Thanks for a Great 2011

The 2011 year has been great to my writing career.

I joined the lovely gals at BookEndBabes, continued to write some great pieces for the Center Square Journal family, joined the HappyFanTickets team, and thanks to the lovely Samantha Abernethy, obtained the most awesome new contract position.

Most importantly, I started this blog. I want to thank my guest bloggers and seven questioners, you know who you are, for adding insight and inspiration to my blog since its inception in June. And to my readers, I wouldn’t be writing if it wasn’t for you!

My blog wouldn’t have been a success without you and your support. I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart!

2012 is going to be a bigger and better year for Person of Letters. Look for some changes, new topics and more in the new year!

Why are you Writing Today?

Today’s thought-provoking guest post is from the lovely Rachael Judd. To learn more about her, read my Seven Questions with her.

Have you ever looked at the project in front of you and it just stares back blankly? Eventually the staring ends as you decide to browse Twitter or jump on Tumblr for just a few minutes.  Hours, days or weeks later the project is still lingering, incomplete.

It’s easy to slack off and “forget” to write or “not have time” to write if you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve.
~WOW! Women On Writing Blog: Goal Setting for Writers


As I was surfing my Twitter this week I ran across this quote above. It came from a blog talking about setting goals for your blogging, but I think this last line takes it much further than goal setting.

Asked simply:  Why are you writing today?

In some professions the answer to WHY is quite simple. For a freelance writer, this question is much harder to answer.

Over the past several months I have been asking myself this very question. I started freelancing “on the side”, as many of us do, for some extra cash.  During that time I started my own blog as a chance to write about something I was really passionate about.  Then, freelancing became my “career”, blogging happens when I have energy and something about writing has changed.

I truly enjoy the flexibility of working for myself and I find the challenges of self employment to be minimal.  However, recently I have noticed something missing. As writing has emerged into a career I have seen it go from fun and exciting to difficult and overwhelming, the spark is gone.

Previously, the question “Why are you writing today?” was answered with “This is something I’m passionate about.”  Recently I’ve been answering that question with “I have the capability, time, energy and connections to make an income at it.” And that is where I am now.

Asking a new question. Can passion and income really intersect?

YES! Freelancing is a choice and a risk.  One of the reasons to make the choice and take the risk is to watch your passion and your income intersect.

However, to make this work the scales have to be balanced.

Too much passion usually means a lot of fun but very little income.  Taking on too many income opportunities may mean a full bank roll but very little enjoyment in the process.

Challenge: Make a change.

If you want to be a freelance writer for a career, stop and take a look at your scale. Do you have too much weight on one side? Are you loving each project but eating Ramen every day?  Are you enjoying Starbucks multiple times a day but dreading sitting at your computer?

At different points in the freelancing process sacrifices have to be made in favor of one side or the other for practical reasons, but before freelancing changes from passion to prison make sure you take full assessment of each step along the way.

To tip my scale back into balance I need to say no to a few paying projects that aren’t a “must” to my pocket book and say yes to some passion projects.  For me, a passion project includes some magazine submissions where I just haven’t pulled the trigger. It’s a risk since there is no guaranteed acceptance which also means no guaranteed pay. BUT, the payoff is the satisfaction of sitting at my laptop and feeling joy with every word that is labored over.

For now, that is enough to keep my career afloat and hopefully get me back on the write path!

Why are you writing today?

Book Review: The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe

The following review originally appeared on Book End Babes, a website devoted to a love of reading and to learning about new authors.

Those of you who have read my reviews in the past, know that I am a huge fan of mysteries and all things fiction. This review may have you confused.

I’m a huge fan of impressionist paintings, particularly Monet. A colleague of mine was reading this book and I was absolutely intrigued by it. That and the fact that it made the New York Times Bestseller List. (I’m a book snob like that sometimes)

The description complements of Amazon:

Though they were often ridiculed or ignored by their contemporaries, today astonishing sums are paid for their paintings. Their dazzling works are familiar to even the most casual art lovers—but how well does the world know the Impressionists as people?

Sue Roe’s colorful, lively, poignant, and superbly researched biography, The Private Lives of the Impressionists, follows an extraordinary group of artists into their Paris studios, down the rural lanes of Montmartre, and into the rowdy riverside bars of a city undergoing monumental change. Vivid and unforgettable, it casts a brilliant, revealing light on this unparalleled society of genius colleagues who lived and worked together for twenty years and transformed the art world forever with their breathtaking depictions of ordinary life.

I love a good biography now and then, but this read more to me like fiction. I breezed through this biography quickly, intrigued by the intertwining of my favorite impressionists, how their paths crossed and their individual stories. I felt like I got a new insight into each of the painters famous paintings, many of which were ridiculed at the time of their creation. Roe describes the stories in such detail that you can feel the pain, anguish, disappointment and joys of each depicted artist throughout their journey.

My favorite fact from this book is the dynamics between Manet and Monet. I had always known that their names had caused confusion in the art world, but the book dives in past that. It’s an interesting story.

If you love art, the impressionists or just want to become more knowledgeable, this is a great read. Great last minute gift for the art lover as well!

