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When I write, sometimes I listen to music. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I wear my jammie pants and sometimes I write while wearing a skirt and sweater.

IMG_20141018_143815382When I was young and trying to be an angst-filled writer, I used to think that I couldn’t write anything worth anything unless I was wearing a very specific ratty green shirt and had a cup of Earl Grey tea in front of me. I had to have routines. If I had a personal (and sacred) routine it meant I was serious about my craft. Often it would take me an entire evening to get the first paragraph out on paper and perfected, and I couldn’t ever write anything else until that very first paragraph was worthy. Because, well that was the way I worked… and this was how I envisioned real writers did it.

But times have changed. I’m not even sure if I have that old shirt anywhere (it might be hiding in the back of a closet, but I doubt it) and although my drug of choice has changed to coffee, I don’t keep it near where I write having ruined far too many keyboards from reaching over a pile of books and spilling drinks over the years. Keyboards cost money, something that that earlier writer might not have been so concerned with (Dear Mom and Dad, somehow my typewriter broke…)

My point is that writers grow up, just like everyone else. We evolve. We mature. We realize that writing is a job and not just a fanciful, artistic quest. We realize that mortgages have to be paid, school sports equipment has to be purchased, and if you want to drive, you’d better purchase some insurance.

No longer do I have to try and struggle to force a thoughtful perfect phrase from my mind. Instead I sit down and say to myself – “Okay, let’s begin” and then I do. From hours and hours and hours of practice, I have learned how to craft a story and I know where the beginning is, the middle, and the ending. I may not even start at the beginning because often I don’t need to, by the time I sit down to write, I know where I’ve come from and I know where I’m going.

Of course this all begs the question – whatever happened to that angsty young writer of yore? Did she disappear with the roles and responsibilities of life (it’s tough to be angsty when you have a slew of young children who’s needs trump yours) or does she now just face the inevitable music?

Now, if an editor wants me to change a sentence or cut a paragraph, I say “yes, m’am” and I make the cuts. No questions asked. Although my words and thoughts are important, at the end of the day, it is my audience that matters most.

I’ve learned to write for my readers instead of for my personal release. Oh to be sure, I put my personal stamp on my writing and it is definitely unique to only me. But I’ve come to accept something that I hadn’t ever bothered to consider in my youthful ambition and it is this: much like a tree falling in the woods, if no one is there to read your words, then is it really writing?

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

 

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Introvert merchandise at the link!

Last week I posted a T shirt on my Facebook page that said “Introverts Unite. We’re Here. We’re Uncomfortable. We Want to Go Home.” My message was “I need one of these.” I got dozens of “likes” and several comments, most of which were “me too!”.

Now, if you saw me in action, you wouldn’t think I was an introvert. I lead a extroverted life, teaching, running meetings, and being “on” at events. Last weekend I co-hosted a workshop called “Networking for Fun and Profit”, and it made me think a lot about skills introverts can develop to help them navigate the world of networking. Networking happens at conferences, at book readings, at workshops, at meetings. It can be informal (like at the post office, or after a service), or formal. It can be work related or completely social. It can be planned, or accidental. You should always be prepared, and for introverts, that may take a little extra effort. Here are some of my tips:

  • Make an event plan. Can you make a goal for yourself? Meet one new person? Get one business card? Talk to three people about your project/job/writing? Make the goal achievable. And try to get it taken care of early on.
  • Fake it till you make it. Literally look at your networking self as a role you need to play. Dress a little nicer than you need to. Always default to smiling. Work at eye contact. After a while it gets easier, but it is never easy for us introverts. So you play the part.
  • Work on the small talk, and talk to everyone. Networking is about making connections. Sometimes those connections can come from expected quarters. But in other instances, connections could come from unexpected places. The person you chat with about the stuffed dates–maybe she is best friends with someone you should meet. If nothing else, as a writer, talking to everyone is research.
  • Have your tool kit ready. I have a stash of business cards (writing and my day job), bookmarks (for Wicked Cozy Authors, Crime Bake, and Sisters in Crime New England), stickers, and buttons in my bag at all times. If you don’t have a business card, have one made. Even if it has your name and email and nothing else, it gives people something to take with them after you meet.
  • When you get a business card, write down how and when you met the person on the back. Send them a note, or an email, as a follow-up. Don’t be a pest, but keep in touch.

