What Do You Do When It All Falls Apart?

Photo from Morguefile.com
Photo from Morguefile.com

What Do You Do When It All Falls Apart?

Cry.

That’s the whole post.

Okay, not really.

If you stick with this writing gig long enough, sooner or later everything’s going to fall apart around your ears. That’s not pessimism talking—it’s just the way publishing goes. Although, if you’re really, really lucky, maybe it won’t happen. Honestly, I hope it doesn’t. I hope somebody out there gets to have a happy, untroubled writing career.

I do know that person is not me.

I contracted my first novel in 1999, and since then I’ve had more publishers disappear under me than I care to count. Right now, I’m waiting to hear if Samhain Publishing is actually going to disappear or if there’s going to be another solution. I have seven books there. Weirdly, when the initial announcement was made that they were going out of business, I didn’t panic. Instead, I started thinking about options. I had a book out on submissions at the time, and within the next few days, it came back with yet another rejection. Which surprised me, because I really thought this was going to be a book with a wider appeal. Apparently not. But that’s life.

So what do you do when publishers disappear? When nobody wants to buy the manuscript you were sure was going to be your big break into mainstream publishing? When the manuscripts you do sell are selling in single figures on a reliable basis?

Well, you can quit. Or you can not quit.

Thing is, writers are the most stubborn creatures God ever invented. And if writing is your thing above all things, you’re not going to stop. You’re going to keep going. And going, and going, like that stupid bunny with the drum.

But should you keep going on the same path? Maybe, or maybe not. It’s my thought that if you start to feel like you’re slamming your head into a wall, then it might be time to reevaluate.

No, not quit. Reevaluate. There are so many paths to publication nowadays that it’s dizzying. If your quest to crack into traditional publishing is making you want to play in traffic, maybe it’s time to try something else. I’ve been focused on small press publishers, and I’m thinking it might be time to dive really hard off the board into the deep side of the pool of self-publishing. (Was that a good metaphor? It felt a little forced…)

So I’m reevaluating right now. I’m planning something new with the manuscript that was rejected (it’s been rejected several times). And I’ve got a few new projects that I’m thinking about tailoring to a focused self-pub effort. I’m also revamping my websites and trying to build some social media infrastructure to support those efforts when I get the stories finished. I’m also trying really, really hard to rewire my thought processes so I can set my goals according to what publishing is like now instead of what it was ten years ago. It’s a never-ending process.

So what should you do when it all falls apart? Cry if you want—sometimes it helps. Eat chocolate. Take a long, hot bath. And then get back to work.

Do I have to be sad? … by Nicole Disney

2016_Nicole Disney_Author PhotoI used to think that the best writing sprouted from suffering. Whether being depressed makes you a good writer or being a writer eventually makes you depressed, I did not know, but I knew there seemed to be a link. We've all been told that if we don't have to be writers, don't, right?

The words I heard alongside “writer” were words like struggling, complicated, haunted, damaged, and poor. I didn't think that was all bad, necessarily. I thought it suggested a more authentic connection to life, required more soul searching, and that it yielded deeper truths, friendships, and experiences.

For a long time, my writing seemed to be proving this idea true. All my best work was the stuff of heartache. It was stronger, more vivid, insightful, and emotional, while the things I wrote during smoother parts of life felt flat and routine. Creating stories that shared pain, betrayal, and rage with the reader felt more intimate. Everyone is willing to share a happy moment with the world. It's much more meaningful to share the failures.

I thought I had it all figured out. The theory was put to the test when my life started to change. I came out, rather uneventfully, as a lesbian to my family. I married the love of my life. I got a job that paid more than enough. The only thing that wasn't going right was that I was having a hard time producing writing I liked. Again, I thought the theory of the tortured writer was proving true. I was too happy, surely that was it! I simply didn't have so much to say anymore. When I tried, it sounded watered down.

I attempted to pull myself out of it. I tried to read all the great authors, journaled, outlined, started new stories, abandoned them, read my older work, listened to music, discussed religion and philosophy, roamed the streets of downtown, anything and everything I thought might inspire me. It still felt flat. But surely you don't have to be the alcoholic writer stereotype to have something meaningful to say, right?

