When Motivation to Write is Gone

We've all been there. Or maybe we're there right now? In this collective, yet solitary brain-trust known as writing. This hive-mind of almost universally shared desire. It's what we do. Why? Because we have stories to tell. So we spit them out of our heads and onto paper (never mind the mess). But what do you do when the words won't flow? You can call it "Writer's Block" if you want. Soooo cliche. To me, he/she/it (to utilize a sympathetic fallacy) is kind of a mythical super-villain. Not actually real, but we convince ourselves that they/he/she/it, is the cause of all our woes. "I can't write because I'm blocked." It becomes an excuse. And so it rules over our writing lives as an unexploded bomb in the middle of the towns of our minds, soaking up the power that we choose to give it. Well I say, NO MORE...at least for right now.

The fact about writer's block:

Or, as I like to think of it, that irrational, motivational miasma that occasionally slaps you around like a pre-pubescent school yard bully. Regardless of how or when it hits you...it's all in your head. That's right, I said it. IT'S ALL IN YOUR HEAD! This horrible slump, this unfortunate malaise that stalls the swiftness of you fingers, is...All. Your. Own. Doing. So snap out of it already.

But...why?

Well, I can't really answer that. Not definitively, of course. We're all different people. With our own styles, likes, dislikes, and ways of reacting to the world. Maybe we're tired. Mentally exhausted. Maybe we're bored? I don't know. Bottom's your limit.

What to do about it:

Now here's a good question. What DO you do about it? The most obvious piece of advice is: Keep writing. Write anyway. Real writers get words to paper no matter what. They don't wait for inspiration, for the good feels or the muse. They make it happen on their own time and in their own way. There's merit to this, obviously. And this is probably the best advice I can give (even if it can be incredibly hard to follow at times). In fact, I've let myself fall prey to the motivation vampire as I've awaited word on publishing interest in one of my books. But it was, and is, a huge mistake we're all capable of making. Time is not our friend as writers. We need to work. We need to blast words onto paper, and pretend like, above all else, that we know what the hell we are doing.

Visualize:

This one might seem odd. It is a bit esoteric. But visualization is one of the best ways I've found to break myself out of a mental funk. What I mean by this is putting yourself into your character's head and allowing yourself to react to specific situations in the same way your character would. So sit back, think about that character, and really get into how they would react in that instance. Play the scene out in your mind. Don't think about it too hard, just let it unfold as if you are this character. I think you'll be surprised at the new ideas that come up, and the fun and interesting ways it can change or open up the story.

Get excited:

Here's something you probably haven't considered (and I mean really emotionally considered) in quite a long time: You're writing that story for a reason. Something about it, the characters, the situation, the underlying idea, or the motivation behind your drive to write it. Something about that story is so AWESOME!!! (note the triple exclamations) that you just had to get it on paper. This is something we often forget after we've spent long and often torturous hours slaving over the same things, the same ideas, the same characters and situations...over and over, and yes, over again. We forget that there was something so cool and exciting about these characters or ideas that made them worth putting out there for other people to read and invest themselves in. So recapture that! Sit down and ruminate about what makes your story special. What idea, what character, what situation? Really dig into it and remind yourself just how amazing these ideas are, and (here's the key) let yourself get excited about it again! Get back into those ideas and investigate them because they're worth investigating. And this will lead directly into the next point...

Generate new ideas for your story:

Similar to the visualize option above, when you get excited about a story again after you've carefully gone through and thought about some of its elements in a different way from their original conception, you'll surprise yourself by starting to come up with new ideas. These can be simple additions to the direction you're already taking the story, or they can be wholly new and interesting navigational changes, seeing things from the eyes of different characters or entire groups of people. Use these ideas! Write them down. Stay excited about them, and let them pull you back into that story so you can do what you need to do: WRITE!

You know what to do.

Singing the Book Promotion Blues

With a new book coming out in June, I have had the pleasure—and the pain—of deciding what I need to do to get the word out. My decisions are similar to the ones anyone launching a book makes. Being realistic, there is only so much time and money, and never enough. There is also a limited payoff to the some of the choices, so where do you get the biggest bang for your buck. I figured I would share the marketing plan for my upcoming release, RED SKY, in the hopes that it might help some of you.

