Friday, July 23, 2010

How to Be a Professional Writer by Deb Amlen

Deb Amlen author of the humor book, It's Not PMS, It's You, is a humor writer and crossword puzzle constructor whose work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post and more. Because I'm obsessed with process, I asked Deb if she'd do a guest post on writing. Thank you, thank you, Deb!

How to Be a Professional Writer

Many people have written recently to congratulate me on the publication of my first book, “It’s Not PMS, It’s You”. Those who know me also ask a series of questions that can best be summed up as, “Deb, how is it that someone trusted you to write an entire book? When we were in college you couldn’t put two coherent sentences together and when you did, they usually came out as a random quote from some obscure British comedy sketch.”

I don’t take this personally. I just spend a lot of time secretly thanking whoever is making the Universe run.

But the question of how someone becomes a writer still intrigues me, mainly because I still don’t know myself. I’m a crossword puzzle constructor, not a novelist. So when I got the call from Sterling Publishing, I reacted the way any sane person would react. I assumed they had the wrong person.

“Deb Amlen?” I repeated more than a few times. “Are you sure?”

Oh yes, they said. They had been following me on Facebook and thought I was funny. So I met with them, we all shook hands and agreed that this was a Good Idea. I, in a prophetic sign of things to come, went home and Googled “how to write a book”. And then I proceeded to panic.

Anyway, Caroline and I thought it might be beneficial for emerging writers to see exactly what goes into producing a professional, laugh-a-minute tome. Let me know if this sounds like the career for you.

7:30-8:30 AM: Wake up with a panicky start, realizing that there are only (insert random number) of months left until my manuscript FORANENTIREBOOKOHMYGOD is due. This will be my main emotional state for the entire time the book is being written. Wake child up for school and make breakfast. Remind toast-munching child that we have to get to school on time because Mom has a full day of writing ahead of her. Child nods mechanically without looking up from his book. He has heard this before.

8:30-9:00 AM: Drop child off at school and head home to begin productive day of writing. Must make coffee first. This will be a full day of work, so a major injection of caffeine is non-negotiable.

9:00-10:00 AM: OK, down to work now. For real. Boot up the laptop for what will surely be a fruitful day of award-winning humor. Stare at blank computer page. For a really long time. Make more coffee to distract myself from the growing sense of panic that is dominating my life.

10:00-11:00 AM: Dig out Professional Writer’s Notebook and thumb through pages of illegible scrawl. Find a potentially good idea in a phrase that looks like it says “On top of furnace. But this time with marshmallows.” Spend time mulling over this nugget of brilliance. No longer have any idea at all what I meant by that. Rip page out of notebook, crumble, and shoot for the wastebasket.

11:00 AM-12:00 PM: Clinical depression.

12:00-12:30 PM: Lunch and brief internal debate about faking my own death to get out of contract. Decide against this plan mostly because of the inconvenience of having to explain the term “undisclosed location” to my children.

12:30-1:00 PM: Clearly distractions make it impossible to get anything done at home. Ignore internal voice reminding me that I am the only one in the house and therefore a total loser. Head for local Panera restaurant.

1:00-1:30 PM: This is more like it. Bottomless iced tea and no one distracts me here. Boot up laptop and write three words when Panera Cookie Lady comes around with sample tray. It would be rude to say no. Cookie break and brief discussion about the merits of chocolate chip versus shortbread.

1:30-2:00 PM: Log onto Facebook. This is just good business. These days, you can’t sell books without a solid social network. Spend half hour looking for the skank who stole my boyfriend in high school.

2:00-3:00 PM: Last ditch effort to write something before I need to retrieve my child from school. Re-write yesterday’s chapter draft, as it currently makes as much sense as an H. Ross Perot campaign speech. Vow to do better tomorrow. Ignore internal voice that is actively betting against me.

Somehow the book got written, though, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. You’ve got to be in it to win it, right?

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