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Archive for the ‘The Writing Life’ Category

Juggling Personal and Professional Lives – Never Drop the Ball

20 October 2014 | No Comments » | Nathan Barra

A year has passed since I wrote my post on how we spend our time being a value statement, but I still find that my time is my most precious resource. By the necessity of my choices, I have become very skilled a juggling large workloads. Between extraordinarily long professional workweeks, maintaining my personal relationships, and the every day effluvia of keeping food on my table and a roof over my head, I somehow find the time to regularly blog and write fiction. It is a juggling act that I suspect that many aspiring writers will empathize with.

However, some of those balls, those commitments, have come disturbingly close to hitting the ground recently. I was able to recover, but as I grow older, the number and weight of my obligations grows ever larger. I fear that one day I will accidentally and irrecoverably sacrifice something important to me to feed my ambitions.

I have been pondering this possibility a great deal recently, as both my personal and professional lives gain momentum. For me, personal and professional progress is both exhilarating and terrifying. You see, once you start getting what you want, you have something to loose. As we chase accomplishment, we often put on blinders to what else is important in our lives. As an example, I was fortunate enough to be invited to dinner with an extremely successful author in her field at a convention I recently attended. During the meal, one of the diners asked the author what her greatest professional regret was. I can still remember the broken sound of her voice as she told our group that she was afraid that her daughter would never forgive her for the years she spent locked in her office.

Despite the trepidation that such examples inspire, I am unwilling to give up my writing and my dreams of professional authorship. After all, in biological terms, the fear response serves to both identify potential hazards and prepare us to face them. If I want to accomplish my personal and professional goals, I must use my fear, not be ruled by it. My unease reminds me that I have things that I value outside of my accomplishments, and in so doing, allows me to keep my other priorities in focus. I must choose what I sacrifice, not let circumstances decide for me. As an example, for the past couple of years, I have rarely played video games or watched television. By cutting out these activities, I have made more room in my schedule for writing. I have talked to many authors who have done the same thing. Compared to the rest of my life, that particular sacrifice was well worth the cost.

Throughout my life, I have found that accomplishment is almost always paired with sacrifice. It is up to me live deliberately and choose how I spend my time wisely so that I may both achieve my goals and retain what is important to me. To live is to risk pain. To fear is to be aware of that risk and to manage it appropriately.

Of Lightning and Umbrellas

20 October 2014 | No Comments » | Quincy Allen

Imagine that fool on the hill dreamed up by the Beatles. Now, imagine him sitting up there in the rain, with storm clouds rolling over, thunder pressing down, and the ominous flash of lightning a strobe in the black tumult above.

He’s tired and alone, the rest of the world pointing fingers laughing at what they believe are hopeless dreams. Now imagine him atop that hill, in the rain and lightning, surrounded by a forest of steel-shafted umbrellas stuck in the ground and as many as he can hold clutched tightly in each hand.

He plants another umbrella and stares at the sky. And another. And another… hoping that lightning will strike.


That is what it’s like to be a writer, to be that hopeful soul chasing his or her dream regardless of the scorn, the derision, the laughter… and the torrent of rain that comes in the form of rejection after rejection.

And those umbrellas?

Each one is a tale—a short story or novel crafted in solitude—raised from the limitless depths of imagination in hopes that more than our loved ones will find some sort of connection within the words. It’s the very definition of madness. Truly. Doing the same thing over and over in hopes that there will eventually be a different result.

It was Lord Byron who wrote, “If I Don’t Write to Empty My Mind I Go Mad.” He understood. Most writers understand. Those who aren’t possessed with the compulsion to pour out our words couldn’t possibly comprehend what it’s like to have an army of characters, a galaxy of worlds, all crammed together inside one’s skull. And yet, the ones who can’t write are often the ones who, every once in a while, crave the creative fruits of those who can. And those of us who can, love it.

