Tag Archives: writing

Dancing With Unicorns

The triple-whammy of all of my classmates starting school today without me, talking to that lady about her health program yesterday and being over-tired enough to have reached that point where ideas sometimes seem more brilliant than they are has my wheels spinning.

When I start my senior year at Goddard in October, I’m going to need a senior study project. I fully intend on taking advantage of the six months I’m taking off to make sure I go to Vermont with a solid plan. Because dear senior study project, you are scary.

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The Art of Endurant Defiance

I’ve written three novels.

I’m really proud of all of them. And not just in the ‘you have to be proud of me, you’re my mom’ way, either. I think they’re good. I’d read them, even if I didn’t write them.

I have read them, dozens and dozens of times. And every time, I think–Oh, my God, these are really good.

They’ve also been rejected by just about every literary agent known to writer kind.

The latest novel, which feels like I carved it out of my own flesh, has been rejected a dozen times. And I find hope in those rejections. Half a dozen were from agents who requested part or all of my novel to read and then took the time to read and respond to my actual book rather than sending me a form rejection based on my query letter alone. That’s a giant step forward. Really.

And I’m not always rejected. I’ve had two novellas published. I have something exciting in a holding pattern (ooh, trust me, if that one happens, you’ll probably hear me squealing without needing the internets.)

A small publisher read one of my novels recently and liked it, but had a massive rewrite request. Massive. She said she’d understand if I didn’t want to do it, as she was sure a larger publisher would jump at the chance to buy my book. She loved it that much, but sorry, can’t offer a contract yet.

Anyway–this is not a sob story.

This is a story about things like perseverance and endurance. Not only doing hard things, even when there is no real concrete sign that you will ever be successful, but doing them when you are the only person alive who really believes you can. It’s about putting one foot in front of the other and one word down and then the next and learning as you go so that you keep improving.

It’s about being defiant. Webster’s says defiant means a willingness to contend or fight.

I haven’t thought of myself as an athlete for a really long time. Decades. When I ran yesterday–for two minutes broken up in 15 second segments–I thought about how when I was a teenager and my world was falling apart, I used to put on my sneakers in the middle of the night and go out and run.  I floated through the night then. Today I plodded and it felt like my legs were encased in concrete–but I did it. One foot, then the next and the next.

And why? I’m the only one who says I’m an athlete right now. I have to say it in a certain way, too. With my chin lifted and a look in my eye that defies argument. That’s right, I’m an athlete. I’m training for a 5K.

Hell. I’m training for an Ironman.

And guess what? No one but me gets to decide if that’s true or not.

Just like I would defy anyone to suggest that sitting my ass in my chair everyday and writing in the face of rejection and uncertain success doesn’t make me a writer.

It isn’t the end that makes you who you are. And it isn’t the end where you make your stand.

It’s the beginning. And then, most of all, it’s the middle. It’s every defiant  step  that takes you from here to there.

It’s knowing you might not succeed, and doing it anyway.

And, most definitely, it is choosing everyday to endure and persevere and believe, even in the unbelievable. Even when you’re afraid ‘people’ (oh, those people . . . ) are laughing at you behind your back for pretending to be something you’re not.

Those people don’t know what you have inside of you.

How will you be defiant today?

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The Hard Stuff

I came across this picture today.

This girl is walking into Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. She was one of nine chosen to desegregate that school. The president, Eisenhower, had to intervene so that the principal would let her in the doors.

An act that even with presidential intervention required military in the background, and that inspired at least one photographer in the foreground. As I was looking at this picture I wondered about the girls in the background. At the hatred in their faces, at the frozen words spewing from their open mouths. What brought that anger? Was it just fear of change?

It has to be more, right? I has to be more than fear of change.

Where are those white girls now? What do they feel when they see this picture? Is that level of animosity self-perpetuating–does it have to be held on to in order to avoid shame and guilt?

I was raised in the West by a leftist liberal father, and by a mother who made me swear I wouldn’t sit directly on the toilet seat at school after my class had an influx of Vietnamese refugee students. Did fear of change, or maybe fear of difference, make my mother racist? Because she was a beautiful, lovely woman otherwise. Was she taught to be the way she was?

