Your Entrepreneurial Soul

How can an old-fashioned Detroit assembly line worker walk away from the factory and become a creative, independent 21st-century entrepreneur?

That’s the way I now see the situation faced by fiction writers today.

Here’s what happened. Last month, I picked up Robert T. Kiyosaki‘s Rich Dad Poor Dad for a dollar at a library book sale. I was interested because I had a poor dad—a “progressive” teacher and administrator, strangely enough the same as Kiyosaki’s poor dad—and a rich uncle, my dad’s brother—a businessman who created a chain of discount record stores… “and never the twain shall meet.”  My family background made Kiyosaki’s ideas shockingly personal.

Since then, I’ve been feverishly delving into this new-to-me world of entrepreneurship and business and money. I now have an sense of the chasm between Amazon and the publishers formerly known as the Big Five.

In his book Retire Young Retire Rich, Kiyosaki mentions the difference between the corporate mindset and the entrepreneur mindset.

This is simplified, but listen: corporate publishing is a bureaucracy. In contrast, Amazon, big as it is, still has an entrepreneurial soul.

What does this mean for fiction writers, especially indie fiction writers?

We fiction writers create products that didn’t exist before we invented them, new products that other people are willing to trade money to get.

In the past, we turned our inventions over to bureaucrats. We were like craftsmen who left their workbench because they were too focused on craft to be businesslike. When times got hard, they had to get an assembly-line job. 

Think of each car coming off the assembly line as a short story anthology, a compendium of the collected works of all the workers. Except each worker keeps writing the same story over and over.

Is it any wonder we now see copies of copies of an author’s original idea? It’s like different models of assembly-line cars. Take the original idea of the car, give it a slightly different shape, color, accessories, horsepower, mechanical tweaks. It’s the same basic car, just a different model.

Take the original Twilight, The Hunger GamesFifty Shades of Gray, give it a few twists and tweaks, turn out a dozen other novels, TV shows and movies, even a new genre, all based on the original invention… and what you end up with is different models of the same basic car.

It’s no longer enough for us to be craftspeople at heart who work on an assembly line, turning out stories for a bureaucracy to sell, tweak and reproduce. It’s not enough to hand over our copyrights—our only assets—to a bureaucracy that knows better than we do what assets are for.

We as fiction writers have to approach this process differently. What would it mean to be a fiction writer-entrepreneur?

Nora Roberts has famously said that writing is her job. Writing need no longer be a job within an enveloping corporate context. Writing is now the personal business of each indie writer. We must approach this as business people, not as employees, assembly-line workers or baby bureaucrats, but as entrepreneurs, like Amazon.

Amazon is currently the farmer’s market where we take our crafts to sell.

Many of us still have the craftsman’s view of the marketplace. We have to enlarge that view.

Now I understand better what Kristine Kathryn Rusch has been blogging about for a long time. How can we ourselves become entrepreneurs, each of us a mini-Amazon?

Some writers have taken the first steps, but there are so many questions.

What’s the best way to protect our copyrights, which are our assets?

Should each author become a Limited Liability Corporation? Would that provide enough protection for our copyrights? Would it give us a tax advantage?

Do some of us need to band together—not into unions, which are for job-holders—into some form of mutual entrepreneurship?

What’s the next step for us after the current Amazon farmer’s market develops into something else? Will we be absorbed into a new corporate bureaucracy? Or can more of us become this new kind of fiction writer-entrepreneur?

How can an old-fashioned craftsman who could no longer make it on his own and who spent years working on a Detroit assembly line walk away from the job and grow the skills needed to become a free entrepreneur?

By S.J. Driscoll

Serena Dracis: Between Lives? Don’t Micromanage the Universe

Being Between: a series about moving from our current day jobs and life situations toward our true vocations and life goals.

In this fifth installment of the Being Between series, Serena Dracis shares her three-step plan of how to work with the gods when they push you into a new life.

Thank you, Sally for inviting me to guest post on your blog! I’m thrilled and honored to be taking part in this series; it’s a subject near and dear to my heart.

Recently I wrote about reincarnation, a subject I love and will probably revisit again and again. If you have a chance and are interested in the topic, I invite you to hop on over and check it out.

