Writing During a Family Crisis

~ By Tanya Agler

Overall, writing is a rather solitary endeavor. Many people, who’ve never finished a book, believe it’s the easiest thing in the world to let the words flow onto the computer screen or onto a sheet of paper. In reality, many writers have day jobs, families, and responsibilities.

Many wake up early to write or stay up late. Some use their lunch breaks or the time after their children go to bed. Day by day, they see their word count add up until lo and behold, they have a first draft and finally a revised and edited book.

But sometimes real life intervenes in a way none of us can prepare for.

Sometimes a loved one gets sick. Worst of all, sometimes our loved ones pass away.

When those crises hit home, how do writers sit down and write when it seems as though everything they knew is falling apart around them?

Believe me, it’s better to think about how you’d keep writing in a crisis when trouble isn’t swirling around you. In the four years since I’ve been seriously pursuing writing as a career, my father has died and my teenage daughter has been diagnosed with a rare disease, VHL, which has required numerous scans, tests, eye laser procedures and outpatient surgeries.

Life happens as you’re trying your best to capture emotion on the page and write a story someone will want to read. So, here’s my advice on what to consider before the crisis hits and you wonder how on earth you are ever going to find time to write or even find that inner writing spark again.

Know why you write. This seems like a basic question. Why do you want to write? Why are you the best person to write the story burning in your head? It’s important to ask yourself why you write because when life hits the fan, you need to know why, out of everything you could be doing with your time, writing means so much to you.

Know your writing style. I’m not talking about your writing voice, although it is important to know that. I’m talking about whether you’re the type of “have laptop, will travel” writer or “a dedicated time and space” writer. Depending on how you work best, you know then how to adjust in those times of crisis. I’ve written in hospital rooms, doctor waiting rooms, and school parking lots, but I also know people who have to write at home and would have awakened two hours early to write at their desks. When you know how you write, you can adjust your schedule to accommodate your writing, if it’s a short term adjustment.

Know your writing priorities. Preplanning, writing or editing (and more revision) all are integral parts of writing. A long time ago, they might have been the only job a writer had. Today, not so much. A writer wears different hats. A writer may have a critique partner or beta readers, should have a website, is usually active on social media or found on a blog hop, and even more. Some writers assign priorities to all the different parts of their writing responsibilities. On days when I’m on the go, I might not have time to write the black moment, but I might have time to set up tweets (one caveat-if you write social media posts ahead of time and bad news breaks, pull the tweets or FB posts) or critique a couple of pages or beta read a chapter. The great thing is when I do get a bigger chunk of time, I can write.

Know when to take a break. All of this sounds great until you’re in the ICU with a family member or best friend or when you get the call from the doctor that you have to start chemo. Sometimes you have to give yourself the freedom to call your agent or postpone your indie release because the crisis is too big. It’s okay to say I can’t write because I have to figure out how my family gets through a car wreck, or I have to undergo cancer treatment, or I have to say goodbye. But when you know why you write, you’ll know when it’s time to open that laptop screen again or sit down at your desk, and the story will pour out of you.

So that’s my advice. Sit down and figure this out when life is good. Then, when life happens, you’ll know why you write and you’ll know when it’s time to get all the emotion you went through into a story that readers will love.

This write-at-home mom lives in Georgia with her husband, four kids, one Basset Hound (Vera) and one rabbit (Gandalf). She writes a mixture of inspirational category and sweet contemporary Southern front porch romances. In 2016, she placed first in the Great Expectations Contest (Contemporary Category) and the Catherine Contest (Contemporary Short) as well as finalled in the Maggies and TARA Contests.

When she’s not writing, chauffeuring her children or folding laundry, Tanya loves classic movies (preferably black and white or anything with Cary Grant) or enjoying a cup of tea alongside a good book.

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Strong Writing Regimen. Strong Body.

~ By Liza Keogh

My writing regimen is getting stronger. Fifteen months ago, I formally ended one career and began to write fiction. I had a yearlong arc of transition ahead of me, and the planets seemed well-aligned to support a multitude of big changes in my life.

My body is suffering. My hip joints are achy, the herniated disc in my lower back is very testy, and my core strength is a thing of the past. Photographs attesting to what once was survive, otherwise, I might have a hard time proving how strong and limber I used to be.

Any of that sound familiar? I knew, going in, that many daily hours in the seated position was deleterious to one's health. Heck, I'd been working with people for over ten years to improve their posture and muscle tone, even to set up at-home yoga and meditation practices to keep them tuned up between classes or private sessions.

And here I was, ignoring my own advice. Perhaps I was thinking I would be immune to the effects of having my butt in a chair for up to eight hours a day. Perhaps I thought the sugary treats my brain was suddenly craving were part and parcel of 'becoming a writer'.

Now what?

