Writing on a Budget

Nillionaire

I don’t have a lot of money. I mean I really don’t have a lot of money. I spend a lot of time wrestling with plot points in my  head, just so I don’t go crazy wondering how the bills are going to get paid. Luckily with writing, you can get started with pen and paper, a cheap initial investment on your brilliant writing career. It’s the foundation–just you and your thoughts.

However, if you want to succeed at this writing thing, you’ll need a few other things: a computer and internet connection, a printer, expensive printer ink, and reams of paper (if you’re like me and prefer to revise many drafts on hard copy), to name a few basics.

And of course, since we constantly strive to improve our writing and increase our chances of getting published, there’s the cost of writing courses, whether it’s traditional college courses or web courses.

Marry money
Just kidding. Sort of.

 

I’m not a raw beginner, but I still feel I have a lot to learn, and would love to avail myself of these educational avenues. But most of the time, the price tag prevents me from doing so. That said, there are still many affordable or even free resources out there to help a writer improve their craft, learn the business, and get their work out there.

  • Creative Writing Now (www.creative-writing-now.com). If you’re a new (or even intermediate) writer and need a little guidance, this is a great website to start with. It covers fiction, memoir, and poetry, and gives tips on keeping a journal or writer’s notebook. Fiction writers can print out a list of dozens of story starters and writing prompts; and it offers several free at-your-own writing courses (in email format) on character, plot, dialogue, and more. Sign up for email announcements on new courses, story prompts, and writing inspiration.
  • On the Premises (www.onthepremises.com).  This is a great site to enter free writing contests. In December and June they offer short story contests (1,000 to 5,000 words, $220 first prize), and every April, May, October and November they offer “mini” contests that call for very short stories (25-100 words, $25 first prize). Both types of contests require you to write on a particular prompt or theme. If your story doesn’t win, they offer critiques that tell you why (free if your story made it to the final round, $15 for all others).
  • Fictuary (www.fictuary.com). This is another free short story contest that’s offered monthly. If your story wins, you get $50 and publication on the site. All fiction genres accepted, as long as it’s within the 1,000 to 4,000 word limit. Stories are available on their Feed Me Fiction magazine for Android and iOS.
  • Don’t forget blogging. Basic sites on Blogger and Wordpress are free. I really liked Blogger at first, but had some technical difficulties with Pages. Once I got the hang of WordPress, I liked it better. After dragging my feet about blogging for a long time, I’m a little addicted now. I can’t wait to put the  next piece together. And although-alas-not many people read these words of mine, I plan to continue nonetheless. Why? For one, it develops a writing habit. Also, I’m building a solid platform, bit by bit (just in case some one does become interested). And frankly, it’s fun. I wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t fun. I save the angst for my fiction.
Nerd Girl
I go a step further and wait for my library to carry it.

 

So, with a computer, an internet connection, and our imagination, we’re in business. How lucky are we writers to live in this digital age?

What about you? Do you have any favorite writing sites that offer free resources? Any money-saving tips for us starving artists? Leave a comment, and we’ll talk about it!

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The Theory of Everything

Theory quote

I don’t have the time to watch as many movies as I’d like, but on a recent day when I wasn’t feeling very well, I allowed myself to park on the couch and watch The Theory of Everything. I was sick (again?!), a little depressed (for any number of reasons), and uninspired (“I’m a sucky writer”), and needed something to make me feel that this, too, shall pass. This movie was the perfect antidote.

It’s the story of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and his life with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neuromuscular disorder), or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Diagnosed as a young man when he was a brilliant student at Cambridge, he was originally given only two years to live. After initially giving in to despair (who wouldn’t?), he was rallied to live life to the fullest in the time he had left with the love and support of his family, friends, and his lady love, Jane. He continued his studies, became Professor Hawking, and yes, married Jane and had three children with her. Obviously, he’s outlived his life expectancy by fifty or more years, at times, it seems, by sheer force of will.

Eddie
Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking

Hawking is played by Eddie Redmayne, who thoroughly deserves the Best Actor Oscar he won for the role. He eerily brings to life Hawking’s early years with gangly, nerdy-cuteness, and then slowly and inevitably tracks the progress of the disease over time, transforming himself into the shrunken, slumped being in the wheelchair. Once Hawking loses his capacity for speech, Redmayne brilliantly conveys the physicist’s emotions solely through facial expressions, while never losing that mischievous twinkle in his eye.

stephen and jane
Felicity Jones as Jane and Eddie Redmayne as Stephen.

