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December 31, 2010
Have you noticed all the diet and exercise ads already flooding your Inbox? Tons of advice is available for breaking bad eating habits.
One idea I read was about how to stop relapsing into bad eating habits. The article seemed equally applicable to breaking bad writing habits.
Setbacks and relapsing into old patterns is so common! Carol Lewis in Stop It! asks, “Have you ever noticed consistent patterns when you fall?” She says we need to build into our lives a plan that guards us against getting off track.
Writers need such a plan every single day!
Great idea…but how?
The idea is to create a plan ahead of time to head off your bad habits. [I'll show you how below.] My worst writing habits are wasting time on the Internet, getting online way too early in the day, and trying to write for long periods without breaks and rewards to make the writing fun.
I need a plan of attack for each of those habits. Here’s a template you can use to head off bad habits.
- My problem area is: ____________
- My goal is to not fall into the habit of ___________.
- I know it creates the following harmful circumstances: ____________
- I want to create a new sustainable habit. Therefore I will guard myself by changing the following circumstances: ____________________
- I will remove the following temptations: ________________
Making It Work
So, for example, with my Internet issue, it might go like this:
- My problem area is: wasting time on the Internet
- My goal is to not fall into the habit of getting online before noon.
- I know it creates the following harmful circumstances: hours hunched over the laptop make my neck cramp, wastes valuable writing time, makes it hard to finally settle down and write.
- I want to create a new sustainable habit. Therefore I will guard myself by changing the following circumstances: I will only work on the computer that has no Internet connection, I will set a timer for ten minutes if I MUST check email for something, and I will plan blocks of writing time to work at the library or book store coffee shop, packing my book bag the night before.
- I will remove the following temptations: Since I can’t really get rid of the Internet, I will remove myself from it when temptation is high and work in places where there is no Internet (bedroom, porch, coffee shop, library).
It’s almost the New Year! While most of us would like to break a few bad writing habits, it probably won’t happen without taking time to think it through. Make a plan and follow your plan. This is an easy template to use.
Give yourself every chance to succeed in 2011!
December 27, 2010
Are you called? Do you feel that your writing–in whatever form–is a calling for you? Or does it feel more like a self-indulgence (especially if it’s not paying the bills or it takes time from your family)?
Over the years, my Institute students have asked how they could tell if they were really meant to write. I’ve struggled with this myself, vacillating between knowing it was what I was meant to do with my life and wondering if it was simply my escape. (Someone once told me that I wrote fiction because I couldn’t deal with real life. That didn’t help my dilemma!)
How Can You Know?
The other day I read something that was very helpful in sorting through this question. I wish I’d read it years ago. It was in a book of stories about writers called Behind the Stories by Diane Eble. See if this helps you decide:
Perhaps this is the hallmark of a calling: this sense that you are meant to do something, the restlessness that comes when you don’t do it, the deep satisfaction you feel when you do it–whatever “it” is. How do you find “it”? Ask yourself, “What is it I have loved doing, what has given me that sense of satisfaction? What would I do if I had two days to do whatever I wanted? What do I tend to gravitate toward and make time for? What do I feel passionate about? What have I always dreamed of doing? These questions may begin to uncover that thing you do, or would like to do, that is your gift and perhaps your calling.
If you answered “writing” to the questions above, you may still wonder what kind of writing is your calling. Try asking yourself the same questions again to find the kind of writing you’d enjoy the most.
What kind of writing gives you the most satisfaction? (Instructing mothers on how to enjoy motherhood? Telling bedtime stories to toddlers? Writing adult thrillers with a bit of romance?) What do you make time for? What do you gravitate toward in the library and bookstore? What do you love to read? (That’s always a good clue.)
How about you? Do you feel called to write–or is it a hobby that you can lay down for months at a time and not miss it? If it’s a calling, how does that decision impact how you live the rest of your life?
December 24, 2010
In the eagerness to reach writing goals in the new year, we can naively overlook some danger signs. Yesterday’s Children’s Writer eNews from Jan Fields gave a terrific overview on scams online today. Some will surprise you. (She ends her article with a terrific offer.)
I highly recommend that you sign up for Jan’s free weekly newsletter.
Here’s Jan Fields’ article on “Scam Proofing.” Read it and be wise! (Thank you, Jan!)
