Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Free Writing (by Guest Blogger Sharon C. Williams)

Jasper, one of Sharon's Muses.
MuseInks welcomes Sharon C. Williams (@NewEngland_Muse)! Sharon is a sports fan, chemistry buff, novice crocheter, and animal-lover. [Just ask her about her birds!] She blogs at The Musings of a New Englander

Sharon & I exchanged a series of emails about her decision to publish some of her stuff for free -- a decision I supported, but which many writers frown upon. I asked if she'd share her reasons for "giving it away." She very graciously agreed. Thanks, Sharon!

I have been seriously writing since the Fall of 2009. It had not occurred to me to write as a  career. After all, that was for people who were serious, who had talent and skill. That was surely not me.  What did I know about writing?   

Then a friend told me that my husband had told her he felt I wrote rather well (a fact he had not shared with me). This thought rattled in my brain for a while. A few months later a story started forming in my mind. I kept telling myself I was going to put down, but just never did -- until the Fall of 2009 when I had two surgeries, unrelated to each other, within 3 weeks of each other. 

Since I had some newfound time on my hands, I started to write.  Once I started, it seemed the words would not stop flowing.  The more I wrote, the more confidence I felt in what I was putting down on paper.

Joining a writer's group in town motivated me to write more on the things I came across.  I varied from children's book, memoirs, personal essay, mystery and drama. I did not define myself to just one set box.  What happened soon was notebooks filled with short stories that ranged as wide as a rainbow with its colors.   

Then came my subscription to Writer's Digest. That magazine changed my life, for in one of its articles was an author who talked about social media and how to use it to further one's writings.  She  left her Twitter name and that was my road to an amazing new world. A world where authors, editors, publishers, printing houses met, chat, supported and helped each other in the facets of writing.  I was blown over. 

I was not an unknown writer to them. I was someone who reminded them of where they once were (or where they were right now).  It compelled me to write more than ever.   

But with writing comes editing -- something that I am not good at.   

The great part of social media is the people you meet. If they don't know the answer, they know someone who just might. 

At that point I had written 3 books which required editing of some nature. I had written the second part of my children's book as well as a collection of short stories.  This was all well and good, but not when they needed some editing.

During the early part of last year, I contacted a publisher to ask about his pricing for editorial services. Even when I knew I could not afford it, we stayed in touch. 

A few months ago, he approached me requesting the use of some of my work. He was putting together an ebook of short stories. He would pay for the art cover, the editing and all of that. The book would be offered for free to download as a promotional gig, so there would be no money made on this for him or for me. I would maintain the copyrights to my stories; he would just get to use them this one time. In return for my involvement, the book would include my bio, mentions of my WIPs (works in progress), and ways to contact me.

I was ecstatic, to say the least, until a person told me that if I was not getting paid then it was not worth my participation.  I was miffed at first, for I could not understand how anyone could view this as anything but good. I tended to think a different way:

Download the free ebook.
I am a new writer trying to get her books out. I have three manuscripts. One is edited. The others are not. I have two short stories that will be published in a book my local library has received a grant to publish. So, soon I will have 4 short stories in print. To say I am giddy is truly an understatement. 

This all happened the week of Thanksgiving and still, when I think about it, I just smile from ear to ear.  I refuse to let the naysayer bring me down. I am proud of myself. It just shows that even if you are unknown it does not mean your work won't find an audience. It is all how you view it.

Ebooks are opening a whole new venue for artists across the board  Making our mark is not easy when we are new and exposure, exposure, and exposure is what is needed. So I say poo poo at that person who thinks it is not worth it for me to allow my stories to be put into print. I refuse to let the negativity of that remark stop me. I have to start somewhere. I view this opportunity from the publisher as my first step. 

At least now, when I do my query letters, I can now say I am published here and there.  Furthermore, there will be a few publishers who will be able to see my stories learn about my next project. Maybe they will see something they are interested in or maybe they will know someone that might be interested in my works. 

Where I stand, this is win, win, and a win.

What do you think? Should a writer EVER allow his or her work to be published without payment? How valuable is exposure? What has your experience been? Chime in below and let me know.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Surprising Words that Strengthen Dimming Dreams

We writers are a resilient bunch. We have to be. In what other profession do people willingly bare their souls knowing they will meet with rejection? Acting, perhaps. (Politics, too, if politicians had souls.)

In any given writers forum on any given day, you'll see writers bolstering one another up saying things like "Everyone gets rejected. My novel [insert shameless self-promo plug here] was rejected from 935 agents and publishers before it got into print. Hang in there!"

