Opportunity Cost

Back in the spring I attended a lecture by a psychologist who specialized in helping families manage their lives, especially when it came to technology. She had a lot of opinions about the risks and benefits of technology for our children.

One of the worst things about children’s use of technology, in her opinion, is that they are not doing other things with their time with the hours they spend on their phones or on their Xboxes. They are not out in nature, not interacting with friends, not using their imaginations.

In economics, this is called “opportunity cost.” If you invest your money in stock A, the opportunity cost of doing this is the yield you would have gotten from stock B.

In my daily life, I have gradually become aware of the opportunity cost of my lack of organization.

I’m not a slob, I can almost always find my keys, and I’m on time or early for appointments 95% of the time. But, I’m often grocery shopping when I had planned to be writing or doing other last minute errands during the only hours I have to myself to work on my creative tasks.

And I say “yes” to a lot of things that take me away from my creative work.

If I didn’t feel strongly about my writing, I would just let it go. But I continue to yearn to write and pursue other creative interests.

Some of my last minute errands and “yes-saying” may be (okay, is definitely) a result of resistance and fear about my work not being “good enough” but I’m not going to let my unconscious fears hijack my life’s work.

So I’m taking steps to correct the problem.

Here’s my initial plan, which I’ve already started to implement:

  • Unless it’s a hell, yes! I’m saying no (respectfully.)
  • Clean out my office completely (done!) and make sure all the tools that make my work life easier are within reach.
  • Plan menus for the week—and stick to the menu!
  • Schedule my time at the beginning of the month and the week—and stick to the schedule!

The biggest time-saver so far is all the planning ahead I’ve been doing. I like to plan, but I’m more invested in sticking to the plan this summer. Also, I’ve always liked leftovers, but I used to cook three different dinners three different days in a week before having “leftover night.” Now I’m okay with serving the same thing two nights in a row and, OfficePicSmallluckily, so is my family.

Cleaning out my office seems to have given me more space in my head. I like to see the open space on my bookshelves and on my desk. I hope to fill the space with ideas and paragraphs, rather than clutter.

What can you do to streamline your routines to give yourself more writing time?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: is a writer, blogger, master life coach, and family physician. I’m in the middle of enjoying summer and accomplishing small writing and creative tasks. So far, it’s been a great summer!

Our Summer Vacation: Pitching Your Book

OUR WRITING ROADMAPI’ve been doing posts all summer with some tips for writing your novel. Each of the steps I’ve talked about–plotting, finding voice, editing–are part of the writing process. They can take months. Sometimes work gets stuck in one of those steps, and is abandoned for a period of time. Never think that you are wasting time on any part of this process. Writing is a craft, and takes practice.

Once your book is “done”, you need to get ready to pitch it. Note, I put done in quotes, because it is such a relative term. I’ve read stories I’ve had published, and wanted to change things. I’m rereading a manuscript I wrote a long time ago, and pitched several times. It is good, but I can make it better now. It is a fine line between a work being “good enough” or “not quite there”. Make sure you don’t publish prematurely.

Assuming you are ready to go to the next step, you need to make decisions about your path of publication. Do you want to go the traditional route, and find an agent who then pitches to an editor?Are you going to self publish? Are you going to pitch directly to a small press? There’s a lot to this decision, and I can talk about that more in a later post.

Today, I want to talk to you about the pitch itself. Imagine this, you’re in a elevator and an agent gets on with you. You chat, they find out you’re a writer, and they say “tell me about your book”.

Do you:

a) stammer and start telling them the story in details and you barely get past the first chapter when the elevator door opens and the agent runs away.

b) tell them your pitch as a conversation opener, and then have time to answer a few questions before the door opens.

The answer is, of course, b. But you’d be surprised how challenging getting that pitch down can be. Here are some of the things I try and keep in mind:

  • Make it a hundred words or less. It should take you two or three minutes tops.
  • Make it conversational. Don’t rush, try not to fumble with words.
  • Don’t tell the story. Talk about the theme–why are you telling this story? What is the hook? Why should they care?
  • Who are you pitching to? What can you change so it hits what interests them?

Those are some of the things to think about. So much easier said than done. But practice your pitch. Know it back and forth. You’ll use it at conferences, at meetings, in queries, in marketing materials. It’s never too early to think about your pitch. Who knows, it may help you focus your story while you are writing it.

