Monday, January 30, 2012

Artist Dates

by Lucy Marsden

I’m writing to you today from the Middle Ages (currently docked at a Radisson in Manchester, New Hampshire), in order to talk about artist dates.

Artist dates are not, as you might suppose, episodic romantic forays with attractive specimens of the aesthetically and spatially-gifted population (although there’s nothing to rule this out, either, and best wishes to you on that front, say I). Rather, artist dates are field trips taken with the express (or professed) purpose of engaging and stimulating our imaginations, our creativity, our sense of wonder, and our sensory experience in general. It’s a way to fill up the well that we draw from when we build worlds, and it’s a place from which fresh ideas—and even characters—can emerge, ready to captivate and populate our work.

The date you go on doesn’t have to directly apply to your current work-in-progress; in fact, it can be more fun if the field trip seems to be purely tangential. My current story is set in a faery-tale version of 18th-century France, so the temporal and aesthetic “vibe” of this weekend’s date wasn’t particularly helpful. But as I wandered the merchant area dressed as a 10th-century Viking lass in a linen shift, cotton tunic, and wool apron made with my own fair hands (and a Brother CP 7500 computerized sewing machine, praise Jah), lifting my skirts so that I wouldn’t trip (because transport me to whatever century you please, I am still a klutz), and debating the relative merits of wool versus linen for camping in a 14th-century kirtle (NOT wool—Sweet Jesu, I was DYING in that apron after two hours), I amassed a whole host of tactile and visual impressions still relevant to living in a culture where female dress is more traditional, synthetic fibers are unknown, and nothing is mass-produced.

Another textile-related adventure once took me to a huge warehouse specializing in home-decor fabrics. This was the place to soak up 18th-century rococo with a vengeance: silks and velvets and brocades everywhere I turned, juxtaposed with rack upon rack of tassels and trims. One fabric literally made me stop in in my tracks, not because it was baroque, but because it was this rich, vibrant pattern of embroidered green vines with scarlet flowers against a background of shimmering blue. A coverlet of that fabric would be like sleeping wrapped in all the enticement and enchantment of a faery tale, and it was only because Cali kept repeating in my ear, “It’s one hundred dollars a yard,” that I was able to tear myself away. I still long for that fabric.

And as a final example, let me suggest an outing to your local museum. One of the most thought-provoking presentations on paranormal world-building I’ve ever heard was given at a Romance Writers of America conference by Shannon Delany, who was talking about getting ahead of the curve on genre trends, and taking new approaches to familiar legends and characters. She discussed many great approaches, but the one that stuck with me was the suggestion of spending time looking at historical and mythological scenes in fine art. Delany proposed taking the opportunity to imagine what’s going on behind the scene that’s being depicted, or just out of the viewer’s line of sight, or what’s simmering in the subtext of the scene, then using this as a jumping-off point for characters and stories. That idea would never have occurred to me in a million years, but now that the seed’s been planted, I’m busily planning my next outing to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (maybe with a little Isabella Stewart Gardner on the side).

So what about you? What kind of field trips do you take to refill the well of your imagination? What kind of sensory or creative treasures have you brought back?

And wherever and whenever you go in your adventuring, I wish you many moments of pleasure and inspiration!

Friday, January 27, 2012

There's No Relaxation in R&R

by R.C. Lewis

Last week on my blog, I did a post breaking down the various responses we get in the wonderful roller coaster known as querying. For most of the possible responses, my advice was not to agonize over it.

No response means no? Move on. Form rejection? Don't bother dissecting every syllable.

One of the exceptions to the "don't agonize" rule is the R&R—the Revise & Resubmit.

Technically, this is still a rejection. But it is (or can be) the best and scariest rejection. It's a rejection that leaves the door open. One that says, "I can't take you to dinner as-is, but if you lose ten pounds, clean up a little, and stop wearing those acid-wash jeans ... then maybe."

(Good grief, if anyone in the dating world ever says anything like that, do humanity a favor and smack him/her. But you get the idea.)

This is definitely a time when at least a little agonizing is warranted. Do the revision notes resonate with you, giving you ideas that you're confident can make your story better? If not, maybe a "Thanks, but no thanks" is in order. Was the feedback so vague you're not sure how to address it? Maybe a brief, polite follow-up email to clarify would be all right—but only to make sure you understand the agent clearly, not like you expect said-agent to hold your hand through the revision process. (If someone has a differing opinion on whether this is an appropriate time to email the agent back, please speak up. I'm making this up as I go.)

Or maybe you're like me in the first twenty minutes after I got my R&R email. After taking a moment to get over the stab to the gut ("Another no! And so close! But wait...!"), you realize the feedback totally makes sense. You wonder why you didn't see those issues before.

And you have no idea if you can fix it.

Critique partners to the rescue!

If ever there was a time to be glad for solid critique partners who will re-read your manuscript at the drop of a hat, tell you to your face that you need to stop using clichés like "drop of a hat," and hold marathon brainstorming sessions with you by email, this is that time.

I don't know yet if my R&R was successful. I know I made the story better, but this particular agent may still feel it's not for her. But in the end—I learned new things about writing and improved my work. So either way, this non-relaxing, very scary and nerve-racking R&R has been worthwhile.

Have you had an agent request revisions? What tips do you have for getting through the process?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Search for Writer's Block and Other Legendary Creations

by Matt Sinclair

I recently responded to a series of questions for a writer-friend's blog. If you've never done this before, I recommend it. You're often asked questions that you don't ask of yourself, and it's a good way to shake unused braincells around so ideas scatter as if they're in a snowglobe.

