A Workshop of Excellence. A Time of Laughter and Support.

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Fulfilling a Writer’s Wish.

I attended the tenth, 2018 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Held every other year in Dayton, Ohio, I wanted to be there for the first one but couldn’t schedule it on my calendar. Later, unfortunately, I listened to someone who had been at the first, and she did not recommend it.

Twenty years later, I listened to myself.

Erma Bombeck.

Erma Bombeck wrote a syndicated newspaper column featuring humorous stories about being a mother, a wife, living the stay-at-home-mom life in the suburbs during the 1960s-1990s. She received millions of dollars to write books chronicling this housewife-momhood life. For a woman, her place as a journalist and a big-publishing-contract author was unique. She opened doors for many funny women and columnists. In 1996, she passed away from cancer.

Two years after her death, in 1998, the first Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop began with Mr. Bombeck and the Bombeck children in attendance. They will always attend. Mr. Bombeck passed away a few months before this year’s workshop opened, but his children were there.

Be fast if you want in.

After four hours and forty-two minutes exactly, the registration window closed at maximum capacity of 350. A habit for this workshop.

I was flabbergasted.

With such popularity, it sounded like the Comic-Con for writers who aren’t necessarily espousing comic books or science fiction and fantasy writing or superhero movies and television shows.

People traveled from across all fifty states and Canada, including a woman from Spain.

Even the faculty want to come back.

As I stood in the registration line at the University of Dayton Courtyard Marriott for my workshop materials, the first person I talked to was a male faculty member. He said he returns every year. He asks to be invited back. I got the impression if they didn’t invite him, he would register as an attendee to be a part of the weekend.

Why?

The attendees are the best, he said. They are kind, supportive, positive and funny. The staff runs a very organized program. The faculty is top-notch.

Later at a wine and hors d’oeuvres meet and greet, I spoke with another faculty member, a comedy writer from Los Angeles. His first Erma Bombeck workshop was two years ago. He had to return.

Why? For the same reasons as the first faculty member stated: supportive attendees, great faculty, super organized program.

Where men are an anomaly.

The two men I spoke with were an anomaly. Of the 350 attendees, 327 were women and twenty-three were men. The majority of the faculty were women. The director and most of her staff are women.

I’ve never seen so many women at a workshop except for the regional and national conferences of the Romance Writers of America.

It’s not intentional. Anyone can attend.

Erma Bombeck being a woman, a columnist and a humor writer, the workshop in her name attracts the same.

Laughter is always center stage.

Stand-up comedian and joke writer, Monica Paper, inspirational humorist and financially successful entrepreneur Rita Davenport and cartoonist for The New Yorker and CBS news Liza Donnelly were my favorite keynote speakers.

I changed eyeliner after the first night because the tears of laughter smeared my eyes.

Good thing I did. I laughed the whole weekend.

Of Special Focus: Writers looking for Mojo.

Many of the 75-minute sessions focused on humor and nonfiction writing. Throughout them all, and specifically in some sessions, writers staying true to their desire to write was foremost.

Complete your stories. Have courage to submit your work to others for critique or for acceptance in a marketable venue. Write queries and make personal pitches to literary agents. Get on Twitter and be funny to be noticed.

I’ve been an aspiring writer for a long time and took great comfort in knowing others were cheering me on, even if they never met me, never knew my name.

The Erma Bombeck Workshop Facebook group keeps the inspirational fires burning, in case a writer needs a reboot of courage and recharge of persistence after the workshop weekend is over.

YOU can do this. You CAN do this. You can DO this. You can do THIS.

I believe I can.

Thank you, Erma Bombeck Family. Thank you, organizers of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

 

“It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else.”

~Erma Bombeck

 

*All images are my own unless stated otherwise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Know You’re a Real Writer When You Tell the IRS.

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The Tax Man Cometh.

My tax man arrives at the house this week. He excels in tax knowledge for self-employed artists and he prefers house calls.

He is one of the top reasons I push myself to get my books published and to sell my stories.

Tax session at a writing workshop.

I was a few years into the craft phase of writing fiction and was entering the business phase. How to get my name out there as a writer. How to get my stories published. How to find a community of writers.

