Life’s Wake-Up Calls

For the past few months, I've been so focused on my own stuff that I realize I've been missing the bigger picture. Time to reevaluate.

As some of you may have heard, we've been moving—downsizing—and I've been angsting over a variety of things:

1. Downsizing.

How do you get rid of a thing that someone else has saved for you and that goes back generations when it's something that doesn't fit your life anymore, maybe it never fit your life, but the guilt of letting it go is numbing?

Case in point: the secretary desk that belonged to my grandma Esther. She loved that desk, used it daily and thought I would love it. I did, for a while. Then I put it in my daughter's room. She used it, and her sisters used it, all through high school. It had a glass display case above a desk top that folded down to reveal cubbies and drawers. They loved it.

Now, with no place to put it in the new house, I thought one of the girls would want it. Not! However, with the brilliance of the Millennials, one of my daughters suggested I take a picture of the secretary and post it up to a private account on Instagram. That way I could see it whenever I wanted, remember Gram whenever I looked at it, and free myself of the tangible object. We snapped a photo, then she helped me place it up on Craig's List. It sold right away, and I had an anxiety attack! BUT, lo and behold, the young woman who bought it was so excited to get it I forgot all about feeling guilty. It turned out that her grandmother had a desk exactly like it. After her grandmother died, her estate went into foreclosure and everything had to be sold at auction. I now look at the picture I have and am delighted to know that Gram's secretary is somewhere being cherished.

2. My identity.

I grew up in Evergreen. After a few years at CU in Boulder, I moved to Frisco (CO) and became a ski bum for a while, married, had kids, and moved back to Evergreen. We lived in the Country Club neighborhood of Denver for a few years while my kids were in high school, but we always had our house in the hills. Now, for the first time in nearly 60 years, I live in Denver. But I'm a mountain girl, I tell you. Except I now own a home and live in the DTC area. I can see my mountains (notice how possessive I am), but I no longer reside in a house tucked back into the woods. Who am I?

3. My career.

While I was at Bouchercon in Toronto, I met with my editor. To my dismay, he told me that international thrillers across the board just aren't selling very well right now. Even the superstars writing espionage and geopolitical thrillers have seen a drop in their numbers, though you're still hitting the list if you're one of the big boys. My editor told me he wants the next Raisa book, just not now. He wants a "different kind of thriller, perhaps a standalone" for my next book. That means if I want to continue writing for Crooked Lane, I need a new premise.

F*^k! I have a few more Raisa Jordan books to write, and I was deep into plotting Book #3.

On that note, I headed to Maine after Bouchercon to visit a friend who had been diagnosed with uterine cancer. She had undergone chemo, the tumors had disappeared and her blood counts were good. I had planned to visit in July after ThrillerFest, but I ended up with pneumonia then and figured that someone on chemo didn't need to be exposed to me. The fact she was doing so much better had me really looking forward to seeing her. I called her the night before I was scheduled to arrive and she said, "Oh, I'm so glad you're coming. I didn't tell you before because I was afraid you wouldn't come, but the cancer is back with a vengeance. They started me on hospice care last week."

F*^k! I'm not ready to lose a friend. And the world's not ready to lose a New York Times bestselling romance writer, who—despite the ravages of cancer—lamented, "I'm not ready to die. I still have two more books in me." It turns out she'd been stringing her fans along with the promise of something to come in her series, only to run out of time.

Sort of puts it all in perspective.

C

Marketing Physics

Back in the dark ages when I took physics, I learned about the six simple machines. When dealing with marketing, I find the lever makes a good analogy. It increases the force applied by a given amount of effort. Rephrased: You don't have to work as hard to get the same result.

Call me lazy, but any time I can get the same result with less effort - especially in marketing - I'm all over it.

The concept is simple. In marketing, we need to apply effort to gain purchase - literal as well as figurative. The more leverage we have, the less effort needed.

Marketing isn't the lever. It's the fulcrum. It's base you need in order to focus the application of effort. The fulcrum needs to be solid enough to take the load of both the effort and the output. If it's too squishy, applying effort will crush it. It can't really be too strong, but there's no need to make one stronger than you need. A fulcrum that can support ten tons doesn't actually give you any advantage when you're only trying to move a ten pound load.

