Setting: Writing the Pictures

During all this self-isolation, I found I had a little extra time to indulge, so I took an on-line course in Screenwriting. Wow!

What I found was that I work really well in picture format. Rather, I think my writing was improved by “seeing” what I was writing. I mean… (sigh) words. good. pictures. better.

I’ve always been drawn to visual communication. Yes, I began this gig studying scientific illustration, which logically turned to biology… which translated to art… then rhetoric… then graphic design. Whew. I’m exhausted.

So , I’ve been writing long fiction for twenty-odd years and only just discovered a whole new world of visual communication through screenwriting. Crazy. I know. It has taught me, (and I knew the whole “Show. Don’t tell.” thing) but now, I have a new set of tools, or hooks, if you will, that now exist in my brain and that I turn to to create better… set-design. No. Art direction. No. Production Design. Yeah. That’s the one. I’m a production designer… of words.

So, the next time you’re stuck creating a scene, maybe think like a screenwriter. Paint the picture… in words.

Oh, on a side note, yes, I did finish the last WIP. I’m shopping it around before I foolishly launch it on my own. (Oye. This industry.) And I’m about half-way through the first draft of book three in the BYRD series. This one: BYRDS AND BEA. 😀 I love this main character. She’s been fun. I wish I had a best friend like her. Oh yeah. I guess I do!

Now, go write (or read) some words!

School is Closed for How Long?

Homeschooling meme

For those of you new to this blog, who happened to land here by way of a misstep or because someone said, “hey, there are some ideas for how to fill your day with the kids at home,” I am a novelist. I spend my days as a hermit on the regular, so take that, Corona Virus. Social Isolation is my jam! But a good number of years ago, I was also a homeschooling/unschooling parent. How’s that for anti-social? Boo yah! (I’m actually very social… if coffee is involved.) Don’t worry. This is not going to be a bleak post. It’s meant as a hopeful one, a reassuring one, an “I’m in your corner to help in anyway I can (except I will not babysit your kids. Not what this is about), but I’m here to offer emotional support and to share my own experience” kind of blog post.

Much like today’s state-wide mandatory school closings, homeschooling was not my first choice. A number of factors came in to play: systemic problems in the public school, my kids’ unique learning styles that fell outside the presets of public school, and inspiration from a handful of amazing teachers.

Our first day of homeschooling was probably much like yours. You’ve got all these great plans to not let your child fall behind in their academics. You’ve scheduled things like “math, science-hour, language arts, a phys.ed. substitute,” etc.

Let’s cut to the chase. Throw that silly playbook right out the window!!!

Please. You’ve got this amazing opportunity smacking you in the face and you want to duplicate what your kids’ have been doing all year? Your first and worst enemy will be yourself – self-doubt, perfectionism, a narrow view of what it is to be educated. Your second enemy will be everyone around you telling you what you should be doing.

So here’s a game plan: ask your kids what interests them. Here’s your chance to join them. Find out what interests your kids. Talk to them. They’re gonna be angsty teenagers soon enough and cut you out of their thoughts and feelings, so get stuck in there while you can.

Technology: Are your kids playing video games? What if you let go of that? How many hours will they play on day one? (The answer is about twelve.) Day two? (About six) Day three? They start to come up for air a little more frequently. How about you set aside an hour or two to play with them? You will be shocked and amazed, (maybe a teensy bit appalled) by what they’re playing. But you may begin to see the value in so many games – history based games, text-based games, imaginative games. Ever heard of Scratch? There is plenty of free software out there to help your child learn to design their own games. Minecraft is like a virtual Maker’s Lab.

P.E.: Feeling caged in? Ask them if they want to go on an adventure, then set a course for some place you’ve never walked before. You can hike while respecting social isolation. Can you let go a little and let your kids build an obstacle course in the yard? In the basement? In the living room? What about a physics challenge? It goes something like this: “I challenge you to move this slimey pumpkin left over from Halloween over to the compost bin… without touching it.” (Note: boys tend to get complex and inventive with this task, often with messier results. Girls get the job done as efficiently and cleanly as possible. See if you note the same thing.)

