What is it worth to you to be published?

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

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

We start with breakfast. Always a good sign.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Volunteers Make it Happen At Colorado Gold

We're seven weeks into the year, and workshop proposals are rolling in. Our selection committee is keeping busy reading through all the outlines, doing their best to decide which proposals will make it onto the schedule in 2017.

Like the rest of the conference staff, the proposal selection committee is made up of volunteers. And if you read any of our emails, or spend any time on our website, you know we're always on the lookout for new people to get involved and be a part of the action.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' mission is simple:

RMFW is a non-profit, volunteer-run organization dedicated to supporting, encouraging, and educating writers seeking publication in commercial fiction.

As a volunteer-run organization, RMFW can only remain beneficial to members through our volunteers’ contributions. Volunteers strengthen our community and nurture an environment of members helping members. Are you thinking about getting involved, and volunteering with RMFW? Listen to what some of our volunteers have to say about their experiences:

"Volunteering is more rewarding for the volunteer than the organization."

"[Through RMFW] I've learned how to find and build my community."

"I've learned how to speak in public, organize big events and, from hanging out with talented writers, I've learned much about writing. RMFW has helped me find my voice, both in the real world and on the page."

The success of our Colorado Gold Conference is dependent on the critical services provided by our volunteers. Each person who helps out keeps our costs down and makes a difference. Also, volunteering doesn't require huge time commitments; even the smallest jobs help us provide an exceptional experience for all attendees year after year.

"The more you put into something, the more you’ll get out of it. I credit RMFW as the one organization above all others that helped me get published."

"My first attendance at the Gold conference thoroughly impressed me, and I knew then that RMFW was the place to be if I was serious about my writing. Volunteering was a way of showing my commitment to the organization and a great way to meet people."

"...if you’re an introvert, serving as a volunteer is a wonderful way of stepping outside your shell."

Volunteering is all about giving back. Remember when you were new and nervous at the conference? Think about the people who helped you. Think about the impact they had on your conference experience. By volunteering, you bring that same experience to others. A win-win for you and the recipient of your goodwill.

"As writer I have benefited from what I have learned at the Saturday workshops, Gold Conference, and critique groups and I wanted to a way to give back."

"Honestly, I've met great people who have become valued friends and I have had a ton of fun."

What would the conference be like without volunteers? Everyone at conference needs something, be it guidance or just an extra pencil. Volunteers bring people together and ensure that everyone has a great time.

"First and foremost, meeting other writers is a great benefit to volunteering. It's a good feeling, too, to know that the volunteer work we do helps other writers on their journeys."

"The Colorado Gold conference is an important part of what RMFW does to support writers and helping the conference run smoothly results in a more valuable experience for everyone!"

Studies conducted on the effects of volunteering have shown that giving time to nonprofits makes us healthier. Boost your own self-confidence through volunteering at this year’s conference. With a sense of well-being, you’ll have a greater focus on learning.

"I want to give back to an organization that has helped me become a better writer. From the critique groups, to the free Saturday programs and even the yearly conference, my writing skills have improved because of my membership in RMFW."

"Being a volunteer allows me to expand my tribe. I am convinced that to be good at anything, you need to be around other people who do that skill better than you... If you want to grow in the craft of writing, don't just join RMFW, volunteer!"

Volunteering promotes personal growth, and your volunteer service adds to your professional experience. You are guaranteed to learn something new while you give your time.

Need an opportunity to come out of your shell and improve your social skills? If you don’t know many writers, volunteering at conference gives you an opportunity to meet people at a reduced stress level.

"Without the support of RMFW, and the friends I've made there, I'm not sure I would be a published author today."

"Attending the conference is fabulous from an educational perspective, but if you want to make the most of the time, and make more friends, you need to get involved."

"Volunteering takes you off the sidelines and helps even shy people get to know the other authors and participants much better."

Any time is the right time to volunteer for RMFW because we always need volunteers. We are one big community of writers helping writers. The more involved you are in our community the more you will receive in return.