Surprisingly, the question that gave me pause was not the one about cupcakes, but rather the one about how I deal with writer's block.

Hmmm, writer's block. Um. Yeah. Uh, what's writer's block?

I know the term. I understand the concept. I believe it's real because others talk about it (kinda like Bigfoot, I suppose). But I don't get it. You've heard of that "fear of the blank page"? I treat it the same way one of my three-year-olds would: Get a crayon and scribble like hell!

I've read Stephen King's Bag of Bones, in which his lead character, a successful author (write what you know), finds himself unable to write after the death of his wife. Maybe that's writer's block—that feeling of "I won't do this any more." If I need to lose my wife in order to feel writer's block, I'll pass.

Now, I'm making a huge distinction here that needs to be addressed. I write and edit for a living. If I get writer's block, my kids don't eat. That's all the motivation I need, thank you. As a result, my fiction sometimes gets shunted. At the moment, it's not a budget line in my family revenue stream. Indeed, there's a big difference between whether a person is writing and whether the product is worth publishing. Some might argue that the question of whether unpublished writers get writer's block is the same as whether there's a sound when a tree falls without anyone to hear it. J.D. Salinger didn't suffer from writer's block. He just stopped seeking publication of what he wrote.

But many writers ask these questions of themselves because they feel that without writing, a part of their soul has crashed to the ground. And I totally get that.

Lately, I've been unable to jog. My legs still work, of course, but I've had other things that needed to be done and not enough time in which to do them. It gnaws at me, this stagnation. I often sit on the train thinking of how my physical inactivity is as unhealthy as my inadequate amounts of sleep (which I partially resolve by napping on the train). But I know I'll jog again. In a twisted way, it's kinda like what Mark Twain said about quitting smoking: It's the easiest thing in the world to do. I've done it several times.

You know how you change things? By doing. Cram a ten-minute writing session onto a piece of paper. It's not a novel, it's a scene, a vignette, a character sketch, nary more than an uncooked idea. It's the moment you just lived, turned into fiction and fantasy. It doesn't need to fit a genre. It just is. Every Wednesday for a few months now, I've been leading a little "writing cue" thread on AgentQuery Connect in which I toss out a few words, a vague and open setting, and say "Now write." There's no right or wrong. It's just about writing.

We're writers. Writing entails doing. Sure, as with any exercise regimen, you can get into bad habits, which is why it's always good to have a spotter (a future metaphor to develop...) But if you're serious about being a writer, write. You're the only one stopping you.

How do you deal with writer's block? Is it real to you? What does it mean to you; is it the same as living in an idea desert? How do you deal with the blank page?

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Perks of Being an Introverted Writer

by J. Lea Lopez

In my last post, I confessed that I am both shy and an introvert, explained the difference between the two, and talked about how those traits have created challenges for me as a writer. Today I'm back to talk about the positives.

There is nothing wrong with being an introvert, or being shy. Let's be clear about that. If there's some aspect of one of those things that causes you such distress or disadvantage that you decide you need to change it, that's great. Go for it. But introversion is simply a different way of thinking and behaving. It isn't something to be fixed. You might not realize that in today's society, where so much emphasis is placed on teamwork and being outgoing, despite the many benefits of quiet solitude. (For more on this, read this excellent article on the "New Groupthink" and the inherent bias against introvert tendencies.)

It's also important to understand that introverts, like extraverts, aren't all the same. My tendencies may differ from yours or anyone else's, even if we all present as introverted. There are calm introverts, but there are also impulsive introverts (just as there are both calm and anxious extraverts). I think some of the things I'll be talking about are fairly common experiences among introverts, but I'm talking about them from a strictly personal point of view.

So how does being an introvert help my writing?


I mentioned in the last post that many introverts hate small talk. I know I certainly do. One of my fellow introverts and writers, Ty Unglebower, spells out all the reasons why it makes us uncomfortable in this post. I share many of those feelings, and I also feel the same way about dialogue in writing. I tend to be as minimal as possible with dialogue, and I hate to waste a word. You won't catch my characters engaging in meaningless small talk, unless it's done as an effect - like it's obvious to the reader that one or more characters is talking just to hear themselves talk, or because they can't bear silence instead. In my opinion, every word of dialogue should be meaningful in some way or another. I pride myself on dialogue that is realistic but not real. I kind of obsess over it, in fact. If I write too many back-and-forth volleys of dialogue, my pinky finger gets a little twitchy over the backspace key. And not to sound too proud, but I have been complimented on my dialogue, so I guess my distaste for small talk is working for me.

Nuance and Subtext

I may not speak much in a group setting, but I listen. And I watch. And I connect dots other people might not even see. I'll notice how Janet's opinions always align with George's, and how she smiles when George calls her out for a good idea. I'll be the one who sees the game of footsie between George and Mary under the the conference room table, and I'll feel bad for Janet. More than just the non-verbal communication taking place between people in the room, I often hear subtext in what's being said, or how it's being said. By the end of a discussion, I could tell you not only what was said, but a little bit about the personalities of the people involved. George manipulates others to get his way. Janet is overly agreeable toward anyone who gives her praise. Mary is stone-faced, serious, and commands much of the conversation even as her under-the-table games with George inch away from G-rated and more towards R-rated. She's always in control, and she likes it.

I try to incorporate these different layers of action and meaning into my writing. There is a time for straightforward action and dialogue, but there is also a time and place for more nuanced, subtle clues. Sometimes one small detail, enlarged and given the right treatment, can change the way a scene reads.

