My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Feeling Stuck? Join the Club, and Try These Tips to Get Writing Again (R.S. Williams)

Feeling Stuck? Join the Club, and Try These Tips to Get Writing Again
R.S. Williams

For almost 20 years, I taught college writing. These days, I work as a freelance writer. Even though I’m no longer teaching, people still confide in me about their writing woes. They ask a lot of worried questions, the very same questions that my college students used to ask. One of the most frequent worries writers of all backgrounds have is what to do when they feel stuck.

And wow, do ever I know that awful, sinking “stuck” feeling. It’s horrible. It also happens to me regularly—several times a week, on average. Really bleak periods have found me stuck for months on end, making zero progress on my novel. It can be extremely disheartening, and even deeply depressing.

But a while back, I realized that I’d managed to survive all those psyche-wrenching times where I just couldn’t get the ideas to come to me. I’d shared pieces of this advice with my former students. Why not share my advice with a lot of people, in one long post? Even though I’ve reassured literally thousands of worried writers with this same advice, I don’t mind doing so over and over. People will meet the right solution when they’re ready, and when the time is finally right. As Ernest J. Gaines once wrote, “Everything’s been said, but it needs saying again.”

All that said: Take what you need from this list. I hope you’ll find something in here that helps you free yourself from feeling as if you’ll never write again.

1) Remember: You are NOT alone! Feeling stuck is common, and even normal. As Catch-22 author Joseph Heller once noted, “Every writer I know has trouble writing.” Many writers will tell you that when the material flows easily from the start, it winds up being crap. So if you’re having trouble writing and getting into your “flow” space, know that you’re in good company. 

2) Try not to beat yourself up. You’ll get past this stuck feeling. Really, you will. The fact that you’re reading this means that you’ve managed to keep writing through and around all your other “stuck” points over the previous weeks and months and years. (If you hadn’t, you’d be off doing something else instead of reading this post.)

The blocked feeling may seem extra-strong right now. (To me, it nearly always feels that way.)  Just keep being kind to yourself. Keep taking your writing in small steps. You’ll eventually move past the stopping place you feel right now. It may not be instant, but it’ll happen.

3) Let yourself write utter crap. Even the most experienced writers sometimes fall into the old lie of feeling like the words have to come out perfectly on the first try. This is what stops so many people from ever setting a single word on the page. 

I saw this all the time with my college writing students. Many of them were in a perpetual perfectionism deep-freeze. To get around this, I gave them a low-stakes (small grade) assignment with a challenge: “I want you to complete this assignment as badly as you can. Follow the instructions, but make it your goal to write badly. Write garbage. Don’t focus on making it perfect. On Monday, I want to see who’s written the worst draft possible.” 

When we returned to class the next week, my students were in much better moods. They were even ragging one another as to who had the worst paper. Sure enough, as I walked around the classroom checking assignments, I saw some atrocious grammar and spelling (which students could always fix later). What struck me most was the amount of strong thinking on those sloppy, “badly written” pages. I saw a lot of 12-point Times New Roman griping turn into thoughtful insights. Once they felt free of that it’s gotta be perfect the first time I type it feeling—once they knew I’d given them permission to “write poorly”—the ideas came more easily.

Let yourself write badly, for as many pages as you need. Chances are that the good stuff will come along once you feel free to write a bad draft.

4) Write in small, short bursts. For me, this removes some of the pressure of sitting at the keyboard for long periods. Try keeping a few sheets of paper and a pen (or a cheap memo pad) in the places you spend the most time: by the sofa, in your car’s glovebox, by the toilet, and so on. Keep the paper inexpensive; you don’t want to have such a pretty notepad that you’re afraid to use it. When a tiny idea fragment comes to you, write it down. If there’s more coming behind it, write that down, too. Otherwise, stop and come back to it later—when your next piece of an idea comes along. Before you know it, you’ll have committed to paper a bunch of small snippets that can help break up that block. 

