Monday, July 24, 2017

Breaking Character

A post by Mary Fan
Those of you who’ve been around the writing community for a while have probably encountered the “plotters vs. pantsers” debate more times than you’d care to think about. Just in case some of you haven’t heard of these terms, “plotters” are writers who carefully outline and map out their books before beginning the actual writing process, and “pantsers” are those who “write by the seats of their pants”—that is, who open up a blank page and simply write, often without knowing where the story’s going.

I’ve always been a neurotic plotter. Ever since I first started scribbling silly stories in middle school, I’ve always had detailed outlines of my stories. Plus a bunch of other supporting documents—worldbuilding “encyclopedias” and character backstories and such. Having completed over a dozen stories this way (from full-length novels to flash fic… yes, I outline my flash fic…), I pretty much had my writing method down. I’ve written blog posts about it and spoken on panels about it—the merits of outlining and how well it works as a writing method. And my outlines aren’t just short little chapter descriptions… They’re often 10,000+ words long by themselves, detailing every move a character makes.

So you can imagine how surprised I was when my latest WIP started writing itself. Without. An. Outline.

That’s right, folks. I pantsed a manuscript. A 100,000-word, novel-length manuscript. If I were a fictional character and my author wrote me doing this, their editor would write a long note in red pen saying “this is inconsistent with Mary’s character and readers won’t buy it.”

How did this happen? Honestly, I still have no idea, though I suspect it has something to do with the fact that I’ve written and read enough novels in my genre (sci-fi/fantasy) to have some kind of internal outline hard-wired into my writing system. I also suspect that switching up my writing method gave me the jolt I needed to finally complete another book.

I’d been in a major writing funk for pretty much all of 2016. The only things I completed in that time were a novella and a short story, even though I’d hoped to finish at least one novel-length manuscript (in previous years, I’d done two). I started writing two books, using my usual neurotic-plotter method, but they just weren’t clicking for some reason, and I abandoned both a few chapters in. I figured that at some point, I’d pick one and beat the words out of me at some point, just so I could finish something.

Then, in early January of this year, a random idea hit me seemingly out of nowhere. I remember being in choir rehearsal when it did… in fact, I still have the page of Bach’s St. John Passion with my early brainstorming scribbled in blank space beneath the soloist cue. Unlike my other two projects, which were slightly out-of-genre for me (one was magical realism, and one was hard sci-fi—neither of which I’d written before), this one was going to be pure fantasy fluff. A fun adventure across an enchanted land starring a girl who fights demons. Maybe it was a reaction to trying so hard to write something… hard. My lazy brain was sick of trying to make book-vegetables and just wanted book-candy.

Anyway, me being me, I then sat down to start outlining as usual. But I quickly found myself impatient to begin already… I could already picture the opening scene where the protagonist guards her village and gets to kick some demon butt. “Fine,” I told myself. “Let’s just write that scene and outline the rest later.”

Except “later” never happened. Once I finished the opening chapter, I kind of just wanted to write the next thing. And the next thing. And so on and so forth until I realized I was actually pantsing this whole damn book. And it was awesome. There was a kind of freedom to having only the vaguest idea of where the story was going. And it was terrifying. There’s nothing scarier than a blank page, and heading into one without an outline feels like diving in the dark.

There were a few drawbacks to pantsing—mainly that sometimes, I’d come up with something halfway through the book that I realized I should have introduced earlier. “Well, make a note of it and move on,” I told myself. I had whole document titled “Things to fix later” full of these kinds of things.

While that was a fun foray into the world of pantsing, I’ll probably go back to plotting for my next manuscript. But who knows… maybe that one will start writing itself as well.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Gaining perspective and getting offline

By the time you read this, my butt will be on a beach "sipping on gin and juice" (just kidding). [Seriously, I'll be alternating between water and more water cause I'm dehydrated like that.] Anyway, we're taking a big family vacation. The in-laws, the kids, the whole kit and caboodle. And I will be fully disconnected. I won't check email on vacay. I won't cruise social media on vacay. I'll pretend the outside world doesn't exist when I'm on vacay. Now, why can't I do that during the rest of the year?

I believe I've mentioned this before: I have an internet problem. The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is check my email (because my agent will be emailing me with terrific news at 5am - yeah, right) and then I jump online to scroll through Twitter. I'll comment on Facebook, see what's happening on Reddit. Lament my book ranking on Amazon. There is no end to the wormholes the web provides.

I'm on my laptop constantly. My children will always remember me as standing at the kitchen counter, clacking away on my computer.

In addition to writing, I am a stay-at-home mom with three kids. Some days, my only adult interaction is through Facebook Messenger or Twitter convos. Writing is a very lonely and isolating gig. And I love to chat up my author friends about their manuscripts, their submission process, their writing life. It makes me feel like I am part of a virtual office. It makes me feel connected. Also, as many of you know, writers are online a lot: to market, to promote friends, to advertise book sales or blog posts. But, you can't push a product you don't have and online time swamps my ability to draft.

And like gorging on a fatty meal when you're trying to lose weight, my insistence on surfing the web makes me feel horrendous. In an effort to connect to people online, I'm disconnected from my life around me: my kids, my dog, my writing which gets neglected by the pull of an interesting thread on Twitter. It's not freaking healthy. And I know it.

It's impossible to completely disengage from the online world. For one thing, I need to be reachable via email and Messenger for a myriad of reasons, but mostly to make sure my neighbor (who I often team up with for carpooling and childcare), and my husband can reach me if need be. But honestly, that's it.

So, I've drafted a Disengage Manifesto:

1. You do not need to share every Washington Post/Buzzfeed/NYT/Politico article. It's not your job to teach Facebook friends about politics. They can look stuff up themselves. Let them. Post some photos of your kids once in a while. Check your parents' feed for their vacation photos. That's enough. You're good.
2. Twitter is a time suck, not to mention a hatchet to your morale. Limit that indefinitely.
3. Email really only needs to be looked at once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once in the evening. No one is trying to contact you that badly.
4. Reddit is fun, but it won't write your book.
5. Close your freaking laptop and hide it from yourself. Run a lap around the block. Get off your butt. Put in a load of laundry. Listen to a podcast.

I don't know why I continue behaviors I know are bad for me. Why does anyone really? I'm hoping some time off from the real world will give me new perspective. To quote Ferris Bueller, "Life moves pretty fast...."

What are your tips and tricks to getting offline and boosting productivity?

