Cleaning Out Clutter

weightshldrThe internet is full of advice for writers.  We’ve all read blogs, websites, and books about what to do and what not to do.  The cardinal sins of writing, tips and tricks to make you a better writer, surefire marketing techniques to get people to read your book.  It seems as if everyone has a magic box of tricks that will make you the best writer in the world.  After a while this box full of advice becomes too heavy and a writer can get bogged down with all the information that’s out there.  I’m sure we’ve all felt that way.

I’m not here to give you more advice about writing.  You’ve heard enough from every possible person under the sun who claims to be an expert on the topic.  But what I will do is give you some insights to help you clean out the clutter and focus on what matters.

1.  You cannot go into the writing business expecting to make a ton of money or become famous.  That is the wrong frame of mind to have.  Unless you are John Grisham, J.K. Rowling, or Danielle Steele, that prospect is pretty unlikely.  But even those authors had to navigate through landmines to get where they are today.  Writers write because it’s what they love to do.  You have to love to write, first and foremost.

2. When you write, write for yourself.  No matter how famous a writer is or how many New York Times best sellers they’ve written, not everyone is going to like their writing.  I admit, there are authors out there who are considered world class that I don’t particularly like.  Not because they’re bad writers, simply because I can’t get into their books.  Then there are other writers no one has ever heard of that I love.  It’s all a matter of personal taste.  People like what they like, and your novel isn’t going to change their opinion if they don’t like that type of book.  You will never please the masses, so stop trying.  Ultimately the only person who has to be pleased with your work is you.  Stay true to yourself.

3.  Take advice from people who matter.   With all the advice and tricks out there, I will be more likely to read Stephen King’s book about writing than a college English major’s two cents worth.  Take advice from people who know what they’re talking about.  They’ve been down the road you’re on.  They’ve walked in your shoes.  Might be a good idea to at least hear what they have to say.

4.  Take all negative feedback with a grain of salt.  Everyone has an opinion about something, and the reality of life is that some people are never happy unless they have something to complain about.  Seriously?  You have nothing better to do with your time than go on Amazon and write a bad review for a set of dishes because they were hot when you took them out of the microwave?  Did you think about using a pot holder?  Anyway, off my tangent now.  Negative feedback is going to happen.  Again, you won’t please everyone.  But you can turn the negative into a positive and use it to improve your craft.  Some people are quick to judge, but have they ever come up with a story idea, sat down and poured sweat and bled ink over a manuscript for months or years on end, then exposed themselves to the world by throwing their story out for the public to read?  Most can’t stake claim to that herculean task.   I’m not saying to ignore negative feedback, just don’t let it consume you or deter you from doing what you love.  Turn that negative into a positive and keep writing.

5. Which brings me to my next point.  Keep writing, and don’t let anyone stop you.  Writers improve by writing.  No one saidKeep-Calm-and-Write-On-true-writers-32054687-792-792 your debut novel was going to be the most fabulous piece of literary work in the history of the world.  In fact, very few debut novels fall into that category.  Your debut novel is your way of telling your story to people who choose to read it.  Your first novel is a learning experience.  Use it to work the kinks out.  You can only get better with time.

6.  Relax and live life.  Being a writer is awesome.  We see the world differently because we experience things through writer’s eyes.  We analyze body language, notice small details in facial expressions, watch people’s actions (which is fascinating, by the way), and listen intently to conversations.  We take in every scent and sound of our surroundings and discover a story from ordinary things.  The funny thing about this is most people don’t realize we do this, yet we do it on a daily basis.  Do yourself a favor, clean out the clutter and get away from the keyboard for a while.  Go out and do stuff.  Spend time with your family.  Listen to music.  Tour a museum.  Play Frisbee at the park.  Walk the dog.  Take photographs of nature.  See a movie or a Broadway musical.  Most importantly, have fun doing it.  You never know, an experience you have could be your main character’s the next big adventure.

