Friday, April 26, 2013

10 Not-So-Great Steps of A Writing Ritual

by Mindy McGinnis

A lot of people ask me how I write, or even how does one start writing. Unfortunately the answer to that last question is incredibly simple and horribly difficult at the same time.

You just sit your ass down and do it.

Beyond that, I know a lot of writers have different rituals that they go through before they dive in for the day. Some like to have music playing. Some must have a cup of tea or a particular kind of snack before they begin. Others light the same kind of scented candle, or write in the same room at the same time of every day.

But the pain in the butt thing about writing is that no one trick works for everyone. It's not like your baseball swing where someone can say to you, "Look, you've got your feet set wrong," or, "Your not turning your hips." Writing doesn't work that way. Every one of us has to find our own set of rules or rituals that can turn us into successful authors.

Too often I hear aspiring authors asking those with agents or deals how they do it. And that particular person's trick probably isn't going to work for you... because it's theirs. For example. I'm going to share with you my tips and tricks for writing success, and you'll probably see right off the bat that my ritual is not for you. Or probably really anybody besides myself.

1) Nap often. Once you get sleepy there's no point trying to write anymore. I don't care if it's 1 PM or 1 AM. You need your sleep. Take a break.

2) When you reach a critical scene, make a random phone call or check your email because you're absolutely certain that you can't deliver this time.

3) Write in your bed, right before bed. Ignore the clock. It's 3 AM and you have to work tomorrow - screw it. You had a nap earlier.

4) Don't name your characters right up until the moment you have to type their names for the first time. Then just sit back and say, "Hi, what's your name?" They'll tell you.

5) Let your cat sleep right on top of your chest while you're writing, so that you have to peer over his fuzzy ass to see the laptop screen. It keeps you warm and builds harmony. Also, it will sharpen your typing skills.

6) Pretend other people don't exist for long periods of time. They actually don't, because you're in fantasy land now. You can text them later. This won't build friendships or strengthen family ties, but it will make your ms longer.

7) Resist getting up to pee right up until the moment when you damn well better. Some people don't like the distraction of a full bladder. I call it inspiration.

8) Make sure you drink a lot of water before you lie down to write, so that you won't make the excuse of having to get up later because you're thirsty. Sure, it leads to the bladder problem mentioned in number 7, but the bathroom is closer than the kitchen. Think time management.

9) Randomly check your Twitter feed every now and then. If you hit a dead spot, or aren't sure how to bridge to the next scene, pop in on your Twitter buds. If you follow a lot of fellow writers, chances are someone else is having the same problem, or else has become convinced that they suck. Return to your ms knowing that you're not alone in this. We all suck sometimes. It's OK.

10) Read back over the last 3 or 4 pages that you wrote the night before to place yourself, but don't edit as you go. This is your first draft, your "word vomit," as I call it. Get all that out of your stomach -- apply your brain to it later.

That's it, friends. That's how I write. It's a collection of anti-social, UTI-inspiring, sleepy logic, but somehow... it seems to work for me!

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, is a post-apocalyptic survival tale set in a world where freshwater is almost non-existent, available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins September 24, 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs Book PregnantFriday the ThirteenersFrom the Write AngleThe Class of 2k13The Lucky 13s & The League of Extraordinary Writers. You can also find her on TwitterTumblr & Facebook.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Bragging About Your Child—Real or Book—Is No Way to Win Friends or Influence People

by Sophie Perinot

You see them in every playgroup—parents who aren’t really interested in the give and take of meaningful conversation. Instead, while Johnny eats dirt in the sandbox, they want to monologue about just how great he is. No matter the topic under discussion, they turn it in the same direction: “MY son. . .” (fill in the blank with a brag of your choice, often only very tangentially related to the subject at hand). Nobody likes these people. Nobody enjoys talking to them. Why then, I wonder, do so many authors model their social media interactions on these bores?

I’ve noticed quite a bit of this sort of blind self-centeredness lately, particularly in writing and reading related facebook groups. When I join a group devoted to say “Lovers of Mysteries with Dogs as Their Main Character” (okay I made that one up, but I don’t want to point fingers at actual groups or communities), I expect folks therein to share information on good books with doggy detectives, or links to websites to help me in researching or writing such tomes. Instead, what I am getting these days are nearly naked brag-ver-tisements—“My book ‘It’s a Dog Eat Dog World’ just got a super-duper review at ‘Dog books R us!’ Read it here. Or better still buy my book here, or here, or here.”

