The Writer’s Life: On the Edge of the Cliffs of Insanity

BeingThe Cliffs of Insanity a writer can make you crazy.

Think about it:

  • Your literary heritage? A long line of creative alcoholics and drug users: Ernest Hemingway. O. Henry. Tennessee Williams. Dorothy Parker. Edgar Allen Poe.
  • Betting your life on a maybe, dependent on the kindness of others–agents, editors, publishers–for your success. And, really, their decisions have nothing to do with kindness.
  • Balancing your hopes on the seesaw of contradiction: Write your passion. Write what the market wants.
  • Hearing voices. The fictitious ones in your head that you tell what to do–and then you wreak havoc on them when they don’t. Meanwhile, the ever-present voices in the real world–your boss, your spouse, your kids–demand you focus on the here and now. The business meeting. The bills. The moody pre-teen inhabiting your daughter’s body.
  • Facing unending emotional upheaval. Waiting. Rejections. The mixture of joy and jealousy when a friend earns “the call.” (Not that you’d ever admit to even a passing acquaintance with the green-eyed monster. Inconceivable.)

Being a writer can push you to consider changing your name to Poe or Hemingway. The craziest part? You chose this life. You’re committed to this insanity. Here are a few suggestions for managing the madness:

  • Pick your mentors wisely. Just because writing drove others to indulge in mind-altering escapes doesn’t mean you must. I admire my mentors for their lifestyle choices, not just their writing skills.
  • Don’t let all your dreams be based on maybes. I have limited control over my success as a writer. Writing, however, is not all of my life. I’m pursuing other dreams with both short and long-term goals.
  • Choose between your passion and writing for the market. Or not. Maybe you’ll be the lucky author who hits the market when your passions collide with what “they” want. (Romantic-Amish-Vampire-Time-Travel-Steampunk-with-a-moral, anyone?)
  • Jump off the seesaw. The whole “balancing the writing world with the real world” challenge? I may never master that. Sometimes my mind seems full of shrieking eels, all screaming, “If only these people (husband, kids, friends) would leave me alone, I could accomplish the more important goals!” Then I know it’s time to shut down my computer and connect with family.
  • Admit you experience emotions. If emotions are good for our fictional characters, why are they bad for us? Sometimes we’re conflicted: over-the-moon-happy for our friend who landed a contract and also disappointed we’re not the one signing on the dotted line. That’s reality.

I’m curious: Am I the only writer pushed to the edge of the Cliffs of Insanity? How do you keep yourself from leaping off? (And can anyone tell me where the Cliffs of Insanity exist?)  ;o)

Post Author: Beth K. Vogt

Beth K. Vogt is a non-fiction author and editor who said she’d never write fiction. She’s the wife of an air force physician (now in solo practice) who said she’d never marry a doctor—or anyone in the military. She’s a mom of four who said she’d never have kids. She’s discovered that God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “Never.” She writes contemporary romance because she believes there’s more to happily ever after than the fairy tales tell us.

Platform 101 for Regular (Not-Famous) People Like Me

Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t decide to be famous when I grew up.  Because I’m starting to think that if my face was plastered across magazine covers and my name was on the marquis, I would have a lot easier time getting people to read what I have to say.

But, alas, I decided to be a plain-old, regular gal.

And, while I like my regular life with my regular kids and my regular husband and my regular job, I imagine that authors with big-time names and fancy doctoral degrees have a much easier time building their platform than I do.

You see, I write pregnancy and parenting books.  And, while I do have three fabulously adorable kids that give me lots to talk about on the pregnancy and parenting front—I’m not an OB, I’m not a nurse and (shocker) I’m not Jenny McCarthy.

Which means I’m not an “expert”.  And I’m okay with that.  But will my readers be?  And, since I’m not, how do I convince my readers (and the world) to read what I have to say?

Here’s what I’ve learned about platform building for regular folk:

1.    Stick to writing what you know.  For some reason, people generally don’t like to hear advice from people who don’t know what they’re talking about.  (Who knew?)  So, since I’m not a doctor, I steer clear from giving medical advice, but give everyone the nitty gritty details on what it’s like to go to the doctor—something I’ve done a lot of.   You may not have a diploma on your wall—but if your life experiences have given you expertise in something, write about it!

