Multi-Tasking or Single-Tasking: What Works Best for You?

I always have a lot going on at any one time, in my writing life and in real life. Yes, I do see a distinct separation between the two lives, even though one tends to muddy up the other from time to time.

When I'm writing, I'm a writer. I put on my writerly cloak and think writerly thoughts. That's my plan for today. Except for the laundry, of course, but it’s Monday. I always do the laundry on Monday.

When I'm doing real life stuff, I forget all about the writing part and get crazy. Yesterday, for instance, I read the paper and then a few chapters of The Lion’s Game by Nelson DeMille, rode the exercise bike twice, talked to my mom on the phone, and watched the Broncos beat the Chargers on television. And I paid a lot of attention to Katie Cat because she's very demanding.

Katie Cat waiting for me to move the laptop so she can claim my lap

When I'm being a writer, I'm also being a blogger and social media junkie. My husband often comments on the number of tabs I usually have open when I'm at my computer. There's email, this blog, my personal blog, a Google calendar, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and sometimes Goodreads and amazon.com.

And I subscribe to a number of blogs that I follow regularly.

So....when I read Leo Babauta's post several weeks ago on Zen Habits, I felt he might be talking directly to me. The post is called "I'm Returning to Single-Tasking." In the first of six excellent points, Leo says he's going to have only one tab open at a time. Multi-tasking is out the window. Single-tasking is in.

For me, this is an amazing new concept. How about you?

In the past, when I’ve gone into busy writer mode, the one thing that always got sacrificed was reading time. Or I try to read at the same time I’m watching television shows that don’t require a lot of concentration. If I move to that single-tasking philosophy, which I’ve been trying and kind of like, I’ll keep at least 30 minutes free in the morning for pleasure reading. It almost gives me a chill of pleasure to think about it. What a wonderful way to start the day.

Anyway, back to my plan for today. A little bit of time outside to enjoy the balmy 40+ degree day, do that laundry, quickly finish my morning computer tasks online, and then spend many hours on manuscript revisions. Taking Leo Babauta's advice to heart, I will close all my browser tabs and focus on the book during that revision time I’ve set aside.

Tell me something about your writing habits. Do you muddle about with more than one project at a time? Or do you focus on just one and get it finished before you move on to another? What are your browser tab habits? Do you have any new plans for tackling your projects in 2016 so you're more productive?

Become a Content Connoisseur in 2016

My friend, Laurence MacNaughton, shared an interesting article with me not long ago called 30 Fresh and Fun Ideas For Your Newsletter. As marketing people, Laurence and I are all over anything that helps generate valuable content for our readers, and we thought that some of the principles in the article would work for authors too. With this in mind, here are 12 blog post ideas for authors interested in strengthening their platforms in 2016. If you post monthly, your year is set. Weekly writer? Generate four articles from each base idea and you’ll never run out of great content.

1. Create and use top 10 lists

This one is so fun and easy that I’m using a form of it for this article. Commit to a number and fill in the points. If you write mysteries, how about naming 10 of Agatha Christie’s best works? Romance Writer? Ten best (or worst) bodice rippers you’ve read. Take informative, silly, or thoughtful approaches and you’ll have your readers clamoring for more.

2. Advertise reader & writer conferences & workshops

This idea is great because you can use it to keep up with industry events to satisfy your own needs, and advertise where you’ll be for book signings, etc. Your readers will know where the next best events are and will be there to learn as well. This is community service at its finest. Just remember to add links and acknowledgements as appropriate.

3. Produce an “Author’s Studio” video tour

Even though our main focus as authors is on the written word, our world revolves around the visual. And with so many phones equipped with video cameras this can be a fun project. Tour your studio, or go to the inspiration place you’ve selected for building a new world in your next novel. Photos make great illustrations for your writing work, and readers love them.