I tried to pinpoint a time that I was both happy and writing well. It brought me instantly to falling in love. Sure, during that time I mostly produced mushy poems, lyrics, and love letters, not novels, but they did have that quality I felt I had lost. They had strength.

Misery and falling in love. What about the two put me in a better state to produce quality writing? They do have something in common. They are consuming. When you feel them, you feel them with everything. The sensations are so powerful that the details are etched into our bones and a writer need only whisper of them to share the experience.

Maybe good writing has nothing to do with being happy or sad, but is more about being fully engaged in the moment, being engulfed by the beauty of whatever is happening now. It's about noticing the things that slip by when we forget the value of every second. It's about the intensity life can hold when the mind isn't shuffling through the past or organizing the future.

Often when I am reading and have to pause to admire the craftsmanship of a particularly beautiful passage, it is about something ordinary or even mundane. Many times it is that fact alone that stops me. I find it magical when a writer captures something so perfectly that he or she reveals to me something about it I would never have thought to note, but instantly recognize.

This is what happens when a writer is present. Engaged. Mindful. It is more than considering each of the five senses and jotting something down just because that is a habit we've developed. It's about breaking the illusion that anything is routine, normal, or dull. It is about not going into autopilot. Everything about experience, positive or negative, is a wonder.

Sometimes struggle and depression keep you in the moment. Sometimes love and joy do. But so can everything in between with a little, or maybe a lot of effort. A writer's life doesn't have to be great or terrible, it just has to be lived.

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Nicole Disney is a literary and contemporary fiction writer with a love for exploring the dark and controversial corners of life. Her debut novel, Dissonance in A Minor, was published in 2013. Nicole lives in Denver, Colorado and is also a 911 call taker and police dispatcher, a career which provides her with many quirky characters and situations.

The Craft Corner with Guest Jason Evans

If you’re reading this, congratulations. You’ve overcome that raspy, small voice in your head telling you not to write your story. Telling you that your dream of writing and publishing is a fool’s quest. You have also overcome those well-meaning people who tried to talk you out of it.

You: “I’m going to write a book!”

Friend with blank stare on their face: “um . . . Really?”

You: “Yup! I’ve had this idea in my head for a long time and I am going to turn it into a book!”

Friend rolls eyes: “Oh please. Do you know what the statistical chances of actually making money are?”

That person may be sincere in their desire to save you from pain and suffering. Or, they could be a jerk. Either way, you’ve ignored them and decided to press on. Good for you!

But writing a book is hard work. You have all these scene’s floating in your head. You’ve got side characters to flesh out and fight scenes or love scenes to describe. It’s an exciting time!

I want to encourage you. Keep writing your story. But right now you need to stop and listen to me.

Your memorable characters, the unique plot twist, the heart pounding car chase through the Vatican. None of it matters if your prose get in the way.

I am talking about simple sentence construction. Subject, verb & prepositional phrase.

Look, if you go to your favorite search engine and ask “How many words are in the English language?” You will find a website called languagemonitor.com, which states there are 1,025,109 words in English.

Holy crap. That is a lot of words!

A large part of your writer’s journey will be figuring out what words to use and what order to put them in. That is sentence craft.

Here’s some basic tips I have learned as I have improved as a writer.

1.) Less is more.

When writing, be as impactful as you can with the least amount of words. An example:

John was running through the field, trying to avoid the police who were running after him.

Now compare that sentence to this:

John ran through the field with the police close behind.

I don’t know about you, but the 2nd sentence is clearer, more concise. It conveys the same information as the first one, but is easier to read.

2.) Avoid conjunctions when you can.

I grew up believing conjunctions were awesome. Big, cumbersome compound sentences sounded awesome to my teen-aged mind. Now they sound convoluted. Take a gander at this.

Mary got back into her car and drove to work at the job she hated and dealt with her cranky boss who would be angry with her because she was late.

I know it’s a run-on. But look at this this one.

Mary got back into her car. She drove to the job she hated knowing her cranky boss would be angry with her. She was late.

Three perfectly good sentences out of that compound sentence mess.

3.) Avoid the word was whenever possible.

Now I’m not saying was should be banned from the language. There are times when it is appropriate to use. However, it can be a crutch.

She was going to go out with Robert, but she cancelled due to illness.

This isn’t a bad sentence, but I think the next sentence is better.

