Working and Learning at Home

A lot of people are surprised to find out that I home school our teenage daughter along with trying to keep up a writing and editing career. Sometimes it can be stressful, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’d like to get rid of a few of those misconceptions about both writing and/or homeschooling.

1. No, homeschoolers are not all fanatical religious freaks with our hair in a bun and long skirts (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Some of us just know that our kids do better at home being able to work at their own pace. In our situation, our daughter was happier being able to move ahead without waiting for the class. This way she does her work at home and spends the afternoon with her friends.

2. No, homeschoolers are not home all day under the watchful eye of an overbearing parent. As a matter of fact, we find it hard to find time for schoolwork since we’re out all the time. We have Shakespeare plays to attend, science classes at the Science Center, museum visits, improv classes, play rehearsal, piano lessons, co-op biology and geography classes and days spent at her friends’ homes working on Web sites and projects. I’d like more time at home, in fact.

3. Yes, I find time to write. Planning a curriculum is a bit of work, but if you do it all at once, you’re free for more things later. We work in tandem many times where we are both writing or working at the same time. I’m there for questions and I’m working on my editing and writing at the same time. Sometimes we skip out and work at the local coffee shop or bookstore with free WiFi, why not? And yes, I spend a lot of time writing early in the morning and late at night.

4. No, we are not free to have lunch and hang out with you since you think we’re just home all day doing nothing. We may be home, but we are busy.

5. No, I don’t write about homeschooling. There is much more to my life than just teaching. I read, I write, I have friends, etc. I write fiction, I edit non-fiction, I love what I do, and yes-I’d love to meet you for a drink.

Homeschooling doesn’t work for everyone. It takes discipline and work and you have to like being around your kids all day. Luckily, I love being around my daughter-and yes, she is a teenager. She’s a teenager without an attitude and with a healthy love of learning, books, writing, and music (old-school rock!) and many friends. Schooling like this gives my daughter more time to spend with her friends and do the things she loves, like write stories, draw, and read…and it gives me the time to write and edit as much as I want. All that and we are still in our pajamas at 10 a.m. Not bad!

Writers find time to write no matter what they do. I write before, during, and after homeschooling. When do you write?

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Check Your Manuscript at the Door

When your manuscript is sent to a publisher, either by you or your agent, what happens then? Is it just snatched up, hugged, and sent off for printing. If only…

It will then be scrutinized over and over again, not counting what you’ve gone through with an agent. How do I know this since I haven’t had a book published yet? Every editor/agent/published writer is spouting these facts. If you don’t know this already, you need to get out more. If you’re looking for a sympathetic agent to hold your hand, you’re in the wrong business because when it comes down to it-this is a business first and foremost. Can they make money on your book? Do they believe it will sell?

So how can you make it the best? I’m working on that myself, and from time to time I’m going to share what I find with you. (Lucky You!) I found a great list at http://kathytemean.wordpress.com with questions editors and agents will ask about your manuscript once they get it in their hands. Questions like, “Am I moved by this story?” or “Who is the readership of this book?” If you can’t answer these questions, you’re not ready.

A few of my own questions to ask while writing your novel:

1. Why am I writing this? Simple-do you want to make money, do you need to write, do you feel a sense of purpose while writing? Make sure you know why.

2. Who is my reader? You have to know who your reader is before writing, especially if you are writing YA.

3. How far am I willing to go with this novel? How much work will you put into it? How many times will you be rejected before moving on?

4. Do I believe in myself? Tough one-many writers have thin skins (myself included) and we must build a thicker skin and realize this is a business, not a popularity contest. Believe in your work and yourself.

I can’t tell you how much I appreciated finding the Dutton list and realizing I need one of my own. Answer these questions truthfully.

Once again, I have not been published. This is just advice for those of us toiling away on that novel that will be published soon. And don’t forget Dutton’s #8 “Is the voice/character authentic and real?” If you can’t answer yes, who is going to want to read this?

If you are a published author, editor, or agent, please let me know what you think. If you disagree with me, please let me know why. Each comment is a learning experience for us all.