Monday, July 17, 2017

My Creative Battery

I hadn’t figured out until recently that I function on several different batteries. Maybe all of you already knew this and I’m just slow, but I thought I’d share anyway in case there is someone else out there who hasn’t yet figured out all their batteries. Here’s how I finally grouped mine:
  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Adulting
  • Creativity

My Physical Battery gives me the ability to stay awake during the day and move my body through all its physical needs. My Emotional Battery controls how well I tolerate frustrations throughout the day. My Adulting Battery keeps me charged for all the responsibilities I have to accomplish in any given day: get the kid to school/activities, walk the dog, make dinner, do the laundry, etc. My Creative Battery is what I use for writing and all other activities that require creativity.

Of course, this would be the optimal state:

The thing I’ve discovered recently is that these batteries drain and recharge at different rates. In addition, if I need more in one of the ‘key’ areas—such as my Physical Battery—I have to drain some of the others. Lately, my battery capacity has looked a lot like this:

Certainly, there is fluctuation in this model from day to day, but I’d say this has been a good average for me over the last year. I knew my creativity was suffering—not that I wasn’t feeling creative anymore, just that it took an extreme amount of effort to pull it out of my head. Writing was slow and forced. I’d sit for hours trying to figure out what to do for my scheduled blog post. All the things I need to do to run my author business—marketing, social media, events, newsletter, etc.—also come from this tank.  A few months ago I ran a fitness challenge for my gym and it tapped out all of my remaining creative juice. All of my writing related responsibilities took a huge hit because I had nothing else left in the tank.

So what to do? How could I recharge it?

I tried to pull from some of my other batteries, but that didn’t work. All it did was add ‘lazy and cranky’ to my ‘uncreative’ characterization.

I tried to be creative in other areas, hoping that once I started it would generate new creative juice. I’d spend time with my daughter in the craft room. I’d read a lot, as that often inspires my creativity. The result—just more drainage of what little creative juice I did have left in the tank.

It took my daughter’s summer break to make me realize what I needed—SLEEP! Over the past year, I averaged between 5 and 5.5 hours of sleep 6 out of 7 nights. It was apparently enough to keep my Physical Battery at a functional level, but that was it. But even that battery was in danger. There were a few nights where I was so tired it felt like my bones hurt. Days when I’d be falling asleep in a doctor’s waiting room. Mornings when I felt I needed to pull over to the side of the road because I wasn’t sure I could keep my eyes open for the 15-minute drive to the gym. I was pulling so much from my other batteries just to keep moving. I didn’t want my family to give me the boot, so I had to watch the levels in my Emotional and Adulting Batteries. That meant the Creative Battery got the biggest ax.

Now that my daughter is on summer break, I can sleep in a bit and go to a later workout time. That one hour a day has helped me so much! I can feel my creative juice coming back up. The downside is I only have 2 weeks left to figure out what to do once school starts again. My goal is to find a way to get to this model:

Basically, I need to find a way to be plugged in all the time. I have to keep going to my workouts in support of my health goals, and early morning is my best option so sleeping in will be out once school starts back up. I might be able to mix in some later workouts, but that causes a different kind of drain on my writing so it wouldnt be a permanent solution. I can’t drink caffeine for medical reasons, so that’s not an option. I’d been resorting to food as my energy source, but that wasn’t working well and it detracted from my health goals. I already take Vitamin D, but I may have to look into additional vitamins. I’ve tried diffusing oils at times, and occasionally that helps. I figure I’m going to have to get to bed earlier, but I’m not optimistic it will be sustainable long term. I’m not one to take naps, but I might have to try to figure out how to do that if I can’t get to bed. The struggle is real, and I suppose I ought to figure it out now while my Creative Battery is still sufficiently charged! Jonathan’s recent post about meditation gave me some ideas that I might try. 

What about you? Do you find your batteries are grouped in similar ways? What do you do to keep them charged?

~ Carrie

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Is writing the ultimate form of meditation?

Photo Credit

A Post By Jonathan

Hey ya'll (did I mention I moved to Virginia recently?)! It took me about an hour to find a good picture to put at the top of my post (I ended up with the symbol for mindfulness, being in the here and now), so this won't be the longest blog entry I've ever produced. But does it need to be? I mean, who has time to read super long blog posts these days?

Actually that's kind of what my topic is about today. Finding time (or at least creating capacity within yourself) to do more of what you enjoy on a daily basis. I doubt that's reading my blog posts, but you are here so there is that.

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been looking into the topic of Mindfulness quite a bit lately and I wanted to take a moment to expand on that. I'm sure a lot of you have heard about the Mindfulness movement, as it seems to be everywhere these days, but if not I think it's a concept that just can't be overlooked for writers. In my opinion, mindfulness and those really awesome writing sessions are very closely related. And I believe mindfulness concepts can help us identify why writing feels so great sometimes and even label the sometimes hard to pin down reasons why we love writing so much.

According to Wikepedia, Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one's attention to the internal experiences occurring in the present moment. Basically if you are able to do this you block out painful past experiences as well as future anxieties and are just focusing on the present moment.

Some people achieve this by sitting cross-legged on a beach while others (us) achieve it sitting at a keyboard, living moment by moment with our characters. And that's when the best writing sessions occur, isn't it? When we are lost in the present moment, with no thought towards the past or the future. We are just advancing from word to word, scene to scene, blocking everything out but what is occurring at that exact second in our stories. And it feels great-- so different than the craziness of our "other" lives.

A lot of times I don't write because I bring the past (preconceptions, questions about my ability, the business of my day) into my writing as well as the future (will I ever finish? will this be any good? am I just wasting my time?). But what I often miss --and what I'm working on-- is that the act of writing itself is, what I consider, the ultimate form of meditation and can just make me a happier and healthier person in general.

So keep that in mind the next time you sit down at your computer. Writing for the sake of writing To your health and wellbeing...

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Creating From a Place of Honesty and Integrity (Interview with Cantwell, Singer/Songwriter Behind "Hearing Things")

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey all!  Authors can tend to run over the same ground again and again so I thought for this month's interview I'd introduce you to a different creative type: a singer/songwriter.  Today's guest has an impressive body of work and is making a name for herself in the Philadelphia music scene.  Let's learn a bit about her and then jump into the interview.


Writing poetry since the age of 9, Cantwell is a creative mind first and foremost. Back then, emulating her idols Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson, and Madonna, she started writing, singing, and performing in talent shows at the age of ten.

While in a band in middle school, she continued to discover her own power in a lyrical way. Then, she wrote of heartbreak, teenage angst, and unrequited love. At the age of fourteen she was recording and being approached to write for other artists. Happy to oblige, Cantwell began learning the art of songwriting and building up her now extensive catalog. And, with the help of a home recording studio, she has more demos recorded than she can count.

Cantwell has performed in bars, concert halls, coffee shops, weddings, in clubs, and on radio shows. She has an ability to entertain a range of audiences. Her voice appeals to not only the young pop audience, but to older rock and even jazz fans. She is known for being energetic and vocally strong on stage.