Life Skills: Prepare meals together. It’s a life skill! Let them do their own laundry. (Yes, you will have to pull the six year old’s head out of the top-loading washing machine, but it’s another great life lesson.) Having your kids at home should not mean more work for you. If ever there was a time to implement a schedule, it should be with regard to cleaning. Channel your inner drill sergeant and take advantage of all the free labor around you. “Make your bed. Your night to load the dishwasher/do the drying/milk the cow/run the vacuum.”

Science: Plant a tomato plant in a pot. Don’t have a pot? Make one. Use a 5-gallon bucket. Make a compost bin. Build a potato tower. Grow something funky in the fridge and treat it like a science experiment by keeping data. (Science and math.) Visit one of the crowd-sourcing sites that allow the general population to collect data on everything from frog song to bird sightings to weather reports.

Art: Is your kid a little Picasso? Make a sketchbook from brown paper bags and challenge them to fill a page per day. Build dioramas, draw up some plans for your garden/a secret room/dream club house (botany and art and math.)

Language Arts: Read. Please, for the love of CoVid-19, read to your kids. Encourage your kids to read. Read, read, read and the rest will follow. (Did I mention the importance of reading?) Don’t restrict or limit what they read. There is value in everything from the box of cereal on the kitchen table to the newspaper to fiction to graphic novels. (We called them Comic books in our day.)

Stay connected! One of the most common misconceptions about homeschooling/unschooling is the notion that all homeschooled kids live in isolation and have no contact with the outside world. (Insert angry buzzer sound.) Well, in your case, this will partially be true, because, yeah, Corona Virus. It’s a jerk. But today we have ways to stay connected with friends. Call them on the phone (old school), collect e-mail addresses and schedule a “block party” on Google Hangouts, so easy, even a parent can navigate it.

Now, if you’re not dealing with this mandated homeschool scenario, I return you to my usual lit’rary mischief. Go write some words!

Sofie – raised a pa’r-a-normal young adults and living a romantic comedy within a cozy mystery.

May the Fourth… Be With You Too—Or How STAR WARS is rife with writerly advice

(All quotes herein are those of Master Yoda.)

“NO! Try not. Do or do not. There is no ‘try’.”

Edgar Allan Poe

And that’s how you define a writer. A writer is not trying. A writer writes. If they “do not”, but talk about when they are going to write, then they’re not a writer. Yeah, sure, some of the words you write may be clunky, but you did it. The work of editing is not trying. It is also “doing”!

“Patience you must have, my young Padawan.”

The art of writing, and writing to completion, doesn’t happen in one sitting. New writers who ask other writers to read their work before it is complete are exhibiting that sort of impatience. New writers who expect instant success and are debilitated when it doesn’t happen right away, are exhibiting that sort of impatience. Writing is an investment in yourself that requires you to also be patient with yourself. Ohmmmm.

Dorothy Parker

“A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”

The writing community is not so big as you may think. Don’t burn your bridges just because someone didn’t love your work. Thank them for the feedback and move on. By the same token, defend yourself against trolls. Hit that delete button without responding. Look at an agent’s track record for the markers of professionalism. Look at reviews of that publisher/editor. Don’t waste your time and energy chasing those who are unworthy of you and your hard work and laude those, (even if they don’t necessarily like your work) who are professional in their response and their actions. The industry has a long memory… and so do writers.

“Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things.”

Mark Twain

If you’re in it for the accolades, reconsider why you’re doing this. Do your best. Finish the story. Start the next story. Stop dreaming about your interview on network television. And when the local book club invites you to come to their gathering of five people to discuss your books, accept graciously, (and take a hostess gift, you prima-dona.)

And finally,

“Always pass on what you have learned.”

Virginia Woolf

As in science, it does no one a service to keep the secrets of the universe to yourself. Even if you only know a little bit, share it with the writer who knows less and learn from those who know more. I look forward to hearing from you and learning what you have to share.