2.     Write what you know in lots of places.  Once you’ve written what you know, write it in a lot of places.  Spread the love and submit articles for magazines, guest post on blogs, start a blog of your own and post user generated content on websites like Yahoo! Shine.   Get your name out there—and before long, people will start regarding you as an “expert”.

3.    Keep your blog focused on your area of expertise.  For a long time, I wrote blog posts according to the whim of the day.  And I found that my readership shrunk and my posts seemed stale.  Why?  Because they weren’t focused.  Based on some advice from my agent, Rachelle, I decided to keep my blog 100% focused on pregnancy and parenting—and thus, create a level of expertise for myself through my own blog postings.

4.    Get to know the experts in your area.  I had the most amazing OB read and endorse my book.  With his endorsement came the assurance that while my book wasn’t written by an OB, the advice in it was medically sound.  Likewise, I try to stay well read on the pregnancy and parenting front, so that when I publish material, it comes with the backing of the experts in the field.

5.    Get out there.  If you want to get your name out there, you have to actually get your name out there.  That means prying yourself away from your computer (fun as it is to write the day away) and meet people.  It can be as simple as going to playgroups/school meetings/ministry events and getting to know people in your audience and as complicated as setting up speaking engagements around the country.  Regardless, if you’re not out there talking about your book, no one else is.

Question:  What are your best platform-building tips?

Breaking News!!

Otherwise-Sensible Mother Sleeps with Strangers, Endangers Young Family
Columbus, OH (AP) August 4

If sources are to be believed, Columbus resident Marla Taviano and her family have accomplished a feat that, to our knowledge, has never even been attempted by another human being (for obvious reasons).

From August 1 last to August 1 three days ago, this adventurous five-some visited 52 Zoos in 52 Weeks. (No, this is not a misprint.) Over the course of a year, world-traveler-wanna-be Taviano, her husband and their three young daughters drove from New York to Florida to Texas to California and 27 states in between—a whopping 22,000 miles—to “visit animals that hail from all corners of the globe.”

But folks, that’s not the half of it. Instead of taking the conventional (read: normal, rational, reasonable, safe) hotel route, they stayed in the homes of 31 different families. And here’s the clincher: 17 of those families were complete strangers that Taviano met online.

Why in tarnation this seemingly-normal, law-abiding wife and mother compromised her family’s safety and well-being by entering the homes/eating the food/sleeping in the beds of random persons she met through her “blog,” we may never know.

When asked this very question by the Times’ own Harper Hooper, Taviano tempered her response with what can only be described as a smirk, “I didn’t fear for my family’s lives for a minute. Quite the contrary. We met some of the most incredible people, and I’m totally convinced that God himself orchestrated every last bit of it. I could write a book about the amazing, gorgeous, generous, fabulous people we’ve met in the past year. Were our tactics a bit unconventional? Sure. Would we have had the guts to attempt something like this five years ago? Heavens, no. Call us crazy, but we’re not certifiable.”

Most would beg to differ. When asked if she’s been hiding under a rock, oblivious to recent reports of internet stalkers and pedophiles, Taviano replied (with her customary smirk), “Oh, I’m not discounting all of that horror. Not for a minute. Those stories are sickening and heart-wrenching. The internet gets a bad rap for that very reason, but there’s this huge positive side to the world wide web as well. Communities of people sharing their lives with each other, offering advice and encouragement, living out their faith together, becoming a part of each other’s stories…”

But surely she can’t insist with a clear conscience that there was no risk involved in what she dragged her poor, helpless family into.

“Well, of course there’s risk,” Taviano smirked. “There’s always risk when you step out into the unknown. But what kind of life is a life without risks? And I was confident that I knew the hearts of these families and that their motives were pure, even if we’d only ever met online. I’ve found the internet to be a beautiful place. The friendships I’ve formed through this medium are ones I’ll treasure for a lifetime.”

Despite the absolute absurdity of her claims, Taviano spoke with uncanny conviction. Could there possibly be some inkling of truth to what she’s saying? The Times has its top reporters on the case even now. Is Taviano just an out-of-the-box thinker? Or, as we suspect, another nutcase off her ever-lovin’ rocker?

To be continued…

Marla here. I’m supposed to be blogging today about “something non-fiction.” So I decided to show instead of tell. The newspaper article above is made up. Except it’s not fiction. Because the whole 52 Zoos in 52 Weeks thing is true. So whatever that’s called. Creative non-fiction perhaps? Memoir-with-liberties? Anyway. The rest of the story coming soon to an e-book near you.