While her songs range from rock, to pop, to R&B she simply defines her style as “mature pop”. The new album, “Hearing Things” will be released in September of 2017 and it promises to be personal and fun. Songs like “Killer, Killer” & “Wanted” show her edgier, darker rock side and tracks like “Stale” and “All to Myself” bring out her inner pop star. Then, ballads like “Misfortune Teller” and “Love Is A Dirty Word” show her softer, more vulnerable side. ”I’m so excited about every song on this album because I wrote them all for me but in doing that, I also wrote them for YOU!” She is motivated not only by your head nodding, but by your smiles as you listen. “If you get even one minute of joy from this project, my work is done.”

You can follow her on her website, SoundCloud, Twitter, or Instagram.


SK:  Hi, Cantwell, and welcome to Across the Board! Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. First, can you walk us through your process of writing an individual song?

C:  Hi Stephen! Thanks so much for having me! I really appreciate it.

I would love to tell you there’s one way to write a song and that it’s Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 and BAM! have a song! But, it’s never that way. The most common way I begin is with a concept or title. Once I have a concept I start writing the idea immediately so I don’t lose the initial inspiration. I start jotting down ideas that surround or are related to the title or concept. That or I start with an entire line and go from there. Sometimes a melody comes to me immediately, in which case I sing that into my iPhone’s “Voice Memos” until later when I can really flesh out the idea. Since I don’t actually play an instrument (not well anyway) I usually start with a drum sample or loop from one of my audio programs on my home computer (ProTools, Garage Band, or Logic Pro to name a few). I set the tempo, add a bassline or keyboards or guitar loop and demo the track at home until I can bring the idea to the producer I work with in a real studio.

SK:  That said, how do you go about putting together a full album? How do you determine the flow and order of songs?

C:  Luckily (or unluckily) for me, my catalog is quite extensive. I literally have hundreds of songs/concepts to choose from. It’s about the song’s home-demo “feel” or vibe. If it excites me immediately and then again after a few weeks on my rotation, it goes on the album. I don’t believe in “filler” tracks so you’ll never find a song on one of my projects that is just “thrown in there”. I’m glad you mention song order too. There is certainly an energy when you listen to any album. For me, the first song is always my most “mass appeal” record. That way, I can hook most listener into at least listening to track 2. Then, track 2 is always a personal favorite that I feel is fun and yet doesn’t stray too far from the vibe of the first record to the point where the listener feels betrayed by the difference in sounds. Then, as the album develops I paint more of the intended “picture”. I usually wait to slow it down until the end of the album. With my last album, I ended with a vulnerable ballad called “Anonymous” that I wrote at 19 years old. This record ends with an upbeat rocker “in-your-face” type record called “Wanted” that I wrote very recently. The reason for this ending is I want the last feeling the listener gets from me to be strength.

SK:  Knowing your strengths and weaknesses as a singer, do you ever write music and realize you're not the right person to perform it? Do you/would you ever write for somebody else?

C:  While my songs are often quite personal, I do write with others in mind often. I think, “How would Rihanna say this?” or “Would Gwen Stefani sing it like that?”. I would very much love to have others sing my songs as I simply don’t have the resources to record all of mine. Like I said, I literally have hundreds of songs. I am getting to a point where I am going to start giving songs away, just so they can be recorded and heard!

SK:  As a performer, how do you find and book gigs?

C;  A great way to book a gig is by doing Open Mic nights. I have been on the local Philadelphia/Delco ("Delco" is Delaware County, a suburb of Philadelphia - SK) scene for years now and met many great musicians and performers that way. A lot of them are willing to invite you to be on the same bill with them in the future or even create a new show with you. As long as you’re willing to work, promote, and be “grass roots” about it, people will be nice and offer to work with you. You just have to get yourself out there.

SK:  How do you market your performances and your albums?

C:  I do my due diligence on the Internet with social media apps, my website, and iTunes, and Amazon. I plan to film a few music videos with this project and release those. I also will do radio podcasts, interviews like these, and hopefully good ol’ word of mouth!

SK:  You have quite an impressive body of work already. What are your aspirations for your career, either creatively or in terms of popular appeal?

C:  I would love to be a touring singer/songwriter full time. I’ve been steadily writing songs and poetry since I was 9 and the well has not run dry yet! I know I have plenty to offer and look forward to meeting other creative minds in my journey.

SK:  Tell us about your latest album "Hearing Things." When and where will we be able to get it?

C:  Yes, “Hearing Things” is the title of the album and it’s a three-tiered message about music, mental illness, and rumors. Songs and music are “things we hear”, if mentally ill enough, people “hear things” and when someone is spreading rumors you hear people say, “Oh, I’ve been hearing things”. I’ve dealt with aspects of all three and felt it was important to put a voice to all three in one project. My songs range from rocker chick vibes (“Killer, Killer” & “Wanted”) to softer ballads (“Misfortune Teller” and “Love Is A Dirty Word”) and fun upbeat pop records (“All To Myself” and “Stale”). While my style is all over the place, I like to define it as “mature pop”.

With “Hearing Things” I decided to record songs that I love, not just ones I thought would do well commercially. Obviously, my ultimate goal is to have everyone know me and my songs but as a creative person that is never the driving force behind the music. If I can’t create from a place of honesty and integrity, I don’t create at all.

“Hearing Things” will be released in September on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and most other major audio outlets. You can hear two of the songs now, “Stale” & “Killer Killer” on Or, you can visit my website at All updates on performances, videos, and releases will be there!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

It All Started with a Google Search

By Cheryl Oreglia

That's right, it's Google search time my friends, my first at bat so to speak, and I'll admit to wanting to knock it out of the park.  It's a bit of a hack job but at least I tried. Apparently there are rules for these quick writes and I'm a avid rule follower. 
  • Start a random search string in Google (or could be from one of your previous searches) 
  • Choose one of Google’s suggestions
  • Write up a post (or some flash fiction if you’re feeling really creative)
My google search began with a search on the meaning of the word google. I assumed it would give me something of interest. I found out, "Googol is a mathematical term for a specific number that is written out as the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros. According to Brin and Page, the theory behind selecting a name based on this extremely large number is to reflect the mission of Google to organize a potentially infinite amount of information on the Internet." So naturally I googled stories that involved math and infinity. 
There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There's .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. A writer we used to like taught us that. There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I'm likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn't trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I'm grateful.John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
Of course the whole "Fault in Our Stars" thing got me thinking about the Fourth of July. Right? New search: 4th of July - A celebration that dates back to the American Revolution. On July 2nd, 1776, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence, two day later delegates from 13 colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence, drafted by our very own Thomas Jefferson. And the rest is history. 

