The Dawn of a New Year

Last year, I had the pleasure of hosting Jamie Raintree here on the blog.  When it came time to do another year end post, I knew I’d love to have her back.  She shared a wonderful writing tracking worksheet for 2014, and she’s back now with tips on being a professional writer as well as an updated tracking worksheet for 2015!

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6 Ways to Be a Professional Writer Right Now

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They say the most important job of an aspiring published author is to write, and it’s true for obvious reasons. You can’t publish a work that isn’t complete, and the only way to become a better writer is to do it consistently, to study the craft, and to keep your nose the the grindstone. But often times, as the years pass and there seems to be little tangible evidence to show for all your blood, sweat, and tears, it can be difficult to remember what all the hard work is for. When it feels like there’s no one in the world but you who cares whether you complete your book or not, it’s easy to skip a day or a few months or to stop trying altogether. After all, it’s just a “hobby” right?

But you and I both know it’s a not a hobby, or a flighty dream. In fact, it’s often the most real thing in our lives–the part of ourselves that makes us feel like the people we’re meant to be. It’s what gives our lives purpose and keeps us going when we feel lost.

So then why does our writing life often feel like a dirty secret we fit in between all our other responsibilities? Why do we talk about it sheepishly with the people in our lives, if we talk about it at all?

As someone who does a lot of reading on personal growth and who spends a lot of time around entrepreneurs, the phrase “act as if” is one I’ve heard a thousand times. Then idea is that when you act as if the person you want to be, you will make choices like that person, and draw opportunities to you like that person, and eventually, you will become that person. This mindset has worked magic in my life many, many times and that’s what I’m sharing with you today–six ways to “act as if” you are a published author in order to get yourself in the right mindset to become one.

 1. Create a Consistent Message and Active Routine on Social Media.

We already know marketing is a big part of being a writer today and while you may not have a product to promote yet, it’s never too early to start creating a fan base for yourself. What’s better for a writer than having fans? Who are your fans before you have a novel to share? The people who understand your struggle to make your dreams come true and who want to be a part of your journey. There are more of them out there than you might think.

 2. Create a Blogging Schedule and Stick to It.

One of the hardest parts about writing books is that you complete projects so infrequently. I’m lucky if I finish a book a year. Other writers can finish one every few months, while others still take several years. No matter how long it takes you, it never seems to be fast enough, and it’s hard to stay motivated without having regular accomplishments under your belt. A blog is a great way to hold yourself accountable, to put your writing out in the world consistently, and to chalk up regular writing accomplishments.

3. Create a Website.

Writers are notorious for writing in our pajamas, curled up on the couch, our hair pinned up into a bird’s nest, a cup of coffee within reach, and Hershey Kisses wrappers littered around us in every direction. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still have a professional presence. Creating a simple WordPress website and blog is easy, it’s free, and it’s your professional face to the world. Once you have one, visit it every day to remind yourself that no matter what you are currently wearing, you look like a pro.

4. Join a Critique Group.

Or create one. Either way, talking regularly with people about the industry, asking questions, getting feedback on your work, and creating accountability can make it feel like you have colleagues around you working toward a shared goal. They are the ones waiting to read your next work when the publishing industry hasn’t quite caught up yet.

5. Join and Volunteer for Writing Organizations.

Being a part of writing organizations gives you the opportunity to attend events wearing your author hat–not your parent hat, or your day job hat, or your laundry-folder hat. It gives you the chance to look like and feel like the writer you know you are. Even better, volunteering is so appreciated by the people who run these organizations and it’s a fun way to be a part of the industry before you’re a part of the industry. There are lots of opportunities to meet and make connections with people who are further along the path than you and who are more than happy to share their expertise.

6. Submit Short Stories and Articles to Magazines.

What makes you feel more like a writer than submitting your work, and potentially getting paid for it? Even if you typically only write novels, there are many opportunities out there to get your work published now. It also gets you used to writing to a deadline and getting feedback from industry professionals. Plus, it’s a great way to build your portfolio for when it’s time to start querying or to publish your book.

Yes, it can take many years of practice to get good enough at writing to catch the attention of the industry, but it also takes years of practice to be a professional. Just like you put in the words each day, it helps to train your mind on a daily basis to live like the success that you already are and that you strive to be. As they say, dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

FREE WRITING TOOL

I want to send a big thank you to Erin R. Britt for having me on her blog today. Thank you, Erin! Also, as we start the new year, be sure to check out my 2015 Writing Progress Spreadsheet to help you track your writing and revisions progress each day, week, month, and for the year. I wish you all a very productive and successful new year!