She wanted to go out with Robert, but she cancelled due to illness.

By changing the tense and replacing was with wanted, I gave you a little clue into the woman’s thinking. She did want to go! Before, you had no idea on her thoughts about Robert. However, in the second sentence, you at least get a little clue.

4.) Make your special words special . . . by not using them.

When I was an undergraduate, I used however, in all of my English and History essays. After about four or five papers, Dr. Mueller sat me down and told me to stop. It was getting annoying. I took a perfectly good word and over used it. I didn’t even realize I was doing it. The word however, was now my crutch. For the rest of that year I allowed myself only one use of however per paper.

You should do the same with your favorite words, too.

I love the word verdant. While working on my manuscript, which is set in Tudor Ireland, I only used the word verdant twice. This was hard because if verdant ever fit a place, it was Ireland. But limiting myself to two uses did two things. Chiefly, it forced me to use other words to describe Ireland’s green hills and valleys. More importantly, when I did use verdant it had the emotional impact that I wanted.

Sentence craft is important to fiction. It can take an interesting story and elevate it to something memorable. I encourage you to find out as much as you can about writing better sentences every day. Start out by buying a little book on grammar. If you have the time, take a class at your local community college on writing. Whatever you do, don’t give up.

Remember, writing is a craft. You can and will get better at it.

 

Jason Evans PhotoJason Henry Evans

Like my author page on Facebook at Jason Henry Evans.

Or, follow me on Twitter @evans_writer.

Read my blog at www.jason-evans.net

 

 

Fraud Spotting

Various conversations around the internet lately have made me think that numerous misconceptions exist about self-publishing. One of the odd confusions seems to center on what’s known as Yog’s Law—a rule originally laid out by SF writer James D. Macdonald stipulating that “money flows toward the writer.” Specifically, some people find it confusing because the self-published author pays for publishing services instead of getting an advance. Many feel that it this violates Yog’s Law.

I think the breakdown comes by not understanding that a self-published author needs two hats. He or she wears the Writing Hat while creating the manuscript. The author must still pay out for writing implements and such, but the expenses aren’t terribly onerous even when buying a new computer every few years. When the manuscript is finished – that is, when it’s had a couple of drafts, perhaps been seen by a few beta readers, and had a spell check or two run on it – then the writer takes off the Writing Hat and puts on the Publisher Hat.

Publishers have to invest in order to produce a book. They hire editors. They hire artists. They hire layout people and book designers. Some even publish catalogs and hold up release for months while they wait for the stars to align and their promotional efforts to take root.

It doesn’t matter if you’re self-published or being served by Orbit. The process remains the same. Some self-publishers invest in skills, knowledge, and tools that help keep their direct costs low, but they follow the same path.

More than a few people have suggested that this investment on the part of the publisher means that money does not flow to the writer if the writer self-publishes his or her opus. Certainly the hats occupy one head, but not at the same time. Writers and publishers play different roles with different expectations in the creation of a book. Writers invest time and effort. Publishers invest time, effort, and money.

Writers recognize this when they pursue contracts with publishers. They don’t want to incur the direct costs of publication. They choose to reach the market indirectly, trading direct production costs for a percentage of future earnings. They want the publishers to invest and a portion of the the revenue money flows toward the author.

The fraud comes in when unscrupulous operators inject themselves into the process.

Some of these bad actors literally hang out a sign telling the potential customer that they’re going to cheat. They put themselves forward as “self-publishing companies” – the moral equivalent of Dante’s admonition “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here.”

The diagnostic definition of a “self-publishing company” is “a publisher that publishes only one author’s titles.” Typically, the same person who wrote the story runs the publishing operation which the phrase “self-published” implies.

Most of the bad actors follow the same patterns. They charge an exorbitant upfront fee for services like editing, cover design, and marketing – which is where the “money flows to the author” caveat actually applies – but then they fail to support those promises. They run a spell checker and make a pass with a grammar tool for editing. They use a default cover design which attracts more derision than attention. They’ll put an advert on a web page that nobody ever sees as a marketing plan, then place the books in various online bookstores at prices that all but guarantee no sales. They fulfill the letter of their contracts while charging the author for the privilege. They do this because they know the book will never earn them any money in sales so they have to get it up front.