5) Try writing longhand. (Note: If you have dysgraphia, you can skip to the next item.) 
This advice came to me from Natalie Goldberg’s classic “self-help for writers” book Writing Down the Bones. Goldberg suggests writing by hand, in a notebook with pen or pencil, as a direct way to access one’s creativity and memory. That’s how she writes every day, and how she’s drafted all of her books. It’s also how Alice Walker composes her drafts—and if writing by hand is good enough for both Goldberg and Walker, then by God it’s good enough for me. 

When I read Bones a couple years ago, I was desperate. I’d been stuck in one place with my novel, and hadn’t written anything new in months. Sitting in front of my computer keyboard got me nowhere. So I figured, why not try it? I bought a cheap spiral-bound notebook, grabbed a fresh pen, and began writing whatever junk came to mind, by and. Before I really knew what was happening, I had 20 handwritten pages of quality material. Since then, I’ve used longhand about half the time, when I’m getting new material onto the page. It helps a lot when I’m trying to write emotional scenes or deal with painful memories. 

6) Change the font color. That’s right—change your font color to white, so you can’t see what you’re putting onto the page. Then start typing. When you’re done, press CTRL + A (highlight All), or COMMAND + A on a Mac, and then change the font back to your usual color. I’m not sure why this works, but it does seem to free me up from looking at and worrying about what’s going on the page. If I can’t see it, I can’t do my usual perfectionist overcorrection thing. Ha!

7) Change your physical location. Maybe you’re stuck because you’ve been sitting in one place, and in one position, for far too long. Try moving your writing spot somewhere else: to another chair, another table, looking in a different direction, looking out the window. Move to another room, if you can.   

Or get out of the house altogether, and write for a while at the public library, a coffee shop, or a diner. (Note: You’ll want to buy a little something and tip your servers, if you go to a retail establishment.) Writing outdoors, while I sit on the front steps of my house, or on a large rock on a local hiking trail, also helps jolt my mind into action. Even half an hour in a new location can dissolve a writing block.

8) Read through old literature textbooks. Maybe it’s all the years I spent teaching from them, but reading back through old “Intro to Lit” anthologies often helps me work around feeling stuck. Most old lit anthologies are available at used bookstores, and don’t cost anywhere near as much as their latest-edition counterparts. (I’ve found some great ones, such as the early-2000s editions of the Norton Intro to Lit and the Bedford Intro to Lit, for $5 to $10.) These textbooks also often include discussion questions. I like trying to answer those questions once I’ve read a selection; often, I’ll just open the book to a random page, and go from there, whether it’s poetry, drama, or short fiction. The ideas often come flowing back to me after an hour or two of this.

9) Read your favorite authors’ work—out loud. Reading aloud forces us to read and then hear exactly what’s on the page. (If you can’t read aloud, try listening to an audiobook.) Hearing the words we’ve grown to love can help dissolve a writing block. 

10) Work on another writing project. Often, I forget that my mind needs a break from these same words. That’s when I know it’s time to look over my friend’s screenplay draft, or look at the poem I wanted to revise for another journal. This way, I’m still writing, but I’m also letting this particular creative story rest a while. Even if I don’t have a “Eureka” moment while adding a little more to that album review due next week, I’m still getting some distance on this piece before I look at it again. 

11) Set up a “work day” with a friend. Knowing that I’m meeting my friend on a specific day to sit down and work together often helps. Having another person holding me accountable for showing up, just being present, and working quietly does wonders when I’m feeling stuck. 

12) Do something that doesn’t involve writing. It doesn’t have to be fancy or exciting—just make sure it’s not writing. Cleaning is my go-to solution. Ancient Buddhist monks were on to something when they came up with the phrase “Chop wood, carry water.” It’s in the humdrum everyday activities that our lives happen one small task at a time.

So when I’m feeling extra-stuck, I know it’s time to clean out that dirty litter box, scrub those greasy roasting pans, or mop the kitchen floor. I also have some great ideas while I’m in the shower, washing my hair. No, I don’t know how this works. Somehow, though, it does. 

13) Play an instrument. You don’t have to be “good” at it—the secret is to do it. I’m barely a beginner at guitar, but playing for even half an hour uses the non-writing creative areas of my brain. It lets my “serious writer” side relax and wander off, only to return later feeling better and having a couple new ideas.