4. Getting social? ASK for followers!

Yes, a lot of authors claim to be introverts. And when you’re working on a new story it’s understandable that you need your alone time, but when you’re blogging, tweeting, and otherwise community or readership building, get social. ASKING for followers is one of the best ways to get them. We are in business after all. And the subject will help you write in a new style--persuasion as opposed to entertainment.

5. Connect your work with unusual holidays

Love this idea! Did you know that January is National Blood Donor Month? Are you writing the next great vampire story? Connect and enjoy. Holiday Insights is a website with many bizarre and unique holidays. Combine them with your writing themes and you’ll have valuable content each year for many years to come.

6. Where in the world is my book?

We’ve all played the “where’s Waldo?” and “Flat Stanley” games. Why not do the same with your book? Visit libraries and bookstores that carry your work and snap a picture. Only one copy on the shelf? Turn it into a puzzle to find. If readers and friends send snaps of your book? Post it online. This is great fun, and a subtle way to self-promote.

7. How-To articles with a twist

Go ahead. Right now, before the New Year hits, think of a list of writing skills you have or want to acquire in the year ahead, and turn your research into valuable web content. Think outside the box. Everyone’s written an article on creating big characters. What about writing a how-to on the walk-on or cameo character? Have you come up with a great acronym for warding off writer’s block? Go further. How To sharpen six pencils in 30 seconds or less. Play with this and have fun. Whether or not it turns into a blog post, you almost always benefit from explaining how something works.

8. Tell the story of writing your stories

If your career was focused on a brick-and-mortar business you owned and not a book you wrote, writing a corporate history would be important and valuable. As an author your own writing biography is equally important. You can write current articles on your travels, personal experiences, and most of all, lessons you’re learning on the road to publishing that next great book.

9. Refer-A-Friend promotions

Like asking for followers, it’s important to grow your readership continually by getting others to talk about you. Incent your current fans to invite a friend by offering a piece of SWAG (stuff we all get) to anyone who refers a friend and that friend signs up to get your newsletter or to follow your blog. Do a profile on your biggest fans to keep the excitement going (and produce more valuable content for your blog).

10. Advice columns work for you

According to the New Yorker, the first advice column was published in 1691. As you can imagine, this kind of writing has gone under many changes since then, but remains a popular form of writing. Start by making up readers with questions and before long, your advice column may become as popular as Conan the Grammarian.

11. Reader Research & Results

There are a few ways to create surveys and polls on line.  Why not satisfy your curiosity about your readers as well as giving away some fun information?  We all participate when someone asks a question like, "If you could eat dinner with 10 dead people, who would they be?" Find out popular names for heroes and villains, places people always wanted to go, favorite character flaws, and soon you'll have a treasure trove of information to inspire your next story. Meanwhile, your blog readers have fun participating in the world of creative writing.

12. Talk about the weather

Really! Believe it or not, when all else fails, weather remains a popular subject just about anywhere.  In England, apparently three quarters of the population talk about it more than anything else.  According to the PinPoint article referenced earlier, "At some point, the crazy weather will impact your area. Consider writing about it."

Wishing you every content success in 2016.

Is Writing Getting in the Way of My Life?

So I have a spiritual adviser. I know that can be off-putting, but If it helps, you can picture me talking to Yoda. I mean, after all, Yoda was a spiritual guide for Luke and various other people who never listened to the green-skinned guru. Oh, well, we are a headstrong bunch.

My little green spiritual adviser asked if writing was getting in the way of my spiritual development. He’s unimpressed by me, which is good, because I am so damn impressive.

Is writing getting in the way of my spirituality?

Well, it makes me miserable, and since I’m a third Catholic, it counts as being beneficial. As my friend Jason Evans says, “All suffering is redemptive.”

To be clear, I’m not someone trying to get into heaven. I’m a guy whose natural inclination is to find a nice corner of hell and set up shop. I choose my suffering, and my spirituality is about me trying to suffer less.

Does writing help me suffer less?

