Jane Kenyon’s Advice

I just came across this gem from the late poet, Jane Kenyon, and I thought it might give others guidance for planning their weekend.

Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.

~Jane Kenyon

All best wishes for enough quiet to hear your voice rise within,

~Deborah

How Writing a Book is Like Riding a Roller Coaster

Writing a Book is Like Riding a Roller Coaster.

Writing Roller Coaster

Writing a book is sometimes like riding a roller coaster.

It’s been a long slog uphill as I’ve worked on a long piece of narrative non-fiction on and off for going on three years. The on part has been the research and some published articles; the off part has been a heavy sense of guilt for dragging my feet.

But in the last few weeks, something’s shifted, and I’m coasting now.

Maybe it’s a decision not to be so hard on myself, or to give up feeling badly about the slow pace of my creative process, or finally getting some snow in March. Whatever the reason, I’m riding this wave of focus and forward motion. In fact, I’ve dedicated myself to it so thoroughly that yesterday I didn’t draft my post for Live to Write – Write to Live. And this morning, I decided that I had to work on my project first.

So, while I’m sorry to disappoint any readers who look forward to my posts (and honestly, I have no idea if there are any readers who anticipate my alternate Tuesday posts), my excuse is that I’m modeling the behavior of a writer dedicated to her work. And like writers and plumbers and workers of all kinds, and parents and caregivers and volunteers, I have only so much time, compressed by middle age, when the reality of time running out becomes tangible.

Like all of us, I’ve had to prioritize, and today I put writing Learning to Hunt ahead of my commitment to this blog.

I know I’m lucky: I’m choosing one writing project over another. I know that many writers have to choose between making their kids breakfast or sitting down at their desk. I’ve been there – at that desk at five in the morning so I could write before the kids woke, and I taught them how to make their own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as soon as they were counter height (with the help of a step-stool, I might add).

And while kids grow up, parents age. I’m now caring for my 93-year old dad. But I still make it a priority to write. And now, I’m making it a priority to advance the first draft of this book.

I’ve achieved a critical mass on this project, climbed up the steep slope of trying to figure out how to start. I’m now in one of those sections of composition where each decision I’ve made up to now makes the next one more evident.

I know this roller coaster, though. I’ve been on it before. And I know that there will be other steep hills ahead. But I’m making the most of this exhilarating ride where the words flow and the story takes place.

I’m counting on your forgiveness for posting a few hours late, and I’m wishing you all equally joyous rides where ink flows from your pens, forming just the right words on your page.

Deborah Lee Luskin makes her blog deadlines most of the time: every other Tuesday here with thoughts about the business and craft of writing, and essays every Wednesday at Living In Place. Thanks for reading.

Publishing Advice From Author Bill Schubart

GUEST POST

Guest Post by Bill Schubart

Bill Schubart, author

 

 

This guest post is by author and colleague Bill Schubart, who gives a brief, long view of the publishing industry’s transformation from Twentieth-century traditional publishing to today’s many options. He ends with good advice to all writers. Read on!

HOUSE BRANDS

I grew up amid two publishing families. Roger Straus (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and Alfred and Blanche Knopf. They were both family cousins and close friends of my paternal grandparents. In the fifties, the publishing world had two entities, vanity publishers (Vantage Press et al.) and the traditional publishing houses. The traditional publishers enjoyed their reader’s brand respect.

BRAND IDENTITY

Today, in this Amazon-driven maelstrom of buying, publishing, and distribution options, most publishers have lost any cohesive brand equity. By “brand equity”, I simply mean value recognition – whether a publisher’s name evokes any specific quality or characteristic in the consumer’s mind. If I say, “Harper Collins,” does anything come to mind? Does anyone go into a bookstore and ask, “What’s new from Random House?” Coherent publishing brands evoke in the consumer some identity attached to the books they publish like Harlequin Romance, Chelseas Green, or National Geographic. Its lack makes online marketing a challenge.

VALUING CONTENT

Bill Schubart

Lila & Theron is a finalist for a Benjamin Franklin award in best popular fiction.