Here's what I know: We humans are meant to move (not just be moved). We benefit even more from moving our bodies in different directions. Getting out into Nature regularly is good for our brains, our bodies, and likely our well of inspiration. Adequate water intake is essential, as are good eating habits.

If writing is our thing, and we have word counts and deadlines to meet, along with every other obligation in our lives, how do we keep the vehicle transporting us through this lifetime in good working condition?

Start somewhere. Now. Today, I put on exercise clothes as soon as I woke up, tied on my sneakers, and made myself a cup of rooibos chai tea with hazelnut milk. I am going to walk on my treadmill for 30 minutes before I start writing, and I am recommitting to an anti-inflammatory eating plan. That plan seems to work well for me: it helps ease the aches in my joints, melts off excess pounds, and sharpens my brain. To experience those benefits, however, I have to be rigorous and patient and remember that day three will be horrible.

Vary your vectors. That's a phrase that reminds us to vary our exercise routine. Our fascial system runs throughout our body on up and down, side to side, diagonal, spiral and intersecting pathways. It needs water to stay healthy, 'juicy', and it needs movements to keep from getting sticky. Before I walk on my treadmill I'll do a 10-15 minute functional movement warm-up (see below for a link to my favorite). I've tried running, even once hired a coach to teach me the mechanics of running, and I failed miserably. So, I stick with what I know instead of setting unattainable goals.

Make a plan. After I write, and before I get on my exercise mat later in the day, I'll record a fifteen- to twenty-minute Pilates routine. I have notes and pencil figure drawings from a series of private sessions I signed up for last summer. That was months ago, I know, but I had this idea for a story and... you know how it goes.

Little ideas:

  • Used exercise equipment is out there. My well-loved treadmill cost $100.
  • Get thee to a class. Go with a friend. Pay attention to the instructor, and pay attention to what your body is telling you as you move, and afterward. Get to know your body as well as you know your favorite characters.
  • Get thee to an on-line class. Youtube is a great, free resource. Start with Ed Paget's F.A.S.T. class, and explore the rest of the offerings at Intrinsi, Osteopathic Clinic and Natural Movement Center (Please note: I have no connection with them whatsoever, other than admiring their approach to human movement, and the clarity of instruction. I did a lot of research over the years for clients, and the Intrinsi site is consistently good. Check out the videos on the pelvic floor, too.)
  • Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, become more aware of your posture.

I'd love to know how others keep themselves healthy, or what got them back into caring for their health.

Liza Keogh has extensive experience leading yoga retreats, often in conjunction with writing coaches and therapists. She founded and ran a successful yoga center in Massachusetts and for over ten years brought yoga to venues that included public parks, corporations and low-income health centres.

Most days, she can be found in her writing cabin, working towards her next Life Goal: becoming a published author. You can find her blogging at https://lizakeoghblog.wordpress.com, and on twitter @lazy_liza_k.

2017, Shakespeare, and a Dose of Inspiration

rebeccagraceallen~ By Rebecca Grace Allen

Let’s be brutally honest here: 2016 totally stunk. As a writer and, well, a human, I struggled on every level. My creativity shuddered to a halt. I hit a massive writers block. My relationships suffered. I gained ten pounds. There were times when I wondered why I was doing this whole writing thing in the first place. Then I remembered, it’s because there are stories bubbling up inside me that I have to tell. Stories that I hope will be timeless, ones that will live on beyond me. And sometimes, to write that kind of timeless tale, I need a little inspiration.

Sometimes I find that inspiration in Shakespeare.

I saw my first live Shakespeare performance when I was 14, in a black box theater in Manhattan. I immediately fell in love—with the language, the costumes, the drama, and how the themes of betrayal, corruption, deception and love still rang true today. In high school English class, I adored reading Hamlet while everyone else rolled their eyes at the iambic pentameter. I became an English major in college, and rushed to enroll in a Shakespeare course, dutifully carrying my 2057 page, coffee-stained Riverside Shakespeare around campus. (I also went to a school where a lot of student-run events took place in a building named Falstaff’s. Eat, drink and be merry, anyone?)

These days, I don’t crack open that old Riverside (which, yes, I still have) all that often, but I do watch movie versions. And I’m still amazed at the timelessness of the stories, the classic romance and angst, and how we continue to make his work relevant by creating modern adaptations of it. So I thought I’d share some of my favorite modern-ish adaptations:

West Side Story (1961)

It’s not modern, but it’s the best variation on Romeo and Juliet in my opinion. (Don’t get me started on the Baz Lurhamn version *shudders*.) The idea of putting those star-crossed lovers from rival families into warring gangs and setting it all to music was just brilliant. As an aside, I once performed in an adaptation called South Shore Story, where the North Shore conservative Jews of Long Island were foes of the South Shore Reformed ones. “I feel frummy, oh so frummy...”

Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

This one isn’t a modern take at all, but rather what I consider a perfect portrayal of exactly what The Bard intended. The performances are perfect—I heart Kenneth Branagh’s “Love meeeee! Why?” Plus it’s got Emma Thompson, Kate Beckinsale, Keanu Reeves, Denzel Washington and Robert Sean Leonard.

Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999)

I’ve always loved this comedy of errors, and the idea of characters falling in love with the wrong characters only to finally end up with the right ones. That’s what romance is made of, right? And with Kevin Kline as Bottom and Stanley Tucci as Puck, how can you go wrong?

Hamlet (2000)

Modern setting, techno music, classic language, and Ethan Hawke. Did I mention Ethan Hawke? Oh, and yeah, Ethan Hawke.

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

This modern version of the Taming of the Shrew will always be one of my favorites. Classic 90’s. Classic Shakespeare. And Classic *sigh* Heath Ledger.

via GIPHY

Now in 2017, I think of myself, and all the rest of us writers, contributing to the collective cannon of literature. It’s a tough time in the world out there, and I know now, more than ever, we creative types have to keep creating. After all, it wasn’t easy in Shakespeare’s time—bear-bating and no indoor plumbing!—and he kept writing. We can keep writing, too.

Rebecca Grace Allen writes sweet, sexy and soul searching romance, emphasis on the sexy! A caffeine addict, gym rat, wife, and fur-mommy, she lives in upstate New York with her husband, two parakeets, and cat with a very unusual foot fetish. Her newest release, TAMING SUGAR, is a modern day, BDSM, Taming of the Shrew, and releases on January 19, 2017.

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Writing is Hard. Why Do We Do It?

It’s the last Sunday of the month, which means that it’s time for one of our chapter PAN members (PAN stands for Published Authors Network, a professional designation within RWA open to members who reach a certain level of sales) to visit the blog to share some of their wisdom and expertise.

This month, Mary E. Thompson is here to inspire us with some thoughts on why we write. Which for those of you who are striving to write 50,000 words this month, may feel like an extremely timely question.  Take it away, Mary!

MaryEThompson~ By Mary E. Thompson

Eight months ago a friend of mine released her first book. Leading up to the release, she did a countdown to release day on social media, shared it with everyone she knew, and was crazy excited. Three months later, sales were dismal. Recognition wasn’t there. She was discouraged.

Another friend took on a second job because her writing income wasn’t what she hoped for.

Yet another friend waited months to hear back from a submission only to get rejected.

None are new stories. Most authors start out the same way. No one knows who you are. No one is interested in your books. You pour yourself into a book and get a horrible review that rips the book, and your heart, to shreds.

So why do we do it? Why do we keep writing, keep pushing through in a career that may never be much more than a hobby? Why don’t we walk away and do something with more stability? A higher chance of success?

I think there are two reasons we keep going. Maybe only one of them drives you. Maybe it’s both. I’m guessing it’s both.

Faith

You know, without a doubt, that you have a book inside you that is going to make it all worthwhile.

We all want that elusive mega-success that seems to come so easily to some. We all computer-pc-workplace-home-office-159760want our book to be the next breakout story. The one that has movie producers and readers knocking down our door. We want the bestseller list and the raving fans that make every book bigger than our wildest dreams.

And we’re creative people. We have some crazy dreams.

If you don’t have faith in your own storytelling abilities, you’re going to give up. You know you’re good. You keep writing and learning and writing some more. Your books get better. Writing gets easier. You gain more recognition. You know it’s all going to pay off.

You have faith.

Compelled

You truly have no choice. You’ve tried something else. Maybe you had a different career before. Or you have a second one now. Maybe writing was something you’ve always wanted to do.

No matter what, you’ve thought about walking away. Giving it all up and doing something else.

But you just can’t.

There are stories inside you. Stories that are demanding you tell them. Stories that you have to get out. It doesn’t matter if you have a million fans or one, you have to tell your stories.

How could we not do it?

Readers flock to romance. Everyone wants love. Romance novels make us believe anything can happen when love gets involved. Your best friend’s cute older brother will want you. The hot guy from your favorite coffee shop asks you out. Your sexy boss is pining for you. Anything is possible. 

Is it any wonder we simply can’t stop writing our stories? Helping people fall in love? Pushing them to their limits only to shove them a little further to help them find that one person we all want to find? We can’t stop writing any more than our fans can stop reading. And that is a beautiful love story!

Mary E. Thompson writes scintillating stories with a side of hope. She’s been indie published from the beginning. Her 26th release comes out November 29. She spends her days hoping she’s raising her daughter and son to be good people and her nights snuggling with her own romance novel worthy husband. Visit her website at http://MaryEThompson.com to learn more.

Surviving NaNoWriMo When You’re Not Writing

brendamargriet~  By Brenda Margriet

Note: On Wednesday, we posted an alternate view of National Novel Writing Month

I am currently not writing. It doesn't feel good, but I am trying not to beat myself up about it. So with NaNoWriMo going full swing and many of my online writer friends posting amazing word counts I just want to say:

Shut up already!

Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh. But for those of us (and I know you're out there!) who aren't doing NaNoWriMo for whatever reason, here's some encouragement on getting through the month and beyond.

Live your life

Yes, in order to be a better writer, to finish a book, to make a sale, you have to write. But you also have to read books you love, discover new authors. You have to watch the world go by, study people in a coffee shop, spend time enjoying your surroundings.

All these things colour your words, and can often get ignored while under the pressure of hitting a deadline or daily word count. Use this down time to experience life, to store up feelings and sensations and observations so that the next time you are writing in a white heat, you have them to draw on.

Keep writing – even when you can't

I may not be working on my next romance, but I am still writing. I'm doing this blog post, as well as blogging weekly on my own site. I'm lucky enough that my day job also involves creative writing to a certain extent, so I am working there. I am networking with other writers on Facebook through Messenger, which is also writing.

It's not, you say?

Well, think of it as a writing dialogue exercise. Study the patterns of the people you are messaging with. How does what they write "sound" different than what you write? How can you use that once you are again putting words on paper?

This too shall pass

Unless you're dealing with a true crisis of faith in your writing, remind yourself of all the times this has happened before. 'Fess up – you know it has. My first book took more than ten years to finish. I certainly wasn't writing every day during that time, and yet I GOT IT DONE!

Since publishing that book in October 2012, I have completed five more manuscripts and published two (soon to be three) of them. When I consider the ten-plus years MOUNTAIN FIRE took to complete, that's a furious pace for me.

During that time, I've also taken on a fairly stressful management level day job, helped three children grow to adulthood, and been generally busy. Maybe the last few weeks has simply been my brain telling me it needs a break.

Remember who you are and where you came from

I think part of the worry and frustration for me, personally, is I feel like I am wasting precious moments of writing time. I usually work on my novels for about 1.5 hours a day, maybe slightly more on weekends. With such a limited amount of time to write, any day I don't use that time makes me feel like I am falling deeper into writing "debt."

Yet even when I am writing full steam ahead, my daily quota is only 500 words. It's a total I find reasonably easy to achieve even on a bad day, and if I don't it is also reasonably easy to catch up. Would I love to have a higher number? Sure! Would it do any good? Probably not.  I have to stop comparing myself to those writers who have published 30, 40, even 50 books since the self-publishing craze caught on. They are who they are – I am who I am. I am not a risk taker.

I need the stability of a regular paycheck. Maybe someday that will be from writing. But until it is, I need to accept my limitations and work within them.

How do you deal with not writing? Do you have a daily quota? If you do, do you find yourself wishing you could do more, no matter what it is? How are you planning to survive NaNoWriMo?

Brenda Margriet writes contemporary romances with heroes you'd meet at the grocery store. And by that she means real-life men – sexy, smart and looking for the love of their life. Her heroines are bold, savvy and determined to accept nothing less than the man they deserve.

A voracious reader since she was old enough to hold a book, Brenda's idea of the perfect holiday involves a comfortable chair near the water (ocean, lake or pool will do), a glass of wine, and a full-loaded e-reader.

She lives in Northern British Columbia with her husband (as well as various funny and furry pets) and has three adult children. Find out more about Brenda on her website www.brendamargriet.com

