Our Bouts of Writing…Around the Holidays

A guest post by Cristina Dimen

typewriterIf you’re like my muse and me, writing consumes you. Unless you write, your day is incomplete—as if your purpose is on hold. And during those moments when an overly busy day takes a toll and you’re too exhausted to craft your story—you’re saddened that you’re unable to paint your screen with vibrant prose.

If you’re like us, you find that life often gets in the way of your desire to just plop yourself in a comfy chair and start typing that article. You’ve become adept at juggling—family life, work, volunteering, Tweeting, etc.

Yet, writing around the holiday season requires skill at executing a more complicated juggling routine. After all, you have to shop and wrap gifts, plan a menu or bake something scrumptious for your hosts, prepare your home for guests and deck your halls with more than just boughs of holly. Don’t forget…write. Squeeze it in.

My muse and I reveled in our first-ever visit to Camp NaNoWriMo last month. Like every year, prior commitments occupied our list, but we took the plunge, anyway. Yes, 30 days/nights of writing!

On our fourth day at camp, we realized that our moments there would be fleeting—cut short by parenting duties, volunteering, freelance work and Thanksgiving holiday preparations. Nonetheless, we joined our peers in virtual fashion—capturing thousands of words that’d been swirling around our heads, begging to be immortalized on screen.

With cups of freshly brewed Hazelnut an arm’s reach away, we glued ourselves to our keyboard, tapping away in “literary abandon” NaNoWriMo style. However, tasks began to pile up. My creative partner and I resorted to sneaking off in the middle of the night, and awakening during predawn hours—eagerly tapping at the keyboard.

We bid camp adieu right before Thanksgiving. Like little kids who longed to stay, play and collaborate with the other campers committed for the duration—my fingers defiantly lingered on the keyboard, wanting more time. Reluctantly, we put the makings of our debut novel to sleep—moving on to planning December’s activities. Bye, NaNoWriMo.

We continued to write…submitting articles to print and online venues and blogged, Tweeted and shared. We received a delightful mid-November email: “Cristina, would you like to attend a press event?” After perusing the details and checking the family calendar thrice to confirm nothing conflicted with the event, my RSVP floated through Cyberspace. Yes—my +1 and I are attending a culinary tasting event. Hmmm…what to wear? Add “check closet” to list. 

Canopies of reds and yellows lined our urban streets, as crisp, cool December air greeted Manhattan. Holiday shopping ensued. During one such trip, I heard, “Mom, when can we get our tree?” And, “Please don’t tell, but I’m Secret Santa to ___. Can you go with me to get her gift?” More shopping? Must write. When?

With so much going on, how’s a writer mom supposed to…well…write? This question plagues my muse and me incessantly. And, when we find ourselves short on actual writing time, we watch our surroundings more intently—observing scenes unfold before us. We’re “partially” content—knowing this action is part of the creative process.

While waiting for our bus, flocks of pigeons engage in their synchronized dance—flying to one patch of the sky, stopping, then circling off to another. We look for the man with salt-pepper locks peeking from under his brown woolen hat, and wonder which coat the brunette with her Gucci satchel will be sporting as she boards ahead of us, her face half-buried in another novel.

On our ride home, my muse is anxious to start weaving the morning’s scenes, which I’ve typed onto my phone notepad—into an article. So am I. With the kids in school and my husband at work, we itch to begin another literary adventure—until duties call, of course.

[box border=”full”]Cristina DimenCristina Dimen and her muse blog and write about travel, lifestyle and parenting. They are currently crafting their debut novel. As founder of Editorial Creatives, a Manhattan-based editorial services company, she works with various online and traditional print publications, such as New York Family magazine. Check out her blog, Creative Musings  and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.[/box]

Photo credit: cancsajn

 

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A Big, German Christmas Eve

A guest post by Amy Robinson

christmas eve candleChristmas Eve meant a magical evening spent at Grandma and Grandpa Berg’s house.

