so you want to be a starving artist

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A Book Report on Peter Rabbit

Published October 7, 2016 by admin

I know, I know, it’s been forever.

I feel like I’ve needed time away to realign and figure out what works for me. Some days it feels like my whole life is about learning how to balance. I still have a huge to do list and a lot of things to get to, but the great news is I’m starting to write again.

Who knows if it’s any good, but they’re words and they’re mine, so that’s something.

The past year, whether it’s been blog posts or stories or longer works, I always feel like my timing is off, or if I just wait and get rested or eat something first, or tick off fifty things on the list so I’m really ready to concentrate, then I can write. Maybe. Of course you know how that goes.

Back in the bronze age of my childhood, I was obsessed with the Peanuts comic strip and characters. In the course of my life if I haven’t read every single strip, I’ve probably come close. Seriously, I’m a walking Wiki for Peanuts, it’s a little terrifying. What started out as a way to get close to my parents (they read the strip all the time) turned into a love of Snoopy and his antics and grew into an appreciation for the more intellectual humor as I grew older and understood all the nuances. Plus, it was an easy way for the folks to bribe me into doing my homework (our libraries had a ton of Peanuts collections at the time). This was back in the day when you didn’t need a holiday to have an animated special on network television, and Snoopy and the gang popped up pretty often (plus every Saturday on their own TV show).

Most people who know of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown know it as a stage musical. It’s not particularly hard to put on, so most groups do it (I helped do costumes for it in college, never knowing that everything I was learning about costumes and the Peanuts brand would help me out later on in life, ever proving that my goal list was written by my six-year-old self). It was also an animated special back in the day, which was my very first encounter with it. We taped it from TV so I could watch it all the time and annoy the adults by singing it any time I wasn’t in front of the television for like six months. At least. Random phrases still pop into my head and if you drop a line in front of me I can’t guarantee that I won’t go full on Snoopy on you. It happens.

There’s a song in the show called ‘Book Report,’ and I remember being impressed with it and being really irritated by it as a kid. It’s a cool concept and a great set-up. Admittedly the vocals can be a little grating in the animated version, but it was more that I was one of those people that was intent on being the best student ever and NONE of the characters were taking their assignment seriously! Lucy’s just hitting the word count, Schroeder isn’t even talking about the same book, Linus is going above and beyond, but he was too smart for me to relate to. Plus I viewed him as younger than me, so what did he know? And the song just always makes me feel sorry for Charlie Brown. Poor Charlie, the procrastinator, the worrier, the one who feels that if he can just get rested or start a little later because he works better under pressure or have a snack first, it’ll be okay. It made me so frustrated because if he’d just GET STARTED he’d see that he could do the report and it wouldn’t be so bad! Even his last line would just make me so irritated because he could’ve been done already!

Here, just see for yourself

Yeah, you know where I’m going with this. Just put a striped shirt on me, because that’s where I’ve been the past year or so. I’ve had to grit my teeth and be a little bit more Lucy, maybe curb my Linus researching tendencies a smidge, and stop thinking of every other thing I could be writing while trying to write something else, like Schroeder. Argh, it’s worse than I thought, the whole Peanuts gang resemble my bad habits when I really want to be Snoopy off having adventures and not even having to do menial stuff. Except that I love writing, and writing is my excuse to have adventures.

But I’ve especially had to step away from my inner Charlie Brown and Just. Start. Writing.

Sometimes that’s what it takes, for better or worse. Just start and see what you end up with and worry what becomes of it later. Not the easiest thing for me, but I’m getting there.

Or, if you rather:

A book report on Peter Rabbit…

 

 

 

 

Getting Started: Anthologies

Published April 15, 2016 by admin

This goes hand in hand with yesterday’s post, which is why I’m yammering about it here. So you want to get started writing stories, but you just have no idea what to write? You’re overwhelmed looking at magazine listings but don’t have a novel in you yet?

May I make a suggestion? Anthologies.

About half of you just knee-jerked and threw holy water at me and the other half of you fist-pumped in the air. I get it. It’s divisive territory. Here’s the thing: you probably aren’t going to make a ton of money off the antho market.