Ouch. No. But let me continue…

You might have heard of a small film that came out in December of 2015. It’s called Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I know, weird title, right? I think it might have something to do with Yoda, but I’m not sure.

I can’t tell you how much fuller my life is because of this one movie, which I’ve not seen at the writing of this blog post. It it fills me with a dreamy kind of hope, an excitement, a wonder.

I had to accept, early on, that writing stories is a selfless act and the world is better for the stories people tell. Even when the stories are sequels spun out of a story machine who’s only aim is to make as much money as possible. Even those stories matter.

When I write and publish books, I am adding stories to the world and I don’t know what will happen. And I can’t just write books and keep them hidden. I spent twenty years doing that, and those days are over. Lucky you, my practice books won’t see the light of day. But the practice is over, and it’s show time.

Writing doesn’t help me to suffer less. That’s not the point. The writing makes me strive harder, work more, and to really push myself to the very limits of my endurance, which makes me seek a power greater than myself.

The world is better for the stories we tell. And if I have stories to tell, I have a sacred duty to tell them.

I’ve had to pray and meditate more than ever because of the writing game.

I’ve had to reach out for help because of the writing game.

I’ve had to swim through frigid oceans of screeching fear because of the writing game.

Writing has made me a better human being, but that doesn’t mean it’s made me happy. Happiness is such an American ideal. Part of me is old school, yo, as in, I’m here to do my duty. Happiness may or may not come, but honor, courage, discipline, those are what I should focus on.

So I told my Yoda all that, and he was unimpressed, as he should be, because he knows I’m clinging to the writing business.

The real danger is that I have spent a lifetime, thirty years, in pursuit of this dream. Could I let go it now? If the divine muffin came down and told me to put the pen down, could I?

Our Buddhist friends would say attachment leads to suffering. And I’m not just attached to writing, I’ve superglued it to my soul. My query letters have been etched on my bones.

So, no, I can’t let go of it. It’s too late for me to stop, even if I wanted to. Even if I could.

But this is my calling, my vocation. I’m committed, for better or worse, even when it makes me suffer and I hate it so. Even when the dreams of fame and fortune flutter away and I’m left with an Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,426,891 Paid in Kindle Store and even worse, an Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,552,680 in Books. And no, I don’t want to see the Top 100 in books, thank you very much.

So, I’ll keep writing books. I’ll continue to suffer, since I like it for some odd reason, and I’ll continue to fight fear.

Because I am Jedi, like my father before me. And the work of writing stories matters more than my own happiness.

May The Force be with you. Always.

Let us write, let us write, let us write!

Oh, the weather outside is frightful
But the tale inside’s delightful!
And since we’re so erudite
Let us write, let us write, let us write!

blue-snowflake‘Tis the season for holidays and gifts and snowfalls. We just emerged from a powerful storm, and are facing more as we approach the new year. The ski areas are euphoric, but for those who don’t ski, the colder temperatures and ice aren’t welcome.

For the first time in my life, I’m traveling during the holidays. My husband, John, whisked me away to Puerto Vallarta. He needed a vacation, he said, and I’m reaping the benefits, writing this under palm trees and in a bone-friendly seventy-five degrees.

In this idyllic tropical paradise, I’m also writing chapter nineteen of my work in progress, The Red Bridge, book four in my fifteenth century Gypsy historical romance series. In this chapter, it’s mid-May, with weather that varies from soft, spring-like afternoons to chilly mornings and evenings.

How does one write about goose bumps and the chill of pre-dawn while basking in summer temperatures? Don’t ask a writer that question. It’s all in the amazing gift of imagination we possess in such great quantities.

