Writing Frequently Asked Questions

Given how heavy last week’s blog was, I thought I might lighten it up a bit. In the course of my career, as soon as people know I’m a writer, I’ve gotten a lot of questions, ranging from the concerned “What did your parents do to you?” to the outright rude, “Oh, so what restaurant do you bus tables at?” But some are genuine and interested.

I’ve picked out a few questions not just to give you my personal answers but as a way to think about your own journey as a writer and why having the answers to some of them is important, whether you get asked or not.

Writers Frequently Asked Questions:

How do you come up with your ideas?

I dunno man. It’s part magic and part just paying attention. Sometimes it’s a character from my childhood that I want to reformulate and expand upon. Sometimes I’m watching a nature show on octopods and flip the station to an expo on genetic research. I will say this for the good writers I know. Ideas are everywhere, and it’s all about paying attention to why each story, article, factoid, or fungi is interesting and how they could be moreso. Even though tropes and genres rarely change, the situations, characters, and actions are an endless pool of inspiration.

I’ve written about space captains and cowboys, Krampus’ nephew and Bacchus as a modern-day AA member. I’ve written about a nurse with OCD and a child who was the reincarnation of Peter Pan… Ideas are everywhere. Go on line, find prompts. Read the newspaper. Watch people. Read. Think about what makes a good story—a character you care about, an impossible situation, high stakes, dynamic growth. And give your brain down time to think and daydream (walking the dog, in the shower, at your kid’s soccer game—don’t look at me like that it’s okay to zone out for those once in a while too). Play with the What-If and don’t self limit.

Also—buy a small notebook and a pen (or you could use your phone, ugh) and write down things you notice, articles that were interesting, conversations you overhear, even the strangest ideas from out of nowhere. You never know…

How many hours do you write a day?

Pshhh… Listen, if all I needed to do in a day is write, I’d probably say at least 4 to 5 hours or more. But I don’t know any of us who don’t have some other job, a family, or otherwise adultish tasks to complete. So, I’m going to be completely honest and watch die-hard writing theorists gasp in shock.

Somedays I don’t write at all.

*gasp! How does she even call herself a writer!?*

Somedays I’m so plagued with class planning and familial obligations and oh-my-god-whats-growing-in-the-bathroom-sink, and teaching, and making dental appointments that I don’t get to sit down at my computer until late in the evening when my brain is effectively mush.

But it’s not always about the quantity.

Because sometimes on those nights, in the span of twenty minutes before bed, I can bang out three or four solid pages. Sometimes I only stare bleary eyed at what I wrote earlier in the week. The point is, it isn’t about the hours and hours of singularly devoted time you put in. It’s about concentrating and working with focus for every minute you do get and making it impactful over time.

So—on average in a week, I maybe write 1-2 hours a day. If you factor in editing and rewrites and marketing and advertising my stuff, that probably gets bumped up to about 3. It’s not as much as some…but for now, it’s what I have to work with and I capitalize on all the moments I can.

What are you working on now?

I’m not like other writers. I’m a goddamn, flighty scatterbrain. So my answer is…complicated *wheels out an old chalkboard packed full of a complex theory, diagrams, and stick figures*.

At any given moment I’ve got multiple projects and I’ll tell you why.

Because I get bored. And sometimes I’m tired. (hahahahaha—ah…that’s funny because I’m ALWAYS tired)

I’m not saying I can’t sit down, focus, and write a novel, end to end in about a month. I can. I have. I usually reserve all of November to do that. Or on projects with co-authors as there are expectations and deadlines to meet.

For me, having multiple projects that I enjoy helps to keep me engaged and inspired and lets me cater my writing to the state of my life that day.

Maybe I only have twenty minutes. So I write a poem, or submit a poem. Or both

Maybe I have an hour, but I’m not feeling very fictional—I work on my weekly blog or catch up on emails from other writing projects. Or get a solid chunk of editing done.

Maybe I have an uninterrupted afternoon, I’ve been daydreaming about my characters and what I can do to torture them…I’ll bust out a few chapters on my novel.

Being a writer is a career best done when diversified.

One, we learn how to write better when we give ourselves more variety.

Two, we will burn out less often when we can take breaks from something that’s got us stuck—AND, AND AND…sometimes being able to put down ‘stuck’ projects and work on something else will lead to that magical AHA moment of unstuckness, because your brain has stepped back and can look at it without so much intensity.

