Just Do It

I fell in love with Nike’s slogan the first time I saw it.
I’d just joined a large, slow-moving company and was going nuts. It felt like my colleagues were eagerly and energetically looking for any and every excuse to NOT do something. Especially if it was difficult.

Like writing.

On these pages and others, I frequently hear the woeful cry … but I don’t have time to write.
Raise your hand if you’re among them. And by writing, I think you mean a specific passion. Maybe you are writing marketing copy, technical manuals or obituaries for your hometown newspaper but your passion is to write a children’s book, young adult fiction, a novel or magazine articles.

Innocently or not so innocently, I’d like to suggest that you just do it. Forget about time. There will never be enough time. Instead of putting your writing on hold until your youngest child enters kindergarten in three years or you retire in 2035, ask yourself a few questions.

Is Writing Important to you?
Can I hear you shouting? Are you telling me – of course it is (you idiot)! It’s all I want to do. All I ever wanted to do. It’s who I am!

Okay then, so …

What’s changed?
Maybe you were writing, at least sporadically, and now you’re not or you’re having a horrendous time making progress. Maybe you’re cursing me right now and calling me a useless twit because the reason is obvious. Don’t I know that:
• You just had a baby? Or you just had another baby?
• Or your tween or teen is going through a difficult time?
• Or your mother was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s?
• Or layoffs have turned your nine-to-five into a seven-to-seven?
• Or _________________________________ (you fill in the blank).

Then again, a few of you might answer – my wonderful spouse loves his/her job, just got a fabulous promotion with more money so I quit my job but I still don’t have time to write. Hmmmm.

Or after writing your memoir in your head for a decade or two, you  retired with plans to make it happen. But you are still writing it in your head. You still don’t have to write. Again, hmmmm.

And finally, some will sigh loudly or wistfully because they have never had enough time, not now, not never.

While it might seem redundant, the next question is …

What Prevents You from Writing?
If writing is your passion, you should be writing. So why aren’t you? I don’t want the obvious or easy answer (I just had a baby, etc.). Instead, I ask you to dig down and take a hard look at this time thing. (Unless there is something else and you’re ready to own up to it.)

So … how much time do you spend on FaceBook and/or Twitter? Guess what? I spend more time on FaceBook on days when I have something I don’t really want to do, like mow the lawn.

How much time do you spend blogging? Has writing, reading and commenting on blogs become a full-time/almost full-time unpaid job?

And here’s a dicey question … how much time do you spend making cupcakes for the class Halloween party, running the Boy Scout Christmas tree sale and/or chaperoning class trips and school dances? I applaud you but on a scale of one to ten, where does being Super Mom or Dad fit versus writing? If writing is your passion and you’re not, is being Super Parent your Super Passion? Your children will not disown you and you will not burn in hell if you don’t make cookies for the bake sale and miss a soccer game, even two. If it helps, neither of my parents were SP’s but both were wonderful and still are.

Another tough one … are you willing to take a new job with fewer hours and, most likely, less money if it means you’ll have more time to write?

Now I’ll throw caution to the wind and ask … can your spouse, parent, sibling, cousin, friend or neighbor lend a hand with your kids or elderly parent to free up some of your time to write. Before you say no, have you asked them? Can you afford to hire someone to help you? Before you say no, can you afford not to?

I ask these questions because, maybe, just maybe time isn’t the issue. Or at least not the only issue. So ask yourself again and a third, maybe a fourth or fifth time, what prevents you from writing?

Writing is hard and takes more than passion. It takes discipline and dedication. It takes confidence and courage. Writers write. It doesn’t matter that it’s scary or presumptuous to think they can succeed, they write. They make it a priority. They don’t talk about writing. They don’t write about not writing. They throw caution to the wind and just do it.

So okay it’s scary, it’s presumptuous but why not, you know, just do it? What’s the worst that can happen?
As writers we put ourselves out there and, unlike in the movies, failure is an option. Big deal. You write, rewrite and finally finish your book or pitch your article. You look for a publisher. You get turned down. The earth is still spinning. The sun will still rise and set.

You write another. It’s better. You find an agent or editor who believes in you and helps you. You rewrite or write another one. It gets published. Maybe it sells well, maybe it doesn’t. You write another one. Writing is really hard work but if you truly love it, if it is truly your passion, you’ll keep at it and you’ll get better. So good you might  just succeed.