Can You Touch Your Toes? The Need for Flexibility

gabi_stevens~ By Gabi Stevens We all enter this writing career with dreams of best-sellerdom and fame. We all hope to write for a living and maybe even a little extra. Reality often derails those plans—your numbers were never big enough, you were orphaned, you never received support from your publishing house, your agent left the business; readers never discovered you in the morass of Amazon. Whatever. Honestly, your experience is not unusual. Few authors have had a smooth ride to superstardom, and I’d wager you can name authors who were on top a few years ago, but you don’t see them much now. Most of us have had setbacks or seemingly career-ending events. Or we’ve made mistakes. So now what do you do? The word is flexibility.   “Wait,” I can hear you say. “I’ve always heard that perseverance is the key to a writing career.” It is. Flexibility is merely an aspect of perseverance, a subplot if you will. You’ve tried and tried in one genre and didn’t break through/didn’t sell/the genre died. You have two choices: give up or move on. Giving up is easy, and, if you can, I highly recommend it. No more worries about deadlines, editing, revisions, or (gasp!) a synopsis. You can live a “normal” life. Learn to cook healthy meals. Exercise and learn to really touch your toes. Have friends. However, if you’re like me, that isn’t an option. So moving on it is. You can continue to write the same books and expect the same results (Einstein’s definition of insanity) or you can try something new. A new genre. Surely there is pexels-photo-127968-largemore than one genre you read and love. Why not try writing something in that area. Do you write historical? Well, what about historical mysteries? Or fantasy? Many fantasies are set in medieval-like worlds. Do you write paranormal? Well, what about urban fantasy or steampunk? Then there’s always the self-publishing alternative. You no longer need to wait for NY to call. You have a viable route to get your work out there (Just do your homework and get professionals to help you along the way, please.). Look, I’m not telling you it’s easy. This business is heart-breaking. I was first published in historical romances. I wrote seven under contract, orphaned, agent left the business, whatever. I had lovely reviews but never broke through. So I changed and wrote paranormal romance. New contract, new name. Reviews were good. Orphaned again, agent issues again, whatever. I have been able to put my entire backlist up as ebooks and have published three original books by myself, and a short story collection of tales that frightened my husband. My latest career move is into straight fantasy, and I’m working on a novel in collaboration with my daughter. Writing is what I do. I have a proven track record, but no real fame. That’s okay. Don’t count me out yet. I’m still writing (perseverance) and I plan to continue in the foreseeable future. Just this week I heard cozy mysteries were making a comeback. I love cozy mysteries. Hmmm. Gives me yet another avenue to explore. I can bend. I can move. I can touch my toes in more than one way. --Gabi Gabi Stevens latest work is THE STONE KEY, a self-published time travel novel about a kick-ass heroine who can’t get home to the middle-ages unless she finds an ancient artifact. Too bad the one man who can help her doesn’t believe in magic and such nonsense. She is currently working on building a fantasy career, while still pursuing the romances she loves. You can find her at www.GabiStevens.com and on Facebook and Twitter. 

Organizing Your Time to Achieve Balance

Mary E. Thompson I have a confession to make. I’m a bit of an organization junkie. I fantasize about having a house that’s worthy of Pinterest. I’m not there yet, but when I put my mind to getting something organized, it always makes me feel so much better. The big thing I tackled this year was organizing my time. Both my kids were in school, so I had a full day to work for the first time ever. I just knew I’d get so much work done. But then there was laundry to do. Boxes to unpack (we moved a month after school started). Cleaning and shopping and… Squirrel! Yeah, it was easy to get distracted. It quickly became clear that if I didn’t organize my time I’d spend all my afternoons working instead of taking my kids outside to play and stay up too late instead of getting much needed sleep. Trust me, it’s not pretty when I’m tired. If I was going to achieve some semblance of work-life balance, I knew I needed help. Help to keep me on track and know what I needed to do every day so I could actually get my work done. Preferably before the bus showed up. Here’s what I did…

Create Reasonable Goals.

I like goals. I make them all the time. It’s the reasonable part that usually trips me up. I forced myself to do that over the last year. I figured out how many words I can write in an hour and gave myself a goal per day. From there I could plan my work. If I needed about three hours of solid writing time each day, I had plenty of time for all the other stuff I had to get done. (Um, Pinterest anyone?) Then I knew how long it would take to complete a first draft and could go from there. Voila, my publishing schedule was set. With some buffer because… Life.

Write a To-Do List.

I like to feel like I’m accomplishing something. Writing a book takes a long time. It can be discouraging because even as the words appear on the page it takes forever until you feel like you’re actually making progress. My to-do list became a good friend. Words this week? Check. Newsletter? Check. Laundry? Check. Playtime with kids? Check. Exercise? Check. I already feel more accomplished.

Prioritize and Keep Moving.

Don’t forget to prioritize your to-do list. If you know what really needs to be done but you aren’t ready to tackle it yet, do some of the smaller, easier tasks. Getting a few checks on your list inspires you to keep going. Yes, you need to finish that manuscript, and the vacuuming can (probably) wait until tomorrow, but if it’s bugging you, get it done and go back to your manuscript fully focused. It’s okay to do something else as long as you go back to the most important items on your list.

Eliminate Distractions.

I already confessed I get distracted easily. When we first moved, we had boxes stacked to the ceiling. (I wish I was exaggerating.) That was the biggest distraction I’d ever faced. I couldn’t work. At all. Those boxes stared me down every minute of the day. But I had deadlines and I wanted to get back into the flow of work. I couldn’t let it get to me. So I rewarded myself. Knowing once I got started it would be a while before I’d stop, I played a game. If I hit my goal on word count, or editing, then I could go through boxes for an hour or two. I was able to focus because I knew I could get everything done, eventually!

Avoid Procrastination.