I know that writers at all levels in this business read the enews – but there is one thing I absolutely know you all have in common. You’re all online. You probably have virus protection, spam filters of some sort, and ad blockes. You can chant, “Don’t open unfamiliar attachments” in your sleep. But there are many worse things online than viruses and spam.
The Internet is like one of those ancient treasure troves you read about in stories. You can find wonderful things there. Or you can hit the booby traps and get squashed flatter than a flitter. Not good. Virtually every day I run across a writer who’s been scammed. Some have been scammed for thousands of dollars. Some have only been embarrassed. Some have been seriously demoralized and made to feel like a fool. Some can’t even face that fact that they were made fools of, and zealously guard the cheats, saying they got exactly what they expected. At whatever level they’ve been cheated, they break my heart. And when it’s a children’s writer – it upsets me even more. So let me share some things you really need to know.
MARKETING IS WORK: If a publisher or agent shows up in your email box saying they saw you on a message board, blog, website, etc – look carefully before leaping into ANYTHING. Sure, real agents and real publishing connections do get made that way. But for every one that is real – thousands are cheats hoping to take advantage of you. Check them out. ALWAYS check them out. And I don’t mean with just your critique group or another writer you happen to know. Before you get involved with any agent or publisher, there are things you should do…
GOOGLE THEM: Plug the name into Google and read the links beyond the first page. A clever and web savvy scammer can keep the warnings off the first page of Google, but they can’t keep them out of the listings. Read them all. Do all of the good things come from the publisher/agent themselves while all the bad things come from writers and watchdog groups? If so – this is not a good deal.
Do you say you can’t find any mention of them anywhere? And when you’ve asked at Children’s Writers boards, no one knows them? First, feel free to send me the name – I’m relentless. I’ll find them if they can be found. If they can’t and if no one in the industry has heard of them – why on earth would you want to trust your work to them?
ASK PROFESSIONALS: Some of the very best of the watchdogs for writers are Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors. If you can’t find a mention on the sites or you want more details, use the email on those two sites. They will give you good advice every time. Just asking a smattering of writers on a discussion board is not the best way to ‘check out’ a scammer. The folks may not be any more scam savvy than you are – go to the people who make it point to know who is out their cheating and how the con works.
BEWARE OF GUSHERS: Many of us are so in need of positive feedback that we will blindly follow anyone who seems eager to gush about our work. Sure, you might be a truly brilliant writer – but you still need to pay close attention to gushing. Scammers virtually always gush, but there is an interesting pattern to their gushing. It is non-specific.
One cheating company I know loves to tell writers that their work “resonates” and that they want to “give it the chance it deserves.” But they never say things like, “When Martin swallowed the fish, I laughed for ten minutes” or “The teen voice in Jenna is spot on – I think every reader will see herself in Jenna.”
Why don’t they give specific gushing? Because they don’t actually read your work. I have never had an editor contact me with vague remarks – not when she’s looking to work with me. When my first agent responded to my work – he was full of specifics.
Another cheating company that specializes in swindling poets says things like “your language is so evocative.” Ask yourself – could the remark I’ve just read be sent to everyone? If it could, it’s probably a cheat.
A COUPLE CHILDREN’S WRITING BIG BADS: Poetry.com – I’m sorry if you’ve ever been taken by these folks. Quite honestly, so was I. My mom sent a poem of mine off to them when I was twelve (they were called “The World of Poetry” back then.) They named me a “finalist” and offered me a chance to buy the book with my poem in it. They offered every single person who entered the exact same chance. Now poetry.com is owned by Lulu so they’re more upfront about what they do — they take your money.
Publish America – This one has cut back on publishing picture books (thank goodness) so the flow of children’s writers in to be scammed has slackened slightly, but it still nets hundreds. Again, this is a publisher who won’t read your book before accepting it. They don’t care. They just want you to sign so you’ll buy a bunch of copies and net them a profit. They’ll smack such a high price tag on your children’s book that even your friends and relatives won’t fork it over. Over 1000 of their books never sold one single copy.
Children’s Literary Agency – This one changes it’s name regularly to snag new writers by putting a new name for an old cheat. This is ST Literary – a company that has never sold a book to a royalty-paying publisher. If an agent doesn’t sell the client’s work – why would you want them? Please, stay away. With any agent, you can learn what books they’ve represented that sold. Agents aren’t coy. If the books they’ve sold were all to companies you never heard of — why would you want them repping you?