Perhaps part of it is ego. Every writer wants his or her writing to be savored and then craved, to have an audience that hangs on the next word, the next story, desperate for more. Writers hunger for such adulation, and will endure all manner of trial and travail to find it. But there is more to it than just ego. We write even when we’re certain no one will ever read a story. We write because that’s what is inside us. And in some respects, the accolades from being read, particularly oft-read, are a happy circumstance, an accidental result of our efforts.

I suppose there’s a contradiction there… that man on the hill with all his umbrellas… he would place them in the thunderstorm regardless of whether he got struck by lightning or not. And he would do it again the next day… and the next.

We are writers.

We understand.



The Literary Marriage – Agent and Author

17 October 2014 | 1 Comment » | fictorians

A guest post by Travis Heermann.

That most hallowed and sought after milestone for authors pursuing the traditional publishing route—landing a literary agent—is not always the golden ticket we think it’s going to be.

I’ve had two literary agents, one of which was a soul-crushing scam and a complete debacle that derailed my career for several years. The second one was real, and it is the second one I will discuss here.

Any professional, agented author will tell you that the relationship between author and agent is like a romantic relationship. The author woos the agent with tantalizing words. The agent falls in love with the author’s book. The agent thinks this past the initial flush of excitement to whether the book is marketable, to who will buy it. And then, the agent decides whether to offer representation.

That email from the agent saying she wants to represent your baby—er, your novel—is one of those thrilling moments that fledgling authors yearn for, that penultimate moment of validation, second only to being offered a contract by the publishing house of one’s dreams. An industry professional, someone with contacts, someone who can make writers into stars, has taken notice and found your baby worthy.

So then, if all goes well, the agent will sell your novel, you’ll have a grand honeymoon, and it will make money for you both. And meanwhile you’re writing more novels for the agent to sell, etc., etc.

But the long haul of a relationship lasts way beyond the honeymoon.

Like romantic relationships, the agent/author relationship has infinite shades of forms, from distant business-only correspondence to bring-the-kids-over-for-Sunday-dinner relationships. It all depends on the people, their preferences, their capabilities.

And like romantic relationships, agent/author relationships often do not last. They fail for a variety of reasons, often because one feels the other is not fulfilling some need. Authors can have a lot of needs—artistic validation, editorial input, career promotion, sage advice from someone who’s supposed to know the business, and let’s not forget actually marketing the author’s work to editors who might be interested in buying it. Agents have needs, too—professional behavior from their clients, turning in quality manuscripts on time, maintaining that spark that made them fall in love with that first book.

And like failing romantic relationships, somebody has to decide when it’s over. Someone (the author) has to take a hard, objective look and consider whether those needs are being met. What happens then when the answer is No? It’s one of the scariest, agonizing, most heart-wrenching moments writers face, asking the question: “Should I stay or should I go?” For me, it was almost like dissolving a marriage.

I had a high-powered literary agent for several years, one of the big, established, reputable ones. My elation when he agreed to represent me launched me into the stratosphere. But he wasn’t able to place my novel as highly as he hoped. After three years of effort, he landed a couple of minor contracts, one for foreign translation, for which I am still grateful, but after that it became apparent that the honeymoon was over. And my agony when I finally came to the realization that he was no longer doing my career any good, when the accumulation of questionable advice and red flags built to such a volume I could no longer ignore it, when I realized it was time to move on, sent me hard into the earth like a meteor plowing into a cornfield. I had invested so many hopes and dreams in this relationship. The literary agent was supposed to usher me into the gilded ballrooms of literary success, but I was still stuck in stables. Without an agent, how could I even submit manuscripts to Big Publishing? I would be back to Square One.

Anyone who’s been through the dissolution of a long-term romantic relationship will recognize familiar thought patterns. Questions of self-worth (something writers already struggle with daily). “Will anyone else ever want me again?” Despair at how much emotional energy went crashing into the waste bin of life experiences. Grief at the loss of something once valuable. Memory of how much effort had been required to find an agent in the first place, so how on earth would I find another one?

