Raise Your Pen To Give Thanks

Thanksgiving is just days away and we’re all thinking about food, travel plans, and starting (or, if you’re lucky, finishing)  holiday shopping. It’s normal to get caught up in the chaos of the holiday season, but when you’re sitting around the table with your family and friends this year, take a few minutes to think about people who are far, far away from home.

I’m talking about the members of our armed forces. They sacrifice so much to do their job: time with family, the births of their children, weddings, funerals, and of course, holidays. Wars don’t stop for Thanksgiving.

So this year, if you are gathering with people to celebrate, please bring with you some nice cards or stationary and ask everyone to write a brief letter to a soldier overseas. The nonprofit organization Pack It Up (www.packitup.org) raises money and items throughout the year to send care packages to our men and women in uniform. The packages contain everything from snacks to movies to video games, and around the holidays they like to send over stockings with letters of thanks from people back home. If you click here you can see letters from soldiers who have received these packages for their units (note my husband’s letter– while he was deployed from 2007-2008, Pack It Up sent him and his fellow soldiers an unbelievable amount of great stuff to keep their spirits up).

This year they need at least 1,000 letters to send overseas. Your letter doesn’t have to be long and involved, just from the heart. Thank a soldier for giving up time with his or her family in order for you to safely spend time with yours. And to make this Thanksgiving even more special for your family, have everyone pen letters, too. I will be bringing stationary and cards to Thanksgiving dinner and asking everyone to take a minute to write a letter or two.

(Unrelated, but here’s an interesting blog about letter writing!)

 

And here is writer Donna Cumming’s recent blog also about writing to troops. Check out her blog and where she is sending her letters by clicking here .

 

Thank you in advance to anyone who takes the time to do this! You don’t know how much it will mean to the man or woman who gets your letter and is reminded that people here are still thinking about the troops. It will only take you a few minutes, but it will definitely brighten the day of a soldier who fights for us, our freedom, and our right to engorge ourselves on awesome food!

Once you’ve written your letter or letters, send them off to this mailing address: Pack It Up, 500 Randolph Ave, Milton, MA 02186.

Please enjoy this photo of me, my sister in law Lisa, our brother in law Tim’s girlfriend Tiffany, and our mother in law Mary as we point in shock at a race roster from this past October. We came in last for the third year in a row! Ha. Long story short– Pack It Up does an annual 5k in Rhode Island to raise money for their cause. Everything about this organization is a family affair, which is why we always get our family involved too. Write those letters, people!

We came in last, but we raised money for care packages for the troops!

My Books Will Call Me A Traitor

I have been shunning the idea of digital readers for a while now. At first it seemed like a passing fad, but the more momentum these gadgets gain, the more nervous I get. I’m a fan of my books (of which I have far too many), and I couldn’t get used to the idea of reading off a screen instead of holding a book. Plus, I was convinced that my books would hiss at me from the shelves, “You filthy traitor. You follower. How could you do this to us? We loved you first!”

 

Ridiculous, but I do think that my books have feelings and get offended when I stop showing them love. So forget bringing an e-reader into the mix. That would be like divorcing my husband for a holographic man. What? That’s exactly what it would be like! So below you’ll see the reasons I’m on the fence about this issue (feel free to judge my craziness).

 

  • My books will find out that I’m not into them anymore and will be upset.
  • The whole book reading experience will be altered. This is a big one for me. I’ve been reading since I was four years old, and to suddenly change the medium of books is just weird. I am attached to the physicality of reading: the weight of a book, the sound of flipped pages, the ability to write and underline things, the smell of paper old and new, the feeling of cracking the spine open. I am so connected to the tactile part of reading that I think an e-reader might feel bizarre. And clinical.
  • I’m sorry, but I don’t need to check Twitter between chapters. Why is it a selling point that e-readers can get on social networks? Why do I care if it can hook up to Wi-Fi? If I want to see what’s happening on Facebook, I’ll use my computer or my Droid. I don’t need another way to get online, honestly.
  • I won’t have a reason to go to the library or the bookstore anymore. That would suck.
  • What will happen to small, independent bookstores? I’m sure Barnes and Noble will be just fine since they’re selling the Nook, but what about my favorite small bookstores that sell used books and newer books at a discounted price? They’ll become antiquated and obsolete. They already have trouble competing with the big corporate stores; I’d hate to see them fold under the weight of new technology.
  • The thrill of the hunt will vanish. There’s something about combing through a bookstore for just the right book that is thrilling.
  • My books will hiss at me from the shelves. I’M SERIOUS. There’s no way I could ever explain it to them. They would just resent me. Forever. I can’t do that to old friends.