Jamie Raintree

 

Jamie Raintree writes women’s fiction about women searching for truth in life and love. She is currently working on revisions of her first novel in preparation for submission to publishers. In the meantime, she blogs about her journey toward a well-balanced life and a career in publishing–her struggles and successes along the way. She lives in Northern Colorado with her husband and two young daughters and is a Workshop Coordinator for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Subscribe to her newsletter for more blogs, book news, and writer tools and other free downloads for dreamers. To find out more, visit her website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or subscribe to her newsletter.

Poem 8–We Have Met Our End At Last

The other day, while browsing my Facebook news feed, I saw a link posted by two of my friends.  It was for this:

Breathe-easy-shirt

Yes, this is really a thing.

One person posted this ironically and the other posted this in earnest.  Let’s look at the most obvious problem with this shirt.

When you state something, you imply that the opposite is also true.  For example, if you say, “Drunk drivers kill people,” you are also saying, “Sober drivers do not kill people.”  So, when a shirt says, “Breathe easy. Don’t break the law,” it is also saying, “If you break the law, then you deserve to have difficulty breathing (or to not breathe at all).”  What constitutes breaking the law, then?  Well, lots of things, as it happens.  Jaywalking.  Turning on red when it’s posted you can’t do that.  Failing to use your turn signal.  Performing oral sex.  No, I’m not making that last one up.  In Indiana, oral sex is illegal, regardless of whether you are married to your partner or not.

Are any of these things worthy of capital punishment?  Please tell me you’re all saying, “No, don’t be ridiculous” right now.  And yet, according to this shirt, these people are not obeying the law and so they deserve to have lethal force used against them.

“But Erin,” you might be saying, “let’s get real here.  It’s only talking about ‘big’ crimes, like killing people or resisting arrest.”  Fair enough.  Let’s look at that.

James Eagan Holmes was arrested outside of a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado after he went inside and killed 12 people and injured 70 more people.  He was arrested.  He wasn’t shot to death.  He wasn’t choked to death in a prohibited maneuver.  He. was. arrested.

Eric Garner was accused of selling loose cigarettes.  Seriously, that’s what they thought he was doing.  That’s not a capital offense.  Even if Garner had resisted to the point where an officer felt his safety was threatened, are there not better ways to resolve that situation?  The short answer is, “Of course there are,” and that’s why people are so upset and why #Icantbreathe is even a thing.  Side note: when you become a police officer, you accept that public safety becomes more important than your own and that your job entails added risks because of this.  If you don’t want to be in danger, don’t become a police officer.  I don’t want to be in danger.  This is why I’m not a cop.  Seriously.  Lethal force should be your final option, not your first response.

When looking for inspiration for this last poem, I decided to try doing an erasure poem from a news story.  The news story I chose had to do with Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

 

When The Wild West Was Yesterday

Who is telling the truth?

Have faith in military zones

riot gear,

tear gas,

rubber bullets—

that they can tell

the difference.

 

Jack up the conflict—

armored cars,

gas masks,

SWAT gear,

chaos.

Don’t release the name

arrest the journalists.

 

Respond with solidarity

explain the resonance

add another hashmark

to the genre

of Black Death.

“I can’t breathe.”

 

 

 

Poem 7–When There Was Nothing Left

So, a few weeks ago, I posted about the absolute clusterfuck that was my life.  Of course, whilst I was dealing with all of that, I also had a poem due for workshop.  That was one of the most difficult poems I’ve had to write because Life had sucked everything out of me through a bendy straw.  I had nothing left to give, so this is what I wrote.

 

Empty

here in this space

punctuation is an exercise

 

in futility

 

and getting out of bed

becomes an act of

 

 

revolution

Poem 6–Hold On To Your Butts

This next poem is something I have never even considered attempting before.  I wrote a sestina.  I may not ever do this again.  I’m not even going to lie about it.  The assignment was to write a sonnet or a sestina, and since I’ve written sonnets in the past, I went with the sestina.  You might want to grab a beverage for this one.

 

The Order Includes Both Extant and Extinct Species

She held the baby turtle in her hand,

leaving fingerprints over the shell’s braille.

The turtle, in response to the  potential conflict,

pulled in its limbs and prayed for water.

She held it close, knowing that her power

was false—it could have chosen to struggle

 

even as she could have chosen to struggle

against the insignificance of her own hand.

Life was the mouse that escaped the cat’s power

only to find itself tripping over the braille

of the mousetrap, pinned and begging for water.

In the place where death and life conflict,

 

what was the point, if not conflict

resolution, of a satisfactory end to the struggle?

The cacti will always plead for water,

spines held aloft like supplicating hands

that rise above the desert braille

with nothing to grasp against the flood’s flashing power.

 

But interference was outside her power

even as she orchestrated the conflict

of razor blade against skin, scribing braille

apologies to no one who could read them. Her struggle–

to not write more lines with a shaky hand

while watching the sink pool with blood soaked water.

