Help Wanted

I'm feeling discombobulated and anxious today. I know why I'm feeling out of sorts, but just knowing the cause of a feeling doesn't make it go away. It's like I need to do something, but I don't know what to do. I pace from room to room looking for something that will snap me out of this mood, but my mind won't settle on one thing longer than the time it takes me to think Nope, that's not it. I sit down at the computer and jump back up again. I think about writing and get discouraged before I even begin. I think about looking for some new freelance leads and get angry about an ad I saw last week that paid less than a penny a word. I think about working on my taxes and that makes me feel even more anxious. I think about doing the dishes and that makes me want to break things. I think about going back to bed, but I have too much nervous energy that needs to be expended.

I think I need somebody to slap me.

Too Much Time on My Hands

Well, I've finally finished digging out from the three feet of snow we got in the blizzard of '05 and the additional half-foot of snow we got on Wednesday. I shoveled the front porch, the walkway, the sidewalk, the driveway, my car, my elderly neighbor's car, the back porch, an emergency exit path from the back porch to the driveway, and a dog run in the back yard in the shape of a figure 8.

That's right. A dog run. In the snow. With a shovel.

Seriously. Someone needs to hire me to do some writing for them RIGHT NOW.

Photo Friday: Crowded

This week's Photo Friday challenge was "crowded." You know what? I don't like crowds. I went through all of my pictures and, sure enough, no crowds. So I am going to post a picture of two cows. They're kind of crowded together. Bit of a stretch, I know.

But WAIT! To make up for it, I'm going to tell you a story. One that has to do with photography and also happens to loosely fit the "crowded" theme. And it's not even very long. I swear. But first, here are the cows:

A crowd of cows, above, one of which has a heart-shaped mark on her forehead. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we in the newspaper business call a cutline.

Before I decided to get a degree in journalism I enrolled in a photography program at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston. I volunteered for the student newspaper, which was called The Third Rail. My first assignment was to take a picture of the new restaurant that the students in the culinary program had started. So I took my Pentax K1000 up to the top floor, where the restaurant had been set up. A short time later I was back in the newspaper office.

"How did it go?" the newspaper advisor asked me. "Did you get a picture?"

"Um, no," I said. "I think I'll go back later."

"Why?" he asked. "What happened?"

"I couldn't get a good shot," I said.

"Why not?" he asked.

"It was too crowded," I said. "The place was packed with students and faculty."

After giving me a withering look, he sent someone else up to photograph the restaurant and put me to work writing cutlines. But that's OK. I liked writing cutlines. And it turned out I was good at it.

Heck, I thought to myself. I could write cutlines 'till the cows come home.

Stupid People - Bad Metaphors

"The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM."

These metaphors are as bad as something that is really, really bad. (And the best thing is, they're not even metaphors.)

[via Bad Metaphor].

Sidebar Sprucing

I've been playing around with Flickr and I added a Flickr Daily Zeitgeist script to the sidebar, replacing the long list of links to archived photos that I know for a fact no one ever looked at. I'm still trying to figure out how to use Flickr, not to mention whether or not I like it. I'll get back to you on that one. I've also added a ton of new blog links. I tried to choose carefully and most stand out for their writing, their photography, or a combination of the two. But there are also a few oddballs thrown in for fun. Anyway, it's a work in progress. Let me know what you think.

My Mother's Hands

Sometimes I like a photograph when I first see it, but then the more I look at it, the less I like it. I'm undecided on this one. I had this shot in my head before I even bought the onion, but it didn't come out exactly as I planned. I might try it again but this time I'd be more careful with the composition. I do like the details you can see in my mother's hands, which get lots of use -- she's an artist and a gardener and a quilter, among other things. If you look closely, you can see a pin prick mark on the tip of one of her fingers.

Anyway, I think this photo will make a nice writing prompt as described in last Monday's Post. Hands are a good subject for photography and for writing.

Also, Luminous Lens has posted two of her onion photos here and here. Love 'em both.

From Boston, With Love

Visual Field, Chiaroscuro, VisuallyMinded, luminouslens and some other Baltimoreans have formed a photography group and, although I'm in Boston, they let me join in on this assignment, which was to photograph an onion. Click here for the background.

VF's first two onion photos are here and here. As others post their pictures I'll link to them, too.

"You Should Put That in Your Blog!"