You almost never hear doctors in medical forums counsel, "Everyone dies. As a [insert medical specialty practice here], I lost 935 patients before I successfully saved a life. Chin up!"

A writer's life is akin to ducklings in the wind. The only way to survive is to roll with the buffets, get up, and waddle on.

Writing is not for the faint of heart. Writing as a bankable career is on a par with Professional Lottery Ticket Purchaser. All of your eggs are in the creative basket -- a notoriously unreliable transport device.

Every so often, this writer scratches the silver flake from yet another losing card and contemplates the possibility of getting a Real Job. You know: Benefits. Paid vacations. Regular paychecks. Dreams need not apply.
"You are not a winner..."

This train of thought usually boards when the Muse is A.) recently rejected, B.) stressed, or C.) digging through laundry for loose change 'cause the Hyundai doesn't run on dreams.
Why bother with writing? the exhausted Muse snarks. It's a safe bet that no one even reads your stuff. To make things worse, you haven't adhered to the first law of commercial writing -- which is pick a genre and stick with it. You're all over the map: non-fiction, fiction, historical, fantasy, kid's, adults... Who the heck are you writing for?

"Me," I'd answer. If I talked to myself. Which I don't. Usually.

Suffice to say that as 2011 wound to an end, I was seriously considering the job thing. I told my Writing Practicum about it -- eliciting moues of thinly veiled dismay. Oh, they understood the whole "I have to put food on the table" argument. But I got the distinct impression that I'd disappoint them if I became gainfully employed; as if by hanging up my dreams, I'd somehow pull the plug on theirs as well.

I'm not saying that one can't work a Real Job and still write. I am saying, however, that I know me. If I were working 40+ hours a week for someone else, away from home, I would fill up my time at home with things like chores, quality time with the animals, parenting, spending time with WunderGuy ("wifing?"), and sleeping. My productivity would most likely plummet.

As I wrestled with what to do, having lengthy talks with God about The Meaning of Life and harangued incessantly by the Snarky Muse, I wrote a series of blog posts that had everything to do with gratitude and nothing to do with writing. (If you're curious, "On the First Day of Christmas" started it all.)

The holidays exploded around me. My parents came up to visit for a few weeks. School vacation hit. WunderGuy finished his 5-week course of daily brain radiation. Christmas loomed. I caught up on all my client work, then went offline for a few days.

When I (finally) checked my email, I discovered the writer's equivalent of a winning lottery ticket awaiting me in my Inbox. No, it wasn't an acceptance.
It was something far better: appreciation.

A friend whom I haven't spoken with for several weeks wrote and told me how my recent series had touched her and her children. I learned that my words elicited both tears and laughter. I discovered that they had been shared with others.

She told me of her family's Christmas tradition: on Christmas Eve, they all read the Christmas story aloud from Luke. Afterward, each member of the family says what they are thankful for and shares their hopes and dreams for the upcoming year. "This year," my friend informed me, "I started with reading some of your 12 Days. Sometimes there wasn't a dry eye!"

I was humbled and honored to hear that the entire family had shared memories of me (years ago, I taught their homeschooled children). Though I wasn't there in person, I was blessed to be a part of their Christmas.

Nothing muzzles the Snarky Muse like an entire paragraph in which someone itemizes over 10 specific things you've written that they appreciate. And nothing makes you certain you're doing what you were created for like having someone take the time to thank you for the "many ways your writing helps and affects me."


We writers are a resilient bunch, 'tis true. But we're not machines. Google "why I quit writing" for a snootful of eminently depressing articles from those who gave up on their dreams. I wonder whether any of those posts would have been written had just one person taken the time to write and voice appreciation for another's words.

Our words can have a profound effect on those around us. As writers, we'd like to think that the words most effective are our own. But sometimes what keeps those words coming is a word or two from others that tells us we haven't yet said it all.

If you are considering telling your dreams of making it as a writer or an artist to take a hike, reconsider. You have no idea whose life your art is touching. You might literally be a bright spot in someone else's day. You might move them, inspire them, or cause them to think in a way no one else does. Imagine receiving a letter from your most ardent supporter. Think what that could do to re-energize your dimming dreams...

Now examine the flip side of that coin. When was the last time you wrote words of encouragement to let another artist know how much his or her work affected you? What's stopping you? You never know -- you might be the voice from the Great Unknown that gives another the resolve to keep on keeping on.