A writer’s life didn’t use to focus on marketing or building a platform but on writing well and finding the most likely editors.
Review by Glynn Young
Mary Harwell Sayler Interview with Alok Mishra on poetry, writing and literature. The Christian poet shares her thoughts with Ashvamegh’s Editor-in-Chief.
Have you ever gone on a binge of writing poems then suddenly nothing? That ebb and flow of creativity mimics nature with its change of seasons or fluctuations of energy throughout the day in irregular intervals of work, play, and rest.
Like nature, too much work with too little rest or play throws off the flow. It’s like getting caught up in a flood of inventiveness, then having a long, dry spell. For a while, poetic thoughts stem from inspiration, flower with a sense of play, then wither into the work and worries of everyday life.
If that’s happened to you, I hope it helps to recognize this as part of a poet’s “norm.” Also, these dry times aren’t as unproductive as they might seem. They’re probably just parched and in need of rehydration.
For example, when poems don’t come to you as readily as you’d like, your creative self might need to find more options as you:
• Read poetry by other poets such as those reviewed in numerous posts on this site.
• Study and experiment with a variety of poetry forms and techniques as discussed in my e-book.
• Give your previously written poems additional thought and readings before you edit or revise.
• Practice your skills of observation by noting whatever your senses of touch, smell, taste, sight, and sound provide.
For instance, I’m writing this in the middle of an insomniacal night as dripping rain produces different sounds and rhythms, depending on the pitch of the roof and the density of the plants catching the life-giving water. I can attune my sense of hearing to each of those unique sounds or to the musicality they provide when heard together.
If I choose the former, I can describe the finger-drumming of the raindrops and their soft plunking sounds and varied tempo. Or, I can listen to the overall sound effect and find myself soothed, lulled, and, thankfully, ready to rest again.
The most popular book on job-hunting ever, What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles, began because of clerical cutbacks in his church! When he and other pastors lost their pulpits and church staff lost their jobs, Dick Bolles toured the country collecting information to find out what made a job search most effective.
As people talked about bailing out of their jobs, he playfully asked “What color is your parachute?” giving birth to the title of the first edition, published in 1972 by Ten Speed Press. To keep up to speed since then, Rev. Bolles has updated the book every year and revised according to the changing times, technology, and job-hunting techniques.
Years ago, for example, personnel offices, personal connections, and/or job placement agencies helped most people to get a job. Today, “It’s a Whole New World for Job-Hunters” as the title of the first chapter says and explains before closing on this note:
“He or she who gets hired is not necessarily the one who can do that job best, but the one who knows the most about how to get hired.”
That might not be exactly as we expect! Yes, many of us know about social sites, such as LinkedIn, that can help us to make professional connections, but have you recently Googled yourself and considered what you can find from an employer’s perspective? You will be Googled! And, the fact is, almost no one in charge of hiring will be eager to see foul language, sexist remarks, lewd photos, or radical views aired on the Internet!
Potential employers, however, will be glad to find job candidates who show, not only evidence of skills but a well-rounded résumé, including special achievements, volunteer work, community service, recommendations, awards, and, especially, clear evidence of responsibility, reliability, and readiness to do the job for which you’re applying.
We hear a lot about the decline of the current job market, but a better approach, according to Dr. Bolles, is to ask what, where, and how. As he goes on to suggest, ask:
WHAT are your skills that you most love to use?
WHERE would you most love to use these skills?
And finally, HOW do you go about finding such places?
For example, you might:
“Go after new small organizations with twenty or fewer employees, at first, since they create two-thirds of all new jobs.”
“…once you’ve identified a place that interests you, you really need to find out who has the power to hire you there for the position you want…”
“Basically approach them not as a ‘job-beggar’ but humbly as a resource person, able to produce better work for that organization….”
To assess how resourceful you are can be tricky as some have a tendency to over-estimate their abilities while others under-cut themselves to the core! To be fair to yourself, the book suggests doing a worksheet, listing what you know from previous jobs and from areas outside of work.
Also in that chapter on “You Need to Understand More Fully Who You Are,” a page provides a checklist of adjectives to identify your strongest traits, from “Accurate” and “Adaptable” to “Versatile” and “Vigorous.”
In a somewhat surprising turn, another chapter says “You Get to Choose Where You Work,” after you realize “You Need to Learn As Much As You Can About a Place Before Formally Approaching Them.”
You might be wondering, though, why we’re discussing this In a Christian Writer’s Life blog.
