Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Stressed to the Point that Writing Seems Impossible


  by Linda Thorne

Okay, I told some people I wouldn’t post about my time constraints with writing and promotion anymore, but here I am with nothing else to talk about except what feels like zero time to write, read, and promote. I am still meeting my deadlines for scheduled posts like this one and it's not easy.

Che Gilson’s last post on Novel Spaces was perfectly timed for me with her suggestions of a timer and calendars. My problem is I don’t think any recommendations would work given my current circumstances. I'm unusually busy at work. Actually, that is a huge understatement.

I’ve seen just about everything over my long human resources career. I went through a hostile takeover of a company in Denver. A former company I worked for lost its lease, built a new site and quickly doubled in size. The company I worked for on the Mississippi Gulf Coast went through a brutal restructuring. A move to the Central Valley of California took me to a manufacturing plant in business for 98 years, but after working there a year, we were given a year's notice that the plant would close. Chaos ensued as people bailed when we had to maintain full production up to the date of closure. 

In an effort to seek help, I put my current problem into the Google search engine and came up with a blog post called, 6 Habits to Help You Write When You Don’t Have the Time. The blog is Jeff Goins’, but it was written by a guest he invited, Tyler Braun. Brawn starts off with a quote from Katerina Stoykova Klemer, which says, “If you don’t write when you don’t have time for it, you won’t write when you do have time for it.”
Okay, I get it, but I think there's a caveat. Sometimes there may not be enough hours in the day to write, which does not mean you wouldn't write if you had the time.

In his post, Tyler Braun went on to list the 6 habits that he thought would help.

1. Figure out how many words per day
2. Leave yourself reminders to keep fighting
3. Get enough sleep
4. Always be ready to capture ideas and quotes
5. Never surrender
6. It takes discipline

I think his recommendations are great. I just think that sometimes if you are in an unusually crazy situation, none of the recommendations are going to work. Sometimes those recommendations to pace yourself, write a minimum amount of words, think positive, etc. aren’t going to get you there. I agree the most with number 5, “never surrender,” but my qualification of that phrase here is sometimes you have no choice but to retreat (not the same as surrender) until you find a way out of the situation that is blocking you, or wait until the turmoil is over.

Have any of you experienced life getting so in your face that any type of organized writing plan might not work?  

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Greased Pig contest

Many years ago, I was teaching in a private school. One year I was sponsor of what many of the faculty labeled as the most difficult of the senior classes-4D. Actually, I found them to be a very energetic and imaginative group, perhaps less concerned with the rules than most, and certainly less studious. But they were interesting, fun and goodhearted.

So it was no great surprise when they proposed holding a greased pig chase as a fund
raiser. I raised a number of objections, but they countered each with a reasonable answer. After seeking approval from administration, a date was set.

One boy in the class had an uncle who raised pigs, so that was taken care of. Posters were made. In fact, those in charge of publicity were very innovative . One day they were more animated than usual. The greased pig chase was being publicized on the local radio station most popular with high school kids. However, only students from our school could participate in the chase.

Entries began immediately ,with an amazing number coming from the freshman class. Briefly, I wondered if there was any coercion, but dismissed that thought. In fact, the whole school was buzzing about the upcoming porker party.

The day before the event, I received a call from an animal rights group. They were concerned about the safety of the pig. I thought to dismiss that thought also. The pig was soon to be shipped off to the packing house which would be a much worse experience than being chased by screaming teenagers. But the animal advocate was very serious. I explained that the pig would not be harmed. Once caught and secured by one or more students, he would be quickly returned to his home on the range. The contestants were allowed no tools, no aids at all. They must catch the pig using only their hands, and maybe their feet. Instantly, the pig's protector worried that someone might kick the pig. I assured her no kicking was allowed.

What were we going to put on the pig? Well, it was a "greased" pig contest. I guaranteed her it would be only natural products, quite possibly coming from the pig's ancestors.

"This might be too tiring for the pig," she continued. "I must insist you allow a rest period every five minutes." I suggested every fifteen minutes and we ultimately compromised on ten minutes. I wondered how effective this would be. Would the pig understand a rest period?

The day finally arrived and Joe drove his truck in with a very sturdy cage in the back with ... The Pig. To many, it looked like a wild boar. It snorted and banged against the cage, and several of the small freshmen began to have doubts about chasing this wild animal. Some worried the razorback might chase them.

