On Writing

How I Earn a Living

Many moons ago I wrote a post explaining that it is possible to earn a comfortable living as a writer.

The post generated a lot of comments, which makes me happy. I like comments. The post also generated a number of personal emails, which makes me, I think, even happier.

Most of these emails asked me the same thing:

HOW can you earn a comfortable living as a writer?

Ah, right, I did overlook that.

For me, it was always about balancing salaried writing with personal writing. When I decided to do this for a living, I sought out any writing job I could find that would provide a salary and benefits. What I found was a weekly newspaper gig, which paid terribly but offered up a regular byline and a wealth of experience. Weeklies are still a great place for any unpublished writer and, since the hours are sort of flexible, I found time to write and send out plays, which earned me a few (very few, but, hey, a few is still a few) bucks on the side.

Newspaper writing, I learned, gives you just enough credibility to get better paying work. I went from working on a newspaper to a private school’s Communications Office, writing web stories and press releases and editing the alumni magazine. This Communications Office job led to a better Communications Office job where the web stories and press release stuff was left to other people. I just do the magazines now and I always look for ways to make the articles fun.

But the real fun — the reason why I got into this profession in the first place — was to write my stuff. I find time to do that, too.

If my stuff makes money, great. But if , for example, I receive 114 children’s book rejections or watch one of my plays fail in a very, very public way, my salaried writing income cushions the blow. Sure, I might not be writing exactly what I want to be writing about, but I’m still writing and still earning.

Your Writing Career story will almost certainly be different from mine because there are many paths to earning a living as a writer. But the key, as I mentioned in my old post, is doggedness.

Be patient. Be determined. Be focused. Be resourceful. If you really want this, then promise me that you’ll never, ever, give up, OK?

I’m rooting for you.

On Blogging, Three Things...

Three Things I Did Over My Holiday Vacation

And, in the role of Florence Nightingale, Sarah Josepha Hale.
And, in the role of Florence Nightingale, Sarah Josepha Hale.

I Broke My Big Toe

Two days before Christmas, I fell down some stairs. To be more accurate, I fell down one stair.

My life is peppered with embarrassing injuries such as this. Once, while making my bed, I tore a tendon in my middle finger. To put it another way, I had to wear a splint on my finger for six weeks just to experience the bliss of hospital corners. I regret nothing.

So I am now using a cane. This has made me instantly popular. People love to play with canes. My son pretends to be an old man, my niece tap dances with it, my coworker uses it to fondly reflect on her days as a marching band majorette. As for me, I like to wave it at punk kids playing on my lawn. Scram, you miserable urchins!

 I Ran a Successful Mouse Motel

On the morning of December 26th I discovered that we had a Christmas mouse. Adorable Christmas mice are the subjects of many holiday picture books. These books, all fail to mention, however, that Christmas mice poop.

They poop a lot.

I knew the interloper had to go, but I also knew I wanted him unharmed. I set up a few Have-A-Heart traps and waited.

The problem with Have-A-Heart traps is that, once trapped, the mouse is enclosed in a tiny little box with just a morsel of bait and no water. Because if this, I am obsessed with releasing the fellows into “the wild” (about six blocks away) the instant they are caught.

By 10 pm, however, I had caught nothing. I was soon faced with the reality that I was probably going to catch the mouse in the middle of the night while I was sleeping. I hated the very idea. The little fellow could be stuck in that tiny trap for eight hours or more. So I promised God that if He woke me up as soon as the trap was sprung, I would set up a comfortable place for the mouse to stay until I could get around to releasing him.

At 4 am I sat bolt upright in bed. I hadn’t heard a trap spring, but I knew. I hobbled up to the attic, got the Plexiglas terrarium I sometimes use to transport my pet rat to the vet, and decked it out with some comfy bedding, fresh water, and primo rat food. My rat, Lucy, always a curious sort, watched me work.

A few minutes later, Ellen, hands on hips, joined this little gathering. She was less curious and decidedly more scornful. “Getting another pet, are we?” she asked.

Remember the show The Honeymooners? Remember how Alice Kramden sometimes looked at Ralph when she caught him doing something particularly boneheaded? Ellen looked exactly like that.

But my conscience is clear. The mouse was fat, content, and happy by the time I released him the next day.

I Discovered that Bloggers Give the Best Christmas Gifts

Sarah Josepha Hale makes her guests fell at home.
Sarah Josepha Hale makes her guests feel at home.

OK, they weren’t Christmas gifts, they were prizes I won in winter blog contests – but my good fortune arrived just in time to make me feel all holly jolly.