14) Listen to music. If I’m having difficulty with a scene, or if I feel as if my words have all abandoned me, listening to music often jolts me into a new frame of mind. This works for many people I know, and not just for writing problems. When I finally feel the need to turn down the volume, or turn off the music altogether, I know I’m making progress past my mental block.   

15) Draw (or paint/make other art). As with #13, you don’t have to be “good” at it. Suspend all self-judgment, and then draw (by hand or electronically). Don’t worry about what you’re drawing; reassure yourself that you’re the only person who’s going to see it. Use the non-writing parts of your brain for a while. You may notice that, before long, ideas begin sneaking back into your imagination.

If you have PTSD, like I do, this technique may help when your symptoms seem to have put your words into a deep freeze. Sometimes, when I’m having a particularly bad day, I’ll draw what a crucial scene, or the end of a story, feels like for the main character. Or I’ll draw what finishing my book would feel like. This helps me for reasons I don’t yet fully understand—but, hey, I’ll take whatever I can get.  

16) Play like a little kid. I have a box of Legos that I keep around for times like this. All the pieces are mismatched, and they’re at least 30 years old. When I start snapping Legos together, I remember the great ongoing stories that my sister and I used to tell when we were kids. Being a writer is a lot like telling those little-kid stories for a living! Before I know it, I’ve come up with a new paragraph or two in the back of my mind. Playing by myself, with a few old kids’ toys, is often fun and refreshing.

17) Get ideas and wild prompts from unexpected places. You may have one of those old Magnetic Poetry sets floating around somewhere. Maybe you know someone who’ll let you use theirs (or sell you theirs for cheap). I like shaking the plastic box and then seeing what kinds of weird prose poems I can make with the handful of words I pull out. 

Pinterest and Tumblr also have great boards and accounts to follow. Just search “writing prompts” and see what turns up. If you’re on Twitter, try following some popular storytelling bots. Here are a few of my favorites:
@MagicRealismBot (“generate[s] a magical story every 2 hours”) 
@horse_bluegrass (random, bittersweet, and sometimes inadvertently risqué snippets of old bluegrass and country song standards)
@rewrittenbible (if you’re in the market for Biblical hilarity and heresy)
@poem_exe (random yet beautiful and occasionally funny short poems)
@str_voyage (“a bot forever voyaging [...] endless nautical story generator”)
@fairytaletext (mashups of lines from classic fairy tales)

Prompts from these accounts have led me in surprising new directions. A few have turned into stories of their own. Some have been flat-out corny. No matter the weird, random prompt, this little exercise often gets me putting words on the page again.

18) If none of the tips above work, it may be wise to leave your project alone for a while. Sometimes, the story just isn’t ready. We feel stuck because we’re trying to force ideas before they’ve percolated long enough in our subconscious. Return to the story in a couple weeks, or a month. Let it simmer on your creative mind’s back burner. 

Note that not all of these tips will work for everyone. Feel free to combine two or three. Experiment with them as you see fit. The most important thing is that you’re trying something new. The fact you’re reading this—that you’re making an effort to move past your writing difficulties—means there’s hope.

R.S. Williams taught college writing for 19 years before starting a new career as a freelance writer-artist-editor. She lives in LaGrange, Georgia, where she’s completing her debut novel, Songs My Father Barely Knew. Find more of her work at http://rswilliamswrite.com/ 

If you would like to guest blog for Writing About Writing we would love to have an excuse to take a day off a wonderful diaspora of voices. Take a look at our guest post guidelines, and drop me a line at chris.brecheen@gmail.com.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Once More Unto The Breach Dear Friends, Once More (Personal Update)

The countdown begins now.

Six weeks.

Six weeks, three days a week, five hours a day (including commute).

The wibbly wobbly updaty watey ball of schedule weirdosity kicks off now. And having worked last night and today (and tomorrow through Thursday if you're keeping score) we're already in weird mode. Plus for at least the first three of the six weeks, I'm going to be writing lesson plans and plotting out curriculum every night. I'll do my best.

