Wednesday, October 23, 2013
From the limited number of writers conferences I’ve attended I’ve noticed that many of the participants were a little on the plump side. Moreover, when it was time for personal interaction many writers found themselves confined to their hotel rooms entangled in a ménage-a-trois with their IPads and laptops.
So seeing that writing may be a mental and physical health hazard, what can we as writers do about it?
For one, we can take a little time from writing to maintain a regular exercise routine. I jog. I didn’t always do so, and no, it does not make me petite, but it does keep me feeling good and my creative juices flowing. I know you’re thinking that jogging is solitary and spending time with your characters in your mind does nothing to foster peer interaction. Before I took up jogging I tried a variety of exercise classes: step aerobics, jazzercise, aqua-aerobics, you name it. But I am an uncoordinated left hander who leads with my left and is spatially challenged. The group goes left, I go right, they go up I go down. After a while of paying to look like an idiot, I discovered jogging.
The advantages of jogging:
1. It’s cheap: the only investment is a decent pair of jogging shoes.
2. No one’s judging you: you can jog alone or with others but you never look like an idiot
3. You can go at your own pace: you can choose the time you jog, the pace, or whether to mix walking and running
4. You can be free to explore all your thoughts without the clutter of everyday life, at least for a few moments
5. And it's good for your heart
I have had some of my most creative moments while on jogs. I’ve encountered inspiration for my characters, scenes, settings while observing things on my routes. I have combated writer’s block and hashed out difficult conversations in my manuscripts. However, jogging is not for everybody; so as a writer knowing that your occupation lends itself to a sedentary lifestyle, find what exercise routine works for you and do it, even if it is Zumba on the Wii (now that is fun).
Ok so exercising does not necessarily address those long hours of solitary writing, though it can. Find time for interaction with others outside of your family. I think that is the hardest part for me. Being wrapped up in my kids after school activities and juggling the demands on my time makes it difficult to carve out time for peer interaction. Fortunately for me, my job allows me some interaction, but not nearly enough.
Here are some suggestions that I need to take for myself:
1. Have fun with your friends
2. Join a club
3. Mix your exercise with socializing and take an exercise class (not for me).
I’ve dealt with two of the three lifestyle impediments to a writer’s health that is really a hazard of the job. The choice of healthy eating, well that’s for another person, who given the choice of carrot cake or carrot sticks would choose carrot sticks, to blog about.
Monday, October 21, 2013
- The ex-gigolo in Cafe au Lait? Based on a friend of my brother's.
- The psycho cousin in Give me the Night? Based on one of my real-life cousins.
- The leering, drooling African doctor in the aforementioned? Based on two Nigerian acquaintances. (Yes, I often combine several real people into one fictional character.)
- Most of the characters in what I'll facetiously refer to as The Great West Indian Novel--one of my works in progress--are modeled on relatives close and distant, dead and alive. While the situations are pure fiction, the settings and characters are rendered from the living cloth of my memories.
- A character in Sultry in Blue, my third romance novel, is based on Naughty Niece. This is proving problematic as Nefarious Nephew now wants me to write a story about him. (Lesson: Do NOT tell people when you base characters on them.)
Unfortunately, I cannot claim to use my powers wisely. I threaten people. For instance, I tell my mother that if she isn't careful she'll end up in one of my books as a dotty old harridan who potters around the yard in a nightie, wide-brimmed straw hat, bright green Crocs and wild hair. This has not scared her into dressing appropriately before wafting out the door, so I'll have to up the ante to something even more embarrassing: a dotty old harridan who potters around the yard in a nightie, wide-brimmed straw hat, bright green Crocs and wild hair--and who disembowels kittens! That'll teach her...
If I can use my writer powers to blackmail my own mother, what might I do to you? Tread carefully or I'll wave my magic quill and you'll find yourself trapped between the pages of my next book doing some really, really embarrassing (if not downright illegal) things.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
By the way, Westerson has a new novel out, just out. Check it out on Amazon!
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Questions like this aren’t the easiest to answer, because there really is no one “right” answer. What’s right is what’s right for you, based on your writing style or regimen, along with your schedule and the other demands on your life. Even that’s a moving target, because what may have worked for you a year ago might not be worth squat this time around.
