A Writing Career: Be Yourself!

Do you ever sit and plan out your career?

Recently on a listserv, authors were talking about careers. Some knew exactly where they wanted to go and were laser focused. Some were looking all around and trying a bit of this and a bit of that. How do you plan a writing career?

What are you good at?
Which pieces of writing are bringing you the most attention? This is a hard one because some of the writers were having success with nonfiction pieces; yet, they longed to write fiction. (Not many vice versa!) The question became, do you stick with nonfiction to build a career? Some needed the income from their nonfiction and considered it their job; fiction was their passion, but not the bread-winner, so they could only fit it in around other projects.

There’s nothing wrong with this! Good writing is good writing. Why not make money at what you do and do well? Often, we don’t see ourselves and our work clearly. The marketplace has a way of rewarding good work and it’s clearly something to which you should pay attention.

Where do your passions lie?

Darcy Self Portrait quilt

“Six of One, Half a Dozen of Me,” self-portrait quilt. c. 2014 Darcy Pattison

Are you a frustrated poet? Do you love YA novels? Or do easy readers excite you because you’ll be helping someone learn to love reading? For me, everything I do winds up being teaching. I like to take complex material and simplify it for others so it’s practical and easy to implement. But I also love poetry, writing fantasy and science fiction novels, and writing for this blog. Picture books are especially exciting for me to write. I’m all over the place. When you have a multifaceted set of passions, sometimes you need to prioritize. Or understand that for this season of life, one passion will sell better than anything else.

If you need some tutoring in order to be great at a passion, then get it.

Unique: No One Else Could Do This
One way of thinking about this is to answer this question: What can you do that no one else could do? What’s the one type of writing/publishing in which you could be the best in the world? Top Dog! Why mess around writing mediocre pieces? Instead, find the one thing that you do best and no one else can match you.

Maybe it’s one of these:

  • Nature poetry for K-3.
  • Erotica for New Adult readers.
  • Christian fiction set in NYC for New Adult readers.
  • YA dystopian stories set on Mars.
  • Picture book family stories for the MidWest.
  • Preschool picture books that include a grandparent.
  • Vietnam War stories for middle grade girls.

It doesn’t matter that you are the only one in your category and you’ve even invented the category. Vietnam War stories for middle grade girls? Yikes! Unlikely. But it that’s your passion and you can pull it off with integrity and excellence, then do it!

That’s how you build a career. Do something no one else has done and do it with such excellence that no one can turn you down.

Easier said than done? Of course. But a career plan worthy of striving toward. And in the end, that’s all we can do. Butt in chair. Write. You might as well choose to write what will build your career.

Introverted: The Writer’s Power and Downfall

Do you love to go to your writing cave and spend hours? Do you hate marketing, which means getting out in front of people? Why is is so easy to be alone for hours at a time while working on a project and so hard to be out among the crowds?

You’re an introvert. Of course.

I’ve been reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Wow, I’m so there. Here’s a TedTalk she did on the subject.

(See the TED Talk transcript here.)

Our society encourages and rewards the extrovert in unique ways: leadership roles, better sales, more opportunities. Writers, on the other hand, are the people you overlook at a social gathering. And put a group of writers in the same room and it’s, well, quiet.

Cain says,

“. . . Extroverts are sociable because their brains are good at handling competing demands on their attention—which is just what dinner-party conversation involves. In contrast, introverts often feel repelled by social events that force them to attend to many people at once.”

In other words, as I tell my husband, I think slowly. It takes me a while to understand a joke, to catch an implied compliment or threat or insult.
While society rewards the extrovert, though, they need the introvert. We are the ones who think deeply about situations, who have insights into potential pitfalls (if they would only listen!), who can produce more verbiage than you ever wanted if you just leave us alone for a while.

I recently read a college entrance essay for a high school senior who bemoaned his social skills. Immediately, I told him to go and read this book because he needs to know that he is an introvert—and that’s a good thing. I’m telling my writer friends the same thing today: you’re an introvert, and that’s a good thing.