The class committee decided to use vegetable oil to grease the swine, assuring the pig would be very hard to hold. Ten minutes before start time, students lined up behind a rope marking the starting line, and Joe and two classmates poured corn oil on the shoat, who didn't care for the attention. Hands would pop in and spread the oil and jerk back before the pig could bite.

Though close to eighty students had signed up, there were probably only fifty on the starting line. On the count of three, the rope was dropped and the door to the cage thrown opened.

Porky just stood there.

After railing against the cage, it didn't want to leave. Joe grabbed a pencil out of his shirt pocket, reached in the cage, and jabbed the pig in its hindquarters. The boar took off. And as the contestants started running and screaming, the pig kept running.

Two or three students got a hand on the porker, but the slippery oil let the swine escape. However, twin brothers had devised a plan and simultaneously dove at the pig from opposite sides. As the greasy bovine slipped out of one twin's hands, it put him in the brother's arms.

In three minutes, the contest was over. The twins held the oil covered pig down for the required thirty seconds and were declared the winners.

This special class, 4D, had once again deviated from the norm. During the week leading up to the event anticipation saturated the school and grabbed the attention of the entire student body and most of the faculty.

And though the contest was very short, everyone in attendance seemed to have a great time.

Except, perhaps, the pig.

James R. Callan, 2017

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Organized organization

Well, it's a NEW YEAR all caps for effect. And this year I have goals. One of my goals is getting my shit together. Like many other authors I tend to not be very organized. Unlike other, more productive authors, I haven't made many steps in the right direction.

But this year I have learned THINGS. I went to quite a few self publishing panels at Orycon in November and I learned many things, despite not being in a mood to learn things. But I took notes and they have been percolating and now it's time to turn them into action.

Action #1- get a wall calendar, and not some month by month jobber either- get the full year in one glance. It's laminated and you can write on it with white board markers (and erase them. But I've started adding on what I need to write, dates to start, and deadlines. This is important because one of the things I learned at the self-publishing panel is that it's important to reassess goals often. Look at what is working and what isn't. Do this every three months or so.

I hung it up behind my desk so I can look at it frequently and shuffle the dates around.

Action #2- get an hourglass. One of the authors got a tip from another author (Mary Robinette Kowal) to use a sandtimer to time their writing. The point is to have a silent timer- which unlike kitchen timers, doesn't go off and scare the crap out of you. So I also bought myself a half hour hourglass. Turns out you can get them in various intervals. I picked half an hour because it gives me enough time to get some writing done, but it is less intimidating than an hour. Another tip I got was to time your writing and build up your tolerance to writing in order to increase the length of time you can write. Hopefully I'll be doing 2-3 half hour sessions per day (though it hasn't happened yet)

So these are the tools I'm starting off the new year with! Here's hoping this year will be more productive than the last!

Do you have any tips for increasing productivity you'd like to  share?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Chapters - the Long and Short of it

Happy New Year!

Years ago I attended a book conference in New York, and one of the editors at a major publishing house suggested that authors keep their chapters short, anywhere from three to seven final version pages, because readers prefer moving along quickly in their zest for the story, and that readers can feel bogged down by long chapters. They said that some readers, before reading a chapter, will check to see how long it is before the next chapter so they can judge how much time they have if they're on their lunch break, or in bed, about to fall asleep. It also creates the sense of a rapid paced story with lots of movement. Short and sweet.

A lot of authors took heed and did just that, making a point of shortening their chapters. Some did not. I will say that I tried, but my style of writing works best when I go for what the characters need to show, say, and do, without having to remember to keep it short. I think it's all about writing style, and what we as authors are willing to try. Some of my chapters are under seven pages, and some are over ten, depending upon the scene.

As an author, do you purposefully concentrate on the length of your chapters - on word count - on the number of chapters, or do you go for it and serve it up as it's cooked, LOL?

Inquiring author-minds wanna know!

Write on!

Monday, January 2, 2017

...and may your dreams come true

Image result for Happy new year 2017It’s 2017, can you believe it? New Year, new beginnings, new everything, but same old problem: what should I blog about? New year’s resolutions? Definitely not. Been there, done that, over blown topic this time of year. And really does anybody keep the resolutions past February? I have made and kept resolutions in the past and I have broken so many that I had given up making resolutions for many years. However blogging on the 1st of the month especially in January, I have all but killed that topic, so I’m not gonna blog about resolutions.

