A Crash Course in Time Management

Hands down, my greatest weakness when it comes to creative ventures is time management. I usually have at least two projects underway at any given moment and am always plotting at least one more, but I rarely complete any of them in a timely manner. Yes, I work full time on top of these passion projects, but I should still have some time left over to focus on making stuff, right?

On average, I work eight or nine hours a day and sleep about seven, so that’s sixteen out of twenty-four hours down the drain right from the start. Yes, that’s a lot of lost time, but that still leaves eight hours to carve out time to create. Oh, to have eight full hours a day to work on ANYTHING! You and I both know that’s not a likely scenario. What about making and eating dinner? The dog’s getting restless, time for a walk. Dishes are piling up, laundry needs done, gotta get to the grocery store, have some bills to sort out, oh and how about we avoid alienating everyone important in our lives? Eight hours becomes about an hour divided into inconvenient intervals just like that, and I don’t even have kids! Creative parents, I don’t know how you do it, and I salute you.

Now that we’ve identified how precious and fleeting our time is, we need to make some adjustments and mold an itinerary that works for us. A few years back, my work schedule changed from a 6:00 AM start time to 8:00 AM, and I decided I’d just keep getting up around 5:00 and try to utilize that uncluttered morning-brain to work on writing and editing. I was already on the schedule, so it didn’t feel like a seismic shift in my day to day, but it made a massive impact on my productivity, and I still get up way too early every work day. Well… almost every work day. I’ve never been a morning person, but I was surprised to find out how much I’m able to accomplish in this seemingly insignificant window. I highly recommend adding an hour to your morning routine if you find yourself struggling with deadlines or project completions If not for these morning sessions, I think my LetterWorks associates would’ve kicked me to the curb for not keeping up with the workload!

That’s a little over one hour per day that I’ve wrangled for myself, but I still needed more. I started reading time management tips and blogs, and decided to look into auditing my time. I downloaded the Toggl app and have been dutifully logging my activities for about a week now. It seems strange to record everything you do over the course of the day, but since I always have my phone handy, I can update it as an alternative to checking social media. This comes with the added bonus of sparing myself the shot of existential dread from watching society collapse in real time, so it’s already worth it! I haven’t logged my social media use specifically, but using the Screen Time app, I’ve got a few hours per week that I could at very least use for reading, organizing, or otherwise planning something related to my creative endeavors. If you’re interested in auditing your time but don’t think an app is right for you, here’s a handy printable chart you can use!

As expected, the majority of my pie chart is eaten by work and sleep, but I do have moments here and there to lock into tasks that don’t require the full focus of editing or writing, like catching up on emails. I’ve squeaked in time between getting ready for work and actually leaving (fifteen minutes on Monday!), while dinner is cooking, and then of course in the evening after my other life-essential tasks are done.

You may find as I did, that evenings are not as easy to schedule productivity into as I had assumed. There are the usual day to day activities, but then we also have our loved ones to consider. I have no desire to just abandon my girlfriend between dinner and bedtime, and generally will not unless I have a pressing deadline. I can, however, work on layout, website updates, project promotion, writing emails, or other mission-adjacent tasks when we sit down to watch TV. This doesn’t always happen, but as I continue to monitor my time usage, I get better at spotting windows like this that I can utilize.

Another thing I’ve discovered is that simply scheduling and logging time doesn’t always lead to results. In these cases, I’ve been careful to note what variables are at play so I can try to either plan around them or prepare for them in the event that I can’t reschedule. Sometimes this means skipping an early morning session in favor of sleep after a particularly long or grueling day at work.

Setting goals for each session has been helpful as well. Whether I set a word or page count for a specified period of time, or set a time limit to complete a task, I find that goals are good motivators. This would’ve been utter speculation had I attempted it before keeping track of my productivity, but now I have an idea how long it takes me to write and edit a blog post, or how much of a magazine layout I can get done in an hour. And speaking of motivators, logging milestones and completed projects is a great way to see that you’re making progress and your efforts are paying off!

Here are some helpful links to get you off and running with your own personalized time management regimen!

https://observer.com/2015/06/how-to-be-efficient-dan-arielys-6-new-secrets-to-managing-your-time/
This one is particularly helpful to anyone feeling like society is conspiring to hijack our free time.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnrampton/2018/05/01/manipulate-time-with-these-powerful-20-time-management-tips/#5f72a4c757ab
This Forbes article caters more to the business-minded than creative types, but still contains some solid points. Plus, most writers are basically one-person businesses!

https://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/making-time-to-write-time-management-for-screenwriters
Here’s one for screenwriters, but applies to anyone looking to string more words together.

https://toggl.com/time-management-tips/
The aforementioned app, Toggl has some ideas on how it should be done as well.