Felicity Jones plays Hawking’s loyal first wife Jane, and the movie is as much her story as it is his (the movie is based on her memoir, Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen). She stands by him through the many years of health crises and adaptations, and for a time singlehandedly cared for him and raised their three children, while still trying to work on her PhD. Her love and loyalty to her brilliant husband are never in doubt, and I can’t imagine anyone really blaming her for falling in love with family friend Jonathan, who eventually helps her take care of Stephen and the kids. Eventually, Stephen likewise falls in love with his assistant, Elaine, and he and Jane amicably divorce after many years of marriage.

theory poster

I’ve always been a little awed by scientists, especially cosmologists and astrophysicists. Anyone who can wrap their minds around black holes and quasars are super-beings, in my opinion. I would have been impressed by Stephen Hawking in any case, but since my grandmother died of ALS when I was ten, for me, the man has taken on mythic proportions. An intact mind becoming trapped in a useless body seems the most horrible fate imaginable. I watched it happen to my grandmother, and it was horrible. It’s been no picnic for Hawking, and yet it seems to me that the sheer incandescence of his mind is what’s kept him alive, and thriving, for so many years.

Now that’s inspiring.

What about you? Have you seen this wonderful movie? What movies inspire you? Leave a comment and we’ll talk about it!

Persuaded To Love This Book Even More

Persuasion

Have you ever wondered what a pelisse is? Curious about the difference between a rector and a curate? Not sure exactly where Lyme is? And what the heck is a Pump Room? If you’re a Jane Austen fan, I’m sure these questions have floated through your mind every once in a while.

All these questions and more are answered in The Annotated Persuasion, with notes by David M. Shapard. I found the book one day while perusing the stacks at a used bookstore in my area called The Montague Bookmill, along with annotated versions of all of Austen’s other books. I immediately wanted to buy the collection, but since finances dictated that I buy only one, I chose my current favorite, Persuasion (the favorite tends to shift from year to year).

I’ve read Persuasion at least half a dozen times, and the story of Anne Elliot and her regretted decision not to marry Captain Wentworth captivates me every time. The story is still readable and enjoyable even if you don’t know the particulars of the Royal Navy or all the intricate social rules and customs of Regency England. But it does enrich the experience, and perhaps answers questions you’ve always had about Austen’s books and her world, but never bothered to look up or Google. Reading the notes can slow your reading down, but that’s not always a bad thing, and the entries, some of them quite extensive, are on the facing page rather than in the back of the book, which is more convenient.

The Cobb in  Lyme
The Cobb, Lyme, where Louisa fell.

At the back of the book are maps of England and its counties, and street maps of Lyme and Bath. There’s also a chronology of events, so you’ll know exactly when Anne was in Uppercross, Lyme and Bath, and with whom; as well as the whereabouts and doings of the other characters at various points in the story. Illustrations and artwork fill the pages, bringing to life Anne’s world, showing us the fashions, furniture, buildings, and conveyances of the time. The editor’s explanations of old definitions of familiar words is truly helpful, along with his thought-provoking commentary on the narrative itself.

All of these things make the reading of Persuasion even more enriching; but of course, it’s Austen’s words, the story itself, that makes us come back again and again. As the editor points out, Wentworth’s declaration of love in his letter to Anne at the end of the book is the most passionate, emotional outburst of any of Austen’s heroes, and the reason, at least for me, why it’s so satisfying:

half hope

By the way, a pelisse is a woman’s long cloak or outer garment trimmed with fur, with slits for the arms. In case you were wondering.

What about you? Do you love Jane Austen? Don’t know what the fuss is about? Leave a comment and we’ll talk about it!

My Favorite Web Resources

Ink and Quill

Sometimes I think I subscribe to way too many writing newsletters-it can all be a little overwhelming, as my inbox fills with endless writing advice, tips and tricks, secrets, commandments, and magical spells. It’s enough to make my head spin. I’ve culled a few of my favorites here, the ones that help me the most.

