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Time to reinvent, consolidate, revamp.  Please visit me over at my new blog:  crystalking.com

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History Repeats

Tacitus wrote that the roman general Agricola ...

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There’s a fascinating article in Salon this week, about The Dark Days of the Roman Empire. To research my own novel I read most of what Tacitus has to offer. While he’s highly criticized for imposing his own values/opinion/color on previous history, his writings are still among the best we have for understanding that era. It’s interesting to see how much of what he describes from 2,000 years ago is coming to pass in many ways.

Books that I’ll have to check out that were mentioned in that article:

I’m doing the rewrites on my novel now and immersing myself back in Roman history can only be a big boon to helping me round it all out. When I first started writing the only thing I read for nearly two years was Roman history or literature. I dare say I know more about ancient Rome than most people living in Rome today, so deeply did I make that immersion. I find that era infinitely fascinating and am always hungry to learn more.

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John Cleese on Writing & Creativity

Excellent discussion about the importance of incubation, the requirements for obtaining flow and a few other great bits of observation and advice from a creative genius (IMHO).

 

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LinkedIn and Google+ for writers

As you might have noticed I’ve been terribly remiss in posting to my blogs lately. Why? Busy busy at work, trying to pound out the last chapters on my novel by the end of the summer (ack, only two weeks to do that now, with five chapters to write!), learning Italian, summering in fun places, and writing in other places beside my blog.

A couple of those places are related to writing and social media, the juxtaposition of my two loves. The first article, LinkedIn: The Social Media Tool Writers Should Not Ignore, appeared on Writer Unboxed, one of the most informative blogs for writers in the whole blogosphere. If you have ignored LinkedIn thinking it’s just for job-hunting, now is the time to give it a second look.

The second article, found on the equally incredible Grub Street Daily blog,  is about why authors shouldn’t ignore Google+, the newest social media network out there. Every day I find more and more writers that are using the service. I love that I can post information specifically for my writing friends without clogging up the stream for others who may not care. Follow me to get my latest thoughts on the world of writing, publishing, books, literature and how social media affects them all. You’ll find a bevy of posts from me there that you won’t find anywhere else.

I hope you find them helpful!

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Piracy drives book to #1 on Amazon

In my social media for authors classes I always talk about how giving content away for free can end up being a win-win. And today that’s the case, when the #1 book on Amazon happens to be as yet-unpublished but hit the top spot because readers passed around a free .pdf of the book.

Go the Fuck to Sleep, by Adam Mansbach, and Ricardo Cortés found unlikely success when people found such delight in reading the .pdf (bit torrent link. Note that I’ve not read it myself, no idea if it works) and decided that they wanted to own the book or buy it for others. Imagine! If I read a book and love it, I may a. tell others or b. buy it for friends. or c. buy it myself to sit on my shelf.

The publisher is apparently trying to stop the copies from being passed around, which at this point is especially useless. Plus, if passing the book around for free has resulted in such success, why on earth would you want to nip that in the bud? The mind boggles.

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Kindle books from your library…IF publishers decide to pull their head out of the sand

A Picture of a eBook

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This week Amazon announced that they would be teaming up with more libraries to offer Kindle books for availability for checkout. The service, available later this year, will allow 11,000 libraries to offer the books for checkout. Most interesting of all, if you make notes or annotations they will be preserved and the next time you check out the book or if you buy your own book, those notes will be preserved (and others checking them out won’t see them). THAT is cool, IMHO.

And that feature should sell more books, honestly. As people mark up the books they will be more likely to think about buying the book so they will always have access to those notes.

Yet there are publishers that are still reluctant to lend books or some, like Harper Collins, will only allow for a certain number of times the book can be borrowed before it expires.  Huh?

Last year Kindle announced that they would let owners lend books to friends. I was initially excited about this. I have a friend who I have wanted to share a few books with but guess what? The publisher doesn’t let their books be lent out. So instead of my friend reading the book and deciding she may want to own it (especially because it’s a health book with recipes) she probably won’t get around to it since it’s not top of her priority list. However, if I had lent it and she didn’t finish it in the 2 week time period, well, she may have gone and bought it. Nope. Not happening now.