"Volunteering is an excellent way to meet people and expand your network of writers. You'll discover that writers come from all paths and roads and freeways of life--the creative mind knows no limits."

"Volunteering is also a way to share your passion in a different way, and give back to an organization that offers so much to every person who asks for support or assistance."

"Whether you spend a few hours once a year, or a few hours every month, volunteers are cherished and appreciated at RMFW, and you'll feel the goodness."

We want your help, but before you join us, ask yourself what you want to get out of volunteering:

What skills do you bring to the table?
How much time are you willing to commit?
Are you looking to do something new and different?
Do you want to work behind the scenes or with people?
Would you like to try something outside your comfort zone?

Volunteering with RMFW is a valuable opportunity to support fellow members, learn new skills, and form friendships. Contact Angela La Voie at volunteer@rmfw.org and include 'RMFW Volunteer' in the Subject line to join our community of volunteers. Not sure how you want to help? Send an email to Angela for suggestions. RMFW has lots of opportunities that meet your expertise, even if your expertise is limited to stuffing envelopes! We thrive on volunteers and want your help.

 

Rocky Mountain Writer #72

Marc Graham & Of Ashes and Dust

This episode features a chat with historical novelist Marc Graham and the latest installment of Writer's Rehab from Natasha Watts.

Marc is back on the podcast (listen to episode #35 for his first visit) a few weeks before the launch of his debut novel, Of Ashes and Dust.

We caught Marc just a few minutes after he returned home from attending an out-of-state workshop for writers about growing and building your online audience.

Marc offers a few tips he picked up, including some ideas about being “relentlessly helpful” when you get the opportunity.

Marc also talks about the power of knowing the core idea of your novel and how that key concept can help you both with the writing itself and with getting the attention of agents and editors.

Marc Graham is an actor, singer, bard, engineer, Freemason, and whisky aficionado When not on stage, in a pub, or bound to his computer, he can be found traipsing about Colorado’s Front Range with his wife and their Greater Swiss Mountain Dog.

This episode starts with a quick burst of inspiration in the latest Writer’s Rehab entry from Natasha Watts. Natasha offers ideas to help make sure your dialogue-heavy scenes come alive for your readers.

Marc Graham

Intro music by Moby Gratis

Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

To everything there is a reason. A time to write, a time to…not

I just got back from a retreat with a group of great writers in a creepy old hotel. There were times when I would have sworn I was the only one there, despite there being at least twelve other people in a twelve-room hotel. It was that quiet, because I couldn’t hear all the other keyboards clicking from where I was.

Why do you care? Okay, you might not, but you should. Because what I’m going to tell you is important. At least it is to me. Anyway, the thing is, what I really mean…yeah, maybe I have been listening to Sirius too much.

Four and a half days just writing. 35,000 words on the page for my newest Bad Carma book. Three meals a day in the companionship of great writers. Reading to/listening with - a bunch of fabulous writers. That’s what I got to enjoy at the retreat.

Not everyone can take four days off, even with a Monday holiday. It doesn’t have to be four days. But for me, it can’t be fifteen spare minutes. I know the butt in chair thing says you should write every spare moment every day. But I can’t. I’m a binge writer. I need to stay focused and when I do, I can write like crazy (35,000 words!). I have to be able to re-read my last couple of chapters, decide or know where I’m going from there and have no interruptions while I blast may way through the story.

If you’re like me, the guilt of not using all those tiny fifteen minute moments to write keeps worming itself way into your subconscious, and they shouldn’t. We don’t all write alike. Find the way that works best for you. For me, it’s at least four hours of clear time. No laundry, no cleaning, no food prep, no weeds calling my name. I can’t write when someone keeps asking me questions (sorry, dear, but I need you to shut the heck up!).

I know other people can pick up and write in short time frames. I read about them all the time. But I need to write like I need to write, and so do you. It’s important that you decide what that way is so you aren’t making excuses for not writing. If you need long blocks of time, how can you get them? Do you enjoy writing in coffee shops? Go there on a weekend. Do you need quiet? Can you reserve a space at the library? Do you have a friend with a nice sunroom they’d let you borrow when they’re out of town?