This is my achilles heel. When I have plenty of time to finish something, I put it off until later. Tomorrow is my favorite day to get things done. Then I end up with thoselate nights and busy afternoons I despise. To combat this, I bought a newwoman's feet balancing on logplanner. Even more than I hate procrastinating, I hate being wrong. I set my word count goal for the day and push myself to meet it, because I don’t want to be wrong. When I have a goal for one day instead of for the week, I’m less likely to get overwhelmed by how much I need to do. Overwhelm leads to procrastination (no one said it had to make sense) and then it’s just a snowball from there. At the end of the day, you’re still going to have more you want to do than time to do it. It happens to all of us. Create your list for the next day and keep going. Because if you do everything today, you miss out on the things that really matter. The things that are the most important. Like spending a day at the pool with your kids. Or going on a date with your other half. Or finishing your latest manuscript. Don’t beat yourself up for that messy kitchen so you can enjoy life a little. Just put it on your to-do list. It’ll probably get done before that manuscript your editor is waiting for! Mary E. Thompson writes scintillating stories with a side of hope. She’s been indie published from the beginning and just released her 23rd novel. She spends her days hoping she’s raising her daughter and son to be good people and her nights snuggling with her own romance novel worthy husband. Visit her website at http://MaryEThompson.com to learn more!

On Competition and Writers

Marilyn Brant--author photo~ By Marilyn Brant  Note: This post originally appeared here At the end of last year, I'd spent a lot of time pondering Criticism and Writers. This week, having reread those reflections, I realized I didn't have much to add to them after another year amidst the thrill, the chaos and the frequent insanity of being a part of the publishing industry. What was true for me 12 months ago is still true for me now. Although I have to admit, my determination to pull away from the gossiping maelstrom wasn't without consequences... Two friendships I'd valued came to an end in 2010, both due in part to our having different approaches to dealing with life stressors and criticism. Letting go is rarely easy and that was certainly true in these cases. However, there are times when the path on which we're traveling splits and we have to make a choice if we hope to move forward and live a healthier life. This year was, for me, a reevaluation year, and while there were a couple of losses, there were quite a few more gains. I met some awe-inspiring people and had the pleasure of getting to know better or reconnect with some wonderful friends -- online and off. This year made me even more appreciative of the insightful, compassionate, secure and genuine travel companions who are sharing the journey with me...and I thank you all for that. Now, as 2011 approaches, my thoughts have turned to a different but marginally related theme:Competition. I had an interesting, somewhat unexpected experience with it in recent months. I was taking part in a multi-author booksigning event and a reader came up to all of us to ask about our novels. Since the reader questioned me specifically about one of my books, I was in the midst of explaining the story's premise to her when the writer to my left jumped in and launched into a description of her own novel. It was a noticable interruption, but I liked the writer and attributed her behavior to a combination of over-eagerness and the simple desire to make a sale. The reader, however, raised her eyebrows, took a step back and laughed uneasily. "What? Are you guys in competition or something?" she asked. I started to shake my head, but the writer jumped in again and immediately said, "Yes!" Before I could respond, another writer near us said emphatically, "Oh, no! Reading one of our books makes readers want to find others that are similar. It's not a competition." I nodded mutely in gratitude, but found I couldn't put into words all that I was feeling at the time. The issue is complex. It has logical and emotional components, real-world battles pitted against internal, intensely personal ones -- and rarely are all of these addressed. As a result, I haven't been able to get the incident out of my head. Looking back, I probably should have been offended by the first writer trying to horn in on a potential sale, but I wasn't. I just thought it was ineffective, if it was a strategy (in the end, the reader chose to buy my book anyway), and merely strange, if it wasn't. I'm aware it's a mindset some people can get trapped by -- that whole zero-sum game where all the world is classified into winners and losers. In the realm of the arts, it tends to perplex me more often than not because, IMO, it may be an unavoidable business reality on one level, but it's a fallacy on a dozen others. Yes, there are Amazon rankings and, if someone else's book earns the #1 spot, that means mine will inevitably be lower. If someone else sells the most copies that means mine will sell fewer. If someone else's novel wins the fill-in-the-blank award that means mine won't. Okay. That's true -- literally. But that's not the only game that happens to be in progress. And in the game that's most often in the forefront of my mind, the win-lose construction is almost...laughable. Because I already won. I won years ago. And so did many of you. I won when I decided to pursue a passion rather than do something I hated. I won when I chose to write stories as honestly as I could whether or not anyone else on the entire planet liked them, understood them or cared about them. I won when the side of me that is grounded in self-belief chose to stand up to the side of me that isn't...or, rather, I've triumphed in a handful of battles against Lack of Confidence but the war is far from over. This much I can tell you about it, though: The end result won't be determined by a royalty statement. Or by the number of GoodReads raves or bashes. Those are irrelevant in the heat of such combat. Tell me, how many "wildly successful" (in the eyes of the society) actors, musicians, writers, athletes, etc., do you know who've crashed and burned when forced to face themselves? That have lost their fortunes, their families, their sobriety or their sanity? Yeah. A lot. So, a focus on comparing sales figures as a measure of success -- while not a wholly worthless endeavor -- is limited in scope when placed alongside all of the truly significant conflicts fought within. I physically cringe when I see someone setting him- or herself up as some kind of opponent against me. I want to tell them to chill out ("Here, have a cookie!") and to please use their energy more productively. Out of fairness, they should know there's no external competitor in the universe more powerful than somebody's internal demons. The notion of a mere human rival being strong enough to turn my attention away from Fear...well, that's absurd. I wishthe real battles were so simplistic. Alternately, how can anybody put a price tag on having done what one set out to do? On reaching one's intended audience -- no matter the size? What author could possibly "lose" by overhearing a reader tell another author that his/her novel touched them? That a character the other author created was one the reader closely identified with? That the author expressed something for that particular reader that this person couldn't express for him- or herself? How do you quantifymeaning and slap a win-or-lose label onto it? No one will convince me that what's meaningful to 5 people is worth less than what's meaningful to 50. I don't believe that the thoughts and emotions of those 5 can be dismissed just becausemore people happen to agree on something else. I think of all the times I saw a film or read a book and LOVED it and, yet, my positive opinion was in the extreme minority. Is the fact that it changed my life of less significance than the fact that another film or book changed someone else's? I know more than one book and more than one film have influenced me, but I fail to see where the competition is between them. They were each a gift to my mind and my soul. Each brought me something I needed. Each shared with me a message of value -- even if it only illuminated a tiny corner of some concept. There is no ranking that can be stamped on illumination. Am I the only person that finds such attempts futile?! Sigh. (Yeah, I'll get off my soapbox now... ;) Of course, on the materialistic, tangible plane of existence, competition abounds and it's often hard to ignore. Writers can't afford to go on writing if our books don't sell enough copies. Publishers won't take a chance on a debut author without a P&L statement that's in the writer's favor, and they won't pick up our option books if the financial pros don't outweigh the cons. But just because I can't completely close my eyes to the reality of competition in the literary world, it doesn't mean I have wrap my heart around it. I know what I'll remember in old age about being a writer in 2010 will have far less to do with my novels' placement on one list or another than the thrill of knowing I fought off Fear or Lack of Confidence long enough to write something a few people told me they loved... Wishing you all a 2011 filled with important battles won, meaningful memories created and peace throughout the process. And joy. May the New Year bring you much of that, too! Marilyn Brant is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of contemporary women’s fiction, romantic comedy & mystery. She was named the Author of the Year (2013) by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English. She loves all things Jane Austen, has a passion for Sherlock Holmes, is a travel addict and a music junkie, and lives on chocolate and gelato. 