 

So, for the time being, I think I’m going to stick with good old fashion books. I’m still on the fence, and I know this is the way of the future and I need to get with it if I want to be involved in the future of publishing, but sheesh. It’s a tough transition to make.

 

Do you have an e-reader? If so, which model do you have and why do you like it? Or, if you’re unsure about them like I am, tell me why.

NaNoFaiL

I’m doing pretty poorly with my NaNoWriMo this year. I had a great first day, a decent second day, and then I got off track. We had a death on my husband’s side of the family and the longer I went without touching my novel, the more impossible it seemed that I’d ever catch up. Every day 1,667 words stacked up against me– words that I hadn’t put on the page, but had meant to.

But today I realized something. This NaNoFaiL of mine is actually a really good thing in disguise.

You might be thinking, she’s just making excuses. Ok, fair enough. Maybe I am. But I really think I got to the root of why I can’t just dive back into this project. I’m afraid I’m going to ruin a great story.

This is a story that has been living in my mind for years. It first saw life in the form of a short story, but there is so much more that needs to be told. So I started telling it, and I was really happy with the first chapter. It did exactly what I wanted it to do. I wrote it slowly and paid attention to every word I put down, making sure it expressed exactly what I wanted it to. The first chapter is startling and heartbreaking, just how I wanted it. And as the story of this young man/soldier starts to unfold in my mind (his struggles for acceptance from his grandfather, the protectiveness he feels for his brother, the complicated relationship he’s going to have with a girl who may or may not really love him, etc) I get more and more worried that I’m not going to do it justice.

So why is it a good thing that this story that I’m dying to tell is not coming together yet?

Because the purpose of NaNoWriMo, like I talked about in this post, is not necessarily to make a good quality book, but to just put words on the page. I thought that perhaps writing this story at breakneck speed would help me get it out on the page better, but actually taking that approach is kind of freaking me out. I need to move through this story more slowly. Maybe I will write 1,667 words a day, but I think I’ll need more than a month. This story probably won’t be 50,000 words, but I really don’t know yet.

And I’ll make another confession while I’m on a roll: I think I’m afraid of succeeding with this story. This is the first novel that I’ve tried to write that I’ve taken seriously and truly care about. So it’s a combination of worrying that I’ll screw it up AND succeed with it that has been slowing me down so much.

I still support NaNoWriMo and the purpose of it, but I think I this year I chose to tell a story that needs more time and attention than one month of frenzied writing can offer. I’m certainly going to keep working on it, but I may have to accept that I’m a NaNoFaiL this year and won’t make the 50,000 word mark by the end of the month. I’m not going to push myself to create quantity over quality like every other year. Those years were great because it taught me to ignore the internal editor and keep moving ahead, but it didn’t create quality text. I need to flip that around now and try to make something great out of this story.

Best of luck to you NaNos out there who are on track and succeeding! Tell me about your experiences in the comments below.

Becoming A Paid Writer– Part 1

This is my dream: the manuscript of the novel I’m working on someday finds its way into the hands of a great publisher who will spread the good word of my story, and I’ll become a recognized, in-demand writer who will then be given book deals and will be asked to write essays and articles for all sorts of publications.

This is my current reality: I’m a 24-year old, nearly done with an fantastic MFA program, who is devouring information about becoming a freelance writer in the hopes that I’ll be able to contribute articles to numerous websites and publications–local and national– while offering social media, copy writing and copy editing services to small businesses for blogs, newsletters, websites, etc. And I want to publish that book, of course. Right now, I’m standing right on the brink of all this.

I’m not brand new to freelance writing. I’ve been contributing to local newspapers in Southern RI on a regular basis for over a year now. I like that kind of work: find an angle for a story, tell it well, and see your name and work in print. And then get paid! Here’s the thing: my local papers aren’t exactly the most widely-read publications in the universe. And my editor, as great as he is, isn’t exactly throwing tons of work my way. He can be… sometimes unreliable, though he’s given me plenty of stories to write and journalistic experience over the past year. Plus writing for newspapers has helped me build a HUGE portfolio of clips. But I’m ready for more.