I have a friend with a VRBO house (she rents it out by the day, like AirBnB, only the whole house). I hope to talk a few writer friends into renting the 5 bedroom house for some long weekends to write. No chores. No husband. Hopefully no phones. But lots of comfy space with peace and quiet, snacks, writers to talk with during meals. And words on the paper. Lots and lots of words. Oh, and by the way, I didn’t get the most words – that was Cindi Myers. So it’s not just me. There are more of us out there than you hear about.

So find your method. If it’s fifteen minutes waiting to pick your kids up, great. If it’s twelve hours straight on a Saturday sitting in a corner of a quiet coffee shop or senior center, peachy. Just make the effort. Make those words happen. Seriously, just Write On!

 

Advertising Secrets from RMFW authors

“Last chance! Secrets from Media Guru!”

“Sell Hundreds of Books Now!”

“Optimize social ads!”

Like cheap paper fliers of yore, these headlines fill your email inbox.

We all want publishing success, hoards of fans and yes! More than moderate fame. Some of us have been published traditionally and not found that hoped-for, instant success. Others have either refused the traditional route, or have kinked our necks on the gatekeeper ceiling and answered the Indie Call. All of us want to sell more books.

Somehow, in the big bubble gum baby maker in the sky (thank you, Garrison Keillor), most of us got rolled out lacking good marketing instincts. Some people just figure it out, but not me. I took marketing 101. I did! Still, I can’t wrap my brain around all the choices to figure out the best combination that works. It’s not for lack of passion or purpose that I remain confused and uncertain. I’ve talked about this with many fellow writers, compared notes on what kind of investments they’ve made and what produced the most sales.  I know writers—everyday folks like you and me—who have spent upwards of sixteen thousand dollars trying to boost their sales over some magical threshold that will start the income flowing dependably.

This is no secret to the industry’s service providers. Some are legit, some not.

The Good Guys. These are talented people who offer their graphic services for fabulous book covers, Facebook ads, banners and promotional material.  Also copy editors and proofreaders, who help to ensure that we emerge from the publishing process with no pie on our face, only clean copy that makes our ideas shine.  Also publicists, virtual assistants and the like who may offer a more clear, calm path through the marketing jungle.

The Bad Guys. This group includes anyone who waves a magic flag to attract authors and get rich off our dreams, even while knowing full well that their product won’t deliver as promised without considerable luck or additional investments.

Our jobs, ladies and gents, is to tell one from the other.

Good Investments.  Before rolling the dice to determine the next move on the game board, we must first be sure we have an excellent product. Good doesn’t cut it. It needs to be excellent. The investment here is time and yes, toil over the words until they shine and provide a reward to the reader for spending their precious time reading our words.  Concept. Is it intriguing, or like hundreds of others? Plot. Is it dynamic, surprising, refreshing, or safe, just following the genre formula? Characters. Do they develop naturally through the novel, or does the author merely force actions that suggest growth?

Oh, heck, I’ve seen worse. We all know of less than stellar authors who have achieved success. They slide into home base on a magic carpet of luck. As Clint Eastwood said, “Do you feel lucky?” If you do, this route is available. Beware of Bad Guys, and proceed.

Crazy Luck, Magic Formulas, or Good Ol’ Sweat Equity? Who’s to say which will bring success? No one, but you’re in this game and if you want to play you have to pay.  Find the right combination for you.

To start you on your information quest, I consulted several of RMFW’s published authors to learn their thoughts on effective advertising and promotion. I offered anonymity, which some preferred, but most were willing to share.

Here, then, are some thoughts on sharks and winners.

The Question. What advertising/promotion has brought you the most book sales?

The Answers:

No Idea.  This was Jax Bubis (Jax Hunter), multi-indie-pubbed military and paranormal romance author’s first response. I sensed her smile through the email and read on. She suggests that you build your email list.