A little known fact is that John Adams believed that July 2nd was the correct date on which to celebrate the birth of American independence, and would reportedly turn down invitations to appear at July 4th events in protest. Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826—the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Makes you wonder about the synchronicity of things. 

Which brings to the brink of some marginal flash fiction. This is not my forte, but I made an attempt, because I'm a rule follower like our founding fathers. Keep in mind I'm at the lake, packed house, and sleep deprived. Okay, that's my apologia, read on.

A Fourth of July story of death, betrayal, and mistaken identity

She pulled the cold trinket from her coat pocket, a small replica of the liberty bell, it felt heavy in her sweaty palm. It's the third of July, the bells have been on sale all week, along with an assortment of fireworks, and brightly colored banners. She has never stolen anything in her life. What made her take this from Mel's Hardware Store today? On the eve of a horrendous personal tragedy? It's late, she wasn't thinking straight, maybe she'll return it tomorrow. 

As she slips the key in the front door, it opens unexpectedly, her identical twin emerges in the doorway, "You look like you just committed a crime Helen," Tori giggles. The trinket slips to the ground where the sound of the clanking bell seems to collaborate her sister's statement. Helen snatches up the contraband before it rolls off the porch, jams it back in her pocket, and steps quickly into the house. You can hear the sound of the wheels skidding on the loose gravel as the car speeds away with Tori and her gaggle of friends.

On the verge of sleep, the sound of an incoming text makes Helen sit up in bed, and reach for the phone on the nightstand. She knocks over the stolen bell in the process, but she lets it go so she can read the text, "I saw what you did today Helen, hope it was worth it?" The text is from a blocked number. She froze. 

As the night turns into day Helen continues to pace in the small room. She is painfully aware of the consequences for stealing. She lives in the small town of Hackalim, tucked away in a remote part of the Appalachian Mountains, almost forgotten by mainstream society. The crime rate is negligible, especially when justice is swift, and irreversible. What possessed her to take something that didn't belong to her? She knew the answer long before the question formed in her mind. It is her private rebellion and the liberty bell is the perfect symbol. It's cracked and imperfect but the inscription at the top reads, "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof." 

A second text came in mid morning, Helen fearfully glances at her phone, "Amputations at noon, are you ready?" She fainted, holding onto the phone with her left hand, unable to shield herself from the fall. Gashing her head on the metal coffee table as she went down, Helen lands with a thug on the hardwood floor, the blood slowly pools around her limp body. 

She watches her motionless body, wrapped in a crisp white sheet, from a distance. She seems to be hovering near the back of a sterile hospital room, detached, but fully alert. The only thing keeping her body alive is a machine, that forces air in, and out of her lungs. She is on the fourth floor of the St. Stephen's General, but she is not in her body, how could this be? 

Five years earlier Helen was accused of steeling a rare book from the library downtown, but the accusations were false, she was no where near the library on that faithful day in July. Her right hand was amputated before her innocence could be established. It wasn't fair. She never found out who accused her of this crime. 

It was past midnight when the door slowly opens and she watches her sister Tori slip quietly into the hospital room. Her sister approaches her unconscious body, she bends to whisper in her ear, "I'm sorry, it was meant to be a joke, sending those text messages on the anniversary of your amputation, such a stupid idea. We only meant to scare you." Her sister reaches out and brushes a stray hair from her face. "You know it was me who stole the book, the librarian could never tell us apart, I needed the money, and I was too afraid to tell the truth." As soon as the confession cleared Tori's lips, Helen's heart stopped beating, it was the Fourth of July, Independence Day, and finally the truth had set her free.

Where have your google searches taken you? 

I'm Living in the Gap, drop in anytime! 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Back Jacket Hack Job #20 - "Alive"


     From molecular gastronomy to humanely killed and raised small batch game restaurants, we have entered a golden age of curated authentic dining experiences.  People these days are eating out and expecting a meal that is not just delicious and unique, simultaneously healthful and indulgent, but also want an experience.  One of the hottest trends in haute cuisine is actually cold - the raw food movement.

     In "Alive," celebrated restaurant critic Piers Paul Reed explores the history of one of the pioneering restaurants of organic free-range raw food, Glaciar de Lagrimas.  Open for a mere seventy-two days in 1972 on a remote mountain top in the Argentinian Andes accessible only by helicopters guided by Chilean mule drivers, Glaciar de Lagrimas started out as a wine bar serving chocolate and tapas locally sourced and flown across the continent.  An unexpected surplus of ice-cured Uruguayan specialty meats led the restaurateurs to hand craft the most unique raw food menu to rock the world of alfresco mountain bistros since The Donner served its last party in northern California. Serving some of South America's most famous athletes and luminaries, Glaciar de Lagrimas was eventually abruptly shut down when the thing lovers of hidden fine dining gems dread the most happened - it was written up on the front page of newspapers around the world.

     "Not only did Glaciar de Lagrimas inspire me to open Spago in the 1980s, it is the main reason I branched out into airport dining establishments." - Wolfgang Puck

     "A better street-meat pop-up than the world thought was humanly possible." - Anthony Bourdain

     "Ride a doomed airplane to Flavortown - I'd donkey sauce the shit out of that." - Guy Fieri



Thursday, June 29, 2017

I'm Not Going to Bed Until I finish writing this book -- and other questionable decisions

I'm really NOT going to bed until I finish writing this draft of my book. I was supposed to finish it yesterday and then today, and I can't put it off for another day. So, somewhere along the line I decided I'd pull an old school all nighter if necessary.

I had a 4pm coffee and some chocolate just now, so I should be good, right? Except I haven't pulled an all nighter in a LONG time. Even when I worked mad hours at the day job, I'd only stay up until 2am or so. Since I've started writing and working for myself, I've been a lot more, shall we say...lax?, about the hours I keep. I work the hours The Boy is in school, but I walk the dogs every day for at least an hour in there and my social media habit is strong!

But it's time to crack down! I have exactly 9 days to get this draft in good enough shape to send to my editor and that means writing the ending sooner than later. From a curiosity perspective, I'm treating this like an experiment. Again, I have only day job experience as reference, but I was capable of PowerPoint and Excel, even at 2am. Am I capable of creativity after being awake for 20 hours? I don't know! I've led myself to believe I'm not. In fact, I seldom write at night, claiming it "doesn't work well for me." But I don't actually know

So, I'm going in. It's 10:20pm where I live and I have at least a chapter and a half to eke out. If I'm going to do the story justice, it's probably more like two and a half. I'm not a fast writer normally, although recent days and deadline pressure have also made me question whether this is another lie I tell myself. I suspect it might be -- just like I suspect there's a whole psychology around why that I'll delve into when I'm not trying to make a deadline.

For now, I'd love to hear your strategies for a) making your deadlines and b) pushing yourself beyond the preconceived notions you have about your capabilities. As for me, I'll be the one over here typing madly. Or falling asleep with my face on the keyboard. I'll let you know how it turns out!