By comparison, some companies provide self-publishing services. These companies may broker an editor and cover artist for a small finder’s fee. They may offer layout services. They’ll charge a one-time fee for their services and return the completed files for the owner to publish. Any company that keeps the file and publishes it is a publisher. Period. Beware of those organizations that claim otherwise.

Vanity presses can be a little tougher to spot, because too many people don’t understand how much it costs to publish a book. Historically, vanity presses left the author with cases of books that cluttered up the garage or basement with no hope of selling. Today, these houses don’t make it easy by claiming to be a “self publishing company.” They offer al a carte services at the same high levels as the straight-up scammers. They ask the author to pay the upfront investment for producing the book and add a hefty commission for undertaking the work. They frequently offer additional services like promotion and web pages. They then publish the books—again with stupidly high prices—and often claim the lion’s share of revenues leaving the writer with an empty wallet and no book.

Straight scoop. You can self-publish a high quality book in both ebook and paperback for less than $2000 in direct costs. Very good freelance editors charge around $1500 for a novel length manuscript. You’ll pay a bit more if you need development as well as copy editing. Excellent cover art costs much less than $500. With a little ingenuity and elbow grease, you can do the ebook layout yourself. Creating a well laid out PDF for print-on-demand publishing takes a bit more effort but it’s not rocket science and free tools exist to handle the conversion.

It’s not like these resources are hiding. The best way to find an editor is ask around. I have a couple I regularly recommend — same with cover artists. Some of the same editors and artists that work for the Bigs — or used to — are available for indies to hire.

While you’re considering publishing your next work, remember that the money flowing toward the author comes from the publisher even when you publish it yourself. If your publisher cheaps out on production costs, you’ll ultimately pay the price out of your writer’s wallet, regardless of whose head wears the Publisher Hat.

Image credit: Pictures of Money
Licensed under Creative Commons-BY 2.0

The Changing Face of Entertainment

Netflix just premiered a new sitcom (sort of, more of a situation dramedy) from the makers of Two and A Half Men called The Ranch, and the reviews of it set me thinking. I watched the show before I read the reviews and I found it funny, fresh, thought-provoking, and original. The reviewers I read (about seven) didn't like it. I'm not going to get into why (I'll start to rant about political correctness and the new Thought Gestapo and all that, and that's not what this post is about.) The important thing is that the critics, to a one, missed the entire point of the show and why it's good.

Having lived in Colorado, where the show is set, I know a lot of rural people like this. The critics clearly don't. Like most who live on either coast they have no clue who people in the middle states are. There is a segment of the country to be served by a show like this, who have minimal interest in shows by Hollywood scions who assume everyone lives, speaks, and thinks like them.

The Evolution of ManI submit that a show like this is perfect for a new, wet-behind-the-ears, upstart entertainment source like Netflix (new in the sense that they have only been offering original programming for the last few years.) Netflix is more interested, at the moment, in building a viewer base than they are in bowing to convention. So shows that the networks and cable cabals who think they rule the industry would never green-light are getting made and broadcast anyway.

Likewise the recent boom in electronic publishing has allowed for the publication of books that the big New York/Los Angeles publishing houses would never consider. They are getting distributed, read, and enjoyed by thousands. Add POD (print-on-demand) services like Amazon's CreateSpace.com, and suddenly the market is being flooded with books that would otherwise never see the light of day. And I'm surprised to say that as far as I can tell, for the most part the quality remains relatively high, considering how abysmal many predicted it would be.

It's the great democratization of the entertainment industry. No longer are a few gatekeepers with a whitewashed point of view about their industry the final say in what the public gets to choose from for their entertainment dollar. And many of these electronically published books have gone on to great commercial success as well (most notably 50 Shades of Grey and The Last Ship.)

So while the sudden opening of the floodgates has many feeling overwhelmed and afraid that their book will never be seen or read amid the cacophony of other books suddenly flooding the world, I submit this is a good thing. The industry is changing (perforce) and change is scary. But another equilibrium will be found eventually, and in the meantime we are witnessing evolution first hand.

Volunteers…the Lifeblood of RMFW

RMFW is an organization run entirely by volunteers. For a group with over 600 members and a budget of more than $175,000, this is no mean feat!  As our new Volunteer Coordinator, I want to spend some time highlighting this Herculean effort.