My pitch for Clock and Dagger, the second book in my Clock Shop Mystery series is that Ruth Clagan is settling into Orchard, MA, and about to hold four parties in as many days when the past creeps up and threatens her new life. She has to find a murderer, and protect her family before the New Year rings in.

nhwn books clock daggerClock and Dagger was published yesterday, August 2. If you go over to the Wicked Cozy Authors and comment on the blog talking about the debut (at the link) you may be entered to win a copy of the book.

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As Julianne Holmes, Julie writes the Clock Shop Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. The second book in the series, Clock and Dagger, was published on August 2. She is over the moon!

Grammar-ease: Let’s Talk about Lets

Let's Do ThisI’ve seen a lot of lets and let’s and different technical pieces I’ve edited in the past couple of weeks, so I thought it would make a good grammar post.

Let’s is the contraction for “let us” (introduces a suggestion or request); whereas lets  means to allow or permit (third-person singular — he/she/it lets).

Let’s see some examples:

  • Let’s go to the beach.
  • My twin sister lets me borrow her clothes.
  • Let’s forget this ever happened, okay?
  • He lets the rabbit run around the house.
  • Let’s go, girls and boys.
  • Bart lets his daughter walk to the bus stop on her own.
  • Let’s consider all the facts before making a decision.
  • The teacher lets his students eat during class.
  • Let’s be kind to one another.
  • Facebook lets you connect with people around the globe.
  • We can forgive, but let’s not forget.

Confusion comes in, I think, with phrasing such as “Let’s you and me get out of here.” since it evolves to “Let us you and me get out of here.” The “you and me” portion can be considered emphasis for specifying who should actually get out of here (if there are more than two people), but overall the wording is a bit of overkill, redundant, a mouthful, and not standard English. You can simply say, “Let’s get out of here.”

Here’s an example of wording that might sound incorrect, but it’s not: Don’t let’s throw away the baby clothes. We can donate them.

In summary:

  • “Let’s” = “let us”.
  • “Lets” is a verb.

What grammar topics are you finding challenging lately?

Lisa_2015Lisa 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. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

On Creative Drought Plus Shareworthy Reading and Writing Links Jul 31

Even a withered stalk can generate a beautiful flower.

Even a withered stalk can generate a beautiful flower.

While our situation is not as severe as the one in California or many others around the world, this summer has been one of the driest in recent history for our little north-of-Boston town. Water bans are in effect all across the region, causing lawns to wither and crisp under the cruel and oppressive rays of the sun. Garden plants and flowers wilt and fade during the day, recovering as best they can in the slightly cooler and blessedly darker overnight hours. Rooted in the ground, the parched plants have no escape from the heat or the searing touch of the sun’s rays. They can only endure in silence and hope to survive long enough to feel the life-giving caress of a good, soaking rain.

For weeks now, we have been watching the weather reports for any signs of precipitation. On a few occasions, the meteorologists have forecast rain, but it seems like our tiny town has some kind of forcefield around it. Again and again, our hearts are lifted by the promise of rain, but more often than not, the storm detours around us, or the drops evaporate before reaching the ground. Even last weekend, when towns on all sides were ravaged by impressive thunderstorms, we had only a brief shower that barely managed to properly wet the dry earth before rushing out to sea.

I feel for the plants. I can imagine how they pine for a long, slow drink of water. I can imagine this because I have been feeling the same way about my creative work lately. Summer arrived at my doorstep with a flurry of client projects, and while I’m always grateful to be gainfully employed, keeping up with the deadlines has meant putting aside not only my Big Picture creative projects, but all of my daily creative and self-care routines as well.

My morning pages practice has dwindled to only a few pages every couple of weeks. I have only done yoga (a practice which provides me with time and headspace for nurturing random thoughts and writing ideas) a half dozen times in the last four or five months. My pleasure reading has been slow to the point of having to sometimes back-track when I return to a book because it’s been so long since my last read that I’ve forgotten what was happening in the story.

