Reading you under the table since 2012

Finding a New Writing Routine

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by

E.C. Myers

Eugene_ClaraOne of the most popular questions I receive as an author is “What’s your writing routine?”

I love asking that question too! Just because I’m published doesn’t mean I have all the answers; in fact, this post is about how I don’t. It’s interesting to hear about other writer’s processes, and learn new approaches I can take. (Secretly, I wonder if I’ve actually been doing it wrong all this time, but I’ve been lucky.) I know every writer and every project is different, but I think one way of avoiding writer’s block is to just try writing another way.

My answer to the question has become more and more complicated over the years. Sometimes I make a distinction between my ideal writing schedule and the one life often allows, or I explain how much my routine varies over the course of a week. “If it’s a weekday, then I write on my lunch break and before I go to bed. If it’s a weekend, and I don’t have any family obligations, I hole up in a coffee shop for 14 hours a day.” That isn’t exactly a routine. For the past year, I was just writing as much as I could, as quickly as I could, wherever and whenever I could. Then again, that’s probably how most of us do it, right?

After five novels (three published) and dozens and dozens of short stories, as well as a lot of blog posts, I’ve built up a good enough discipline as a writer to finish what I start and generally meet deadlines — two major contributors to success. The way most writers develop discipline is by establishing writing as a habit, and that comes from sticking to a routine. I may not “need” to write everyday anymore, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to.

I may have to write as often as possible, but at least I can usually predict when that time will be available: 45 minutes at lunch, an hour or two at night, half an hour before work, 14 hours on Saturday, and so on. The tricky thing is that life has a way of changing, especially when you’re getting comfortable. So let’s switch the previous sentence to the past tense…

In the last five years, I had some pretty big life changes: I moved to a new city, got a new job, got married. I went from writing just before work to writing at night, to writing really early in the morning and at night. Consequently, I have written every one of my novels differently, on a different schedule. Most recently, my wife and I had our first baby — and just like that, everything has changed again! Those two uninterrupted weekend days? Poof! Gone. [Note: I was just interrupted by a wailing baby. Changed a diaper, but it looks like he just wants to sit with me. Say hi, Spud!]

So that’s where I am now. I haven’t written fiction in the three months since the kid was born, and now I need a new routine to get back into it. The trouble is, I can no longer predict when I will have time, so I guess have to be a little more nimble and motivated. My plan so far involves a few tactics:

  • I picked up an Alphasmart Neo word processor, inspired by author Aliette de Bodard’s process for writing with a baby. Even my netbook takes too long to start up these days; by the time I can open Scrivener, my three minutes of peace and quiet could be over. This will really only work for writing a first draft, but I’m willing to give it a try and will blog about the experience.
  • I hate to say it, but I need to limit my use of social media. I’ve notice that I’ve been filling small pockets of free time with Twitter and Facebook — time that could be better spent on my next novel! But of course, I do need those small social interactions, so I’ll have to figure out a good balance.
  • [The Spud is wiggling around in my lap — and is he pooping?! — this is kind of distracting]
  • [Just gave him a pacifier and he calmed down. Whew.]
  • Coordinate with my wife for bigger blocks of time to write — challenging because she works more hours than I do.
  • Set goals and personal deadlines to meet the professional deadlines. Maybe I should get one of those calendars and put stars on it, like people do?
  • Cut back on TV — again. After just a few months with a baby, I’m more caught up on shows than I have been in a decade! Reading, not so much.
  • Sleep less? (That may not actually be possible. I’m already more exhausted than I’ve ever been.)
  • Ask for help…

This is me asking for help. What’s your writing routine? I would especially like to hear from writers juggling day jobs and babies, but I’m happy to hear any advice because you’re all busy people who still make the words happen. How do you stay-at-home parents manage? In the comments, tell me what works for you, point me to helpful articles, trade tips with each other.

[And… The Spud is sleeping! Of course he is, because this post is done and now I have to try to move him to his crib.]

