You’re Not the Boss of Me!  Questions Authors Ask about What to Write and Whether to Get Paid

I never realized before I became a writer just how much I like being told what to do. There is safety in knowing what’s expected—and freedom to blame your boss if something doesn’t work out.

Who can I blame now that I’m self-employed?

This is in real time, folks—an internal struggle I am actually engaged in as we speak.  You see, now that I am my own boss, I make all the decisions: when to write, how much to write, and what to write.

Mostly, I love this.  But, as with any endeavor, pressing in deeper reveals how little we know.

As of this very moment, I have the following projects:

  • 1 short story, pending acceptance from a publisher
  • 1 YA novel, in process (almost done with first draft!)
  • 1 book editing project for a paying customer, in process
  • 1 blog post, which I am of course writing at this very second
  • 3 poems that need to be submitted
  • 5 LOIs that need to be written and mailed to publications (Letters of Introduction basically say, “Hey, I’m a great writer! If you have any articles that need to be written, please let me know!”)
  • 6 queries (offers to write specific articles), pending
  • 7 essays that need to be submitted
  • 16 poems, pending
  • 22 essays, pending
  • Plus, countless ideas or rough drafts in all genres, just waiting for me to get to

In my internal dialogue (more like a scrum, actually), one of my current questions is: What should take priority?  Really, if I want to get my YA novel done, I should just work on that.  However, if I want to get paid anytime in the next two or three years (yes, that really is how long it takes with a first novel, best case scenario), I need to be marketing shorter pieces.  And, the more pieces out there, the more likely I am to get published—it’s simple statistics.

I don’t have an answer to this question, and unfortunately, this question has an equally troubling sister: Is it time to get paid?

This is a question most serious writers will ask at some point.  You see, a new writer starts off on a teeter-totter, standing on the end labeled Writes for Free.  I’ve been doing mostly that for the last seven months.  I am starting to wonder, Do I have enough publishing credits to be taken seriously by paying markets?  In other words, have I crept far enough along on the teeter totter that it is starting to tip the other direction, toward being not just a writer by profession, but by paycheck?

I don’t know the answer to this.  For the most part, it’s easier to get published in non-paying publications.  But, of course, publication in and of itself doesn’t put food on the table.

Some authors, notably Renegade Writer’s Linda Formichelli (“On Writing for Peanuts“) and Funds for Writers’ Hope Clark (“Writing for Literary Magazines“), consistently counsel writers to demand payment—not by being pesky to editors, but by refusing to submit to non-paying markets.  But new writers often feel the need to build clips (previously published pieces) or credibility by spending some time on the Free side of the spectrum.

I have some thinking to do, and maybe you do, too.  If you’re a writer who has already made the switch to the Will Work for Food side, I would love to hear how you knew it was the right time, and how it’s working out for you.

I’ll keep you posted.  Meanwhile, it’s back into the melee for me!



photo credit: By © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0,

My Watershed Moment: Publication with The Ariel Gore

When I became a mom, and found myself sinking in exhaustion and despair, I clung to certain books like life preservers.

One of these was The Hip Mama Survival Guide by Ariel Gore.  In this memoir, she wrote things I hadn’t read anywhere else.  Reading this book, I suddenly felt someone understood: I didn’t like being a mom sometimes; I longed for the old days when I brushed my teeth every day and wore clothes that didn’t have someone else’s barf on them and slept more than two hours in a row.

Yesterday, Ariel Gore published my essay “I Hate Babies” on, and this was a watershed moment for me.  In fact, I risked being taken for a creeper when I wrote her this email last week, after she expressed interest in the piece:

And may I just say…it feels a little surreal to be emailing the actual Ariel Gore….This is completely irrelevant to the essay we’re speaking of, but this is one of those MOMENTS for me, and I wanted to acknowledge the bizarre wonder of it.

I know I will look back fondly on this, and suck my dentures in to tell the grandkids, “Oh, have I ever told you about the day I emailed Ariel Gore?  She was famous, you know; she wrote lots of books and stuff, and probably saved your mother’s life by convincing me that everything was going to be okay.”