Strengths of Introverted Writers

Don’t rely on approval of others. Do you agonize over what someone thinks of your writing? Well, yes and no. While you’re writing that first draft, there’s only you to please. The only time we worry about others’ opinions is when it comes to publishing. Mostly, I work alone and I do what I like. I choose the projects; I choose the way I work with those projects; I decide what to send out. This is good. Writing shouldn’t be a committee affair, but the storytelling or insights of one person.

Able to spend large chunks of time with just yourself. Writing a novel or a long nonfiction project demands time, and that’s time spent largely alone. Even when my friend, Carla McClafferty goes to Mount Vernon for a week to research George Washington, that’s only a fraction other time spent on THE MANY FACES OF GEORGE WASHINGTON: REMAKING A PRESIDENTIAL ICON. Personally, I couldn’t write that book because it would require me to go to Mount Vernon and actually tell people that I plan to write a book about Washington. Carla can do that and then come home and spend the time alone needed to actually write the project. And she’s doing it all over again, as she researches a future book on Martha Washington.

Concentrate on a long, detailed project. Books have been called the archive of our culture. They include information that needs long-term storage, as opposed to a daily newspaper, which is just a short-term conversation about events. Books are long, detailed, intricate pieces of writing that take a large chunk of time. The details of such a project can be overwhelming: organization of information, drafting multiple times, proofreading, fact-checking, etc. Do you think an extravert could manage something that unwieldy? Maybe. But it’s a natural fit for the introvert.

Think long and hard about something. Is it any surprise that introverts often come up with innovative ideas,whether that’s an invention or a fresh, new way of storytelling? A story that takes a year or two to tell—that’s a lot of thought.

Weaknesses of Introverted Writers

Please yourself first, and others only secondarily. Sometimes introverts stumble onto something so odd and idiosyncratic that only they will like it. Being out of society’s main stream can mean that your writing won’t find a ready audience. No one will buy your book because you’re just so weird. (Just saying.)

Marketing is HARD. Yes, introverts CAN teach and some do well on stage—but every public event takes extra energy and produces greater stress. My introvert daughter teaches high school math, where she is literally on stage every hour of a school day. It’s not that we can’t do this; it’s that it takes its toll. When I have days and days of just teaching and marketing, I get cranky. I actually love to teach and talk to groups of people (not so great one-on-one). But I need to gear up and for a couple days after, I’m more depressed until I get my equilibrium back.

The hardest thing I do is stand up and say, “See my book.” Well, no. The hardest thing is, “Buy my book.”

I can teach, speak to crowds, entertain 1000 kids at a time. But holding up my book means holding up a piece of myself that I care about so much that I can’t stand the possible criticism. Oh, I do it. You have to just get over it and do it. But it’s never easy.

Hard to open up and discuss your ideas and emotions. Communication is hard, but it’s the business of writers. We communicate through our written words, where we can carefully control the emotional content of what we say. That’s important.

When I first met the woman who would be my future mother-in-law, I was overwhelmed. She was an extrovert, who never met a stranger. Furthermore, nothing in her life was secret and she told the whole world about anything and everything. To my great dismay. I am still a very private person (read: introvert) and had never had such a person in my personal sphere. I never got used to her open attitude, though I did learn to appreciate it.

I’m an introvert and a writer. My emotional struggles will come out eventually. When I’ve had a long time to think about what happened and what I felt about that event of my life. And only disguised as a novel. I am learning to be more open, to imbue story events with emotional power. But it’s hard.

But that’s the struggle of an introverted writer.

Do you feel me?

Fiction Notes Named in Top 10 Writing Blogs of 2013

Thank you to all my readers! You’ve been terrific in supporting the Fiction Notes Blog. Thank you for nominating it for one of the Top 10 Writing Blogs of 2013. We won!

Each year, the Write to Done blog opens for nominations for the best blogs and this year, there were 1100 entries. The award is for Writing Blogs, not for writing about freelancing or business-related posts. At least half of a blogs posts needed to be about the writing process itself. And that’s exactly what Fiction Notes tries to do.

Thank you for your support!

Fiction Notes is named a Top Writing Blog of 2013

Fiction Notes is named a Top Writing Blog of 2013

Top Writing Blogs of 2013

Over at the Write to Done blog, they are taking nominations for the Top Writing Blogs of 2013. If anything here at Fiction Notes has been helpful or touched you this year, I’d appreciate a nomination. If you’re looking for great articles about writing, here are the 2012 winners.

