Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Voice of Experience

At the Golden Kite luncheon at the 40th Annual SCBWI summer conference earlier this month, I sat next to Susan Hull, who told me she has retired in order to work on illustrating and writing. I asked her to contribute advice, and here it is! 

After 35 years of running my own art studio, I am retired! My time is my own.

Not. Time must be fiercely protected or it trickles away. I find it necessary to command myself to utter the magic words, “Thank you for thinking of me. No, I cannot do it.”

Keeping focused is the greater issue because it requires huge self-discipline.

I settle down to work, when I see I don’t have a piece of information that is in my cell phone. I go to fetch my phone, pass the fish tank, and realize it is in need of cleaning. I go to the garage to get a fresh bottle of water and decide to put in a load of wash. I return to my computer and realize that I neglected to pick up my phone with the information I need. I retrace my steps, retrieve the phone, go back to the garage, bring the water back for the fish tank, transfer the wash to the dryer, and finally return to the computer.

I have learned a few methods for completing my creative tasks.
1.          As I lie in bed, I prioritize my projects. I choose one and promise myself I will do it as soon as I get up.
2.          I visualize how I am to accomplish the job, what tools/materials I will need and where I can work.
3.          I start early. As soon as I am through with my shower, I get to my first task and steadily work until the inevitable distractions begin. On the rare occasions when I finish that task without interruption, I immediately begin my next priority.
4.          I keep a mental list of everything I must do, when each is due, and how much aggravation I will feel if I miss the deadline. At the end of the day, I line up my workspace for the most pressing project.
5.          I allow empty slots of time in the middle of the day for the unexpected fun things that life has to offer.
6.          I forgive myself if I don’t meet my daily goal.
7.          I try to accept only projects I will enjoy.

And then, I enjoy them.

I love retirement!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Book Review: Quit Your Day Job!

Quit Your Day Job! How to Sleep Late, Do What You Enjoy, and Make a Ton of Money as a Writer! Jim Denney, Quill Driver Books, 2004. ISBN: 1-884956-04-1 $14.95
Part pep talk, part practical advice, part words of wisdom by a multitude of successful authors, Denney’s book is a good resource for any writer (or other creative person) considering ditching a nine-to-five job and going freelance.

Denney supplies many useful tips, especially when he gets down to specifics, as in his outline of a business plan, showing how to project where you want to be in one month, six months, one year, three years, and five years; or in his careful examination of the pitfalls hidden in standard contracts. He doesn’t neglect the non-business aspects of leaving the work environment, talking about the importance of family support, maintaining business contacts, being productive without outside pressure, dealing with self-doubt.

He sprinkles his text liberally with quotations from and anecdotes about successful authors, showing the universality of some principles as well as the variability among writing styles and habits.

Although he insists that in order to make it as a writer, you must have a powerful desire to write, he recognizes that writing in a vacuum is not enough for most of us. He rejects as “the worst piece of advice” given to would-be writers the dictum of Katahiri Roshi, quoted in Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, that a writer shouldn’t “pay too much attention to” getting published but should “[j]ust continue to write” (p. 5). Denney counters, “Even though much of what you write will never be published, publication should be the goal of everything you write. When you write with the intent to be published, you force yourself to think like an editor, an agent, a reader. . . . There is only one way you will ever be able to write for a living: You must write words that people will pay money to read” (pp. 5-6).

Chapters follow a progression, from “Taking the Leap” to “Soul Survival,” about sustaining your writing career. A glossary of terms commonly used in publishing is an added bonus. The URL Denney supplied for his personal web site has gone inactive, but he responded quickly to a query on Facebook and encouraged readers to find him there. Sections on publicity and promotion could use an updating to reflect the growing importance of electronic media and social networking.

Recommended for anyone considering leaving the security of a paycheck, and also for writers in general, whether otherwise employed or not.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Striking a Balance

This week we hear from the talented and prolific Elizabeth O. Dulemba.

I started working at fourteen, so a work ethic was never my problem. After receiving a BFA in Graphic Design, I worked as designer, Art Director, and always in-house illustrator in the corporate world for twelve years.

Then I met my husband and everything changed. My dream had always been to write and illustrate children’s books. As we joined our lives in a new city, he told me to “go for it.”

It was scary to quit my day job—I’d never done something that felt so irresponsible. And yet, it was amazingly freeing. No nine to five? WHAT!

I did worry I wouldn’t have the discipline to work on my own career every day, but that was short-lived as I quickly found I had the opposite problem - I couldn’t walk away from it. I went freelance for three years while I researched the industry and worked to break in. Then I got my first contract for The Prince's Diary and never looked back.

For those first eight years I was a complete workaholic. In my office (my cave), I worked 24/7, from early morning until late at night. After all, if I didn’t do it, it wasn’t going to happen, right? I got a lot done, illustrated several books, and built a career, but I also wore myself out. After a vacation that resembled a coma and health issues from sitting too much, I’ve had a wake-up call—I need balance.

Now, I try to make more time for me, for exercise, quiet time, and dinner with my husband. I try (not always successfully) to shut it off. But it’s hard when what you do is enmeshed so integrally in who you are. It’s who I’ve always been—this creative soul.

The hardest part about quitting my day job has been to keep time for simple things that have nothing to do with furthering a career—to learn how to PLAY. Who knew I’d have to relearn something so basic at my age? I’m *ahem* working on it...