Three, in terms of getting paid? You might love your novel, but its your magazine articles that are paying for your PB and J’s while you wait for the next publisher to realize how amazing you are (and you are amazing)…so have something more lucrative if you want.

Four, I hate to say it, but marketing, editing, and submitting count as writing. It’s the new and best chance way to really make it as a writer these days.

So—what am I working on?

3 novels: one in first edits with a cowriter, one is the first in my new urban fantasy/romance series—heavy rewrites but mostly formulated, one is my Kindle Vella romance that I’m writing, frighteningly, chapter by chapter (I’ll plan that out better next time)

A weekly Blog post

3-5 Poems a week

The new Beautiful Stuff anthology

1-2 Submissions a week (leading to new poetry and flash fiction pieces)

Edits for some accepted short stories

Soon: Edits for my first novel coming out with 5 Prince Publishing

You make any money at that?

No.

Not at all.

After editing, marketing, and website fees are factored in, I’m actually, constantly, in a hole. In fact, I love writing so much, I started working a part time job just to afford it.

But this is important to know about yourself as a writer. Why do you write? For the money? Because there are ways to do that—freelance, magazine articles, content writing, textbook editing. But you should also know that getting published right away, with a good book deal and royalties is not common. It isn’t impossible but you’re going to have to work for it.

My suggestion is to write because you love it. Because if you do that, and you throw it out into the world to see if it lands with someone, and it doesn’t get picked up, then at least you loved what you did, enjoyed what you made, and created something that was meaningful. And that’s not nothing.

If you don’t enjoy it and try to meet a trend, or publish some MFA tome that you hated every minute of, I honestly believe that the chances of it ‘landing’ and being picked up, are less.

Stories with heart and passion behind them, are just better stories.

Do you get writer’s block?

I go back and forth about those two little words. Yes, I believe that writers can get blocked. but I prefer to call it “Life Blocked”.

Writing doesn’t get blocked. We block ourselves. We get in our own way. Life gets in our way. The other worries, concerns, judgments, conflicts, and comparisons surrounding us get in our way. The writing is always there, just waiting to come out. It’s not beyond our reach. Until we put up walls of insecurities and excuses in our own path.

Somedays the inspiration isn’t there. Write anyway (see my answer from above about switching up projects, doing something that is still writing but not what’s got you puzzled). Somedays you are burnt out. Take a day off. Watch stupid movies. Take a nap. Keep your hands off the computer until you’re gnashing to get back to putting words down. Writers forget that inspiration is always there, you just sometimes have to clear out the path before it will flow. That might mean writing that scene you’ve been dreading until it turns into one of your favorites. Or sitting in the chair, writing the worst shit you’ve ever written nonstop for thirty minutes via a timer until you realize that it’s not all bad and that you were just afraid admitting that we all write shitty stuff sometimes.

Don’t believe in writer’s block. Believe in normal human emotion and limitation, give yourself grace but don’t give yourself excuses.

Where can I find your work?

Always know this answer and, if possible, have a card with your info on it. You can find my work on Amazon, libraries, in some journals and newspapers as well as on my website. www.sarahreichertauthor.com (and yes, get a website)

How do you finish a book, I just can’t!

How do people climb Mt. Everest? How do people raise children? How do people retire comfortably after 45 years of work?

One step at a time. Always forward. Never giving up. Pause if you need, catch your breath, remember why you’re putting in the work, eyes on that distant horizon and keep moving. You will get stuck. You will want to quit. There will be stories you do have to quit or rewrite completely. Just don’t stop writing. One page a day. One sentence. Six chapters. It doesn’t matter. People who don’t finish their books have let the world win. They let their doubt win. They let the aspect of editing and cutting out what wasn’t working win. They let the fear of finishing a book and what that might mean for expectations on them win.

Don’t let fear or hard work stop you. Just write. Because you love it. Because you love the character. Because you love the journey. Because you love being lost in that world. When it gets hard, shift course, skip over the dark and come back after you’ve written through some light. There are a million ways to quit. But there are at least as many to persevere. Find what makes you keep going and do that.

Validation

Good Thursday to you, writers and readers. Apologies for missing last week’s blog. I could leave it at that. I could lie and say I was too busy. I could pad the truth and say I was feeling a ‘bit down’. But part of the problem with mental health awareness in this country is that we too often lie or lie by omission about it.

Last week I didn’t post a blog because I was recovering from an anxiety attack and suffering a depressive episode.

