Sunday, November 27, 2011

Squeezing Writing In Between the Holidays

Okay, let’s face it. Finding time to write during the holidays is harder than normal with all the gatherings, parties, shopping, wrapping, mailing, cooking, etc., our already short supply of free stretches is even more constricted.

I’ve got a self-imposed deadline of January 31 for publishing my sequel and I can already see that goal as getting more and more difficult to reach.

I tried something new with fellow writer and tweep J. Landon Cocks – a couple of writing dates on Twitter. We agreed to touch base on Twitter before we started, half-way through and at the end of an hour to see how it had gone for each of us.

And it worked! Very well. Both times, I found that making a commitment to write at a certain time with a friend was much more compelling than any promise I make to myself. So, as I move through the next month and half, I will see if I can talk him into this a few more times.

So, that’s one strategy. Another one I plan on employing is writing in between periods of wrapping presents and writing Christmas cards. For instance, I’ll stop after making two presents absolutely gorgeous for a writing break. Or when I'm struggling to make the past year interesting in my holiday greeting cards, stop to struggle with my novel after three cards. That way, the necessary chores will actually drive my writing.

I’m also going to try to limit my writing during this period to the “feel good” portions of the story, to take advantage of the happy feelings that always come over me at this time of the year. I think it will probably make my writing more evocative in those sections.

That’s all I can think of and I’m hoping for some comments that will offer other suggestions to overcome the challenges of continuing the march towards our dreams.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Few Good Links

I had hoped to bring you a very comprehensive listing of how-to videos that would enlighten and help you make your way through all the new social media options. I thought I would learn a lot in the process as well.

Unfortunately, what I’ve found is many, many outdated tutorials for Twitter and Facebook – none of which I can recommend anyone watch at this point. The differences between both of these platforms as they exist today and when these videos were made would be entirely too confusing.

So, the idea of “studying” social media through online videos is not really viable at this point. However, I did find some great videos and links to share with you.

First up, an article from Entrepreneur magazine’s online edition, about how to schedule your online marketing so that it doesn’t overwhelm you. Written for business, it isn’t always on point for writers, yet it is a good jumping off point for keeping your marketing under control.

For an inspiring look at how important social media has become and why you should be participating – watch:

Social Media Revolution 2011

To put the concepts of how to make a triple play in social marketing, here’s a terrific video:

How to Drive Traffic - The Holy Trinity of Social Media Marketing - Facebook, Twitter, Blog

What do to with Twitter and Facebook questions: There is a video out there for everything. If you have a specific question, I highly recommend searching Google or YouTube for that – for instance, I just input “How to pick a Twitter name” and got a link to “How to Choose a Twitter name.” This is the best advice I have for you.

If you haven’t yet heard of it, LinkedIn is becoming a great professional networking site, mainly for employment and sales. However, it’s worth your time to create a profile and begin building connections. It will lend you a professional presentation and you can make great contacts. Here are two videos I found worthwhile.

How & Why To Use

How to Use LinkedIn : Learn 5 Ways in 5 Minutes

This one is an essential for authors. GoodReads is a great site intended exclusively for readers and writers. You can create an author’s page and present your book for consideration. Hopefully, your readers will post reviews and recommend your book. I would recommend that you participate as a reader as well and give reviews back to the community.

GoodReads Tutorial - How To Setup Your GoodReads Account ...

That’s it for this edition. I’ve decided to continue to search for relevant videos and present them as I find them, perhaps at the end of my blogs. I hope you find some value in this list. Good luck out there fellow authors.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Some Ideas for Battling Writer's Block

So much of my life was spent fighting writer’s block that I have collected a few tricks which worked for me over the years. I seldom have the problem anymore and when I do it’s short-lived, like being in a bad mood or something.

Here’s the number one best advice I can give another writer – buy The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. The book has been around for a long time. I have a copy and have given copies away to other writers and artists as gifts for years. Cameron will teach you a couple of very simple, but very powerful exercises that will clear your head and allow your creativity to flow.

Once when I was struggling, a writer friend told me to try using a kitchen timer. Here’s the deal: you wind up a timer to no more than 10 minutes, then type away for that time period; anything from gibberish to your project. After the timer goes off, you must stop and you can’t start again for 10 more minutes. Do not break this rule. You will find that after a few tries the words are flowing and you’re angry with the timer. So put it away until the next time writer’s block is holding you hostage.

Another trick that works very well for me on a novel or screenplay is listing scenes I know I want in the project on an Excel spreadsheet – but any kind of list will work. Then peruse the list each time you sit down to write and see which scene you feel like working on. This really works well for me in fitting the mood I'm in to the right scene - funny, clever, sad, light or dark. I use my mood to enhance the right scene. I get a lot more writing done when I work this way.

Similarly, if I have a strong beginning and ending, I work both ends at the same time, and then fill in the middle.

The “trick” that really isn’t has been the most powerful thing in my writing for the past couple of years. I wrote Red Mojo Mama to the Michael Buble Crazy Love CD. In fact, I wore the CD out and had to download a copy to my computer because I’m working on the sequel right now. My heroine comes out to play to this music. I don’t know why. I’ve tried other CD’s. She kinda likes Al Green, but when Michael starts belting out “There’s gonna be a heartache tonight” she’s 100% there. I don’t what will happen with my next heroine – Victoria – she may like something completely different. But I would urge you to see if you can find something musical to trigger your muse. It almost feels like a Pavlovian response – but in a good way.