Do we live more than one life? The answer is yes—and not always in the soul migration sense.

I often refer to my animal training career as “my past life.” I worked at the sea lion show of the San Diego Zoo for eight happy years during my late 20’s and early 30’s. My life was all about animals, training and educating people about the environment. It was so much fun! Really, I look back at the zoo as the best job I ever had, and the award from my peers for Excellence in Training still hangs proudly on my wall, alongside my animal pictures. I was single, young, and I loved my life. I used to say they’d have to pry my cold, dead body out of the zoo to bury it.

So how did I end up as a married nurse in Seattle, with the wildest animals around me a flock of chickens? It’s a little bit like the old me died and a new me was born.  Continue reading

Charis Maloy: Between Now and the Next Adventure

Being Between: a series about moving from our current day jobs and life situations toward our true vocations and life goals.

In this fourth installment of the Being Between series, Charis Maloy talks about living from day to day while planning for future happiness.

The mad writer Copyright 2012 Charis Maloy All rights reservedWow, Sally really didn’t know what she was getting herself into when she asked me to do a guest spot about transitioning!

Most of my readers know that I’m a busy girl. Multiple jobs plus trying to write and start a small business make for chaos. What Sally wasn’t really aware of are some of the major transitions in my personal life that are affecting the way I relate to work, and the sacrifices that I am making in order to do what needs to be done.

For the last year and a half, I’ve had my status as family doormat thrust down my throat. For the third time in my adult life, I allowed a certain few members of my family to bring me to the brink of bankruptcy. All while I was working nearly 100 hours a week.

In February, the characters in my head demanded that their story be told. On a major writing binge, I began to tell their stories. Then I had to stop and start building timelines to keep them straight because I had anywhere from 8 to 10 characters talking to me at once, telling me that I had, not a book, but a series.

Last May, after nearly twenty years of hiding my true self, I finally worked up the strength within myself to acknowledge that I am lesbian. This, in a small Wyoming town where my biggest support system has always been my very LGBT-unfriendly church. This is also the place where I once put my job on the line by mentioning in an offhand comment that my brother is gay.  Continue reading

Louise Behiel: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Being Between: a series about moving from our current day jobs and life situations toward our true vocations and life goals.

Today I’m honored to welcome romance writer-translation manager-psychotherapist Louise Behiel.

When Sally asked me to consider contributing to this series, I had to smile—so very often I consider myself caught between a rock, a hard place and a mountain.  Think of me in the middle of a triangle where the walls seem to be closing in.

I’m blessed with many interests, a need to serve and a passion to write.

During the day, I’m the manager of Interpretation and Translation  for the Health Authority in Alberta, Canada. It’s my job to make sure that our limited English-speaking patients have access to trained and highly competent medical interpreters.

I am fascinated by the practice of medicine and by the amazing care given in our facilities. But, given that I don’t like blood, needles or body fluids, this is as close as I can come to the action.

Just in case you’re wondering, I speak only one language. But many of my staff speak three or four. One speaks eight. They work with medical professionals across the spectrum of health care. They can explain medical procedures, outcomes and information in each of those languages. It’s a big job (imagine keeping up with the ever-evolving medical terminology) and I’m honored to be part of the team.  Continue reading

Being between lives

This is the introduction to a series of guest posts about moving from our current day jobs and life situations toward our true vocations and life goals.

Do you have each foot in a different life—or a few different lives?

I do. Feels like I’ve been trying to transition from one life to another for as long as I’ve been alive.

There was a time when I almost crossed over from everyday life to being a full-time writer. My short stories and poetry were published, a play was produced and I wrote two novels (bad ones).

Or maybe that time just looks idyllic in retrospect. I was pretty much a single mom to my son and daughter for ten years since my husband was away on business five days a week. Then I went to graduate school and worked part time as a graphic artist, while still being a mom.

After that, I started teaching college and thought I’d found the perfect career. That’s what so many writers do, isn’t it? Teach class, then close the door and immerse themselves in their real work.

But teaching drove me crazy. I couldn’t write and teach, too. The words of my lectures drowned out the words of my fiction.

