Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Guest Contributor, Ellen Dye

Selling When You’re Without A System
By Ellen Dye

Back in the fall of 2007 it seemed that absolutely everybody I knew had one. Literally.

Some were works of art, color-coded with bright sticky note tabs and highlighted with a rainbow of markers. Others were utilitarian tables sectioned off with clean black-lined blocks. All were amazing---and what’s more, all were working.

Of course, I’m talking about a system. A real, honest-to-goodness Writing System. And not wanting to be left out I promptly decided I just had to get one of my very own.

Why just the other morning I’d been hit with a Great Idea, and now that I’d been privy to the “Can’t Lose By Having A System” approach it seemed like unbelievable serendipity. Clearly the cosmos wanted me to succeed as a book length published author.

I arose at 4 a.m. the next morning to put my plan in motion. After a mere four shot cup of black espresso I managed to peck out a few lines. Well, progress can be slow; I bolstered my spirits as I switched off the computer an hour later and made my way upstairs, still blinking sleepy grit from my eyes, to wake my son for school.

A few hours later I drop Cubby with his Special Education Aide at school and prepare to sprint to my car and get back to work with my system blowing full bore.

Unfortunately, before I clear the front door I’m stopped by several school personnel.

One reminds me that the PTO play is in two days and asks if I have Cubby’s dinosaur costume ready. I nod, trying not to think about the many pieces of green fur cut out and waiting to be assembled that are currently scattered across my office and sewing machine. Two more people remind me of Cubby’s upcoming scholastic goals, which he’s not meeting. “Isn’t somebody helping with that?” I ask, and then duck my head as they solemnly say, “Yes, Mrs. Dye, that would be you.”

But still, I am determined, as I dash home, toss a stuffed mostly complete dino tail from my keyboard and fire up my computer.

Fifteen minutes later I’m staring at a blank screen after realizing what I’d written at 4 a.m. made no sense at all and deleting the lot. Eighteen minutes later I really have no idea why I thought my Great Idea was any good at all.

But that’s okay, because the phone is ringing. It’s Cubby’s therapy coordinator reminding me of the upcoming home visit she’s scheduled and also saying she needs to pick up his monthly paperwork. “Great,” I respond. “And when is this?” There was no amusement in her voice when she reminds me the meeting was scheduled for today, at four sharp.

Crap. Must clean house before she arrives and discovers we trudge daily through massive quantities of cat fur---very unhealthy for children. Oh, and must find paperwork---nope, I shortly discover, it’s must do paperwork.

It’s now time to run back to the school to pick up Cubby. I nod politely to various school officials who tell me of his day’s transgressions and also promise that he will not eat tonight’s homework. Finally I extract Cubby from beneath the cafeteria table with a bribe of ice cream at DQ.

As I’m driving, slurping away on a chocolate shake, I think that maybe my Great Idea did have some merit after all. Maybe it just needs a little tweaking...

Bolstered on four more ounces of black espresso I make it through the home meeting, get Cubby settled and take a step toward my computer. Cubby screams, “Mommy, I’m hungry!” Naturally I reverse direction and head toward the kitchen.

Suddenly I realize I have no idea what we’re having for dinner. This is bad. I’m a Mom, Moms are supposed to know this stuff. I frantically tear through the cabinets hoping a nutritious, fully prepared meal will appear. Unfortunately it doesn’t. Crap. Why do kids have to eat every day anyway?

I hastily pull together a much less than nutritious dinner, deeply thankful Cubby thinks tater tots are vegetables. Then follows the after dinner blitz of dishes, bath, homework, speech, reading and story. I’ve downed another four ounces of black espresso by the time I’ve tucked Cubby in and crawled back to my computer.

A scream echoes through the house before my fingers make contact with the mouse. I dash to my son’s room and throw open the door. “Dino costume!” he screams.

My espresso-addled mind vaguely remembers hearing this somewhere before...

And so it went for the remainder of the week with my Writing System. Cubby gained a delightfully fuzzy, bright green dinosaur costume which he wore while giving a stellar performance as a Trick or Treater. And I lost the ability to fasten the top button of my jeans---those shakes do add up. But I hadn’t managed to write a single coherent line of prose.

So, with the loss of my lovely system I decided to return to my old system. Namely, “Carry A Notebook And Scribble Like Mad Whenever You Can”. I wrote while waiting in grocery store lines. I scrawled notes in the car on the off days where I arrived five minutes early for after school pickup. And, little by little, I eventually scribbled out and typed up my novel.

And, interestingly enough, an emailed query lead to a reply from an editor which eventually led to a contract for that very novel in my mailbox.

So, if like me, you have troubles getting a Writing System in place in the midst of your crazy life, don’t despair. You’ll get that contract, even if it comes just a few jotted sentences at a time.

Three’s The Charm, Ellen Dye’s first novel from The Wild Rose Press was released electronically August 22, 2008 and will be in print November 28, 2008. Visit anytime


Lynn Reynolds said...

Ellen, your writing system sounds a lot like mine! Well, except for the bits of dinosaur all over the house. I do think writers can get too concerned about having a system and "doing it right." The important thing - as you and I have learned the hard way - is to do it anyway you can. Even if you just have five minutes to write, all those five minutes can one day add up to a complete novel! Looking forward to reading yours!

Ellen said...