Furthermore, publishers failed miserably to ascribe any value to the content they sell, leaving consumers to believe that a book’s delivery medium defines its selling price – $25 for a hard-cover book; $18 for a paperback, and $15 for an audio book. So, when ebooks arrived, readers assumed they would be free as the transactional cost to buy and deliver one was virtually nil. Had publishers defined their work with a value, say $8.00, and then allowed consumers to choose the delivery medium, authors and publishers would be in much better shape.  As in music and film, the ability to monetize digitized intellectual property is at grave risk.

HYBRID PUBLISHING

The good side of all this is that technology has filled the void between vanity and traditional publishing, enabling anyone to publish either alone or with a for-hire or “hybrid publisher.” There are many professionals who can assist and advise would-be self-publishers about the universe of these intermediary publishing services. The ins and outs of self-publishing are too numerous to detail in a blog post and can be better served in a panel discussion. I can only speak to stand alone self-publishing and traditional publishing, as they form the basis of my own experience.

ADVICE TO WRITERS

I will, however, offer one piece of advice to writers seeking to publish in any channel. Escape yourself. Get out of your own head. When writing, you must inhabit the imagination of your intended reader. When seeking an agent or publisher, you must understand the constraints and protocols of their business model. When your self-published books arrive, you must understand the rudiments and challenges of bookselling as you approach a bookstore owner and ask him or her to promote you and carry your books.

EMPATHY FOR ALL

It’s good to believe in yourself and your work, but only when you have empathy for and knowledge of those who will make your book a success, will you start down the road to a successful career.

Bill Schubart lives works and writes in Hinesburg, VT. His latest novel Lila & Theron is a finalist for a Benjamin Franklin award in best popular fiction.

Deborah & Bill met at Vermont Public Radio; both write fiction set in Vermont.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Verbs

Power of Verbs

Verbs are the engines that power your sentences.

Here’s an exercise that will help you learn the power of verbs.

See if you can make the following paragraph more interesting by changing the verbs. Challenge yourself to show this narrator either speeding through her day or dragging through it by the verbs you choose. If you like, post your revision in the comments below.

I got up this morning: I got dressed I got coffee and a bagel when I got gas. I got the news on the radio, and I got the mail on the way down the hall to the office. I got through my email before my ten o’clock meeting, but I got a phone call from a client so I got to the meeting late.

After the meeting I got through the HR about my health benefits, because I got a bill for my last doctor’s visit that didn’t get covered by my insurance and should have. I got a liverwurst sandwich at the deli across the street and I got red licorice at the candy store next door. I got a lot done between one and three because I got smart and turned my email and phone off. But my boss got mad because she couldn’t get through. When I told her all I got done, she got thoughtful. I got to go out to the bakery with her and got a coffee and an éclair and got a chance to tell her about all the ways I get interrupted at work and all the ways we could get more done. She got it and thanked me. I got back to my desk and got some more done before I got back in my car. Even with traffic, I got to my yoga class in time and got home feeling like I’d had a good day.

Give it a try – then show off your work and any comments about what you learned.

Always wishing you the exact word to express precisely what it is you want to say, ~Deborah.

How to Use a Colon

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There are three general ways to use a colon: to introduce a list; to separate numerals in references and time; and to separate a title from a sub-title.

ONE: Introducing a List

The sentence above is an example of using a colon to introduce a list. Just think of a colon as shorthand for the phrases “that is,” “such as,” or “for example.” A colon used this way promotes both clarity and economy.

A colon can also introduce an appositive: a noun or noun phrase that describes or explains the noun or noun phrase that immediately comes before. The previous sentence is an example of this usage.

TWO: Separating Numerals In References And Time

Some books, like the Bible, are divided into chapter and verse: numbers separated by a colon. (That sentence is another example of a colon introducing an appositive.)

Genesis 1:1 in the King James Bible reads, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

A colon is also used to separate units of time: hours from minutes, minutes from seconds, seconds from hundredths of a second, and so on. I’m writing this post at 8:44 AM as expressed on a twelve-hour clock. On a 24-hour clock, the time is 08:44. Actually, it’s now 08:45. You get the idea.

THREE: Introducing A Subtitle

The following is a list of the stack of books on my desk waiting to be shelved.

Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts On Words, Women, Places by Ursula K. Le Guin

Robert’s Rules of Order: Newly Revised 11th Edition

Harbrace College Handbook: 1984 Printing, With the new MLA documentation style.

