Friday, September 26, 2008

Avoiding Procrastination

I came across an interesting blog entry today, courtesy of the Renegade Writer Blog, that referenced ten common excuses for putting off writing. The author of the original piece is Gina Hiatt, Ph.D., president of Academic Writing Club and Academic Ladder. Here is Hiatt's list of procrastinating thoughts and her rebuttals to them:

Thought: I need to warm up first by writing some email.

Rebuttal: You can warm up by starting the work slowly, making a list of what you will do, reading over your notes or writing from yesterday

Thought: I’m not in a good mood and I don’t write well when I’m not in a good mood – I’ll do it later when I feel better.

Rebuttal: Nothing will make you feel as good as getting something done. The main reason for your bad mood is that you don’t really want to do this task, so getting it out of the way will feel great.

Thought: Life is so hard – I can’t believe I have to do this unpleasant task. I’ll even it out by doing something more fun first.

Rebuttal: Yes, life is hard, and it’s terrible that you have to do this task. That’s why you will reward yourself after you do the task. Otherwise you’re applying backwards conditioning, which doesn’t work. And don’t forget to plan enough fun and relaxation time into your schedule.

Thought: I’ll definitely do it, in a minute or so.

Rebuttal: Set a timer, or that minute could last two hours. When the timer goes off, do the task. Even better, do it now!

Thought: After this bad thing is over in my life (midterms, meeting, in-law visit, etc.) my life will seem easier and I’ll be able to do my task on a daily basis. So I’ll wait until then.

Rebuttal: Life is always like this. You can afford to do 15 minutes of work today, can’t you? This is the one small act you can do to make your life a little better.

Thought: I just don’t feel like it.

Rebuttal: So what? Do it anyway! If you wait until you feel like it, the task will get done in 10 years if you’re lucky. They only way to make yourself feel like it is to get started and get into the flow of the work.

Thought: Why do just a little today – I’ll do double tomorrow – I work better when I feel pressure anyway.

Rebuttal: It’s a fallacy that you work better under pressure. It’s not true, because anxiety reduces creativity and clear thinking. And doing double the next day will backfire. You will feel less like doing it tomorrow because you’ve decided you must do double the work, and it will seem more overwhelming and less appealing, so you’re even more likely to put it off until the next day.

Thought: I can only work in one place (the library, a cafĂ©, my office) and that place isn’t available or I can’t get there – so there’s no point in working at all.

Rebuttal: You’d be surprised how much work you can get done no matter where you are. Even if you don’t have your laptop with you, you can pull out a scrap of paper and write down a few notes on what you’d like to accomplish in the section you’ve been working on. Try it!

Thought: I’m not sure how to do this – I don’t know how sitting down and writing will enable me to do it — it’s just hopeless so why even start?

Rebuttal: If you’re not clear enough on what to do, writing may be the only way to get you out of this state. If you truly need help from someone else on this problem, you need to write down the questions clearly. The process of writing them down may clarify the issue for you.

Thought: I didn’t write well yesterday, so today will be terrible.

Rebuttal: Often bad writing days are followed by better ones. The reason to write daily is that your brain is still plugging away on it while you’re doing other things or sleeping. So you may surprise yourself today!

I agreed with Dr. Hiatt's rebuttals and the "get it done" attitude. There's no way you're going to be on the same wavelength as your muse most days. It's been just to make a date with your manuscript every day for at least a few minutes and put something on the page. You can always go back later and add some polish to your text.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ten Common Reasons for Rejection

At the Mysterious Matters blog , a mystery editor shed light on common reasons for manuscript rejection.  Apparently at their office, they keep a database of all the works they turn down.  On reviewing this database, this editor realized that there were certain words  used over and over again in their in-house comments on these rejected manuscripts.   Be sure to read the article, which explores each word in depth, but here is an overview:   Pretentious, derivative, self-indulgent, slow, forced, ho-hum, inane, depressing, amoral, dull.  

The ho-hum was a little disturbing to me.  The editor commented: 6. HO-HUM.  A ho-hum manuscript might actually be a good book if you were stranded on a deserted island with nothing to read but pulp fiction.  It has all the right elements but doesn't manage to rise above the everyday formula.  Sadly, a competent, ho-hum  manuscript won't make it in this cutthroat era.  If we can't get excited about it, we're not going to be able to get readers excited about it, either.

It just goes to show you really do have to go the extra mile with your manuscript.  Even if it's good, it has to be great to pass an editor's requirements these days.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Before Your Book is Published

Okay, I know it seems I'm hopping around a lot between topics.  That's because not only am I starting a new book, but I've got a book that's being published next summer. 

