Thursday, September 20, 2007

When Y'Wanna Write EVERYTHING

If you're like me, you hate sitting idly while editors and/or agents consider the merits of your latest work. And, if you're like me, you troll the Internet in search of freelance-type writing jobs that'll net enough in spendable cash to keep the wolf from the door.

So you write a snazzy cover letter to send out with your resume. You include your bio, clips of published articles, or a list of your books' ISBNs. Not just a handful, mind you, but a big fat stack of stuff that nearly gets stuck in the mouth of the mailbox.

And while you're waiting for these guys to call and say "Holy moley; the writing gods are smiling on me, cuz you're exactly what we were looking for!", you pace. Stare out the window, wondering where in heaven's name that confounded mailman is. Count the tiles on the kitchen floor. Maybe even try your hand at math: If there are 127 dots on every ceiling tile in your office, and there are 253 tiles, how many spots really are before your eyes?

Then, finally, it happens. The phone rings, and while you're writing fast and furious to keep up with the assignment Editor A is doling out, the mail truck rolls up. Lo and behold, an acceptance in the mailbox, too. Elated, you call Editor B to thank him for the assignment, and promise to get the story in-house well before the deadline.

You get busy, instantly, setting up interviews and researching the topics you'll turn into full-blown articles. And when you lay our weary head down that night, the last thing on your mind is the manuscript that's been idling on Editor C's desk.

Next day, you get two more calls. And another "Hey, give us a jingle, we'd love to work with you" letter. By the time every "i" is dotted and every "t" is crossed, there are five assignments on your desk. You do some more math: If each article takes 8-10 hours, you've easily racked up 50 hours of work ahead of you. Which wouldn't be a problem...if the articles weren't all due in the same week. And wouldn't ya know, that's the same week your college pal is coming to town, and your spouse scheduled dinner with co-workers, and you promised to bake cupcakes for the White Elephant sale at the volunteer fire company.

So why did you accept five articles, anyway? Why not say 'yes' to one or two, and beg off on the other three?

I'll tell you why. You took 'em all because freelancing makes Tom Cruise's risky business seem like a park walk; if you'd said no, the big fear is, those editors may move on to the next freelancer on their 'whom to call' list and cross you off, literally and figuratively.

Would that really happen? Probably not. Editors aren't stupid. They know a hard-working schmo when they see one. And being among the un-stupid, they also know that if you're too busy to say 'yes' this time, there can be only one reason: Some other smart editor has snapped you up. But it's the 'probably' that hangs us up, that hangs us, if we're not careful.

Having juggled a couple dozen personal and professional balls in a week is something I've done far more often than I care to admit. Doesn't seem to matter that I've established myself as a pro in this wacky industry, that fiction and non-fiction editors alike made it possible for me to make that claim. My schizophrenic brain is convinced that saying no is...well, if not career suicide, then certainly a pellet to the toe.

All-nighters? Survived hundreds of 'em! (Flavored coffee beans really do the trick, and for zero calories!) Is it worth it the dark circles even Maybelline can't hide as I dragging myself to the store to grab the lastest issue of Whatever Magazine, so I can snip out my article and add it to my clip book? Is it too high price to pay to sorta-kinda nod off during the drive to the bank to deposit my paycheck?

Yep. Uh-huh. You bet. Absolutely.

Do I say "Never again!" each time I file a story, then slam onto the mattress like a recently-felled tree? Yeah. I sure as shootin' do. Do I promise to quit beating myself up this way, to practice saying a firm but courteous "no" when editors pile assignment atop assignment? Mmm-hmm, I most certainly do.

Do I turn right around and say "yes" to the very first editor who calls on the heels of some other editor? A-yup. Indeedie. I do.

Am I that insecure? Well, yeah...and so is anybody who believes they're only as good as their last success. Actors, singers, comedians, artists...we all stared into the face of the hideous "But what have you done lately" monster. Doesn't matter if others believe you're sittin' pretty, got it made, reached the top. In your own head, the word NO rhymes with HAS-BEEN.

They don't call me a crazy writer for nuttin'!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Writing Despite (you fill in the blank).

Warning: This post contains stomach-turning words like puke and poop!

Yeah, so I'm yawning. Just be glad my dry heaves have passed. Quite a feat, considering I was awakened at 4:30 a.m. to the unmistakable sounds of Pet in Distress. Anyone with a cat or dog knows which noises I'm talking about...starts somewhere deep in their gastrointestinal system and works its way toward the throat, where it gurgles and sputters before becoming a smokin', stinkin', foaming mound beside the bed.

So I fling back the covers and gingerly set one foot, then the other, on the carpet. Experience has taught me to step lightly.... I tip-toed around warm landmines long enough that my success made me cocky. Haha! thought I, not a drop of the stuff between my toes! No sooner had I put the dot under the exclamation point of my boastful thought than squish. Which led to some pretty colorful expletives, whispered between my tightly-clenched teeth.

I'll spare you the remaining gory details. Suffice it to say that half a roll of paper towels and a couple dozen squirts of Resolve later, all was well. Even the dog. But my early-morning wake-up call got me thinkin':

When your day starts out this way, how do you write 'happy'?

It's tempting to finger-stomp around the keyboard, banging out angry scenes and snippy dialog. But gosh darn it, the stuff I'd saved yesterday doesn't call for narrowed eyes and snarling lips, let alone heated words.

I re-read all the adages and cliches stuck to my monitor. To the wall above it and the shelves around it. You know, stuff like "Good enough never is" and "What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure." But in my mood, they made a bad mood badder. Until I got to the one that goes "Do or do not; there is no 'try'." Happens to be one of my all-time favorites. I use it a lot when things aren't going my way. I find myself wishing, often, that others in my life used it more, too. ("Don't tell me you'll try to remember to wipe peanut butter off the kitchen counter when you make a PB&J sammich, just DO it." "Don't try to blow grass clippings away from my rose garden, just DO it.")

Easier said than done, to cite another oldie. Cuz my fairy godmother ran away from home, decades ago. Sad but true. Packed up her sparkly magic wand and glittery wish dust, and hit the highway, leaving me alone with my wall of 'sage-isms'. Much as I sometimes hate to admit it, Nike's "Just do it" works.

Deep breath, shoulders squared, spine straight, chin up. (That's my "Just do it" posture.) "I don't want to be in this bad mood. Wasn't the dog's fault, after all, that he ate god-knows-what and it didn't agree with him. So get over it, already. The mess is cleaned up. Heck, the house even smells good, thanks to the fresh scents built into the carpet cleaner. So look for the bright side":

I did wake up alive, for starters. The coffee pot didn't leak. Computer fired up, instantly; ditto the Internet. The file I'd saved yesterday popped up on command. And no one was injured while cleaning up doggy vomit.

Suddenly, my strange mind conjured ways I (or the dog) might have been harmed, cleaning up the...well, know.... The image of me, being eaten alive by a pulsing, growing blob of former stomach contents flicked the 'bad mood' switched to 'good mood'. And all is now well with my world. Mostly. If I choose to look for it.

So when you sit down to write and the mood you're in doesn't match the stuff going on in your scenes? Flex your 'picture this' muscles. See your world as it isn't.

Funny stuff, I tell ya.

Now my challenge is, how to get out of this mood before I go to the post office. Those people behind the counter never take the 'service' part of their corporate title seriously if you go in there with a smile on your face.

Happy writing, folks. And may your days be free of doggy...well, you know.