Here’s what I’m doing to turn writing into a career:

  • I’ve gotten involved with my town’s Patch page and will begin writing for them soon (have you heard of Patch? If not, get thyself to www.patch.com and learn about writing opportunities near you). The upside of writing for Patch versus town papers is that I’m still covering local stories, they pay a little more, AND the articles I write will be online and I’ll be able to link to them. With the town papers, I have to scan and .pdf all my work to make it visible to the public after it has already run in the paper (kind of a pain in the butt).
  • I’m networking. A lot. I made aTwitter account specifically to connect with other writers and freelancers and I’m actually reaching out to the people who are doing what I want to be doing. I ask them for advice, guidance, tips– and everyone has been gracious enough to share their knowledge with me. To name just a few, people like Emily Suess, Katie Portman, and Melissa Breau have been especially helpful, in both the knowledge they put out with their blogs or by answering my questions or tweeting advice. I think the best thing you can do for yourself when  you’re contemplating a specific type of career is to learn how other people did it first. What worked for them, and maybe more importantly, what didn’t work? My path will be different from your path, but I can still glean knowledge from the experiences of others (that’s what this is all about, anyway!).
  • I’m reading books (like How To Start a Home-Based Writing Business) and making accounts on freelancing sites. My best friend is in a publishing MA program at a great college in Boston, so she’s sharing tons of information with me about magazine writing and freelancing in general. It’s not her dream job, but she’s absorbing so much useful info that I’m just fortunate to be able to get my hands–and brain– on it.
  • I’m expecting to make this work. I could freak out right now, run the other way, and just forget all of this. Writing is too uncertain a career, and who the heck am I to think my writing is special enough to make me some money? Ha. That would be the easy and miserable way out, and I’ve already tasted enough unhappiness in an office job to know I’m never going back unless it’s on my terms. So instead, I’m expecting that this is the next chapter in my life, and I’m going to make it work.
  • I’ve got support. Thank God for my husband. He encourages me, supports my ideas, helps me brainstorm, listens to me babble about writing– and he’s taking on the brunt of our household finances until I’m totally done with school and am pulling in more moolah. The great thing about this writing career is that, in the process of making my dreams come true, I’ll be able to help my husband with his. He does (amazing) photography on the side and has sold a number of his photos, but it’s not something he does full time. My goal is to not only help myself become a well-paid writer, but to help my husband spread the word about his photography and to nurture his creative side, too.
  • I’m being specific. I’m outlining exactly what I want to accomplish, what I want to do, and how I plan to get there. I make a lot of lists for daily tasks and for long-term goals to help me stay on top of things. Overall, being specific is more helpful than being vague. I could say that I want to be really successful, but what does that even mean, really? It’s a nice goal and all, but what exactly are the smaller pieces that define my personal version of success? I’m trying to specifically define success for myself. Success for me might mean making a certain amount of money next year from writing, or publishing a certain number of articles. Or it might mean just being satisfied and happy with the work I’ll do every day. It’s really a person thing, and the more specific you can be, the easier it will be to figure out how to attain success and how to recognize when you’re taking a wrong turn.

 

So this is where I’m currently at. Where are you in your writing journey? How do you define success for yourself?

A Novel in 30 Days, or Why I Don’t Think NaNoWriMo Is The Devil

If you know about National Novel Writing Month, chances are you fall into one of three camps:

1. The I-Love-It-Let’s-Do-This Camp

2. The Writing-Like-This-Is-Evil-And-Unproductive-And-Encourages-Bad-Writing-I-Won’t-Take-Part Camp

3. The That’s-Cool-Maybe-When-I-Have-More-Time-AKA-You-People-Are-Nuts Camp

Wherever you reside on the NaNo opinion spectrum, let me just say that I really enjoy NaNoWriMo and I’m going to tell you why I don’t think it’s the worst thing to happen to writing since that five paragraph essay baloney (we’ll save that rant for another day, though).

This is my fifth year attempting to write a novel in 30 days. The first two years, I had the energy right out of the gate, but about two weeks into it, my ideas and motivation fizzled, self-doubt set in like a heavy fog, and it was over. The third year, I was determined to hit the 50,000 word mark, and I did (although, in honor of full disclosure, at the time I was writing that Nano novel, I was in a graduate class with the most pompous, impossible professor known to mankind and had a character in my story who was modeled after him– but by the end, I was so sick of him and all the other characters, that I filled a building with explosives and blew up everyone in the book so I would never have to revisit them again. I hit 50,000 words, though).

The next year, in 2009, I had big dreams of writing historical fiction and did some research, though definitely not enough to support an entire novel.  Again, I hit the 50,000 word mark, but the novel wasn’t finished and I knew that it needed more time to come together (meaning I needed to learn more about the time period of the Chicago World’s Fair and Armenian immigrants. Maybe someday I’ll do that).