Timing is everything

There are a lot of things you can do to promote your book, and some of them must be done months in advance. Early in the year, my publisher sent me a marketing plan with the dates of actions to be taken and the name of the person responsible for taking those actions--one advantage of having a traditional publisher, and still the tasks are the same. I added to it things like signings, travel, promotional items. The time frame goes something like this:

6 months ahead of pub date

                               RED SKY Advance Reader's Copy    

Pitch the book for print reviews, guest articles and to local media. This includes sending galleys and later finished books to reviewers. My publisher's PR department took responsibility for this, and it resulted in some nice reviews in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist, as well as guest blog assignments and local media interviews.

Give away galleys and books to help create buzz. There is a community of booksellers, librarians, media professionals and book lovers interested in reading e-versions of pre-published books. My publisher puts my book up on NetGallery, and later does Giveaways to boost reviews on sites like Amazon, B&N and Goodreads.  I've added to it by doing Giveaways of the book once I receive my author copies--but those are limited. Sometimes you have to buy more, and that can get expensive.

Set up signings at the local bookstores. Some stores have longer lead times than others, and if you want a time close to your launch it doesn't pay to wait. Once you know your pub date, have your publicist call (r you call) the bookstores where you want to appear. My advice is to choose wisely. Venues differ. Upside, at Tattered Cover you'll be asked to speak and then sign books. Downside, if you don't have a traditional publisher willing to pay the fee, it will cost you $150 to set a date and you may have to consign your books. At a Barnes & Noble, you'll find yourself at a table in the front of the store hawking your book to their customers. Mark Stevens is the king of hawking, and he enjoys this type of venue. I don't, so I avoid this type of signing like the plague.

Promotional Poster for Hearthfire Books

OF NOTE: A publicist once told me not to set up too many signings in one locale. The theory being, you can only ask your friends, family and fans to show up so many times. With Red Sky, which launches in June, I've only set up two signings—one at the Tattered Cover-Colfax store; the other at Hearthfire Books, in my hometown of Evergreen.

Two months ahead of publication

Order promotional materials and swag. Most authors do bookmarks or postcards. Some give out chocolate. Some do tchotchke items. For example, Suzanne Proulx, who wrote a series of books featuring a hospital risk manager, ordered pens that looked like hypodermic needles to promote her novel, Bad Blood. Robin Owens printed the cover of her book on the back of a pocket calendar. Brilliant! I carried that card around for a year, flashing it numerous times in front of numerous people. The key is to be creative. Put something into the hands of bookstore owners, librarians and fans that will make them want to order and buy your book. Make sure you have a good design, and research your printer. There are a number of companies that offer discounted printing, but quality differs—and quality matters.

OF NOTE: One of the best promotional values around is Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Blue Mailer. If you’re a PAL or iPAL member, for a modest fee you can place a blurb about your book in three consecutive bi-monthly mailers sent out to regional booksellers and librarians. For an additional charge you can include an insert. NOTE: there are specs for mailings and inserts, so be sure you meet expectations.

One month before publication

New Ebook cover for down-priced version

Take advantage of other opportunities

Library talks are fun, and a great way to get your book in front of readers. So are local book club talks. I've been lucky and my books have sold to the national book clubs, including Harlequin Book Club for my upcoming RED SKY. The entry on my publisher's marketing plans reads, "Cross promotion between all clubs. Coming soon email, new arrivals email and comparable titles email." I have no idea what that means, but I'm thrilled the publisher is handling things.

Agree to speak or teach, or sometimes you can simply show up.  Just make sure it fits with your goals. Last weekend Mario Acevedo, Nathan Lowell and I attended "Books and Brews" in Greeley. What can beat twelve authors, and a room full of readers playing trivia, and specialty beer? In June, I'll present a workshop at the Parker Writers Group monthly meeting, and in September I'll teach a workshop at the Colorado Gold Conference along with WOTY Nominee Shannon Baker.

Donate to auctions. I am constantly being asked to donate signed books to auctions. I usually do, but I always try for added value. I want not only the winning bidder to remember the book, but the lookie-loos, too. For example, my fellow Rogue Women Writers and I donate baskets to mystery and thriller convention auctions. We each contribute a signed book, and then we add interesting things from the Spy Museum in Washington D.C. in keeping with our international espionage themes. Things like: Campbell soup can concealers, "rear view" mirror sunglasses," truth detector" devices, top secret bags, mugs and hats.