I’ll leave you with some words of wisdom from the always fantastic Kameron Hurley:

“Time management has been high on my list of things to fix this year, and if I was going to get all the work done that I needed to get done, something had to go. That something was engaging with the internet. When people pop into my Twitter mentions now with a passive-aggressive response or angry point of disagreement, I just mute them. Folks forget that they are talking to a Real Human Being here, with a shitbrick of work to do and no time for their nonsense. I’ve reminded myself over and over this year that the purpose of most abuse you get online for speaking your mind (especially if you don’t present as a Generic White Dude), is done to steal your time. People want to wear you down, to break you, to silence you. And in order to keep working, I’ve had to make some changes to how I interact (or not) in online spaces. Most of the bloviating circle-jerking stuff is just not worth my time. I engage when it matters, not just in reaction to somebody being dumb and wanting me to waste my time bloviating a “response” to something patently ridiculous like “women shouldn’t vote” or “periods make women dumb.” I’m too fucking busy getting shit done over here.”

Source: https://www.kameronhurley.com/the-calm-before-the-storm/

Worth Every Sacrifice

Like most artists, the road to becoming a published author is unique for each individual traveling it. But anyone planning for success must also plan for one thing: sacrifice. Whether the path is long and arduous like it was for Michael J. Sullivan, or enviably short like Brandon Mull’s, there is no way forward without surrendering a few things.

It’s Time

The most obvious sacrifice necessary is of time. Regular, consistent, methodical, reliable, scheduled TIME. Many aspiring authors disappear into the ranks of the wistful wishful because they fail to dedicate the necessary time to see their vision through, push through the walls, and lulls in creativity between projects. If you are not committing to regular time for writing in your schedule, then you are not a writer. Even the aspiring kind.

Pride

“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something” (The Princess Bride). “Get used to disappointment” (also The Princess Bride). Even some of the biggest best-selling novels in history were rejected many, many times. Harry Potter? 12. A Wrinkle in Time? 26. Kate DiCamillo received a staggering 473 rejection letters for various efforts before publishing Because of Winn-Dixie, arguably one of the most-read books in Middle School. To succeed in publication, one must sacrifice their pride, and recognize that even a well-written manuscript may not be picked up right away for publication. It’s also worth remembering that the quality of the manuscript is (obviously) not determined by how many rejection letters the author receives in the attempt to publish. It may be rejected because of that particular publisher’s goals, what kind of works they are currently interested in publishing, or because it’s just not well represented.

And Prejudice

You’ve just written the best thing you’ve ever attempted. The characters are alive and real to you, the story moves along at a good clip and has some exciting plot twists you’re excited for readers to discover. It’s perfect. With all due respect: nothing is perfect straight out of the gate. As the author you see and live the story in a way no one else can. And there’s the rub. No one else can. Which is why every published author has a favorite editor, and many a forward dedicates some space for gratitude toward their editor(s) for helping make the book the best it could be. The editor’s job is to help draw out your vision and trim back the weeds to bring into focus what the readers need to see to experience your work in the best way possible. Check your pride and author’s prejudice at the door, and let your baby grow up and move out into the world!

Worth It

To live is to sacrifice. Each moment of the day we are choosing how to spend that moment. We are giving up infinite possibilities to choose the one thing we are doing right this minute. If your goal is to be a published author, choose to leave behind whatever is holding you back from that reality. Check your pride at the door an acknowledge that rejection is just part of the process. Not everyone is going to love your work, or have room for it in their lives. That is not a value judgement, it just is. Set aside your personal preferences and listen to a good editor help you refine your work and prepare it for publication. Then get to work. And keep working.

December Events

Hey everyone! Hope y’all had a great Thanksgiving! With the passing of this holiday, December is quickly approaching, so here is the monthly events article! This article consists of a list of 10 free writing events in Michigan, yeah you read that right, they’re all FREE. As usual, please comment on this article if you attend these, or any other events not listed! We’d love to hear from you!