LITTLE BADS: In these days of instant access, anyone can have an online publisher. Really – hey, we made a magazine so clearly anyone can do it. With that being the case, there are good online publishers and not so good ones. You only want to go with the good ones. Trust me. There is zero good in being published by an unprofessional operation.
1. GOOGLE THE MAGAZINE. If you punch in the magazine’s name and you find a half dozen message boards where writers are moaning about not getting paid by the magazine – bingo – don’t go there.
2. READ THE MAGAZINE. Why would you want to sell to a magazine before you read it – especially when you can read it for free? Read it. Not only will you find out if you want your work along side the rest of what the magazine runs (Does all the work seem to be done by beginners? Is that how you want to be perceived?) Does the magazine look professional? Flashing lights and weird colors are not a sign that this is going to make a promising clip for your writing career.
Tread carefully and you can find the treasure without the booby traps. And when in doubt, feel free to ask me <firstname.lastname@example.org>… if I don’t know, I’ll find someone who does.
December 22, 2010
After Monday’s post, I had several people ask about self-discipline strategies if you have to be online for your writing.
Some are doing nonfiction research, some critiquing online, some doing online classes, and others doing jobs (like blogging for companies) that required quite a bit of time online.
How could they make time for their “special projects” that kept getting pushed aside if they couldn’t stay offline until noon (which I am doing)?
Advice from Online Workers
Not everyone can (or wants to) stay off the Internet for large blocks of time. We’re all different. If you need (or want) to be online much of the day, here are some tips for making the best use of your time:
Hope this helps! Do you have additional tips that work for you? If so, please share them below. We can use all the help we can get!
December 17, 2010
Busyness is very deceptive. We may feel productive–but often we’re just busy. Despite the fact that my children are grown and out of the house, I lament to myself that I never have time to just think anymore.
These days, with the emphasis on marketing, a writer’s day can be full of busy work that won’t improve your actual writing one bit. Why does that matter? Time to think (to ponder, to ruminate) is absolutely critical to your writing life–especially if you write fiction. What can be done about this?
What’s the Problem?
I have been puzzling over this for about ten years, and I had an ah-ha! moment yesterday as to the real cause–and some remedies.
I was at my daughter’s home. They had returned from a trip to Alaska with their seven-week-old daughter (to see relatives), and my daughter had been up roughly 36 hours. I spent the night so she and her husband could sleep without interruption.
My granddaughter slept for four hours, but then was up for quite a while in the night before going back down. We walked, we talked, we sang, we read books–but mostly I thought. The next day I held her while she was sleeping for a couple hours–what joy!–and was thinking. Sometimes I took her outside to the swing (we’re in Texas), or we just sat by the Christmas tree and looked at lights. Lots of time to think…
I wasn’t thinking about my novel on purpose at all. It just came to mind fairly often. And I noticed that by the time I returned home, my mind had worked out three knotty plot and character problems I was having.
I Remember This!
This was my ah-ha! moment. I remembered this happening a long time ago. I had started writing when I had three children: a baby (ten days old), a toddler (two), and a preschooler. I had lots of non-writing “think time” back then: while folding diapers, nursing, pushing kids on swings, weeding a huge vegetable garden, quilting, and walking a colicy baby (or a dog or the horse).
It’s no wonder that when I had fifteen minutes to write that I could whip out a page or two. I had it thoroughly “digested” before I ever sat down.
How Things Changed!
Despite being alone during the day now, my life is busy (mentally) all day and most evenings. I no longer garden, quilt, fold diapers, walk a dog, or have hours of non-thinking child care duties every day. That formerly empty head space is filled with study, blogging, teaching, critiquing, reading newsletters, tons of email, taking classes, and a dozen other daily jobs.
I love most of it too. BUT there is precious little down time, or “think time,” in my life anymore. It’s now no longer a mystery to me why, when I sit down to work on my novel, I spend so much time stuck and staring at the screen with a blank mind.
A Paradigm Shift
Thinking is NOT wasting time! We need to get over thinking we’re doing anyone a favor by being so busy all the time–even with good things. If you, as a writer, don’t have enough thinking time in your lifestyle, build some in. I intend to!