Hey, Katie ... Surprise!

Picture This Writing Prompt

I really liked the comment that StuckHereWithNoTV left on this post. It reminded me of a writing prompt from a weekend writer's retreat on Cape Cod that I attended some time ago. In one of the sessions, the leader brought a stack of photographs and post cards with artwork on them. Each person took a photo or card and wrote for 10 minutes or so. Then each person passed their card to the person on their left and took a card from the person on their right and wrote about that one. And so on.

The results are interesting because the mood of your writing really changes depending on the mood and style of the artwork you're looking at. So, for example, the writing prompted by Philippe Halsman's Dali Atomicus is different than the writing prompted by one of Monet's water lilies paintings. And sometimes you look at what you've been handed and groan because you just know it won't inspire you to write anything interesting. Then the next thing you know it's time to pass the picture to someone else and you don't want to give it up because you're on such a roll.

Of course, you don't need to go to a writer's retreat to do this exercise, as StuckHere reminded me. Inspiration can be found anywhere if you just open your eyes and your mind and put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). I was really flattered that she found her inspiration in my photograph, though, especially since this site is all about words and pictures.

I mean, how cool is that?

Blizzard of '05

This post has been updated. Scroll down to see more.

That's my neighbor's huge SUV in the lower right-hand corner, by the way. This picture was taken early this morning. I'd say we have two feet of snow so far and the blizzard is expected to continue through the afternoon. We're going to end up with about three feet of snow. It's on pace to be the biggest storm since they started keeping records in 1892. It's most certainly going to be in the top three, which includes the Blizzard of '78.

I live North of Boston, near the coast. High tide is around 10 a.m., about an hour from now. It's a 9.76-foot tide and the 30-foot storm surge is expected to cause flooding--some areas might have to be evacuated. They've shut down Revere Beach Parkway, which is right on the ocean, and the Causeway, which is the only road leading into or out of Nahant. You can see a map that shows Revere Beach and Nahant here.

Update: The storm didn't turn out to be too bad after all. Big drifts, though. Almost up to the first floor windows. We have a basement, so I'm guessing that's at least five feet.

There's something about a blizzard that brings neighbors together ... in order to gossip behind each other's backs. I learned quite a bit while out shovelling today. No, no. I mean there's something about a blizzard that brings neighbors together, period. My neighbor, who has a big black dog, offered to take my dog over to her house to play while I shoveled. My dog was a little frustrated that she couldn't get out and play with all the people and dogs on the street.

So I shoveled a path to the curb and passed her over the snow bank to the neighbor so the baby could have her play date.

That's what I call love.

Winter Weather Antidote

We're going to get two feet of snow in the Boston area and along the Massachusetts coastline this weekend. Two feet. I love snow, but that's a bit much.

In yesterday's post, I listed some of my favorite entries for last week's Photo Friday challenge. Since then, a few more have entered, including two of my favorite photobloggers, Visual Field and his friend Chiaroscuro. Make sure you check out their wonderful sites.

I know I've been posting a lot of photography lately. I've just been in that kind of mood. But don't worry, I'll start boring you all with the writing again very soon. I'm also compiling a massive list of links and plan to update my sidebar this weekend. What the hell else am I going to do buried under two feet of snow?

Finally, thanks to all of you who voted for me on Blog Explosion, making me #1 for about a minute ... That was pretty cool! I'm giving you all tens!

Photo Friday: Signs and My Picks

Here's my submission for this week's Photo Friday challenge. The assignment for this past week was Signs. Please scroll down for links to photos that are way better than this one. *

I looked at the first 635 submissions to this week's challenge and picked twenty-something that spoke to me, personally. I'm including the entry number so that you can easily vote for any of these pictures on the Photo Friday site if you choose. Voting opens at 12:01 a.m. Central Time on Friday and after that you can vote here.

Please feel free to leave a comment, let me know what you think, good or bad. If people seem to like the idea, maybe I'll do it again.

Here are my picks:

#24 [ sigma's gallery ]; #34; #55 Jason Maher Photoblog; #118 joe's nyc; #142 Visual Gratification; #144 Focalization; #172 Always Curious; #174 variblog; #178 shao; #224 Shiromi; #229 Timmy Perez; #256 Isolated Images; #270 .mused; #277 DR NIMAGES; #282 Isentrope; #283 Izzy; #297 TwentyFives; #350 Judith Polakoff; #388 Way Out West; #515 Round Here; #523 Liquid Graphics; #538 spinetrak; #571 terence patrick; #582 YF

* I re-wrote this entry -- it was waaaay too long.