These are some tips. There is technology that can help (LinkedIn, for example), but nothing replaces in person meetings. So get out there, and network. Then go home, and take a long nap.

BOSTON BOOK FESTIVAL: Are you going to the Boston Book Festival this Saturday? I am moderating a panel called “The Whydunnit in Crime Fiction” at 10AM. If you’re there, make sure and say hello!

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J.A. Hennrikus writes short stories. Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mystery Series. Julie Hennrikus teaches and runs an arts service organization.

a microphone on a stand photographed by Paul Hudson

Image courtesy Paul Hudson https://www.flickr.com/people/pahudson/ Paul Hudson

My head is a crowded place. Lots of people hang out in there and many are clamoring to have their stories told. That said, I need to get to know most of them better before I can tell their stories. Some are very forthcoming and share everything, some are more reluctant and the “so, tell me about yourself” line, just doesn’t work. What’s a writer to do?

Ask your characters questions

The best way to get to know somebody is to ask him or her questions. When it comes to interviewing fictional characters some questions come to you based on your story but other questions aren’t so obvious. It’s the answers to questions that can be nuggets of gold for your story.

The best place to start is with the basics.

  • What do they want?
  • What are they doing to achieve their goal?
  • What happened in the past that shaped them into who they are?
  • What drives them now to act as they do?
  • Why do they want the things they want?

But it’s also important to understand who THEY think they are. When I went to Diane McKinnan’s writers retreat at the beginning of October she had us undertake several different exercises. One of the exercises she shared was The Great I AM worksheet created by writer and communications professional Alexandra Franzen. Franzen is passionate about helping others communicate more effectively and developed this worksheet to “help you create a simple one page declaration of who you are and why your work matters.” It’s meant to be answered extemporaneously and should be completed in 20 minutes max.

At the retreat instead of answering the questions from my perspective, I interviewed Tegan, the heroine of my work-in-progress, a contemporary romance. Tegan doesn’t want to be a burden to anyone, so she’s very independent and is prone to telling people what she thinks they want to hear rather than what she truly wants.

It was really fun to complete this worksheet from her perspective especially when I went back and pressed her on some of the answers. She wasn’t super comfortable with the pressure, but I got some good information that will help me with the turning points in her relationship with the hero Troy. I was also able to “see” and make notes on some of her mannerisms. This will make it easier for me to describe her and put her in action in the story.

Get more indepth with your characters

The Great I Am Worksheet is an excellent starting point, but you’ll probably need more information? Why not have your character take a survey. Lately nary a day goes by on Facebook where you see “Which (Star Wars/Star Trek/ The Walking Dead/Friends/Brady Bunch) character are you?” There’s also the “What Color best represents you?” and a multitude of other variations. Answer them as one of your characters. You might be surprised at what you learn.

Find a magazine or a website that’s focused on a subject of interest to your character. I’ll bet it won’t take much digging to find a survey or questionnaire. There are no shortages of surveys out there. So go ahead and put your characters on the hot seat. The more you know, the easier it is to casually incorporate those details into your work and write a story about characters that leap off the page and that your readers can’t help but care about.

How do you get to know your characters?


Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She is currently a member of the Concord Monitor Board of Contributors. Her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe.

 

Having your own writing business involves dealing with work that ebbs and flows.

You may have a client hire you, but then delay the start of the project, delay payment, change the scope after you start, give you more than you expect a lot sooner than you expect… it’s seldom as straight forward as it should be.

It can be scary thinking about the ‘ebbs’ of a writing business. It can also intimidate if there’s worry about “too much” work flowing in.

How do you handle the ups and downs?

Writing life ebbs and flows are like the tides.

Writing life ebbs and flows are like the tides.

