Have You Googled Today?

I just Googled myself. I’ve done it now and then, and I’ve set up a Google alert (but all that does is tell me someone with my name got arrested for cruelty to animals, which really isn’t what I had in mind), but I was reading an article on making sure you have a “platform” and decided to do it again.

Of the first six items on the main page, the top two were Facebook telling people they could find me there. The third one was LinkedIn saying there were fifty Terri Bensons listed. Googling

But, the next three were my website and my book. Yeah, me! A co-worker suggested I look at images as well, and I found myself starting on line three – so not too bad again. I don’t post a lot of photos of me or my family – most of them are business photos from our office website or RMFW, or the ones associated with my book launch. There was this lady in the orange jumpsuit (no, it’s not the new black!) with the big label “Terri Benson” and side bars that say CaseyAnthony.com – not a good look for her, and not really anyone I want to be associated with. Image of

But it was interesting to see how much I showed up (or didn’t) online. I only have the one book out, but I do have a website and a personal Facebook, which may or may not be connected to a business and/or author page (Facebook and I are having a bit of a battle about that). I had a Twitter account until my provider quit (providing, that is) and Twitter demands that you log on only with the original e-mail address, no matter what, in order to change your e-mail (??!!??), so the two Tweets and three followers (how the heck did that happen) I had are out there somewhere in the ozone, all alone.

I realize I need to do better. And I’m thinking about it. I use Facebook and Twitter daily for work, and so far my stubborn brain is telling my marketing brain that I’ve already done my share for the day and it isn’t going to go any further. That’s another thing I’m working on – getting my brains all on the same wavelength, but no luck so far.

So, have you Googled today? If not, try it. And if nothing else, you’ll find some really creepy person who has the same name and will explain the looks you got from co-workers a couple weeks ago, right?

Oh, and Write On!

It’s Research, Dear

When I plan a trip, one of the first things I think about is what kind of research I can do there. Not because I’m looking for a tax write-off (because, hey, I still have to pay for the trip even if I can write some of it off later), but because I want to make sure I know where to go and what to do to get the most bang for my hard-earned bucks. It doesn’t matter if I’m by myself or with family. It might mean I plan some alone time for when they want to do something I don’t, or I look especially hard for places to do research that I think they’ll enjoy. I hate sitting in a hotel room, so I go out of my way to find something to do.

I was in New Orleans a year ago and took a walk after lunch, just to stretch my legs. I headed south, away from the French Quarter, and found myself in a not-really-nice part of town, but not scary. About the time I decided to turn around, I came across this amazing old Civil War Museum that had a ton of information I was able to incorporate into an historical romance I was working on. The next morning I got up at 5 a.m. so I could walk two miles to a huge outdoor market in the French Quarter and had hot beignets for breakfast—I can now accurately describe the sights and sounds, the tastes and smells. I rented a bike and rode around the French Quarter residential district, photographing beautiful old homes with mansard roofs, ironwork, gingerbread trim, and walled gardens. I visited the building that housed the New Orleans Mint during the Civil War (which gets robbed in my story) and I could describe the different rooms, the door lintels, the stonework—it was fantastic. A work trip to Philadelphia let me see what the Founding Fathers saw, read what they wrote, and see a pop-up Stevie Wonder concert (only because I’d taken a walk and turned down a street).

If I’d wasted these times in new places, what a loss it would have been for me. Yes, I was often alone as I wandered around, but it didn’t matter. There were people everywhere. I could ask questions, get directions. Waiters, bartenders, hotel staff—they all knew places for me to visit. I had only to ask.

I’m headed to Las Vegas this week to visit my son. But I have to admit, going to a Barrett Jackson classic car auction holds almost as much attraction (but don’t tell my son). I want to see the layout, hear the talk, see the cars, the people who attend, the booths and what they sell—all for my Bad Carma series. Yes, I could fake it. I’ve been to auctions before and I’m not using the Barrett Jackson name in my story, but I like realism, even in fiction. I think readers like it, too.