Wednesday, I couldn’t hold a solid thought in my head. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t predict when or how the next overwhelming wave of worry and tears would hit me. By Thursday, I felt like I had the emotional hangover of the century. The kind that leaves you with a raging headache. The kind that leaves you feeling empty and raw. Like you couldn’t bear to be touched, or spoken to, or even think of stringing together two sentences.

My anxiety was at a peak when I tried to voice my concerns and fears about the current state of our world. Some friends stepped all over themselves to shout out unsolicited advice, barrage me with guilt for not having hope and a sunny disposition. Tsk-ing their tongues at me for not being happy.

“Just smile” and “We’re all in this together” and all that bullshit.

If I had said I had cancer no one would tell me to take an Advil to cure it. No one would say I needed to re-examine my perspective to stop it’s growth. Yet, there it was, my virtual conclave shouting back all the answers I never asked for, simply because it helped assuage their own consciences. So that they’d feel as if they’d done their part to ‘help’ a friend in need.

And it got me thinking. About social media. About our current world. About what we do in our lives these days, as people, but also as artists, to find validation. See, I wasn’t looking for validation or rainbows or sunshine. I was looking for someone who was really listening, who was overthinking as deeply as I was. Who wanted more than a sound byte or click bait. Someone looking for a real conversation about our current addiction to opinions like ours. To admit that we’ve become so divisive that people are threatening others with guns, and running others over with cars, and all manner of horrible things because our individual perceptions of the ‘truth’ have been spoon fed to us by opposing sides in a virtual (read: NOT REAL) buffet of horseshit.

I’m not saying the truth doesn’t exist. I’m saying if you really want it, you have to make a concerted effort to seek it out. Know the perils of conspiracy theories and understand how to spot them, understand why they work on the delicate human psyche. Know that if something reads as degrading or judgmental of one side or the other, that it’s probably more opinion than fact and you need to get to the basic source of that pile of horseshit, not just take it at face value.

Where was I?

Validation.

Yep. So we get on the FaceBook and the Twitters and we read the sites and clips that these super-smart algorithms have determined make us salivate the most, and they keep feeding us the sugary Captain Crunch of news until we’re so assured of our ‘rightness’ that anyone not complying with our view is a contagious carrier of the ‘wrongness’. Then its only a matter of time before someone is whipped up into a frenzy and runs their car through a crowd of peaceful protesters or shoots someone with a MAGA hat, or shuts themselves into an oval-shaped office, a la totalitarian coup style, crying like a toddler about voter fraud.

Sounds like we’re ALL just a bunch of sheep. But why?

Well, darlin’, these systems are smart as fuck. These systems are designed to be addictive. They’re designed to validate our existence, our beliefs, our lives and choices. My God that like button is a sweet hit of virtual cocaine. The ‘heart’ and ‘care’ emojis? Ecstasy, baby. Someone out there LOVES you.

What in God’s name does it have to do with the writers and artists among us?

Well, as you know I’d left all that bullshit for awhile and was actually more calm and centered for it. I only recently returned because I wanted to have a space for my author platform. Because, and this is the professional side of this post, you HAVE TO have an online presence to write. Or at least that’s what we’re told. You HAVE TO build up an audience. You HAVE TO market yourself. Sell yourself. Get a following, if you ever hope to ‘make it’ as a writer. This is a new world. If you can’t roll with the changes, you’re destined to be left behind. You’ll never sell any books the old way, idiot!

What do you want to do? Just write?

Just write.

Just write?

Because you love it. Because you…never…started writing for the profit…you just liked to write….

Wait…you liked to write?

See it’s all a big system. We spend so much of our energy, our time, our lives, our hearts, trying to forge these connections in a world that–by all intents and purposes, DOESN’T REALLY EXIST. We base our worth on likes. On followers. On the number of hits our website gets. And then wonder why we feel so empty and disconnected and never quite enough.

I’m off social media; for reals. You may still see a profile pic pop up across the Internet-o-sphere, but you won’t find my content behind it. My website contract ends in February. I’m not sure I’ll renew it. I started my platform because I was told I had to, in order to reach more readers.

Do I want people to read my work? Sure, if they enjoy it…if it feeds their soul and serves their happiness, absolutely.