Here are some overall tips:

  • If you’re determined to start your own business, start it (it feels so good to take that step)
  • If at all possible, have enough money available to cover at least 2 months of expenses (to avoid worrying about bills)
  • Know where you want to go as a writer and accept any opportunity that is a step toward that goal (get your first byline, write that first feature, submit that first query, tell people you’re a writer, and so on)
  • Focus on one thing at a time: work in 30-minute or 1-hour blocks (set that timer and don’t let anything disturb you until the bell sounds)
  • Make sure you exercise

Tips for when you hit an ‘ebb’ (slow) period with your business:

  • Study up on social media and get more proficient
  • Update your website and any business listings
  • Seek out assistance for the busy times – a transcriptionist, virtual assistant, chef, cleaning service, whatever you might need when you’re flooded with work
  • Find ways to become more productive – read up on time management, learn to schedule emails, and so on
  • Get out and network
  • Find someone to collaborate with on projects – another writer, a graphic designer, whoever you need
  • Seek out new business; send out queries; answer job postings for writing jobs you find interesting
  • Review past clients; evaluate the projects you’ve done; identify changes you want to make and make them
  • Make sure you exercise

Tips for when you hit a ‘flow’ (busy) period with your business:

  • Call on that transcriptionist to transcribe your interviews or notes
  • Use that virtual assistant to help with your calendar
  • Have your house cleaned, your meals prepared, your errands run for you
  • Delegate social media posting (you’ve developed the content, but someone else can schedule it and post it)
  • Shut off email and close the Web browser while you’re working (if at all possible) to avoid distractions
  • Always make time for exercise, even if it’s in 10-minute increments; it’s so important to stay healthy
  • Focus and prioritize the work

Are you able (and willing) to go with the ebbs and flows of owning your own business?

LisaJJackson_2014

Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. In 8 years of business, she hasn’t found a pattern to the ebbs and flows of assignments. You can connect with her on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

What if “happy” comes first?

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The pursuit of happiness.

What about just “life, liberty, and happiness?”

There is a cultural misconception that happiness is a conditional state that depends on external factors.

  • I’ll be happy when I get the right job.
  • I’ll be happy when I meet my true love.
  • I’ll be happy when I can fit into a size six.
  • I’ll be happy when I’m published.

We mistakenly assume that we must jump through all kinds of hoops in order to “earn” happiness, and we routinely trade in-the-moment happiness for a maybe-sometime-in-the-future happiness that may or may not ever materialize.

We turn “being happy” into an If-Then statement to which there is no resolution, because each time we meet the conditions we’ve set, we immediately set new conditions. We move the goal line another ten yards out (to use an uncharacteristic sports metaphor).

I invite you to watch this excellent (and brief – only twelve minutes long) TedX talk by Shawn Achor, author of several books including The Happiness Factor. He shares some really intriguing revelations about how happiness affects our productivity and success … rather than productivity and success affecting (or creating) our happiness. I invite you to give him a listen, let it sink in, and think about how your assumptions about happiness might actually be handicapping your ability to be happy.

I’m also curious: how do you define happiness in relation to your writing?

 

What I’m Writing:

As this post goes live on Saturday morning, I will be prepping for an all-day writing session to work on a the piece I’ll be submitting for class critique next Tuesday. I’m unreasonably anxious about this.

I’ve had pieces “workshopped” before. I’m not really nervous about being on the proverbial hot seat. I welcome the opportunity to hear some honest feedback about my writing. I think what I’m finding most unsettling is that I haven’t (yet) got a strong story idea. As I mentioned in last week’s weekend edition, I have a number of story ideas milling around in my head, but none of them have stepped up to demand my full attention. The countdown is nearing zero, and I’m still waffling about which story I want to tell.

To help me get over this paralyzing indecision, I am going to treat this exercise as an experiment. I’m going to try to “play.” We did just such an exercise at the end of last week’s class and it was great fun. After spending some time analyzing all the ways that dialogue can “go awry,” we were tasked with writing a scene that included as many dialogue faux pas as possible. The results were not only hysterical, they were very informative. By forcing ourselves to do it wrong, we saw more clearly how to do it right. Pretty neat trick.