If she lived in Arkansas in 1950 something, instead of Southern California, would that fear be aimed at black girls just trying to get to Algebra class instead of Vietnamese kids learning English at my school?

I don’t remember being angry when I went to school one day in the third grade and my class had ten new Vietnamese students. I don’t remember any real anger from any students at my school. That was  twenty-ish years after the Little Rock Nine integrated Central High School. (Think about this. Twenty years ago was 1990. The twenty years between 1957 and 1977 weren’t any longer.) Did these teenagers and their ploy to get into school change the world enough that the Vietnamese kids at my school didn’t have to fight as hard?

I’m leaving for Vermont on Tuesday. I’ve been scared. The kind of anxious scared that makes you stare at the ceiling all night. But I looked at this girl today and realized that I don’t have to be. If she was brave enough to walk through that gauntlet day after day, then I shouldn’t be scared.

No that isn’t right.

I realized that it’s okay to be scared. But it’s not okay to give in to fear.

I tell my kids, and my clients, nearly everyday to choose the hard stuff.  I try to teach them that they don’t have to always pick what’s easiest. That they are capable of the hard stuff. It’s why I didn’t let Adrienne drop her calculus class at mid-year, even though the C is bringing down her grade-point average. It’s why I don’t let Nick use autism as an excuse.

And it’s why I’m putting myself on a plane, a train, and a taxi on Tuesday. This is my hard stuff. It was easy to study my plan B. It was easy to prepare to be a social worker, in case writing doesn’t pan out. It’s incredibly hard to study something without a safety net.

I know I’ve been gone for a couple of weeks. Trying to get my head around things I guess. Trying to get things done. But I’m taking you with me to school. I’m bringing you along with me as I do my hard things.

I’m not comparing my situation to that if the little girl in that picture. I have a daughter her age, or close to it, and I’m not sure I could have been brave enough to send her into that war zone. No, I’m not comparing. I’m drawing strength. Because that girl, and eight other children, did their own very hard thing–the rest of us know it’s possible.

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What do I want to write?

I think one of the most exciting and terrifying things about working on a BFA in creative writing for the next two years, is that I’m going to have to decide what kind of writer I am.

One thing that helped me decide to pick Goddard was that the application asked me how I would use writing to work toward social change. They do say the pen is mightier than the sword, don’t they?

But is it possible for a novel to change things?

As I write this I’m watching a Harry Potter marathon on television with my daughters.

We live in a technical, industrial age don’t we?

When I was a kid we got a few hours of cartoons on Saturday morning, and the rest of the week television was for grown-ups. We had 8 channels. Today my family gets 200 via satellite, and at least half a dozen of those play cartoons or other kids shows 24/7.

My son has a video game system that lets him play games I would have had to take the bus to the mall with a pocket full of quarters to play for an hour or two before I got bored or broke. Kids can spend all day alone in their rooms with their games if they choose (and are allowed.)

We have a desk top and three laptop computers in our house. At any given time, all three of my children plus me or Kevin can be online. We also have four cell phones (me, Kevin, Adrienne, and Nick.)

So can a novel make a difference in a world that keeps trying to be paperless? In an electronic world that seems hell-bent on doing away with anything as old-school and time consuming as a paperback novel?

I can think of only one thing that has scores of people bursting at the seams with excitement, having midnight parties so that they can get their hands on it as soon as humanly possible.

It isn’t a video game. Or a new cellphone or television. It isn’t even a movie (although the movies that come from it do inspire excitement.)

It’s a book.

And I would say that a story that can encourage millions of children to crack tomes thicker than their math books means that books can make a difference.

Can I make a difference?

Maybe someone writing a really good story about peak oil or climate change will have an impact that a lecturing article or non-fiction book that just puts people on the defensive might not.

And if that story is aimed at the generation who is going to be left with this mess?

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Scared

I leave for my Goddard College residency on April 7.

I have to buy my tickets this Friday when I get paid. I’m flying into New York City and then taking an Amtrak train, the Vermonter, to Montpelier which is five miles from the school. (I love the train. A lot. I took one to Washington DC last summer and had an absolute blast. There is no train route that will get me from Nevada to Vermont, or I would so be there.)