Hi Lynn!
(Ellen waves wildly from WV!) Thanks so much for stopping by!!! I just knew you'd get a kick out of this one, being that we basically live the same life :))

And Girlfriend, I've got an autographed copy in the wings for you!

Lise said...

Wow. A kindred spirit, for sure. I rattle through every day like a dervish. In the AM I get up early - early enough to have some time to myself to focus my thoughts on my writing plan for the day, but also early enough to have time to trundle the garbage out, attend to the dogs and their, uh, 'leavings', do a chore or two and then get ready for the day job. Does my "private time" usually disappear? Yep. Then I pack my backpack/bags with my current WIP, notes, research texts, pads, pens, print-outs and while I'm on the train to NYC try to work. Usually train is crowded, too many people to move, much less spread out and write. But maybe during lunch at the office - Ooops, got to respond to that critique partner/Board member/contest entrant. Well, on the train on the way home. Or not - too tired, too crowded, or have to read those chapter bylaws, update a membership roster...after I get home, usually around 8 or 9, it's time for some laundry for the next day, do some dishes that accumulated during Mom's day at home, yep, dogs, and my cat. Change that litter! Take a hot shower to get the kinks out of my back that developed from carrying overly heavy backpack. Sit down around 10:30 to write - fall asleep, wake up in the middle of night and then crash til the morning. But I set my alarm clock to get up early because I know the next Am will be the charm!

Or not.

Thanks for the great humor, insight into the crazy life of a writer, and I never give up hope, Ellen and you, and your success, help me to remember why.

Ellen said...

Hi Lise!
Thanks ever so much for stopping by:))

Yep, we're kindred spirits alright! Too much work and not enough system--but hey, tomorrow will be better, right? Hope really is a great thing! Ellen

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Ellen,
I saw Liana's post for your blog on the EPIC loop and clicked on over. I'd fuss at you for not telling me, but after reading your post (and knowing you for many years) I can tell what you're up against. You are a triumphant beacon shining brightly for all to see. And your books pretty darn good too!

Ellen said...

Bless your heart, Maggie! And a million thanks for taking time out of your insane schedule to come visit! But, even though my life can be crazy at times---I know that I can indeed do a good dino costume :))

Thanks again! Ellen

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Ellen,
I like your system sounds exactly like mine, except I don't have a child at school, but my son has just returned home from the army and that is nearly as bad as having a school child. I guess as long as we get the words down that's the main thing. The how or why doesn't really matter. After all you can't revise a blank page or screen, as the case may be.

Ellen said...

Hi Margaret!
Thanks loads for stopping by :))
Hey, boys are boys---no matter how old, right?

And I'm still scribbling away, even if it's only in five minute bits, on my trusty spiral bound notebook!


Misty Evans said...

Ellen, you are an amazing writer and I laughed out loud reading your story. I've SO been there. Being at the beck and call of twin boys, I have notebooks all over the house and in my car. Brilliant ideas always strike in the weirdest places and the most inconvenient times, but I believe only another writer can understand what it takes to crank out a novel in the midst of Real Life. You've made me appreciate my two little roadblocks on the way to publication a little more today. Thanks for the laugh and the reminder that I can be a good mom as well as a sucessful writer no matter what "system" I use.

Celia Yeary said...

Been there, done that! Walked in your shoes, followed the same path, I feel your pain! Goodness, so easy to forget "the old days." We'll be in Ann Arbor at Halloween and our little boys are 10, 9, and 5. Halloween is a very big thing in their house. they live in what I call an "old-fashioned neighborhood," where all the kids play in everyone's yards, ride bikes,so trick-or-treating is bigtime. I can't wait to see their costumes--Mom and Dad get into it just as much. Funny piece, Ellen--Celia

Ellen said...

Hi Misty!
Thanks so much for stopping by :))
Yep, kids and writing don't always blend as well as we hope at times. And oh my, you do it times two---wow, my hat's off to you, girlfriend!
All the best, Ellen

Ellen said...

SQUEEEE! Hi Celia!
Thanks so much for coming over and visiting---I know your schedule is still a uber busy one :))

And hey, for all the work, would we have it any other way? Of course not! Ellen

Denisse Alicea said...

Ellen, thanks for sharing. I will be sure to try your examples. I find myself in the same between work and school.

Ellen said...

Hi Denisse,
Great to meet you and many thanks for stopping by! I've done pretty well with a word here and a word there. Sadly though, they don't add up as easily as the chocolate shake pounds!

Elaine Cantrell said...

Ellen, you do have a system. You scribble whenever you can catch a spare moment. You must be doing it right because you got published, right?

Elaine Cantrell

Ellen said...

Hi Elaine!
It's wonderful to meet you. And you do have a point, I did indeed get published---Three's The Charm was released digitally in August and is coming to print on Nov. 28th :))

And now it's back to scribble whenever :) Ellen

liana laverentz said...

Thank you, Ellen! What a wonderful hostess you were! I appreciate all the time you took to answer all the comments. Thank you again, for everything, and good luck with your next book!

Ellen said...

And many thanks to you, Liana! I've loved every minute of being here:))

Let's do it again!

Sheryl said...

Forget the systems. But if anyone invents/discovers waterproof paper--the sort you can write on in the bath... That'd work.

Definitely, a kindred spirit!
Great blog!

Ellen said...

Hi Sheryl! I'm thrilled to meet another kindred spirit :)) And keep me posted on that water proof paper, will you?