Segueing to conventions, every genre has one. In the mystery field, it's Bouchercon. The regional equivalent is Left Coast Crime (LCC). For cozies it's Malice Domestic. For thrillers it's ThrillerFest. And, trust me, they can cost you an arm and a leg. Mike Befeler and I once calculated that it cost a minimum of $1,000 to attend an out-of-state conference. Double that for ThrillerFest. We were taking into account airfare, hotel costs, meals, promotional items, and registration fees--yes, unless you're a star, you're expected to pay your own way--so there may be some additional hidden costs. The message is not to not go, but to figure out which cons are important for you to attend. For instance, at ThrillerFest I can meet with my editor and agent, as well as rub elbows with the big hitters in my genre—many of whom I can later ask for book blurbs. Colorado Gold is near to my heart, and I would go just to see all my friends.

OF NOTE: Always accept a panel assignment, and try not to be that difficult writer who can only speak at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday alongside Lee Child. Word gets around.

There are other cons, too. The Independent Booksellers across the country hold conventions, and a number of states sponsor book festivals. Many of the writers groups will have a presence at these events, and it's worth it to volunteer to man the booth for an hour and meet the booksellers. This year, I'm going to Chicago for the American Library Association convention in June. I'm paying my airfare, but my publisher has agreed to donate 100 books for me to sign and giveaway.

Be sure and budget!

Rogue Women Writers promo poster at ThrillerFest

Only you know what you can afford to spend. My advice, make a plan and stick with it! Don't be me. I'll admit, there have been times when I've transferred attending a con into the "personal fun" category rather than assess the expense to my book promotion budget. Don't tell!

Seriously, if you're not careful you'll spend every dollar you make writing books, twice.

This year my goal is to expand my readership, so I'm going to ThrillerFest and Bouchercon for some face time with my editor and agent, and to connect with East Coast and Canadian readers. I'm sending out mailings, creating a display poster for the ThrillerFest hall, making donations, guest blogging, speaking at several events. Just to give you a sense of the cost, my total in expenditures to promote RED SKY so far are—wait for it—a whopping $5,660. Not as bad as you might think. I budgeted $5,000.

OF NOTE: For what it's worth, Diane Mott Davidson second-mortgaged her house to fund a tour of the west coast with four prominent cozy writers. She also gave away scads of cookies, sometimes with the help of friends. Ask Chris Jorgensen about how she and I sat in the back seat of Carol Caverly's car and stuffed chocolate chip cookies into small giveaway bags enroute to the Omaha Bouchercon. In addition to writing good books, Diane's marketing efforts eventually landed her a gig on "Good Morning America" and a spot on the New York Times bestsellers list.

Now, I'm not advocating you refinance your home, or that you sell your first born. But give some thought to how much you can afford to put into promotion, and make a plan. Allocate wisely and it just might pay off!

A Few Notes on Discoverability

Discoverability is one of those newish buzzwords that tries to describe the process by which a reader finds a book to read. The problem with the generally accepted view of discoverability is that the goal is not to have people discover a book. You can't build a career on a book. As an author you need readers to discover you. That may feel really scary but fight it. If you're an author, it's the reality of your chosen work. You can't be a concert pianist if you never get out of your living room.

Discoverability Only Matters Once

What we tend to lose track of is that most of an author's fanbase is made up of people who discovered him or her just one time. Once a reader knows your name and what you write, you don't need to be discovered by that reader again.

If you're smart and if you write something that that reader likes, you'll keep him or her reading your stuff forever—or at least until you piss them off by charging too much, writing too much stuff they don't like, make them wait too long between works, or toss some other sand into their gears.

How Does A New Author Do That?

Lean on your network.

There’s a difference between network and platform. Your network is a collection of your peers. Writers, artists, editors, and others engaged in the creative endeavor of bring literature to the audience. Your platform is your audience. They're the people who support you by buying your stuff.

Your network doesn't need to discover you. You need to build the network. You've already started by being a member of RMFW. Your network should have members who like and respect your work. It should have at least a few members whose work you like and respect. They don't all have to be in the mutual kumbaya society, but having a half dozen people with whom you share sensibilities is important.