The thing is, though, is that you will reach different types of readers. Exposure isn’t a dirty word, especially if you’re making some money off it here and there. And if you’re a brand new author and need some credits, this is a great way to learn to write for a market.

Everything is an anthology these days. Seriously. I’ve seen anthologies for genres (horror, sword and sorcery, sci-fi), I’ve seen them for themes (gaming, vampires, halloween, faeries), I’ve seen them for what would happen if you went on a honey moon with a paranormal creature or had a paranormal creature as a teacher. The territory is endless. They also usually feature small word counts (anywhere from 3k to 10k, depending), and force you to be specific. They’ll also get you used to working with an editor and all the other little ins and outs of the publishing world.

I love and hate the small word counts and rigid themes, personally, but that’s my problem. I love a challenge but I don’t always like to be made to behave. Story of my life.

These tend to be more specific than a magazine market, they get you out of your comfort zone and may get you breaking bad habits or doing things that you wouldn’t naturally include in your usual bag o’ tricks. Sometimes you’ll luck into a higher paying one on a listing. As you do more and get more published, you’ll slowly get invites to these things, which is nice (though my editors may think otherwise).

I’ve had some of my more intriguing ideas come from anthology submissions, and it’s nice to be put through my paces on occasion. Plus, this seems to be where a lot of people get to know my work. I’ve had a few people tell me they’ve read me in something then started getting into my standalone work. You just never know.

 

On Markets and Getting Started

Published April 13, 2016 by admin

One of the things I get asked about as a writer is where to submit when you’re ready. My first response is to write out a pile of stuff before you start submitting, because it’s way easier to get a rhythm going that way and rejection doesn’t suck as bad when you’ve got a lot of other things to think about.

The thing is, you have options. I get the worry about wanting to pick the right place and wanting to pick a legit place. Any place that requires you to pay, no. You also need to really review any sort of contract your given in terms of what rights you’re giving – be wary of perpetual rights because you will never get those suckers back. Be leery of giving up any sort of tax info until it’s obviously needed.

In terms of for the love/exposure markets – everyone has a different view of them and you have to decide if that’s for you. I’ve done a few to get a few credits to my name, I’m not really into that sort of thing anymore. The problem is these days not a whole lot of people want to reprint things unless you’re a big name, so you have to decide what a non-pay market is worth to you.

So, where do you even look to submit to stuff?

Writer’s Market is the basic thing that everyone turns to. They put out a new book every year and they do a site with a fee, as well. I’ve used them, I’ve had a little luck with them but not a huge amount. If you write very specific genre work, this can be a frustrating lead unless you’re looking for an agent. It’s not good or bad, but it also depends on who’s listing with them that year.

Ralan – This is one of the best websites I’ve ever found for genre-specific submissions. It breaks things down in terms of pro, semi-pro, pay, for the love, anthology, and book markets. It does a fairly good job of keeping things up to date and has links to all listings. Also free to use.

Duotrope – A site that charges a small fee, it’s also pretty good for genre-specific work. I used it before it went pay with mixed results, but it’s a great way to keep an eye on all the markets out there. I also like how they do their listings, as well.

With anything, read each listing. Read each site on the listing. If they offer a free or reduced sample copy or online examples of what they’re for, look at it. Look them up on writer’s beware or preditors and editors. Follow your gut if it doesn’t seem to be for you. Ask those around you if they’ve heard of them, submitted with them, etc. What people seem to forget is authors talk to each other, online and in person. I have healthy relationships with truck-loads of people and I definitely have asked their opinions on different places and vice versa. If you go to conventions, definitely pitch to publishers there (or at least talk to them), but also talk to any authors there with them and any authors there not with them. Talk to people. Talk some more. Don’t be afraid to get the skivvy.

This is also where writing groups are nice. If you have a group, a mentor, or are in writing groups on social media, ask around about places. I think sometimes we get so desperate to submit our stuff to places, we forget that we also have to keep some sort of control. You don’t want your dogs to destroy other people’s lawns, but you also don’t want other people stealing them when you think they’re just going out to do their business, either.

