March 31, 2016

Podcasts for Writerly Types: Take Two

Several months ago I posted about my favorite podcasts for writerly types. While I still love those, they can't keep up with my voracious appetite for putting in headphones to ignore my kids, er, soaking up knowledge any chance I get, so, I have a new top five list. Counting up to number one, here are my current favorites:

5. Magic Lessons by Elizabeth Gilbert
Based on her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Gilbert's podcast talks a lot about pursuing your creative self and moving past the fears of failure, rejection, etc. If you like Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic, or this amazing Ted Talk, then this podcast is for you!

 4. The Creative Penn by Joanna Penn
This is a podcast geared toward self-publishers, but I think it's fantastic for ALL writers. Penn focuses on marketing, as one would expect, but she's also genius about scheduling your creative life, plotting your book, dictation, writing diversity, and all kinds of other topics perfect for writers of all types. If you can get past the 20 minute long intros, the rest of the podcast is usually pure gold.

3. Write with Impact by Glenn Leibowitz
I don't know what it is about Glenn (we're on a first name basis like that), but he has the soothing voice of a therapist and the personality of someone you want as your best friend. He interviews successful authors, journalists, bloggers, and more, diving deep into writing-specific topics. Glenn writes nonfiction, so there's a good blend of awesome fiction and non-fiction authors. You'll love him. Try it out, but remember, I found him first!

2. KidLit Drink Night by Amy Kurtz Skelding
This podcast is a little hidden gem that I wish more people knew about. I first tried it because my friend is one of the hosts, and I expected to listen to one episode, say my pleasantries, and move on to my usual lineup. I mean, kid books with drunk ladies? What's the draw? But  holy cow, was I wrong! 1) They're not drunk. They just each have unique drinks each time, sometimes smoothies or Pepsi or a dirty martini. It adds a fun flavor to the podcast, but it's not the focus. 2) They have really deep, smart discussions of a huge range of books. The hosts are super intelligent, they're incredibly funny, and it's like listening in on the kind of conversations you wish your boring neighborhood book group would have.

1. DIY MFA by Gabriela Pereira
The premise of DIY MFA is basically that it's a do-it-yourself approach to an MFA for those who aren't equipped (for whatever reason) to do a traditional college MFA program. I'm a HUGE proponent of actual grad degrees, but the reason I love this podcast is because it's built on a really smart, solid foundation of writing techniques. The ideas presented are a really good way to learn the discipline and skills presented in MFA writing programs, especially in an internet age where ideas, publishing paths, and life as an author are all evolving so quickly that by the time you finish that traditional MFA, things will have already changed. But the main reason I love it is because, even if you do get an MFA or an MA, this podcast is still worthwhile. It's a great dialogue for keeping your brain sharp and your writing skills honed. I think it's perfect for both camps--the MFA lovers and the haters.

March 24, 2016

8 Quotes from the Writing for Charity Conference

Saturday at 1:30am I got a text from a friend asking if I wanted to go to a writing conference at 9am. It was a 1.5 hour drive each way, I already had plans, and it would take the whole day, so of course I said, sure! Let's do it! I'm so glad I did. It ended up being a fantastic conference, and I can't believe I hadn't gone before. If you're ever in the area, check out Writing for Charity, a conference that donates the proceeds to helping children in low income schools afford books.

I didn't go to all of the classes (of course), so I'm sure there's a ton of great information I missed, but here are my favorite quotes of the day from the classes I attended.

1. Shannon Hale gave the keynote on diversity and gender. I wish I could write down the entire talk, because all of it was fantastic. But if I had to pick, here are two I loved. "It's not that hard to write someone outside your experience if you believe they're a human being. Pro tip for you there!" and "Boys are not incapable of empathizing with girls, but we predetermine it for them."

Okay, one more. "Give your kids books that are different than themselves." She was amazing, and by 10am I'd decided even if Hale was the only person I heard, it was worth the long drive.

2. Matthew Kirby spoke on creating strong characters. He talked about character biases, scripts, inconsistencies, inhibitions, and fears. He said, "Each of these things form a layer that filters, shapes, distorts, and focuses the unique ways each character sees the world."