  • Funds for Writers.  I mentioned this site in a previous blog called My Favorite Writing books. It’s run by C. Hope Clark, a mystery writer out of South Carolina. Hope has done us a tremendous favor by gathering legitimate, paying markets for our work, listing all manner of contests for poetry and prose, sources for grants and crowdfunding, writing jobs, freelance markets, and publishers looking for submissions. I found the Chicken Soup for the Soul contest here for my first published piece. I received a free one-year subscription to the full version for buying her book The Shy Writer (highly recommended for us introverted types); otherwise it’s a well-invested $15 per year. A truncated free version is also available.

FFW

  • Writers Digest. I subscribe to the hard copy magazine, as well as the online newsletter. It delivers a host of writing articles, books, courses, tutorials, info on conferences, and WD contest announcements. My very first contest entry placed in their Annual Writing Competition in 2013, so besides being informative and entertaining, its close to my  heart. It also includes writing prompts to make things fun and spur your creativity.
Writers Digest
My name’s in this one! And I love Anne Rice.
  • Submit Write Now! by Writer’s Relief. Writing takes up a lot of time. Submitting that work for possible publication and formatting to each market’s specifications can take even longer. Writer’s Relief saves you some of that time by doing the research for you, and depending on which suite of services you choose (from $150 to $589+), will send you a list of literary markets to submit to, or send them for you, based on their evaluation of your story. I tried the least expensive service (“a la carte” for $150), and they sent me a list of 25 markets they thought my story might fit into. I’ve heard back from most of them, and so far, no luck. Would I recommend it to other writers? Sure, if you have the extra cash lying around. But I find their free newsletter Submit Write Now more useful, with articles on everything from how to submit, literary agents, author websites, blogging, contests and more.

Writers Relief

  • Winning Writers. This is another great newsletter that points you in the direction of legitimate contests for poetry and prose, and lists markets for writers in various stages of their writing career (beginner, intermediate, advanced). Several times a year they hold their own writing contests for fiction and essay, poetry, humor, and self-published books.

Winning Writers

All these publications have been useful to me on this writing journey. Without them, I’d still be writing my stories in isolation, and consigning them to the bottom of a drawer somewhere. Writing isn’t just about writing (that’s the fun part!), but there’s some good information on the web to make the business side of writing a little easier, and to get your work out there.

What about you? What are your favorite web resources for writers? What can’t you live without? Leave a comment, and we’ll talk about it!

NaNoWriMo

Nano GOT

I first participated in NaNoWriMo in 2014, when I decided to expand one of my short stories into a novel called The Last Dragon. I’d heard about NaNo for several years, but it was only last year that I decided to take the plunge and see if I could do it. I’m a “plotter” rather than a “pantser”, but even with my short story as a Chapter One and a finished outline, I didn’t make it to the goal line of 50,000 words by the end of November. With a family, a job, and a silly need for sleep, I just barely made it to 30,000 words.

Nano Toy Story

But I didn’t view the experience as a failure. On the contrary, with a deadline and a word count looming, I learned to fit writing into my busy life. Besides my usual few hours of writing time each week, I squeezed in some scribbling in ten or fifteen minute increments. Instead of reading a book on my half hour lunch break, I wrote. Instead of reaching for ancient magazines at the doctor’s office, I wrote. While my daughter played on the computer on Sundays, I wrote. While water boiled for her macaroni and cheese, I wrote. Before my leaden eyes closed at bedtime, I wrote.

Nano Hobbit

I learned to look at time differently, and to re-order my life around writing, instead of the other way around. And because time was precious, I learned to cut through the Editor and simply put words down, one after another, scene by scene. These are habits I continued throughout the rest of that winter, and by spring I had a sprawling, messy–but finished–first draft. I haven’t done anything with it since, but that sense of accomplishment I felt when I wrote The End did a lot for my confidence as a writer.

Nano words

This November, I plan to join NaNo and work on my novel-in-progress, Wolf Dream. What? you say. You’re not starting a new novel from scratch? Isn’t that cheating? I don’t know. Maybe. But I’m joining the madness anyway. I figure since I could only get 30,000 words last year, I wouldn’t do much better this year. But it would be enough to finish the novel I’m working on now. So why not? Reaching your goal–finishing your novel–is the point, right? So I’ll be spending the golden, blustery months of November reaching for that 50,000 word goal with thousands of other writers. Nano is about more than word count; it’s about community, something this mostly solitary writer needs more of.

Nano Theme

What about you? Are you joining NaNo this year? Have you ever “won”? Leave a comment, and we’ll talk about it!