For one thing, I requested a review copy of What Color Is Your Parachute?, which Blogging For Books kindly sent in return for an honest review on my blog, so I’m committed to discussing this somewhere. Although I have several blogs, I chose this one because writers often need a job to support their writing habit. At least, that’s what occurred to me initially, but as I read the book, I realized that many of the suggestions can be translated into approaching traditional publishing companies or church denominational headquarters about writing assignments and/ or freelance work.
And then I got to “The Blue Pages.”
At the back of the book, several appendixes have been printed, yes, on blue paper, setting them apart for a quick find. For example, Appendix A discusses “Finding Your Mission in Life,” which totally makes sense if you remember Rev. Bolles began his job search when his pastorate ended. Therefore, he knoweth of what he speaks when he says that figuring out your Mission in life “is a learning process that has steps to it, much like the process by which we all learned to eat.”
In the first step, we “seek to stand hour by hour in the conscious presence of God, the One from whom your Mission is derived.”
Second, we do what we can to make the world better by “following the leading and guidance of God’s Spirit within you and around you.”
And third, it gets personal. It gets unique. It gets you:
a) to exercise the Talent that you particularly came to Earth to use – your greatest gift, which you most delight to use,
b) in the place(s) or setting(s) that God has caused to appeal to you the most,
c) and for those purposes that God most needs to have done in the world.
©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer and poet-author of 27 traditionally published books in all genres is on a mission to help other Christian Poets & Writers through blogs, writing resources, and e-books such as the Christian Writer’ Guide.
What Color Is Your Parachute? 2015: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers, paperback
I received this book for review from Blogging For Books.
The enticing title, Dancing on the Head of a Pen: The Practice of a Writing Life by Robert Benson, drew me to request a review copy from Blogging for Books – a site that provides review copies of a variety of books in exchange for an honest assessment. Fortunately, that’s what I aim to provide, whether I’m discussing a new edition of the Bible or reviewing a traditionally published poetry book or a book about the writing life in general, as happens here.
Published by Waterbrook Press, this particular book also appealed to me because the author knows how to write! That might seem to be an obvious prerequisite, but I’ve discovered a new world of newbie writers who blog about writing and sometimes pass along assumptions, rather than reliable information. Conversely, Robert Benson has written many books and knows the in’s and out’s of writing and publishing. So, believe him when he says: “Most of the time, writing a book more closely resembles digging a ditch than participating in some transcendent creative experience.”
How we go about “digging” depends on what we dig. As Benson says, “Any of us – writer, designer, potter, painter, sculptor, architect, and on and on – wisely studies the habits practiced by the artists who inspire us in the first place. Those habits can guide us as we try to learn to do the work ourselves.”
For each of us, the work and surrounding habits will differ, not only from one another but also our own earlier selves as we experiment, pick up ideas, and find workable ways to write and continually improve our work. Most of us, though, will do well to heed Benson’s call to be quiet.
As he explains, “Solitude is likely necessary to be in touch with the things deep inside you. Silence may be required for you to hear what those things are saying to you. Do not be afraid to be quiet. Never be afraid to be alone./ Wandering around in wide-open spaces, especially spaces offered by a blank page, may be the key to making some art of those things found in the silence and the solitude.”
By now, you may be wondering if this book provides a devotional guide or tips on writing or suggestions for establishing your own routine or more than the sum of those parts, and to all, the answer is: Yes!
Once we’ve heard ourselves think enough to know what we’re to write next, we have to decide what type of writer we want to be. Like Benson, “I want to write. I may even need to write. But I want to be read as well.”
Knowing this about ourselves helps us to know whether we want to write for publication. If so, we need to have some type of reader in mind and some idea of whether anyone else might be interested in our chosen topic.
The author says, “When I begin to write a book, I ask myself some questions. Who do I think might read the writing I am about to do? Who do I expect to be interested in the stories I am trying to tell? Who do I hope will discover and enjoy and be moved by them?” And always, “Write for those you love.”
As Benson also says, “A writer has three jobs. Write the work. Make the work as good as possible. Find the work a home and a crowd of folks to love it.”
More than this, however, Robert Benson tells us, “I spend most of my time, metaphorically speaking, as a kind of explorer, out wandering around in the philosophical dark, lost in the spiritual words, searching for a deep something I often cannot even name, following trails leading to dead ends and darkness as often as not.” But then, “The spiritual life is not so much about answers as it is about better questions. Writing can be the same.”