So if you’re planning a trip, even to the next town, think about what kind of research you could squeeze in. Is there a museum you haven’t visited? A road that leads to an interesting canyon? A building you could take a photo of and use somewhere, sometime? Don’t just think of current WIPs; plan for what might come later. File this information away for when you need it, even if you never do (you won’t know, though, will you?). After all, it’s research, dear.

I’m off to do some research, and to Write On!

Why I Belong

Belonging has always been hard for me. I’m not a team player. In high school, when phys-ed was a team sport like softball, I asked to run the track instead. Yes, I was happier running laps alone for 50 minutes than playing with a group. My best sport was, unsurprisingly, track and field. Sprints. I was on the relay teams only because I had to be (but I didn’t like it).

I don’t do group aerobics because I don’t do groups.

I’ve never put the words “enjoy working with internal teams” on a resume because, honestly, I’m happier knowing if something is screwed up it’s my fault and no one else’s.

I am a planner, and I’ve found that people generally don’t like being planned. My kids and husband occasionally put up with it or pretend to, but still, think they should have some say in said plan.  Although they are happy that when attending “spontaneous” events, all required condiments, chairs, fire starting materials, and other needful things are there when needed. (We need not discuss the hours of pre-spontaneous effort this requires because it’s not germane to this blog - Corinne O’Flynn may relate to this.)

But when I get together with RMFW-ish people, it’s like sinking into that really squishy, comfortable chair that everyone keeps trying to throw away. I know I belong in RMFW. I know RMFW members accept me. I know I’m really one of them. I don’t have to plan where anyone’s writing is going, except mine – and that’s subject to sudden “U” turns if I decide I want to.

I also know that if I need writing advice, have a question, don’t know where to look or who to ask, someone at RMFW will help me. Someone will know someone, or has done something, or been where I am and got through it. Or they just see me looking like I’m lost or uncertain, and they ask me what I need.

That's me, third one down on the right, kinda behind all those other guys or, um, gals?

I’m a dedicated introvert, like most writers. But when I’m immersed in this group, I see all of us managing to step just a bit out of our usual space and allow ourselves to belong, to befriend, and to be writers. (No, I’m not going to launch into another To Be or Not To Be thing, although it was tempting.)

So that’s why I belong. That, and I always wanted to be part of a seahorse herd, at least ever since I heard Susan Spann’s great speech. For those of you who are members, I’m so glad you belong, too. And for those of you who aren’t yet, think about it. And to everyone, Write On!

The Tales of Benson the Bard

To write: perchance to edit: ay, there's the rub; for in editing to death, what epiphanies may come…

Okay, so I’m not the Bard. What I am, is sitting in a hotel room editing the night before I give a workshop on research.

Maybe what I should be doing is reviewing critique roundtable submissions for Gold? Or typing up my notes from the Writer’s Police Academy? Or sleeping, after a whirlwind 10 days driving to Wisconsin and back? What are my priorities?

In the end, edits won. At least until I started this blog. I was going to write about how amazing and informative a conference like the Writer’s Police Academy can be – but Chris Goff beat me to it.

Instead, I decided to share some of my writing practices and pet peeves. Now, I don’t claim these are “best practices”, and probably not even really good ones, but they’re mine.

  • I write best under pressure, even if it’s made up pressure because if I have all the time in the world I can find something else to do in a heartbeat
  • I like to write when I’m alone, but always turn on a movie I’ve seen at least three times for background noise
  • I write in a recliner or on a bed with my laptop, never in a proper chair at a desk
  • I can write eight hours in a stretch if I’m in the zone, which generally results in ordering pizza for dinner to prevent divorce
  • I can tell when I’m not in the zone because I’ll have started the laundry, done the dishes, and wandered outside to pull weeds
  • I like to have junk food handy when writing - Dark Chocolate Kisses being my favs, and a gin and tonic is a close second, but not until at least….um, 5 o’clock?
  • When it’s cold I have a pair of plush Tigger slippers I wear when I’m writing, and my granddaughter is convinced I have tigers living under my bed in the summer
  • I hate texting because my kids don’t want to read more than 3 words from me and think punctuation is a waste of time

Ok, so some of this doesn’t have anything to do with writing, but it kept me from having to edit for a while (bad Bard, bad, bad!)