Individually, new authors have very small audiences, perhaps as few as a hundred readers garnered over months of frustration. Ten such authors—with similar sensibilities and writing in related genres—have a thousand.

A thousand true fans represents critical mass. Once you get there, discoverability is a function of how fast your true fans share. It is no longer the author's problem.

The combined audience of ten authors won't give you that thousand true fans, but it's a nice start. Use that group to prime the pump by giving them something positive to talk about.

Give Them A Reason

My friend Evo Terra regularly says something like "If you want people to talk about you, do something remarkable." Having people talk about you means you get discovered by people who hear the talk.

One book is not remarkable. One book a year is not remarkable. One really OMFG book? Not remarkable for more than one news cycle.

What’s remarkable?

  • Regularly recommend somebody from your network.
  • Participate with readers in social media.
  • Build a body of work as fast (and as good) as you can.
  • Earn the reputation you want to have by being willing to build it one reader at a time.

It'll take a couple of years. Maybe three, maybe five.

If you write good stuff, if you build a good network, if you pay attention to the details of your craft, then readers will discover you and--through you--your work.

It's up to you to make sure they only need to discover you once.

Image credit:By Stewart Butterfield (flickr) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Beating Writer’s Block—by Not Writing

Exhibit A: Earrings

I’ve been having some issues with writer’s block lately, so I decided to write about writer’s block. Then I got writer’s block regarding my post about writer’s block. (Insert Inception joke here.) Just to put some icing on the cake, I’m also teaching a class about how to deal with writer’s block at Savvy Authors in May.

What have I done to myself?

I think I’ve given myself writer’s block.

Anyway… Over the last few days, I’ve managed to get pen to paper again and found some words coming out. Not a huge number, although I did squeak out about 800 today, which is a vast improvement over none. And I’m beginning to wonder if it’s because of the Sculpey.

What does Sculpey have to do with writing, you ask? Well, I have no idea. It’s just a theory. But recently, getting frustrated over my lack of wordflow, I got a sudden urge to buy either a cake decorating set or a stack of Sculpey bricks. The Sculpey was cheaper and has considerably fewer calories, so, armed with a coupon, I marched into Michael’s and bought a box of assorted colors and a book featuring Very Impressive Sculpey Art I Will Never Be Able to Do.

And I made some earrings.

Two days later, I started writing again.

Coincidence? Maybe. But I’m going forward on the theory that there’s a cause/effect relationship here. I was feeling blocked, so I looked for another creative outlet. I found one, expressed it, and in the midst of finding some form of creative zen, the words started flowing again.

It’s made me wonder if this kind of thing has happened in the past, and I just haven’t put two and two together. I frequently get obsessed with creative things. I’ll go into a craft store and buy a bunch of colored pencils, or watercolors, or a stack of pastels. One time I went on a rubber-band-bracelet kick. It’s as if sometimes my brain needs a swift kick in the creative rear—or a break from the particular creative demands of writing.

Let’s face it—writing a novel is a long-term proposition. It takes tens of thousands of words all strung together in an order that (hopefully) makes sense. You have to stay focused for weeks and months and even years sometimes. There are a gajillion small details. So maybe our muses get intimidated, and approaching another art form helps soothe them. Think about it. I made a pair of earrings a couple nights ago. It took me less than an hour. I have a final product I can do something with. It was physically soothing and achieved a nice result. That’s a lot different from putting one word after another for weeks and weeks before I can slap “The End” on a book.

Many other forms of creativity are also more physical. Putting paint on a canvas. Smooshing pastels into a piece of paper. Kneading bits of clay. Knitting a sock. They’re meditative, too, and in many cases while you’re creating a smaller, more physical project, the writing part of your brain can wander around and play with ideas while you’re not really paying attention.

I think it just might have been the key (although I hope it doesn’t stop working now that I’ve made that connection). So next time you’re feeling like the writing isn’t quite clicking, maybe give it a try. Buy a bar of Sculpey, or just bake up some Play-Doh. Draw some birds or paint a picture. See if it shakes the words loose. It’s worth a try, and even if doesn’t take care of the writer’s block, you’ll still have something to show for it.