I’m incredibly excited to spend an extra night in New York City. To explore.

I have financial aide that will just cover the tuition. A fistful of handbooks and packing lists from the school. And a heart that thump-thumps every time I think about doing this.

I want to be a writer. Does that make  me a wanna-be?

Am I going to be surrounded by super-cool-future-best-seller-Pulitzer-Prize-winners?

I will have to read out loud. Read words that I wrote myself, out loud to people who are serious writers. Can I do that?

And then my next question puts it all into a different light. I hate it, but I can’t stop it from coming.

Will I be the fattest?

I’m a good writer. It’s the only thing that I know deep down that I can do well. My heart believes that with work I can be a successful writer. That this is the work. This is paying my dues, and I’m ready and willing and excited to do it.

So why am I even thinking about my weight? I don’t even know how much I weigh. It will be four months since I’ve weighed myself when I leave. Almost five.

Why does weight have to seep into everything?

Once upon a time all I wanted in the whole world was Olympic gold. Every one of the millions of 50 meter laps I swam from age 6 to 16, I imagined the weight of a medal against my damp chest and hearing the American anthem play. It drove me.

I was on the right track. I was fast. I was strong. I was on a  good state team and I was working toward qualifying times.

And then my father went to prison.

He stayed there until I was 19. I felt too old. I felt too slow. I couldn’t swim the way I could at 16 when he got out and I didn’t have to spend all my time working to help support my sisters and brothers.

I’d lost my edge.

I’d gained 30 pounds.

I gave up.

Because I thought I was fat.

Now I really am fat (5’10” and 170 pounds of mostly muscle is not fat, no matter what my 19-year-old self believed. Nearly twice that much is.) And I’m scared. Scared of putting myself out into the world. Scared of trying so hard and failing.

I was an athlete once. A serious athlete with drive and determination. I could have been an Olympian. But I gave up.

I hated my body. Even when it was strong, lean, a butterfly-machine. Even when I could run ten miles, or do 250 incline sit ups, or swim like the wind for hours a day. I hated my body because as much as I loved being an athlete, and intellectually I knew that to be an athlete I had to be fit, I wanted to be skinny like my sisters.

I wanted to be beautiful like my 6′, 125 pound, Brooke-Sheilds-look-a-like sister. (Looking like a Brooke Shields is always a blessing, I suppose…but in the days of Island of the Blue Dolphins? Yeah. That’s what my sister looked like. At 13.) I wanted thick, waist-length hair like hers especially. Mine was short to fit in my cap, and chlorine burned.

I wanted to be perfect like my pretty blonde sister who never seemed to struggle socially the way I did. Even now, when I read her Facebook wall I get a familiar tinge of jealousy over how much everyone she’s ever met loves her. Everyone loves her.They seek her out, to be near her.

I was an athlete amongst beauty. And I hated my broad shoulders and muscular arms.

I don’t want to hate myself anymore.

I want to accept myself. I want to open myself up to criticism and critique and the possibility of greatness. Not the promise of it. That’s never been promised. Not when I was a swimmer, and not as a writer. But there was a time when satisfaction came from trying as hard as I could. Reaching for something I didn’t even know was there, down deep. Being just a little bit better than I even knew I could be.

I want that again.

Maybe it starts with learning to eat for enjoyment and love of good food.

Maybe it starts with letting people love me. Just as I am.

Not 30 pounds, or 50 pounds, or 150 pounds from now. But right now. Just as I am.

Maybe it starts when I get on a plane, bound for New York City and a train to Vermont, to write.

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Acceptance

I picked up the mail today and found this letter:

“Dear Shaunta,

On behalf of the Admissions Committee and the faculty I would like to congratulate you on your acceptance to Goddard’s Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program for the Spring 2010 semester….”

I’m accepted.

I’m in.

I’m spending April 7 to the 17 in Vermont with all the other BFA in Creative Writing students. I am so excited. Just so excited. I love how just when things are looking very blah–something wonderful happens.

I have a giant packet of handbooks and residency information to read through (devour) and plans to make. April…it’s not that far away!

My mind is just spinning with the possibilities. Tonight I feel like a real writer.