While I’m off figuring out what the hell I’m going to write, I thought I’d share a few pictures of the beautiful and oh-so-bookish Salem Athenaeum. I hope they put you in a writing kind of mood.

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What I’m Reading:

book halloween treeThis week, perhaps inspired by our in-class focus on the short story form, I set aside my novels in favor of more bite-sized reading indulgences.

First, I listened to Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree evocatively read by Bronson Pinchot. Other than the books required by my high school language arts curriculum, I have not read much of Bradbury’s work. This story, however, will certainly be one that I listen to again. It also has me curious to read more of Bradbury’s short works.

The Halloween Tree is a sort of tour through the ages with a focus on the origins of and different incarnations of our modern-day Halloween celebrations. Traveling through time and across continents, Bradbury weaves together the folklore of many different cultures. The language is beautiful. My favorite line described headstones in a graveyard as being “frosted by old moonlight.” Bradbury is also a master of creating tension and I often found myself almost holding my breath at different points in the story (and especially at the end).

I have recommended this story to my ten year-old daughter and hope that she will give it a listen before the 31st. Much more than a history lesson, The Halloween Tree is a story about embracing the darkness even as we flee towards the light. It’s just perfect for this time of year as the seasons draw us into the long, shadowed rest of winter.

kelly linkThe second piece I read was Flying Lessons by Kelly Link.  I searched this one out because our class instructor, KL Pereira, said in an online interview that it is one of her favorites . I was delighted to discover that the full story is available for free on Link’s website.

I haven’t read any other of Link’s work (yet), but I enjoyed this piece and will definitely give it a few re-reads in order to study it’s craft and structure. The story plays out in a series of short scenes, each with its own title. I would guess that the genre would be magical realism/fantasy (my favorite). Though the story takes place in a seemingly ordinary, fairly contemporary setting, there are strange things afoot and fantastical characters lurking just behind carefully constructed masks.

The opening is wonderful and was one of the “great beginnings” examples Pereira used in class:

1. Going to hell. Instructions and advice.

Listen, because I’m only going to do this once. You’ll have to get there by way of London. Take the overnight train from Waverly. Sit in the last car. Speak to no one. Don’t fall asleep.

When you arrive at Kings Cross, go down into the Underground. Get on the Northern line. Sit in the last car. Speak to no one. Don’t fall asleep.

The Northern line stops at Angel, at London Bridge, at Elephant and Castle, Tooting Broadway. The last marked station is Morden: stay in your seat. Other passengers will remain with you in the car. Speak to no one.

These are some of the unlisted stations you will pass: Howling Green. Duke’s Pit. Sparrowkill. Stay in your seat. Don’t fall asleep.

How can you resist reading on?

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin happy monster

Wishing you happiness today – in your writing, your reading, and your living. Enjoy! 

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Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally –  trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: If you could learn about and master anything, what would that be, and why?

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson: I would absolutely love to learn how the brain works. It’s such a powerful organ yet it’s difficult to know how much of it we’re actually using. Are there portions of it we could have removed with no effect? Are there ways to use it to its full potential? Is there a way to use the brain’s power beyond 100%? I really want to know. Science has never been a strong subject for me, but learning all about the brain and how it works is something I’d absolutely love love love to know and share with anyone else who’d like to know.

For now I enjoy doing different types of puzzles and reading new-to-me topics — when I can feel my brain ache a bit, I know I’m exercising it — and I love that feeling.

 

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: Oh! This is a Tough One. Because my curiosity makes me want to Learn. All. The. Things. Dozens of skills spring to mind: ballroom dancing, French cooking, speaking the French language, speed reading, ridiculously flexible yoga, kick ass meditation techniques … oh, so many things. I’ll be honest, though, the first thing that popped into my head was martial arts. I’ve always wished I was the kind of gal who could surprise the hell out of a would-be attacker by going all Ninja. Hmmm … interesting that “writing flawless novels” didn’t even occur to me.