I can write without writing

I live in my head, in my thoughts. Even in a crowded room, or at work, or driving in the car, I can be deep in thought about anything besides what's going on around me. So while being an introvert means I often take a long time to think before I speak (and therefore speak little), it is this same aspect that allows me to work out minute details of my stories before I ever set pen to paper. It takes me ages to write a first draft because I do so much think-writing and not nearly as much actual-writing. But once the first draft is done, it's pretty clean.

Some people pound out a first draft in four or five months, let it rest a bit, then spend another six or nine months (or more) revising, getting feedback, and editing through dozens of drafts. I'll take close to a year (sometimes more) just finishing the first draft, but that's often pretty close to how the final product will look. It's not necessarily a better method, just different. There are times where I wish I could knock out a draft in mere weeks, but I can't. I've finally decided that's OK and I don't beat myself up about it.

I'm cautious

I'm a fairly calm introvert, though I'm prone to moments of anxiety about certain things (which I think mostly stems from my shyness) and this is actually a good thing. It keeps me from jumping into things too fast, before I'm ready. Sure, maybe I could've sold lots of books last year if I had self-published then. But with the benefit of hindsight, I know now that I had ZERO clue about anything last year. I might've managed to put out a nice, well-formatted, clean e-book (or I might NOT), but I wouldn't have had any type of marketing strategy and would've hated trying to navigate the marketing aspect nearly blind. I probably would've been miserable.

I spent last year reading, absorbing, watching others with more knowledge and skill navigate their way through the new indie and traditional publishing realms. I also saw some people behave in ways that served as examples of what NOT to do. I learned a lot. Some of it assuaged certain fears and aggravated others. I'm in a place now where I feel I know enough to take the leap, and if I fail or succeed, I'm confident that I'll have done so to the best of my ability. Which brings me to my last point:

I want my word to have integrity.

I mean this both in the sense of honesty in the things I say and do, but also in the written words and stories I create. I've never had trouble changing the way I think, or my opinions on certain things when faced with evidence that speaks to me and points out the error of old ways. I want to bring this to my writing as well. If I get pretty unanimous and authentic feedback that something isn't working in my writing, I'll change it. If I fail, or if I succeed, I want it to be because of the choices I've made, and nothing else. Not because I kissed ass--or didn't. Not because I whored myself on Twitter despite feeling bad about it--or didn't. Not because I slept my way to the top--or didn't. (Seriously, that doesn't happen in writing/publishing, does it? Because if it does, let me know. My husband might make an exception to our vows if it means lots of money for us..... Kidding!) I feel about my success or failure with writing the same way I feel about my life in general: I'm responsible, no one else, and I will always strive to make good, honest, informed decisions and put out the best product I know how.

What are some of your own quirks or traits that have positively influenced your writing, even if they're otherwise considered negative traits by some?

Friday, January 20, 2012

What a Teething Toy Taught This Author About Branding and What She Can Teach You

by Sophie Perinot

The discovery that my forthcoming historical novel had appeared on Amazon for pre-order was magic—magic with a little “humbling experience” tacked on for good measure.

I was ecstatic when a friend told me that my book was listed. Here was proof indeed that I had not imagined the whole “book deal thing.” Ha, I thought, let’s see my publisher wiggle out of this now. But my enjoyment soon led to a sober realization—you are only as good as your sales and rankings. I may have a book listed on Amazon (and IndieBound and Barnes & Noble...) but I am NOT a household name. I am not even close.

What, you may ask, brought this fact home to me? To paraphrase Pixar’s marvelous Toy Story, “a child’s plaything.” You see, I am NOT the first “Sophie” Amazon suggests when one goes to the search window and begins to type. Doing this (when I should have been writing my next book) I discovered that when I get to “p” (s-o-p) Amazon kindly suggests another Sophie—obviously a sales-super-star—“Sophie the Giraffe.” I was not familiar with Ms. Giraffe before this, or with her body of work. Sophie the Giraffe is a teether, as in infants gum her with vigor, drop her on the floor and then squeal impatiently until she is returned to their grasp.

Coming behind a rubber toy in a “suggested search” list is a humbling experience. But when I looked more closely at Sophie G, I realized I could learn a thing or two. Sophie is NUMBER ONE in the Amazon “Baby” bestseller rankings. She gets an average of 4.5 stars from reviewers. And she is able to command some serious cash for a figure only 7” tall. In fact, a single giraffe teether costs considerably more than a copy of my novel. Wow.

Sophie G is obviously doing something right when it comes marketing and branding. Here’s what I think.

First, Sophie G has a clearly focused target audience. She isn’t trying to be "all things to all people," she is not a "work of commercial fiction with literary prose, a touch of romance, sci-fi overtones and a Jane Austen zombie character." As a writer, knowing your audience is just as important. Getting cute, trying to catch a ride on the newest trend, or counting on a massive cross-over audience is probably a mistake.

Whatever your genre (mine is historical fiction) you need to be able to clearly envision your target audience (e.g. mine is readers who love stories of royal courts, and specifically those who are drawn to the intrigue, the rivalry and the lifelong connection inherent in a relationship between sisters). Then your target audience needs to be clearly reflected in your packaging (cover, online presentation) and promotion efforts (which blogs your publisher ultimately sends ARCs to, where you choose to advertise).

Second, Sophie G excels in branding. She is HIGHLY recognizable. Believe me. I was at Starbucks and there, tucked alongside a baby in an infant-car seat, was Sophie the Giraffe. Boy did I get excited, "that’s Sophie the Giraffe," I babbled to the store’s assistant manager (who luckily has known me for years), "she comes up before I do in an Amazon search." Writing a good book isn’t enough (not these days with over 8 million books available on Amazon). Authors need to work on their branding. They need a distinct, consistent style so that their audience knows what to expect from their novels and anticipates, with pleasure, the release of their next work. There are lots of very excellent writers working in my genre and in fiction generally but most will never achieve the “marquee name” status of Sophie G. To do that takes luck to be sure but also a whole lot of careful branding.