Getting ready created a buzz of activity. The two boys were clean-shaven, while Dad splashed on his Old Spice and put on his best sweater. In the bathroom, we only had one, was crowded with Mom and three, teen to pre-teen girls, sharing a turn at ironing our hair into heated curls; all of us zipping each other into festive dresses and squeezing into pantyhose that could instantly tan a leg. When all 5 children were ready, seven souls were stuffed into the station wagon and hit the road to Grandmother’s house.

Grandma’s Christmas buffet was abundant and love was expressed with sugar. Homemade, nutmeg-flecked Christmas cookies, almond cakes, glossy peanut brittle, sticky fudge, rich peanut-butter balls, white clouds of divinity, chocolate covered peanuts graced every flat surface. It was a potluck that would make the tooth fairy cringe and the local dentist wealthy.

After the sweets, presents were the main attraction. Everyone got a present at Grandma and Grandpa’s house thanks to a family-wide name swap. But before the gifts were distributed, out of that colorful pile under the tree, the enormous family sang carols.

With a flair for German Drama, the lights were dimmed, candles were lit and the house packed full of aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings would chime. What was lacking in talent was made up for in exuberance. Winter’s frostiness melted in the warmth of kin and the waxy scent of flickering candles. The caroling would always end with Silent Night. The room would hush as Grandpa would sing the tune by himself, in German, “Stille Nacht”.

And then there were presents! It was the duty of the children to deliver gifts and we would run around the room, feeling like elves granting Christmas wishes. After the chaos of torn wrapping paper and squeals over new toys, the house settled around chatting grown ups and energized kids playing.

To mark the end of the night, Grandpa would pass around a shot of Peppermint Schnapps. Each man would take a sip, bound in a tradition of camaraderie. At the age of 12, I bravely tried to sneak a little bit as the glass came into my hand. There was the sweet hint of mint, the disgusting sting of alcohol and the laughter of my family as I grimaced from the flavor combination.

Too soon, it was time to go home. Dad would lift me, his baby girl, in one arm, my head resting on his shoulder. We walked to the car, the Old Spice cologne mixing with the nylon scent of his coat. Here I felt safe and drowsy. The sky above glowed with stars shining from one edge of the prairie to the other. On the drive home, we sang more carols to keep Dad awake while he drove and because we were absolutely infused with Christmas joy.

At dawn the next morning, the living room would transform into destroyed wrapping paper and boxes. Mom put the record player on so The Chipmunks could sing us through our Christmas morning joy. What followed was hot cocoa, cookies for breakfast and a house that smelled of baking turkey and was brimming over with the noise of kids, family and love.

Now that those childhood days are over, I see how lucky I was to have that magic. Not everyone has that story. Christmas was a time of absolute happiness and safety. This is the gift my parents gave me that I can keep for the rest of my life.

[box border=”full”]Amy RobinsonAmy is currently the column editor and writes a bi-weekly blog for FierceAndNerdy.com. You can find all of her other work on her website Looking at the Moon. When she’s not writing, Amy  her husband, watches too much TV and volunteers with homeless cats and dogs.
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Photo credit: Krisph

Adventures in Platform Diving…I Mean Building

A guest post by Becky Green Aaronson

divingWhen I initially heard that it was important for a writer to build a platform, I scratched my head and wondered, What the hell is a platform? I had visions of a narrow high dive perch from which I was expected to swan dive, then execute a few graceful twists and turns before gliding into a pool of readers.

With Google, of course, it didn’t take long to discover what a platform really was—simply a way in which writers build their presence—particularly on the web—to garner interest in what they are writing. Kind of like building brand recognition. And since authors are now expected to do most, if not all of the legwork in promoting and marketing their books, a web presence is crucial.

This seemed straightforward enough, but as I dove into this business of platform building, my head soon began to spin.