1st – Beyond Breakthroughs Vision Board Party – Detroit

While this isn’t exactly a writing event, creating a vision board can help you visualize the settings and overall feel of whatever piece of writing you’re working on, whether it’s a novel, short story, or even a poem! Check out more details through the link!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/beyond-breakthroughs-vision-board-party-tickets-52405026846?utm-medium=discovery&utm-campaign=social&utm-content=attendeeshare&utm-source=strongmail&utm-term=listing

 

2nd – Novel Revelry: “The Big Sleep” Raymond Chandler – Ann Arbor

This little book club is perfect for anyone who is looking for a sense of community! This month, they are discussing the book “The Big Sleep” by Raymond Chandler! Click the link for more information!

Novel Revelry: “The Big Sleep” Raymond Chandler

Sunday, Dec 2, 2018, 10:30 AM

A delightful home Ann Arbor
xxx Ann Arbor, MI

12 Revelers Attending

We’ve all seen the movie now let’s read the book: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. then we’ll have a discussion held at an address to be announced. Note the time change: 1030am.-1230 pm, Sunday, 12/2/18. Coffee available. Bring snacks or not. Here’s a little bit about Chandler and the Big Sleep. The 100 best novels: No 62 – The Big Sleep by Raymo…

Check out this Meetup →

3rd – How to Quiet the Inner Critic – Ann Arbor

Jeannie Ballew will be giving this awesome presentation all about how to deal with your inner critic, and get back to writing! With different activities and snacks, this is jammed packed! More information is available on their MeetUp!

How to Quiet the Inner Critic

Monday, Dec 3, 2018, 6:00 PM

Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room
114 South Main Street Ann Arbor, MI

16 Awesome Writers Attending

Every writer, and I mean every writer, struggles with self-doubt. Since those doubts aren’t going to go away (sorry), how do you keep going, especially when the mean voice in your head gets really loud? What will give you the courage to dig ever deeper in the face of that nagging doubt and soldier on? Come join us to discover the two questions you …

Check out this Meetup →

5th – Open Mic Poetry – Farmington Hills

It’s exactly what the name says! Come share your poetry at the Open Mic Poetry night, or just listen! Click the link for more info!

Open Mic Poetry

Wednesday, Dec 5, 2018, 7:30 PM

Kola Lounge & Resturant
32523 Northwestern Hwy. Farmington Hills, MI

4 Members Attending

POETRY IS A RHYTHMIC CREATION OF BEAUTY IN WORDS. -Edgar Allen Poe Don’t be shy! We invite you to share an original poem or just sit back and listen. Join us for an evening of artistic expression in spoken word. (Novice poets welcome!)

Check out this Meetup →

6th – Pagodaville Book Release – Kalamazoo

Ellen Bennett will be celebrating the release of her new book, “Pagodaville”. It’s sure to be a memorable event! More info through the link!

https://www.evensi.us/pagodaville-book-releaseauthor-signing-ellen-bennett-224-michigan-avenue-kalamazoo-49007/278674818

7th – Critical Studies Writing Worshop – Bloomfield Hills

This event will look into a variety of topics, provided on the Eventbrite link that’s listed below, and a writing workshop, all presented by John Corso, author of “New Subjectivities in Fiber Art and Craft: Shadows of Affect”

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/critical-studies-writing-worshop-tickets-50671985272?utm-medium=discovery&utm-campaign=social&utm-content=attendeeshare&utm-source=strongmail&utm-term=listing

13 – YA Book Club – December Read – The Fearless – Goodrich

The Cottage Used Bookstore Book Club will be discussing  “The Fearless” by Emma Pass. This book club focuses on YA (Young Adult) Novels, but welcomes all ages! Click the link for more info!

YA Book Club – December Read – The Fearless

Thursday, Dec 13, 2018, 7:00 PM

Cottage Used Books
8331 S. State Road Goodrich, mi

2 Members Attending

Join us for a fun evening discussion of this action packed YA book!

Check out this Meetup →

16th – Meet & Greet: Welcome Writers & Filmmakers – Dearborn

This is a great event to go and network at! Meet tons of writers, filmmakers, and many more professionals! Through the link is more information!

Meet & Greet: Welcome Writers & Filmmakers

Sunday, Dec 16, 2018, 2:00 PM

brome burgers and shakes
22062 Michigan Ave Dearborn, MI

4 Members Attending

Come enjoy great food and get to know other aspiring writers and filmmakers. This will be an informal meeting to share ideas and career aspirations, create an outline for future meetings and begin developing OUR film project.