Susan Nye is a corporate dropout, writer and chef. Feel free to visit her food or photo blog. © Susan Nye, 2011

2011 New Hampshire Literary Awards

From New Hampshire Writers’ Project

2011 New Hampshire Literary Awards
Nominations Now Open
Submission Deadline: June 15, 2011

In recognition of the rich and varied literary talent in the Granite State, the New Hampshire Writers’ Project will present the tenth New Hampshire Literary Awards at a special reception and ceremony on November 4, 2011 in Manchester.

Awards will be given in the following categories:

  • Outstanding Work of Fiction
  • Outstanding Work of Poetry
  • Outstanding Work of Nonfiction
  • Outstanding Work of Children’s Literature
  • Donald M. Murray Outstanding Journalism Award
  • Lifetime Achievement

Nominations are encouraged and welcome from everyone, including writers, publishers, organizations, and the general public. Self-nominations are also welcome. The deadline for submissions is June 15, 2011. An administrative fee of $35 is payable to NHWP for each nomination.

For more information about the New Hampshire Literary Awards and to print a nomination form click here.

10,000 Hours

I recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. An outlier is someone or thing that deviates significantly from the rest of the group. Gladwell writes about several very successful people and offers explanations as to why they rose above the pack. While his book has its critics, he raises some interesting points on why certain people achieve not just success but mega success.

Gladwell sees Accumulated Advantage as a key reason for success. Advantages accumulate when one break leads to another and another. Not just brains and talent, most successful people have more than their fair share of good luck and they make the most  of it.

Chance created an advantage for four working class blokes from Liverpool. Through a friend of a friend, The Beatles were given and seized the opportunity to become the house band at a German club. In Liverpool they played a few gigs a month. In Hamburg, they played all night, every night for months at a time. Thousands of hours of public performance time helped them develop confidence, an extensive repertoire and an audience.

Early access to a computer helped Bill Gates become a software mogul. It’s hard to fathom today but in 1968 the eighth grade Bill Gates attended the ONLY middle school in the country with a computer. He was one of a tiny handful of fledgling software programmers (of any age) with computer time at their fingertips. In high school he finagled his way into the University of Washington computer room. The computer was only available in the middle of the night so Bill snuck out of the house at 2 a.m. Like The Beatles, Gates spent hours and hours of hard work developing and perfecting his skills. He seizedthe advantage.

Which begs the next question, how much practice do you need to succeed? Although his book is big on anecdote and weak on data, Gladwell suggests that regardless of your chosen field, 10,000 hours are critical for success.

What does all this mean for you as a writer? It simply means that if you want to be successful, you have to seize every opportunity and then some to write. So how close are you to 10,000 hours? As important, what kind of writing are you booking against your 10,000 hours? Is it the writing equivalent of fooling around in your parent’s garage or, like The Beatles, an intense forty-eight week gig as a house band?

If you are not yet writing professionally, it can be tempting to focus on quantity over quality, to get a new post on your blog every day or capture the latest angst or idea in your journal. The power of blogging is its immediacy and that gem in your journal may be critical to your first novel. Just don’t stop there if you want to get published. In fact, I’d like to suggest that you spend most of your writing time focusing on finished pieces.

Good writing is more than content, more than ideas. Good writing wraps words around the idea and creates meaning and mood with thoughtful, coherent sentences. It weaves those sentences into paragraphs and the paragraphs into a story. The best, maybe the only, way to improve your craft is to spend time and energy on each and every part of the process; from idea to the first rough draft to writing, rewriting, final polish and proofreading. You don’t need an editor, publisher and audience to produce great work.

At least once a week write a polished story. If you love movies, write insightful reviews. If you are interested in politics, write thoughtful editorials. Write flash fiction, love letters or your memoirs; push yourself and strive for flawless perfection.

Write, rewrite and polish but have a deadline and stick to it. When it’s done, post it on your blog, file it, send it to a friend or throw it in trash. And then walk away. Don’t worry about it. It’s perfect enough. Next week, every week, do it again. The more you write the better you’ll get. Before long you’ll have a nice collection.

Almost five years ago with nothing more than a few Word documents, a local newspaper group gave me a weekly food column. I was delighted, proud but most of  all surprised. I had no food writing experience but (and it’s a big BUT) I had spent a lot more than 10,000 hours writing and polishing business memos and strategic plans, white papers and promotional copy. I was technically adept and had a great topic. One thing led to another and I began writing for magazines.