Getting Started with Platform Building

First I started with social networking, setting up a Facebook account, followed by Twitter, Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon, LinkedIn, and Squidoo. I wasn’t sure what I would do with these sites exactly, but I decided I would figure that out later, especially learning they were great ways to connect with potential readers.

Then I joined several writing organizations, and attended a few writers’ conferences, slowly networking here and there.

Finally, I created my blog. And Whoa, Nelly, let me tell you, that was a biggie. After pouring a mind-numbing pile of hours into designing and tweaking my site, I felt like I’d climbed Mt. Everest.

Then I realized I actually had to create content for my blog. Once again, I scratched my head. What the hell am I going to write about?The obvious choice was just to broadcast, “HEY EVERYBODY, HERE’S THE BOOK I’M WRITING. I HOPE YOU’LL BUY IT WHEN IT’S FINISHED.”

But that is soooo not how it works.

No, no, no. People in the blogosphere want to either learn something from you or be entertained by the content on your blog. They don’t want to be treated as if they’re reading a script from one of Ron Popeil’s Ronco infomercials.

So, after researching how blogs were written, and sketching out a few posts, I eventually took the plunge and hit PUBLISH.

It initially felt like jumping off that high dive perch I had envisioned earlier, but with my friends, family and colleagues taking the leap with me, supporting me as I learned how to master the twists and turns of blogging, it became invigorating. I felt proud that I figured out how to get my platform up and running.

But my problem was this: once my platform was in motion, it rapidly took on a life of its own. I had Facebook fans, Twitter followers LinkedIn connections, as well as gaggles of blog followers. All great stuff, of course, but I suddenly felt like I had ADHD. My mind was continually scattered, thinking of Tweets and quips, blog posts, emails, backlinks, and comments. I no longer thought in long, delicious prose, but rather 140 characters. Worst of all, I had little time to work on writing my book, the thing I’d been working so hard to promote.

THAT, my writing friends, is the gotcha of platform building. Creating and maintaining a memorable platform can be a full-time job in itself.

It took me several sleep-deprived months of teetering on the edge, feeling completely out of balance trying to juggle the demands of my platform, but here is what figured out: it may not be easy to stand perfectly balanced on a platform, but it is doable with some discipline.

Tips for Building Your Platform

  • Set aside an hour a day for social networking (30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the late afternoon). And stick to it.
  • Limit social networks to 2-3 big ones: Facebook and Twitter are most important at the moment. It’s easy to sign up for every option out there, but difficult to maintain them all.
  • Automate as much as possible. Encourage friends, family and colleagues to sign up for automatic updates of your blog posts instead of emailing them directly each time. Have Facebook and Twitter accounts tied to your blog so each post will be shared automatically.
  • Don’t get sucked into obsessing over your blog stats. It’s good to know where your followers come from, and which posts people are most interested in, but beyond that, it’s nothing more than an ego boost.
  • Finally, and most importantly, keep your priorities straight: finishing your book always outweighs promoting it. After all, there’s no need to have a platform if you don’t have something to promote.

[box border=”full”]Becky Green AaronsonBecky Green Aaronson is a freelance writer living in Santa Barbara, CA. Her work has been published in a variety of magazines, including Runner’s WorldAdventure Cyclist and Edible Santa Barbara, and it has been honored with several literary awards. She is currently writing a book, The Art of an Improbable Life: My Twenty Years with an International Photojournalist, and writes a blog with the same name: www.animprobablelife.com.[/box]

Writing My Way Out of a Dark Place

A guest post by Bridget Straub.

Searching for My WandTwo years ago, I was in a very dark place. We had lost our house and were living in a dull apartment that bordered an alley. An alley that had its share of rumbling trucks, grumbling homeless, and on one awful night, a gang shooting. You are probably now imagining a far worse neighborhood than it actually was. In truth, it was right in the middle of the San Fernando Valley. Money, as always, was incredibly tight and I was deeply depressed. Our photography business, that had always sustained us in the past, was now a luxury that people couldn’t afford, or with all the new technology, were just doing themselves. I didn’t know what to do to change my situation.

