The Hardest Part #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop #Writing

What’s the Hardest Part of Writing?

I guess most people would talk about “writer’s block” but I’ve already spoken about that phenomenon and it’s not the hard part of writing at all. To me, that’s just part of the process of writing. 

For me, the hardest part of writing has nothing to do with writing. 

It’s like anything else –  I’m sure there are highs and lows to being a doctor or teacher or a painter or whatever profession we may be talking about, but if you love what you do, you’ll accept those parts of the process that feel heavier at times than the parts that are light and somewhat easier. So, writer’s block is just a heavier part of the process.  Struggling to finish a chapter or connect the dots between characters, just part of the job.

The hardest part of writing is what happens AFTER you finish your masterpiece. And this goes for all types of art – whatever it may be – whether a piece of writing, or something you’ve sculpted, painted, music or even mastering your acting skills – all of it, unless you’re planning on keeping it to yourself and just sharing it with family, has to become a business. The hardest part for me was NOT being aware of what to do AFTER I’d written my manuscript. I had no idea where to start, what to do – and so I did what many people do and started submitting my unsolicited work randomly to publishing houses hoping someone would read my “brilliant” writing and just have to publish it. 

That didn’t happen. 

After being thoroughly disappointed by continuous rejection letters, or worse, no response at all, I shelved my manuscript for a couple of years.  Of course, then naturally I started to believe it was a horrible piece of writing and a stupid idea. No matter how strong of a person you are – and no matter how many times people tell you NOT to pay attention to criticism, we’re all only human.  It grates on you.  Multiple rejection letters and terrible pieces of advice from strangers who clearly had NOT read my book – did a number on my confidence.  It was not a great time for me as a writer.  Self-confidence is a thing as an artist. 

So, my advice to anyone writing their first novel or script or poetry – START to think of your creativity today as a business.  I know it’s sometimes hard to find the time to write, but if you’re committed to your work, please also take the time –even if it’s just a few minutes a week to researching the “Business” end of your industry.  It took me so long to figure it out and even NOW I’m still learning some of the tricks to the trade. 

Here is some basic information to start you thinking about your creativity (whatever it is) as a business:

  1. Join LinkedIn (yes, even if you’re a writer, or actor or sculpture or whatever). I was never a big fan, but now it’s become the best place to connect with like-minded individuals.  Here’s why it’s great:  People in all types of businesses post their successes and failures and ideas and suggestions and it’s just another avenue to learn. Here’s my link if you want to add me:   https://www.linkedin.com/in/carmensbusiness/
  • Join BlogHops.  I never knew what this was until Author Raimey Gallant saw one of my blog posts and invited me to join!  This #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop is a great resource on so many levels!  But there are many “Blog Hops” and if you don’t know what they are – because I surely didn’t – then do a quick google search and get on board. It’s an easy way to connect with the community and share your thoughts and ideas as well as learn so much about the writing world as well!  (BlogHops can be for other topics as well…)
  • This piece of advice is mostly for my script and actor friends, but I bet it also applies to really anything at all:  know who the entertainment lawyers are for your industry. And if you can pay a retainer, or sign with a lawyer on a percentage basis, know that pitching your script is something a lawyer can help you do. Yes, everything is about money, so it might be harder if you can’t afford to hire a lawyer. But I learned THIS YEAR that studios, including places like Netflix and Amazon studios will be more likely to hear a pitch from a lawyer than someone who is sending out their ideas “unsolicited”. My book has been pitched to a production company for a possible deal with Netflix – NOTHING HAS COME OF IT YET and in this town that really means NOTHING. But, it would have never even gotten to this point – a legit hearing – if I hadn’t had a contact from a “legit” source.
  • Go to places that support writers (or whatever your craft may be).  Seek out organizations that have other ways to network and grow. For example, here in Los Angeles there is a great organization called Writer’s Blok.  It was much cheaper when I first joined back in the day and I can’t lie, I think the monthly costs are a little high nowadays – but if you join their mailing lists, they do have some free sessions and free events once in a while. The point is this is another great way to network.  I prefer NOT to write with other people – but I can’t lie, when I found this group and decided to try it, I took my manuscript off the shelf and finally found a way to get it published!  It was a great place to figure out what was next. Wherever you are on the globe, there might be a place in your neighborhood that has this type of organization.  I found this by going on MeetUp and just searching for “writers” within my neighborhood.  Best thing I ever did for my book!  And my confidence!

There is so much more I could list. But I just wanted to get the idea in your head that the hardest part of writing isn’t always about the writing.  It’s about realizing that in order to get your creativity SEEN, READ, HEARD – that you’re also going to have to wrap your head around it being a business!

There are so many people who write about self-publishing and/or how to get an agent and such – so I wanted to offer some other, less talked about ideas.