In this context, marketing is not what you do. It's the way you've decided to do it.

I write SF/F novels. I self-publish them. I use social media as my primary communication channels. I follow the "Big Frog, Small Pond" and "1000 True Fans" strategies. Those were my decisions regarding marketing. That's my foundation, my fulcrum.

Effort is the sum of all the forces applied to the lever. For authors, that can be time spent at conventions, on social media, or writing blog posts. It can be cash spent on ad buys and market research. It can be anything the author does to promote the works. It's built from all the decisions an author makes about strategy and model. What do you have to offer? Where do you offer it? How do you choose to make people aware of your product?

The output load in this case is the number of purchases or - perhaps more accurately - profit. After all, it does little good to spend $10 for every $1 in revenue. It might be advantageous to achieve some short-term goal, but it's a bankrupt model in the long run. Literally.

The lever is the key. The lever is what multiplies the effort and provides the applied force to the output. For authors, that's the backlist. If you only have one book to sell, then the lever is short. You have to apply a lot of effort to get a unit of output. If you have two books to sell, then you get a multiplier. Perhaps people who buy the first will buy the second. You have more visibility - a bigger footprint - which makes your lever longer but also stronger. Add a third and a fourth and a fifth and you begin to build a machine where only the lightest touch of effort can give you a huge amount of purchase.

It's just simple physics.

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

Photo by Rachel Portesi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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

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

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

Coping with Rejection: a 12-Step Program

Rejection can take many forms. For some of us, it’s our short fiction being turned away by one magazine after another. For others, it’s agents rejecting our novels at the query letter, partial, or full manuscript stage. And if you go the indie route, it can rear its ugly head as poor sales or harsh (so harsh!) reviews.

Since we can’t get our work into readers’ hands without facing rejection at some point, we have to learn to deal with it. Follow these steps to build a healthy relationship with your own rejection monster.

1. Expect it.

Even before the rejection happens—while you’re writing, revising, sending your submissions out, or waiting for responses—remind yourself that rejection is inevitable. Start preparing yourself mentally. And when the rejection does come…

2. Acknowledge it.

Sometimes rejection bounces right off you; other times it punches you in the gut. It’s hard to admit that a two-sentence email from someone you’ve never met just made you crawl under your desk and weep (been there!), but it’s important to stop and think about those feelings. Why did you want this so badly? Why are you so disappointed? Remind yourself that it's okay to feel this way.

3. But don’t wallow.

Every rejection needs time to process those feelings—sometimes a few minutes, sometimes a few days. But once you’ve unpacked your emotions, it’s time to let it go and get back to writing. No use crying over spilled ink.

4. Lean on other writers.

Commiserate with your critique partners and writer friends. Read the blogs and memoirs of published writers, who often share their own rejection experiences. Stephen King famously got so many rejection letters that the nail on his wall couldn’t hold them all. If he could go from that to being, well, Stephen King, there’s hope for you too.

5. But know that everyone’s journey is different.

Just because Stephen King, or J.K. Rowling, or your critique partner Bubba got a hundred rejections before their big break, that doesn’t mean you won’t get a hundred and one. Or two hundred. Or twenty-five. Or a thousand. Everyone’s journey is different, and your rejection count is no reflection of your quality as a writer. Because…

6. There are many reasons for rejection.

A rejection doesn’t mean your story sucks; it just means it wasn’t a good fit for that agent, editor, or reader at that time. Maybe it doesn’t mesh with the other stories she’s acquired for the next issue of her magazine. Maybe he’s currently representing something very similar to your book. And maybe they genuinely didn’t like your work—but that doesn’t mean none of the other seven billion people on the planet will.

7. Remember, it isn’t personal.

For whatever reason, this piece of writing didn’t work for this person. It’s as simple as that. No, they don’t hate you. No, they haven’t stuck your first page on the water cooler for their colleagues to laugh at. Don’t let your fragile writerly ego jump to the worst conclusion; give yourself the benefit of the doubt.

8. And it is personal.

Agents and editors have varying tastes just like us mere mortals. And because they get so many submissions, they have to genuinely love a manuscript before they add it to their already-full plate. They may like your work or think you’re a talented writer, but if this book doesn’t give them that glowing, choir-singing-in-the-background feeling, they don’t have time for it. That’s no fault of yours. You just have to keep submitting until you find someone who loves your book as much as you do.