The first contest I won was over at Madame Weebles’s place. If you don’t know Weebles, you don’t get out much. She is a Blogger’s Blogger. She is probably the best blogger there ever was or ever will be. Through Weebles, I won a pair of classic Weeble Wobbles – the good ones from the 1970s. I have named then Cornelius and Corky and they are friends with my Sarah Josepha Hale bobblehead.

The second contest was conducted by Roxie Hanna. If you write for a living you must, must, must visit her blog. She provides great leads for all kinds of writing gigs. (I personally have earned a nice chunk of change pursing a few of these leads.) Roxie gave me the gift of her editorial skills. She scrutinized one of my picture book manuscripts and provided me with a bunch of excellent comments.

The third contest was held by Sarah W. Sarah’s blog is a hodgepodge of awesomeness. Cartoons, videos, poems… Every day at her place is a delight. (Oh, and just so you know, Sarah’s daughter will someday rule the world – or at least a mid-sized island nation with a solid GDP.) I wasn’t planning to enter the contest, but Sarah made me. And then I won! So I am now the proud owner of a Cafepress mug. I slurped coffee out of it this morning; it works like a charm!

To sum up, I have an ugly toe, think mice are adorable, and am glad to be back in the blogging world.

So! How was your holiday?

On Writing

My Second Repost: My Rejection Collection

It's like that scene at the end of Miracle on 34th Street, only depressing.
It’s like that scene at the end of Miracle on 34th Street, only depressing.

Is it really a “repost” if said post is from so long ago you haven’t read it before?

Yes. Yes it is.

Sorry about that. On the upside, it will appear new to you, and isn’t that the important thing?

Enjoy!

***

A few years ago, an aspiring writer acquaintance of mine decided to share his feelings with me. Just that afternoon he had received a rejection letter and he was, to put it mildly, miffed. The editors at the publishing house were stupid, he said. And someday he would show them just how stupid they were. He would keep this rejection letter and file it away. Then he would rub that letter in their stupid, stupid faces when he was a big success.

My first thought upon hearing this monologue was, “Should such an angry, spiteful person be writing for children?”

I decided not to share that particular thought, though. Instead, I told him that I, too, keep a careful list of every rejection I ever received ­– which is true. (What I didn’t tell him was that my list exists for professional reasons rather than personal ones. I use it to avoid accidentally sending an editor a manuscript she has already rejected.)

On another occasion, I listened to another aspiring writer explain her state of mind upon receiving her own rejection letter. Her emotions ran the gamut from self-pity to self-loathing.

My first reaction to her was, “Why is this person writing at all? It’s killing her.” And, yes, I kept this thought to myself, too.

While both of these writers’ reactions were outwardly quite different, they were similar in two significant ways: First, their responses were strongly emotional, which ­is exhausting. (My philosophy is, if you must to do something to exhaust yourself, at least let it work your core.) Second, both writers found it necessary to understand and articulate the reason why they were rejected.

There can be hundreds of reasons why your story gets rejected, so fretting about why, in my view, is a waste of time. That said, if you must have an explanation to put a painful rejection behind you, my advice is to refrain from blaming either the editor or yourself (which, as I mentioned earlier, will prompt strong emotions, is exhausting, and does not count as exercise). Instead, choose a reason that involves math: The odds are against you.

Never forget that thousands of wannabes are vying for maybe a dozen available slots on a publisher’s list. There’s a reasonable chance that you’ll never get the brass ring, no matter how good you are. It stinks, but it’s true. The best part about using this particular rejection explanation is that it is – at least on some level – always correct.

So now that you have your reason, get back to work. ‘Cause there’s no chance you’ll ever get published if you don’t write and send stuff out. Being dogged is the only way to tilt the odds a bit more in your favor.

My very first children's book rejection letter. Ah, memories!
My very first children’s book rejection letter. Ah, memories!

For the purpose of this post, I did something I had never done before ­– counted up all the children’s book rejections on my list. I once heard that Dr. Seuss accumulated as many as 43 rejections before his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was published. That’s a good number, but I knew I had it beat. I guessed that my rejection total would be around 75.

I wasn’t even close. It was 114.

It gets better. I once received a rejection a day for three consecutive days – an event I found so impressive that I had to mention it on Facebook. “Never before,” I wrote, “have I been so successful at failing.” My friends offered me hearty congratulations on my achievement. A few of them even encouraged me to beat this record. (I did not disappoint; a few months later I got three rejections in two days. So WOO!)

Needless to say, if I got upset every time one of those letters arrived, I would have given up this writing thing a long time ago.

This past September I offically became a Published Author. It is my sincere hope that this fact will help me get my second book accepted a bit faster than the first one. If it doesn’t, however, I won’t fret too much; fretting is exhausting and I really should be working on my abs.