Murder and Taxes

Okay, okay, it’s “death and taxes”… unless you’re a writer, in which case, it’s murder and taxes. I know, a lot of people dread April 15th. Not me. I revel in it.

No, I’m not an accountant making bank (and getting very little sleep), AND as such, take anything I say with a grain of salt. This is not legal advice. The simple whatsit of it though is that it comes around every April 15th, and it’s the day I celebrate as I look over the evidence of a valid career choice.

Every year, I eavesdrop (sometimes I participate) on/in a conversation with other writers about writing deductions. We can argue some of those points all day long, but the fact of the matter is, like any other business, you can write-off a lot of expenses.

Don’t take my word or advice. Go here  https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f1040sc.pdf  to print out a Schedule C for all us simple filers, and that pretty much tells you what you can write off as deductions on your writing income. It’s filled with lots of fun little tidbits like:

  • Advertising – what? You didn’t see a return on all those FaceBook Ads? No problem. You can still count them as a deduction. FaceBook, BookBub, printing costs of promotional materials, give-aways, all those pens with “Sofie Couch” that went into one old lady’s handbag at your last book signing. Yes. Even that.
  • Commissions and fees. Do you stock your books in a Mom and Pop shop that charges you a percentage upon sale? Did you have to actually pay for booth space at the local church bazaar? Those are fees. If you use Square to run sales yourself, Square charges you a fee. That’s a write-off.
  • Contract labor. That would be the graphic designer who made your cover or formatted your self-published book. Did you pay a freelance editor? They’re not an employee. They are contractors. Write it off.
  • Insurance. Do you insure your stock? Do you have insurance on your LLC to protect yourself from whatever harm may befall you in that big bad writing world?
  • Legal and professional services. Do you have an agent who charges you a percentage of your earnings? Do you use a lawyer to read over your contracts? Those are legit write-offs. Don’t take my word for it. Look it up.
  • Office expenses. Hahaha! I love this one. Every trip to Staples gives me pleasure when I get to write at the top of my receipt, “Writing—Office Expense, 2019.
  • Rent or Lease. Do you rent dedicated space for your writing? Yep. Write it off! In my hometown, there are several cooperative writing spaces that charge a nominal monthly fee for use of an “office” during the day. Maybe that’s something to consider next year.
  • Repairs and Maintenance. Well, not this year, but hopefully, next year, I will have my dedicated space all ready to roll out the carpet, then you can bet I’m going to have some “repairs and maintenance.” (First, I need power and insulation, but that’s another blog post.)
  • Supplies. This is my other favorite one. Notebooks, pens, ink cartridges, etc., etc. Again, save your receipts!!!
  • Taxes and Licenses. Yes, you can write off “taxes” on your taxes. I have a business license from the county, a Limited Liability Corporation certificate, and sales tax.
  • Travel and Meals. This one is also fun, because, heck, you should travel for your writing just so you have an excuse to use it. Going to a writer’s conference? Deduct. Going to a Writer’s Chapter meeting more than an hour away? Kerching. You can write off ½ of the cost of a meal, hotel accommodations, and mileage!!!  I love the mileage thing. I probably never take as much on this as I’m allowed, but only because I want proof of my mileage backed up by a receipt, so every trip to Staples for office supplies, every trip to the Post Office, every trip to the printers for test copies of my book cover… Those, with the accompanying receipt, is a mileage deduction. The rate per mile can change each year, so look it up. You’ll be shocked how much you can write off in mileage.
  • Wages. I should be so luck as to have a personal assistant who posts for me to social media, answers my e-mail and sets up book events. But if I did, I would definitely deduct that person’s wages, as well as the expenses associated with having an employee – the payroll tax accounting, the employer taxes, the cost of driving back and forth to aforementioned payroll tax accountancy.

And THAT’s all before you deduct expenses for an at-home office. Now is the perfect time to start organizing a file for next April 15th.