That said, I think there are a few general things that most writers looking to tackle NaNoWriMo can do to gear up for the forthcoming challenge. I’m going to borrow from the answer I composed for the original question I received, in which I offered up a few basic hints. Bear in mind that these originally were aimed at writers who might be attempting the contest for the first time. Your mileage may vary:
Have a plan. Most writers looking to tackle NaNoWriMo have probably written up some kind of outline or synopsis, or a list of story beats, or other semi-readable scribblings which might pass for their story’s rough idea. I have no doubt that there are writers who plan to start cold on November 1st, putting fingers to keys (or even pen to paper) and just seeing what happens, but I’m definitely in the “outline camp.” For short stories, I don’t need the whole thing mapped out, but I prefer to at least have a few bullet points and a few other brief, informal notes to give me some kind of direction before I get started. When I plan a novel, the level of detail definitely increases. Might things change as the writing gets underway and words are flying about? Sure, but that’s part of the fun, right?
Make a schedule. This is aimed more toward trying to instill a semblance of consistency and the month wears on. November can be a crazy time of year, with Thanksgiving, kids out of school, travel—yours, or relatives and friends coming to you—and so on. Try to anticipate these interruptions to your writing routine, and factor them in to whatever schedule you might be attempting with respect to daily or weekly word count goals. You’ll hopefully avoid at least some stress while trying to make up for lost time later in the month.
Hold yourself accountable. No, this doesn’t mean punishing yourself if you miss a day’s writing goal, or even if you get to the end of November and you haven’t hit the 50k mark. Just by announcing your intentions on your blog, or your Facebook or Twitter feed, your friends and followers will know what you’re up to. People do the same thing with diet and exercise goals, so why not for writing? Post regular updates about your progress, good or bad. Celebrate when you hit or pass your daily mark, and be honest if a day’s writing falls short of expectations. Keep your circle in the loop, and let them give you encouragement and support.
So, who's taking up the challenge? If you’re one of the brave souls setting out on this year’s NaNoWriMo quest, I wish you the best of luck.
Monday, October 14, 2013
Friday, October 11, 2013
While Ms. Munro was getting her news I received some news of my own. The nominations for the 2014 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award were presented yesterday at the Frankfurt Book Fair. I scrolled down the list and found my name on the list;
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Four entries below Joyce Carol Oates and in the company of Eric Carle and Beverly Cleary.
So often one hears award hopefuls say "It is an honour just to be nominated." Now I know that it is.
Monday, October 7, 2013
Saturday, October 5, 2013
1.) Reviews. Some time last year I wrote a NS blog about the difficulties of getting reviews. I posted that for every one hundred or so requests I might send out to bloggers, Vine reviewers, book clubs, etc., around fifteen might ask for the manuscript and then three might actually write a review. That was my experience, anyway. I'd literally spend days scouring the Internet and Amazon for bloggers and reviewers and then many more days sending out the emails. With Jamaica Dreaming I didn't bother. The return on my investment of time just didn't seem worth it so I didn't contact a single blogger or reviewer. Imagine my surprise then when a day after I'd published JD, it had a review. And a lovely one, too. (JD is on the short side but, even so, the reviewer must be a fast reader.) Since then, the reviews by readers have continued to come in. Lesson learned - if I write in a genre with a lot of dedicated readers, they will find the book and they will review it. (Putting a review request at the backs of all your books is also a good idea.)
2.) Covers. For my earlier books - Jessamine (first cover) and The Water of Sunlight I had custom covers made. They were wonderful covers but those two books have yet to earn me back what I paid on the covers alone, never mind the editing. For me, premades are the way to go until I start making the kind of money that would justify a higher outlay. Lesson learned - quality premades look good and won't hurt your pocket.
3.) Another word about Covers. As a corollary to the above - I'd planned JD as a series of Caribbean-set romances from last year and had the covers custom made back then. The series name I came up with was Caribbean Heat. Then, this year when I finally finished JD, it was sexy but perhaps not as sexy as the sub-title implied. Changing the covers would have cost around $25 each so I didn't bother. The result has been that a few of the reviews have lamented the lack of heat. Sigh. Lesson learned - write the book and then purchase the cover. (This has been a hard one for me - I have quite a few covers - a mix of premade and custom waiting on manuscripts. Premade cover sites are particularly addictive and dangerous!)