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My Freelance Gigs

I thought I’d spend some time today talking about freelance writing, and what does and doesn’t work for me.

Some background: Ten years ago I was a single mom. I saw an ad for a newspaper reporter in an obscure little town in Northern Nevada. I answered, and somehow I was hired. I suspect this was because there are very few people willing to live in Battle Mountain, NV and work 50 hour/$400 weeks. Result: I got a crash course in journalism, and all the clips (writing samples) I could want. As the only reporter and photographer, I provided all the content except the editorial for that biweekly paper. I also laid it out by hand with a wax machine.

I ended up back in Vegas, did an internship at a large newspaper, got a job at another large paper as an editorial assistant—and after a while quit. My son’s autism was hitting it’s stride and I needed something more flexible and less stressful.

Off and on over the years I earned money as a freelance writer. I wrote for magazines mostly. About five years ago I decided I wanted to write fiction, and I haven’t done much freelance since then. School and other careers have taken up that time.

Last month some things happened at my job that made me decide to dust off my old skills and try to build up a business again. Just in case. The world of freelance writing has changed in the last five years. Online content has become a viable business model.

I’ve applied to and been accepted as a writer at Demand Studios and Suite 101. Both required me to send in clips. Just a note: I tried to half-ass the applications and was denied. I tried again with good clips and taking the process seriously, and was accepted. So they definitely don’t accept every writer who applies. I also signed up at Associated Content. Associated Content does allow anyone to write for them, so this is a good place to get a couple of clips. I have heard about seed.com which is AOL’s foray into online conent, and on the surface it looks fantastic. I’ve only written one article for them. More about that in a minute.

Here are my thoughts on all four, and my experiences:

Demand Studios

Demand Studios provides content for their own sites, such as ehow.com. When you log on, there is a list of literally 1000s of available stories. When you ‘claim’ one, no one else can have it. It’s yours. Some of the stories are really interesting, some are very technical and require knowledge of things like how to rebuild a transmission. Some of the topics are just–insane. How to Make Purple Oil, for instance.

Demand Studios doesn’t give any details about exactly what they want, just the title. There is a content area–but that is iffy at best. The purple oil sample is listed in food. I still wouldn’t know where to start with that. Also, when I clicked on nutrition, I got a bunch of articles about “rebuilding carbs” and “how to oil a carb,” which are clearly automotive in nature. This makes me think that they are somehow getting ahold of people’s Google searches and some automated program is putting them in the categories. I have no idea if that is right or not, just my impression.

Still, it’s not hard to find assignments that fit me. I can search a keyword, which is nice.

Even nicer? The articles pay $15.00 for 400 words, or $7.50 for 200. I’ve seen online where some people complain about that. But considering that I can write two 400 word articles in an hour, that’s a $30 an hour job. And that’s considerably more than my day job pays. If Demand Studios offered me a 9-5 for $30, I’d take it in a heart beat. So I wouldn’t complain about getting that for contract work. This isn’t rocket science–these are easy-do articles that, to this writer anyway, are worth doing for $15.

It’s a guaranteed income, too. They pay a flat fee, rather than a per view fee as you’ll see others do. And once you’re accepted as a DS writer, you don’t have to pitch stories. You aren’t competeing with other writers for the same work. An editor reads your story, sends it back once if you have any problems in it, and then accpets it. You’re paid in Paypal twice a week. As you can see under my $3000 Freedom tag, I made more than $250 in two weeks in December. I have $75 more coming on Tuesday.

Demand Studios does have an editorial process. They are mostly looking to make sure that your story fits in whatever guidelines you’re writing under for that article. Your article will be sent back to you once with revisions, and if the second time it still has problems it will be rejected. My experience has been good feedback and communication with the editors. I’ve had a handful of stories that I had to revise, and one that was rejected (the revision had a competitors link as a reference.)

I like Demand Studios because I can work extra to make extra money if something is coming up. They pay regularly, and twice a week is really nice. The articles are sometimes weird, but they’re plentiful and there is something in there for everyone.

Suite 101

Suite 101 is an online magazine. They publish conent on a wide variety of subjects on their own site. Suite 101 lets writers write on anything that interests them. There are no assignments. You write, you hit publish, and you’re published.

