, of which I am a member, there was a long discussion about how long it takes to write a screenplay. The opinions were all over the place.
My only opinion: It takes as long as it takes.

Scott Fitzgerald wrote “The Great Gatsby,” considered to be one of the best American novels, over a summer and fall in 1924 with revisions the following year, when it was published, according to a University of Southern Carolina website.

It takes as long as it takes.

Weeks, months or years. No matter how long it takes, the thing we shouldn’t give up is telling a good, well written story.
Time is relative, after all.

Patricia Santos Marcantonio

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Writers need WCE (writing continue education)

My husband is a CPA. Every year, he’s required to take continuing education. CPE as it’s called.

I’m a writer. I have no such requirement on me. Instead, I have an obligation to take continuing education. We writers need WCE (writing continue education).

Why? To get better, to challenge yourself, to make sure you haven’t fell into a chasm of lazy and overconfidence. People who think they know it all just go sideways. Those continually learning have no place to go but up.

One of the best ways to find WCE is by going to a writing conference. I attended one recently and not only got my fill of education, but my batteries charged as well, to use a cliché.  If you’ve been writing awhile, you know a lot of this stuff (plotting, structure, character development, etc.) but conferences help you remember why it’s important and to keep doing it if you’ve forgotten.

It also revs you up to hang out with other writers who share your passion. If you can’t afford to go out of town for a conference, there are good online writing education courses that are very reasonable. Check out Writer’s Digest for a start.

Professionals like accountants, attorneys and doctors must take continuing education to keep practicing their profession. Writers who take continuing education need it to keep their edge.

Patricia Santos Marcantonio

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Whatever you write, be happy

I had lunch with a woman who is also a writer and throughout I was struck by her love of what she was doing. She had no bloodthirsty goal to be on the New York Times Bestseller list or climb the lofty heights of the Amazon ranks. She wasn’t out to make sure that her writing was on all the Nooks and Kindles in the universe.
She just loved what she was doing. She was happy, and her happiness was comforting.
I will admit to you I’ve fallen into that unhappy underworld when I begin to wonder why the heck I’m not selling millions, okay maybe thousands, of books on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble, or why Hollywood hasn’t optioned any of my stories for big screen or little one, for that matter. These are times when my ego takes hold like a rope. But as I’ve grown older I have learned that pinning happiness on those two things alone will lead straight to unhappiness. It’s like high school when you wish the cutest guy would ask you out or that you make the cheerleader squad. When those two things don’t happen, you are in high school hell. Thankfully, high school is over.
And please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not knocking ambition. If your only goal is to sell lots of books, then I wish you all the happiness. Damn, if my books do hit no. 1, I certainly won’t be sad or turn down the royalty checks.
But I’m not going to be holding my breath either.
I’m just going to keep on writing and learning how to become a better writer because that’s why I began all this in the first place. I love to tell stories and create characters. I love to have someone read my writing and feel a bit of the emotions I felt when writing the words. Or have them say, ‘Hey, I know what that’s like.’ I like to make them laugh, cry, feel scared, or rewarded. I like them to think. Mostly, I pursue what Harper Lee wrote in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
That gives me the greatest joy–giving people another point of view through my writing.
I’ve had my share of successes and I am grateful and lucky, but as in life, I have to realize there will always be people with more success and less success. People with more money and less. At times, I still have to work to keep myself out of that hades of unhappy writers, but it is getting easier and isn’t that something to be happy about?