Monday, June 26, 2017

How the Starswept Cover Came To Be

A post by Mary Fan
Hey everyone! As some of you might recall, I had a cover reveal for my YA sci-fi novel, , here a few weeks back. Today, I'm gonna take y'all behind the scenes of how it came to be.

STARSWEPT is, at its core, a romance. It's the story of a teen viola player, Iris, who's grown up surrounded by classical music and dance, who's been so immersed in the glittering dramas and fairy tales of the stage that she wants nothing more to be a part of it all. Though she lives in a sci-fi future--the story takes place about 200 years in Earth's future--she's an old-fashioned romantic. And she soon finds herself lost in the kind of hopeless love she depicts in her music after an unexpected encounter with a mysterious alien boy... who ends up revealing information that shatters everything she thought she knew about the world she lives in. Her journey eventually takes her to an alien planet lightyears away.

So I needed the cover to convey both the romantic tone of the story and Iris's voice and something that spoke of galaxy-spanning sci-fi. Also, something that fit in the young adult category. In addition, it was super important to me that Iris herself be pictured on the cover. Even though there's been a trend lately of YA covers not depicting people. But here's the thing: Iris is Asian American. There are not a lot of Asian Americans (or Asians in general) on book covers. Especially in sci-fi/fantasy.

Anyone who says they don't like seeing characters on book covers likely hasn't grown up feeling invisible because they've never seen anyone who looks like them on book covers. I remember wandering the rows of bookstores and libraries, seeing white face after white face depicted as the heroines of countless stories, be it contemporary or speculative. This is beautiful, they said. This is normal. This is what a heroine looks like.

This is not you.

Unless it was a specifically Asian-centric story focusing specifically on Asian-ness--think Joy Luck Club or Dragonwings--Asians were literally invisible in fiction. They were not pictured. They weren't intrepid warriors or quirky sleuths or determined underdogs. Or romance novel heroines. They didn't get to wear the pretty ball gown under the swirly title, didn't get to narrate the story, didn't get to catch the eye of the handsome stranger.

Asian girls can be heroines too.
With Iris, I was determined to take one step more toward changing all that. She was going to be front-and-center on the cover of a sci-fi romance, telling young Asian girls that yes, you are beautiful. You are normal--and you are more than just your Asian-ness. You are what a heroine looks like.

Anyway, those of you who read a lot of YA may have noticed that girls in ball gowns is a common theme on covers, and the concept fit Iris's story perfectly. Not only does it scream "romance"--signaling to romance readers that this is their kind of book--but it brings in that old-fashioned romanticism that's so integral to Iris's character. Plus, she literally attends a ball at one point.

To add in the element of sci-fi, I decided she'd be pictured against a space background--a galaxy or nebula. And holding her instrument, since it's such a core part of both her character and the story.

I briefly considered going the old-fashioned route and searching stock photo libraries for a suitable model, but quickly abandoned the idea. First of all, stock photo libraries are overwhelmingly white... there just weren't a lot of options. And secondly, I've been around stock photo libraries and book covers long enough to have seen the same faces on different covers multiple times. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with this, but it began to bug me a bit (I've seen the characters on my other covers on several other books, and it weirds me out a bit every time).

Angel Fan, about to dive in for the shoot
Next, I went about arranging a photo shoot... and decided it should be underwater. I've always loved underwater photography for the otherworldly, ethereal look it gives its subjects. And it was perfect for my pretty little romance novel. Also, the weightlessness of being underwater translated perfectly to the weightlessness of being in outer space.

Finding a model was easy: my kid sister, Angel, was eager to volunteer. And it just so happened that she was uniquely qualified for the gig. Not only did she have the right look, but she's a dancer and an experienced swimmer (a trained diver, in fact!) who wasn't afraid of spending long periods of time in the water. And she actually plays viola. As a string player myself (violinist), it always bothered the heck out of me to see unqualified models atrociously clutching and
One of Roberto's gorgeous photos.
clawing at their instruments. Even when they weren't "playing," the way they held the instruments made it obvious that they didn't know what they were doing. Even if Iris wasn't going to be playing her viola on the cover, whoever portrayed her sure as heck had to know how to handle one. And Angel did.

So I had the concept, and I had the model. Next thing I needed: A photographer experienced in underwater photography. Lucky for me, I live in the NYC area, and finding one was a simple matter of Googling. I came across Roberto Falck's website and immediately fell in love with his portfolio. This was my guy.

Next task: obtaining props and wardrobe. Since I wanted a viola to be depicted in the shoot and knew that whatever unfortunate instrument I used would be totally ruined, I went online and sought out the cheapest instrument I could find. Thank goodness for eBay. I also had to find a suitable ball gown for Angel to wear. I ended up finding two that I liked. The first one was a slender pink dress with butterfly sleeves I absolutely adored. However, one of the best things about underwater photography is the floaty-ness it adds to fabric, and I was hoping to find something with a lot of skirt. So I found a
Angel doing her make-up before the shoot
second dress--a white one--that had a train. I loved everything about it, but was worried it might be too heavy and pose a safety risk. So I obtained both dresses and decided to see the day of which one worked.

Then there are all the little things that pop up. For instance: what to do about hair and makeup? Well, hair, I decided, was easy: She'd just wear her natural long hair down and let the water play with it. For makeup, I went online to mermaid forums (as in, forums for professional underwater performers) to gather tips. Still, I wanted Iris's look to be as natural as possible... "no make-up make-up," if you will. Essentially, I wanted Iris to be all about natural beauty. So I ended up finding a waterproof tattoo cover-up recommended by several professional mermaids that would serve as foundation (and cover Angel's wrist tattoo). And that was the only make-up we ended up using. Also, it occurred to me to obtain a two-piece swimsuit to serve as underwear and pack some towels and Angel's bathrobe so she wouldn't have to wander around in a soaking dress when she got out of the water. Finally, Roberto suggested trying a few shots of Angel seated, so I found a short stool that would be heavy enough to sink (in other words, no wood).

We rented out the pool at a Long Island diving school for the shoot. Roberto and his crew arrived the evening before to set up--the lights, the backdrop, etc.--and conduct a few test shots on a different model (an acquaintance on his).

Angel, Roberto, and Frank in the pool
Angel and I arrived the next morning. Besides Roberto, there were six other crewmembers: Ed (the producer), Frank (underwater support), Jeff, Jesse, and Maha (the latter three performed miscellaneous support tasks... adjusting the equipment, previewing the photos on a computer, running errands, etc.)