Three Links to Make You Laugh

Paper Sack Lifetime: One Year. Washboard abs. A million dollars. Starting from zero. Sounds like a movie tagline, doesn't it? Granted, the movie would go straight to video. But still. Listen, it's not every day you find a funny, well-written blog so soon after it was started. Scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page and start reading the narrative from the beginning. Or the end. You know what I mean. And, while you're there, click on an ad, will ya?

Mr. Fun's Fun House: One-third sarcastic, one-third idealistic, one third goofball. And really, really, smart. Do you remember what it was like to be 13? Mr. Fun will bring it all back with typo-ridden ramblings on almost any topic infused with the unique energy of the world's hippest 13-year-old novelist who also enjoys scones. How can you not love a kid who changed his blog's tagline from this: "The Best Blog Ever Created By a Thirteen Year Old? Possibly." To this: "The Best Blog Ever Created By a Thirteen Year Old? Probably." I'm going to go out on a limb and say he should change it to "definitely."

Jalapeno Burns - Unauthorized Website of Comedian Jesse Gersten: I totally shouldn't like this web site. It's ugly, hard to read, hard to navigate, and slightly offensive. It's also effing hysterical. Mostly stream-of-consciousness rants and observational humor with some unforgettable lines thrown in. But the best part is the cartoon-style illustrations. I love the one of the high chick impaling the old man on her hood ornament. And the d-bag Irish bouncer with the black eye. I totally shouldn't like this web site. But I do. Plus, he's from Boston. (Well, duh, where else would you find a d-bag Irish bouncer with a black eye?)

Blogger Etiquette One-Oh Freakin' One

Please do not post other people's content and say that you "forgot" where you saw it. You had time to right click, highlight, copy, and paste the text into another file but not to add the blog to your favorites folder? Or click "blog this" on your Google Toolbar? Or do a Google search and find the original author? What you are saying when you do that is that you liked someone's content enough to steal it, but not enough to stay on their site for more than 30 seconds. You know who you are.

And, as long as I'm ranting, could I just say something else? If you find a site that you like you can leave a comment saying so. Or you can post a link to the site on your own blog, if you have one. It's that simple. What is up with people asking for a link exchange, as if they aren't willing to say they like my blog unless I say I like theirs, too? It's not that I don't like your blog. It's that there are a freakin' million blogs and other web sites out there and if I find one I like I'm going to tell people about it and post a link to it, OK? Not because they did something for me, but because it's a good blog and I think people might like it.

That is all.

Well, except for this. While searching for links for this post I found this, which is pretty funny. And I also just want to say that I knew these pictures of Bill Gates posing for Teen Beat Magazine, which were originally posted on Monkey Methods, were fishy. The Museum of Hoaxes thought so, too. Click here for their take on it. By the way, the truth doesn't make the photos any less hilarious.

And another thing. If you're using a viewer such as Blog Explosion or Blog Clicker and you want to save a site to your favorites but you don't want to get kicked out of the frame, there's a very simple solution. You just right-click on any link on the page and choose "open in new window." Viola, a new window opens and you can navigate back to the main page and add it to your favorites. The trick also sometimes works if you're having trouble commenting. Right click on the "leave a comment" link and proceed as described.

Oh and one last thing (seriously). Poor little Snow Tire photograph -- you got bumped off the page today and no one ever commented on you.


Fuzzy Thinking

I like to go to exhibits and galleries and museums, not just because I enjoy looking at the art, but because of the way it inspires me to do better in my own work and gives me a shot of that creative energy that you need to do a job like writing every day.

I went to an art exhibit opening recently. I’m not going to say where or when. But just so you know, this wasn’t a Rotary Club show. Photographers like me enter Rotary Club shows (and lose to photographers who take pictures of baby seals and hot air baloons). This was at an art association. With professional members. The artists were juried in. That means they had to show their work to people who know something about art and they had to be accepted even while others were rejected. And there were some good pieces of work, some that I personally did not care for, and some that were so God-awful you really just had to wonder what the people were thinking. Seriously.