In times like this music has always been my savior, and on this particular day I was listening to a song, “The Moment” written by my friend Laura Hall.  It is a beautiful song about how what appears to be an ordinary moment can instead be a defining moment. I really needed a defining moment, and little did I know that I was about to have it.

I began writing a story about a woman struggling to make sense of her life and her relationships with those she loved most. In three short days, I wrote a novel entitled “Searching for My Wand”. I read it to my sister who loved it, and then I nervously allowed Laura to read it. I waited anxiously to see what she would have to say, and while I waited I began writing another book, “If By Chance”. Much to my relief and delight, Laura had only nice things to say about “Searching for My Wand”. A few weeks later she even suggested we write a musical together, and we did!

I have not stopped writing since. Not only did we go on to write “Room to Grow”, our musical, but I have completed “If By Chance”, almost completed a sequel to “If By Chance”, completed two more novels, “Fingers Crossed”, and “On a Hot August Afternoon,” and I am 49,939 words into “The Salacious Marny Ottwiler”. I love all of these books and can’t wait to share them, which is why I have decided to go the self-publishing route. I don’t want to wait years and years for these stories to see the light of day, and with traditional publishing, that’s how long it would take.

I love writing. I have done it all of my life, but in the past couple of years things have changed and I’ve become better at allowing my characters to write themselves. I no longer fight the direction a story is going in because it’s not the direction I had assumed it would take. I now enjoy the journey that much more because it’s always filled with surprises.

As for that dark place that I was in two years ago, I have moved on. With a lot of help, I have been able to move to a much brighter apartment, and with renewed determination I have rediscovered hope. We’re still broke, the photography business is still evolving and changing, but we are doing our best to adjust. I am publishing “Searching for My Wand” and will do everything in my power to get it seen and read by as many people as possible. Laura and I will look for ways to produce “Room to Grow”, and with any luck at all, the New Year will bring some exciting changes to our lives. In the meantime, my kids are healthy, we have a roof over our heads and we are surrounded by family and friends, so I am feeling very lucky. “Searching for My Wand” should be available for purchase through Amazon, B&N, Sony, Apple, etc. on December 15, 2011.

[box border=”full”]Bridget Straub
Bridget Straub
 (author, lyricist) has written four novels, has her own blog at bridgetstraub.com  and is the co-auther of the musical Room to Grow with Laura Hall. Bridget’s first novel Searching for My Wand will be published in Dec. 2011.

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Confessions of an Over-Committed Surburbanite

A guest post by Becky Lukovic.

stressWhy is it that when I am the most over-committed, I get the least done?  Why do my wheels spin when my gas pedal is to the floor?  Tick-tock—tick-tock.  That’s how the clock is supposed to go….with a perfect cadence…like sands through the hour-glass (so are the Days of Our Lives)…..only…..my clock whirrs around like the hands of the electric meter in high summertime….going around and around at light speed.  I just can’t seem to catch up with my own life.

Tick-tock-tick-tock.  I run frantically from one project to another…from meeting to errands….to cocktails with a distraught friend….to an urgent phone call from my client….to the house…checking the email just one more time.  Rinse and Repeat.  Everything seems half done…just started…almost completed.  I am so overcommitted….but somehow, it’s glorious.

I swoop down like Superman…ready to save the day….to take charge….to give ideas and checklists….yes, we must have the checklists….  I have an innate need to rescue….not just kitties and puppies, but not-for-profits needing an extra hand, boards who need another voice, tasks that need to be done, wine that desperately needs opening….  Rescue 911 that’s me.

The Man mentioned rescuing is considered an unhealthy emotional behavior – that I should neither want to rescue nor be rescued.  But if I am in a jam, I need a rescuer extraordinaire–a McGuyver with his bag of tricks…James Bond running through the door….Han Solo….yes, I want to be rescued by Han Solo…sigh….  Why can’t I rescue with a good conscience??  Why can’t I leave a legacy of helping??

