“The energy of the mind is the essence of life.”

~ Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) 

Do you ever feel you have TOO MANY ideas? Sometimes it seems like having too many things swirling around in my head at once leads either to a sense of being frozen in place or heading off in a million directions at once, and that perhaps the energy of my mind has created a logjam preventing me from fulfilling the essence of my life.

How do I know what to start–or finish? What do I focus on? How do I determine which ideas have immediate, intermediate or long-term pay-offs? Which ideas really stink? Which ideas need validation and from whom? I turn 51 in a few weeks and life is half over…how can I possibly get everything accomplished?

As a writer, I’ve started outlining the sequel to ORACLES OF DELPHI and I’m getting excited about where the story is going. I also showed parts of a long-shelved literary fiction novel to a friend and she loved it and said, “That’s the book that you need to write,” and then, after my ego was sufficiently stroked and my confidence up, I showed it to my writers group and at least one member of the group heartily agreed that it is well worth pursuing. But, I’ve got another long-shelved novel–about a group of fiction writers/poets who live a “Bohemian” lifestyle on the in late 19th century rural America that is loosely based on my great aunt–that has also been whispering in my ear lately.

As a publisher/editor, I’ve started editing Blank Slate Press’s third novel, DAYBREAK,–a historical about a love triangle set in a utopian society founded in southern Missouri just before the outbreak of the Civil War. (It’s going to be GREAT, by the way.) I’m also editing and helping a mental health consultant/writer get his book, (AN AMERICAN RESURRECTION: ONE MAN’S JOURNEY FROM CHILDHOOD ABUSE AND MENTAL ILLNESS TO REBIRTH AND LITERARY COMMUNION), on his journey through child abuse and mental illness published. And I’ve been working with a Vietnam veteran on telling his story. Plus, I’m interested in pursuing what I’m calling my Treehouse Writers Cooperative (TWC) idea. (See my BSP blog post on this here.)

The TWC idea is very attractive for me as an entrepreneur. My husband and I have been running our own consulting business (he consults and I do marketing/back-office) for 11 years and we started Blank Slate Press together. I like having control of my destiny and, although I am actively looking for an agent for Oracles of Delphi, I have to admit I am more than a little intrigued by the idea of getting a bunch of writers together to “curate” our own work and publish it under the TWC imprint.

The rapidly changing technology enabling POD and eBooks, along with the changes in attitude toward self-publishing makes forging a “middle way” in curated group publishing very exciting. Call it a writer-owned/controlled imprint or cooperative self-publishing or Hogarth Press revisited or whatever…

Often, when people find out that I’m both a publisher and a writer and that I’m actively looking for an agent for my own work, they ask, “Why don’t you publish your own work?” And I answer, it’s not that simple. Yes, since publishing two books through Blank Slate Press (and editing many others as a subcontractor/editor) and working closely with a talented book designer, I know how to get a book “out there.” (I am in the market for a really, really, really good proofreader, though, because I su*k at doing the final copy/proofing and the last one I hired, while admittedly much better than I am, still missed typos that shouldn’t have been missed.) But, I love the success we’ve had with our first two Blank Slate Press authors (Fred Venturini and Anene Tressler) and we’re so excited about our next author (to be revealed soon!) that I want to keep BSP “pure” so to speak…no work by any of the BSP principals will be published through BSP itself.

So, that leaves the divergent paths of either self-publishing or continuing the work of trying to get an agent. Right now, I’m focused on the agent path…but I’ve got so many other things going on and there are so many new publishing possibilities that working hard to get an agent’s attention–and waiting, waiting, waiting for a response–might get real frustrating real fast.

Anyway, somehow I got off topic … which is exactly my problem! Gah! Too many things going on! And yet, after all this interesting discussion about writing and publishing, I must sign off and get back to the electricity industry–which pays the rent. But, before I go, I’m interested in finding out how you balance it all? How do you prioritize your work? How do you keep yourself sane in the face of competing interests and demands so that the energy of your mind allows you to fulfill rather than impede the essence of your life?