In this tropical heat, I recall a faithful dog and the “fine power of frost,” of ice and air so cold that spittle crackles and freezes before it hits the ground. Yes, I’m thinking of one of the most memorable short stories I have ever read, To Build a Fire, by Jack London (1876-1916). It was a sixth grade required reading assignment that I found mesmerizing. I recall learning much later that London wrote that story from a beach chair on one of the Hawaiian islands, and experienced disbelief that anyone could write such convincing prose about the perils of death by freezing – while lounging, carefree, under a tropical sun. Such was London’s skill, and such is the magic of fiction. We can change our environment any time, just by stepping into the pages of fiction. No matter how oppressive the cold, our minds are free to roam warmer or cooler worlds. We need only use our imaginations and, thankfully, no matter the financial climate, it’s free.

For inspiration, you can read an adaptation of London’s amazing short story with just a click of the mouse, at http://learningenglish.voanews.com/content/short-stories-to-build-a-fire-by-jack-london-139130564/114744.html

Do you recall a time when fiction took you to a radically different world or environment? A time when fiction healed or rescued you from harsh reality?

We’re Not AWOL

But we're taking a mini-break today and tomorrow for Christmas and will do the same next week for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

Join us Monday for Janet Lane's post, Tuesday to see what Aaron Ritchey has up his sleeve this month, and Wednesday when Liesa Malik wraps up 2015 for the RMFW blog.

Hard to believe 2015 is almost over, isn't it? Start thinking about your new goals and plans for 2016 because I'll be asking you all about your hopes and dreams on Monday, January 4th.

We wish you a very Merry Christmas and a happy long weekend!

 

 

Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Write!

holiday imageSince it’s the holiday season, I thought I would explore that mystical, magical, time-honored literary event known as THE HOLIDAY NEWSLETTER.

You know, that multi-page bit of fluff that shows up this time of year, sent by some high-school cheerleader who only spoke to you once during your senior year. Thirty years later you don’t even recognize the name (but that might be because she’s on her third husband).

That newsletter is followed by others from distant relatives (third cousins twice removed…or aunts who had your cousins removed?) and possibly misdirected mail since you still don’t recognize any of the names or events listed.

Now come on.  Do these people really think you’re going to believe their first born has just been accepted to Harvard’s kindergarten prep school, or husband #3 is a Italian count and they just finished remodeling the family castle, or they’re vacationing this year with Prince William and his family, or the home-based business they started for $69 last month sold to Microsoft for a gazillion dollars?  I mean, they’re safe to say anything since you haven’t seen them in years (if ever!).  It should be a law that newsletters have to be notarized to prove factualness (hmm, I wonder if that’s a real word?). IF I were to write a holiday newsletter, I’d at least be realistic. Maybe something like this:

The Family Newlaughter

     Well, it’s another year gone by. I swear this one was only 265 days, but the calendar disagrees.  I didn’t want all of you to think my life was so boring that nothing of note ever happens and now that our gag order expired, I’m free to write about it. If you hadn’t heard about that little faux pas, just forget I mentioned it. It wasn’t any big deal. We’re not even really sure how that video ended up on YouTube.  People are just so touchy about things like that these days.  But hey, stuff happens, right?

Rick and I are still married (38 whole years – could be true love…or we’re just naturally lazy). The Garage Mahal is nearly done (I think it might officially be an antique before it’s fully functional), although Rick has recently realized you can’t get a 400 pound saw up a winding staircase without factoring in the cost of a hernia operation – so modifications are pending. He’s going green, converting some of his power tools into running off beer and that’s why I keep finding all those cans and bottles in the shop. Who knew!? We did a small remodel on the house, replacing the roof which didn’t leak until AFTER we fixed it.

Our oldest, Jimmy, and his wife, Hannah, have been married a dozen years and we have two great grandkids we really enjoy, with the added bonus of being able to send them home when they get tired and grumpy, or Grandpa feeds them too much sugar. I think Hannah has finally resigned herself to being one of “the family”, but I have noticed she still wears big sunglasses whenever we’re all out in public. I keep telling her it’s not us up there on the Post Office wall – it’s just an uncanny resemblance (I don’t think she believes me).