What are your writing-related practices? What puts you in your writer’s groove (or takes you out)?

I Won!

I did it! I’m the best.

Problem is, I won the Writing Procrastination Award, hands down. I’ve managed to find about four hundred different reasons not to write – at least not what I was supposed to.

Some of my excuses are good ones – I submitted to the RMFW Anthology, I submitted to Gold, and I judged Gold. However, this is over about a three month period, and I can guarantee all three of those added together did not come close to that much time.

My other excuses included:

  • Obsessively watching every Harry Potter movie that I found on cable, some more than once
  • Rereading books I love, but…REreading
  • Having a yard sale (OK, so that took, like, DAYS to get ready for)
  • Ironing (yes, I still do that – but only when I’m avoiding writing)
  • Looking at recipes on the Internet, and in my cook books, and anywhere else I could find them (and not making them)
  • Reorganizing my cupboards in the kitchen (bonus – I found all the years-long expired ingredients that might have been fatal if used)
  • Buying, but not planting, a bunch of flowers and vegetables (Why not planted? Because I forgot I need to fix my irrigation system set up before they all died)

So now you have an idea about how scattered I’ve been this summer. It’s mid-July, and I promised myself I would have my WIP submitted to agents by end of August. I think I’m going to need to come up with some kind of horrible penalty if I don’t, like having my husband tear out the bathtub and replace it with a shower if I don’t (that would be a fate nearly worse than death to me!). Or I should get back in a critique group so I HAVE to get something written (cheaper, and probably more productive).

Are any of you having trouble focusing on writing this summer? What are your solutions?

I hope to see you all at Gold, if not sooner, and I won’t hold it against you if you ask me if I got my manuscript submitted. In the meantime, I solemnly swear to Write On!

How the Heck do you come up with your ideas?

Image from writerstoauthors.com

Have you ever been asked that? Bet you have. Bet we all have. The answers to the question are as varied as the ways we DO come up with our ideas.

My book An Unsinkable Love came from an open call from a small publisher. A friend in a critique group was editing for them and she posted the call for a story that included the Titanic in the storyline (it was for the 100th Anniversary of the sinking). I had never considered writing a book about the Titanic - that’s been done, right? But I didn’t have anything else I was really passionate about right then so I thought,  What the hell? Four months later I found myself sitting in my car in a dark parking lot where my beta reader passed over the manuscript to me from her car. I’m lucky we weren’t turned in for a probable drug deal. I submitted it at ten o’clock the next night, beating the deadline by two whole hours (I wouldn’t recommend waiting until the last minute – it’s hard on your blood pressure). I got the contract and that story is history (pun intended).

The point I’m trying to make is that your story idea can come from inside your head (I’m trying frantically to get all those stories out because the racket they’re making in there is unbearable at times!). They can come from something you see. From something, you read in the newspaper. From a TV show that mentions something that catches your interest – basically, anywhere, if you let them.

For me, I immediately write those tidbits down. If I don’t, I forget them and the Great American Novel might have just been lost (eh, maybe). I keep a “potential story” file on my computer – most entries are just a single sentence or two, or a scan of an article cut from the paper or a magazine to remind me what I need to research.

My current series is about Classic Car restoration, so I subscribe to the Barrett-Jackson and Mecum auction sites. They have color photos and details on cars to give me lots of info to work with. When I travel I make notes of interesting things I see, like the absolutely ginormous ammunition depot on the way back from Las Vegas that had more than a hundred huge underground bunkers and other interesting-looking structures. I drive through a cemetery to get to work and often walk there on breaks or lunch; I keep a notebook with me and write down names and dates from stones that have interesting artwork or sayings on them, especially those that are from the 1800’s.

Where do you get your ideas from? Do you keep a list of ones you want to write about someday? What’s the oddest tidbit you’re holding on to?

If you think you have writer’s block, or just need something to work on while you’re waiting to get that six figure contract, pull your list out and WRITE ON!

Invest in your Writing Career

If you didn’t attend the 2017 Annual Education Event last month in Golden, take a moment to kick yourself. Really.