Last month I intended to write about character development. I had a great article in my head about how the characters in novels should never be the same after they have lived the through all the twists and turns of the novel. I intended to bemoan the fact that many serial novels have leading characters that remain unchanged from book to book even though they may have lived through major life altering plots. But then, they say that the road to hell if filled with good intentions. I guess I’m on that road because in the business of life, the post never made it from my head to the computer, much less Novelspaces blog site. I’m not going to bore you with that blog anyway.

I guess I could write a reflection of 2016, how many great stars we’ve lost, or how little writing I got done and how much I could improve. But I’m sure there are too many blogs about that. I could write about the weight I’ve gained from Thanksgiving to New Years and how I intend to get it off, but based on the television, radio and internet commercials, there is too much of that topic circulating the blogosphere.

So in the absence of things to write about, I will just wish everybody, readers, writers, all who visit this blog site a bright and Prosperous New Year. And to the writers: May your writing dreams come true for 2017.  May you have bestsellers this year. May your publishing dreams come true. May your marketing strategies work for visibility and translate into sales. May your creative genius shine through that readers may read and enjoy your books.

Have a happy New Year, and may 2017 be filled with joy and fulfillment...

...and may your dreams come true.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Little Magic: A Happy Holiday Story for Writers

      “How’s your book going?” my writing group buddy, Chris Elfin asked.
“I almost finished the final chapter, but I got stuck and had to go back and revise parts of the first few chapters because of the ending. It’s like working a puzzle that sneaks in another twist after you think you have it solved,” I said with my nose wrinkled and my brows knit as I remembered the knot in my stomach when I realized all the rewriting my new ending necessitated.
“It’s a lot of work.”
Deep sigh. “Yeah, but it’s the most fun kind of work I’ve ever done.” I grinned at the small, white-whiskered man who slouched back in his chair with an echoing grin and crinkled hazel eyes.
“If it’s a labor of love, you’ll succeed.”
“What’s the status of your book?” I asked him.
“What book?”
“Your Kansas City mystery—the one we critiqued for the past two years.
“Oh. That book.” He shrugged.
I looked at Chris over my glasses and raised an eyebrow while a surge of warmth from my heart area threatened to turn up the corners of my mouth. This guy had given each of us good feedback on our chapters, asked questions that made us think about how to improve, and supported us on social media with “likes,” comments, and links to helpful sites. His chapters submitted for critique were so well-written that we needed only to enjoy the story and praise his use of witty dialogue. Now, we were reading a second entertaining story of his, chapter by chapter, but what had happened to the first?
“Did it get scooped up by an agent or a publishing company?” I probed.
“Why do you ask?”
“I like that story. It’s good. Should be published so lots of people can read it.”
“We should all be published,” he said.
“I want us all to be published by the end of the year,” I said looking upward with a melodramatic “wishing on a star” demeanor.
“Publishing contracts for all during the holidays—a time of miracles.” He nodded with a serious expression and regarded me with eyes that now looked golden brown.
By the end of September, everyone in the writing group, except for our newest member, had written and sent out multiple query letters. While helping to critique the queries, Chris had declined to share one. My head reeled with imaginings of my letters sitting unread at the bottom of great piles on agents’ desks or in their e-mail accounts. I’d received a few flat, generic replies telling me the agencies weren’t accepting new clients at this time or said, “You story does not fit our criteria.” What were the criteria my story didn’t fit? What criteria would my story fit if not those stated in the agency and publishing house Websites? Other group members had similar experiences, and it helped little when we told each other that some best-selling writers had tried for years before they were published.
In early November, I got an e-mail from an editor at a local press asking for a summary and the first three chapters of my book. The poor editor probably heard my whoops and squeals all the way downtown in her office. A couple weeks later, the editor asked for the entire manuscript. 
     I floated into my critique group meeting on the third Thursday of December and tried to remain calm as my fellow writers straggled in and took seats. My toothy grin and triple-enthusiastic greetings to each of them may have been a clue that something was up.
“I have a publisher! They offered me a contract this morning.” I proclaimed without preamble and then sat back expecting open mouths and astonished congratulations.
Instead, all four others who’d written queries announced that they’d also received offers from different local publishers, all in the past few days. Our new member was absent, and Chris Elfin sat with his arms folded on the table, his eyes twinkling in a brilliant blue color, and a smile under his whiskers as we all elaborated on our successes. Chris’s eyes returned to their normal hazel as we proceeded with our regular critiquing session, but I couldn’t help thinking he looked as if he knew more about this contract coincidence than he was telling.
“You haven’t told us if you have a contract for your book yet,” I said to Chris outside in the cold after class. “If any of our books deserves one, yours does. Maybe you should query one of these local publishers.”
“Maybe so,” he said.
“Remember when I wished that all of us would be published by the end of the year and you said the holidays are a time of miracles?”
He nodded with a secretive grin on his face.
“Well, the miracle isn’t quite complete unless you have a contract, too.”
“Miracle or not, you all deserve to have your hard work rewarded and your fine works published. By the way, I am self-published and starting to do well.” Chris Elfin walked away toward his parking spot. “Happy Holidays,” he boomed back at me from a golden sports car with a red hood ornament.
I stepped into my car, closed my eyes for a minute, and shook my head. When I looked again, I saw only a white Honda pulling away from under a light pole decorated with colored lights. I drove home looking forward to celebrating a special Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Time to Give

