A New Look

This week I updated my blog and gave it a new look. After about a decade, I figured it was time for a change.

If you have been following me over the years, you may have noticed that I’ve moved away from my focus on the craft of writing. This blog will still feature my writing. I’ve posted a few links to books I’ve self published on Smashwords.

Publishing on Smashwords has been a learning curve. If I sell a book for $4.99 Smashwords takes $1.49 in fees, so it’s a pretty fair deal, considering that they place my books on Apple, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Library Direct and other sites. Having said that, I’ve only earned 9.80 USD so far! But I see this as a place to start. I was so excited when I received a very positive review for Skate With Me on the Barnes and Noble site (See sidebar).

I’ve had about a thousand downloads, so at least my books are getting some distribution.

What I’ve learned over the past years is that I just have to keep at it. Keep doing something in the area of writing. I’ve tried a lot of things. I’ve had my ups and downs.

I may still post articles about writing, from time to time, but I also plan to write some thoughtful articles about current events and social issues. I use tinafriesenwriting to post personal articles.

I will write more about my process and where I am at now in another post.

 

 

 

 

Organizing for Writing

As writers we are always collecting material. I have file boxes full of notes. Numerous computer files. Bookshelves of books. My brain is constantly coming up with new concepts to write about. New angles. New stories. I can’t possibly keep track of them all.

Between my electronic notes and files, and my physical files and notes, I sometimes am overwhelmed with all the resources I have collected. It’s as though an avalanche of ideas is always coming at me and I don’t have time to sort it all and to prioritize it.

I received the book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert, from my son for Christmas. He knows I am a creative type as I dabble in art and music and writing. Incidentally, I finally found a template that works for featuring my photography online. You can view it at LensArt. What I was going to say is that Elizabeth Gilbert sees inspiration as a sort of entity of its own, like a “spirit” that makes an entrance into our lives and beckons us to follow it and create something. She also says we can’t sit idly and wait for this sort of inspiration to knock on our door. We grasp it when it does, but in the meantime creativity needs to find us busy working.

As I’ve already said, my problem is not that ideas don’t come to me. On the contrary, there are too many ideas competing for my attention. Too many projects I’ve started, and so many more I want to begin. My problem is more in the area of effectively working with my ideas and not losing them.

I’ve finally come to the conclusion that it is alright to have all of this evidence of raw writing material–files upon files, books upon books. For too long I compared myself with others who were not writers and who didn’t have this semi-organized chaos, and thought I needed to be like them. Then one day I observed that other writers did indeed have the same challenges I have in dealing with endless resources. I wasn’t some odd sort of hoarder. I saw that writers need a lot of material before we put pen to paper. We need lot of exposure to other sources. We end up doing a lot of gathering and collecting.

If only I had someone to help me with the task of sorting, organizing, storing and retrieving. What a luxury that would be.

In the early church there were theologians who had sponsors who enabled them to write because they provided them with scribes or secretaries and often paid their living expenses. I read about one church father, I believe it was Origen, who had seven secretaries at one time. Imagine that. In this way he was able to write reams of material.

Of course, back then all of it was done by hand. At least I have the advantage of a computer which, compared to handwriting or using a typewriter, is an incredibly useful tool, taking numerous hours off of my writing time. I don’t miss the days of pulling paper out of my typewriter and erasing.

Like most writers, I continuously face the tedious task of documenting my ideas and organizing and prioritizing them, without the aid of a benefactor or the assistance of secretaries. I’ve had to train myself to be alright with a bit of chaos when too much focus on cleaning up my reference materials takes energy away from actual writing. 

There is a sort of dividing line I need to be conscious of, an imaginary line dividing the past from the present. It separates the collected material from the collections I am working with.

When I write, I pull items forward from the past into the present. Some of my collected material is no longer relevant. It needs to go. Other material must be accessible, not lost in some slush pile–namely, a place from which it is never retrieved.

From time to time I need to go back into the past and remind myself of what is there.

Memory is an amazing thing, the way it retrieves information. But my memory  occasionally needs a little help and so I go back and review what I’ve written and stored.

I am determined to continue to work at implementing an effective organizational system. An effective organizational system is one where I can utilize material that is helpful and retrieve it when I need it.