9. When one door closes...

I know, I know, this isn't what your bruised ego wants to hear after suffering yet another rejection black eye. But it's true. Submitting your work is like dating: now that this agent/editor/magazine has rejected you, you're free to court others. It's only a matter of time before you find someone who really connects with your writing.

10. Learn from it.

Make the most of rejection by using it as a learning experience. If you get feedback with a rejection letter or one-star review, use it (or at least consider it). Next time you submit, that feedback could make the difference between a big fat No and a Yes, please!

11. Remember how far you’ve come.

Maybe you’d hoped to be agented/published/famous/obscenely wealthy by now. But where were you a year ago? Ten years ago? Landing a book deal or self-publishing a bestseller aren’t the only measures of progress on the writing journey. Reading, writing, revising, learning the craft, joining a critique group, going to conferences—that all counts as progress. Take some time to recognize what you have accomplished, rather than fixating on what you haven’t.

12. Stay brave.

Remember Step 1, Expect rejection? You knew what you were getting into before you typed your first sentence—and you still sent your baby out into the unforgiving world of publishing. That takes guts, so give yourself some credit. And don’t let the rejection scare you into not being brave next time.

#April … by Rainey Hall

http://clipartall.com/img/clipart-6324.html

One year ago, I declared April 11, 2017 as “Write Any Way You Want and Forget about Bridging Paragraphs Day” aka “Babbling is Okay.”

March madness is over, the green jacket has been given away, sunlight before 8AM; Autism Awareness Day, Earth Day, Professional Administrator's Day, Passover, and of course after-Easter chocolate sales. No fooling, April is quite the month—which naturally brings me to rabbits.

Contrary to what many believe, rabbits do not lay eggs, they deliver them. Honest.

Have you ever seen the movies Hoodwinked or Wallace and Gromit? They’re good mysteries for children. However, both films portray bunnies as being very, very, very bad. The screenwriters totally thought big and out of the box.

One Easter, my dad brought home a huge cardboard box. In one corner hidden beneath brown and green grass lay a gift for us kids—a baby bunny. Turned out that rabbit was magic! No, she didn’t pull herself out of a hat. Somehow she turned into what, seven bunnies, and then twelve, and then… Hey, rabbits taught me practical math. Think about it.

Turns out Easter isn’t a hot item in fiction, but the books that mention the holiday have all done well. For instance the Nebula Award-nominated Black Easter by James Blish, or The Red and The Green by Iris Murdoch. The Easter Parade by Richard Yates is said to be one of his finest works. The Country Bunny was written in 1939 and to my knowledge, has never been out of print.

If a classic movie tickles your fancy, Irving Berlin’s Easter Parade, (comedy/romance/musical), originally released in 1940 is still a go-to film.

April is a popular vacation month too. My cousin’s kid and her family just took off for Hawaii. I volunteered to chicken sit for Silver, Penny, Anna, Scarlett and Gwenelsa. Either Gwen or Elsa died, but since they looked so similar nobody knew which was which so the names were combined to remember the innocent. Haunter, their cat—yeah, I’m a little intimidated by the name too—stays hidden in the pajama drawer. Worry not, she must be alive—well at least something is eating her food.

Many attention-worthy events happened this month in history like the birth of Maya Angelo, the blind and impoverished John Milton is said to have sold the copyright of Paradise Lost in 1667, and in 1992 Betty Boothroyd became the first woman to be elected Speaker of the British House of Commons in its 700-year history.

Which brings me to this month’s lesson, a quote by William James: “Let everything you do be done as if it makes a difference.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A Colorado native, Rainey, (writing as L. Treloar), has been a RMFW member since 2012 (or so), and is happy to belong to one of the best critique groups ever: The 93rd Street Irregulars. She has self-published The Frozen Moose, is currently re-editing the first manuscript in a political thriller series, and has entered two contests with her 2016 NaNoWriMo Historical Fiction novella. In her spare time, she enjoys organizing anything from closets, to military family retreats, to rodeos and parades. Along with teaching her cat to retrieve, she volunteers at church and The Horse Protection League. With an Associate degree in Applied Science/Land Surveying, she learned she far prefers words over math.