Following is the link to the best list I’ve read about how to be a happy writer by novelist, screenwriter and game designer Chuck Wendig. Enjoy!
http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/03/26/25-ways-to-be-a-happy-writer-or-at-least-happier/?subscribe=success#blog_subscription-2

Patricia Santos Marcantonio

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Dedication is among writer’s tools

Make a list of all the tools you need to be a writer.
Let’s see, computer, paper, ideas, dictionary, and yes, dedication.
Those who challenged themselves in National Novel Writing Month in November, that is writing a 50,000 word novel in a month, have learned that. You must write everyday to make the goal. You must be dedicated.
But dedication is something you need year round as a writer, not just in November.
You must be dedicated to finish your projects. Sure, you may have a few projects going, but be dedicated to completing one. Your novel, essay, poem or memoir–whatever you are writing–demands your dedication.
Be dedicated to writing something most every day, even if you go back and erase it the next day.
Be dedicated to becoming a better writer either by taking a class, going to a conference or getting involved with a critque group.
It is tough in certain ways but a love of what you are doing makes dedication just another writer’s tool, just like your computer, paper and dictionary.

Patricia Santos Marcantonio

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How writers shouldn’t get in the way of their stories

The following link is to a great column by W.B. Sullivan on how to build stronger stories.
Enjoy.

http://thewritelife.com/writing-fiction-3-ways-build-stronger-story/?utm_source=The+Write+Life&utm_campaign=57e7065fc1-main_list_11_6_13_11_5_2013&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_ae07a22b59-57e7065fc1-106439021&mc_cid=57e7065fc1&mc_eid=61a9d08f47

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Take the Cliché Challenge and eradicate them in your writing

When I judged writing contests and edited copy for a newspaper, I cringed whenever I saw a cliché. I cringed a lot.
Sometimes, I would even be reading a first draft of my writing, and what do you know? I found a few clichés.
The definition of cliché says it all. A word or phrase that’s lost its power because of overuse.
Clichés are around for a reason. They are so easy to use and so available. But when you use them that means you’re taking it easy in your writing. You’re not pushing yourself creatively.
It is funny that they have changed over the years. When I taught a creative writing class to young people and gave them a list of clichés, they didn’t recognize them because we have developed some newer clichés like these.

No way
Enough said
Really? (as in you see something dumb or incredulous and your response is ‘really?’)
Whatever

Clive Whichelow and Hugh Murray have even written a book about the modern ones called “It’s Not Rocket Science: And Other Irritating Modern Cliches.”
However, there are still a lot of the old ones hanging around and finding their way into your writing.
Think about it this way. Clichés were written or said by someone else. You don’t want anybody else’s writing in yours, do you?
Writing is about originality and if we want ours to be original, we must declare war on those pesty clichés.
How?
First locate and eradicate them in the editing process. In addition, have your critique partners read your writing because they may find ones that you don’t.
A fun way to work your brain is to break clichés and turn them into something new and in your own voice.
Start with what I have dubbed the Cliché Challenge.
Come up with a list of clichés and then rework them to make them new and yours. For instance take the cliché “All that glitters is not gold.”
My take on it–Her golden life had the glitter of a brick.
You get the idea.
Lists of clichés are all over the Internet. Here is a good one.
http://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-cliches.html.
Do a few each time. It will be hard and your brain will be sweating.
Good luck and happy cliché hunting.
_-Patricia Santos Marcantonio

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Collaboration is not a four-letter word

My friend, writing buddy and business partner Bonnie Dodge and I have different writing styles. I mean, different.
However, we successfully collaborated on our new children’s book, BILLIE NEVILLE TAKES A LEAP. The story is about a tomboy who dreams of being a daredevil amid the backdrop of the famous Evel Knievel jump over the Snake River Canyon in 1974. We were excited about collaborating on a project, and also a little nervous we might kill each other before the process was over. But we found a great way to work together.
Here is how we did it.
We came up with a thorough outline of the book. Namely, the important things that had to happen in each chapter to propel the story forward. Because of that, and to use a cliché, we were literally on the same page as far as the book.
We decided to each write a chapter. Because of our different styles, we decided against first person. We wrote the book in third person, in which we could more easily blend our distinct styles.
We edited each other’s chapters and then edited the book as a whole together, which also helped to blend our styles. This worked out well. Sometimes, we even had to stop to remember who wrote what. Bonnie and I have been critique partners for years so we also knew how to tap each other’s strengths to improve the chapters we wrote individually.
We knew our characters, both major and minor. We agreed on what they wanted and what made them unique. We both really liked and clued into our main character Billie. She spoke to us and we told her story.
When we disagreed about how a passage was written, we discussed the section until we could both live with the final outcome, which was usually better because of the discussion.
Collaboration is also helpful in that your writing partner may catch inconsistencies that you missed. Two pairs of eyes are indeed better than one.
We ended up with a great book that we are both proud of, and are still good buddies. In fact, we are going to collaborate on another book.
Patricia Santos Marcantonio