Third, Sophie G has people talking. Over 700 people have reviewed her on Amazon and those reviews are GLOWING. If I could get a few people to use phrases like "don’t let the price deter you" or "absolutely wonderful in every way" I’d be downright delighted. It’s clear that Sophie is exceptional at what she does. Those who buy her are well satisfied and they talk about her (not just on Amazon either ... I bet she’s on parents’ lips at play-dates and at playgrounds in cities nationwide). Buzz, buzz, buzz.

The basis of buzz for an author is, of course, writing the best novel that you can, but buzz requires something more. You need people to be so enthused about your book that they talk about it and recommend it to friends by name. Of course the two things I’ve discussed already—targeting an audience and carefully branding yourself—can help but, in my opinion, generating buzz also requires author interaction with potential readers.

An author seeking buzz must make him/herself a vital part of writing communities and participate in social media in a "value added" way. In other words, to get “buzz” from others we have to give of ourselves; providing content (e.g. blog entries on our research, links to interesting articles on writing, tidbits on characters that readers can’t find between the covers of our books) that people find interesting and valuable. This is the opposite of the “me focused” online activities I frequently see from writers—you know the kind, “Buy my book,” “Another good review for me,” etc. I’ll bet Sophie G never goes around saying, “Aren’t I great?” And I’ll bet she never bad mouths the competition either (“That porcupine chew toy looks like it’s better suited to a dog”). Publishing is a small sandbox; there is no reason not to play nicely.

In the end though, whether you are an author or a teething toy, it is important to recognize that there is something downright unpredictable and serendipitous about buzz, sales and rankings. Do your best but don’t beat yourself up if you run distant second to a Giraffe. And if keeping track of sales numbers makes you crazy, don’t do it.

Me, I am going to leave the field to Sophie G and stop searching for myself on Amazon. I suspect the final weeks before the release of my debut novel would be better spent putting what Sophie G has taught me into practice.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sifting Through Feedback

by Calista Taylor

Most writers receive feedback from several sources before declaring their manuscript done.  Often, one will first have critique partners go through the chapters, meticulously commenting and line editing.  Then once the manuscript is has seen several edits based on the information received from those critique partners, it will go to beta readers for yet more comments and final rounds of editing.

The question is, now that you have a mountain of feedback, what do you do with it?  All feedback is invaluable, because you're receiving a "reader's" feedback.  But does that mean you should make all the changes recommended?

I think, first and foremost, you need to remember that you know your story—and your writing style—best.  If changing something doesn't ring true to you, then don't change it.  This is a time when you should be listening to that little voice in your head.

Here are a couple of things I like to keep in mind and might help you sift through the feedback you receive, if it's ever been an issue.
  • If several critique partners/betas comment on the same thing, it's something to seriously consider—even if you do still feel it's true to your story.  I know this contradicts what I said just moments earlier, but if a majority of your readers comment on an issue, then it may be to your advantage to tweak things so it's no longer an issue.  Even better if you can resolve the issue and still stay true to your story and style.
  • Take into consideration the genre your reviewer writes/reads.  I often have critique partners/betas that read/write a different genre, because they'll see things differently and will pick up on issues that may have gotten glossed over otherwise.  However, it seems like things that are perfectly acceptable for the genre I write, will come up as "issues" for those that don't normally read that genre.  As a result, I do keep in mind what is or isn't acceptable for my genre when sifting through their comments.
  • Often, you'll need to find the balance between a technically correct and proper way of writing and your writing style and voice.  To me, voice is everything, so if I receive feedback that changes my writing style and voice, those comments are going to be given a lot of thought before any changes are made.  The truth is, I'll likely ignore the comments that change my writing style and diminish the voice.
  • Finally, remember that it will by your name on that manuscript, and any changes made should feel true to you.
 How do you deal with the feedback you receive?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Weather or Not

by Jemi Fraser

As a young reader, I didn't really notice the weather in the stories I read. For me, reading was all about the characters, not the descriptions or the settings.

Then I read Farley Mowat's Never Cry Wolf and A Whale for the Killing - then so many more of his books. That's when I noticed weather can be more than an inanimate background setting. It can be as powerful as the characters themselves. In some cases, the weather becomes a character.

Here in Northern Ontario in January, snow is always on our minds. We know how to shovel it, drive in it, swear at it, play in it, differentiate between the different types, and when it's perfect snowman & snowball making weather. So, right now, the main characters in my current story are travelling through some mountains and encountering various types of snow conditions. Little do they know there's a major snowstorm headed their way and they're going to be trapped.

I can handle that. I know exactly how the snow will fall, what the temperature needs to be, how the wind will swirl, how it feels to breathe in a blizzard, what the effects of so much snow will be on travel, survival tips, what NOT to do, how to handle the loss of power in the cold and the emotional impact of it all. I even think I can do it all without using a single cliche!

But hurricanes? Tornadoes? Tsunamis? Desert heat?

Probably not yet. I can rely on my imagination, research and conversations with people who've experienced these things, but for me, it's not the same. If I was a writer who used more description, maybe then. But right now, I don't feel I have the expertise with that style of writing or with those weather conditions to pull it off. Hopefully with more practice at including description, I'll be able to handle it.

