Monthly Archives

May 2013

The Difference between a Job and a Calling

SAMSUNGMost of us have and/or need jobs. Jobs pay the bills and keep the lights on. But not everyone has a calling, or is even interested in finding out what it might be if they do.

Writers are different.

Almost all writers know they have a calling, and they know their calling is to write.

If you’re not sure of the difference, how can you tell?

Examine your reasons. And then explore your emotions.

Let’s use one of my fictional characters as an example:

Oliver is a writer by night. He writes dark fantasy novels about his hero, Octavio Sash, and his villain, the sinister Letitia von Campidonni. Oliver is passionate about world-building and battle scenes and he stays up late to get more pages down. By day, he works tech support for a corporate cable company. He sits in a call center and answers repetitive phone calls.

Here are Oliver’s reasons behind his choice to work tech support:

He needs to pay rent
He needs to pay all his other bills
He’s had tech support jobs before and so he already knows how to do it
Inertia

Here are Oliver’s emotions about working tech support:

Contentment (sometimes)
Frustration (sometimes)
Apathy (all the time)

You can see that if Oliver’s reasons and emotions were put on a graph, they would probably chart a steady line with a few tiny bumps here and there.

Now here are Oliver’s reasons behind his choice to write:

When he isn’t writing he feels like something important is missing from his life
He has always loved books and is naturally drawn to writing
Making up stories is something his brain does on its own, he can’t stop from doing it

Here are his emotions about writing:

Joy
Excitement
Accomplishment
Pride

…and a dozen others that can be summed up in just one word: Happiness.

If Oliver’s reasons and emotions about his writing were put on a graph, the line would go up and up and up.

Sometimes, too, the line would suddenly plunge down. That’s when Oliver falls into doubting himself or runs into seemingly impossible problems in his story. But when the line starts climbing up again, it climbs even higher than before. That’s because Oliver had to push himself beyond his boundaries, he had to grow, to stick with his calling.

A job that is “just a job” very rarely pushes us to grow. But our calling never stops pushing.

We all have bills to pay. I’m not suggesting you give up your day job. What I am suggesting is that you start giving your calling top priority. Your writing is the thing in your life that brings you joy, and excitement, and that delicious feeling of riding the line to the top of the graph. The most important thing you can do is feed it—with your love, your belief, your time and energy.

You will always find something else to do to pay the rent. You will never find another calling. Writing is it for you, you drew those cards. Own it. Start writing as if it’s the most important thing in your life.

Because it is.

 

5 Best Blogs on How to Write a Query Letter

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Query Shark
by Janet Reid
You can read this blog, or you can get seriously interactive. The premise of Query Shark is that readers send in their query letters to be critiqued. Reid’s advice is blunt and straight to the point—and it’s very, very useful. Query Shark shows writers exactly what they’re doing wrong, and makes clear, practical suggestions for improvement. If you have a query letter that you’re looking for some feedback on, you should definitely think about sending it to Query Shark before sending it out to agents.

Author! Author!
by Anne Mini
Anne Mini is known for the length of her posts. This is not a breezy, five-minutes-of-info blog. However, reading Mini’s long posts counts as time well spent. She covers every detail of querying, how to work with agents, the fine print, and more. This woman is totally amazing and I highly recommend investing the time in reading what she has to say.

Nathan Bransford
Bransford used to be a literary agent, and he’s currently an author himself. He includes information on the query process, as well publishing e-books and what to expect these days from traditional publishers. He’s also friendly and down to earth. If you only have a few minutes a day to do your query research, Bransford is a good bet.

Rachelle Gardner
In addition to posts about agents and the querying process, Gardner includes helpful information about marketing and promotion, and the financial and legal side of things. She’s currently an agent with Books and Such Literary Agency so she has a true insider perspective. She gives readers the real truth about pursuing a career in writing, but she also comes across as a real person.

Absolute Write
Not technically a blog, Absolute Write offers articles and information for published and unpublished writers. The site is probably best known for its forums, where writers can discuss topics and ask questions of other writers. If you have questions about a specific agent, for instance, the forums might provide more information on him or her. But like any forum, it’s easy to waste a lot of time endlessly reading the discussions if you’re looking to procrastinate—something we writers are known for!

If you’re serious about getting your writing career off the ground, it’s time to bring in the experts. After you visit the blogs I’ve recommended above, do your own a Google search and dive into the results!

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Writing Out Loud

SAMSUNGA couple of weeks ago my writing group got together and staged a reading. We did it at the apartment of one of our members, and each of us brought a dish or snack to share. We each picked a bookstore or venue where it would be our dream to have our own author event. One of the other writers in our group introduced us and we presented our writing exactly as if our book had just been published and we were doing the book tour. Then we did the Q&A afterward.

It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had.