Check out this Meetup →

19th – Author – Book signing and story telling. Wild Shot. – Cheboygan

This book signing will feature Andy Lieber, the author of “Wild Shot”,  his book is about traveling the world and his experiences with Olympic athletes! Don’t miss this cool event!

https://allevents.in/michigan/author-book-signing-and-story-telling-wild-shot/20002559953676

22nd – Author Signing: Mark Stormzand, Stormy Outside: The Adventures And Misadventures Of A Forester & His Dog – Traverse City

Mark Stormzand will be discussing and signing copies of his book, “Stormy Outside: The Adventures And Misadventures Of A Forester & His Dog”! This is sure top be a fun and lighthearted event! Click that link to see more information!

Author Signing: Mark Stormzand, STORMY OUTSIDE: THE ADVENTURES AND MISADVENTURES OF A FORESTER & HIS DOG

Have a great December everyone, and good luck on all your Black Friday shopping!

 

 

Memoir vs. Autobiography: Does It Really Matter?

Happy November! For most of America, the transition from October to November heralds the end of trick-or-treating and pumpkins and the anticipation of Thanksgiving and the bigger winter holidays, whatever your family celebrates. For writers, however, November first means only one thing: the start of NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month! Our staff has covered this venerable tradition in the past, and we’ve got advice for you if you’re participating this year for everything on staying motivated  to the importance in staying connected with like-minded individuals to reviewing your work after the big rush . Here are some links to get you started:

This post is for the portion of our friends out there who swim in the autobiographical end of the writer’s pool or for those who are thinking about testing those waters this November. We are seeing more and more of a trend towards autobiographical submissions. This is becoming a very popular category of the nonfiction section, and why not? It’s easy to see why people might want to draw from their own personal histories to create an epic novel; there’s an endless source of inspiration to draw from. Anyone can do it, from celebrities to political figures to a person with a story to tell. But hold on a second: does anyone remember that moment in time back in 2006 when A Million Little Pieces was first hailed as a masterpiece then ultimately crucified as a work of fraud? Written by James Frey, the book was billed as a memoir, but on January 8, 2006, The Smoking Gun published an article exposing large portions of the book as fictionalized or gross exaggerations. Mr. Frey was interviewed by Larry King to defend his book three days later, but the real media storm happened on January 26 when Mr. Frey made an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. He was confronted by her and admitted to fabricating many sections of his memoir, which he had previously stated had been fact-checked by his publisher. This ultimately caused an ensuing controversy in which Mr. Frey’s literary manager dropped him and his publisher broke a two-book, seven figure deal. A legal settlement for readers who felt defrauded was also reached, and people were entitled to a refund of their book. That’s a massive consequence for someone who embellished the truth a bit. So where’s the line? Should writers be expected to remember every conversation they’ve ever had when they are recording memories to the page? Is any creative license allowed, or are we in danger of being sued by some disgruntled cousin who doesn’t remember the family reunion going down the way we do? How can we sort through what is fact and what is reasonable fiction? Luckily, there’s an answer to these questions and more.
Everything on this list falls under the umbrella of non-fiction. If I think of writing as dessert, then autobiography is cake. Memoir, narrative nonfiction, personal essays and roman à clef are all just slices of the same cake. Let’s break it down:

Autobiography: An autobiography can be distinguished from the others on the list as the most factual of the bunch. It is told in a linear fashion and should relay all the major life events of the subject in a chronological order. It concerns itself with the entire scope of a person’s life and all of the events, people, places and subjects that relate to a person’s existence as they move forward through their life, not just a few key years, events, feelings or observations of the narrator.

Memoir: This form gives someone more creative license. It can cover a few short years or a major event. Examples might include how someone survived their time in a concentration camp or how they overcame an addiction. It doesn’t have to be harrowing, but it may just focus on one developmental stage and is more likely to reflect strong feelings. It is generally less factual and more emotional. It is far less encompassing in scope than an autobiography. It is generally less formal and may have a more literary feel.

Narrative non-fiction: Narrative or creative non-fiction is a somewhat new and emerging genre. It draws on real-life scenarios, usually something journalistic, but incorporates elements of fiction to become a readable novel. According to literary critic Barbara Lounsberry, there are four recognizable elements to narrative nonfiction: the topics and events must exist in the real world (not in the mind of the author), there must be exhaustive research, all scenes must be in context, and it should all be presented in a literary style. Some examples of narrative nonfiction are The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee and Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly.

Personal essay: This is exactly what it sounds like: an essay that is personal to you. It is generally just a short memoir. A great example of a classic personal essayist is David Sedaris.