 

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: Epidemiology. (I know, I know, how weird is that?)  The absolute best class I ever took was a graduate course on Epidemiology. It was tough, but I did well because I loved the material. To be an epidemiologist  you have to understand trends, you have to look at statistics and come up with theories, and you have to be a world class detective to figure out how a disease or condition was passed. I am having the time of my life right now following this Ebola outbreak (and I mean that in a tongue-in-cheek way – of course the impact on people and communities is devastating.) If I could I’d go back to study the field full-time.

I used to be able to tell my kids that in the HISTORY of mankind, only one person has survived rabies. Since I learned that fact in my class, however, in the last few years a 15 year old girl managed to survive. So now there are two. Bring that little fact to your next party and watch other people be amazed.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I’d like to go to culinary school and master cooking. I love to cook and I love to try new recipes, but I’d love to be so knowledgeable and facile with cooking that I can whip together a delicious, simple meal in 30 minutes. Usually, I can’t. I can make some great meals, but I need time to make it all happen. And sauces, I’d love to be able to throw together a great sauce, but it’s all a mystery to me right now.

I used to think I’d go back to school and get a masters in creative writing, but these days I feel I’m better off just writing as much as possible.

 

M. Shafer, Photo

M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin: I’d like to relearn French, in which I was once fluent, because I hate that I’ve lost it. And maybe learn Spanish and Italian, too. Spanish because it’s so part of our culture, and Italian because it’s so melodic (and I love opera). I’d also like to learn how to play the piano better, including improvisation. Currently, I’m practicing yoga and crosswords – both new to me. But mostly, I’m open to learn whatever it is that comes my way, including how to use technology better. As of yesterday, I’m signed up on twitter! Follow me! @debluskin

 

Lately I’ve been editing a short story and submitting it to my critique group. I also critique the work my fellow writers send me. In the process of editing my own words while also looking at other peoples’ writing, I have noticed I totally overuse the word “that.”

The funny thing is I always notice when other people overuse “that” but I have to do a search for it (actually use the search function on my word processing program) to see where I have used it unnecessarily.

I recently looked up when it’s appropriate to use “that.” It wasn’t easy to find in my grammar books (I have quite a few, although I seem to have misplaced my Strunk and White. I bet it’s in there.) but I found it online by checking out the Grammar Girl, Mignon Fogarty.

She talks about “that” vs. “which,” which is not really my problem. But it’s useful information, so here it is:

“That” is used at the beginning of a restrictive clause. A restrictive clause is a clause that changes the meaning of the sentence. Here’s an example:

All writers that want to improve their craft occasionally look up rules of grammar.

If we take out the restrictive clause: that want to improve their craft, we are left with the following sentence: All writers occasionally look up rules of grammar. I disagree with this sentence but I agree with the original sentence with its restrictive clause.

“Which” is used before a nonrestrictive clause, which doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence. Here’s an example:

“Which” is used before a nonrestrictive clause, which doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence.

In this sentence, the clause following the first statement does not change the meaning of the sentence. It just defines one of the words used in the first part of the sentence.

So now I’m clear on when to use that vs. which. But I’m still overusing “that.”

Going over when to use that vs. which was helpful because it helped me recognize what I’m doing in my writing: I’m using a lot of restrictive clauses. Which is fine. The problem is I use “that” at the beginning of too many of them.

Just because I’m using a restrictive clause doesn’t mean I need to use the word “that” to introduce it. For example:

The days of rain and snow bring with them the chance to stay cozy by the fire.

As I rewrite my short story, I see many more possibilities for getting creative with my restrictive clauses—and nonrestrictive clauses. It turns out I overuse “which” as much as “that,” a flaw I will correct as I edit my story.

Do you have any grammar blind spots that trip you up over and over? I’d love to hear how you manage them!

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: is a writer, blogger, life coach, physician, mother and stepmother. Right now I feel like I’m writing around the edges of my life, in the nooks and crannies, but I’m getting some writing done almost every day, so I’m okay with it. One day soon I’ll have more time to write and I’ll miss all the hustle and bustle I’m living through right now. It’s all good.

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