Just a reminder:
  • There's going to be some major jazz hands
  • I might miss a post and they're certainly likely to go up late
  • Look toward the weekend for what would usually have gone up on Fridays and Mondays ("meaty posts")
  • Thursdays for the duration will involve an appeal
  • Yes, I'm making money writing, but this is a $37/hr gig that will float me into October, so there's just no way I'm giving it up right now. My many supporters are just going to have to accept there is a small, six-week lull in what I can do each year.
Also, I could use some more guest blogs and/or guest bloggers (the hopper's getting kind of low), but I will be extra persnickety about accepting submissions. Why? Because when I have time to email 100+ people back who didn't read all the directions, it (only) takes me longer per guest blog than just writing the damn things myself.  (Only repeat bloggers make putting out a call like this "worth it" over time.)  But given what I'm going through in my real life, I really won't be able to put up with that this time around. Either read all the directions (in the above link) very, very carefully, or wait until I can hold your hand a little more. Trust me; I'll be able to tell.

Remember submitting to an actual gatekeeper/publisher type is going to involve even more little rules including bullshit like hard copies and self addressed stamped envelopes, and they will just trash your submission and never tell you if you decide you don't need to pay attention, so consider it practice if you need to get over the feeling that I'm being a megalomaniac. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Best YA for Young Women (Final Round)

What's the best book (or series) that is marketed to young women?    

In a reflection of the (lack of) value that our society places upon young women in general, the trends and tastes marketed to young women are often under the the greatest amount of scorn. The way young women talk is "not really English." The music young women listen to is "bubble gum nonsense." The movies marketed to them are "teeniebop." The literature marketed is argued to be Mary Sue or emo. Of course, the interests of young men are rarely described with such vitriol and are often folded into nostalgia markets or given more mainstream markets.

This poll is about those books (and series).

Our final round is live! Through a tumultuous nomination process, four quarterfinals and two semifinals we are now down to our last eight titles.

Don't forget you get three (3) votes, but that there is no ranking, so using as few votes as possible is better. This poll will be up until the end of June and drift into July until we start getting nominations on our next poll. Also, don't forget that that since I can't stop shenanigans like voting twice from different computers, or voting after the cookies expire in a week, I encourage as much shenanigans as possible. Vote early. Vote often.

The poll itself is in the lower left at the bottom of the side menus.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Best YA for Young Women (Poll Results 2nd Semifinal)

What is the best book (or series) marketed to young women?

Thank you to everyone who participated in the second semifinal round for our poll.  The final round will go up tomorrow.

There's not much fanfare to this. The cut off gulf was huge, and it doesn't look lik ethere's going to be an untenable amount of redundant authors.

Results in text form below.

Old Kingdom Series - G. Nix 54 17.94%
The Finishing School series - G. Carriger 53 17.61%
Alanna - Tamora Pierce 46 15.28%
The Ruby in the Smoke - P. Pullman 42 13.95%
A Wrinkle in Time - M L'Engle 24 7.97%
Wee Free Men - T. Pratchett 22 7.31%
Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery 21 6.98%
The Will of the Empress - T. Pierce 19 6.31%
Lunar Chronicles - M. Meyer 14 4.65%
A Ring of Endless Light - M. L'Engle. 6 1.99%

Friday, June 16, 2017

What? No Post??? You mean other than THIS? (Upcoming News!)

"But Fridays are usually a 'meaty' post, Chris."

"You think you can just do this, but you can't. You think you're a good and decent person, but you're not."

"Why have you forsaken us?"

"I thought you were some kind of writer. It turns out you are just a fraud. Now I completely see through you. Even your imposter syndrome is fake."

"I liked you....until now."

"I was about to raise my Patreon contribution by a factor of 10, but now I'm going to cancel it completely."

"I have come to rely on a certain kind of post for each particular day of the week and I am always paying really close attention. This is not in any way something that only you worry about and imagine that your followers are paying much closer attention to than we are. This is real."

"I will literally die! You've killed me. Thanks a bunch."

Yes, all of these are things I've absolutely heard when I skip a juicy post on Fridays. I am in no way exaggerating, hyperbolifying, or personifying the paranoid voices in my head after overdoing it on the caffeine and watching too much Inside Out. Totes veracitized.