So I became an editor on a medical journal. At last, silence!

I could write again, but found myself transitioning to a different kind of writing. I’d always written short stories, but now I was trying to write novels. Real ones.

That’s not easy. Short stories are like paintings, novels are like movies. Hardly the same thing at all. I had a lot to learn.

Years passed. My children grew. I moved from New York to Baltimore to San Jose to the Texas Hill Country. I divorced and found a new relationship. I left my editing job, tried working for a literary agent, then went back to the old job.

All the while, the writing continued, stopped, continued, stopped— I don’t know how many times I quit absolutely, positively for the last time.

Finally, I gave up.

Now, whether I write for a few stolen hours a week while working as an editor, succeed and make a living as a novelist, or have to wait to write full time until I’m old enough to retire, I accept that writing fiction is and always has been the focus of my life.

There’s a kind of peace in that.

Coming in November: writer-psychotherapist-translation manager Louise Behiel and writer-sociology Ph.D. student Lena Corazon.

By S.J. Driscoll

Lizards, tea and pantslessness

Nothing extraordinary. Top o’ the world and bottom of a pit, as usual. It’s all movin’ along.

Let’s see, did anything interesting happen? A large lizard with a gray and tan diamond-patterned back now lives in the garden. I found him while watering. He tried to convince me he was a piece of rotted wood that got stuck in one of the tomato plants. Didn’t work.

He’s a much larger version of the lizards that live in my plastic garden box. I store some old newspapers in it and the lizards made themselves speckly gray to match the type.

They’re all welcome to stay since they’re carnivorous, not herbivorous. Something else carnivorous was sighted here a while ago: another mountain lion. Stay in the fenced garden, little lizards, and eat bugs.

I now hear Prudence MacLeod reiterating: “Gods, Sally, you have such an interesting life!” Continue reading

Da Voidick

On Monday I didn’t read. Instead, I carried around a clipboard and wrote longhand a bit at a time. On Tuesday and Wednesday I wrote like “work” and read during the in-between times of my job and meals.

The verdict? Two days with reading and with writing done during a specific period: about 250 words a day. One day without reading and with writing fit in here and there without any special effort: 650 words. That couldn’t be clearer. Continue reading

Killing Audrey II—again

Yesterday @DeidreKnight of The Knight Agency, literary agent and romance writer, held a Q&A session for Austin RWA. She was inspirational—at least I found her so. She approaches the business of running her agency in a way that’s both very creative and very directed. That’s what’s so inspirational.

Creative as well as directed… that’s what we all want to be, isn’t it?

So my question to myself this Sunday is whether I can be more creative and more directed. That’s why this time I’m assessing my goals in a different way. How do the goals affect each other? Am I letting my priorities have priority? Seems like I’m doing okay… but am I still approaching what I want to do in a self-defeating way? Continue reading

Crossing the chasm from here to there

My initial 17 fantasy goals are now realigned into what I believe can get done during the next 80 days. The original fantasy goals are in italics behind the achievable goals.

1) Health: sleep (lights out at 10:30 p.m.), move (get up from desk every hour, spend at least 20 minutes outside morning or evening, gardening, walking or looking at forest). [17) Take better care of my health—for instance, get up from my desk, spend time outside, go to bed before midnight (fail!).]

2) Work only 8 a.m.-5 p.m., 1 hour for lunch, no evening or weekend work. [1) Maintain the quality of my science editing and other job obligations while meeting my deadlines and not stressing out.]

3) Write 250 words/day on my current novel, Continue reading

Burning the Script

Guest Post by Kana Tyler
“The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have.” ~ Anna Quindlen

We used to operate within limited lives, my husband and I—limited by the ruts of our career paths, by our addictions, by former spouses, by people’s views of us, by the “scripts” we believed we had to follow…  We both started over three years ago, via the troublesome technique of first destroying everything with our addictions—we met in rehab (proof that God has a sense of humor!) and if our new life and our marriage have a theme, it would be the phrase, “Because we can.”  It’s a joyful ritual of ours, this oft-repeated answer to so many questions.