Roman à clef: Roman à clef is from the French, meaning “novel with a key.” It began as a way for people to write an expose of famous social and political figures without the risk of reprieve. It is truth with an overlay of fiction. Names or identifying situations can be changed to avoid persecution, but the general public could still understand and enjoy the jab. This could be done for protection of the author or for satirical purposes. The Marquis de Sade often employed the roman à clef to skewer prominent religious and political figures of his day. Today, the roman à clef is still in use for various reasons, including satire, but it can also be used when you’d like to write a memoir but perhaps you would like a bit more creative license than your own story affords you. This is where certain authors—cough, Mr. Frey, cough—could simply have stated his work was inspired by real events. That little disclaimer would have saved him seven figures plus and a whole lot of embarrassment.

These are all just guidelines. Most of them bleed into each other. The important thing to remember is if you have a story to tell that you don’t fret which category you bill it as, but that you get it all down on paper, especially this November! A good editor can help you decide how your memories and your story fit together and what you’d like to call it. Happy writing!

The Great Copy Editing Cheat Sheet

We’ve all been there: we’re reading someone’s Facebook post when we’re confronted with that most annoying of offenses: someone who uses your when they meant you’re. “I’d never do that!” you think, reveling in the self-righteous glory that comes from someone who knows a possessive from a contraction. You may be right; you’re probably the sort of person who double checks your texts to make sure that they don’t autocorrect to the wrong their/there/they’re, and you might even know your who from your whom. But even the most seasoned grammarian has a weak spot; the following are a list of common words that might make you think twice, even if you’d rather not admit it. Remember: there’s no honor lost in having to pull out your dictionary to double check a phrase once in awhile, especially if you edit a lot. Editing tends to loosen our moorings. When we see something wrong on the page enough times, it starts to look right after awhile. Even if you aren’t an editor by trade, there are some words or phrases that may just have an evil hold on you (in the interest of full disclosure: I still question how to spell privilege each and every day). Check this out and see if there’s something on this list that you struggle with, too:

lay vs. lie

Perhaps the most complicated pair on the list (at least for me!), lay and lie are deceptive in that they are easy to understand at first. They are both verbs. Lay means to place an object down. Lie mean to recline or to be placed.

Ex.:

Lay the hat on the table.

Lie down on the bed.

It becomes confusing when you consider the past tenses. The past tense of lay is laid. The past tense of lie is lay.

Ex.:

The hat was laid on the table yesterday.

You lay in bed last night.

The past participle of lie is lain. The past participle of lay is laid.

Ex.:

They have laid many hats on this table before.

You could have lain in bed for days.

Layed is a common misspelling and does not exist. Use laid.

may vs. can

These two words may take you back to your childhood. May simply refers to a possibility and can to an ability. In speech, there is a somewhat formal-sounding tone to ask “may”, and many people forgo it for the less-formal can, (similar to the way should has replaced shall) however, there is still a place for may. When we consider the question “May I go to the bathroom?” vs. “Can I go to the bathroom?” the questioner is asking permission, but in using can it sounds as if he is asking if he is able to go instead of if he is allowed to go. Thus, may still retains value and should be considered.

may vs. might

Many people use these two words interchangeably, but there are two important distinctions between the two. Let’s tackle the first thing you need to know. May refers to situations that are factual and possible, whereas might is used when the possibility is less remote or hypothetical.

Ex.:

I may go to the movies later.

I might buy a boat if I win the lottery.

May gives a sense that things could happen, and might is for more speculative situations.

The second thing to know about these words is that might is the past tense of may. The only time when one would use may have would be when one is asking for permission, as in the previous section (May I have another slice of cake?). Otherwise, it would only makes sense to write might have.

Ex.: I might have driven around the accident if I had known about it.

One would never have an occasion to write may have, since may is the present tense.

further vs. farther

This is pretty easy. Further refers to anything metaphysical and farther to strictly distance. Thus, I wish to take my career further, and I will be willing to drive farther to do so. While this rule of grammar has fallen out of favor somewhat in recent years and it is more permissible to use these terms interchangeably, it is still good to know the difference and to apply them when possible.

issue vs. problem

The rampant misuse of these terms have become a widespread problem in recent years. We don’t tend to see people writing much formally about the words problems and issues, but it is spoken about and thus it crops up in informal writing, such as texts and in emails. Many people are not aware that there is a difference in the terms, and they use the word issue to mean problem, believing it to have a less … problematic sounding tone. Perhaps it sounds more official. Whatever the recent shift to issue, this is an incorrect word to substitute when one really means problem. A problem is something with a solution. An issue is a debatable topic. Examples of problems would include broken computers, a hardware malfunction, a measles outbreak, “Houston, we have a” … any number of things that trouble us because they are pressing matters and they have gone wrong and need fixing. Examples of issues are political debates such as Roe vs. Wade, gun rights, civil liberties, etc. Issues may also be problems, but problems are not usually issues.

i.e. vs. e.g.