Every few weeks I have to amalgamate some of this shmexy blogging love to the folks that keep the lights on and the rent paid around here. (Not that I don't love you all but I extra love them with sprinkles.) And today there are two things that need doing. One is the "Inside Scoop" letter that goes out once every couple of months to the Kickstarter contributors and upper level Patreons. I've been chipping away for several days, but today it's time to finish up and send it out. (Not too late to get in on it if you want to be a patron!) The other is to get up something early as a preview for NEXT Friday's post. My content is always going to be free, and I don't hold back "the best stuff" for folks who pay, but to give them a little extra by way of saying thanks for making sure I get to eat non-government cheese in a van down by the river, I try to get them some really personal status updates periodically and sneak previews of what's coming up. Today I owe them.

Upcoming News:

If you've been following this blog for more than a year, and certainly if you've been with us for a few, you may recognize the season that's about to break here at Writing About Writing. It's the season of the Honey Badger.  OH YES!

For six weeks every summer I teach summer school to middle school students in a double installment 9 part adaptation of Lord of the Flies. The money is way too good to ignore even though it's going to wreak havoc on my writing schedule for a month and a half like your thirteen year old in a game where you can destroy the environment. I get really busy and typically things get a little wonky blogside.

Most people won't even notice the change, but for those of you who follow my update schedule pretty closely, you might notice that I miss the occasional post, put up so much jazz hands that even my jazz hands are doing jazz hands (like that creepy scene in Doctor Strange except with JAZZ hands), do a lot of chewy posts on the weekends instead of the week days, and my personal updates start to involve a lot of crying, screaming, and wondering why various deities have forsaken me. By week five, I'm usually wondering why the hell I thought it was a good idea–didn't I learn from last year? But I'll make sure something goes up most days. I'm planning working through a backlog of Mailbox questions, as those always are a little easier to spark inspiration than a cold start. And I very rarely miss a day completely.

I'm also (just for this six weeks) going to take an extra day off. Thursday. I'm planning on putting up a boilerplate message about future fundraising goals and trying to hit or at least get a fair bit closer to my third major Patreon goal (over on the left hand side). If I'm not making a certain amount within a couple of years, I'm going to have to bring ads back, (The Contrarian won't need a nanny forever) and I'd like to reach a milestone on that road by the end of summer if possible. I want it to be kind of like the NPR donor drive. The regular content will still be going, but we'll remind people enough that folks who just keep forgetting might jump to.

I'm telling you this so that those of you who are generous patrons don't wonder if I'm sliding into an unapologetic slump and those watching close don't think weekly fundraising is the new world order or anything. It'll be over in six weeks.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Best YA for Young Women (Semifinal 2 Reminder to Vote)

What is the best book (or series) marketed to young women?  

Just a quick reminder to everyone. Saturday I will tabulate the results of our current semifinal poll, and later will put up the final round. So please take a moment to vote for which titles are worthy of going on.

Everyone has (3) votes, but remember that there is no ranking, so using as few votes as possible is better.  

The top four titles will go on to the final round.

The poll itself is in the lower left at the bottom of the side menus.

The Return of the Mystery Blogger

Chris: I thought this mystery blogger shit wasn't going on anymore. You told me you had some wall of fire or algorithm enhancement cream or something.

SciGuy: Well, we...um....we ran out of cream.

Chris: Can't you make some more!

SciGuy: Well, yes. I can make some more....uh....cream. But....

Chris: Will the cream get burned up in the wall of fire?

SciGuy: Um......  That's not how any of this works.  Look, here's what you need to know: I have fan-damn-tastic security countermeasures due largely to the fact that I don't want anyone to be able to find my porn stash, but as long as this Mystery Blogger is posting from computers at this facility, there's not a lot I can do. Those computers have clearance to post.

Chris: I interviewed the staff. It was very thorough. I asked each one of them in no uncertain terms if they were a turncoat traitor. Most of them threatened to beat me up or stop working for fast food coupons. I had to buy Leela Bruce a gift certificate for one of those squeezy stress balls in the shape of a brain. That's how upset she was.

SciGuy: All I can tell you is that it definitely came from the main level. Which it just so happens exonerates this lab.