My hope is that this has you at least thinking about the business end of things… I hope this was helpful. 

‘til next time,

Carmen

Exercising the Writer in You #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop

My head gets overwhelmed at times with too much noise when I’m writing – when that happens, I know it’s time to put down my pen – or close my laptop – and go for a walk.  

About a mile in, I’ll start to exercise my writer brain by playing my “Describe the Character” game. I’ve done this for as long as I can remember. What it does, is give you something else to focus on, while being a bit fun, easy – and if you’re lucky, you can actually develop the great beginnings of a character or scene out of the exercise.  In my first book CANELA, this was how I figured out how to combine characters.

Here’s how to play: simply pick a random item in the area and then, without justifying or qualifying, describe it as thoroughly as possible. In this case, about a mile into my walk, I saw a shadowy figure approaching me…without staring too directly, I took in all that I could.  Once I passed the person, I jotted down my thoughts in OneNote:

  • Tall, black running tights, white stripes, three.
  • Baseball cap, tight black shirt, pecs. Muscular.
  • Runner. Walking. Hurt. Long legs. Strong arms.
  • Smile, lots of teeth, white, capped. Bright blue eyes. Long lashes.
  • Brown hair, white, corporate, executive, Tesla.
  • Handsome, scruff, married, kids, forty-two.
  • Friendly, smirk. Head nod. Kind. Neighborly.
  • Deep. Fall. Cold. Confidence. Unafraid. Worthy.
  • Swimmer. Parent. Having a good day anyway. Nice.

When I’m having a tough time writing I see it as an opportunity to change things up a bit. As I mentioned in a past post about writer’s block, I like to think of these moments as opportunities.  It’s as if the universe is conspiring to have me try something else to get a different creative result.  And I have to say, after doing this, I’m hardly ever disappointed.  At the very least, it always gets rid of the noise.

I sometimes practice this at my desk as well. I can’t always just go for a walk, especially if it’s the dead of night, so in this case, there are other ways to exercise the writing jewels (my brain).  I’ll close my eyes, take a breath and let it out and whatever lands in my eye-line when I open them, that’s what gets described. Here’s what I wrote in OneNote about an ink cartridge:

  • Dirty. Complicated and expensive. Hate.
  • White, black, a mess of sorts.
  • Necessary. Important. Unavoidable, but useful.
  • Clear. Colorful. Toxic. Technology – Techy. Easy, home use.

Another way to do this is to put on any random song and describe how you feel immediately after listening… In this case, I listened to Lizzo’s Good As Hell

  • Positive. Joyful with an attitude. Walking like a model. Freedom.
  • Bopping. Swaying. Giggling. Laughing. Confident. Superior.
  • Happy. Smiling. Advising. Powerful. Elegant. Class. Proper with a touch of street smarts.
  • Beautiful. Fabulous. Building someone up. Feeling like you got more to do.

The point is, when you can, use tools available to exercise the creative juices.  I know writers who use flash cards or just do free writing exercises. The more ways you can self-motivate your creativity and learn to “unstuck” yourself, the better! Now, with these three descriptive pieces of information, I can start writing a new scene or develop a character.  At the very worst, I’ve had a little break and stopped the initial noise I had in my head. I can now get back to what I was working on. Win-win!

What tricks or tools do you use to keep yourself in that creative space? 

As always, thanks for stopping by!

Carmen

A Monthly Blog Hop for Authors Who Want to Learn More about Being Authors 
  

The Perfect Time of Day

My most productive time of day tends to be the early morning. Always has been.  I’m what you call a “morning” person.

I wake easily at 4:30am, on a late day 5:00am – I pour my coffee and start writing. It’s this perfect kind of quiet that fuels me. It’s not just the absence of cars or the lack of people talking in the distance, it’s more about a pure nothingness that seems to be the start of something…  a new beginning, a new day, a new possibility that inspires me.

I’ve always been this person. Even as a kid. Back then, I’d wake up early and run out into the street in front of my house and stand under the still dimming light of the streetlamp and start to dance. I loved that time – I remember it as if it were yesterday – there’d be no cars, no movement, no sound anywhere –  and yet my thoughts were so perfectly clear I could hear the symphony as I danced along the gravel “floor”…

I do love the quiet. My dream would be to live on a ranch close enough to the city, but far enough away to not hear the daily sounds of trucks going by and neighbors doing their thing – kids jumping rope or the gardeners blowing leaves.  In the city, even the quiet of the day is still not really quiet at all. There’s a natural hum that happens during each day, different depending on the time – that too is preferable to pure country living, where crickets and cicadas are a type of noise I’ll never get used too.

Then there’s the ocean.  Oh, how I love thee – but not to live by.  Near the ocean is fine. 2 miles is perfect in fact.  But to sleep by the ocean waves, although beautiful and fierce, would be the same kind of pain to me as the crickets and cicadas – disturbing and out of sync with my need for that pure nothingness quiet that starts my every day.