And I loved his reminder that in real life, we don't only like/empathize with people like us. It makes sense that we can identify with characters who are also different from us.

3. Jennifer Nielsen gave an awesome class on plot twists. Hers was one of my favorites. She gave a lot of information on types of plot twists and how to accomplish them. My favorite advice from her was to find the balance between giving the readers a chance to figure the plot out, then misleading them enough that they can't. Treat the readers fairly--they're smart.

4. Jessica Day George talked about writing fantasy with hook. She's funny and successful and hates fantasy gibberish names and words as much as I do! She recapped Heinlein's Rules for Writing, and said: Don't get caught up in descriptions--everything should mean something to the plot, otherwise cut it. If it's not vital to the story, it doesn't belong.

5. Lindsey Leavitt's class was on writing humor. Not surprisingly, it was hilarious. What was refreshing though, was she didn't just try to be funny, she had a lot of practical, applicable, measurable advice for adding humor to your writing.

She said all writing should have some level of humor. Humor has the ability to soften and enhance your writing, it bonds you to the reader, it lessens tension, and gives a breather in stressful situations. She also talked about the value of writing humor--that a lot of people, kids especially, have a lot of darkness in their lives. Funny writing gives them bursts of sunshine, as well as tools for coping with hardships in their own lives.

6.  J. Scott Savage talked about tension--when it works, when it's too much, and how to use it to your advantage in writing. When I think of tension, I always think of it as a positive thing, but Savage talked about how you shouldn't sustain tension. It's about knowing how to use it to engage readers, evoke emotion, and get them to turn pages.

My favorite takeaway from his class was that tension is not about what is happening in your story now, it's the anticipation of what may happen. What are the consequence of the character's actions? If there are no consequences, there is no tension.

7. Jennifer Johnson-Blalock is a literary agent with Liza Dawson, and she gave a lot of good information for people who are new to the querying process. One thing she said that I'd never thought of before: "At the query stage, agents are working for free." It helps put all those form rejections and no responses into perspective!

8. Tricia Lawrence is a literary agent with Erin Murphy. She talked about leaving the need for perfectionism behind and focusing on the things you can control. Publishing moves slow. It happens when it happens, but your writing, your inspiration, your determination are all within your control.

Lawrence's final quote was one from Audrey Hepburn, and it sums up the feeling I always have when I leave a great conference. Hepburn said:

"Nothing is impossible; the word itself says I'm possible."

March 21, 2016

Motivation Monday: Shannon Hale

"If we're not reading diversely and broadly outside of our experience, then we're going to write that way."

I attended a conference this weekend where Shannon Hale was the keynote speaker, and she had a lot to say about gender and diversity in books. On Twitter she's a champion for diversity, and it was interesting to hear her thoughts in person. She's articulate and funny, and if you ever get a chance to listen to her speak, you definitely should!

Fun Facts about Shannon Hale:
  • She's been on the NYT bestseller list multiple times, and she's a Newbery Honor winner. 
  • She's written books for adults, YA books, books for kids, graphic novels, and probably anything else you can think of!
  • Her book, Austenland, was made into a film in 2013. It's hilarious and romantic and involves big butts.
  • She has four kids, a husband who she often collaborates with, and apparently, a pet plastic pig (because who doesn't love alliteration?).

So What?
Everyone who has followed the industry for any amount of time has heard of the "we need diverse books" movement. I like how Hale took it beyond the movement to say it shouldn't be hard to write people outside of your experience, if you believe they're, you know, PEOPLE.

It's proven that reading novels improves empathy. It makes sense that reading widely makes you a better person. But it also makes you a better writer. It makes you more empathetic. More perceptive. More able to see in the heads of others who aren't exactly like you. And that should be one of the goals of writing--to create a shared experience for your readers and allow them to connect with those who are like them, just as much as they should be able to connect with those who are not.

March 10, 2016

Five Ways to Treat Writing As a Profession--Before It's Your Profession

I hear a lot about writing for the love of writing. I completely agree, and if you always want it to be a hobby, then 100% yes, do it for the joy of writing. But I also think if you want to make it a career, you should think of it as a career. There are pieces you can work on at any point in your writing journey. So here are five ways that you can start now to treat writing like a profession, even before you're published or succeeding professionally. 