E.C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts and raised by a single mother and the public library in Yonkers, New York. He is the author of the Andre Norton Award–winning young adult novel Fair Coin and Quantum Coin, as well as numerous short stories. His latest novel, The Silence of Six, is a thriller about teenage hackers and government conspiracies. You can find traces of him all over the internet, but especially at http://ecmyers.net and on Twitter: @ecmyers.

 

 

 

Posted in Inspiration, Writing Life | Tagged , , , | 21 Comments

Guest Post: Getting Into Publishing (You Gotta Do It For The Love)

Industry Life

by

Danielle Barthel

Hey guys! I’m so excited to share this guest post with your from Danielle Barthel, a literary assistant from New Leaf Literary. She offers her own personal experience and insight for breaking into the publishing industry–which I’m sure many of you know isn’t the easiest thing to do.

Hello Pub-crawlers!

I’m so happy to be doing a guest post here this week!

I recently read a comment on Alex Bracken’s “You Tell Us: What Do You Want To See” post asking us to talk about hard lessons we’ve learned. For me—and I don’t think I’m alone—one of these lessons was the importance of following my passions. This was most relevant to me when I was trying to find a job in publishing.

RobinHoodDisneyThe truth is, this is not an easy industry to crack, and there were times that I felt like it was never going to happen. What kept me going was the simple fact that I’ve wanted to work with words forever. I remember the first time I finished a full length book all by myself—one of those big hardcover Disney books that were based off the movies. Remember those? I was so proud of myself.

flashlightBooks were just my thing. Growing up, I was the kid who got in trouble for reading at night by the light of my yellow American Girl flashlight-lantern (it looks a little like the one here, but I couldn’t find the exact picture).

When I reached the age that I no longer got into trouble for staying up late reading, and I still wanted to do it even though it was no longer “forbidden fruit” (and this was about as rebellious as my conscience let me get), I knew that my obsession with books wasn’t going away.

BrockportI actively realized that this was more than a passing rebellious phase, but instead a passion for something greater, when I left for college. I went to undergrad at The College at Brockport, State University of New York. It was five hours from home and the biggest leap I had ever taken outside my comfort zone. My fears about homesickness, not making friends, and being unhappy battled with my desire to learn about all things book related. Now loving books was more than just a passion—it was moving me towards a career.

I majored in English and took entire classes dedicated to Shakespeare, American lit, British lit, and young adult lit—I couldn’t believe it was a requirement to read Harry Potter in a real college class!

yorkAnd it turned out that Brockport had one of the best study abroad programs around. I could wax nostalgic about my love of England, and specifically the town of York, for hours, but I’ll spare you. Instead I’ll just say I hope everyone has the opportunity to do something that scares them (like finding your own way in a foreign country without Google Maps) at least once in your life. Because it’ll bring even clearer into focus both who you are, and what you want out of life. Or at least it did for me.

Coming home, I knew with certainty—books, words, and the people who worked on them were inspiring and I wanted to be a part of it. So I went to the University of Denver’s Publishing Institute, where I spent an entire month learning more about publishing. It was eye-opening and informative, and when I returned to New York, I set up a ton of informational interviews with wonderful, willing agents and editors to learn even more, before someone I will be forever grateful to suggested that I look into internships.

Even though it might sound like things happened quickly, they didn’t. I spent a few months doing interviews, both informational and for actual jobs/internships. I had this intense Excel grid of people I had emailed for interviews, what they were for, when I met with them, if they responded…

When I got my first real job rejection (for something I had been feeling so good about), I was pretty devastated. Wasn’t I doing everything right? English degree, Denver Publishing Institute grad, interviewing up a storm. Why was I still jobless?

Something I didn’t understand until after I’d been applying for jobs left and right is not to discount things completely out of my control, like being in the right place at the right time. I applied for an internship at Writers House, one of the biggest agencies in New York, after a recommendation from an informational interview. The Writers House intern coordinator initially called me because I was a Denver grad. I got the internship because of a mix of networking and timing and because I fit what they were looking for. All those factors together jump-started my career.

I’ve now worked in the industry I love, at a company I love, for three years as of this January. And after everything that’s led me to this place, it always goes back to my love of books.

So my lesson is this: follow your passions. Do what you love just because you love it. Don’t let those terrifying “what ifs” control your life. Thrive on challenge. And be open to the fact that you don’t have all the answers. That’s okay too.