The pool room was super hot and humid, since the water had to be kept pretty warm (no hypothermia!). We started with the pink dress, since it was lighter and would be easier for Angel. Roberto and Frank were in the pool with her--Roberto in his wetsuit photographing her, and Frank providing miscellaneous underwater support, which included fluffing up Angel's hair and skirt to give it more movement. I spent the whole time crouched by the pool's edge, watching everything from above.

Roberto would tell Angel what poses to try, and Angel would oblige (as a dancer with ballet training, she's really good at posing). Each time, he'd give a count, and then they'd submerge (one... two... three... hold your breath and go down!). They'd stay down for about a minute, then come up. Roberto would review a few shots and give Angel feedback. I also got to get a peek at some of them in case I wanted to give feedback, but I really didn't have anything to say other than, "That's beautiful!"

Le broken viola. I ended up using this shot for a chapter spread.
Of course, something had to go wrong. About an hour into the shoot, the viola broke. The neck
snapped clean off the body. Apparently it was because the waterlogged wood expanded and softened, and the tension of the strings pulled it apart. We'd barely begun... we were scheduled to go all through the afternoon.

Fortunately, Frank was super handy, and I know a thing or two about string instruments. He pointed out that he could screw the neck back on if we could get the strings off. So I unstrung the instrument, and Maha ran out to the nearest hardware store to get some screws. It was a good time for Angel to take a break, too (and she was really glad that bathrobe was there!). After Frank got the neck back on, I restrung the instrument, being mindful to keep the strings looser this time (the hardest part was getting the bridge to stay up, since that's held up by the string tension alone, without letting the strings get too tight).

After that, fortunately, it was pretty much smooth sailing. After another hour of shooting, Angel changed into the white dress. And, it turned out, it wasn't too heavy at all! And the train looked fantastic underwater... the skirt was a lot more dynamic than the pink one was. Angel tried a bunch of different poses... in the end, we ended up with more than 400 shots.

Here's a behind-the-scenes video Roberto made...

Now, I had been in contact with a cover artist since before the photo shoot, and when I last heard from her, she was ready and eager to do the design, just waiting on the photos. Once the photos were available, I contacted her again, and... crickets. For more than a month.

So I contacted Streetlight Graphics (whom I'd worked with in the past and totally love--the only reason I was trying a different artist this time was for variety) in a panic, since I had to have the cover done by a certain date if I was to have hardcovers printed in time for Gen Con, a huge convention I exhibit at every year. Thankfully, Glendon (owner/artist extraordinaire) was able to accommodate the hastened timeframe.

From a graphic design standpoint, I only had two instructions, really: That the background be some kind of pretty galaxy/nebula, and that there be some kind of frame. Because I was determined to have silver foil for this cover and thought it'd be cool to have a silver frame (as well as the title and author name being in foil). I was thrilled with the end result... it's everything I wanted. Some have pointed out that it's a little old-fashioned looking. Considering it's about a classical musician, I say that's all the better.

When I finally got my hardback production sample in my hands, with that photo and those shiny foil letters... well, let's just say I needed a tissue ;-)

Clockwise from top left: Shot as seen from above the water, un-retouched shot, cover as hardback, cover as e-book
STARSWEPT will be released on August 29 from Snowy Wings Publishing!




Thursday, June 22, 2017

Submitting to Smaller Markets

Often novice writers focus all their energy on the big event -- the manuscript -- with the dream of landing an agent, and subsequently, a publishing deal. And sure, there is no better trial by fire than writing your first book. But writers would be doing themselves a disservice if they didn’t consider submitting to smaller markets in the interim. What I mean by that is -- write a damn short story.

 I love writing short stories. They give me the luxury of experimenting with genre and narrative style without committing a lot of time to a manuscript. As a mystery writer, the short story can be especially useful in playing around with mood, tension, foreshadowing, red herrings, and suspense. For Brave New Girls, I tried my hand at developing an unreliable narrator, something I had never attempted before. Last summer, I wrote a 9,000-word story about a girl who gets murdered at her own Sweet Sixteen, solely so I could explore a darker side to my storytelling.

This last weekend, I finished a story about a teen girl who finds the dead body of her tormentor in the deer path between their houses. I was aiming for subtle clues with a twisty ending which, if my early readers are being forthright, paid off. My goal is to submit this story to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, a highly competitive (and paying!) market who publishes mystery tycoons like Megan Abbott and Lawrence Block. 

The money isn't the draw, although I do believe writers should be paid for their work. But to get published in EQMM is major street cred -- something my agent can slap onto my submissions. Not to mention, it would get me active member status at Mystery Writers of America, which is something I'm gunning for. 

So, how do you go about submitting to smaller markets? Well, for starters, you need to find the markets. Your best bet is to subscribe to Duotrope for $5 a month. There, you'll have access to market listings and reports, plus a handy way to keep track of your submissions. A friend told me about The (Submission) Grinder, a free site that lists markets and submission statistics, but I have yet to use it so I can't comment on its effectiveness.

And with everything, research! Read the markets, triple check the submission guidelines. Make sure that what you write is a good fit for their market. And make sure they're legit. 

Do you often submit short stories and poetry to small markets? Do you have any to recommend?  Sound off belooooooooow.

Monday, June 19, 2017

5 Archenemies of Writers

The archenemy is a critical character in many fictional stories. Most often they are defeated in the end, but not until they give the hero a good sound kick in the ass a few times. In addition, the hero usually has to survive a vigorous test to their moral character to gain the ability to conquer their archenemy. Well, I’m here to tell you that our fictional characters are not the only ones who are subjected to the evil ways of an archenemy. We writers have some difficult ones to overcome ourselves.

Sally Squirrel
Little Sally Squirrel seems too cute and tiny to cause any real trouble, but that’s why her weapon of distraction is so effective at taking down writers. We don’t see her coming, and once we do catch sight of her, we simply smile and say, ‘Aw, she’s so cute.’ Next thing we know—POOF—we’ve been sucked into her tornado of distraction and missed our window of hitting our daily word count. It’s difficult to battle Sally since she can morph into many forms: social media, kids, pets, non-writer responsibilities, and on and on and on . . .

Time Swift
Please note that Time Swift should not be confused with Taylor Swift. While Taylor can spin a wicked pop tune, Time wickedly spins the hands of time. When we begin our new project, that deadline (whether official or self-imposed) seems obtainable. We have plenty of time to reach it, so we go to bed intending to start fresh the next day. Only once we awake it’s as though time has disappeared and we’re scrambling to get everything done in time. Seconds pass quickly to hours to weeks to months, and we’re sitting here staring at the start of the next NaNoWriMo like WTF?!?

Professor Imposter
“What makes you think you can write?”
“You call that a novel? {insert sinister laugh}”
“My five year old has better grammar than you.”
“Please, step out of the way and let the real writers go past.”