 

She wondered if a drop of holy water

could infuse in her some divine power.

She held the droplet in her hand,

indistinguishable from tap, a conflict

she had no stake in, so felt no need to struggle

against her senses or the rosary beads raised like braille,

 

or gooseflesh raised like a braille

scripture, not from divinity but from rain water

laced with laudanum.  The haze is one less struggle

for the turtle to hide from.  It exercised its power

of avoidance until it couldn’t evade the conflict

anymore and shrank itself inside her hand.

 

She stroked the turtle’s braille and found the power

to place it near the water, end its conflict,

the futile struggle against her hand.

 

So, what do you think?  Should I attempt more sestinas in the future?

Poem 5–A Trip

For this poem, we were supposed to root it in truth but then make up some of the details.  One of my favorite trips I took as a child was to Whitefish Point in Michigan.  There is a shipwreck museum there and it was the coolest place ever.  One day, I plan to take my boys there so they can experience it, too.

Edmund Fitzgerald Could Have Been My Father

November 10, 1975

 

We went that summer to pay respect

to the sunken ships of the superior lake

 

A lighthouse was their headstone—

the ships, themselves, rested in paupers’ graves

 

Names—on wood, on steel—legible only to fish

in schools that can’t read

 

The living wanted to study the portraits of the dead

read plaques covered in ridiculously small script

 

Squinting      squinting      as if the reshaping of their lids

would force some meaning

 

I much preferred to study the waves—

a deepness that hugged cargo

 

close to her bottom

I looked past ripples into nothingness

 

in the nothing I saw myself

This was information best not shared

 

My brother joined me, asked what I was staring at

I considered all the things I could tell him

 

metaphors and words that end with –istic

except I was only 12 and I didn’t know

 

that kindredness had words

He was only 10—the words I didn’t know

 

held no meaning for him anyway

He asked again–

 

 

It is the most honest conversation

we will have.

Poem 4

For this assignment, we were told to channel Noelle Kocot.  However, I was also reading Joe Bolton at the same time, so the end result is a combination of the two, though my professor thinks it’s more Bolton influenced.  Actually, I’m ok with that.  If you haven’t read either of these poets, I would recommend them both.  Kocot is just so weird.  I love it.  Bolton gives me all the feels.  All. The. Feels.  If you can only read one of his poems, please read “The Distance.”  That piece brings me to the brink of tears every time I read it.  It’s my favorite Joe Bolton poem and one of my top ten favorite poems of all time.  Anyway, so at time time I wrote this, I was obsessed with the concept of the starlight we see being from something that ceased to exist billions of years ago.  I mean, if you really stop to think about that, it’s mind blowing.  The voice is a pretty big departure from my usual voice and that was really fun to play with.

 

Starlight

 

They went to the countryside—

attempting to hide from the glaring skyline

Because she wanted to see the stars.

“We didn’t need to come here.”

He saw the stars in her eyes but not

the way her face scrunched at his

Attempted romantics.

“We’re all just clichés—clichés with feet,” she said,

Her way of absolving him.

“Is it a cliché if it’s true?”

She hesitated, a conscious act to spare him, then said,

“Yes.”

She looked back to the stars

their cold, dead light a remembrance

Of something long extinguished

their names forgotten.

He looked to her instead of the sky

as though he were Galileo.

She never asked to be heliocentric,

couldn’t shake his orbit.

His racing heart and fevered blood

would be the death of him.

She wanted to care, or at least to feel guilty

for being his source of condemnation.

It would have to be good enough.

She watched the sky and he watched her,

Memorizing her constellations,

basking in her heat,

Never once considering that

her life was starlight.

 

 

Poem 3

For this assignment, we were supposed to write about something erotic.  For reasons too numerous to go into here, I’m not really good at that sort of thing.  I was stuck.  So, I went to a friend, explained my problem, and she said, “So why not write about how you can’t write about it?”  Did I mention that this friend is pretty smart?

 

Subversion

I tried to write about your lips

overripe like strawberries

 

But all I could see is lipstick smeared

like cabernet slashes across your face

 

Your hands drew pictographs

in champagne condensation

 

Translucent screams for eyes

that look at everything but see nothing

 

silken ties bound tightly as burlap

–prettiness still chafes —

 

And the gilded bed is a lie you told yourself

to keep from drowning

 

The matchstick flared, scratching echoes

in otherwise stillness

 

The sulfur fucking ozone

thunderclouds behind your eyes

 

Blind you with lightning flashes in the

rearview mirror as you choke on

 

Chemicals masquerading as

Sandalwood air freshener

 

The only connection to actual

wood was the tree shape it assumed.

 

Your lips are parts of my face

–together we scream

 

This isn’t hyperbole

This is memoir