We began trying to track volunteer efforts in 2014, in part because we needed the information for our audit. But we also recognized there were a lot of volunteers doing things behind the scenes without anyone being aware of their efforts.  That year, we asked all of our board committees to submit lists of their volunteers along with their job role(s).  In 2015, we did the same, but also began to analyze the data in other ways.

RMFW has a twenty-three member board: president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, anthology, by-laws, conference, contest, critique, education events, history project, hospitality, I-PAL, membership, newsletter, PAL, podcast, programs (monthly), publicity, retreat, technology, volunteers, and western slope programs. As board members, each is responsible for helping to run the organization through oversight and policy-making. However, board members also have the responsibility of chairing a committee or heading up special tasks as an executive committee member.  Each committee utilizes volunteers for sub-roles.

Our smallest committee is by-laws, which has no volunteers beyond the board member.  The largest committee is conference, which had thirty-four different volunteer positons in 2015. Some of those positions were filled by one person while others (such as workshop moderator) involved dozens of people. 

In 2015, we recorded 113 different volunteer positions.   Many of those roles (contest judge, newsletter contributor, e.g.) involved multiple slots. By our best estimate, there were 471 separate volunteer slots filled last year. They were filled by 196 different people.

Volunteer tasks ranged from short-term in duration (picking up an editor from the airport, hosting a table at conference) to long-term (planning retreat, editing the anthology). Some involved small spurts of volunteer energy (writing a blog once per quarter) and some involved daily responsibilities (maintaining the website, coordinating contest or conference, serving as president). Some efforts were easy (tweeting) and some were more involved (selecting conference workshops).

On an average, RMFW volunteers took on 2.4 tasks each.  Most (102) of our volunteers filled one role each though 79 people completed two to five different responsibilities. Eleven members stepped forward to offer their time for six to ten different tasks.  Four members fulfilled more than ten roles during 2015. 

The work these dedicated volunteers accomplish, in addition to being writers, is nothing short of amazing!  Together, we achieve as much as a crew of paid employees do in the business sector. We undertake great things and make them happen, allowing RMFW to devote its funding almost entirely to educating writers,  improving  our craft, networking, and sharing knowledge.

If you’re interested in joining the RMFW volunteer corps, please visit the volunteer page on www.rmfw.org. We’ll then send you a volunteer application to get a sense of your interests, skills, and desired level of activity then match you up with the best roles for you. 

Random Thoughts

A Little Bit Every Day
DSC01502I started writing the fifth book in the Allison Coil Mystery Series on Jan. 1, 2014. (Yeah, New Year’s Day. Just Because.) I finished the draft on Monday, March 28. I wrote 500 words a day. That’s 453 days, which would have been 165,433 words if I made forward progress every day. But I needed to back up a few times, re-work a few things. I took a break to write a short story. And another. I finished Draft 1 with 112,000 words, still too many. Lots of cutting to come. What’s my point? 500 words a day isn’t much. It adds up. Do the math.

 

 

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There’s A Feeling I Get
April2015StairwayThis excellent column by Bob Lefsetz is all about rock and roll. But I thought about writing the whole time. Led Zeppelin went their own way with “Stairway to Heaven.” Their previous album was a dud.

Here’s Lefsetz: “What Led Zeppelin said back in ’71 is that you’re best doing it your way, by yourself, with your peeps, than hiring outside hands to meddle with your vision … That we react to and love most that which is personal and human.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Lessons Learned
April2016WeirdI’ve had some excellent podcast guests lately, but check out the one with Eleanor Brown. She had a huge hit with The Weird Sisters. Huge! She was on the road doing promotion for 18 months! And then she wrote three more books that all went pffffft before finding the groove for the one that comes later this year, The Light in Paris.

Much like Led Zeppelin, she listened to her heart. (I guess Tom Petty sang that, too.) Humility, folks. It’s a tough business. Listen.

Her workshop is Saturday, April 30 at Columbine Library in Littleton.

 

 

 

 

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Legends of the Fall
Harrison & ReillyEverything they’re saying about Jim Harrison, who died recently, is true.

Read his stuff if you don’t know his work—gritty, singular, raw, honest. I looked up an old review I wrote of his three-novella collection, The Woman Lit By Fireflies.