Every week, I spend as much time as I can find working on my craft. Writing. Rewriting. Polishing. More than 6,000 hours and 350 stories later, it’s getting better all the time.

Susan Nye is a writer, blogger, photographer and chef. Her favorite topics are family, food, green living, marketing and branding. She invites you to take a minute to learn about her philanthropic project Eat Well – Do Good © Susan W. Nye, 2011

Tax Breaks

April has got to be the worst month of the year. Ski season ends. It usually rains a lot. And if that’s not enough misery, we have at least kzillion unintelligible forms to plow through and fill out. It’s time to file our taxes. It makes me dizzy thinking about it. No wonder Americans made 10,554,735 math errors on their returns last year. As far as I can figure, a root canal is probably the only thing less bearable than doing taxes. Then again, I’ve never had a root canal. When and if I do, I’ll confirm.

It may be last minute but I’m thinking I should be lobbying for a few special deductions and credits for writers. Why, you ask? Well, without writers there’d be no books. And for those of you that don’t like to read (shame on you), a lot of your favorite movies are based on books. Like The Social Network, Slumdog Millionaire and Forest Gump.

Then there are the humbler writers, those of us who write for newspapers, magazines and blogs. Without us, dentists’ and doctors’ waiting rooms would be pretty boring, wouldn’t they? Plus our blogs provide an enormous service. We help office workers around the world procrastinate and waste hours of what might be an otherwise productive day. Between bloggers and Facebook, desk jockeys can kiss an entire day goodbye with little if any effort. I’m guessing that Facebook has a whole passel of accountants ferreting out all sorts of deductions and credits.

So here goes.

First and foremost, writers should be allowed to deduct their pajamas and slippers. Bus drivers and postal carriers can deduct their uniforms; even strippers can deduct their g-strings. Why not us? It’s the least that Uncle Sam can do. By the way, I don’t work in my pajamas every day. Although I was comfortable ensconced yesterday, as I write this I am properly attired in jeans and a turtleneck. Which leads me to wonder, how come the politicians and religious posses only stop by when I’m in my PJs?

But back to business. How about giving us one of those special deductions, a because-you-write-deduction? Teachers get one. If it wasn’t for writers, teachers would have a hard time teaching. Or at the very least, the school day would be a lot shorter. Kids would be home by 11:00 in the morning. What would you do with them then? The special deduction for educators is $250 per year. I’m not greedy, 250 is okay by me.

Speaking of children, writers should get child credits for their work. That could be a big one, $1,000 a pop. I’d be willing to work on a sliding scale, say $1,000 for a novel down to 50 or 100 for a short story and maybe 10 bucks for one of those quickie magazine pieces.

Our stories are our babies. We create them and nurture them. Sometimes they drive us to distraction and make us want to pull our hair out. Other times they make us laugh and fill our hearts with pure joy. When our work is done, when we’ve edited for the umpteenth time, proofread until we can’t see straight, dotted the last i and crossed the last t, we send them out into the world. Sounds like childrearing to me.

Can you think of any other clever tax deductions or credits for writers?  Let me know if you come up with any more! I’m off to sharpen my pencil, sort through piles of receipts and navigate the maze. Good luck to you and me!

This post is written for entertainment purposes only and in no way constitutes advice of any kind. For that I suggest you contact a tax lawyer or accountant.

It’s been a busy month. This post was originally written for and posted on my food blog. I have a habit of defining food blogging a bit loosely.

Susan Nye is a writer, blogger, photographer and chef. Her favorite topics are family, food, green living, marketing and branding. She invites you to take a minute to learn about her philanthropic project Eat Well – Do Good © Susan W. Nye, 2011

Call for Moms and Mom Bloggers

I’m working on a story about Moms and Blogging for Parenting NH and I need your help. To all the Moms out there who write and/or read what falls, squarely or not so squarely, into the loosely defined category of Mom (or Mommy or Parenting or Family Life or ???) Blogs, I’d like to talk with you. There is one hitch; you must live in New Hampshire.

In both numbers and influence, family-related/mom blogs are growing and becoming increasingly important. Blogs and bloggers are in the news. Readership continues to climb. New bloggers are jumping in.  Blogger and readers alike, you are an awesome, powerful lot. 

Here’s what I’d like to learn

First a little about you. How would you describe yourself? What are you all about? Why do write the blog? Do you have a mission? What is it? How do you see yourself – teacher, humorist, social commentator, networker, advocate, memoirist or other?