*The Frozen Moose, a short story is available on Barnes and Noble in e-book.

Everything Is Broken

I hate it when things aren’t working right.

Last week was a doozy.

First, it was the microphone I use to record podcasts. (Yes, RMFW, the microphone you purchased to help start the podcasts– all $50 worth. It worked for two years & 77 podcasts and then pfffft.)

It looked the same as always. Nothing rattled. But, busted. Gone.

I spent 3.5 hours online with a tech service trying to see what was wrong with my computer.

Turns out, it was the microphone.

Then, our refrigerator started making an annoying rattle.

$850 later, we had a new compressor.  (I can’t show it to you; it’s tucked inside the refrigerator now, doing its job).

These guys came to my house twice in one week!

The next day, one of the flaps in the dryer’s tumbler thing came loose. Whump-whump-whump.

The credit card took another $208 hit.

No joke.

(Bob Dylan was ringing in my ear …. Broken lines, broken strings, Broken threads, broken springs…)

What else breaks?

Sometimes, it’s our words.

A word. A sentence. A paragraph.

George Saunders (Lincoln in The Bardo; many, many killer short stories) has a terrific piece in The Guardian about writing. It's called 'What writers really do when they write.'

He talks about evaluating the words he has written “without hope and without despair.”

George Saunders says he imagines a meter mounted on his forehead as he reads his own stuff, with “P” on one side for positive and “N” on the other for negative.

“Accept the result without whining,” he suggests.

Then edit, he writes, “so as to move the needle into the ‘P’ zone.”

There’s a lot of good stuff in this piece.

It’s long but entirely worth absorbing.

I won’t come right out and say a sentence is “broken” or a paragraph is “broken."

I mean, you’ve got something work with--that's a huge accomplishment.

Those words on the page. You can’t edit thin air.

But there might be a way to make those words work better.

To make them, well, work.

There’s P, there’s N.

Fix them!

No whining.

Final thought from George Saunders: “Any work of art quickly reveals itself to be a linked system of problems.”

Spring Cleaning: Give Your Writing Space a Makeover

I have several writing spaces, including the couch, the library, and (weather permitting) the patio. But when I really need to focus, I have a designated, distraction-free place I can retreat to. I call it my “cave,” but it’s more like a hobbit hole: cozy, comfortable, and colorful. Here’s how I did itcomplete with photos!and what to consider when creating or reviving your own writing space.

Location

For most people, a writing space needs to be quiet, isolated, and close-able—meaning you can shut the door when needed and not be disturbed by noisy children, spouses, televisions, etc.

I chose a nook in my spare bedroom, partly because it was one of the few unused areas in my 800-square-foot apartment, and partly because it has a window. (I’m not sure why, but I’ve always believed there’s a special creative energy that comes from placing a desk under a window. Or maybe I just like looking up from my writing and being reminded that there is, in fact, a world outside the one on the page.)

Workspace

This is how much flat space your desk or table offers. More is usually better—personally, I like to have room for my laptop, a notebook, and a mug of cocoa at the very least. I would have loved a nice big L-shaped desk, but since space is at a premium in my apartment, I had to settle for something relatively small. I found a cute little desk at a thrift store for $20, then spent a weekend repainting it and replacing the hardware.

And don’t forget your desk’s necessary sidekicks: a comfortable chair and good lighting. Seriously. If you’re going to do most of your writing here, you need a place to sit that won’t give you chronic back pain. And if your room doesn’t have an overhead light, you’ll need to add a desk lamp or floor lamp. Otherwise, as my mother would say, you’ll ruin your eyes trying to write in the dark.

Storage

It’s important to have additional storage so your workspace doesn’t disappear under a pile of clutter (trust me, it happens faster than you’d think). Wall shelves, a hutch, desk drawers, and desktop organizers will put everything you need within easy reach while leaving plenty of room to write.

Although my writing desk doesn’t provide as much workspace as I’d like, it makes up for it with four spacious drawers. I’ve put them to good use, storing things like pens, paper, binders, staplers, writing resource books, lip balm, and emergency chocolate bars.