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

            Every year at about this time, I devote one blog post to the subject of giving. It can be hard to broach the subject of giving because unless your name is Stephen King or John Grisham or J.K. Rowling, you’re not making millions of dollars with your book sales and your movie deals.

            But you’re still a writer. You get to spend time (hopefully it’s every day, but if not, hopefully it’s at least on a regular basis) doing one of the things you love most—writing. You get to tell stories and share them with the world (or some small part of it).

            You’re living the dream, whether you think of it that way or not.

            But there are a lot of people out there who are not living the dream. They’re in Syria, they’re in Haiti, they’re in drought-stricken Madagascar. There are people in the United States who don’t have enough to eat. They don’t have warm clothes. They can’t afford to give their kids gifts for Christmas. And you don’t have to take my word for it—turn on the television or radio and you’ll hear the stories.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

            That’s why I do the giving post every year: because we’re fortunate. You don’t have to be in the One Percent to be one of the lucky ones, to know there are a lot of people who are hurting, especially at this time of year.

            One of my favorite websites is Charity Navigator (link at the end of this post). I use it every time I’m thinking about donating to a particular charity, and anyone who visits my blog regularly has heard of it because I mention it every year.

            Charity Navigator rates charities all over the world based on two criteria: financial health and accountability/transparency. You can search for your favorite charity by name, by type, by part of the world where they work, etc.

            Online giving to a charity is a common way to donate around the holidays, but there are lots of other ways you can help, too.

            My local grocery store has a “giving tree.” You pick a piece of paper from the tree and that paper has someone’s first name, his or her age, and a couple of his or her wish list items. The thing I like about the tree at the store where I shop is that there are papers with adult names on them, too. It’s easy to forget at this time of year that there are parents and other adults with needs that are probably even more urgent than the kids’ needs. Grocery and other stores all over the country sponsor similar trees, so consider donating to one of those.

            There are also charities (I’m on the board of directors of one of them) which allow members of the community to “adopt” a family for the holidays. This can be a more expensive proposition, so it’s common for groups or businesses to get together to adopt a family.

            Donating at holiday time can be as simple as buying a few extra items when you go grocery shopping and giving them to the local food bank. Lots of stores have a box right by the entrance or exit so that any food you buy to donate can be deposited right there before you even leave the store.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

            But what if you’re not in a position to donate money or food? That’s perfectly fine. How about donating your time or your talents?

            Do you have a couple hours on a weekend after Thanksgiving? Consider contacting your local Salvation Army chapter and volunteering to ring a bell for donations outside a store or business.

            Have you got some neighborhood kids in school? Offer to go in and read to a class. This gives the teacher a few extra minutes to grade papers, work one-on-one with a child who might need extra help, or grab a much-needed cup of coffee.

            Do you sing? Consider joining a local choir for the holiday season. You’ll have to look into this long before the season starts, as rehearsals are often held throughout the fall. Local choirs bring communities together during the holidays and spread joy like nobody’s business.

            Do you bake? Offer to bake for a local Christmas cookie walk. These are great fundraisers for churches and other community groups, so they need bakers at this time of year.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

            There are so many ways for people to help others around the holidays, and I believe when you donate your money, your time, or your talents, you feel the spirit of the season and the joy that can come from doing good.

            And once the holidays are over, please remember that the needs in your community and around the world don’t go away. They’re always there--they just don’t get the same level of attention during the rest of the year.

            I wish you and yours a safe and happy holiday season, full of joy and wonder, and I wish you all the best as we ring in the new year.

            If you’d like to take a look at Charity Navigator, you’ll find it by clicking this link.