Anyway, at the bottom of the review I came across a funny exchange with my late pal Gary Reilly and I shook my head (yet again) at Gary’s dry humor. I miss that guy. (Click on the picture to read the exchange.)

 

 

 

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The Detachment
The Detachment Cover - FINALSpeaking of Gary, Running Meter Press is launching The Detachment at The Tattered Cover on Friday, April 15 (Colfax Store) at 7 p.m.

I managed to get advance blurbs from some amazing writers—Stewart O’Nan, Ron Carlson, John Mort, Fred Haefele.

Carlson compared The Detachment to Catch 22 and that’s a guy who teaches fiction in an elite program out in California. O’Nan (pals with Stephen King and one prolific writer himself) called it a ‘classic.’

Speaking of length, The Detachment is 534 pages. It’s a powerful, heavy book based on Gary’s experiences in Vietnam as a military policeman.

 

 

 

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Honors for Gary
Pick Up at Union Station - Final JPGSpeaking of Gary, Pick Up At Union Station (his seventh novel in The Asphalt Warrior series) was named a finalist in literary fiction for the 2016 Colorado Book Award.

That’s three finalist nominations out of that seven-book series.

The other two were Ticket to Hollywood in 2013 and Doctor Lovebeads in 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

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Productive

My pal Gary Reilly.
My pal Gary Reilly.

The Detachment is the ninth title we’ve published of Gary’s—after seven books in The Asphalt Warrior series and The Enlisted Men’s Club, the first book in his series about Vietnam following Private Palmer.

And Running Meter Press still has about 15 books to go.

Fifteen.

Gary wrote more than 500 words a day.

 

 

 

 

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Tethered by Letters

April2015FrictionIs Metro Denver and the Colorado Front Range chock full of writer groups?

Right?

There’s bound to be one out there to suit your needs.

Here’s a new one I came across last year. Tethered by Letters.

Yes, based here but with connections all over the world, really. One reason I mention them is because they do a great job—web site, online interactions, classes and a literary magazine called F(r)iction.

The other reason to mention them is because they offer pretty good money for flash fiction, short stories, poetry and more. Check ‘em out!

 

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The Muddle

One of my favorite writing quotes is, “Every book has a beginning, an end and a muddle.” It’s been true of every one of my books. The first few chapters flow. My characters are vivid and alive. There’s conflict and motivation galore. I can see all the plot points lining up. Everything is moving along nicely. And then I descend into quicksand and my story starts to flounder and flail and slowly sink.

My plot derails. My characters’ motivation stops making sense or feeling right. I can’t figure out the next scene. Or the one after that. My characters refuse to say their lines. Seemingly because they don’t know what to say. It doesn’t matter if I know how the book is going to end. Or even if I'm clear on what will happen in the last third of the book. I’m stranded in the no-man’s land of the middle.

I thought it would be different this time. After all, I’m not writing this book from scratch. I’m rewriting a story for which I have two complete manuscripts and a detailed synopsis for a third version. In theory, I’ve already made it through the “muddle” of this story—twice. But it doesn’t seem to matter. I get stuck. Horribly, wretchedly stuck. I write paragraphs and delete them. I start in a different spot and write some more. And delete that, too. I get discouraged. Maybe I should shelve this project for now. Write on something else for awhile. But superstitious dread won’t let me. The fear that if I quit now, I’ll never get unstuck and figure out the story. I’ll never get past the middle and finish the book.

So, I do what I’ve always done. I think about the story. At night, before I go to bed. In the morning when I wake up. During the day when I’m doing things that don’t require much focus. I contemplate jumping ahead and writing a scene later on. But I’m not sure that will work. If I don’t know where the story goes next, how will I tie everything together and have it make sense?

This time it is a “snowday” from work that rescues me. I finally have a chunk of hours when a dozen other tasks aren’t insisting on my attention. I do what a lot of experts advise: put my butt in the chair and stay there, working at it until the immovable plot starts to move. Once it does, it is like a logjam getting unfree. Everything flows. Clear river ahead.