Elizabeth O. Dulemba is an award-winning children's book author/illustrator of over a dozen books. She is Illustrator Coordinator for the Southern Breeze Region of SCBWI, on the board of the Georgia Center for the Book, and adjunct professor of illustration at the University of Georgia. She speaks regularly at conferences, schools, and events, and teaches "Creating Picture Books" and "Beginning Drawing" annually at the John C. Campbell Folk School. Her latest picture book is The 12 Days of Christmas in Georgia (Sterling). Visit her web site to learn more and download free coloring pages.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

From the 40th Annual SCBWI Conference

I’ve been at the 40th-anniversary SCBWI conference for a week, so this post will be brief and something like a series of tweets, all concerned with making a business out of your writing.
We all got chocolate books at the Golden Kite Luncheon

Take acting or story-telling lessons. You’ll be speaking in front of groups, so you need to get comfortable.

Take voice or singing lessons so you learn how not to strain your voice.

Our society has a false dichotomy between art and business. Take yourself seriously as a businessperson.

Learn to read contracts, even if you have an agent.

Horn Book and Publishers Weekly are open to freelance book reviewers.

If you want to write reviews, start small with a local paper, a church or synagogue newsletter, etc.

To maximize your web presence:
  • define your goals and understand your options
  • set your strategy and select which tasks will help you accomplish your goals
  • assemble your resources
  • execute the above, then periodically measure results and adjust accordingly
  • add technology only in stages as you get comfortable with it
Don't worry overmuch about social media.

Think of your relationship with your agent as a long-term commitment. It took her 2½ years to sell Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.

Each time you start a new book you have to figure it out for the first time. Judy Blume’s most recent book went through 23 drafts.

It’s practical to think how your strengths fit the market, but don’t chase trends.

Be analytical about your creative strengths.

It’s important to build your business team.

Treat your editor professionally: Don’t send messy drafts, and meet your deadlines.

Publishers determine marketing budgets at least a year ahead and rarely change them unless something wildly unexpected happens.

If social media isn’t in your comfort zone, don’t use it. Your discomfort will show.

Make a business plan and review it regularly.

Diversify your career: Write in a different genre or for a different age group so as not to compete with yourself.

They've posted a useful handout on social media resources on Harold's site.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I Was a Teacher . . .

This week's guest post is by Chris Cheng, whose self-written bio at the end of the post is altogether too modest.
I was a teacher; well, I should say I was employed as a teacher because as the saying goes—once a teacher always a teacher. I taught primary and infants (elementary) school students in the inner city and in far western New South Wales in Australia and also at Taronga Zoo in Sydney—every teacher wanted that job! My last teaching post was as a kindergarten teacher and that was an absolute thrill, watching right before your eyes the babies become little humans. Loved it. That was the daytime job. During these nights I started writing—lots of non-fiction books and articles (mostly about animals … a result of my zoo time). Back then the writing wasn’t a job. It was something to do for fun, a hobby. In fact I was amazed as each book came out that my hobby was earning me a titbit of money!
Then when I became frustrated with the teaching system (too many rules and regulations and the fun had gone out of real teaching) I left and worked as a book specialist and then at Purdue University creating interactive science-based CDROMS—again lots of fun. Once again my night times were taken up with writing—but writing wasn’t the job—it was a hobby!
Eventually, though, I decided that the writing thing was heaps of fun and my wife was also very supportive of me writing full time so my hobby became a job.
But what a job! Now I have the BEST job in the world and I “work” harder now than I have ever worked in my life.
And it IS the job and I treat it like a job:
  • I have an office filled with books and business materials.
  • I have a creative space (the dining room table) where I write and craft my work, that I am supposed to clear every night. I also use pencil and paper for my shorter works and when plotting and planning.
  • I have a planning wall (can’t fit a white board in so I use the old wardrobe door) .
  • I check in on my email etc. (the business stuff) three times a day only … otherwise I will be on it all day, and don’t usually answer the telephone while I am working.
  • I walk around my house every hour for a few minutes to get off this machine and exercise.
  • I have office hours and stick to them. I start work when I kick my wife off to school in the morning and do business till about 9 a.m. (being on the other side of the world I am answering overnight communications first) and then I start the creative side of work till early afternoon—that can be researching in the libraries, writing or editing a manuscript, or simply brainstorming. This of course is all interspersed with morning and afternoon teas and lunch (one has to drink and eat!). Later in the afternoon I will review some of my work and do more of the “business” stuff, like:
writing this interview for Tracy (it’s part of the business of being a writer);
working on SCBWI-related material,
catching up on my own blog posts about me the author or my blog promoting aussie kids books
With José Ramos-Horta, prime minister of Timor-Leste, at the Singapore Children's Literature Festival

organising international speaking engagements—I travel to about four international conferences a year.
  • But once my wife is home—the office is closed for business that day.
I have to be very particular about this routine otherwise this job could overtake everything I do.

I love this job. It is the BEST job in the world, and I have more fun now than I have ever had before—and this is from one who used to live 24/7 with non-human animals that included bats, kangaroos, wombats, possums and snakes, or hung (nearly literally) around with orangutans and monkeys, swam with seals, and walked with elephants and oh sooooo much more.

Christopher Cheng has been a teacher, zoo educator, a national bookseller, an education advisor at Purdue University, but is now a full-time children’s author of more than 30 fiction, non-fiction, and picture book titles. He was an ambassador for the Australian Government’s Literacy Week initiative and is Ambassador for 2012 The National Year of Reading. He is Co-Regional Advisor for the Australian and New Zealand chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, chair of the Crystal Kite awards, and a board member. His latest book (September 2011) is the picture book Sounds Spooky (Random House Australia). Christopher is represented by The McVeigh Agency. Visit his website and his blog!