The Year I Turned Pro

By Kathy Dunnehoff

2018 is the year that I turned pro.

For those of you who know me, that might sound strange. I’ve been a writer and a writing teacher for more than 25 years, and I’ve got four novels published and lots more written. Hadn’t I already “turned pro?”

No, I had not.

Let me explain by telling you about a small book I read in 2017. “Turning Pro” by Stephen Pressfield (the author of several books on writing and the novel/film “The Legend of Bagger Vance”) is about the professional habits of a writer. He says it’s not what you’ve done or not done. It’s not whether or not you’re published or making any money or any other measurement you may use. Being professional is approaching your work with solid habits and a commitment to yourself to produce.

I think I’m a pretty fast writer, so I’ve been able to produce despite being a bit sporadic about it, but in 2018 I wanted to put my head down and treat my writing with the same level of professionalism I approach my teaching.

I started by setting a work schedule. I would write Monday through Friday every morning until I hit my word count for new writing or page count for revising. And I would not put other things ahead of it (with the exception of a fairly short meditation and a stout cup of tea). There would be no, “I need to grade these essays first, and I can easily write this afternoon.” Also forbidden before the work is done? Laundry, the internet, errands, a shower, or other writing related things like outlining etc…

What happened? LOTS MORE WRITING! And even more importantly, the emergence of a professional habit I feel good about every day.

2018 was the year I really turned pro.

 

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Tally the Writing Dog

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By Kathy Dunnehoff

I have a writing friend who calls his muse Becky. Sure, it made us all smile when he said it, but whatever works for a writer is nothing but good!

I thought what worked for me was silence. It was in very short supply when I began writing novels. My daughters were young and fun and noisy. I would set a timer when I needed to go into my home office, and when it was about to go off, I would hear them breathing at the door. Needless to say, I did my most productive writing away from the house. On Saturday mornings, for years, my husband Thom would shoo me out the door to a nearby café, and I would get several productive hours in.

When our girls were older, there was less need for leaving the house to write and wonderful silence during the day to get my work done. So, when the idea of getting a puppy was raised, I was reluctant, to say the least. Sure, I wanted one, but I was afraid the “company” during the day would slow me down.

What I found when that little Yorkie came into my life, was a muse, a writing companion. Tally would sit at my feet when I wrote, and her warmth and quiet sleep made me feel like I had just the right kind of company for the lone work of writing.

Five years later, we’ve gotten into the habit of writing first thing in the morning in bed. As soon as Thom leaves for work, I fire up the laptop, and Tally moves from my lap to curl up beside the computer screen.

My muse isn’t named Becky, but I have been thinking about getting another puppy…

 

The Writing Calendar

By Kathy Dunnehoff

I’m a cheater, and I bet you are too.

I hope you’re still reading after that. Let me explain… Humans, all of us, have a great capacity to fool ourselves into thinking that we’re doing better than we are. Did you eat enough vegetables yesterday? Uh, yeah, pretty sure I had a salad. Well, maybe that was last Tuesday.

You see where I’m going with this? As a person wanting health, this inaccurate recollection of how we’re doing can have some serious implications. If your goal is to exercise four times a week, you may think you came close with three times, but the reality may be that you worked out three times this month.

As a writer, this questionable ability to kid myself was not helping me at all, so I decided to hold myself accountable in a new way. I used one of those free calendars everyone gives you in January, and I made a writing calendar. It sits where I write, and at the end of a writing session, I record how long I wrote and what I accomplished. writing calendar

At a glance, it becomes very clear to me how I’m doing. Sometimes when I think I’ve only skipped one writing morning, I’m shocked to see that it’s been two or even three, and I get back at it.

I think a calendar, whether a lovely freebie from a local florist or an electronic version, can become a twelve-month accountability partner in whatever you want to accomplish. Try making one for a habit you’d like to nurture. Exercise? Playing your ukulele? (I need one of those), cooking more meals at home?

I think you’ll find, as I did, that you’re a cheater, but with a little accountability, you can be true to whatever goals are near and dear to you.

 

Finishing

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Do you have a few unfinished projects lying around? I don’t mean an unfinished sweater you started knitting years ago or clothes to wash. I mean writing projects. For a writer, life is complex. Traveling and going off on a hike with friends are important. Experience is the basis of good writing, but writers must take the time to write. Prioritizing is part of getting things done.

Last year, I set a goal to finish four novels I had written over the past two decades. While writing the novels, I felt compelled to complete three nonfiction books first and published them on Amazon. I edited the novels numerous times and received helpful edits from my critique partners. Then, hired a professional editor. Once she returned them, it meant more editing. So, for the past year I focused on finalizing the novels.

Writing The End of a first draft was a great achievement but then the real work began. If you consider a novel in the 80,000-word range, writing 350 words a day for 228 days would bring you to The End of the first draft. If you are aiming for 100,000 for your genre, you’d finish in a year. That is less than one page of single-spaced manuscript per day.

Some days are more productive than others. I am often up before dawn writing because mornings are my most productive time of day. Find your best time. Most writers can’t write every day, but on days they don’t put words on paper, the stories evolve and solidify in their thoughts.

Rewriting and editing are tedious but must be done to perfection before you query an agent or indie-publish on Amazon or one of many other platforms. After all your personal focus and hours, you may be blinded to serious problems in the storyline or unclear word choices. It is still essential to enlist beta-readers who are voracious readers in the genre and not family members. The hope is to identify problem areas you have not recognized before you proceed to publication.

Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, your job is to never bore the reader. Information in a nonfiction work or the story in your novel must be engaging and keep the reader reading. Attending writer conferences, taking classes and participating in online writing skills webinars can be valuable. Many are free, but usually, in the end, will try to sell you something.

Each year, November is National Novel Writing Month; NaNoWriMo for short. If you need a push to finish a project or start a new one, this may be for you. Locally, at Flathead Valley Community College, Kathy Dunnehoff is presenting Novel Challenge. Beginning October 30 for five sessions. She will discuss the craft of writing and how to keep words flowing for the month of November. With concentrated effort you can finish a first draft during the class.

Dennis Foley is teaching Writing the First Novel during fall semester. Check out the online brochure at FVCC, Creative Writing. Authors

The annual Flathead River Writers Conference is September 22 and 23 at FVCC where you can learn from both Kathy and Dennis along with other publishing industry professionals. The brochure and online registration are available: https://www.authorsoftheflathead.org.

Happy writing and reading. Hope to see you at the conference.

Betty Kuffel

And Now for Something Different

Ann Minnett MWW photoBy Ann Minnett

 

I had the great pleasure to take Kathy Dunnehoff’s Screenwriting class at FVCC in May. She’s taught for twenty-five years but still managed to be enthusiastic and involved with our class. Great feedback and handouts, too! Guest speaker Dennis Foley was a plus.

Kathy inspired me to give screenwriting a try.

I use Scrivener for my novels, and it features a scriptwriting template. Even with that assist, the screenwriting format is initially clunky, and I tend to add details of a novel (a big NO). Nonetheless, I’m writing a screenplay based on my second novel, Serita’s Shelf Life. The novel is funny, sad and sometimes crazy, but readers love the main character. She might translate well to film. About a third of the way into the story, her flamboyance is coming through on the script’s pages.

We’ll see if I have the aptitude. In the meantime, this writer’s having fun getting back into Serita’s head and imagining her on the big screen.

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