Or something.

There are also a lot of market listing groups on Facebook, and I’m sure there are other places on various social media sites, as well. Twitter is becoming known for agent submissions, and there’s always something new out there.

There are always places to submit your fiction to, so no worries.

It is, however, up to you to decide if every place is worth your time and will be good to you as an author, be it a magazine, e-zine, publisher, agent, whatever. This is why you read about contracts, rights, typical processes, and all the rest, and then decide what your threshold is. Take a deep breath and do your homework. I know, there’s unfun stuff in the creative world too, believe me I know, but you’ll be better off knowing what you’re looking for.

Other than that, pay attention to what submission guidelines are, whether it’s the format they want things submitted in or the type of story they’re looking for. And, as always…

Just keep writing.

 

 

 

Permission Granted

Published April 6, 2016 by admin

I want to get back to talking about writing and creation specifics off and on. I get that I may not have as much credentials as Stephen King or JK Rowling, but at the same time, sometimes I think it helps to hear what people are dealing with and their take on different parts of the process. Like anything else, I hope you know that your journey is just that: Yours. It is specific to you and things will change as the world and businesses in them change. There’s no way to draw a direct map from A to B, no elusive magic that will suddenly zap you in the butt if you want it bad enough or happen onto the right place at the right time. It’s work and a little luck and paying attention.

Beyond that, though, I think there is an ingredient that we don’t talk enough about.

Ten million years ago, I was writing original fiction in secret while still keeping an eye on fanfic lists. This will probably forever be a guilty pleasure of mine off and on, but at the time it was a way to have friends with similar interests when being a girl with geek interests wasn’t a great thing. It still isn’t looked at as a great thing to be, but that’s another post, entirely.

A long-time friend was a sounding board to a lot of off the wall ideas I was flinging at her, a lot of which involved a lot of intricate mythos and legends that I’d either need to warp or reinvent or whatever. These days, that’s my life, but back then? It felt like I was staring up at a million foot cliff with no rope. She was able to help me fill in a lot of the blanks with obscure Celtic legends, but suggested I hit up a friend of hers who was doing some amazeballs work at the time. Not only was he behind some of fandom’s up and coming events, but he was working at a graphic novel company, as well. I knew better than to outright hit anyone up for an opportunity, and this was long before I even had enough of a concept to pitch anything or would dare to do that anyway. These days, that’s a lunch conversation. I emailed him explaining how I got his address,  our mutual friend, and the big fat impossible wall I was facing.

I don’t have the email anymore, but the sentiment still very much rings true. His reply was incredibly nice and he said it sounded like an intriguing idea, an intriguing world, and he agreed I still had some work to go.

I don’t know what I had been asking for or what I was expecting, but the womp-womp sound effect would perfectly describe my mood upon reading that.

He went on, though. He said something like I obviously knew where I wanted things to go and had a huge drive to do it, and it actually seemed to him that the problem was that I hadn’t given myself permission to do that…just do it. He went onto say something that I’ll never forget: that if I couldn’t give myself that permission, he would give it to me, right here, right now. I had his permission to go work on this project or whatever else I wanted to write.

Huh.

That still can be a hang-up of mine. I put the cart twenty miles before where the horse is stabled, I’m worried about things that don’t need to be addressed immediately. Now I recognize it, because it definitely gets in the way of what I want to be doing at any given time. Then, his reply was a distinct revelation, and it’s one I go back to in my mind when I get ideas but immediate jump the gun and start getting anxious about everything except actually just getting started.

A lot of people I talk to talk of someday: someday they’ll write the book or make that outfit or take that class. Or, a lot of people use the c-word. ‘Oh, I can’t do that, I’m no good at this, I don’t know how…’

I hate that mindset. I  hate it about myself and I hate that the world in general cultivates it. That is one of my biggest pet peeves and if I ever meet you at a convention and you say something akin to that and I vault a table to yell at you, I’m sorry. I do it out of love, I swear. Here’s the thing:

1. You are alive, right?

2. Then there is time because you aren’t dead.

3. Learn. or try. or do. If it makes you happy, do it.

4. Didn’t work and you still want to? Repeat.

That’s all it is, folks. Seriously, whether you’re wanting to do something for a hobby or a profession, there you go. I think we scare ourselves into thinking we can’t write a book unless it’s a best seller. We can’t make an outfit unless it’s on a runway. We can’t act unless Joss Whedon is going to be directing us or Oscars are involved.