Listening to the Universe

About a year ago, my agent and I tried to sell a 65k fairytale-pun-ie mystery.

We didn’t even get a request for a full.

Ouch, right?

*Admittedly (or so I don't start crying at the lack of requests), it wasn’t a project either of us was pushing. It went out to a handful of editors at best.

Following the less than world on fire responses, I decided to indie pub it. It wasn't a decision I made lightly. Not every book I write needs to be in the world. Which is the greatest lesson I have ever learned (Self-publishing a bad book can haunt your career). This novel, though, does need to see the electronic reader light.

At least I believe so.

*please leave me my delusions.

Since I was slammed with other projects until the last month, this project sat on my hard drive gathering dust-kilobytes. I brushed it off last month, did a run through revision, and then a copy edit (for an indie book I do a much deeper copy edit as it’s as close to final as I can get it). I hired on a cover designer.

And BOOM

Last week, my agent emails with a full request.

This week, an offer.

Suddenly I find myself with two options for publication. This is where the universe came in -- I was all ready to indie pub it, and now I had this other option with a small press. The offer made me realize that I don’t have as much time to invest as the indie pubbing needs (due to another project’s sudden appearance). It would suffer because of it.

Things fell into place for a reason. I needed to take the hard look at what I could accomplish, and the universe knew it, taking some of the pressure off releasing the fairytale book in order for me to focus on a bigger project.

Thanks universe.

Do you find your projects fall into place like this? What is the universe telling you about your writing at this moment?

Conference Bookstore & Friday Author Signing Event

The Colorado Gold Conference Book Sale is a great way to promote yourself as an author and sell copies of your books. Not only are there over 400 attendees, the public is also invited to attend the Friday night book signing. Please spread the word to your friends and fans.

Sign up begins June 1st at 10:00 AM

Eligibility

There are two book sale opportunities at Colorado Gold:

1. The Conference Bookstore (Fri 1pm - Sun 2pm)
2. The Friday Author Signing Event (Fri 8-10pm)

Lots of people ask if they are eligible for the bookstore and signing on Friday. Here is a breakdown of who is eligible for both of these things:

Eligible for Bookstore:

  • Keynotes, Mentors, Special Guests, Presenters, and Panelists.
  • All RMFW Members, even if you're unable to attend the conference.

Eligible for Friday Night Author Signing:

  • Keynotes, Mentors, Special Guests, Presenters, and Panelists.
  • RMFW PAL members (Traditionally Published Author League)
  • RMFW IPAL members (Independently Published Author League)

For information on how to become a member of RMFW PAL or RMFW IPAL, click the links or locate the information under the menu above: About > Published Authors > IPAL or PAL Membership.

Ways to Participate in Friday Night Author Signing and/or Bookstore

  1. CONSIGNMENT (Bring your own books): 
    • New for 2017: If you choose to consign your books, this will be handled through RMFW. RMFW will pay you 85% of the selling price of your books sold. You will be responsible for bringing your own books and checking them in at the bookstore on Friday. If you are coming in from out of state and consigning, we have arranged for you to be able to ship your books to us ahead of time. Be sure to contact us to arrange this.
  2. ORDERED through WHO ELSE! BOOKS:
    • If you choose to have your books ordered and brought to conference by Who Else! Books, Nina and Ron Else are happy to order your books for the conference bookstore.

How Are Authors Chosen for the Friday Author Signing Event?

VIPs, Mentors and Special Guests, our Honored Guiding Member, and WOTY and IWOTY nominees are guaranteed a table at the Friday night book signing. We are currently working on the floorplan for the Friday night event. At the time of this writing, it appears we will have a total of 54 spaces for authors. Because space is limited, we are implementing a first-come, first-served sign-up for all other authors. There will be a proportionate amount of space allocated for IPAL and PAL members, based on their membership.

After the sign-up process, we will contact you personally to confirm the information you submitted about your books. We will also post the authors on the website in case emails don’t reach recipients. Also note that if there are any cancellations by those authors who were assigned a table, the next name on the waitlist will be chosen as a replacement.

When and How to Sign Up

Sign up begins June 1st at 10:00 AM and runs through July 15th at 11:59 PM (or until we are at capacity). You’ll fill out a form on the rmfw.org website, accessible from a link on the home page and conference page. The form will ask for the same information as in previous years. Make sure you complete the entire form.