And then there were these photographs. Well, one in particular. It was a close-up of a white shell surrounded by rocks on the beach. I knew what bothered me about it right away. It was not just that the subject was not very interesting. Or that the composition was boring. Or that the colors, lighting, and shading were unremarkable.

The photograph was not in focus.

And I don’t mean that it was out of focus in an artsy, enigmatic way. I don’t mean that there was one spot that was in sharp focus and the rest was blurred out. The lack of focus didn’t indicate motion—we’re talking about rocks on a beach, here. I mean it was just kind of blurry.

Am I missing something, here?

Sailors' Delight

I shot this photograph on Saturday night when I stopped to take the silhouette photo I posted yesterday. I took a lot of pictures in a short time that night because the light goes so quickly and because the camera battery doesn't last as long in the cold and because I didn't have my convertible mitten-gloves with the cut-off fingers that my mom got me for Christmas and my hands were f-f-f-freezing.

Hey, Guess What I Saw Last Night?

(Click on the picture for a larger, clearer image.)

It's the outline of a body viewed as circumscribing a mass! Or at least I think it is. Yes, I'm pretty sure it is.

Confused? Yeah, me too. Click here for some background.

Not Everything I Write is Brilliant: Here's Proof

OK. I know this sounds silly. But I was just checking out Blogthings, via Jen Garrett's sideblog. And I found this quiz that tells you who your famous blogger twin is. And mine came out as Wil Wheaton. I like Wil and I like his blog, OK? But I'm not really sure I did the quiz right.

Here's the question I had the most trouble with:

What do people like most about your blog?
* How funny it is
* How geeky it is
* How interesting your stories are
* How genuine it is
* How well thought out your posts are
* How informative it is
* How egomaniacal you are

OK, I added that last one.

Do me a favor, will you? Leave a comment and tell me how should I have answered. You know how to comment, don't you? And it's OK if you've only known me for 29 seconds because you came here via Blog Explosion or Blog Clicker. Whatever. Feel free to make something up, OK?

Photo Friday: Silhouette

Aside from being tricky to spell, I found this week's Photo Friday challenge to be, well, challenging. It turns out I don't have a firm grasp on the concept of a silhouette. It's not that I don't understand the definition of the word. I was just having trouble taking it from the abstract to the concrete. My first thought was of those old-fashioned silhouettes of people's profiles cut from black paper and my brain just kind of stopped there. I looked up the second definition to see if that would help. According to my dictionary it's "the outline of a body viewed as circumscribing a mass." Right. I went out with my camera a few times hoping to stumble across a mass circumscribed by its outline but it just never happened.

So it was back to the photo archives again, although this time not too far (took this a few weeks ago) and also to a picture that hadn't been published here previously. It's probably more of a shadow than a silhouette. It's definitely not a circumscribed mass. But then, you know, what is?

This week's challenge is "signs." Much better.

(I'm a day late on this Photo Friday challenge submission because Blogger and Hello seem to be having a little tiff. I still can't get the picture from Thursday's post or the new Writers Store banner to load. Not sure what the issue is. I'm working on it, though. In the meantime, if you come here and there's no photograph to look at, that's why.)

The Writers Store

Combining two of my great loves ... Writing and shopping.

The Writers Store has books, supplies, articles about writing, online courses and more, including the cute mouse pad pictured above.* It's worth a virtual visit (or an actual one--if you're on the left coast they have a store in Los Angeles, CA). They also have an affiliate program, which means that Gienna Writes gets a little cut of the action when you go to the store through this site and make a purchase (either click on a text link in this post or the banner ad in the sidebar to the right). Plus, SCBWI members get 15% off of books and software.

But the best part of this site is the "articles" section, which is totally free. There's a ton of great content here, including interviews like this one with Shawn Lawrence Otto, who co-wrote the screenplay for House of Sand and Fog, Q &A columns like this one on creating dialogue by writer and writing teacher David Freeman, as well as general articles on writing like this one by writer Marilyn Beker. A tad heavy on writing for movies and television, but there's still plenty here to explore for "regular" writers, too.

*Blogger seems to be having trouble with picture posting today, so at the moment there's no picture or banner.

Why Don't You Just Get a Gun?