1. Do the job consistently--I can't tell you how much difference it has made for me just to go from the mindset of writing when I feel like it to writing on a predetermined schedule. I write every day but Sunday, and it gets me in a mode where it's easier to start each time, the ideas come more freely because my book is always percolating in the back of my mind, and even if it's only a tiny bit each day, it adds up quickly to make me feel like I've accomplished something substantial. 

In any other career, you're exposed to your profession regularly (usually five days per week), so why should writing be any different?

2. Schedule your time--this goes with the first one, but I've found that when I decide to do writing after everything else that has to be done, it never happens. That doesn't mean neglect your housework or your kids or your full-time job, but it does mean to make the shift in mindset that writing is your profession, and that means it's a top priority. Schedule time to read. Schedule time to write. Make those firm, like you would any other meeting. Missing a day here or there is fine, but waiting until the day when life will settle down and you can BE a writer isn't going to happen. 

You're selling yourself short not to schedule it in now. Even for five or ten or twenty minutes at a time.

3. Grow professionally--the focus of this blog is crafting and I obviously love books about writing craft, so that's a part of growing professionally. This also means going to writing conferences. It means networking on social media. It means studying and honing your craft in whatever way works for you. There are hundreds of online writing courses, free or paid, about any topic you can think of. Don't try to tackle it all at once--that's way too overwhelming--but if you do a tiny piece, a day at a time, you'll be surprised how much you can accomplish in a month or a year. If you're in this for the long haul, it will make all the difference! 

Besides, what I think makes writers the best kind of people is the never-ending curiosity and desire to learn more about the world around us.

4. Present yourself professionally--you hear all the time about "building an author platform" even before you're published. I think that's important, of course, but even more important are: being nice to other people; saying things on social media that won't come back to haunt you when you're rich and famous; not submitting crappy, unpolished writing to contests, agents, or editors. 

You know, in general, be the professional you expect those around you to be.

5. Don't take shortcuts--this one's hard. I think I've mentioned that this is my third year of hard core, every day "professional" writing. I meet with two writing groups nearly every single week. I push myself harder each year, hoping if I just do more/work faster/think better, something will work out. I've had some heart-breakingly close calls with agents and publishers. It's times like these that I have to face the hard reality that I'm just not quite there yet. That doesn't mean I can skip steps because I'm not seeing the results I want. 

I firmly believe that anyone who puts in the time and effort, who keeps plugging along, who adapts as the industry continues to evolve, will be successful. Writing ability increases with time. We don't lose physical prowess with age like athletes or dancers. We don't have to be young and beautiful in front of a screen. We can keep working hard until it happens for us. That doesn't mean we'll all be J.K. Rowling or Stephen King someday, but it's not over till it's over. And for most of us, we have a lot of time left and a lot of potential still to achieve. 

Be a professional along the way, and chances are, someday you'll get to try it on officially.

What kinds of things do you do to make creative pursuits part of your professional goals?

March 7, 2016

Motivation Monday: J.K. Rowling

“Be ruthless about protecting your writing days.”

As if Ms. Joanne Rowling needs any introduction! She's the brilliant author of the Harry Potter series and the more recent author of adult crime novels, under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.  

Fun Facts about J.K. Rowling:
  • Lives in Edinburgh, Scotland with her husband and three kids
  • Wrote her first story at age six
  • The K in J.K. is for her grandmother, Kathleen
  • Wrote the first draft of Harry Potter on an old manual typewriter she found at a thrift shop
  • She's very vocal on Twitter about feminism, politics, and equality
So What?
Rowling has a million great quotes, but this one stood out to me today because I think protecting your writing time is one of the biggest challenges authors face. It's like authors are some weird, mythical beasts that create books by magic, not blood, sweat, tears, and time. SO MUCH TIME. Even people who support your decision to write, still often think it's unimportant against everything else in life. It makes me feel some solidarity with Rowling that this is a battle she still fights, despite how successful she's been. 

So take it from the brilliant Ms. Rowling--be your own advocate. Protect your own time. Choose writing as a priority, even when nobody else thinks it should be.  

Have a great writing week!