Décor

This is your space; spruce it up in whatever way speaks to you. For me that means bright colors, cute knickknacks, inspirational quotes, photos of my family, and any potted plants I can manage to keep alive. Many of these have some kind of meaning or positive memory attached—the owl statue I rescued from the dumpster, the glass bird my in-laws bought for me in Ireland, the inspirational quotes given to me by my mother. Obviously, you don’t want anything that will trigger negative emotions. Think rainbows and unicorns (or Hufflepuffs and hippogriffs—whatever floats your writerly boat).

Inspiration

Last but not least, my writing space wouldn’t be complete without my Wall of Encouragement. This is where I frame my successes—stories I’ve gotten published in magazines, the cover of an anthology I was featured in, an award I got in a novel contest. Any time I’m reeling from a rejection, struggling to write a tough scene, or just feeling discouraged, looking at this wall boosts my confidence and helps me get back on the horse.

Instead of a wall of encouragement, you could do an inspiration board where you tack up photos, magazine clippings, and quotes that help you visualize your work-in-progress. Or you could have a vanity shelf, filled with the books you’ve published or magazines you’ve appeared in—even if it’s empty, it’ll remind you of where you’re headed. Or you could hang up meaningful things like the first story you wrote as a child, the brochure from your last conference, a photo of you shaking hands with Neil Gaiman…whatever works to boost your writerly mentality.

Now, let’s see how I’ve incorporated these elements into my writing space…

What does your writing space look like?

Magic-Wand Words

Remember the Disney production of Cinderella, when the good witches waved their magic wands of blue, red and green? Their glitter flowed like Fourth of July sparklers, creating magic.

That’s what my blog is about this month—the magic that happens with words. In an entire novel, only a few or at most several dozen of them may appear. When they do, they connect us to the characters, embed us more deeply in the setting and emotions of the scene, and increase our enjoyment and understanding of the story. They linger in our memories.

These are a few of my favorite magic-wand words. Enjoy! May these words that so inspired me also inspire you to dig deeper in your creative reservoir. May your current work in progress sparkle!

Nora Roberts, Spellbound:  

… an exquisite simile

And she was there, just there, conjured up out of storm-whipped air. Her hair was a firefall over a dove-gray cloak, alabaster skin with the faint bloom of rose, a generous mouth just curved in knowledge. And eyes as blue as a living star and just as filled with power.

Nora Roberts, Public Secrets

... another one

She would remember the feel of the air against her face, air so moist from the sea it might have been tears.

 Nora Roberts, Sanctuary

… a character-enriching analogy

She walked to the water’s edge, let the surf foam over her ankles. There, she thought when the tide swept back and sucked the sand down over her feet. That was exactly the same sensation he was causing in her. That slight and exciting imbalance, that feeling of having the ground shift under you no matter how firmly you planted your feet.

Katie Schneider, All We Know of Love  

...melding scene and character

The clouds are pulled thin like cotton. I understand how they feel, out in the middle of nowhere, unsure of quite where they’re heading.

Laura Kinsale, Flowers from the Storm

…skillful use of the senses

“I saw you in India.” Mrs. Humphrey had about her the slightly sour tang of an unchanged baby. “You took my clothes off.”

…expression of fury, revenge, stunning rhythm and great example of back-loading

He thought of the look on the Ape’s face, the relish of terror, the time it would take; he’d once seen two men hanged and quartered—the expression of the second condemned traitor as he watched the executioner cut down and butcher the first: that was the fear, that was the struggle, the prolonged kicking and spasms, that was the cringing, weeping, purple-faced, swollen-tongued, bloated sickening twitching entrails-sliding agony he was going to inflict.

Mary Jo Putney, Loving a Lost Lord

…fresh imagery

He wouldn’t need her, and that was as it should be. … When she was old and gray, the time she had known Adam would be the merest ripple in the lake of her life.

Annie Proulx, Close Range-Wyoming Stories

This passage slams the reader into the scene

“Hey, you’re old enough almost a be my grandmother. I rather eat rat jelly than—”

But he was edging closer and Mrs. Freeze saw his trick and the red-flushed neck swelled like that of an elk in mating season, the face beaded with desperate sweat.

...succinct characterization

“Think about it, give me a call.”