Chris: So it wasn't the cheese guy or the evil clone of me who lives in the basement and "just loves" Nanowrimo. That's as much as we know?

SciGuy: Well it also wasn't the velociraptor with the laser attached to its head.

Chris: Well, FUCK, I'm really glad we narrowed that one down.

SciGuy: I might be able to put an access code onto every computer that would identify which terminal is sending the information. You could only give out the codes to each person for their own terminal.

Chris: Make it so.

SciGuy: Dude you are SO not Captain Picard.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Self Care for Writers (Julie Cox)

Self Care for Writers
by Julie Cox  

“Self care” is a term with multiple possible interpretations. The simple version, “take care of yourself first, so you have something left when the rest of the world needs something from you” is the accepted baseline, but it’s up to the individual what that means. The air travel “put on your own mask before helping others with theirs” is a common analogy. It’s a combination of physical, mental, and emotional tasks to shore yourself up. In some connotations, self-care is almost synonymous with self-indulgence. And indeed, every once in a while that IS taking  care of yourself. But for writers, and many other kinds of creatives, self-care is frequently not self-indulgent, but the exact opposite: self-regulation.

How often do writers think to themselves, “I could write, but -” This is frequently a sign a writer needs to get out of their own way. They need to set up or reinforce habits of self-care that are not fun, and don’t necessarily feel good, but that set them up for success – and to have the time and energy left to write.

First Tier: Physical Needs: “I’d write, but I’m too tired/don’t feel well”

For writers, it’s tempting to let our physical selves slide. After all, it’s our brain that’s important, right? Yes, but physical maintenance is a vital component to those brains. It’s the life support system. Physical energy is not so far removed from mental energy. Ask anyone who’s been on an extended recovery from a physical illness or surgery how much mental energy they had – usually, not very much. So part of having the energy and willpower to write is exercising, eating nutritious food, sleeping, taking medication (whatever that entails), and keeping up with hygiene. It’s a little humbling what a difference it makes to the brain when its body’s needs are met.

In “self-regulation” terms, this kind of self-care means developing exercise routines that you can’t skip (having an exercise buddy or at least someone to push you is helpful), planning and preparing nutritious meals ahead of time, setting sleep schedules for yourself (setting alarms both for waking AND going to sleep helps), and by all that is holy keeping up with all of the medical stuff that goes on with those of us in less than optimal health to begin with – doctor appointments, medication, and therapies. Take care of all this stuff deliberately, keep yourself as healthy as you can, and writing will be easier.

Second Tier: Mental Needs: “I’d write, but I’m overwhelmed by all there is else to do.”

Repeat after me: “Better living through lowered standards.” There is never an end to the Other Things You Need to Do That are Not Writing. You’re gonna have to let some things go … and learn to not care, or feel guilty, about prioritizing your writing.

Whether you work full, work part time, take care of a household, go to school, whatever – the responsibilities of day to day life are overwhelming. There is never an end to what work or home or life will ask of you. But there HAS to be something left for you, and for your writing. You can’t give all your mental effort away; don’t be the Giving Tree. (Also, fuck that book.) So you have some prioritizing to do. This is Mental Effort Triage, and writing has to stay near the top or it will never happen. Do what you must, and weigh your options when it comes to anything else. This task, or writing? You can’t do everything. There will have to be choices. Prioritizing your writing will mean letting some other things go. And that is a-okay.

One method for conserving more of your mental energy is, like with physical needs, getting tasks on a schedule, as automated as possible (especially bills – autopay is your friend), so that they take up as little mental and actual time as possible. I try to think to myself, “What can I do now to get that stuff out of the way? What favors can I do for Future Me, so she can write?” Setting yourself up for success with routines is key to taking care of yourself well enough to write.

And take your medication.

Third Tier: Emotional Needs

This one’s harder, because everyone’s emotional needs are different, but it works on the same principal as the other two. Keep yourself emotionally healthy, develop routines, plan ahead. Know what your emotional cycles are like and plan to deal with them. Develop a plan for what to do on unexpected down days. Having a difficult time with someone significant in your life? Put some effort into fixing it. Dealing with emotional issues in your own head? Go see a counselor, join group therapy, read a book, practice mindfulness – whatever practice gets you into the right frame of mind. And by God, if you find yourself being emotionally damaged by something, change it. Life’s too short for that.