That’s my personal arsenal against the eternal enemy of writers – the evil “block” monster. I hope one or more of these will help you.

NOTE: The promised YouTube social media list is almost done. Expect it next weekend.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Macy’s and Gimbels Revisited

Hopefully, most of you will be familiar with the 1947 Christmas classic film Miracle on 34th Street. In it, a very young Natalie Woods plays a child who has been taught by her mother not believe in Santa Claus. However, when Kris Kringle himself takes over as the Macy’s Santa, she comes to believe in him and therefore Santa Claus. This belief is the miracle at the heart of the story.

I took away another miracle within the story at a very young age. At one point, Kris Kringle tells a mother that Gimbels has the toy her child wants for Christmas when Macy’s does not. At first, the store management is upset, but when the woman declares that she will always be a loyal customer because of this act of referral and publicity goes in Macy’s favor, Kris is hailed as a genius. I think this is as good as it gets in the miracle department.

About ten years ago, I opened a consignment shop and I made this a habit of mine – sending customers to other consignment shops that I knew carried what they wanted. My parents, who have been in the antique business for nearly 25 years, do the same thing.

First, it just makes sense. If you don’t have what the customer wants but know who does, why wouldn’t you tell them? For fear they’ll find the other competitor? So? The next time they are looking for something they are far more likely to come to your place first because they know you’ll refer them elsewhere if you don’t have it.

Second, it’s the right thing to do. I believe if I live my life always at least trying to do the right thing, more often than not, I will manage it.

So, why am I revisiting this old film now? Because I’m concerned by what I see as competitors nipping at each other’s heels on Twitter, specifically writers – probably because that’s my thing.

To be brutally honest, there are many thousands of writers on Twitter right now, all pursuing the same basic dream, many of whom have been inspired by John Locke’s success story – selling 1 million eBooks in 5 months. We all want to be the next Locke – plucked from the many and settled down into our own private dreams, usually a variation of this one – a worry-free, monied existence, finally able to write to our heart’s content rather than work for someone else in a day job. We want this so bad it hurts.

Non-writers out there are begging for the same opportunity – financial freedom. Twitter is the portal to this golden world. Pen a bunch of yearning dreamers up in a confined space like Twitter and you’re bound to get a few scratches and in-fights.

But here’s the thing. We will not all make it. Some will. Some won’t. I contend that “It doesn't matter if you win or lose, it's how you play the game.” – a famous but unattributed quote. Going back to the film, it was when both stores – Macy’s and Gimbels – rose above themselves and began to cross-refer that they both did well.

So, here’s what I propose. When we are lucky enough to find a great writer or fantastic product or funny blogger – or whatever – let’s go out of our way to help promote it or them. Retweet their messages or do an original tweet about it yourself. In that manner, we all do better.

In the end, we live or die as a group anyway. If Twitter remains a positive force, people will hang on to it, help it grow. If it withers away from a plethora of criticisms and negativity, we all lose.

Through lifting each other up, we perform our own miracles every day.

PS - you will find this same post on both my blogs. I want it to reach as many readers as possible.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Big Questions

Not just on Twitter, but out there in the real world, people ask me questions that stop me in my tracks: “How do I become a writer?” - “How do I get a publisher or an agent?" or nowadays “How do I publish an eBook?”

On all of these questions, the problem is that they are huge! I could easily give some one-sentence answer that in later years – when I become rich or famous or both – would be quotable. That would be cute and witty, but would do the questioner no good at all. Neither would a sincere half-answer filled with “you shoulds.” The problem is these inquiries are too big to answer, and here’s why:

· Becoming a writer, finding a publisher or agent or even self-publishing, takes years of trial and error, writing, hard times, writing, disappointments, writing, do-overs, re-writing, studying, and editing.

· There is no way – beyond penning a book about writing or any of the other big questions, each separately – that any of them can be adequately answered. Even then, the manuscript would simply reflect the author’s own journey plus whatever opinions of others are also included.

· How-to books are always subjective. There are no hard and fast rules about how to do anything anymore. What makes one person a gigantic success doesn’t work for the next.

· The most important reason of all is that if a person asks a question as all encompassing as these there is every indication that a basic understanding of the world or the process is missing. As much as I hate this analogy, it holds true – it’s like being at a restaurant with no prices on the menu: if you have to ask what the prices are you can’t afford to eat there. The same is true of a question like “How do I become a writer?” If you ask that question, you may lack the basic drive and curiosity required to break it down into questions you can answer a bit at a time for yourself.

When people ask about becoming a writer - I’ve learned to point people in the direction of Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way. Her book outlines such a simple process for awakening the artist inside that I figure anyone can read it and figure out if they are truly a writer (or painter or musician, etc.).

Regarding getting an agent or publisher – I point out that years ago, I actually obtained and chose between two different agents for my screenwriting and collected 127 rejection letters in the process, which I point out here to prove 1) it can be done and 2) it ain’t easy.

If there’s a definitive book out there about self-publishing or creating eBooks I don’t know about it. I would recommend two books, however, to get a feel for the culture of self-publishing – John Locke’s How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months! and The Path To Self-Publishing Success by William R. Hicks. Both of these books taught me a lot about the process from concept to marketing.

I’m spending the next two weeks developing a YouTube video list for "how-to" in Social Media, which I hope will help other writers. I will publish the list here.

I believe the best strategy when answering the “Big Questions” is to lovingly offer a starter tip and hope the person who wants to know will take it and run with it. And perhaps, learn to break these giant queries into much, much smaller chunks.