How about you? Are you comfortable writing about the weather you don't know well?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday the 13th: Writing Tips, Tricks and Terrors

by Cat Woods

Friday the 13th has me in its clutches. I feel washed up, worn out and utterly brain dead. I'm terrified I won't write another good word—so much so, that Freddy could schlep on by with a hockey mask and a chainsaw and I wouldn't even flinch.

We writers spend all kinds of time biting our nails, pulling our hair, pickling ourselves with tequila and smashing our heads against our desks. We put oodles of pressure on ourselves to write better, faster and smarter. We fear the worst: that our words will never be seen past our crit groups and over-accommodating parents. That we will never have anything publishable. That if published, nobody will ever read our novels. Or love them. Or say good things about them. Or ... (insert 1001 ways we face our keyboard in terror every day) ...

Yet, we fail to realize that simply living the life of a writer is its very own Friday the 13th.
  1. We don't back up our work properly and it gets eaten by the cyber monster.
  2. We unwittingly spill coffee on our keyboards, attach cookies to our hard drives and open the door to viruses.
  3. We forget to eat, drink or otherwise take care of ourselves, often being caught in our jammies and bed-head long after it's prudent.
  4. We forget to feed, clothe and bathe our children/pets/significant others.
  5. We neglect ourselves physically, allowing writer's spread to ooze off our chairs as we nibble chocolate and sip java.
  6. We impose on our friends, neighbors and neighbors' friends to read our rough gems and can't understand why we get a) mindless back-pats, or b) dirty looks anytime we venture out in public.
  7. We lose touch with reality and can't understand why nobody else has met our friends. Not to mention, it's kind of hard to teach our kids not to cavort with strangers when we've never met a single one of our writing buddies in person.
  8. We edit too much, sucking the life out of our characters and the magic out of our stories.
  9. We edit too little, leaving gaping plot holes for potential readers to fall through, never to be seen again.
  10. We don't edit at all and believe our first drafts are magnificent. You poor editors and agents. Bless you and the work you do in wading through our delusions.
  11. We wait for our muses to karate chop our writer's block instead of taking control and digging our own way out of Alcatraz with a plastic spork.
  12. We wine ... er, whine ... all the dang time. Writers have it rough and we want everyone and their grandmas to know about it. And when whining doesn't work, we resort to wining.
Being a writer is terrifying. Honestly, it is.

Writers traditionally have a higher incidence of mental health issues. We spend time alone, in our made-up worlds, and garner little support from those around us. We sit for hours at a time in less than stellar settings. This wears on the body and the soul.

Don't believe me? Peruse the list of creative people who have suffered from some form of mental illness/mood disorder.

Patty Duke, Connie Francis, Peter Gabriel, Charles Haley, Kristy McNichols, Spike Mulligan, Abigail Padgett, Charley Pride, James Taylor, Mike Wallace, Kurt Cobain, Elton John, Sheryl Crow, Axl Rose, Ted Turner, Robin Williams, Winston Churchill, Princess Diana, Edgar Allan Poe, Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Dickens, Michelangelo, Vincent van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Margaux Hemingway, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Drew Carey, Judy Garland, Jim Bakker, Abraham Lincoln, Richard Nixon, and Virginia Woolf.

If that's not enough, consider the physical risks writers take every day. Deep Vein Thrombosis can occur in the lower extremities when individuals are inactive for long periods of time such as travel or sitting at a desk. Studies have shown that women who sit for extended periods of time are two to three times more likely to suffer from a pulmonary embolism than their more active peers.

And that's just the beginning of a long list.

So, the mother in me has a few words of advice for the writer in you.
  1. Drink lots of water—tap water, occasionally, if you can stomach it. Filtered water and bottled water don't have fluoride. Likewise, sodas and creamers are high in sugar. When sipped all day, these sweet drinks add oodles of calories and lots of cavity potential.
  2. Get up and stretch. Every hour or so, you should walk around. This will help keep your circulation going and minimize your risk of blood clots. It will also help alleviate muscle fatigue in your hands, wrists and back and keep your mind more alert.
  3. Get out of the writing closet. Tell your family and friends. Share your blog and your progress. Don't bore peeps to tears with your every little writing drama, but be open to answering questions about your writing and don't be afraid to proudly proclaim, "I am a writer." It does wonders for the psyche and minimizes feelings of isolation.
  4. Find a group of writerly types to learn from, support and be supported by. Learning insider info goes a long way in keeping us from making those premature submission mistakes. It also provides us with the know-how to be smarter, faster and better writers.
  5. Take yourself seriously. You are a writer. You will write. You will research. You will edit. You will learn. You will query and query and query some more until you succeed. Maybe not with your first or third project, but that's okay. Writing is a process. You are the master.
So how about it, dear readers? Do you believe mental and physical health impact your ability to succeed as a writer? Conversely, in what ways does writing impact your health? How do you keep yourself in balance? What tips do you have for keeping your Friday the 13th writing terrors at bay?

Grab a spork and join the fun.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Writer's Confession: I'm Shy and an Introvert

by J. Lea Lopez

I blog. I tweet. I Facebook. I also belong to almost half a dozen social networks for writers (some I participate in more frequently than others). I don't usually mind sharing some rather personal anecdotes when asked. For those familiar with me via my "public" online presence, you might also know that I write erotica without a pseudonym, never hesitate to speak up with advice or encouragement when my writer friends need it, flirt with strangers on Twitter and point out the hidden sexual innuendo in everything, and just last week I let loose with a scathing judgment of my own genre and a small group of writers within it.

Why am I telling you all this? Because despite that laundry list of putting-myself-out-there-ness, I have a confession to make.