Same with the library books. Since when have publishers been so hateful toward libraries? Authors need people to be exposed to their work and a library is often one of the places where people (especially young, not yet solvent people) find those authors for the first time. Then, when subsequent books come out they may decide to buy them rather than checking them out.

So when I hear about publishers like Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster and MacMillan not wanting to take any part of the lending of books I am baffled. How short-sighted! It’s the same sort of argument that the RIAA has about music. That if people can have music for free then no one will buy music. Except the opposite is actually true (despite what the RIAA would have you believe)

Libraries are crucial for publishers. They help build future readers and they nurture current readers. I love libraries. I have spent part of my life buried in the stacks. And much more of it in bookstores, buying the books of authors I initially discovered in libraries. Libraries keep the world of reading alive and as authors, we should be working alongside all those in the publishing world to help keep them stocked chock full of books–digital books included.

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The Book That Writes Itself

Is there such a thing? I dream about it often. Because I don’t always have the daily discipline when it comes to parking my ass in the chair and spitting out words from the characters that swirl around in my brain.

They nag me but sometimes the nagging isn’t enough at the end of a busy day that was already spent parked in front of a computer, or on a gorgeous weekend when I really don’t want the solitary life of a writer in the throes of her book.

Cover of

Cover of The Tommyknockers

It’s why the Stephen King book, The Tommyknockers, always sits in the back of my mind. It’s a strange book, not one of his best, IMHO, but it has little elements of truth in it for me. One of the book’s main characters, Bobbi Anderson, falls under the influence of an alien force and creates a special automatic typewriter that reads her mind and writes books from her subconscious while she sleeps.

Oh perchance to dream!!

What a dream that must be for all writers who know the love/hate relationship with the pen and the chair. Can you imagine? Oh I have such amazing stories in me too! Stories that are amazing but may not see beyond the confines of their gray cage primarily because there is just enough lazy in me that prevents me from loving writing for 8 hours a day, every day. Or maybe it’s not lazy, but realistic.  I’ll never have the diligence of Stephen King, I know it to be true. But I am passionate about writing. My world is best when I’m sticking pen to paper in some form. But what I love about the fact that King (no, not related, at least not that I know of!) put the automatic typewriter into The Tommyknockers story is because even someone as prolific as he is dreams of that too. The free-flowing subconscious spinning the tales for us writers, allowing us to get on with our lives without the nagging on our souls.

Alas. I have no automatic typewriter. Just my trusty Moleskine that sees at least 3-4 pages every morning. And a thumbdrive full of my manuscript that I work hard to spit out every weekend, transcribing my scribbles into Scrivener for Windows (THANK YOU LITERATURE AND LATTE FOR FINALLY MAKING IT AVAILABLE FOR WINDOWS!). In two months I should have my first draft nearly done. Note that I have rewritten the first 13 chapters twice already and need to do them again for POV, sigh, but at least the story will be done.

Except that it definitely wasn’t during my sleep, sigh. In fact I’ve been writing it long enough now (nearly three years) that people have stopped asking me about my book. ACK! That’s both good and bad, but mostly in my mind bad, because it means that people don’t believe I’ll ever finish it. Poo on them.

I don’t have an automatic typewriter but I have pervasive characters that won’t let go. I have an era that I am passionate about and hopefully have learned enough and researched enough to write about convincingly. And so, every morning for a few minutes I pour my heart out into my notebook. Eventually all those words will end up in a real book, hot off the presses and burning an impression into my hands.

But oh! A girl can dream!

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10,000 hours of walking 10,000 miles

Those 10,000 miles walked are in the shoes of my characters, all my characters and all my voices, personas, narrators and words I have written in my life. The hours? The time it takes to walk those miles. I’m fairly sure I’ve not yet reached either milestone, but I keep getting nearer all the time.

Back in the 1990s there were a series of studies highlighted in the NYT that determined that the top violinists, Olympians, baseball players and chess players all came out on top as the result of incredible amounts of practice–approximately 10,000 cumulative hours over many years. Then Malcolm Gladwell took this information to the next level in his book, Outliers, which I HIGHLY recommend that everyone read. It’s a fascinating look at what it takes to become an expert in one’s field.