Everyone who wants to be in the bookstore and signing must complete the form. Be prepared to provide the following information:

  • How you plan to participate: bookstore, Friday author signing, or both
  • Author information including your name, pen name, and email address
  • PAL/IPAL membership status and additional information about your eligibility
  • Information about each of your books for ordering and payment purposes
  • Whether you’re bringing books on consignment or prefer to have your books ordered
  • Any additional special instructions

Now mark your calendar! Return here to the RMFW website on June 1st and reserve your spot in the bookstore Friday author signing event. Because space is limited, we are implementing a first-come, first-served sign-up for all other authors. There will be a proportionate amount of space allocated for IPAL and PAL members, based on their membership.

Note to Presenters: If you plan to recommend any books on writing craft during your sessions, we appreciate your sending the titles to Nina of Who Else! Books at who_else@att.net. She will do her best to include your recommendations in the conference bookstore. And don’t forget to mention during your workshop that the bookstore has your suggestions in stock.

Correction: 5/8/17 - This blog was originally posted with language that stated books ordered through Who Else! Books would pay a percentage back to the authors. This was incorrect. Only consigned books will result in payments back to the authors. 

 

Mortality and the Writer

I just finished a book and went through my usual ritual of cleaning my office while mourning a little for the characters who have been such a large part of my life the last year. Now it’s time to start the next book. In the past, my first consideration would be the market: What book could I write now that I would have the best chance of getting published? What book is most likely to attract readers and earn me the most sales?

But I just hit a milestone birthday, and I realize I no longer think like that. All at once, I am keenly aware I have only a finite number of years left to write books. With time ticking away, I’m starting to think of my career as a legacy rather than a business concern. What do I want to be known for as a writer?

I am proud of my epic historical fantasy, but I’m not ready to return to the world of early Roman Britain. And then there is the fantasy series I dabbled with for three years. I would like to finish it, but my instincts tell me I still don’t have a vision of the story arc that I need to do justice to that tale. My Regency romances have sold the best, but I think as a writer my hallmark has been my dark age and medieval stories. The book I just finished is set in medieval times, and I really love the medieval world. And I have a proposal that’s been whispering to me ever since my trip to Wales last year.

So, I decided to heed that whisper and start writing it. I feel especially good about writing a book that connects to the last one. If there is one mistake I made throughout my career, it was bouncing around in different eras and worlds. This time I’m going to keep going in the same one. I want to finish a solid “series”.

That decision may seem pretty obvious. But in the past, I would probably have switched to a romance sub-genre that is popular now, like the Regency or Victorian eras. Or I would have tried to come up with a mystery since they seem to be selling well, even though I have no solid ideas in my head. In other words, I would have “written to the market”, instead of following my heart.

But I’ve decided it’s too late in my life not to follow my heart. When I first got published in my early 30’s, I was surrounded by authors who saw writing as a career and believed that part of being a professional was to write books that advanced your career. For several years I fought the urge to write what would sell and was indulged by my editor, who allowed me to make a lot of questionable career decisions. Then my career fell apart and I spent the next ten years chasing the elusive dream of recapturing what had been a promising career.

The last few years I’ve finally given up the dream. Not in a bitter, resentful way, but a calm resignation. And I’m in good company. I know few authors who are where they would have hoped to be when they started out, at least if it was ten or more years ago. But we keep writing because it feeds our souls. Because it is who we are.

The gift of age is knowledge and insight. The downside is the lack of time to use that knowledge. For all of you young writers out there, do what you must, but remember that writing time, like every aspect of our lives, is precious. Use it wisely.

Deep Work

This topic was suggested by Patricia Stolty, who recently stepped down as our blog administrator after years of hard work and dedication. She will be missed, but is moving on to focus on her own writing, so good luck Pat!

One of the challenges writers face, especially those just starting to focus on their writing over other professional pursuits, is sitting at the computer for such extended periods of time as it takes to churn out the roughly 60k-100k words to make a novel. They find themselves eager to answer the phone when it rings or leaping to read emails whenever the alert pops up at the bottom of their screen, or simply playing solitaire instead of writing. It's true, writing requires the ability to settle in a focus for considerable amounts of time. That is if you want to write more than a book every five years or so. For many, sitting still and typing for that long is an excruciating challenge.