Our youngest, Ryan, is still in college, and we’re thinking about an intervention so he’ll get his degree and be able to move on before he’s older than the professors. He joined the National Guard after an impressive spiel about how they’d “help him be can be all he can be” and what not, but I think they had him at “explosives.” What guy wouldn’t want to blow things up and get paid to do it? He and Stephanie have been married for two years and are content to raise animals rather than children, although sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference (feel free to interpret that any way you want).

It’s been a while since we’ve taken a vacation because the post office hasn’t come up with a big enough “If It Fits, It Ships” box for both of us. But just in case, if a big COD package shows up on your doorstep, be sure to accept it and open it pretty quickly.  You might want to do that outside though, because things could be a little messy, if ya get my drift.

We’ve been putting a lot of thought into our retirement plans, too, but there are a lot of things to consider, you know? There are literally dozens of those scratch tickets to choose from these days!  Besides, we can’t get find a location to enjoy our “golden years” until we figure out what kind of décor goes with large cardboard refrigerator boxes – maybe shabby chic?

Well, that pretty much brings you up-to-date on the family. Hope you’re all healthy and happy (rich would be good, too, especially if you’ve named any of us in your will), but, hey, two out of three is pretty darn good!

The Benson FamilyChristmas image

And so to all of you, my friends, a Merry Christmas,

Happy New Year, Kwanza, or whatever, and Write On!

Looking for the Perfect Gift for the Writer/Serial Killer (in Mind Only) in Your Life?

silver Christmas ball with red bow on white background

Gift giving is hard. I know. I just bought a whiskey of the month club for a ten year old. (Yes, I know this is an awesome gift for anyone except a ten year old or a recovering alcoholic so no hate email). So to help you, dear partner/friend/relative who is likely regularly ignored by the writer in favor of word counts and half-dressed heroes/heroines, here is a list of gifts for the writer in your life:

Aqua Notes – BUY

I love this gift. It’s notes you write in the shower, which avoids those nasty nail scraped into the soap scum plot points.

Novel Teas - BUY

Novel teas. Get it? So these are tea bags with literary quotes on them. A perfect gift for those too weak to hit the hard stuff (coffee, not whiskey).

Edgar Allan Poe Air Freshener - BUY

This one has to be my favorite. Perfect to hang on the writer during the month of November (or when on deadline) when you can't stand the smell anymore.

World’s Largest Coffee Cup - BUY

Do I really need to say more? This monster holds 20 regular cups of coffee.

USB Heated Winter Warm Hand Gloves - BUY

I have to admit to owning a pair already so I might be biased. My hands are constantly frozen, and these babies work like no other to warm those cold parts. They are fingerless so typing isn’t a problem.

Now if you’re shopping for something a little…different, I found a replica of a human skull made of chocolate on Etsy. Not very writerly, but it sure would freak the writer, who ignored you all last month, out when they see a human skull in a plain brown box on their doorstep.

Revenge (and chocolate skulls) are sweet.

Do you have any holiday gifts you’d give a writer? Or perhaps an odd gift for anyone in general? What is the weirdest gift you’ve ever received?

Oh, one last thing, as my gift to yHoliday readou, dear reader who I've annoyed all year, feel free to download my free kindle novella, A Very F***ed-Up Christmas Tale. It's free until tomorrow, Dec 23rd, so get yours today. Let me know in the comments if you need a PDF version. I'm happy to send you one.

In Reflection

As I near the end of my term as president of RMFW, I’ve become reflective. As such, I am struck by several things I’ve discovered over the past two years, about RMFW and about myself.

Most obvious is that serving as president is a huge responsibility, far bigger than I imagined it would be (though I certainly never thought it would be small). I’ve been both awed and honored to fulfill this role. I’ve learned why most of those who serve in this position get little writing done during their terms. RMFW is a huge organization, with twenty board members, each heading a committee, and presidents need to remain aware of what is happening with all of them. In addition to the organization, the president needs to be alert to the needs of individual members, listening and reacting when necessary. It means more than I can express that the membership considered me worthy of filling that role.

