Tag: Advice for writers

Advice for writers

Inspiration Sideways

Most writers have more ideas than they know what to do with. (Yes, I did end that sentence with a preposition.) Finding inspiration is not a problem . . . except when it is. For me, this usually happens around the 30,000-word mark. I’m happily typing along, letting my characters do what they want to do when the words start to slow down until I click on the keyboard one last time. I describe the feeling as standing on a wobbly rock in the middle of a river. There’s no clear way to the other side and the rocks behind me are under water.  I am, for the most part, a big believer in AIC (credit to Nora Roberts). Writing output is directly correlated to time spent sitting at the computer. When I start in the morning, I set a timer and do nothing but write until it goes off. Just doing it works great when it comes to getting writing done. From time to time, however, we face something in our story that doesn’t quite work, and we’re not sure how to make it right. That’s when it might be time to step away. A few weeks ago, I found myself in a hole at the very end of the second Abish Taylor mystery. I spent a few days trying to type my way through it, but got no where. So, I took a break at the Met. Art museums are my refuge.  If I can find space away from the crowds, I don’t much care what the exhibit is about. (There, another preposition.)  A stroll through Central Park works, too, if the weather is to my liking. I’ve come to believe our subconscious mind sometimes can solve problems our conscious mind cannot. We need to give our subconscious space and time. For me, walking and looking at something pretty allows for just this kind of problem solving to happen. Museums and parks may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I suspect that everyone has his or her own way of “stepping away.” Find yours. . . . and, if you like museums, are interested in the Catholic Church or fashion, I can recommend the “Heavenly Bodies” exhibit at the Met.      

Read More

Note to self

When I asked my fellow Miss Demeanors what advice they’d give their younger writing selves, the answers came quickly. I don’t know that I have anything to add, but I’ll share my thoughts any way. If you want to write, write. Don’t let fear of rejection or failure get in the way. The more you write, the better a writer you’ll be. Whatever happens, pay attention. You can always write about it. Cate: Quit your day job sooner. Better to starve (when you’re single) and do what you’re passionate about. Tracee: I agree with Cate. Get a good education, then try to live your dream…. maybe get some life experience. No better time to volunteer with a NGO and see the world. I used to see the UNHCR cases with their handlers on the train outside Geneva and wonder where they are going….. looking back I should have gone along. Susan: That’s a great question, Alison, and I think about stuff like that all the time, except that I’ve come to realize that most of the really stupid things I’ve done have led me to a better understanding of why I, and others, do stupid things, which is a useful thing to think about, especially when writing mysteries. So I guess my advice to my young self would be to try and be forgiving and take lots of notes. Michele: Don’t let fear hold you back. Dare to break the rules. Learn to know when. Live life fully so you have lots of material to write about. Don’t make time to write. Write, and if there’s time leftover, well then do the other stuff. Alexia: Don’t fall victim to imposter syndrome. You’re a good writer. Your stories are as valid as anyone’s. Don’t let anyone else tell you how you should tell your story, don’t let anyone else tell your story for you. And if they don’t like your story, told your way, tant pis for them. Their loss. Paula: Breathe. (Not that I would have listened.)