Been There, Spent That.  An author who wished to remain anonymous shared the s/he had spent a substantial budget on ads this past year, including Facebook, Amazon, Goodreads, giveaways and more, but still received a poor return on investment.  Another author, also remaining anonymous, spent over $16,000.00 on Facebook ads. S/he could accomplish no more than to break even. (At least s/he broke even.)

Skip the Swag. Several authors commented on swag—candy, bookmarks, tea bags, pens, scratch pads and the like. Most felt it’s best to skip all of it except for business cards, and write more books.

It’s All About Genre.  Mary Gilgannon has been busy testing the ad waters. She’s tried blog posts, small romance book sites, a promo service, tweets, newsletter lists and reviews, all with mixed and less-than-stellar results. “My sense is that what worked even six months or a year ago, might not work as well now. The market is ever changing and it seems to become more difficult every year to get your books noticed.” Her final answer: write in a best-selling genre, and get your books out quickly.

Reviews, Baby! Terry Wright, former contest chair for RMFW, is an indie pioneer and prolific writer. He entered the field early with his sci fi and action thrillers. He also writes screenplays, founded TBW Press, and conquered production of book trailers. He described advertising as a crapshoot, but believes strongly in Kindle reviews. He has little regard for Twitter due to the excessive tweet traffic, which buries any tweets within minutes.

Face Time. Terry also believes it pays to get personal. He has sold more print books face to face at conferences, panels, fairs, etc., than with other methods, and encourages his writers to do the same.

Good, and Free. Twice named RMFW's Writer of the Year, Robin Owens has enjoyed much success with her fantasy and paranormal ghost series. Also RMFW's former president, Robin stresses two ways to succeed: write a very good book, and develop a following. She has found good results with a multi-author ad featuring a Kindle giveway.

Carry a Big Gun. 2014 RMFW Writer of the Year and current Treasurer, Shannon Baker, is the author of the Nora Abbott and Kate Fox mystery series. She's also a tireless promoter. With her recent release of Stripped Bare, she participated in an intensive blog and book signing tour. What she’s especially pleased with is her decision to hire a publicist. She has found it well worth the investment.

Goodreads Ads.  Our 2015 Writer of the Year, PubLaw friend and Twitter guru, Susan Spann, writes Shinobi mysteries set in sixteenth century Japan. She shares that she has had great success with blog tours and Goodreads ads.

Let’s Go Surfing Now! 2016 Indie Writer of the Year nominee Corinne O’Flynn is RMFW’s Conference Chair and a multi-published author of murder mysteries. She shared this link: http://www.paidauthor.com/best-ebook-promotion-sites , a helpful overview of some of the many options available.

King Amazon. Anne Randolph’s memoir, Stories Gathered at the Kitchen Table, recently made the Amazon Best-selling list in Memoirs. “I have found the Amazon Hot New Release and 30 Day Book Launch with Amazon Select to be quite effective.  We sold over 1200 books in a two day period and more by the end of the campaign.”  Anne has a webinar and podcast about her campaign at www.AuthorU.org

Podcasts. Nathan Lowell, nominated for RMFW’s first Indie Writer of the Year, is an inspiration to many. In his January RMFW blog, Nathan mentions the large part his early podcasts played in his publishing success. Nathan sustains high output with his writing progress charts.

Audio Books. Along that line, Richard Rieman guest blogged on the January 18th RMFW blog about how audio books can resurrect a “mostly dead” book and increase your fan base.

Expensive Webinars. While I focused on RMFW authors, I’ll add that several other friends and acquaintances have taken webinar courses on book marketing. UK indie author Mark Dawson, and one of Dawson’s webinar graduates, Nick Stephenson, are the main  players in this field. It’s pricey -- $700 to $800, and focuses on advertising with Facebook. I have not been willing to put all my dollars in one place like that, so I can only recommend that you research all such webinars. Things to consider are:

* In their sales efforts, do the student testimonials include success stories for authors who write in your genre?