If you want to do something, please take away the end result and just do it. Give yourself that permission. It may lead to nothing it may lead to material results it may lead to soul results. But if you feel like you have that hot fire under foot feeling and are staring up at the wall and freaking out, then ask yourself what you need, why are you freaking out? Do you not know something and are scared to go look for those elements? Are you just feeling intimidated? Are you afraid of what people say? Are you scared of putting in that work and having nothing come of it?

Now, more than ever, it’s easy to find information and missing pieces of puzzles. It is very easy to feel intimidated, but think of what you’re starving your soul out of by not at least trying. People say a lot of things and they usually don’t remember them a month down the road. I’ve had a lot of projects happen that came into nothing. You’ll live, trust me. Beyond that, though, I still care about them, and as long as I care, they can always be reborn, transformed, or reused. There’s life after death for ideas, I swear.

And if you’re just flat-out in denial of your gifts or scared, I am telling you it’s going to be okay. Okay comes in many forms. It will be fine. Please, please, give yourself permission to do that thing that you really, really want to try.

And if you can’t do that? Then I’ll do it for you. I give you permission to go create. Go write. Go make something. Go paint. Do it for you, do it because you have to, do it to see what other people say, do it for whatever reason, but do it. Slam out those words and ideas, sing that song, put your spark into the mass bonfire and watch it catch and sparkle.

It will be okay.

Permission granted.

 

A Writer Writes for Themselves: a Rant

Published August 25, 2015 by admin

There are few cliche things that authors hear a lot. People mean well and a lot of these phrases do hold some truths, but they’re also really annoying, especially when you’re stressing about meeting deadlines, depressed about rejections and feel like you’re gaining no ground, stressed about balancing time so you can get out some word count, irritable about promoting and trying to get people’s attention…

The one thing I’ve heard time and again is an oldie but a goodie: “Well, chin up, I know it’s frustrating but a writer writes for themselves, right?”

I hate this. I really, really hate this phrase or any variation of it. With a burning, vile passion.

Here’s the thing. Yes, yes it is true…to a point. You should absolutely write for yourself, because doing anything hoping to get famous/rich/laid/noticed isn’t going to work. People see that a mile away, or eventually get wise. Likewise, you need to be happy with what you’re doing or else it’s just going to make you miserable. Hell, it’ll make you miserable enough even if you’re happy with what you’re doing – any sort of love, even the artistic kind, isn’t perfect. I totally agree that you shouldn’t sit down just to please others or feel like you should turn your craft a certain way in the hopes to game the market or make an impact on certain people.

Part of the issue is “A writer writes for themselves” takes away whole chunks of an artist’s emotional background and what may have led them to write. Let’s face it, we all have our reasons beyond being inspired by books and stories. Maybe you were bullied. Maybe you want to prove something to that English teacher who said your essays were crap. Maybe thee was an early influence that you want to live up to or seek validation from. Maybe you have a lurking memory of a significant other or a family member who didn’t get why you wasted time on a hobby when you weren’t going to be JK Rowling any time soon. We all have those moments, and while you shouldn’t carry them with you all the time, let’s be real. They push us on and there’s probably always a tiny, tiny bit of us that keeps plunging ahead to show our entire past that we can do this, no matter what this is.

No, you shouldn’t write because of all those people, but they exist, just the same. Plus, I don’t know many people who are so completely comfortable with themselves that they never think about those people again or don’t have a slight stab of glee if they do get to prove themselves in the end. It’s human nature.