I don’t know how it ever happened. I don’t remember the day I became a morning person.  I don’t think you can force yourself to be one or the other – it’s just an “IS-ness” I do suppose.  Maybe, if you’re born in the morning, then the morning is your time?  I have no idea. But I was born in the early morning and that just makes perfect sense. 

So, yes, I love the early morning sunrise. The glow of all things new. It’s my favorite time of day. My most productive too.

Carmen

How to Become a Writer… a Better Writer #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

I was a dancer as a little kid.  I rehearsed early in the morning and after-school till late at night. I was diligent and passionate about performing and doing a fantastic job. There was also something innate about my dancing. I had to do it daily. It was a part of me.  I was pretty famous too – Well, I thought I was famous in the world, but in fact, I was just a well-known entity in my neighborhood, in my community.  Ha!  When I found out that my “fame” wasn’t world-wide I still rehearsed diligently – maybe even more so. Early in the morning before school, after-school, weekends… I developed a habit of working those muscles daily and always finding ways to improve – fame or the lack thereof, had nothing to do with it!    

Writing is the same way for me.  I don’t dance “professionally” anymore so writing has taken over that habit-forming rehearsal space.  I’m diligent about my writing practice. I write every morning in a hand-written journal, while I drink my coffee. I write during the day, generally for work.  And then, at night, I work on my stories or my exercises. My next work. My next project. Rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal.  The practice of writing. It’s part of the process, the habit of working to become a better writer.   

And just like dancing, writing takes many different forms. I’m great at some types of writing and not-so-great at others, but I’m always in the pursuit of getting better.  I love writing content – especially in first person. I love writing stories, blog posts… however, I also enjoy the struggle of writing copy for a product I have no interest in – it reminds me of ballet class. I hated ballet with all my heart as a dancer, even though I loved watching it. As most everyone knows, if you’re going to call yourself a “dancer” you better at least know the basics of ballet and find a way to push on through, even if you don’t like it!  Writing copy for a product I don’t care about is almost like that.  A good example: I wrote copy for an electrician’s website recently. As much as I didn’t care that much about the subject matter in general, it was like that ballet class – I appreciated the work I had to do and ultimately, I got through it and did it brilliantly.  But only because I’d “rehearsed” my writing over and over again. When you practice your craft and you’re thrown a new category or style, you can easily maneuver your way through it because the basics are so innate — they’re a part of you. So much so, that when given a challenge, you’re always up for the task!  I may know absolutely nothing about how to be an electrician. But, I know enough about copy and how to write to sell his work – it’s easy enough to navigate and get it done!

So, why am I bringing all this up?  Well, I get this question a lot, especially after a speaking event about how I wrote my book CANELA. Everyone thinks they can sit down and just start writing their book. They think I might have a secret formula on how to do it — How do I find the time? How did I even start?  How do I find work as a writer?  Most people want to write their own story  — surely, anyone can hire a ghost writer – that’s one way to go, but most people fancy themselves a writer.  But what they don’t realize is, like anything else you want to excel at, you have to put in the work. Writing is NOT EASY! Yesterday, someone actually explained to me that they were planning to write their book and have it published before the Christmas holiday so they could give out as a gift.  They wanted my insight into how to make that happen.  Christmas is only four months away! WHAT?!?!?!

Well, suffice it to say, I told that person they should definitely consider hiring a ghost-writer, make it a real short story of just one moment in their life and call it a day.  But for everyone else who is serious about writing – whether it be your own story or just getting better as a writer, here’s my advice about how to start and how to keep your writing strong, fresh and ready for the next challenge:

Write every single day about anything and everything!  This will help you find and develop your voice. It doesn’t matter if you do it with a pen, on a computer or just for a few minutes a day. Rehearse every day. Write. Dance. Write. Repeat.  

Think about moments in your life and write those first. Don’t worry about the book and it’s beginning, middle and end just yet.  If you’re just starting out, or if you’re just stuck on where to start, just jot down the story of you and your brother taking a sleigh ride that winter when he broke his leg. Or write about your dog when he was a puppy and you first brought him home. It doesn’t have to be long at all – a few sentences. Just start the process of thinking something and writing it down. Thinking about dancing isn’t the same as actually getting up, putting on the music and gettin’ down. Same with writing. Stop just thinking about it writing that book and instead, write that thought down NOW!

When you don’t know what to write about, write about the first thing you see: Currently, I’m looking at my lamp. I think I need to change the bulb because it flickers every-so-often. I keep meaning to buy a bulb, but I always forget. I’m going to write that down in my grocery list right now! When you practice regularly, you can easily find a way to express yourself on paper.  That’s the goal. It’s like dancing – the more you do it, the more comfortable it is to just go with it and not think too deeply about HOW to do it, it just starts to flow.

