Monthly Archives: March 2014

The right time to write

Ringing alarm clock.

Photo by flickr user Alan Cleaver

There have been plenty of discussions, both online and off, about successful writing habits. One of the most common questions I hear from new/aspiring writers is, “What’s the best time to write?” My answer: “When you have the time.”

But seriously, there is no “best time” to write; the best time is simply what works best for you. That could be 4:00 in the morning before your kids are up, or it could be 7:00 at night when you get home from work. The more you experiment with different schedules, the more you’ll figure out what works for you. Some people swear by writing first thing in the morning, when they feel less inhibited creatively. Personally, I can barely form a complete sentence when I first wake up, and exerting any real energy before breakfast is out of the question. I’m a night writer; once I’ve done everything else on my to-do list for the day, I can focus better on writing and am far more productive.

Recently, I’ve even started experimenting with middle-of-the-night writing. If I can’t fall asleep, I’ll start thinking about whatever is giving me trouble with my current WIP, and often I’ll come up with new ideas. Instead of jotting down a few notes and rolling over, I’ve started actually writing these scenes longhand. So far, this is working so well that I may add it to my regular writing routine. I’m sure this type of routine would make some of you cringe, and I encourage you to experiment (as much as your work/family/other commitments allow) to find the time that works best for you.

Moving past time of day, let’s talk about frequency. There’s this myth that you have to write every day, and that if you don’t write every day, you’re not a “serious” writer. That’s ridiculous. A serious writer is someone who takes his/her work seriously. Period. If you set aside time and commit to your writing, you’re a serious writer, whether you write for two hours a week or twenty. Some writers have busier schedules than others, and may only have time to write on the weekends. If that’s you, and that works for you, that’s okay. You don’t have to write every day.

Let me say that again. You don’t have to write every day.

I choose to write every day, because that’s what works best for me. I’m a creature of habit, and it makes sense for me to include writing in my daily routine. But if you don’t write every day, that doesn’t make you any less serious or committed than those of us who do. It just means you have different work habits.

Bottom line: the best time to write is the time that works best for you.

What are your thoughts on writing routines? What times are you most productive?

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Inspiration

I went to the Public Library Association (PLA) conference last Friday, and it was exactly what I needed to re-energize my library career. I’d been discouraged by a string of low-attended programs, but the combination of a very successful one on memoir writing and the awesome ideas I got from other librarians at PLA has me excited to try new things again. No matter what your career, I highly recommend attending conferences in your field if you’re able. There’s nothing more refreshing than meeting with a bunch of other people who understand what you do every day, who can relate to your struggles and offer advice, and who can spark new ideas during sessions or impromptu conversations.

Thomas Edison quote. Something that struck me as applicable to both my library and writing careers was a talk on failure by Megan McArdle. “Don’t be afraid to suck,” she urged, explaining that failure is part of the process that leads to success. When we admire the bestselling author or successful library director, we often see only their amazing novel or the one innovation that revitalized their library as a community center. What we don’t see are the twelve novels that writer slaved over before she even signed with a publishing company, or the eight outreach initiatives that didn’t work at that library. The difference between those who succeed and those who fail is not that the first group hasn’t failed, but rather that they have failed more, and failed better. Failure isn’t fun, but it’s still an opportunity to learn what is and isn’t working and adjust accordingly. So, whatever your aspirations, I encourage all of you to get out there and fail brilliantly.

Map.

Photo by flickr user hugovk.

At lunch, John Green talked about how public librarians don’t give up on anyone. To paraphrase, we encourage the rich, the poor, the professors, the high school drop-outs, the marginalized, the young, the old — everyone — to come in and explore new ideas. Just as you can’t plan a trip to a place that isn’t on your map, you can’t try to build a robotic arm for someone with a 3D printer until you know 3D printers exist. Libraries and librarians help people add to their “maps,” so they can know and be a part of more of the world. Of course, John Green said this much more eloquently than I ever could. Seriously, even his answers during the Q&A were so quotable I wanted to write them all down.

I could go into detail about all the programs I want to try, the new ways I plan to experiment with reader’s advisory on the library’s social media pages, but those are topics for another post. For now, I’ll leave you with a challenge to try something you’ve been meaning to do without worrying about failure. Whether it’s a new program at your library, a new genre you’ve never written, or a new cupcake recipe, give it a shot. If you fail, that’s one more thing you know won’t work, and one more place you can add to your personal “map.” And if you succeed, you’ll have something amazing to share.

Attitudes toward success

Car. I’ve always approached major projects and goals with the attitude that if I worked hard enough at something, I would eventually achieve it. This mindset has served me well so far, but lately I feel like I’ve been using it as a crutch. While I see hard work as the gas that keeps my car rolling down the road to success, I wonder whether I’m stopping for gas too often. For me, success has been measured by a series of stepping stones, incremental progressions that force me to prove myself worthy of my final achievement. But I’ve always been afraid to take a leap, to skip a stone and lunge for the next one down the path. To drive past a gas station confident that my tank is full enough to carry me to the next station.