Come on fellow book-parents, if I want advertisements there are plenty running along the top or side of every darn website I visit. You’ve got a personal facebook page, probably an author FB page, and doubtless an author website where you can share good reviews and “buy it now” links. You can even directly and unabashedly promote your book at those locations (though the jury is out on how effective that will be for you). But the essence of communities/groups (even in the virtual world) is dialogue.

A hybrid of “boast posters” are the folks who share EVERY blog post they’ve ever written or will ever write to a facebook group, irrespective of whether it’s on topic. Sure, if you (or if I) have written a post that is germane to the topic of a group or comment thread (or touches on one of the subjects that you assume people follow you on twitter to hear about) then posting your link is a worthy public service. But if you are turning every conversation in the direction of yourself or your book-baby then spare us and save yourself the time (because pretty soon I for one am going to stop even looking at your posts because I already KNOW what they will say—some version of “my baby is so great.”)

As writers today there is a great deal of pressure on us to market our own work, and very specifically to have a presence in the virtual world. But I presume that an annoying presence seldom sells a book. If you join a community of like-minded people as part of your “building an internet presence” campaign, please try to interact with fellow members in a genuine, non-agenda-driven, manner. And for the record an interaction is neither effective nor genuine when it amounts to commenting on topics started by others about their book-babies PURELY for the purpose of turning attention to yours (“Oh Missy looks great in her tutu, but did I ever tell you about the time Mary did a guest appearance with the Rockettes?  Here’s the video link!”).

People can smell a pushy mama a mile away—whether in a school auditorium or on twitter.  If you are only talking and not listening in your on-line relationships you are wasting your time. People are going to start moving their chairs away. Want to get something out of your on-line-community participation?  Put something in.  How?  I can suggest two concrete ways:

Be a friend, make a friend. When another mom asks a favor of me in real life (e.g. can you pick up my kid tomorrow I have to go to the dentist) I am WAY more likely to go out of my way if I genuinely like that her and have a sense that she’d have my back if I was in pinch.  So in your author interactions build meaningful connections.  Listen to what other virtual community members have to say and comment intelligently.  Make friends rather than trying to score sales.  You may just get the sales to boot, because I buy books written by friends (folks I’ve gotten to know through writers conferences, through on-line communities and through their blogs), don’t you?

Gain influence by offering information and expertise.  I write historical fiction.  That means I know what other history nuts like.  When I read an article that makes me say “oh wow” (most recently an article having do with research on Roman toilets—to each her own eh?) I think, “who else would like to see this,” then I share it accordingly in the correct facebook group or using the appropriate twitter hash tag.  In addition, I take the time to comment, share experiences, or answer questions where my personal knowledge might assist someone else. A question about the difference between a Spanish and a French Farthingale?—I’ve got that.  A fellow writer wondering whether writers conferences are worth attending—I’ve got an opinion on that as well.  Be useful and before you know it you’ve built a “value niche” in the virtual world.  Can that help your book-baby?  I think so.  After all if I know that author X consistently exhibits an impressive knowledge of 18th century Italy, I am more likely to buy her historical thriller set in 18th century Rome.

And hey, think of it this way. . .even if being a full-fledged contributing member of an author playgroup doesn’t demonstratively increase your sales, at least people won’t wince when you pull up your lawn chair next to the monkey bars.

Sophie Perinot is the author of The Sister Queens(NAL/Penguin, March 2012) a novel of sisterhood set in the 13th century. Her debut was widely well-reviewed and made a number of “best of 2012” lists.

When Sophie is not chauffeuring one of her three kids or lint rolling the hair of one of her three cats she is hard at work on a new novel novel set in 16th century France. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

When your baby isn't your baby anymore

photo credit: fensterbme's Flickr photostream,
by Creative Commons License
By Julie Kibler

Before Calling Me Home was published in February (wow, more than two months ago—she’s already sleeping through the night!), I’d heard something from other authors I didn’t really understand:

“After your book is published, it no longer belongs to you.”