Why have I covered myself with stories-in-ink? Because I can. Why do we swing-dance fully dressed under the sprinklers in a state park, or put Spam on our pizza, or go fishing in the middle of a weekday, or stop to learn the life-story of a stranger in the produce section?  Because we can.  So please ask me why I would cut loose from the safety of a scheduled work-week and paycheck to WRITE.  Don’t ask because you don’t know the answer; ask because the answer itself is a celebration:  Because I can.

Here’s a question for you (not rhetorical—if you’re reading this, I’d actually be interested in your answer).  Please introduce yourself by completing the following sentence:   “I am a _____.”

And here’s why I’m interested—I’m wondering if most people would automatically fill that blank with a job title.  I’ve certainly done it.  “I’m a school administrator.”  “I’m a restaurant owner.”  But although both of those were things I DID, neither of those phrases express the things I AM.  Sometimes there’s an overlap –“teacher,” for example, describes both a natural inclination and a one-time profession of mine—and I suspect the most fulfilled folks are those with the most intersections between their “I-Am” and their “I-Do” descriptors.

A month ago I was sitting in the entrance booth of a state park, wearing my cute little ranger-hat and pondering how the incoming drivers would answer if I asked each of them fill in the “I-am” blank… So I grabbed my notebook and began to scribble what grew into a two-page list of words that I might use about myself.  “Writer” topped the list. (“List-maker” also made an appearance.)  My husband and I pow-wowed that evening and (because we can) concluded that if I wanted a job description that matched my “I-Am” list, if I wanted to write…  I should.

A month later, I’m writing for an Idaho travel magazine.  I’m picking up freelance jobs.  Last week I was writing about Scuba-diving destinations around the globe (I AM a Research Diver).  This week I’m writing 400-word blurbs about travel destinations for a car rental agency (I AM a Traveler).  They aren’t glamorous gigs, but I just cashed my first-ever paycheck for writing.  And because I’m at the keyboard, I’m also resuming my long-neglected practice of writing for myself.  I’m relishing a life in which I’m not limited to “safe” choices.   Our existence is spicier since we burned the script.

Plus, I love my new commute. 😉

This post first appeared here on September 23, 2011.

Dip Your Toe in the Water, and–Pow! Tsunami

Ever run outside to play ball when you were a kid, only to have all the balls in the whole game come flying at your head? That’s what it felt like when I went to my first writers’ conference.

Dumb and innocent, I planned to stay in the background and absorb. You know: be cool, scope things out. Invisible as a ninja at midnight.

That didn’t happen. And I’m glad it didn’t.

Scottsdale, Arizona was a short plane hop away from where I lived and the Desert Dreams conference offered a lot. Sharon Sala was the featured speaker and I’d just read a pile of her books. Diana Gabaldon, whose stories I love, was the guest of honor. Agent Donald Maass would be there and so would Paula Eykelhof from Harlequin. It was perfect.

After dropping my bag in my room, I threw on a clean shirt and started walking, following the directions of the desk clerk, who’d waved her hand “back there” when I asked where the conference was. As I wandered around the huge central plaza, a woman asked me to take a photo of herself and another two women. “Sure!” I said, and reached for her camera.

That’s when I first noticed the name tag problem. The names were small. I’m nearsighted, but rarely wear my glasses since they make the floor bend when I walk.

She was agent Mary Sue Seymour.

Okay, I’d do this courtesy, then fade back.

But after I took the picture, one of the women changed off and suddenly I was going to be in a picture. I just checked on line and couldn’t believe it–the photo’s still in the Seymour Agency photo gallery! It’s toward the end, but it’s there. I’m the one in the blue shirt. So much for my ninja ability.

As I was about to wander off again, Mary Sue Seymour asked me to come along with them to a reception. Dumb and innocent (do you see a pattern?), I said, “Sure!” We split up inside and I wandered around the suite, tried an hors d’oeuvre — caviar? very nice–and began to notice that some of the names on the name tags had a familiar shape.

Determined to get at least one good look, I picked the most benevolent-looking person I could find, a white-haired woman seated against the wall. The name came into focus as I bent closer and closer. Sh– Sharon– Sharon Sala. By that time, my nose was practically in her bosom.

Dear lady, she just looked at me sweetly, not yet alarmed. Maybe she should have been!

