Dream Big? Start Small

The first time I sold a short story, it was a very small sale. It was for a tiny little e-publishing company that published on a website and sold compactions through Amazon. I wasn’t paid. And I’m pretty sure it was simply someone looking for stuff to sell through Amazon Kindle. It’s not a bad site, but I think they would have accepted just about anything given them.

But, you know what? I was excited. It made me happy that I’d been published, even if it was a much smaller venue than I’d hoped.

The second time I was published, it was a small writing/drawing job for the office where my mother works. This one, I did get paid for, and I wrote illustrated information pamphlets to be handed out at the office. It wasn’t much of a first paying job, as my mother had gotten it for me. Still, it made me feel good to get paid to write and draw something.

When I mentioned this on a forum, and mentioned that my credentials were nothing special, someone told me something that’s stuck with me for some time.
“A sale is a sale.”

This is true. Naturally, when I first started trying to get things published, I submitted things to well-known magazine titles with large reader bases, good sized publishing houses and things like that. Like so many of us, I got rejected. Surely it was the quality of the writing that counted, and not the length of my resume or the fact that I was an unpublished author that mattered, right?

Well, the truth is that occasionally a publishing house will find someone they are very excited about who has never been published, and declare to the stars that they have “discovered” them.

Do not count on this happening.

As heartbreaking as it is, a writer needs a resume. In order to build your resume, please know that there is no shame in thinking small. Poetry contests for county fairs, articles for church newsletters, community newspapers, all of these things and more provide an invaluable source of beginning resume fodder.

No, writing for your church newsletter will not get you discovered by Random House. But, it might get you noticed by someone looking for someone to write for a local newspaper, which might get you work for a small circulation magazine and so on.

I think we all remember the 1990’s movie “What About Bob.” The “Baby Steps” joke did get worn out. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t applicable.

Start as high as you want. If you wrote a story that you love, submit it to the biggest, most famous publisher in the land. If it gets rejected, it’s not going to get a big “Rejected by…” stamp on it for all to see. There’s nothing to lose. If you get published, that’s great. But, if you don’t, you might want to build your resume and readership.

And, if it’s your resume you’re looking to create, don’t be afraid to think local, and think small. Eventually, the more little jobs you do, the bigger the jobs will become. Then, with hard work, you just might reach your writing goals.

A Short Poem

Flower growing, always reaching
Always upwards, Stretching, seeking
Sunlight through forgotten branches
Through the tangles, brilliant glances

Flowers find the sparkling traces
Feeling warmth on colored faces
Turning towards the glimpse of sky
That tangled branches let pass by

And as I wondered at the view
The flower found the streak of blue
I see it took its place with care
And decide that I will leave it there

-Georgette Graham

Using Your Senses to Start Writing

No one knows when the practice of burning incense began. It dates back to before the time of the Pharaohs, and exists as an enhancement to spiritual and religious ceremonies in both eastern and western cultures. For many modern users, it’s simply a way to mask undesirable odors or to fill a room with its fragrance. Many others use it while practicing meditation, yoga, or as a light mood enhancer when trying to relax.

The use of incense in spiritual and religious practices is well known. However, how many of you have burned incense as part of your creative practice?

There are people who claim that certain incense fragrances can bring about greater mental clarity and creativity. I will not speak to that, but rather leave that up to the individual to decide. I do, however, have a strange little trick involving incense and writing that I thought I would like to share.

What I do is fairly simple. I have special “writing” incense. I always burn it when I’m writing, and not at any other time. Lighting it is always the last thing I do before I sit down to work on a project. Filling up my coffee mug, going to the toilet, finding that page in my notebook that has that one special idea I had on my way to my day job… all of that comes first. So, I light the incense and begin. I don’t want to waste it, so I have to stay on task while it’s burning. The
slow progression of the stick to ash works as a reminder not to submit to distractions.

Now, here’s the fun part. Since I only burn it when I’m writing, I’ve developed a very strong association. When I smell my writing incense, I write. Even if I’m not in the mood to write, even if I’m blocked, I know it’s time to put hands to keyboard and get it done. There’s nothing metaphysical about it; it’s just a simple sense association. Yet, I’m frequently surprised at how strong it is.

Using our senses to trigger mental states is nothing new. Doctors will tell insomniacs to set an evening routine before they go to bed, in order to tell their minds and bodies that it is time to sleep. Ivan Pavlov did a powerful study where he got dogs to associate food with the sound of a bell, so much so that they salivated. Creating these triggers can be powerful in overcoming procrastination, writer’s block, and simply taking the chore out of writing.