Following her completion of the Denver Publishing Institute after graduation, Danielle began interning at Writers House. While there, she realized she wanted to put her English degree and love of the written word to work at a literary agency. She became a full-time assistant and continues to help keep the New Leaf offices running smoothly.

In her downtime, she can be found with a cup of tea, a bar of chocolate, or really good book…sometimes all together. Follow Danielle on Twitter!

Posted in Industry Life, Inspiration | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

GUEST POST: When Friends & Family Read Your Book: Survival Tips

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Today, we have a guest post from debut author (and Entangled Publishing editor!) Kate Brauning

Kate headshot AMy debut novel released in November, and while I was nervous about trade reviews and Goodreads reviews and sales numbers, the thing that made me most nervous was knowing my friends and family were going to be reading my book.

I’m proud of my writing, and what friends and family won’t override what I think is best for a story. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t hurt. When people who are close to us disapprove, or object, or think less of us, it’s usually going to hurt.  And they usually want to participate in what’s going on in our lives. While that can take a toll on us, it can also be encouraging and a positive experience. There are a few survival tips we can use to deal with it when it comes up.

 

1. Realize their reaction might have very little to do with your book. Especially with a debut, when friends and family pick up an author’s book, it’s usually because they have a connection to the author—not because they thought the story sounded interesting or because it was a genre they enjoyed. Most of my family that read How We Fall don’t read YA or don’t enjoy romance. Many of them weren’t familiar with the conventions and devices of the category or the genre, and that can make a big difference in the reader’s experience.

2. Recognize that friends and family aren’t your audience. This has never been so clear to me as when some of my grandparents read my debut. They just aren’t the readers I’m speaking to, and so the language I’m using isn’t going to communicate nearly so well to them. It’s not because of a flaw in me or my books. They’re simply not receiving what I’m sending, and that’s okay.

3. Don’t let them affect what you write in the next book, or regret the choices you made in the previous one. Don’t allow fear of disapproval to affect what you write. Be true to the story, or it won’t be a story you love. And without that, we lose a huge part of the reason that we write.

4. When someone says, “I read your book!” don’t say “what did you think of it?” That almost never turns out well. If they loved it, they will most likely tell you without you having to ask, and if they didn’t love it, you probably don’t want to know. Instead, say “thank you so much for reading!” and divert the discussion.

Great follow-ups can be asking them if they’ve read anything else lately, mentioning something you’ve read and loved, or talking about the publishing journey instead of the book. Friends and family are often curious about it, and talking about the story you wrote is just one way they might try to connect with you over that topic. If you’re getting the feeling they want to talk not just about books in general but about your writing, turn the discussion toward how exciting it was to get your author copies, or how long it’s been a dream of yours to be published, or any detail like that. And when you can, change the topic. Short and sweet is generally less likely to be awkward.

5. Avoid discussions of your choices—most of the time. The more common advice is just to not discuss them, but that can also mean you miss out. The best and worst moments involving friends and family dealing with my book were discussing those hot-button topics. For example, since I write YA, the things that people close to me were bringing up were questions and comments like “I didn’t think the swearing was necessary.” “There are some pretty high heat make-out scenes for a teen book. Do you think that’s appropriate?” or “I just can’t see why you would write a romance since it has all that angst.” “So you let them drink under age?”

Every one of those issues are things I’m passionate about, and they’re areas where I want the people close to me to understand what I’m doing and not think less of me for making choices I strongly believe are positive ones. And that makes any discussion of those things risky. I don’t want to always divert the conversation, because engaging in conversation about why swearing can belong in YA is a great topic and I want to share my beliefs with people who are close to me.