I backed away and hurried into the next room. A dapper, cosmopolitan-looking man with a New York haircut came in from the terrace, holding a bottle of wine and studying the label with satisfaction. As he came closer and closer, his name tag slowly focused. Don-ald Ma-a-ss. He glanced at me quizzically in passing, probably wondering why this woman with the wild eyes was so red in the face.

By now I was emotionally exhausted enough to realize that someone had been following me around, softly repeating, “Are you in the right place?” in a worried voice. I apologized and left after she explained this was the agents’ and editors’ welcoming reception.

Outside, a large group had congregated in the plaza and a man was at the microphone, talking about the arts. Finally! People were getting food from a buffet, so I did, too. As I filled my mouth, the speaker introduced some people from the audience, who all seemed to be… music teachers.

I sneaked away again, but this time not before I finished eating.

There was a big writers’ conference here. Surely I could find it!

I marched back to the lobby, determined to get a straight answer from that desk clerk. But the lobby must’ve been a quarter-mile away. How big was this hotel? At last I got there, sank into a chair in a corner and pulled out my pad and pen to calm myself and regain my ninja-like invisibility.

In a few minutes, a woman with long brown hair, wearing an exquisite green velvet jacket, strode through the front door and headed straight for me. I may have cringed.

“You look like a writer,” she said. “Can you show me where the main hall is? I’m tonight’s guest speaker.” She held out her hand. “Diana Gabaldon.”

That did it. I’d had enough!

“Wait here a minute,” I told her. I marched to the front desk, got real directions from the clerk and led Diana Gabaldon to the main hall (yet a further quarter-mile away). It was filled with writers, who burst into applause as she went up the aisle to the podium.

The next day, I attended a group appointment with Paula Eykelhof. The other writers didn’t have much to say to her, sitting with hands folded in front of them, willing themselves to be invisible.

Not me! Man, I threw questions into that resounding silence like I was a Hall of Fame pitcher.

The next morning, as I was having breakfast alone, Paula Eykelhof put her tray down on my table and joined me. We talked about whether my kind of stories might be a good match for Harlequin. That breakfast encouraged me to work on subsequent projects with Harlequin in mind.

That was a few years ago and, well, none of my novels are published yet. I know they can be. It takes a while to learn how not to be invisible, but I’m on the road to recovery.

So, you reading this, I know that whatever you want to do is out there waiting for you, too. Dip your toe in the water, and the tsunami will come to you.

By S.J. Driscoll

Don’t Bleach and Iron Your Work

Guest Post by Alica McKenna Johnson

Tips for Adding Diversity to Your Writing

1. I cheat. My YA series has many people from different cultural backgrounds and takes place in different countries. I have written it in 1st person. My MC is a female who was raised without an ethnic culture of her own, but was exposed to many cultures and lifestyles growing up in group homes in San Francisco. I don’t have to know how the other characters’ cultural background influences their perspective–I only have to know what they show my MC. And, yes, they do show cultural differences, but this is not as in depth as other POV’s need to be.

2. I read books written by people and about people from many different backgrounds. I also watch foreign and LGBT films. And, yes, a media portrayal of people from other countries isn’t necessarily a clear picture. Neither is my book. It’s a fantasy–a story of fiction, and the books and movies allow me to add little details that make my characters come through clearly. They also help me to break stereo types.

3. Basic research. I read travel books–specifically children’s books as they give a greater sense of culture flavor. I also watch travel shows–Bizarre Foods and No Reservations being two of my favorites.

4. I’ve taken classes on writing about people from other cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Two of my favorites were How to Write Realistic Native American Characters and How to Write Realistic Gay Characters. I loved both of them and learned a lot! I learned what stereotypes are and what things are culturally true. I learned that, like everyone else, there is a huge range of personalities and backgrounds.

5. I’m not afraid to offend people. I don’t go out of my way to offend people, however, if I want my curvy blond to be panting for the sexy black waiter with the great round butt, then that’s what I’m going to do. That being said–I will do research and ask someone who is black to read my story and see what they think. Is every black person going to be happy? No, but I can’t make everyone happy anyway. There are white characters I don’t relate to at all. I ranted through the movie 30 Days of Night because I lived in Alaska and there were big technical errors–it happens. Tell your story, research, get advice, do your best, and write.