Each of us faces period of creative drought. Whether we’re overwhelmed with work, dealing with a personal crisis, or have had our creative time usurped by the family and social obligations of summer, there will be days (or weeks, or months) when we simply can’t make the time we’d like to nurture our creative projects. Though I’m in the middle of such a period, and – I won’t lie – am feeling a little cranky about it, I can still step back and offer a little encouragement to others who might be going through a similar experience right now:

  • Number One: This too shall pass. Yes, I know it’s a bit trite, but it’s also true. Whatever is taking up your time and keeping you from your creative endeavors will eventually move on and out of your life. You will get back to your projects and your dreams. You might have to be patient for a while, but that’s not such a bad thing. Just try to roll with it.
  • Number Two: Even in times of creative drought, you can create. While I have been feeling frustrated and put out by my inability to make time for my usual creative pursuits, I am trying to remember that there are tiny creative acts that only take a few minutes. I may not have large chunks of time to write on a story or tackle the complex task of organizing source materials for a larger work, but I can pen one or two lines or edit a photo for Instagram or doodle in the margin of my notebook. Those may not be impressive accomplishments, but something is better than nothing.
Despite it's diminutive size, our smallest tomato plant is yielding the most robust crop of the season.

Despite it’s diminutive size, our smallest tomato plant is yielding the most robust crop of the season.

We must remember that we are not the drought. The drought is just an external circumstance, not a reflection of our creative spark or spirit. Even if we are unable to engage in the external act of creation, the source of our creativity is alive and well – hunkered down beneath the cracked earth, just waiting until the rains some so it can burst forth and blossom.

Just you wait and see.

_jamie sig

 

 


My Favorite Blog Reads for the Week:

CRAFT

PUBLISHING & MARKETING

INSPIRATION

THE WRITING LIFE

··• )o( •··

Finally, a quote for the week:

I’m stealing borrowing this week’s quote from the lovely and delightful Sara Foley, who borrowed it in turn from Raising Ecstasy:

pin vonnegut edge

Here’s to getting close to the edge, weathering the droughts, and always being ready to emerge from underground when the rains finally come.
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Friday Fun – Summer books

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: We’re well into summer with its warm breezes and cold beers. Things are a little more relaxed. Time to take our collective pulse and find out what warm weather books we’ve been reading.

Wendy Thomas – part of my job is to review books for a publication, so I read a lot. (The fact that you can rarely find me without a book – I even take them when I go to the movies, because you never know –  means that I go through many books.  Here are some of my most recent –

  • The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer – you read about that one yesterday in my post.
  • The Summer before the War by Helen Simonson – fantastic for those of us going through Downton Abbey withdrawal
  • The Nest  by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney – broken families and blue blood
  • The Fireman  by Joe Hill – classic King horror
  • You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero – How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life – a good kick in the pants.
  • How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams (the Dilbert guy) – funny and motivational

On my list to read are Atonement  (recently saw the movie and now I want to read the book) and New York in a Dozen Dishes.

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson: I haven’t read much for personal enjoyment this summer. All I’ve managed, that I can recall (have given a lot of books away as I pack to move), are Jessica Andersen’s Lord of the Wolfyn, Rob Smales’ Echoes of Darkness (compilation of short stories), and Jim Benson’s and Tonianne DeMaria Barry’s Personal Kanban (reading still in process).

I usually read in the evenings and weekends, but not this summer!

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction this summer, but my son and I just finished listening to The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan and immediately started on the second book in the series, The Throne of Fire. I’ve always loved mythology of every culture, so it’s been really fun to read (listen to) stories about the Egyptian gods and goddesses. I also recently bought The Hobbit on CD for us to listen to on a long car trip coming up in August. I bought it rather than get it from the library because it’s one I read many times as a child and I know we will listen to it many times over the next few years.

Deborah headshotDeborah Lee Luskin: I am currently and completely engrossed in Jeffery Lent’s A Slant of Light. Before that, The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin. For me, the warm weather doesn’t really change what I read, just where: I have an Adirondack Chair in the shade outside my studio where I like to decompress in the late afternoon, when my brain’s fried from writing and it’s too hot to do anything else.

“Well duh” and “Show don’t Tell”

 

You know that old writers’ adage “show don’t tell?” It’s an incredibly important piece of advice. As important as tight lug nuts on the wheels of your literary car.

Okay, maybe that wasn’t the best one, but you get the picture. “Show don’t tell” means that you include enough imagery, enough action and dialog for the reader to figure things out on their own. It’s as important to your progress as wheels staying on your car.

colferI recently picked up a book by Chris Colfer – he played Kurt on Glee and it turns out he’s quite the writer. I like him. I think he’s funny and talented.

But my praise for him falls short in his most recent book. The Land of Stories – an Author’s Odyssey Book 5. Granted I hadn’t read the previous books (shame on me for not paying attention when I bought this book) and granted it’s written for a young (middle school) audience but Geeze Louise!  Just take a look at the following passages.

