Guest Post: Five Things a Day

Here’s my new friend Michelle Chouinard, a blogger who has thrown herself into the world of writing, and has set for herself some attainable goals. What she says here? Do it!
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Today I thought I’d share with you one of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever read, and why I think it works. I found it about a year ago in one of Lawrence Block’s books about writing; there are several, all useful, but this one snippet has been the most helpful thing I’ve found in them: Do five things every day to move your writing forward.

Hang out with your writer friends! Women from the “To Live and Write in Alameda” celebrate the end of NaNoWriMo together.

What five things? Well, that’s up to you. But do five things, every day, no matter how big or small.

One of those things should be writing, of course. We all know we should write every day. Another of those things should probably also be reading: how lucky are we that we’re in a profession that forces us to read prolifically! Twist my arm, why don’tcha?

But the others are more flexible. Make a new connection on twitter. Read an article about writing on your favorite blog. Spend half an hour researching agents. Look for relevant pins to add to your character board on Pinterest. Have lunch with a fellow writer, to get those creative juices flowing. And so on, and so on.

They should be different things, of course. Don’t write five pages of your book and declare yourself done. Don’t friend five new people on Twitter and go have a snack. Each of these count as one thing.

The things you do will differ depending on where you are currently–if you already have an agent, researching agents doesn’t make sense. If you’ve just had a book published, several of these things will probably involve book promotion. Just make sure to do five, every day.

Why is this so important?

Speaking for myself, I’m the sort of person who would happily crawl into a little cozy writing cave for six months and have no contact with the human race. My significant other would throw me scraps of food and come in for a cuddle now and then, but that would be it and I’d be happy as dust on a tchotchke.

And when I came out of my cave, I’d have lost half of my social media contacts because everyone would have thought I’d gone all Snake Plissken. I’d have missed a ton of new books and interesting articles, which I’d be too overwhelmed to catch up on after the fact. And any interesting prompts or discussions that might have made my writing better would never have crossed my path. I would have also lost valuable time trying to get my other projects out into the world.

It takes time to get things submitted, find an agent, get a book/article/story published; we all know this. You don’t just finish a piece, say “Woohoo!” and flick the “publish now” switch. While you’re sending out those letters and working through the rejections to get to the acceptances, you should be writing your next book/article/story. These things take far too much time to do in a fully linear, non-overlapping way. At least if you want to be successful and have enough money to pay the rent.

I would have also lost valuable time building my platform, something that’s becoming increasingly important for aspiring writers. Blog readers and Twitter followers don’t develop over night, and they don’t take kindly to being neglected for long. At least the ones that involve actual people that you actually want to connect with. Just like a plant, you can’t water them only once every six months and expect them to grow.

And maybe most important of all, while I was in that cave writing, the part of my brain that thinks about all this stuff gently in the background while I work would have had no input. Yep, it’s true, the brain works on problems and processes information even when we’re not thinking about it. Things we’ve read, seen, and done recently prime concepts and knowledge in our minds, keeping it all activated and ready for use when it’s needed. So when we do a variety of tasks over time, we keep our minds efficiently processing whatever particular task we’re focusing on at the moment.

So try it out. Sometimes I’m not as good as other times at remembering to do all five — sometimes I only do a few, and sometimes I crap out altogether. So I’ve created a simple spreadsheet to jot down which things I did each day–this lets me know if I’m slacking off too much for too long, and reminds me to revisit things that I haven’t touched for a while. You know how it is — “Gee, it seems like only a week since I compiled that list of prospective agents, but it’s been a month! I better follow up on that.”

Thank you, Lawrence Block, for the amazing advice. So far, it has served me well, and I have every confidence it will continue to do so. Now where’s my next installment of Matthew Scudder??

Happy writing,

M.

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Veronika is free today! Blog Hop Bonus!

Holiday-Gift-Exchange-Book-Lovers-Blog-Hop

Hey everyone! Welcome to the BONUS day of the blog hop! I’m really excited to be tagging along on all the fun and having my very own day.