Why do I bring this up? The more serious I get about my writing career, the less sure I am about what “step” I’ve reached or where the next step even lies. I’ve told myself time and again that I have to write just one more “bad” book before my work is really ready for publication, and that even though I consider a project polished and ready to pitch to agents, I should expect to get only rejections. Because that’s the process. I have to go through all these steps to reach my ultimate goal of publication.

But does it really need to be like that? I’m going to keep writing and editing and pitching until I sign with an agent (and then writing and editing even more until I die), but what if this “bad” book that I’m in love with is actually the one that will get me a contract? Has my obsession with proving grounds stolen my confidence in my own work?

Right now I’m in the midst of querying one novel (my current “bad” book) and hammering out a draft of another one. I’ve sent nine queries and participated in two contests, and so far have seen only partial requests. I keep telling myself it’s okay; my writing isn’t strong enough yet, my pitch isn’t stellar, etc., etc. But I worry that I’ll say the same thing for the next book, and the one after that. When will I have enough confidence in my work to really believe it will make it to the bookshelves?

Those of you who have seen your work published, was there a moment when you were completely sure that what you had was ready? Or are you still second-guessing yourself? Any tips for someone who’s wondering when to give up and when to keep querying?

Query tips and cool things in writing

This week’s post is going to be a collection of fun things that I’ve come across or been working with in the last couple weeks. Since I’m deep in the trenches of querying, I’ll start with one of my new favorite blogs.

Query Shark

Query Shark. Query Shark has been around for years, and I’ve had plenty of people tell me to browse the “sharkives,” but until recently I’d only skimmed a couple posts. I wish I could go back now and tell myself to take a closer look when I first started writing queries, because this is hands-down the best resource I’ve seen for writing a polished query. Query Shark (a.k.a. Janet Reid of Fine Print Literary Management) posts ruthless critiques of queries that guests have submitted, offering feedback on how to hook readers, trim lengthy prose, and more. My query is 1,000,000 times better at least, and I have ideas to improve it even more before I send it out to agents. I am not only am I more confident in my query, but I’m also applying these skills to my current WIP. Seriously, if you’re a writer and you haven’t read the sharkives yet, do it. Now.

Fourth Annual NaNoWriMo Pitchapaloooza

The Book Doctors. Send your 250-word pitch to The Book Doctors by March 7, 2014 for a chance to win a free pitch critique and an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for your manuscript. Twenty-five pitches will be randomly selected for online critique, and a winner from the group will be introduced to an agent or publisher. A fan favorite will also receive a free one-hour consultation with The Book Doctors.

They’re also offering free 20-minute consultations to anyone who buys a copy of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. For more details, visit the Pitchapaloooza announcement.

Smith Publicity Book Publicity Consultation Contest

Smith Publicity. Enter for a chance to win a one-hour consultation with Smith Publicity and get your book uploaded to NetGalley, “a community of 100,000+ librarians, book reviewers, bloggers, educators, booksellers, and media” (including yours truly). To enter, write an essay of 500 words or fewer explaining why your book deserves publicity exposure. For more details, check out the contest description.

#tenqueries

Every so often, an agent will decide to tweet about ten queries s/he has received with the #tenqueries hashtag. This won’t help you write your query, but I find it encouraging whenever I feel like I’m drowning in the slush pile. So many of these discuss basic mistakes such as not following submission guidelines that I feel better about my own queries.

#MSWL

I’ve discussed this before, but there was another #MSWL (manuscript wish list) day on February 26. I had fun reading about what agents want to see and favoriting a few tweets that matched my work. Someone even had the idea of collecting all of the #MSWL tweets on a single blog for easier browsing. Just remember that #MSWL is for agents. Don’t try to pitch your book on Twitter; instead, follow the agent’s submission guidelines. (Otherwise you may end up as one of the #tenqueries that give me a healthy dose of schadenfreude.) And finally, keep in mind that this is a very specific list; if your book doesn’t fit with an agent’s wish list, but it is a genre that s/he represents, query away!

Writers on a train!

Amtrak train.

Photo by flickr user dok1

This isn’t query-related, but it’s so cool that I had to include it. In an interview interview with Pen America, Alexander Chee said, “I still like a train best for [writing]. I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers.” Jessica Gross tweeted about it, and was surprised when Amtrak responded offering her a test run. #AmtrakResidency was trending on Twitter for a few days, and Amtrak is looking into whether and how to make this a recurring program. Check out this article in The Wire to learn more.

And now I’m off to polish my query. Have you come across any cool happenings or resources lately?