Have Laptop, Will Travel [REPOST]

tanyaagler~ By Tanya Agler  My son climbed into my minivan today, sniffed, and commented on how much the car smelled like Starbucks. I shrugged and told him that was where I wrote this morning. I’ve read with envy about writers who describe the closets they’ve converted to a great writing space. I’ve listened with envy to writers who talk about their children who know blood better be spouting out of multiple body parts if they disturb the parent who is wearing his or her writing hat. I’ve sighed with envy at writers who describe their writing space as located in their own house. My household consists of one husband, one rabbit, one Basset hound, one teenaged daughter, one tween son, and preschool twins. Whenever possible, I pile my copy of The Emotional Thesaurus, the latest RWR magazine, my binder with special craft class tips, my Kindle, my laptop charger, and my laptop into my trusty backpack and run to the car to go writing. In my case, my motto is “have In my case, my motto is “have laptop, will travel.” Local libraries. I always know the hours and locations of several branches. Not only do they often provide a quiet writing place, but if it’s my county branch, I can also check out books and audiobooks. The people are usually respectful and quiet, and there are always several outlets on the floor. At the library I often frequent on Sunday afternoons, the librarians often wave and warn me before they use the laminate machine. It’s a great place to write, and knowing other writers persevered until they were published often provides a great push for me. pexels-photo-largeRestaurants and coffeehouses. After I drop off my twins at preschool, the easiest thing for me to do is head to the nearby Panera for a couple of hours of solid writing. Bagels, a quiet atmosphere, and caffeine guide me through two whole hours of plotting, writing or editing. For me, not having the laundry nearby reminding me of its need to get folded or having a dishwasher calling out to empty and reload it is well worth a couple of dollars. My local library also closes relatively early. If my husband comes home early enough where I can get a couple of hours of writing done in the evening, it’s off to Starbucks. I’ve tried writing at home at night. A stuffed animal invariably needs a bandage or a kiss. A board game needs an extra player. I have a hard time saying no to those requests. When my husband is working, I make sure I “babysit” the stuffed animals so my five-year-old daughter can go to work. I make sure I play a game of Life. I take time to listen to a story about school while I’m folding laundry. But when my husband is off, I usually head out to write, knowing my children are forming a strong bond with their father and knowing they are seeing their mom trying to turn her dream into reality. This fall, my life will be undergoing changes. For the first time, all of my children will be in school for a full day. No longer will I drive ten miles each way to take my two youngest to preschool. For the first time, I’ll have the whole day to write. Between you and me, I’ll probably still end up sneaking to Panera every once in a while. Have laptop, will travel. Do you write in one place or do you write in a variety of places like I do? Do you write at one specific time of day or does it vary depending on your schedule? I’d love to hear from you. Tanya Agler is a write-at-home mom who is often found at her local library, Starbucks or Panera. As yet unpublished, she is a member of RWA, CRW and Georgia Romance Writers. Her agent is Dawn Dowdle of Blue Ridge Literary Agency. She has been a finalist in several chapter contests (2014 Maggie Contest, 2014 and 2015 Marlene Contest among others). You can friend her on Facebook (Tanya Agler) or follow her on Twitter (@TanyaAgler). Her blog is tanyaagler.wordpress.com. She will be attending RWA 2015 in July and would love to hear all about your writing space and routine. 