“A writer writes for themselves” also doesn’t take into account the nature of the market. Readers are looking for what they want to read, after all. I love that some of these head-patters are also the same people who will say “well, I’d read your book but it’s not really my thing…” A writer writers for themselves after all, so this shouldn’t be disappointing, even if you hear it twenty, fifty, a hundred plus times. And you will. There are so many choices these days, that while I don’t agree with trying to write to the market (because it often changes too fast to game and attempting to do so produces shoddy work), I get why people try to write to certain genres or certain tastes. Believe me, I get it. It’s hard putting your heart out there and waiting for someone to show up, trusting that it’ll happen eventually.

“A writer writes for themselves” also devalues the whole artistic experience. It’s not enough to just put something out there, there has to be someone reading it for it to mean something. Sure, I could write down all my stories in a notebook and put them away, but I want to do this for a living. I want to share with people…and that sharing has been part of storytelling from the beginning of time. You don’t hear people saying “well a doctor heals for themselves” or “A chef cooks for themselves” or “a teacher teaches for themselves” because that’s stupid. That makes no sense and with some professions would be considered selfish. Yet somehow, in the artistic fields, we’re supposed to be so secure that we do this for no reason and definitely don’t have the gall to expect anything from it. The worst thing in the world would be for no one to ever experience the ideas in my head, that would negate what I feel is part of my purpose for even being here.

I applaud those people who say they don’t care if people read their work or if it doesn’t make them a zillion dollars…I understand the latter more than the former. Why would you even publish your work if you’re that apathetic about people reading it? I don’t get it. Writers write for readers to read. What’s so hard to understand here?

While I get that the phrase is supposed to empower authors to do their own thing, it’s turned into this “there, there” excuse any time an author complains about the market, or how hard it is to balance promotion and writing, or how frustrating it is to have their work ignored. Somehow these well-meaning people never think to take the next step and offer to read their work or tell their friends or post reviews or whatever…it comes down to platitudes that don’t fit the situation. “It’ll all be okay,” “Well, you know how the market is,” “There’s only so many best-sellers,” “Why don’t you write something like this other author/do what this other person did?”

There’s no magic formula. It all takes a ton of hard work, and for some reason people don’t like to see that. They like the magical feel of someone making it, but they don’t necessarily want to comprehend how much it takes or how much they could be helping. I don’t want consolation or head pats or shrugs or platitudes. I want help, I want chatter, I want people to notice, I want people to love my writing. I don’t want my hard work to be brushed aside with “well, you just have to remember that a writer writes for themselves” and have the conversation turned back to whatever it is normal people feel comfortable talking about.

I do write for myself, by the way. I love my worlds and the characters that inhabit them. I adore the plots that rattle around in my twisted little noggin.  This isn’t me being bitter or creatively worn out or anything of the sort – I simply feel like the phrase is overused and used in the wrong context.

My ideas and my stories are my own and are born out of an intense love of ideas and what if’s. I don’t pull many punches and I definitely have a sideways view of things that end up influencing my plots and characters.  However, I also write for you, because I want you to think and feel outside of your comfort zone. I write for the person who wants to escape for a little bit, for the horror addict who wants to be chilled, for the vampire fan who wants something different, for the faerie tale fan who wants something new, for all of those who want something a little sideways than the other things on their shelves. I write for me, but I also write for the world, for everyone, and for anyone who is willing to take a look.

Who do you write for, besides yourself? What’s a typical platitude that you’re tired of hearing in regard to your work?

Getting Into a Project (literally)

Published July 18, 2015 by admin

As I’ve been getting back in the swing of things, I’ve noticed something. As much as I don’t mind using a laptop, there’s something about a notebook of the paper variety. I don’t know if it feels like there’s less pressure with a composition book, that I’m not being judged if I’m scribbling in public versus yanking out a computer (which always feels very HEY LOOK AT ME I’M WRITIN’ or HEY LOOK AT ME I SHOULD BE WRITIN’ AND i’M ON FACEBOOK). There’s something about the physical act of scrawling out ideas, though, of being able to doodle in the margins, of being able to alternate a story with my to do or grocery lists.

Admittedly, I write some epic and artistic to do lists. I’ll have to start taking pictures of them, because there are days I venture into abstract art territory.