Some of the discussions I’ve had with family over those topics directly concerning my books have been wonderful. Some were incredibly frustrating and discouraging. If it’s not for you, then by all means avoid it, but if you want to bring your family in a little more, the best way I’ve found to deal with it is to be intentional about picking the place, the time, and the people. The family dinner table with a mixed group is likely not the time. A crowded room where people can mishear and others can jump in without having heard the context is likely not the best place. A special event like a signing or launch party is not the time. And there are some people who are more interested in hearing what you have to say in order to respond, not necessarily in order to understand—and that’s where I usually don’t want to discuss the issue. It won’t be productive. Some of my relatives have different beliefs and no matter what explanation I have, it won’t be a productive conversation there, either. If you have family and friends who are up for a genuine discussion, I think it can be great to go for it, in small pieces. It also may help to discuss those issues in general, and not as they relate to your particular book. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with some of my relatives came from that, and I’m closer to them and more open with them now because of it.

6. Keep in mind friends and family can be a fun and positive part of your career. Some of them dislike my book and disapprove of the content, but some of them love it, and have become wonderful fans. My uncle’s parents, even though I’ve only met them twice and they are definitely not the people I expected to enjoy the story, went out of their way to tell me how much they loved it and that they’re eagerly waiting for the next one—and they’re in their seventies. My brother, not at all the guy to read YA romance, not only read it but bought copies for all of his wife’s family for Christmas. Seeing the people close to me enjoy and participate in the process is encouraging and fulfilling and fun.

Especially with a debut, but also with an author’s following books, friends and family may want to be involved and share their opinions. Authors usually dread it. I still dread it. It’s nerve-wracking and stressful, because we care. Since discouragement from family can take a heavy toll on our creativity and energy, boundaries are important. Ultimately, it’s your career, and giving yourself the space to create freely is necessary. Limits, diverting the discussions when it’s not a good time for you, and taking them a small piece at a time can help manage participation from friends and family.

Kate Brauning is an editor at Entangled Publishing and the author of How We Fall, a YA contemporary about a girl who falls in love with her cousin. She grew up in rural Missouri, lives in Iowa, and pursues her lifelong dream of telling stories she’d want to read. Visit her online at www.katebrauning.com or on Twitter at @KateBrauning.

Posted in Uncategorized | 17 Comments

Why I’ve Stopped Tweeting #AmWriting


by Adam Silvera

AdamHAPPYFACELIFE REMINDER: The writing routines that work for me may not work for you. If you’re a morning writer, I want to be you so badly it’s reminding me of that time as a kid where I wanted to be Mary Poppins and would jump off the living room couch in my mother’s heels and a toy umbrella. (Yes, there are pictures of this. No, you can’t see them.) But the only time I’m ever awake at 6AM is when I’m finally shutting down my laptop for the night. (Read: When I’m falling asleep to episodes of my latest Hulu/Netflix binge after writing from 9:00PM to 5:00 AM.) There are too many distractions we all experience during the day like pets, an episode of The 100, children, another episode of The 100, etc. But the greatest distraction for probably any writer is Twitter, which can turn that little adorable blue bird into your greatest enemy.

When I was drafting my book for the first time, I was a big fan of the #amwriting hashtag. It was a great way to announce to friends (and even agents) that I was actively working on a project. But here’s what proved to be my downfall of tweeting about writing: it would prevent me from actually writing.

When you tweet, people sometimes respond, which is the beauty of Twitter – the conversation factor. But when I tweeted out #amwriting, I was supposed to be talking about writing my manuscript, not tweets. My suggestion? Tweet AFTER you’re done with a writing session, not before. Your friends love celebrating your accomplishments, whether you hit 20,000 words on your latest manuscript, or even wrote 400 words that day. All levels of productivity all great! And you should absolutely turn to your friends if you’re having a brutal writing day, obviously, but be honest with yourself about how badly you need the moral support because your writing time is so limited and sacred as it is you’re potentially doing you and your manuscript a disservice engaging in a conversation about last night’s episode of The 100. I know, I know, it’s so good! But go write!

To sum up: 
1) Writing comes first.
2) Social media comes second.
3) Jumping off the couch in your mom’s high heels is dangerous.
4) The 100 is addictive.

Adam was born and raised in New York and is tall for no reason. In the past he worked as a marketing assistant for a literary development company. He’s currently a children’s bookseller and reviews children’s and young adult novels for Shelf Awareness. His debut novel, More Happy Than Not, about a boy who wants to undergo a memory-alteration procedure to forget he’s gay, will be coming out on June 16th, 2015 from Soho Teen. Go say stuff to him on Twitter.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Who is Your Narrator Talking To?