Most of all, I wondered when I could start to call myself a real writer.

I was looking for a rite-of-passage.

Who knew I would find it in a Tax Class at the Midwest Writer’s Workshop in Muncie, Indiana? But I did.

The 90-minute session was titled, “Are You a Professional Writer? Don’t Wait for an IRS Audit to Find Out.” A CPA who worked for the IRS led the class.

In the end, I walked out with a lot of notes, handouts, packets and my mind reeling.

I also made a determination.

My writing wasn’t a hobby. It wasn’t daydream scribbling. Not stories I read for family. Not something I hoped would happen one day.

If I wanted to call myself a professional writer, I was going to register with the IRS on that basis as an Actual. Professional. Writer. Or a Schedule C for Small Business.

It’s all about the paperwork.

I knew once I registered as a self-employed writer, I would have to keep track of categories more specific to writing professionally, such as expenses, mileage, supplies, postage, dues, advertising.

More importantly, I’d also have to keep receipts and proof of book sales, article sales and payments for related writing services.

Every time I buy something. Every time I follow up on an opportunity to sell a story or be a guest speaker and get paid for it, I log it under the Income column.

With every slip of paper, I am confirming, proving to myself that I am a professional writer.

The Day of Reckoning.

My tax man has checked and filed my taxes from the very first year I declared myself a writer to the IRS.

It’s nothing to him whether I sell a story or publish a book, yet he knows how much I’m still struggling at boosting the income bracket. He knows I’m getting close. He sees my victories in the plus column and my expenses in the minus column.

Numbers don’t lie.

How it all adds up.

I know how strange it is that I’ve come to rely on a government institution and a numbers man to help push me up the ladder to success.

It works for me.

If being a professional writer is good for the IRS. If my tax guy keeps coming once a year to log in my progress as a professional writer.

It must be true. I must be a professional writer.

I’ve got the proof.

 

“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a cheque; if you cashed the cheque and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.”  ~Stephen King

 

*All images are my own unless noted.

 

 

Getting Back into the Running

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Floundering.

I admit that I’ve been feeling down.

Sure, writers have to have thick skins. This business is full of rejections, and I’ve received plenty of them this past year. For the most part, I’ve dealt with them well. Shook them off or buried them deep or swept them aside and tried again and again and again to get a short story accepted or get an agent for a novel.

But it has weighed on me.

I wondered about my committment. I wondered if I was good enough. All the same feelings talked about in a million writers’ sites, workshops, retreats and books. I’d like to say I knew how to rise above the slush pile rejection pit and move on.

But no, I’ve stayed a bit long in the blues.

All It Takes is One Good Story.

Then I wrote a short story a few weeks ago and finalized it today. Born out of an idea I had simmering in my imagination.

I shared the good draft of it with my writing critique group. They had valid reactions and smart suggestions.

I rewrote it a few times.

Now it sounds good. Now it reads well.

Submission Sites Ahead.

Time to call up the short story submission sites again. Adapt the story’s format to match the guidelines and send it off.

Will it be accepted? Rejected?

I can’t think about that.

I’ve got to keep on running, oblivious of what may come.

 

“Dance above the surface of the world. Let your thoughts lift you into creativity that is not hampered by opinion.”  ~Red Haircrow

 

*Images: All images are my own unless otherwise attributed.

 

 

 

Winter: My Favorite Writing Season

IMG_0110January: Refocus. Move within.

Holidays are as chaotic as they are blissful. December is almost a writing washout for me as days are filled with making lists, checking them twice, fulfilling the merry expectations I’ve set for myself and responding to the ones asked of me by others.

When the last party invitation is met, final batch of treats baked and eaten, when the decorations return to storage, I go to my desk and sigh.

Winter is my favorite season.

The more snowy the weather, the angrier the skies, the better I write and the longer I write.

Why not Good Weather?

In good weather, the days in my neighborhood are filled with walkers, dogs with walkers, bikers, lawn mowers, etc. Cars are off to the grocery, church, wherever. I feel that scurrying.

My best writing accomplishments come when I look up and realize hours have passed when it felt like moments.

Bright sun, dry skies, active creatures can be intrusive. I become a clock watcher, forcing the words to come, anxious for a break. Making up excuses for a break.