I’ve learned through the years that I really like to get physical with a project. When I used to have a costume shop with a cutting table, it wasn’t unusual to see me sitting up on it, cutting out things, pinning things, or generally fussing with things around me. I liked sitting atop that little wooden island, in a creative world to myself. Likewise, I’m just as likely to roll around on the floor if I’m cutting out giant pieces of things, or want to see what something looks like pieced out. I’m not one of those who sit primly at a machine. You’ll likely see me throwing fabric everywhere, and I’ve walked away from a project covered with thread, fuzz, and fake fur more likely than not.

When I do renderings, I tend to channel my inner five year old and want ALL the pencils and watercolors out around me. There are days when I’ve come away from projects involving latex, contact cement, and paint looking like I’ve sustained mortal injury – there has been at least one incident at a former workplace where security detained me because they were sure I was somehow bleeding out in front of them as I attempted to leave work that evening. I may have been politely questioned one evening when I went to get my hair cut after working on stuff for various haunted houses and really didn’t think about going out in public after a ‘blood day’ (where we added blood and distress/wear marks/other signs of grossness to costumes all at one go to get it over with/make it easier on ourselves).

I’ve gotten tangled in yarn as much as I’ve made things with it, gotten bits of fiber fill everywhere, and on and on.

When I made the Paddlelump troll suit, I may have gotten in a fight with a neighbor’s dog who tried to run off with the head, I’ve knocked over just as many cans of glue and other materials as I’ve used. There are days I come away from a job or a project feeling utterly worn out, sweatier than a day at the gym, covered with paint, glue, and fabric.

I always feel completely beautiful on those days, too. I don’t know if it’s the satisfaction of a job well done, of seeing an idea become reality, or the joy of physical exertion, but I love it. There are days I just need to color, to put things together, to actively use my hands and brain in a way that a laptop doesn’t let me. There’s something zen about getting so involved with making something that you realize your hands are taking over, and you’re just letting the idea do what it wants. It’s one of the closest things to magic I’ve ever discovered, and I love that I can take part in those moments.

Blank pages on a notebook taunt me less than a blinking cursor, in some ways. Plus, I love all the lovely and silly covers I can accumulate. I may have a horribly diverse collection of half-notebooks – there are days I don’t even go down a school/office aisle, because I know I won’t be able to resist that temptation. Lately, though, they’ve been the thing to get me moving again, to get me creating, jotting notes, doodling, writing. Plus, the more pages I fill, the more notebooks I can buy.

How about you? Do you prefer creative pastimes that keep things clean and proper, or do you like getting into the thick of things? What’s your favorite way to get really involved in a project, no matter the type?

What Makes an Author a Success?

Published July 11, 2015 by admin

I’ve been thinking more about the writing process and public reaction this week, and as often is the case, one thought leads to another. Maybe it’s just me, maybe it’s the ever-growing use of social media and how connected we all are, maybe it’s that the world’s perceptions have changed. Still, I can’t help but wonder.

What makes an author (or any creative type, really) a success?

For authors, is it selling a lot of books? Is it having a huge media reach? Big ideas that are well-executed? Does selling books still count if you’re self-published? Is it getting in with a big publisher? Is selling books really successful or have you not made it unless a huge mega movie franchise has been made of your work?

With how many different authors that plow through my timeline and twitter feeds and everything else, is just writing a book and getting published enough?

Admittedly, I took a little bit of a break last year, not only because the death of a close friend hit me hard, but also because I changed jobs, and, honestly, I needed to evaluate what I was doing and where I wanted to head. The past couple weeks I’ve started writing again, starting slow and just pouring out whatever’s in my head at the time, and I’m feeling really pleased with myself again.

However, every time I look around there’s an ongoing debate about the direction of the industry, what word counts sell, what genres sell, what really “makes” an author.

So, today I want to hear from you.

What makes an author a success? Is there anything they can do to hedge their bets to get to that version of success? Is meeting, breaking, or shattering expectations necessary these days, or is simply writing consistently and finding personal fulfillment there enough? Authors, do you feel like a success? Readers, what are your thoughts?

What makes an author an author, and then what puts them into success territory?