And if one has kids (books) together, one had better make sure to get along with one’s Ex. The agent is still party to any contracts you signed together.

There’s no happy ending here, because the story is ongoing. I’m a writer pursuing a career, grinding through the trenches. I’m writing books and marketing them, without a literary agent. Would I engage a literary agent again? If the circumstances were right, certainly, but I’m not actively pursuing that route. I’m like the guy who’s given up on dating until the right woman comes along. Sometimes she does, sometimes she doesn’t.

The good news is that, like recovering from a failed relationship, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, apply bandages, drink the obligatory allotment of whiskey and guilt, and move on, wiser from the experience.

Guest Writer Bio:
HeermannPhotoFreelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, roustabout, Travis Heermann is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of the Ronin TrilogyThe Wild Boysand Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Weird Tales, Historical Lovecraft, and Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and the MMORPG, EVE Online. He enjoys cycling, martial arts, torturing young minds with otherworldly ideas, and zombies. He has three long-cherished dreams: a produced screenplay, a NYT best-seller, and a seat in the World Series of Poker.For interviews about the Writing Life, check out his Author Interview Series at the Ronin Writer:

The Lesson Is: Never Try.

16 October 2014 | No Comments » | Jace Sanders

Simpsons TryI showed up to the writing group early, nervous and anxious and excited for the group to critique my work. I couldn’t wait for the other aspiring writers to “discover” my talent. I had felt driven to write for some time but hadn’t ever shared my craft. I was certain that I was the next big thing. If only people would read my stuff they would fall in love with it and me and I’d be golden.

I chuckle now at the memory. I had contacted a writing professor who referred me to a real-life published author (whose name somehow escapes me). She invited me to join an intimate writing group at a small monthly fee.

(At the time I didn’t know about free writing groups and networks and Superstars taught by real superstar published authors like Kevin freaking Anderson and James freaking Owen and many others).

I had presented the first three chapters of my work in progress, certain that they’d be begging for more. The group took the work home and returned with their critiques in hand. What came from the session was not what I expected.

Putting yourself out there for others to see can be scary especially if you care a lot about what others think. Unfortunately there are those that follow Homer Simpson’s advice to never try.

I have a friend that used to write. She’s got an incredible imagination and has developed some great plots. When more than one editor told her that her prose lacked structure and her characters needed deeper development she abandoned her efforts to get published.

I almost threw in the towel too.

As my writing group went around, one by one, dissecting my craft, I wanted to run away and hide. I regretted ever trying. It would have been far easier to remain a closet writer, telling myself that if only I were discovered, I’d be golden. Hiding behind mediocrity would have been much more comfortable than discovering that my perceptions were so very off base.

Good news is, I didn’t quit. As difficult as it was to look in the mirror, my writing lacked skill. I focused on the group’s advice and practiced. With time I started to see what they saw.

Later in my writing development I joined the Absolute Write Water Cooler. I couldn’t wait to be allowed to submit my writing for critique. How it works is, you post a part of your craft for the other members to see and critique, then you wait for the comments.

At first, I assumed that every member had mad writing skills and would try to be helpful. After receiving conflicting advice and disagreeing criticisms I grew confused and my writing suffered because of it. Eventually I stopped trying to please everyone online and instead relied more on folks that I knew to be great writers.

In summary, here is what I’ve learned about feedback, critiques, and criticisms:


  1. Have no fear; have no regrets.
  2. Feedback is a gift.
  3. Feedback can have a different value depending on who is giving it. If you take it in and it doesn’t jive, it’s okay to dismiss it. Take what’s helpful and leave the rest.
  4. If it’s right, do it. Practice.
  5. Don’t quit. I believe that if I keep at it, success is inevitable.


  1. Only critique when invited to do so.
  2. Be kind, helpful, and honest.
  3. Be clear and specific. Examples can help.
  4. Encourage, support, and cheer because if they keep at it, success is inevitable.




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