I thought maybe I got it, but it became very clear to me very quickly, especially once I started meeting with book clubs where more in-depth questions can be asked—not just the standard questions about writing process or publication process or story questions we skirt around at book-signing events, taking care not to spoil the plot for those who haven’t read yet.

Sitting in my first book club meeting with a very engaged group of women at A Real Bookstore, a wonderful indie in Fairview, Texas, the questions and comments came at me, but also flew around me, each reader engaging with another at times as they made pronouncements on why this character did this, or that character didn’t do that, or any number of things.

Often, things I never thought about. Things I never intended. Answers I never would have given about plot or character motivation or deeper meanings.

But it wasn’t offensive—it was fascinating.

And in that moment, I understood this to be true: My book is published. It no longer belongs to me alone.

It belongs to the reader. It depends on what they bring to the table when they read it—or even when they choose not to. It depends on their life experiences, beliefs, passions, hurts, joys, disappointments.

Everything depends on their version of what is true. And then the book belongs in some unique way to that person, not to me at all.

Imagine if we had to give our human babies up to thousands of people?

I guess in a way, we do. If we are emotionally healthy, we give our children up to be themselves as they grow and learn. We give them to other people as they find friends and fall in love and work and marry, while holding close—but not too tightly—our own version of our child. And each of those people sees our baby in a completely different light, potentially one we never imagined when we conceived them.

My book is published. It no longer belongs to me alone. That’s healthy and natural, and I’m ok with it.

Julie Kibler's debut novel, Calling Me Home, the story of an interracial romance in late 1930s Kentucky, inspired by her grandmother's own forbidden romance, was published in February by St. Martin's Press. She can be found online at her websiteFacebook author page, and occasionally, on Twitter (@juliekibler).

Monday, April 8, 2013

Weighing in on Writing and Publishing

Brenda Bevan Remmes
by Brenda Remmes 

I have had a lifelong fixation on publishing a book.  At the same time I’ve fantasized “skinny” as somewhere in my future. The two ideas co-habitat together in a strange sort of paradigm.

The book writing thing…it ebbs and flows.   I go through moments of brilliance (at least in my thinking) and then suddenly sink into jabberwocky as if I live in Wonderland.  In fact, Wonderland is an ideal place for fleshy authors.

I get up every morning and flip on the computer in one continuous motion as I walk by my writing desk to the bathroom. I live by the rule that extra pounds of dirt and grime have mysteriously weighted down my body during the dark hours of the night and I take a long hot shower to rid myself of what I know will tip the scales unfairly.   Then, unclothed (completely stripped down…. …I’ve stopped even wearing nail polish) I mount the scale and get my first daily dose of  “Whew, it’s not too bad”,  or  “OMG, that can’t be.”

 My husband duplicates this morning adventure on the truth monster in a much more whimsical fashion, fully clothed.  What a show-off!   After forty years repeated morning after morning, the same words always follow.  He climbs on the scale and I mouth with him, “Oh, down another two pounds.  I wondered how I did that after all that ice cream I ate last night?”  I’ve considered divorce over that one morning exchange, but habits are hard to break and dissolving a marriage requires far more time and energy than I  have.  I am much too busy writing jabberwocky. 

My computer is now humming, even if I’m not. I clothe myself in weighty garments that add an additional fifteen pounds and proceed to read the last few pages that I wrote the day before. “P-lee-se, tell me it ain’t so.  Did I really write that?  What was I smoking?”  I start to slash and burn wishing that I could delete excess fat as fast as I can a days’ worth of work on one chapter.

I’m weighing constantly.  Too many words here, not enough description there.  Did I show or tell?  Are the words dank and stale or shimmering with their own individual pearls of imagery or symbolism?  I know I write as well as many commercial writers, and not as well as literary MFAs who annually attend the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. But I’m getting better.  Even Hemingway gets three out of five from some Amazon readers.

Success came fast and easy for me and then vanished overnight one day last October when  my editor broke a two year contract.  It was all too good to be true. Like winning the lottery, and two years later being told your game was rigged.   It hurt, of course, but I’m not as naïve as I once was to the publishing business.  Everyone has to make money and if the numbers don’t work, then neither does the novel…at least not for that publisher. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad novel.  It means the publisher put it on a scale for potential profit and the book didn’t carry enough weight for the long haul.  The irony, of course, is I’ve always looked for a scale that would mitigate weight.   Be careful what you wish for.

