Perhaps you’ll feel my pain. I spent the entire – yes entire – day tracking down permissions and licenses for the images I need for my book. Why? Because I didn’t do a thorough job the first time through. I will NEVER do it this way again. Continue reading
While it’s true that the single most important aspect of productivity is to actually sit down and get to work, I wish it were that simple. I find writing nonfiction is a journey with several steps that do not necessarily proceed in a linear fashion. More distressing is the fact that some steps loop around and may repeat. It’s easy to feel frantic as the days pass and the deadline looms larger. To make it all work? I try to relax into my process.
How well does this say it?
I’ve often said there’s not one thing about the writing life that doesn’t fit who I am. Let me qualify: I like to be inspired; I like variety; I like independence; and I like to be able to switch gears from serious to fun, from hurried to calm, from difficult research to lightweight spoof. The elasticity of a writing career allows me to do all of that and more. Other writers describing their lives to reflect who they are? Could be totally different. I think we’d find that each writer’s priorities mirror their individual quirks and strengths.
I began my writing trek by earning an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, finishing January 2004, ten years ago last month. I was older and wanted a jumpstart. The information I gained at VCFA did just that, especially what I learned about the writing industry in general. I soon enjoyed success by selling an illustrated biography and multiple articles in children’s magazines. I wrote some contract books and appreciated learning the self-discipline needed to meet the specific specs publishers required. Soon after, I self-published a biography that continues to sell without much effort on my part. But after years of submitting book-length manuscripts to publishers, waiting a minimum of three months for replies, and only occasionally selling something, I became impatient and potentially discouraged. I have returned to writing magazine articles, which now includes works for adults as well as continuing to submit book-length manuscripts. Once again, my need for moving around from one genre to another, learning new disciplines, and keeping the inspiration fired has led me in that direction.
Another piece of variety: For the past eight years, I have conducted book-writing projects in public schools. I work with participating classroom teachers to help students write fiction stories, nonfiction pieces, research essays, or poetry. We coordinate this approach with a company that provides book-writing kits and publishes a hardbound book for each student. This program is funded by our local Arts and Humanities Department, Arts Councils, and awarded grants here and there. I liked that these projects keep me around young people. I observe what interests them, what they are reading, and most of all, how they write.
I’ve also developed another project rationale. I become acquainted with a community, identify a group of senior citizens who have stories in common, and recruit them for a book-writing endeavor. So far, I’ve done one group that wrote about some portion of their individual life stories, three groups of World War II veterans, and one group of Korean veterans. Each writer is matched with a high school student partner who does the technical work—key the story, prepare photographs for publication, etc. The relationships between the generations has become the greatest blessing of this approach.
I write because nothing else charges my internal batteries in the same way. I lose track of time. I become fascinated with the research process. I like the magic that happens when words roll off my fingers and I wonder where they came from. When I have discretionary time, such as on the weekend, I usually end up on the lighted side of my computer if I’m not engrossed in reading a book. I love words, the way they sound, the impact they make, the multiple ways they go together, the risk of using an unfamiliar word for a new meaning, the sparkle they add to life as well as the gloom.
I spent many years looking for the answer to what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I found writing, I knew that was it. I’ve not regretted the time, heartache, joy, and persistence it’s taken to get where I am now—a writing life fashioned just for who I am.
It’s nearly time for a series of guest posts about why writers write. I’m looking forward to reading what my guests have to say! I’ll go first.
I write because when I don’t write, I’m miserable. I feel like I’m out of touch with something important. Sometimes I can get by, by reading a lot, but not for long. I write nonfiction because I love learning something new and turning it into material another person will want to read. I write about science and health because they are topics with unlimited possibility. There is always something new being discovered, developed, or imagined.
I write about physics because it turns out that the topics that are of greatest interest to me are physics-related. From the aerodynamics of a baseball in flight to the use of models to predict the performance of full-scale vessels, physics is fundamental to the things that make me wonder.
So… I write because it’s a necessity–in a good way. I write nonfiction because there is a discipline and craft to turning facts into readable narrative that I find compelling. I write about science because there is so much I want to know.
Why do you write?
It seems toast is the next big thing. Who knew? I have, of course, been a trendsetter once again. I have toast on a fairly regular basis. I even make my toast with artisanal bread. What can I say except that I am finally a hipster. Go me. I’d honestly thought that ship had sailed.
SO here’s the thing. If toast is currently selling for about $7 a pop — no pun intended but I am ROFL — why are we draying (beating) ourselves for $.20/word? Why are we trying desperately to get crowd funding for our latest journalistic effort? Why don’t we just buy some artisanal bread, plug our toaster into the oh-so-passé-and-politically-incorrect cigarette lighter port in our cars – are they passé in Colorado – and sell toast from our minivans?
I’m determined to be ultra-organized this year. I re-did my office over winter break so that I have clearly defined areas for each type of work. I also did a thorough search for some sort of database for tracking queries, book proposals, and contracted work for magazines and books. I was ready to create a database in FileMaker, but really didn’t want to add that to my To Do list.