This last title is my go-to reference for explaining grammatical issues, such as how to use a colon effectively.

There are certainly other ways to use colons, but these are the main three. Try them; you may find them useful.

Please let me know: Did you find this post helpful?

Take a Break (Infuriating Advice, Part 2)

Last night, a plot point that had been nagging me for days dropped into my head while I was dicing onions. Last week, a perfect turn of phrase for an essay sauntered through my head while I was on the train. I am grateful for these breakthrough moments, and also started to wonder, why couldn’t I think of these while at my desk?

Why is it that I am least creative when I am working hardest?

In my last post, I my advice was: If you want to write, write (more).

Today, my advice is: take a break!

And yes. That advice is contradictory. Here is why.

There is an emerging interest in the science of creativity, and researchers recently tackled the question: why do people get their best ideas in the showers? The answer is straightforward.

You have better ideas when you are relaxed.

image of a busy brain

A busy brain can be a writer’s enemy

Decision-making, e-mail-writing, and schedule-juggling is controlled by the prefrontal cortex. The medial prefrontal cortex controls association and emotional response. Some studies suggest that when artists are improvising and most creative, there is almost no activity in the prefrontal cortex. The part of your brain that balances your checkbook does not write poetry. Not only does creativity need a quite prefrontal cortex, it also thrives on dopamine. What’s dopamine? The neurotransmitter that relaxes the body.

In other words, your writer’s block is not because you are not focused, but because you are not relaxed.

Image of a brain at rest

When your frontal cortex is resting, your subconscious is at work.

Thinking about a problem can keep you from creating a solution. Dopamine quiets the chatter, and lets your subconscious get to work. When I was dicing onions, I was relaxed, which let my subconscious knit together the ideas that been slowly forming.

So how do you access this magic drug? Take a break. Bake a cake. Take a bath. Walk around the block. Draw a picture of your brain.

It can be hard to follow this advice. After all, my writing time is precious to me, often squeezed between other jobs, or carved out at the end of the day. When I find myself staring at the screen, faced with a plot problem I can not untie, I remind myself that creativity does not have a time-clock.

I find that by writing more frequently and taking breaks when I get frustrated, I am able to make daily progress.

Do you ever feel like your best – or only – ideas happen when you’re away from your desk?


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Naomi is a writer, performer, and project manager.  She has dueling degrees in business and playwriting. You can learn more about her work here.

 

Learning to Use Scrivener

Scrivener

I first learned about Scrivener, a program to help writers organize long-form projects, from a post by J.A. Hennrikus, right here on Live to Write, Write to Live. A few months later, she posted again about Scrivener, this time about taking a course about how to use it.

Scrivener

I typed on a Smith Corona before I bought my first computer for word processing.

That’s pretty much when I grayed out. I was happy with Microsoft Word, which I’d been using since I bought my first computer in 1984. It was a big advance over the Smith-Corona portable typewriter, which I’d had since high school. That first edition of Microsoft Word was pretty much just like typing, only better. I was good with that.

Then Wendy E. N. Thomas posted about Scrivener, inviting readers to watch her write a book using this tool. Good to her word, she posted a step-by-step guide, a blog post using Scrivener, A.T.T.P, a guide to nailing an outline, and Scrivener Simplified.

I still wasn’t convinced. I was working on other projects with paper, hole-punch, scissors, paperclips and tape. This system was working for me.

Then my writing-buddy brother started using Scrivener, telling me how useful it was for writing plays. He’d share his screen with me, trying to make me believe that this would make my writing life easier.

It was starting to feel like a conspiracy.

Meanwhile, I was sputtering on and off on two long-form projects. Every time I returned to them, I had to reorganize.

I finally got fed up.

It was time, I decided, to try Scrivener.

I’ve downloaded the free, thirty-day trial – which gives you thirty days of actual use, regardless of how many days or weeks it takes you to use them. And when I get stuck, I turn to the many videos and lessons on the Literature and Latte website.

It’s slow-going, and I’m not yet in love with the program, but I am determined to learn it so I can get on with my writing life.

Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator who blogs weekly at Living in Place. Learn more at www.deborahleeluskin.com