Adam Gopnik writes in a recent Talk of the Town in The New Yorker, (3/18/13) “The future of writing in America – or, at least the future of making a living by writing – seems in doubt as rarely before.  Thanks to the Internet, the disproportion between writerly supply and demand, always tricky, has tipped:  anyone can write, and everyone does, and beginners are expected to be the last pure philanthropists, giving it all away for the naches.   It has never been easier to be a writer, and it has never been harder to be a professional writer.”

I have been a convinced Quaker for more than thirty years now.  Quakers have taught me the value of patience.  I didn’t get it right away, but I’ve learned in the presence of weighty Quakers much more humble than I.   When you’re not sure what to say, say nothing. When you’re not sure what to do, step back, seek clearness.  Over the years I’ve found this to be a healthy process every time I begin to doubt myself.  Philip Gulley, one of my favorite Quaker writers, wrote on his web site last week, “The world cares little for our convenience.  It does not care that we expected one thing and were given another.  Reality is no respecter of our expectations and demand. I pray this year, for myself and for each of you, that the gift of flexibility, for that wonderful gift of elasticity, for the ability to deal constructively, bravely and lovingly with the unexpected changes we face in  life.”

Thank you, Philip, for that gentle reminder.  Regardless of the way the scale tilts, I hear your prayer.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Are You Getting Off?

As a debut author last year, I embraced the internet and all that it offered in terms of promotion, connecting to readers and colleagues. All those online interviews, blog posts, Facebook interactions, Twitter—all those things to get the word out about my novel—I did with gusto. In addition, I joined a few, private FB groups, where we shared information about our crazy publishing business—stuff that was affecting us all—good and bad.

This knowledge exchange and cross promotion was thrilling. It felt important and valuable, until it hit me that something insidious was happening. Over the year, I didn’t realize how many hours I was spending on Facebook, until my internal safety net, the one that filters TMI (too much information), had torn open. I plunged into a flood of data, bobbing and spinning down a scary, invisible current.

What strange, webby waters had I entered? What blurry ocean of online-ness?

I can only speak for my own experience, but my inner balance had tipped. My excessive online time had reached a point of disturbing my sleep, my rest, my sense of solitude. I’d toppled into a psychic whirlpool—one of my own making.

On walks around the city, which I do daily, my mind became entangled with other people’s Facebook posts and pictures. Random worries began to invade my thinking. If you’re a worrier like me, you’ll understand how this sucks holes in your brain. My psychic body was leaking, sinking, dragged down by www.overstimulation dot net.

Recently, I got stuck in an airport when my plane to Arizona was grounded due to a March snow storm. Luckily, I ran into two authors I knew—also bound for AZ (for the wonderful Tucson Festival of the Book). Together, we waited for our rescheduled flights. Over lunch, we talked about our favorite subjects: writing and books. Halfway through my salad, my friend said: “If you’re spending more than 30 minutes on Facebook every day, that’s too much. You should be spending that time writing your next book.”

A measly thirty minutes of Facebook every day? I was logging in way more than that. I felt ashamed of myself. Did I have a problem? Was I an addict? Clearly, my friend’s comment hit a nerve.

Since then, I’ve given this some thought and I’ve concluded that some of us can stay online at will, write new books and produce new work without feeling this data drain that I’ve experienced. But, some of us (i.e.—me ) need to unplug regularly and often. If I don’t step away from scrolling, linking and clicking, my energy begins to thin—a kind of mental osteoporosis (that, thankfully, begins to reverse itself when I take time off-line).

I’m going to try that 30-minute rule and see how I do. What about you? Do you get web fatigue? Or, are you unaffected by it? What strategies do you take to keep your balance?


Jessica Keener’s debut novel, Night Swim, recently landed back in the top #150 on Amazon’s paid bestseller list, and in the #1 spot in the Jewish Lit category. She is working on several new projects and hopes you will “like” her new FB author page to stay in touch as she continues to post pictures of clouds, trees, skies, flowers, books, Boston, New England, food (for up to or approx.. 30 minutes throughout the day, but who’s counting?).