I’m going to walk without head phones. I’m going to dig up a flower bed. (Yes, flowers grow in Texas in the winter.) I’m not getting a dog, but I sure intend to put the grandbaby in a stoller more often and hit the road! And I refuse to feel guilty about any of it. I refuse to be too busy to think anymore.
That’s my first New Year’s resolution! Take a moment and share one of yours!
December 15, 2010
In a newsletter yesterday, links were given to the eleven best and most popular 2010 articles from WritersDigest.com. They were retweeted on Twitter, e-mailed to friends and shared many times over the Internet.
While many of us can’t afford to study for a masters degree in children’s literature, we can all make good use of the free resources on the web.
Here are those eleven articles. They’re “meaty” articles. Read the ones that interest you. You may want to print some of them out and re-read them from time to time. It’s how we learn!
The Eleven Best
- 17 Writing Secrets
- Basics of a Solid 3-Paragraph Query
- Your Novel Blueprint
- What Agents Hate
- 8 Basic Writing Blunders
- Publish Your First Book After 50
- 9 Questions to Ask Your Main Character
- The Anatomy of a Writer’s Website
- 10 Tips for Querying an Agent
- Finish Your Novel in 4 Simple Steps
- Steve Berry’s 8 Rules of Writing
This will keep you–and ME–busy for a while. Never stop learning and practicing your craft. One of the nicest by-products of study will be a rise in your confidence as a writer. Yes, writers write–but writers study too. Enjoy it!
December 13, 2010
[Writing goes in cycles. I am tempted to quit every few years! This weekend when I was particularly frustrated with a revision that isn't going well, I went back through my blog and found this. It helped me--and maybe it's worth repeating for you too. This is from several years ago...]
Yesterday I dragged myself to the computer, bone weary, body aching, and tired of my writing project. The last few weeks I’d increased my writing hours a lot to meet my (self-imposed) deadline.
I imagine part of it was not feeling well, but yesterday I looked at the almost complete project and thought, What’s the use? This actually stinks. I bet I’ve wasted the last six months on this.
I couldn’t make myself get to work. So I did what most good writers do when they want to look like they’re working, but they’re not: I checked email.
Rescuing My Writing Day
The life of a freelance writer can be very frustrating at times. There are so many things to do and not enough time to do them all. Or – the writing seems to be going nowhere and you just can’t make yourself sit down and write. You work and work, seemingly to no avail.
So you begin to wonder – What’s the point? Am I really getting anywhere? But know this. If you’re starting to feel frustrated because you think you’ve been working WAY too hard for the few results all this work has produced, you’re on the verge (even though it may feel more like you’re “on the edge”). You’re on the verge of creating some powerful momentum.
Stick with it… So many people give up, just when they are on the verge of great success. Just when they start to feel really frustrated. Just when they feel nothing is going the way they want it to. If that’s how you’re feeling right now – celebrate! You’re on the verge of wonderful, great things! You’re on the verge of creating that powerful momentum that will move your writing career ahead to an entirely NEW and exciting level!
Today, relax and let go of that frustration, knowing you’re on the verge of great things. Try it!
I urge you to sign up today for Suzanne’s daily kick in the writing pants, “The Morning Nudge.” You’ll be glad you did!
December 10, 2010
On Wednesday I suggested thinking ahead to 2011 and setting goals for your writing now . Then you can hit the floor running on January 1.
I’m doing the same thing myself. I do try to practice what I preach!
Always More to Learn
Several of you emailed me to ask what I intended to do in the new year, in case I was doing another online challenge or study program. They are fun to do together! And yes, I’ve signed up for a class myself. (More about that in a minute.)
I never want to stop learning. In addition to reading, one year I did an online course on “Defeating Self-Defeating Behaviors.” Another year I designed my own “Self Study Advanced Writing Program.” Right now I am finishing up the “100-Day Challenge” that many of you joined me on. It ends on January 1, 2011.
My First 2011 Goal
Earlier this week I gave you a Christmas list of my favorite writing books for this past year. One was Make a Scene by Jordan Rosenfeld. I wish I’d read this years ago! She’s teaching an 8-week online class based on the book which snagged my attention.