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by

Janice Hardy

Janice Hardy RGB 72Every story has a narrator–some narrators are the protagonist, others tell the tale as a group, and some lurk in the shadows or hover above the story like an all-seeing-eye. Whichever point of view style a writer chooses, it’s pointing at someone.

In grand terms, it’s the reader, but it can be more subtle than that. Some novels break the fourth wall and address the reader directly, while others have their characters exist in a world that feels like we’re watching on closed circuit TV.

All of these point of view styles can work, and one isn’t preferable over the other. But if you’re struggling with your novel, or feeling like your point of view is off in some way and don’t know why, or just want to kick you novel up a notch, it might be worth identifying a few things:

  1. Who is your narrator?
  2. Who is he or she talking to?

Answering these two questions can help you pinpoint who is at the center of your story and the best way to convey that story to your readers.

Who is Your Narrator?

In most cases, this will be easy to answer. A first-person novel is clearly narrated by the first-person character. Same with a tight third person perspective. Third person omniscient has an outside narrator. But when you add more characters or write with a medium narrative distance, the narrator(s) can become less obvious or even get lost. If you’re unsure, ask yourself:

  • What point of view am I doing?
  • Who’s story is it?
  • Am I inside or outside of the point of view character’s head?
  • Do I share any information the point of view characters couldn’t know?
  • Once you know your narrator, think about who she’s narrating the story to.

Who is Your Narrator Talking To?

A common trope (especially with first person) is to treat the novel as if the protagonist was writing or had written down her story. These are the events that passed at a certain point in a certain life. The narrator is literally talking to the reader, intending the novel to be read by someone. But take a step back and think about what that means to the protagonist–the “reader” means something different to her than it does to us, because in her mind, it’s someone living in her world. If she’s writing about her struggles to overcome a natural disaster, she expects her readers to know about that disaster and understand it on a personal level. She’s probably not picturing people sitting in a comfy chair at Starbucks while they sip a latte, but assuming they’re either going through the same thing or are reading it after they survived it. She might even be writing this story to help them survive it.

If you keep that in mind, it can guide you in deciding what that narrator is going to share with that reader–what aspects of the world she might think are vital, what she wouldn’t bother explaining because it’s so well known to everyone, what secrets she might reveal or lessons learned she might pass on. There are things the intended recipient of this story is going to need to know.

Conversely, a third person omniscient narrator is often more like a camera recording the event, relaying the information with little or no judgment, and letting the reader decide what it means. The point of view characters aren’t specifically talking to anyone, and they might not know they’re being recorded at all. People act differently when they think no one is watching, and you can use that to your advantage with this kind of narrator. The narrator is putting the information out there for whoever wants to view it.

Of course, the narrator might have an agenda. Maybe the novel is one big propaganda piece designed to make the narrator look good or someone else look bad. The story could be trying to convince people of a lie. Maybe the narrator does convince readers, or maybe she doesn’t and readers can see through that lie to the real truth.

The novel might show just one side of a larger issue. The story is the narrator’s take on what she feels is the truth, even if it’s not accurate. The story (or her part of it) is what she thinks happened.

Or, the narrator is only talking to herself. It’s her internal monologue, a private peek at her world and her life, and she hopes no one else ever sees inside that life.

Even if narrators never expects anyone to hear or read their stories, they’re talking to someone. And knowing who that is can be a great tool when crafting or polishing a draft.

Taking some time to consider who your narrator is and who she’s talking to can add another layer to the story. It can color the details and bring out a richness just “telling” the story doesn’t achieve. That “person” never needs to be revealed, but having an idea of who it is can guide you to making the novel feel like it has a greater purpose. It’s not just a book, it was a story written to serve a larger goal.

Who is your narrator talking to?

Janice Hardy is the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now. She lives in Georgia with her husband, one yard zombie, three cats, and a very nervous freshwater eel. Find out more about writing at her site, Fiction University, or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.

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Posted in Writing Life | 5 Comments
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