Are you ready for your free present? Today only (Saturday), my new release Veronika Layne Gets the Scoop, is FREE! You’re welcome, and enjoy.

 

Download Veronika Layne Gets the Scoop for free!

10850780_1525494697701817_1448155720_nDon’t forget to enter to win a $100 Amazon gift card: http://is.gd/Soe6ra

Thanks for stopping by my blog, and enjoy Veronika Layne Gets the Scoop. Some of the other participating blogs are still giving out their free gifts, so if you missed any of the days, go hop through and see what presents you can collect.

Start here: http://skwills.com/fun-stuff-extras/holiday-gift-exchange-book-lovers-blog-hop/    Happy Holidays!

Five Things I Learned from NaNoWriMo

Winner-2014-Facebook-ProfileI survived NaNoWriMo. What is NaNoWriMo? It was the kooky idea of a handful of friends who challenged each other to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November, and that launched an international movement to get others to join in, and now, a dozen years later, NaNoWriMo is a juggernaut where normally sensible people do insane things. Let me tell you about how NaNoWriMo went for me.

I vowed, rashly, to get out of bed at 5 a.m. and write my fingers off every day until I had hit my 50,000 word goal. I planned ahead, writing myself an inspirational note on the kitchen chalkboard (“NaNoWriMo 5am BITCHES!”) and pre-setting the coffee-maker. I pre-plotted a little tiny bit. Like, the first two chapters. After that, I was in the land of Pure Imagination

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing or a good thing. In NaNoWriMo, the motto is, “No plot, no problem.” Just keep writing. So I got myself out of bed, poured the coffee, wrapped up in a blankie and wrote. And wrote. And wrote.  Things went along pretty well until I got to about 40,000 words, and then I hit The Wall. In NaNoWriMo circles, this is a very common occurrence. About the third week of November, the enthusiasm wanes. The adrenaline wears off. It becomes a slog through mud. A deathmarch toward 50K. I had run out of plot. I had a crick in my shoulder that wouldn’t go away. I was sleeping on a heating pad and popping ibuprofen daily. What time is it? Advil o’clock. I was afraid I was out of story. It worried me. I mean, what if my imagination had run dry?

Then I went to a write-in without my laptop. I took a notepad and a pen and hand-drafted a chapter. Then another. By the end of the two-hour session, I had consumed a Mexican hot chocolate and a currant scone, and drafted the last five chapters of the novel. I went home and hit the laptop. The only day I couldn’t write was Thanksgiving Day, and it was a maddening day, torn between peeling potatoes and vacuuming cat hair and making a cheese platter while my eyes glazed over, thinking of what was in store for my heroine. I tell ya, the life of a novelist is no picnic.

But I finished. November 28, and I slammed the door on this (extremely) rough draft. I’m taking the month of December to let the draft marinate, so to speak, and revisions begin January 1. This, the second volume of the Veronika Layne Hot off the Press series, will be out in spring.

So what did I learn from NaNoWriMo?

1) Goals are important. Set them. Pursue them. Try to make them. Adjust the timeline if you have to. But give yourself something for which to strive, as a writer and as a human being.

2) Don’t live in a vacuum. Pay attention to the world and let it affect your writing. You are not a precious flower under a bell jar. You are a creature of the universe, and your work should reflect that. The Ferguson/Michael Brown case unraveled in November, and I found myself writing some of that passion/compassion into my novel.

3) Pursuant to item 2, go write with friends. Don’t be a recluse. I discovered a handful of women writers in Alameda I never knew, who have — through this firewalking experience — become my friends. I see us writing together and supporting each other’s work in the foreseeable future. And those are Good Things, as Martha Stewart says.

4) Take a walk every day. Whenever I needed to work out a scene or a sticky plot point, I took a walk. The act of moving the body, breathing fresh air and the change of scenery made a huge difference to me and the story.