I think that taking the time to work through the tangle in one sitting is part of the secret. And thinking about the story and letting it foam and fester in your sub-conscious for a few days also helps. But I still don’t understand the actual process that brought about the breakthrough. I can’t remember any of the details. It’s like giving birth; your mind blocks it out. Not because the process is so painful (Not quite !), but because when it’s happening, you’re so focused that there are no circuits in your brain available to imprint the memory.

Which is a darn shame. I’d really like to remember my thought process at the time, the exact steps I took to free my story from the dreaded muddle. Because I know I’m going to have to do it again…and again.

Finding Time to Write … by Danica Favorite

2016_Danica FavoriteWhen people outside the writing world find out that I’m a writer, they’re always shocked because they have no idea how I find time to write. I work what amounts to a full-time job, and though I work from home and have a semi-flexible schedule, I still have to put those hours in. With two children at home who are involved in multiple activities, I spend most of my evenings and weekends driving them back and forth. Some days, I feel like I live in my car. I am on the go from the time I get out of bed until I fall back into bed, exhausted.

Right now, I’m in the middle of a crazy deadline crunch. I just turned in my line edits for a book I have coming out in September, my January book is due May 1st, and I have a book releasing April 1st. Which means I don’t have the luxury of writing when I feel like it or hoping my life is going to slow down so I can catch up.

So, how, then, do I get the writing done?

The key is in finding ways to make the schedule work for you. When my kids are at their activities, I have my laptop with me. An hour of dance practice becomes an hour of writing time. The kids have to be at the riding arena all day? Have laptop, will travel. And, for those unexpected wait times, I have my book files saved on Dropbox, which I can access from my phone or tablet. Writing on my phone is not fun, but I can do it. I was just at my daughter’s robotics competition, and all of my electronics had dead batteries, so I pulled out a notebook and wrote by hand. It wasn’t pretty, but it did the job.

2016_Favorite_ShotgunOne of the most important things I do, though, is communicate with my family. They know when I’m coming up on a deadline, and what kind of time I need. Part of that is knowing how much time it takes me to write a book, then looking at our schedule to see where I can find that time. And when those times don’t add up, it means figuring out what I need to do to make it work. Sometimes, when I’m in a crunch, I’ll spend the weekend at a hotel, locked in a room, writing.

The other crucial piece to balancing my busy life with my writing time is making time for self care. If I don’t have enough fuel in the tank, I’m not going anywhere, especially when it comes to the energy I put into both my family and my writing. I have a standing massage appointment every other week.. I have a regular journaling habit, and I also do a lot of art journaling. That all seems to add up, time-wise, but what I’ve found is that when I am doing all the things that support me emotionally and creatively, I’m a better wife, better mother, better writer, and I don’t feel as pressed for time, even though I still have exactly the same hours in the day.

How do you get that balance?

Take a look your writing habits and needs. Track how long it takes you to write. If you can write an average of 1K in 1 hour, how many hours do you need to write your book? Then look at your schedule. Where in your schedule can you fit those hours? Does that mean cutting something out? I’m amazed at all the ways we all waste time when we take the time to analyze how we’re spending it. Also be aware of hidden times you can use to write. I can usually get about 6 hours of writing time just sitting and waiting for my kids at their various practices. When you’re making your schedule, be intentional about also scheduling down time and self-care time. It’s tempting to pack every minute full of stuff, especially when you’re feeling pressed for time, but in those circumstances, the best thing you can do is to give yourself a break.

How do you balance your writing life with everything else you need to get done?

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A self-professed crazy chicken lady, Danica Favorite loves the adventure of living a creative life. She and her family recently moved in to their dream home in the mountains above Denver, Colorado. Danica loves to explore the depths of human nature and follow people on the journey to happily ever after. Though the journey is often bumpy, those bumps are what refine imperfect characters as they live the life God created them for. Oops, that just spoiled the ending of all of Danica’s stories. Then again, getting there is all the fun.

Learn more about Danica and her writing at her website. She can also be found on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

A Study in Scarlett (Or: Can I Be Sued For Writing That?) Part 2 of 2 … By: Chuck Greaves

2016_Chuck GreavesYesterday we discussed defamation. Today we'll cover two related concepts that can also expose a writer to liability, as well as some defensive strategies that writers may wish to adopt.