The event was nearly sold out, and if not for a last minute storm that came through it would have been a tight fit to get everyone in, and for good reason. With a morning panel of published author, editor and agent, a small publisher speaking at lunch, and a panel of self-publishing experts in the afternoon, the full range of publishing options was well represented. We had lively Q&A sessions, specific information on what works and doesn’t straight from the editor and agent, and step-by-step instructions and timelines on self-publishing. It’s rare to have this many experts all in one place and those of us who braved the weather were well rewarded.

I often hear writers say they don’t go to workshops or conferences, or join groups like RMFW because they “can’t afford it.” I say if you want to be a published author, either traditionally or self, you can’t afford not to. Often new writers finish a story and think that because they got to “the end” it’s ready to go, only to be heartbroken when they can’t get an agent or publisher interested, or their 150,000 word tome sits on the Amazon shelf and doesn’t sell a single copy.

Attending education events can prevent heartache, and heartburn, by getting you to the place where you’re ready to submit or self-publish. It allows you to network with other writers, hook up with critique groups, and hear how other authors have overcome problems with their books. Big events like Colorado Gold have dozens of workshops that let you focus on areas you might be weak in, or you don’t know about.

Going it alone, trying to save a few bucks, will cost you in the long run. Cut back on a latte or two each month, watch network movies instead of paying for on-demand, have a yard sale and dedicate the profits to paying for a conference, or find some other non-critical habit you can cut back on and SPEND THE MONEY ON YOUR WRITING CAREER, if you actually want a career. RMFW costs $45 annually, and anyone who has attended a workshop that I moderated has heard me say it’s the best $45 you’ll ever spend. Most of our workshops are free. Conference has scholarships, volunteer opportunities, and low cost on-line classes. Genre-specific groups like Sisters in Crime or RWA offer the same things.

I know many writers, including me, don’t have unlimited funds to pay for attending events and classes, travel, software, cover art, etc. But as the adage says, fail to plan and you plan to fail. Set a budget of money you can allocate. Just $10 a month gets you a RMFW membership and you still have more than half of it left over for an on-line class or two. If you can manage $50 per bi-monthly payroll, you’ll have more than enough to attend a major conference each year, plus membership fees for a couple groups. We all have stuff we don’t need – put it on Craig’s List and stash the proceeds in your writing fund. You don’t have to shortchange your family or let bills go unpaid to support your writing habit, you just have to make a plan and stick to it.

It’s time to think about Colorado Gold in September. You still have time to register, but from what I’ve heard they will probably sell out. If you can’t swing Gold, at least get your plan in place going forward. Get the education you need to produce the best possible book you can, and WRITE ON!

 

How Busy is Too Busy?

For writers, and most other people, this is an individual question. How many things you work into your schedule, and how much time you choose to spend not writing, is predicated by your life and will never be like anyone else’s.

If you’re like Corrine O’Flynn, the coordinator for the Colorado Gold Conference, you must be working in your sleep in order to put together that massive, amazing event, take care of kids in all kinds of activities, work, keep up with social media, write…I’m tired just thinking about it.

For me, I hit that wall a lot earlier. The RMFW Annual Event with Traditional, Indie, and Self Publishing tracks, is coming up on the 29th (like, right now!) and I’ve been working a lot on it over the last couple of months. My day job has been very busy for the past year, even though everyone keeps saying it will slow down. My husband has been gone more than home lately for his job, leaving me to manage some of the things that are out of my comfort zone. I’m writing this at 4:00 a.m. on a Saturday, because I woke up at 2:00 and realized how many things are not done that need to be.

Did you notice that I didn’t mention anything about writing in that last paragraph? I did, and that’s the problem. It’s been all work and no write and it’s making Terri a very grumpy girl. I’m looking at the weather and know that it’s time to get the garden ready, massacre the already-prolific weeds, and generally get the yard in shape before it gets out of control, so I find myself looking at this tunnel of yuck when I want to be looking at my WIP.