This site has a really excellent editorial side, which might be the best thing about them. The first article you write is held until it’s been edited. It gets ‘flagged,’ unlike Demand Studios, Suite 101 editors will work with you until your story is right. They’re super helpful with things like getting the keywords right, and formatting.

Suite 101 does not pay anything up front. Your article is published with Google Adsense ads, and you’re paid a percentage of the click throughs to the ads. At first, I thought that this would make Suite 101 the least profitable of all my current gigs. And it might still. I haven’t figured it out.

The thing is, some sites will pay you per page view. But you have to get up to 1000 before you get a buck and a half. Where as I can have an article on Suite 101 with only 100 views, but if I get 12 cents a click, only fifteen percent have to click through for me to make the same amount.

Doing research about Suite 101, I’ve found that there are some writers who have consistantly written for them–and who are making decent money. The key, obviously, is to build up your list of stories. And the thing is, even the many writers who moved on to more profitable venues are still making money on those Suite 101 stories, sometimes years later.

Suite 101 is a long-term thing. You have to be prepared to write and write, and hope that at some point you build up a readership.

Associated Content

Associated Content is kind of in the middle. They also post their conent on their own site, like Suite 101. They have a list of assignments, like Demand Studios. But you can post just about any conent at all on Associated Content. Research papers, blog posts, book reviews–anything you write.

You choose whether you want just to be paid for page views or if you want to be considered for an upfront payment. As far as I can tell, that means three or four dollars upfront. You get $1.50 per 1000 page views regardless. If you submit for upfront payment, it takes a week or so for an editor to read your article and make an offer. If you go for page views only, it’s published nearly instantly.

That article that was not accepted by Demand Studios? I submitted it to Associated Content. It took a good week for them to say that they already had a similar article, and so would not be able to offer me anything up front. I submitted it for page views.

I’ve accepted three of their assignments that had small upfront payments. All three were ‘how to’ craft articles that I was able to write without any research. I was paid a total of $8.00 upfront for three 350 word articles. Not great. It took me an hour or so to write all three. More than minimum wage at least. But, the views to those articles are added to my page view total. I don’t have to get 1000 views on one article to make the $1.50, it’s 1000 on all my pages period.

I was paid the day after the three upfront payment stories were approved. The money went into my Paypal account. The page view money has to be built up to $10 for payout.

Seed.com

Seed.com looks really interesting. It has a list of articles, like Demand Studios. But there are differences that make me weary. For one thing, I’ve heard that many writers can claim the same article. So there is far more competition. The articles pay more, sometimes 100s of dollars. But only if they choose yours out of all the articles submitted. If they do, they own the rights and will publish it all over th net.

If they don’t choose yours for the upfront payment, they can publish it on a limited basis, one website only, and pay you per page view.

The problem is that you have to write the article to find out. And you can’t choose not to give them the limited rights and publish somewhere more profitable. They own the rights, unless they reject your story completely.

Their article assignments are really well written titles, with lots of feedback about what they’re looking for. I wrote one, just to see what happens. 750 words on five pairs of shoes every woman should own. If it’s accepted for upfront payment, I’ll get $55. If not, I’ll get page views only.

It will be interesting to see how many page views it gets. AOL is a pretty gargantuan presence on the internet.

You can also send in your own articles, and they’ll either make an offer or they won’t. I’ve heard that the feedback from the editors is pretty good.

It’s a brand new enterprise, so I’m sure there will be growing pains. Stay tuned.

All in all, I’m happy with Demand Studios, Associated Content, and Suite 101. I wouldn’t mind adding seed.com if they pan out. I think I could easily make a decent wage right now at Demand Studios. Associated Content and Suite 101 are more long-term ventures. There are writers who earn good incomes at both, but it doesn’t happen as quickly as Demand Studios with their upfront payout.

I’ve been trying to figure out a way to let you guys know about my articles at all three without flooding my blog with links to them everyday. I think I’m going to open a Freelance page, and just mention here when it’s been updated. See how that goes.

ETA: I couldn’t figure out how to link to my Demand Studios articles, since they are at lots of different sites. I opened a links category My Freelance Writing that has links to my Associated Content and Suite 101 pages. You can check out my writing there.

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