These Latin abbreviations are often misused. It isn’t much of a problem, since the point of language is for us to understand each other and communicate our intentions. As long as we all understand each other, that’s what matters. Still, you’ll impress others if you are in the minority of people who know difference between these abbreviations and how to apply each of them correctly!

i.e. stands for id est and means “that is” or “in other words.” It is often used erroneously to list things out. The correct use for this is when you need to clarify something, use a metaphor or restate it more simply.

e.g. stands for exempli gratia and means “for example.” This is when a list can and should be used.

wherein vs. whereby

Wherein means “in which” and whereby means “by which.”

was vs. were

Was and were are both used in the past tense. Was is used in the first and third person singular past, and were is used in the second person singular and plural and first and third person plural. Was is used for statements of fact only. Were is used in the subjunctive mood to indicate unreal or hypothetical statements (The words if and wish usually indicate the subjunctive mood.)

Ex.:

When I was a child, I was very short.

If I were rich, I’d buy a mansion.

Hopefully, you’ll find some of these distinctions useful. If you’re like me, you’ll have to keep looking up one or two even after many years. Good luck, and happy editing!

Shame on Who? Taking the Shame Out of Self-Promotion

“Shameless self-promotion.” The phrase alone inspires dread in some, and often for good reason. Around every corner of the web, from social media to your favorite podcast, someone’s got something to shill, but does it always have to be such a cringe-worthy endeavor?

Let’s start by exploring where shame enters the picture. Does this shamelessness imply that you are incessantly slapping everyone in the face with your work regardless of interest or context? If so, it’s time for a new approach. No one wants to invest in a friendship or working relationship with a perpetual solicitor.

There’s also this lingering perception that creators should be ashamed of themselves for promoting their work. If you find yourself feeling this way, take a step back and ask yourself why you embarked on the project in the first place. Ask yourself why you followed it through to completion. Are you proud of the work you’ve done, or do you think it was all a big waste of time and energy? Was it a labor of love, or a financial necessity? Most writers take on less-than-glamorous gigs to pay the bills, and no one here will judge you for that, but it may be a better use of energy to save the sharing for projects that better represent you. If you can hold your work up proudly, then your promotion should be shame-free as long as you don’t overdo it.

While it can certainly be beneficial to plug your work online, your posts can quickly become tiresome, and the people you’re hoping to engage with will scroll right on by as soon as they see your name. Many creators view social media sites as nothing more than free advertising platforms, but without the genuine connectivity that keeps social networks going, your profile will not draw readers. Don’t assume people aren’t buying your thing explicitly because they are unaware of it. Writers tend to see a bump in sales when they mention their books about once a week online, but these are also people who already have a following, post frequently on multiple topics and engage in various conversations. There is no set scale for how much to self-promote, but less is more here. If you are able to curate interesting discussions, people will explore your other posts, find your books, and either buy them outright or at least ask you about them! Whether you’re worried about posting too much or not enough, a pinned post can serve as a passive billboard that can take some of that pressure off.

One approach that I see frequently is using a separate “author” page in addition to your main social media profile. I understand the attractiveness of keeping everything neatly compartmentalized, but I have my doubts as to whether or not this method is very effective. Writing is intensely personal, so even if you’re not writing memoirs, you are putting yourself on the page. Readers are often as interested in the writer as they are the story, which means you’re often selling yourself as much as the book, so this dissociation seems counterproductive. I feel similarly about adding the word “Author” to your name on social media accounts. There’s nothing explicitly wrong with it, but it comes off as performative, and like Amanda said, “Stop Aspiring to Be an Author and Just Be One!” Though the blogosphere is not as prominent these days, an alternative is to keep a blog or a Tumblr (a hybrid blog/social media site) to contain all your writing news and info that you can occasionally link to on your main social media profiles.