Siren Songs.

I’ve come to believe that what is distracting me during good weather seasons is the energy people and critters give off.

Even if I see no one. Windows closed. Blinds shut. The energy waves come through the house and over my desk. Subconsciously, maybe, these energy waves are as distracting as if two people were playing ball in my room.

Siren songs calling me away.

Why Nighttime Works for Many Artists.

During the night, most people quiet down, head for sleep. It’s a time when many writers and other artists do their best work. Undistracted. Using my theory, outside energy waves are tamped, silenced.

Solitude is easier to achieve. Focus is easier to maintain at night.

The same happens to me, but I am not a night owl. Not most of the time. But the idea is the same.

Winter is My Nighttime.

Winter sunlight is cooler, darker.

Even without snow or ice, people are more apt are to be inside, settled into quieter activities from January through early March.

In winter, from morning to noon to evening, my ideas hatch faster. My stories grow quicker. My writing time increases.

My most productive writing season is winter.

 

 

“There is an instinctive withdrawal for the sake of preservation, a closure that assumes the order of completion. Winter is a season unto itself.”                     ~Haruki Murakami

 

 

 

January: A Prompt in Itself

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Prompt Others; Prompt Myself

I first used the word “prompt” when teaching high school English as an educational tool for students to jumpstart their individualized, brainstorm-like induced stories.

“I remember….” is an often-used prompt for fiction and nonfiction.

A photo of a man standing by a human-made wooden structure with artificial eagles perched by a real eagle’s nest is a visual prompt.

After I left the classroom and pursued my own writing, I joined a newly-formed writers’ group with two former students. I made the third and was happy to follow their rules of organization. We met every Monday at Tim Horton’s. We came with copies, read our work aloud and offered verbal comments.

The final act of every gathering was my favorite. Each of us received a small strip of paper on which to write a prompt right on the spot. We placed it in one of the writer’s fedoras and picked a prompt that wasn’t our own.

The following Monday, we shared the story coming out of the prompt in addition to anything else we’d written.

Just Because I Taught English

Just because I taught writing and wanted to write a novel, I wasn’t exactly schooled in how to accomplish 70,000+ words of engaging fiction.

Short stories were practices in creating beginning-middle-ends, in characterization, in dialogue and narration and in showing description.

I’d take my writers’ group chosen prompt and spend a week on it and have a full story completed by Monday.

After nine months, the group broke up, but I came away with a portfolio of several short stories in various stages of polish. Over the years, I’ve gone back to that file and tinkered with some and submitted some.

A Prompt From Anywhere

Out my window, a dingy white car with a noisy muffler makes its second of a minimum of three daily stops next door. My neighbor is an elderly woman and the mother of the daughter driving up the driveway to check on her.

Or is she?

Prompts come from anywhere and everywhere. As seeds, they bloom stories and stories and stories.

It’s January.

The first month of the year prompts us to make resolutions to rededicate our energies toward specific goals.

I am prompted to exceed my number of accepted story submissions.

Many good memories remain of that early writers’ trio. One of the most significant is realizing the power in the prompt.

I am never without story ideas. And if I get stuck somewhere along a story line, I look around me in hope of a prompt to lead me forward.

“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.”  ~Orson Scott Card

 

 

 

Finalizing the Final Draft

IMG_0412The final draft of my first (as yet to be published) novel is done. Or is it? If you are a future debut novelist, you know how vague the term “final draft” can be when it applies to your own work. Or at least, to mine.

Learning the Craft of the Draft

I hope not to embarrass myself by saying I’ve been writing this mermaid novel for at least four years. [Being Mermaid: From Out of the Sea]  The journey has included taking workshops, seminars, a webinar or two, having conversations with writers and reading or scanning lots and lots of books, blogs and magazines.

In spite of all the information, my early writing felt like a crazy, all-over-the-place groping for meaning and the only way I could go in order to A) learn the fiction writing process and B) get the novel done.

Was it the right thing to do?