If you choose to try this for yourself, whatever scent you pick is up to you. I don’t endorse any brand or fragrance. If you have any kind of breathing or lung problems, incense can be an irritant and this technique is not for you. A scented candle can easily be substituted. For music lovers, you may also use a piece of music. I recommend something extended and without lyrics, like a complete symphony. You don’t want to play the same song on a loop and drive yourself batty, and lyrics tend to be distracting, at least for me anyway. Remember, incense and candles should never be left unattended, and always use proper holders. Kids should always ask their parents for help.

Seriously, be safe. Only you can prevent house fires and all that stuff. If you use a similar sense-association to trigger the mood to write, let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear about it.

Procrastinate Later

My cat is the best cat in the world, except when I’m writing. When I’m writing, he suddenly insists upon being petted, claims the warmth of my laptop as his own, or feels the need to vomit all over the carpet. The thing about BCITW is that he makes himself something of a distraction.

We all have distractions and things that will make us want to put our writing off until later. I don’t know about you, but I can tell myself “I’ll write after I do this one thing” for hours, or even days on end. This can be hugely detrimental, especially if you’re freelance and don’t have any deadlines but the ones you set yourself. This is one of my biggest hurdles to overcome. In fact, it’s a miracle you’re reading this blog post at all. I can be “working on” something for ages without actually getting anything done.

I think the main reason I procrastinate, and I hope others can identify with this, is that I’m afraid to write badly. Moreover, when I do start writing, I become disillusioned and stop, because the actual product I’m producing is not living up to the expectations I built around it. So, things get abandoned, or it just becomes easier to check Facebook or read a blog (thank you, by the way). I mean to do it, but the idea and the possibility of it was better than the actual experience
If this sounds like something you’ve experienced, or you’re just having trouble getting motivated to write, there are things you can do to help!

First: Don’t worry about quality on early drafts. There will be multiple drafts. There will be re-writes. The first time, just get the story down. I always say, when I’m writing my first draft: “This is not my novel. This is the primordial ooze that my novel will eventually evolve from.” It’s amazingly liberating. “This is not the finished product! This is not what it will be. I will come back and change this. But, for now, I’m just going to keep on writing and keep the story moving.” It’s the most freeing mental state I’ve found for writing first drafts. And, once you have the first draft down, editing is a lot easier than staring at a blank page. I even use my word processor to color-code things that need re-writing, more research, and so on. That makes it easy to come back to, and eases any pangs of conscious I may have about leaving it less than what I want it to be.
Most of the time, when you go back and read what you wrote it’s not as bad as you thought it was anyway.
If you draw, think of it this way: your first draft will be your sketch, roughly blocking out subjects, background, and primary focus. Shading, textures, depth, and nuances will all come later.

Second: Get involved with others. Nothing inspires quite as much as being part of a group of writers, most of whom are… amazingly enough… writing. Having something to share with people is a good motivator to write. The boost that made me finally finish my first short story was a local writers’ group. I was going to my first meeting there, and did not want to turn up to the meeting empty-handed, lest there be critiques. Turns out there were none, but I still got a solid polished draft done.
That short story turned out to be my first sell.

Even if a group is not available to you, simply telling your friends that you’re doing it and asking them to proofread for you when you get it done can help. Give them a date you’ll have it for them to proofread, even! If they’re anything like my friends, they’ll be constantly teasing you that you haven’t finished that story you told them you were going to have them look at. Nagging serves a purpose sometimes.

Third: Reward yourself. That book you’re dying to read? That new outfit you want? That new restaurant you want to try? Sorry! You can’t have it until you’ve reached your writing goal. Reach a writing goal? Celebrate! It’s an occasion! Make sure you treat it like one. Giving writing goals a sense of celebration and occasion can bring a lot to your writing life. This goes very well with the second suggestion, also. Your writing widows, the people who suffer in your absence when you’re writing, should be very glad to see you, too.

None of this is stuff you haven’t heard before. But, it’s like losing weight. We all have a basic understanding of how to do it, yet the process of actually doing it can be very difficult for a lot of people. Freeing yourself up to write badly, getting friends involved in communities, and setting goals for yourself and celebrating them are ultimately so helpful in bringing ideas into reality that I feel that we all need to be reminded of these things.
Now, stop reading blogs and go write! Just make sure the cat is fed first. He’ll bother you in the middle of your best scene if you don’t. That’s what mine does.