6. Not everyone grew up in a cultural household. I’m mostly German; you wouldn’t have any idea of that by watching my life. I have a friend who is Zuni. Going into her house gives you no sense of her cultural background and she grew up on a reservation and still practices the Zuni religion. I have a friend whose family is Italian. At Thanksgiving they have turkey, stuffing, smoked octopus, pasta, and pumpkin pie. You get a sense of her culture because that is how her family lives.

Just because your character has brown skin doesn’t mean they identify or were raised in an ethnic and cultural environment. You don’t have to be perfect, you can stay within the things you know and are comfortable with. Maybe your Chinese character has a Buddhist altar in their home and hates egg rolls. Mix it up!

7. We are all people. Under the bindis and jeans, bling and manicures, Chanel No. 5 and sandalwood, we are all people. We want to feel safe and loved and special. We want a home, a family, and to be happy. What that looks likes differs from one person to another. A home in the burbs with two kids and a dog can be the dream of an interracial couple, a lesbian couple, yet might be a nightmare for an Indian couple.

No matter what your skin color or who catches your eye, lust, longing, love they all feel the same. Does the shape of a mouth change the passion and nervousness of a first kiss?

8. It’s okay for them to have flaws. While stereotypes are wrong concerning everyone of a race, religion, or sexual orientation, some come from a problem, issue, or quirk that is common within that community. There is an alcohol problem among Native Americans; they also have a higher risk of diabetes. Not all Native American have either of these issues, but they are a concern within the Native American Community. Don’t believe me, go to tribal websites and see what programs and services they offer, many have drug and alcohol programs and some have nutrition/diabetes programs. People have to deal with drugs, alcohol, abuse, and gangs–it doesn’t matter what color they are, who they have sex with, or how much money they make. Having a character dealing with these issues doesn’t mean you are stereotyping them.

We are all people with stories to tell. So tell them. Be brave and see your characters uniqueness. Don’t Bleach and Iron your books, no one wants to read that. Delve into your creativity, your heart, and your mind. Imagine what life is like for someone else–you do it all the time–unless some of you really are vampires and werewolves.

And for those of you creating whole new worlds: there is no excuse for not having more diversity in your characters. You don’t have to deal with social issues in a steampunk alternate universe with dragons–just let that go and have people living together peacefully (well, except for the soul sucking demons).

For expanded versions of these tips, plus foreign film reviews to help you broaden your cultural knowledge, come to my blog at www.alicamckennajohnson.com.

Thanks, Alica!

One picture is worth a thousand drafts

You’ll see that these notes for a short story aren’t notes at all. Not in the usual sense:

As a first draft, recently I started making schematics of stories instead of writing pages of words that might or might not be changed later.

Using a schematic lets me think about the story without falling in love with or worrying about how it’s going to be written. It frees me from the words, structures, cadences the story will be communicated by, and lets me concentrate on the story itself.

You see a beginning at the left top, the story progression along the middle and the end at the top right. The piece of paper torn from a small spiral notebook shows the first ideas about the story captured in a sketch.

Those sixteen cartoons along the bottom represent possible endings, of which fifteen have been rejected. The ending I’m still considering is represented by the little car, which isn’t crossed out yet. There’s still room in the middle to add other possible endings or sketch some significant details.

The theme of the story is shown by that sequence starting with the word, “why.”

Doesn’t look like much to you, does it? But it doesn’t have to. Preverbal, I guess it’s called? This isn’t communication yet because it doesn’t have to be. This picture shows the state of the story in my mind. The communication–the writing–will come after the story has a form.

Once I get used to this new method for short stories, I’ll probably try it at novel length. Already that sounds like a great relief to me–not to be bogged down in all those words just to plan a story. And the words will be fresh since they’ll come later.

Do you think this technique might be useful to you?

Maybe we could start NaNoSkeMo–National Novel Sketching Month!