This is one of the building blocks of my journey as a writer.  Do you have a watershed moment like this?  I’d love to hear.




photo credit: By Bjørn Christian Tørrissen – Own work by uploader,, CC BY-SA 3.0,

How to Handle Rejections: A Lesson from My Son

My son, Angus, finally did it: he broke his arm.

Before you ask how this connects to writing, you’ll want to know how he did it.  Get ready: he was on the trampoline.  I know, I know; I’ve had to field a few parents who’ve said, “Oh, those things are so dangerous!” or “I would never let my kids play on those–oh, wait…I thought Angus was at a friend’s house…”


The thing is, if we didn’t have a trampoline, Angus would have broken his arm falling out of a tree, or skateboarding, or BMXing.  He is just that kid.  Last week, I found him standing on the back of the couch, asking, “Mom, is it okay if I do a backflip off this?”

No.  No, it is not.

Well, he handled this injury great–partly because of the wonderful folks at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital.  Angus broke his arm at 10:15 a.m. and, thanks to things like a hospital transfer due to a complication (of course, he would dislocate and fracture his elbow), he did not make it home until after 7 p.m., yet he said things like, “I love it here!” and “This place is boss!”

In my life as a writer–no, wait, in my life, period–I want to be more like my son, who continues to see the good in a situation long after the rest of us have retreated.  This week, I had one acceptance (yay) and three rejections (boo).  I am learning to say, “This is boss!” because getting rejections means I’m still in the game.

My desire, of course, is to have a decent income from writing by, say, autumn 2016.  I only know one sure-fire way to fail: to let those rejections prevent me from writing and submitting my work.

Instead, I’ll be like Angus, who continues to say, “How about this? Can I try this? What about this?” and views his failures as chances to learn how to do it better.  I’ll be a risk-taker, like him.

Only, I’ll break less bones.



Take Your Time: Discovering Your Writing Platform

On Saturday, five friends of mine – three Muslim women from Iraq, two Christian women from Honduras – came to a women’s breakfast at my church.  I loved this.  At times it seems like the whole world is in crisis, but here were six women from different cultures, different experiences, and different languages, and all holding hands and smiling for a photo.

I love this picture, in part because it represents some of my favorite issues: faith, family, culture, and teaching, all in one setting.

Writers often get asked, “What’s your platform?”  This is supposed to be a writer’s area of expertise, a topic that the author returns to again and again, developing a strong reputation as an expert.  I haven’t wanted a platform, because, well…it sounds boring.

More than pain, more than conflict, more than not being able to pay my bills, I hate being bored.  This is one of the reasons I loved teaching: no matter how bad it was, I never, ever looked at the clock and thought, “Whoa, I still have six hours left.”  (Unless, of course, I was grading papers.)  No – when you’re teaching, 2:05 comes so fast that you’re left barely able to keep your body from sliding out of your chair.

Limiting myself to writing about, say, hyperthermophiles for the rest of my life, or even teaching or parenting kids from a Christian perspective sounded like a fast way to kill my joy.

I am on a crusade to kill the joy-killers in my life.

Anyway, over the past months, my writing has started to coalesce around certain themes – the very same themes that show up in the photo with my friends.  So now, when I sign off my query letters to editors, I say something like, “I write about faith, parenting, teaching, writing, and social issues”.  This still feels broad enough to give me room to follow topics that attract me, and hopefully it gives editors something to hook their own thinking to as they decide whether or not to use me as a writer.  If the publication was primarily for moms, I’d tailor it to say, “I write about parenting”.  The beauty, for me, is allowing myself enough ideas to never feel stagnant.

If you’re a writer, I challenge you to not give yourself an artificial platform too soon.  Instead, write about what you love, and watch to see what the patterns are.  Look to your own life – to the photos and memories and passions and issues that excite you.  I believe we’ll be better writers when we take the time to discover our natural passions.