Read More

What I Learned About Deadlines

It’s been an amazing five days. Suspense writers are some of the most supportive and kind people I know. I’m grateful to be part of this community. Rick Pullen, Cate Holahan, and S.B. Woodson inspired me with their dedication to the craft, perseverance in the face of adversity and generosity of spirit.  To cap off this back-to-school week, today is the master class with my wonderful fellow Miss Demeanors. My question for them was: Do you feel anxious when a deadline is looming? If so, do you have any tricks for maintaining sanity? They had great advice, and gave me a fresh perspective. Thank you! Here’s the cheatsheet with full answers below: (1) Welcome deadlines as a sign you’re living the life of a writer.(2) Celebrate small victories along the way.(3) Get some sleep.(4) Meditate.(5) Take a walk, bike ride or a run.(6) Eat what makes you happy.(7) Prioritize writing over everything else. Paula: I started off as a reporter, so I’m used to deadlines. But the time frame for those stories is much shorter, as the stories (and their shelf life) are much shorter. When you’re writing a book, it’s one long sustained deadline punctuated by interim deadlines that can last years. The pressure ebbs and flows somewhat as you meet each of these interim deadlines, but it never goes away until the book is published. The shelf life of a book is far longer than that of a news story, so you have to live with your mistakes for far longer–at least until the first reprint. That’s why it’s important to celebrate every deadline you meet along the way. Rewards–from a glass of wine to a trip to Italy–are how I deal with the stress.
And then it’s on to the next book. Tracee: Hmmm. Sadly I work well under pressure. I say sadly because that prevents me from getting way ahead of the ball and never feeling a deadline again. I think that this harkens back to architecture school where no matter how far along your project is, there is always more to do. One more drawing, more detail on the model. It’s the same for me and writing. When the deadline approaches I feel my mind jump into high gear and want to make vast improvements, which only makes the deadline shorter. Tricks for sanity? Remember it’s normal, it’s the end of a big project and keep Benadryl on hand. My biggest problem is shutting down for a good night’s sleep, which is mandatory and Benadryl is my not-so-secret weapon. Alexia: Yes, always. The panic of a too rapidly approaching deadline is a big motivator for me. I binge on food that would make a frat boy’s diet look healthy, I cancel/ignore most social engagements, I cut back on FB posts (I’d cut them out but FB scolds me when I do), I don’t check the news (if the Apocalypse happens I won’t hear about it until my deadline passes) and I don’t check email. If I didn’t have to go to work, I wouldn’t leave the house. Susan: I like deadlines because I think they kick your brain into high gear, but they do make me anxious. I try to make them manageable by breaking them into small pieces. Finish first 50 pages by this date, next 50 by that date. And so on. But that doesn’t always work. I also do what I can to reduce the other pressures in my life. I subsist on take out. But I keep taking walks. That’s the one thing that keeps me sane. You have to walk away from your desk. Also, take a minute or two to enjoy the deadline–if you have one, it means you’re doing something right! Robin: Deadlines don’t make me anxious. It’s the life I signed up for so I welcome them. That said, a few minutes of meditation can help calm the mind and body to regain energy. If that fails, a walk or a bike ride somewhere away from people can be restorative. I’ll echo what Paula said, too. Rewards for little milestones then a big fat reward for completion are always in order. Then it’s time to get back to work – on the next book, a promotion plan, or both. Michele: I thrive on deadlines. I should wear a tee shirt that says, “Works Well Under Pressure.” All of the professions I have worked in required me to be able to deal with crises, so I may be one of those people who is adrenalin-addicted. Having said that, maybe not so much anymore as I “mature”, although I did wait until the last minute to answer the question of the week. Cate: I like deadlines. I think they help keep us on track. I make up deadlines for myself in addition to the ones that my publisher provides.  If you’re still looking for a little inspiration, check out Martha Beck’s blog on writing (even with a crayon) at http://marthabeck.com/2017/03/stop-doubting-start-writing/   

Read More

The Big Five No-Nos to Querying A Literary Agent

Today, the MissDemeanors is welcoming literary agent Mark Gottlieb to give our readers some dos and dont’s when it comes to contacting agents. The man should know as he works with Trident Media Group literary agency, one of the biggest and best in the business. Here’s his post: As a literary agent in major trade publishing at the Trident Media Group literary agency, I receive hundreds of query letters a week. I find that there are so many things an author can do wrong in querying an agent with a submission letter, while there are very few things an author can do right in querying an agent with a submission letter, so it’s really hard to say every single thing an author should avoid in a query letter…  Though if I could throw just five glaring problems I tend to see: 1)   FINISH THAT MANUSCRIPT: Authors querying an agent before their fiction manuscript is finished/fully-written, or before their nonfiction book proposal is finished/fully-written, is certainly a pet peeve. It makes no sense querying an agent with unfinished work. 2)  DON’T AVOID THE LETTER: I would advise against writing query letters that state that the author does not want to write a query letter but has instead opted to merely attach a manuscript or synopsis to let the work speak for itself. Right away the literary agent will know that the author is going to be difficult to work with. The query letter is also essential so it really can’t be skipped. 3)   PERSONALIZE THE ADDRESS: It is very impersonal seeing a query letter email from an author addressed to dozens of agents at various literary agencies with a “Dear Agent” greeting. Smaller agencies on those lists might think to themselves that they might not be able to compete with the bigger agencies on that list, opting to bow out, while bigger agencies will think to themselves that they shouldn’t have to put up with that, also opting to bow out. So where would that really leave an author?  It’s better to do one’s research and approach the very best agency. 4)   READ THE INSTRUCTIONS: Reading and respecting a literary agency’s submission guidelines (usually listed on the agency’s website) is also a good way to get a foot in the door, whereas bucking the system will seldom get a good result. New authors call all the time, asking if they can query us over the phone, and I must always refer them back to our website since we prefer to receive query letters there as a matter of company policy. 5)  THINK OF BENDING THE RULES BEFORE BREAKING THEM: Knowing the rules before breaking them is also important, as going outside of genre-specific conventions and norms can be difficult for an author trying to make their major debut. For instance, a book written for elementary schoolchildren should not contain explicit language and content only appropriate for an adult audience. Knowing the proper book-length for the type of book written is also important, since publishers consider their cost of printing/production as well as shipping and warehousing, alongside how to price a shorter versus a longer book. Literary agent Mark Gottlieb currently works at Publishers Marketplace’s #1-ranked literary agency, Trident Media Group. Mark has ranked #1 among Literary Agents on publishersmarketplace.com in Overall Deals and other categories.  

Read More

Search By Tags