Many people have trouble processing and expressing their emotions. Working on this a little bit at a time is definitely good self-care to make you a better writer. It’s not just static emotions, either. Authors need to experience emotion in order to give it a bigger punch in their books. So seek out joy, and contentment, and fear, and sadness, and anger (in appropriate and healthy settings). Do things that scare you, go to beautiful places, interact with people from other walks of life, argue with your crazy uncle on Facebook – wait, no, never do that last one. Go to church or pray or study if that’s your thing. Love other people fiercely. LIVE! Your own stories play a massive role in the stories you tell others.

Much of what I’ve discussed is just self-care, as opposed to self-care for writers. The biggest difference is you are not just taking care of yourself, you are taking care of your Author Self. Stay as healthy as you can. Be mindful of how you spend your energy. Take care of your emotions. Plan ahead; automate; schedule; be deliberate about your choices, and set yourself up for success. It’s not just your own happiness that is at stake, but your art. Protect that.

Julie Cox has a number of fantasy, sci-fi and/or erotic works published with Circlet Press and elsewhere. Her work can be found at writingwhilehuman.com, and she is on Twitter as @SQLPi. Her novel, "Capricious", won the 2014 Best Bisexual Book Awards for erotica and is also available on audio via nobilis.libsyn.com. She is an activist for progressive ideals, and lives in Texas with her children and many pets.

If you would like to guest blog for Writing About Writing we would love to have an excuse to take a day off a wonderful diaspora of voices. Take a look at our guest post guidelines, and drop me a line at chris.brecheen@gmail.com.

House/Pet Sitting Price Rates

Pricing Guide for House/Pet sitting 

Note: Due to the nature of pet sitting, many people book weeks and months in advance and a booked date held in good faith that is cancelled (or changed to reduce time) at the last minute is very unlikely to be filled. For this reason, I ask for half payment for bookings cancelled with fewer than 72 hours remaining before they were to begin.

  • Very Local (0-15min): South Berkeley, North Oakland/Piedmont, Walnut Creek, Lafayette, Orinda
  • Short range (15-30 min): Concord, Moraga, Greater Oakland, Pleasant Hill, Alamo, North Berkeley, San Ramon
  • Mid range (30-45 min) Clayton, Alameda, Richmond, Martinez, Pittsburg, San Leandro, San Francisco, Hayward, Pleasanton, Antioch, Vallejo
  • Long range (45-60min) Pinole, Hercules, Antioch, Daily City, Pacifica So. SF, Sausalito, Livermore, Union City, Brentwood/Oakley
  • Max range (1hr+)- San Rafael, San Mateo, Palo Alto, Milpitas, San Jose, Mountain View, Tracy, Discovery Bay, Fairfield, Napa
  • I can technically go further, but then additional costs need to be considered for travel expenses and potentially lost work at my other job.
  • Please note bridge toll addition below for locations across bridges from the east bay.

Basic Service
My main service is overnight pet and house sitting. (I'm a writer, which I do anywhere there's wifi and a three pronged plug). I technically offer other services, but their pricing structures are less competitive as they consume more of my writing time.

(I stay there pretty much most of the time when I’m not at work including overnight. I take care of pets. I keep the house from looking empty. Please note that I do have another job and occasionally even a social life, so while I will come back and be at your home for hours a day as well as sleep there, I may be gone anywhere from four to nine hours a day.)

V. Local- $20/day
Short Range- $25/day
Mid Range- $25/day
Long Range- $30/day
Max Range- $30/day

Long stay:
(I'll stay several hours to keep animals company but will not stay overnight Note: due to the the drive back and forth, this is actually more expensive at the greater distances than housesitting and it may be cost effective to have me stay.)

V. Local- $15/day
Short Range- $20/day
Mid Range- $30/day
Long Range- $40/day
Max Range- N/A*

Drop in visit:
(Feed the cats, fish, birds, dogs that don’t need company, water plants etc...maybe sit down for a few minutes while they eat)

V. Local- $10/day
Short range- $15/day
Mid range- $25/day
Long range- $40/day
Max range- N/A*

Double Drop In:
(I'll take care of animals need to be fed twice daily. I'll visit once in the morning and once in the evening.)