Currently I sort documents into broad categories and sub-categories on my desktop, in Scrivener, in my email program (I email links to articles to myself), in online bookmarks and in my physical filing cabinet. I use Google Keep to take quick notes when ideas come to me. I have to consistently work to keep ahead of the clutter and remain focused on what it is I want to write.

Organizing is not an end in itself.  The result I am trying to achieve is to free up more time to write and to become a better writer. Keeping this in mind helps to protect me from what could easily become an obsession–organizing.

My Happy Place as a Writer

...ok, I didn't buy it.

For a long time I searched for my Happy Place as a writer and I didn’t find it. The reason I couldn’t find it was because I needed to create it. I needed to understand what this place is made up of. Most of all, I needed to identify the core of my motivation.

Writing can be a lonely, thankless venture. For about five years I have been in the process of establishing myself as a writer and I admit I am still far from where I plan to be. But I am exactly where I want to be right now because this is the place from which I move forward.

Right now I have a great deal of experience, raw material, writing resources, ideas, and visions of possibilities for the future. With each day that passes I accumulate more writing aids and grist for the mill. This is a good place to be. 

Five years ago I quit my job and began to work diligently on my writing. At that time I gained a lot of momentum as a writer. However, a year later I went back to work at two consecutive jobs. All the while I kept having a gnawing feeling that I was to focus on my writing. Finally I submitted my resignation. (I don’t recommend quitting your job unless you are convinced in your heart that this is what you are to do.)

The past two years have been riddled with doubt and confusion as I vacillated back and forth between staying at home on a reduced income and going back to work again. After repeated rejections from agents and editors I contemplated giving up fiction writing altogether. I over-analyzed and second-guessed myself after numerous blog posts with virtually no reader response.

I admit I have yet to regain the momentum I had during the first year before I went back to work. However, the time in between has not been wasted and I have gained many valuable insights.

Little has changed around me, but something has changed inside me. I have embraced the messiness and the beauty of where I am today. I have accepted what I have, and even what I don’t have.

I made two decisions which are moving me forward.

One, I am motivated by love. I write because I love people. I want to inspire, encourage and entertain people.

Two, I want to write.

I can write anywhere and on any subject. I may write comments on social media, or messages and emails to friends, or notes on birthday cards, or I may write in my journal. The success of my writing does not need to be measured in terms of financial profit. I write because I love people and because I love to write.

I am truly grateful for each writing resource I have studied, each note I have taken, each creative line I have written. I am grateful for all that has brought me to this place where I am today and all that will influence my tomorrows to come.

If there is one thing the past months and years have taught me it is this: Writing is a struggle and it will always be a struggle. That is why it is so critical to know why I am writing and who I am writing for.

My future success may not come in the form of a published book. In fact my future may look much like my past. I’m OK with that. I now see intrinsic value in what I am doing from day to day. I am in my Happy Place.

 

A look at blog titles and focus

Michael Hyatt just drew my attention to a couple of important issues for bloggers in his articles, Why I Stopped Reading Your Blogs, and Do You Make These 10 Mistakes When You Blog?

Two things that stood out for me relating to blogging were

  • the importance of catchy headlines, and
  • the need for focus.

    Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


    Hyatt suggests putting as much time into choosing a title for your blog as you invest in writing it. Well, I admit I don’t and probably won’t do that. There is just something in me that resists putting a disproportionate amount of time into a six word title.

    But I’ve realized recently that it is not enough for blogs to merely reflect their content in their titles, like news articles. Blogs are like storefronts. The more interesting the display the more likely people will be drawn in.

    If we are just reporting news, we can get away with a title that is just a summary. But if we are writing a feature article we are competing for attention and need to be creative. My articles on this site fall somewhere in between and this may be why I don’t feel compelled to wow people with my headlines. My blog is more of a resource and, as my husband pointed out, people need to find key words in my title. So, I probably won’t write something as attention getting as “You Got Me at Hello.”

    Hyatt also nailed a problem I have with one of my blogs. My blog Writing for Life lacks focus. Referring to blogs like mine, Hyatt says he gets “lost in the forest of [our] eclectic interests.” Ouch!