It can also be daunting. There are 8,760 hours in a year. A 1/3 of that is spent sleeping. Another 1/3 is likely to be on the paying job, unless you are lucky/disciplined enough to write fulltime. That leaves 2,920 hours to eat, watch TV, take your kids to soccer games, visit with friends, go to the gym, etc. Really, it doesn’t break down into much.

I’m lucky if I can manage 4-5 hours of writing a week on my book. That’s only 260 hours a year. Eeek! But then I think about how much writing I do beyond my book. Much of my job centers around writing. I write press releases, articles, blog posts, etc.  So while I’m not writing on my book, it’s not like words are completely languishing in my brain.  I probably spend, on average, 3 hours a day writing.  That’s closer to 1092 hours a year. Much better. So, ten years to make that 10,000 hours.  When I look at it that way, I have hit 10,000 hours a few times over. But writing marketing-ese is very different than writing a novel. So while I know I can write and I am confident in my abilities, I need to break it down further.

Which means, for me, it becomes about the 10,000 miles my characters walk. Over the course my life I’ve shelved at least 2-3 novels before the one I’m writing now. My characters have walked pretty far, but I bet it’s really only from Boston to Rome, about 4,108 miles (they have magic walk-on-water shoes you know). There is a much longer walk ahead before they’re ready for prime time. I need to spend more time with them, fleshing them out, day after day after day.

I’ve started writing for 30 min in the mornings, which ups my weekly novel writing time to about 5-7 hours depending on how much I can do on the weekends. 364 hours a year. Now I just need to up the ante. Get serious, keep my ass in the chair.

And make sure my characters are wearing some damn good walking shoes.

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Farenheit 451 in 2011

Pure awesomeness from the equally awesome Toothpaste for Dinner.

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A simple solution

So simple that I should slap my hand to my head and say, “duh!”

I’m not the best at taking an entire day to spit out my novel, which is mostly what I have relied on to do since I began it (oh too long ago). Which means if my weekend gets away from me, nothing gets written. And the more weeks that it happens, the harder it is to come back and sit my ass in the chair.

This year I set forth with three main goals for myself to accomplish over the next five years.

  1. Become healthy…healthier than I’ve ever been in my life.
  2. Really learn Italian and to easily carry on a conversation with a native speaker.
  3. Finish and publish at least 1 novel.

I have specific goals to help me accomplish each one of these, the most primary being to journal, every day, a la Julia Cameron‘s Morning Pages. In fact, that was my one New Year’s Resolution…to write 3 pages every morning, every day, without fail, first thing when I get up. So far this year, I have accomplished this goal, save for one day when I was dealing with acute vertigo (see this post) and for that I think I get a free pass. It’s the one thing that I know will help me stay on track and accomplish all three of those goals above. This is the second time I’ve embarked on the Artist’s Way. The first time changed my life profoundly…the power that they have to help me get out of my own way is amazing.

Notes in a Moleskine notebook

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To that end, I often find that in the AM when I’m writing, my poor tired head often doesn’t know what to write. So on the days that I’m struggling with what to say, I’ve made it ok for myself to not do 3 pages in my Morning Pages notebook but to use my Moleskine journal and continue on my book chapters for at least 3 pages in it. In doing so I’m spending about 15-30 minutes a day writing on my novel. Every day. And it’s easier than I ever imagined. I don’t usually write more than that because I need to get my day going, but the story flows easily–far more so than I ever anticipated being able to do first thing in the morning, sometimes sans coffee.

So today when I sat down to work on my chapter, I pulled out my notebook and instead of struggling to get the words out in a massive 5-6 hour session, I easily transcribed my written chapters from my moleskine, rounding out a full chapter in the space of an hour or so. It flowed, it poured out of my fingers and I can’t tell you how delighted I was to be able to not feel like I have to spend the entire day locked to a keyboard all day trying to push out the next words.

This is the “duh” bit. If I could write my Morning Pages every day, why on earth wasn’t I writing on my novel every day? And so now I am. Little by little but enough for a chapter every week. Which is a good thing because I have a milestone birthday coming up in June and that’s when I want to have the first draft done. If I write a little every day, then it’s easy. And I’m no longer beating myself up for not writing (the more I beat myself up the less I want to do it too, I’m so sadly self-fulfilling).

So finally, I’m doing what so many established and famous authors have always said to do..write every day, without fail.  And so I am.

Duh!

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