As the Year Fades to Memory

The last day of 2011. I must say, I found it a pretty decent year overall, certainly a far better one than its predecessor, at least as far as my life was concerned. Left plenty of room for improvement, of course, but then nothing is perfect.

I’m not one for resolutions. Those lists seem more designed to court failure than to encourage success. That doesn’t mean I don’t plan for the future, but it’s more along the lines of a business plan, with goals for each quarter and set dates where I reassess my progress, and I take into account both work and my personal life.

As always, I have lists of things left undone, or that I wish I’d done more of over the course of the year. Naturally I wish I’d read more books, but that’s a pretty constant wish, regardless of how many books I manage. I’d have liked to have taken a real vacation instead of snatched days or long weekends, so that’s something on the to-do list for the year ahead.

Thinking about highlights of this year, I attended some fabulous conferences, including the Santa Barbara Writers Conference for the first time, and the Surrey International Writers Conference for the third. The RWA National Conference was in New York City this year, which was a terrific, busy and hectic experience. I met some wonderful writers, both published and unpublished. I signed some lovely new clients. On a personal level, I lost some weight and ran my first 5K. Good friends had a baby, and another friend got married and is now expecting. And — big surprise — I read some fabulous books.

This blog saw a move from Live Journal to its new home here on Word Press, and I think it’s been a good change. Thanks to everyone who made the move with me, and to those of you who have stumbled my way since. I hope you find these posts fun and informative, and that I am helping to encourage your progress as writers and readers, and to make agents seem a bit more approachable. We’re really just people who love reading books so much that we found a way to get paid to do it.

A final congratulations to those of you who have taken my December writing challenge. I’d love to hear how it went, whether you managed to write 29 out of the 31 days or less (or more!). Please share your experiences here in the comments. And those of you who didn’t participate, please feel free to chime in and offer your congratulations to all the ambitious writers.

Wishing you all a wonderful, productive, and joyous 2012! See you in the new year.

Links to End the Week

Technically these are also links to end the year, but I don’t feel like they’re quite that earth shattering, so I’ll be back tomorrow with a final post for 2011. In the meantime, I hope you’re all enjoying these last few days before 2012 rolls into town, and that the holiday season has treated you well.

Writers participating in my challenge for December, bravo to all of you for your progress. Even if you missed a few days here and there, it sounds as if many of you accomplished far more this month than you might have otherwise, which was just what I was hoping to inspire. Check back in January for additional pep talks to keep you going when your motivation feels a bit sluggish.

Without further ado, some links for your entertainment. Enjoy!

7 Creepiest Abandoned Zoos on Earth – Not particularly related to writing, but these images are just too intriguing not to share. And who knows, they might spark some writing inspiration!

Outlining Ghostbusters – An interesting look at the story structure of the film, much of which applies to any type of narrative.

Graphic Novel App Brings Dickensian London to Life – As a big lit dork, I find this fascinating.

The Best Books of 2011 You Haven’t Read – Some interesting, different reading suggestions.


Hump Day Pep Talk

The holidays have a way of eating your life. I know something about visiting my parents’ house — sleeping in and hanging out in the kitchen with my mother — sends me back to my adolescence when vacation meant lounging like a lump and enjoying the relative lack of homework. I always intend to get more done, but then my mother puts on the tea kettle and waves some sort of pie under my nose, and I’m gabbing until 2 a.m. and ignoring the stack of books on my nightstand.

It works in reverse, of course, as well. If people visit me, I go into hostess mode and it’s hard to take time away from them to do anything beyond what’s necessary. Plenty of opportunities to catch up once they’ve gone and I’m scheduling my day on my own terms again. That’s part of what it means to entertain, at least for me.

All this is my way of saying that I am well aware how difficult it can be to find time for your writing during the holidays, especially if you’ve yet to publish and don’t have deadlines to wave in people’s faces to prove you need to pay attention to your work each day. I suspect that as much of a challenge as it was to write daily while going to your job and prepping for holidays and taking care of families, it’s been much more challenging this past week or so. And so I applaud all of the writers who have taken on my challenge to write every single day in December, with only a couple days off for holiday time or scheduling crunches. It was an ambitious undertaking, no matter how accustomed you are to writing daily already, and you deserve gold stars and cookies for your efforts.

Have you already used your two days off for December? That means you need to write your way into the new year. We’ve only a few days remaining to 2011, and I am a firm believer in setting the mood for the year to come with your actions at the end of the old one. If you can continue to write through December 31st, you’ll find writing daily — or at least regularly, per your own schedule (though I maintain that aiming for every day will do wonders for your work) — easier to achieve. I’ve frequently heard writing compared to exercise, where you need to work the muscles to build up your strength and endurance. Now is the time to flex those writing muscles and to prepare for the writing year ahead.