Although there's lots and lots of information on querying, synopses, finding a publisher, etc., there's not a whole lot on what happens after your book is put under contract and before it's published. 

I thought this blog entry that is referenced by literary agency Fine Print Literary Management does a good job explaining what's going on (particularly publicity-wise) in the 6 months--1 year before your book hits the shelves: Fine Print blog entry .

These days, the more that the author can do to promote his book, the better. There are plenty of inexpensive means of promotion, like going on a blog tour.  There's a wonderful group that discusses promotion and publicity for mystery writers (and other writers) called Murder Must Advertise . You have to join the group (it's free) and then you can either view the forums online or you can choose to have them delivered to you by email.  They also offer some great tips in their archives on working on publicity before your book is published.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

An Agent Gives Seven Tips for Getting Her Attention

Agent Susan Rabiner offers seven tips on getting your book proposal noticed on her client, Penelope Trunk's, blog .

On the other hand, Penelope Trunk writes five reasons why you don't need to write a book: here .  Interestingly, she is working on her second book.  :)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Editors Go Through the Same Angst Writers Do

Check out this blog entry by Moonrat regarding the editorial cycle: Editorial Ass: the Editing Cycle (a confession) . It's reassuring to know that editors experience the same gamut of feelings that writers do. I sometimes forget that editors feel (and are) accountable for the success of a work and are just as anxious to avoid a manuscript full of problems as we are. And can have just as many insecurities. I have so many days where I look at my WIP and wonder "Where am I going with this?!" It's good to know I'm not alone.

What NOT to Do When You Submit

Here is Brian Klems' article for Writer's Digest on submission don'ts. He's recently back from the Maui Writers Conference (apparently a great event, if you've got the means) and the five "don'ts" were collected from an agents' panel he attended. I've come across number 5 before on other blogs: "5. Don't resend a query or manuscript a day or two later with a note, "I found a mistake in my proposal and fixed it." Once it's sent, it's sent." I've never resent a query or manuscript, but I can understand the urge to try to obliterate an imperfect copy. It's funny how sometimes something can look perfect and read perfect, but once you hit that send button, all the errors seem to stand out in red to you. Don't let this happen to you! Give yourself a chance to sleep on it and then take a fresh look at your query/synopsis/manuscript in the morning and see if it's still as perfect as it seemed the night before.

Incidentally, Brian Klems' entire blog for Writer's Digest looks interesting. It covers blogging, copyrights, editors, publishing, formatting, the whole nine yards. Here's the link: .

Monday, September 15, 2008

Negotiating Book Contracts Without an Agent

Nine-tenths of the advice out there urges writers to obtain an agent before negotiating your book contract with a publisher. Here is an excellent blog (written by editor Moonrat) explaining why having an agent is essential. 

That being said, sometimes it's easier to find a publisher than an agent (okay, neither one is easy, but I've got a publisher and no agent.)  I found it tough to locate  information about publishing contracts online, and the library and bookstore were also little help.

The very best information was on two different agent blogs:  the "Agenting 101" series (look for it on the right hand side of the page.  There are eleven references) on the Pub Rants blog by agent Kristen, and a blog entry called "Ten Things to Know if You Go Commando" on agent Janet Reid's blog. 

Another site I found helpful showed a sample author contract, just to give you an idea the document may look like:

Negotiating your own contract still isn't the way you want to go if you have a choice.  But these articles (the "Agenting 101" series is really almost a class in publishing contracts) can go a long way in helping you out. 

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Panel Discussion in Gastonia, NC

IMG_4237  The Carolina Conspiracy had a panel discussion this past weekend at the Gaston County Public Library in Gastonia, North Carolina, on the topic "Murder for Fun and Profit." The branch sponsors many really interesting programs( ) and librarian Carol Reinhardt was a wonderful hostess.

I have a great time with the Carolina Conspiracy and blog with them on alternate Mondays ( ) .  Being a member of the Conspiracy is a great way to network with other writers, get inspiration, hear industry tips, and find out how other writers get the job done.  If you have an opportunity to join a group with other writers in your town, I highly recommend it.  I'm a former/current member of: writers' clubs (generally they'll have speakers, host contests, and offer networking opportunities), critique groups (I've done both the online and the in-person varieties), and promotional the Conspiracy. If nothing else, you'll make new friends with people who share common interests with you.

Free Download to Improve Your Writing Style

I would download this book, but I already have it in my library--have had it in my library since high school, actually.  If you're not familiar with Elements of Style by William Strunk,  here's an opportunity to download the first edition for free.  E.B. White became a coauthor in later editions--that's right....the E.B. White of Charlotte's Web fame. 