I am an introvert. And you know what else? I'm a bit on the shy side as well. Does that surprise you? Let's talk about introversion and shyness, as it relates to being a writer, and then you might be able to see how all of those things I listed might actually highlight my introversion, without any of us ever realizing it.

First, I'll state that this isn't a post about marketing or promotion for introverts (our own Mindy McGinnis touched on some of that already, and there are other sites dedicated to the topic). This is just a tiny peek into an introverted mind so all my fellow introvert writers can say "I'm not alone!" And who knows, maybe some of you will glean some insights into the introvert mind that could help you write a character or two.

Introversion and shyness are not the same thing. You can be shy and and an extravert. You can be an introvert without being shy. Susan Cain spells out the difference quite nicely, and succinctly, as such:
Shyness is the fear of negative judgment, and introversion is a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments.
I won't lie, my shyness and introversion is a one-two punch that creates a lot of challenges for me as a writer. This blog post alone is proof of that. I've sort of stumbled onto a dry patch in terms of knowing what to blog about. I put a shout-out on Twitter asking for ideas, and then I also added that I thought my introversion might be hindering me in this area. In groups, I'm often slow to speak, or even completely silent, because I like to think for a long time and make sure I'm 100% sure of my opinion before I state it. I'm prone to moments of self-doubt where I'm sure there's nothing I could say that anyone would be interested in reading (don't even ask me how long it takes to write the first draft of a novel—good lawdy lawd!). I've been better about it recently, but my personal blog has sometimes gone weeks, even months, without a new post for this reason.

This same fear of negative judgment is (mostly) what kept me from self-publishing my first novel last year. It's not ready. It's not ready. I can't do it. Maybe it is ready. But what if it's not? What if people don't like it? I can't market. I can promote the hell out of other people, but not myself. What if my marketing attempts make me look like an ass? All of these things, and more, absolutely paralyzed me with fear. I often get great feedback from beta readers and writers whose opinions I respect. But my first instinct is embarrassment, which I quickly push aside. The second instinct is to seek out another, more critical reader. Why? To tell me I suck? It's not that I don't believe people when they say good things about my writing. I'm just a perfectionist, and I'm always looking for some other way to improve. And maybe I am looking for that one negative opinion to satisfy my own inner critic. Because I need to be right.

Do you know any introverts? Do they sometimes come across as know-it-alls, stubborn not only in their opinions, but also in asserting the "rightness" of those opinions? Not all introverts are this way, but a lot are, myself included. So forgive us, please. It's not that we think we're superior to anyone else in that way. But we spend so much time on reflection, introspection, and being an objective observer to (as opposed to participant in) the interactions around us that we're often so sure we know what's really going on in any given situation. And for me, that includes being sure I'm right about my own plainness.

Don't mistake this for simple low self-confidence, either. I like what I write. I even think I'm pretty damn fabulous sometimes. I just fear that other people won't like it as much as I do. Is that splitting hairs? Maybe. But I live with this type of cognitive dissonance every day. It's not one or the other, it's both—I'm confident in who I am, what I write, etc., but I still care an awful lot about what other people will think.

After I mentioned my introversion and lack of blog ideas on Twitter, one friend (thanks, Lela!) suggested I blog about my struggles with being an introverted writer (hence this post). She said I could talk about the social media mechanisms I use to cope with my introvert tendencies and anxieties. I thought to myself, What if the answer is 'I don't cope'? Of course you do, Lela said. And I got to thinking about it.

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen me mention the #goatposse. They're a group of writers who support and encourage each other, chat about writing (and silly things, too), post funny pictures of goats, and just have a good old time without taking ourselves very seriously. The #goatposse makes Twitter a lot of fun for me. I was sort of "enveloped" in the #goatposse phenomenon. I didn't really make a huge effort to insert myself into it—it's not really in my introvert nature to just jump into any group. I let myself be swept up in the fun of it. I've "met" some fun new people through the group. People I can "let my hair down" around. I chose the people I follow very carefully, and I interact with a lot of them (not just the #goatposse) on a fairly regular basis.

I've created my own introvert haven, right there on Twitter. I feel more comfortable speaking my mind, opening up, and sharing things with people I've come to know and like. Even online, in an otherwise very public place. It's also easier to let that sliver of extravert within me come out to play online, be it here, on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Yes, I put my real name and my real face online, but I'm (slightly) less anxious about looking like an idiot online than I would be in a face to face situation. Yes, more of my apparent incongruity there, but that's how my brain works.

Am I being deceitful, disingenuous, or otherwise "acting" if I behave online in a manner I probably wouldn't in "real" life? Absolutely not. You won't catch me giving praise where I don't believe it's due, saying things I don't mean (so pay attention to an introvert's carefully chosen silences), flirting with you if I don't think you're fun to flirt with (hey, I'm married, it's just fun and games!), or conforming to any type of groupthink because I want to be accepted and liked—even though I do want to be accepted and liked. Make sense?