* Is there any kind of guarantee, and if so, does it cover a long enough period for you to determine if it’s a sound investment?

* Does it require yet more investment on your part to discover if it can work for you? If so, how much?  As I mentioned earlier, I know of authors who have invested in the course and then spent additional thousands to test the course strategy. I’ve heard from some authors that it helped their sales, and I’ve heard from others that the best they’ve achieved is a break-even. I’ve heard from yet others that it’s such a complicated ad strategy that they haven’t had time to try it out, and it’s now only gathering dust in their hard drives.

* Rumor has it that Nick Stephenson has stopped writing his thriller novels to concentrate on his teaching business because it pays better. Hmm.

* Can you “test” the webinar concept yourself for less money than the course costs?

* Is the information updated often? The market changes practically daily, so old information is quickly rendered useless.

Details Are Tools. RMFW’s first Indie Writer of the Year, Lisa Scott Manifold, recommends that you write more books. Readers are impatient and don’t like to wait a year or two for book 2, 3, etc. in the series. She believes readers want series even more these days and if you can’t manage multiple books a year, you can consider writing shorts to keep visible to your fans. “You need to figure out, among all the noise out there right now, what kind of promotion works for you.” That includes limited free days, advertising on promo websites, working on a newsletter or blog. Above all, track your efforts. “How much you spent, what sales you got (check them daily!) and did you see buy-through into your other works? That kind of data lets you know whether or not this new method is worth keeping in your marketing tool box.”

My thanks to all authors who were generous enough to share with us. Have you found this information helpful? You can pay it forward by responding to this blog, and sharing which promotion/s have worked best/worst for you.

Together, we’re stronger.

I hope to hear from you.

 

Knowing What You Don’t Know (or Not Knowing What You Do Know)

Putting together the Western Slope workshops has allowed me to meet a lot of new writers. Just this last weekend we had two dozen writers attend, and nearly all of them were new faces. It’s amazing to know how many writers are around me when before I joined RMFW I thought I was the lone stranger in these parts.

I’ve been writing for almost 4 decades (I started in the womb, of course). My first manuscript was partially hand-written, partially typed, some “wheelwriter” (part typewriter/part computer), and eventually I had to type the whole thing into my first PC. It took me nearly 25 years to write “the end.” By that time I’d raised two kids, worked at several different jobs, bought a business, and gone through a lot of LIFE.

When I finished that manuscript I was so excited! I immediately printed it out, typed up my letter to the publisher, boxed it up (yeah, that was before the days of e-mail, you young whipper-snappers!) and sent it to Avon because they published Kathleen Woodiwiss and my book was really similar to her style of writing. (I can hear you laughing – that’s not very polite!).

It didn’t take long to get my first rejection letter. But about that time I also stumbled on RWA (Romance Writers of America) and joined them even though the annual rate was pretty steep for someone in my financial condition. I started getting their magazine, which I devoured. After the first paragraph of the first article I was already cringing from the realization that I had no idea what I was doing writing a book.

Yes, I could write a story. I had interesting characters. I had excitement. And, of course, romance. But I also had POV issues all over the place (mainly because I’d never hear of point of view and when I got contest notes back that said I had POV problems I still had no idea what they were talking about). It wasn’t until one poor judge took pity on me and highlighted the different POVs that I actually figured out what they were talking about (again, this is before I could Google the answer - you younger writers have no idea how lucky you are!).

Over the years I joined RMFW, entered contests, joined a critique group, went to conferences and workshops, read books on writing, followed blogs – whatever I could find that would teach me to know what I didn’t know. And learned a ton about writing. I’ve set that original manuscript aside, although I think some day it WILL see the light of day. I wrote a book that a small publisher picked up and went through four rounds of edits, learning more about what I didn’t know. I’ve written several more manuscripts and have seen my contest scores increase, but never been #1 with a bullet.