By S.J. Driscoll

Bye-bye, Plally Jane

Kristen Lamb–The Kristen–is teaching a bunch of us writers about social media. Her voice echoes in my head: Your name is your brand. Your name is your brand.

That’s a tetchy subject with me. My name is the story of my life.

Sallyjjanesjgreenbergdarnowskydriscollrenta

Which part should become my name–my brand?

My poor dad used to tell how he once took me to the grocery store when I was tiny and bragged to the cashier about how smart I was.

“She can say her own name already,” he said. Then he turned to me, sitting in the shopping cart. “Go ahead, honey. What’s your name?”

I sized up the situation. Finally, I said, “Plally.”

The cashier shrugged. Just another new daddy telling a tall tale about his kid.

Years later, Dad would still say, bewildered, “I don’t know why you did that.”

I know why. I HATE my first name. I’ve always hated it. Apparently since the time I learned to talk. Probably before that.

With apologies to all the other Sallys out there, Plally is an improvement.

Fast forward to my first real job. Boss assigned me to write a public relations piece for the New York Daily News. My first professional publication! What name would I use? It didn’t seem to matter that I wouldn’t get a byline. I needed a new persona. My writing persona.

Wilhelmina Euphraisie Sophronia McFrimple Sterling, Fifth Duchess of Norfolk, Jersey and Perth–

Like distant thunder, The Kristen’s voice came rumbling down from my future: Not the name of a purse doggie or a Triple Crown winner or an 18th-century courtesan. Just, you know, a name. You.

But who is “me”? Over the years, I’ve written and/or been published as Sally Greenberg, Sally Darnowsky, S. Darnowsky (maybe–I don’t remember), Sally Jane Driscoll. How many lives have I had, anyway? How many of me are there?

When the time came to get serious and write novels, it was really time to decide.

So I looked at author’s names on book spines. The “k” sound is good. Should be shortish. Helps if it’s euphonious. Rhythmic. Would be nice if it had a balanced shape.

After my long-ago divorce, a Maryland court charged me three hundred dollars for the right to use my mother’s maiden name. I’m determined to get my money’s worth. How about plain ol’ Sally Driscoll?

A quick check on line coughed up a hundred of ’em (hi, everybody!).

The Kristen’s voice in my head, now edgy: This isn’t rocket science, dammit. Just pick a name!

S.J.! Yeah, that’s it. S.J. Driscoll. “K” sound, rhythmic, balanced. Fits on a book cover (if only). No other S.J. Driscolls out there that I can find.

Except Stan Driscoll, who owns the S J Driscoll Company (hi, Stan!). And @sjdriscoll84 on Twitter (hi, Steve!) And my ex used to call me SJ–

The Kristen: Put a sock in it, girl.

So that’s the end of this saga. S.J. Driscoll. For better or worse.

But my friends call me Plally–er, Sally. You could, too.

By S.J. Driscoll

World enough and time

A casual acquaintance once explained how she managed to have the time and resources to paint.

“Painting was my passion,” she said. “I was pretty good, too. Then I had kids, and with my family, my husband, my job, I didn’t paint for years. The kids are grown, I’m retired and my husband encourages me. He even built me a studio. So I paint.”

She shrugged and turned away. “But it’s all gone now.”

That was years ago. As I write this, I feel the same shudder as when she told me.

Yesterday I spent hours looking for contracts for a couple of old published stories. Instead, I found boxes—the kind that holds ten reams of paper—boxes full of my words. Finished and unfinished stories and novels, notes on stories and novels, notes on writing classes and techniques, charts, lists… As I came across each item, I remembered clearly how and when I worked on it. I remembered each idea.

Only a few ideas grew into completed stories and only a few of those stories were published. Why?

Here are a couple of possibilities:

My job’s one deadline after another and I resent carrying that over to my writing.

During my window of opportunity when my kids were little and I wasn’t working full time, my stories began to get published. Then life happened: family member’s serious illness, divorce, demanding new job, bought/lost house, two cross-country moves and more.

These feel more like excuses than reasons, though. Some people overcome much greater difficulties and succeed.

At least I haven’t given up. I’m close. Work and study have improved my writing tremendously.

I’m doing something wrong.

What are you doing right—or wrong?

By S.J. Driscoll