These are just a few of the sweet nothings Professor Imposter likes to whisper in our ears. Her only objective is to make us believe we are not worthy of the title ‘writer’. She’s a professor, after all, so she would know. Right?

The F-Bombinator
This archenemy throws F-bombs that are more devastating than the one that rhymes with truck. I’m talking about that evil 7 letter word: Failure. The F-Bombinator tosses out the failure bombs more rapidly than a batting cage stuck in hyperdrive. The bombs hit their target, and we’re convinced we’re going to fail. We won’t get that manuscript done in time. We’ll never hit the publish button or get an agent. We’ll never sell any books. We’ll never be as good as author-fancy-pants. We try to regain control, but mostly all we can do is sit back and watch all our writerly hopes go up in flames—BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! It should also be noted that The F-Bombinator is even more effective after we’ve gone a few rounds with Professor Imposter.

Mr. Rainmaker
Mr. Rainmaker is difficult to defeat as he can possess the body of anyone around you. He’s that reviewer who craps all over your book. He’s your family member who wants to know why it’s taking you so long to write your book. He’s the many agents/publishers who shoot you down before you can even say, “Hi, my name is—” He’s the editor who just doesn’t get your vision. Even on a perfectly sunny day, Mr. Rainmaker is there, bringing you down by raining on your happy parade.

So how do we stay strong and continue to defeat all of these archenemies?

The first two, Sally Squirrel and Time Swift, require diligence and organization. Put Sally in a cage and only let her out at pre-scheduled times. Time is best defeated with obtainable goals that we keep visible.

Professor Imposter, The F-Bombinator, and Mr. Rainmaker require a different strategy. Luckily, it can be done in three easy steps:
  1. dig deep
  2. grab the hilt of your self-worth sword
  3. swing with all your might

Simple, right?

If you feel you’ve lost your self-worth sword, or don’t feel strong enough to unsheathe it, then it’s time to turn to your side-kick. Every good superhero has someone who can back them up, so should every superwriter. They can help you find your self-worth sword, or even lend you theirs in desperate times. If you don’t have a side-kick, let me know and I’ll be happy to stand by you!


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Don't Compare Yourself To Other Writers

A Post By Jonathan

This post is mostly for newbie writers, so you more seasoned folks (who have learned to avoid the majority of writing's many mental pitfalls) can tune this one out. I bet this isn't the first time you've heard this, but I think it's something that cannot be understated.

Teddy Roosevelt said that "Comparison is the thief of joy." And I wholeheartedly believe it. You can easily apply his quote to the writing life as well. Comparison can take the joy out of writing too, if you let it. I think being a successful/prolific writer is just as much about the mental approach to our craft as the actual act. You may have the natural or accumulated talent to be an amazing writer, but if you can't get out of your own head/your own way long enough to figure that out then you may never know.

I am saying this to myself just as much as anyone else. Maybe it's because I have been watching a lot of Ekhart Tolle videos lately. He's basically a western guru, and talks a lot about mindfulness, the inner critic (also known as the inner-editor) and other things that we writers should be thinking (or at least know) about. Here are his thoughts on comparison and how to relate to yourself and other human beings. I would recommend his videos on mindfulness and moving away from negative thoughts as well.

While this next example isn't really writing related, it is definitely comparison-related. I have this friend who is a real super star in my field. He's about my age, and just got promoted to a VP position at his place of work. I, meanwhile, just took a pay cut and a step back at mine. Not comparing myself to him is hard, but I have done a lot in my career that he hasn't. And we're just in different situations. My wife is actually the riser in our family-- and I have had to make a lot of sacrifices to support her career. I am happy for my friend, but what I should really be focusing on is myself and my own accomplishments.

That's typically the way it is in the writing industry. I have author friends who are tearing it up! Some are a part of this blog-- and I'm so lucky to be associated with them. But I'm me and they are them. Some people are slow starters and some people are quick to rise. But we all have different life situations that either allow us more time to write and focus on our craft and some are in a different season. All we can do, newbie writers, is focus on ourselves and what we can achieve.

Are you with me? Keep your heads down and don't bring them up until you're done writing!

Monday, June 12, 2017

I'm Sitting in Her Place

By Cheryl Oreglia

This morning I am sitting in my mother's place. It's early morning at the lake, the weather is as off as my mood, foggy, cool, placid. There is movement on the water, always movement, flowing north. Early morning is the best time at the lake. It is quiet and peaceful. Sleep still has me in it's grasp but the day is gently pulling me away. My thoughts last night, this morning, tomorrow are focused on Mom. I wish she were here, sitting in her spot at the end of the long green couch, the part of the couch that forms a lounge chair, feet up, covered with a brown furry blanket, gazing at the lake, sipping warm coffee, just as I am now.

"You want to come up to the lake?" This is the one question I always got a "yes" from mom, even when we have fallen to the ground in the poring rain, and hit rock bottom. She loved being up here as much as I do and this does not surprise me because so much of who I am is wrapped up in her. When I was young I fought against our similarities, the last thing I wanted to be was my mother, now it is all I want. 

I want to know who she thinks will win the bachelor next season, I want to watch her play Safeway monopoly, exclaiming over a free donut, I want to share coupons, exchange recipes, walk to the clubhouse, sit in the sun. I want to know how she got the stains out of the carpet, the orchid to survive, I want to enjoy a glass of wine with her after five, with ice, and only one. I want to go bra shopping for my birthday, I want to know what she's reading, I want grab a bite at the Outback. I want to have her like she had me and I want her sitting in her place. 

I want her laughing at my stories. I want to see her silly comments on my blog. I want to know what to plant in the full sun and under the arbor. I want someone to remember me at five, sixteen, thirty-one, forty-nine, and fifty-seven. I want the woman who loves my imperfections and knows how to vanish my fears. I want to talk with her about my dad because she loved him the most. I want her to help me organize my hall closet and pick out bath towels. I want her to watch my grandchildren grow. I want her to ask me about my day, my students, my lesson plans. I want her memories, her love, her seasons. 

I had the gift of my mom this mother's day. I don't know if I'll have her next time this day comes around so maybe it's time to start acting as if every day is her day. She is sick and has been for almost a year. It's a gift but one that comes with many obligations. I see her often, her spirit is there, but the woman who raised me is missing. She is so soft, small, quiet. She is doing the work of the dying. This is as laborious as birth, just as important, just as painful. 

Helen Keller says, "Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there's a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see." I think this is true for all of us or at least I hope so. Sometimes death comes out of nowhere and there is no time to process, appreciate, prepare. But the gifts we leave behind are always available. The way a person makes you feel, allows you to be yourself, honors your journey by their very involvement in your life. That is a choice and that is the gift. Stay present, stay in, this is the only way to leave behind the gift of you. 

I remember when one of my children came down with a strange illness the doctors could not diagnose. I was a mother of four children and I knew he was really sick. I would lay next to him in bed for hours, offering water, because he was too weak to hold the glass. I would memorize every aspect of his face. I lived in fear that I would lose him. I counted the freckles on his perfect nose, the thick eye lashes slightly crusted with sleep, the shape of his lips. I noted the brow line, the soft blond hair that framed his face. The perfect ears so evenly spaced. The pink cheeks I kissed repeatedly. He survived and the memory of him at six is etched in my brain forever.

My girlfriend Deborah recently lost her mom and she instinctively did the same thing. She memorized aspects of her mom to keep with her forever. I remember doing this with my Dad but that backfired a bit because I couldn't move past the last embrace, the last time we made eye contact, the last kiss good-bye. My lovely therapist/best friend Christine warned me not to stay in the last moments, to move back to the memories, the gifts that we get to keep. 

I know I am nearing the end of my time with mom so I going to memorize her face, the arthritic hands marked with age spots, the farmers legs I massage with lotion, but mostly the moments when I get to see her smile. I won't stay here too long. Her real gifts are so connected to who I am and I'll carry those with me into this wild wonderful life. The love of libraries and reading, antique stores and strolling, soup and egg sandwiches, dogs and cats, planting in the spring. I'm sitting in her place literally and figuratively because that is what I have of her, the present, and the future she gave me as my mother. 

"It began in mystery and it will end in mystery, but what a rare and beautiful country lies in between." Diane Ackerman

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Get That Shit Writ

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey kids!  I know you were expecting a post from Cheryl today, but unfortunately she had a family emergency, so we'll be switching slots this month.

Cheryl's situation, and my own (right now, I'm sitting at my day job, barely able to keep my eyes open, staring at a blank blog entry) have got me thinking of all the things that come between a writer and his craft.

Family is an obvious one.  I don't have kids myself, but I know that kids are just a great big existential time suck.  (I'd say "present company excluded," but, sorry, kids, you are.)  But you don't need the daily humdrum of getting kids dressed, bathed, schooled, etc. to be distracted by family.  Emergencies can come up that force you to leave the soothing warm light of the computer screen.  Sometimes I'm dealing with various grudges and fights that keep me distracted and not really in a good mood for writing.  And all this is not even to bear in mind the simple pleasures of spending time with your loved ones.

I already mentioned the big one: the eight hours a day I have to spend working a real job to support my writing habit.  Sometimes you can sneak some writing in during the slow times of the work day, but it's not exactly the optimal time and place for creation, unless you have a very laissez-faire boss.

But aside from the usual rhythm of daily life, for a writer there's a lot of what I'd call "writing adjacent activities."  For instance, editing.  As important as editing is to the process, well, it's not really creating a new work, is it?  And then there's research.  I spent three hours yesterday afternoon in a coffeeshop interviewing a psychic medium about the supernatural world.  (No, I'm not kidding.)  That, at least, has the sheen of legitimate research, which is more than I can say about all the time I spend googling things like "when was the matchstick invented?"  How about marketing?  How much time do I spend buying and placing ads, or attending events and giving speeches?  Quite a bit, actually.  Signing books sure seems like an authorly thing to do, but it ain't authoring.

Writing adjacent activities also devolve from the very legitimate stuff described in the last pargraph to the more...tenuous.  I'm talking about Facebook.  I'm talking about Twitter.  I'm talking about reading industry blogs like this one.  You need to respond to your fans, or they'll stop reading you.  You need to reach out to your fanbase, or you won't have one.  You need to stay abreast of the publishing world or you won't have a place in it.  But does that article I read last night about the 22 Weirdest Things Wonder Woman Ever Did really contribute to my writing?  Eh...not so much.  But I did see it on Facebook.  There's a gray area, or perhaps I should say a blurring of the lines, between actively marketing yourself on social media and just fucking around on social media.

So how does one push aside all the stuff that gets in the way and actually ever get anything written?  Here are a few ideas:

1.)  Set Aside a Time Every Day To Write

I don't do this.  I won't lie.  I just don't.  But, I have heard that it helps to set up a routine and stick to it.  Lord knows you probably follow your routine every day, even if you don't know you do.  Some people swear by waking up an hour early to just write.  (It also helps that the kids are still abed, nasty little buggers.)  Others want to wait until the end of the night when they can relax for an hour.  I've heard it said that the best thing you do all day is the first thing you do, and things get gradually worse as you go.  But I also tend more toward the writing at night thing.  Other people just have to pick out a certain time - 5pm after the whistle blows, or maybe during their lunch hour, or what-have-you.

2.)  Set a Daily Word Count For Yourself

Now, this I have done, and, even if I do say so myself, it worked like a charm.  First let me emphasize: your daily word count needs to be peanuts.  If you set it at a thousand or two thousand words, you're just going to fail every day and feel terrible about yourself and exacerbate the whole not writing issue.  I once set my daily word count at three hundred words and it was absolutely perfect.  No matter how criminally sick or overworked I feel, I can steal the odd half-hour over the course of the day to write three hundred words.  And three hundred is just low enough that once I actually write that many, I almost always feel like I have to keep going.  And that meant I was doubling, tripling, even quintupling my word goal on good days, and I felt awesome about myself.  On crumbum days I just had to meet it, and that was always possible.  I met my word count goal every single day until I finished an entire novel.

3.)  Use "Cookie Scenes"

One thing that I find discourages me from writing is the long swathes of crap work you have to do to actually get a novel written.  Create a character.  Create a world.  Make him walk from point A to point B.  Have this vital plot point.  Drop this vital clue.  A lot of it is necessary, but dull.  Usually, though, all the table-setting is a means to a feast.  You have that one kick-ass action scene in mind.  You've been dying to write this steamy sex scene.  There's a big reveal where the villain admits he was the one who drained the lake.  These are the parts that are fun and exciting and genuinely electrifying to write.  I call these "cookie scenes."  They're like a little treat you get after you've done your homework and eaten your vegetables.  Well, guess what?  If you're excited to write a cookie scene, go write it!  It's better to be excited about your writing (although don't worry too much about always being excited about it - writing is writing, whether you're digging it or not, your audience won't care.)  So write that cookie scene while you're all hot and bothered about it.  It's better to write it now rather than do all the heavy lifting and suddenyl realize that your excitement for the big climactic duel has cooled.  You'll even find, I think, that as you write cookie scenes you'll start to realize all the stuff you needed to include before to serve as connective tissue between cookie scenes.  Then go back and fill in that stuff later.  You may even feel more motivated to do so now that you see how that backstory or whatever connects to the fun bits.

What about you?  How do you get your butt in the chair to cut through all the daily distractions of life?  Let me know in the comments below!
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