This is what I learned:

Your writing is always different spoken out loud
Sentences that flow on the page might turn up clumsy out of the mouth. Dialogue that seems lackluster in written form can surprise you with how funny it sounds in actual conversation. Your writing takes on a different personality when you read it in front of other people (or even just yourself), and this difference can give you valuable information about the way you work your particular craft.

Reading in front of people builds your confidence
Yes, it is nerve-wracking at first. When it was my turn to get up and read my voice was shaking, my hands were shaking, and I even had trouble breathing! Every gland on my body that could sweat started sweating. But it got easier as I read page after page. The audience laughed at my funny stuff, and groaned at my embarrassing parts. I heard with my own ears how my writing was doing what I wanted it to do, and inside, I grew stronger.

Other writers are just as unsure as you
When you’re struggling to write your first novel, it’s easy to assume that other writers magically have their shit together and know exactly what they’re doing. This is simply not true. There are so many other writers out there who are just as uncertain about what to expect as you are. If we make the journey together and support each other along the way, it won’t be as scary. The energy we would have put toward fear, we can shift toward getting our work published and finding new readers.

So now that you know the benefits, who will be your audience for your very first reading?

How about…

Your Writing Group
If you’re part of a Reading Circle, you’re doing this kind of work anyway. But if you’re part of a Critique Group or a Timed Writing Group, it couldn’t hurt to propose a practice reading to your group, solely focused on encouragement and the art of public speaking. Your writing group should function as your sounding board and your local community; a practice reading will contribute to both of these functions.

Open Mic Night
If you live in the city, you can probably find an Open Mic Night at a local bar, bookstore, or community center. These are usually focused on poetry and spoken word, but sometimes you can present flash fiction too. This is a good option for more extroverted writers who like being in the spotlight.

The Stuffed Animal Brigade
If you’re an introvert, or just not ready to share your writing at that level, then the two options above might feel like too much for you. This is when you call in the troops—your favorite stuffed animals, ceramic figurines, Halloween masks—anything with a face! Assemble them all together as your audience and read your work loud and proud.

Reading your work out loud is a serious step toward finding your voice as a writer. You don’t have to agonize over which option to choose, just make the choice and start reading your week out loud, at least once every couple of months.

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The Beast of Self-Judgment

SAMSUNGWhat’s the number one thing that cripples writers?

Self-Judgment

No matter what kind of fiction we write, most of us writers have eerily similar personalities. We are sensitive and intelligent, and we have high standards when it comes to our creative work. So high, in fact, that sometimes our standards turn into the two-headed Beast of Self-Judgment that breathes fire with one head and drools poison with the other, usually all over our fragile dreams.

If you are writing your first novel, you will do battle with the beast of Self-Judgment over and over again. And you will even judge yourself on who’s winning or losing the battle.

Here’s how you know when you’re losing:

You hear that critical voice in your head that makes you feel terrible about yourself.
You inwardly call yourself names, or call yourself stupid.
Your chest feels tight, your throat feels tight, you feel like you might cry.
Your stomach sinks like a dead weight.
You get agitated and reach for any addiction—food, the remote, a drink, whatever.

If you feel any of these things while reading your writing, or talking about your writing, or even just thinking about your writing, the Beast of Self-Judgment is in the room with you.

It’s time to do battle.

But how do you fight the Beast? It has an argument ready for every point you debate. It digs up old secrets and memories that make you feel even worse. It hits below the belt, every time.

I’m going to give you a quick exercise you can do anytime, anywhere, and the results are huge. But if you want it to actually work, you have to put your whole imagination into it. No half-assing this. No “kind of” trying to do it. Close your eyes and really do it.

Picture yourself as you were when you were six years old. Remember how you looked, how small you were, how unsure of the world. Page through an old photo album if you have one. Really sit and settle into those six-year-old shoes.

Now picture another six-year-old kid—someone who is not you. Maybe you have a son or daughter that age, or a niece or nephew. Maybe you’re a teacher and you can picture some of the kids in your school. If you really don’t know any six-year-old kids, Google what’s going on at a local school in your community and look at the pictures of the first-graders.

Notice how small and innocent these kids are. How bright and hopeful. Sit with the feeling of being an adult, being a protector and a leader for these kids. Feel how much potential they have, how much joy they can bring to the world.

Okay—now that you’ve got all those feelings loaded and locked down in your psyche, go back to the space where you felt the most Self-Judgment. How would you react if you heard someone being as harsh as you are on yourself, to those six-year-old kids you were picturing? What if one of those kids was writing his or her first story and some mean crazy person came along and told them it was stupid?

How hurtful would that be?

Now go back to six-year-old you. Picture you as the kid sitting there writing that story. You’re excited and having fun, totally lit up from the inside out. The voice of Self-Judgment is the crazy mean person who comes along and tries to kick your story to pieces.

But now, there’s a difference. You are going to come in as the adult and protect you as the child. The six-year-old you writing that story is your little flame of creativity. It has limitless potential, boundless joy and curiosity for the world. You-the-adult understands that some things are worth protecting. That just because someone is small right now and still learning, doesn’t give anyone else the right to try to tear them down.