How to Nominate Your Favorite Writing Blog

Nominate your favorite blog in the comment section of this post.
You have only one vote (only your first will be counted).
Please include the web address of the blog. (www.darcypattison.com0
Explain why you think the blog is worthy of winning this year’s award.

To make the cut, a blog must be nominated more than once.
Nominations must be received by 12th December, 2013.

Do not comment here, it won’t count as a nomination. You must go to this website to nominate a blog.

Thanks for the nomination!

Dancing on Top of the Mountain with the Top Writing Blogs of the Year.

Dancing on Top of the Mountain with the Top Writing Blogs of the Year.

The Writer’s Journey: 9 Metaphors

I am just back from an amazing week-long conference about writing and indie publishing. It was held on the Oregon coast and at one point Dori Butler, Carol Gorman and I took advantage of the setting and went on a hike. It became, for us, a metaphor of the writing journey that we all take and the journey we were taking as writers that week.

We hiked Cascade Head Nature Conservancy trail. There is a three-mile hike that is open year round, but there’s also a shorter trail that only opens after July 15. The road to this upper trail is a gravel road that winds through magnificent forest land. And that’s how the metaphors began.

  1. Stop and ask for help. The road to the trail is not well marked and we were in totally unfamiliar territory. When you are venturing into new writing lands, stop and ask for help. We knew we had passed the road, but hadn’t seen it, so we stopped at a local restaurant and the waitress kindly drew us a map that we confirmed with our Google Maps app.
  2. Keep going. The road was steep and curvy and was often uncomfortably close to a steep drop-off. After some miles of climbing, the road dipped and headed downhill. We were confused and became more and more uncertain. Finally, someone said, “We should turn back.” No. We couldn’t give up yet! We decided to go on and around the next bend–yes, around the next bend–there was the parking area for the trail head. Are you tempted to stop writing? Take that next step: submit the manuscript, write that last chapter, keep going. You don’t know what is just beyond the bend.
  3. Carol Gorman and Dori Butler at trailhead of Nature Conservancy Cascade Head trail, outside Lincoln City, OR.

  4. No one around. It was early morning, foggy. A lonely road, a quiet space. Writing can feel lonely, too. We work and work and if feels like no one cares. But, remember this: there was a path. Clearly someone had gone before us and surveyed this land, decided it was worth the conservation effort, built and groomed a trail. Writing may feel lonely, but others have gone this direction before. And there is a promise of a fantastic view at the end of the trail. Keep going.
  5. You can’t see clearly in the fog. Now, this wasn’t just any old fog. It was foggy enough that you couldn’t see more than a couple hundred feet. As with writing, we only saw the immediate surroundings, the long views were closed to us. That didn’t mean it was scary or ugly. In fact, the fog held a peculiar beauty, diffusing the light, creating an almost cozy atmosphere that sheltered and protected. It was a space in which you could keep going by focusing on the task in front of you.
  6. Fog hung over Cascade Head all morning.

  7. Spider Webs. Wow. At the edge of a grassy pasture, foxgloves glittered in the fog. A spider web was hung with water droplets like a Christmas tree hung with lights. We stopped to look closer. Likewise, in your writing, enjoy the journey of writing a story. Don’t just look for the finished book or the pay check at the end. Instead–stop and look for spider webs. (Don’t you think that is much better than, “Stop and smell the roses”?)

  8. Stop and look for spider webs.

  9. Honor our differences. We all carried cameras and when we found this rope looped around a branch, we snapped away. Then we compared and each of us had a different view of the rope and tree–just as each of us carries around a different view of story.
  10. You may not know when you reach the top. Because of the fog, we weren’t sure what we were supposed to see and where we were supposed to go to see it. We reached a pasture and thought it was supposed to be the top, but we didn’t know. Sometimes, in our writing careers, we reach a certain point and look around, only to be puzzled. Is this the top? Why can’t we see any clearer?
  11. Darcy and Dori, Writing Buddies.