5) Write a crappy first draft. Don’t sit in judgment of your rough draft. Let it flow, and then revise the heck out of it. Anne Lamott said it years ago, in Bird by Bird: Write a shitty first draft. Don’t edit until you’ve drafted something. In NaNoWriMo, you don’t have that kind of time or luxury. And the good news for writers is that the longer you write, your first drafts will get better, too. You won’t be working with dreck. You’ll be working with a rougher version of the story. And that is an encouraging development.

The result of this year’s NaNoWriMo experience is that I find I’m a better writer than last year, and the year before that. I know how to work out the kinks. I know how to take care of myself in the stress. And I have learned to take friends with me — don’t do it alone. All of these are winning strategies for more than just spewing out a novel in 30 days. I anticipate using my lifeskills for — pretty much — forever.

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Have youIMG_8162 read Veronika Layne Gets the Scoop? It’s online at you-know-where and you can order it from your local bookstore, too. I have to ask, because this is the biggest shopping season of the year. And it’s Cyber Monday today – so if you’re thinking about cyber-shopping, why not pop into Amazon and click, click, click?

 

Weekend Wonders…

Saturday is the first day of NaNoWriMo and I am raring to go. So ready to start writing book #2 of the Veronika Layne series that I keep spacing out of conversations and falling into my story. I was up on a ridge, hiking, in my mind today, and suddenly there was a love scene happening, and then I realized my husband was talking to me and I had to snap out of it. I wasn’t fantasizing — I was writing. In my mind. Just like that.

NaNoWriMo is a 30-day bootcamp to write a novel. I wrote one last year and it was one of the best experiences — such a challenge — but I did it! And loved the results. That novel is still in the revision stage, not quite ready for the world, but definitely worth keeping. I need to get my second Veronika Layne book out into the world in spring, so it has to be written. And revised. And sent to my publisher. So. What better way to get it done than to force/squeeze/panic/deathmarch my way through it? Fifty thousand words in 30 days? BRING IT.

And just for kicks, here’s the working cover and title:

Veronika #2 cover

All I can tell you now (since I haven’t written it yet) is that she gets an assignment for the newspaper that takes her on a wild ride, with a few pit stops for making hot sweet love, and — well, I’ll stop there. Because it all will come out in NaNoWriMo.

This week I’m freelancing madly — I have interviews almost daily, and deadlines at the end of the week, to get these stories done and off my desk before NaNo begins. Most of these are for Alameda/Oakland magazines, but also for Sweatpants & Coffee and some other sites TBA.

This weekend, speaking of coming events (was I?), I’ll be at the Holiday Fest at Temple Israel in Alameda, signing and selling books. They’ll be specially priced for my neighbors and friends — hope to see you there!

Getting Ready for a New Release…

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Veronika Layne on the trail of a good story? Or intrepid author Julia Park Tracey, doing same? You make the call!

My new book is coming out in a few weeks! I’ve been lucky and diligent enough over the past few years that I’ve had a new book out every fall. The newest is a change for me — chicklit. Love me some sassy singles looking for love. Veronika Layne Gets the Scoop (Booktrope 2014) is the first of several journalist adventures called the Hot off the Press series.

I’ve been a journalist for many moons now and those experiences form the basis for Veronika’s personality and adventures. She runs after firetrucks and sits through meetings, works hard with her fellow journos, and plays hard, too. When an international media chain buys her little weekly newspaper, she finds herself working for “The Man,” that is, the faceless entity of corporate journalism.

But you can’t take away her passion. When Veronika smells a story, she can’t help but chase it down. And it’s always a double-bind for her — she wants to reveal the truth (she has that tattooed on her wrist where she can always see it) — but she wants to beat the competition, too. Go, girl! Over the obstacles to the finish line!

And by the way, what would a chicklit story be without some sassy in the sheets? There’s that, and more (try the bar, the spa, and the hood of the truck…). Hope you like it! Watch for giveaways, contests and other funsies coming up soon.

Find me on Facebook — Julia Park Tracey, Author — and look for the cover reveal and launch party online. Thanks for reading!