Reality Check [REPOST]

becke purple~ By Becke (Martin) Davis When I was a schoolgirl, I held one truth to be self-evident: that I could write. I might suck at a lot of other subjects, but give me a creative writing topic or even an essay, and I knew I could pull off an A. I’m not a schoolgirl anymore, and in place of essays I now write blog posts. I sweat those as much as algebra these days – not that there’s been much call for algebra in my adult life, thankfully. Along with a lot of my childhood beliefs that were tarnished by reality, my belief in myself as a writer is no longer set in stone.  It isn’t enough to enjoy writing, I’ve learned, and a bright idea for a story isn’t the same as bringing that idea to fruition in the form of a completed book. Publishers, agents and readers have higher expectations than my lovely English teachers did. And there’s a whole world of competition now, instead of twenty-odd classmates who didn’t have “published author” on their career wish list. A neatly typed essay with no spelling errors could make the content of my grade school papers appear almost scintillating. And I learned early on that a touch of creativity could disguise a multitude of sins. For example, when I tossed A CATCHER IN THE RYE aside after a few chapters (apologies to J.D. Salinger – I much preferred mysteries in seventh grade) it left me critically short of material when my teacher sprung an assignment on the class that could have severely tarnished my grade. He asked us to write an essay from the point of view of any character in the book besides Holden Caulfield. I wracked my brain and vaguely remembered a dog. There’s always a dog, right? My essay, written from the point of view of the barely-remembered canine, garnered an A plus. The teacher raved about my paper, while I squirmed with the knowledge that the dog’s POV was an action of last resort rather than a brilliant stratagem.  That’s when I began to suspect I wasn’t a real writer. Instead of becoming the investigative journalist I’d planned on becoming, I married young and worked in the advertising department of a couple newspapers and magazines. I knew writing ad copy wasn’t real writing, but it did help pay the bills. When we bought a new house that had zero landscaping, I began a crash course of self-taught horticulture. I noticed all the books I’d come across were by British gardeners, and having lived in London for several years, I doubted that the plants I’d grown there would survive a Chicago winter. This thought kicked off a period of intensive research that led to a 20-year career as a garden writer. This career shift confused my parents, since I had no training in horticulture. My dad couldn’t understand why professional landscaping associations would hire me to write for them when I had no credentials, specifically no horticulture degree. Instantly, I discounted all my research, all the workshops I’d attended, all the professors I’d interviewed about their work. Why were these people paying me, anyway? I reminded myself that I’d been hired to speak to master gardeners at the University of Illinois, so that must count for something – getting a paycheck from a university instead of writing checks to them seemed like a win/win. My paychecks went a long way to convincing me I was real garden writer, but wasn’t I just relaying factual information about plants? I had a talent for translating complicated facts, but did that make me a real writer? As always, I had my doubts. The difference was, real writers invented stories out of the whole cloth. I wouldn’t – couldn’t – be a real writer until I succeeded in fiction. By that time, I’d sold over 1,000 garden articles and written five books on landscaping. Apart from playing with some mystery short stories, I hadn’t attempted to write fiction in years.  I read about a book a day, so I knew fiction like I knew my own face.  How hard could writing it be? Make something up and write it down. Et voilà – a book! About a million words later, I knew exactly how hard fiction could be. Pretty. Freaking. Hard. I was old, for Pete’s sake, and I’d been a teenager when I got married. I hardly dated at all. How could I write a contemporary romance if I wasn’t even contemporary? Imposter Syndrome set up a suite in the writing quarters of my brain, reminding me of all the reasons I might not have what it takes to be a real writer. But here’s a reality check: I am a real writer. Not published yet, but I will be one day. Believe it. I almost believe it myself. Becke (Martin) Davis moderated the Garden Book Club and the Mystery Forum at BN.com until the forums were discontinued last year. Prior to that, she was a writer and instructor at B&N’s Online University and for two years she wrote a garden blog for B&N. She has written six garden books and one book about ‘N Sync, co-authored with her daughter. Becke has two adult children, an awesome granddaughter and two cats. She has been married almost 44 years and lives in Chicago’s Hyde Park.