In doing so, there has been a less obvious realization. I have become a better person…more in tune to my fellow writers, better able to see both the forest and the trees of RMFW, and more capable in many of my personal skills and abilities. What a wonderful opportunity for development these two years have been.

I’ve also learned how many people it takes to run RMFW. I am infinitely thankful to all of the incredible volunteers who make this organization run so smoothly. In 2014 (our numbers from 2015 have not yet been tabulated) 159 individuals comprised our volunteer rank and file, filling nearly 600 volunteer positions from board members to committee members to the smallest of duties. Many performed multiple tasks. Together, they make RMFW run so seamlessly that many don’t realize all that it takes to make this group so successful.

One of the most heartening aspects to my role was becoming more aware of all the little things our members do for each other in the way of support. I’ve seen writers reach out to each other with congratulatory comments, supportive messages, Facebook posts, tweets, event and signing attendance. I’ve witnessed hugs, pats on the back, and encouragement.

RMFW is truly an amazing group of people and it has been a privilege to lead and serve these past two years. Thank you, my friends, for your faith in me.

The Company of Other Writers

This time of year, the schedule is full of holiday parties. One I don't miss is the RMFW party (and, yes, it has taken place this year). I also try to make my critique group critique-and-party, and that was yesterday. January in critique will be having me taking in the beautiful-art self-care cards that I hand out everywhere (retreats, all my seminars), before we talk about our yearly goals.

For me, these are important gatherings of my tribe.

Now, I am a full time writer, and I am in the company of other writers every day online. But I still cherish the in-person get-togethers and the conversation.

First, because my online writing-sprint group is mostly fantasy writers and we talk about that genre: multi-book story arcs and world-building and suchlike. I like talking about romance, and mystery, and thrillers and how those genres have specific demands that readers expect their authors to fulfill. How they differ – the emphasis of the story, the pacing. I get a broader appreciation for how others in my craft handle their projects.

Second, I am a long-time volunteer with RMFW and I like to talk with old buddies and make new ones.

But I also remember when I was a writer who had little to do with others, who belonged to RMFW but didn't attend the parties. I'd go to some of the seminars and sit in the corner and take notes. I'd be at conference. But the less structured social occasions I'd usually skip.

Until the first RMFW holiday party I was coerced into attending mumbledy-mumble years ago. It was a revelation. The standard questions that people asked then still works. "What do you write?" and "Tell me about your current manuscript." I'd listen and smile at the intensity of my fellow writers and feel like I belonged.

I kept coming. I could talk about problems and get a second, or third, take. Research talk would swirl around like the smoke of inspiration, just waiting for me to use it – or tuck it away to perhaps use some other time. Or, since I do write fantasy, figure out I could twist it and put it in an other-worldly story.

No one thought I was weird if I wanted to talk about herbs or poisons or how long rigor mortis lasts (yes, I often have suspense in my stories, too). Or, of late, how to make a knife out of a person's femur.

Then there's the networking. Priceless. Who's your editor? What's s/he buying? Get self-publishing tips...I've moved over to Scrivener finally after sticking with Word Perfect, it's better on a Mac. Should I get a Mac?

Here in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, we share. You need only ask.

If there's a seminar topic coming up – go. You'll meet people interested in the same thing you are, as well as learn something. If there's a social occasion, go.

Make it a priority to spend time with other writers, in person. So you can see the passion they have about writing, how they gesture, give them an outlet of a person who listens and whose eyes don't glaze over when they talk about character arc. Someone who cares about writing.

Let yourself go and follow your own passion, talk about motivation or dialogue or the research you've been doing.

We'll all be better for the company.

So, as they say in my books: Merry meet and merry part and merry meet again. May next year be your best writing year EVER.

Robin