Beep Work by Dr. Cal Newport"Deep work" is a term coined by Cal Newport, PhD., writer and professor, and the topic of his book of the same name. It refers to, in his words, "the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task." In his book, he talks about the ever shortening of the American attention span, all of the demands on our attention, and even the tendency of people to simply not attempt or to give up on activities that aren't almost immediately rewarding.

Dr. Newport explodes the myth of multitasking and offers studies and interviews showing how the most successful among us are able to focus and persevere in tasks before them in ways the rest of us rarely do. He shows how deep work can actually render more thorough and solid results, and in less time than splitting your attention between several activities at once.

Finally, he offers tools and techniques to exercise and develop your own ability to do deep work, to quit flitting around from one thing to the next without ever actually completing any one of them, to churn out deeper, more complete and satisfying work product than you've been able to before. Even if you are one of those able to focus for long periods, I think there is much to learn from Dr. Newport's book.

Look, I'm no fan of self-help books. I think many of them simply restate the obvious or that which is obvious to me, anyway, in creative ways so you feel like you're learning something new. Self-improvement, to me, falls into the category of diets - if you can't stick to it, it does you no good.

But this book, I think, offers some compelling arguments for learning and putting into practice the precepts it sets forth. At the very least it's worth a look.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road…

Back in March of 2013, Mark Stevens caught up with me at Left Coast Crime in Colorado Springs and asked if I might be interested in reviving the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers blog. It's possible he caught me in a weak moment, perhaps after a glass of wine, but I said I'd think it over.

Then I decided yes, I'd give it a shot. We went live on August 1, 2013 with a new lineup of regular contributors and a few open spots for guests.

Even though I knew very little about the WordPress program that houses the blog.

Even though I had just signed a book contract and had the whole editing cycle and promotion planning ahead of me.

Even though I knew very few RMFW members and up to that time had only volunteered as a conference registrar or workshop moderator.

As I said, it's possible Mark caught me in a weak moment, mellowed by that glass of wine (and probably a chocolate dessert as well).

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Little did I know that "yes" would take me down a yellow brick road leading to a whole new world of information, networking, and just plain fun--a kind of Oz, if you will.

As I move on down that yellow brick road to new adventures (two first drafts that need revisions, a new project just started, and another November book release that will be here way too fast), I want to encourage other members who've never volunteered to give one of the tasks a try. I promise you'll make new friends, no matter what job  you take on.

If you volunteer to help out at Colorado Gold, you might moderate and keep time for a panel of agents or editors. If you're a published author, you might host one of the tables at the banquet -- I got to sit next to an agent one time, and since the room was very noisy, she spent most of her time talking to the two of us who sat closest to her. Conference opportunities are many, so fill out and submit the form on the Conference Volunteer page or contact Corinne O'Flynn for more information (conference@rmfw.org)

If you decide to write a guest post for the blog, you'll be introducing yourself to new people, both members and non-members. Watch for new procedures when they're announced in the newsletter, or contact blog@rmfw.org

If you have good critiquing skills and a good knowledge of the craft of writing, you'd be a natural to volunteer as a first-round judge for the Colorado Gold Contest, and those judge positions need to be filled very soon.  (Contact  contest@rmfw.org)

Offer to present a program or workshop, write an article, help the social media gurus, and more (contact volunteering@rmfw.org).

I am grateful to Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers for many things, but that opportunity to meet my future Five Star editor during a critique workshop tops the list. Attending that one Colorado Gold Conference led to three books published and a fourth on the way. I hope I've managed to show my appreciation through my volunteer activities so far, especially the 3.5 years as blog coordinator alongside my co-editor and good friend, Julie Kazimer. After I whip all my unfinished projects into shape and get through the November book release, I'll probably be back looking for some little thing I can do for RMFW. Maybe I'll see you there.

After all, once you discover there's a kind of Oz in your life, you really don't want to let it go.