Do you cringe at the name Mom or Mommy Blog or embrace it? And why?

Next, when it comes to your blog, what’s it all about? What and who are you writing about? Are you specialized – covering a specific, be it narrow or broad, topic like parenting, blended families, being a single mom, health/wellness issues you or your children may face, social reform, learning, home schooling, food or something else? Or maybe you cover a wide range but still defined list of topics? Or maybe you share whatever captures your fancy or interest on any given day?

How long have you been blogging? Has your blog changed directions since you started it? Did it start out as one thing and turn into something else? How has it evolved? How many times has it changed? Does your blog make money? Was/is that a primary goal or a lucky happenstance?

I would also like to speak with readers. Whether you write one or not, do you regularly read one or more Mom Blogs. Which one(s) do you read? What are you looking for … advice on specific issues/questions? A community and support from kindred spirits? A place to share your views and learn from others? Entertainment? A good laugh or cry? Something else? Do you make comments? Frequently? Do you share links with friends?

And if you’re a Dad … heck, if you are writing or reading about families or parenting, let me know what you’re doing. I’d be interested to learn if it’s not just about Moms. If I hear from a lot of you, I’ll pitch a Daddy Blog story!

If you are willing to be interviewed, send me an email with the subject Mom Blogs. Interviews will be by phone and should take 30 minutes or less. Many thanks for your help!

Susan Nye is a writer, blogger, photographer and chef. Her favorite topics are family, food, green living, marketing and branding. She invites you to take a minute to learn about her philanthropic project Eat Well – Do Good © Susan W. Nye, 2011

Staying Organized – Quick Tip

If you are one of those frightening people with a clean and clear desk and a perfect filing system, this post is not for you. This post is for the schlubs like me who want EASY. Unfortunately, I can’t promise a miracle cure for the terminally disorganized but today’s quick tip has been a lifesaver for me.

One issue which plagued me for years was keeping track of notes from multiple projects. I would start out strong, creating a file and folders for each new project. I would take notes on whatever pad or scrap of paper was handy and then neatly file them in a folder in the file. Over a period of months and even years I would return to the file when I needed information. Then the phone would ring and the folder would get shoved to a corner with the mental note – file later. Nothing was ever lost, just misplaced.

A couple of years ago a few things came together. A perfect storm if you will, a Bermuda Triangle … or maybe it was dumb luck. My writing was starting to take off and branch out and I was doing a fair number of interviews. I admit it; I was having trouble keeping track of the bits and pieces of paper that made up my interview notes.

On my way home from one of these interviews, I happened to stop at a Dollar Store. I was short of both time and money and decided to waste a little of both. That’s when I saw them: a pile of neatly stacked black and white composition books. Years ago I had a colleague who used these very notebooks.

I had scoffed. Notes from all his different meetings and projects were jumbled together. I was sure my way of keeping each project in its own neat little folder was the best way to go. Now I wasn’t so sure.

A buck a piece, I splurged and bought three.

Here’s the best part! I’ve been using them faithfully ever since. No more backs of envelopes or scraps of paper which can and do get tossed into the recycling bin. All my interview notes are safe and sound in one place.

Since I frequently juggle more than one project, an interview with a chef for a Night on the Town is followed by a chat with an innkeeper, followed by advice from a social media guru followed by two more chef interviews. I discovered that shuffling through a few pages is MUCH EASIER than searching the house for files and folders.

To keep everything straight, before starting an interview I jot down the date, the article’s working title and the interviewee’s name and telephone number. If I have their cell phone number and email address, I add them as well. If I don’t, I ask for them during the interview. It’s a simple way to have easy access to contact information for follow up questions or help on a future story.

Perhaps you are wondering why I don’t add them to my Outlook Contacts? I would but … well … I’ve found the easiest way to find Mike the wine guy in Burlington who was quoted in the burger story last summer and whose last name I don’t remember is to quickly flip through my notebook. Same goes for any one of the five nutritionists that helped me with the wholegrain story or that lovely Italian chef who shared her family traditions for a Christmas story.

How’s it working out ? Well in the past few years, I’ve probably avoided several scatterbrained searches and saved at least an hour or two, probably more.

Do you have an easy tip for staying organized? Please share! I’d love to hear it.

Susan Nye is a writer, blogger, photographer and chef. Her favorite topics are family, food, green living, marketing and branding. She invites you to take a minute to learn about her philanthropic project Eat Well – Do Good © Susan W. Nye, 2011