So don’t dread tax day. Celebrate it! And celebrate your active pursuit of a career as a writer. And as always, save those receipts!

Now, go write some words!

My SuperPower!

My Superpower!

ACK!!! I found myself lying on the floor, my hand across my forehead, moaning in despair. This was the effect of the fourth or fifth interruption in probably thirty minutes when I was trying to write. But then, while I was laying there on the floor, I started thinking, day dreaming, as writers are apt to do from time-to-time, and I started pondering over this common occurrence—me lying on the floor after someone, usually my spouse or young adult child—interrupts my train of thought. When they do that, something occurs in my body that feels like… pain.

Let me backup a little and explain how I feel about writing. I went to school to study to be a scientific illustrator, but a series of unexpected twists led me to rhetoric. Yes, I said “rrrrrhetorrrric”. You have to roll the r’s for the greatest impact. (It also makes you sound a little bit Scottish, so that’s pretty cool too.)

And seriously, it was not a waste of educational funding. I know, I know. I was uncertain at first too. (My parents were absolutely uncertain), but then I heard the definition of rhetoric:

 the art of discovering the available means of persuasion with regard to any situation.

Let that rain over your body for a minute. “The art of discovering the available means of persuasion with regard to any situation.” I’ve put it in quotes, but I don’t’ recall who defined it in that particular form. Aristotle was the first to define it, but he used beautiful, grandiose Greek words.

I didn’t have to think about it long before I realized, hey. That’s a super power. If I could discover the means to persuade someone to my way of thinking, isn’t that the definition of superpower? Who needs mind control? What use do I have of super strength. My words could be my superpower, my available means of persuasion, my pen “…mightier than the sword.”

So that’s what I did. I went to college to develop my superpower.

Most of us already know about the power of words to inflict pain and emotional scars. But if I were to focus on that aspect of words, that would make me a super villain, so I chose to focus on the positive, transformative power of words. (Plus, we see enough evil villainy every time we turn on the television. It’s important to understand how the villains operate to alter perceptions, but I don’t have to be a part of that, thank you very much.)

Here are just a few examples of the power of words:

The strength of vocabulary to advance our understanding of the world. Have you heard the RadioLab talk about the color blue? We look up in the sky and we say, yep. That’s blue. But that was not always the case. People used to look up at the sky and say, “hmm. Looking awfully white today,” Or “that ocean there is pretty wine red today.” Don’t believe me? You can check out a fun discussion about the history of color, our perceptions of color, and how those things become a commonality in language to coincide with our understanding of colors. https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/211213-sky-isnt-blue In a nutshell, we don’t recognize a thing like color until we have a mental coat-hook on which to hang it.

Words have the power to change our hearts. Sharing and building a common vocabulary becomes a means to explore (and build acceptance for) taboo topics. It turns out, when we expand our vocabulary, sharing new words to explain and describe topics that were once considered to be forbidden or at least very frowned upon, we develop our understanding of that thing. We are able to say to one another, “that thing X makes me uncomfortable,” to which another person can reply, “I’m sorry that X makes you uncomfortable. Here’s why it’s absolutely normal in my world…”.The first person doesn’t have to agree right away, but they’ve been informed, using the common vocabulary and those words create hooks toward understanding.

Immortality. (Kind of). In the world of writers, words have the power to extend our history, extend our thoughts beyond our physical lives, and the power to speak to another person’s soul. You may have seen that scene play out whereby people in love, separated by distance, vow to look up at the moon and know that their soulmate is also looking up at the same moon and in that way, they are connected by distance. That’s the written word. You might say, it is a tool toward immortality, so long as the words live. It’s our recording of our thoughts for future generations, but also, it’s a means of sharing history, cultural consistencies at a single point in time… to be shared with future generations.

So there I was, lying on the floor… in pain… When I’m writing, you could say, I’m using my superpower. And when you disrupt my writing, well, that’s my kryptonite. I still love my interrupters, but they do have the power to send me writhing to the floor in pain… because every superhero has her kryptonite.