Now I understand that there are a lot of things about writing that I don’t know, and a lot of things about writing that I do know. Most of all I know I’ll keep learning more as I go along. My manuscripts are better. I believe I’ll publish again. I know I’ll make more mistakes. I just sent a query letter to an agent that had me waking up in the middle of the night and saying, out loud, “Did I really write that sentence like I think I did, and if so, WHY!!!!!” (by the way, yes I did, and it resulted in the by-then-expected rejection).

So learn. Listen. Read. Attend. Critique. AND WRITE ON! See you at Gold or one of the workshops or at the bookstore or library.

And Merry Christmas/Happy New Year!

A crutch, a hat and a nightcap

Memorable character tags from A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol is one of the most endearing, enduring redemption stories ever told. Written by Charles Dickens and first published in 1843, it’s now 173 years old and is still entertaining – and teaching us. It reminds us of the power and joy of redemption, and it’s also a great example of a fictional  character’s arc—and a clear example of character tags.christmas-carol

I attended a musical version of A Christmas Carol last week at The Stage in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. I’ve seen it several times on stage. I proudly own the Mickey Mouse and Muppets versions, the Alastair Sim version, and most especially the George C. Scott version, lush with its scenes and of course the brilliance of George C. Scott.

The version I saw this year is a relatively new adaptation by Richard Hellesen. Those attending can identify the differences quickly. In the beginning scene, the actors appear first as narrators, then step into scene and assume their characters roles. Scrooge is no less miserable than in the older versions, but in the Hellesen version, he’s comedic and includes the children in the fun. The ghostly apparitions are still there, but even in his fear, Scrooge pokes fun into the dialogue.

We want our characters to be memorable. There are several ways to accomplish that—in-depth character studies, psychological analyses, applying enneagrams and such—to be sure our characters are interesting and multi-dimensional.

A Christmas Carol makes full use of physical tags. In written form, the story comes alive with images that help the reader remember the characters. Dickens wrote them so well that, even if you’re given nosebleed theater seats, you can still recognize the characters as they come on stage.

Character tags from A Christmas Carol

Physical tags

Scrooge’s stovepipe hat

His long black coat

Tiny Tim’s crutch

Bob Cratchett’s scarf

Cratchett’s wife’s bonnet

Marley’s chains

Mrs. Fezziwig’s outlandish party hat

Verbal tags

“Bah. Humbug!”

“God bless us, every one.”

The actors have readily identifiable voices, as well, using tone, vocabulary and pace to differentiate one from the other.

In addition to what one can visualize, tags identify characters through sound – a gruff policeman, a nasal-voiced girlfriend, a foreign spy with a heavy accent. One who stutters.

I often write down “EYE PATCH:” and list potential character tags early in my plotting. A character can wear so much perfume that people tear up and sneeze when she gets on the elevator. Another character can stink so much that people can smell him before they see him. A female character can have silky red hair that reaches her waist. An aging brunette can have a perky bob and whenever she flips her hair, her neck cracks. The possibilities are endless. Have fun with your writing, and ...

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Holidays!

And God bless us, every one.

 

PS: The DCPA presentation of A Christmas Carol plays through Dec. 24.

A final note on Hellesen (replace “theatre” and “Play” with “novel.”)

When an interviewer asked what kind of theatre excites him, Hellesen replied, “…given the abundance of falsity in our world, I simply want to witness engrossing moments of recognizable human truth, things I knew were true but forgot until the play reminded me--and if possible to be allowed to feel genuine emotion in doing so.”

For a holiday treat to yourself, you can read Hellesen’s interview at http://aszym.blogspot.com/2013/06/i-interview-playwrights-part-588.html

Lazy Writer’s Syndrome

Strategies to keep your story hot and productive

There’s nothing worse than Lazy Writer’s Syndrome. There are no symptoms in its early stages. It only becomes apparent when we look up from our busy lives and realize we haven’t been writing for—oh, ten days, ten weeks--ten months.computer-1053809_1280

We have an ongoing accountability system in my critique group. Those of us who choose to participate report in once a week with their new words written.  Originally, we aimed for the word count equivalent of 20 pages.

