Thursday, August 19, 2010

Writing astrology columns

As many of my regular readers know, for the last couple of years I have been writing an astrology column for the student newspaper of the Community College of Denver (CCD): Campus Connection. And today, I am starting my fourth semester of being a professional astrological writer (using the olympic definition of professional---if you ever got paid [even once] for the work, then you are a professional).

When I first accepted a position on the newspaper staff, the astrology column was not even a glimmer in my eye. I was in a literature class with Sarah Stover; and when she got the job of editor-in-chief, she remembered that I mentioned that I occasionally did some freelance writing. I agreed to work for the newspaper, then discovered the very next week that I needed to do a last minute transfer to the University of Colorado at Denver if I did not want to lose a whole semester worth of credits (I was just short of a single class, a science class, for my Associate degree when I transferred). Sarah did not care that I was going to a different school; as long as I was taking classes at Auraria campus, I was still qualified to work for Campus Connection.

It was not until October that the thought of an astrology column arose. I was doing a piece on Wicca and witches---which is how Sarah realized that I knew a lot about the esoteric traditions---when the thought occurred to her that I might be capable of writing an astrology column. Every writer meeting after that, she would mention how she loved astrology columns (hint, hint). I basically ignored the hints because of a slight difficulty that the format of the student newspaper presented.

Campus Connection comes out every three weeks (five issues a semester). This means that doing a predictive column was close to impossible. The very first semester I was there, I discovered a two year-old issue on one of the stands---an issue long forgotten by everyone. This caused me to have to figure otu a way to write an astrology column that was as fresh (useful) on the last day that the issue was on the stands as it was the first day.

It took me three months to figure out the solution. In fact, I figured out the solution the very last week of winter break. I cobbled it up and sent it in. The first column was about How Your Sun Sign Might Affect Your Study Habits. It got published, and the rest as they say is history.

The original format of the astrology column included an introduction which discussed some aspect of astrology and introduced the theme of the month. Based on the feedback from readers I talked to, the introduction section was abandoned when the next editor-in-chief started (it was part of the changes needed to keep the column in the paper---his opinion of the column was not exactly favorable---ironically, all the changes were ones that I wanted because of my feedback research). There was also some artistic changes done last year (including the removal of the background artwork).

But despite the changes in format, the way I write the column has been stayed the same. A month before writing any particular column, I have an idea. A couple of days before the column is due, I abandon the original theme and start working on a completely different theme. The revised idea for the column tends to be something I dreamed up while in the shower. Coming up with the idea is probably the hardest part of the process (in terms of how long it takes me to come up with a viable idea).

Then I start with the easiest signs for that idea and work my way towards the harder ones. The easiest signs to write about are those that I have a real life model for (often I am joking about how a certain Virgo and Gemini react). Then I progress to the harder ones...for the ones that I am unsure about I open up one of the many astrology books that I own (most often Rex Bills' The Rulership Book). Due to the nature of the column, I end up writing bits of it whenever I have a few mintutes to spare (lightrail, standing around waiting on my wife, etc.).

And a few months after the issue is off the stands, I reprint the columns on the internet. The astrology column does not do well on the internet for various reasons, but I do like to have them available online for my non-college friends to read. (The last four columns I wrote have yet to be posted to the internet which says what type of summer I had this year.) So here is to another year of writing astrology columns. May you enjoy and learn as much about astrology as I do while writing them.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Qod Leon Uris on Discipline

"In order to be a good writer, you've got to be a bad boss. Self-discipline and stamina are the two major arms in a writer's arsenal."

---Leon Uris

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Washing away writers block

One cannot leaf though a writer's magazine or writing book without running across tips to overcome or prevent writer's block. I always presume that the tips are meant for amateurs; none of the professional writers I know believe in writer's block.

Nevertheless, I do keep track of what other people do to break blocks when they occur. The other day on Facebook, it was knitting and spinning around in circles.

Personally, when I am not sure what to write for the next paragraph, I resort to washing the block away: loading the dishwasher, the washing machine, sorting though the mess in my office, and taking showers.

Of course, I am not sure if anyone understood this the other day at the writer's meeting for the student newspaper. I got some strange looks when I said that a lot of my writing occurred in the shower. I wonder how they would have felt about knitting or spinning in a circle.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ask me a question---what can I do to become a good writer?

Question: What can I do to become a good writer?