You know me, though–I don’t part with money lightly! I wanted to know how the class was set up and what you’d get for the price, so I asked. In part, Jordan’s answer was: “My classes are as interactive as the students are–if they participate in the group discussion (which I facilitate), then it’s lively. Work is critiqued by me, weekly. Lessons are uploaded via yahoo groups, so they can download at their leisure, and I email assignments back. Students can choose to critique each other’s work, but it is not mandatory.”
In my opinion, that’s a lot for the money. The weekly critiques are what caught my eye the most. The $40 off special price is good till December 20, if anyone wants to join me!
One good thing about taking a class is that you have to write to a deadline. It’s hard to set your own deadlines and make them stick in the early days when you’re not writing for a contract’s deadline. And online classes work for me–I don’t have to go anywhere!
If you’re just starting out, and you need something basic to launch your career, I highly recommend The Institute of Children’s Literature course. That’s where I got my own start many years ago. (And no, I don’t get any money or perks for students who sign up. Not sure how that rumor started!)
Whatever you decide to do in 2011, make a pledge to yourself to keep growing as a writer. I’d love to have you leave a comment and tell me what writerly thing you’re planning to do in order to s-t-r-e-t-c-h yourself!
December 6, 2010
When friends and family members ask what you want for Christmas this year, have a list ready!
Below are some of the best books for writers that I read (or re-read) recently. Any of them would be a great addition to your Christmas list! (HINT: read to the end of this post for a free e-book.)
Make a Scene by Jordan E. Rosenfeld on how to craft a powerful story/book, one scene at a time.
The Fire in Fiction by agent Donald Maass discusses “passion, purpose and techniques to make your novel great.”
A Writer’s Space by Eric Maisel on how to “make a room to dream, to work, and to write in.”
Write. 10 Days to Overcome Writer’s Block. Period. by Karen E. Peterson (the best book on writer’s block I’ve ever read).
Who Switched Off My Brain? and The Gift in You by Dr. Caroline Leaf, probably the best two nonfiction books I read this year. While not strictly about writing at all, they impacted my writing life a LOT.
Let’s Hear From You
What about you? Can you add a book to my list? In the spirit of Christmas, I’ll give the first five people who leave a comment (with their favorite book title) one of my e-booklets (your choice). Let me know if you prefer 50 Tension Techniques or Writing Mysteries for Young People.
December 3, 2010
I need to get a lot of writing done this month, despite the holidays. We’re advised to keep a record of words written each day, so as I was dividing up what needed to be done, I was thinking of ways to keep track of the revision words.
It’s much easier to track rough draft words. You can count 2,000 new words done today because you wrote eight new pages. With revision, it’s harder to measure.
Not an Exact Science
I might revise two chapters, but do I say I revised 5,000 words? Only 1,000 of those words might have needed fixing, since the pages had been revised many times already. Tomorrow I might hit a very rough chapter or one that needs extensive changes, and so I’d only be able to say I revised 1,000 words, even though I actually worked twice as long.
How do you track your writing? Daily words written? Daily words revised? Hours written, regardless of the word count? Do you use scraps of paper or a spreadsheet to tally your word count?
Keeping track is encouraging, showing that you’ve made progress, but I haven’t found a system yet that truly works for me. For one writer’s view on this subject, see Rob Parnell’s “How Many Words Do You Write?” posted on his Easy Way to Write blog.
Non-Writing Writing Time
Another angle on this subject asks: Is learning about writing a good substitute for writing? On Mary DeMuth’s blog, someone said, “I’d be published but … I’m too busy learning how to write instead of just writing.” That takes time too, right?
On her “So You Want to be Published” blog, Mary’s answer was in part: “There is a balance between the two. You do need to study the craft by reading excellent writing books and magazines. Perusing classics or exceptionally-written modern book helps too. Listening to teachers, attending conferences, doing online courses, and putting your stuff out there for critique will help tremendously. But truly? The secret to my publishing success lies most in volume. I’ve simply written and written and written and written. Lots of writing. Gobs of it. For years and years. To become proficient and compelling, there’s no simple formula other than to exercise your fingers across the keyboard over and over and over again.”
I am a better writer when I write nearly every day. But I can also fool myself about how much I’m writing unless I keep track with some system. I need both accountability and encouragement.
Anybody got a great system for tracking word counts for rough drafts and also revisions? Let me hear from you!Newer Posts »