This year, it feels very different. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve done this so many times that I know what to expect (the surge of motivation at the beginning, the waning self-confidence in the middle, the final push through to the finish line) or if it’s because I’ve just written a 116 page creative thesis full of short stories and I finally feel like, for the first time, I’m in total command of my writing. Whatever is going on, this novel feels more doable than ever before, like I can tackle this NaNoWriMo thing and come out with a solid manuscript to edit and revise for a while.

And this is why NaNoWriMo isn’t as bad as some people say it is: it’s just an exercise. Seriously. This whole thing is just one, big, fat, long writing exercise intended to hush your internal editor and let you just write. The people behind Nano do say that you’ll do a lot of crappy writing, but I think that’s true of any first draft. You put things on the page that you may later remove or alter, but as long as it’s on the page, that’s what counts. Once you have created it, you can mold it into something better. Fact of the matter is, you can’t mold nothing. Know what I’m saying?

I think NaNoWriMo gets a bad rep from people who perhaps don’t understand that the purpose is to motivate creation, not write Amazing Novels on the first try. It seems to me that those who are hating on Nano are the ones who think it’s just a crap-fest, a chance for anybody with a pulse to write really bad novels and call themselves writers.

Yeah? So what?

If a person likes to write, he or she should write. Maybe you’ll publish someday, maybe you won’t. The point is that you’re writing. Every person is creative in his or her own way, and if it takes a month of writing 1,667 words minimum every day to get some folks in the habit of writing, then who cares? Like I said, this is a big exercise in just putting words on the page and fixing them later once you can see the scope of the whole thing.

If you don’t like it and you have other ways to be productive with your writing,  power to you. Get some words on the page in whatever fashion works for you. But just respect that for some, a month of frenzied writing is the way they want to go about expressing their story. Sure, this process may not produce good books that will line the shelves in Borders, but that hardly matters. This isn’t about publishing; it’s about creating.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo, or have you done it in the past? Or do you hate it with a passion? Share your thoughts with me below in the comments section.

Just Another Writing Blog? Nahhh.

It seems like everyone has a blog, doesn’t it? So why am I creating yet another one to add to the heap?

Because I hope mine will be different enough to interest you.

My name is Kristin Offiler, and if you’re reading this, you’re either interested in my work and want to harness my amazing talents for your business, you’re a lover of the written word, or maybe you’re someone I’m related to (hi mom!). Whatever the case,  this blog will be different, and here’s why:

  • I’m a writer with a hand in many, many cookie jars (I love cookies, by the way). I’m just about done with my creative thesis for my Master of Fine Arts program at Lesley University (let’s hear it for fiction writing), I’ve done quite a bit of freelance writing for local newspapers in southern Rhode Island, I’m a social media intern for the cool website YourTango.com, and now I’m trying to get my short stories published. I’m also working on a novel that may or may not be the next Great American Story.
  • I recognize my talents, but I also understand that I’m still new to the writing industry and have lots to learn.
  • I’m ambitious and motivated and usually take on multiple projects at the same time (i.e. planning a wedding, buying a house, and working on a graduate level thesis, ahem)
  • And, most importantly, this blog will be different because I want you to be a part of it. Yes, you. Whoever you are. If you’re a writer, let’s talk. Tell me your story. Talk to me about writing and what it means to be a writer today. If you’re an aspiring editor, a voracious blogger, a PR maven, or anyone else– share your journey with me here. I want this blog to reflect my writing style and career goals, my voice, and my journey, however, I know that there’s endless knowledge to be gained from the experiences of others, so I want your input. I want us to learn together, to figure out how to start our own businesses, be successful, and maybe even define what exactly success means. The point is to learn from others and be open and receptive to knowledge.

You might be wondering why you should care about this blog. I don’t blame you– there are so many blogs in the blogiverse that it’s impossible to give a hoot about too many of them. But if you stick with me and keep checking back in, I think you’ll like the journey we’ll take together. If you have a blog that you think I should feature in this blog, tell me! If you know someone who is interesting and has paved a way for themselves and you think it would be beneficial for others to hear about it, shoot me a line.

So that’s what’s up over here. This little ole blog is joining the rest of the blogosphere in hopes that you’ll contribute thoughts, ideas, and information about writing, freelancing, publishing, and being a living, breathing human in general. Leave me some comments or email me at kristinoffilerwrites (AT) gmail.com, tell me what you’re thinking about today, and let’s see if we can build connections that will help each other succeed.

Follow me on twitter: @KristinOffiler