So how are you all doing? Has writing every day been a hardship? A challenge? Easier than you anticipated? Harder? Don’t forget, if you’ve missed more days than you would like, there’s no point in beating yourself up about it. Life happens. Just get back into the swing today. Happy writing!

Fly-by Pep Talk

Here come the holidays, roaring in at a rapid pace. No doubt your weekend has been as busy as mine. But that doesn’t mean you can’t squeeze in a little writing time. Grab your coffee and a notebook and scribble on something for fifteen minutes. Take a quiet half hour at your desk tonight before you go to bed and put your fingers to the keyboard. It may feel impossible, but try to work it out, make it your priority. Think how good it feels when you manage to write on a day when it seems like it will never happen. You can do it!

Knight Agency iGiveaway

‘Tis the season for giving, but it’s awfully nice to receive as well. And winning something can be even more fun!

The Knight Agency is hosting a fabulous iGiveaway this holiday season. One lucky winner will take home a brand new iPad 2, along with up to 13 free e-books from TKA authors to start loading up that lovely new electronic toy.

For complete information, check out the official contest page. This contest is open to U.S. residents age fourteen and up. Good luck!

Music to Write By

Happy Monday, writers! It’s chilly and raining here this morning — very wintery weather for SoCal. Staring out the window, I’ll admit I’m tempted to just spend the day on the couch with a cup of tea and a good book, some Christmas carols on the stereo. But the holidays are looming, and there’s lots left to do, so here I am, to cheer you on to another day of writing productivity. Today’s theme? The writer’s soundtrack.

Some writers need silence to work. And I understand that. Music can be a distraction. But it can also be an inspiration. So my question for you today is how can you or do you use music to help you write? If you need quiet for the actual writing process, do you ever listen to music beforehand to help set a specific mood? Do you create soundtracks that are thematically linked to your projects?

Lately I’ve seen authors posting music on their websites, links to YouTube or Spotify that promote the songs they feel match their stories. But some authors create these kind of soundtracks purely for their own purposes, to help them get their brains in gear for a particularly difficult scene. Melancholy music might make it easier to write a death scene or about characters ending a relationship; happy music might inspire you if you’re writing a romantic ending or about an upbeat event in your story.  If you’re writing something set in a particular period in history, try music from that time, including classical works, to help set the mood.

Often lyrics are what get in the way for writers who find it difficult to work to music. Your brain tries to focus on the words in the song, rather than the words you’re trying to put on paper. If this is an issue, give instrumental soundtracks a try. Think about how much emotional resonance comes from background music when you go to the movies. Imagine the climactic scene in Star Wars without John Williams’ glorious orchestral theme, or Titanic in the absence of James Horner’s score. And horror movies are often made by their ominous soundtracks. Try watching the shower scene in Psycho with the volume muted; it really isn’t the same.

Do you have favorite music to write to? I’d love to hear your thoughts, and I’m sure other writers here reading the blog would welcome new suggestions. A few more of my favorite instrumental soundtracks include Out of Africa, The Last of the Mohicans, Pirates of the Caribbean, Pride and Prejudice (the BBC version), and The Piano.  Give one a listen, and see where your imagination goes. Happy writing!

Links for the Weekend

As promised, I’ve returned with some links to share. Given the proximity of the holidays, I’ve included a few links to those best-of book lists and shopping suggestions in case anyone is still in search of reading material to gift. Of course, you’re always welcome to go check out The Knight Agency’s blog to see what are authors are up to, as well.

101 Books for Gift Giving – Some new, some not, but a nicely diverse selection.

Winter Books from Ploughshares – The literary magazine makes some suggestions that feel seasonally appropriate.

15 Gorgeous Book Cover Redesigns – Courtesy of Flavorwire. Some available for the holidays, some not, but all lovely to look at regardless.

12 Holiday Gifts that Writers Will Actually Use – Good for a chuckle even if you’re not shopping for a writer.

And for those of you not shopping…

How I Went from Writing 2,000 Words a Day to Writing 10,000 Words a Day – Your mileage may vary.

How to Cover an Impossible Book – For those of you interested in the design process.

Happy weekend, and enjoy! (And don’t forget to write!)

Finding a Pocket of Peace

Sometimes I feel like my brain just won’t stop rushing. I can’t slow down long enough to take a deep breath, and even when I do, my brain keeps flowing along at a thousand miles an hour, contemplating everything I need to do as soon as that deep breath is done: Reading for clients, reading submissions, trip to the post office, write for the newsletter, remember to blog, get to the grocery store, throw in a load of laundry… Whew. There’s always something, and during the holidays there’s an entirely new list that gets tacked on to the everyday edition.