V. Local- $20/day
Short range- $30/day
Mid range- $50/day
Long range- N/A*
Max range- N/A*

24 Hour Supervision:
(For very short periods of time, I can cover situations that basically require constant supervision. [Perhaps you have to go out of town but your pet is injured or ill.] Note: I do have another job that pays hourly, and I will have to coordinate my schedule so as much notice as possible is absolutely critical. Subject to limits.)

V. Local- $100/day
Short Range- $100/day
Mid Range- $100/day
Long Range- $100/day
Max Range- $100/day

*Theoretically I'm willing to do these jobs, but I'm worried they would be prohibitively expensive for most people compared to other options. If your situation is an emergency, feel free to inquire about pricing. 

Mild care:
(Dog needs a walk, cat has complicated medicine routine, two or more litter boxes that need scooping every single day, about five to fifteen minutes worth of extra routine, etc…)

Housesitting/pet-sitting: Included
24 Hour Supervision: Included
Long stay: +$5
Drop in visit: +$5
Double Drop In: +$5 (if mild care is needed once) +$10 if mild care is needed during both visits

Heavy care
(Multiple animals needing mild care, dog needing a long walk [30min+], more than three cage-free pets, etc...)

Housesitting/pet-sitting: +$5
Long stay: +$10
Drop in visit: +$10
Double Drop In: +$10 (if heavy care is needed once) +$20 if heavy care is needed during both visits
24 Hour Supervision: Included

Bridge Toll surcharge:

(For locations across bridges from the East Bay)

Housesitting/pet-sitting: +$2.50
Long stay: +$5
Drop in visit: +$5
Double Drop In: +$10
24 Hour Supervision: Included

No Wifi: +$10
(Wifi is critical to my writing work, and involved in 95% of what I do when I'm not working, so if you don't have wifi, I'm going to end up at a local cafe every time I want to post a blog. I cannot do 24 Hour Supervision at a location with no wifi.)

Last Minute Booking:

Jobs booked with less than 24 hours until they begin. Exception made for bereavement travel.

V. Local- +$10
Short Range- +$20
Mid Range- +$30
Long Range- +$40
Max Range- +$50

Note: This addition is not "per day." It's just a one time surcharge for the initial inconvenience. If I am able to take the job, I can handle scheduling after the first day. Please be aware that my availability is not guaranteed.

Pool care/Plant care:

Easy periodic maintenance (average <15 min/day) +$5
Involved or daily maintenance (average 15-30 min/day) +$10
Heavy maintenance: $20/hr 

Other services

(Of course I clean up after myself and if I stay more than a couple of nights, I'll wash any linens I've used if there is a washing machine available, but if you want more cleaning done, I can do that as well. Go on vacation and come home to a clean place! I will need to see the job to give a quote.)

Light cleaning- $20/hr
Heavy/deep cleaning- $25/hr

Caretaking/Yard Work: 
(I will need to see the job to give a quote.)

Light yard work- $25/hr
Heavy yard work- $30/hr

(Does someone need to be picked up even though you're out of town or do you need a package delivered, mail dropped off, or something similar?)

Driving services- $20/hr + 50¢/mile


Multi-day discount:
(Jobs booked for eight days or more will get a free day each week. Base Cost only–Does not include "Additions" or "Other Services."  Note: Due to schedule planning this is a "bundle" discount for long-term jobs and does not apply to extending the job after booking.)

Cash: 5%

I can take checks or Paypal or Venmo, but if you hand me cash at the end of the job, I'll knock off 5%.

Food in the fridge:
(I usually buy a lot of Trader Joe's frozen dinners before a job, but I'm a sucker for a home cooked meal–especially with lots of vegetables–and have a weakness for junk food. We can talk about what things I might like and how much of a discount I'd give, but it can go as high as $10/day.)

(Most discounts tend to be more personal and less easy to anticipate. I've given small discounts for everything from allowing overnight guests to having the latest console hooked up to a big screen TV with a game I'm excited to try. )