“I’ve brought you all here to witness the birth of an era,” the Masked Man preached. “But before we achieve a new future, the ways of the past must be destroyed  and the leaders of the past are no exception!”

The Masked Man gestured to a large wood platform below the balcony, on the lawn between the palace and the dried lake. A very tall man in a long black cloak climbed to the top of the platform and placed a large wooden block in the center.

A dozen flying monkey pulled a wagon out from behind the place. It carried all the former kings and queens of the fairy tale world…(long list of names)

The tall man on the platform withdrew a large silver axe from inside his cloak. The civilians began screaming and shouting in horror once they realized the purpose of it – the Masked Man was going to have the royal family executed!

It’s that last sentence that I object to. Colfer had done a great job to that point of showing his audience what was happening. The characters in the story even figured it out, but then he threw in a sentence to make sure we were told what was happening.

Look at the passage again and remove that last italicized part of the sentence. It leaves us hanging with horror and outrage, an appropriate response. It does not leave us with an exclamation point of excitement. This is an excellent example of how showing is so much more effective than telling.

I read that passage out loud to my daughter emphasizing the italicized sentence.

“Well duh,” she said “it’s an execution.”

Little bit of writing advice here – writers NEVER want their readers to say “Well duh.”

A few pages later, we read about how a trap door opened and how the entire royal party managed to escape by way of horses and a carriage hidden underneath the execution platform.

“To his horror, he saw Goldilocks on Porridge and Jack on Buckle! The couple steered the horses and the carriage into the forest beyond the palace, knocking over dozens of Winkie soldiers as they went. The execution had turned into a rescue mission right before the Masked Man’s eyes!”

Again, “well duh.”

Once again, remove that “telling” sentence at the end (and while you’re at it get rid of about half of the exclamation marks he uses) and you end up with a tighter, more vivid story that relies on the reader to connect the (very obvious) dots.

Now granted I haven’t read the first 4 books and this may be Colfer’s style. I know that his audience is young readers, but please – as writers you must give your readers credit. If you’ve done a good job with the descriptions, action, and dialogue you shouldn’t have to spell out *anything*. Your readers should be able to figure it out on their own.

Next time you hear “show, don’t tell” think of this example. When you write, it’s your job to set things up clearly enough for your readers to “get it.” If you haven’t, then it’s also your job to go back, figure out why not, and then strengthen your work so they do.

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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.

Organizing Your Writing Projects with Trello

I admit it: I’m  a bit of a software geek. I can easily spend hours researching and playing with different kinds of project management, tracking, and collaboration software products. I love the way these digital tools help me wrest order from chaos and streamline my workflows and communication.

At the moment, I’ve fallen quite hard for a combination of Asana/Instgantt/Google Drive to help me manage my more complex client projects (the ones with longer lead times, more moving parts, and additional team members). However, I was recently reminded of a simple but powerful software called Trello, and I thought it was worth sharing it as a simple, beautifully visual, and FREE way for writers to track and manage all kinds of information from product status and submissions to lead generation and story ideas.

Here’s a 5-minute video that will give you an overview of how the software works:

The ways a writer can use Trello are almost endless:

To Track Submissions: Move “story” cards through a series of lists that track a story’s progress through the development process:

  • New Idea
  • Pitch in Development
  • Pitch Submitted
  • Ready for Follow Up
  • Accepted
  • Edited
  • Delivered
  • Payment Received

To Track Networking/Lead Generation: Similarly, you might move “contact” cards through a series of lists representing the stages of relationship development with colleagues, editors, and potential clients:

  • Outreach Targets
  • Contact Initiated
  • Ready for Initial Follow-Up
  • First Meeting/Conversation
  • Ready for Second Follow-up
  • Project Initiated/Assignment Secured
  • Back-burnered

To Track Project Status: However you break your projects down, you can use Trello to track progress on each element by moving task cards through workflow step lists:

  • To Be Scheduled
  • Scheduled
  • In Progress
  • First Draft Complete
  • In First Revision
  • In Second Revision
  • In Editing
  • In Proofreading
  • Complete

To Capture Reference Materials: Though I generally prefer Scrivener for this, many people like to use Evernote or even Pinterest to collect and organize story-related reference materials. Trello can be used in a similar way if you create cards for each story element and then organize them into category-based lists:

  • Characters
  • Locations
  • Time Periods/Time Lines
  • Style Guide
  • Artifacts and Props
  • Themes
  • Miscellaneous Details

Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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