Sunday, April 30, 2023

What Rules Your World?

By Elaine L. Orr

I think about what rules our lives on different days. For example, when getting ready to move, cardboard boxes and masking tape rule your world. When arriving in a new town, a map (on paper or digital) becomes most important. If you really want to learn your way around start on paper so you can see how locations relate to one another.

Today, I'm thinking about -- literally -- rulers. A teacher at the school where I substitute teach a lot had a box full of old rulers. Most were too tattered to use anymore, but they each had a story. 

Take this Strateline Ruler. Several postings indicate this ruler would have been from the 1940s or earlier. Could easily have been in the kind of one-room schoolhouse my dad's family attended in southwestern Missouri.

The two in the next phot0 -- especially the bottom one -- are more like what I used in school in the 1960s. This "newer" one was made made by Falcon in Auburn, Maine. The one pictured has no metal piece at the bottom, which later ones did. Metal was added, so it wouldn't wear out as quickly when hundreds of pencils drew a straight line with the ruler. 

The top one was made by Westcott, and is older than any of their vintage products for sale on ebay or etsy. It's very thin, not quite balsa wood thin, but close. 

What do you notice about all three of these rulers? No metric numbers.

And then we have the "New Math Ruler." That term will mean little if you're under age 60. If you're older, you were caught in the transition from 'regular math' (think long division) to what my eighth grade teacher called new math. This ruler needed two sides. One had twelve inches -- very familiar.

Then came the back side -- negative numbers and metric! What the heck? In the world I knew, something existed or it didn't. Now numbers could be negative. If you look at the top line of the ruler, there is a zero in the middle and (in half-inch increments) the numbers 1 - 12, positive and negative.

In addition to finding it hard to grasp the concept, I missed all of December that year because of a burst appendix. I pretend  that math would have remained easy for me had I not been out so much.

Now, even rulers come in cute colors. I put the metric numbers (centimeters) on top, since the entire world beyond the U.S. has the good sense to measure in units of ten.

So much for rulers ruling my thoughts Back to final edits on New Lease on Death. However you measure it, dead is dead.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

When the First Draft Becomes a Way to Reorganize

By Elaine L. Orr

I am a fairly efficient writer -- I wrote nonfiction for work for years, articles for journals or magazines, and detailed holiday letters. Fiction was a challenge because it has to flow totally from me, but I didn't feel intimidated by the process.

However, there are pros and cons to being fast when writing fiction. If you have good notes on your story and the characters, charging ahead is good. However, if you change direction at some point, you may not consider how this affects other aspects of your story.

In working on revisions to a fist draft of New Lease on Death, I realized I had not made my antagonist evil enough. Their motive to kill was solid, but they needed more character flaws. I also needed better misdirections for readers, so-called red herrings.

By the end of the book, I had figured out better ideas than were in the first draft. But making changes at the end brings the 'whack a mole' theory into play. Change one thing and then have to change action or emphasis in other parts of a book.

That brings consistency to the forefront. Readers accept an occasional error (maybe) but not something such as describing a character differently from book to book, or having them live two blocks from the ocean in one and four in another. (Unless you mentioned that they moved, of course.) And they really don't like when you spring something on them at the end of a book. They want to be able to say, "That makes sense" -- as opposed to, "Where the heck did that come from?"

A couple of times I've been tempted not to do certain revisions -- they are so much WORK. And I want to be DONE. But that can't be. I would always know a book could have been better.

Every time this happens, I tell myself to plan better when I start. And I do plan fiction better than I did 15 years ago. It's just new ideas pop up. 

That made me look up whack-a-mole, a phrase I've used but one I learned through observation. One meaning is "a situation in which repeated efforts to resolve a problem are frustrated by the problem reappearing in a different form." Sounds about right. Better to figure out 99 percent of character flaws or misdirection before the fingers hit the keyboard.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

When You Want to Write Something Other than Books

By Elaine L. Orr

In another universe, or at least another part of my life, I didn't view myself as creative. I liked to write, but wrote articles, a few (bad) poems, and some essays. I still have a clippings file that contains a bunch of freelance articles I wrote in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Eventually, the notes I jotted about story ideas became more real to me and I began to write some (bad) fiction. It's like learning a foreign language as an adult -- you have to be willing to do it badly as you strive to do it well. Fortunately, you don't have to show the bad writing to a lot of people.

A reader of this blog (Emma C.) recently sent an email saying she enjoyed some of the resources discussed on Irish Roots Author. Even better, she shared a comprehensive blog post on aspects of becoming a freelance writer. I wish I had seen this a few decades ago.

Author Bethenny Carl first presents what she terms a Cheat Sheet that gives the basics -- finding work, building a portfolio, negotiating with clients, and managing finances and your time -- among other topics. She discusses the ability to choose projects you want and work at your own pace, but also points out the challenges. These start with that awkward trait: self-discipline. 

You not only have to write well, you need to keep track of deadlines, handle invoices, perform all administrative tasks, and pay taxes when no one (other than you) is managing payments throughout the year. Blah, blah, blah.

I perform all these tasks  as a (largely) self-published author. They aren't fun, but are a small price to pay to do what I want for a career.

A freelance career builds slowly, but if you are diligent it can be steady growth. I got off the freelance bandwagon because a firm I wrote for eventually had enough work that I wrote and edited largely for them. Eventually I even had benefits! 

At the same time, I watched a neighbor continue to purse her freelance work. She worked consistently and published under her name in a number of general interest and consumer magazines. She was so organized! And, of course, a very good writer.

With so much online content, there are far more freelance opportunities than a few decades ago. (I'm dating myself.) Not all of it will give you a by-line, though you can ask online clients if they will permit you to include an article or blog post in your portfolio.

You don't need to search for work on your own. There are a number of websites, such as The Write Life, that list organizations that publish jobs for freelancers. Start with ones that don't charge for the information. However, you may come upon a group that charges a small fee if you learn of a job through them. That could save you a lot of time.

Whether you are considering freelance work or already doing some, take a look at Bethenny Carl's extensive blog post. You could save yourself time in selecting clients and doing what I think of as the backstage work.

Most important, keep at it!

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.