The problem is, with my over-commitment, I am doing lots of running, but little actual helping.

For me, there is no difficulty in saying “no.”  It just seems that I don’t want to.  No is such a “final” word…a negative word….a word two year-olds say to avoid eating their peas.  I try to improve…really…but the moment the oft practiced phrase, “Let me think about it” leaves my mouth, I know I am sunk….that I am yet again committed.  How am I going to say NO after I had just given them a “maybe?”  It’s like saying to a date, “call me sometime and we’ll see” and then having to tell them to “STOP calling me!”   All of my excuses scream lame! Lame! LAME the exact moment they escape my lips.  Lame!  What I really want them to hear is, “Becky is so wonderful – we must adore her.”  I feel like they can see right through me if I say “no”—if I tell them that I really just want to sit on my couch and watch another episode of Burn Notice.  But just like the box of Ding Dongs that tempts me from afar, the desire to be needed beckons…tempts…calls out to me.  It’s an addiction and it’s getting out of control.

How do I choose??  How do I pick the puppies staring at me from behind the glass, pressing their little wet noses close to me??  How can I balance the need to be adored, revered and loved (read worship) with the need to spend adequate couch time with The Man??  How do I pitch-in and give some real, productive help while keeping my time boundaries??  I could say no to everything for a time (been there, done that), meh….  I could cancel all of my current obligations and re-evaluate (been there, done that)…meh….  Maybe the journey to having a healthy commitment level is to set up solid time boundaries.   Instead of getting the time that is leftover to reconnect and to recharge, give myself some priority time, don’t even look at the new puppies in the window….and not feel guilty in taking a whole day with nothing to do but a Molly Ringwald movie marathon.  Maybe…
[box border=”full”]Becky Pruitt-Lukovic is the owner of Bella Event and Travel Planning. She is the mom of two and step-mom of four (think Brady Bunch and you have her family). Becky is President of Helping Her Heal, a local grass-roots organization helping women diagnosed with female cancers. Cooking, chocolate, and wine are her passions along with all things shiny, sparkly and fabulous. You can read her blog at www.divorced-diva.blogspot.com. Be on the lookout for her new blog, Introducing HRH, the Princess of Argyle coming in January.[/box]

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Reinventing Lola: The Invention of a Writer

A guest post by Heidi Lee Munson

diaryI never knew I was a writer until I hired Lola to fill the empty desk outside my office. The most genuine of souls with the kindest smile, some might describe her as Euro-trash based on the length of her hemlines in proportion to the pillars she called legs.

A bit too made-up but superbly saucy, Lola was the administrative assistant that my whole team adored. She had a Marilyn Monroe-like social life in which Senators and Executives vied for her attention, and a heart the size of a country. She loved life and the people in it. We, the office, loved her stories.

But Lola, you see, was an imaginary friend. I’d always been a rather unconventional Manager so this motivational method was par for my course. I led a team of talented salespeople; successful salespeople must be highly creative. I created Lola’s persona as a way to build team unity while also sparking innovative thought.

Our sweet, invisible assistant filled the space outside my office with creative energy. My employees would bring in framed photos of Lola’s male conquests, post-it notes reminding Lola to order in lunch; postcards suggesting romantic interludes in faraway places.

Monday mornings, we typically heard Nicole or Emily share their latest adventure with Lola. When I’d ask why my lovely assistant wasn’t triaging my phone calls, I’d get an earful about how her latest international lover took Lola to Paris … er, whoops … “Heidi, Lola called in with stomach flu. She’ll be in tomorrow.”

These stories helped bond my team and sealed friendships. One Monday morning, I shared my own Lola tale – a romantic first date with an Army Major she’d met through an online dating site. Lola had confided to me that she’d grown tired of meeting men in the usual places. I described her cozy evening in a quiet restaurant where Lola and her Major talked late into the evening about everything and nothing and forgot to order dinner!