Hang on with me just a bit longer, here. The navel-gazing is almost over, I promise. Going back to the list of things I mentioned at the beginning of the post. Can you see yet how they're all both indicative of and a way I cope with my shyness and introversion as a writer?
  • Social networks—I belong to many. I'm more active on the ones where I've managed to build a close-knit network of trusted and respected peers (as opposed to a huge network of less well-acquainted contacts). I can get both the criticism and encouragement I desire.
  • Writing erotica without a pseudonym—Doesn't seem like a very shy thing to do, does it? My quiet pride and self-confidence (definitely an introvert characteristic) wins out over my shyness here. Love it or hate it, you'll know I wrote it.
  • Playful online flirting, joking around, and general silliness (such as with my #goatposse)—The obvious indication is that humor distracts both me and others from real issues—like whether I'm a judgmental bitch, or a talentless hack, or whatever my fear du jour might be. But it's also a great way to just relax and have fun. It relieves any pressure about having to "perform" (i.e., be an extravert) in a way I'm not comfortable doing. Plus we all need to laugh at ourselves once in a while.
  • Sharing personal tidbits, giving advice when asked, incessantly pointing out sexual innuendo, and occasionally being painfully blunt—Yes, all of these things are related and belong in the same category. While introverts may tend toward the quiet end of the spectrum (and we generally hate—HATE—small talk), we can still talk your ear off when we're interested in or feel strongly about a topic.
    • I mentioned a "scathing judgment" at the beginning of this post, which I stated on my own blog, knowing it might be an unpopular opinion, and could cost me maybe some respect, maybe some readers, I wasn't sure. I almost didn't post anything about it at all. It took me months before I did. But I did. Scared of negative judgment? Yes. But passionate and willing to defend my opinion? Absolutely. Again, there's that dichotomy of confidence bordering on arrogance and deep-rooted fear of judgment.
    • I value honesty, and I'll give it to you if you want it. And if someone asks for my help, I have a near-pathological inability to say no. It makes me feel good, it makes me feel needed.
    • I joke around about the unintended sexual innuendo I see everywhere—it's funny, of course, but this stuff goes through my head every moment of every day (right along with some of the judgments I mentioned a moment ago). When I point it out, you get my mostly uncensored thoughts at the moment—something that's pretty rare for me to give.
    • And the part about sharing intensely personal bits of info? If there's one thing only you take away from this post, either for your writing or your real-life interactions with your favorite introvert, let it be this: learn to ask the right questions. I'll willingly share just about anything with anyone, if I'm asked, often despite my own shyness. We introverts probably won't offer up too many juicy tidbits of our own volition, but a few well-timed, appropriate questions can open the floodgates.
I guess I have coped with my shyness and introversion fairly well in terms of making connections with people online. I'll have a brand new set of challenges to overcome later this year as I finally take the plunge into self-publishing and will be working on that self-promotion thing. Don't take this post the wrong way—there isn't anything wrong with being shy or an introvert. There are a hell of a lot of things right with it, and it helps me in my writing just as much as it challenges me. But I think that's a post for another day.

Are you an introvert writer? (If you are, you'll probably just nod your head and move along without commenting ;-) ha) What challenges does introversion or shyness pose in your writing life—either in trying to capture an introverted character on the page or overcoming challenges of your own introverted nature?

Monday, January 9, 2012

To Tell Or Not To Tell?

by R.S. Mellette

Along the lines of Cat Woods's post on writer's superstitions, I'd like to hear the opinions of all the authors out there...

... do you tell, or keep quiet?

I'm talking about when you have sort-of news. Like, you get an e-mail from an agent who wants to know if you're open to making some changes to your manuscript.

... do you tell anyone?

Would that jinx it? You don't have the agent yet, so there really isn't anything new, but it's a better rejection than the last 57 non-responses you've got on Query Tracker.

And as you get more success, it gets harder.

Your agent is submitting to such-and-such a publisher. Do you tell your friends and family? You know you should be cool—like the football players who score a touchdown and DON'T spike the ball. "Act like you've been there before."

But you haven't!

Okay, so you won't say anything unless someone asks ... but there's always that jinx factor.

So, fellow artists. What do you think? When you've got sort-of news about your work ... do you tell? Who do you tell? Is there a jinx?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Playbook For Self-Promotion

by Mindy McGinnis

I help coach a girls' basketball team. And by that I mean girls that are about four feet high.

Something I can't help but notice is that when we it's time to move past the basics and play ball, most of the kids have a really hard time being aggressive. And there's a reason for that. They've been told their whole lives to play nice, be polite, share, say thank you and never, ever brag.

So when the same Mommies and Daddies who have been pounding manners into their heads are now standing on the sideline shouting, "Take it from her! Steal the ball! Drive to the basket! Go around her! Let them know you're open! GET THE BALL!" it's very, very confusing to them.

I think the same is true of self-promotion. Whether you're e-published, indie bound or backed by a Big Six, it's still necessary to say, "Hey, I wrote a book, and I'm really hoping you'll check it out. Or visit my blog. Or follow me on Twitter. Or participate in my flash fiction contest. Or ..." I feel skeezy even typing all that.

But it's the case. If you don't ever have the ball in your hands, you're not going to make a basket. So you can't let the lifetime of self-effacing apologies keep you on the bench. Luckily for everyone, there are some great non-intrusive ways to help get yourself out there without feeling like you're committing a foul.

1) Business Cards—Quick. Easy. Simple. Your name, your blog, Twitter, Goodreads, Agent, what have you, all encapsulated in a nice easy, "Here you can take this or throw it away later after I go," way of putting yourself out there and into someone else's hands.

2) Email Signatures—HTML your blog or site, or Goodreads listing into your email siggy. It's there if they care, it's ignorable if they don't. And you don't have to feel like a Big Bossy Bosserton.

3) Link your Blog to your Facebook—I use Networked Blogs to auto-post my blog listings onto my personal Facebook page (I'll do it on my author page too, once I have one). Again, if people want to read it, they can. If not ... well, do you really think everyone reads every word on their Home page anyway?

These are just three, very low-maintenance things you can do that won't make you feel like you're the tip-off choice, but not exactly bench-warmer material either. If you want to drive to the basket and get a power dribble in, come back next month and we'll talk.