I know I’m not alone in this feeling, and that for writers, feeling brain-rush can be particularly frustrating. I’ve sent you off with orders to write every day, but I know that on some days the problem is less finding a few moments to spare, and more convincing your brain to sit down and get with the program. It isn’t interested in what your characters do next. Instead it wants to work out how to keep Uncle Fred from drinking too much at Christmas Eve dinner or if your family will ever speak to you again if you order in Chinese instead of making the traditional feast.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule for getting your brain to fall in line, of course. But I have a couple of suggestions:

Take a small notebook and a pen and, weather permitting, go for a walk. Observe the world around you, but don’t engage with it. No chatting with people you see out for a run. Just walk. Watch nature or cars go by, or window shop. Take deep breaths. After about fifteen minutes, sit and write. If you’re somewhere rural, make sure your walk laps back home. In the city? Duck into a coffee shop, grab a hot beverage and settle at a table by yourself. If the weather is good, maybe find a park bench.

Don’t worry about writing on your current project. You can if you’re feeling inspired, of course, but otherwise write about what you saw on your walk. Describe a bird or a squirrel, the types of cars, the way the clouds looked, the wind on your skin, the relative fitness of the joggers. If you’re in a coffee shop, take note of the people around you. Eavesdrop on bits of conversations. Scribble it down as a starting point for a short story or a scene in a larger work. Listen to the rise and fall of conversations as a whole. What are the rhythms like? Is there an overriding sense of joy? Frustration? Happiness? Fatigue? Are these folks who’ve been holiday shopping, or workers heading off to a long day at the office?

If you don’t want to go for a walk–the weather is miserable, you only have enough spare time to write and that’s it–try this instead. Tell family etc. you need fifteen minutes alone. Put a video in for the kids, make your significant other go fold the laundry, whatever you need to do to buy a few minutes to yourself. Then sit in front of a window with a notebook and pen, and write what you see. If it’s a static view–trees, grass, your yard–that’s fine. Describe it in detail. Really focus. Figure out a way to include senses other than sight. If it’s a busy street, what’s going on? Cars going by, people walking dogs? Do you look out at another building? Can you see through a window? Who is over there? Imagine what’s happening behind their walls. Write it.

The key to both of these exercises is that you’re not trying to imagine yourself into the world of your current project. Whether you’re writing a novel or a short story or a memoir, there’s often a lot of internal work going on. You’re inside your head, picturing the story, and to do that, your brain needs to unplug from the world around you. These exercises allow your brain to focus on what’s right in front of you–on reality–while still disconnecting from your list of chores and so on. It shouldn’t take you long–five or ten minutes of writing at most–before you’re able to segue comfortably into your regular writing project.

I’ll be back later today with some links for the weekend. In the meantime, I wish you all good writing!



No Guilt, No Excuses

Hello, writers! How are we all doing today? In my neck of the woods, it’s sunny but cold (42 degrees) for Southern California, so I have the heat on and a huge mug of hot tea on my desk. I’ve gone through e-mail, sent out a few Tweets, and now I’m here to nudge you all into activity.

For those of you engaged in my writing challenge for the month, we’re on day six. How’s that working for you? Everyone still writing every day? Just a little bit counts, though I suspect more than a few of you have realized that once you sit down and get going, it’s much easier to stay there and write a little bit more than it was to get started in the first place.

However, I suspect a few of you have already missed a day. It happens, I get it. December is a crazy, busy month, and life is hectic even at the best of times. So I’m here to tell you how to handle those slip ups, because try as you might, they will happen, whether it’s during the challenge this month or some other time. And yes, I gave you two free days out of 31, but we’re early in the month still, and I suspect you already know what days you would like to take off.

Here’s the deal: No Guilt, No Excuses. That means, if you miss a day of writing, don’t make excuses about it, but don’t feel guilty either. It happened, it’s over, move on and write the next day.

Unless you have a book contract with a looming deadline (in which case you probably have an editor’s and an agent’s expectations in mind), you don’t answer to anyone but yourself. So shaming and scolding yourself over missing a day’s writing won’t impress anyone, and it might make you feel bad enough that you have a hard time getting back in the swing. Likewise, there’s no point making excuses. Who are you making them to? You know if you were legitimately too busy or if something important came up that you decided was worth giving up your equally important writing time. You also know if you were just feeling lazy or if you let yourself get caught up in something else when you really should have been putting pen to paper. You know. So move on, and get writing. If you want it, make the time, make it a priority, and write.