Between Draft and Manuscript

Sara Megibow, an agent with KT Literary, spoke at a conference session entitled “Biggest Mistakes” that writers make when pitching or querying a work. In my paraphrasing, one of her reasons for not being interested is the work’s incompleteness. She said, “You’re at draft only. Your manuscript isn’t ready.”

The year was 2013 and I was preparing to pitch my completed manuscript, or was I?

The Early Draft

“A Four-Step Plan for Revision” by Raymond Obstfeld In The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing (Writer’s Digest Books. 2002) elaborates on draft distinctions:

“Early drafts lay down the basic story and characters while the final drafts fine-tune what’s already there.”

As I was writing this post, an article on my favorite blogger’s site, Jane Friedman, popped up. “How to Finish Your Book in Three Drafts” is great material and great timing by Stuart Horwitz who calls “the first draft the ‘messy draft,’ which is all about getting it [the story] down .”

I was definitely messy as I wrote, rewrote, ditched, scratched out a section of, scratched out a lot of sections of, returned old material to and started all over again.

The Final Draft

When the beta readers had done their work, I revised again and again.

At last, my final draft was done, the one Stuart Horwitz calls the “polished draft,” which [had been] all about making the story “good.”

I was ready to query and pitch my manuscript.

When the Story Goes Nowhere

My mermaid novel received mild interest.

One queried agent asked for the whole book after reading the first fifty pages before it was rejected. Another agent was excited about my pitch but later turned down the novel. An editor said it wouldn’t get past “acquisitions.”

I knew I was getting close but also felt something may still be lacking. Perhaps, as Sara Megibow had told a large audience of writers that year, the error may be in my thinking the novel was a manuscript when it remained a draft.

Final Draft as Plural

I was back at the books, blogs, workshops, etc., to seek an end to my story. To stamp FINAL on the final draft.

Raymond Obstfeld said, “Although the phrase ‘final draft’ suggests the last time you’ll revise, that really isn’t the case. Final draft really refers to the final process of revising.”

Seek Professional Help

A professional editor is currently reviewing my mermaid novel as the journey continues.

Afterward, I will be back at it again. This time will be the final, final draft.

Thank goodness, I really believe in my mermaid novel and will do all I can to learn how to tell her story most effectively.

 

“Edit your manuscript until your fingers bleed and you have memorized every last word. Then, when you are certain you are on the verge of insanity, edit one more time!”  ~C.K. Webb

 

 

 

 

Where Will She Sit on the Shelf?

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I’ve sat in on enough writing sessions facilitated by writers, agents, editors and other workers in the publishing industry to know that if my book doesn’t conform to market standards, good luck on getting it published.

Today’s post is on meeting that challenge and moving forward.

Maybe a Story Really Does Tell Itself

My original intention when I began telling my mermaid story was for it to be a romance. A beautiful fishlike young woman washes ashore where a beautiful young man discovers her and along the way love arrives.

The story didn’t unfold as I’d planned.

My mermaid remains a young female but her story focuses on her journey toward the realization of who she is and where she belongs in the ocean world.

A young man is a part of her narrative, along with issues of ocean pollution and extinction and motherhood and love.

Genre Dilemma

My novel is complete. But what kind of novel is it?

Paranormal?

Romance?

Contemporary?

Women’s Fiction?

Adult Mainstream?

All of the above?

None of the above?

I can’t imagine anything worse than a story being refused because the marketing department has no idea how to advertise it and the bookstores have no idea where to shelve it.

What do I do?

Change the story?

Keep the story?

Forget the story?

Advice from Experts

I expressed my dilemma with book editor, Rebecca Heyman. Her response was a recommendation to read three novels. One is Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

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Erin Morgenstern’s story doesn’t fit a standard type; it’s fantasy, romance, maybe even steampunk.

No spoilers here: In Night Circus, two old competitive peers, artists in magic and illusion, pit their apprentices against each other for an eventual showdown.

The story itself is magic. It enchanted me with its vivid details, compelling storytelling and mystical tone.

The structure of the story is also as unique as the tale itself.

Have readers found this strange, unusual novel in their bookstores, real or digitalized?

They certainly have.

Forging Ahead

My focus now isn’t on whether or not there’s a specific shelf for my mermaid novel but on how compelling and memorable my story is for the audience who will read it one day.