“I don’t need a think about it,” said Mrs. Freeze. She dropped the cap of the whiskey bottle, kicked it under the chair. She didn’t need that, either.

Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove

Memorable, humorous, backloading

“I don’t know where you keep finding these Mexican strawberries,” he said, referring to the beans. Bolivar … mixed them with so many red chilies that a spoonful of beans was more or less as hot as a spoonful of red ants.

Barbara Bretton, Just Like Heaven

…exquisite rhythm and backloading

…she clung to his shoulders so she wouldn’t slide off the face of the earth and into some vast unknowable universe of shooting stars and fireworks and whispered warnings that some things are too good to be true.

Jacquelyn Michard, A Theory of Relativity

…another memorable simile

He had never been able to think of that except as “innocent,” as guileless and tender as a childhood Christmas.

Tina St. John, Lord of Vengeance

...word choices

The answer came swiftly, softly at first, a dark whisper that curled around him, anchoring his soul to the earth with shadowy tethers.

---

I hope you've enjoyed these magic-wand words. If you have some to share, please do!

 

Lessons Learned from My First Writing Retreat

A few weeks ago I attended my first-ever writing retreat, organized by my friend and fellow writer Natasha Watts (of RMFW’s Writer’s Rehab). I spent a weekend in a cabin in the Rockies with five other writers, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my writing life. Here’s what I learned, and what I’ll be doing next time.

1. Have a plan.

To get the most out of your retreat, you should have an idea of what you’re going to work on. This can be a specific goal, such as plowing through 20,000 words of your first draft; or it can be more vague, like researching a new project. Just make sure you spend time before the retreat deciding what you’ll work on, so you don’t waste any of your precious retreat time. It’s also a good idea to have a backup project in case you get burned out on your work-in-progress. For this retreat, my main goal was to make a dent in the next round of revisions on my novel. I also had a couple of short stories to work on when I needed a break from the novel.

2. Disconnect.

One of the biggest draws of a writing retreat is the chance to get away from ordinary life—and all the responsibilities and distractions that come with it. Take advantage of this. This doesn’t mean going completely MIA, it just means scheduling your communications rather than being in touch constantly. Check your phone two or three times a day, and then turn it off. Skype with your family for an hour after dinner, then disconnect from the internet. Don’t get on social media, and certainly don’t stay on it while you’re trying to write. Minimizing these distractions helped me maximize my productivity, and contributed to the overall calm, creative atmosphere of the retreat.

3. Take breaks.

It’s easy to think you’ll spend every waking hour of your retreat toiling diligently on your work-in-progress. But in reality, nonstop writing is rarely the best strategy for your productivity, or your general well-being. Everyone has their limit, and it varies from day to day and project to project. After a few hours of feverish writing on my novel, I sensed when I was running out of steam and allowed myself to take a break—whether to watch a movie, socialize with my fellow retreaters, take a nap, or work on a different project. When I returned to the novel an hour or two later, I was refreshed and recharged enough to dive into it again. And guess what? I made huge strides in my novel revisions, even though I wasn’t working on them 24/7.

4. Be social.

Again, you may envision yourself locked in your room, writing away, for the entire retreat. But try to suppress this urge. One of the main benefits of my writing retreat was the connections I made with fellow writers. Loosely scheduled activities such as hikes, board games, meals together, and critique sessions helped us get to know each other and share valuable writing lessons. We discussed our works-in-progress, time management strategies, conference experiences, and pretty much anything writing-related—which really got our creative juices flowing and lent a great energy to the retreat.

5. Enjoy the view.

You can hole up in a room at your own home—so while you’re on retreat, take advantage of the change of scenery. My retreat took place in a cabin in the mountains, so it was perfect for hiking, hot tubbing, taking photos, and enjoying the view. If you’re in a city, visit museums, art galleries, libraries, and restaurants. Go for walks around a park, zoo, or botanical garden. Take a class or work on an art project. These things will invigorate you and get fresh ideas flowing for your next writing session.

The biggest thing I learned from my first writing retreat is that I have to do it again. I got a lot of writing done, as expected, but I also got so much more out of the experience. If you get an opportunity to do a writing retreat, take it—your muse will thank you.

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!