Anytime you feel that icky feeling of Self-Judgment, that snaky poisonous voice of self-criticism, you’re going to picture yourself as a child once again, sitting at a sunny table writing your very first story. And then you’re going to imagine yourself as the adult you are now, shielding that child inside and taking your creative power back.

This exercise truly can work wonders for you, but you must practice it earnestly. You must be serious about dedicating yourself to the protection and well-being of the child writer inside you.

Be brave—your six-year-old self is counting on you!

Social Media for Writers

Heads on HaightI’m so sick of the phrase “social media savvy.”

I’ve used it on resumes, I’ve used it at parties, and yes, I’ve even used it on my social media profiles.

But I’m sick of it.

To me, it sounds like shorthand for, “Don’t worry about me! I’m not some old geezer who’s scared of computers! I have totally got this!”

But really…social media is pretty confusing.

There are dozens of different social media tools, and each tool has its own etiquette, its own community, and its own language. As a writer, I’ve heard I’m supposed to be on all of them. I’m supposed to write my blog, set up a Facebook fan page, tweet every hour, pin cool things on Pinterest, build my brand on Tumblr…but when will I have time to write?

Unless you’re 14 years old and you grew up with an iPhone in your hand, trying to be present on every social media network is signing up for a course in insanity.

Here’s my strategy: Pick one or two social media resources and start there. Pick something you like and have fun with, and ignore all the rest. Dabble around and then pick your poison.

Here’s a cheat sheet on some of your options:

FACEBOOK
The granddaddy of them all, Facebook has sheer numbers to recommend it. I’ve heard users have been declining in the past year or so, but there’s no denying that it’s still very, very big.

Pros
If you have frequent events going on to promote your work (like book signings or lectures), Facebook lets you set up invites and keep track of RSVPs. Likewise, a Facebook Fan Page can also be helpful as a landing page to showcase your writing to new fans.

Cons
Navigating between your personal Facebook page and your Fan Page can get confusing on the technical side. Facebook is also notorious for making people with privacy concerns uncomfortable.

TWITTER
Whether you call it micro-blogging or a media platform, users of Twitter have made expressing yourself in 140 characters or less an art form.

Pros
It’s easy to directly connect with other writers and readers on Twitter. Just send them a tweet. And the practice of following complete strangers isn’t weird, so you have countless possibilities to make friends and connections in the writing world.

Cons
Because of the never-ending stream of tweets, a lot of folks find Twitter too overwhelming. Also, tweets are public—to anyone and everyone—so some writers might feel like the pressure is on to always say something good.

PINTEREST
Pinterest splashed onto the social media scene as a digital billboard concept that allows users to pin pictures and videos revolving around a theme. It’s slick and enticing, and the majority of its users are female.

Pros
If you’re writing about anything heavily image-based, like fashion or food, Pinterest allows you to connect with your audience instantly through visuals. And if your audience is primarily female (think: paranormal romance or chick-lit genres) Pinterest could help you scoop up new readers.

Cons
If you’re not that interested in focusing on the visual, Pinterest can end up feeling like a burden and a time-suck. And there’s definitely a competitive element that arises in trying to keep up with Joneses—it’s actually called Pinterest Stress.

TUMBLR
Tumblr is known for being the “anti-blog.” Instead of trying to attract a large audience of strangers, most users set up a Tumblr to share with a smaller circle of people who they probably know in real life. Most Tumblr users are also under the age of 25.

Pros
If you’re a young 20-something artist or writer Tumblr is an interesting social media option. Because so many young people use it to express what’s actually going on in their lives, it can help you easily keep a finger on the pulse of your local artistic community.

Cons
If you’re over 30 you will probably tire of Tumblr quickly. The content is aimed at the younger crowd, and it’s unlikely you will find many people you actually know using it.

LINKEDIN
LinkedIn bills itself as a social networking resource for professionals. Your page is basically built around your resume, as well as professional accomplishments and connections.

Pros
If you have some really kick-ass names in your Rolodex, LinkedIn can help you shine. Likewise, if you have a long and impressive career, LinkedIn can help you showcase it. Because of the emphasis on companies, organizations, and professional connections, this site works best for journalists, publicity and content writers, and freelancers.

Cons
If your credentials have nothing to do with writing (say you’re writing your novel during the day, but at night you drive a taxi), LinkedIn probably won’t get you very far. It’s also not a site that encourages you to link up with strangers as a best practice—the people you know on LinkedIn you usually know in real life, even if it’s only over email—so it’s not ideal for gaining new audience members or making new writer friends.

Consider your social media goals—what do you want to get out of this? Consider the kinds of people who would be interested in reading your books. What social media sites are they hanging out on?

Pick two sites and sign up. Dabble. Play. If you like it, stay. If it doesn’t speak to you, move on.

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