So I have this gun, which I got illegally from some nefarious characters. But it never works when I need it to. The other night I tried to use it and it disintegrated in my hands. So I decided to go back to the place where I got it and get a new one. The place is a round room, decorated by the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy guys. It is at the end of a long pier, but the way is blocked by enormous rubber balls and giant wooden blocks. So I turn to Mick Jagger and say, "Can't I just buy a gun?" And he says, "What do you do?" And I say, "I'm a writer." And he says, "Oh, no. They don't let writers have guns."

Snow Tire

(Click on the picture for a larger, clearer image.)

Another photograph from yesterday's trip to the beach. I'm newly in love with overcast days.

Red Rose Hips in the Rubble

(Click on the picture for a larger, clearer image.)

Spent some time at the beach this afternoon with the dog and my camera. It was so still and quiet. A very cold, overcast day. Steel gray and shadowless. The flat lack of contrast and misty ocean air made everything look like an old, faded painting. The mostly monochromatic landscape was dotted with surprises of color that I might not have noticed on a sunny day. Red rose hips, rust-clored bricks amidst construction rubble and debris, green trash barrels, yellow spray paint and black tires. Overall I'd say the shots I got were worth braving the biting cold for. The dog had fun, too.

* Visual Field suggested cropping this picture (see the comments). I took a bit off from the right and from the bottom, as he suggested. I think he was right. What do you think?

Fear and Self-Loathing

Last week I finished a short story (excerpts here) and sent emails to two people I trust asking them to read it. Of course they said yes right away, which totally freaked me out. I promptly started cleaning the house and writing really long blog entries and falling asleep on the couch and basically doing anything short of actually printing out two copies of the story, sticking them in envelopes and taking them to the post office. Really. I'm a writer. This is what writers do. So what's up? Why am I so frightened? Why do I imagine having a conversation with two (very nice, very kind, very supportive) people who feel obligated to tell me that I totally suck? I've actually caught myself feeling guilty for putting them in that position!

Today. I am going to do it today.

Waste Not Want Not

One problem I've always had with my writing is that I start out with an idea and then have trouble letting go of it when the story goes in a different direction. When I was in newspapers, editors were always telling me my leads were great, they just didn't have anything to do with the rest of the story. I get attached to my own brilliant writing and find it hard to let go. Which, ironically, makes the writing slightly less brilliant.

So I was working on an essay about wintertime parking in Boston and the suburbs and I had this really cute lead. But it totally doesn't go with the rest of the article. So I took an idea from Chris Baty's book, No Plot? No Problem! and put the offending paragraph in a cut file. Pretty self-explanatory, but the idea is you put the bits that you take out of your story and put it in another file just in case you need it (wink, wink).

I was right, by the way. The paragraph had no business being in the essay. But it's still cute. And I am a New Englander. As we like to say: Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. So I decided that it was a shame to let my cute lead go to waste. And I thought, Why not make a blog entry out of it?

God, I am so clever. Anyway, here it is:

From the Cut File

Boston is a place of mystery and mythology, of characters, history and tradition. You see a rainbow? We see Ho Chi Minh. In fairy tales, curses last either three or seven years. Ours last 83. Our mobsters are notorious mass murderers, sure. But they’re also kind of likeable. Our tea parties are revolutionary. And the art and war of parking when and where space is tight? As sacrosanct as the sacred cod.

Gienna Écrit

French is so sexy.

Your 30 Seconds Are Up

I signed up for Blog Explosion today. BE, as it's called, is a way to bring extra traffic to your site. You earn credits toward visits from other bloggers by visiting their blogs. The more blogs you visit, the more visits you get. It's a bit more complicated than that, but since my mom complained that the average person would never understand my recent post about GMail I've decided to work on simplifying my explanations.

Anyway, I can tell right away that this isn't going to work. That's because there's no way to filter what kind of blogs you want to visit. Browsing through the other blogs in order to rack up your own credits is excruciatingly boring. You have to visit each blog for a minimum of 30 seconds. So what happens is that people who want to get credits so other people will visit their blogs sit and watch the counter, waiting for it to count down so they can escape from the current boring site and go on to the next boring site.

I'm not interested in business blogs or technology blogs or personal blogs by people who cannot string together a comprehensible sentence. And, I have to assume that most people who happen upon my blog are going to be bored with it, too. Because they are going to be business bloggers, technology bloggers, or people who cannot string together a comprehensible sentence.

It would be so much better if there was some way to get people who are interested in writing or photography to visit Gienna Writes. I don't care if one million people visit if they are all just waiting for their 30 seconds to be up. And I would rather find new blogs that match my interests than spend 30 seconds of my life staring at a picture of some stranger's baby.

