Saturday, July 13, 2013

From Changing of the Hats to Changing of the Guard – Part 2

S. K. Randolph began her transition into her new job as full-time author while she still worked as Director of Dance at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire. Her day job provided a steady income as well as a model of success. She transferred that model—the value of working with the right team—to her new job as a writer. As noted in Part 1 of her guest post, she delegated jobs that fell outside her experience to those whose expertise qualified them as vital team members, emulating on a small scale the role played for decades by big publishing houses in seeking success for their writers. (Above on the right is the cover for Encounters, a companion short for The Unfolding Trilogy.)

The arts have been part of my life all my life. My career began in ballet. By the time I retired in 2010, I had moved through the ranks from dancer to award-winning choreographer. One of the biggest lessons I learned: it does not matter how talented you are or how good you are. Succeeding—even with a top-notch team—is about timing, being at the right place at the right time and knowing, once the door opens, the right moment to walk through. 

Waiting for that “right moment” works for me because I know from experience that it spells success. My team continues to work on that aspect; and by the time it happens, I’ll have a body of work to hold up and be proud of. Meanwhile, like choreography and digital art, writing feeds my creative soul. It is my drug of choice. I write because I must…because I love it. The characters who dance in my head beg to be seen and heard; their stories demand to be told. My words give them dimension and voice. (Above on the left is the Wood Tiffet Sabine – a graphic created to open a chapter.)

Finding the tools that keep me focused, vital, and creative is a must. First comes a place conducive to creativity. I need a quiet, uncluttered environment. For me, this is a boat anchored in a small cove outside Sitka, Alaska. Within its peaceful confines, I can disappear into another world for as long my characters hold me there.

Writing tools are also a must. The fewer distractions the better to keep me focused and engaged. I use a MacBook with a writing application called iA Writer. Simple, straightforward, easy to use, and with no bells and whistles, it serves for writing and nothing else. A second desktop on my computer functions as my author’s desktop—no e-mail, no Facebook. I can access the Internet for research, and that’s it.

Ongoing inspiration helps me stay on task. The most tedious part of my process is the interior layout of the book. This takes time away from writing. To keep my interest alive and my creative juices flowing, I write the companion short stories while designing the interior. Twenty-five to thirty pages in length, these stories add depth to the main books and help me, as well as my readers, to better understand my world and my characters. They also keep me in the “writing place” so I don’t lose the edge gained by writing every day. (Above on the right is the raven Karrew – much more than he seems. Each book brings him closer to himself.)

Finally, I learned years ago never to give up on myself, my talent, or my dream. It would be easy to look at early sales and quit—to decide I’m not good enough so why bother. But as I mentioned in Part 1, I’m in this for the long haul. 

Bottom line: being in control of my art and captain of my team works for me. I love wearing the hats that fit my talents and changing the guard to address those areas where I fall short. That rejection letter—the one with the challenge mentioned in Part 1— has proven to be an undisguised blessing. Will I ever be “discovered” by the masses? All it takes is one reader who loves what he/she's reading to bring my worlds and characters to life, one reader who spreads the word about the magic of The Unfolding Trilogy and companion short stories. This is the key to open the door to success at just the right moment for me to walk through.

We’re all different. What kind of writing environment and tools work for you? How do you stay focused? What inspires you to keep writing and not give up when it seems that you will never see your book in print or earn any money to validate the hours, months, or years you labored to produce it? What does success mean to you?

S.K. Randolph grew up in Bermuda. Her artist mother encouraged her to try painting, but Sharon chose to channel her creative talents into ballet. Her dance career spanned forty years and took her all the way from performer to award-winning choreographer. After two decades as Director of Dance at Interlochen Center for the Arts in northern Michigan and then at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, she retired in 2010 to write and to create digital art. To find her books, The DiMensioner's Revenge, The ConDra's Fire, and companion short stories that accompany them, and to learn more about her work, visit or


  1. "Being at the right place at the right time" ... see, there's my problem. Let me give you and example of how timing has worked in my life: Once, I was bent over, tying my shoe laces when I heard a WOOOOSH over my head ... I sat up and said, "What was that?" I later learned that it was the 'secret to life' passing by ... and that it only passes each one of us once ... and, well, guess who missed it?