Nicki Moulton’s Journey to Publication

Today’s guest post is from Specialist  Nicki Moulton who recently published her book, Knit This Doll! Some of you may know Nicki as Michelle Timian’s twin sister and others as someone who serves our country. Check out this piece the U.S. Army wrote about her book and remember to Support Our Troops and say Thank You to those who serve our country.

The moment when you hold your first published book in your hands is a moment that is hard to forget.  It is finally in front of you, all polished and crisp and actually in book form.  Believe me, it’s quite surreal to see your book when it actually becomes a book.  Before that moment, it was an idea.  For years, it was a just ‘the manuscript,’ something that existed as little more than a Word file.  You spent years working on it, polishing it, opening it and closing it.  You searched for an agent, dealt with rejection after rejection until you hooked someone who loved your idea as much as you did.  Then the two of you searched for a publisher and tried to woo them to believe your book could be their book, too.  You spent months of going back and forth with edits, edits, and more edits – analyzing every last word, to see if it sounded right, if the words flowed correctly, if it all made sense.  And finally, you sent it off – the last moment it would be just ‘the manuscript.’  The next time you would see it, it would be that moment when you hold your book in your hands.  It’s not just the dream, the manuscript, or the Word file anymore.  It’s your book.

Many authors celebrate the publication in their own ways.  Book signings, maybe a tour if you are lucky, but at the least, a night out with friends and family.  Not too many people hold their book in their hands, freshly torn out of a mailing envelope, and have to rush back into a 206 person strong formation, standing at the position of attention, trying not to grin at the thought that your first published book is in your hands and you were promised an hour of personal time that night.

My journey to publishing my first book started just like anyone else.  It started with an idea.  My idea happened to be a knitting book based on patterns for dolls that I had been making for years.  I sent a query letter to a literary agent specializing in nonfiction, and more specifically craft, books – addressing what would make my book unique from any other in the market.

After I signed a contract with Epstein Literary, me and my agent, Kate, began to look for a publisher.  It was quite exciting, especially when both Wiley (the largest nonfiction publisher in the world, though their name never seems to ring a bell with people) and RandomHouse made bids for the contract.  Wiley won in the end, mostly because they were eager to give me a lot of artistic control over what I made for my book.  Then began the very long, and strangely very unfulfilling and frustrating, job of making my manuscript perfect.

Making a knitting book is different from say, a novel.  To get a novel published, you have to write the entire book and hope that you didn’t waste years of your life writing it.  For nonfiction, you basically sell an idea.  You need a few examples of what you want to do (I made three dolls for the proposal, but for something like a memoir, you would need a sample chapter and a projected table of contents), and then you just hope someone likes it enough to publish it.  It is a lot less ‘risky’ than when I used to write novels.  If someone doesn’t want to publish your nonfiction book (my second book ended up getting turned down by every publisher we tried to sell it to), all you really lost was the idea and the time it took to write a proposal.

Writing the manuscript was fun, but as I hinted at, editing a manuscript was like pulling teeth.  It’s a seemingly never-ending process of correcting and fine-tuning every last letter and word.  I looked at the manuscript so much that I overlooked the most obvious errors (like not even mentioning my Mom in my acknowledgments, or that I never mentioned the actual size of my dolls anywhere – thankfully the cover designer added it on the back cover).  Writing and editing the manuscript nearly took me a whole year to finish, and by the time I was done, I never wanted to open a Word document again.

To say I was excited to get my first book published was an understatement.  I talked to local yarn shops in my hometown of Chicago about book signings, and convinced one of my friends who owns an art studio to hold a book release party.  It was all going very normally, as far as publishing a book goes, but none of those plans would ever come to fruition.

My route on the normal-first-time-book-publication-road took a serious detour.  Anyone that knows me knows that I love to live life to the fullest.  I hate thinking that I might one day be laying on my death bed and say “If only I could have done that!”  So, I decided to do something I had wanted to do all my life.  It meant that I had to sell almost all my possessions, quit my lease on an apartment I loved, say goodbye to my husband who I wouldn’t end up seeing for nine months, and basically give up all notions of living my normal life.  I made one last look over my manuscript and got on a plane headed for Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  I was about to start Basic Training to become a soldier in the US Army.

My book ended up in my hands about a month before I graduated.  For five months, I had been living in barracks with 200 other people from all over the world, waking up every morning at 4a.m. and struggling through some of the toughest, and most fun, challenges of my life.  For the first month, we didn’t even have ‘personal time.’  Every last minute of our day was in the company of a Drill Sergeant who told us what to do and never hesitated to let us know how badly we were doing it.

After that first month, we had an hour of free time just about every night during which we were free to take longer showers (our showers were about a minute long before that, and I do not even exaggerate on that point), clean weapons, talk with our new ‘battle buddies’ and write letters.  I had my sister mail me yarn and needles.  Although the Drill Sergeants teased me, I knitted even while in Basic Training.  After a few weeks, they transformed from the bullies you picture from Full Metal Jacket to mentors we were able to talk to and joke around with.  I’m even Facebook friends with some of them.