GMail Me

Yay! Thanks to my very cool friends at Photo Friday, I now have a GMail account.

Why am I so excited about this? Well, first off, I'm excited because I am so friggin' in love with Google. Plus, the very idea that you can't just sign up for GMail (while it's in the beta phase, you have to be invited) made me want it more. Then there's the fact that it's called GMail and that sometimes people call me G. Get it? G mail? And finally, as everybody knows full well, AOL sucks.

The main benefits of GMail are a ton of storage, enough that you would never have to delete an email ever again, plus the use of Google's search powers to find what you need among your archived emails. There's more to do with filing and grouping messages and replies, but I'm still figuring it all out.

Google in general and GMail in particular do have their critics. The web-based GMail service is free. That's because Google makes money by serving up ads based on keyword searches of the email messages. Although this is all automated (no one's actually reading your email) some people find that a little creepy.

But I'm of the mind that people have a right to run a business. If you don't want to see advertisements, don't use Google's products. I hate pop-up and pop-under ads. So I try to avoid sites that have a lot of them. Simple as that.

Google ads aren't that bad anyway--they're pretty unobtrusive. I have some on this site and I suspect few people really even notice them. Blogger, which I use to create Gienna Writes, is totally free, by the way. And you don't have to put Google ads on your blog. If you choose to, though, Google gives you a small amount of money every time someone clicks on one of the ads on your site.

Anyway, I'm still getting used to the GMail website. I've been using sucky AOL for so long that I have to retrain my brain and muscles to learn a new system. I'll report back later on whether or not I like it. I'm not totally ready to give up AOL just yet. Sucky as it is, I only pay a couple of bucks a month for it. (I just have the web-based email, they're not my service provider, thank God.)

You can read more about GMail here and there's an excellent New York Times article by David Pogue that explains the pros, cons, and nuances of GMail here. I had trouble getting the page to display, so you might try clicking here for the no frills version (free login required). By the way, if you'd like to get your own GMail account before all the good addresses are taken, you might try this site.

And you can now GMail me at GiennaWrites at GMail dot com. Yay!

Note To Self:

Didn't you say you were going to stop reading Chick Lit? Didn't you? So why were you up until 2:30 a.m. last night reading The Nanny Diaries? And another thing. Why did the fact that Nanny gets earmuffs bother you more than the way the parents treat their child? That was some seriously misplaced righteous indignation, there.

My New Year's Resolutions (Not Really)

OK, here's the last of the posts on my 2005 writing goals (promise). They're based on the questions in this article by freelance writer Devon Ellington. The other questions were designed to help formulate the writing goals. Question 6 (I answered them out of order) asks what steps you can take to achieve them.

Just to sum up, over the past week I've come up with the following goals:

  • Only take jobs that I want to do; earn my living from creative writing (long term).
  • Finish and send out short story “Asleep, Awake.”
  • Work on finishing things and sending them out consistently.
  • Make more money in 2005 than I did in 2004.
  • Improve creative writing technical skills.
  • Spend at least three hours, six days a week, writing.
6. What steps to you see necessary in your life to achieve these goals? Each month, pick one step and work on it.

Here are the steps I've come up with to help me meet my goals. There are 12 of them and they are organized loosely by month:
  • Finish short story, send it to two people for review, then submit it.
  • Look for new leads, clients and jobs. Check job postings every day.
  • Make more time for creative writing; consider attending a retreat or writer's workshop.
  • File taxes; figure out quarterly payments for 2005; Make a budget.
  • Update my resume to include the Celtic Mythology book and recent jobs.
  • Only take jobs that pay a fair rate for my level of experience.
  • Join a professional freelance marketplace such as
  • Network. Get business cards.
  • Start charging more per hour or assignment.
  • Finish old work before starting new work.
  • Write 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo in November.
  • Start sending out finished work on a regular schedule.
There are two quick things I want to say about this process. First, when I first saw the list of questions I doubted that they would be helpful for me. I was wrong. There's a big difference between thinking about something in the abstract and the concrete action of writing it all down. I'm glad I took the time to do it. I think I ended up with a pretty good list of non-resolutions.