    Image courtesy of Feelart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    Image courtesy of Feelart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    I know it’s true. I feel it myself and I’ve known it for sometime. Now, to figure out what to do about it.

    Believe it or not, we all love blogs where we know exactly what to expect. We keep returning to them, like a faithful friend. You know the kind of blogs I am talking about. They may be blogs on knitting, or traveling, or jumping for joy, and it sounds very narrow, but this is what we want.

    The best comparison I can think of is the dining out experience. I may want Chinese, or Mexican, or Italian, but I don’t want everything served at one place. I have a special Pho place where I like to go for soup. There is a Thai restaurant where I get my favorite–Chicken Rama in Peanut Sauce.

    We like specialty shops and brand names that define a product. And our readers, surprisingly, want consistency and predictability.

    I have a few focused blogs and I notice that, even as a writer, there is a security in knowing what goes where. Although I really like the freedom of “sharing the journey,” I admit that I hesitate to write, because I keep on asking myself, “Why this?”

    I can see I need to do a little soul searching. Maybe I can find a single theme that will represent what I want to share on my currently eclectic blog. Or I may need to lay out my “wide-ranging, broad-based, extensive, comprehensive, encyclopedic; varied, diverse, catholic, all-embracing, multifaceted, multifarious, heterogeneous, miscellaneous, assorted” (Thesaurus) interests and pick a couple and create a few specific spaces.

  • Writing the memoir

    Did you know that there is a difference between writing “memoirs’ and writing “a memoir?” Well, I didn’t. This week I have been reading Writing the Memoir by Judith Barrington (1997). Her book is unexpectedly delightful and inspiring.

    Memoirs are in the same category as autobiographies–a basic written account of facts–whereas, in the memoir, the writer reflects on the meaning of what happened, adding personal interpretation and judgment. According to Barrington, in a “contemporary literary memoir….the memorist tells the story and muses upon it, trying to unravel what it means in the light of her current knowledge” (p. 20).

    What I found particularly interesting is that Barrington encourages memorists to look for themes in their lives. Writing is then collected around these themes.

    A memoir has to be very selective in what it includes, or Barringtong warns, you will end up with a huge, sprawling autobiography. The memories of our lives are all connected but in the memoir it is vital to leave things out (p. 56).

    At the end of each chapter the book offers helpful assignments to get you started on writing. One assignment asks the reader to list ways to focus a memoir. The memoir may be focused around a defined period of time, for instance, “The year I….” It can also be focused around the writer’s relationship to something–a pet, a place you have lived, a favorite activity, or an event.

    A memoir can be short or long. Short memoirs might be collected as chapters of a book. The important thing is to remain focused. And, as a last thought,

    Most people only ever write one autobiography, but you may write many memoirs over time (p. 24).

    Finding focus

    In recent weeks I have had an obsession with getting my house organized. I feel I need to do this so that I can focus. This has extended to cleaning up my blogs as well.

    I can relate to the article, Lifestyles of the (semi)Disconnected by Angela Parker on her site, theunconventionalhousewife.com. To de-stress, Angela cut social media from her life. She now finds time to read books, hang out with family and pursue artistic activities.

    I have not been as ruthless or radical as Angela in terms of eliminating all of my social networks. Some months ago I discontinued LinkedIn because of spam mail I was getting. As far as Twitter goes, I saw from the beginning that it would be a constant distraction so I dropped out. Pinterest looked like it could be very consuming so I never subscribed.

    But I am still connected to Facebook. I have a lot of friends and family that don’t live nearby and with whom I value  making occasional contact on Facebook. I admit that I have to sift through a lot of chaff for the wheat, so to speak, but so far it is worth it for me.

    Today, in my effort to become more focused, I deleted three of my websites. One was a collection of interesting trivia, another, a photography site, and the third , a place where I wrote the occasional article. It was a little painful, the letting go part, but I feel it is necessary.

    I compare my life with a smorgasbord where there are numerous items to sample. For years I have enjoyed the selection but currently I am driven to simplify and define what it is I value.

    How does a person go from smorgasbord to specialty? It almost seems like my brain isn’t wired that way. Yet the possibility is beginning to capture my imagination.