What about face-to-face promotion in the real world? Can you talk to people about your books without coming off like a pretentious ass? It’s possible as long as it’s not forced. No matter how incredible and life-changing your book may be, you can’t generate interest by shoehorning it into every conversation. What you can do is be conscious. It’s your book, you know it inside and out, so if a legitimate opportunity arises, you’ll be ready to discuss it. Always put the conversation first and never try to steer it towards a sale, people can sense that, and nothing puts them off faster. Once again, having confidence in your work without being arrogant will take you a long way!

Testing Your Novel’s Heart: Boulter’s ECG by T.N. Rosema

Back in December, we posted about Harmon’s Embryo, which checks the strength of your plot. This blog talks about Boulter’s ECG, which checks the emotional pace or “heart” of your novel.

The Echocardiogram (ECG for short) is a technique from Writing Fiction by Amanda Boulter, senior lecturer for creative writing at the University of Winchester. The ECG is best applied to longer works such as novels.

If we accept that a story is about change, then:

  • What changes are triggered by the events within it?
  • How do our characters deal with these changes?
  • How does the reader experience these changes?

 

The answers to these questions form the emotional pace of your story. To visually chart this, we can create an ECG in three steps.

1) Assign each scene in your novel a score out of 20.

Boulter suggests this framework:

1-5 points: scenes of “deliberation / recovery”

6-10 points: scenes of “intrigue / emotion”

11-15 points: scenes of emotional conflict or physical action

16-20 points: the vital scenes of “crisis and climax”.

 

2) Plot all your scenes on graph paper.

3) Join the dots.

Here’s an ECG for a novel with 40 scenes:

 

 

So how can the ECG help us to strengthen our novel’s emotional pacing?

  1. Avoid extended flatlines. Extended flatlines at any point will kill your novel. Too many contemplative navel-gazing scenes in a row, and the reader yawns. Too many blistering action scenes in a row, and the reader has nowhere to catch their breath. (“Oh…another murder?”)
  2. Aim for peaks and troughs. The goal is to change it up, so that readers progress through a series of tension-contemplation cycles. If your novel follows a conventional structure, these cycles will rise to a climax. For example, ECGs for novels based on the popular three-act structure will show a left peak, rising peaks (or crises) in the middle, and the largest peak to the right.

 

Boulter’s ECG is a fun technique that shows the reader’s emotional journey through your novel at a glance. Use it to manage your story’s pulse and guard the reader against heart attacks!

 

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REFERENCES

 

Boulter, Amanda (2007) Writing Fiction: Creative and Critical Approaches. Palgrave Macmillan.

You might be a writer if…

You know you’re a writer if:
You regularly include your tweets as part of your word count.
You spend more time staring at your blinking cursor than actually moving it.
You are afraid the FBI will investigate you based on your search history.
Friends and family have come to understand that anything they say or do can end up immortalized in print.
You have a clearly designated idea notebook into which you tape the napkins and bill envelopes you actually write your story ideas and notes on.
You consider staring into space to be a form of writing.
If you have ever finished a draft and then just deleted it.
If you have changed a major character’s name more than halfway through a story.
If you write poetry and hate always having to explain why some poems don’t rhyme.
 
If you have ever been looking through an old hard drive, CD, or notebook and found a story you once wrote that is actually pretty good!
If you have ever been looking through an old hard drive, CD, or notebook and found something you once wrote that is absolutely terrible and unsalvageable.
If someone asks what your story is about and you mumble something incoherent about three other stories that have tiny pieces of similarities to yours.
You have ever been *this* close to finishing a story only to have your brain insist that this other idea is too important not to write *right now*.
If you have ever delighted in fictionally destroying a person who was cruel to you in real life.
If you have ever used the same cup for coffee and wine in the same day.
If sending your novel out to it’s first beta reader is like sending your kid off on his first sleepover.
If the string of letters, “NaNoWriMo”, makes your heart start to race.
If you have ever cried for your own main character’s pain.
If you try to write off lattes at a coffee shop as a work expense.
Have one to add? Send us a comment!

Let it Rest. by Melissa Heiselt

Writing is easy. As the distinguished columnist Red Smith once said, “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.” It’s the editing that’s murder.

Like any great bread, cheese, or wine, time is the secret ingredient to making your writing the best it can be. Let’s say you’ve just finished your masterpiece; a complicated story, biography, or self-help manuscript that you just know is going to enlighten and entertain. Maybe you feverishly earned that NaNoWriMo Badge proving to the world that you can write a novel in just one month. We all know editing comes next, and so many writers want to dive right in and tackle it! Believe it or not, the most valuable thing you can do here is: leave it alone.