Oh, and if you feel the need to say, "Excuse me, pardon me," as you make the drive (as some of my girls do), well ... it can't hurt.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Not All Sales Are Created Equal—What Your Writer Friends Wish You Knew But Are Too Polite to Tell You

by Sophie Perinot

Do you know a writer with a book coming out via a traditional publisher? Even if you are a writer yourself there is something you many not know if you have yet to be published. Something you should know if you want to support published friends.

All sales are not created equal. Even if they are sales of the same title, in the same format for the same price. This is something I didn’t know this time last year.

In the hierarchy of power purchases the pre-order is the heavy hitter. Why? Because print runs (the number of books initially printed) for books coming out in hardback or paperback are set, in part, based on a title’s pre-order numbers.

Setting print runs is a tricky, tricky business. Too many copies of a book and the publisher ends up with some rather expensive pulp. Too few and sales are lost. (If a book isn’t on that front table at Barnes & Noble the day Rachel-Reader walks by how is she going to impulsively pick it up and take it to the register?) Authors want to sell books (heck, when nobody is looking we fantasize about hitting a bestsellers list) but if our publishers only run 5,000 or 10,000 first-run-copies (numbers I’ve picked from the air because trying to find out the “first run printing” for any book is harder than getting someone to confess to the most personal details of their sex life) then scoring high sales and earning out our advances (both critical to a next deal) become more difficult.

When Publisher-P looks at pre-order numbers for your author-friend’s book-baby (usually a couple of months before its release date) your author-friend wants them to see a number that makes them sit up and take notice. Your author-friend wants Publisher-P to think, “Hey, this book is generating interest. People are already looking forward to it. It could be a hit.” Unless your author-friend is spending his advance pre-ordering his own novel, there is only one way this can happen—if the people who are absolutely committed to buying his book anyway (his mom, the best man from his wedding, the authors in his critique group) order early.

So, if you know an author with a book currently available for pre-order—a book that you definitely plan to purchase and read—WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? ORDER IT NOW. (Yes, right now, I’ll forgive you for not reading the rest of this blog post.)

If the pre-order is the Miss America of book purchases, the “first two weeks after release sale” is first runner up. If you have an author in your life but are not, by nature, an order-on-line person you can still purchase your friend’s book in a way that will help that author-friend (or author-family-member) succeed in this tough business by marching down to your local bookstore the very first week your friend’s book goes on sale and buying it.

Why are early sales so important? Even as an author’s book is on the launch pad chances are he or she has another book in the production-chain (remember with a major publisher the time between turning in a finished manuscript and having a book on the shelves is commonly a year or more). Whether the book currently launching comes out of the gate strong can impact many of Publisher-P’s decisions about your friend’s next book—from what type of marketing support it will get to how many copies will be printed. If your author-friend is finishing up a book contract with her current release and looking to negotiate her next contract, how well the current book-baby sells early can determine what that new contract will look like or, gasp, whether she gets that new contract at all (as opposed to being a one-book wonder).

Bottom line: In an ideal world (and in bygone days, by which I mean a couple of years ago) authors should be given time to “build an audience.” Even, and perhaps especially, new authors. But in the increasing “here today, gone tomorrow” world of publishing and bookselling, an author’s book (especially a newbie or relatively unknown author’s book) may only be “in stores” for a very short time and after that those interested in buying it will have to: a) know of its existence, and b) be persistent enough to order it. In other words, the period during which relative strangers might just spot the book and impulse buy it is very short indeed. Books that start their lives with strong sales are printed and distributed in larger quantities and stay on shelves longer (leading to more sales).

So do an author you know (and possibly love) a favor. If you plan to spend $ to support said author-friend anyway, spend that money when it makes the most impact by ordering/buying early.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Negativity Hurts All Of Us

by Darke Conteur

Please excuse me if this sounds like a rant, but it's something that's been bothering me.

I don't know if it was the time of year, or all that pent up frustration of dealing with a publishing industry that, at first glance, didn't seem to want to embrace the digital media, but there was a growing negative atmosphere tainting the writing community in 2011, and it spread like wildfire.

For years, publishers and agents held the 'Golden Key' to a writing career, and if you wanted one, you had to go through them. Now that there are viable options and the words 'self-published' don't have the same stigma they did five years ago, more and more authors are choosing to follow a different route, and that's fine, but each writer's career path is different and no one has a free pass to crap all over the either system, old or new. Be warned, the internet has a very long memory. Just because you delete your harsh comment doesn't mean it's gone forever.

The most disturbing comments I hear are people waiting—wishing for the Big Six to go under, and take those 'blood-sucking agents' with them. Okay I may be exaggerating on the whole 'blood-sucking agents' part, but I can't believe that people would honestly want to see other people out of work, especially in this economy. Sure, if one of the Big Six went under those at the top would probably survive, but all those UNDER them, would be out of work also. You shut down a workplace, and everyone from the mailroom people to assistants, interns (even though interns aren't paid), lose their jobs too. If Traditional Publishing is on its last legs as everyone claims, who will hire all those underlings? What about the authors? Especially those who just got a contract with said publisher? They're left in limbo or worse—a book published 'dead'. What if that was you? How would you feel? You've just had your dreams realized, only to be crushed. Would you really wish that on someone else?

Don’t think traditionally published authors aren't part of this negativity either. They're not as vocal, but I've heard a few new writers upset over nasty comments aimed their way because they self-published. Sometimes they're called lazy, or their books are called crap. Sure, maybe they need to hone their craft, but we should be helping each other, not cutting one another down.

My wish for 2012 is for all the bickering to stop. We're all in this together, negativity only pulls us apart.