My team, women and men alike, sat on the edge of their seats as I recounted Lola’s story. They wanted dirty details, frustrated to hear that she had played her date with traditional, tame values.

And then Nicole asked, “So, Heidi, you really like this Major, huh?”

They knew me too well. Nicole had always pushed me to do more. She suggested that I start writing my stories. “Heidi, your dating life is better than fiction. Write it down and share!”

So I did. One Monday morning, I encouraged the team to spill more of Lola’s adventures. They wanted my adventures instead, but I held firm. I had written a story that I would read – but not until Friday afternoon after they’d hit their weekly numbers. They balked and threatened to hold Lola hostage if I didn’t share, but I stood my ground.

Come Friday afternoon, I measured their weekly performance. Every single one had surpassed expectations. I called a Team Meeting – aka Story Time, watching my group gather in a circle like preschoolers snuggling their blankets.

After clearing my throat, I recounted my latest not very dramatic adventure, and they held onto every word. I heard genuine laughter, and I saw them connect closer to me. I realized that, with words, I could make people smile, and I could help them to feel. Go Lola!

I continued to write my stories and to share them at the end of the week. These tales morphed into a journal, and that journal molded me into a writer.

Today, I work out of my home. I rarely see my old friends, and I miss office Coffee Talk and Story Time. Today, I write to stay connected. I have my blog, and a growing world of readers to introduce Lola to. Still my more adventurous half, her hopes mean the world to me.

Warm Regards,

Heidi Lee

[box border=”full”]heidi lee munsonSales Director by day; author and blogger by night, Heidi Lee shares her intimate online experience of mastering the Art of Toad Kissing before finding her own Prince Charming. Heidi Lee’s desperate hope is to help women and men alike benefit from her $99 subscription to the wacky carnival of online dating. When she’s not penning the moments of hilarity, heartbreak, and horror at discovering the prevalence of male bad breath that infuses her memoir, Heidi Lee can be found on Twitter @heidilmunson or sharing Toad Kissing secrets on her blog, www.theartoftoadkissing.com[/box]

Photo Credit: moonchaser

ABCs of Freelance Writing: S is for Self-Discipline

Work to do Sometimes when I tell someone I’m a freelance writer, she’ll respond, “Oh, I could never work freelance. I just don’t have the self-discipline for it. I’d want to goof off all the time.”

I usually respond by saying that she’d be surprised how much she could accomplish—if only her next meal depended on it.

It never fails to get a chuckle, but it’s true. Some of the most free-spirited, schedule-hating people I know are fantastic freelancers because they know that buckling down for a few hours every day will get the bills paid. And acting like they’re self-disciplined for a while is usually more appealing to them than bending over backwards for The Man.

How to Master the Art of Self-Discipline

(Or better yet, how to wing it and get the same results.)

  1. Know your strengths and weaknesses. When you know what you’re bad at, you can beat yourself up about it compensate for it.
  2. Understand that creative time equals work time. Don’t mistakenly think that watching a cartoon can’t qualify as work. Sometimes it’s not so much about self-discipline as it is seeking out projects you are sure to enjoy. If the next article you write requires you to know Bugs Bunny inside and out, awesome! Put “watch cartoons” on your day planner.
  3. Use lists. Know what you need to get done every day, write those things down, and then start knocking them out one by one. You don’t have to tackle the list in order. You don’t have to finish all the tasks in one  sitting. And you don’t have to tell your client that you played Skyrim for 30 minutes before you did the final edits on his web copy. You just have to get your taks done  (and done well) when it counts.
  4. Have a mantra. My personal favorite is, “If I don’t work, I can’t buy things.”
  5. Have a plan. If you do goof off every once in a while or veer off course a little, it’s nice to have a plan to reference and get you back on track. Whether it’s a business plan or a list of goals write ’em down’, type ’em up, or tell your digital recorder all about it.

Are you a freelancer? What tips and tricks do you use to help you stay on task?