4.) I read in all genres and thought all right then, I'll write what I want. My books cover crime, romance, literary and gritty literary (and I've also bought at least one speculative fiction cover). What that means, though, is that building an audience will take longer. Someone might have signed up for my newsletter on the strength of my crime book but then they get a notice that I've written a romance. One or two might be curious and buy it, but the rest will either ignore the new publication or unsubscribe. Lesson learned - stick to one genre. This way when people who've signed up because they like my romances see that I've got another one out they'll jump on it right away and give me a boost right out of the block.
5.) Amazon Exclusivity. KDP Select didn't do a thing for me and may actually have done me a disfavour. I went into Select for my two crime stories - a novella and a collection of short stories. They both did very well on their free days, climbing the charts to reach into the top twenty Free in African American Crime. After each free time block they both plummeted in the ranking to about where they were before. There was no post-free bump. While I did pick up a couple of nice reviews, I also got a couple of bad ones from reviewers who may have gotten them simply because they were free and not because they cared for the genre or were interested in the subject matter. Lesson learned - skip Select unless maybe I have a series and I want to get people hooked on the series (and, even so it might be best to go perma-free).
6.) Giveaways. I did a Goodreads giveaway earlier this year for Dido's Prize, an older book which I hadn't self-published. Hundreds of people entered. Three winners were chosen and I also sent out a copy to somebody who'd put it on their must-read shelf a few months before. (I alerted that person about the giveaway and, when she didn't win, I sent her a copy anyway.) She's the only one, who at the time of writing this blog, had done a review. Two or three people who entered the giveaway also put a couple of my other books on their To Read list and there was a slight rise in the rankings for the book at Amazon, representing maybe two or three sales. The results were, thus, not spectacular. I've also done Facebook group and blog giveaways. None of those has so far resulted in any reviews. Would I bother doing other giveaways? Maybe, maybe not. I'd prefer to do giveaways of ebook versions but, even so, I don't know if the result justifies the time spent. I've heard that putting books on permafree at Amazon is one of the best things for sales of a series and that might be the way I'll go when I have a series. Lesson learned - the costs of mailing copies of books out isn't worth it since the reviews aren't guaranteed. If a giveaway can be done at no cost and for very little investment, it might be worth looking into but other than that, I'll pass.
My goal is to, one day, be able to live off my writing or, at least, have it contribute mightily to my quality of life, so I keep writing and learning. I'm not there yet. While writing is an act of creativity, publishing is a business, and I now know much more about that side of things than I did last year. Here's to the future!
Thursday, October 3, 2013
Yes, I'm addicted. The TV show Scandal has me hooked. As a viewer, I love the look of the show, the acting, the drama, the suspense, the feel. As a writer - I simply love . . . the writing!
Sitting down to watch an episode (which I refuse to watch on DVR, simply because I have to get my fix of the fixer live, at that very moment, as it's delivered to the world) is like food to my writer soul. It moves fast, it's sexy, it's deep, it's beautiful, and honestly, it's necessary creatively, as it challenges me to want to do better as a storyteller. I want my stories to unfold. I desire to match the intrigue, the twists and turns, the passion. I feel as though I'm blessed to be able to view great television and great movies, listen to great music, and of course, read great books that are crafty, well thought out, and that bring the characters to life, some who you love and some who you hate, who are either complex or simple, yet they just move you.
When I watch Scandal, from the opening line to the closing line, I think about the words and I learn. Shonda Rhimes and her writing staff are masters at delivering the drama on this show. Grey's Anatomy is a close second for me, and I loved Private Practice, which unfortunately was canceled. (BTW - my dream job is to write for Shonda Rhimes - no duh, huh?)
So, being that today is the 3rd of October, the long-awaited day of the first show of the 3rd season, how could I, a Scandalholic who is scheduled to blog, not take this opportunity to compliment the Scandal writers, and also to admit my addiction? Without admittance, one cannot get help, right? But like Diana Ross sang."If there's a cure for this, I don't want it, I don't want it!" Because once the show is over and I grab that cigarette, I, Marissa Monteilh, will have the sweetest hangover, I don't wanna get over! Oh my, I'm feening as I type.
So, Gladiators unite with pride! And if there's a show you think I might be missing out on, please share. I hear that Breaking Bad was/is good. Though I cannot possibly cheat on my first love, of course - Scandal!