The Moral of the Tale? The best way to keep your non-fiction as interesting as fiction = live a story worth writing about.

I’m dying to know: what adventures have you lived that you’re hoping to put into words?

Post Author: Marla Taviano

 Marla Taviano—a lover of words, Scrabble tiles, and giraffes—dreams of traveling the globe with her web-guru husband and their three young daughters. The author of six books, Marla writes and speaks on enticing topics like sex, loving the poor, and how to visit 52 zoos in 52 weeks on a shoestring. Her heart breaks for those in poverty/slavery around the world, and she wants to use her platform to ease their suffering. Marla lives in Columbus, Ohio and met her Wonder Agent, Rachelle Gardner, at a Starbucks by the Denver Zoo in 2009.

Becoming a Nationally Syndicated Columnist

I am fortunate enough to be both a national columnist on politics and world events through Cagle Cartoons, Inc. and a blogger at www.marthacarr.com on writing, faith, and whatever wild adventure is going on in my life. This weekend that means a 5K followed by a second jump out of a plane. Don’t tell my agent. I’m celebrating learning to walk, and then run again after a whopper of a bout with cancer.

However, there has to be a question in everyone’s mind these days whether it’s worthwhile for writers to still strive to become nationally syndicated columnists. The decline of newspapers and the rise of blogs (like this fabulous one) must make people wonder if there’s a place for the journalist who provides content through a clearing house.

Both a column and a blog can become a source of income and it takes time for that to be true in both instances. There’s really no shortcuts, so that’s the same.

But despite all of the advantages to having a blog, and there are many, there are still some pretty big benefits to writing for others for a living.

  • Accountability – there’s a constant weekly deadline with a required word count. No longer and no shorter than 700 to 750 words. The grammar has to be correct, which means AP Style and the facts have to be checked and sourced. An occasional mistake is okay – it’s bound to happen – like the time I mistakenly wrote interred instead of interned. Just one letter off and I accidentally buried two people.
  • Editor – my column appears in about a thousand small town newspapers and some pretty big websites such as MSNBC, Politicus and Moderate Voice and so that means about a thousand editors are combing through the piece to make sure I’m not going to make them look bad. There’s also an editor at Cagle Cartoons that is reading the piece as well. Occasionally that means a conversation about a statement I’ve made, to make sure it’s correct and can I back it up with facts. That’s always in the back of my mind and keeps me rigorously honest. It also means I’m not going to reprint something I heard from friends, saw on the internet or even read in another publication if I can’t find original, reliable sources. Great training for every other kind of writing as well, including fiction. As writers, we want to get it right but knowing when to even ask a question or where to go takes practice.
  • Size of the Audience – These days a lot of syndicates, like Cagle, are going to a subscriber format instead of making their customers, the newspapers and websites, pay for each piece individually. They pay one flat fee and can use as much of the content as they want on any given day. That means I’m under someone else’s established banner and it immediately translated to a million new readers for me when I started three years ago, and now translates to four million readers a month in four different countries. I’m very big in India. Also at the bottom of every column, every week there sits my web address, an email address and the name of any recent book. It’s even better than a paid ad because all of these people already know me.
  • More Profitable Book Tour – Unlike a blog, my audiences are concentrated in large numbers in specific towns and I can design a book tour around that information. I choose to speak as fundraisers for nonprofits such as United Way and sell books afterward in partnership with a local bookstore as a way to raise funds. That also gives the newspaper that runs my column an opportunity to promote it for free, for me, and do some good work for their community as well.

If you are interested in getting started as a columnist, start by going local. That’s how I got started, at the Brunswick Times-Gazette, home of the world famous Brunswick Stew in Virginia. I still get the paper here in Chicago. They need your content and you in turn, can learn how to tell a concise story on a wide variety of topics while getting used to a constant deadline. Then after a year or more, take all of those clippings and start shopping larger newspapers individually and at the same time the big syndicates. Those clippings will tell them you can handle the basics and that you have a few things to say that are worth reading. If you want to know more on the topic, send me your questions at martha@marthacarr.com and let’s talk.

Q: Do you still read newspapers? If so, do you read a print copy or view the paper online?
Have you ever considered writing for your local paper? If so, what topics might you cover?
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