Answer: I think that the number one quality that any writer needs to develop is the ability to be a self-starter. Too many would-be writers spend time looking for the perfect niche, or the perfect mix of keywords, or the perfect site to write for. In the meantime, they are accomplishing no actual writing, and their skill as a writer is not improving at all. Their income is also suffering. The only way to become a good writer is by writing, and the only way you can accomplish that is by learning to self-start.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Living in a Fishbowl IV

This last month or so, I learned another problem with living in a fishbowl. It turns out that the glass goes both ways; not only can everyone see what you are up to, but quite often you can see what other people are doing and saying also.

I discovered this on Facebook. As some of my readers know, the last relative still talking to me, one of my sisters, decided to throw a fit because I decided that plans made months in advance (plans which involve other people's schedules and feelings) were more important than her plans announced at what I felt was the last minute. There was the additional fact that they said some harsh words in my direction the previous year---basically, it boiled down to the fact that they felt my entire life was a waste of time.

I tried to come to an understanding with them, but got tired of being told that I did not measure up and that I was not allowed to have hurt feelings over how they were treating me ("That is just the way I am"). As my friends know, I do not respond well to anger, threats and blackmail. And if I can't tell you the truth, I quit talking to you.

Even more serious was I tried to take certain things private (emails) only to have them explode in public on my Facebook wall. I am still not sure what that was supposed to accomplish. Maybe they thought that I cared about my reputation...I know that they care about theirs (a habit that mom drilled into us kids).

Of course, the cherry on top was that they decided that they could not work around my schedule and started to make snide comments on their Facebook status updates. An example: "There are two types of people in the world: those who always have time for friends and family and those who do not." Ok, maybe I am paranoid; maybe that was not aimed at me. And if it was, well, the plans I had scheduled months in advance involved friends and my nine-year old god-daughter (who acts like she is related to me)---my crime was not having time for friends and family; it was that I refused to give my sister a higher priority after learning what she thought of my life and that I was required to change while she was allowed to continue being a PITA.

The snide comments went on for days. Now, she was not holding a gun to my head forcing me to read this stuff, nor was I forcing her to read my status updates (I generally went about my life as normal [sort-of]; I did get less writing done than normal).

Then when she got done with her vacation, she went on Facebook bragging about how wonderful her family was (including my abusive mother). I treated these updates the same way as the others, I ignored them (aka did not take the bait, did not respond).

So what did I learn from all this? Well, all public figures get to see what other people think of them. Besides Facebook updates from frenemies (you have to love that term), we also get to see unfavorable opinions about ourselves in the comment sections of articles, on forum postings, and (if you write books) in the review section of Amazon.

Of course, I do not have to read about other people's opinions of me. I can ignore other people's reviews of my work, and comments they make about me. It is easy to ignore one's bad reputation when your very own family set out to destory it before one's public career even started.

And in this case, I do not have to read someone's snide comments disguised as status updates. Why? Because they chose to defriend me yesterday. I guess I am no longer talking to any of my relatives (unless the relatives on my father's side of the family decide to talk to me now---can they be any worse?).

Monday, August 2, 2010

Three random observations

Here are three random observations for today (random because they came out of my head):

1: There are sure a lot of ads for ballon helium on the writing site Helium. I guess that the spiders that control ad generation believe that people looking for gas to fill party ballons will end up on that site merely because of its name. Then again, I have noticed that often the little ad spiders have no idea what type of ads to put on my pages either. And it is not just Google Adsense either---all spider driven ad systems seem to have this issue. So it goes.

2: There are times when it takes me forever to figure out how to do something, especially things that I have been putting off. Today, I decided to put the "share buttons" on all my blogs here on Blogger. I had installed it on my most popular blog, Gleamings From the Dawn---a blog about Golden Dawn and the mystery traditions, the first day that it was an option. I decided that I would do it another day for the other three blogs I have here. I failed to note where the option was hidden...hence I spent a half hour today looking for the widget that does this. (It is under Design/Blog Posts if you are looking for it yourself.) If I would have done it the day that the option became available, it would have taken me five minutes to do it. *sigh* Good news, all my blogs now have share buttons under the individual posts.

3: The economy probably still sucks eggs on rocks, especially the job market. When I was in the restaurant business, I used to judge how the economy was going by the sales numbers and the behavior of my customers. This habit has carried over into my current profession, being a writer. I watch the articles I have on the pageview sites as a "witch's ball" (the big glass fishing floats that Wiccans use to scry with); as the concerns of my readers go up and down, so too do my articles go up and down with the trend. The fact that my articles about unemployment have shown no signs of cooling off makes me firmly believe that any rosy numbers I hear from the government are being cooked to a fine mash (these articles did not go hot until the job market tanked, so it is not that they are always good pageview generators).

So there you go. Three random observations. Now I really should go work on my latest project---one that I have been putting off for a month.