When I got to that moment where I held my first published book in my hands, I had no idea how short-lived the moment would be.  For the next week, a sort of game started where the Drill Sergeants would ‘secure’ my book from me, hold it captive in their office, and then call me down to get it.  They would sometimes call me down to the CQ just to answer questions they had about the whole process of publishing a book.  One of my Drill Sergeants was so freaked out by the dolls’ eyes that he refused to look at the book, keeping it under things and generally avoiding it like it was the plague.  Sometimes I had to buy it back with push-ups, but mostly the Drill Sergeants would just hand it back with bemused looks on their faces.  I have a feeling that I might be the first person to ever get a book published while in Basic Training.

Sure, deciding to attend Basic Training was a set back in a lot of ways.  Since I was in Basic Training when it was released – an environment where we got to call home for an hour once a week – I had no ability to promote it.  There were no interviews, no reviews in big knitting magazines, no book signings.  There was hardly a peep about it anywhere.  I had asked a friend to make a website for the book while I was in Basic, which never happened.  When I did graduate Basic, I had a week to gather my things before I got on another plane to my first duty station – in Italy.  Although there were plenty of yarn shops around my new house outside Venice, no one was willing to carry a book in a language they couldn’t read, much less hold a book signing.  Trying to get the book published in Italian never went anywhere, either, probably because the book was selling an average number of copies and it wouldn’t be profitable to make another printing in a different language.

The real danger to my writing career is the effect my decision to join the Army would have on my future projects.  A failure to promote my first book doesn’t look good on my ability to promote future books.  If my first book isn’t profitable for the publisher, then future books might not either.  It’s the consequences, whether I like it or not, of my decisions.

Yet, even if it would be the only book I would ever publish, I wouldn’t trade anything for that moment when I held it in my hands at last – surrounded by soldiers excitedly asking me if it was my book, and being happy I would have a whole hour to look at it before going to bed.

Seven Questions with your Favorite Blogger/Writer: Jamie Lee Scott

I’ve always been curious about what inspires my favorite writers. Whether they are bloggers, freelancers, scriptwriters, TV writers or novelists, they have to draw inspiration from something.  I want to thank all of you who contributed your questions and I hope you enjoy the first of my new monthly Q&A series.  Look for this new feature on the first Thursday of every month. If you want to see your favorite blogger/writer interviewed, contact me.

Name: Jamie Lee Scott

Profession: Author, Screenwriter, Artist


Twitter: @Jamie_LD

Her impact on me: I was introduced to Jamie through Jeanne on Twitter. While we have yet to meet, she is one of my favorite people and one of my favorite authors. Buy her book Let Us Prey immediately.  It was through Jamie that I was asked to contributed to BookEndBabes. I look forward to meeting her in 2012!

Person of Letters: Why did you start writing/blogging? Was it for personal or for professional reasons?

Jamie Lee Scott:  I started writing/blogging for an outlet for the stress of running a restaurant. The blog was started as a way to disseminate information I’d learned about screenwriting and TV writing.

POL: How long do you think about what you are going to write before you write?

JLS: I’m usually working on several projects at a time, so while I’m writing one project I’m outlining another. The outline/ruminating stage takes the longest. I have a pretty good idea of the fleshed out story before I type FADE IN.

POL: Is there something you carry with you at all times to write ideas that may pop in your head? If so, what is its? A notebook, your smartphone, a scrap of paper?

JLS: A pen, a recorder, and now my iPad. Ideas pop up at the strangest times. And sometimes it’s that twist in a story that will make it stronger, so I want to get in on paper before my overstuffed brain and send it to the archives.

POL: How do you battle writers block?

JLS: I don’t really understand the whole writer’s block thing. Maybe it’s because if I’m blocked on something, I get it at the outline stage. When I sit down to write, I know exactly what I’m going to write. Now if you’re talking about writer’s block, as in I have blocked my butt from sitting in the chair so I can type, I know that one. My house is never so clean as when I really need to sit down and write. I look for every excuse, even though I love writing.

POL: What is your favorite book/blog? Do you draw inspiration from it?

JLS: My favorite book is Horse Heaven (well other than my own of course,hehe) by Pulitzer Prize winning author Jane Smiley. I hope to write characters that stay with the readers long after they finish the book like Jane does. Jane’s characters still pop into my head years later. I want to be able to write that well someday.

POL: Along the same lines of the previous question, which writers from the past have inspired you? (more points for naming obscure writers)

JLS: In screenwriting, Bob DeRosa (Killers) and Mike Alber (Death Valley) have been my mentors. They’ve done so much to help my writing, and I’ve never met them. I’d be remiss if I didn’t say John Steinbeck was an influence. I grew up in Salinas, which has a Steinbeck museum, and I loved Red Pony, Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden. As for contemporary authors, I love Gemma Halliday, Brenda Novak, Jennie Bentley and Tawny Stokes.

POL: Tell us something about you and your writing that we might not know.

JLS: I spent a year hiking trails in Iowa, 75 trails total, for a Falcon Publishing book called Hiking Iowa, and Falcon was bought out right after I turned in the manuscript, so the book was scrapped. I still got my advance, and the writing credit for the book, so I was good with it.