In my experience, the length of time for a good rest is dependent on the length of the material. A blog post or article may need just 24 hours. Something that has soaked up your life and soul and absorbed your every thought for months, and especially years could benefit from even more time. Giving it time does not mean abandoning the work altogether. It’s thoughtful time away from the manuscript, enabling you to disengage that part of your brain that created those words, and engage the part of your brain that’s wired for refining those words.

My first NaNoWriMo piece was a disaster. DISASTER, I tell you. I dove right in once the frenzied writing was over. After a month of trying to force that monstrosity into shape, I finally decided it was an interesting writing exercise, but for me was ultimately just not going to result in any kind of complete, publishable work. I had completely forgotten about it until clearing out my computer and stumbling across it years later. Just for laughs, I decided to read over this disasterpiece. And you know what? It wasn’t that bad. I was too close to it at the time to have perspective enough to know how to handle the awkward transitions and pacing that resulted from my feverish endeavor. There were sections that truly were all but unintelligible. But with time between us, we were able to make amends.

This experience opened my eyes to the importance of respecting the time and space required for good writing. When I’ve typed that last period I know it’s time to put it away, take a walk, and enjoy the life of the living for awhile. Now  even as an editor, I’ve learned that when things start to feel muddy, and frustration creeps in, walk away. Give it some space to expand and develop in your subconscious before you return to the work and give it its best chance at published life. You’ll be glad you did.

On Being Wrong or Admit it, You Fucked Up by Josh Smith

Remember that time you wrote a perfect manuscript, proofread it, fixed a couple minor grammatical errors, then fired it off to your favorite publishing house and woke up a month later to find it on the Best Seller’s list? Yeah, me either.

Let’s be honest, if writing was such a magically painless act, there would be no editors and you wouldn’t be here right now. Writers of all levels are well aware that no first draft materializes fully-formed and ready for mass consumption, but what is truly difficult is not only recognizing areas in which you have failed to achieve what you envisioned, but accepting that failure. Not accepting it in the “well, this sucks, but I need it for the mechanics of this story to work, so I guess it stays” sense, but accepting that you have failed in order to understand why you failed, which in turn will lead you to the rectification of said failure.

While a great many issues can be dealt with during regular revisions, it is common to be so focused on a specific idea or approach that you overlook faults that negatively impact other areas of the work. Given the nature of these more insidious flaws, they usually require an external perspective, such as a beta reader, editor, or critique group to bring them to light. However, having someone else question your failings within these foundational elements can be challenging when you’ve already built an entire story or novel atop them. As I recommended in a previous post, take time to consider these suggestions before dismissing them outright. You aren’t beholden to the specific requests of any editor or reader, but their acknowledgement of the problem will help you internalize that it exists, and your wild writer brain will begin to redraw the map that will lead you to the optimal solution.

In high-concept pieces, each poor decision can construct a step in a Rube Goldberg machine triggered to derail your story. The first tripwire is the most important to root out, and once you see it, its entire architecture will become clear. Yes, you will have your work cut out for you. Yes, you may want to call for backup to help determine the success of your restorative efforts, but if you want to tell your story on your terms, I suspect you want to do it as effectively as possible. There is a delicate balance in non-traditional works that are more driven by tonal or visceral choices than plot, so be on the lookout for sections where style devours story.

Not all pieces require such in-depth scavenging, but that does not necessarily make them any easier to edit. All the best stories take us to previously unimaginable places and make us feel emotions we would never fathom otherwise, but these powerful elements can’t just be loaded up into the ol’ canon and blasted at our sensory receptors to achieve the desired effect. An intense or climactic scene might exist precisely as you envisioned, but if it doesn’t translate for your readers, it’s a wasted effort. Oftentimes, it isn’t even the writing of the scene itself, but the storytelling around it that leaves people grasping at your intent. Scenes featuring unrealistic or traumatic events are almost always divisive in early drafts, because they require the reader to conjure considerable imagination or empathy, and it is possible that you have not properly set the stage for such an undertaking. It can be particularly difficult to endure these criticisms if you are fictionalizing a lived experience, or are writing non-fiction, but no one said this would be easy. Again, recognizing that a problem exists, accepting that your approach is off, and working your way through will guide you to a more fulfilling story for you and your readers.

There is something to be said for a writer who will defend their vision to the death, but the mark of a true professional is identifying something that isn’t working, being open to changes, and dedicating themselves to improving the reading experience.