Do I want to expose too-big-for-its-own-good heart and threaten my well being to do that? No. Not anymore. I want to write. My time is finite. I will not be around forever. When I’m gone, my books, my poetry, my writing, will all remain. My Facebook account will be deactivated. I will stop being worthwhile to their algorithm when I’m dead. But what I write, what I put on paper will carry on (if anyone still reads books by then).

I urge you to examine your life. Examine your addictions. Do you control the content of your life, or is it being controlled for you? Is that content controlling how you live your life? What you believe?

Blog posts here will continue until February. I’ll be re-running old favorites as well as interjecting some poetry here and there. I already paid for the year, I might as well use it to share the things I love.

Take care. Really…I mean that. Take care of yourself. Your real-life, human self. You are one of one. You’re more than just 1’s and 0’s in a giant marketing scheme. Go be a real-life human. Do real-life human things. Walk outside, go for a run, read a book, write something, nap, work, make love, eat amazing food–and don’t post a goddamn thing about it to anyone else. I assure you, it still happens even if your social media sites don’t hear about it.

Happy living.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Lucky Number Thirteen

Let’s talk luck.

Serendipity is a fickle and chaos driven goddess. Sometimes she saves us from that random bus only to drop us into an elevator shaft while we’re reveling in our good fortune. As a writer, it can often feel like some guys (and gals) have all of her attention and the rest of us are left, toiling in the trenches for even a kind rejection letter.

But most self-earned successful people will tell you its not so much about being in the right place (or write place?) at the right time, so much as creating the right place consistently.

How do we create an open door for “luck” in our lives? It’s not too difficult, but it does require patience, perseverance, and consistency.

“Damn it! I knew there was a catch! This is bullshit! I want overnight success!” 

Don’t we all, skippy…but unless you’re planning to marry a train wreck of a Kardashian you’re gonna have to do it the old fashioned way.

1.) Just like the lottery, your chances of winning increase by how much and how often you play.

You can’t expect to get that six-figure deal with one query letter to one big agent. Think of querying like a giant firecracker filled with the sparkly goodness of your novel, not a single-tipped arrow. That doesn’t mean you don’t bother aiming the damn thing, but you find the publishers and publications who take your kind of crazy, you follow their guidelines, and then you fire that baby off into the universe.

Wile-E-Coyote
Don’t singe yourself

 

2.) Make the chances you get work for you

Okay, you’re not always going to get the acceptance letters you were hoping for, you’re not always going to get the speaking gig or to meet with the agent you’d planned on at a conference. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing but a blank slate out there. Serendipity  exist in the overlooked opportunities.

Maybe they’re in things that you feel are beneath you, maybe they’re in jobs or gigs that you feel you aren’t exactly qualified for, maybe they’re unpaid or paltry in payback. But part of building your platform is taking risks, chances, and putting out there what you do have.

Volunteer to teach a writing class to an elementary school, offer up your book for free or discounted to book clubs that may be interested, try selling it at local coffee shops, be a beta reader for a fellow writer, guest speak at conferences or writing group meetings. It’s not just about marketing, its about seeing where the world can use your talent and opening your arms to offer it. Sometimes when we do this, Serendipity takes our hand.

two person hold hands
Gosh, I hope she washed it first. (Photo by NEOSiAM 2020 on Pexels.com)

Disclaimer: When I started out as a writer, it was a non-negotiable fact that you took any guest blog, free article, un-paid ad copy you could to build your resume and presence. But you can’t work for free forever, and please don’t. You should reach a point where you request and follow leads that will compensate you for what you’re worth. If they don’t, load that shotgun, and take a new aim.

3.) Finally, luck is made, not stumbled upon, by those who look for it, work for it, and build their lives and routines around the openness and willingness to jump at the chances that come their way.

Saying yes. Especially when it scares you. Saying yes, even when you might stumble down that elevator shaft. Saying yes even if you’re not sure you’re good enough or bright enough. Saying yes, even if it means stepping off your life-path for a glint of time.

Yes, I’ll send my novel out to three agents today. Yes, I will write that article. Yes, I will stand up in front of a crowd (well, a ZOOM meeting these days) and talk about what’s worked for me in plotting my sci/fi/cowboy/romance/horror trilogy (hint: its probably a lot of post-its and some mind-altering substance).

Serendipity is a seedling. She might show up randomly in our garden, in a burst of color. But we increase our odds of seeing her if we tend the ground, water and feed her, and give her plenty of light.

person holding a green plant
Photo by Akil Mazumder on Pexels.com

How will you make your own luck today?