Here is the link to Rob Parnell's blog, then click on "Download: Elements of Style.

I've used this book more than any other guide to composition.  Strunk's advice to "omit needless words" is just as important now as it was in 1957 when Elements first came out.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Keeping on Top of Industry News

Okay, I know our time is limited as writers. If you have other big things going on (parenting, aging parents, a time-consuming day-job), then you have even less time. But I really think it's important to stay on top of publishing-related news.

For one, you can frequently read what different publishers and agents are tired of, or what they're looking for. You can read lousy queries on several editor and agent blogs (try , , , )and tweak yours accordingly.

For another, you can read about publishing trends on free feeds like Publisher's Lunch: and Galley Cat: . Trends are important, although you should always plan on writing what you like.

If you find yourself distracted by the Internet (surfing around instead of writing) then just sign up for the feeds at the bottom of the blog pages. It's easy to do and your computer checks for blog updates on the blogs. There's a "feeds" tab next to your "favorites" tab if you use Windows Internet Explorer. The feeds will be in bold if there are new blogs to read. Limiting myself to just reading updates helps me resist the temptation to surf around.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Doing Revisions and Working on a New WIP

I'll admit that I took a couple of months off this past summer. Our house was on the market (unsuccessfully, I might add! Obviously, the housing market is less than ideal right now). I had strangers tromping through at (literally) a moment's notice. Lots of, "Okay! Let's throw those Barbies in the toy chest and go to the park!!" at the drop of a hat. Add in the vacations and family visits and it really wasn't a conducive time to do a lot of writing.

But I discovered something. If you don't write nearly every day, writing doesn't come as easily to you when you come back to it. It's sort of like an underused muscle.

Now I'm in the middle of doing revisions for the book coming out next year (for a new publisher) and working on the new book in the series. I'm starting to get my groove back, but it took a couple of weeks of pure work. Even if I felt like my writing wasn't up to par, my ideas were out on paper and I knew I could go back later and edit them into something much better.

Now some writers might find reading industry blogs a real distraction. I'll admit that it's tempting to surf the net instead of slugging out your daily pages. But if you subscribe to the blogs' feeds, you can just read them when they're updated. And so many of them have great information. There are lots of great websites for writers. Here is a cool site that I've enjoyed lately: ---You'll feel good about the query letters you've sent in! I like to edit these queries as I read them, which probably places me in the "disturbed" category.

An interesting idea that might appeal to many writers: organizing your writing with a wiki. This might sound a little scary, but you can make wikis that aren't shared out--that are private to your computer. Here's a blog article on creating a writing wiki: If you've used a wiki for writing or if you give it a try, let me know how it goes! There are definitely parts to this that sound interesting to me if I find time to set it up.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Days You Don't Stop

Today was one of those days where I couldn't even sit down unless I was in the driver's seat of my minivan.  Plus, it was like the Fates were throwing every wacky curve ball they could think of at me.  I had a car that had to go to the shop, 2 sets of carpools to drive and a husband to get to work, yardwork to do before a tropical storm arrived in town, and a doctor's appointment for my son.  Many of these things were not on my list of things to do today.

So today I had my tiny, spiral notebook with me.  I knew I wasn't going to be able to write much, or even coherently, today.  But I could still get some snapshots of people, situations, and names.  I could mull through my plot at stoplights and think about how the story was going to play out.  And I could think of ideas to relieve the tedium of traffic, doctors' offices, and car repair shops. I even did some jotting down while waiting for the doctor (my son worked on his homework.)  So the day didn't go exactly as planned, but I did manage to get something accomplished.  And maybe Monday won't be the same way.

Cool website for mystery writers:   An interesting site for anyone interested in writing mysteries.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Being a Reader and a Writer

I love reading mysteries.  That's the whole reason I chose the genre to write for.  But when I'm writing a book, I try not to read books that are similar to my own.  In other words, I try to avoid humorous cozy mysteries. 

The reasons I do this are two-fold.  First,  on some level, I'm worried about getting too much influence from a book similar to my own.  But mostly, I'm worried that reading another author's published book will make me more frustrated with my own.  What I'm reading is a well-polished, darned-near-perfect finished product, but I can't help but compare it to my own, imperfect, scratched-up and scribbled over Work in Progress. 

So lately I've read some wonderful mysteries, but they've been nothing like my own.  I read Deborah Crombie's latest police procedural (Where Memories Lie) and a couple of books with mysterious elements to them that weren't traditional mysteries (House at Riverton and The Secret History). These books were so different from mine in every way that I was able to read them for relaxation and pure enjoyment instead of comparing my manuscript to them and feeling like I'm falling short.