OK, back to work!

Chatting and Learning in a Whole New Way

I told a friend recently how great the chats on Twitter were lately and how much I had learned. She looked at me as if I had two heads. What chats? Then she asked me what those hash marks mean all over Twitter.

Well, my friends, I’m here to update you on something I recently stumbled upon. There is a world of information out there just waiting for you, if you know where to look. I was reading through my Tweets awhile back and noticed so many of them had the note #askagent at the end. What the heck? I assumed it was a topic that everyone was using, but that was as far as it went. I was so wrong. When I finally found out what it was, I was blown away.

First off, let me go back a little. If you’re using Twitter, this is going to be so difficult. Go to www.tweetdeck.com and download Tweetdeck. Not only can you follow tweets, direct messages and mentions but you can also have a column for Facebook, which means you don’t have to go on FB, even if you’re sending an update or commenting on someone else’s status. All updates for Twitter pop up automatically. So, go do that now and I’ll wait……

OK, now that you’ve downloaded Tweetdeck, let’s move on. You can see the four columns in front of you, right? Well if someone in your tweets should mention a chat, just click on that hash mark and the column on the right will now deliver all comments with that hash mark and comment. Big deal, you say? I’m not done.

These chats are real-time. It’s like inviting all the best editors, writers, and agents into your livingroom for a chat. Oh yeah! There are a few wonderful chats scheduled weekly that you can jump into when you have a chance. #askagent is one, #writechat and #famwritechat are two more. Check out www.tweetchat.com for another avenue for reading chats. You can type in any chat you want to follow. Www.tweetgrid.com can also do the same thing, but you can follow multiple chats if you want. This way, you get to jump into a conversation with professional editor and agents, ask what you want and listen to their advice. Pretty cool, huh?

So why am I tell you this? Because this is your grand opportunity. Ask that professional editor, agent, or writer the questions you have always wanted to ask. Sometimes there is a subject for the chat, but sometimes you can ask anything you want. The chats can go quickly sometimes, so keep up if you can. And don’t worry, you can always read them later if you have to leave or miss one.

Just jump in and give it a try. They do go quickly and I ended up reading a chat without jumping in recently-it was just too quick. But I still gleaned so much information just from following along. Don’t miss out-it’s a wonderful resource.

Have fun…

Education Never Stops

OK, you’re an editor or a writer and you’ve been doing it for years and making money. Is it useful to take a course, workshop, or class from a fellow writer at this point? Is it useful to hear what others are doing, learn a new way to do it, or not? Maybe if it’s working, why mess with it?

I’ve been pondering that question because there are two workshops coming up in town that looked interesting to me. One is at a locally owned bookstore in Scottsdale, The Poisoned Pen, run by author CC Harrington titled “Are you a Plotter or a Panster?” http://www.poisonedpen.com/event-calendar/writers-workshop-with-cc-harrison The workshop focuses on outlining, plotting, etc. and the many different ways that work. Why is this interesting? I work in a very specific way, but I’m always curious to know how others work. What if there is a better way to do it? What if I’m not working at my potential?

Another workshop later in the month is offered at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, another locally owned bookstore. This one is run by James Owen and is titled “Writing for Young Adults.” Since that is where my novel is focused, I’m interested to get the straight skinny from someone who’s written for the audience successfully  (The Shadow Dragons, The Indigo King, etc.) http://www.changinghands.com/.

I’m thinking that most of the info in these workshops can be found on the Internet somewhere. But in the same way that my workshops are better because there is someone there to answer your questions and the info comes from a live person, so works these classes. I’ve pretty much decided to do this, and I’ll let you all know how each of them goes. You’re never too old to learn something new, and even successful people know that there is so much more out there to accomplish and perfect.

So, I’ve answered my own question but maybe I’ve given you something to think about. Join me in either of these classes if you’re in the Phoenix area. We can learn from each other.

Keeping Up with Social Media

I will admit that it’s new to me to market myself online. In my career, my work has always come to me by word of mouth. I’ve been lucky that way, and I’m good at what I do. That way, the references are honest and work is good.