Second, I might not have tackled these questions and I surely would not have followed through so nicely if it weren't for this blog. Having the daily (if self-imposed) deadline of the blog forced me to do the exercise even after I got a little bored with it. And having an audience for it, no matter how small, forced me to be honest and thorough.

So, my faithful audience of twenty or so, thanks for your (mostly silent) support. And I'm sorry if I bored you this week. By the way, I know some of you are writers (or artists, or etc.) and I'm still interested to know if any of you tackled any of the questions and what you came up with. Post a comment and let me know, OK?

Nope, Not This One Either

Over the past few days, I've been working on answering the questions from this article by Devon Ellington on the freelancer writers page. I only have two questions left, but the last one is about the steps you need to take to reach your goals. The obsessive-compulsive in me wants to make sure I get that one just right. Meanwhile, the slacker in me came up with this entry for the question about finances ...

5. What financial goals to you want to achieve over the next year?

I’m going to skip this question, because I don’t have a great handle on my finances at this moment. I keep trying to tackle it, printing out Quicken reports and looking at last year’s taxes and trying to make a budget of income and expenses. But then I get overwhelmed. Not being flush, I also find the whole topic a little depressing. Depressing plus overwhelming … not a good combination for me.

While trying to avoid thinking about my finances, I took the online salary survey at MediaBistro. The survey asks how much you made in 2003, how much you made in 2004, and whether you expect to make more, less, or the same in 2005. Talk about getting straight to the point: I made less in 2004 than I did in 2003. In 2005 I'd like to make more.

Gee, that wasn't so hard after all.

If you are a freelance writer or full-time staffer, you should take the salary survey, too. It is completely anonymous, it's only a page long, and has the potential, if enough people do it, to produce some interesting figures on what working writers are actually earning these days. Click here to start.

I'm Running Out of Clever Ideas for Headlines ... But No, This is Not a New Year's Resolution

I know I’ve been writing long entries lately, so here are some short answers to questions 7 - 10 from Friday’s post.

7. What will make you refer to yourself, first and foremost, as “writer?”

Hah. The better question is what could possibly stop me.

8. What steps do you need to take on the technical front to achieve your goals?

I still have a lot to learn about the technical aspects of fiction writing. One that comes to mind right away is pacing. Lately I’ve been noticing the pacing in other people’s writing – it’s even there in books that are page-turners. I think I try to tell my stories too fast.

9. What steps do you need to take on the creative front to achieve your goals?

I say this every year and I never do, but what the hell. One of these days I’ll have the time and disposable income to take some writing classes or attend a writing workshop or writer's retreat. And one of these days I’ll get over my fears and join a writer’s group or a manuscript critique group.

10. What changes do you need to make in your daily life (interaction with friends, family, job) to make this work?

I don’t need to cut back on the time I spend with people in order to make more time for writing. If anything, I should probably spend more time interacting with others. I’m kind of an introverted extrovert. I like people, for the most part. I just also like spending time on my own.

Check out the original article here. More of my answers (and clever headlines) here and here.

This is (Still) Not a New Year's Resolution

Here is my answers to question 12 from Friday’s post. I answered questions one through four in yesterday’s post. More later.

12. How much time each day do you vow to devote to your writing?

It’s so easy to respond to this kind of question with complete bullshit. To say, “I vow that I will write every single day. I will devote at least three hours a day to my writing.” And to think, Well, except when I’m too busy. Or don’t feel like it. Or, you know, have laundry to do.

It’s also easy to respond to this kind of question with knee-jerk feelings of guilt. To bemoan the fact that you don’t spend enough time writing and berate yourself for being such a lazy, lazy person. Without once ever asking yourself how much time you actually do spend on writing each day.

So yesterday I spent some time thinking about and writing about how much time I spend writing. And I’m glad I did, because the results surprised me. It turns out I spend a lot more time writing than I give myself credit for. Even as I write that sentence I’m thinking, That can’t be right! I’m a very lazy person! But guess what? The little voice inside my head is wrong.

It really breaks down to three different kind of days: days when I’m working on an assignment; days when I’m working on deadline; and days when I have no paid work to do.

On days when I am working on an assignment I usually go to the computer by 7 or 8 a.m. and work until about 2 or 3 p.m. On days when I’m working on deadline I often add another two-hour session in the late afternoon or early evening. So that’s eight to ten hours of writing time. Yes, I take breaks. Lots of them, actually. But I’m still spending the brunt of my waking hours at the keyboard. I also write blog entries and read almost every day. To my mind, both blogging and reading count as writing-related activities.