After I submit this blog, I plan to drag out my calendar and start scheduling myself – you know, that thing where you put stuff on your calendar today so you can move or delete it tomorrow when you realize life got in the way again. But at least I’m going to try, because Colorado Gold is coming up and I want to submit for the contest, I just found out I’ll be presenting again this year, and I really, really want to have at least one story submitted to the Anthology. Not to mention I need to enter all the edits I made on the hard copy of my most recent Bad Carma manuscript.

If any of you have found the magic bullet (not you Corrine – you must have cheated and got a clone or two made of you!) that allows you to keep on task for your writing, and get everything else you need to get done, please shoot me with it. I’m sure there are lots of you out there who are like me. What do you do to help keep on track?

Hope to see you all in Golden on the 29th, but no matter where you are, Write On!

Is your writing moving along like you hoped for in 2017?

I don’t know about you, but one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to get my writing life better organized which included writing more often, mucking out my office-cum-storage room, getting a business plan done, and deciding if I was going to go ahead and self-publish the first three completed historical romances in the series I had been working on before I started the Bad Carma mystery series.

So, how am I doing? Well. Umm. You see, it’s like this….

Guess it’s not hard to tell that I haven’t kept that resolution very well. HOWEVER, I do have NovelRama  on my calendar, I am attending Pub-Con  the end of April to find out more about both traditional and self-publishing, and I am almost finished with my WIP, which I have an agent interested in from an earlier version (requested at 2016 Gold - so needless to say, I want to go to Gold in September as well). I also submitted a workshop proposal to Gold as part of my platform building and professional development plan (you, too, can submit through the end of March!), and plan to enter the Colorado Gold writing contest again this year.

I haven’t started on my much-needed business plan even though as a coach at a Business Incubator it’s a major part of my job to help small business owners put their plans together. And I am a small business. I charge money for my writing and I intend to continue to make money from my novel(s). So as a small business owner I need to know my target market(s), my budget (revenue, expense, and cash flows), timelines for completion of work, if I intend to continue to write/sell/publish articles and short stories and to whom, and the different lines of business (books/series) that I intend to complete during the plan’s life. And since a business plan is a living document I also need to make myself go back to it on a regular basis to see how I’m doing and what modifications I might need to make.

We’re a quarter of the way through the year. Are you on track with your plans? Do you HAVE a plan? Remember, Fail to Plan/Plan to Fail.

My recommendation: Get your s**t together and Write On!

Do you have any other recommendations to kick the 2017 writing year into gear?

What is it worth to you to be published?

Is it worth a Saturday and about $75? Is it worth having great food, sitting amidst lots of excited (and exciting) writers, and listening to interesting, informative, amazing presentations?

If it’s not, then you should stop reading now. And maybe think about how badly you really want to be published. Because on April 29, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers will be holding the Annual Education Event in Golden, at the Table Mountain Inn. The website has more info, but here’s why Pub-Con (catchy, right?) is such a fantastic opportunity:

We start with breakfast. Always a good sign.

The morning session has an Editor whose publishing house was just purchased by Simon and Schuster, the Owner/Agent of a multi-agent literary agency, and a multi-traditionally published author. This panel will give you tons of information, stuff you REALLY need to know, about getting traditionally published. The before, the during, and the after. The dos and the don’ts. The whys and the why nots.

Then we have lunch. Another good sign. And even better, we have an Editor-in-Chief of a small Denver-based publishing house to talk about the different publishing options out there and how you can determine what might be best for you.

 The afternoon session will include a multi-self-published author, a best-selling author who started a publishing house and works with self-publishers, and a graphic designer who specializes in book cover design. They will give you as much information as you’ll be able to absorb on the process of self-publishing. They’ll help dispel notions of how hard, or easy, it is and you’ll have the advantage of knowing the mistakes they made and shortcuts they found, to save you from yourself. And we all need that, right?

So, is it worth $75 give or take? Can you give up 8 hours of your precious time? Only you can decide, but if you want that WIP to see the light of day, this might be the best time and money you can spend to make that happen.

I hope to see you there. Here’s the link to the page on RMFW site: http://rmfw.org/pubcon/ . Seating is limited and I do expect to sell out with this kind of presentation lineup.

In the meantime, Write On! and get your WIP done. You’ll want to take lots of notes at Pub-Con so you can get that puppy published!