For the things we have to learn before we can do, we learn by doing.
~ Aristotle (384 – 322 BC)

(Warning: Sunday afternoon rambling alert…)

What am I? Since my novel is not published (yet), am I a writer, an “aspiring writer,” an unpublished novelist, or what? I don’t write short stories, so I’m not submitting to lit journals and I’m a sometimes prolific but almost always pretty terrible poet, so I’m not submitting to poetry anthologies. I write novels. But I haven’t been paid to write novels, so am I merely an amateur novelist?

Last night I took my youngest daughter out to pizza where we talked about a story idea she’s been working on and possible plot twists in the next book in my Aithera series. She’s nineteen, a sophomore in college and has already had more recognition for her writing than I have. She went to the Iowa Young Writers Studio and was awarded a full scholarship to the Young Writers Institute at Washington University. In high school, she won both poetry and short story prizes in the writing contests judged by alumni authors. And she received a poetry prize from the Wednesday Club (founded in 1890) which has honored many famous literary figures in the past. She has worked on countless poems, short stories and novels over the years and still she hesitates to call herself a writer.


(She’s also an amazing artist, but I digress….)

I paint (not as much as I’d like to) abstracts canvases where I like to play with color and texture, but I do it as a hobby and I would never presume to call myself an artist. But writing is different. I don’t want to “be” an artist–I want to “be” a writer. And yet, even though I’ve written all my life, I too have hesitated to lay claim to the title: writer.

There are lots of people who ride bikes for exercise, sport, or just enjoyment and they may call themselves cyclists. Do they have to be competing in the Tour de France to earn the name? There are people who cook for a living and are “chefs” and people who cook for enjoyment and are “gourmet chefs.” Do they both have to be credentialed?

What is it about the creative arts that makes some hesitate to lay claim to the title? Many artists and writers achieve success without MFA’s or other degrees–without credentials. And many more people sketch or paint watercolors for fun or write in journals every day and would never dream of showing–or trying to sell–their work to someone else. Are they artists? Writers? Or must you create/write with an external audience in mind in order to earn the title?

For those of us who create/write and want to get our work out there to external audiences but just haven’t achieved that goal yet, it’s sometimes difficult to get over the lack of credential without the imprimatur of having an agent represent you (so you can say, “yes, I’m a writer and my agent is working on getting the book out there”) or an editor/publisher who actually puts your words between two covers and puts a real book up for sale–with their logo on the spine.

But I think I’ve finally learned, at age 50, that, as Aristotle says, “For the things we have to learn before we can do, we learn by doing.” For years I’ve been writing. And during all that time, hopefully, I’ve been learning to be a better writer. And with each new project I undertake, I’m learning by doing. So with a new novel started, one completed, and three others in some state of suspended animation, I finally feel confident in saying:

I am a writer.

And so is my daughter.

Now, I have to get back to my story…

If you wish to be a writer, write.*
~Epictetus (AD 55 – AD 135)

For at least 2,000 years, the best advice for aspiring writers was to just do it. Just write. Write every day. Like any other habit or exercise, the writer who writes daily will get better at his/her craft. And the writer who reads incessantly–and who reads great writers–will inevitably internalize what looks right on the page and learn what sounds right to the ear.

We all know we should write every day. The problem is not the want of writing, but making the time for writing (and/or blogging, tweeting, editing, marketing, promoting, working the day job, eating, sleeping, exercising)…. As I start looking over a long-neglected manuscript and filling in the outline for my next Aithera novel, I have to keep Epictetus’s advice in mind and know that if I want to be a writer, I must write. Period. No excuses.

* Epictetus was a Stoic philosopher who was born into slavery in Hierapolis, Phrygia which is present day Pamukkale, Turkey. He lived much of his life in Rome as a slave for a wealthy freedman (former slave) and secretary of Nero. His owner apparently encouraged his studies and eventually he gained his freedom and began to teach philosophy. Sometime around 93 AD, the Emperor Domitian banished all philosophers from Rome and, ultimately, from Italy. Epictetus left Rome and founded his own philosophical school in Nicopolis in Epirus, Greece. He believed philosophy is not merely a theoretical discipline to be studied, but a way of life to be lived.