So that leaves the days when I have no paid work to do. Again, it would be easy to say that I waste these days, that I don’t do as much writing as I could or should. But once I really thought about it, I realized that I still go to the computer at 8 a.m. and usually stay there until at least 11 a.m. I answer emails, update my blog, browse the Internet and read other people’s blogs. And sometimes I work on my creative writing. I do that six days a week. (On Tuesday mornings I go to the chiropractor and do laundry at my mom’s house.) Of course there are days when I sleep late or watch the Today Show. But there are also days when I’m feeling very creative and on those days I do more than three hours of writing. I guess it kind of balances out. I could do more. But I don’t do as little as the voice inside my head says I do.

Ok, back to the question at hand. And my goal is to make my answer bullshit-free, uninfluenced by false assumptions and guilt, and also realistic and attainable.

12. How much time each day do you vow to devote to your writing?

I vow to devote at least three hours each morning, six days a week, to my writing. That includes paid assignments, creative writing, and blog entries.

But wait! Didn’t I just say I already do that? Well, yes and no. I’m thinking about quality writing time here. No excuses and no distractions. That means no answering emails, no answering the phone, no loading the dishwasher or watching the Today show. Showers, dog-walking, and Internet browsing can all wait three hours. Short breaks still allowed. Stretch, get more coffee, go to the bathroom. But that’s it. Three hours, ass in the chair, hands on the keyboard.

It’s funny—I came up with the same three-hour-a-day answer that I had in my mind from the beginning. But taking the time to really think about the question gives the answer more weight, makes it more concrete. It’s not just a quick, meaningless answer that can soon be forgotten. It’s a realistic, attainable goal that will easily fit into my life and my schedule.

But, just so you know, it's still not a New Year's resolution.

* Correction: In Friday's Post, I credited the wrong person with writing the article "Write Your Own Reality," in which the 15 questions originally appeared. The author of that piece is Devon Ellington. Ellington's blog on the writing life is Ink in My Coffee. I'm sorry for any confusion this might have caused.

Really, This is Not a New Year's Resolution

Here are my answers to the first four questions from yesterday's post. More later.

1. Where do you want to be with your writing in the long-term?

I would like to be able to earn a comfortable living while writing only what I want to write. I don’t want to take jobs that I don’t enjoy because I need the money. My ultimate goal is to make a living as a creative writer. That might mean more creative non-fiction like the Celtic Mythology book, but ideally it would mean writing fiction and memoir full-time.

2. Where are you with your writing now?

Right now I earn my living and spend most of my time writing non-fiction. I’m good at it and that’s fine. I’m still learning when it comes to creative writing, though. If I want to achieve my long-term goal of being a creative writer first and foremost, then I need to work harder and improve in that area.

3. What project did you leave unfinished last year that you need to finish for your own peace of mind?

Well, you might think that I would answer the NaNoWriMo novel that I didn’t quite finish. But I am so over that. It was a great writing exercise and now it needs to die a dignified death. Instead, what comes instantly to mind when I think about this question is my short story “Asleep, Awake.” I think it's good. And yet I haven’t finished it or sent it out. It deserves better.

4. What creative goals do you want to achieve over the next year?

I think one of my greatest weaknesses as a creative writer is lack of follow-though. I have trouble finishing things. Part of it is a technical issue. How do you know when a piece of work is finished? But another part of it is insecurity, procrastination, and the fact that I’m easily bored. One small step would be to work on one piece until it is finished. Perhaps that means going back to old work before starting anything new.

Also, I’d like to find my niche genre. I’d like to figure out what kind of writing I’m best at and what kind of writing I enjoy most and then focus on that. This might be a process of elimination. For example, I enjoy writing poetry, but I’m not very good at it. And after doing NaNoWriMo in November, I realize that while I can write longer fiction, I don’t enjoy it as much as I do writing short fiction. Possibly I'm just not ready to tackle something longer--at least at this stage. Maybe that's a goal for another year.

* Correction: In Friday's Post, I credited the wrong person with writing the article "Write Your Own Reality," in which the 15 questions originally appeared. The author of that piece is Devon Ellington. Ellington's blog on the writing life is Ink in My Coffee. I'm sorry for any confusion this might have caused.