Any incentive program needs to be flexible to succeed, and ours has. When vacations, illnesses, family emergencies and the like occur, we adjust our weekly goals—or we just keep doing the best we can and turn in a wimpy report with pride because the overall goal is to keep writing new. It’s been an effective program for me.

Our reports vary from “Sent a query and wrote 300 new words” to amazing reports of over 10,000 new words. It depends on what life is presenting to us.

At times when I’m not writing new material, it’s seldom due to writer’s block. Rather, it’s because I’ve let the story get cold. When the story’s cold, the characters don’t drop in and talk to me. For those of you who think that sounds bizarre, it could also be expressed as moments when plot solutions come to you out of the blue—when showering, walking, or during the alpha state when sleeping.

If the story’s not “hot” – fresh and on my mind, as in when I’m writing new material – those character voices and plot inspirations never visit.

Never.

If I’ve allowed the story to get cold, I’m shut out. As Jeff Probst says on Survivor to the losers of the Immunity Challenge, “Head on back to camp. I’ve got nothing for you.” That’s when I languish in an “empty creative mind” state, which makes it paralyzingly difficult to fill the writer’s chair.

Here, then, are my strategies for recovering from Lazy Writer’s Syndrome.

  1. Maintain a calendar for one week.
  2. Record your activities in quarter-hour segments for that week
  3. Review and prioritize. Abandon all "perfect" goals -- neat house, varied cuisine, excessive volunteer work, new hobbies that can be explored another season/year.
  4. Maintain a calendar and enter small writing goals daily. "1 hour writing, "2 hrs writing" etc. I achieve much more success when I draw a little square box in front of my goals. This satisfies the “gold star” child in me because it gives me an opportunity to put a check in that box. I know, it’s silly. But it works!
  5. Only after #4, schedule other stuff that needs to be done. (This “rocks and sand” concept is from First Things First by Stephen Covey—highly recommended reading. It changed my life. It can change yours, too.)
  6. Consider meditation. When you come home from work, go to your special place and decompress with meditation.
  7. If you’re spent from a demanding day, consider a power nap. For me, I only need 15-20 minutes and I'm "almost" as rejuvenated as I am in the morning.
  8. Be kind to yourself. It takes planning and fortitude--and a healthy dose of tenacity.
  9. Finally, team up with a fellow writer or group of writers and agree to post your progress once a week. Once a week gives you the freedom to have a couple of lackluster days but still turn in a respectable week's end report. Call it BICFOK (Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keys) or create your own name for it.

You can defeat Lazy Writer’s Syndrome! Good luck, and if you have some tips to add, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

My Seriously Overdrawn Bank Account

Courtesy of "The Atlantic"
Courtesy of "The Atlantic"

I am seriously overdrawn. And I have to think that many of you out there as well. No, I’m not talking about your real money bank account. I’m talking about your emotional bank account. The place where when things are going great, you’re making massive deposits, building up that rich volume of happy, fun, chipper, and all sorts of “good collateral.”

Also the place from which you make withdrawls in the form of fear, worry, anger and other “bad debt.” The election has been a serious draw on my emotional bank account. I’ve seen friends and family, people whom I love, respect, and want to be around, change into happiness-sucking, vitriolic, swearing, overbearing, bankrobbing….Whew, you get my drift, right?

I am so glad it’s over. I have absolutely no comment either way on how it went because my opinion is my own and no one else is going to change it. I also know that I’m not going to change anyone else’s. Which is how it should be.  According to Merriam-Webster, an opinion is: a belief, judgment, or way of thinking about something; what someone thinks about a particular thing. Period.

As writers we have a vast quantity of words we can use. We have big, honkin’ thesaurus’ sitting next to us. So let’s focus on kind words. Interesting words. Compelling words. Thrilling words. And maybe, for just a little while, put away the swear words. Whether you are happy or sad about how things went/will go, remember that this same thing happens every four years. And every four years approximately half the people out there are in your shoes, good or bad.