Do You Have What it Takes to Be a Fiction Writer in the Modern Age? A Quiz … by Tim Weed

Photo by Rachel Portesi

It requires a huge investment of time and years of immersion in the literary craft to write a viable novel or short story collection, and let’s face it: publishing these days is worse than a crapshoot. You may not find a publisher, and even if you do find one – or if you take the risky decision to self-publish – your painstakingly crafted literary opus may never reach a wider audience. It takes a special kind of person to voluntarily undertake such an ordeal, especially in the current cultural environment, where film and television and high-tech gaming, not books, appear to be the ascendant forms of narrative.

On the other hand, fiction meets basic human needs. You can’t get the same kind of transportation effect from a film or a video that you can from a novel or a story. Good fiction generates a connective electrical current; it creates a living interface between two minds, and in the process, it gives readers a personal stake in the creative process. Ernest Hemingway once wrote:

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was.”

The visceral, all-encompassing experience Hemingway put his finger on is why fiction isn’t going away any time soon. There will always be a demand for fiction, and there will always be opportunities, therefore, available to those who can master the art of writing to the extent that they can attract and inspire readers.

Do you have the unique combination of character traits it takes to be a fiction writer in the modern era? Take this handy quiz to find out. Rate yourself from 0-3 on the following character traits, with 0 for it doesn’t ring a bell at all, and 3 for it describes you to a tee.

1.  You’ve always had an overactive imagination. You are a dreamer who finds rich sources of distraction and spiritual nourishment within your own head.

2.  You’re more of an outsider/observer than a participant at the center of things. Fiction writers tend to be introverts: noticing, observing keenly, and ideally taking notes.

3.  You’re a voracious reader, and likely have been since you were very young. This should go without saying and is sine qua non for a fiction writer, but it’s amazing how many people try to do without it.

4.  Partly as a result of the above, you possess natural storytelling skills and an ingrained sensitivity for language.

5.  You’re comfortable with uncertainty and doubt. In other words, you have a capacity to dwell within what Keats called Negative Capability. You’re okay when things are not cut and dried; you don’t mind living “slant,” guided by your subconscious, in a state of constant mystery and not-quite-knowing.

6.  You’re arrogant and brash, at least some of the time. You don’t mind playing God if that’s what’s called for, and you’re impudent enough to create your own rules.

7.  On the other hand, you may be absent-minded or forgetful. Why is this important? It allows you to forget everything you’ve been told in workshops and read in craft books. It gives you a fresh ticket to re-inhabit your drafts as if you’re experiencing the story for the first time.

8.  You’re as self-motivated as the most successful entrepreneur, only unlike an entrepreneur you don’t care about money. You possess the sort of overdeveloped self-reliance you can call upon every single day to overcome the paralyzing inertia of knowing that no one, NO ONE, is waiting for you to finish your book.

9.  You have an advanced ability to lie to yourself. To get through the slog, you can tell yourself with a straight face—and really believe it—that this draft you’re working on this year is really, truly the final one. Guess what? It’s probably not. Also? It may never get published. Are you still willing to keep working on it?

10. You’re shockingly persistent. You write with grinding regularity and you read voraciously, like a writer, analyzing everything you read in ways that help you improve your fluency in the craft. You may have been born with it or you may have learned it, but in either case you have it in spades: jaw-clenching, invincible, damn the torpedoes persistence in the face of constant resistance, rejection, and failure.

If you scored less than 15, please find a different hobby. We hear model airplanes are fun. Also knitting.

If you scored between 16 and 24, you’ve got a chance at this, though you’ll have some difficult barriers to overcome. It’s a tough road. Are you sure you want to try it?

If you scored between 25 and 30, what the hell are you doing reading this? Get back to work!

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Tim Weed’s first novel, Will Poole’s Island (2014), was named one of Bank Street College of Education’s Best Books of the Year. He​'​s the winner of Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction and Solas Best Travel Writing awards, and his work has appeared in Colorado Review, The Millions, Backcountry, Writer's Chronicle, and elsewhere.

Tim serves as a featured expert for National Geographic Expeditions and is the co-founder of the Cuba Writers’ Program. His new short fiction collection, A Field Guide to Murder and Fly Fishing (Green Writers Press), has been shortlisted for the New Rivers Press Many Voices Project, the Autumn House Press Fiction Prize, and the Lewis-Clark Press Discovery Award.​

Read more at Tim's website.​and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.