Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Professional Writer (or: Better Sex, Part 1)

How does one go from being a professional-something-else (in my case, a veterinarian) to becoming a professional writer?

The answer: It Depends.

On what, you ask?

The journey depends entirely on the type of writer you want to become.

If blogging is your thing, the path is simple: Study your target audience (a.k.a.-future revenue source), decide on the best topics to attract said audience, create a killer web platform, then compose-measure-refine your message based on the results.

Repeat until you're sick of blogging or have become the next Pioneer Woman.

If you're a left brain sort, maybe your future lies in non-fiction. Say you're an expert at growing garlic the size of baseballs or a whiz at organizing socks. Perhaps you've produced eleven children and delivered them into adulthood without so much as a single detention slip or snotty eye roll. If so, condense those wisdomy pearls into something called a book proposal, then query agents who represent your particular flavor of non-fiction. Based on what I'm seeing on the grocery store racks these days, you shouldn't have much trouble selling.

Kicked your embarrassing butternut squash addiction? Lost half your body weight on a diet comprised of dill pickles, kale, and Diet Mt. Dew? Tell us how you did it in 1200 words or less (don't forget the bullet points) and send it to Men's/Women's/Kid's Health magazine.

Want a sure thing? Use the words 'Better Sex' in the title, regardless of topic.

Don't get me wrong. I understand how difficult it is to blog regularly and successfully. How tough it is to write (and sell) non-fiction books or magazine articles. In my veterinary practice I devoted long hours to writing client brochures and how-to handouts. In deciding to sell my practice to write full-time, I considered writing articles for equine publications in order to pay the bills. (And even now haven't completely ruled it out.)

But if you really want a tear-your-still-beating-heart-out-of-your-chest thrill, try becoming a professional writer of fiction.

To start, you find--and fall hopelessly in love with--characters who exist solely in your imagination. Maybe (like me) your first book begins as a lovely, vivid dream you can't shake. Just to clear your head, you write the scene down in a ratty spiral notebook. When it's done you shove it under the bed, then get up the next day and go back to your real job.

But when you come home that night, you can't wait to dig out the notebook and see what happens next. Soon, you're stealing moments to work on your story: sick days, lunch hours, that magic time in the morning before the kids get up. Your characters feel real, as if they're telling you what to write.

Before you know it, you've bought two more spiral notebooks and a package of really good black pens. Then, like a junkie with an ever-worsening need, you spring for a used laptop and download Word or Scrivener to keep track of all your chapters, character descriptions, and plot points.

At this point it hits: You don't want to just write this story. You want people to read it...and thinks it's good.

Problem is, you don't actually know how to write a book. Sure, you're a voracious reader, but appreciating a thing isn't the same as knowing how to do it. (Karaoke, anyone?)

Enter the next phase: Soaking-up-information-like-a-Brawny-towel-on-steroids.

(to be continued)

Monday, December 10, 2012

To Save A Life...

Last week I, um, borrowed an idea from another author (I swear I'll make it up to her somehow.)

After a few tweaks, it went like this: Like my author page on Facebook before 10pm Wednesday, December 5th and I'll donate two bucks to the Broken Arrow Animal Shelter.

Since the challenge only ran a few hours I was surprised by the results: Fifty eight dollars. Way to go, Facebookers! Even better, my cousin, Tim--a devastatingly talented West Coast actor--matched the donation at his local shelter. (I'll try to post the link to his experience on my FB page.)

Friday I went to our sparkling new animal shelter and whipped out my writing account checkbook. The manager gratefully accepted the check, and said our donation will go to buy toys, fluffies, and treats for the animals until they're adopted.

Afterward, an officer showed me around so I could take pictures for the blog.

My first impression: Clean, nice-smelling (shocking, right?) and well-managed. Cats have a cool jungle-gym setup with lots of glass. Dogs have four indoor kennels with solid-poured floors, which means easy cleanup and no odor. There are skylights in every room. And the officers do a tough, heartbreaking job with empathy, professionalism and kindness.

Surprisingly, most shelter cats eventually find homes. Cats are easy to care for, and who can resist a fuzzy-haired kitten?

So I asked to see the dogs. We entered the first kennel and met three lovely boys: A chihuahua cross, an elderly Rottie, and a slick-hair spotted creature of mixed heritage who quietly watched us walk by.

"How about that one?" I pointed to the big black-and-white, who looked as if he'd fit in at a biker bar.

The officer shrugged. "You're the vet."

"Hey buddy." I bent down in front of the run. "I can't take you home, but how 'bout posing for some pictures?" At this point the dog, who'd been the only one not to raise Cain when we arrived, reared up on both hind legs and let out a fusillade of ear-piercing bark/howls that made my brain hurt. He was a head taller than me--and a good twenty pounds heavier--and had no problem letting me know what he thought of me.

"He says 'No Thanks'," the officer said, trying not to laugh.

"What?" Biker Dog hadn't finished letting us know he was Large and In Charge.  The officer pointed to the door, and we beat feet out to the hall.

"Next kennel?" I resisted the urge to explain I've always been an equine veterinarian--a horse doctor. When my dogs get sick I take them to my husband's veterinary clinic.

The officer grinned and led us to the second--mercifully quiet--kennel. That's where I met Goldman.

Gorgeous dog. A youngish yellow Lab with deep brown eyes, soft coat the color of milk-with-honey, and a thick tail that lazily waved the air as we walked by. We stopped in front of his kennel and Goldman politely sat down, tail grazing the floor.

Then he smiled.

If you're a dog person, you know what I mean. For those who aren't, a dog smile is a wide-open, trusting grin that says, "We're going to like each other, aren't we?" It's irresistible, and before you know it you're smiling back.

"You're a good boy, aren't you?"

Goldman's grin got bigger. He stood and did a little dance, looking expectantly at the gate latch. The officer wanted to go in first, just in case the Lab tried to rush past. He slipped inside without trouble, and the dog greeted him joyfully, winding around his legs, nuzzling his hands.

"He's fine. I'll hold him and you can come in."

The next fifteen minutes made me wish we could adopt a third dog.

Sadly, we're already at maximum rescued-dog capacity. But as I write this, I'm getting tears in my eyes. Because Goldman is the kind of dog who rides shotgun in your pickup; who leans against your legs and looks up at you like you're a dead-on genius; who licks your daughter's bare toes and makes her giggle in her high chair.

Goldman is the kind of dog who becomes family.

Anyone interested in a lifelong romance with a gentle, well-behaved yellow Lab should contact the Broken Arrow Animal shelter 

And if you're on the run from the mob and need a rambunctious, ready-made bodyguard, drop by Kennel #1. Bring an industrial-sized bag of treats, a strong leash...and earplugs.

And don't mention my name.

Cheers...and Happy Adopting!