  12. Paths diverge and converge. Several times there was an obstacle in the path–a fallen tree, a mud puddle–and we had to choose to go right or left. Our paths diverged and converged. As writing buddies, this has been true, too. Over the years I’ve known Dori, we’ve had periods of intense conversations and back and forths, and then the ebb and flow of life takes us different directions. But always–we are writing buddies and we work to have our paths converge, even if only for a week’s retreat.
  13. Timing is important. We were disappointed not to be able to see the ocean from the top of Cascade Head, so a couple days later, we had some free time in the afternoon, instead of morning. We decided to head back to Cascade Head and try again. Sun shone brightly in the valley, but we saw a cloud hanging over the top of Cascade Head. Was it thick fog again? We pulled into the parking area and it was almost raining. We hesitated. We had been out there once; would we find nothing but fog again? Like in our writing career, you just have to try. You have to write that next novel or story, and you can’t give up. We climbed out of the car and took off.
    This time–Wow! The view was amazing.

On a clear day, the coastland stretches into the distance, a sight worth the trouble of going back again and again until the view is clear.

Dori Butler and Carol Gorman. Great writers, great friends.

Thanks, Dori and Carol. It was a great week!

Storing up LIFE to Write About Later

This week, I have been Frederick. The classic children’s book talks about a mouse who watches all the other mice gather seeds and grains for the winter, storing them away for the cold days. Frederick is a gatherer, too, but he gathers the sights, sounds, tastes, smells and feel of summer. When dreary days of winter come, Frederick is ready with poetry to remind the others that good days would come again.

My daughter delivered her second son, my fourth grandchild this week, and I’ve concentrated on just living. On being a Frederick who soaks up life at it grandest and stores it in the depths of my heart to be brought out in a written form when needed.

Here are some of the images of the week:

Mr. GFR weighed in a 7 lbs, 20.5 inches.

Big brother marched into the hospital and literally charmed the entire nursing staff. They were all hanging over the desk to get a look at his fedora and glasses.

Mr. EIR stole the show from his little brother.

And while the household slept, I took early morning walks, just rejoicing in the richness of our lives.

Heron on the Lake on the day that GFR was just two days old.

Sometimes, every once in a while, it’s good to be a Frederick! When is the last time you just lived and enjoyed the fullness of life?

6 Ways out of Writing Slump

Periodically, I have to refocus. What am I doing with my time? Is that what I want to do with my time? What have I accomplished this year? It’s one of those times for me and I need to refocus big time.

It’s easy to be swept up in Social Media: Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube, and even dipping my toes into doing a podcast for the Ultimate Shrunken Manuscript. My head is full of social media how-tos and tips. This fall, I am planning a series, 30 Days to an Author’s Platform. (If you have questions or suggestions, please add them to the comments!)

But I haven’t written much fiction lately.
The reasons are complicated:

  • I am feeling vulnerable, worrying that the publishing world doesn’t like my stories and won’t like this next one, if I write it. (How many of you are with me on THAT one?)
  • The industry is changing in confusing ways. Possibilities abound that even a year ago were unthinkable. Read this interesting post about the emotional stages a writer goes through on the journey of becoming an indie writer or a hybrid writer. (Is that a new term for you? A hybrid author is someone who publishes with traditional publishers and self-publishes other stories. I am already a hybrid author–where do I go from here?)
  • Of course, there are personal and family situations ongoing that always affect our writing. But that’s personal.

But in the end, writers write.
If I am a writer of fiction and nonfiction, then I must write. Forget the fear, forget the market, forget the personal issues. What story must I tell next?

But, what if I wanted to cross genres and write an adult novel instead? What if I wanted to write a mystery, instead of fantasy? What if I wanted to write a picture book that I know no one will buy, but I just want to tell it? No, no, no. Wrong questions.

What is the next story that I need to tell? Tell it. Get the words on paper.

THEN, worry about marketing and the reaction of the world to what I write. Come on, Darcy. Write. And if YOU need a cheerleader, I say this to you, too. Write!

What I’ve Done to Get Back to Writing

My writing office in the attic of a 3-story Victorian house.

But you want something practical? OK, here’s a couple things I’ve done.