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Do you need a writing buddy?

When I started writing professionally, the last thing I thought about was getting a critique partner. I had a new computer, pen and paper. I had a file full of ideas and a bookshelf of Writer Digest books on how to write. Having just left a career in banking, I had solid financial and savvy business experience, along with a business plan with short and long term goals. I had everything I needed to succeed, or so I believed.

Writing well-crafted stories is like taking violin lessons. I can still hear my music teacher chastising. “If you practice it wrong, you will start to hear it wrong. Then you will always play out of tune.” The same applies to words. What sounds good to me might not be the best way to deliver my message. It might even be offensive to some. And, it really is true. You do need to know the rules before you break them.

I didn’t need a writing buddy when I was writing non-fiction. Writing straightforward copy dealing in facts, what I missed, my editor fixed. But when I started writing fiction, that’s when I really needed feedback. Was I hitting my mark? Were my scenes vivid? Did they evoke emotion? Did my character’s motivations make sense or feel contrived?

One day I was looking at books in Hastings and saw a posting on the bulletin board. Another writer wanted to form a critique group. I called her up, and for several years a group of us met once a week. We tore each other’s work apart. We laughed. We got angry. That early critique group was instrumental in teaching me how to meet a deadline and how to take criticism. We were all the same caliber, beginning writers with a desire to get better.

I’m the first to say that finding good critique partners is tricky. You have to be selective because some writers will come to the table focused only on their own work. Others will be so constructive you will burn your manuscript and never write another word. For a while, I belonged to two critique groups, but eventually schedules wouldn’t mesh and people moved away. Some of us even took a break from writing.

But out of those critique groups, I found another writer as passionate and driven as I was. We’ve been writing buddies now for more than twenty years. We don’t write the same things—she likes zombies and mass destruction. I like historical fiction and quiet stories dealing with family issues. Both professionals who quit day jobs to pursue writing careers, we have good work ethics and a desire to succeed. That’s probably all we have in common. But here is why she is so important.

1)   If a scene isn’t working, I can call her up and ask, “What am I missing? What do you think would make it better? Does this really suck as much as I think it does?”

2)   When I get a rejection, she knows how to commiserate, because she’s received rejections, too.

3)   When I get a story accepted, she knows the exhilaration I am feeling and makes time to celebrate when everyone else is busy.

4)   The days I’m so tired of fighting the publishing maze and ready to trash writing for good, she’s there to talk me off of the ledge.

5)   Whenever I need to go on a field trip to do research, she’s ready to go, knowing she’s likely to glean a new story idea or two.

6)   She’s always willing to help at my book signings, knowing how painful it can be to get through the marketing labyrinth alone.

7)   She gets it. I don’t have to explain. She knows exactly what I’m struggling with, because she’s struggling with it, too.

I don’t talk with my writing partner every day. There are times when I don’t talk to her all week. But there are also times when I talk to her ten times a day. The nice thing is, when I need her help, she is always there.

Not everyone has or needs a writing buddy, but if your writing has stalled and you don’t know how to take it to the next level, maybe it’s time you cultivated one. Your work will improve and your writing life will be so much better.

Thank you, Patricia Santos Marcantonio, for being my writing buddy. Let’s go have lunch. I have this idea I need to kick around.

-Bonnie Dodge

 

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