"Right to Privacy" simply refers to the right of an individual to be left alone in her personal affairs. As with defamation, privacy laws vary from state to state, but with common elements in most states. Generally speaking, an aggrieved plaintiff must prove (a) that publicity was given to matters concerning her private life, (b) that the matters made public would be highly offensive to a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities, and (c) that the matters publicized were neither newsworthy nor concern any legitimate public interest.

This last element of the tort – newsworthiness or public interest – effectively precludes invasion-of-privacy suits by celebrities or other public figures. But authors of biography, true-crime, and other forms of nonfiction often write about real people who are not celebrities, and even novelists will sometimes base their characters on people they know. Care must be taken in these cases to avoid invading the privacy rights of your subjects, whose identities are either explicitly stated or can be gleaned from the context of the writing.

Memoirists who publicize private and embarrassing information about their (non-celebrity) friends or family run an especially high risk of being sued for invasion of privacy, and this is doubly true of self-published authors who cannot cite a traditional publisher’s support for her work as evidence of its inherent “public interest.”

As is the case with defamation, only a living person can sue for invasion of privacy. Unlike defamation, however, the truth of the statement in question is no defense against potential liability.

"Right of Publicity" refers to the commercial value of an individual’s name, likeness, or identity. If you’re planning to sell t-shirts with Justin Bieber’s unlicensed image, for example, or to use his name to advertise your other products or services, you can expect to be sued.

Unlike defamation or the right to privacy, which are considered “personal” rights, an individual’s right of publicity is a property right that exists during her lifetime and that, in many jurisdictions, survives her death and may be enforced by her estate. (So much for your fallback plan to sell Elvis Presley t-shirts.)

But can you put Justin or Elvis on the cover of your latest book? The answer is . . . it depends.

Unfortunately for authors whose works are, of necessity, published in all fifty states, the laws governing right-of-publicity actions are a veritable hodgepodge of inconsistent state laws. Roughly half the states, for example, have statutes that expressly govern right-of-publicity claims, while half still rely on common law principles that prohibit unfair competition or preclude the misappropriation of a person’s name or likeness on privacy grounds. Moreover, in those states that have enacted legislation, the laws vary widely, with some affording post-mortem protection to all citizens and others protecting only those persons whose name or likeness had demonstrable commercial value during their lifetimes. Also, in those states with right-of-publicity statutes that include post-mortem protection, the length of that protection varies, from a low of 20 years after death (Virginia) to a high of 100 years (Indiana.)

Fortunately for authors, some states expressly exempt books, as well as advertisements for books, from right-of-publicity claims. Many, however, do not. And while the First Amendment has been held to protect so-called “creative or expressive works,” both factual and fictional, some courts limit First Amendment protection only to those works whose creative or expressive character is found to “predominate.”

The upshot is that authors, unlike commercial advertisers, should be safe from suit on right-of-publicity grounds where their work is predominately creative or expressive in nature. That means (subject to the photographer’s copyright) using Elvis’s image on the cover of your Elvis Presley biography is probably safe, whereas using it on your Elvis coloring book is inviting a trip to the Heartbreak Hotel.

Remember also that First Amendment protection may not extend to works that are published or to suits that are filed abroad, as the Scarlett Johansson verdict – a five-thousand Euro defamation award in France – clearly illustrates.

There are a few commonsense steps that you as an author can take to avoid being sued. In choosing your book's subject matter, for example, you can avoid reference to living persons. For authors of true crime and historical literature, that may mean choosing events that occurred more than a century ago. If that is neither possible nor desirable, then take care in your research to avoid factual errors or embellishments. In memoir, consider changing the names, physical descriptions, or other identifying characteristics of the real people – particularly the non-celebrities – about whom you write. In fiction, be sure your characters do not closely resemble real people you know or have met. When in doubt, consider obtaining written permission from those you wish to portray.

Lastly, please bear in mind that the foregoing is merely an overview, as was yesterday’s discussion of defamation, and that a full explication of the law in this area could and does fill entire textbooks. At the end of the day, buying an hour or two with a lawyer experienced in the publishing field may be the best investment an author can make.

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A retired trial lawyer, Chuck Greaves is the author of five novels, most recently Tom & Lucky and George & Cokey Flo (Bloomsbury) a Wall Street Journal "Best Books of 2015" selection. You can visit him at his website.