  1. Encourage writing by changing the environment. Cleared off my desk. Instead of a crush of papers and notes about social media tasks, there’s nothing there but what I need to write fiction.
  2. Encourage writing by changing the environment. I have also decided not to check email or online accounts in the mornings.
  3. Encourage writing by enlisting friend’s help. I decided to attend a Master Class in July, partly to reconnect with some writing friends and get pumped up with new ideas. I expect that I will be challenged, provoked, angered, delighted and more. I will come back writing stronger than ever.
  4. Encourage writing by setting goals. I plan to have a new series plotted by September 1.
  5. Encourage writing by learning/trying something new. Because I want to write a series, I have bought a couple new books and I am working through the worksheets. Karen S. Weisner’s book, Writing the Fiction Series: The Complete Guide for Novels and Novellas has worksheets that lay out the process of doing a series. Are they perfect? No. Are they useful? Definitely. I don’t have to think as hard about structure and what to do next. It automates the process, so I can focus on the stories. The worksheets are getting me going and will keep me going for a while. And I’ll try her other book, First Draft in 30 Days.
  6. Asking for encouragement. Ok. Encourage away. And encourage ALL your other writing friends this week, too. I am sure they need it, too. Just like you do. We can do it. Let’s write!

Poland: A Writer’s Vacation

I just got home from ten days in Europe and I am ready to write. Why?
Because getting out of my writing cave makes me bump up against people, against history, against emotional struggles.

Belzec Death Camp Memorial

Belzec Death Camp Memorial, Poland

One place we visited is a memorial for the Belzec (Bee AWA zhek) Death Camp in eastern Poland, the first and worst of the Nazi camps which tried to exterminate Jews, gypsies and handicapped people. Over 600,000 people died here in 1941-1943. Then, the Germans flattened the camp and planted trees, in an attempt to hide what they had done.

This is history and deep emotions rolled into one poignant visit. For example, there was only one survivor of the camp–only one!–and his stories are heartbreaking. One quote was from a young boy who had entered the gas chambers and was heard to cry out, “It’s dark, it’s dark. Mama, haven’t I been good?” His last words.

For a writer to experience a sobering memorial something like this is to plumb the emotional depths to which a character might be forced to go.

Barn Swallow Nest

One place we stayed was a horse farm in eastern Poland and one morning I walked out with my camera to see what was around. Under the eaves of the horse barns were nest after nest of barn swallows. I like trying to find the small, hidden things to photograph, because as a writer, it reminds me to pay attention to the landscape, to notice the “telling details” that could make a story come alive.

"Beware of Dog" in Polish

I snapped this photo while we were stopped for a break along a country road. Writers need to remember that there are common emotions and thoughts across all languages and cultures, they are common to humanity. Fear of dogs is one of those things.

Window in Zamosz, Poland

And you can find beauty across the world, too, beauty in the common things of life such as a window.

The trip was amazing: as a writer, the trip reminded me that stories are universal, that evoking emotions–both happy and sad–is universal, and that beauty is found in the common things of life.

Writers, are you a part of the reading community?

Writers need to be a part of the wider reading community, not just the writing community. Yes, you need to do it as part of your book marketing, but it’s also a way to widen your outlook about literature in general.

I recently judged the state level of the Letters about Literature writing contest for the Center for the Book. It was a fruitful day for me as a writer, because fellow-judges were librarians and teachers. Mention a recent title and you got an avalanche of opinions. What a refreshing day!

Input from the wider reading community is crucial for writers to maintain a balance. We sit in our caves and focus on the production of words to the exclusion of readers. Listen, there are lots of passionate readers out there.

The Letters About Literature contest asks students to write a letter to an author and explain how and why the author’s book impacted their lives. Wow. The range of books represented, the variety of authors and the passion of the students reminded yet again why we do this. Yes, to us and to us alone, it is the process that matters the most. But when our books go out into the world, it is the reader that matters. Connecting, angering, tickling, disgusting, enraging, delighting–our books should evoke something in that reader.

By stepping out of my writing cave and into the judging today, I was reminded that I do this for myself AND for the kids who read what I write. Today–I salute those readers. Thank you for caring so much about literature, for allowing words to touch you in deep and lasting ways.