But this past year I jumped into the arena with a Twitter account based on my writing, a blog based on editing/writing and have just come up with a Web site that will, hopefully, send business my way and open some doors. Isn’t that what these sites are for? For the life of me, I wasn’t sure what I needed a Web site for, really. I get my work by way of my reputation, so what do I need that for? But last year was a slow year and people don’t want to spend the money on a good editor. Too many times, this is the expense they feel they can live without, or they think that they can hire someone who charges much less. Well, as in most important decisions, you get what you pay for. And I’m not saying that you have to pay big bucks all the time, but if someone is only charging you $15/hour to editor your work, I would certainly question it. What kind of background do they have? What kind of references? Can you see their work or talk to prior clients?

Ah, but I digress…I’ve developed a Web site at http://web.me.com/vdemetros (I don’t have a domain yet, just taking it slow. Take a look and tell me what you think. I welcome the insight,) and I’ve linked this blog to the site. I know that keeping up with your content is essential and so far I’m having so much fun writing that it’s not a chore at all. I also know that it’s important to Tweet only relevant info instead of just “I’m drinking coffee and picking my toes.” That might be interesting some of the time, but not most of the time. I appreciate the Tweets with links to writing information, agent updates, etc.

The upside to all this? Since joining Twitter months ago, I have learned so much. I am able to follow some wonderful agents with amazing advice. It’s free advice from agents that I would pay for. It’s quips and gripes from editors, ideas on writing and story structure from writers, links to sites and information from so many people. And all this from just reading Tweets and keeping up.

My final “keeping up” is teaching others. I’ve taught a few writing courses and workshops and loved it. I’ve taught tweens and adults and both have been a satisfying experience. I was even talked into working on a “Hike and Write,” which put me on a long grueling hike with a journaling workshop at the top. At the time, I wasn’t much of a hiker, but I am now and I love it. I gave it my best shot and had a lot of fun. I’m going to pursue more workshops and writing courses and even take a few.

So follow me on Twitter (vdemetros), follow my blog and check out the Web site. It keeps me on my toes…

New Year’s Resolutions Once More

So, every year we make our resolutions, and every year we fail to achieve them. Or do we? Why do we make resolutions that are so hard to attain? What about making resolutions that are easy to achieve, but just require some dedication? Trying to lose weight, year in and year out, can only make one miserable. Why do it?

This year, I resolve to do the things that make me truly happy and make others truly happy. So here goes:

1. Read as much as possible. I have a pile of TBR books that are calling my name. I never seem to find the time to read them and the pile continues to grow. Either I move to Neil Gaiman’s library, or resolve to find the time. Less TV, more reading.

2. I will spend as much time as I can with my daughter. She makes me laugh, is so much fun to be around, and doesn’t mind hanging out with me right now. She’s 14 and will be heading off on her own very soon, then what?

3. Spend more time with my friends. I love being with friends, but the day-to-day responsibilities seem to take away from that. I’m going to make time to be with the ones who make me happy.

4. I am going to work on my novel with the goal of final edits in 4-6 months and an agent by the end of the year. Sounds lofty, but anything is possible and I feel great about my progress so far.

5. Drink more…Oh yeah, I know. But I have so few vices and I love a good martini or glass of wine. I will drink more of the good stuff and when I want to. I will share good times with friends over a glass of wine or champagne and not feel guilty for having it.

6. Keep up with my blogs…they make me happy. I like sharing writing advice and experiences and my gluten-free blog, www.gfinaz.blogspot.com, is something that I share with many people and I love it. There are thousands upon thousands of blogs out there, but I don’t care. I’ve got to make mine stand out.

7. Be positive. Sounds simple and a little silly, but it helps to stay positive about life. I am happy to be alive and healthy for another year. And if I find myself becoming negative, number five should help with that.

So there you have it…nothing negative, nothing impossible to achieve, nothing crazy. Just pure realistic goals.

Happy New Year!