I hate being overdrawn. Especially when it’s because someone else wiped out my account. I keep that account for things like a call in the middle of the night about a family member. Funerals. A fight with my husband. The loss of a treasured pet. I NEED to have that cushion in my account so that I can keep my sanity when something bad happens, and can’t afford to waste it on what might happen, what someone thinks is going to happen, what the media tells me is going to happen. I am more than willing to expend some of that collateral on behalf of others outside my family and close friends, but I have to weigh how much I’m willing to give to someone else, especially someone who may not value that sacrifice and just want more.

Photo from Jocuri
Photo from Jocuri

So please, let’s all be friends. Try to make the best of everything, and work toward ensuring no one suffers from anything we can help alleviate. Give yourself time to recoup your losses in that account so that you aren’t too emotionally depleted to write, to enjoy, to be happy to wake up in the morning.  And remember all the millions of things for which you get to be thankful, since Thanksgiving is right around the corner.

And then, Write On!

No Service

I have no service.

I’m writing this as I ride along in my husband’s car surrounded by Wyoming plains. Yesterday we visited the Crazy Horse memorial and Mount Rushmore (both of which I had never seen before). After, we spent the night in charming little Deadwood, South Dakota where I proceeded to win sixty dollars on an automated roulette table. This morning we visited Devil’s Tower, if you’re a fan of Close Encounters of the Third Kind then you’ve see this amazing national landmark on film. It’s hard to imagine that a tremendous pillar of stone could be so majestic—but that’s exactly what I was thinking as I stared up past the pines at this symmetrical wonder. By this evening, we’ll arrive at our final destination, Helena, Montana, and we’ll be spending the week visiting family and eating too much food.

But right now, brush, pine trees, and a delicate smattering of snow surround me. Plains stretch all the way to the horizon under a clear blue sky and there is a lone pickup truck on the road ahead of us. Clusters of deer stare out at us as we fly past them grazing on the side of the road. I suck my breath every time I see one; it’s too easy to imagine an ill timed leap out in front of us.

We just crossed the border into Montana along highway 112.

Stoneville Saloon is advertising “Cheap Drinks, Lousy Food” on a twelve foot sign outside a rundown aluminum shack—I buy myself some local beef jerky from the gas station instead. It sits at the junction where we turn onto 212, you have to pay for your gas inside, but they still let you pump it first.

It occurs to me that I’m very much enjoying having no service. I like this feeling, this middle of nowhere. Out of contact with everyone except those that are in this car with me, the ones that mean the most.

218 miles to Billings. I pour a handful of sunflower seeds into my husband’s palm. My kids are asleep in the backseat. If you were trying to call me right now, I wouldn’t hear you. I’m enjoying this tremendously. There is no email out here on 212.

I hadn’t realized how much this writer’s life would lead me to pour myself out, in small, seemingly innocuous increments, spread across a digital nonreality, a landscape that left me dry and exposed to the ebbs and flows of others, their every thought, feeling, disappointment...cluttering up my own head space.

Maybe I have been too long confused about what is required of me in the name of claiming a writer’s life. All that “putting yourself out there” while far less seems to be said about “filling yourself up.” This drive, this place has me half filled already—imagine what effect a hike might have?

That creative well, it can run dry. We can, inadvertently, dump all its rich contents out into vacuums of digital oblivions. Those virtual social connections that pull us in every direction and that all too often, especially lately I suppose, squeeze the heart, fill the head, and stress the system so that it can become close to impossible to catch the thread of a sentence, envision a scene. I have not been able to hear what my characters are saying.

Out here, I’m forced to be unconnected. I guess I forgot how amazing and beautiful that could be. All this not knowing—it feels like a blank canvas.

My husband slows the car as we drive through Broadus, Montana—my phone wakes up and cheeps at me. I have 4G, but I’m not ready to come back just yet.

It’s nice that they make these things with an off switch, I’ll be using it more often.