  2. Years ago, when I first sat down to write a novel, I had no idea what was involved in getting a marketable story "on paper" or in finding an agent or in selling my manuscript or my published book. The word "self-publish" didn't exist in my vocabulary. To say the least, the fast and furious wake-up calls provided a quick (and somewhat harsh) education. I wish I'd read this two-part piece back then; it would have saved me a lot of discouragement and a lot of grief.

    Several points in this post struck me as worthy of serious thought. I've learned firsthand that a team is a necessity for almost all writers who want to produce a book that can hold its own against the best out there. Also, persistence cannot be overrated. Like S. K. Randolph, I'm in this for the long haul. Next, I think the timing issue deserves careful consideration. Depending on genre and content, a book may be ahead of or behind its time — or opportunities may not present themselves when we would like them to — so a savvy marketing person is an essential team member. In addition, patience does not come naturally to me, so this one needs some work. Finally, I, too, like to run my show. This doesn't mean I don't need a team; it just means I want to make the final call after reviewing all the facts and the input from my experts.

    Thank you for sharing the lessons learned your experience, Sharon. This is valuable information for all of us. :-)

  3. (posted for S. K. Randolph) Thank you, Blood Red Pencil, for all the good information you provide those of
    us who are working hard to become the best writers we can be. It has been my
    pleasure to contribute. Thank you, Linda, for your comment and for helping me bring this together. Writing it highlighted for me some of the things I need to remember in those moments when frustration hits.

  4. When I write, I need quiet. If there are other things going on, like the TV or people in the house, I get distracted.

    I love that you have a boat you go to.

  5. Great post! I can write in quiet or with music or with noise. I also seem to thrive on the panic-mode of a deadline. Must be from my newspaper days, when we still had typewriters and sometimes after covering a late-evening meeting, I would type a few paragraphs and the copy editor would rip the paper from the machine and I'd go on with the next few, etc. It's a terrible way to write, but sometimes I need that adrenaline kick, I guess.

    Christopher, you are too funny!

  6. (posted for S. K. Randolph) Helen, I love the boat too. I spent years in a world peopled by students and colleagues and parents. The quiet of a cove is more amazing than I can express. For me, it is the perfect writer's nest.

  7. (posted for S. K. Randolph) Heidiwriter,
    I know that panic mode well. When I was younger, that was my MO. Hmm. Couldn't be the "getting older thing" that has instituted the change...could it? No Way!

  8. This has been an interesting and helpful two-part series. I do struggle with staying focused on the task at hand and your comment that you have one computer that is for writing only struck a chord with me. If I make my main computer just for writing and save my social media things for later on my iPad, that might help me be more productive.

  9. (posted for S. K. Randolph) Maryann, I have definitely found that separating my business and personal stuff on the computer from my writing has been a positive. The lack of distraction allows me to drop into what I call "my writing zone" and stay there for substantial periods of time. Glad you discovered something worthwhile to try!

  10. Everyone assumes a writer's life is solitary, so I'll just put out there that some of my most productive writing is done in the company of other writers! I meet a small group of women at Wegman's, a grocery store with a café area, and we write together, each on her own project, as witnesses. I host writing retreats for women as well, and it's amazing how much you can get done if you shove everything else off the table for a few days. But...the boat in the cove sounds awesome!

  11. (posted for S. K. Randolph)
    I love writing groups! My discovery that I might want to write more than an occasional poem was in a writers' group in Traverse City, MI, called Writing from the Inside Out. It was through the urging of its members that I began my writer's journey. When I moved to Concord, NH, my jobs, Director of Dance, Artistic Director of St. Paul's School Ballet Company, and Dormitory Head, precluded almost all outside activities. Now in Alaska, my nomadic lifestyle is an inhibitor. There is nothing like the support of other writers. Lucky you!

    Although I can write almost anywhere, I consider my lifestyle at this moment perfect. I am very lucky to have a partner who is willing to be the captain of our home on board 'Finback' and who loves exploring Southeast Alaska as much as I do.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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