Stretch your writing skills:  Here’s a fun way to do this. Put down your pen or close your laptop.  Watch TV.  Yup, I know, trust me. Watch TV, wait for the next commercial. Any commercial.  Before the commercial really starts, turn off the TV.  Write about that product and try and sell it through your writing in a goofy way. Be fun with it, play around a bit. It really helps – and hey, you may be a copywriter and not even know it – but walla! This is another way to change up your writing rehearsal time.  If you normally write stories, try a script, or a poem or write a speech.  All of these take different types of skills as a writer and regardless of whether you do it professionally or not, it’s stretching that writing tool. Just like when I took TAP as a dancer – I’m not a tap-dancer, but I surely can tap if I have too. I never knew that, until I forced myself to try…   

Be comfortable with your own voice. This will take time.  I know a lot of people are advocates of reading as much as possible in order to become a better writer – eeeh… I’m not sure how I feel about that. Don’t get me wrong, I watched other dancers growing up and admired them, but it was the music and the constant battle to be a better dancer and finding my authentic style that made me great. So, of course everyone should read books – I love to read – but I don’t think that’s the ultimate reason why I became a decent writer. Actually, writing daily makes me a decent writer. Learning what my voice “sounded” like on paper made me a more confident writer.  Being a confident writer, makes me a viable writer worthy of getting paid and more importantly, being “seen”! So, practice that writing and get comfortable with your own style and voice on paper!

If you want to be a writer, you need to write. If you want to be a decent or great writer, then you need to put in the rehearsal, the work. It’s not any different than any other profession. Writing is a skill that takes a lot of time and effort to perfect. Maybe you’re a born writer like Misty Copeland is a “born” ballet dancer?  Maybe it’s an innate talent? Writing/Dancing comes easy to you?  But know that Misty rehearses every day.  I rehearsed every day as a dancer and now I practice every day as a writer. The greats, especially the innately gifted, always rehearse and refine their gifts.  Writing is no different.  If you want to write, then sit down and start writing!  Do the work. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!  There are no short cuts success.  Period.

Click the link below if you want some other tips from other writers, authors, etc. about how to be a writer…any tips on dancing or for further questions/comments from me, please feel free to reach out to me anytime on my contact page!

My Murder Scene

black-coffee-2847957_1280This morning I woke up and in my groggy state I headed to the kitchen and clicked on the coffee maker.  Standard procedure.

As I waited, half-asleep, I noticed on the wall across from me a tiny figure slithering it’s way across the wall.  My eyes widened and somehow now fully awake, I walked on over, grabbing a napkin from the counter and snatched the tiny insect from the wall, killing it instantly.

I could hear the coffee peculating — it was almost done.  I grabbed under the kitchen sink counter for the “409” <– a spray “bleaching” cleanser of sorts (I have no idea why they call it “409” by the way, something I should look into at some point), and with yet another napkin, I sprayed the disinfectant  and wiped clean the murder scene.  It’ll be like it never happened.

The coffee was done.  I discarded the evidence, washed my hands and poured my coffee.  Cream, no sugar. My morning back to it’s normal routine and I started reading the paper.

At some point into the article I was reading,  I realized that before my morning had even really started, I had killed another living thing.  How horrible is that?

I sat back in the chair and remembered an acting class I took when I first started performing.  We had been asked, “How would you play a murderer?”  –  Everyone went into all the cliche answers of what they thought might motivate a murder. Novice actors thinking way too deeply about it and announcing how they’d have to do so much research because they themselves would just have “no idea” what it would be like (everyone making sure we all knew how “good” a person they were and how inconceivable it would be to have to play such a horrible person).  The conversation always fell way into that category of a mobster or hard core criminal  – cliche of course – but I remembered sitting there thinking:  If you’ve ever killed a mosquito, you can play a killer. The murder? That’s just the action –  knowing who the killer was, their childhood, what they do for a living, all of that is the character. To play any part, of any person, you need to KNOW who the character is, the background.

Of course, that’s exactly where the acting teacher was going.  The class seemed stunned to learn they’d all “killed” at some point in their lives.  In a lot of ways, it’s a horrible thought.  I started feeling bad about my little slithering morning guest who I killed and cleaned up after all before putting my first cup of coffee to my lips.

Morning Cofee

Truth is, I’m sure I’d do it again. I’m not a fan of insects of any kind IN MY HOUSE. I have no problem with them out in the world, I understand their value in the Eco-system of life, but just as I wouldn’t walk around intentionally in a Lion’s den, I expect slithering little insects to stay out of my “den”, no matter how inviting it may be… or suffer the consequences.

Yeah, I’m still half asleep. I need another cup of coffee.

Happy sweet day.

Carmen