Dancing on the Head of a Pen, hardcover
A Bible reading for this first week of Lent takes us into the wilderness where Jesus had to decide whether to turn stones into bread. He certainly had the power to do so and would have settled an empty stomach right away, but the temptation for the immediate and expedient had no long-term appeal. Why? Jesus knew where He came from and knew where He was going, so hunger pangs, though uncomfortable, did not throw Him off course or trip Him up.
If we trip over stones, maybe we can write about overcoming obstacles.
If we trip over stones, maybe we can write about making a barbecue pit.
If we even see a stone (in Florida they’re rare!), maybe we can find the kind of flat, round, pita-bread-shaped stones that our readers can use to skip-toss across a pond.
Stones of all shapes and sizes can be great tools. Many have a hefty purpose, but if people need bread, they need stones mainly to grind the corn or wheat.
Jesus knew that stones can be a solid foundation for building, but not for making meals. He fed hundreds of hungry people, for example, by turning fish and bread into more fish, more bread.
If you fish around your Idea File or main areas of interest, what fish do you have to share with other people?
If you have even a little bit of anointing oil or oil used for healing or oil of gladness or oil to stop a squeaking door, might it be enough to lubricate a thought, a worry, a spiritually dry spot your readers have?
What grains of truth can you write about to feed someone who’s hungry?
What natural God-given ingredients do you have to make hearty loaves of bread or books or poems or stories?
Thank God, Lent gives us time to give who we are and what we have and where we’re going some time and thought and prayer. No hurry, but just so you’ll know: Our readers may be famished for something wholesome, something nourishing, something they can really sink their teeth into, preferably without breaking their incisors on a stone.
(c) 2011, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved.
Previously In a Writer’s Life, we talked about the option of writing for Internet websites, and some of you have since asked for an update. Is it working for me? Not well. Can it work for you? Possibly.
According to other Internet writers, getting Subscribers, Followers, and Hits usually works best when you hit the news. Testing this premise, I discovered, yes, more traffic comes to a webpage tagged with key words of interest such as those found via Google Trends. This past week or so, for example, I focused on what the Bible has to say about Egypt because I wanted to know more and, therefore, suspected other Bible lovers would be interested too. Apparently they were since my devotional got a few more visitors than usual – not many, mind you, but a few.
A large factor, however, in finding regular Followers has to do with the regular subject about which you regularly write. For example, Internet writers who focus on timely aspects of entertainment, politics, or weather will, most likely, have more Subscribers than those of us who talk about such timeless matters as faith, religion, child care, education, poetry, art, and literature unless, of course, someone acts despicably in one of those areas. In such cases, though, shock value often devalues the norm, making it seem as though every priest is suspect, every foster mother an ogre, and every unusual view in a book only a new form of fuel for the burn pile.
So, no, writing about writing for the Internet has not brought tons of hits. Neither has writing Bible-based devotionals. In fact, if I had not been trained to think it tacky to talk about money, I might tell you that dozens and dozens of website postings brought about forty dollars. That would be more, of course, if I had posted this writing frenzy on sites that pay, say, $10 per article, but then that would be it – the final payment, whereas pay-per-view can bring plenty of hits or plenty of nothing.
As a little aside to help you with your own decision, you may want to know that a high level of productivity often attracts other writers from around the world who then request (sometimes demand!) free critiques of their writings, which, to them, means your “taking a quick look” at a 512-page manuscript. In such instances, quickness comes in saying no, but even that takes some of the time you probably do not have.
If you need to be compensated right away for your work, you might be discouraged by this conversation. If, however, money is not a factor, then consider yourself a Volunteer Writer on subjects you enjoy, and you will have an immediate reward. Also, if you need publishing credits, Internet writing will give you an immediate market that conceivably stretches toward infinity.
Other factors may pull you one way or the other, too, but for many of us, keeping on with this work, work, work may make little sense. An exception can come in establishing a far-reaching goal that you work toward with such tactics as writing a bestseller or, more likely, social networking, commenting on relevant blogs with relevant remarks, and backlinking.
For the latter, thread hotlinks of each URL from one site you write or article you post to another and another and another until you eventually weave your own private Internet system, spinning your words, views, strongly anchored values and beliefs way out there into cyberspace. Do not be surprised, however, to find that, when you stop writing for a company and are honest enough to tell them so, they might deactivate your hotlinks but keep all of your work, work, work.
(c) 2011, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved.