Writing My Way Out From Under

The word for this week is overwhelm.

I’m looking for a new house, helping the older daughter with med school apps, completing high school apps for the younger, working on financial aid applications for both, and just received manuscript notes back from the editor at Penguin. Deadlines loom.

Yesterday, I started to crack. I have a couple of genre projects I want to get published, and I began to feel like they’d never get done. I obsessed over all the things that could go wrong with my many obligations. Have I procrastinated too long? Will my fail my daughters? Will my writing partner make time to work on the manuscript before the last minute? How long will it take to get the next advance check? What if the girls don’t get into any of their desired schools? What if there’s not enough financial aid available to close the tuition gap?

I worked all day, but not efficiently. Even while I marched on the incline machine at the gym, my energy was manic, my mind roaming from one task to another. Today started out the same way, but one simple change made the difference.

I gave myself permission to delve into my own work. Sure, I met my writing quota yesterday, but it was done without respect for the work as a priority. I was simply getting it done, because I’d committed to doing it. I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t even appreciate it.

I worked on all the family and career obligations. They’re all important. But I also allowed myself ninety minutes to write my fiction. No tabbing over to websites, no stopping to make a quick phone call to an admissions office, no whining about how underwater I felt.

Ninety minutes isn’t a lot of time, but it saved me. Focusing on something I can control, seeing visible progress on an important project, diving into my fictional world, and spending time with the characters of my creation recharged me in a way that few things can.

I’ll have to remember that over the next few weeks.

Go write something!


Posted by on January 25, 2012 in Writing


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How to Remove the Stigma from Self-Publishing

I sometimes buy books out of compassion for the author.

I see an author sitting at a table in a bookstore, or in a kiosk at a book fair, waiting patiently next to a stack of books. She or he is there to sign and sell books, but for whatever reason, no one has shown up or expressed an interest. I feel compelled to strike up conversation with these writers, to make them feel less awkward and alone.The response is almost always positive. They’re eager to discuss their work and sign it with a personal note penned just for me.

Almost every time I do this, over the course of twenty years or so, I get the book home and find it not worth reading. This assessment is subjective of course, and it’s never based on the subject matter, but always on the way the author treated the subject, used language, or crafted the story. I can never bring myself to dispose of the books, so I donate them in the hopes that they’ll find the right readers.

Many of these books were self-published, and some were published by big name publishing companies. There have always been self-publishing success stories, just as there have always been conventionally published books that were pure dreck. (Don’t tell me you’ve never picked up a book in a bookstore and wondered how that writer ever got a publishing deal.)

Self-publishing earned the reputation of not being able to pass muster with the publishers. Anything good to come out of that was considered an exception. Fortunately, that’s changing. Seasoned authors are taking advantage of the indie publishing and self-publishing opportunities that didn’t exist a few years ago, and holding onto more of the income their books generate. New authors are using self-publishing as a means to garner recognition, and perhaps a contract, from traditional publishers.

There will always be poorly written books for sale, and now that self-publishing is easier than ever and can be done for free, we can expect thousands more unworthy books to hit the virtual shelves. The best way for serious writers to continue to diminish the stigma that taints self-publishing is to self-publish the best work possible. Many readers sitting at home downloading books on their kindles and other electronic reading devices don’t care who published the book. They just want it to be good.

Here are my latest indie published offerings.

Go write something!


Posted by on January 12, 2012 in Career, Indie Publishing


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Note to Self: Trust Your Writer’s Instinct

When I first started as a creative writer, I took a lot of classes and workshops. I was so close to my own writing, so invested in my lofty goals, I often failed to see my own shortcomings. Even when I did, I was quite good at rationalizing them away, hoping no one else would notice. I needed an instructor or classmate to point out cliches, poor word choices, logic gaps, unintentional humor or total lack of humor, flat characters, lack of texture, and all the other things that can make your writing a bore.

Receiving criticism and using it to make my work better helped me learn to find those problems for myself. Critiquing my classmates’ writing allowed me to develop an even sharper eye for all those details, and eventually I got to the point that I didn’t really need anyone to show me where my work was falling short. In almost every case, the things they circled and outlined and questioned on my drafts were things I already knew weren’t right. I may not have known just how to fix them, but I was aware that they needed to be fixed.

I still get feedback from my writing friends and from some great readers I’m fortunate to have in my life, but I don’t depend on it. Instead, I’ve learned to be my own best critic. Rarely does my writer’s instinct let me down.

Go write something!


Posted by on January 8, 2012 in Fiction, Writing


One Writer’s New Year’s Resolutions for 2012

I understand the resistance many people have when it comes to making New Year’s resolutions. By Valentine’s Day the gym is no longer crowded, daily writing word counts have dropped from 2000 to a scant 200, and that small business launch idea has somehow dried up and died. All those dreams of making a new year different from the last tend to lose momentum when the reality of doing the work sets in.

But I’m a goal setter, and the beginning of the year is one of my favorite time to set goals, make plans, and take action. Call them resolutions, goals, intentions, or whatever you’d like. I resolve to make these things happen. Feel free to check in with me to hold me accountable.

1. Write every day. I’m a better writer when I get something on the page everyday, and I’m more likely to meet my larger writing goals. Taking off an unplanned day or two often leads to taking off an unplanned week or two, making it incredibly difficult to get back into whatever story I’m writing.

ACTION: Write a minimum of 1000 words of new material/day. It’s a small, achievable amount, and I’m always free to write more.

2. Take a break between finished projects. Writing, editing, and revising for hours a day can lead to a bit of burn out, if I’m not careful.

ACTION: Specify the breaks on my calendar, including 1 to 2 days off after finishing a longer work.

3. Write to completion. I have more than enough half finished short stories and novels on my hard drive. In 2012, the rule is, “You start it, you finish it.” A novel may be cut to a novella, a short story may become flash fiction, but each piece will have a beginning, middle and end. The ability to complete a project in a reasonable time-frame is an invaluable skill.

ACTION: Finish first drafts of short stories within one week, novellas within one month, and novels within 6 months.

4. Publish every month. I have several works that are nearly ready to publish, so this won’t be difficult. My objective is to exceed this goal, but this is the minimum I can achieve and claim success.

ACTION: Meet with my publishing partner to create a publication schedule for January and February.

5. Make use of creativity tools. Deadlines can, on occasion, find me hammering away at a story, slogging my way through in a way that’s not so much fun. I’ve gotten out of the habit of using silence, freewriting, poetry readings, and the like to make the creative process flow more smoothly. All of these tools have worked for me in the past, and I need to take advantage of them.

ACTION: Schedule at least one creative exercise per week. Put it on the calendar.

6. Find a local writing/art community. I’m not much for driving to the city, but I’m not likely  to find a thriving art community out here in my suburb.

ACTION: Attend AT LEAST one literary or art event per quarter. (Hey. It’s a start.)

7. Take advantage of BOTH traditional and indie publishing opportunities. The book I’m co-writing will be published by Penguin in fall of 2012, and I’ll look to take on more of those kinds of projects. At the same time, I’ll indie publish most of my short stories. The journal submission process is just too lengthy for me at this  point in my career.

ACTION: Meet all Penguin deadlines AND indie publishing deadlines.

I can take action on at least four of these resolutions today, and I will. Fortunately, most of these goals support each other. I’m looking forward to my most productive writing year yet. What work will you do?

Go write something!

Leave a comment

Posted by on January 2, 2012 in Writing


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4 Reasons I Was Writing Fiction on Christmas Day

Yes, my family celebrates Christmas, and I spent the weekend with family and friends, doing the things most people do to recognize the holiday. I enjoyed the food, and the Christmas movies, and the exchange of gifts, but  by late afternoon on Christmas Day, everyone was ready to settle down and have a little quiet time. That left me with a few hours of free time, and I used an hour of it to work on a short story.

Why would I want to spend a holiday writing fiction?

  1. I love writing. I had some free time, so why shouldn’t I spend it doing what I most enjoy? I hung out with my family and read from some of the books they gave me as gifts. Writing was just one more enjoyable activity.
  2. Writing every day makes it easier to slide into the fictional worlds I’m creating. The more time I spend away from my characters, the more time and effort I require to get back into their stories. By writing every day, even if the sessions are brief, I find it easier to get back to work each time I sit in front of my laptop. As an added bonus, I also find that I’m thinking about and developing the stories, even when I’m away from my desk.
  3. Progress inspires me. Seeing my stories nearer to completion makes me want to come back for more each day.
  4. I’ve set goals and deadlines for the work I want to publish in 2012. I could wait for New Year’s Day to resolve to make resolutions and plan how I’ll get the work done, but I’m no longer wasting time. No one is going to impose deadlines, work hours, or quality checks on me, so I’m imposing them on myself, and there’s no sense in waiting for an artificial trigger to begin.
Go write something!

Posted by on December 26, 2011 in Fiction, Writing


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The Manuscript Is off to the Publisher – Now What?

Three years ago, a friend partnered with me to write a book proposal.

She had an agent that believed in her idea and her platform, but we had no guarantee that the book would sell. She’s the author, and I’m the writer, which means it’s my job to take her ideas and make of them a book people will want to read. Before I could get to that, I had to bang out a proposal a publisher would want to buy.

For most of my writing career, I’ve crafted fiction or written blog posts about food and health. A book proposal was far out of my realm of experience, and that 50-page document was one of the most difficult professional challenges I’ve faced. It’s not that proposal writing is complicated, but it was a new experience and I wanted to do it right. I think I did. The proposal was solid, and two years later the book sold. (Yes, it took that long.)

With the writing of the book, I was back in my comfort zone. There were some hiccups along the way. The author leads an extremely busy life, and we missed our first deadline, which for me is like failing to show up for work. You just don’t do it.

Two months and a dozen conference calls later, and we’ve completed the manuscript. Yesterday, I hit send, and the attached document landed in her agent’s inbox. He’ll forward it to the publisher, and I expect they’ll have notes that will require me to come back to the project in a few weeks.

I’d like to pop open some of the widow Clicquot’s finest, sit back, and wait for my check. But I have stories to tell and books to publish. When that email comes from the editor or that phone call from the agent, my life will belong to that project again. In the meantime, I’ll settle for a glass of vinho verde and a gluten-free cupcake I can savor while I create new worlds. I’m off to work.

Go write something!


Posted by on December 17, 2011 in Career


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4 Reasons to Publish Your Short Stories for E-readers

Are you writing strictly for your own pleasure, to impress some anonymous editor, or to share your work with readers?

If you’re like most fiction writers I know, you’ve got a few short stories, or abandoned novel chapters that could be shaped into short stories, lingering on your hard drive.

Let me suggest you take a leap into the digital world and publish those stories yourself on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and the like. (I’ll address submissions to literary journals in a separate post.)

For most of my writing career, anything that smelled like self-publishing was considered the “kiss of death.” After all, if you needed to pay exorbitant prices to a vanity press, you probably didn’t have the talent or mastery of craft to make it in the traditional publishing world. The times they are a-changin.

These days, many successful writers are jumping into indie publishing, either as an addition to or as a replacement for traditional publishing. New writers are launching their short stories via indie publishing in an effort to expose their work to the reading public.

4 Reasons to Digitally Publish Your Short Stories:

  1. Publish in a day.You can submit a story to journals for months or even years before you get an acceptance and publication date. Once you create a cover, format the text, and write a descriptive blurb, you can have your story available for sale via digital outlets within a few hours.
  2. Make money now. If you write in genres like sci fi or horror, there are several magazines that will pay for your stories. Literary magazines, on the other hand, rarely pay anything more than a copy or two of the journal itself. For those of us who aren’t independently wealthy, the extra money we can make from publishing and marketing our stories independently, may be worth the effort.
  3. Build a readership. If you’re working on a novel or story collection, you can start to find readers for your work well before your longer piece is ready. If your work is good, and you give people the opportunity to find it, those same readers will look for your next work. Just don’t make them wait too long.
  4. Credibility. Sure, publishing in a highly reputable journal builds your credibility as a writer, but sales can do that for you in a much more direct way. Some writers may be in the industry as a hobby or part-time job, but few agents or publishers are. They need to make a living, and if you can demonstrate a successful sales record with your short stories, they’ll give you a serious look when you’re ready to sell your novel or story collection (assuming you don’t decide to indie publish that as well.)

For all those reasons and more, I’ve published my first short story via digital avenues. The Morning Man is published for Kindle, Nook, pdf download and all the other ereader formats. There are more stories to come, including several which I’ll publish under a pen name, since they’re a complete departure from my normal “literary” genre.

Have you self-published? Leave me a comment, and let me know where I can find your work.

Go write something!


Posted by on December 14, 2011 in Career, Indie Publishing


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