Blood, Sweat, and Tears

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“How do you do it all?”  I can’t even begin to tell you how many times friends, family members, and colleagues have asked me that question.  And there really isn’t a definitive answer other than blood, sweat, and tears.  Well, maybe not the blood part, except for that time I had a paper cut.  But then again, if bleeding ink counts, then blood does apply.

Real writers work ridiculously hard.  I never realized how hard until I became a part of the author melting pot.  Sweating over deadlines, crying because your editor wants to cut a scene you spent months perfecting, tearing your hair out over marketing, and coming to the realization that following your dream of becoming an author has sucked every ounce of energy from you.  The entire writing, rewriting, editing, revising, polishing, publishing process is a walk in the park, except you’re not walking, you’re running with rabid dogs chasing you and the park in on fire.  Ok…it’s not that bad.  I’d describe it more like a marathon where you’re pouring out all of your energy and sweating like crazy hoping to reach the finish line without collapsing.

The market for books and e-books is huge.  Authors of every age, with varying levels of experience ranging from big names with large-scale international profiles to indie authors no one has ever heard of, write and publish books from every genre imaginable, and all seek the same thing–to gain readers, which will hopefully lead to book sales.  Authors participate in book signings and readings, keep up on social media, and some even conduct interviews or offer writing workshops to teach others how to write.  The list goes on.  All of this is challenging, but when you consider the fact that many of these authors are married, raising children, paying mortgages and car payments, and some of them even go to school or carry full time jobs when they aren’t writing (myself included), the entire writing process seems daunting.

So how does a writer with a normal life do all of this?  Caffeine is certainly helpful, although I don’t recommend drinking 50 cups of coffee a day.  In fact, I don’t even like coffee.  Tea works nicely though.

Being a writer, carrying a full time job, and raising a family definitely falls into the balancing act realm.  My first priority is my family.  My children are older now and don’t require my attention 24/7, but I still make sure they have what they need and make it a point to spend some quality time with them.  My husband and I need time to connect as well, so we make time every night to talk.  Weekends, for the most part, are family time.  Housework, yard work, and taking care of our pets is a group effort.  We all work together, taking ownership of the tasks at hand, so we are able to complete chores fairly quickly.  This way all of us have time to pursue whatever our passions and interests are.  Less sweat, less tears, and hopefully no blood.

My job occupies my day, five days a week.  I’m technically on the clock from 7:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., although I don’t recall in the 20 some years I’ve been in this profession a time when I’ve actually left work at 3:30.  I’m usually in the building until at least 5:00 p.m., often later in order to avoid rush hour traffic.  My profession is one that requires me to work with children all day, which, as those of you who are around children know, can be physically draining. Endless paperwork, countless meetings…I won’t get into all the details.  The point is I probably work anywhere between 50 and 70 hours a week.  But I’ve made it a point over the last few years to leave my work at work and not bring any of it home.  If that means I stay a little later that day, then that’s what I do.  Less sweat, less tears.  I have, however, seen blood in my profession, including my own.

My evenings, after dinner with the family, are dedicated to writing.  Whether it’s reading a good book by a great author, editing and revising a book I’ve written, working on a first draft of another book, or networking, etc… I’m writing.  I keep a notebook and a pen in my possession at all times in case an inspiration pops into my head (which happens more often than you think it does.)  I use this time to relax and unwind from my busy day.  That’s what writing does for me.  It’s my stress relief.  No sweat.  No tears, unless I’m reading or writing an emotional scene, and definitely no blood.  Although I have written scenes that have blood in them.

It all sounds chaotic and overwhelming, but would I have it any other way?  Not on your life.  Balance.  Balance leads to harmony.  Harmony lessens stress.  Less stress means less sweat, fewer tears, and only occasional blood loss.  So pursue your dream, and most importantly, take some time for yourself.  Live.  Laugh.  Love.  Read.  Write.

L.M. Nelson, Author of Scrubs